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Charlie's Books
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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).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Book Reviews: Cemetery Road, by Gar A. Haywood … Family Portrait with Fidel, by Carlos Franqui … Jewish Noir, from PM Press. Movie Non-spoiler Review of Fences, by J.R. Jarrod … The Tweeter in Chief … The Democrat Party’s Suicidal Contortions … Happy Holidays!

Cemetery Road by Gar A. Haywood … Although originally published in 2009, Cemetery Road and its author turn out to be one of my best finds in 2016. Character introspection isn’t something I usually favor, but when it’s done with grace and sophistication, it is wonderful.
The protagonist and narrator, Errol “Handy” White, tells a tale of guilt and the tragic consequence of best intentions. As a young man, Handy ran with two best friends, R.J. Burrow and O'Neal Holden (a.k.a. O). As young men will sometimes do, they engaged in petty thefts that were as harmless as they were dumb. When a young girl, Olivia, takes one of those regrettable first hits of cocaine, the kind that kill, an act of vengeance via theft becomes a bloodbath of far-reaching proportions. Handy’s brother Chancellor was in love with Olivia, but it was Handy who took her death to heart and felt the person responsible for the cocaine, Excel Rucker, should have to pay. Handy puts a plan of fairly simple vengeance into play, but the unintended consequences affect more lives than Handy or his two best friends could ever have imagined.
In the years that have passed, Handy’s background includes a move to Minneapolis and a marriage that bears a daughter, neither of which event has worked out all that well. The author does a wonderful job of teasing the reader while peeling the onion a layer at a time. Handy has issues with his daughter, who has fallen victim to substance abuse and has a burning desire to know who her mother was and where she might be. Handy also has a trip to make, which after a prologue, starts with a return to L.A. for the funeral of one of his two best friends. J.R. was murdered, but over what is the question. J.R. also had a daughter and wife, and although his murder has thus far been deemed a drug incident, J.R.’s wife refuses to accept the assumptions. J.R.’s daughter is a reporter who also has questions, so when Handy shows up and is also unconvinced about the effort the police are making to find his friend’s killer, he does some investigating of his own.
Nobody likes politicians, and throughout the novel, we’re not quite sure about O’Neal and/or his role in anything that has happened. He’s become a local mayor with more than old friendships to concern himself with, never mind the cause of one of their deaths. It all has to do with the plan of vengeance Handy proposed to his two friends back in the day. Has it come back to haunt them?  No spoilers here, but the trip the author masterfully takes us on is compelling. Just as Handy’s background issues with his daughter and her mother, the act of vengeance is similarly revealed in stages that will keep readers glued to the page. Handling guilt and searching for some measure of redemption are powerful emotional trips to engage. Haywood takes us on such a trip through his wonderfully articulate and soul searching protagonist, Handy White, but perhaps the genius behind this novel for me was the empathy I felt for Handy’s hot-headed friend, J.R. The ghost of guilt that haunted his entire life was ever present, and it lent all the credibility necessary to understand Handy’s seemingly suicidal quest for redemption.
Cemetery Road is smart, sophisticated writing. The collection of starred industry reviews and high praise from newspapers were well deserved back in 2009. Trust me, this baby has staying power. I don’t keep every crime novel I read on the shelves in my writing room at Casa Stella, but this one will take its place on the top shelf along with some of my other favorites.
Family Portrait with Fidel by Carlos Franqui … some background on the author is necessary before a review of his sometimes sad and often times hilarious take on Fidel and the revolution that was, then quickly wasn’t. Franqui was born in a cane field and was a member of the communist party. He joined the 26th of July movement headed by Fidel Castro and co-edited the movement (and later the revolution’s) official newspaper, Revolución. Franqui was a writer, poet, journalist, art critic, and political activist who eventually fell out of favor with Castro due to the abandonment of all principle when it came to human rights and democratic power. Forced to leave Cuba, in 1968 he broke ties with the Cuban government (Castro) with a letter condemning the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Family Portrait was recommended by author Scott Adlerberg, and I had a fun time reading Franqui’s take on everything that went wrong under Fidel Castro and his much more vicious brother, Raul. Franqui’s take also reveals what a horse’s ass Fidel was when it came to doing the right thing and defending the principles of his revolution. What he did was consolidate all the power under an almighty, but not nearly as bright as he needed to be, God—Castro himself. He allowed his thug brother free reign of the military, and it was used just as horribly as can be imagined. Settling scores by taking lives is never a good idea.
Nor was Fidel nearly as smart as he was charismatic (i.e., Barry and The Donald?), but he was clever enough to play off the superpowers and retain his grip on his country. Surviving 11 presidents is no small feat. Still, his revolution was more a convertible one, unfortunately driving with the top up while destroying any sense of transparency. A thug when it came to culture of any kind, Fidel chose unwisely in repressing the poets and other artists of his culture, along with homosexuals. It is what cost him someone as obviously valuable as Franqui, a true voice of reason, but power is a nasty aphrodisiac and Fidel certainly showed no signs of being immune to it. It is obviously what cost him Che Guevara as well, someone Franqui felt was much more the true revolutionary than Fidel.

