Desert Places

Blake Crouch's Desert Places was gripping. I read this story in an afternoon--the perfect way to spend a few hours during the long holiday break.

Crouch wastes no time in plunging the protagonist into a chilling, life-threatening scenario. There's a body on his property, covered in his own blood, and if he doesn't follow instructions, the evidence will be turned over to the Charlotte Police Department.

Crouch's plotting is meticulous. I found the details believable, and I was really impressed with how quickly things devolve for Andy Thomas.

Thomas is a likable, interesting character. His virtues are apparent. He has a fine-tuned sense of right and wrong, and his love for his mother seems genuine. He's a good guy. But he also has a dark side, and his flaws are abundantly apparent as well. He does some pretty deplorable things to stay alive, and Crouch's handling of a fundamental philosophical question (where is the line between the things we do for self preservation and true evil intent?) will probably shock a lot of readers.

Orson Thomas and Luther Kite? Jeez--those guys are sick. After reading this book, it makes me think twice about the true intentions of every interaction I have. I played golf with a stranger yesterday, and I'm glad he didn't drug my Gatorade and hack me to bits in a remote mountain cabin. That was nice. I mean, after reading this book I sure won't drink anything given to me by someone I'm not familiar with, and I see no good reason to stop and help others when their cars break down on the side of those deserted country roads...

It's a sprawling, fast-paced story that I enjoyed from start to finish. I'm very glad to have encountered Crouch's fiction, and I'm looking forward to reading more of his work in the near future.


Resolutions for 2012

We've spent the day cleaning, and we'll spend the night painting. 2011 was a rough year for us financially, though a good one overall for our little family. Between medical testing for Lyla and Jeanne and a number of appliance replacements (the fridge and the dishwasher being the largest), we were hit harder than expected. We made some good moves, not the least of which was buying a Prius and paying it off quickly. Jeanne went from filling up that old Jetta once a week to gassing up the Prius once a month. She switched schools, going from a forty-mile daily commute to a six-mile round trip. For the sake of her sanity and her productivity, it was a very nice move with Duval County Public Schools.

I always hear folks claim that it's trite to make resolutions at the beginning of the year, but I don't subscribe to that. I like setting goals, and the start of the new year is as arbitrary as any other time to think about that sort of thing. With that in mind, I'd like to do the following:

  • Spend more time camping and fishing. We've had a very warm winter here in Northeast Florida. If that trend holds up through January, we're definitely taking Lyla tent camping at some of the local state parks. Florida does a great job in providing its citizens access to the great outdoors, and Lyla's big enough now to where we don't have to stay in a cabin.
  • Write more and sell more. I'm going to deliver a novel to my agent in a few weeks. We'll try the traditional route with that book. But I'm going to bring out another collection of short stories in 2012, as well as a collection of novellas and a number of stand-alone novellas. I do hope to more actively promote my writing, in addition to placing stories with magazines and journals that I admire. I've got five short stories currently under contract to be published in 2012, and I like that those stories funnel readers to my website and my offerings on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.
  • Run more road races. I ran the Jacksonville Last Gasp 5K (on a genuine XC course at Jacksonville University) race on Monday and had a blast. I'm running the Gate, and I might run the VyStar 5K this weekend. Lyla ran a half mile fun run on Monday and had a great time, so I think we'll be trying to do more of that. In addition to running more road races, I'm going to bump my weekly mileage as well.
  • Eat better. This is a big one for us. More grilled foods, and more vegetables. We do a fine job of eating well overall, but with a little one and busy lives in general, we cop out sometimes to processed foods. I'm off from the college until early May, and so I'll be cooking a lot at home. That means lots of prep. and lots of better eating.
  • Family hugs. We have about three a day. I'd like to see that number approach at least five...
  • More movies and dates with my wife. I see some matinees by myself, but I'd like to get back to having a sitter look after Lyla and going to the movies a few times a week with Jeanne. We used to see one each week, and I miss that time together.
  • More volunteering. When Lyla hits four, I'm going to be doing a lot of coaching, but until then I'd like to devote some hours to stuff we can do as a family to improve life here in Jacksonville.
  • More blogging. I'd like to get back to a fairly regular schedule with posting content here. I've read six books since December 16, so it's not like I don't at least have some opinions on books and stories that struck a chord with me!
For the foreseeable future, my days will look like this: mornings with Lyla. Writing and running in the afternoon. Evenings with Lyla and Jeanne. Occasional golf and fishing.

The college e-mail is down for maintenance, and when it comes back up, I'll likely check it sporadically. Drop a comment here if you need to contact me...

I hope 2011 was a good year for you. Here's to a great one in 2012!


Blake Crouch's RUN

Run is the best new story I've read in 2011. I liked it so much that I immediately purchased Fully Loaded and bought some print copies of the novel for my homies for Christmas.

The Colcloughs are stuck. They have a hell of a proposition--get north or get dead. And they pull together in a way that I find simply redemptive.

Crouch is a fine writer. Those scenes in Wyoming in which the family has to deal with the mountain are both harrowing and well written. Take it from a guy that's questioned himself on the side of the Grand Canyon--those fears are real, and Crouch brings them to life in a way that makes your knuckles go white.

It's the protagonist's drive to keep his family in tact, and his ability to understand the situation in the minute and the second that it's happening, that makes this a believable narrative. I loved the observational detail in this story, and I thought that the framing technique worked out really well.

Crouch did a fine job with this story. Very highly reccommended...


Ania Ahlborn's Seed

Ania Ahlborn is a very good writer. Seed takes off with a flash and the pace never lets up. Ahlborn draws round characters, which makes the third act all the more crushing when the story runs its course. Aimee and Abigail and Charlie represent a great little family--filled with innocence and hope and a genuine caring for one another that touches the reader.

