I Have To Read It, Too

Lately I’ve had this habit of immersing myself in the things I watch or read. If I watch it, I’m likely to read it or vice versa. Sherlock Holmes. The Outsider by Stephen King. This time it’s The Stranger, Harlan Coben’s Netflix creation based on his book.

I know, right? Netflix again but I’ve found it to be a treasure trove of good writing brought to the screen, either from original material or derived from books, comics and graphic novels. I’ve read Mr. Coben before so when I saw he was associated with the show I jumped on it. The Stranger is a complex drama with multiple plot lines managed so well they mesh without confusing the hell out of you.

How do writers do this? First you have to start with a plot guaranteed to snag a reader with no more than the synopsis on the back cover. Coben writes crime thrillers. Very good ones. With The Stranger he might have done something like this: major plot, a blackmailer. Ok. Let’s make her a woman, less threatening upon first approach to her female targets. Young and attractive to make her initially alluring to the men. She would have to be clever and determined. Ruthless. Even her own father isn’t safe.

The first victim we see her approach is a lawyer. She tells him his wife faked a pregnancy, hands him a packet of information that includes a bogus sonogram, then walks out. The lawyer’s father, a philanderer, is informed he has an illegitimate child he doesn’t know about. A bakery owner gets hit up for ten-thousand pounds (the show is filmed in England) to safeguard her daughter from being exposed as an online prostitute. Two of these three are the unwitting secondary victims of The Stranger, the ones the primary victim doesn’t want to know their secrets. The lawyers wife tells him, “This isn’t what you think.” She asks him to give her a few days and she’ll explain everything then promptly goes missing. It’s the first branching of the main plot.

Naturally, it helps to spread the story over several episodes so the viewer can get a real feel for the characters, dive right into their convoluted lives. Their children form just one of the subplots. The first episode opens with a decapitated alpaca, a teenage rave party and the discovery the following day of one of the party goers naked and unconscious in the woods. A headless alpaca? Fake pregnancy, complete with a pretend belly? Yes, bizarre but not inconceivable.

That ‘s Coben’s genius. Weave the weird in with what would, for the police, be a routine murder/blackmail/missing person case. Throw in a mother with Munchausen by proxy, a dirty cop with his thumb in a nasty pie and a man refusing let the wrecking ball ruin his home…for a very dark reason. It makes a juicy story, rich in details, occupied by people whose layers are revealed one page at a time as The Stranger glides among them, capitalizing on their sins.

Daniel Brocklehurst, Mick Ford, Harlan Coben, Charlotte Coben (Daddy’s little girl) and Karla Crome have done a knockout job of writing this suspenseful series. They’re ably directed by Hannah Quinn and Daniel O’Hara. The main actors are Richard Armitage as Adam Price, the beleaguered attorney, Siobhan Finneran as DS Johanna Griffin, a cop investigating her best friend’s murder. Anthony Head, as Adam’s father Ed Price, adds polish with his smooth delivery. Hannah John-Kamen is The Stranger, whose pretty face hides a cold heart. The supporting cast members are multi-cultural and well played. For in depth details and trailers go to IMDB.

When I went to hunt for a new show yesterday to watch I wasn’t particularly impressed with the browse blurb or the trailer. It was like, yeah yeah yawn. Then I saw the words Harlan Coben. I’ve read The Five and Tell No One and thought they were absolutely marvelous. Coben has won the Anthony, Shamus and Edgar awards, the first writer to receive all three. I can see why. His novels have more twists than a Twizzler.

So, let’s summarize: start with a compelling plot, fold in multiple subplots that are closely woven to the main one, blend in complex characters whose eccentricities are fleshed out in a convincing manner. Sprinkle liberally with enigmas. Drive the story with your foot to the floor on a road as smooth as glass and you’ll have a thrilling mystery readers won’t want to miss.

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Whatever…

It’s gone pretty well, getting off my ever-widening ass. I still haven’t signed up for the gym or gone to get on blood pressure meds but I have gotten things done. Of course, I have to make myself. My pet sin out of the seven deadlies is sloth. I’m here to admit to laziness. I’d much rather watch a movie or read a book than do the dishes. Is there someone out there who’d disagree? They must be lying or crazy. You do not want to clean the bathroom more than you want to watch Joker. Liar or lunatic. Which are you?

