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).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Sister and Marriage Equality …

My sister was gay. She came out around age 16 or 17. I remember her telling me she was gay shortly after catching me in bed with my first girlfriend. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d literally caught her in bed with her girlfriend. We had a great conversation that day. Although it was loaded with back and forth insults and sarcasm, it was genuinely witty and heartfelt. That day we loved each other again.

Unfortunately, we didn’t always get along. In fact, our relationship was pretty estranged for most of our adult lives, but the conversations we had over her being gay and how she was going to tell our father, etc., those were some of our better days—the days I like to think about most when thinking about my sister.

Adele died a few years ago from cancer, so she never had the good fortune of experiencing yesterday’s Supreme Court decision. I’ve known a lot of friends who were cheated and died way too young from one illness or another. I knew several people, friends mostly, who died of AIDS when I was still in my 20's. My next crime novel is dedicated to a childhood friend who died way too young from a brain tumor. Marriage equality is a big deal, something that has taken way too long, and my sister would’ve been ecstatic had it happened while she was alive.
We were a pretty liberal family growing up, but perhaps more by circumstance than intent. Our father ran off with his first cousin’s wife, and later married her. It was a family scandal that cost my mother, sister and myself a lot, but not nearly as much as it would cost my father. Although I’d visit him from time to time before he died, our estranged fate had been sealed years before. None of us attended his funeral.

The day my sister came out to my father was a classic Stella moment. The old man was a hustler back in the day; a very hard working guy, but with very selfish priorities. He wasn’t necessarily liberal or conservative, although he verbally supported the Democrats when he was a union lithographer. Once he owned his own business, I suspect his politics might have changed. I clearly remember the time he went off on me for talking about socialism after my honeymoon in Europe. By then he was mostly legit and owned headshops in Brooklyn and New Rochelle. My father wasn’t always legit.

He was living on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village the day my sister told him she was gay. We used to go there to meet him every few weeks for breakfast, a short lecture injected with insults about our weight, clothes, hair, you name it. We’d also get a five or ten spot, depending on his mood. That day, a Sunday, we met him at Miteras diner on the corner of West 3rd and McDougal. He was standing at the counter with his friend, Joe Mara, a sort of village icon back in the day who owned the Night Owl café before it became a headshop. Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Dylan used to play there, but Joe became famous for refusing to allow the police to fingerprint him after being arrested. He spent thousands on lawyers and then had my father create a poster of his prints. Joe then gave the posters out for free in his store. Yes, Joe was nuts, but he was one of my first employers. I rolled posters in the back of the Night Owl for a time while in high school.

That Sunday visit, Joe and my father were shooting the shit while Adele and I sat in a booth to wait for him to join us. Just before Joe left, we heard him crack a gay joke and I cringed as our father laughed. “Uh-oh,” I thought, here it comes.

My father then slid into the booth with us and was about to signal to the waitress when my sister turned to him and said, “Daddy, didn’t you know I was gay?”

I watched the color drain from his face as he swallowed hard, and then timidly shook his head. “No,” he whispered. “I didn’t know.”

“I’m gonna go get the Times,” Adele said, giving him time, I suspect, to get over his shock.

She went around the corner to a kiosk near café Reggio, one of her favorite places in the Village. My father waited until she was outside the diner, then turned to me and said, “That was like a kick in the balls.”

“Don’t say that,” I said. “She’s your daughter.”

“You’re too young to understand,” he said. “The shit those people go through.”

In retrospect, I want to believe that my father was being considerate with that last comment. What I believed then, however, and what I still believe, is that he was probably more embarrassed than considerate. If our father was proud of either of his kids, he never showed us. My sister was a brilliant student and would eventually become a teacher in a public high school where they named the school library after her. On the other hand, I spent way too much of my life seeking his acceptance. I don’t blame him for the choices I made. I blame myself for thinking they would ever make a difference.

I’m not sure if our father had genuine issues with homosexuality. We didn’t have another discussion about it until many years later when his wife had a huge argument with my sister, called her a fat dyke, and threatened to leave my father if he didn’t fire his daughter (Adele managed his store in the mall at the time). My father’s parting words to her that day, after handing off some hidden cash, were: “Please don’t tell your crazy brother.”

It took her several weeks to do so, but she eventually did tell me. I reacted like the crazy fucking brother I was, and it pretty much ended my relationship with my father. I couldn’t understand then, nor can I understand now, how he could let what happened happen.

So it goes.

I turned a bad corner for a number of years after that. I lost contact with both my father and my sister, and what I was engaged in may have widened the gap between brother and sister. I’ll never know. What I do know for a fact is that my mother, whatever her crazy Catholic beliefs at the time, supported my sister’s sexuality with all her heart. That said, I don’t know if my sister ever got over my father’s inaction the day of her argument with his wife.

I’m sure my sister suffered some idiotic slings and arrows from homophobes everywhere during her life. People say stupid shit, usually because they’re ignorant, and sometimes they’re just cruel. I know homophobic comments had to bother her, but she was strong and independent and confident. Ultimately, I suspect, the slings and arrows faded to the irrelevance they deserved.

They probably bothered me more than her. After all, I was the crazy brother.

Adele had a few long-term relationships over the course of her short life. She was three years older than me and died at 55 years of age. She lived with a few of her partners, and managed to buy a house in a very small gay section of Brooklyn on Fenimore Street. She also lived in Chelsea in Manhattan, and eventually she bought a condo in Jackson Heights, Queens. Adele worked as an accountant for Yankee pitcher of Ball Four fame, Jim Bouton (and said he was a brilliant guy—a big deal because my sister didn’t hurl many compliments in the direction of male athletes). She also became a tax accountant for gay businesses and then settled on teaching, her first love, later in life.

