DANCING AT A KNIFE FIGHT

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I’ve never been a big fan of movie musicals. I don’t hate them. It’s just, if I had my choice, I’d rather have a movie with a good story, good acting, symbolism, irony and some social commentary on life, and leave the music in the background as the score. (I’m of course referring to that classic movie Porky’s.) I guess I just don’t glisten with culture the way some people do.
As with most people my age, the first musical I ever saw was The Wizard of Oz when it played on TV, but you really can’t count that as a musical. It’s more of a kid’s movie, like Sponge Bob only with witches and flying monkeys. The first movie musical I ever saw was West Side Story. I saw it in the backseat of our family car at the drive-in at Tyndall, South Dakota. I had to have been about eight. There were five kids in the family at the time—with three more Iowa-born siblings to follow later. We were piled into the family Ford Fairlane 500. Mom and Dad were in the front seat, with probably the two youngest, while I sat in the backseat with my two older sisters, the nice one with chubby cheeks and the mean one with fingernails like eagle’s talons that she was not afraid to drive clear to the bone if I pulled her hair or flipped a booger her way.
I believe my mother must have somehow conned my father into taking us to the movie, because it was not the kind of movie he would normally go see. (I’m sure she told him it was a gang movie and there would be a lot of fights and action and swearing.) I freely admit to having the sophistication of a toad. I’m not cultured, well-heeled or suave ( I’m so un-suave I’m not even sure what suave means), but compared to my father, I’m James Bond—the Sean Connery one of course, Shaken, not stirred. My father just looked bored at the beginning of the movie and then the Sharks and Jets started chasing each other around.
“Who dances at a rumble?” he whispered to my mother. She just patted his leg.
He put up with the singing and tolerated the dancing, when both gangs were at the dance. Then the big knife fight between Riff and Bernardo started. The action finally got his attention. This was what he had come for. He watched the movie intently for a moment until his face dropped down into a look of disbelief.
“WHO THE HELL DANCES AT A KNIFE FIGHT?” he yelled at the screen, or us in the car, or anyone within earshot.
“Serves you right getting stabbed, dumbass,” he said. “I mean, who the hell dances at a knife fight?”.
After a while he lost interest and dozed off. My mother woke him when the movie ended.
“It was a modern version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,” my mother said to fill him in on what he’d missed. “Two people in rival groups fall in love, and it ends in tragedy.”
He looked at her as if she were insane. “Who the hell dances at a knife fight?” he said.
Needless to say our father did not take the family to see The Sound of Music. And so began my baptism with musicals.
The second musical I remember was Roger N. Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Lesley and Warren. It was on TV and my father sawed logs on the couch while my sisters prayed he wouldn’t wake up until it was over.
Who the hell sings while they’re scrubbing a floor? I mean, who the …
I was at the age where hair was starting to grow in places it had never been before, and Lesley was easy on the eyes. It got me through the show. You might even say I enjoyed it (Although I never would have said it to my sisters any more than I would have told them about the hair.)
I can truly say my favorite musical made into a movie is Paint Your Wagon. The guts and absurdity of director Joshua Logan casting two people who can’t sing a lick in the lead roles of a musical has my undying admiration.
Joshua Logan: Let’s see, I have Clint Eastwood, who can’t sing at all, cast in one of the leads. Now who can I get for the other lead that will actually make Clint sound good? I know … Lee Marvin.
Both my daughters have been in high school musicals—my son figures Hell will be a place where they make you be in musicals. I have been in church plays, and I played Jeff in The Curious Savage in community theatre, but I have never been in a musical. There is that silly requirement that you have to know how to sing—unless you’re in Paint Your Wagon.

