Monday, September 26, 2022

Buried in a Closet


When we moved from Oklahoma to Virginia, I encountered the first school that had a guitar class as an elective, and I jumped on it. I’ve talked about that class before in this blog, and once again today I’ll talk about it without ever giving the class its due. Sorry, Ms. Wagner. Someday.

As part of our lessons, we were provided with handwritten mimeographed sheets of lyrics and chords. When they were passed out everyone in the class would take a quick sniff of that unforgettable mimeograph smell before looking at what we were about to learn. Some of the music introduced new chords or picking styles, others were collections of music by a particular composer or band that we were learning for one of our school concerts. 

Early on, I’d stuff these sheets into a pocket folder. When the sheer volume of sheets became unwieldy, I got a four-subject spiral notebook and glued all the sheets into it. Of course, our teacher was never kind enough to hand the songs out alphabetically during the three years I was in her class, so the pages were in a very random order. Add to that, the Xerox copies of sheet music, lyrics for songs I was working on, and songs I figured out by ear -- the songbook grew quickly. By the end of high school, the book was thick and had become a priceless possession since it contained almost my entire repertoire.

Being a military brat, I know how to hang onto things through a move and I held onto that songbook while moving in and out of several dormitories during college, and apartments thereafter. Then the songbook went with me to Germany and on every temporary duty trip I went on as well. While I was in Germany, I noticed the mimeographed pages had begun to fade so I started to transfer everything from the book. When my shifts were quiet, I’d type out a few songs at a time. While I made a serious dent in the contents of the songbook, I didn't finish it.  

While in Guam, I began typing out the songs again – then I made a mistake -- I let a friend who I used to jam with borrow the songbook. Pat was a customs cop and someone I trusted. I trusted him until he returned to the US and took my book with him. The only solace I had was that between what I had typed out in Germany and the further work I did in Guam I lost very little.

Fast forward a dozen years. I was in the final year of my career with the Air Force and working as a reservist in headquarters at Scott Air Force Base. One day, I was heading down a crowded stairwell when felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned around, and there was Pat. After a few minutes of catching up, he brings mentioned that he still had my songbook and wanted to get it back to me. Being eager to get it back, I offered to go over to his house that afternoon and pick it up. Sure enough, I went to his house and was presented with the songbook along with a few beers and a couple of hours of reminiscing about our time in Guam. We even played a few songs together before I left.

Okay, so how is this relevant today? I was looking for something in a closet and came across my songbook. I pulled it out and thumbed through it for an hour or so, remembering all the songs, folks I had played them with, and of course, Ms. Wagner, my high school guitar teacher who was responsible for most of the songbook’s content. It was a great escape.



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Monday, September 19, 2022

Thirteen Years without Slumbering

 

On September 9th 2009 at 1342, I posted the first entry to this blog. It was a relatively short missive that included a quick story from my adolescence. No pictures or video, but it was a start and something I’d been meaning to do. I wanted to capture and share things I was thinking about and doing. The whole concept started when I came across an abandoned blog while surfing the net written by Old Guy

In the thirteen years since posting the first entry, I have posted 355 more. That’s a lot of words, it would’ve been even more if I religiously wrote in the blog every two weeks like I originally planned. But life got in the way, which is okay -- it gave me something to write about. Over the years, almost half a million people have dropped by to read what I’ve written. Thanks to improved counting utilities, I now know a couple of thousand people from all over the world read my new entries every week. I like the thought of being read; I think most people like to be heard.

As I move forward, I note positively that most of this year I’ve been publishing an entry every week. Some of them are poignant, others are just kinda silly, but that’s okay that is what a blog is all about. I’m not publishing a newspaper here (although I included something I wrote for the Rolling Stone). Either way, I hope you have found at least some of my words make you go Hmm.

 

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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Submitted for Your Approval

 

Whenever I talk about my favorite authors, there is one person I invariably leave out who is without a doubt at the top of my favorite list: Rod Serling. I think it is because I have him pigeonholed off to the side as the narrator of TV show and it is only when I am giving the subject full attention that the fact he wrote most of the TV shows he narrated comes to mind. Long before M. Night Shyamalan created his first ending with a twist, Rod not only brought the style to the screen brilliantly—–many of the episodes he wrote are the Master Class of how it's done.
 
Rod Serling popped into the front of my consciousness recently after I caught a rerun of one of his brilliant Twilight Zone episodes while flipping through channels. Some situations in the episode did not age well because the science in the episode was obviously dated. However, the nature of human behavior remained constant and therefore the episode still had relevance. I'd seen that episode a few times before, so the ending did not catch me by surprise, but even though I knew the ending I tried to find hints he might've inserted leading to the very non Hollywood ending. For me, it was a lesson in good storytelling.
 