What I’ve done is make myself scrub before I can watch. (Okay, I watched Joker first but cleaned out the fish tank all the same) I cooked a pot of stew and at least thought about the dishes. My 35-year-old son whose primary responsibility seems to be taking care of the animals and dicking off, should be doing them. I do the working and bill-paying. Why the hell should I load the dishwasher? Huh?

My primary goal today was to get the property taxes paid and I did that. Well, except for two hundred dollars. Don’t want to go in the red, do I? That would precipitate having to borrow money from someone I have a goal of paying back money I already owe. This is how you get ahead while still being behind. I just sent him a text about doing that the next time he’s closer than the 35 miles he lives from me. (I don’t want to get too ambitious. Small steps are best.)

My future goals are:

  1. Quit drinking. Or at least stop opening my first beer at 10:30 a.m.
  2. Fix up the house. Since the old man says to wait until he gets out of prison, this is achievable.
  3. Get the electrical work done on said house. I don’t give a damn what he says, I don’t want to burn.
  4. Get on blood pressure meds. This might help stave off dementia. Or else admit I’d rather have a stroke than Alzheimer’s.
  5. Improve the quality of life in my saving account. It’s very dormant.

I can do this. I can. I will.

This Has Gone Too Far

I had assumed that Jason Ralph taking a hiatus from The Magicians was because he’d decided to pursue another job, perhaps a cinematic film role. Let’s get real. For what other reason would an actor leave a hit show except to achieve an even greater role to advance his or her career? Some of them pull both, a tv show and a movie part. Roll the dice and see which comes up seven.

This week I read that this might not be the case here. Quentin Coldwater (Ralph’s SyFy doppelganger) could well be the victim of sexual/racial politics. https://thefederalist.com/2020/01/28/after-offing-quentin-for-the-crime-of-being-a-white-male-the-magicians-is-falling-apart/ Follow this link for more information on the mystery.

The British version of the Academy Awards, BAFTA, was awash in speeches in favor of inclusion. I’m in favor of inclusion but not at the expense of honoring what’s best in awards ceremonies and a hit tv show I love. Was Joaquin Phoenix the right guy for the Best Actor award? I don’t know. I’ve watched Joker but haven’t gotten around to all of the nominated films to cast my vote. And the powers that be don’t care. I’m not on the nominating committees and I don’t get a say in who wins either a BAFTA, Oscar or Golden Globe.

I think Denzel Washington richly deserved his Oscar win for Training Day over Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind but I didn’t see Halle Berry’s performance in Monster Ball as all that earth shaking. She’s done better. That’s just my opinion. Show me a gay actor nominated for a major award and I’ll tell you whether I think they should have won or not. Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs? Oh, hell yes. Marlon Brando, who was bisexual, won twice. I didn’t know Kevin Spacey was gay and I don’t care. He’s a great actor but I think he turned in a better perfomance in Seven.

Two very good movies have been made about gay rock stars and the question was asked: Why weren’t gay men cast in the roles? I’ll tell you. Can you imagine anyone better for the part of Freddie Mercury than Rami Malik once the no doubt painful orthodontia was put into his mouth? And need I remind everyone Malik got the Oscar that year? I knew he would because he deserved it. Playing a gay man had nothing to do with it, or at least I hope not. Indeed, the film downplays Mercury’s sexual preference. In one scene reporters are hammering the band with questions about Freddy coming out. He asks, Can’t we get back to the music, people? That’s what Mercury was about. His music.

Taron Egerton was cast as Elton John in Rocketman because he looks like John. And sings like him, too. Yes, that’s Egerton doing the vocals and he studied piano so his playing would look realistic even though David Hartley is the one we hear banging the 88s. The guy worked his butt off for this part. It was a casting decision based on what was best for the production, not political correctness. In the one love scene Egerton throws himself at Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) with all the gusto of a man releasing his true nature. While neither man is gay, that I know of, they did the scene with convincing lust. They call it acting, folks. You don’t have to be it to play it.