This book certainly left me with a more critical view of Fidel himself.
A wonderful passage to this informal memoir takes place at the end of Part IV, subtitled “Was Fidel a Communist?” Here’s the passage:
“In effect, did the revolution change anything? Yes, everything in the highest echelons of Cuban society changed: the Party-state was the new ruling class. But nothing changed below. Those of us—almost two million—who have suffered through this process know that the monster is not socialism. The word just has no meaning any more. Each side has its buzzwords. Pinochet and Videla always talk about the “free world,” while Kim Il Sung, Teng Siao-ping, Husak, Pan Van-don, and Brezhnev talk “the proletariat,” “popular democracy,” “communism,” “internationalism,” and “free territory.” No one believes these words anymore because everyday reality gives them the lie. The socialist world is not socialist; it’s a world where the people are forced to work and to endure permanent rationing and scarcity, where they have neither rights nor freedoms. If they are taught to read—an essential prerogative if the wall of ignorance is to be destroyed once and for all—they are deprived of the freedom to read what they like. The increase in literacy is more than offset by the increase in the new elite above. There is no equality in education, because the new elite give special attention to the children of Party members and state officials. The same applies to labor. There is no unemployment, because people are made to work at forced labor, in reeducation camps, and in military service. Salaries are not equal and are insufficient.  This goes as well for housing, medical attention, transportation, and food.
“Those above enjoy privileges. So there are no more old bourgeois around, so what? There are plenty of bureaucrats who administer, control, and enjoy wealth. Above, everything is different, while below it’s the same old thing. In Cuba, we call this system socialismo.*
*There is a pun in which the word socio, meaning “partner” or “buddy,” is blended with socialismo, or ‘socialism.’”
Jewish Noir from PM Press. I haven’t read all the stories, so I can speak to only those I read and enjoyed. Suzanne Solomon’s use of 2nd person in her story, “Silver Alert,” was wonderful. “Twisted Shikse” by Jedidiah Ayers is probably my favorite in the collection thus far. David Zeltserman’s “Something’s Not Right” was a story (fantasy?) I’m thinking most writers can appreciate, and S.J. Rozan’s “The Flowers of Shanghai” was a history lesson (at least for me) regarding how one might think there couldn’t have been more anti-Semitism in a world gone crazy (WWII). I learned it was prevalent in Japanese-occupied Shanghai as well. Nancy Richler’s “Some You Lose” very effectively deals with the difficulties of summing up one man’s life in a eulogy.
Fences, a non-spoiler review by J.R. Jarrod … Unlike many of his peers whose marquee status has faded, Denzel Washington can still “open” a movie. He’s one of my favorite movie stars, hands down, and I’m always eager to see his latest directorial endeavors. As if that wasn’t enough, add Viola Davis and material by August Wilson, and it was enough to get me into the theater, but was it enough to keep me riveted … ?
The Oscar buzz for this film is not without merit. The performances in this film are densely crafted, utterly humanizing, compelling and worthy of a stride along the red carpet. Standouts are of course Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson – a man haunted by opportunities that might have been – and Viola Davis as his indomitable, selfless wife Rose; among the rest of the cast, Stephen Henderson (reprising his Tony-nominated role as Bono) and Mykelti Williamson (as Gabriel) provide the most engaging supporting performances. (Williamson often steals scenes;  his climactic final line of dialogue is no exception.)
Structurally, however, Fences plays like a throwback to Masterpiece Theatre or a made-for-HBO movie of the past. This is primarily because Fences is truly a filmed stage play, substituting real brick & mortar interior and exterior locations for their stage counterparts. We are teased by possible flashbacks, dream sequences and the like, but they never materialize, nor do the walk-ons or other juicy supporting roles evinced in the characters’ lengthy diatribes and soliloquies.  (I’d hazard a guess that Denzel Washington speaks more words in this one film than he has in his entire cinematic career.) With no dam in sight, I found myself quickly drowning in the endless rivers of bombastic dialogue. Any event even remotely dramatic is simply referred to as having taken place off-screen, and the principal cast is never truly untethered from the two-story house, backyard, or locked-down camera. In this respect Fences inadvertently becomes an experimental film (that just happens to boast a stellar cast), but is hardly the cinematic experience I think many are expecting.
In cinema, the writer and director must assume their audience is unfamiliar with the world being depicted onscreen; therefore the filmmaker’s duty is to educate as well as to entertain. An example of where Fences fails to educate can be found in Troy’s tirades to his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) about 1950s race relations. Since the screenplay never provides any three-dimensional malevolent, let alone benevolent, white characters (or outsiders of any other race, for that matter), Troy’s rants seem targeted at straw men. Thus, rather than compelling the filmgoer with this tale of Black family life in the 1950s, such narrative and structural deficits serve to distance if not disenchant the filmgoer.
Having seen the screenplay, I can attest that it is indeed, for all intents and purposes, still formatted like a stage play, with copious runs of dialogue throughout. While August Wilson’s Pulitzer-prize winning genius can’t be contested, it seems this early stage-to-screen adaptation of his own work was deemed by contemporary producers as too sacrosanct to edit. (There is no other screenwriter credited in this production.) Unfortunately Wilson’s material is revered to a fault. Leaving the screenplay untouched (and the footage most likely minimally trimmed in post-production) was a decision by the producers which resulted in a film that mimics the award-winning play but never uses the semiotic tools necessary to dissect, translate or interpret the play for the cinematic medium. This yielded, in my opinion, an extremely claustrophobic movie going experience.
I wanted to love this film … I did. Yet rather than unpack or elevate the material, the artifice of this production undercuts verisimilitude and unintentionally breaks the fourth wall with its lack of cinematic dexterity. Fans of the stage play will find some solace, I’m sure, since they’re essentially getting a stage play redux, albeit in high-definition. Antwone Fisher (2002) and The Great Debaters (2007) are evidence that Denzel Washington is a fine and nuanced director, and though the performances in this film are flawless, I left the theatre feeling that Fences The Movie is unduly haunted by the ghost of August Wilson.

