Another Sad Day in America

Misguided. Angry. Disillusioned. Mislead.


Those are the qualifiers I use when I think of people like the Oklahoma City bomber and the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters.Check Spelling Those are the qualifiers I now apply to one Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the man accused of plotting a vicious attack on Portland's Pioneer Square over the holiday weekend.

Mohamud's vile intentions had been thoroughly deliberated. Throughout the course of an FBI investigation going back at least a year, he indicated that he had no remorse about killing children, and that he wanted to kill as many Oregonians as he could. "It's in Oregon; and Oregon, like, you know, no one ever thinks about," he said.

It's that quote that cuts me to the core. Between 1999 and 2002, we lived in Lair Hill. Jeanne and I walked through Pioneer Square daily. We often went downtown for Portland's many holiday celebrations (estimates had the number of attendees at 25,000), and we enjoyed them.

But something occurred to me on my drive into the office today. It was an image I can't shake--an image of what my hometown would look like in the wake of such a hate-filled attack. Torn bodies and burned children; shrapnel wounds and mass chaos. Fear--palpable fear--taking hold of such a good place to live and share community.

It's the second year in a row that some idiot has picked a major holiday (last year's Detroit airplane bomber on Christmas day) to attempt such an act of depravity, and that worries me. From the shoe bomber to the idiot trying to blow up Times Square to these last two examples, our country has been fortunate that these bumbling dolts have been less than intelligent.

But still, the frequency with which this sort of thing has been happening on U.S. soil gave me pause this morning on my commute. In The Stand, Stephen King theorized on the efficacy of flying planes into buildings. What seemed like fantastic fiction then has since become a terrible reality.

Every day we read about war-torn regions of the far-flung global community--about suicide bombers wreaking havoc on unsuspecting wedding parties and tourists on vacation. And we often dismiss these stories. We turn the page, confident in the illusion of security that attends to the notion that those are things that happen other places.

All of this, despite the fact that it's (so far) come to very little, is troubling...

I deplore the actions of those who would, in turn, terrorize peaceful, innocent citizens for the behavior of one terrifically misguided individual. And I applaud the Somali community for their efforts to bridge the cultural chasm that this incident has created in Oregon.

But through it all I can't shake an image in my mind of something that never happened. I can't erase a scene of my hometown--of my friends and, in my worst versions of this nightmare, my family--torn to pieces as a result of such irrational hatred...


Holiday Shopping for Spec Heads

Tis the season for lists. With Amazon releasing its list of the best books of 2010 (so far), I thought I'd put together a list of the best stuff I've read this year. If you have a niece or a cousin or a wacky uncle or you like the literature of the fantastic yourself and you want something new to look at, here they are, in no particular order:

  • The Secret History of Fantasy: This collection is simply stuffed with compelling fiction. The critical essays and the editor's foreword are icing on the cake...
  • The Living Dead 2: An overall stronger collection of zombie fiction from editor John Joseph Adams. This collection features darker, more mundane tales of survival in the face of the worst possible outcome...
  • He Is Legend: A wonderful take on the theme anthology, this collection allows a great stable of living legends to riff on the best tales of Richard Matheson...
  • Audrey's Door: Sarah Langan's tale of a haunted apartment building and the dissolution of a good person's sanity is gripping. Part Rosemary's Baby, part The Dark Half, this book is all frightening...
  • Full Dark, No Stars: Stephen King is a damned good writer...
  • Harmony: I'll review this book in full soon, but it's definitely one of the best I've read in awhile. A scathing indictment of the nanny state, this is technology-laden dystopic sci-fi at its best...

And if you're looking ahead to anticipated releases, here are a few books that I plan on picking up when they are available:

  • Sensation: Nick Mamatas's short fiction is keen; I'm looking forward to reading his work in the long form...
  • Loathsome, Dark & Deep: I'm expecting supernatural suspense from the coastal climes of darkest Oregon. Aaron Polson's writing feels comfortable stomping all over genre boundaries...

Just a few titles of a great many quality reads out there, but this should get you started as you begin to hit the bookstores.


Win the Day...

Random Thoughts...

Cycling back through a webjournal is like digging through the layers of a time capsule. It's pretty instructive to look at trends and news stories from the recent past. And I'm not a huge fan of a link dump, but time is scarce and I'm only passing by here occasionally. So, without further adieu, here are a few things I think:

  • I'm so into Oregon football right now that I'm not objective, but I think it's a dirty tactic for PAC-10 coaches to fake injuries to keep their defense rested. Look, Oregon recruits speed. Chip Kelly is on the record as saying he wants the fastest Division I football team in America (and with Kenjon Barner and LaMike James, he has two of these guys on one of America's fastest T & F 4X100 relays), so he recruits undersized speed demons. Then he gathers depth (our two-deep is just sick) and coaches them up. I've heard that on Tuesdays, all they do is run. They run to space, they run routes, they run and run and run. And if the opposition can't keep up, they've been flopping. I've seen it all year. It was shameless in Tennessee (the SEC lacks power and speed to handle teams like Oregon), and even worse last week at California. I know, I know--it's not illegal. It's just poor sportsmanship...

