Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
Buon Giorno, Amici!

Our motto ...

Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Friday, August 30, 2013

Interview with a GREAT Small Press editor … Jennifer Gresham ... NFL Hush Money ... Glickman ... In Other News ...


Dana King’s Grind Joint will be published by Stark House Press and is ready for pre-order right now … and here the author interviews the funniest, best-looking (except for his fingers), and one of the most talented editors in the business … Dana interviews the amazing Rick Ollerman (nobody juggles more than this guy, including the Phat Dad—moi) … check the interview out here …


From Jennifer Gresham's blog, Everyday Bright ... (her words) As a freshman in college, I struggled to choose between two very different majors: chemistry and English.

I thought I loved them both. Since I was attending the U.S. Air Force Academy, I knew I'd have a job after graduation regardless of what I picked.

Chemistry certainly sounded more practical, and for a bright, over-achiever like myself, a professional track also seemed more appropriate.

Over the years, the Air Force funded my master's degree and then a Ph.D. The military culture, which encourages officers to change positions every two to three years, allowed me to explore a series of diverse jobs including nuclear treaty monitoring, teaching college chemistry, grants management, and corporate communications for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Check out Jen’s video right below, amici ... this is one brilliant cookie ... it’s a life lesson she presents ... and one we can all use in the pursuit of our dreams and to just get the most from our lives without all the unnecessary pressure we too often put on ourselves.

Evelyn Amelia Stella does NOT like squash ... oy vey ...


Nonno says (in his Popeye voice): Oh, the rat finks, infinks, don’t likes their squarshk. Eat your spinichk, eat your spinichk!


NFL Hush Money ... the bottom line: NFL players who suffered concussions, whether they led to ALS or not, will not be able to sue the league ever again. That’s the gist of the $765 million bone the league tossed at the players yesterday. Former players, those who were injured during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, are strapped for cash and that was the excuse for settling for the short money. In the meantime, the league never goes through the legal discovery process which would expose just how complicit team owners and league officials were in hiding the concussion issue from players (and the world). They get to walk away unscathed, pretty much the same way the Wall Street banks did after demanding and getting a bailout that precludes them from being liable to lawsuits.

USA Today: “... the NFL won't have to disclose internal files about what it knew and when, about concussion-linked brain problems. Lawyers had been eager to learn, for instance, about the workings of the league's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which was led for more than a decade by a rheumatologist.”

Chalk up one more victory for big money at the expense, this time the health expense, of the worker bees.

Glickman ... An HBO documentary about legendary athlete/broadcaster, Marty Glickman, is more than just a tribute to one man. It’s also a history lesson exposing the politics of the time, from the 1936 Olympics through the golden age of television. Glickman was severely and unjustly discriminated against for being Jewish … bad enough Hitler, et al, took issue with the Jewish faith, but when team and U.S. government officials kept Glickman and a fellow Jewish runner (Sam Stoller) from running in the 400 in Berlin, it was an absolute travesty of justice and democracy. Check out the HBO trailer here, then watch the documentary. Very touching … and Glickman was one amazing athlete long before he became an iconic broadcaster.

Keith Olbermann’s return to ESPN ... I used to love this lunatic back in the day on ESPN ... he and Dan Patrick made each new broadcast akin to an old days SNL treat … but after his political show (the unrelenting boot-licking he did on the air for Democrats without ever taking them to task for being Republicans in drag), it was difficult to listen to him. Now he’s back on ESPN and the caustic sarcasm didn’t quite work for me the other night (it was about the NCAA and the dopey half-game suspension it issued Johnny “football”). I could care less about Johnny “football” or the NCAA, but Keith-O’s style probably doesn’t have enough distance behind it yet for me. I look forward to getting beyond it … Keith-O, when he isn’t ranting in denial, is one clever dude.

Here’s one I still enjoy very much … Keith-O calls Bill-O (Bill O’Reilly) the Sisyphus of Morons …

Fast Food Workers of the World Unite … and set an example for the rest of American workers … there is strength in numbers and even more strength when you show some balls … do whatever you have to do to unionize, then pick a party that will represent you with passion and competence (obviously neither of the two major parties qualify). Vote GREEN OR SOCIALIST OR COMMUNIST … and show the rest of us that all it takes is a pair of balls and some perseverance … all it ever takes to accomplish anything worth anything in this life.


Crosby, Stills and Nash … with a flashback to Woodstock …

“… three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and I God bless you for it … ” —Max Yasgur

The actual songwriter, Joni Mitchell, singing her tune ...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Elmore Leonard … Noir at the Bar … Of Human Bondage …



This past week Elmore Leonard (the Dickens of Detroit) passed. Rightly so, writers and readers alike have offered up heartfelt condolences and tributes, some from around the world. Leonard was a true master. Along with Ed McBain, Donald Westlake, and maybe a handful of other crime writers, Leonard was consistently great at his craft. There were never any let-downs when new works of his appeared in bookstores … there was never a mail-it-in effort … there were no duds, no “mehs”. Book after book, Leonard held his audience captive with the smoothest of writing. Predictable endings never mattered. It was never about the plot. It was getting there that made it so much fun; the enjoyment was the journey, getting from first to last page.

Although my favorite three crime novels were penned by George V. Higgins, and for me no other crime novels compare to The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Diggers Game and Cogan’s Trade, there was never a contest between Leonard and Higgins as regards consistency—Leonard wins that one hands down. Higgins wrote a few novels, both crime and literary, that were unreadable (for me) … and I gave them each more than a few tries. Some of the stream of conscious dialogue he used, often going on for pages, literally gave me headaches.