Then there's Jack Winter. He knows things are wrong, and he knows things are happening, and he does nothing at all to change the course of his family's fate.

I don't get it.

I liked the writing and, in places, the story is quite unsettling. That's about the best compliment I can pay a writer of dark fiction, as it's so rare nowadays to feel uncomfortable while reading.

But I just didn't buy it in the case of Seed. Sure, the plot works for the novel. In that sense, Jack's decision to leave his home at the most inopportune time serves the story.

But it doesn't ring true for what a father would do to protect his family. In this case, I grew frustrated with the novel. I kept wondering why Jack was "trying to buy some more time" before he finally did something to protect his loved ones.

And, to her credit, Ahlborn pulls no punches in the final act. The horrific realization that takes place in those final pages is crushing. Part of what she is doing with this piece is writing about the nature of evil, and how it can corrupt even the most innocent among us (Am I right, chief?). And I'm no puritan--I don't need a happy ending to enjoy a text.

But the manner in which Jack allowed things to happen felt false to me. It just didn't feel like an authentic fatherly reaction.

As I said, Ahlborn is a very good writer, and I'm looking forward to her next work. Seed is well worth horror fans' time.

But it got under my skin at times (probably a sign of a good piece, really) because it didn't feel authentic.


Life, On the Other Side

Sometimes, it takes a long time for a story to take a breath. Many years ago, I was driving into Pendleton with some friends after an evening of playing hoops out at Mission. It was cold and dark, and we were on one of those hundreds of winding country roads that cut through the wheat fields on their way into town.

I was with a couple of friends, and we were chatting and laughing and having a great old time until we came around a sharp curve and had to slam on the breaks.

There had been an accident--it looked like some un-fenced livestock had wandered into the road. There was an overturned truck and what looked like some ravaged carcasses there. An ambulance was just arriving, and a visibly shaken law enforcement officer held us distant from the accident site.

"You'll have to find another way into town," he told us. "This way's closed. You'll have to turn around and find another way in."

We did as we were told, covering the last few miles in somber quiet.

More years have passed since that winter day than I'd lived up to that point in my life. That's a strange reality for me, since I can still so clearly see the interaction in my mind.

Time is a thief, to be sure...

But something else happened that day, and it happened almost instantly. Even as we were heading back into town, I began mulling over the different postulates on why Pendleton might be cut off. I had already begun writing (although I didn't know it then, and wouldn't realize it until a good fifteen years later) "Life, On the Other Side."

I would like to thank the good people at Weber: The Contemporary West for publishing my story. The first readers and editors Michael Wutz and Kristin Jackson offered some great suggestions on making this piece stronger.

If you'd like to read it, scroll down on the PDF to page 52...


Welcome to Jacksonville, Mr. Kahn!

Forty-eight hours after the most tumultuous day in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars, I feel very good about the changes that took place on Tuesday.

My initial reactions were par for the course up here in Duval County: shock, sadness, confusion, fear and anger. Why would Wayne sell the team now? Why would he can Jack and extend Gene?

Who is our new owner, and what are his intentions for the big cats?

The new owner is Mr. Shahid Kahn. He's a self-made billionaire, a University of Illinois graduate who has a degree in engineering and a proven track record in philanthropic giving. He's a passionate sports fan, a huge Illini backer and a businessman that has eagerly pursued an NFL team for years.

I'm thrilled about the change. I say that now, better knowing his intentions for the team, his background in the world of business, and his impressive financial resources.

I'm thrilled to hear that he is purchasing a home in town, and that his statements to the press have been, to the letter, pro-Jacksonville. He sounds like a Northern Floridian already, and I'm excited to see what he has in store for the team.

It's on us now to fill the seats. We haven't had any games blacked out in years (in comparison, it's been years since Tampa Bay had one on television locally), but we need to really stuff that joint.

The Jags need to do their part also. They suck. They're terrible, and they need to get better quickly. Stop dropping passes. Stop allowing sacks. Stop throwing for eighty yards in a game.

The Jags need to play some football.

The staff needs to improve. I'm interested in seeing Coach Tucker's approach to game planning. He's already shuffled his staff and let a bunch of unproductive players go.

Change, in this case, was sorely needed. I'm invigorated by the possibilities of what could happen next (and yes, I'm an optimist).

I thank Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver for their immeasurable contributions to our community. Their vision in bringing the NFL to Jacksonville, to staging a Super Bowl in our town, and to making the Jags into one of the great success stories in professional sports will always mark them as true pioneers.

But I'm now thrilled to have Shahid Kahn running the team. I'm thrilled to have him and his wife, Ann Carlson Kahn, in our city--making a difference in a place that seems to improve on a monthly basis but also still has a long way to go in some areas.

Welcome to Jacksonville, Mr. and Mrs. Kahn. It's good to have you here!

Go Jags, baby!


What A Difference A Day Makes...

Went to bed last night with Jack Del Rio coaching the team. Oh, and that team was owned by Mr. Wayne Weaver, a Jacksonville citizen.

I took our company to the airport and went to work. Lo and behold, I just discovered that Jack is out and Wayne sold the team.


Just holy cow, wow!

Further updates as the picture grows clearer...


Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone has a great holiday. Hug your loved ones and turn off your phones and computers and take a walk outside.


Monday Updates...

Yes, Oregon lost on Saturday. Yes, we're very sad for the team. Time to regroup and unload on Oregon State, then get ready to play in the inaugural PAC-12 Championship Game. Next up, win the day...