I will often wander through the Internet after being reminded of something from my past, for new information that wasn't available earlier in my life. In doing so, I came across an interview that Mike Wallace did with him prior to the premier of the Twilight Zone. Previously, I'd never seen Rod Serling outside of the shows he produced, so this was also the first time I had ever seen him speak about something other than an introduction to his show or a preview of the next episode.
 
What makes this interview extremely worthwhile were the comments he made about censorship and creative control of content on television. Even back then, shows were being manipulated by sponsors and a select group of people who decided it was their business what would be available. This interview gave me a deeper admiration for the man, beyond the words he put on a piece of paper.


"It has forever been thus: So long as we write what we think, then all the other freedoms - all of them - may remain intact. And it is then that writing becomes a weapon of truth, an article of faith, an act of courage." Rod Serling
 
I freely admit several of the stories in Pimping Out My Sister-In-Law were written using techniques I picked up from Rod Serling. Just like every other writer, I blend the styles I observe and enjoy while reading into the things I compose.
 
I am waiting now for a copy of his biography to arrive. Since this was written by his daughter, it probably gives a better insight than anything written by someone outside of his family. It'll be interesting to learn more about this brilliant writer and the convictions that made him create a TV show that is still entertaining and meaningful over fifty years later.



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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

It Becomes Part of You, Even Though You Weren't Even There

Sometimes, you see an ad for an old movie or you come across one playing on TV, and even though you've never seen that movie you know what it is. For me, the most notable of those is The Last Picture Show

When my dad was assigned to Fort Sill, I hung out with a group of friends whose major source of entertainment was the base theater which was within walking distance of where we all lived. Actually, it was within biking distance but we were at the age when biking was no longer cool but walking as a group was. I wrote about this before, and pointed out that the real reason for going to the theater had nothing at all to do with the movie - it just served as a space for socializing.

We were always at the base theater for the late show on Friday, which was shown at 11 PM, and the really late show on Saturday night, which started at 1 AM Sunday morning. The admission was only a buck, popcorn another buck. We, as a group, would share a single soda since refills were free. I can't imagine any teenager now sharing a single soda between five or six people-- somehow we survived.

The base theater mostly showed films that were either B movies, like Chrome and Hot Leather, or anything by Bruce Lee.  But occasionally we would get a movie several years after release, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Because all of us were seeing the movies together, it was a big part of our shared experience with lines from the movies making it into our conversations. It gave us a common history -- until I got strep throat. 

After spending Wednesday and Thursday at home sick, I wasn't allowed to go to the movies that weekend even though I had begun to feel better. I missed Billy Jack, which I caught on TV a couple of years later – – the other movie I missed was The Last Picture Show.

The Last Picture Show had won two Academy Awards after being nominated for eight to include Best Picture. Critics loved the artistry of a movie being released in the 70s that was filmed in black-and-white with a mono soundtrack. It's a story of people coming-of-age in a dying small town in North Texas. Lots of introspection and the angst at realizing that the blossom of youth was fading into the background and the need to be concerned about what is in front of you. A heavy movie for a group of eighth graders.

Among my male friends, the biggest takeaways from the movie was seeing Cybill Shepherd nude and the scenes where she loses her virginity to a guy she doesn't really care about because the guy she does care about doesn't date virgins. . Yes, it was rated R and junior high schoolers shouldn't have been allowed to buy tickets to begin with but that's the way it works sometimes.

As I said, I didn't get to go to the movie. TV standards being what they were for years after, I never had a chance to see it later either. Life went on, years passed -- then, thanks to things like HBO I was provided the opportunity to see The Last Picture Show in all his glory, unedited and uncensored. I just didn't. I was beyond it. My life had gone on and I put my adolescence in a box up on the shelf like most people. 

Last week I caught an ad for the film showing on a streaming service. Uncut, unedited, and uncensored. I passed. At this point, not seeing the movie has become part of my personal history left unexplored and I've decided to keep it that way. Sometimes, a movie left unseen is a better memory than one that was.

Besides Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is on.


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Monday, August 22, 2022

Who's There? A Memory

Memories are curious things. Scientists have been trying to figure out for years how and why people experience sudden bursts of memory. Some are traceable to triggers like smells, sounds, particular music, or even touch. Then there are those memories that burst in with no connection to the present and you relive something from years past with no reference to how you got there. I found myself there this morning when I suddenly remembered the joke envelopes.

