Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Review: Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk
Hazie Coogan has spent most of her life taking care of famed actress Katherine Kenton. Hazie isn't quite a maid or housekeeper, not a bodyguard or confidante, but she performs those roles as needed to keep her Miss Kathie in the spotlight. After all, Miss Kathie is her greatest creation, and she doesn't want anything to happen to the rose-tinted image her fans have of her. And especially doesn't want her to become fodder for another of Lillian Hellman's butchered tales. In fact, she'll do whatever it takes to keep her creation safe so when Webster Carlton Westward III finagles his way into Miss Kathie's good graces, Hazie's on her guard. When she discovers the manuscript for a tell-all book about Katherine Kenton, already complete with a gruesome ending, she takes matters into her hands to protect Miss Kathie.

Tell-All takes a scathing biography, peppered with tons of name-dropping, and mixes into it a tale of romantic intrigue and murder -- all told from Hazie's point of view. Granted, she's writing as if this were a screenplay, with fade-ins, panning shots, asides, etc., so how much of it is truth and how much what Hazie wants everyone to believe is the truth is up to the reader.

The three main characters are fun to follow: Hazie the stoic Jill-of-All-Trades trying desperately to keep Miss Kathie out of harms way; Katherine Kenton, the aged movie star looking for love, who's undergone so many plastic surgeries that she could probably create another Katherine Kenton; and Webster Carlton Westward III, the would-be Romeo whose questionable interest in Miss Kathie sets the whole chain of events in motion. Oh, and I can't forget Lillian Hellman -- the comic relief, I think, whose re-imaginings of past events delight her to no end while striking those still alive with the fear of what she'll misspeak about them.

This is a wonderfully gossipy read with some surprising plot twists. Great characters, great story and good fun.

Tell-All
by Chuck Palahniuk
Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0-385-52635-7
hardcover, 179 pgs.



borrowed from the Long Beach Public Library.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Did the Deed

After agonizing most of yesterday, I finally did it.

I submitted my short story.

I realize it will never be perfect, never quite the way I want it to be. In fact, I could probably edit and edit and edit, refusing to be happy with any changes I make. So I told myself that I would tidy it up as best I could and submit it before leaving on vacation.

Now comes the waiting. The worry. The nail-biting. Funny, though -- I'm not as concerned about whether or not the publisher and/or editor will like it. Rejecting my story based on poor writing or a not-strong-enough story would be okay with me. But . . . . The two main characters in my zombie story are a gay couple, and I worry that that may taint any decision. It's a nice story, but would you change one of the guys into a girl, and then we can publish it?

Sad, isn't it? Maybe I'm making too much ado about nothing.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lungs



I'd watched a brief snippet of the video for The Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine, but it wasn't until the VMAs that my interest was piqued. We played Russian Remote Roulette and happened upon the VMAs right when Florence and the Machine was introduced. We watched the segment from beginning to end, enjoying the song and commenting on the circle of blue girls dancing around in a futuristic Bugsby Burkeley fashion. So I took it upon myself to find the video on YouTube. Then watched and listened to other videos from them. And immediately bought the CD the next time we were out shopping.

Fantastic music, kind of a hybrid of Kate Bush and Tori Amos but with an emphasis on drums. It's such a nice change from all the over-autotuned pablum that's around right now. My favorite tracks: Dog Days Are Over, Howl, Cosmic Love,Hurricane Drunk and Blinding.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Book Review: The Cure of Souls by Phil Rickman
The Church of England is finally allowing a more public forum concerning exorcisms, calling the newly-founded group Deliverance Ministry. Lucky for the Reverend Merrily Watkins that her previous experiences with exorcisms make her the best choice to lead this new division. Her first order of business comes in the form of a deeply devout mother who fears that her daughter may be possessed by an evil spirit and learning that her own daughter Jane may have played some part in the girl's presumed "possession". While trying to delve deeper into that case, Merrily is reluctantly pulled into another, more dire case involving a terrible historic murder in a recently converted hop-kiln near Herefordshire. Unluckily for Merrily, she finds herself drawn into the locale's corrupt past, dealing with shady politicos and a menacing and potentially deadly presence.

