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).

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 …

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Interview with author Dana King … Half a Karamazov review … 9-11, Remember it, the why’s too … Terrific Netflix Series Review: The Get Down, by J.R. Jarrod

He’s one of my favorite people, favorite writers, and one-half the cause of my hockey addiction … he also turned me onto Mahler’s 2nd, Resurrection. His wonderful novels have now been nominated for a Shamus back-to-back years, and the fucker’s team won the Stanley Cup this past year. Not bad. Here’s my interview with Dana King.

TK: You’re piling up well-deserved award nominations, so congratulations on those. Nick Forte turns a darker page in your last one, A Dangerous Lesson. Do you have plans for him to spiral further into darkness or does he find his way out in the next one?

DK: Thanks. Frankly, I was shocked both times, but I guess two Shamus nominations in three years implies I’m doing something right.

As for Forte, I’m not sure how thing are going to play out with him. A lot depends on what I choose for the next story idea and how I think that would logically affect him. I finished the fifth Forte novel in May, and his limits and frustrations get pushed pretty hard.

TK: You write some of the cleverest lines I’ve read in a long, long time. I was literally highlighting them and had to stop because much of the manuscript would’ve been in green, pink, blue, and yellow. Does it take you long to come up with those jewels or are they just there as you write them?

DK: Thanks again. My stories can get pretty dark and I make a conscious effort to leaven things a little. I’m glad you think it’s working.

You’re good at this, too, so you probably have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to say. When I’m lucky, good lines pop into my head as I’m at the keyboard, though they’re always subject to some tidying up as edits progress. What happens most often, though, is that scenes—or even bits of scenes—hang around in my head in the days before I actually sit down to write them and different lines come to mind. Try enough of them and discard the ones that don’t work and pretty soon there are some that work. I’m also a natural and unrepentant smart ass, so there’s that. I also have the luxury of a remarkable patient wife who lets me test drive lines around her all the time.

TK: You delved into a serial killer in this one. I know you outline, but was a serial killer something you wanted to pursue? Was that idea pre-planned before you sat down and started outlining? Was it someplace you wanted to go?

DK: I don’t like serial killer stories in general, and I never really planned to do one. To be perfectly honest, it’s been long enough since I wrote A Dangerous Lesson, I really don’t remember what inspired me to go with that idea. The original germ focused on the grandmother who wasn’t happy with her granddaughter’s boyfriend. I had a bit from an earlier unfinished novel I really liked and wanted to salvage and a serial killer seemed to be the best way to do it. Once I opened that plotline it played into Forte’s increasing darkness so I ran with it.

By the way, I’ll never write another serial killer story. I’m happy with how the book came out but I didn’t enjoy the experience of writing it as much as I usually do.

TK: Sonny Ng is a wonderful character and I want a book about him. Either his past or something just Ng. Do you think about spinning off the Forte series? I ask, because the accompanying characters are truly wonderful. Same question for Jan Rusiewicz. I think there’s some gold in her character as well.

DK: Sonny is one of the few characters I actually have backstory notes on, so at least a short story with him as the protagonist is not out of the question. What will probably hold me back is I don’t have time to write all the stories I’d like to, and I already have a series of cop stories going with Penns River, so my Chicago cops may need to get used to their subordinate positions.

I have toyed with the idea of Goose going to Penns River to ask Forte’s cousin Ben Dougherty to come to Chicago to help Nick, which could open the door to seeing all these characters through someone else’s eyes. That has some potential.

TK: Speaking of time. How much time, literally, a day to you dedicate to writing? And if you skip days, how many hours a week?

DK: An hour to an hour-and-a-half on workdays and two to three hours in weekends. It’s not the time spent I worry about. It’s the work done. I have a set goal each day and I can’t quit until that’s finished. For example, when working on a first draft, I have to write a single spaced page on workdays and two on Saturday and Sunday. I can write more, but no less. However long that takes is how long it takes. For edits I have a set task laid out before I start, often a week in advance, and that’s what has to get done.