If I had an issue with Leonard, it was what I found when reading too much of him at once (i.e., back-to-back novels). For me, Leonard sometimes went a little heavy on the use of character introspection. It is a personal preference of mine to have less introspection, not a condemnation of how or why Leonard used it. That said, it only bothered me if I was reading back-to-back Leonard novels. Picking up any Leonard book out of the blue and reading the first few lines instantly hooked me and put me well on my way to the end ... smiling most of the way. In that regard, Leonard’s ability to sustain his craft over the long haul was truly magical.

What I loved (it sucks to now have to use the past tense) most about Leonard’s work, the clever dialogue aside, was the fact I knew I would NEVER be disappointed. The last few years, although I haven’t reread him as much as I’d like, I have picked up Mr. Paradise a few times. That one, along with Glitz (my introduction to Leonard a long time ago), Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Tishomingo Blues, are probably my favorites. I have yet to read his last two and will no doubt do so in the near future.

It is fitting that Leonard was a big fan of George V. Higgins. He wrote a forward to a reprint of Higgins biggest success, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, I often point to (paying it forward) for the sake of aspiring writers, so they aren’t discouraged by the process of finding an agent (that can often seem to take forever). From that forward: (Elmore Leonard’s words):

Still, getting published was tough. Along the way from Stanford to Eddie Coyle, Higgins wrote as many as ten books that he either discarded or were rejected by publishers—perhaps for the same reason my first novel with a contemporary setting, The Big Bounce, was rejected by publishers and film producers eighty-four times in all, editors calling the book a “downer,” devoid of sympathetic characters—the same ones I’m writing about thirty [make that 40] years later. Higgins’ agent at the time of Eddie Coyle read the manuscript, told him it was unsalable and dropped him. Let this be an inspiration to beginning writers discouraged by one rejection after another. If you believe you know what you’re doing, you have to give publishers time to catch up and catch on.

In the beginning, both Higgins and I had to put up with labels applied to our work, critics calling us the second coming of Raymond Chandler. At the time we first met, at the Harbourfront Reading Series in Toronto, George and I agreed that neither of us had come out of the Hammett-Chandler school of crime writing. My take on the Friends of Eddie Coyle, for example—which I’ve listed as the best crime novel ever written—makes The Maltese Falcon read like Nancy Drew. Our method in telling stories has always been grounded in authenticity based on background data, the way it is as well as the way such people speak. We also agreed that it’s best not to think too much about plot and begin to stew over where the story is going. Instead, rely on the characters to show you the way.

Elmore Leonard, a true master of his craft, will be sorely missed.
RIP Mr. Leonard.

Check out Da Crew ... Gerald So, Thomas Pluck and Charlie Stella (tag team partners), Glenn G Gray (the stud), Suzanne Solomon (the hottie), Jack Getze, Teel James Glenn (the smart ones), Todd Robinson (Big Daddy Thug his own bad self), Scott Adlerberg and Bradley Sands (the guys who make you smile) at Shade (the bar).


Check out Sons of Stella (Charles and Dustin), the Principessa Ann Marie and Stephen Trynosky (one of the really good guys from the conservative site that is always kicking me off for being an obnoxious S.O.B.) ...


That’s me above doing my Luciano Pavarotti impersonation … I had a towel, but it fell off my shoulder and there was no way I could pick it up without embarrassing myself and leaning on two or three people while I tilted and maybe took out a wall.

That's the Stella stare on my granddaughter, Evelyn Amelia Stella ... she's with her daddy (Charles, not Charlie, Stella) on the beach in Delaware ... it's best not to piss this girl off.
Noir at the Bar … last Sunday night, the first time I’ve been back to Manhattan since getting a “stopping” ticket on Water Street while waiting to pick up the Principessa Ann Marie. $165 later, it was fock you, too, Mayor Mike …

But we found a spot on Houston alongside the NYU dorms (one block from Arturo’s coal oven pizza joint) and had a short walk to The Shade Bar where we met some wonderful new people, were glad to see some old friends, and thoroughly enjoyed listening to some very talented writers. Hosted, as always, by Glenn Gray and Todd (Thug Lit/The Big Bounce) Robinson … how much do so many of us owe these guys? Quite a bit, amici.


So what does a guy like me have in common with a Pulitzer Prize Winner? How about the same editor, Peter Skutches … yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. I can’t tell yous how much of a surprise it was to see Gilbert King Sunday night. It’s the first time we’ve met and he wasn’t even aware of how much I loved his book (the Pulitzer winner) … a MUST READ (get it here) for everyone, yous ask me … especially those who can’t understand the fears minorities have over insane laws like Stand Your Ground/shoot first, ask questions later.


So what's up with Of Human Bondage, fatso, yous ask ...
Of Human Bondage … well, not much to say yet … I’m still at it … enjoying it thoroughly … even quoting from it from time to time … I’m finding a likeness to something Richard Yates often wrote about … specifically, as regards mediocrity: Monsieur Foinet to Philip (W. Somerset Maugham’s, Of Human Bondage) in regards to his [Philip’s] painting abilities. “It is cruel to discover one’s mediocrity only when it is too late. It does not improve the temper.”


My favorite aria … Una furtiva lagrima, from L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti.

A really great song by The Rides (Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Sheperd and Barry Goldberg).

Friday, August 16, 2013

Noir at the Bar (this Sunday) ... Romantic History ... Knucklespeare … Outside the MFA Bubble ... Evelyn Amelia ... Chef of the Future ...