The Cure of Souls mixes the mystery story with a good supernatural thriller, combining them to create an entertaining novel filled with unexpected plot twists and a surprising amount of political intrigue. Most of the politics deal with the questionable dealings of the powerful Allan Henry and his conflict with David Shelbone who heads a historical society trying to preserve a property known as Barnchurch, but some of it touches on the politics within the church and how they handle situations involving the Deliverance Ministry. Having the supernatural, or potential of the supernatural, ever-present in the background adds to the tenseness of the story.

Author Phil Rickman also creates a lush and rich background for the story, from the tales of the Lady of the Bines and her horrific death to a history of hop farming and how that brought the Romany (Gypsies) to the country. All those elements play into the events of the story, making it feel more grounded and believable.

Rickman is a master of horror, and this is no exception. You're never quite sure what's supposed to be real and what's ghostly, and that adds to the enchantment of the story. I say "enchantment" because, even at close to 600 pages, I was caught up in the story and finished it in about a day and a half.

Fans of both mysteries and of ghostly/supernatural tales will enjoy this one.

The Cure of Souls
by Phil Rickman
Pan Books
paperback, 563 pps.


Purchased book

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pennsylvania

Soon, we'll be off for an extended weekend to check out Hershey, PA. Presumably for the chocolate bath which we saw on The Travel Channel. Hershey's also close to the Amish country with all the covered bridges, and it's a short two-hour drive to Philadelphia so we can visit the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, get some real cheese steak. But what I'm looking forward to the most is driving around the battlefield at Gettysburg.

One small stop on my family's Summer of '78 trip was Gettysburg. Unfortunately, those make up a portion of the missing photos (as well as Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, Harper's Ferry, Williamsburg, and most of the East Coast leg of the trip). I've always wanted to return, and I'm lucky that Caesar thought it would be an interesting place to visit.

So I'm counting down the days and raring to go!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wupatki Ruins

One of the earlier stops on our Summer-long trip back in '78 was in Flagstaff, AZ. With that as our base, we sought out the Native American ruins, cliff and cave dwellings, and natural wonders. The Wupatki pueblo was just one among the many ruins we saw in both Arizona and Colorado.

We walked the complete trail from the Visitor Center to the magnificent pueblo. My Brother and I ran ahead so that my Mom could snap this picture. I don't remember running into many other people around there so my Brother and I ran down the an ancient ball court, laughing and pointing out hidden walls or even a snake or two, then followed the trails around the pueblo and into the structure itself. I think I was impressed that the Wupatki could build such a structure out of nothing but rocks and the plentiful red clay.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Yellowstone

Finally found a bit more time to pore through the old photos from the family trip way back when. The three folks in the foreground, standing on the wooden planks: my Brother on the left, my Dad and me. The background: Mammoth Hot Springs. This was taken in late July of 1978 on the return leg of our Summer vacation. We spent a week camping and touring Yellowstone: watching Old Faithful erupt, basking in the heat from the geothermal pools, hiding inside the motor home while a moose chewed the awning, breathing in the rotten egg smell that lingered everywhere including our clothes and hair.

Yellowstone was one of the high points of that Summer for me. At the time, I wanted to be a geologist and somehow memorized the names of almost every geyser and boiling pool and burbling mud pit in the area, making sure we spent enough time at each and every one. It drove my Dad and Brother crazy, but my Mom seemed to get a kick out of all the sightseeing.