That gets to be a grind, so I take from Memorial Day through Labor Day off as much as I can to recharge. Works great. I have energy pent up to start the next book in a couple of weeks, as opposed to trudging into it.

TK: Do you ever pen or type out the dialogue prior to the scene? Is there a pecking order to it?

DK: Because I outline, I know what’s coming before I sit down to write. Even a couple of days out I can see what’s coming, so it’s not unusual for bits of dialog to have formed in my head in advance. I think my best dialog comes when I have the first few lines ready when I sit at the keyboard and then the characters just start talking and it’s all I can do to type fast enough to keep up. First drafts sometimes have whole single spaced pages of nothing but dialog. No attributions, no beats, no stage business, just strings of dialog. I’ll go back later and make sense of it, but when it’s coming, everything else has to wait.

TK: What about at bedtime. I can’t attempt going to sleep without at least thinking (usually my last thought) about the next scene in whatever project I’m working on. Do you have that going on or can you shut it off and return without an issue the next day?

DK: I never write before bed. Well, okay, I always write before bed, but not immediately before. It’ll take me forever to get to sleep with things still churning away. I always read or watch a ballgame or something to get away from the book before I turn in.

TK: Once you’ve begun writing, assuming you’re following your outline, does an idea hit home partway through, and does that make you re-outline, so to speak? If so, which books has it happened with?

DK: Oh, sure. The next Penns River book, Resurrection Mall, was outlined to be a Forte story. I probably wrote 30,000 words and I still didn’t like it, wasn’t satisfied the ending I had in mind was worth the effort. One day it occurred to me the problem was that this was more of a Penns River story. I re-wrote the outline in a week or so and ripped right through it after that.

I sometimes throw away endings right at the end. A Dangerous Lesson is a good example. The ending of A Small Sacrifice is nothing like what’s in the outline.

TK: You’re a hot item in crime fiction these days. Do you ever play with non-crime material? Is there ever a desire or thought to try something outside of so-called genre fiction?

DK: I have the germ of an idea for a Western. Picked up some books in Deadwood and Dodge City on our trip out west in July. I’d like to get to that in a few years, even if it’s only a part time project between other things.

As for something outside of genre fiction, I think all fiction is genre. Literary is just another genre. Having said that, the answer is no. I like books where shit happens.

TK: I agree regarding all fiction being genre, and it’s something that bums me about MFA programs being so stuffy. I enjoyed the program I was with big time, but there was/is that bit of horseshit that goes on regarding looking down one’s nose. I know you were in writing groups. Were they strictly crime groups or was it an open atmosphere/learning experience?

DK: I’ve been very lucky with writing groups. Both have been open to anything, and the one that was more literary fiction focused was very welcoming to my genre stuff, which helped me to learn a lot from what they were doing, as well. This was a group made up of people who’d been in John McNally’s workshop at George Washington University in the spring of 2002. Before my first bit was passed out, John told them I wrote genre fiction and asked if anyone knew the difference between genre and literary. (One woman chirped out, “His will sell,” which everyone thought was pretty funny.) John’s explanation: in literary fiction the plot is driven by the characters. In genre the plot drives the characters. We spoke later and he mentioned to me that the mark of the best genre fiction is to make it not seem that way. I’ve always thought that distinction and caveat are good guides.

TK: I know you read a ton of crime fiction and are very helpful to writers with reviews and interviews. What are you reading habits? Do you take a break from crime and read other literature/genre fiction? Non-fiction?

DK: Aside from crime I read mostly non-fiction. How much of it depends on my mood and what’s going on at the time. I’m prepping for a moderator gig at Bouchercon right now, so I’m reading all crime fiction, getting to know the panelists. I’m also behind on new books by writers I make an effort to keep up with, so I’ll be crime fiction binging for a while. After that I expect non-fiction reading will pick up.

TK: I can’t thank you enough for those occasional Al Swearengen quotes. I often laugh out loud at them and always smile. He’s the essence of hardboiled, yet there’s a heart somewhere in his chest. Do you see yourself writing someone that dark? Might Forte wind up there?

