9.24.2018

Fear the Walking Dead is...Well, Dead!

Image result for fear the walking dead
Jimbo, another unlikable character, met his end last night.
About time...
I think I'm done with AMC's Fear the Walking Dead. In its current iteration, and with only Alicia remaining of the Clark family, I simply don't find the show compelling anymore. I watched it last night and it occurred to me that the show does two things so consistently and repetitiously that it's become a joyless slog to even watch casually (it hasn't been appointment viewing for me in years, alas). It waxes (drones, actually) philosophical on the evil things humans do to each other without even remotely approaching profundity, and it has simply become a never-ending stream of run-barricade-escape scenes. 

Like its companion program The Walking Dead, the series began with promise and complexity. It was a character-driven ensemble with some impressive visuals and keen acting. Frank Dillane's turn as Nick Clark was excellent, and I always enjoy the work of Garret Dillahunt (John Dorie) and Colman Domingo (Victor Strand), but I've grown tiresome of Morgan Jones. Lennie James is a fine actor, but Jones's incessant moralizing, ridiculous staff wielding, and constant second-guessing is exhausting. 

We get it, guys. Morgan loses people. Then he loses himself.

The last two episodes have been nothing but characters finding themselves trapped before accusing each other of various shortcomings and getting away at the last minute. Oh, and they enjoy using walkie-talkies and they like to say, "Copy that." 

There is no compelling characterization here. Even Martha's (Tonya Pinkins) backstory didn't move me. The video montage of her losing her marbles was laughably bad and there is nothing in her whole, "I'm making you stronger" storyline that is even remotely interesting.

Oh, and how did she get away? I guess we just leave details like that out now. And I love how nobody even cares that she is gone. She tried to kill all of them, and they shrug it off like they missed their morning paper (people still get the paper, right?).

But, hey...Morgan has a plan and they're all going to Virginia.

This show lost its way after the dissolution of the intriguing Otto Ranch storyline. With so much interesting television out there on Netflix and HBO, I think I'm done with each of these AMC franchises. The Walking Dead foundered in its ridiculous Negan storyline and its relentless torture fetishism, and Fear the Walking Dead has gotten so desperate that it's including alligators and hurricanes in this aimless, boring, never-ending season.

Ugh. Last night's episode is my best contemporary example of a series that is ready to wrap up. Somebody needs to find Alicia Clark and her cool little carbine knife to put this thing out of its misery... 

8.01.2018

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Stephen King's newest novel checked just about every box for me in terms of including everything I loved about the stories from the early portion of his career into the mid-1990s. 

Convincing and nostalgic representation of small-town Americana? Flint City is that and more, from the communal ball fields to the small-town police force...

Vivid, three-dimensional characters that we quickly grow to care about and relate with? Ralph and Jeannie Anderson, Howie Gold,  Yune Sablo, and Claude Bolton are living, breathing people in this story--complete with the biases and flaws that nicely balance their basic humanity. The text makes it clear--almost to a fault--that some of these folks are good people that did a bad thing. 

None of these characters is as authentic, though, as Terry Maitland. Coach T. deserves his own full-length story, and I couldn't help but picture a close golfing buddy of mine--a local coaching legend in his own right--every time I think about Terry. The thing that happens to Terry is terrifying. It's one of greatest fears, and he keeps it together better than I think I ever could, that's for sure.

Supernatural boogie-woogie based on overt childhood fears and a haunting legend? Oh, yeah. The Outsider is the physical manifestation of an infamous international legend, and he's scary as hell. 

Trusted characters from other realms of the King Universe? Holly Gibney shows up here, and she's a welcome addition. 

I read this last week and it kept me up until midnight two or three times. It's vintage King, and well worth your time...

3.05.2018

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in your gut that it's good. 

Other times? 

Well, other times the words just sit there--stagnant and flacid on the page. That time is better spent washing the windows or cleaning out the garage.

Well, right now I'm happy to report that I'm experiencing the former. The writing is good, and I know it. The last two weeks have been loads of fun, and I'm excited about where this story is going...

3.02.2018

The Hunt


The Hunt

Charleton checked his watch—maybe an hour of daylight left.

There was a cabin about three miles north, and he picked up the pace, the only sound the rustle of trees in the wind and the almost constant baying of the wolves that circled him.

This would be his final hunt. Brayer Cattle paid him well, but he didn’t need the money. Hadn’t needed it in years, really.

No, when all was said and done, he simply enjoyed killing them.

But this felt different. They were closing fast and there were more than he could ever remember.

He covered terrain in sips and swallows, ducking from tree to tree and sprinting through the occasional clearings. The sky opened at dusk, spilling snow over the Oregon backwoods. Charleton sighed and hustled hard for the meadow—and the cabin in the distance.