I’m getting off-point a little bit. The brouhaha over Quentin Coldwater is that the character is too white, too heterosexual and too normative. (Is that the new way to say normal? Just asking.) The gist of the issue is that we need to explore other ways of being, such as female, LGBTQ, and people of color. But wait! Quentin has had more than a fling with Eliot. So the real issue here is that Quentin is white. It must be.

Who do we have left in The Magicians? We have Penny, a character of East Indian extract, Eliot, a gay man, Josh, another heterosexual man but with sexaully-transmitted lycanthropy, and the women, Julia, Kady, Margot and Alice. (Hey! None of them are black!) I love all these characters and don’t give a damn what they look like or who they sleep with. I love them for who and what they are and the wiz-bang of their spells. That’s what’s up but the producers and writers are bowing to the objections of the Hollywood left.

Boo. Booooo!

Can’t you just let us sit back and enjoy the show? Why does politics have to enter into it at all? I know, I know. Without an aggressive push nothing would ever change and media is the best way to get new ideas over since, as a nation, we all have our heads down staring at our cell phones or our attention on the television screen. The Magicians has a pretty varied cast even though Penny (Arjun Gupta) and Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy) are the only main splash of color.

Hale Appleman, bisexual onscreen and homosexual off, plays Eliot, possibly my favorite character on the show. They’re all so well-portrayed it’s hard to pick just one to be at the top of my list. I love Margot (Summer Bishil) for her bitchitude. Kady (Jade Tailor) is absolutely going to do what she has to in order to pull off the next big thing. Josh (Trevor Einhorn) is endearingly lovable and an enthusiastic cook. Alice (Olivia Dudley) is downright deadly. Penny is funny as hell and the one guy that can teleport. Julia (Stella Maeve) is, in my eyes, the top magician in the group. But, come on folks, Quentin is the main character. He’s who the Lev Grossman books are based on.

Quentin is the heart and soul of the stories, a flawed, insecure man who was ready to cut his wrists until Brakebill’s University for wizards showed him he wasn’t crazy, he was a damned magician. He was obsessed with the mythical world of Fillory, which he just thought to be a fictional book realm, until he found it and took all the other main characters there. He’s at the heart of the show and they want to cut him out because he’s not politically expedient. That’s more than just wrong.

Although Quentin—spoiler alert here—sacrifices himself to save the world of magic, does that mean he’s not coming back to the series? Penny did. They managed to make a plot arc involving multiple time lines and brought Penny over from one of them when our Penny was already dead and employed in the underworld library. Will the writers of this wonderful show find a way to do the same with Quentin? Or is he too white bread?

Shouldn’t inclusion mean everyone gets to play kickball on the playground? Bring Quentin back to the game. The viewers miss him. We’re what it’s all about.

“Getting Old Is For The Birds”

I guess for the younger, and more profane, crowd that would translate to “Getting Old Sucks.” But does it? Countless seniors carry on healthy, productive lives in their professional and personal existence, knowing their time on earth is short.

In all likelihood I’ve already spent three-quarters of my years. Wasted is one word that comes to mind and I have to look really hard to come up any achievements that will be remembered past the time of my children. There’s no doubt in my immediate family (the one I was raised in) that I’m the black sheep. The family “character,” the one who blurted out the most embarrassing things and acted out inappropriately. We all have someone like that, be it the leering uncle, the dotty grandmother or the sister in prison.

How much of myself to reveal in such a public arena? Would it matter since I have a very tiny following in the literary world? There has never been another time in history when a person could show their ass so flagrantly. Admitting to addiction is one thing, telling that I need to buy panty liners is another. I can see gray heads everywhere nodding to that one so it’s a shared mortification and a grim tip of the hat to the smirking young. You’ll see. Oh, yes you will. Even if you undergo surgery to lift your sagging bladder there are certain inevitable ugly facts of life. At present what worries me is losing control. Of my bowels and bladder. My mind. Any future I may have once the preceding are gone. Since my primary occupation is caregiver for the elderly you can see how these concerns are particularly troubling.