I went to my first sleep-away camp when I was about ten. It was a YMCA camp held at Lake Arrowhead in California. It seemed like there must've been a thousand kids there, but it was probably more like two or three hundred. Ten kids were in my cabin, with our adult leadership being provided by a middle-aged man who was normally a police detective. It was an interesting mix of kids, and after the first few hours, we were ready for the week ahead.

The days were filled with canoeing, archery, making lanyards, hiking, and everything you'd expect of a summer camp–including a campfire every night that introduced me to the world of storytelling. Daily after a communal lunch, we'd head back to our cabin where purchases from the canteen were distributed ––you had to complete a request and give it to your counselor by breakfast to get anything that day. Then, mail was passed out. 

My dad was in Vietnam, so the only parent I had in the United States was my mom. I got a letter from her daily and she used envelopes preprinted with colorful cartoons and jokes for that correspondence. I'm not talking about a single joke or cartoon, but dozens of them covering the envelope. Most were visual puns and knock-knock jokes. After reading the envelope, and before I read the letter, I'd pass the envelope around my cabinmates so they could see the jokes as well.

Looking back, since the camp only lasted about a week, getting a letter every day meant she sent them before I left for camp. It was a planned daily treat.

There are lots of significant events that parents give their children over the course of their lifetime. Just getting to go to camp was a big one. But then there are those little things parents do that almost pass by unnoticed until years later. They are the things that round out the bigger things and make them so much sweeter. 

Now that I'm a grandfather, I make sure those little things surround the bigger things. After all, since we don't understand memory anyway, I want to make sure those little spaces are filled with something happy when they pop up later.




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Thursday, August 11, 2022

A Trip to the Sacred Store

 

Long long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile

The first time I heard those lyrics was in the late spring of 1972. At thirteen years old, I was just becoming aware of music in a big way and my radio was constantly on, or I was playing the few 45s or LPs I had on a fold up record player. Then one day, along came this song. I would find out later that the genesis of the song of the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Those three people meant little or nothing to me at that point in my life. I don't mean to make it sound cruel, but the plane crash in Clear Lake and songs of those three musicians occurred before I was born. So what did I find in American Pie? A Story.

Even though I didn't know the background and the symbolism in the lyrics, I knew I was listening to a story. Besides that, the music was great. It started off slow––sped up––rocked for a while in the middle — then, with some somber words it faded out. Those types of shifts within the song are called hooks, and they did exactly what they were supposed to do: they hooked me. Even though it was a solitary voice for most of the song, it was a wonderful voice and one that demanded that you listen to it. Every time it played from the first time I heard it, I sat and allowed it to captivate me for the entire eight minutes and thirty-seven seconds. That is a long time for a thirteen-year-old.

After the first few times I heard it, I did what all teenagers do when they like a song––I memorized the lyrics. No small task back then. You'd have to wait until the radio station played the song again and because of the song's length, they'd only play it every few hours. There was a lot of luck involved to hear it more than once a day. But I did, and eventually I memorized the lyrics. All eight-hundred and sixty-eight of them. 

At about the same time, I read Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods? If you're not familiar with it, the book is a hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations came form by ancient alien astronauts who were welcomed as gods. Regardless of your feelings about the book's ideas, it was among the first that made me think. The author took various bits of history and wove them together to support his theories. It was like finding the holy Grail that explained everything. I'd recall that feeling of accepting a constructed truth when I wrote term papers about cults in high school and college.

Imagine a world without the Internet, where rumors and urban legend traveled by word-of-mouth. You'd be amazed at how quickly it occurred. That's what happened with American Pie, lacking a full explanation from Don McLean, people put together various events that seemed to match the lyrics. The Jester in the song must've been Bob Dylan, the reference to moss growing fat?––it was about the Rolling Stones, and the sergeant's playing the marching tune? Of course, it was a reference to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Over time, I picked up explanations for every single lyric in the song. All of them seem to match the words to people and events in history.

Last week, I caught the documentary The Day the Music Died/American Pie and in addition to people talking about the significance of the song in their life, Don McLean finally shared how the song was written, the construction of the music on the record, and the meaning of those mysterious lyrics. I don't want to give out any spoilers, but I will tell you everything I heard about the song growing up was wrong, except the reference to the plane crash on 3 February 1959. 

Maybe it's because I'm older now, but rather than feeling lied to, I appreciated his words on the subject. As I've often said, when an author writes "the curtains were blue", sometimes it has nothing to do with the fact he was depressed when he wrote the words, it usually means he looked around and noticed––the damn curtains were blue.

After watching the documentary, American Pie made it back into rotation for my daily music breaks. One afternoon, while out running some errands, I was stopped at a stoplight with the windows of my car down and the song playing at near full blast. I was daydreaming, but then something caught my attention and I looked at the cars on either side of me. They too had their windows down and the driver of one car, and all the occupants of the other were singing along with the song. Amazing how universal this piece of music still is.