  • David Garrard is playing lights out football. Aside from Micheal Vick, no one is doing it better right now. David is a good guy an excellent team leader. He often doesn't get his due, but after the cardiac cats' miraculous win last week, he's starting to now...

  • And as for Mike Vick, I'm happy for him. I love animals and I think what he did was heinous. But he paid his debt to society when he went away to federal prison for a few years. He lost his personal fortune and still owes creditors. He'll never regain the acceptance of a large portion of fans, but I respect him for reclaiming his career...

  • Realms of Fantasy has been on a long, strange trip. It's now found a home with Damnation Books. I read the last copy under Tir Na Nog Press and I have to say I really enjoyed it. All of the stories were good, but the tales by Jerry Oltion and Scott Dalrymple really struck a chord with me. These were darker works--less high fantasy and far more grounded. I'm not a huge fan of sword and sorcery, so the news that RoF is heading over to DB is good news for me. Publish more mundane, creepy fantasy and I'm taking out a subscription. Scott Dalrymple's "Queen of the Kanguellas" was particularly impressive. I'm a sucker for a good epistolary text, and this one has it all. Part captivity narrative, part familial allegory, it was a riveting read (albeit with a scene that has a particularly unappetizing stew!)...

I need to get on with outlining the ultimate anthology, dang it!


Loathsome, Dark and Deep

Aaron Polson is a talented writer who I think you can expect big things from in the coming years. A quick stop by his website offers links galore to his fiction if you'd like to sample some, but I'd also encourage you to take a look at his upcoming book, Loathsome, Dark and Deep.

Set in Coastal Oregon (my old stomping grounds, and likely where we'll ultimately retire), the story is an updated take on Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I love the gothic, and I'm looking forward to this one from Belfire Press. Give it a shot; I think you'll be happy you did...


The Antithesis of Tolerance

My wife worked for a period of time for the White Foundation before her current position with Duval County Public Schools. As an auditor of Florida's foster-care system, she saw, on a daily basis, the effects a transient lifestyle has on many children. She saw abuses--both physical and emotional--and she saw success stories too, although they were fewer and further between.

So when Florida finally granted adoption rights to same-sex couples last month, we both breathed a sigh of relief for many of those children. Our state is a bit behind when it comes to legislating equal rights for the same-sex community, so this was a big step forward.

And then you read about a school administrator who illustrates the other side of the coin. This man's hate-fueled vitriol only diminishes the national debate, in my view. I like and respect
Leonard Pitts, Jr., very much. Keen writer, strong theorist. But in my view, when you get this type of bile, it only encourages the portion of the population that gets it the least:

Meet Clint McCance. He’s vice president of the Midland School District in Arkansas and he apparently felt put out by a call for people to wear purple as a means of highlighting the bullying problem in the wake of five recent suicides by gay teenagers. So he went on Facebook to vent.

“Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE.”

My wife has worked hard to get the folks responsible for Challenge Day to conduct their workshop at Forrest High School. They will be there throughout the week, for what will be a series of emotionally draining exploratory lessons. It's programs like these that go a long way toward erasing ignorant statements like the one above...


Some Writing I Did Today That I Like...

And it was likely that they still carried their poisons, though Liam was long beyond caring. He took shelter when the wind blew, when the devilish cyclones formed in the warmer months to erase the dim light of the hidden sun, but he no longer feared the storms.

If they killed him, then he would be dead.


The Walking Dead

I stayed up late last Sunday. Consequently, I might have been shot on Monday by Sheriff Rick Grimes, the protagonist of AMC's new series The Walking Dead. I was a little slow on my feet, and I moaned at the occasional passing dog.

The series, based on a series of comics written by Robert Kirkman, who has an excellent story in the recently released The Living Dead 2, shows a lot of promise.

I've heard that zombies are the next vampires. Whatever. Maybe Steph Meyer is bunkering down in some subterranean Provo money-lab, ruminating on how she can instill some wholesome family values in the undead canon.

I mean, seriously...zombies? I love to write the stories and I dig reading the good ones, but I think the wave crested with Romero's Land of the Dead, many years ago. I can be corrected by an awesome text, of course, but I just don't expect one--written or visual. If zombies are "new," then I'm extremely "old."

AMC does a fine job with The Walking Dead. They enlisted one of my favorite storytellers in Frank Darabont to produce the series, and to write and direct the first episode. It feels like vintage Darabont--intentional, artistic...carefully expositional.

I like that Frank takes his time to establish character. When Grimes returns to the same park that was the scene of one of his first horrific encounters, and when he enacts a sort of cathartic release (I'm sorry this happened to you, he says, as he pulls the trigger on a legless zombie), we begin to feel for him. It's pathos, people, and Darabont knows how to push those buttons.