This Sunday, August 18 ... 6:00 p.m., at The Shade Bar in Greenwich Village (Sullivan and West 3rd Streets) ... come check out some very fine writers reading from their works ... I’ll be there for ballast ...

Romantic History … Michael Harris uses alternate points of view in this compelling novel about romance (or what we sometimes think is romance) as viewed from two distinct sides of a relationship. Maggie and Paul are opposites when it comes to most things in life, but especially when it comes to confidence … they have two very brief trysts that somehow last a lifetime, especially for Paul.

When we first meet her, Maggie remains the wild woman she once was, except now she’s in her 50’s ... she has an off the chart IQ, has been a veracious reader most her life, she has natural talents as a musician, and has been carrying around some heavy baggage from a nasty episode with her father way back in the day... an old lover, Paul, connects with her ... it's all about reconnecting ... maybe for good ... how about maybe for more than a few hours ... but I'm jumping the gun ...
Maggie's been married (usually happily) for 22 years to a stand-up guy named Steve … Steve is stable, which Maggie ultimately can’t be. Steve is neither dynamic nor wild, but Maggie needed stability at the exact time she met Steve, and it's a relationship that almost lasts a very long time … until she needs something else (sparked by that Paul connection) … life with Steve was something that caged Maggie’s adventurous soul. Caught up in a philosophy of personal responsibility (no, not the tea party, but something called Absalom, which, upon final review, isn’t so different (you own your shit--something Paul ultimately can’t accept--homeless people aren’t homeless or eating from garbage cans because they want to) … Absalom is a kind of libertarianism on mental steroids), and it leaves Maggie afraid of “nothing”: “Suppose it all really was a scam? Then I wouldn’t be God, or part of God, after all; I’d just be a stupid little insignificant housewife in a third-rate city in the middle of nowhere, and when I died I wouldn’t have any other lives. I’d be … nothing.”

Backtracking throughout the novel, like peeling a big beautiful onion, is a romantic history … Maggie’s story starts at home, which she flees because of her father ... and winds up with a small time career criminal (the badass she seeks?) who eventually sparks her interest in self-destruction and a robbery that lands them both in jail … she winds up turning tricks and eventually winds up in a halfway house where she meets a self-professed nerd (Paul); the guy least likely to get the hot babe … he’s an intriguing (for his inherent decency), if not an exciting character (the opposite of Maggie when it comes to confidence and adventure) ...

Simply put, Paul is not your type-A personality … he’s smart as a whip but no extrovert. He’s gone from rear echelon duty in Vietnam to a small newspaper back home, during which he winds up in bed (not necessarily love) with a woman (Adrienne), his first (who tells him outright he has a lot to learn about sex—which is not very good for his already fragile ego) ... and when she gets pregnant, he offers to marry her, then walks the proposal back, but offers to pay child support. She rejects his offer to pay and he’s off to Crete, Greece ... Paul is one insecure dude lacking the stones he admires in others, the stones they seem to have (what he believes it takes to bed a woman, especially an attractive woman … and bedding them may be one thing (like Adrienne), but keeping them is another (i.e., Maggie)) ... Paul’s a compassionate guy, a good guy, who doesn’t understand why a newspaper would dump so much of their staff (himself included) when so many of his fellow workers (himself not included) have so much to lose.

It isn’t right. It isn’t fair.

How do they sleep at night?

Paul’s problem is he believes he’s a loser destined for loserdom … he manages to be homeless … he can’t handle the parenting voice of his father or the abject failure he senses himself to be, he falls victim to his insecurity ... what he believes is his predisposition to fail becomes a disease (to his mind) that will eventually lead him to the darkest of places ... but when he’s on a journalistic assignment in 1971, covering a story on a halfway house for badass women, he meets Maggie (for the first time). Their romance is brief but intense … something Paul can never get over, and neither can Maggie get him out of her mind … except Maggie can move on (and on) and Paul can’t seem to cut loose.

While Maggie goes through a series of relationships and career changes, Paul eventually marries a Pilipino real estate agent who convinced him he needed a house and not the condo he was looking to buy. It’s the most stable time in his life. He’s working for the LA Times and although he still yearns for Maggie, Rachel (his wife) and Paul have a boy and start a family.

Romantic History is the peeling of that wonderful onion called life, except in this masterful novel, it’s the peeling of two onions (Maggie’s and Paul’s) ... it’s a trip back in time to the present of two people romantically and emotionally tied through a couple of very brief trysts. After their second meeting, a quick night of love and lovemaking, Maggie apologetically throws him out (for his own good?) ... and wonders exactly what Paul would think (that it’s comical, his attempt to make her feel sorry for him -- he loves her no matter what, but she can’t accept that, she’s too used to men eventually being men who can’t help but try and possess a woman) ... so she asks herself after he leaves: What would Bill Mitchell [her convict ex-husband] have done in Paul’s place? Probably told her to shut up and fetch him another beer, or roll him a joint.

Maggie once told Paul that he “can get to be a habit” ... if Paul could only believe she meant it ... he believes his disease precludes him from any form of success, including a love life ... it is some of what endears him to readers, his unfortunate insecurity ... so when we’re back to the future and Maggie has been involved with a Native American lover (another fighter but this time a really good fighter--somewhat legendary) ... Paul’s marriage hits the rocks when he loses yet another journalism gig (the LA Times) ... his world is changing back to dark and his disease is calling for him to jump from a roof.