Note: Don McLean figures into another entry in this blog, he's the inspiration for the song Killing Me Softly  As for plane crashes, the crash that took the lives of Buddy, Ritchie, and the Bopper was just the beginning of tragedy for rock, these two entries are about other musicians who met similar fates: Lynyrd Skynyrd  and Jim Croce 


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Monday, August 1, 2022

An Escape Into My Tiny Writer's Garret



When I think about writing, I see it as a purely creative process. Because of that, it is something that can neither be rushed nor done on a specific schedule. I don't mean that the deadlines for editing and such, but the basic writing has to come when it comes. Usually, there comes a point in writing a story when my mind is filled with the characters and the action of my story. I refer to this as being in the zone, and once I'm there, I have a tendency to close out the outside world is much as possible and let those words flow as freely as their coming to me. Until then, I feel that I'm wandering about like a bumblebee, bumping into everything that might be in my way as I try to fly towards the flowers I am seeking.

Thanks to Katrin, a wonderful lady that I've never met who lives in Hamburg, Germany I no longer bumble my way onto the path I need to be on, her creations allow me to concentrate on only a small part of the physical world in front of me. The first time I did this, back in January, the result was a small library that seemed turned the corner and go on forever when you peered into it.  It was the perfect project at the perfect time; allowing me to be creative and but also having guard rails to keep me from running off the path. As I built that library, I ventured into its hallway and explored the shelves, the ladder, and even the lights. It took me from here to there.

Recently, Katrin moved into a space beyond Etsy that gives her more freedom and control over what she markets. When I first looked through her new offerings, I was immediately drawn to one she called the Antique Office, which featured a large window at the end rather than an infinite hallway. At the end of the nook, sit a desk and chair where its occupant could peer through a large window at a large full moon. 

After a few days of looking at the kit, I ordered it. It seemed to arrive much faster than the last package I had come from Germany, but it may have just been my imagination. Unlike my last kit, this one seemed to have less finished and more decisions to be made by me. I pieced it together several times, trying to observe it from different angles to come up with a painting scheme for an office that I might like to occupy myself. As I did this, the name shifted to Tiny Writer's Garret.

This time, rather than lining the books up on the shelves in neat rows, I made it more like my office and allowed the books to be in piles and even stacked on top of the bookcase. Katrin had suggested a few add-ons, so on the desk sits not only a quill and inkwell but also a bust. Another minor prop included of miniature mailed envelopes, which are appropriately scattered across the floor near the chair.

The moon is back-lit through the window, and its shine fills the office with fantasy beams of lunar magic. Unfortunately, the photo does not really do it justice as the camera does not adjust lighting as well as the human eye. 

As with my last project, it is now ensconced in a bookshelf with lights that turn on automatically when someone enters the room, allowing them a brief glimpse before it goes dark and disappears into the stack of books.

My Tiny Writer's Garret served his purpose and cleared my mind of a lot of extraneous things so I could get to work on my latest work in progress. Now and then, I go down where that new project sits and allow myself to transport into it so I consider that desk and put words on a piece paper.


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Monday, July 25, 2022

Razor Sharp? No, Sharper

When my dad was preparing to leave for Vietnam, he invited me to watch him pack his suitcase. Even though I was only about eight, I remember watching and making note of one particular item that went into his bag — a brand-new six-inch Buck hunting knife in a matte black leather sheath. When he came back, a year later, I watched him remove that knife from his bag and lay it on the bed as he unpacked. Without asking, I picked it up and examined it. 

The sheath was now worn but still smooth but shiny from wear, and the handle of the knife had several deep scratches that marred what used to be a smooth surface. He took it out of my hand and set it on his dresser without a word. I never asked my dad if he used the knife in combat. Given my age, it was something I never really thought about. 

A few years later, on Christmas, he gave me a brand-new Buck knife of my own to use when camping with the Boy Scouts. The knife was the perfect tool; it was extremely sharp, and just the right size for every purpose I used it for. Unfortunately, it was stolen. I never replaced it, as I was aging out of Boy Scouts, anyway.

Years later, my dad began telling me about his experiences in Vietnam. I never asked about his knife. I was old enough to realize it was better to let him tell the tale than for me to pry it from him. All I knew was that the knife remained special to him for the balance of his life.

It was the memory of that knife, the lead me to place one in the hands of Evan Davis in Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf. It also appears in each of the other books of the Evan Davis tales series. 