All the photos bring back such memories. Perhaps in the near future, I'll make a return trip to see how much has changed.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book Review: Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Stockholm bakes under a late-Summer heat wave. Something odd comes with the uncommon heat: anything electric won't turn off. Lights that were flipped off grow brighter and brighter. The volume knobs of TVs and radios have no effect. Even the very plugs refuse to be pulled from their sockets. Worse still, every resident seems to be suffering from the same intense headache causing tempers to flare.

And just like that, the headaches disappear. No one knows why -- and no one seems to care at this point. Life slowly begins to return to normal. Until frightening reports from the city morgue that the recently deceased are waking up.

What do you do when someone you believed to be dead suddenly steps back into your life? John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel explores those questions and the consequences with his novel Handling the Undead.

These aren't your typical George Romero living dead, with the sole aim to eat the brains of the living. These undead, or the "reliving", act very . . . normal. As the elderly Elvy puts in when her dead husband Tore shows up on her doorstep, goes his desk and begins shuffling through papers,

"I think," she said, "that he is pretending to be alive."

I like that twist on the genre. Rather than filling the pages with blood, guts and gore -- which might have been an easy route to take -- it allows Lindqvist to explore the human side of death and the grieving process. Each person handles death in his or her own way. Some, like the elderly Elvy, see the return of the dead as a sign from God that the End of Days are approaching and believes that she must help to prepare everyone for what's to come. Gustav Mahler believes it to be the one way to bring his daughter Anna out of her stupor since her son Elias fell from a window. And David Zetterberg, who's wife Eva was the first to re-animate, struggles with how to tell his son, first of his Mother's death and second of what she's become.

As a fan of horror, I find that the story also maintains its supernatural/horror edge with the government trying to uncover just what made the recently deceased return and what it means for the living. Not to mention the rash of telepathy that seems to occur when in close proximity to the reliving; the effects of it on both the living and the reliving are a nice touch. Oh, and let's not forget the mysterious hooded creature with hooks for fingers . . . .

Handling the Undead offers another dimension to the zombie tale, mixing human tales of grief with the living dead. A very appealing book, even for those who might not normally read horror.

Handling the Undead
by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-60525-4
hardcover, 364 pgs.


book provided by Publisher

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tunguska

I finally finished the 2nd draft of my short story last night. Much of the action changed, as did the focal point, but the original idea remains. As do the four main characters, though a few roles have been re-assigned. I'll let it sit for a few days before giving it another go through with a red pen. I already know one scene that needs to be enhanced. Deep down, I know that I will never be completely satisfied with the finished product. I could edit the life out the story leaving a solitary word behind and still want to try another word, a better word.

At least now I have a chance to get back to my books and at least two reviews. Not to mention my sorrowfully neglected Nintendo DS. Over the weekend, I bought a new point-and-click adventure to try, Secret Files: Tunguska. Based on an actual event that occurred in Russia circa 1908, the game follows Nina Kalenkov as she searches for her missing father. It seems he was working on a project that intermingled with the mysterious explosion in Tunguska that to this day has yet to be explained. He must have uncovered something terrific because he vanished from his office at the museum. No phone call. No note.
Gameplay is fairly simple: collecting items and solving puzzles to uncover the secret behind her father's disappearance. Some items can be combined to move Nina forward in the game, and it's very intuitive. Well, except for the part where Nina had to tape a cell phone to a cat. Seriously. I would never consider doing that in real life, but hey, this is the world of computer games where anything can -- and usually does -- happen.

The graphics are surprisingly good for such a small screen. I think much of the animation comes from the PC version, but those interludes haven't lost anything in the miniaturization.

The only drawback: the written dialogue. I think the translator didn't understand the English language too well as much of what passes for dialogue between characters reads more like an email from a phony Nigerian Statesman greeting his dearest friendship in order to habitate the movement of monetaries from a departed bank account because you is a guru. Definitely makes for a more amusing game.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Machete!!
Late Saturday afternoon, after hours spent shopping for new clothes and shoes, checking out what little GameStop had to offer in the way of new games for the DS, and a filling meal at Islands, we finally broke down and watched Robert Rodriguez's Machete. I say "broke down" even though we've both eagerly anticipated the movie. It's just that we've turned incredibly lazy when it comes to dragging our saggy behinds to the theater, especially when the ticket prices seem to climb higher and higher.