The Tweeter in Chief … or maybe the prestidigitator in chief is more appropriate. While the Orange Blowhard tweets, the media and other Democrat sycophants crack jokes and/or predict a new apocalypse based on the Blowhard’s cast of greedy capitalist/nationalist characters for his cabinet and staff, people who just might remake America in a way the Founding Fathers would most appreciate.
And, no, that isn’t a good thing, certainly not for the lot of us.
I’ve been waiting for the tweets that hint of appointments to whoever might be in charge of the evacuations of the cities and herding of the populaces into feudal land parcels, but even that might be an improvement on where the Blowhard seems to be taking us (somebody say 14 hour workdays, no vacation time, sick time, and/or unions?). Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but no less so than Democrats seem to think.
Maybe he’ll leave those in the cities alone, especially those who can afford the subtle and/or not so subtle gentrifications.
What we should be afraid of, it seems to me, isn’t World War III, whether with China or somebody else nuclear capable. It seems to me the economy is about to take a big league boost for those who can afford it most, while the rest of us get used to lower wages for more production and less value. That seems to be were Herr Drumpf is headed with cabinet picks and staff appointments that defy even a hint of income gap control.
And let’s not get into the environment. Let’s face it, we were doomed a long time ago on that front. Trump will expedite the end of life on planet earth via the further ignoring of climate change. On the other hand, for those of you who might have a few years left before the climate apocalypse of hot air (pun not intended), poisoned water, rising sea levels and unbreathable air, you can always enjoy the time you have left. At least he’s giving you a good reason to go hedonistic.
The Democratic Party’s Suicidal Contortions … and over on the other side of the political aisle are the losers in the 2016 run for the power minus the glory. The Democratic Party and its never ending search for someone to blame for their own misdeeds (i.e., what was exposed in WikiLeaks) seems determined to hold fast and ignore progressives yet again. This week they’re back to blaming Vladimir Putin and his Russian team of hackers for wanting Trump to beat Hillary so bad they forced the DNC to sabotage Bernie Sanders’s campaign.
Just think about the shape-shifting that line of logic requires.
In any event, it is amusing watching Democratic lemmings twist and turn over Trump and all the projections about what the Blowhard will do next, although I sometimes think they forget who actually still is president. Then again why not? They certainly forgot Barry was president the last 7+ years. They were so drunk on the prediction that Trump would kill the Republican Party for good, and/or that they could do whatever they wanted (i.e., DNC sabotaging its own candidates), they didn’t see the train headed straight for their collective power. Well, the train has struck and the power is gone, at least for the next two years. We shall see if the contortions they continue to undertake will leave them any better off in 2018 and/or 2020 than they are right now, which is in the proverbial shitter.
Viva la Revolución!
Happy Holidays … give the gift of Stella. Need something to buy for one of yours? Give the gift of reading about a progressive thinking hit man who has zero respect for organized thugs and (or is it the same thing?) the government in general.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Three Book Reviews … Post Election Blues …

Resurrection Mall, by Dana King … Doc Dougherty is back. The author’s Penns River series is a winner, and the latest installment, Resurrection Mall, tops the list. Penns River is pretty much everywhere in America, a town down on its luck from manufacturing that has flown the coop to foreign shores. It is an economically devastated town with the usual problems that follow: a rising crime rate that includes real estate carpetbaggers seeking a quick property flip or cheap investment and the concomitant crime. Last time we visited Penns River in Grind Joint, a Russian mobster had staked a claim on a casino operation. Casinos are often sold because of all the well-paying jobs they will bring to the community. No matter the same idea is draining money from those with jobs. Now that the casino is up and running in Penns River, the petty crimes have begun to up and run as well. Homes are being ripped off. Tool sheds are missing tools. Citizens are hanging on in what’s left of the good areas but are starting to feel the pinch as burglars look to score a quick fix and expand their territory.

The unavoidable drug trade that is always present in wealthy and/or depressed neighborhoods has staked a claim in Penns River. A Minister Lewis has invested in a mall for the sake of the community and his flock. It is called Resurrection Mall. Lewis is a busy man and requires help in administering all the responsibilities involved in running a church, never mind the reconstruction of an abandoned mall. While malls usually bring the kids in for whatever forms of entertainment are popular at the time, it also brings in the dealers looking to score a new user or ten.

Meanwhile, back at home, Doc’s father is giving him shit about the stolen tools from a friend’s shed and all the other petty crimes going on in the community. Doc has his own official issues to deal with, including the in-house fighting at the department and the influence the casino has with the mayor and the police. Cars are being stolen from the casino lot. Not a good thing. Whether a gambler has won or lost, the last thing he wants to deal with is an empty parking spot where his car used to be.

The in-house Dougherty exchanges are classics. King’s dialogue is top of the line. You quickly latch onto Doc and his family and friends and never want to put the book down.

Shortly after his Sunday night dinner with his parents, Doc is confronted with a big mess, the result of an apparent drug war. Five are killed, but somebody close to Doc, somebody from Grind Joint (see review here:), Wilver Faison, saw the entire thing go down. Doc wants to protect Wilver, but the kid, now 16, is terrified at least one of the hit team saw him.

No spoilers here. Trust me on the author’s ability to write a brilliant novel. Doc Dougherty is the cop we all want in our communities. A veteran at his trade, Doc is smart and disciplined, but not over the top. His best personality trait is the fact he’s reasonable. He’s willing to listen and isn’t easily maneuvered by the powers that be. In Penns River, his immediate boss is a family friend and someone Doc respects, but everybody has to deal with the politicians overseeing the police and those willing to serve the politicians ahead of the community. There’s usually more than one in every precinct, the brown noses, the by-the-book sycophants, and it’s no different in Penns River.

This is a terrific novel you’ll want to read, and if you haven’t read King’s other Penns Rivers novels, you’ll want to read those also.

Check out Down and Out Books here:
Check out Dana’s works here:

Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh … You like dark? You like funny? You like funny-dark? Then get this baby. Eileen is a single 24 year old living with her father, an alcoholic retired cop. Dad verbally abuses Eileen a dozen times a day and for a dozen different reasons. He cracks nasty about her looks, her inability to find a man, and the disparity between her and a more attractive sister who has flown the coop and has her own life. Dad also sees gangsters where they’re not. Eileen tells us she is unhappy and that she hates everything. She’s telling us this some thirty plus years removed from her life with Dad and her job at a prison for boys in Massachusetts. Her alcoholic mother has been dead for five years, but she often recalls lying in bed with the corpse the night Mom died. Her life seems analogous to coexisting alongside the living dead.