DK: Forte could. He’s there now in some ways, though he’s not as overt about it as Al. That’s a big part of what the book I just finished is about, how he’s struggling with that, and will it be his darker side that wins?

TK: I know you post favorite movies, etc., on your blog. Do you have a top five all time? If so, what are they? I won’t ask the same about books. We all get that one way too often.

DK: Top Five is tough, but there are movies I come back to over and over, so let’s see how those fit. In no particular order, L.A. Confidential, The Big Lebowski, Get Shorty, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Next tier is probably Animal House, The Maltese Falcon, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The French Connection, and The Princess Bride.

TK: You’re a musician, even studied music. You’ve made some suggestions to me I’ve come to love (especially Mahler’s 2nd, Resurrection). You’ve written that into the Forte character, plus your love of sports. I love that Forte has that Renaissance man mystique about him. Will there be prequels where we can observe his growth?

DK: I think it was Elmore Leonard who said, “Get into a scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible.” (If he didn’t, he should have.) The same is true of novels, and, I believe, of series. The Forte series started at the point where he was interesting enough and faced substantial enough conflict for him to be interesting. What might have happened to him before wouldn’t measure up.

TK: On top of the award nomination, your Pipsqueaks were a hurricane in the second half of the season, and then throughout the NHL playoffs. Can they repeat? Can they repeat without that Slue-foot-Motherf—I mean, Crosby?

DK: Why would they have to repeat without Crosby? He’s not going anywhere.

TK: I was referring to an injury. They have a ton of talent, although I do think he does a lot more than score goals for them. We made it to the conference finals without a lot of our players throughout the playoffs (Stamkos, Bishop, etc.) and some playing very hurt (Cally was forced to get a hip operation immediately after the series and will be missing until sometime in November). Do you think your guys would’ve/could’ve gone as far without Slu—Crosby?

DK: No one wins if their best player is out. Stamkos’s loss probably doomed the Bolts last year. They took Pittsburgh to seven games with him missing the first six. He had to be worth a game in that half-dozen somewhere. I don’t count Bishop’s injury. He’s overrated, and Vasilevskiy was at least as good as Bigfoot would have been.

TK: The Callahan-LeTang hit. Dirty dancing or academy performance?

DK: I was disappointed in Callahan. He’s better than that. It was a Flyers kind of hit.

TK: Oh, man, LeTang saw him coming and played it for all it was worth. I thought Palat’s hit later in the game was much worse. But even the refs said they saw LeTang knew it was coming.

DK: Everyone knew a hit was coming. The Bolts’ best chance was to keep Letang’s head on a swivel and get reluctant to go into the corners. That’s part of the game. Cally took the head. That’s what I object to. It’s like in baseball. I don’t mind pitchers sending the occasional message with a hit batter, but that’s what asses are for, not heads or hands.

Post-script … If Cally had gone for LeTang’s head, LeTang would be headless. He went for the back of LeTang’s shoulder. (To be fair, I didn't give Dana a comeback on this one.

Half The Brothers Karamazov … no, not 1.5 of the brothers, just the first half of the book reviewed. It’s one of my favorites all time and something I’d been reaching for on my bookshelf again for the past few months for inspiration. I finally grabbed it and began rereading (this is the 4th time I’ll read it cover to cover), and as soon as I started, I was re-hooked.

Look, I know I’m a lunatic about politics and sometimes religion … okay, a lot of shit, but Dostoevsky does it for me like few others can. You’re gonna devote a gazillion hours to one book, it’s Karamazov, Crime and Punishment or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (for me).