As I said, whatever the bad chemistry between us, our better sibling years occurred when we were young. For whatever reason, they didn’t last, but she was an incredible aunt to all three of my kids, and an incredible teacher to her students, most of them students of English as a second language. I remember several of her students attending her memorial held in the high school in Manhattan. During that same memorial, I was seated next to my mother thinking I had to be there for her when they started showing pictures, or Momma Stella would lose it and maybe suffer a heart attack.

Never underestimate the strength of a mother. It was me who broke down when I saw a picture of my sister and myself as very young kids sitting on some kind of toy train. My head dropped into my mother’s lap and I lost it.

I’ve been very lucky my entire life. Things always happened at just the right time to keep me from the kind of self-destruction that lasts. Teachers always seemed to bail me out, whether in the form of coaches, education, writing, music or street rabbis. And there was my sister who encouraged me to step off a window cleaning scaffold and dare to find the bigger wide world.

I would take a few dozen detours, make a hundred more mistakes, breakup my own family, leap into a street life, replace love with greed, get myself in trouble, and eventually meet the right woman at the right time to find some measure of redemption. I never thought much about marriage, not enough to take it seriously until meeting the woman who would become my fourth wife.
I wish my sister had the same options, to marry whomever she loved. To divorce when a relationship soured, or to just choose to live as partners knowing the choice to marry was hers to make. Yesterday the Supreme Court permitted us to take a defining step toward the democracy all of us are meant to have. My sister would’ve been very proud of the decision. If the heaven she told me she believed in shortly before she passed exists, hopefully she’s partying with friends, drinking champagne with one hand and raising her other in a fist of gay pride.


“No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the historic decision. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

Marriage is a “keystone of our social order,” Justice Kennedy said, adding that the plaintiffs in the case were seeking “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

So it goes …

We’ve all wondered how and why voters would support politicians and/or political parties that work against their interests. For most of my life, based on economics alone, I wondered how anyone from the middle class could vote for a Republican candidate. Given the GOP’s dedication to “bigger is better” business, middleclass families supporting big business didn’t make sense. Conservatives claim a free market buffered by competition is the answer, yet our government has always supported the economic system we like to believe is Laissez-faire, and is actually government sponsored through and through.

From Forbes: The Fortune 500 corporations alone accounted for more than 16,000 subsidy awards, worth $63 billion – mostly in the form of tax breaks. 

Never mind government bailouts to big banks, when socialism is not only tolerated, it is applauded. Forget the “saving of the auto industry” bailout. In our capitalist economy, wherein corporations and banks not only fight against regulation, they set policy through the votes they purchase via unrestricted campaign financing (i.e., Citizens United), corruption rules the day. No doubt to Mr. Lincoln’s dismay, the concept of government of the people, by the people, for the people, has in fact perished. Citizens United, the legislative legalization of government bribery, can still be overturned, but until voters acknowledge the two party system is working toward the same corporate goal, it isn’t likely to happen. Until it is overturned, we have to live with the disastrous effects of a capitalist system run amok.
When I was a young idealist, and a lot more naïve than I am today, I believed the bullet points about the Democratic Party. It represented the working class. It believed in civil rights. It championed the little guy. The Republican Party was the champion of big business, the wealthy class, and opposed change on all fronts. In fact, it seemed as though the GOP existed to stall change.

Back then it seemed like such simple math: the underdog vs. the greedy, and I always chose the underdog.

I voted for Jimmy Carter and believed in his honesty and best intentions. I still think the man was a good person with a good heart struggling against the poison of American politics. Then came the man who defeated him, Ronald Reagan, and like most liberals, I couldn’t believe our country could elect a B movie actor to the presidency. His national cheerleading style baffled me. How could we as a nation fall for such simpleton logic. His trickle down economic theory, especially after doing his best to eradicate unions, proved more disastrous then his Vice President, George H. Bush, described it. Reaganomics, would prove to be what Bush had called it: “voo-doo” economics. Twenty-six years later, Reagonimcs has proved trickledown economics is voo-doo economics on steroids.
George H. Bush followed Reagan into the oval office for just one term, but he started a free trade policy that Bill Clinton would embrace and enact. Clinton’s hard turn to the right before his second term proved a disaster to the long term health of American workers and the middle class. Although he brought the deficit down somewhat (some claim it was a surplus), it was at the expense of the middle and poor classes. Repealing Glass-Steagall (a law that separated commercial and investment banking for seven decades) is considered to be the reason behind the financial crisis of 2007-8. In 1993, Clinton managed to pass a free-trade agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico, Canada and the U.S. It too was originally penned by his predecessor, George H. Bush (a big business Republican), and it would cost the United States millions of jobs (700,000 labor union jobs to Mexico alone). Free trade agreements benefit everyone except the United States workforce. They are an incentive to move manufacturing businesses out of the country for the sake of cheap labor. It is one of the main reasons United States workers are producing more while earning less (a decline documented year after year). 
From the same linked article: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of full-time jobs last month was still 2.3 million below where it was back at its peak in 2007. Here’s another harsh fact that justifies the gloom: The positions now being created have pay levels that are 23 percent lower than the jobs that have disappeared, according to an August study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and IHS Global Insight. Quite simply, in many cases low-wage and often part-time jobs are replacing high-wage full-time jobs in sectors like technology, manufacturing, and construction. Respectively, they pay, on average, $87,000, $63,000 and $58,000. Quite a difference from the $21,000 to $47,000 earned by workers in low-wage jobs in hospitality health care, and administrative support.
George W. Bush proved another disaster, the likes of which we’ll never forget. His wars based on false pretenses, and then paying for them with credit cards continues to devastate our economy. His “tax cuts” for the rich once again proved his daddy was right regarding “trickle down/voo-doo” economics. The inevitable financial crisis born of Glass-Steagall occurred under W’s watch, and his exit from the White House couldn’t come fast enough.