But Machete is worth every penny.

It's an campy, over-the-top tribute to the grindhouse movies of the 1970s. The story of a man seeking revenge on those who destroyed his family and tried to kill him. Lots of naked women. Lots of overdone gunfire. Lots of death and carnage by a single man wielding a machete. Corrupt politicians. Campy dialogue. It even had that washed out, almost grainy look of those low-budget flicks. And it was a blast!

Danny Trejo is stoic, strong, single-minded and plays the hero Machete as if he were a force of nature. And he has fun with it, like in the scene where he texts a message or when he rips out a man's intestines and uses . . . . Wait, I don't want to give away one of the best scenes in the film. All the actors are incredible: from Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez to Cheech Marin and Robert De Niro. Even Lindsey Lohan does a fine job.

I can't say much more without giving away the film, but it's a fantastic film, one you can sit through, enjoy, have a good laugh and feel entertained when it's over. Not many movies of late can say that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: Looking Glass Lives by Felice Picano
Roger Lynch treats his wife Karen to a visit to the his family's old Sumer stomping grounds in Nansquett, and while they're walking through the neighborhood of his grandfather's house, they stumble across the old Pritchard place. Roger's and Karenr's eyes light up when they spy the For Sale sign in the yard and investigate the house, making a quick decision then and their to by the place and to restore it. But during the restoration, Roger finds the diaries of Amy Pritchard and learns what happened between her and her sister, and Amy's impending marriage to a Capt. Calder of the Union Army. No one lived there since the end of the Civil War, after Amy became a pariah of sorts within the small community, shunned by them and in turn shunning them, committing suicide in the property's well.

As he reads further into the diaries, he begins to see parallels between the Pritchards and his own life, especially when his cousin Chas appears on the scene. Vivid memories of their sexually charged youth weigh on his mind, and he can't help thinking that something more is at work, drawing Roger, Karen and Chas into an dangerous, unending cycle that's been running for hundreds of years.

Looking Glass Lives tells a decent story, but my problem with the book has to do with the main plot point being hinted at within the first few pages and then being tossed about and hung over the entire story. I like to uncover bits of the plot as I read, and while a small hint every so often of what may lie down the road is fine, mentioning it almost too often slows the pacing down. Which is what happens with this book. From the very beginning, the reader is told that something terrible happened at the Pritchard house and that it was playing out again. That knowledge and its creeping up again and again in most chapters lessened my desire to continue reading. Why would I want to if I already know what's going to happen? It makes the whole story turn overly dramatic and less enjoyable than it could have been.

I'm someone who enjoys ghost stories and tales of the supernatural most of the time, but this one seemed to miss the mark with me.

Looking Glass Lives
by Felice Picano
Alyson Books
ISBN: 1-55583-481-7
softcover, 216 pgs.


purchased copy

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Canon

I finally re-started my weekend weightloss walks, hoping to shed another 10 lbs. Maintaining my current weight has been okay for the past few months, but I still want to see the scale stop at 190 rather than keep spinning and spinning until a "2" followed my too many zeroes appear. So I made my way down the bluffs to the walk along the beach with the other walkers, cyclists and joggers. A bit chilly with a low-hanging fog covering the ships and islands in the bay. I snapped this picture of a canon overlooking the Queen Mary on the hike back up the hill.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Meme Rehash

Every so often, I read through my old posts -- to jog memories, to see if my writing has improved, and to occasionally find ideas for blog posts. Such as this one you're reading now.

I participated in this meme, the name of which I can't remember, a little over two years ago and thought it would be interesting to see what happens today. So here we go! Oh, and if you feel like participating, please feel free to do so.

