Absolutely, without question, the best John Grisham novel is…

Before I reveal my choice to this statement, let me clarify something.  On another post entitled Ennui with a Side of Envy, I said that I envied a playwright but the truth of the matter is that I am not a person given to envy.  To me envy is a waste of time and emotional effort.

Growing up nearly as poor as the families depicted in Grisham’s novel, A Painted House, I learned early on that if I wanted anything I would have to work for it, which is why I started working at the age of 14 and I am working still.  So, when I say I envy someone for something, I really mean that I would like to have something they have be it material or immaterial.  If I see someone with a car I would like to have, I work to get that car and I buy it if I can.  If I read someone’s work and I admire it, I try to write the way they do no matter what is needed to accomplish this goal.  I am not always successful in these ventures but at least I try.

I have tried several times to be a novelist but I just cannot seem to get the hang of it, so I write short stories, which is something that I am very good at, while I admire Grisham’s ability to write novels.  The reason I admire him for this, and why I own all of his books, is because a good novel has many layers to it. None of his novels, or many thousands of others that I have read have the layers that are incorporated in his very best book, The Last Juror.

This book has a trial that revolves around a spectacular murder, as you would expect in a Grisham novel. It has a decadent crime family in it, a cast of characters with colorful name like Baggy Suggs, Mackey Don Coley, Harry Rex Vonner etc., and it takes on people who go “slap ass crazy”, the war in Viet Nam and forced integration of schools.  So there is a lot to think about but the truth is that the book is not about any of these subjects.

These are just many of the layers that revolve around the real story depicted in the book and that is of the friendship that grows between Willie Traynor and a very special black family living in Lowtown (on the other side of the tracks), the Ruffins headed by a wonderful matriarch named Calia “Miss Callie” Harris Ruffin.  How this unlikely friendship came about is the gist of the book and it is wonderful.  All the layers around the main story just make it that much better.  If you have not read the book, go get a copy and read it now.

I love the work so much that I buy copies of the book to give away to others.  So far, I have given out 21 copies of the novel.  I can usually get these copies for a few dollars at a local library’s bookstore so it is not a financial burden to me but even if the books cost much more than I pay now, I would do it because it is a very special book.

A few select books that I have read in the past fall into this category.  Those books include, The Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Merlin Trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment) by Mary Stewart–just to name a few.

I suggest you read them all.

Well, there could have been a monster in there…

As much as I hate to say it, for the majority of authors, their writing is their avocation rather than their vocation and I am no exception to that rule.  I write because I enjoy it and because someday I would like to do it for a living.  In the meantime, I have to work for a living like all the rest of you.

It is not that I don’t think writing is work, it is and sometimes it is very hard work, its just that I think of writing as a pleasurable experience, something I can do without anyone telling me what to do and this is not always the case in the “real world” business environment.  So, I get up each day and (hi ho, hi ho) it is off to work I go.

For the past two and half years, the place I trudge to is biotech whose main business is making breast implants.  I’d write a sitcom about the place but no one would believe it.  Anyway, for several months of this time, I worked in one large building that was virtually empty.  I know for sure that I was the only person working on the second floor.  Most of this time, I worked in a secured file room and though I am not one who frightens easily, if at all, there were times when I heard noises that I did not think I should be hearing. I can’t say for sure if these noises were just in my mind or if they were produced by workers outside of the building but one day, when I started to go into the men’s room, I could have sworn I heard a noise come from inside it.

That was bad enough but when I opened the door, the self lighting unit did not activate right away so I was left standing in dim light for a few seconds.  When the lighting did come up, staring back at me were three empty stalls and two urinals–which all seemed to be laughing at my unease.

It was during those few seconds between darkness and light that a story came to me.  I call it There is a Monster in the Bathroom and it is available in my collection of stories in Angel and the Bear.

When I wrote the story, I wrote it just as it happened, right down to the layout of the floor I was on, the only exception being that there was no monster in there making those noises.  As I usually do, I let some of my friends read the story before I published it and several of those friends are people I work with.  Everyone of them guessed correctly that I set the story in the other building outside of the bathrooms located there, so I guess I got the details right.

As a writer, I think using people and places you know well as models is important because since you know them so well, you can write in detail about them.  This is an instance where the location of the event was of primary importance because all of the characters in the story were pure fiction, including the muscular man who was working alone on the second floor…

Angel and the Bear: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KZ3QF8I

50 Shades of Green

You hear a lot of nonsense on the Internet every second of every day but sometimes you hear something so outrageous, you know it could not possibly be true so you dismiss it.  Then when you find out it is true and you are left to sit in stunned silence–unless you are a writer like me.