I’ve just come off editing one book, working on two others, and reading new novels from up and coming crime writers for reviews, etc. … so I wanted a break and I didn’t want to fuck around with something I might or might not like. Besides, I’ve gone back to working on my MFA thesis, adding new wrinkles and much more fiction to the fictional memoir I’ll probably re-title at some point. I’m also working on a crime novel called Joey Christmas but may also be called Ybor City Blues … who knows? Not me.
Okay, back to Karamazov … the names are too long to transcribe, so for those who aren’t familiar with the novel, I’ll change the names to protect the innocent. There’s Moe (Papa K, because Moe was the mean stooge) … there’s Larry (Dimitri—the oldest son, a bit too wild for his own good) … there’s Shemp (Ivan—like Bob Saginowski, you never see him coming) … and Curly (Alexie) because I’m fat and I’m making the fat guy the hero.

Moe is one greedy MF’er. He’s also as mean and cruel as the day is long, and like Donald Trump, a total buffoon. He’s fallen for the same girl his oldest son, Larry, is in love with, except Larry is off the rails about any number of things, but most of all his conscience (he’s clipped some rubles from a woman [Katarina] who loves him, and he needs to return the fazools to her before he loses his mind. So, Moe and Larry want Grushenka, but Grushenka wants neither of them (she thinks). Enter Shemp (actually he’s already on the scene), but he’s kind of got it for the woman, Katerina, who has it for Larry. Shemp is the intelligent son/brother. He’s got pretty damn good anti-religious arguments. A realist/nihilist who seems to have his shit together. Seems to, mind you. And then there’s Curly, the youngest brother, extremely religious and naïve. What happens next? What am I, Charlie Cliff Notes?

Read the book. It is well worth the effort, even with all the religious angles. I’m at the crucial ending to Part I (some 400+ pages into the nearly 800 pages) … something really bad happens and all the evidence is pointing to … wouldn’t yous like to know?

But talk about the ability to drop an end-of-chapter hook. Old Fyodor, the fucker, knew how to write.

NEVER FORGET … While the attacks on America 15 years ago remain a horrific moment in time to all of us, let’s not forget how and/or why those attacks came about.

Yeah, I’m stirring the shit again. American foreign policy since our inception has been based on self-interest, as are all nation state foreign policies. Nothing new there, but what brought about the attacks on 9-11-01 have much more to do with our mingling and/or interventions, covert or otherwise, in the affairs of other nation states. On 9-11-01, 19 men determined to strike a blow against whom they perceived to be the great Satan caught America asleep at the wheel. The carnage they inflicted was horrific. It was also the opportunity of a lifetime for those hell-bent on perpetual war, including war profiteers, defense contractors, and every other private interest that stood to profit.

Fifteen years later, we’re not only still fighting the same war we engaged in Afghanistan as retaliation for 9-11, we’ve managed to create six new wars (or one more full scale war [Iraq] and five other enemies [Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen] to bomb).

The problem, of course, is that all seven wars are illegal in the eyes of international law. All seven wars have killed, and continue to kill, far more innocents than bad guys. And, of course, all seven wars are giving justification to more attacks against the Great Satan, as opposed to winning hearts and minds.

So, yes, we should take the time to grieve the tragic events of 15 years ago. Nobody killed in those attacks deserved to die. It remains a horrific imprint on all our lives and memories. It is also important to realize that much of the mess in the Middle East, and the world for that matter, is a direct result of our reactions to those attacks, and the fact we continue to bomb away without a logical game plan moving forward. All of which does little to appease our worried minds.
Do not think for a second that this is placing blame on our military and/or those who died or suffered immeasurable loss because of the attacks on 9-11. If you think that, then I did a lousy job of making my point. Nobody deserves what happened that day … or for the last 13 years since we invaded Iraq in 2003.
Peace, it makes so much more sense than war.

THE GET DOWN … (NON-SPOILER) SERIES REVIEW by J.R. Jarrod. This review is for those who’ve seen the series, and for those who haven’t and may be considering whether or not to take the plunge. Either way, there isn’t enough room here to do justice to creator/director Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down, which was released on NETFLIX in August. Best known for Strictly Ballroom (1992), his vivid reimagining of Romeo & Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001) -- a satirical ode to and deconstruction of American musicals -- visual stylist Luhrmann directed The Get Down’s inaugural 93-minute episode and it indeed contains all the depth and flourishes of a feature film. Having established the tempo and template in his “pilot” episode, Luhrmann passes the reins of Episodes 2 through 6 to veteran TV directors Ed Bianchi, Michael Dinner and Andrew Bernstein (The Wonder Years, Mad Men, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) who neither miss nor skip a beat, literally and figuratively.