She has issues with her body—“I hated my face with a passion”—but she isn’t immune to sexual attraction. There’s a guard at the prison she often stalks on her days off, just to get a look at Randy, and to spark another fantasy or two. She is mostly invisible to everyone, except her father and his abuse. She’s happy to run out to the liquor store and purchase his daily bottle of gin for the sake of peace and quiet once he passes out. She can take some solace in her room in the cold attic because it’s as far away from Dad as possible. Dad tends to fall asleep in a broken recliner in a filthy kitchen neither of them have any intention of cleaning.

It’s a dour look at life, and it reminded me of Bukowski’s Barfly, where one might substitute the sale of a short story and a fling with a publisher for a newfound friendship with a new hire at the prison, somebody who not only sees Eileen, she befriends her. Rebecca is a hot redhead with a Harvard degree and a screw or two loose of her own, albeit for altruistic reasons. That has to do with an ending that is a wonderfully dark surprise. The novel takes course over a seven-day reflection of Eileen’s mostly miserable life in 1960. It’s a PEN/Hemingway Award winner (whatever the fuck that means, but I’ll assume I should always mention a writing award … and so Eileen has also been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize). Bottom line: If you’re into a dark dose of life with some great humor, this baby is something you’ll want to read. I loved it.
Get Eileen here:
Earthquake Weather, Terrill Lankford … Want to know something about Hollywood? Read this baby. It’s a dark but humorous trip to and through Hollywood portraying all the jealousy, deceit, greed, lust, and vengeance required of the players seeking a seat at the table. Mark Hayes is a creative executive with a dream of making his own movies. He works for a top notch scumbag, Dexter Morton, who takes pleasure in his ability to do as he pleases since his recent success with a movie that has earned enough to make him relevant in the industry. Dexter is the big boss man of Prescient Pictures.

The aftermath of a serious earthquake leaves the town in tatters as Mark’s known but not neighborly neighbors filter out of the building where he lives. They are all in an immediate quest for survival from the rubble of aftershocks. Neighbor meets neighbor, and coincidences emerge. A party thrown by the boss man, Dexter Morton, brings some of the coincidental people into play, but when the host is found floating face down in his pool, hairpiece askew, the following morning by Mark, he becomes a prime suspect in Morton’s sudden demise.

The hot girlfriend, Charity James, of the dead man took issue with him the night of the party and stabbed him in the ass. A few others in attendance mentioned how they wouldn’t mind it so much if the boss didn’t wake up one morning, but it’s Mark who found him, so it’s Mark the police are interested in speaking with. And they do, a few times, but in the meantime there’s shenanigans aplenty, including the appearance of a rattlesnake intended to end Mark, a few tussles with gangbangers of consequence (you don’t spit into the wind or insult Bloods or Crips), and there’s the issue of the minor starlet/former girlfriend (Charity) of the dead guy, who has managed to embed herself in Mark’s life because he was told to get her out of there (the party) after the stabbing incident. Of course Mark brought her home, but without ill intentions. Still, she became comfortable with Mark’s roommate, and eventually comfortable in a one-timer with Mark, but her follow-up act was with gangbangers, and nothing good was going to come from that.

The author takes us on a dark but fun trip through the Hollywood subculture of movie makers and shakers. Mark is self-deprecating enough to win our sympathy, even when he does nasty stuff, but we’re with his better angels throughout, including his wanting to help that overthrown starlet. No spoilers here, but the ending occurs just after the O.J. alleged double murder (alleged my ass), and it’s a lot of fun getting there. So much so, I’d intended to write the review for a December post, but wasn’t willing to put this one down long enough to wait.

Get Earthquake Weather here:

The Electoral Blues … never let it be said that Knucks can call a Super Bowl winner … or an election. The shocker on November 8 was met with great joy at Casa Stella, although we had no idea it would happen. Now, to clarify, we weren’t celebrating the Orange Blowhard’s victory. No sir/No ma’am. We were celebrating the temporary death of the Clintons’ presidential aspirations. I say temporary because we all know Chelsea’s “turn” will be coming along soon enough. We’re in no hurry for that spoiled brat (“earning” $600,000 fresh out of college? Really?) to make her way to center stage. Now that the DNC has taken one in the chops, maybe it will clean the sewer it has become and reform itself.

No, we won’t be counting on it. My Demexit remains in place until further notice.

What I’ve found comical (yes, comical) since the election result is the amount of high drama expressed by those who voted blue no matter who (Democrat lemmings) and/or Hillary loyalists. The world is coming to an end. Racism has been validated … Hell, some claim bigotry has been mandated, as if it not only never existed before, but it now has an official call to arms. None of what occurred under Obama’s tenure, much the same way as any of his decisions and/or indecisions, is either remembered or called to account. How could it be? He was the cool president, no drama Obama. It’s a nice crock of shit if you want to swallow it. Sure, some of the yahoos are feeling their oats these days, but how long does anyone really think that’ll last before they’re caught and have to pay the price for being assholes? I’ll go out on a limb and say things will settle down from whatever peak they’ve reached, and I’m not so sure it’s all that much higher than what is normal in our institutionalized racist America.

The bottom line is Progressives will continue the fight for a voice in our government on domestic and foreign policy. We will not capitulate to the corrupt powers all too willing to sellout to corporate and Wall Street interests. We will not buy into the nonsense about the lesser of two evils, which is exactly how the Democrat Party become so powerful and corrupt. Ultimately, it’s how the party shot itself in the foot. The incremental change we’ve been told to swallow for three decades has gone in one direction, and it hasn’t been in the interests of the middle class, the poor, or minorities.