This happened to me yesterday when I heard that E L James published a “writing guide”.  In case you don’t know who this person is, she is the author of the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

Before I go on let me make it clear that I have not read any of her books.  Nothing anyone could ever do could make me read her books either.  The reason for this is simple; the subject matter is very disturbing to me.  There has been enough written about the books that I know it concerns a rich man controlling a woman sexually, often using force to do so.  That subject makes me so crazy that I once beat a man senseless because he was bragging about how he abused his wife in this way. I told him to shut up and when he didn’t do so, I shut him up.  That being the case, I don’t condemn Ms. James for writing the works and for making a boatload of money from it.  Some people love to read sick garbage like this which I know is crazy but that is our world like it or not.

What really bothers me about this situation is that Ms. James did publish this “writing guide” and given her following, most likely people will buy it looking for pearls of wisdom from the “great” author. That is even more disturbing to me than the subject matter because while I, again, have not read any of her books there are a plethora of excerpts from them on the Internet and I have read a great many of these bits and pieces. Doing so brought me to the conclusion that while Ms. James writes sick garbage she also writes like garbage.  Some of the passages are so illiterate that they make no sense at all yet she is telling others how to write?

In case you do not believe me, here is an excerpt I found.  I will add the link to this page below my post:

“Trust me?” he breathes.

I nod, wide-eyed, my heart bouncing off my ribs, my blood thundering around my body.

He reaches down, and from his pants pocket, he takes out his silver grey silk tie… that silver grey woven tie that leaves small impressions of its weave on my skin. He moves so quickly, sitting astride me as he fastens my wrists together, but this time, he ties the other end of the tie to one of the spokes of my white iron headboard. He pulls at my binding, checking it’s secure. I’m not going anywhere. I’m tied, literally, to my bed, and I’m so aroused.

He slides off me and stands beside the bed, staring down at me, his eyes dark with want. His look is triumphant, mixed with relief.

“That’s better,” he murmurs and smiles a wicked, knowing smile. He bends and starts undoing one of my sneakers. Oh no… no… my feet. No. I’ve just been running.

“No,” I protest, trying to kick him off.

He stops.

“If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Katherine is probably outside listening right now.”    Gag me! Kate!  I shut up.

Okay, Ana, the female protagonist, has apparently let this cowardly puke tie her to her bed but only gets upset when he starts to take off her sneakers?  Why?  Because she has been running!  Does this mean that her feet will stink as bad as this passage?  I could go on (“my blood thundering around my body.”–messy, messy) but you get the point.

I just hope that this “writing guide” bombs.  Maybe then Ms. James will realize what most writers already know and when she does, she will take her money and disappear from the literary world forever.

By the way, if you like good erotica where BOTH parties consent to sex, then read my friend’s short book Make Me Sweat.  I have provided a link below.

50 S of G excerpt: http://darhkportal.com/2012/04/frisky-friday-fifty-shades-of-grey-excerpt-with-giveaway/

Make Me Sweat: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EX5PIWS

It was almost a song…

In my previous blog When a friend drives a story, but is not the story, I told how a friend of mine, who is a singer, inspired me to write the story Welcome to Jupiter, which is the second story in my book, On Borrowed Time.  Well she is a terrific entertainer with a big, haunting voice that leaves the audience mesmerized.  One day when we discussing her shows I suggested that she sing the song If I Could Reach You which is performed by The 5th Dimension.  I was not surprised to learn that she had not heard of it even though I think it is their best work and I also think it is the best torch song of all time.  Marilyn McCoo puts so much emotion into the words that no matter how many times I listen to it I feel the sadness in the voice of the woman enacted in the song.

She laughed at the idea that she could sing as well as Ms. McCoo but I assured her that she can and encouraged her to listen to the song with an eye to performing it.  Then she suggest that I write a song for her.  Songwriting is something that I have always thought of doing because my son, James, is also a great singer who performs regularly on stages in Ventura County but I never actually tried my hand at it until she put the idea in my head.  So I wrote my one and only song entitled My Only One, which is copyrighted, but has never been put to music.  My friend liked the words, but she didn’t see herself performing it and it is really not a song for a man to sing which leaves James out of the picture.

So where is my song now?  Sitting in a drawer with all my other past, failed, efforts waiting for a time when it might be revived as has happened to many of my other works.