I received the good news that a story of mine was selected for an anthology I'm really excited about joining. More on this placement shortly, but that's two stories that found good homes in the last two weeks.

Redstone Science Fiction did a nice job with the podcast of my story "Raising Tom Chambers." Thanks go to Michael Ray and Amanda Fitzwater for the fine job on the presentation!



REC 2 (2009) is a sequel (more of a continuation really, since the chronology aligns directly with that of its predecessor) that moves swiftly and brutally toward a terrifying conclusion. This Spanish horror film marries demonic possession with zombie-esque creatures and a viral contagion. It sounds like a crazy salad (and perhaps a bit too much), but directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza manage to tie it all together effectively.

Exposition is spare, as a SWAT team enters a contaminated Barcellona apartment complex to assist a "medical" official with his investigation of the strange outbreak that has afflicted the complex. We see the camaraderie of the team and learn the chain of command, and then they arrive at the scene and it's through a plastic barrier and straight into hell.

Jonathon Mellor plays Dr. Owen with aplomb. It's a one-note performance (he makes a grimace awfully well), but it's remarkably intense. His turn is really the focal point for characterization, and the rest of it is a claustrophobic search, going from room to room (which may or may not be inhabited by the demon-things) in search of a vial of blood.

There is a particularly frightening scene that unfolds in a heating duct, and a terrific sequence that pays the viewer's time off nicely in the final scenes.

It's not hard to recognize this film as the European penpal of the underrated Quarantine (2008). Both make good use of the perspective shots rendered with hand-held cameras. It's participatory filmmaking, and lends a level of authenticity to the proceedings. I give it a solid 'B' and recommend that horror fans give it a shot. It's better than 98% of the stuff that's been released in the last year...

Speaking of films that use that technique of visual narrative, I read a review of Trollhunter (2010) in my Fantasy & Science Fiction and I'm definitely intrigued...

Immortals (2011) was a bit of a letdown. Overlong and unnecessarily stylized (in places), this film lacked the mise-en-scene that made 300 (2006) such an unexpected success. 'C-'...



Wow, what a performance last weekend against Stanford. The defense looked fast and prepared. LaMichael chipped and chipped and chipped away at that big defensive line, then he made one quick cut and took it fifty-eight yards to the house!

Speed...speed...speed! From Kenjon and LaMichael to Darron and Dat! From Boseko and Mike Clay to Pleasant and Gildon, this team can move!

I know I'm biased, but I think Chip Kelly is the best coach in America. There's nobody I'd rather have coaching my Oregon Ducks. Earlier in the week, he talked to the Oregonian about that nifty two-point conversion. I'm paraphrasing here, but Coach said it was a big benefit to the team to steal points when they saw an advantage.

Let's go, fellas. This week at home, against the Men of Troy. Win the damned day!

I love it. Speed and aggression and unity and excitement! This is how football was meant to be played!

Go Ducks!


The Fall of Penn State

In the fallout of one of the swiftest and deepest falls from grace I've seen (even more dramatic, I think, then the rape conviction of Mike Tyson or the Tiger Woods adultery scandal), I think the board of trustees at Penn State did the right thing in getting rid of Joe Paterno immediately. Given the timeline of events and the graphic nature of the crimes allegedly committed on campus (be warned: if you read the grand jury report, it's very unsettling; I had a hard time with it), he had to go.

Paterno is an octogenarian. He's relinquished more and more control over the last decade, and in some circles has been viewed as nothing more than a mascot in terms of his actual coaching responsibilities. It's wholly possible that his advanced age played a part in just how cognizant he was that all of this was taking place, but that's no excuse. In 2002, he was told that Jerry Sandusky was seen sodomizing a young boy in a public shower. ESPN reported yesterday that Sandusky, who has been under investigation by the attorney general for three years, was in the locker room at PSU as recently as last week!

These alleged abuses should have been dealt with over a decade ago. Mike McQueary should have done what he could to stop the sexual assault he witnessed at that point in time. Barring that, he should have, at the least, immediately informed the local police of what he saw.

This story was passed up the chain of command, and nothing was done. In 1999, when Sandusky was asked to resign after allegations of abuse mounted, Penn State should not have given him an office on campus as part of his resignation deal. They should not have given him access to the locker rooms and weight rooms, where more abuses allegedly took place.

Penn State did the wrong thing in this matter, time and time again, and I can only deduce that it was because they wanted to maintain the program and the university's image. These allegations are horrific--it's the most disgusting story I've seen in sports--and Penn State has dealt with the situation in a truly callous fashion.

I'm sad that Paterno won't coach out the schedule, but not because he deserves the opportunity. I'm sad that he won't be exposed to the ridicule, scorn and anger of the American populace that sees how truly heinous these alleged crimes, and their subsequent public suppression, really are.

Shame on you, Joe Paterno. Shame on you, President Spanier. Shame on all of the students that have rioted in the streets without considering the depths of moral depravity in this story.

Rot in jail, Sandusky. I hope your life there is very difficult.

Nobody is bigger than the program, right Joe? Well, I guess that really depends on the kind of program you are running...


A Fable for Today

The governor stopped short when he arrived at the fork in the path. It wasn’t indecision that gave the tanned man with the carefully manicured fingernails pause, but rather the python coiled there, studying him with shining saffron eyes.

“Do you, uh…do you mean to block my way here, snake?” the governor said. There was a twang in his speech—an affectation he was trying to perfect in an attempt to echo his predecessors. Like the man himself, the accent was a work in progress.

“Why shouldn’t I?” the snake hissed. “I shouldn’t even be here at all.”