No spoilers, amici ... buy the book and read it. The ending is BRILLIANT. Yous will enjoy this often wild ride ... THE WRITING IS MASTERFUL, start to finish … and take heed of a good breed of man (Paul).

How I have to wonder how many of us will see ourselves in at least some of this poor soul’s being.

About the author: Michael Harris grew up in Dunsmuir, CA., the little mountain town that is the scene of his novella "Canyon." He has a B.A. in English from the University of Oregon, an M.A.T. from Harvard and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

He served as an information officer with the 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1968-69. Later he was a reporter and editor on several West Coast newspapers, including the Redding, CA, Record-Searchlight, the Voice of Bellevue, WA, and the San Luis Obispo, CA, Telegram-Tribune (all background for scenes in "Romantic History"), the Long Beach, CA, Press-Telegram (background for "The Chieu Hoi Saloon"), the Los Angeles Times (where he was a regular book reviewer for more than 20 years) and the Riverside, CA, Press-Enterprise.


The Bard of Fords, NJ? (above) ...

Noir at the Bar (a po-em)

Sunday I read from a W-I-P;
At a bar called Shade, like it’s under a tree.

It’ll be from Tommy Red, from Baltimore Noir;
I says to him, I says, where the fuck I park my car?

Because last time I was there, in Mike Bloomberg’s town;
I got a ticket for stopping, not parking, that rich clown
charged me more than enough, like one-sixty-five.
To stop for ten seconds? Why, the fuck why?

Homeland security? Give me a break.
I was picking up my wife, not ordering a steak.

So it’s been a couple years, since we indulged the big apple.
One-sixty-five is, like, I don’t know, thirty cases of Diet Snapple?

The joint they call Shade isn’t far from where I lived;
In Little Italy and/or Greenwich Vill …
I used to roll posters at the head shop Night Owl;
Around the corner from Reggio where the hippies would howl,
when the espresso they were guzzling caught fire in their blood;
and they’d run to Washington Square Park to dance in the mud.

Momma Stella lived on Bedford, then Bleeker when she was a kid;
I fed pigeons at Father Demo Square from the benches where I’d sit
with Grandpa Pete and a bottle of Manhattan Special (nitroglycerin in a bottle);
then I’d go home and not sleep for two days and get throttled
by Poppa Tommy, my father, before he fled the scene;
for Gang Bang and riches of which he could only dream.

So come one and come all, to the bar they call Shade;
Listen to some writers spew from our trade.
Support your local bookstores and bars while you’re there;
And don’t forget the waiters, waitresses and bartenders—show you care.
And never give worry about the next mayor or our nation;
Just be smart and trust me, take public transportation.

And if Mayor Mike is anxious to squeeze me for more coin;
I’ll guaran-fuckin-tee him, next time I won’t return.
Because I’ve been there and done that, the town of Manhattan;
It’s beautiful downtown Fords, New Jersey, where I’m getting fat at.

Come check us out this Sunday night at the bar they call Shade;
Six PM, in the Village, on Sullivan and West Third.

—Knucklespeare …



My granddaughter, Evelyn Amelia Stella ... is this kid cute or what?

Chef of the Future ... Okay, so, amici ... I’ll be on assignment the next several months ... taking cooking classes ... Why? Because I’m a lunatic ... so my time here at TK will be somewhat cut back (maybe even skipping a few weeks at a time) ...

But I’ll thrill yous with recipes upon my return …
from which, if yous pay attention, yous are all sure to learn ...
and if I should fail at cooking with beer ...
yous can blame it on the poetry and that moron, Knucklespeare …


Oh, it can core a apple ...

Now, for something more serious ... if this doesn’t tug on your heart, if your eyes don’t well up over this, check your fuckin’ pulse.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

SNHU MFA Graduate: Jen Boissonneault … Me & Momma Stella ... Why Poverty? … Dana King … the NFC East …



SNHU MFA Graduate, Jennifer Lauren Boissonneault. Jen’s life-long love of writing and reading stories can be summed up in a quote from Eudora Welty, “I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them — with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.” Jen’s young-adult fiction thesis, For the Broken Spaces, follows one girl’s journey to find meaning and depth in her relationships, and discover what it means to trust, forgive, and accept life as it is, not how she thinks it should be. Jen holds an AS in Business Computer Applications from Hesser College, and a BS in Business Administration from SNHU. In 2012, she was awarded The Lynn H. Safford Memorial Scholarship for her spirit of camaraderie. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and daughter.


Jen’s another of the SNHU MFA sweethearts ... during our first semester together, she was as good at giving as she was at taking (we’re talking shoe-breaking here, amici) ... watching her and Shane Remer go back and forth (when Shane wasn't breaking my shoes), was a delight. Her development as a writer has been substantial. Like a seven or eleven on a craps table, the Jenmeister is a natural ... so keep an eye out for her works in the future.


Here is some suspense lifted from the middle of Chapter 12 from For the Broken Spaces ...

Gwen turned back to their empty table. Her soda glass was still more than half full, so the waitress hadn’t taken it. She sat back on the padded bench and lifted up her drink. Marilyn slid in across from her, watching Gwen hold the glass up to the light.

“What are you doing?” Marilyn asked when Gwen didn’t drink.

Something in the way she held it felt like Deja vu. Gwen stared through the frosted glass, stared at the bubbles. They seemed to be warning her. Stop, the bubbles said. Stop and think.

Gwen thought of the last time she had been dancing. She thought of Drew, his sparkling blue eyes, his easy smile with all those beautiful white teeth, his strong arms around her waist. She blushed at how the memory made her feel.