He was halfway there when he heard their approach. He wheeled, rifle leveled. A dozen majestic wolves fanned out around him, stalking him. Herding him. He backpedaled toward safety, just as a horrible clatter of tin bells and thunderous hooves exploded in the air behind him.

He dove onto the ground as a procession of spectral creatures astride many-legged steeds thundered through the sky above him. Hounds—dilapidated creatures, their bone and gristle showing through strips of rotted flesh—snapped at the wolves, scattering them.

The procession roared past, a demonic maiden leering at Charleton from her saddle.

“The wild hunt,” he gasped, knowing all too well that the wolves were the least of his concerns, and that the worst of it all was really only beginning.

The End

File:Arbo The-Wild-Hunt-of-Odin.jpg
The Wild Hunt of Odin, Arbo, 1868

3.01.2018

Powell Fixes College Football

I am a huge sports fan, and I have a particular affinity for college sports. While I bleed green and yellow for my beloved Oregon Ducks, I also pull hard for the Portland State Vikings, Linfield Wildcats, University of Central Florida Golden Knights, and Boise State Broncos. I will stay up late on Saturdays taking in the PAC-12 After Dark, and I dropped our old satellite television provider because they couldn't deliver the PAC-12 Network.

I've thought long and hard (no, really...) about the realities of the present climate for major college football. Here's the final summation, which people much smarter than me have explored in great depth: the system isn't fair. It isn't equitable. It enriches the long-entrenched programs while penalizing those that would like to experience even a modicum of ascension. 

This is toxic for the sports landscape, and it leads to that charade of a "playoff" at the end of the year is supposed to pick a true national champion. Our current "playoff" is an improvement, of course, on the previous systems that included the AP Poll and the clown show of the BCS.

But that doesn't mean that we can't demand more. We need a more equitable system...

Look, the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), which was formerly known as NCAA D1AA, has a sixteen-team playoff every year. Those student-athletes, just as those playing in all of the other divisions, take final exams and have to complete their schoolwork on time. They wrap up their championship game in early January--just as the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams do. 

Right now, selecting four teams for the "playoff" is subjective. There are many conferences that play FBS football, but there are five so-called "power conferences" (SEC, PAC-12, BIG-10, BIG-12, and ACC) vying for those spots.

This year, for the first time ever, two SEC teams made the playoff. That's correct--two teams from a single conference made it to the final four because there supposedly weren't enough viable candidates from the rest of college football.

Ridiculous.

College sports are at a crossroads that are bordering on a crisis. Attendance fell precipitously last year, a drop that hasn't been seen in thirty-four years! The games are expensive and season tickets, which often require a substantial "donation" to the university's booster organization, are pricing out families. Couple that with the fact that every game is on television in ultra-clear HD, and it's no surprise that people are staying home.

This trend bleeds revenue for the athletic departments, and some schools without active fan bases or big-money donors (and yes, I understand that Phil Knight subsidizes my Ducks; just another stroke of luck for ol' Powell...) flounder. 

Consider a proud university like Oregon State University as an example. They are falling way behind in the race to keep up with richer, more successful programs. They are flying to Ohio to play OSU in the Horseshoe as sacrificial lambs to begin the year for a $1.7 million-dollar payout that they rely on to keep the entire athletic department afloat. That's right, a team that went 1-11 last year, finished last in the PAC-12 in recruiting this year, and whose coach unceremoniously quit in the middle of the campaign (leaving $12 million on the table; Who does that?) is going to go on the road to play Ohio State University.

Makes perfect sense, right?

And the cost of national travel is astronomical. Please read this superb article on the discrepancies and costs of travel in intercollegiate athletics. If you don't have time to look at it, here's a quick snippet:
Travel is one of the most arduous aspects of college basketball. Hours upon hours every season are dedicated to getting to the next town, buses and planes essentially becoming players' and coaches' mobile second homes. 
Some have it easier than others. 
At the highest levels of Division I, buses park next to charter planes filled with spacious seats, teams' schedules based on when the runway is open. Convenience affords efficiency: Practice at home, fly out in the evening, play the next day, head straight home.
Most schools, though, can't afford to charter planes. The cost of travel drains resources and is distracting to student-athletes. Maybe they should play closer to home, am I right?

So, yeah, what if we could do it better? It would take some growing pains and two decades of adjustment, but I believe it would be worth it in the long run. Realignment would help institutions save money, which they could pass on to the customers that support these programs in the form of reduced ticket prices. It would also create a month of competitive football that would be unlike anything else in sports. 

You think March Madness is crazy? 

Just wait for December Delirium...