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HAPPY ALMOST FOURTH OF JULY

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Happy  almost Fourth of July. Tomorrow is the day, two hundred thirty-nine years ago, when the American Patriots declared their independence from England, because they were tired of drinking tea and wanted to start drinking coffee. (I believe Starbucks was a big instigator.) England was not keen on letting the Patriots go, because they had been sent a lot of turkeys by the colonies, and they had plans to sell them back for Thanksgiving at a significantly marked up price once the Avian flu had run its course. It resulted in a big war where the Patriots won 28-24 against the Seahawks—even though General Tom Brady obviously cheated. (Or was that the last Super bowl. I’m getting old, and it’s been a while since I’ve had a history class.)
I’ve always loved the Fourth of July, because it’s on the same date every year like Christmas and your birthday, except you eat watermelon instead of cake and there aren’t any presents—we need to work on that. It’s not like some of the other more devious holidays such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Labor Day that keep moving around to different dates every year in hopes you’ll forget it’s a holiday and go to work. But every year you know when the fourth day of July rolls around, you won’t be working.
I was born and spent the first ten years of my life in South Dakota where fireworks were legal. Every year for about two weeks the state sounded like a war zone with explosions going off continually—you have to love a state where a fifth-grader can walk into a store and buy enough explosives to blow his face off, no questions asked.
Things get boring very fast when you’re young, even lighting firecrackers. At first you put one on the ground, light it, run a safe distance away, listen to it explode, and then giggle. But eventually even that gets old, so you start holding the firecracker in your hand when you light it for that added thrill that it might go off in your hand. At first you just toss it on the ground, but soon you’re chucking it at things: trees, bushes, garbage cans, brothers, sisters, friends and—depending how close the firecracker gets—former friends. When you run out of friends and relatives who aren’t hiding or hospitalized, you start blowing things up. The first thing you do is put one under a tin can to see how high it will fly when the firecracker goes off. Then you put one inside a shoe box to watch it get shredded or inside an apple to make apple sauce. I once taped one to my sister’s Barbie doll to see what it would do. I figured I’d just hide it when I was finished and she’d never know. I didn’t realize I’d have seven gazillion pieces to hide.
Sometimes, if you still had some friends left, you’d have contests. You and another guy would each hold a firecracker, light it and see who chickened out and dropped his first. The trick was to pretend you couldn’t get your firecracker’s fuse to light so the fuse on the other guy’s firecracker would be half-burned before yours was even lit. Of course after you did this once, the other guy would figure it out and do the same thing. Sometimes these contests could take three of four hours until eventually a third parties would light the firecrackers. It seemed like Bobby (three-fingers) Thompson always won. (Just to clarify for any kids out there who might be reading this, I was very young when I did this, and I had the brains of snot. I have since changed: I’m no longer young. Do not try this at home or anyplace else. All stunts were performed by a professional idiot. Fireworks should only be used by adults, and preferably by adults who are far more adult than me.)
So celebrate our country’s birthday tomorrow. She’s held up pretty well for being over two centuries old—maybe a few wrinkles and her butt’s getting a little big. But we still are one of the freest countries on the face of the Earth. And many people have fought and died over the years to assure we have the inalienable rights and freedoms to do anything the Supreme Court tells us we can do. Happy birthday America. USA. USA. USA …
Thanks to all of you who have bought my new book, In The Lake. I hope you enjoyed it, and I’d appreciate a review.
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GARDENING FOR FUN

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I’m gardening again. This is the time of year when I till, plant and weed a piece of ground while Mother Nature watches and laughs manically. Right now, early in the season, my garden is in tiptop shape. It’s orderly—you can see actual rows—and completely weed free. If you want to see it, hurry because by next week it will look like something Indiana Jones wouldn’t venture into without a machete, chainsaw and a fully armored Humvee with a fifty caliber machine gun. Even now I can hear the weed seeds tittering at my arrogance. They’re hiding just beneath the surface waiting to pop out and start dancing the hokey-pokey as soon as I turn my back.
I’m not sure why I still garden. We’re not rich, but we certainly can afford to go to the store and buy whatever we need to eat. My wife tells me it’s because I enjoy it. The same way she says I enjoy mowing the yard, scrubbing the floor and making all the meals. I did enjoy gardening at one time, back when I was young and had the brains of the cauliflower I’ve never been able to grow satisfactorily. These days enjoy is not the first word I would use. Sometimes the first word is one you can’t use in polite company.
People say food tastes so much better when you grow it yourself. I think it’s from the buckets of sweat that soaks into the ground when I’m out there weeding. I will concede that fresh vegetables do taste better than frozen or canned, but every year I am freezing and canning more and more of the stuff I get out of the garden—my wife says I enjoy that, too. I have to admit my homemade sauerkraut tastes better than anything I can get from the store, and I am sure we eat far more vegetables since we have a garden than we would if we had to buy everything at the store. Eating fresh vegetables is supposed to make you healthier. That and the exercise I get working in the garden will probably make me live longer, although if I have to keep pulling weeds, I’m not sure why I would want to.
The ebook for my new novel In The Lake is up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. If you want the paperback, it’s still cheapest at the Wings site. Just click on any of those links above and they will take you to the site. Check it out. You can read the first chapter for free at Amazon.
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ONE-HIT WONDERS