She remembered Drew’s face, concern, and an almost brotherly look of protection when he must have realized what was happening. It wasn’t him. He didn’t help me, but it wasn’t him. Somehow, she knew this, but she had no proof.

In her mind, she kept going, looking around at everyone there. Most she knew, some she did not. It would have been so perfect, if it wasn’t for one thing. Erik’s face. His smile. It filled Gwen’s vision now. It was not friendly. It was a smile of satisfaction. Of revenge. A fuzzy memory flitted through her mind, of her in Marilyn’s room, Erik in the doorway, light shining around him like a fake halo.

The Coke glass slid through her fingers as she tried to put it down, and hit the table, hard. Again, she had left her drink unattended. What was she thinking in a place like this?

“What are you doing?” Marilyn asked again. She stared at Gwen. “Are you okay?”

Gwen looked up, the recollection showing on her face like a visible scar. She had trouble breathing. She sucked in stale air and forced it back out; she still felt dizzy.

“I don’t know,” Gwen finally answered. “I don’t know what I’m doing at all.”

She got up, mumbling about needing to go to the ladies’ room. She couldn’t seem to get there fast enough. Locking herself in a stall, she leaned her head against the metal dividing wall, praying it was clean, but almost not caring for the coolness it provided.

She heard the outer door swing open. “Gwen!” Marilyn called. “Are you okay?"

Gwen heard the uncertainty in Marilyn’s voice but couldn’t seem to muster up a response. She didn’t want anyone to see her so unhinged, even her best friends. It was bad enough they were there the morning after the party, standing around her with their worry faces on. She started to shake.

Marilyn must have been peeking for shoes, because she stopped in front of Gwen’s stall and knocked. Gwen slid her feet in closer and wrapped her arms around herself.
That's Jen and SNHU MFA Program Director, Diane Les Becquets below ...


Congrats to Jen! She rocks!


Momma Stella and the Fot King ...

That's Momma Stella and her great-granddaughter, Evelyn Amelia Stella above ...
I’m feeling a little guilty for missing a few nights in a row of visits with Momma Stella. So today I get there a little earlier than usual, hauling McDonald’s breakfasts and anxious to see if they got the order right for a change. Momma Stella is saying the Rosary when I get there ... she makes the sign of the cross as I set the breakfast on her tray.

Me: I forget, what is that when you do the sign of the cross, steal or bunt?
MS: The hell are you talkin’ about?
Me: (I make the sign of the cross) Steal or bunt?
MS: You’re a real moron, you know that?
Me: Check the McMuffing thing, I doubt they listened to a word I said about the cheese.
MS: (looking over her egg McMuffin) No, there’s no cheese.
Me: Then it worked. I told them to put cheese on.
MS: (takes a bite) Mmmm, this is good, Sonny.
Me: I’m sorry about last night. We went out to dinner for Annie’s birthday.
MS: Where’d you go?
Me: For Annie? Chinese. She loves that shit.
MS: (makes a face) Why not Italian?
Me: I don’t know. She loves Chinese.
MS: You know what I like?
Me: Popeyes.
MS: Oooh, yeah, Sonny. Bring me Popeyes tomorrow.
Me: For breakfast?
MS: No, you stupid bastid, for lunch. Or dinner. I don’t like Sunday dinners here.
Me: A wing and a thigh?
MS: And the red beans and rice. A large red beans and rice.
Me: You got it.
MS: They make me fot.
Me: Nice.
MS: (laughs) Who are you kiddin’? You’re the fot king.
Me: Ma, most people say fart.
MS: What?
Me: You say fot. Most people say fart, F-A-R-T, or they pass wind, or they cut the cheese or whatever. Where’d you get F-O-T from?
MS: (stares at me) Moron.
Me: (smiling) What?
MS: From your sister’s ass, that’s where I got it. Don’t break them, Charlie.
Me: I thought I was Sonny?
MS: You’re a pain in the ass.
Me: You watch the Jets last night?
MS: Yeah, like I give a shit.
Me: Bills play tomorrow, I think.
MS: (takes another bite of McMuffin) This is good, Sonny.
Me: I said the Bills play tomorrow, Ma.
MS: Yeah? Good. Whatta’ ya want from me?
Me: I’m gonna write a play about you called Me and Momma Stella.
MS: Good for you.
Me: All our conversations here. Two characters, you and me.
MS: (Makes a face)
Me: What? You alright?
MS: I made a fot.
Me: Nice. (sniffs the air) You sure that was a fot?
MS: Get the hell out of here, ball breaker. Go home now.
Me: Sure, I bring the breakfast and you kick me out.
MS: Because you’re a shithead sometimes.
Me: Just sometimes?
MS: All the time. Now, that’s enough. Go home. Go break Annie’s balls.
Me: You still love me?
MS: I love you, but sometimes I don’t like you. Now, go home, moron.

I love my Mommy!

Why Poverty? …. One more documentary about the buy and selling of America and Americans … a co-worker (Linda Henderson) suggested all politicians wear Nascar outfits showing their sponsors … how great would that be? I mean, seriously, somebody explain to me why they shouldn’t be required to wear their sponsors in public.