ENTER President Barry. Taking W’s initial bailout of AIG a few steps further, Obama followed through with further carte blanche bailouts. Excuses about expediency were thrust down our throats by a corporate media anxious for the first bi-racial President to be successful. Let’s face it, most of us fell for his charisma, good looks, his attractive family, and his ability to change his voice from Harvard Professor to Sunday Preacher (depending on which crowd he was appealing to at the time) at a moment’s notice. We sat back and defended his absolute corporate giveaway to Wall Street during the fiscal crisis. There were barely any complaints when Obama allowed the same corporate executives who engineered the mortgage disaster to reward themselves with record bonuses. Nobody demanded the banks be required to hire back the middle-income staff they jettisoned at the first signs of bankruptcy. Executives rewarded themselves for making the mess and workers paid for their mistakes.

And then there was the clemency given to taxes owed by Citibank, et al … to the tune of $38 billion dollars, completely excused by the Obama administration. Read about it here:  Again, from the linked article: the bank's TARP payback agreement, it's quietly been given a $38 billion tax break by the IRS. Seriously.

Was it a sign that Obama was in bed with big money? The first hint came prior to his winning the election in 2008, when it was disclosed that he’d been given the largest donations to a presidential campaign by Wall Street in history. Big Banks were surely hedging their bets. An educated guess demanded the banks support a democratic nominee post-Bush, and banks put their money behind Obama … and they have been reaping their rewards ever since. The banks are now bigger and more consolidated than in 2008. For all his talk about regulating them, Obama has made them bigger and stronger than ever.

Of course none of the culprits ever went to jail. It was a bust-out of epic proportion, verifying the ironic statement of a famed American Gangster, Alfonse Capone, when he stated: “Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class.”
So here we are, just two more years before the end of a Democratic administration that has further eroded labor unions and the middle class while expanding American poverty. Completely ignoring the plight of union workers in Wisconsin during Scott Walker’s dismantling of public unions there, Obama reneged on his promise to put on a pair of comfortable shoes and join the picket line.

Blind faith democratic loyalists immediately defended their president by looking ahead to his next election and how publicly supporting labor was just bad timing. One can only assume they were thinking: imagine if he loses his second term?

Dios Mio!

TPP is another Obama legacy achievement, as we’ve been told by MSNBC and the rest of the corporate controlled media. It is also the corporate authored agreement Obama attempted to pass behind the public and Congress’s backs. For six years now we’ve had to endure the Republican Party’s refusal to work with this president. They stopped him at every turn, determined to achieve what their Senate minority leader (at the time), Mitch McConnell, proclaimed: to make sure Obama is a one-term president.
All was lost in the progressive cause, it seemed. Until yesterday that is. Yesterday the big breakthrough between the right and President Obama occurred when the two men most responsible for Obama’s stalled presidency joined hands and served up another reward to Wall Street and the rest of corporate America. Yesterday progressives took a knife in their backs.

His one big accomplishment until yesterday was the Affordable Care Act, which was fumbled from the start. Hiring a Canadian website developer (his wife’s college friend) while millions of Americans remained unemployed was yet another insult completely ignored by Democratic blind faithers. The result was stalled insurance enrollment for several months. The fact it wasn’t single payer/universal health care was ignored because as many as 12,000,000 people now have insurance. Of course, those same 12,000,000 are now insurance company customers, but why would taxpayers complain about insuring people when we’ve maintained wars in the Middle East since 2003 on the same credit card?

And speaking of wars … was it bad timing or did Mr. Obama misspeak when he claimed Iraq was “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy(?)” Last week he sent 450 new troops back to Iraq.

So, is it just Republican supporters from the middle and lower classes who are voting against their self-interests? What about Democrats? What about union members? What about minorities? How do we continue to support a party that thinks nothing of giving the store away time after time?
I’m all for Vietnamese workers earning $56.00 an hour, never mind $.56 cents, but not at the expense of American workers, not while corporations reap record profits. And does anyone really believe working conditions overseas are going to improve? Seriously? Third World countries thrive on capitalism. We’re learning that here now, how profit over people is the methodology at each and every step of the business model. American workforce production continues to rise with the advance of technology, yet our incomes continue to shrink and corporate profits reach new records.

This president has sponsored TPP with the blessing of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, the Koch brothers, Goldman Sachs, and everyone else in the corporate world? How does that fit with a so-called progressive President? International Business Times has just published a new report examining the known text of the TPP treaty that shows it would provide special legal rights to corporations that it denies to unions, small businesses and other public interest, environmental and civic groups. Specifically, while President Obama keeps repeating the misleading promise that the deal would "level the playing field," instead, the TPP would let corporations sue in international tribunals to try to overturn labor, environmental and human rights laws while prohibiting public-interest groups from suing in the same tribunals. How's that for a "level playing field?" Please, Mr. President, how about you leveling with us?

