Friday, April 21, 2017

Marriage Belts

So my sister-in-law and her new husband have completed a year of marriage. And sure, they get to go on a little trip and smile, but it really doesn’t highlight the achievement.

I think you should get different colored belts. Like in Judo.

You go through a whole year, all four seasons, four major holidays, two birthdays, living in each other’s breath – it can be a tough transition. You deserve recognition. The bride starts out in white, so I guess it’s only natural that you move on to yellow if you get through the first twelve months.

It’s easier once you find the rhythm. I’m thinking orange after five years. Green if you have a child. Purple if you stay married once the kids are gone. Brown if you have you make it to 25 years, because holy shit? Right?

If you can stay married for 50 years you get your black belt in marriage. And which point, you should really teach. I, personally, would love to pick up a few pointers at the marriage dojo from a couple that made it work for that long.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

If I hear "going nuclear" one more time . . .

. . . I’m going to explode. In a huge mushroom cloud. The media freakin’ loves this phrase, the drama of it, the imagery. “The Senate is going nuclear” or, in other words, making an adjustment to their rules of procedure. It allows for a vote to carry on a simple majority, rather than a super majority. Such things do not, normally, turn buildings to dust.

The override option has been used before, in 1975 to make other rule changes, in 2013 for judicial appointments and just a few moments ago to add other nominations to the list. None of this is what we’d call a bombshell.

My problem is not with the rule change. It’s the language. First, nothing goes nuclear. One might go to Nuclear, where it a city in Nevada. One might become nuclear, I guess. If one were a protein that decides to become the center of a cell. Otherwise, it’s a stupid construction.

But even that doesn’t bother me as much as the belittling of the adjective. For those who were sitting at school one day when it looked like the sun set down in their hometown and they heard a boom louder than their ears could stand, watched their world burn and their friends and family die where they stood, the word has a different meaning.

I’d like every news reader to read Tomiko Morimoto's
brief account of the day bomb fell on Hiroshima, and then decide if they may what to call a rule change what it is.  She allowed for an interview this back in 2009 --

In 1945, Tomiko Morimoto was a 13-year-old schoolgirl. She recalls feeling no particular fear when she and her classmates heard the lone American B-29 bomber droning through the cloudless skies above Hiroshima. Her city had never been bombed, and she assumed the plane was simply on a reconnaissance mission, like the others she had seen.

Then she saw the flash. "You know how you see the bright sun that's going down on a very hot day? Bright red -- orange red. That's what it was like," she recalls. "After we heard a big noise like a 'BOONG!' 'BOONG!' Like that. That was the sound."

After the sound, she recalls, "everything started falling down; all the buildings started flying around all over the place. Then something wet started coming down, like rain. I guess that's what they call black rain. In my child's mind, I thought it was oil. I thought the Americans were going to burn us to death. And we kept running. And fire was coming out right behind us, you know."

Adults at the school led Tomiko and her classmates across the Motoyasu River to a plateau on the outskirts of Hiroshima, and told them to wait for family members to come get them. All night long, they watched their city burning below. The next morning, no parents had come, and the children were released to find their way home on their own. For Ms. Morimoto, that meant trying to find a bridge into the city that had not been destroyed.

She remembers seeing "dead people all over. All over! Particularly, I can remember… I saw a Japanese soldier that was still mounted right on his horse -- just dead! Also that a streetcar had stopped just at that moment [of the bomb] and the people still standing, dead."

Finally, Ms. Morimoto says she found a bridge she and her classmates could cross safely - a railroad bridge. She recalls looking down through the spaces between the railroad ties. Normally, one would see the river flowing there underneath. But she says, instead she saw "a sea of dead people. There was not one space for the water, just people lying there and dead."

Survivors she encountered begged for water. "Mainly, I just wanted to find my people. Finally -- finally! -- I reached home and of course my home was gone and I couldn't find anybody."

The only person who recognized Ms. Morimoto was a family hired man, who told her her grandparents had taken refuge with some neighbors in a certain nearby cave.

"And I found my grandmother and grandfather among them. Of course my grandfather was terribly hurt," she says. "He had glass lodged all over his back, bleeding. My grandmother, she wasn't hurt but she couldn't stand up from shock. My mother, I didn't find her for a week or so, and she was burned underneath a building. I hoped she died instantly."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Back cover copy crap

I would rather pass a quivering kidney stone than write back copy cover for my book. Boiling a 75,000 word masterpiece of accessible complexity down to 50 words? It’s like making a reduction from a 1945 Rothschild. Making a cozy fire with your stash of African Blackwood. Turning your ’36 Knucklehead into a sump pump. It’s awful and shouldn’t be done. People should read my whole book and then decide if they want to read it. That is the only sound way to establish a full appreciation of the work.

I think my next novel’s back cover will read:

Read. I didn’t spend 600 hours on this thing because it’s crap.

There is an art to back cover copy, but – like ice sculpture – it’s better if someone else does it. I helped with the guest list when I got married, deciding who was cool and who not cool enough, and it’s not something I ever want to do again. It is one of the five reasons I stay married. Simmering my novel down to back cover copy is the same thing. Which of my preciously little notions is fun enough to make the cut?