The Get Down is to hip-hop what Moulin Rouge! was to pop top 40. Whether mining, subverting or deconstructing urban cultural references, the series is a nested doll, if not an exhaustive panoply, of vintage callbacks, political throwbacks and love letters to a bygone era of straight talk which eschewed ‘political correctness.’ I’ve gorged on all 6 episodes twice now, to ensure I luxuriated, pondered and savored its hypermythological urban chrysalis-splitting splendor. To misquote the Nolan brothers’ The Dark Knight, this is the cinema we both need and deserve right now.

The series is rife with winks and nods to ‘70s cinema such as The Warriors, Saturday Night Fever, Cooley High, Sparkle, Enter The Dragon and even some of the tomfoolery of caper films like Uptown Saturday Night. There’s also subtle homages to ‘80s cinema spawned from hip-hop’s growing commercial viability; Krush Groove, Breakin’ and Beat Street come to mind. Though NETFLIX’s new limited series does little to eliminate the standard drug and crime-addled urban genre tropes, its creators and the magnificent cast do soar at crafting indelible 3-dimensional characters we can empathize with, cheer and cross our collective fingers for. For those of you wondering how explicit the series gets, there are frequent drug references and depictions, some mild sensuality (primarily limited to Fat Annie’s club Les Inferno and a brief montage (in episode 6) in a gay club in Chelsea), a bevy of R-rated language, and the use of the ‘N’ word like it’s going out of style. (I “get” that the writers want to contextualize the “N” word as part of the then-burgeoning lexicon of hip-hop, and they at least limit it to slang usage within the Black community, but honestly I don’t recall that word used that prevalently when I was growing up around that time, albeit in Southeast Washington, D.C.)

To their credit the writers and filmmakers imbue this 6-episode arc with all the street raw American dream cravin’ mystical lyricism those of us weaned on hip-hop have relished ever since “Rapper’s Delight” hit the airwaves in 1979. The Get Down succeeds as entertainment due in large part to the creators’ diligent efforts to textually decode hip-hop as yet another form of contemporary American mythbuilding (effortlessly epitomized in Shameik Moore’s inspired and charismatic performance as urban legend SHAOLIN FANTASTIC, a.k.a. graffiti artist ‘SHAO 007’). To this end the creators employed legendary hip-hop DJs Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc initially as consultants, but went one step further by making them actual characters within the storyline (played by Mamoudou Athie and Eric D. Hill Jr. respectively) in order to add a further sense of historicity to the fictional narrative. (The series contains characters known as the ‘Fantastic Four Plus One,’ which is a nod to the real-life ‘Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.’) They’ve indeed done their homework, as evidenced by allusions to real-life hip-hop firsts, such as the sampling of Chic’s hit “Good Times” by The Sugar Hill Gang for “Rapper’s Delight” -- a first of its kind merging of disco and rap, echoed in Episode 6 when The Get Down Brothers confiscate a certain starlet’s disco hit for their epic DJ rumble. The creators have also walked a delicate balance, never allowing the in-your-face mythic inferences to cross into satire. Lines like “In order to fly a DJ must first trust his wings, grasshopper” would seem laughable in the hands of lesser filmmakers and performers.