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In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Bob Beamon was a long jumper for the United States. After scratching on his first two attempts, Bob’s third attempt broke the world record by TWENTY-ONE AND THREE-QUARTERS INCHES!! Understand, when the world record in the long jump is normally broken, it is broken by maybe an inch or two. Bob broke it by almost TWO FEET, and to make it even more impressive, he did it in all capital letters. Even Bob couldn’t come close to that feat again. In fact it was 1991, almost twenty-three years later, before someone broke his record.
In 1973, Secretariat had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He was the favorite to win the Belmont Stakes and to be the first Triple Crown winner in twenty-five years. When the race was done, Secretariat had won the race by thirty-one lengths and beat the old track record by two seconds. Neither of those records has yet been broken.
It always amazes me when someone (or a horse) can pull off a one-time miracle performance—not that Bob wasn’t a good athlete and Secretariat wasn’t a good horse, but these feats went far beyond what anyone had expected them to do. In writing, maybe Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird might fit into the miracle category, but when someone writes one book that does well and doesn’t write another, I put that in a different category. Hemmingway said in Green Hills of Africa that some writers get a few accolades and become impotent with their writing because they believe everything they write must be a masterpiece, so they write nothing. Maybe J.K. Rowling would come close to Beamon and Secretariat. She did outstanding with the Harry Potter series and has not been able to duplicate it with any of her books since then.
Every time I start a book, I hope it will be the book that will catch fire and grab the imagination of readers and spread like ebola through the reading community; the Bob Beamon book that will leap way beyond at least anything I’ve ever written before; my Secretariat story that leaves everything before it in the dust. My new book, In The Lake, is a good mystery. I enjoyed writing it. I like the characters, and it’s a good story with a surprise ending. It’s well worth the read, but I’m not sure it’s in the miracle category. I’m working on a book now—I’m calling it The Almond People—that is different from anything I’ve done before. Sometimes I’ll think: This is the book. This is the one Bob would be proud of, Secretariat, too. But even if it isn’t—and it probably isn’t—I’ll keep writing, because there are stories bouncing around in my head that need to be put on paper. If I don’t get them out, who knows what damage they’ll do in there? Not that they haven’t done quite a bit already.
The paperback for my new book In The Lake is for sale at the Wings ePress website. You can go to the Wings website and read an excerpt at this link, Wings ePress.  The ebook will be out later at Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and Amazon. Amazon will also be selling the paperback, but it will be cheaper through Wings.
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WRITING A REVIEW

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Recently there has been a scandal in the writing world. An author was exposed for paying a company to post almost five thousand glowing reviews of his book on Amazon. The reason he did it is because it works. He sold over a million copies of his book. Since then it has been revealed that numerous authors have paid companies to post fake reviews for them. I would never do that. I have ethics, integrity, pride and about a buck sixty-three in my pocket—I’m not sure that much would get me even a one-star review.
I don’t think readers are aware how much a good review can do or even a mediocre review. People don’t want to be the first one to dip their toe in the water when it comes to a new author. They don’t mind being duped into doing something stupid, like buying a bad book, as long as they know there are a lot of other people who were also—it’s how they are able to sell so much bottled water.
When I have a book come out, I have a few friends who automatically read it and post a review on Amazon. I get a few people who write reviews who I don’t know at all. I appreciate all of them. Occasionally I’ll meet someone at a book signing or on the street who will say, “I read your book.” Then there’s that pause that lasts at least three hours when I wait for them to throw up or say, “I really liked it.” If they liked it, I’ll ask them if they could write a review to put on Amazon. Normally they look at me like I just asked them to give themselves an appendectomy, without anesthetic, blindfolded while wearing leather mittens without thumbs.
I know writing a review is tough for the average person. Writing a few sentences and then posting it where everyone can see it, takes some courage. (Now try writing seventy thousand or so words, putting them in book form and making people pay to read it, and you can began to see what it’s like being a writer.) But if you like a book, anyone’s book not just mine (but especially mine) write a review. You will be doing the author a HUGE favor. If you think a book stinks, write a review. You will be doing some reader a HUGE favor.
I have a book, In The Lake, coming out next month. I would like anyone who reads it and likes it to write a review. Even if you don’t like it, a review would be nice. (The guy who bought the reviews mixed a sprinkling of bad reviews in so they would seem more realistic.) For those of you who don’t know what to write, I am putting a sample review below. You don’t need to copy it word for word, but I think you’ll get the idea.