As I was in Kuwait when I started writing that story, I had very few options for obtaining a Buck knife to use as a prop while writing. Most of the knives for sale at the Base Exchange were folding style and none of them were made by Buck. The knife became one of the first items I ever bought from Amazon. However, the knife I ordered was not the same as the one my father carried. Mine was a 75th Anniversary version of the blade. 

The Buck knife lay next to my keyboard, as I sat alone at night writing the story of Evan and the troops he was embedded with in Afghanistan. Whenever I was stuck or thinking out the next part of the story, I would take the knife from the sheath and fidget with it. Since it had never been used will a piece of wood, field strip prey, or even cut through a length of parachute cord, it was every bit as sharp as the day Buck created it. This resulted in me finishing the book of several fresh cuts on my fingers and hands from my fidgeting. Hazards of being a novelist, I guess. 

Through the next two books, the knife has appeared and is used in different ways. The knife also served as an exemplar for the cover of Blood Upon the Sands. As I plan out the last two books in the series, I have a sub story about the knife’s origin that will appear in one of them. It explains how Evan got the knife originally, and the meaning he attached to it over the years.

For now, it lives on a display shelf with my other props.



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Monday, July 18, 2022

One That Is Heartbreaking

Dogs give you thousands of really great days and then one that is heartbreaking.


MacBeth
17 Dec 2008-18 July 2022



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Monday, July 11, 2022

Remembering Red Dawn on a Red Planet

 


Recently a lightbulb burned out in the kitchen. It was one of those ceiling spotlights I’d already upgraded to an LED bulb. This meant I couldn’t one of the incandescent or CFLs that I had laying around-- I was going to need an LED light bulb with matching temperature and wattage. Supply chains are still playing havoc with local hardware stores, so none of them had one in stock and I ended up ordering one online.

While I was browsing the hundreds of LED light bulb choices, I came across a bulb I hadn't seen in a long time. (Stay with me a moment, I promise this entry is not really about light bulbs.) These look like regular spotlight bulbs, but they are red in color and meant to produce heat. Of course, incandescent bulbs produce a lot of heat on their own but these were meant to be used in bathrooms and such As I stared at the bulb, I was taken back to a time when I was in ninth grade and our home's main bathroom was just off the kitchen. It had three of these bulbs mounted in the ceiling.

When I was in ninth grade, just like everybody else, I was going through a lot of changes not only physically but mentally as well as I started to Band, I was attracted to her.  She had an unforgettable smile accented by long dark hair and beautiful eyes. But rather than the romantic twist, I first hoped for, somewhere in the middle we spent so much time together we became friends and found ourselves talking about a lot of things. It was great to have a female sounding board during that confusing stretch of life, as it gave me a viewpoint that a lot of guys never get.

Every afternoon, I would come in from school, spend an obligatory ten minutes doing my homework, and then I’d grab the phone out of the kitchen (which had an extremely long cord), and drag it around the corner into the bathroom.  Once inside, I would shut the door and lay on the cool tile after turning on the red heat lamps in the room. I wasn't really cold, per se, I just thought the red glow that they gave the room was kind of cool.

For the next hour or so, Rosetta and I would talk. Sometimes about stupid things classmates said at school, other times talking about what was on TV or how we were feeling about stuff going on in our families. By the end, usually forced by her parents or mine, we were both drained of whatever tension-filled us and a little more firm in the things we were thinking.

I didn't realize how much I appreciated having her as a friend until I moved away that year before summer vacation. Our conversations had dwindled by then-- I’d made the mistake of introducing her to a friend of mine, and they had a rather nasty breakup. She’d advised me to go out with a girl who ended up being my first psycho ex-girlfriend. Hard feelings both ways, I guess. In the end, maybe we should’ve been going out with each other.

I lost all contact with her when we moved to our next base. Once I arrived there, I spent the standard few weeks not knowing anyone at the new location, but I was able to treasure the memory of the conversations Rosetta and I shared. The private thoughts and musings of two adolescents trying to figure out life and how to be cool at a time when nobody is -- an experience I enjoyed while lying under the red glow of heat lamps.


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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Some Storytellers Get To Keep Telling Stories

 

Earlier this year, friend and Brother Roger E Gregory passed on. He was one of those people you meet whom you look forward to speaking with during every encounter. It wasn't just that he was friendly and usually very positive—– every time you met him he was ready to tell you a story.

Some stories were humorous, some about his wife and his family, some about his time in the Navy. It was a wide variety of tales that spanned a life that was full of wonderful experiences. Every story brought you into his history, way of thinking, and worldview. That made each story precious.

As I considered the passing of this memorable person, I decided I wanted to honor the man I'd gotten to know. Something that would not only last but contributed to the community rather than just a simple memorial. At about the same time, I'd become aware of the neighborhood free library exchange boxes. My mind quickly connected the two things. I'ld create a small lending library that would stand as an ongoing way of sharing stories with anyone who opened its door and selected a book - just like Roger.