The governor put a hand on his hip; he used the other to scratch at a trickle of sweat in his flawless gray hair. “Well, I suppose that’s probably true. Python, ain’t ya?”

“Yes,” the snake said, stretching the ‘s’ menacingly. Its angular head swayed back and forth, its tongue tasting the air. “Do I frighten you?”

“Nope. Can’t say that you do.”

“Then you are a fool. I've corrupted your lands and I’ve grown fat on your stocks.”

The governor narrowed his eyes. “You mean down in the ‘Glades, don’t you python?”

“I have feasted in the great river. But now, I live in the cane fields as well; you can find me on the banks of Okeechobee. And I'm here, you fool—in the forests near your home.”

The governor chuckled. “So why don’t you just go away? Shoot, just leave us be.”

“It’s not that simple. This place—it was a paradise once…”

“I’m not sure I like your tone, snake. Florida is still first in the nation in tourism. Almost 500 people move here every day. I’d call that pretty damned good, if I don’t mind saying so mys…”

The python darted forward, quicker than the governor could dodge. Its head, a thick wedge of scale and bone, ducked under the old man’s thigh; it only took a moment for itl to impose itself upon the governor—like wild grape on a weathered fence post. The governor toppled and fell over.

“Now what’s this all about, python? I’m just trying to stay trim here—getting a little exercise is all.”

The python tightened up, the governor loosing an audible, “Oooof!”

“You don’t see,” the python responded. “You lack vision. The flood of people. The strange animals—they aren’t from here. They shouldn't be here! You’ve given away the land. You’ve choked the great river to grow poison. You’ve cut down the mangroves and replaced them with walkways. All of it…every last bit of it is an ending.”

“Now just you wait a minute,” the governor started, but the python flexed his muscular body, squeezing a sharp cry from the confused man.

“No time,” it hissed, “for waiting. No time for indecision.”

“What do you want?” the governor croaked. His face, already red from the exercise, was turning purple.

“Reverse it,” the snake said, drawing out the syllables. It sounded like air escaping from a tire.

“But how? You’re talking about undoing a century of policy here, python. Let's be reasonable, now.”

“Things can be undone,” the snake replied. As if to prove its point, it relinquished its hold on the old man and reclaimed its place on the trail.

The governor stood and brushed himself off, a little bit purple but none the worse for wear.

“So is that all?” he said. He made a move toward the left fork in the path, meaning to finish his jog.

The python cut him off, poised for another strike. “Go back,” it said, anger flashing in those saffron eyes. “Go back the way you came. Go back and undo your mistakes.”

The governor glared at the snake. Dang it, but now his afternoon was shot! He pulled a leaf from his tussled hair, frowned at the reptile and then turned and trotted back to where his security detail was waiting in the parking lot.

One of his men passed him a sweating bottle of cold water as they pulled out of the gravel lot. “We still going to the Governor’s Club this afternoon, boss?”

The governor gave it some thought. Probably best not to get on that snake’s bad side. “Naw,” he muttered. “Naw, damnit, let’s just head for home, Bo.”

He skipped his shower and angled straight for his office. It only took him a minute to get Allison Schiller, the state’s lead wildlife biologist, on the phone.

“Pythons, Allie!” he complained. “Dad-gummit, we got pythons! Right here in Leon County!”

There was silence on the line.

“Allie? You still there?”

“Governor, we’ve been trying to tell you that for the last three years,” she said. There was disbelief in her tone—disbelief and anger. “Pythons are just the start of it, sir. We’ve got angel fish in the port of Miami, iguanas in Key West, howler monkeys in Julington Creek…the list goes on and on. We’ve been trying to arrange a state-wide effort to deal with this since your first month in office.”

The governor used a toothpick on his capped teeth; her words made him wince. “Well, shoot. Maybe it’s time we called a meeting. Can you get up to Tallahassee tomorrow?”

More stunned silence. “Of course. Of course I can. I can be there before noon.”

“Okay, then. Thanks, Allie. Jeremy will make the appointment,” the governor replied, disconnecting the phone. He sighed, stood and walked to the window.

There were alligators floating in the lake behind his office; a few sunned themselves on the apron of sandy shoreline. An egret stalked minnows in the shallows. Dozens of turtles basked in the sun, necks stretched, balanced atop cypress boughs.

“Shit,” he muttered, raking his fingers through his hair. All at once, as if the man’s disdain for the work ahead was a fork of lightning from an afternoon thunderstorm, the birds and alligators and turtles turned their heads to appraise the man watching them from behind the glass in the great white house.


Boy's Life

Robert McCammon's Boy's Life is probably my favorite novel of all time. I polished it off last night, and that's both a sad and a good thing. I've been excited every night over the last two weeks to return to the story. It's a text that's consistently great and memorable, from start to finish.

It's divided into parts, with titled sub-chapters in each. The text has a murder mystery at its core, but that thread only propels the narrative's greater purpose, which is to reveal the events of a year in the life of an American boy. In our case, Cory Mackenson is a great person with which to spend time.

McCammon's characterization is fantastic, and in particular I admire his treatment of the relationship between father and son. In the story's third act, nothing can quite crush the reader's heart as totally as their meeting on the front porch of the old house.

Death, mythology, magic, friendship, betrayal, mistrust, aging, maturation, storytelling--this novel touches on each of those topics, and it does so with insight and respect. McCammon is a master at work, and I think this is his best creation.

Boy's Life inspires introspection--or at least it did for me. But I find I'm also now looking to interpret what life must be like for my daughter. At two, she'll make her first foray into trick-or-treating tonight. For a week she's delighted in watching the weather forecast on the news, where they place a pumpkin graphic on the Monday marking Halloween.