Dana King … you’ve read me yap about this guy in the past … and you’ll hear me yap about him in the future … he’s one of the best crime writers out there these days and he has a new ebook out (to be reviewed here in a few weeks, A Small Sacrifice--and yous can get it here for just $2.99) … and just in time for hockey season (so we can read between periods, before and after games) his first novel will be published by Stark House Press … Grind Joint (you can pre-order here) is a great read that will remind you of both Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins … it’s every bit as good as those two masters and should spike Dana to the head of the mob fiction class. It’s a great read, amici …

The NFC East … will be yet another war of attrition, but this time with the Moonachie Blue Team winning out … injuries will always tell the tale of this conference because of the brutal competition and rivalries … but the G-men of New Jersey have what it takes to muster one last push for coach Tom Coughlin … and let’s face it, ELI still owns Giselle’s husband … but even with that, the Blue Bunting Giants of Moonachie will only go as far as either the 49’ers or the Sea Pigeons allow them … figure the Blue team for 10 wins, the Skins for 9, the Girls 8 and the Eaglettes will play the spoiler once again with somewhere around 6 or 7 W’s …

Next Week: A review of Michael Harris', Romantic History, which is a GREAT read, amici ... a truly GREAT read ... and even better writing.  I'm begging off the review of Of Human Bondage until I have time (Michael's book completely preempted me from finishing OHB for now.


Back on the opera kick ... the big guy singing Che gelida manina ... from La Boheme ...

And for the ladies, from the same opera ... Musetta’s Waltz ...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Buon Compleanno, Principessa … Cinquanta-tre never, EVER, looked so good …


Fifteen years ago I took my first legal word processing job at a downtown firm in New York across the street from the World Trade Towers … I worked midnight to seven-thirty … it was one of my “need a taxable income and insurance for the kids” jobs, not to mention the mortgage and other annoying expenses … I was in a marriage headed for the rocks, still earning street coin, and feeling very unfulfilled about giving up on writing. I was a pay-as-you-go absentee father, providing money instead of attention to my kids. I’d already gone through an embarrassing midlife crisis, and had been a lousy husband to three wives for all the wrong reasons.

One night on the new job, while I was yapping on the other side of the word processing room with the a woman I’d often help with her work, I turned to my right and there was this beautiful woman with blue eyes behind her store-bought reading glasses. She was covered with freckles and her head was buried in a text book. I later learned she was studying for some science degree.


“Colpo di fulmine. The thunderbolt, as Italians call it. When love strikes someone like lightning, so powerful and intense it can’t be denied. It’s beautiful and messy, cracking a chest open and spilling their soul out for the world to see. It turns a person inside out, and there’s no going back from it. Once the thunderbolt hits, your life is irrevocably changed.” — ― J.M. Darhower, Sempre

Bada-boom, bada-bing … the thunderbolt struck and it was only a matter of weeks before I plotted and planned and figured out a way to try and meet this woman who turned out to be the younger sister of the woman I was helping at work.

We talked … I managed to make her laugh with dumbass references to childhood shows we’d watched as kids on opposite sides of Brooklyn. She was a Bay Ridge girl and I was from Canarsie. One night I heard her cursing a blue streak as she stepped off an elevator and I yelled, “Tish, you spoke French.” It took her a second, but then she smiled … and her smile was so damn infectious, I went home dreaming about it …


Over the next couple of weeks I learned this beautiful freckled woman was unhappy in her marriage. I was invited to a graduation party by her older sister, Susan, the same one I worked with, the woman I’d helped with work. Susan’s two sons were graduating; one from college, the other from high school. I brought my youngest, Dustin, along for company. We were seated at Ann Marie’s table with her son and her husband. Uncomfortable? Yeah, but she smiled when she saw me and that’s all I needed. Cocky SOB I was at the time, I asked my son what he thought about his new stepmother.


Most readers of Knucksline know how Ann Marie was the reason I wrote Eddie’s World … Jarrod (JR) Jackson was the guy who made me feel guilty watching him work on screenplays at work while I played solitaire, but I wrote the book to impress Ann Marie as something more than just another wannabe. She had no idea at the time I met her about what I really did for a living, but I was finished taking risks. It didn’t take a rocket science degree to see the writing on the wall for any future on the street. So I pursued writing the book and Ann Marie with everything I had ... and then I got lucky. Ann Marie was the first person I called to let her know Eddie’s World had found a home.

A week or so later, we’d both seen the movie, La vita รจ bella—me on Long Island, Ann Marie in New Jersey. We talked about the movie at work and Ann Marie’s eyes welled-up. That was the last sign I needed. I saw an opening and the first chance I had a few nights later, when I saw her walk into the office where we worked, I yelled, Buon Giorno, Principessa!

And there was that smile again, and I knew I’d won her over.

I’ve been writing her that in emails every day ever since ... and when I forget, I double down.


It wasn’t long after that movie night when we became involved and eventually left our spouses. We were married a year later in the Bahamas and my life has been nothing but blessed ever since. She’s allowed me to make an attempt at redemption I never would’ve considered without her. She's an amazing woman, this Ann Marie: she attended and finished nursing school while working full-time at a law firm (where she remains a supervisor of the day shift). She also works part time as an RN at Princeton Hospital in New Jersey. She does fix-it jobs in the house (because I’m useless with my hands), and she took care of my mother while I was away at school last summer when Momma Stella had her fall that eventually landed her in the nursing home (where she now lives on Staten Island—all handled by Ann Marie—start to finish). And when her knucklehead husband got it into his head to play the drums again a few years ago, she didn’t say, “Are you out of your mind?” She said, “I think that’s great, Charlie. Go for it.”


And she said nearly the same thing when I decided to return to college at 55 and pursue an MFA degree. “I think that would be great, honey,” she said. “I think you’d make a great teacher some day.”