Here’s what we believe has happened to Democrat voters over the years. Carey Wedler seems to have nailed it pretty good. So, hopefully yeah, welcome back to the resistance, bitches.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

2 Days to Armageddon … Kyle Carey Kickstarter … J.R. Jarrod reviews Dr. Strange … The Case for Unaccountable Power … RIP Ed Gorman …

2 Days to Armageddon … while early voting has been going on for a couple of weeks, the rest of America goes to the polls on November 8. The two entries from the two major political parties have the lowest approval/trustworthy numbers in history. One has a huge resume, but a horrendous performance record. Oh, she’s made plenty of decisions, but they’ve mostly turned into monumental disasters (i.e., Iraq, Libya, Syria). The other major participant is a throwback to vaudeville, and that’s being nice. The GOP nominee is without a doubt the most unqualified presidential candidate in my lifetime. He knows little, if anything, about the office he seeks (i.e., what it entails, its constitutional limits, etc.). What Donald Trump does have is a celebrity name at least equal to his main rival, Hillary Clinton. People recognize him and his brand and they aren’t interested in the background details of that brand. Nor do they care that hardly anything that comes out of his mouth is a truth. So what he’s stiffed workers at every opportunity? So what he buys cheap from China and Japan? So what he has more lawsuits pending than, as my Aunt Josephine used to say, Carter has pills?
Clinton is likely to win because Trump is atrocious to people in general. Also, her political machine, exposed as corrupt as the Gambino crime family this past year, is on the ground and running at full speed. She has the big name surrogates pleading her case, even if they hate one another, because the Obama legacy tour is in deep trouble should Clinton lose. If she wins, however, it’ll be because of Trump and all his horrendous behavior. I suspect it’ll be his behavior that trumps, so to speak, his incredible lack of knowledge about pretty much everything.
On the other hand, should Clinton lose, she’ll have nobody to blame but herself. Not the 1-4% of Jill Stein voters like myself, nor James Comey and the FBI. Hillary Clinton is a magnet for scandals of her own doing. Between the emails and her and her husband’s foundation, there are probably 3 or 4 RICO indictments ready to fly. If Trump is the next president (try hearing yourself say that a few times), Clinton is likely to face a genuine prosecution. For now, between Obama and the Justice Department she so sloppily ran while secretary of state, she has built in protections better than the juries John Gotti rigged in two of his criminal trials.
The other candidates, Gary “Aleppo” Johnson and Jill Stein, will be nowhere to be found come election night. Those of us voting for either do not kid ourselves about the votes we’ll make. Neither has a chance in hell of winning, but that’s the way the system is set up: two major parties representing the interests of the corporate elite perform a sideshow election for entertainment and venting purposes. People get to YELL at one another in social media as they argue their candidate’s cases, although this year, the only case to be made for either of the two major candidates is an attack on the other.
But what if Trump wins? He’s stupid and crazy.
What if Clinton wins? She’s corrupt and vindictive.
Frankly, I look forward to next week’s election, and not because it’ll finally be over. I hope for a Clinton loss because of what the DNC did to my candidate of choice and all the money and effort I gave to his campaign. I also think it’ll be a blast if Trump is the winner because he really is kind of what this country deserves, and for obvious reasons. I don’t see the political revolution Bernie Sanders championed before he turned lapdog going anywhere should Clinton or Trump win. On the other hand, under Trump I believe the left will not only survive, it will likely thrive as an obvious response come 2020. Under Clinton, I see the left being ground into dust.
So it goes. Let the best worst candidate win!

Kickstarter for Kyle Carey … we’ve done this before and are proud to do it again. Kyle has a gorgeous voice and we look forward to her next album. She sings beautiful Gaelic songs. We donated … you should too.