"It's Monday, Dad! It's Halloween!" she shrieked this morning over her cereal. They are having a party at her daycare (pajamas and healthy fruits and veggies), and then it's on to the night's festivities. I'm dropping by the library to pick up a copy of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), and we'll be gearing up to have a ghastly good time giving out candy and touring the neighborhood.

I remember that whisper of promise that sticks in the back of your mind when you are a kid on Halloween. I remember watching the clock tick by, waiting and waiting and waiting for the day to end and the night to start. It was a thrill, and I'm excited that my daughter gets to feel that same spark tonight.

Happy Halloween to you, wherever you may be reading this! I hope you enjoy the evening...


Fiction is a Lens on the World

"But I'll tell you a secret, Cory. Want to hear it?"

I nodded.

"No one," Mrs. Neville whispered, "ever grows up."

I frowned. What kind of secret was that? My dad and mom were grown-up, weren't they? So were Mr. Dollar, Chief Marchette, Dr. Parrish, Reverend Lovoy, the Lady, and everybody else over eighteen.

"They may look grown-up," she continued, "but it's a disguise. It's just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts. They still would like to jump and play, but that heavy clay won't let them. They'd like to shake off every chain the world's put on them, take off their watches and neckties and Sunday shoes and return naked to the swimming hole, if just for one day. They'd like to feel free, and know that there's a momma and daddy at home who'll take care of things and love them no matter what. Even behind the face of the meanest man in the world is a scared little boy trying to wedge himself into a corner where he can't be hurt." She put aside the papers and folded her hands on the desk. "I have seen plenty of boys grow into men, Cory, and I want to say one word to you. Remember."

"Remember? Remember what?"

"Everything," she said. "And anything. Don't you go through a day without remembering something of it, and tucking that memory away like a treasure. Because it is. And memories are sweet doors, Cory. They're teachers and friends and disciplinarians. When you look at something, don't just look. See it. Really, really see it. See it so when you write it down, somebody else can see it, too. It's easy to walk through life deaf, dumb, and blind, Cory. Most everybody you know or ever meet will. They'll walk through a parade of wonders, and they'll never hear a peep of it. But you can live a thousand lifetimes if you want to. You can talk to people you'll never set eyes on, in lands you'll never visit." She nodded, watching my face. "And if you're good and you're lucky and you have something worth saying, then you might have the chance to live on long after--" She paused, measuring her words. "Long after," she finished.

~ Robert McCammon, Boy's Life, 186-7

McCammon, in that passage, perfectly distills a central lesson I try to impart upon my students in our literature courses in the college: receive life.

Our days are filled with wonder and potential, but only if we accept those moments and analyze them. A critical theorist I admire calls those moments in literature, and in life, "reception moments." It's up to the reader, and to the individual, to throw off the limitations of the mundane and celebrate life beyond mere novelty.

It's that observational quality that makes good fiction work, and boy is McCammon's fiction filled with fantastic detail and taut writing...


Friday Roundup...

Lyla's had the inevitable fall crud this week. Like clockwork, she's been up at 3:00 a.m. and clamoring to climb into bed with Jeanne and I. When I take her to school, it's a common sight to see ten or twelve green-boogered toddlers running around with what sounds like smoker's cough.

It's just part of being a toddler and spending a few hours in the petri dish of life that is a preschool.

I'm at the midterm here at the college, and up to my ears in grading. Still, with the change in the seasons and the cool weather, I spent the morning mowing the lawn for the last time. I put in a nice edge and raked up all the leaves. I overseeded last week and the rye grass looks nice. I fertilized and we've had loads of rain, so it's pretty green and lush and ready for winter.

I fixed the toilet and cleaned all the tile and hardwoods in the house. I cleaned out the garage and got the everything out for Halloween. This weekend we have an Oregon Ducks game and maybe we'll go see Sandalwood play some football tonight. We're going to wash the walls and the windows for fall cleaning.

I'm not sure about those of you reading this, but for me it's a truism. I'm more productive and, I sometimes like to think, a better writer when the house is neat and tidy.

On the writing front, I've had a pair of stories that have been published well in recent weeks, and some of my books and novelettes have been stirring interest on www.goodreads.com.

Here's to changes in the season! Here's to football and cool evenings and dark beer! Here's to well-crafted horror films and kids that get excited to put faces on orange gourds!

Hope things are well where you are...


Early Brushes with Cinematic Horror

When I was ten years old, I stayed up late on Halloween night and watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers with my mom. We were living in Pueblo, Colorado. Bon Jovi was popular, the Patriots were the laughingstock of football, and pretty much the scariest thing a kid had to worry about was the insertion of a sewing needle in a Bit-o-Honey or a razor blade tucked into a Charleston Chew.

I remember sorting the loot, making the appropriate trades with my sisters, and settling down to watch Don Sigel's film on the couch.

And once that title flashed on the screen with all that melodramatic music and I saw old Uncle Ira out there mowing the lawn like a robot, I was hooked. I mean, I couldn't do anything but watch. Popcorn be damned, I had to remind myself to take a breath.

When it was finished, I was scared to go to bed. I was scared to be put to bed, suddenly scared that my parents had been replaced by pod people. It cut me to the core to think about my family members losing that fundamental spark of personality that made them the people I love so much. It's one of the most powerful horror tropes we have, that horror story on the dissolution of personal identity.

I'm reading Boy's Life again. There's no finer book for the month of October, by the way. This is my third time through, and I might just adopt it as a yearly personal writing workshop. When I read McCammon's prose, I'm inspired to consider phrasing, description, pacing and plot in different ways.