It would level the playing field, creating an opportunity for teams like 2017's undefeated UCF squad to prove its mettle on the field of play. Novel idea, right?

Here's what I'm thinking, because this post is getting long and it's only going to get longer:

We create six conferences, each with two divisions, and we play it off to decide the national champion at the end of the year.

I put some time and energy into this, and anyone reading this will likely disagree with my realignment proposal, but I took traditional conference ties, traditional rivalries, and geography into account in organizing this. 

That last component, by the way, was the most critical factor in my thought process. Simply put, I'm trying to make it all easier for the fans, athletes, and schools...

Caveats and Considerations:

  • Some current FCS schools would have to step up and join the FBS in my scenario. Some FBS teams, I think, are squeezed out (UTSA?). First draft here...
  • Some current FCS schools that rely on sacrificial whippings as payday games would suffer a blow to their bottom lines.
  • Some traditional rivalries would be disrupted. But I contend that new rivalries would emerge in less than two decades. It only took ten years for The War on I-4 (South Florida and Central Florida) to become super heated. In twenty years, the landscape would be settled. Change is difficult at first, even when it's made with the best of intentions. In fifty years, though, fans wouldn't have remembered any other configuration--just as I now know very little about the old PAC-8.
  • Teams would play nine games in their division (round robin), plus two preseason games. One preseason game would have to be against a team from a different FBS division, which might keep some rivalries in play. The other could come against a team from the FCS. For a team that falls below .500, there would be no bowl game (the bowl system would remain, albeit a formal playoff would also emerge alongside it), so they would only play eleven games (potentially losing revenue with our current twelve-game slates).
Okay, enough of that. Here's the system I would propose if I could simply make it so. Each conference has two divisions. Ten teams in each division.

These names are generic placeholders; I guess that's why we have commissioners! 

The Great West
Frontier Division:

Washington
Washington State
Oregon
Oregon State
Utah
Utah State
Nevada Reno
Nevada Las Vegas
Montana State
Montana

Golden Division:

Stanford
Cal
San Jose State
Fresno State
San Diego State
USC
UCLA
Arizona
Arizona State
Boise State

Mountain Region

Plains Division:

New Mexico
New Mexico State
UTEP
Air Force
Colorado
Colorado State
Wyoming
Nebraska
Kansas
Kansas State

Lone Star Division:

Texas Tech
Tulsa
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
SMU
TCU
North Texas
Baylor
Texas
Texas A&M

Big South

Bayou Division:

Rice
Houston
Arkansas
Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Lafayette
Arkansas State
Louisiana Tech
LSU
Tulane
Missouri

Heartland Division:

Memphis
Tennessee
Middle Tennessee
UAB
Auburn
Alabama
Troy
Mississippi
Mississippi State
Southern Miss

Southern Atlantic

Sunshine Division:

Georgia
Georgia State
Georgia Tech
Florida State
Florida
UCF
USF
FAU
FIU
Miami

Low Country Division:

Clemson
South Carolina
Wake Forest
Duke
East Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina State
Virginia
Virginia Tech
Georgia Southern

Northern Atlantic

Appalachian Division:

Maryland
Navy
West Virginia
Western Kentucky
Louisville
Kentucky
Miami of Ohio
Ohio University
Marshall
Appalachian State

Midwest Division:

Akron
Ball State
Illinois
Purdue
Northern Illinois
Northwestern
Indiana
Cincinnati
Toledo
Bowling Green

Great Lakes 

Upper Peninsula Division:

Western Michigan
Central Michigan
Eastern Michigan
Michigan
Michigan State
Wisconsin
Ohio State
Kent State
North Dakota
North Dakota State


Colonial Division:

Pittsburgh
Temple
Penn State
Buffalo
Syracuse
Army
Connecticut
Boston College 
Coastal Carolina
Rutgers

Independents:

Notre Dame
BYU

The twelve division winners would be automatically seeded in a playoff format, with the final four at-large spots being selected by a committee of coaches and athletic directors. Ideally, we would see a slew of regional playoff games that would culminate in a true national champion that has been selected on the field.

These teams would have an 11-game regular season. After the sixteen that are selected for a playoff, there would be 30-38 teams that could vie for regional bowl games to add that twelfth game and still create local revenue and television programming content.

And there you have it--at least in draft form. I know that I've overlooked teams that recently moved up and this is simply a first run at this. But the idea here is to reduce travel costs, create efficiencies for fans (lower ticket prices and easier traveling conditions) and athletic departments, create regional and inter-state rivalries, instill more parity in college football (this would revolutionize recruiting), and create a better college playoff system.

Whew...that was a long one...