I’m skipping a lot, but this is appropriate to mention also ... when our dog, Rigoletto, had to have a serious back operation a few years ago, Ann Marie bought an air mattress and slept in the living room with him for 3 weeks in a row so he wouldn’t panic and try to climb the stairs. Rigoletto and I both depend on her for our survival—fact.

Probably what Momma Stella loves most about Ann Marie is the fact she has me saying prayers again (not that I’d ever admit it to Momma Stella) … the prayer is in my first novel, Eddie’s World … it reappears in my fictional memoir, The 2nd Coming … and it has everything to do with justice and how whatever bad is going to happen, I’m the one who deserves it (for all the shitty things I’ve done in my life) ... so, please, Lord (or whoever is in charge out there), if anything bad is gonna happen, let it be to me … let it be me, let it be me, let it be me …

Because I can’t imagine not having her in my life.

We each had the insides of our wedding rings engraved before we were married. Ann Marie chose La forza della natura for me ... probably because I can eat like a hurricane.

Mine for her was a duet from O Soave Fanciulla in La Boheme ... in te, vivo ravviso (what they could fit inside the ring, but the rest goes) il sogno ch'io vorrei sempre sognar! 
In you I see all the dreams I have ever dreamed!

Our wedding song ...

Buon Giorno, Principessa!

Buon compleanno, amante!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lynn Safford … Movie Reviews ... Vincent E. Green … Momma Stella … Charlie’s World …



Lynn Safford was one of the SNHU MFA first graduates (class of 2008). A very special person, as well as a very gifted writer, Lynn eventually lost her battle with cancer, but the program established an honorary award in her name. In 2012, the award went to one of my 2013 co-graduates, Jennifer Boissoneault.

Author and editor, Susan E. Kennedy, one of Lynn’s classmates, gave the remarks for the presentation of Lynn’s Scholarship.

The Lynn H. Safford Memorial Scholarship is an award given to a current MFA student in memory of Lynn Safford, a member of the first class of students to graduate from this program. I had the privilege of being one of Lynn’s classmates and friends. I met Lynn on a hot August morning when she walked into the lobby of this building to check in for the first summer residency. With a ready smile and kind words for everyone, Lynn’s warm personality and enthusiasm drew to her our twelve classmates, some of whom are here in the audience today. Lynn was smart, stylish, yet wonderfully down to earth; she was quick to laugh and quick to give of herself and her time. She became our leader without seeking the job, and we voted her class president. Her dorm room became our gathering place during residencies; her home during semesters. Her love of the written word inspired us: she was a member of two book clubs and a writers’ group, and she volunteered with an adult literacy project. She was always thinking of others, of us—her friends. She listened as we talked out the problems in our books, and her words of encouragement were just a phone call or e-mail away. She planned post-deadline parties and kept our class together, even across the long distances that sometimes separated us. Her MFA thesis was a novel she titled From There to Here. It was her masterpiece, and none of us were prouder of our books than Lynn was of hers on graduation day. Then, about a year later, she was diagnosed with cancer; and about a year after that, she passed way. Through it all, she never lost her essence, all that which made her who she was—her spirit, her class, or her kindness. She loved this program and everyone in it, so when the idea of an MFA scholarship in her memory was proposed, she loved that too. She would be glad to know that it will be helping a current MFA student achieve the dream of writing a book, and she would be glad to know that her husband and daughter are in the audience today to help us celebrate. The Lynn H. Safford Memorial Scholarship is a $1,000 award given to a second-year student who best represents Lynn’s leadership and spirit. This year (2012), that student is Jennifer Boissoneault.


Speaking of Ms. Boissoneault, another terrific writer, we’ll be featuring her next week here at TK.


This year’s winner of the Lynn Safford scholarship was another brilliant writer and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet ... Kip Taylor.

Movie Reviews ...

Lore A German movie that deals with an uncomfortable subject … life during the Rise of Nazi Germany was one thing for German families supportive of Hitler … but what happens when it’s 1945 and the fall is almost complete? Saskia Rosendahl in the title role, Lore, is an teenager faced with fleeing the occupied territories in Germany with her three younger siblings (one an infant). Her SS Father and Nazi connected mother are to be arrested … and when her mother leaves to face her fate, she hands Lore some cash and jewelry, and vague instructions on how to get to their grandmothers house a long way off in Hamburg.

Ultimately, it is a coming of age story, but with an interesting twist. Lore was brought up believing the propaganda during Nazi Germany’s rise … and thus the fall is all the more difficult. The journey she partakes with her siblings is a treacherous one … there’s a huge difference between falling into Russian hands vs. British or American … and when a stranger with numbers on his arm begins to follow her through the woods, Lore does her best to hate him the way she was taught to hate all Jews, even as he helps her and her siblings survive. When nature takes over and Lore finds herself attracted to the stranger, they come close to a sexual encounter the stranger has also been anticipating, but then he can’t go through with it, and Lore is left even more frustrated. She remains deeply conflicted between what this stranger has done for her and her siblings versus all the nonsense she’s been taught.

No spoilers here, but this was a very interesting movie, start to finish … especially the finish.

Starlet … Another Hemingway makes it to the screen … and she (Dree Hemingway) may be the very best of the very talented lot. She’s a young woman who meets an elderly woman during a garage sale … that’s the hook … the plot thickens … and there’s a pornographic scene in the film that DOES NOT INCLUDE Hemingway (actual porn actors were used as doubles), but if you can get beyond that short scene (just close your eyes), it’s a good movie highlighted by two brilliant performances. One is Hemingway, the other is Besedka Johnson as the elderly woman. Well worth the time … another Netflix victory.