Last night, I finished Cory's embedded narrative about the first time he saw Invaders from Mars at The Lyric with his buddies.

Holy cow, that was me! I thought. It's a wonderfully staged resonant memory, and one I can certainly relate to.

Thanks, Mom, for spending time like that with me and, to the best of my knowledge, for never plotting to swap me out for an alien while I slept. Even though I've discontinued the morning Tales from the Darkside sessions with my daughter (bad dreams, Daddy!), I'm so looking forward to sharing moments like these with my girl when she's a little bit older...


Submitted for Your Approval: A List of Interesting Writings...

Some of the stuff that I've been reading and enjoying out there:

  • David James Duncan, author of the excellent memoir The River Why, has written an interesting essay on the writing process;
  • Joe R. Lansdale's "Fish Night" is a story I never tire of. I've read it now about a dozen times, and it's a fine blend of authentic characterization and bizarro surrealism;
  • To my thinking, there's nothing not to like in the legend of the "Stranger in the Church." This one's most frightening aspect is the invasion of personal space;
  • Very interesting interview with the always-candid Greg Norman. The man is comfortable with himself, and that's admirable.
I recorded American Horror Story. If you've seen it, I'd love to hear any thoughts on the show in the comments section...

And finally, you know you all want to watch Oregon tonight at home against Cal! Grab a cold'un and get ready to watch those great gridders from Oregon as they defend Autzen against the Golden Bears!


Jags at the 1/4 point...

After a 23-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints at home here in Jacksonville, this team is struggling to find an identity and, to be honest, beginning the countdown to the next high draft choice.

That's not at all to say the season is fruitless, or that this team won't be interesting. But I think, after Houston's play in the last two weeks, we can kiss the division goodbye and this team just isn't good enough to contend for a wild card in the AFC. Not with Buffalo and Tennessee starting to play some good football.

Blaine went 16-42 yesterday. It's the type of line that gets you booed off the field, especially after missing twelve throws in a row in the second half. But the thing is, Blaine looked really good in spots. My oh my, he looks the part! He's a big kid, and he stood in the pocket, didn't get rattled, and he made some excellent throws. That pass to Zach Miller on the touchdown was a freaking dart!

He had some bad misses, and his team didn't help him out (I counted at least three drops). He didn't play great, but he spun his head and went through the old progression tree. I love to see that, as those are the hallmarks of guys like Philip Rivers and Tom Brady.

The defense has been pretty good. Paul Posluzny was a great addition, and I think Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman have been nice additions.

Maurice Jones-Drew is still running like a man possessed. Miller and Lewis, when healthy, are very good tight ends.

The cupboard is not bare, and this team is very competitive.

This team will be okay, and it needs to grow. I want to win a bunch more games this year, but if Blaine continues to make strides and we end up with a play like Justin Blackmon in the next NFL draft? Whooh! We could be getting back to the days of Brunell to Smith and McCardell around here...


Weekend Update...

A pocket of cool, dry air finally slipped down from the north last night. We awoke to temperatures around fifty degrees, which is a welcome relief after a particularly hot and dry summer. We set a record with over twenty-nine days in a row (might be longer, but that was the last data point I can recall) over ninety degrees this summer.

We headed over to the Jacksonville Zoo to spend the morning. It's a very nice facility, with lots to see and do, especially if you're a two-year-old girl that's just bonkers for animals. I'll mow the yard for what will probably be the last time later today, then it's off to play some golf and watching the Florida Gators' game tonight against Alabama.

My story "Life, On the Other Side" is available in the current print issue of Weber: The Contemporary West. I'll compose a longer post on this tale at a later date. It's a special story for me, and the folks at Weber did a phenomenal job of publishing the piece. It's a nice journal--a great mix of fiction and poetry with some keen interviews.

I took a run on the beach yesterday, where we had an unusually high tide. The ocean had barfed up what had to be hundreds and hundreds of chipped and broken sand dollars. It was something to see, to be sure...

If I ever make it as a rapper, I might call myself Fishmaster Powell. These poor fish out here in Florida! They tremble when they hear me loading up the kayak. In all seriousness, the fishing has been great up here in recent weeks. There's a world-class tarpon and sailfish run happening right about now, as I've heard...

And lastly, I've reduced the price on the digital versions of the three texts I have out there in the various stores. I hope you folks out there reading this are ready to enjoy the October holidays! Man, I love Halloween!


Straw Dogs (2011)

Rod Lurie's remake of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs serves its purpose. It's an interesting look at the veneer of civility that exists among men, and the transformative powers of violence to create personal (and, in this case, physical/geographical) identity.

Here, the contrast is between rural and urban; between the American South and the Hollywood star system. I mention that it's a physical/geographical source of identity because, if we're to trust Lurie's film, we're led to believe that hunting is simply what you do in the American South. Hunting, in fact, serves as a kind of overt symbol for our protagonist's character transformation. It's not part of his make-up initially, but it surely becomes a part of it by film's end...

James Marsden offers a fine performance as David Sumner, a screenwriter thrust into a difficult situation when he and his new wife return to Mississippi to fix up the family homestead. It's a traditional "fish-out-of-water" trope, and Marsden delivers a nice turn here. He steps on the wrong toes (opting for a nap while church is in session--a big-time cultural faux pas) and manages to alienate just about everybody around him within a few days of pulling into town. We've seen it all before, but Marsden's transformation from mild-mannered writer to principled fighter is a redemptive journey for the audience. In the scene where he takes down the deer, we understand his conflicted feelings at the same time that we clear an important narrative hurdle: Sumner is willing to pull the trigger.

Good thing, too, because he'll need to in the third act.