A few weeks ago, the Little Free Library (LFL) organization granted Charter #144174 to the WB Roger E. Gregory Little Free Library. This past weekend, it was filled with books and officially became available to the public.

If you are not familiar with the free library concept: In its simplest terms, the library is a small collection of books, available to everyone 24X7X365. People are encouraged to find a book they like, then take it with them to read. After they've completed the book, they may return it in a timeframe of their choosing. Patrons of the library are also invited to keep the book permanently, if they choose, with the hope they might donate a book to replace it. There is a wide variety of literary genres and the collection includes children's books as well.

For the details about my first LFL encounter, click here. For more detailed information about how to start your own LFL, click here.    

There is a very helpful mobile app to help let you locate nearby LFL's:

 







Or you can use the map on the LFL website by clicking here 

Last Friday, after I finished filling the shelves of the LFL with a fresh selection of books for the first time, I reflected on how this library of two dozen tomes came to be and what it was supposed to represent. I think Roger would be pleased; of course, he wouldn't say it directly he'd do so by telling you a story.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Writing What You've Lived


I believe in America...

So begins my father's favorite novel. A story of immigrants, loyalty, family, and crime. Mario Puzo's The Godfather.

I never read the book until after I'd seen the movie, and like most books being used as the basis for a movie the richness of the story between the pages is so much better than that on-screen it deserves to be appreciated as a separate work of art. It was after reading the book that I realized my novels are written in a style similar to Puzo’s.

In the first third of the book, I bring in all the major characters along with her back stories to allow the reader to get to know each one. The second third is setting up the major action that will take place as things transition throughout the pages. The final third allows all the complex parts of the story that has been readied in the front part of the book to spring into action. The last few pages, conclude each storyline or allow for the characters to move on to the next tale. It is the type of story I like to read, and therefore the type that I create.

Eventually, I saw all three movies in The Godfather saga and was never disappointed by the story or the way it was presented. It is hard to believe that The Godfather movie came out 50 years ago. It stands up very well. Francis Ford Coppola created a masterpiece.

A streaming miniseries called The Offer that details the creation of the movie from the book recently launched. It gave me an insight into Puzo I lacked before. The story opens with him as a struggling novelist, who had just completed what he considered his strongest book ever only to find it garnering a mediocre response. When discussing the book with his wife, she suggests that he write a new novel concentrating just on the gangster parts of his flailing novel. At first, he pushes back insisting he had fought his entire life to get away from that and write the stories he wanted. Eventually, the need for a source of income pushed him into sitting down and writing what he knew, The Godfather.

Like most fortunate events, I saw this at a time when I was doing my best to avoid writing a novel that I knew had a good storyline but lacked the passion that I knew would capture readers. I mentioned before that another author asked me why I never mind the stories from my time in information technology as a source of a good story, and I didn't have a reason. The Offer instead presented me with proof of what can happen if you stop resisting the inevitable and write what you know. I liked what I saw, and CyberMortis is now in the process of becoming my fifth novel.



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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Hey, That's My Name Too!

Never, ever use your password this way.

In my current work in progress (WIP) all of the main characters have nicknames. Since they're computer hackers it's not unusual that they would be hiding behind an alias to keep their true identity secret. In the story, all of the names were assigned by the alpha hacker in their group. Behind each name, is a short back story as to how they wound up with it. These backstories tell you a little about the person given the moniker and the person who handed out the names.

When I was thinking about this part of the story, my mind drifted to the nicknames I'd been given over the years. The first name I can recall being was tacked on me at summer camp when one of my fellow staff members began to refer to me as Socrates. For some reason, I was mouthing off philosophical platitudes in the name was slapped on. Given that I was in eighth grade at the time, I'm not really sure how I came about any level of wisdom.

There was also a span of time between sixth and eighth grade when I chose to go by my middle name rather than my first name. We'd just moved to Oklahoma from South Carolina and it was a good time to make that sort of change. Looking back, I can't remember why, I just that I did it. 

By the start of ninth grade, I was back to using my first name, but my friends were still calling me Socrates. It was okay, I was hanging out with guys named Duck and Peabody -- it fits. A move to Virginia allowed me to shed all nicknames.  I didn't pick up another until I was in college.

The TV show MASH was popular at the time, and my offbeat sense of humor led me to be called Hawkeye. The nickname stuck through college, my first few years in the Air Force, and I eventually used it to sign artwork I created during that time. Once I set the name down, I didn't pick up another for many years. I still have college friends who call me Hawkeye, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm just glad that after all these years we're still friends.