For now, listen to If I Could Reach You and see if you agree with my assessment of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfdsrDzF6Iw&list=LL8D6fDrefo1tkOCpCBchqYQ&index=3

To here my son sing, check out his web site here: http://www.jamesdarling.net/


Support your local author–even if your city will not do so.

I have mentioned that I live in Ventura, CA a beautiful little working class seaside town in between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, CA.  Undoubtedly the most famous person to hail from our town is the author Erle Stanley Gardner.

If you have never heard of him, that is not unusual, not even in Ventura where we have a building named after him (see picture) but you most likely have at least heard of his work because he wrote all the Perry Mason stories and Mason is unquestionably the most famous fictional lawyer ever created.

Gardner was not born in Ventura, but Perry Mason was.  Gardner moved here in 1921 and since the legal profession bored him, he began writing stories for pulp magazines.  These stories eventually became a long series of books and then a long running television show with Raymond Burr in the role of Mason.  I am a huge fan of the show and one of the biggest thrills of my life was meeting and hugging Barbara Hale who played Mason’s secretary, Della Street.

I provided this brief background of our most famous resident so you will know why I am trying to start a project in memory of him and the frustration I have encountered in doing so.

A few years ago Ventura decided to brand itself the “the new art city” so it spent $61 million dollars to build a condominium complex that is two blocks from the beach and Surfer’s Point.  The complex was to house WAV residents.  WAV stands for “working artists Ventura”.  The ideas was to have “working artists” buy these “affordable” condos so the city could claim that it was indeed the Artist Hub of California.  I thought the idea was fanciful because if an artist is making the kind of income that would be needed to buy these units, they would probably be living somewhere else.  I won’t go into the disaster this has been and tell you about how many units sit empty because I am all for the arts of any kind.  Cities should support them–just not this way.

Anyway, I figured that if the city could spend millions of dollars on this project, it could spend $5,000 on a project I have in mind that would not only honor and recognize our most famous artist (yes, writer’s are artists!) it would also generate income to keep the project going year after year.  I called the project Adventures in Mystery: A tribute to Erle Stanley Gardner.  

My idea is to publish a series legal mystery short stories using Amazon and CreateSpace.  The stories would be generated through a call for submissions asking authors to send in stories no greater that 3500 words in length with the authors being paid a flat fee of $150 for each story that was selected.  I was going to pick a panel of judges from among local authors to decide what was to go into the book.  Each judge would be paid a flat fee yet to be determined.  I was not going to collect any money, all I asked for was to be credited as the Editor of the book.  The books would be sold worldwide and they could be sold a city facilities like the gift shop at City Hall.  Our city hall is one block from the Erle Stanley Gardner Building and it used to be the main courthouse.  The City Council now occupies the very same courtroom where Gardner practiced law.

This same City Council flatly rejected my idea.  They told me to apply for a grant that would not come close to the $5000 I sought.  Maybe they could not afford to spend this much after the WAV fiasco?  I don’t know all I do know is that I have been trying to get this project going for years by approaching new council members as they come and go (though one of our Councilmen has been in his seat so long he thinks he is a Saint) and I have been rejected each time.

Because all of this, I have given up on the idea of having the city have any hand in this effort but I have not yet given up on the idea itself.  I am mulling a Kickstarter campaign for this project and if it happens, I will put out the call for writers here in my blog and on other social media outlets.

In the meantime, here are two sites where you can get some more background on this post:

Learn more about Erle Stanley Gardner:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erle_Stanley_Gardner

WAV project in Ventura: http://www.vcstar.com/news/artists-move-into-61-million-ventura-housing

How a near death experience inspired a story…

I am positive that near death experiences have inspired countless works of fiction and non-fiction.  I just never thought this would happen to me.

In my case it started out innocently enough; I woke up one morning with pain in my abdomen, severe pain, but even at that I didn’t think too much of it because until then I had been fine.  I tried to go about my business as usual but the pain prevented me from doing this so, reluctantly, I went to the emergency room.  The doctors there were very concerned and immediately began a series of test.  It turned out that I had a severe case of pancreaticitis caused by a dysfunctional gall bladder.  They told me that if I had waited a few days, my pancreas would have ruptured and I would have died.  A sudden shock to my pancreas would have sufficed as well.