Doctor Strange non-spoiler review by J.R. Jarrod.
As a comic book fan I was always a D.C. (Detective Comics) guy, and even then it was pretty much just Batman and The Flash, with an occasional Superman binge. In my teens I began dabbling in Marvel tales like Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Punisher, Alpha Flight and a sprinkling of X-Men. I still have the long boxes at home. However, I always glossed over Doctor Strange on the comic book rack. The reason? Whereas there was something easily digestible about D.C. heroes and their origin stories, aside from Spider-Man, Marvel’s heroes seemed mired in a complex miasma of psychological, astrological, astrophysical, geopolitical and psychedelic undergirdings that were just too daunting for a Saturday morning read. I’ve said all that to underscore how much I now love and embrace Marvel Studios’ Marvel Heroes for Dummies approach to their movies. It just plain works, providing an entry point for both the neophyte and the aficionado.
As a self-proclaimed Marvel Dummy I couldn’t wait to finally enter the universe of Dr. Stephen Vincent Strange, created by the legendary Steve Ditko and who first appeared in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963). My wife and I even coughed up the loot to see it in 3-D, since that was part of director Scott Derrickson’s overall design for the film. The movie did not disappoint. Easily the most unabashedly visually complex and indulgent of all the Marvel films, this tale is a feast for the eyes. Within the first ten minutes any lingering questions about “to 3-D or not to 3-D” are laid to rest. Cinematically this flick is equal parts The Matrix, Inception and Harry Potter with a tonal sprinkling of TV’s E.R. (don’t ask, just go see it). And wow just wow.
Albeit the requisite superhero origin story, the movie benefits from the “everything’s better with Benedict Cumberbatch” recipe, and he oh-so subtly chews the scenery with aplomb. Though other reviews have compared the arrogant Dr. Stephen Strange to Marvel’s other haughty bad boy Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), I found Strange arguably more sympathetic. Whereas Stark saved his own neck and turned his fortune to the service of others, he never truly underwent a lasting catharsis; Strange, however, loses everything, and in his vehement quest to restore his world he is both abjectly humbled and ultimately truly repents. When given the choice later in the tale to use his newfound abilities to regain what he’s lost, Strange well let’s just say he’s the Marvel hero we deserve and the one we need right now. Honestly I haven’t had this much fun at the movies in a long time.
I as a writer love science-fiction and the supernatural because those genres allow for a very blatant, if not metaphorical, exploration of the true nature of good and evil. In that way Doctor Strange leads Marvel’s cinematic pack by delving into the bittersweet nature of man’s unending quest for immortality and the subsequent woes man endures in attempting to grasp the eternal with hands of clay. Kaecilius, the villain of the film played by Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Casino Royale), is the embodiment of that ill-fated quest and, as such, is one of Marvel’s more sympathetic antagonists. The film also benefits from key performances by the other-worldly Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, Benedict Wong, a slightly underused but ever-effective Rachel McAdams, and a fantastic cameo by none other than Benjamin Bratt.
Shot on both film and HD, special effects and production values are top-notch, and the musical score by Michael Giacchino is one to remember. With a screenplay by Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange effectively distills decades of the character’s comic book history into a sturdy cinematic template. Stan Lee, former president and chairman of Marvel Comics and creator of many of Marvel’s signature heroes, has his requisite cameo, occurring, as always, when you least expect it. (I’m sincerely hoping that Marvel Studios has had enough foresight to create a digital body double of Stan so that his cameos will continue for the next 200 years!) Doctor Strange features both a mid-credit and a post-credit scene, both of which contain key plot and character payoffs for subsequent MCU tales, so stay for that extra 10 minutes (you won’t regret it).
As much as I loved D.C. Comics as a kid, Marvel Studios has once again taken D.C.’s parent company Warner Bros. to the woodshed, providing another burnished (though admittedly workmanlike) superhero popcorn flick for the masses. When will it ever stop? Given The Ancient One’s revelation of the multiverse, chances are: never. But fear not, Strange will undoubtedly be there to guide us from his Sanctum Sanctorum. As Stan Lee would say: “Excelsior!” Indeed.
The Case for Unaccountable Power … there is none. Remember Richard Nixon? Well, since Tricky Dick we’ve had scandal upon scandal out of the White House, from Iran-Contra to Monica to Katrina to Fast and Furious, but nothing close to the fiasco going on these days. One candidate has two ongoing FBI criminal investigations. The other should have a few himself. The difference, of course, is the Democrat-selected candidate has a love affair with Nixon’s secretary of state (remember the secret bombings of Laos and Cambodia?) … and she’s yet to find a war she didn’t like. Tough, yeah, but her draft-dodging husband and non-volunteer daughter aren’t the ones who will fight the next war, and that one may well be with Russia. Since she’s publicly stated she’d nuke Iran, I’m not feeling as secure with her having the nuclear codes as I am with someone who probably would fight a war with tweets.
Unaccountable power is NEVER a good thing, unless you’re into monarchs, I guess. We’re close enough now as the oligarchs rule America, and if you add up the years of Bush-Clinton, it’s pretty fucking frightening. Twenty years of family rule does not a democratic Republic make.
All that said, most people will vote along lemming party lines and then make believe their either conservative or liberal the day after the election.
So it goes.
Ed Gorman … We all know about his prolific and wonderful writing, but this is about the man. Ed, who didn’t know me outside of crime writing, learned I was seeking a new publisher back in 2009. I was close to falling into the crime writing abyss when Ed read my novel, Johnny Porno, and suggested Greg Shepherd of Stark House Press take a look-see. Until 2010, Stark House Press published reprints of classic noir novels. Greg liked Johnny Porno enough to take it on as Stark House’s first original crime novel. What Ed did was save me from the abyss, but there’s more to the story.
Most of yous know I’m not a shy guy. My politics, too left for most, tends to ruffle feathers. To his credit, even when he didn’t agree with me, and Ed was a true liberal, he always tried to counsel me to take a lighter tone in my political rants. So while Ed couldn’t perform miracles, he never turned his back on me.
Ed did more for new and previously published writers than anyone I can think of, and it has been his example that is the driving force behind my doing the same. I’ve been fortunate enough to help a few people get published, but that has everything to do with their talent and me being able to suggest their work—all born of Ed’s never ending generosity.
He is sorely missed within the crime writing community and to those, like myself, who owe him so much.

The Last InternationaleWorkers of the World Unite …

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A tribut to Ed Gorman ...

Ed Gorman …

We all know about his prolific and wonderful writing, but this is a tribute to the man, Ed Gorman. Except for some very kind reviews he wrote for my novels, Ed didn’t know me outside of crime writing. When he learned I was seeking a new publisher back in 2009, when I was close to the crime writing abyss, Ed asked to read Johnny Porno, and then suggested Greg Shepard of Stark House Press also take a look-see. Until 2010, Stark House Press had published reprints of classic noir novels. Greg liked Johnny Porno enough to take it on as Stark House’s first original crime novel. What Ed did was save me from the crime writing abyss, but there’s more to the story.
Most of yous know I’m not a shy guy. My politics, too left for most, tends to ruffle feathers. Even when he didn’t agree with me, Ed tried to counsel me to try and calm some of my political passions. So, he couldn’t perform miracles. Ed never turned his back on me.
Ed also did more for new and previously published writers than anyone I can think of, and it has been his example that is the driving force behind my attempts to do the same. I’ve been fortunate enough to help a few people get published, but that has everything to do with their talent and me being able to suggest their work—all born of Ed’s never ending generosity.
He is sorely missed within the crime writing community and to those, like myself, who owe him so much.

RIP Mr. Gorman

Monday, October 10, 2016

Reviews: Rosario Tijeras by Jorge Franco and Killing Pablo by Marc Bowden … The Donald and the “P” Word … Misogyny, it's such a Presidential word ...