Almost ten years ago I went to work for a nursing home again for the first time since I was nineteen. At that young age I couldn’t cope with the bald horror of getting old, watching folk who, just a week before had been ambulatory, sitting in a wheelchair staring blankly out their window or suffering the hallucinatory effects of their medication. I was better able to cope at fifty-one. Here for the grace of God, come I.

The title of this article is a direct quote of a dear woman I had the honor to clean up after. She maintained her dignity even through bed wetting. She wasn’t happy about getting infirm and incontinent but she refused to be bitter about it. I met many like her, including a lady that asked one of her aides to pray that God might take her from this world. He refused but said he’d pray that God lift her soul during its trials and she told me, with the endearing wonder of a child, how God had seen fit to answer his prayer and not hers. She accepted the answer, and the suffering, with graciousness.

Able to listen more compassionately, I had a new appreciation for the wisdom I gained from those whose desire it was to impart it. Above all, I listened. They wanted to leave something of them behind, lessons hard earned, the joys of their youth, sad reflections upon impeding death. I shared cigarettes, sneaked lottery tickets in and gave the little comfort I could, held hands, washed and dressed them one last time.

Now it’s my turn to experience that desperation of shortening years. At eighty-three my mother recently told me, “If there’s something you want to do, do it now while you still can.” I think she was speaking not just of things physical but also spiritual and I’ve been taking inventory, fearful of not being who I want to be. If I’ve learned one thing it’s that the worst you can do is not accept what you are, flaws and all. Celebrate the good, forgive the bad. If we’re to have peace at all we must forgive ourselves.

What will I leave behind? Henry David Thoreau said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and “You must work very long to write short sentences.” It would be my happy end to have learned to write like that before I die, to get to that level of succinctness in aphorism.

I know I’ll never be another Thoreau, Shakespeare or even Pete Dexter. To even have a tenth of the talent or integrity of Toni Morrison is something to aspire to. All I can hope is that this little blog site or any of my writing might find commonality with at least one person. If through my writing I can take the hand of another and share an understanding that will be immortality enough.

I’ve typed this, a nod to my wannabe life as a writer. Now I’m getting off my ass, taking a shower and going to get reptile food for my daughter’s pets. Already the kitchen’s been cleaned, clothes washed and the repair of my home’s electrical system’s been discussed with a qualified professional. Later my son and I will bag up some more of the ever annoying pile of pine needles in the yard then I’m going to visit my mother. Do what I can while I can.

Miracles Have To Be Present

I’ve spoken before of how much I like Netflix in spite of its programming tendency toward an overabundance of weirdness and horror.


So, what am I watching? The Crown. Produced by Left Bank Pictures and Sony Pictures Television and primarily written by Peter Morgan. One has to wonder where all the historical information comes from, other than newspapers and those willing to speak out frankly. Queen Elizabeth II is a notoriously private person and this fact is well-documented in the show as well as her reasons for it. After all, she’s not an actress or even President. She’s the bloody queen and an air of mystery is necessary to carry out the majesty of monarchy.

What’s so wonderful about Netflix is when it comes out with new episodes, you can binge watch the whole season in a day if you have the time. With ten episodes per, The Crown is supposed to last six seasons and a fourth season has the green light at the time of this writing. The cast is marvelous, the writing captures high and low moments for the royal family and sets a tone of empathy rather than envy for circumstances that mere mortals would find impossible to deal with. These people were born to it.

The only major screw- up I’ve noted is the blue eyes of Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby (the queen and Princess Margaret, respectively) becoming the brown eyes of Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter. What they did get very right was season three, episode four, Bubbikins. We can hardly imagine stiff ol’ Prince Philip going by that nickname.

Jane Lapotaire plays Princess Andrew (Alice) of Greece and Denmark, Philip’s mother, with grace and beauty and a diminished sense of royalty that’s refreshing in this dramatic portrait of aristocrats. Before watching I knew absolutely nothing about her and was humbled by the story and sacrifices of an amazing lady.