Gasland 2 ... I’m late to the dance on fracking, but being pushed and prodded by author, Dave Zeltserman, for a month or so, my wife and I finally took a full look-see … and we were both pretty much disgusted as to just how bad things REALLY are regarding fracking. If there’s big money behind it (using the same advertisement company that told Americans cigarettes were “healthy”, there’s a good chance you’re being fed a line of shit and/or a mix of toxic chemcials) Those who refuse to acknowledge what’s happening NEED TO WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY ... and those who can’t bear to see or read anything bad about their president and/or party, should AVOID SEEING THIS DOCUMENTARY (as they usually avoid anything bad about their party/president) ... this has gone way beyond “disappointing” as a criticism of their party/president … and should they dare to see an opposing opinion on the subject, they’ll find a whole lot of money influence (i.e., corruption) from both sides of the aisle … except, of course, from Bernie Sanders ... who has managed to help Vermont become the ONLY state to ban fracking.

I mean, seriously, when the wingnuts line up with the President … well, does it at least make you wonder why?


Speaking of Corruption: Vincent E. Green has written an enthusiastic manual for those interested in pursuing corruption. It is also a wonderful expose of how corruption flourishes in our society. Vincent knows of what he speaks. His creds, street and otherwise, are impressive. From a web page: Vincent E. Green has dedicated his life to the betterment of society and government. Green’s career battling corruption in politics, commerce and society spans decades, during which he has worked with over 75 countries, including South Korea and Tanzania. Green is currently working with the government of Haiti in constructing a nationwide anti-corruption program in the country.

Green lives with his family in New York City, where he is the Director of the Department of Vendor Integrity and Investigations for the City University of New York. Green continues to share his knowledge and experience through lectures at local colleges and providing corruption awareness training to government and private organizations.

The author asks a lot of those who engage in pursuing corruption, and that is as it should be. The problem, of course, is for those who find the temptation of corruption, whether it is simple and petty or complicated and larcenous. Many place their trust in those elected to govern, and it is difficult to deny the corruption at the government level … but as the author points out, that’s just an easy copout and justification for doing wrong. Having been guilty of that in past, I do understand his point. Having to deal with the frustrations of government corruption day to day, I also understand how and why those trying to make it day to day opt for whatever advantage they might gain. Read the book for a more developed approach to the problem (see link below).
It’s an interesting read and something that will force you to engage in some uncomfortable self-reflection. Congrats to Vincent, his career and his family.

Momma Stella and … the baby video (staring Evelyn Amelia Stella) ... what a finish to this flick!

MS: Did you see movie of the baby in the jumper toy?
Me: Ma, yeah, we showed you the other day.
MS: Nicole showed me.
Me: Yeah, and Annie showed you last week.
MS: What?
Me: Annie showed you on her phone.
MS: The hell are you talking about?
Me: I think you’re starting to lose it, Ma.
MS: She threw up, the baby.
Me: It’s what they do.
MS: You saw it?
Me: Ma, the fuck is this, candid camera?
MS: Watch your mouth, you.
Me: I’m just sayin ... we showed you the video last week.
MS: I think you got hit in the head too many times.
Me: Probably. I used to like taking the first punch.
MS: Because you’re a moron.
Me: Thank you.
MS: She’s so cute, Evelyn.
Me: It’s good you remember her name.
MS: Oh, yeah? (flips me the bird) I remember this too.

I love my Mommy!


And on the west coast ... San Diego mayor Bob Filner’s lawyer criticized the city for not providing sexual harassment training to his client. They may even sue the city ... because let’s face it: How the hell was his client (the mayor) supposed to know not to grab the asses of women he worked with?

Oy vey ...

Ariel Castro … the loser who kidnapped, raped, tortured and held captive three women for as long as 11 years (forcing one of the women to abort her pregnancy) is going away for life. I’m usually not a proponent of the death penalty. There are too many chances for irreversible error, but in this case, where all three women can identify their torturer, I have to say I wouldn’t mind if this guy was clipped at all.

Riley Cooper … meh … frankly, this level of attention is just over the top. You want to fine the guy, do so. You want to suspend him, do so. You want to can him, do so. But if you want to castigate him from the rest of society … well, he’s probably already done that to himself to some degree … but seriously, can the media find something maybe a little more important to cover? Riley Cooper, like most of us, proved he could say some dumb and hurtful shit, and all the sports analysts did their best impressions of being outraged white guys on ESPN and every other network, but can any of them lay claim to never having used the same racial epithet? Can the rest of the NFL’s players/coaches/trainers/et al, lay claim to never having said the same word … and that goes for black and white players alike?

I’m no fan of Michael Vick (for what he did to animals, I never wanted to hear of him again), but I thought his comments were extremely gracious when he said he forgave Cooper. Journalists were baiting him left and right to stir the shit, but Vick managed to maintain his composure. And when it came to something dopey his brother “tweeted” about putting a bounty on Cooper’s head, Vick referred to his brother’s comments as ignorant. It’s the first good thing I can say about Vick since his bust for animal cruelty.


Next week here at TK: I’m a little behind on Of Human Bondage so that review’ll have to wait until next week … but this week I snatched Michael Harris’ latest novel, Romantic History. Michael is a terrific writer who brought us, The Chieu Hoi Saloon, one of my favorite reads from a few years ago. Romantic History will be reviewed here in a few more weeks.


One of my favorite versions of the Stones’ Gimme Shelter ... for Rolling Stones Ray’s retirement. Enjoy, brother ...