Liberals across the board wanted Obama to win and to be successful. Some whites voted for him because he seemed the best choice: a smart Harvard Professor with a heart. Some whites voted for him from a sense of guilt over the crime of slavery. Some voted against him because of his bi-racial makeup. Some voted against him because he was perceived as too liberal. African-Americans wanted him to represent their interests and highlight their collective struggles. Most minorities voted for him because of the connection they felt with his underprivileged roots. Obama was voted into office with a surge of optimism that just might’ve achieved Hope and Change had he bothered to act presidential and wield the power of a bully pulpit. The people gave him that power, but instead of taking his stated cause back to the people, he turned his back and repaid his campaign debts to those who wrote the biggest checks.
What happened is unfortunate and disappointing, yes, but it’s also scandalous, and something that shouldn’t be rewarded with yet another vote for the so-called “lesser of two evils.” It has been that same lesser of two evil philosophy that ushered both NAFTA and now TPP into our lives at our expense and for the benefit of those who paid for legislation through campaign donations. It is the lesser of two evils that has and will continue to hurt and haunt minorities so desperate for employment.

In 2000, I was so frustrated by Bill Clinton’s hard veer right, I abandoned my better angels and supported George W. Bush for President. I made the same mistake when he ran for a second term. It wasn’t until 2006 when I admitted my mistakes and vowed to never vote for either major party again. I did not vote for Barrack Obama in 2008. Not because I’m some kind of working class Nostradamus, but because I saw the hype for what it was. He had charisma, he was handsome, he was bi-racial, he had an attractive family, and he could speak in complete sentences. Obama was a pre-packaged dream for an American public desperate to convince itself it was doing right by electing a bi-racial person to the presidency. The fact a self-proclaimed rogue, John McCain, was forced to bow to a conservative base and then chose an embarrassment for his running mate, assured Obama’s victory. And let’s face it, being the guy after Bush didn’t hurt either.

According to many on the left, voting for Bush meant you were stupid. They ignored in the past and continue to ignore today the fact that the economic devastation hurled at the working class has come from Democratic presidents who opted to side with their alleged political enemies. It wasn’t a Bush or even a Reagan who facilitated the outsourcing of American jobs. The facts are, it was a Clinton and an Obama. One has to wonder if Democrats feel stupid for the votes they delivered their party. If union officials can’t own up to their misguided support of democratic presidents who betray them at every turn, then rank and filers returning the same union leadership to power certainly qualify as a “less than intelligent class of worker.” That isn’t to say they should support the GOP, but there are alternatives to progressive voters, and until the Democratic party feels the wrath of the people it has abandoned, it’ll be business as usual (i.e., the coronation of another Clinton).
Yesterday the media did its job and mentioned the “big victory for President Obama,” never mentioning once how he walked hand-in-hand down the aisle with his so-called political enemies (McConnell and Boehner). Blind faith Democratic Party supporters will continue to ignore this latest back-handed insult (TPP) to American workers. Blind faith supporters will try to convince the most liberal of us (socialists and democratic socialists) to give up when Bernie Sanders gives up, and to do as he has already proclaimed he will do, which is to endorse Hillary Clinton for President.

I love the potential of a Bernie Sanders. I love everything about the man, but mostly I love and applaud his integrity. He refuses corporate coin. Most likely that same refusal will be his undoing. Most believe he can never defeat the treasure chest of “the one whose turn has come.” If by some miracle Bernie wins the nomination, I will volunteer to work for his presidential campaign. If he doesn’t win the nomination, I will turn my back once again on a party that has consistently turned its back on me. I will vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party. I don’t believe there’s a lesser of two evils in American politics, not anymore. Both parties owe their existence to corporate interests, and neither party cares a hoot about those who elect them.

Sometimes things really do have to bottom out before they get better. I fear where at that point in history now. A political revolution would be a beautiful thing. I fear it won’t be long before a violent one takes its place.

And to that, I say: “So it goes, amici. So it goes.”


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reviews: Choice Cuts … Tartan Noir … Charleston, S.C. … Barry Graham!

Booksellers delineate all forms of literature for the purpose of organizing their sales shelves. So be it. I’ve always stuck to the theory that a good read is a good read, regardless of its so-called genre. I’ve always preferred dark over light, but not nearly exclusively. There was a good discussion about the classification of literature on author, Ben Whitmer’s, FB page a week or two ago (click on link here). Ben stated the following: I can have all the theories about noir that I want, but for most people it just means kinda darkish crime fiction. I’m one of those who believe that’s what noir essentially is (darkish crime fiction, sometimes minus the crime) … for me it’s a protagonist caught in a downward spiral that spins faster and darker with every attempt to extricate him or herself from it) … some might think Nabokov’s Lolita is more noir than straight literature. I don’t, but I sure can see why one might view it that way. Can it get darker than Crime and Punishment? Dostoyevsky certainly wrote dark enough to label his works Noir. I’d say, hell yeah, but there’s no denying the upside of Raskolnikov’s eventual atonement. For this reader, what counts (regarding a good read), no matter the classification, is whether or not I’m interested enough to keep reading; whether or not I’m engaged enough to want more. Although the NHL playoffs took a lot of time from my daily reading and I haven’t jumped back in with both feet, mostly because I’ve been in a writing frenzy since the finals ended), I do read a lot.

The last two books I read, somewhat simultaneously, were Joe Clifford’s very dark and wonderful collection of short stories called Choice Cuts, and Len Wanner’s incredibly interesting (and well researched), Tartan Noir.