At this point in life, I no longer have any nickname, but I do have a nom de plume I use for my fictional writing. I created it primarily to prevent confusion with software and technical books I write under my real name. It also allows me to me hide behind the curtain while I play with the knobs and levers that control my characters as they perform on the stage.

Just wait until you meet Lynx, Spyder, and a few others.



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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Desktop Parking Lot




The four stories that made up POMSILv2 came to me simultaneously. That’s not to say the tales were fully fleshed out, but I had the basic storyline and the hook in mind before I ever sat down to put the first one on paper. Of course, not all of the stories lend themselves to needing or being able to obtain a prop to serve his muse. Still, one story, in particular, did, Beyond AM Radio.

The story’s protagonist is a government employee, Cordeil, who locates an extraordinary radio sitting on one of an overstuffed and forgotten warehouse shelves. The radio had been there for decades. It was the exact radio he needed to complete the restoration of a 1947 Cadillac Series 62 convertible given to him by his grandfather. When I started writing the story, I didn’t have a specific car in mind. However, I knew what I wanted the radio to look like, which led me to begin looking through pictures of old cars.

The radio wasn’t the only thing required about the car, but it was the starting point. I also wanted the car to be a convertible for no other reason than I like convertibles. Finally, I wanted the car to be a model worth being handed down through generations. There are many incredible vehicles worthy of collecting, but this one had to be special to the original owner. Something he would’ve obtained after World War II as a treat for having survived. As I continually narrowed down the choices, I eventually decided on a Cadillac. It was the car my father considered the one you buy when you want to treat yourself to the lap of luxury.

I was surprised to find Cadillac, rather than naming their cars during this period, simply numbered them. As I started looking through the various models they had available, the Series 62 caught my eye immediately. With the choice being made, I wanted to get a close-up view of the car. Unfortunately, in the middle of COVID I couldn’t go to an automobile museum. A model would have to be the stand-in, and I found one that was part of an estate sale being conducted on eBay.

The model’s doors, hood, and self-lowering antenna were all movable. So I could move things around and look more closely at details as I wrote the story to make sure the story remained authentic. I also got in touch with the Jose Gomez of The Cadillac & LaSalle Club, who helped me with technical specifications and guidance on the intricacies of the car.

As I wrote, I imagined myself as Cordeil sitting in the car and going through the motions of the story. Opening and slamming doors, crawling underneath, and eventually installing the radio acquired from the warehouse leads to the story’s climax.

Now, the model sits on my desk. I still pick it up and play with it occasionally, so it’s not gathering too much dust yet. But every time I look at it, I’m reminded of the story, and I smile.

 Here's a full description of the Beyond AM Radio,

When Cordeil starts a new job, he discovers an antique car radio he needs to finish restoring his 1947 Cadillac. It might be perfect, but it is stored in a strictly controlled government warehouse, and taking it would be a federal crime. Over time, Cordeil convinces himself that since the radio has been sitting there for half a century untouched, stealing it will do no harm. Unbeknownst to him, he will not realize the true cost of his decision until he powers it up for the first and possibly last time.

Beyond AM Radio is one of four short stories in POMSILv2, available in AudioBook, Paperback & eBook.

 

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Monday, May 2, 2022

Roll On Thunder, Shine On Lightnin'

 
If you ask a person what their favorite movie is, the answer would probably change in ten years. It is not disloyalty; naturally, your evaluation of a particular film will change over the years. Sometimes it gets remade, sometimes it doesn’t age well, and sometimes a movie just hits you at the right point in your life to make a significant impact. Nothing else ever really matches that level ever again. For me, that movie was Phantom of the Paradise. I am warning you upfront this entry about this movie, released in 1974, may or may not contain things you consider a spoiler. Since the film has been out of theaters for almost fifty years, it is beyond the time when that should be a concern. 

Winslow Leach

Because I was a military brat, it is not surprising that this movie, like most others, was seen in the base theater. Like most installations I lived on, the theater on Fort Eustis was located within walking or biking distance of the housing area. Because I went to this movie with a larger group of friends, we walked en masse to the theater rather than taking bikes. As I remember it, Phantom was the Saturday late-night movie which meant there weren’t very many people in the theater. Like many movies I saw during that time in my life, I had no idea what I was walking into. Usually, by the time a movie made it onto the base, it was a year or more since it’d been released off base. All the advertising was gone, and back then, the base theater didn’t show previews most of the time.

Swan

Phantom of the Paradise is, in the simplest of terms: Faust, mixed with Phantom of the Opera, and a dash of Dorian Grey set to Rock & Roll from 50s to metal with an intro and epilogue by Rod Serling plus a villain/hero with stainless steel teeth....the whole thing is presented in classic Brian De Palma split-screen. But that is the simplest of terms. To me, at age fifteen, it was so much more.