There is an undercurrent of sexual antagonism that makes the film appropriately uncomfortable. The rape scene is very hard to take, more emotionally grueling than the brutal on-screen violence in the third act.

I read an interesting criticism of how the American South was depicted in this piece, and I had some of those same thoughts after leaving the theater. While Jacksonville, Florida, is far removed from rural Mississippi, so I could be guilty of provincial thinking here, I will say that the antagonists came off as caricatures. They fit into just about every nice little Southern stereotype you can think of, with Rhys Coiro's portrayal of Norman crossing the line most egregiously.

We had a discussion in our rhetoric session today on the artistic impact of violence and sex in contemporary cinema. In the case of Lurie's version of Straw Dogs, the violence absolutely creates the narrative tension that pushes the film forward. It's gory, to be sure, but never gratuitous.

Overall, I liked it better than many of the critical reviews I read (I'd say a 'B' grade about nails it, no pun intended) and I think it's a fine example of how violence distills some very honest human reactions to conflict...


Qualifying Hate

He glanced at his parents watching through a nearby window, took several deep breaths and closed his eyes. A single tear hung on the edge of his right eye as he was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 10 minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing into his arms, both covered with intricate black tattoos.

That paragraph comes from a story about the execution of Lawrence Brewer. Brewer, a soldier in a race war that only he and his idiot friends were fighting, died tonight. He died young, and he created his own demise.

Brewer was charged and convicted for dragging James Byrd, Jr. to death on a rough Texas road. If you read the original reports of the crime, they are harrowing. Mr. Byrd was literally pulled apart on that road.

My thoughts on capital punishment are ongoing. I'm still wrestling with it.

But when I think about how Mr. Byrd's life ended and how Brewer's life ended, it really doesn't compute.

Peace be with you, Mr. Byrd...


The Gaping Maw

It's been an extraordinarily frustrating and expensive year around the old homestead this year. Home ownership is great and all, but I often admire renters, too--particularly for the fact that they have mobility and that the burden of maintenance falls upon the landlord.

Our house is fourteen years old. It's a nice place, and we've been very happy here. No jaw-less Japanese corpse ghosts in the attic, which has always been a big plus for us. It's got a nice layout and we've done a good job with the yard, and Lyla knows it well and is comfortable here.

But the last year has seen a wave of appliance meltdowns. Since January, we've replaced the dryer and the dishwasher and did an $800 repair on the A/C unit. We paid a fellow to put in the dishwasher (we tried to do it ourselves, but after a short period of time we didn't find even an ounce of joy in it) and it took us forever to re-wire the danged dryer cord.

Then, a month ago, we had to do a repair on the Prius. $500 more bucks that just flew away...

So that brings me to Monday morning, and a note by the coffee machine that Jeanne left before heading to work. She said the freezer was leaking, and told me to replace the towels (that's how we fix things--soak it up with towels! Quick! More towels!). I did and I went to work. I came home and looked at it more closely and, lo and behold, that ol' side-by-side refrigerator bit the dust in the middle of Sunday night. I didn't even know it was sick!

Last night we ordered another one.

A cool grand later, our new fridge will be here tomorrow and we're eating at Subway tonight.

I came home from work today (I left it plugged in over night, as it was still marginally cool, just not either freezing or cold) and the house stank like moldy cheese. The culprit, I soon found, was a brick of moldy cheese.

I vented the house, tossed out more than one hundred pounds of frozen and fresh foods, and spent an hour hosing out enough condiment bottles to fill a hefty garbage bag. Now, only the gaping maw (my least favorite horror cliche, by the way) of the old bleached-out fridge remains in the kitchen, waiting for haul away.

She gave us five good years of service, and likely did a good job for many years prior to that. We had planned to maybe fly home for Christmas this year, but now it's looking like spring break. I'll hum jingle bells every time I open the door for a cold drink, I suppose...

These things happen and that's just a part of life, but I sure hope that water heater out there isn't getting any ideas...


Jones Creek...

Very Thankful...

My wife is my best friend.

That is the sincere truth, and after our fourteen years together, I still marvel at how much goofy fun we have together every single day.

Over the last six months, we've been a little antsy with medical concerns. I never reached defcon-five in terms of my own worry status, but I found that, fairly often, I would catch Jeanne in a private moment of anxiety. We had some tests done, and then we had to wait and go through the tests again. After six months of waiting, very fortunately, we have a clean bill of health and everything looks fine.

It's turned out to be an immense relief.

Last night we celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. We will probably have a date pretty soon just to actually mark the date, but I think that, while the ninth anniversary holds no traditional mark of distinction, this one will always be very special to me.

I'm very thankful to Jeanne for all that she does for our family. Lyla and I are extremely fortunate to have her.

And another reason that I'm thankful: I live 2.8 miles from Jones Creek. I can throw the boat in the truck, pick up five fresh Key West pink shrimp, cut them into fifteen baits, and have four big reds within the space of an hour. I released the fish, but they would have been some jim-dandy mouth candy on the ol' grill!


Geoff Ryman's "What We Found"

Geoff Ryman's story "What We Found," which can be read in the SEPT/OCT issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, is one of those redeeming tales that keep me interested in the digest. I really had some trepidation about extending my subscription a few months ago. The publication has some decent books columns, and there are occasionally brilliant tales found in these pages, but I found there was more of the hard science fiction than I like, and also a bit more of the whimsical fantastic than suited my tastes. I'm a fan of the mundane speculative tale, the stories where small artifacts and encounters take on greater meaning as a result of their speculative influences, whatever they may be.