I’ve arrived at this –

An assassin, a priest, and a schoolteacher walk into a secret nuclear power plant – to Edwin McCallum, detective by trade and artist by desire – there’s something wrong with this picture. He’s going to figure out what it is if it kills him. The Link Boy is the second novel set in the Freeworld, a post-government future, where there are no laws. Just bottom lines.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Music of Your Life

Max and I are sitting in the car, waiting for his sister. I scroll through the radio and stop at 102.9 WECK. Their slogan used to be: The music of your life. They’re playing an old Gloria Estefan song, though I was really hoping for England Dan and John Ford Coley or Bread.

“This is a felony,” Max says.

“What?” I reply.

“A station that plays nothing but ads? Who listens to this?”

“This is a song.”

“How can I tell the difference. This is abuse. You could go to jail for this.”

I found Red Hot Chili Peppers on 107.7 Alt Buffalo. I wanted to show him there are ways to compromise. The rifts that divide us are not so deep.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

1984 ain’t the book

Hey, I love George Orwell’s 1984. It inspired me to write The Milkman, which is actually the book I wish was surging right now on Amazon. Not because it’s mine – not entirely, anyway – but because I think it gives America a glimpse of what waits down the road. The corporatization of the US, and the rest of the world, has been fomenting for centuries. Now, like a 300-year old toddler, it’s hit a growth spurt and I wish people would use my book as a What to Expect when You’re Expecting a Post-Government Society.

It started with the British East India Company in 1600, one of the first enterprises owned by shareholders and the very first multinational corporation to take over a foreign country and hold it for a quarter of a millennium. Although the company dissolved in 1874 it was more a victim of its success rather than a lack there of. England and India dismantled it before it became “too big to fail.”

Corporations having been following its model ever since. Improving on it. Stretching into multiple countries, so no two can keep up for a take down. Diversifying, so has not to be a hostage to the price of tea. Or oil. Ingratiating themselves into everyday lives – healthcare is about as intimate as it gets. And chipping away, day after day, at their counterweights: press, organized religion, government.

In the US House of Representatives, there are 30 lobbyists per legislator. In the Senate the ratio is 131 to 1. The majority of lobbyists have ties to business interests. Corporations have more representation in Washington than the people. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, corporations have a right to free speech. Money is speech and they can spend as much as they want and, well, they’ve always got more than you do. I don’t care who you are reading this, there’s company with more money than you.

They have used that power of speech to put more corporate-friendly people in public office, eroding the power and purpose of government. You know, an Exxon CEO in the State Department. Five Goldman Sachs alumni in Cabinet or advisory posts. Pro-business Supreme Court Justices and an Attorney General. That kind of thing.

I'm not saying business is bad. My novel-length thought experiment does suggest checks and balances might not be terrible. In The Milkman no one is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” All rights are granted by corporations as conditions of employment. Not exactly freedom as we know it.

That’s it. That’s where we’re headed. I’m thinking by 2084. Perhaps my book will be a best seller by then.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Milkman comes to the Supreme Court

It was fun writing the Milkman. It has not been all that much fun watching the real world amble towards my fictitious one. Most recently . . .

The nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court seems like a victory to large segments of the US population. None of whom are the real, true beneficiaries. Nope. It’s corporations that get a new seat in the third branch of government.

Gorsuch looks like a conservative Christian, and maybe he is. I’m not the Shadow. I can’t peer into men’s souls. I can see what people do, though. This guy transfers power to corporations. From you. 

As a Tenth Circuit judge rendering a decision in the Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch said Hobby Lobby, in denying contraception from its health insurance plans, was “exercising religion.” The corporation had a religious belief.

This was not, as many believe, a win for religious freedom. We all had that going in. Any individual working for Hobby Lobby could choose to act on that freedom and not use contraception. This was a transfer of power from those people, to the company.

Corporations will continue to grab more power in the years to come. With Gorsuch’s confirmation, they’ll have more help.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Otherness Factor, by Arlene Marks. A wonderful view of an even bigger picture

Very Large Telescopes use sets of smaller telescopes to give you a bigger picture of the universe than any of the components could on their own. Arlene Marks’ Sic Terra Transit books work the same way. Lots of points-of-view from a variety of characters let you glimpse through little personal portals, into an intriguing and fully realized world. They let you piece together something you couldn’t otherwise experience. Something big.

Book 2, The Otherness Factor, is deliciously different from The Genius Asylum (Book 1). There are overlaps, family connections and, of course, a shared setting (in the broadest of terms – the galaxy is a big place) but Otherness takes on new characters and new concerns. The complexity is built simply, which makes for a very satisfying read.

As Otherness sits in the Sic Transit series, there are several stories sitting within Otherness. A crystal within a crystal. The first part features Lania, and reads like Little House on an Alien Planet, with a post-modern edge. The second part feels like a traditional Bildungsroman, if they traditionally featured more alien cat-like empaths. Part three brings these two together, and result is exciting, swashbuckling and ultimately quite moving.

Marks brings a sense of realness to this unreal world. It resolves the images into something you could not see any other way. Exactly what I want from a novel.