1996. The year Tupac was murdered. A bleak year for hip-hop. Madison Square Garden: ‘Mr. Books. The Repossession Tour.’ On stage: the adult version of series protagonist EZEKIEL “BOOKS” FIGUERO, an intellectually shrewd bi-racial (Black & Puerto Rican) son of the “burning” Bronx. FUTURE ZEKE (or ‘Adult Books’ as he’s listed in the imdb credits) is played with lyrical intensity by none other than Hamilton’s Tony Award winning Daveed Diggs. His omniscient narrative rap serves as our time machine roadmap through his younger days in the ‘70s. Although we get this glimpse of Future Zeke, himself now a rapper of mythic proportions, it never undermines the suspense regarding the perils of his younger misadventures. Yet in a series this presciently constructed, the viewer should have apt suspicion as to whether the past may come back to claim Future Zeke at some point. Flashback to 1977, courtesy of stock footage of the Son of Sam, etc. An elevated subway train creaks by and the journey begins. . .

The nearly 7-hour story successfully pulls off the rare feat of designing dual protagonists: the young EZEKIEL, as played with warmth, daring and quiet intensity by Justice Smith (no, not Jaden Smith (no relation)), and MYLENE CRUZ as played by Herizen F. Guardiola, each with wholly-complete fully satisfying story arcs, their characters being twin planets in a shared orbit of desperation around the glistening sun – a beacon reassuring them there is life beyond the “burning” Bronx. Justice and Guardiola brim with on-screen chemistry, charm, swagger and well-crafted naiveté. Guardiola’s stunning vocal range and haunting physical resemblance appear to be a deliberate homage to an unforgettable ingénue of the ‘70s/80s: Irene Cara which, along with many other ‘easter eggs’ embedded in the series, cements The Get Down as an adept intertextual and metadiegetic commentary. Certain moments of Zeke’s and Mylene’s interactions teased recollections of Irene Cara’s “Coco” and Lee Curreri’s “Mr. Bruno Martelli” from Fame (1980). (See minute 1:32 of the attached sizzle reel).

The producers seemed intent on evoking other Blaxploitation-era doppelgängers. Skylan Brooks, as Zeke’s ever-present relationship guru and business mastermind RA-RA evokes a young Robert Townsend; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the nimble, predatory CADILLAC recalls Teddy Pendergrass or even Georg Sanford Brown; Yolonda Ross as Zeke’s school teacher MS. GREEN channels veteran actress and former Freedom Rider Margaret Avery (The Color Purple), and the twitchy, volatile LITTLE WOLF, as played by Tory Devon Smith, feels like the angry space alien twin brother of Al Green.

The stellar cast boasts an impressive array of talent: Giancarlo Esposito and Zabryna Guevara as Mylene’s dutiful, conflicted and secretive parents PASTOR RAMON and MRS. LYDIA CRUZ; Kevin Corrigan in his scenery chewing turn as the weaselly yet put-upon record producer JACKIE MORENO (a fox who’d hustle you into subletting him your chicken coop and making you think it was your idea). And Jimmy Smits, a formidable presence as the suave yet deadly FRANCISCO ‘PAPA FUERTE’ CRUZ -- Mylene’s uncle -- a local Bronx civic leader with an undying vision to build a complex of homes for underprivileged families. Always celebrating life with food, we find it an apt metaphor for the emptiness of Papa Fuerte’s soul, once the narrative reveals what he’s sacrificed along the way.

Not to be outdone, other players include the often critically maligned Jaden Smith, who shines in the role of DIZZEE KIPLING, drawing viewers in with a subdued nuanced performance that reminds you what a savvy capable actor he has become. Rounding out the Brothers Kipling are the afore-mentioned Skylan Brooks, and Tremaine Brown Jr. as rough-and-tumble/ready-to-rumble little brother BOO-BOO, a born performer (who also goes by the stage name Boo Nasty -- revealed in a scene that is one of the comedic highlights of the series).

Girls just want to have fun too, and Mylene’s crew includes ‘right hand’ Stefanée Martin playing YOLANDA KIPLING, savvy, no-nonsense big sister to her devious brothers, and a standout performance by newcomer Shyrley Rodriguez as Mylene’s spirited ace and indispensable ‘left hand,’ REGINA. When onscreen together these 3 actresses display a cohesion, verisimilitude and synergy that transcends the scripted drama.