You're welcome! :)

2.21.2018

Blackwater: The Complete Saga

Image result for blackwater the complete saga mcdowellMichael McDowell is a writer of great range and impressive talent. It has been a few years (maybe as far back as reading Blake Crouch's Run or Neil Gaiman's American Gods) that I became as engrossed in a story as I did with McDowell's Blackwater saga.

It's an ambitious, epic story that McDowell released over the course of six long novellas in 1983. I can't imagine what it must have been like living in his head at that time, as the story spans generations of families over the course of much of a century. McDowell's fictional berg of Perdido is fully realized as a rapidly evolving cultural center of rural Southern Alabama. McDowell never shies away from dealing with the subjects of racism, poverty, misogyny, sexuality, and the impacts of WWII on Perdido. His observational talents are keen and he writes fine dialogue. One of my favorite aspects of his writing is his uncanny ability to render Miriam and Elinor Dammert's curt responses perfectly at every turn. These are proud, powerful women, and McDowell's characterization rings absolutely true.

And that's to say nothing of Mary-Love Caskey--the matriarch of Perdido's first family. Mary-Love is a piece of work, and that's putting it nicely. Her dealings with Elinor, who marries Mary-Love's only son Oscar, escalate from terse to all-out war in the span of a few chapters. It's compelling emotional warfare as members of the family (and Perdido itself) take sides. 

This is a ghost story and an historical melodrama. It's a horror tale and a coming-of-age story. It's a brutally honest testament to the human condition while also peering unapologetically into the abyss of the monstrous. It's taken as a given that Elinor is different than the rest of Perdido, but the nature of her differences is always treated with hushed gossip as she frolics in the turbid waters of the Perdido and Blackwater Rivers.

This is an achievement in literature, folks. If you haven't read McDowell's work, start here and then be prepared to be repeatedly surprised by the quality of the writing and storytelling...

1.10.2018

Florida's Return

I love to run, and I run to live. Every time that I'm jammed up a bit for a new idea on a work of fiction or I'm stumped on a course of action concerning our family, I find comfort in the simple activity of getting out into the jungle and pounding up and down these trails.

When we built our new house, proximity to various hiking trails and parks was a major factor in selecting a site. Our location adds so much to our quality of life, and I'm thankful that these trails and pathways are well-maintained and open to the public. 

I hit a run first thing yesterday morning and I could immediately tell that the weather was warming by the number of spiderwebs I traipsed through at eye level at the Jacksonville Arboretum. The first person out every day, unfortunately, has to blaze that trail. 

Yesterday, it was me, and it's not a task that I enjoy at all.

Three years ago, I was running the Live Oak Trail at the Arboretum. I was almost finished when I crashed through a huge web. It was like headbutting a cheese cloth, and I yipped and swiped at it and tossed my hat down on the ground. That sucker was dry and sticky and gross.

I thought I'd cleared it all off when, maybe two minutes later (out of the clear blue sky), I felt the agony of all agonies on the back of my neck. It felt like I had been stabbed, and that wasn't much off because, when I put my hand back there to see what had assaulted me, my fingers came away bloody.

Uh, seeping bloody wound in the Florida jungle? Yeah, I freaked out. 

Almost immediately, my neck swelled up like a pack of hotdogs. I made a beeline for the truck to inestigate my injury and, sure enough, it was bad. There were two neat little holes at the base of my hairline, each trickling a thin line of watery blood.

I got home, my head and neck on fire and the skin of my face tingling, and I took a cold shower and iced the wound. I had to work that afternoon, you see, and I was hoping it would resolve itself before I had to meet my students with a neck the size of a life jacket. 

Then, the old writer's psyche in and I thought of all of the worst possibilities.

Paralysis. Skin loss. Zombification.

The big dirt nap, of course...

I decided to drop by St. Vincent's ER, where they checked me in quickly and processed my co-pay (Yikes!). The doctors gathered around, chatting jovially and poking at the necrotic tissue that was already forming there on my neck. They were loving it! I guess they don't see many spider bites, and I was a teachable case. I swear, a dozen doctors and nurses came by to comment on the injury.

They gave me a topical antibiotic and told me what to expect and they said that it wasn't that big of a deal--just a nasty Florida spider bite. 

I still don't know what zapped me that day, but yesterday I saw a meaty spider just dangling there in the path. It was the size of a hummingbird (at least), and it was just floating there on the breeze.

Waiting patiently.

I dodged it and I couldn't help but wonder if it was one of its cousins that had sent me scrambling to the ER all those years ago...

We had a rough couple of cold weeks, to be sure, but the insects and reptiles are back on the move--a couple of tell-tale signs that life on the peninsula is getting back to normal...

Fear the Walking Dead is...Well, Dead!

Jimbo, another unlikable character, met his end last night. About time... I think I'm done with AMC's Fear the Walking Dead . I...