Choice Cuts … there are 16 Choice Cuts in Clifford’s collection, a few of which are classic tales of irony and/or the darkest of crime fiction--noir, if you will. These tales of human angst are told from different locations, to include Hollywood, the edge of the Arctic Circle, the Bowery, Florida, etc. I was seeing Rod Serling throughout my reads of these stories, especially Tripping for Biscuits (a story about a story (literally) of a guy so enamored with the hardboiled film genre, he had the ability to see color blanched from his eyes) … in The Meat, three prisoners escape the joint and have to traverse the frozen tundra with very little in their bellies until survival kicks in … The Exterminator features bug man whose best intentions will leave one remembering the often told (rarely adhered to) parental advice we’ve no doubt heard while growing up—to mind our own business. An Iraqi war veteran hooked on model railroading (his therapist’s idea) deals with PTSD in Nix Verrida, my favorite until a reread had me thinking: “Yeah, this is fucking inevitable someday.” I speak of Rags to Riches, a reality television show about the homeless vs. the homeless doing battle over a fat cash prize. Let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before that’s another reality nightmare come true.

There’s even an MFA nightmare tale in the collection called Red Pistachios that made me smile despite the dark ending. Choice Cuts left me interested in the author’s novels, which I’ll be reading in the near future. There’s no skimping on irony in this collection, no matter the best intentions and/or pursuit of goals. Like I said, Rod Serling would’ve had a blast putting these babies to screen. Very Highly Recommended.

Tartan Noir … I highlighted so many passages in Tartan Noir (things I wanted to reproduce here on the blog), I’d come close to reproducing the entire book. Want an idea of how well-researched this expose was? How about 464 ENDNOTES. Wanner has produced an authoritative academic study of Scottish crime novels. His study is broken into four themes: The Detective Novel, The Police Novel, The Serial Killer Novel, and the Noir Novel. Wanner examines a virtual who’s who of Scottish crime authors (bestsellers and otherwise) to both document and challenge the preconceived notions as to what Tartan Noir may be. Ascribed the title by bestselling author, Ian Rankin, in his introduction, Wanner asks why Rankin chose a word (noir) which initially described stylized, black and white melodramas in American fiction and film of the 1940s, but as a literary term soon took on dark shades of meaning such as ‘working class tragedy,’ ‘transgressor fiction,’ and ‘psycho thriller’?

Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam made an appearance in Wanner’s brilliant study. So did one of my contemporary favorite, Barry Graham.

And then there’s Lee Horsley’s The Noir Thriller, Wanner references often. “Likewise, as Lee Horsley points out … the predicament of the noir narrative typically has ‘less to do with a desperate search for some way out of an economic impasse than with an irremediable sense of exclusion.’ … Paraphrasing Horsley, Wanner states: “ … what the suspense of most noir narratives comes down to is just how alone the protagonist can bear to feel – how lonely in love, how disconnected from work, how separate from the social order, how out of touch economic prosperity which seems to work so well for a privileged class which is ever so tantalizingly beyond his grasp, but not beyond his sight …”

As I stated earlier, I could go on quoting from the book itself, but you’re all much better served reading it. Incredibly interesting, with a reading list I’ll be delving into big time over the next year or so--books I can’t wait to read--Tartan Noir is a must read for writers and readers alike.

Very Highly Recommended … I had to wait for it to come from amazon UK …yous can get Tartan Noir here:

Charleston, S.C. … some conservatives, but especially GOP presidential hopefuls, have the gaul to suggest this slaughter of African-Americans cannot be described as the most extreme form of racism. Hell, they don’t want the word racism used at all. Now that the killer’s racist manifesto has been found, I can’t even bother to hear (or learn) if GOP types will walk back their purposeful shit stirring. Let’s face it, they were appealing to our worst (and most ignorant) selves … you don’t think the killings in South Carolina were racist based? Well, sorry then, you’re a moron ... do not pass Go or collect $200 ... and whatever the fuck you do, do not breed.
If the picture above didn’t move the GOP, one wonders how they feel about this picture …
The fact the state of South Carolina continues to fly the Confederate flag is pretty telling. Watching their Governor, Nikki Haley, cry about the killings a few days ago, she then permitted her ass-backwards state to continue flying the Confederate flag. I call bullshit ... on her crying.

Yeah, the confederate flag has to do with the history of South Carolina (as well as American history) … and it's a history of racism.

South Carolinians defending that piece of cloth toilet paper they take so much pride in (i.e., the confederate flag) … need to get over it. They lost.
Two more Political Pictures of the sad times we survive ... the first has to do with one myth.
And this picture has to do with another, even more dangerous myth (about fracking) ...
The only problem with the above poster isn't in the text ... Mr. Obama and Madame Hillary are all for fracking as well. ONLY Bernie Sanders stopped oil companies from fracking inside his home state ... and he'll do his best to put an end to it if elected President.  Unless you're into earth quakes, you might want to consider the alternatives ...

Speaking of Barry Graham, I love this interview Keith Rawson gave the Scottish author and zen master … truth to power:

Monday, June 15, 2015

An Open letter to Coach Cooper … F* the beard … SNHU MFA news … Book reviews next week … Hillary, Hillary, Hillary …


Dear Coach Cooper:

You’ve done an amazing job with the young Tampa Bay Lightning. Along with most others, I sing your praises. I’m only following hockey now about 4-5 years, but it doesn’t take lifelong dedications to the game to see what’s staring me in the face. Your “so-called” third line, especially during these finals, has been dominating the vaunted Chicago Blackhawks, hereinafter referred to as (the “Hawkettes”). While the entire Lightning team has been playing gangbusters, especially through the first 4 games (game 5 was a bit of a disappointment outside of the 2nd period), one line has stood out to everyone watching, in every single game. Television analysts have been talking about them each and every game—that same “third line.”