Step One – pull out a book on the book shelf.
Step Two – go to page 123.
Step Three – locate the fifth sentence and post the next three sentences on your blog.

"Doris had probably sent him off for another drink. I'll grab him. I do grab him by the hand."

Forgetting Elena by Edmund White

Finally . . . A Breakthrough

My writing was off for most of the past two weeks. I'd sit at my computer, the pages up on the screen and type/edit a word or sentence. But nothing grabbed me, made me want to continue the story I'd been working on for quite some time now. Then, Sunday evening, while stretched out on the bed as one of those cheesy oversexed teen-age horror films danced along the TV screen, an idea for what to do with the monster finally popped into my head. I scribbled a few paragraphs onto a writing tablet and continued with more on Monday after the Labor Day festivities. Last night, I axed about 4 pages worth of story and re-designed, re-arranged and re-wrote quite a bit of story. It still uses the main bits and pieces of what I originally wrote, but I like the flow the story's taken.

The only bad thing is that my advanced copy of John Ajvide Lindqvist's Handling the Undead arrived yesterday. And I had to set aside some time for that. And it's good.

But I need to finish the story. Deadline's quickly approaching. Read or write: that is the question . . . .

Monday, September 06, 2010

Book Review: The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
When her father dies, Precious Ramotswe takes her substantial inheritance and does the one thing she'd always wanted to do: open a detective agency in Gaborone. Her father had wanted her to do something with the money, something other than raising cattle, and with a strong desire to help people with their problems, what better way than with a detective agency. While at first some see it as a novelty, who better than a woman to be a detective? Women see and hear things better than men, making it the ideal business. Without trepidation, she opens the doors to her new agency with the help of her secretary, Mma Makutsi. And waits. And waits. Then, a small case comes in and another and soon, her reputation begins to grow.

Meanwhile, a young boy vanishes while hiking in the bush, and the Father asks Mma Ramotswe for help. Not confident that she'd be able to help, she agrees to keep watch for anything interesting. Through all her cases involving con men, wayward husbands or following a teenage girl because of her father's worries, Mma Ramotswe finds that her heart won't let her push the case aside, and the investigation places her on a dangerous path lined with crooked businessmen and possibly a witch doctor.

To me, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency reads like an introduction, filled with glimpses of the many characters to appear in further tales, such as Mma Makutsi and J.L.B. Matekoni (Precious' love interest), and especially providing the backstory of Precious Ramotswe. We learn of her marriage at a young age to a musician -- much against her father's wishes. We learn of her love not only of helping people and using her skills to get the job done, but of her love of Botswana and of Africa. They play as important a role as the human characters, and it becomes difficult to separate the country from the story. As a detective, she brings a no-nonsense intelligence to the job, having the uncanny ability to attack a problem from all sides and using her gift of tact and her understanding of human nature to see things others would overlook.

Precious Ramotswe is a great addition to the detective novel, and I'm looking forward to following her from case to case.

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith
Anchor Books
ISBN: 1-4000-3477-9
softcover, 235p.


purchased book

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Belated Birthday . . . And Housewarming

We finally made it to our friends new apartment near Koreatown. Granted, we missed the original move-in date by a year. And I hope we atoned for it last night.

Our first stop was for a little barbecue in Silver Lake. But not just any barbecue. We tried a little place on Sunset Blvd. called Gobi Mongolian BBQ House, a trendy little restaurant not to far from our friend's apartment.Walking through the doors, the first thing we saw was the large cooking device: a large round slab on a pedestal like a sacrificial food alter with a shelf ringing it about a foot lower. A single cook emptied the contents of a large onto this cooking surface then, using two long sticks, proceeded to move the food around, walking a path around the entire surface. He did this twice, adding the noodles on the second go 'round and heap it all on a plate to hand back to the guest. The wonderful smells of sautéed vegetables and grilling meats filled the air like a thin cloud of flavor, and by the time we were seated an ordered drinks, my mouth was watering.