Phoenix
The hero of the story is a composer named Winslow Leech, who is having a rough time getting his music heard. His current project, a retelling of Faust. The person who controls the entire music industry is an egotistical villain named Swan. He hears Winslow’s music and decides, rather than buying it, to steal it. When Winslow tries to get his music back, he meets an attractive singer named Phoenix, auditioning for his cantata that Swan is now producing. Naturally, she has the perfect voice for his songs. After several attempts to confront Swan about the theft of his music, Winslow ends up jailed and accidentally, through a quirk of fate, has his natural teeth replaced by stainless steel. Admittedly, that is a strange sidetrack for the plot to take, but there it is.
The Phantom

Eventually, due to his superhuman strength when angry, he escapes prison. He attempts to destroy the factory producing an album of his music, sung by Swan’s house band (whom Winslow loathes). It does not turn out well as he ends up being maimed and left voiceless by the record printing machine he is attempting to destroy. Swan creates a rock ‘n’ roll venue called The Paradise (Not the one Styx sang about). Winslow sneaks in, steals a costume, and becomes the Phantom, causing mayhem in the theater to prevent the opening of the Faust cantata. Are you with me so far?

Beef
After the Phantom takes out Swan’s band, they meet and make a deal. Swan gives Winslow an electronic voice. He will produce the Phantom’s cantata -- the price, as usual in fame and fortune contracts, his soul. Phoenix appears at an audition and is selected at Winslow’s urging. Swan locks the Phantom away in a studio vault so that he can complete Faust while feeding him a variety of pharmaceuticals. Once the music is finished, Swan bricks the Phantom into the studio a’la Cask of Amontillado. He then selects a male lead, Beef, for the show but leaves Phoenix as a background singer. The Phantom’s immense anger allows him to break through the brick wall, and then he kills Beef on opening night, which leads to Phoenix taking over the performance. Later that night, the Phantom witnesses Swan’s seduction of Phoenix, breaking his heart.

I won't give away the ending.

If you followed all of that, you could see how it’s a short jump from that story to one of any average teenage males growing up in America in the mid-70s. I was at a point in my life when I saw the movie that I had been through several Phoenixes and had been blocked and torn down by a few Swans. Short of selling my soul to the devil, I could identify with all of the emotion and lovelorn helplessness of the Phantom.  

When the movie finally showed in the base theater, the first home VCRs were still five years from release*. Once the film was gone from theaters, there was no way to see it again until it appeared on TV years later. At this point, I had seen the movie once, and it made an impression. What solidified it was a bit of chance. 

A long time ago, radio stations would give away things based on what number caller you were when they told you to call. A few months after seeing the movie, I was the correct number caller to win a free album of my choice at a local record store. Guess which soundtrack had just arrived when I came to pick up my free album? Ain’t kismet neat?

I listened to that album over and over and over. I knew all the words to both the serious ballads and a playful number about a rock musician who committed suicide to pay for his sister’s operation (more details on the impact of that particular song here, see the Umleitung). 

Paul Williams, although not a great vocalist, is a fantastic songwriter. His lyrics are excellent and managed to say things in rhyme and metaphor that most people can’t say plainly. As I listened to the album, I found more parallels between the movie and where I was in life. Every adolescent does the same thing. Like movies, it’s just a matter of which album hits you at the right time. There wasn’t a single line from the album that didn’t somehow fit into what was going on in my life for at least the following year. I guess I had enough innate optimism to see their hope, even if some were meant to be melancholy. Jessica Harper had a beautiful voice that blended so well with the emotion-filled lyrics being sung.

The movie was nominated for several awards, including an Oscar, but it became a victim of timing. The same year Phantom of the Paradise was released, Tommy came out. Tommy was a good movie, and it had a stellar cast: the Who, Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Jack Nicholson, and Ann-Margret. There was just no way this little movie would win over Tommy. Phantom was the better movie with the more meaningful soundtrack of the two.

...years later, and every now and then, when I find myself needing a little something – – I head off to the Swannage to watch a film about a sound. The search for that sound -- the man who made it, -- the girl who sang it, -- and the monster who stole it.

*Home media side point: Phantom of the Paradise was never released on VHS and didn’t come out on DVD until September 4, 2001. In August 2014, it was finally released on Blu-ray. While in Okinawa, during a typhoon evac from Guam, I came across a copy of the movie on VHS in 1983, complete with forced Japanese subtitles. The tape was lost during one of my many moves.


This was the last thing Rod Serling ever recorded.


Full Trailer

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