SAMPLE REVIEW

In The Lake is absolutely the best book ever written since the beginning of time. I believe it should win the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize, the Daytona 500 and the Kentucky Derby. Not only is it a great murder mystery with dead AND live people, but it has fishing in it—how can you not like a book that has fishing in it? I also believe the book has magical powers. I was hardly through the first chapter when the hair started to grow back on my head, and I’ve been bald since I was eleven. By midway through the book, I had lost eighty-three pounds and my persistent boil problem had gone away. So now, because of the book, I’m thin, good-looking and there’s flowing blond hair growing on my head, back and Chihuahua Poopsy. I also heard—don’t quote me, because it’s not official—that they are going to stick a check for seventy-three bazillion dollars between the pages of one of the paperback books. (Let’s just keep that our little secret.) So read the book because it’s yummy good.
Starting this Friday, the 24th, my book County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald will again be on sale for $0.99 until May when my next book comes out. If you haven’t read it, this would be a good time. If you have read it, write a review. There’s a sample above.
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IN THE LAKE

 

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Above is the cover for my fourth novel In The Lake due out in May in paperback and ebook. Richard Stroud, who did the cover for my first novel, did the cover for this one also. I told him sort of what I wanted, and he took the mush in my head and made it into something presentable.
In The Lake is a sequel to my first novel In The Sticks. Lyle and Cheryl are back, but this time they go on vacation and of course run into a murder—it’s funny how that keeps happening to them. A woman’s body is found floating in the lake with a single stab wound. A short-handed local deputy, Teri Snow, asks Lyle to assist with the investigation. Lyle discovers the woman is part of a group of millionaires who live in a gated community on the north end of the lake. Every Friday night they have a party filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll. Did things get out of hand? Did one of the woman’s local boy toys get tired of being used? Did her husband get jealous, and kill her in a fit of rage?
It sounds racy like another Fifty Shades of Grey—don’t worry, I don’t do racy. My wife read it and never blushed once, and she blushes when she sees Donald Duck, because he’s not wearing pants.
It has a lot of good minor characters and of course seven gazillion suspects. (Up until the second to the last chapter where the secret is revealed, my wife was still guessing whodunit.) It keeps things moving, and it’ll keep you guessing. I’m not sure what else you could want from a mystery.
For those of you who haven’t read In the Sticks yet, In The Lake works as a
stand-alone novel, or you could click on the thumbnail below and catch up on the background of this couple who keep running into dead bodies.

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HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION

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My wife and I just got back from California. We went out to celebrate my aunt’s eighty-eighth birthday, and decided to stay a week to check out the state. My aunt is the last one of my mother’s siblings still alive. Nowadays eighty-eight doesn’t seem that old, but considering the curse of cancer and heart attacks that has plagued my family, it is very close to a miracle to get to that age. Although she still gets around, physically age has caught up with her, but her mind is still clear. I hope when I’m her age my mind is that sharp, but I doubt it will improve in the next few decades. When I asked how she managed to stay so youthful, she said, “Keep a positive attitude, eat good Bohemian food and keep enough Manischewitz in you to pickle King Tut.” (I’m joking. She actually kept saying, “It’s okay if I have one glass of wine, isn’t it?”)
We flew into Sacramento and drove up into the mountains where my aunt lives. The first thing we noticed is California doesn’t have a speed limit. Oh, they put up signs with speed limits, but those are just so the locals can make fun of the tourists who try to follow them. If you go the speed the signs say, joggers pushing baby strollers will pass you and give you the finger as they go by for blocking traffic. The real speed limit is how-fast-will-your-car-go-mph, and that won’t fit on a sign.
My aunt lives in the mountains in the Jackson/Sutter Creek area—around the area where gold was first discovered in California. It’s amazing that anyone even noticed the gold as beautiful as the area is. As a former pursuit driving instructor, I kept thinking how much fun it would be to take a crotch rocket or Corvette and see how fast I could go on those winding roads; it would be a blast. But as a lifelong flatlander, having to drive twenty miles on those roads to get to work every day would make me crazy(er?). We had a little gathering with my aunt and relatives from all over the country that I hadn’t seen for years. It was good to see everyone again, and not once did I ask, “And who are you again?”
It’s funny the things I noticed, the family resemblance in everyone. I saw a lot of my mother and grandmother in these people. Not so much looks, although that was definitely there, but their values, at what and how they laughed and their speech cadence. I guess those are the true legacies of families: the things people pass on to their children without trying—both good and bad. (Okay, that’s way too sentimental for this blog, so moving on.)
After we left the birthday party, we headed down to San Francisco for a few days. We took a ferry out to Alcatraz and climbed the sixty-three gazillion steps to the top of the island where most of the cell blocks are. If I had been the warden, I would have made the prisoners go up and down the steps twice every day. The ones who didn’t die would be too tired to try to escape. Of all the escapes that were attempted while Alcatraz was a prison, only three of the prisoners have never been accounted for. They are the three who built a raft out of rain coats and tried to swim across the bay. They told us while we were on Alcatraz that because the water is so cold and filled with sharks, plus a strong cross current flows out to sea, that they believe all three of them drowned and were washed out into the ocean. I believed them until the next morning when we met a woman who had just swam from the Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is almost twice as far as the distance from Alcatraz to the shore and against the current all the way.
That night we went on a night bus tour of San Francisco. We learned a lot about the history of the city. The tour was on a double-decker bus with an open top. They took us across the Bay Bridge at sixty mph when it was fifty degrees outside. That translates into a wind chill of two degrees below the temperature where oxygen freezes solid. Something like riding a snowmobile in a t-shirt. Hopefully by July I’ll stop shaking.
The following day we took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city. Before we got off at Chinatown, our guide told us they expect you to haggle over the price in Chinatown. My wife’s eyes lit up. She loves haggling. She’d haggle over the  price with a guy giving out free samples. (True story: The last time I went to buy a boat, my wife came along. After about a half hour of haggling over the price of a boat, the owner of the place offered her a job. He said, “I’d rather have you on my side then working against me.”) We stayed in Chinatown until a little Chinese woman said, “No more deal. You go home.” But my wife got the t-shirts she wanted.
I wanted to get off at the Haight-Ashbury district where a lot of great music and heroin overdoses happened in the sixties, but as we came to the area, there were homeless people sleeping all over in the streets, so we didn’t get off. We had a bad experience with a homeless person on the trip. As we came upon him, he was freaking out, screaming profanities at his girlfriend and threatening to beat her up. I think it scared my wife a little. I’ve been in law enforcement long enough to have seen numerous domestic situations, although I must admit that in Iowa you can usually see the woman.
We visited an aquarium, a WWII submarine and a wax museum, plus we ate way too much at way too many places. On the way back to Sacramento, we went through Napa Valley. It was nice and well-kept, but neither of us are really wine people. We got back home and I was glad to be here.
Just a few words about the people of San Francisco. The first day we were there, we were trying to find the place where we were supposed to go to take the ferry to Alcatraz. We had a small map of the area the hotel had given us, and we couldn’t even find the street we were standing on. A woman came by and just out of the blue offered to help us. She had lived in San Francisco all her life and showed us where we were—not even on the map—and where we needed to go, before she stole my watch and wallet (just kidding). On another day we were trying to find a certain coffee shop. By the directions we had been given, my wife thought it was about three blocks over, and I thought it was in San Diego. We finally stopped a young lady in a business suit to see if she could help us. She was very nervous and maybe a little afraid, but she told us where the coffee shop was before we stole her watch and wallet. The point is, as with all big cities, I think most people are generally nice. They just seem to live in their own little bubbles. They ignore everyone and don’t even look at anyone. It is as if they are on the street by themselves. Maybe that is the way it has to be, or you end up with homeless people screaming at you instead of screaming at invisible girlfriends, but I don’t have to like it.

By the way, while I was on vacation, I outlined eighteen chapters in my next novel. I just thought I’d mention it so I have witnesses if the IRS asks.

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