Rosario Tijeras by Jorge Franco.  The recommendation came from Gonzalo Baeza, my personal Facebook hero. I’d mentioned to him that I was doing a lot of research on Colombia before and during the Escobar years. The political situation of a country that would yield to a drug kingpin fascinated me. The conditions on the street and lives of those most affected by the war that raged between Escobar and the government were equally fascinating.
Lost in all the violence, however, was the individual lives of those who share the same life’s issues we all share. Antonio, the narrator of Franco’s wonderful novel, is the guy in love with the girl he can’t have. Struck by the lightning bolt early on, Antonio has to suffer a double dose of humiliation when his best friend from childhood, Emilio, winds up as Rosario’s lover. Although the novel tells the story of a woman fighting her way through life, it is the narrator who breaks our heart at every turn. He considers himself a coward for never telling her how much he loves her and wants to protect her. When the time comes and he finally has Rosario sexually, it is quickly shot down by her ability to suspend emotions and replace them with a steel-like resolve.
Rosario is a beautiful woman born into poverty, raped by one of her mother’s boyfriends at a young age, and then kicked out of her mother’s house for castrating the man with a pair of scissors. Although we’re unsure of her real surname, she’s known from that point on as Rosario Tijeras (Tijeras is Spanish for scissors). Rosario has a brother, Johnefe, she moved in with after her mother kicked her out. Johnefe is a sicario (killer/hitman) for one of the cartels (there are hints throughout the book it’s for one of Escobar’s crews). The two are close and dedicated to religion and one another, except in Johnefe’s world, the world of a drug cartel, women are playthings to those with the power. There are times when Rosario disappears from both Antonio and Emilio’s lives for days or weeks or months at a time because she’s with “them.”
Rosario is more than a plaything, something she at times resents and other times appreciates for all being a cartel plaything provides. She’s also a killer, a hit woman, so to speak, but whether she’s operating as a private contractor, killing men who fail to respect her, or if she’s performing work for the cartel, she never reveals.
Both Antonio and Emilio are kids from the other side of the tracks. They come from fairly wealthy families who scorn Rosario’s world, but the two are in love with her just the same, no matter the social divide.
The novel starts with a very dark and violent opening. Antonio reflects on his and Emilio’s times with Rosario, telling their stories in vignettes from the past. Franco takes us back and forth in time, and when the action returns to Antonio, shortly after the start of the book, it is compelling. Simply put, this novel has left me in awe.
There is a movie by the same name on Netflix, but I wouldn’t watch it until after reading the book. The movie stays very close to the book until the ending. Worth the watch, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND reading the book first.
One of my favorite passages (Antonio describing the pain of being in love with Rosario): He who is silent assents, and I had to be silent. It pained me to recognize it, but it was true. I didn’t have the courage to ask them how you cured yourself of that habit, what the treatment was, where, who could help me, and I thought that if a place didn’t exist that offered some kind of therapy, humanity had been negligent of humanity not establishing one because one thing I was sure of was that I wasn’t the only one. There are millions of us shiteaters who have to cure ourselves in silence or, has happened so many times, we die of a fecal overdose.
“So much shit must be good for something,” I consoled myself, nevertheless. “It’s used as fertilizer for a reason.”