Most praise, including a feature prior to game 5, mentioned Ryan Callahan as the catalyst for the great play of his linemates, Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown. I know I’ve noticed Brown’s hustle throughout the playoffs as “Cally-like.” Whether they’re keeping the Jonathan Toews line off the scoreboard, or their keeping the puck in the Hawkette defensive zone via checking, hustle and/or scoring, they have been the most visible Tampa Bay line on the ice during these finals.

In the meantime, Steven Stamkos is being frustrated. He’s a great player with a bullet for a slap shot, but keeping him in front of the net (where he’s being haunted by Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson) has been fruitless thus far. And why the hell is he passing so often on power plays? Playing hide the puck isn't working. Make them shoot (all of them). It was great to see Anton Stralman get frustrated the other night and take a couple of slap shots (he must've seen the clock and the time that was left on the PP and said, "Enough passing!")
Here’s a proposition: Why not switch back to Cally, Stamkos and Killorn, and move Valtteri Filppula back to the third line? Cally will keep the puck in their end, and he’s our best in front of the net. Stamkos can return to wing where his slapshot can yield the results it did early in the season. Filppula will not upset the flow of the third line because Brown and Paquette have become as tenacious as Cally.

We’re down to one (or two) more games. Now that Kucherov remains yet another casualty, we need to shake up the approach. We can’t keep losing 2-1, not this team. The Hawkettes will no doubt smother Stamkos again tonight. They’ll do whatever they can to win it at home. We need to shut them down, of course, but we also need to score the way we have throughout the season and the playoffs. The Hawkettes were gifted game 5 when Bishop experienced temporary insanity coming out of the net the way he did (so maybe chain his ass to the net with no more than an 8-foot leash?).

If you’re watching film of the games (and we know you are), you have to see how tenacious the always tenacious Callahan has been. Knocking defenders off the puck, diving to retain possession, blocking shots and making things happen.

Come on, Coop, we need this.

You guys have far exceeded expectations. In fact, everyone is seeing a potential NHL dynasty in Tampa, but like they keep saying: sometimes you only get one shot … and dynasties are built on championships (so why not start now?). We haven’t lost 3 in a row all year and I don’t expect we’ll start tonight, but last game was the first time in the playoffs (since early in Detroit) when I thought we looked like kids playing men again, especially in the 3rd period.

We need a spark, Coop.

Cally is the spark.

F* the beard … listen to me: I love this game of hockey. I think it’s the best of our major sports. There’s simply no other sport as team-oriented as hockey—none. Although I enjoy taking part in the fanatical antics of the sport in support of my team, this bit with the beard … forgetaboutit. Yesterday we hiked four miles and nothing drove me crazier than that F’in beard. I was scratching the entire way and into the night … at least until after The Lord of Light “made a mess” on Game of Thrones … then I promptly went upstairs and shaved the F’er.

It’s not like the beard was working anyway … not in this series. So, smooth as a baby’s ass, as they say, the ugly one’s face is today.

I read it way back and was completely overwhelmed by Darren’s brilliance. The story is poignant, humorous, and at times heartbreaking; the writing superb. Very much like some of my favorite authors (Lynn Kostoff, Ben Whitmer, Frank Bill, etc., the kind that humbles entertainment hacks like myself). It’s an incredible read, amici. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Signed: Elizabeth Copps of the Maria Carvainis Agency will represent "The Promise of Water," the thesis novel of Andrea Crossley Spencer. "I feel very, very good about working with Elizabeth," writes Andrea. "We'll be making some last revisions over the summer with the plan for her to send it out around Labor Day."

Book reviews next weekend … sorry for the delay, amici, but the NHL finals, hiking, my own dopey writing, and life in general are slowing the book reviews down. I’m reading two terrific books at the same time. Len Wanner’s Tartan Noir (incredibly well researched expose on Scottish crime fiction) and Joe Clifford’s Choice Cuts (loved the veteran PTSD model train story the most so far).

Hillary, Hillary, Hillary … so she finally speaks on TPP … now that it was halted, she’s all for halting it … wow, what a surprise! And now that she sees Bernie Sanders gaining big time, she’s suddenly against the bankers … I repeat: if Democratic Party voters are vulnerable enough to fall for her latest line of horseshit, they deserve either Republican who wins: Hillary herself or whoever the GOP officially puts out there. The way Hillary views her democratic voters? Simply put:

And I say: No Bernie, my vote shifts to the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.



Saturday, June 6, 2015

Guest Blogger: Patti Abbott … her novel, Concrete Angel … Huckabee the Hayseed … The Stanley Cup … Dogfella …


Patti Abbott is a writer, reader, blogger and humanist. Concrete Angel is her debut novel and it's received a *STARRED* Library Journal review. Here she's guest blogging, to be followed by our review of Concrete Angel.  Patti has also published several short stories in a few different anthologies. She and I share a love of some authors and their books (see below). Patti has a pretty famous, best-selling daughter as well, but this post is about her and her wonderful novel that deals with child abuse and the various forms it can take.  Here now, Patti Abbot:

Sometimes I'm asked which writers have meant the most to me. Since I read (and write) mostly fictional crime stories those asking are probably thinking of writers like Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith or Elizabeth George. Or maybe Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong. Or perhaps male writers such as Nicholas Freeling or Ross McDonald. And it's true that these writers have influenced my choice of genre quite often. Criminals, and victims have always interested me. People who have been pushed to the wall. For instance Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's THE BLANK WALL makes the strong case that a story can be set almost entirely in a home and its suburban environs and that the pivotal character can be a completely devoted mother, (seemingly the most prosaic of characters) and work cogently. In this case she's on her own with her nearly adult children for the first time after her husband goes off to war and she's pushed to the wall by her daughter's choice of a fiancé. There are few better examples of domestic suspense than this one. Yes, all these writers, and so many others, influenced the world I write/read about. They've produced much of my reading material.