Her great-grandmother was Queen Victoria, present at her birth in Windsor Castle. She met her husband, Prince Andrew, the fourth son of the King of Greece, at 17 and married him a year later. To give you an idea of how inflation has exploded out of control, the 1903 wedding garnered them gifts in a round figure of three-quarters of a million dollars, around $23 million today.

Alice was born deaf and learned to lip read. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1913 for her work in nursing during the Balkan War. In 1922, following the Greco-Turkish War, the royal family fled Greece and Princess Alice’s breakdown led her to be institutionalized for schizophrenia. Prince Andre, her husband, effectively abandoned his wife and carried on with his mistress. Sigmund Freud treated her because he was interested in her fantasies of a religious and sexual nature. Against her will, he had her ovaries X-rayed to bring about early menopause and prescribed electroshock therapy.

In the mid-1930’s Alice left treatment and went back to Greece where she worked for the Red Cross and fed the poor in soup kitchens. During World War II she hid the Jewish family of an old friend, Rachel Cohen, in her own home and pretended she couldn’t hear the Nazis when they asked about them, saving their lives. Yad Vashem named her Righteous Among The Nations in 1993 and planted a tree in her honor in Jerusalem.

In 1949 she founded the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, and sought funding for it, often at personal peril, in war-torn Greece until she moved to Buckingham Palace in 1966.

I can’t speak for Prince Philip except to say his later formative years were spent without his mother’s love and guidance since she was in asylum. The family situation was, of course, known and in episodic flashback sequences the lad was subjected to ridicule by classmates at school. The stigma attached to mental illness at that time no doubt caused him a great deal of embarrassment.

But was she truly schizophrenic, one wonders? More likely she was profoundly depressed. Psychiatry was still a very young science. Misdiagnoses were made out of ignorance, not malice. Treatment was woefully inadequate at best and outright inhuman at worst. One was mad, therefore, one got locked away.

The Duke Of Edinburgh And His Mother In 1960
Keystone-France/Getty Images

Hoping to get the government to grant the royal family a pay raise, Prince Philip asks BBC to film a documentary about them to bring home the necessity of funding for their important role in English politics. While not part of the governing branch, they perform state duties that are essential. Smack in the middle of this arrives Princess Alice, to the chagrin of the Duke Of Edinburgh. According to The Crown, Philip was opposed to her coming to Buckingham Palace even though there had been a military coup and all foreign nationals had been ordered to leave Greece. As portrayed in the teleplay (most ably by Tobias Menzies), Philip doesn’t even go see her until after Princess Anne’s machinations result in Alice being interviewed by a reporter that had excoriated the documentary and ruined all Philip’s hopes that the British people would see them as deserving of taxpayer money.

The reporter is utterly charmed by the deeply religious nun and writes a touching account of her triumph over tragedy. Lapotaire and Menzies have a moving scene at the end of the show where they reconcile. I don’t know if The Guardian’s headline was The Royal Saint or not. Perhaps this was just a bit of drama in the show.

One of the requirements to be canonized is verification of miracles performed by the candidate. I suppose I’m arguing that Princess Alice did indeed work a miracle in winning back the heart of her son. They were photographed together in the years before her death with her dressed in full nun attire. He attended the ceremony in Jerusalem in her name. The good works of this Catholic sister live on in fact and memory. Perhaps her delusions were actually visions.

More information about this extraordinary woman is here: https://www.elle.com/culture/movies-tv/a29849010/princess-alice-battenberg-the-crown-real-life/ and here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Alice_of_Battenberg

A Year In Passing And Those Who Have Passed

As 2019 closes it should remind us of star who died this year. Not only those of note, but the ones whose quiet lives helped shape the arts, politics and every day life for the rest of us.

Jackie Shane, a transgender performer, who, far ahead of her time in the 60s,, brightened the Toronto music scene with her presence. She died in her sleep in Nashville on February 22 at the age 78.

Stax R&B singer of the group Mad Lads, John Gary Williams, 78, died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Beverly Owen, known as Marilyn Munster, died on February 21 in Vermont at the age of 81.Pioneer of 1950’s film’s French New Wave movement, Agnes Varda, died March 29th of breast cancer.