After being admitted to the hospital, I was told that I could not eat or drink anything until my pancreas was cleared of all the poison in it; to reduce my pain and allow me to get by without food or drink, they started me on a saline IV and Morphine drip.  Essentially I went on a 4 day stoner because that is how long it took my pancreas to become stable enough to let the doctor go in in remove my offending gall bladder.

During this time, I was in and out of dream states almost to the point of hallucinating.  It was during one of these sessions that the oddest thing happened; a vision of a car that I owned years ago came into my mind.  It was a car that I had totally forgotten about, or so I thought.  What is more, the car was parked outside my then residence like it was always parked and to make things even stranger, a series of memories of this car continued with different views of the car parked in that spot. Some views were from the side, some from the back and so on.  After I returned to full consciousness, I remember this event and began to wonder why I still remembered this car and where these images were stored in my brain.

It took me several weeks to fully recover from this illness and during that time I was haunted by this question.  My mind mulled over a lot of possibilities but not being a doctor, I had no clear explanation and maybe a doctor would not have one either.  Then several ideas struck me: What if the brain really was like a computer and what if the brain could get clogged up with “files” like these memories of my old car?  What if this overload lead to debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease?  What if we could go in and clean out these files like you do on your computer?  Would that make your brain function better like deleting files on your computer makes it run faster?

At that point I had written my first two Detective Anderson mysteries (outlined in my blog posts I’m sorry, what did you say? and When a friend drives a story, but is not the story), now I wondered how all of these questions could involved Anderson and his team?

Well, throw in a “mad” scientist scorned by the local academia who is killed in a mysterious car wreck and then toss in the sexy owner of the Miami Dolphins (circa 1970) who pays Anderson a fortune to find out what really happened to him, then you have a wild rambling mystery that borders on science fiction. The story also introduces the hugely successful Anderson Detective Agency and a partner for Anderson.

And though the title of the story is one word, Images, at 19,324 words, it is the longest story that I have written to date.

Here is the On Borrowed Time book trailer that hints at this mystery:

For the benefit of Mr. K

All through my blog posts I have told you of the incidents and people who have inspired me to write.  This post will be no different though I write it with great sadness.

I found out last week that one of my friends died suddenly, the cause of his death is irrelevant at this point so I will not go into it, let me just say that he was much too talented and much too young to be gone now.  Even though I went to his joyous wake yesterday, I am still in shock over his death and I will be for some time to come.

The man’s name is James Kasmir and you can visit his FaceBook page here: https://www.facebook.com/james.kasmir

James was a man with a zest for life.  To me he was always smiling, always upbeat, and always willing to entertain.  He was a comedy writer, an adept magician, one of the BEST harmonica players I have ever heard, and one of the most creative improvisational comedians you’d ever meet.  It was during my two year stint in improv that we became friends.  I could tell you of some hilarious skits we did together but that would take much too long because anything Jim was in was funny; I was irrelevant.

Since we were having a wake and since it was to be held in the Ventura Improv Company Theater and since it was to be attended by an astounding amount of talented people who would be performing in honor of Jim, I wanted to get involved as well but not in an improv setting.  So, I wrote a short poem even though my poetry is lacking.  The name of the work is Jimbo The Magnificent and there is a story behind this title that few people knew until I told it before I read this work.

As I said, Jim was a magician and I am one who has always loved magic.  I have even put on a few shows (one when I was 9 years old) but I never reached Jim’s talent level.  Well one day, in a private conversation, I told him that if he was going to be successful magician, he needed a catchy name.  So I bounced a few suggestions off him and Jimbo The Magnificent is the one he liked the best, though I don’t think he ever used it on stage even though I promised him that I would not charge a royalty fee if he did–at least one that was not too steep, that is.

So, using my favorite name for him, I wrote the following.  It was warmly received despite it’s crudeness because it celebrated all things Jim.  That is something we can all celebrate for the remainder of our lives.

I love you buddy.

Jimbo the Magnificent

With mouth organ blazing, he’d pull a rabbit from a hat

Now how in the world could you not laugh at that!

Up on the boards he’d act like he was Heaven sent,

And maybe he was, he was Jimbo the Magnificent.

He’d been known to sing and he’d been known to prance

And sometimes when silly he’d do a naked chicken dance

Whatever he did, he did for our enjoyment.

Because as we all know, he was Jimbo the Magnificent

Now that he’s gone, the lights have gone out

But we’ll all be happy and we’ll all have no doubt

That he’ll be wearing wings to where ever it is he went

And Angels, those lucky Angels, will be laughing with Jimbo the Magnificent