But there's another group of writers, writing a slightly different sort of story, that have meant much to me too. Anne Tyler has written about women (and men) much like the wife in Holding's masterpiece. I am thinking of THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, for instance. In this novel, a travel writer, scarred by the murder of his son, rarely leaves his home, and it's eventually a dog walker who helps him find the courage to "travel" back into the world. Tyler's characters, and you can see her love for every one of them, are rich, quirky, real. It's that trait I admire most in her writing--her love of her characters--that I try to emulate. She gets inside their head, not content to merely focus on their actions. DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RETAURANT and CELESTIAL NAVIGATION explore similarly "messed up" people. As in crime fiction, the characters are flawed, but here they aren't thrust into a place where murder is the only solution. The outcome is less severe and either that satisfies you or it doesn't. In a great or very good writer, it does.

John Irving's work explores similarly messed up people. His most famous, and best work for me, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, looks at a man, (born to a woman impregnated in a most unusual way), is out of sync with the world from the start. The book is so full of unusual and absurd incidents, it's only the skilled writing that makes them credible. So too the characters in A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY or CIDER HOUSE RULES. How could a novel about an abortionist not meet what seems to be my standard of being about a "messed-up person?

A third writer who has influenced me greatly-and writes about people being pushed to their limits (but not quite over them) is Russell Banks. His brilliant novels about disengaged men: CONTINENTAL DRIFT and AFFLICTION are as dark as any novel by Derek Raymond. The familial relationship in AFFLICTION inflicts more terror on the reader than the more distance one between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lector in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I would add Richard Yates, Richard Bausch and Ann Beattie to this list.
CONCRETE ANGEL attempts to draw on my reading of such novelists. An early review complained that not much happened after the first chapter. But to me, much happens, because every incident, small or large, inflicts pain on a child by a mother. Eve Moran is certainly a "messed up" person. Some of it from environmental circumstances but most of it mental illness and pure greed. And though she murders in the first pages of the book, a murderer is too easy and incomplete a definition of her. It's the things she does to her daughter that makes her a truly evil person.

Thanks for having me Charlie. And check out Charlie's wonderful blog here for great reviews of many of the books I have mentioned.

Library Journal *STARRED* Review for Concrete Angel: "(An) enthralling, dark debut novel...It’s a potent and at times poignant combination. Those who enjoy suspenseful, atmospheric family drama will find much to love here."

TK’s Review of Concrete Angel (by Patti Abbott) … the title comes from a song performed by Martina McBride (see above) about child abuse. Abbott’s novel is an engaging one that starts with a great opening line, a bang if you will: When I was twelve, my mother shot a soda-pop salesman she’d known less than eight hours.

From that opening line on, the novel proceeds to document the various stages of hording, larceny and relationships that well define sociopathy … all at the expense of first one child, then another.

Eve Moran is a mother from hell, using any and every one in her path to obtain what she wants, but what makes this femme fatale more interesting than a run of the mill murderess is her qualification (for the types of crimes she commits) as a bush leaguer, so to speak. She’s a grunt, a mucker, a player at the lower echelon of criminal behavior—the kind I most enjoy writing and reading about, because they speak to the most common form(s) of criminal behavior and therefore, they are the most realistic (verismo = realism/true to life).

Eve takes trinkets and bobbles. She lies, it seems, for the sake of practice (pathological?). Her booty is usually worthless until she steps up her game with the help of a new beau. Then its embezzlement and stealing from those most vulnerable—the elderly. Before her stepping up, the most innocent victim of her condition is her first child, her daughter Christine—who early on takes one for her mother.

The stages of Eve’s condition (or is it a genetic predisposition to crime?), begins early on in her upbringing. Constrained by social embarrassment, her parents ignore much of her antisocial behavior. When she marries into relative wealth, her first husband does the same, at least until the point where it he can no longer ignore the messes she creates. She does a couple of brief stints in a mental hospital, receives shock therapy, and like any true sociopath, she justifies her victimhood. Her next husband is no bargain either, and when his particular peccadilloes get in her way (like his obsession with tropical fish), she finds a way out of that mess by accident—getting pregnant.

It’s not that Eve recognizes her failings as a mother, as to why she doesn’t want another child, but she quickly realizes, with the help of another scam artist, that babies are great distractions/aids in the kinds of larceny she’s about to pursue. The concomitant crime she commits throughout the novel is the indifference she shows toward her daughter, Christine, the child left to mother her mother. Christine suffers the never ending residue of the crimes her mother commits, none worse than the lack of love and care her Eve shows for her. When it becomes apparent Eve is going to do the same thing to her son, Christine’s baby brother, a sprint toward adulthood and responsibility becomes overwhelming.

I’m curious how other readers will react to the two main characters in this verismo novel. Like Christine, early on I was rooting for Eve to come through and show signs of love somewhere along the way. Eve almost does it by showing concern for her daughter’s sudden interest in boys, except we quickly learn that it has more to do with the lack of control Eve will have over Christine than any genuine concern for her well-being.

I always prefer the real to the absurd and this novel portrays the reality of child abuse and how it doesn’t have to involve the physical. It’s a rare look into the plight of kids exploited by the sociopathic behavior of parent(s) never meant to be. Concrete Angel is an intelligent and revealing novel and Highly Recommended.