Also from France, composer Michael Legrand, who took home three Oscars and five Grammys died January 26, aged 86.

Rapper Bushwick Bill (Richard Shaw), died in Houston from pancreatic cancer June 9.

Elijah E. Cummings, the son of a sharecropper who went on to become an advocate of the poor of Maryland as a U. S. Representative, died in October.

U. S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a proponent of consumer protection, died in July.

Toni Morrison, the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, died August 5. She helped forward the lives of everyday people into the multiculturalism movement and won the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2012.

Alexei Leonov, Soviet cosmonaut, became the first person to walk in space. He died October 11.

Boyz N The Hood director, John Singleton, became the black movie director to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Director and also the youngest at the age of twenty-four. He died April 28.

This is by no means a complete list of those we lost and neither are these but go to https://wgntv.com/2019/12/27/final-goodbye-recalling-influential-people-who-died-in-2019/ and https://www.msn.com/en-ca/entertainment/celebrity/stars-weve-lost-in-2019/ss-BBXijzC for more names.

Are You My Friend?

Facebook is big on this. Friends. We all need ’em but there are plenty of other places to find pals. The local supermarket, for one.

Undeniably selfish to say, many of these friends are made out of advertising or business needs. To further your agenda. As long as they understand this and you make yourself available to be equally used there’s no problem. I recently sent out a blanket request to every single one of my Facebook contacts to like and follow my new Facebook page, Dee Caples, writer. The response was gratifying, to say the least. Of course, I included the handy-dandy link to it and had a “like” button prominently displayed so it took a minimum amount of their time to do as asked. The fact they cared to spend that few minutes doing what I requested is something I have no words for. Thank you all.

And thank you, readers who come here. And to those who go to Reedsy to read my short stories submitted to their writing prompts contest, I appreciate it. I’m reluctant to invite anyone to follow me anywhere else, but that’s the purpose of doing all this social media: the almighty author platform. Ya just got to do it these days. They want to know if you can market yourself and if you can’t get a following established you may not get published.

I don’t want to be a pest and if you’ve made friends on Facebook you know who they are. Maybe you’ve met them on Twitter, Instagram or somewhere else. Maybe they’re a “mutual friend” of a friend of yours. This person could be a friend of a friend of a friend for all you know. Hell, I suspect Facebook of planting them under your friend requests. I’ve made friends with my Uncle Jim twice and once should have been enough. After that I got smarter.

Well, maybe not. In furtherance of my own ends I’ve been friending people, unsure if they’re in one of my writing groups. Don’t want to offend anyone, right? If one of my fellow groupers wants to be friends, what the hell.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you?

Unless we’ve had sex before I don’t cotton to any man calling me “baby”, especially if I’ve never laid eyes on you. Any guy that continues calling me that after I’ve asked him not to, I expect he’ll eventually hit me up for money. Buy your own I Tunes card, fella. Aw, you didn’t think I’d treat you like this? See? I told you, You don’t know me!

Have you ever gotten a @#%$ picture? I did and it freaked me out totally. I erased it, unfriended the guy and later got flagged like it was my fault. I didn’t ask to see it. I don’t need to read you woke up with a woody and I sure as hell am not about to come over and relieve it. Funny how guys that tell you “that’s okay, I got a better offer” try to pass off a photo of a good-looking man as their own.

Another favorite is: “You know you want to.” Oh, do I? You have me down pat, mother@&*$^%. I already told you two dozen times I’m not coming to your motel room and I don’t want to hear “I’d never hurt you.” The last guy that told me that nearly got his Adam’s apple relocated.

Many refuse to be dissauded and those are likely the ones working a con. Even telling them I have a big, mean old man in prison doesn’t run them off. So, how do you tell the creeps and hucksters from the good guys. I don’t know. Friend ’em all and let God sort ’em out, maybe. Or if he calls you baby kick him off and fahgeddabouddit.