Episode one is quietly horrific. That, in my view, is how it should be. Roads clogged with abandoned cars. Cities bereft of their denizens. Silence. Those elements make for a chilling narrative.

In the third act, things become decidedly difficult. There's a horrific scene with a horse, a live-or-die moment with a tank.

But this series will live or die with its attention to humanity and, with Darabont behind the curtain, I'm confident that will be its focus. It was the highest rated series opener in the history of the network. It will have some traction, and it might spike a mini-revival in the zombie canon.

But it doesn't do more for cable television than Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead did for the silver screen. Heck, it's not even (right now) as good as Breaking Bad.

But the good thing is that it can be that good. There's an old adage: you can't win a pennant in the first month of the season, but you sure as hell can lose one.

Well, at least in this case, Darabont and crew are still in line for the big prizes that await at the end of the year.

One Must Ask Permission...

Ever hear anyone say that they can publish something without permission because it was on the internet, and the internet is "public domain"? Ever hear such nonsense from the mouth of an "editor"?

Do you want to?

This is a case of poor behavior from the outset, and an even more distasteful series of responses after the fact. I've been reading a lot about plagiarism on the net these day; this anecdote, given the circumstances that it's an actual editor spouting this fallacious drivel, gives more than a little credence to some of these stories...


Taking Out the (Euro)trash

Harry Brown (2009) is an ultraviolent British film that looks deeply into that nebulous cauldron of morality. The story of a widower and ex-serviceman bent on exacting a form of brutal revenge on behalf of his slain best friend, this worthy little film works on a number of levels.

Among the motifs it examines are generational differences (Harry and Leonard are suit-wearing standard bearers of the old guard), a devaluation of humanity, the responsibility of community stewardship and the redemptive powers of violence.

Early on, the audience sees an act of such utter depravity--a vicious, unprovoked attack on a young mother--that establishes an important contextual marker for the film: these kids simply don't care. They don't care about themselves and whether they will live or die, and they sure as hell don't care about others in their communities. The random nature of this early scene is perplexing, but it's not out of the ordinary. A few years ago, a man was shot on Halloween night here in Jacksonville for opening his door to hand out candy. That crime was never solved. Last year, a fifty-three-year-old pizza delivery driver was killed for less than twenty dollars. A man was recently shot to death at a gas station on the Arlington Expressway by a trio of youngsters; they took $3.00 from the man, and it's been widely reported that he would have given them the money if they had merely asked for it. There are literally hundreds of violent crimes committed by youthful offenders in Florida every year, and if there is any trend in their perpetuation it's that they are becoming increasingly brazen.

Harry Brown paints these kids in vivid detail. They are uneducated, manipulated by their elders and completely without respect for others. They peddle drugs, lay about having sex all day and intimidate any community members from using the roadways. Rioting is a form of entertainment (at one point Brown spits those very words, clearly distraught that the children of this generation don't actually believe in anything).

I see a film like this and it always leads me back to the kids. Why are they hanging out in the underpass? Why are they living a life where entertainment is attacking the elderly, where rape and sexual assault are looked at as cultural norms? Does no one care for them? I mean, are they not sons and daughters and sisters and brothers?

How did they arrive at this place in their lives? When you engage in that discussion, it ultimately drops you back here--at the problem of evil. That's a theological and philosophical quagmire (albeit an interesting topic to wrestle with) that looks at both the deductive and inductive proofs for the existence of God, as well as the nature of evil.

In films like this, and like The Brave One and other revenge fantasies (I'm still looking forward to the I Spit on Your Grave remake), the antagonists are almost always caricatures. They are drawn so sparsely that you almost wonder if these writers and directors do it on purpose, as though they want their actions to become the characters. Then, we can believe that the characters themselves are truly evil.

And that's another major question I have on the topic. Do the people who do these things, that commit murder and rape and intimidate old ladies and beat their children and domestic partners--are they always "on"? Or do they do the things the silent majority (the film's language) does, like send their mums birthday cards and stop to ponder the beauty of the evening stars?

Or, are they always just being "evil"? If so, what made them that way, their brain chemistry or their upbringing?

And, is Harry Brown "evil" for dispatching these thugs with bloody aplomb? The hard-fought turf war that Brown wins here is not like the freedom won by Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino. Here, the winners and losers aren't separated at all.

So as you can see by my ramblings here, this film raises more questions than it answers. That's a good thing, and it's a good movie. Daniel Barber's vision is dark and sterile, the South London projects gritty and eerily homogeneous. Caine is wonderful here--believable as a capable killer and also as a doting husband and loyal friend. The violence will turn a large portion of the audience off. The wounds here are audio friendly--lots of gurgling and spurting--and the deaths in the pub in the third act are, like much of the film, very upsetting.

But it's worth a watch, then a digestion, and then a rumination, and then a discussion.

I mean, why? Why do some people do these things?

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 you...