The waiter offered a brief rundown of the instructions, then left us to it, each grabbing a gigantic white bowl then following along past trays of goodies to pile into the bowl. I chose sliced chicken breast, lamb and pork, piled on some squash and eggplant, a little Swiss chard, mushrooms, two tongs-full of cold noodles, and followed directions to the best of my abilities to create a smoky Asian pesto sauce (with lemon oil, garlic, pesto and oyster sauce). I handed the bowl to the cook and watched the magic happen, smelling the tang of the lemon and pesto melding with the soy sauce while he completed two circuits around the cooking surface.

I wish I had the foresight to bring my camera so you could see how magnificent the whole dish appeared. But I will say it tasted phenomenal, and none of us could finish so we each brought home a container of leftovers.

After dinner, we drove to Los Feliz and walked around the shops, treating our friend to her first visit to Wacko and its many wonders. While she and Caesar wandered around the art and books, I made a bee-line for the collectibles. The shop sells mystery figurine boxes, each with a different theme or decorated by a different artist, and I treat myself to one of the little mysteries every time we visit Wacko's. Each themes offers eight to twelve possible figures, but the fun is not knowing which one you get until opening the box and ripping the foil packet. Of all the different varieties, I picked up a Nahualli from Wootini. The possible figures included the Gato, the Sensei, a robot, even an ogre. My figurine turned out to be a parrot called Perico. Cute, huh?

From there, we walked along Vermont Ave., listening to music from a few of the clubs, poking around the vintage clothing shops, and eventually spending more money for books at Skylight Books. So yes, I did buy another book to add to my stack. But the night was such fun, I think I can be forgiven.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Foggy Morning

It feels as though Summer passed us by. Bright days with the right amount of Sun. Cool breezes at night. We suffered maybe one week of unbearable heat, but then the mild days returned.

This morning offered the perfect notice that Fall isn't too far around the corner. A cool, damp fog hovered everywhere, lightly around the city streets of Long Beach but thickening as I sped along Pacific Coast Highway to Huntington Beach. A few cyclists braved the highway and the cars -- many traveling without headlights or fog lights. Yet not much car traffic which made the quick trip South even quicker.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Random Kibble

I've been hard at working editing my short story so I feel as though I've been neglecting the blog. Nothing much blogworthy's been happening lately as it is, but I don't want to leave my faithful readers with nothing for days on end. So . . . the following are bits of randomness from the past few days.

  • Before Saturday's Birthday Extravaganza, we walked along the marina, peeking over the railings at the water like little kids, hoping to spot a fish or some tiny black crabs darting about the marina floor. We did see many schools of smelt, but sadly no crabs (other than what was consumed during dinner). I did, however, spot a large burgundy starfish stuck to the concrete wall at the water line. And by large, I mean it was at least 8 to 9 inches from tip to tip.
  • A few nights ago, we dined at California Pizza Kitchen and were surprised at a new techie device on the table. They've installed Ziosks which basically work as credit/debit card sliders. So you can pay your bill at the table without having to wait for the waiter. You can also review your bill well before the food ever arrives, check out extra menu items like desserts and drinks, print the receipt at your table or even e-mail a copy to yourself. Pretty nifty. Yet we still paid in cash.
  • We're now hooked on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
  • I was sitting at the computer last night, adding and deleting sentences and whole paragraphs from my short story. Caesar was playing Sims 2 on his Nintendo DS. We both heard the sound of cats hissing scratching arguing with each other then a slam against the metal screen door in our kitchen. We both ran to see what happened, and Diesel had pushed open the screen door and attacked another cat that tried to leaves its mark on the door. He wound up with a tiny scratch on his nose and was in quite a state for about 30 minutes afterwards. This marks the first time I've heard Diesel in action, protecting his territory. I hope the other cat learned its lesson because Diesel meant business!