Same Old Story, Not The Same Old Story

One blogger I read a few months ago said she reads over a hundred books a year. I thought, surely she can’t be talking about the latest bestsellers. Even if you buy paperback we’re talking about seven or eight bucks per book. Hardback? The woman obviously has a better job than I. Maybe she downloads them from Kindle or Amazon or has a library card. Maybe they’re not new books.

Lately I’ve been downloading my books to the laptop. The one I’m on now is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, published in 2002. The premise of the book is how the travelers to our shores brought gods with them only to lose them in the mists of time. Some, such as Odin and Easter, get lip service but the worship has seriously fallen off.

I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I read a story about the gods unless it was some made-up deity for a fantasy work. Probably you’d have to go back to my young years of digging mythology. Gaiman took a “what if” idea, brought the gods from Olympian heights and dropped them into our time. After that he used his considerable talent to create a masterpiece of fiction that’s as easy to understand as it is to read.

As writers we talk a lot about how to make our work unique. There are only so many stories to be told: war, romance, true crime, fantasy, etc. I don’t know if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the first locked room mystery but ever since Sherlock figured his out it’s been done over again and again, but with variations. And that’s all writing is anyway. It’s what you do with it that matters, how you develop a character we’ve not met before. They might be doing every day things but you can send them to a fictional town or even have them spirited away on a pirate ship.

Let’s take a young woman named Tina. She’s walking down the road. Where’s she been and where’s she going? Home? To visit Grandma? To kill her ex? Does she find an abandoned puppy in the ditch? Who’s that guy that stops to offer her a ride? A handsome stranger? Some middle-aged guy who’s looking for his long-lost daughter Tina? Or maybe she comes to the cross street and doesn’t recognize the names on the street sign. A space ship beams her up. Night falls unexpectedly and a scarecrow appears in the middle of the road. Someone left the manhole cover off and she falls but manages to catch hold of the ladder and begins to climb up before the cover slams shut.

Anything could happen to Tina, just like real life. Or maybe not so real, depending on what you like to read or write. Whatever you write about Tina has been said before countless times. It’s how you say it and the colors you paint her world. It’s all in the invitation you extend to put up our feet and enter the story. Make us want to read it.

Make us believe.

Getting Technical

It’s got to be embarrassing: a writer knows only what he can find on the internet about a given subject and some critic who does know calls him out on it in a write-up that half of America reads. Thank God it hasn’t happened to me, yet, because I’m not widely published. I’m very minimally published but I’ve had the sense to not put out there something complicated I don’t understand. Just this morning I read a master at work, covering his ass and doing it brilliantly.

By now you may have gathered I’m a fan of Stephen King. It’s not that I’m a big reader of horror novels. I may watch scary movies more often than I should but I’m more inclined to read crime or mystery books. But King is more than just horror. Everything he writes shows up on the NY Times bestseller list. That’s because he can present characters that are believable, no matter if what they’re doing is not. His descriptions of the environment take us to that movie screen in the head. Good and evil fall with the cruel indifference of fate. And plot.

When I don’t have a new book to take to work I’ll go pull an old favorite off the shelf. My favorite of all King’s works is a short story called The Last Rung On The Ladder. I’d forgotten it was in his Night Shift collection which you might want to go pick up if you’re a fan, too, but don’t own it. If you’re broke, type in the title and it’s a Google doc. You can also find the short film on You Tube. The only horror in it is the careless disregard of a brother for his troubled sister. When I finished it I teared up and thought, Steve! You actually did that! There’s nothing more awful than the things we do to one another that we can’t fix or take back.

Just read it, okay? Now, back to the subject.

In Nightmares & Dreamscapes there’s a story by the name of Sneakers. The MC is a mixing technician for a record company. King, among others like Amy Tan and writer/cartoonist Dave Barry have played for a band named Rock Bottom Remainders but I doubt King is a recording mixer wiz. In Sneakers he solves the problem with a drum track by very simple means. It’s almost this verbatim: the MC says something, the producer says something, and they go back and fix the problem. MC had been about to ask about the dead body in the third floor men’s room but he got sidetracked by the drum snafu. King dances around the issue without revealing any technical information by something and something. He never does get around to asking about the dead guy who was the whole point of that section of the story.