Killing Pablo by Marc Bowden.  Frankly, I didn’t like it. I’d done some research before and since reading the book by the best-selling author of Blackhawk Down, but I found it sketchy at times, and way too patriotic (i.e., fawning American patriotism) to take it as seriously as I would have liked. It’s a thin book that ignores a much bigger and better story. While Bowden does present some of the anti-American sides to the story, it seems as though he couldn’t help himself by bragging about American capabilities. Delta Force snipers were either “the best in the world” or “among the best in the world” depending on which page you read the passage. That may well be true, but the hints that it was a Delta Force sniper who fired the kill shot seems a stretch. To be fair, Bowden believes it was an up-close shot fired by Colombian police, what seems to make the most sense, but shades of American influence, as valid as it might have been, seemed forced. Overall, I agree with The Guardian’s review of the book. A lot crammed into clichés, and thus missed. (click on the link here:).
The upside is Killing Pablo forced me to look deeper into the period when Pablo Escobar was born, during Colombia’s La Violencia, a ten-year civil war in Colombia from 1948 to 1958, between the Colombian Conservative Party and the Colombian Liberal Party. The amazing things about Escobar continue to fascinate me. He was elected to congress as an alternate, mostly due to the housing he built for the poor in Medellin, the soccer field and teams he built and supported, and the cash he handed out to those living in tin shacks. Once he was shamed out of office due to the public disclosure of a prior arrest for drug smuggling, Escobar had the minister of justice, Rodrigo Lara, killed.
Escobar killed a lot of people, including 3 presidential candidates, judges, journalists, lesser politicians, police officials, and police. The numbers are staggering. He used bombs against enemies real and imagined, but it was the downing of an Avianca commercial jet with a bomb, in an attempt to get the man who would become president, that turned at least some of the public against him. Escobar also managed to back down the Colombian government as regards extradition (they literally rewrote their constitution to negate extradition—what the cartels feared the most, American prison cells), and eventually persuaded them, via that unimaginable violence, to allow him to set up his own prison with his own guards and his own rules. Until he started to kill other dealers within the prison walls, those he felt were cheating him, Escobar was pretty much home free. His escape from La Catedral was the beginning of his end, however, although his street philosophy of plata o plomo, money or lead (i.e. bribes or bullets), proved extremely effective through most of his reign of terror. Before his end, like most megalomaniacs, Escobar overreached and brought the fury of not only the government, backed by the CIA, DEA, FBI and Delta Force, but also Colombian paramilitary outfits and other drug cartels both within Medellin and out (i.e. Cali).
Anyway, there are enough details and research to get a good overall picture, but if you want an in-depth, less romanticized American slant, keep looking. I am.
The Donald and the “P” Word … so it finally happened, although it was probably in place for months already. Wait for the latest Wiki dump and then nail the public with the Orange Blowhard being the Orange Blowhard. It worked, too. This election is over. Crooked Hillary Clinton is already picking out her inaugural Kim Jong-Un outfit. She’s rattled her saber back at Russia and China, put her TPP people in place, and will soon be taking the oligarchic oath of office.
Of course hers will remain an illegitimate presidency. Democrat Lemmings may look the other way, but independents aren’t as forgiving about the rigged primary.
Still, it’s The Donald all by himself who gave away this election to a career war criminal, so we’ll just have to wait out her first four years with the hope she doesn’t make good on her threats to nuke Iran and/or any other nation state, whether they nuke Israel first or not.
One has to wonder how the Trumpster will turn this fiasco of a campaign into BIG LEAGUE coin once the fiasco is over. Some claim it’ll be a new television network. Trump TV? What else?
Rightwing whack-job Marc Levin has his own little television show. Maybe the two can call one another and fight via phone.
“You’re an idiot!  There I said it.”
“You’re a LOSER, and your wife is a dog!”
Hey, why not? It’s not like America doesn’t have an appetite for the absurdity of reality television. If Kim Kardashian can burst onto the scene via a sex tape and stay there via inanity, imagine what Levin and Trump could do?
As to the media’s outrage at the Bloward’s comments, especially the male pundits, one has to laugh. Those clowns have probably used the same language, perhaps not bragging like idiots, but the same language, on dozens if not hundreds or thousands of occasions. Unfortunately, the American male, like most males throughout the world, have yet to preen themselves of what always passes, like it or not, whether it’s boasting or dumb shit, as comfortable conversation among themselves.
Whether the GOP can save some of itself and convince the Bloward to step aside will be interesting to watch. So far it isn’t working. Trump is back on Twitter being the fighter he wasn’t during the Vietnam War. Somebody say keyboard warrior? Chances are, he’s too arrogant to quit, and he’ll always have an excuse for losing, so he’ll probably stay for the drubbing he’ll get, whether it’s genuine or as rigged as the DNC primary.  Outside of myself, and for purely comical reasons (and/or just rewards), nobody really wants Trump to be president. I think this country deserves him. I think it would be hilarious. I think this country is already in much deeper trouble than it likes to admit and that Trump would be much less dangerous than people think, because nobody would take him seriously. Hillary, on the other hand, is a warmonger and corporate shill, and that combination is deadly in this country at this time.
But, let’s face it, it’ll be her, as the illegitimate president. If you accept that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, wait’ll you see the shit that’s coming down the road.
Misogyny, it’s such a Presidential Word … (this first appeared on my Facebook page) … So, the fusillade of holier than thou comments about what men say about women was what I suspected it would be when I posted about this a couple of days ago. Suddenly, whether categorized as “normal” or “good,” men never talk the way the Orange Blowhard popped off on God knows how many occasions. Really?
Let’s clear this up front in the hope I don’t have to respond to emotional rants. This is NOT a defense of anything Trump said/says or does, but to assume that men do not talk about women in what can clearly be labelled misogynistic terms is absurd. Frankly, it’s total fucking nonsense.
Let me be clearer: Not only is that NOT a defense of what Trump said/says or does, it is also NOT condoning misogynistic comments, but who’s kidding who about what MOST men often say, whether it’s about women in general or a specific woman?
I was in a discussion about this last night and I found it funny how “saying that a woman has a great ass” was acceptable to one woman in the discourse, but how that wasn’t the same thing as “having a man grab a woman’s vagina whether she wanted it or not.” WTF? Yeah, no shit, it’s not the same. But since when does saying “that woman has a great ass” not count as misogynistic? Some women might not mind hearing they or someone else has “a great ass,” but I do not think a comment like that gets to be semi-misogynistic (i.e. okay, acceptable).
What Trump said, and probably says way more often than not, is perhaps beyond what might qualify as, dare I say it, “normal” misogyny, but it’s not different than his many other massive exaggerations about everything from crowd sizes to his income and/or his penis size. To suggest normal or good men NEVER use what qualifies as misogynistic language is about as nonsensical as his net worth being $10 billion dollars and/or Hillary Clinton’s claim to Scott Pelley that she “always tries to tell the truth.”
Look, like it or not, we remain a culture imbued with misogynistic lingo. I’d say it’s much more prevalent in younger men than older, but make no mistake, it reaches pretty high up there in age brackets. And here’s a fucking newsflash, it reaches the professional ranks too, and is at least at par with blue collar men and athletes guilty of same. The other night on Bill Maher’s show, the entertainer Pitbull couldn’t control his use of the word “pussy” and I’m pretty sure I saw Maher cringe a time or two, which appeared uncomfortable as he was trying to kiss Pitbull’s ass.
Face it, we remain a culture that reflects misogyny in all forms, from music to screen to literature, etc. That doesn’t make it right, but it certainly doesn’t make it invisible the way some holier than thou(s) are trying to paint the picture.
I tried to think of the men I’ve known in my life who NEVER said something misogynistic and it’s a pretty thin list. Of those I’ve spent some reasonable amount of time with, I can honestly say it has to be somewhere in the 1% range. I know of a few religious men I’ve never heard speak badly about women. A few, but certainly not all, of those involved in academia I’ve been around, and maybe one or two I’m not remembering, but that’s it. The VAST majority of men I’ve known or have spent a reasonable amount of time with have uttered something I suspect most women, and/or society at large, could or would find fault with, and/or qualify as misogynistic. And yes, that includes me. And for those who claim any woman who puts up with that kind of talk, whether it’s in a joking or insulting manner, are equally as guilty as the men who say such vile things, I’d say that’s a pretty small planet the accusers seek to live on.
To repeat: This is not a defense of the Orange Blowhard … nor is it a defense of misogynistic language or actions. It is simply a refutation of the male camp who now claim they don’t know any men who talk like Trump did, whether it was in a lesser or greater offensive manner.
But, bringing it back to politics, as is my wont, I do have to wonder where was the angst from these males, mostly democrats, when Bill Clinton was being accused of rape or having to admit to having sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinski?
And let’s not get into what he was doing with his cigars in the Oval Office. Seems to me the angst was directed at the GOP for harassing poor Bill, with the women being damned.
Oh, and one more thing ... VOTE FOR JILL STEIN.

And Jill says …