Huckabee the Hayseed … now the man of God is going out of his way to play to the Goobers who support him, the other hayseeds from America’s “Heartland” … here’s the “joke” the future wannabe President told at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Tennessee (the joke meant as a dig at Caitlyn Jenner and all other transgender people): "I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.' You're laughing because it sounds so ridiculous doesn't it?"

Oh, those religious types … they’re so jovial. He even found it funny that people would question the Reality TV freak show family (Duggars) he embraced (until he took them off his website this week). According to Huckabee and the parents of the boy who felt up his sisters … the boy “made a mistake”

Oy vey …
Well, on the other hand, we have another two years of the GOP clown show to amuse us all.

Game 1 Recap … The Bolts came out like the kids who didn’t know they were supposed to lose. They electrified the crowd and took complete control of most of the 1st period, scoring on an incredible hand-eye coordination deflection by Alex Killorn from Anton Stralman. Towards the end of the first period, Chicago started to regain its composure, but Bishop and the Lightning defense kept them off the scoreboard.

In the second period, the Hawkettes were much more assertive getting pucks out of their zone and dumping pucks into the Lightning zone. They applied pressure except for power plays; the Bolts were terrific on the PK last night. Overall, the Hawkettes had more time possession in the second period, but the Bolts continued to frustrate them at every opportunity.

What happened in the third period remains a mystery. The Lightning looked as though they were comfortable playing prevent defense. The puck remained in their end, except for an occasional short rush and a single breakaway. One too many icings brought the puck right back into the Lightning zone and they paid for it. They played the Hawkettes like they played the Strangers, but the Hawkettes do not overpay any Rick Nash’s or Marty St. Louis’s. The Hawkettes stars show up. If you give any team enough chances, they’ll score, and the Hawkettes did it twice in two minutes. Somehow, after they scored the first one and tied the game, you knew it was going south from there. The last few minutes of the game, the Lightning applied pressure again, but to no avail. One has to wonder where the Lightning offensive pressure was after the first period, and/or why they waited until they were down a goal with less than four minutes in the game to start attacking again.

Now the Lightning need to ignore the statistics that are meaningless. Just ask Carey Price (Expos) and Henrik Lundqvist, and the rest of the New York Strangers. The Strangers won Game 1 vs. the Lightning, 2-1 also. It meant nothing. You win the game on the ice, not in the analyst’s booth. The Lightning should be well pissed-off at their third period lack of offense. When they watch the video of that third period, they’ll see themselves playing without purpose. They were content to loft the puck out of their zone without going to get it and keep it in Chicago’s end. The Lightning play best when they’re angry and they should be very angry for giving away game 1.

The only relevant statistic that does mean something is this: The Lightning can’t afford to lose every single home playoff game they play or they lose the Stanley Cup. Time to take two in-a-row from the Hawkettes.

Dogfella and Eddie’s World … for a limited time, if you visit James or present a proof of purchase of Dogfella to me (the ugly one), you’ll get a bonus … the newly republished Eddie’s World, by yours truly.

Reprint cover above. “Fresh, fast and darkly-funny. A sure-footed debut from a writer with a spare, no-nonsense prose style who can make you like characters you think you shouldn't.” – Kirkus *Starred* Review

Original hard cover above. “This is Charlie Stella’s first novel. Readers may be reminded, in both style and substance, of George V. Higgins’ underworld thrillers, especially the classic “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” The comparison is not odious; Stella stacks up well against the master. He plots cleverly, keeps his finger firmly on the suspense button and moves the action along briskly. He is also blessed with a gift for dialogue, likely springing from his experience as an off-Broadway playwright.” – Robert Wade (San Diego Union Tribune)

Dogfella ... I'll be dropping off ten reprints of Eddie's World that James will give away free with a purchase of Dogfella this weekend ... Go Get Dogfella ...

Full review of Len Wanner’s terrific Tartan Noir next week …


Let’s Go Bolts!

Martina McBride, Concrete Angel …

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dogfella: How an Abandoned Dog Named Bruno Turned This Mobster's Life Around--A Memoir … Available Now!


James “Head” Guiliani is a former mob enforcer for the John Gotti Jr. crew. He is also a former street gang member (112) in Richmond Hill, Queens ... and a former convict, drug addict and alcoholic … his life was a mess until he met his lady, Madelena Perrelli. After saving him from suicide, the two moved in together and started a new life. It wasn't easy at first. James had some serious addictions to deal with. Eventually James and his lady were ready to start a pet boutique business together. One morning while arguing over their new venture, they discovered an abused and abandoned Shih Tzu tied to a parking meter in front of a veterinarian’s office on 13th Avenue in Brooklyn.
James’ redemption began with his lady and was strengthened by the dog they rescued; the dog James named Bruno. Although he’s had help along the way, James has become a one man 24/7 animal rescue operation. Read about his wild and crazy life and his redemption. Read about his rescues and how he put an end to a dog fighting ring in his old neighborhood. Read about veterinarian, Sal Pernice, who saved my dog, Rigoletto, long before I ever met James. Read about the animal rescue James runs called Keno's.
James' story will make you laugh. It will make you  cry (a lot). Ultimately his story will leave you inspired and in awe of how men with brutal backgrounds can become saviors of those most in need--those who can't speak for themselves.

Read Dana King's interview with me here about co-writing Dogfella.

This weekend in TK we’ll have Patti Abottt guess blogging, plus reviews of her wonderful novel, Concrete Angel, some more about Len Wanner’s terrific Tartan Noir … and a touch of Huckabee the Hayseed