I thought, This man is a genius. If you’ll read the story it will explain better than I have without plagiarizing his work. You don’t have to describe your vet’s weapon in terms of how many shells it holds, the windage and elevation he has to calculate or how many grains it takes to kick out that bullet unless much of your novel is set on the battlefield and is written for guys that have been there in mind. Then you better know some firepower. Stephen Hunter did it very well in his novel Point of Impact but I suspect he has a subscription to Guns & Ammo.

Don’t worry if you’re not well versed on every subject and can glean only the most rudimentary facts from studying. You could write a short story set in a mortuary without being an undertaker. But you might want to take a field trip to one.

I Don’t Think It Can Be Turned Around Without Revolution

A real American.

No one could put it more sincerely than Russell Means when he said Welcome To The American Reservation Prison Camp. Watch here on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN9ssrVTkk8

Sadly, this video has less than half a million views. To set the tone for what I’m about to say let me demonstrate my argument. Just to be fair I just went down the list by typing in “political videos” and sticking to that first page. What I got was a mishmash of news clips and “the best of” videos that generally had less than 50k views. A little more popular was a Trump basher with over 2 million. Chal Dum, a music video from the film Dirty Politics had 29 million views. So I typed in “music videos” and the first on the list was Marshmello’s Happier with 442 million. Which, perhaps unscientifically, demonstrates one of Russell Mean’s points: we just want to be entertained.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Means he is the founder of the American Indian Movement and instrumental in fighting for the Republic of Lakotah. He has been a street person, a drug dealer, actor, writer and has earned a degree in accounting and has his Ph.D in philosophy. He is highly intelligent and articulate and is hardly joking when he says “welcome to the reservation.”

Means claims that the American Constitution was partly based on the Iroquois Confederacy and, indeed, Ben Franklin made reference to the native model in his Plan of Union at the Albany Congress in 1754. Go here for further study and more articles on the subject: https://www.pbs.org/native-america/blogs/native-voices/how-the-iroquois-great-law-of-peace-shaped-us-democracy/

In this You Tube video he puts forth his views on everything from history to vaccinations and excoriates the laziness of modern American life. The basic message is we’ve gotten too far from local government and allowed ourselves to be herded into a centralized pasture where we contentedly graze on government grass as long as we get to spend our paychecks at Walmart and peck on cell phones and damned if he’s not right.

The basis of Native American belief is the circle. Life follows a circle from life to death. What you put into it is what you get out of it. Water circles the globe and sadly the American culture is circling a drain. And going down faster and faster.

Nearly a third of the laws passed by the 115th Congress were ceremonial, renaming courthouses and whatnot according to the Pew Research Center. Good grief. We allow these guys a huge salary (which they vote for themselves), retirement, limos and free helicopter rides. From 2004-2012 the net household worth of our congressmen saw a 1.55 median yearly increase while the average American’t was a .94 percent decrease. According to https://ballotpedia.org/Changes_in_Net_Worth_of_U.S._Senators_and_Representatives_(Personal_Gain_Index) Ballotpedia the majority of our elected officials are millionaires while half of us can’t “afford to spend $5,000 in an emergency.”

This was hardly news to me. When the front bearings on my car went out, $320 put my checking account into the red.

Mean’s call to return to a more community-based way of life sounds like heaven to me. Were we not warned by the founding fathers about letting the fed get too carried away? Hasn’t the patriarchal hand gotten too heavy? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/opinion/sunday/united-states-too-big.html Can anything be done about it?

I don’t know. Speaking for myself I have become an ostrich with my head in the sand. Just living from paycheck to paycheck, no 401k or even health insurance. Once a follower of politics and the news, I now could not even tell you the name of our vice president and that’s pitiful. I’m of the ilk that thinks that no matter what we do or whom we elect nothing substantial will change. It’s gone too far unless we’re willing to march on Washington and throw ’em all out and start over.

Perhaps I’m wrong and it’s not too late. The mysterious they say it’s never too late so don’t start the revolution without me.