Evan Parke also brings his trademark unflappable intensity to the small yet pivotal role of WOLF, nephew of the infamous FAT ANNIE (played with devilish aplomb by 1997 Tony Award winner Lillias White) and lieutenant of her many criminal endeavors. (Whenever Annie talks, pay close attentions to Wolf’s eyes – Parke’s nuanced performance tells you more than the script ever will.)

Although I hoped the series would be shot on film, it was shot on the Red Epic Dragon, causing the high-def video footage to stand in sharp juxtaposition to the vintage stock film footage from the era. Although I will always vote for film, the high-def video does facilitate a quasi-contemporary immediacy that the artifice of celluloid perhaps could not. The lush production design pops and the mise-en-scene is replete with warm hues, dazzling light, candy-colored bric-a-brac and bodies in motion. Exquisite set pieces like the clandestine Christmas-lit salon party, the candlelit recording studio session, and the sunlit Get Down Brothers debut DJ battle are all examples of the series’ fabulous visual panache. Also of note are the ‘Set Me Free/Get Down Brothers’ flash-forward montage of Episode 5, and the ‘Power’ montage of Episode 6, both of which are worth the price of admission. Pay close attention to the use of the color red, used deftly in various frames, or worn by various characters (Shao and Jackie Moreno especially) to portend both Ezekiel’s and Mylene’s perilous journeys towards their idyllic futures.

The filmmaking is exquisite, and the framing is full of lush wide shots replete with period extras and sets, intimate heart-breaking close-ups, dollies, swooping crane shots, hand-held and Steadicam sashays, and hyper-visceral editing. Though there are a few uses of the era’s rear-projection techniques, make no mistake -- this is decidedly 21st-century filmmaking, eschewing the cinematic conventions of the ‘70s while referencing the genre playbooks of film noir, neo-realism, Blaxploitation, and musicals to capture the larger-than-life bravado of the times.

The Get Down could have very easily lost its way or spiraled into camp, yet it manages to keep its two young star-crossed lovers, Zeke and Mylene, front and center. Having first died a thousand deaths upon enduring Mylene’s rejection, Zeke comes to learn it is not heroic to deny his gifts, no matter what the code of the street says. He reinvents himself as the man with goals and a plan Mylene so desperately encourages him to be. Though their love arc feels a bit rushed at times, it fits the mold of precocious teens seeking safe haven as the world literally burns around them. There is a haunting refrain in the lyrics of Mylene’s breakout disco hit “Set Me Free” which says “And I will ascend above the highest clouds and make myself like the Most High.” Any student of the scriptures worth their salt knows this is high blasphemy, but given the care with which this series was crafted, perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps in their quest for fame and liberation these young music pioneers and the loved ones they hold dear may soar too high and ultimately be undone. Perhaps. Nevertheless, one can only imagine what Season 2 has in store. If you haven’t watched it, it’s time to get down!

Episode 3. The recording studio session is one of the most beautifully photographed scenes in the entire series. Also in this episode certain revelations come to light which touch the soul and provide an excellent layer of subtext to certain character’s motivations within the narrative.

“If I f--- up my pants I’m gonna kill you twice.”

“So kill me all you want to. Stab your hate into my love.’

“I’m gonna knock you to Sunday wait for you on Tuesday.”

‘But we go together. . .like pancakes and syrup. / Pancakes don’t just get syrup whenever they want. Syrup’s got standards.’

‘Pure disco? Forget it. Go die.’

‘I’ve been a man of my word . . .I sleep alone . . . .Every night since 1960. . . .And I will close my eyes when my heart is crying’

“He should love me less and respect me more.’

‘You forget that you became a man of God in prison. / What did [he] just say? / He said sh*t’s about to get real.’

‘Diablo! / No that’s you. . . .But you forgot that right? You blacked out!’

‘You can’t be a rebel if you don’t rebel.’


sh*t the bed



J. R. Jarrod

Yep, I’ve gone full blown hippie …