So it's been nice to see some of the stories that carry that out well published recently in F & SF. Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie" is just that type of story, and so is "What We Found." I would expect that this story, a treatise on familial love and betrayal, the ties that bind us to our genetic inheritances, and the uncertainty of madness, will make many lists of best fiction when those things come back into fashion during the holidays.

It deserves its critical praise. Our first-person narrator is simultaneously detached and intimate. It makes for a very compelling character study. The narrative heart of the story is the narrator's love for his mercurial brother, Raphael. Their connection is based on genuine love and mutual respect, and the time that Ryman takes in illustrating their bond makes the final act all the more heart breaking for the reader.

In many ways, "What We Found" strikes me as a companion to Louise Erdrich's fine tale of sibling dissolution, "The Red Convertible." Raphael and Junior share a number of the same character traits and, ultimately and unfortunately, a similar fate.

I won't delve too far into the plot of Ryman's story here because it's such a treat to read, but if you're familiar with the Erdrich story, you'll find the tale packs an emotional wallop. Ryman's writing is excellent. The fluidity and clarity of the prose I discovered here have compelled me to seek out and read his novels...


Crucified Dreams

What I'm Reading in 2011

Despite the odd title of this anthology of urban fiction, Crucified Dreams represents a solid collection of interesting storytelling. I've said it before here on this blog that Joe Lansdale is, for my money, one of the most consistent writers in the business for my tastes. I've never put one of his books down after starting it, and I find most of his offerings to trend toward the high limits of the quality scale.

He proves he's no slouch here as an editor as well.

Most of these are dark, dark tales. As he states in the introduction, the only thing these tales really share is a climate of originality, and there is that in spades here. There's a little fantastic whimsy in stories like Ellen Klages's "Singing on a Star" (makes one wonder about the family down the street--and the ominous record or toy your son or daughter might bring home after a play date).

There's brutal, no-hold-barred stories like "The Pit," by the editor, and "Quitters, Inc.," by Stephen King. Tom Piccirilli's "Loss" reminds me of the surreal, dark output that I've been reading by Laird Barron.

My favorite story in this fine collection is "Coffins on the River," by Jeffrey Ford. Ford's ability to nail the protagonists' character and flesh them out with real pathos is enviable. I also really enjoyed the subtleties exhibited by the nuanced storyteller. Ford, in one passage, mentions the tale's central redeeming plot conflict in such a cursory manner that, when we re-encounter it in the story's third act, the redemption is all the sweeter for the reader. It's masterful narrative.

Lucius Shepard's "Beast of the Heartland" is a startling tale--the writing is crisp and beautiful, the characters three-dimensional and round.

There are fine stories here by Octavia E. Butler, Joe Haldeman and Michael Bishop. Very good anthology, and highly recommended.

Now off to class...



Steven Soderbergh's latest is a very strong film. It unfolds with narrative urgency (the running timeline of the epidemic's progress is quite compelling) and some startling intimacy that provides some very uncomfortable moments. Soderbergh's tight close-ups on the blotchy, feverish victims--on their credit cards, their hands in public bowls of peanuts, their frequent touching of their faces and their uncovered coughs--are unsettling. You'll turn and look at the others in the theater. I dare you not to...

There was a guy in the theater that was absolutely hacking up a lung throughout the whole picture. It certainly added a level of diegetic authenticity to the film, and it drove me up the wall! My two-year-old daughter knows well enough to cover her mouth when she coughs, but this guy was doing that at a movie called Contagion!

It's a sprawling story. A very good cast carries out the piece with aplomb and pathos. My two favorite turns were given by Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle. These are the doctors that address the epidemic at its outset, and that test the vaccines as the disease mutates. Both bring a sense of exhaustion and perseverance to their roles, and they hit their notes perfectly.

It covers a lot of territory in such a short time. From the shortages of medicine to the looting and profiteering by scumbags like Jude Law's toothy Alan Krumweide, we see the worst that humanity has to offer in times of crisis. Civility breaks down, as does our national infrastructure. The detached news reports are all too authentic, and there is a chilling shot of the vaccine being archived next to the SARS and H1N1 vaccines. At one juncture in the film, a reporter discusses absenteeism by law enforcement reaching 25%, and that's a pretty scary glimpse behind the veil.

The film delves into the international reaction to the disease, with an unresolved narrative thread concerning a hostage negotiation for vaccine doses. It's the only fault, this unresolved story line, in an otherwise great film (A-).

It feels all too real, and the story is one that begs for audience introspection. How would you react to such a pandemic wildfire? What would you do to keep your loved ones safe? What is "normal," and to what extent are we our brothers' keepers?

There is a bouncy, digital score that feels like it was ripped from the best thrillers of the late 1980s. The film itself, gritty and fast-paced, would have been at home in that era as well. It's a throwback--an adult film with a downer plot that moves well based on strong acting and solid filmmaking craft.

And it'll make you think twice when you're in the back room, folding laundry, and the newscaster on the television in the other room, in typical exuberant nonchalance, offers a tiny report about the latest flu virus ripping out of the interior of Mexico or the streets of Hong Kong. Tough stuff, indeed.

Now go see the movie, and don't wipe your eyes. Hey you! Stop touching your face!



Thanks, Freddy T!

The greatest Jaguar of all time retired today. He was in Jacksonville today to hold an emotional press conference. Fred deserves to go into the hall of fame. He had eight seasons in which he averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry (only Barry Sanders and Jim Brown can also say that). He ran for more than 10,000 yards, developed as a pass catcher, had longevity after overcoming some early injuries, and he has the longest playoff run in NFL history.

Even more remarkable is the kind of person he is. Fred is a community stalwart. His foundation does a lot for the city of Jacksonville, and he is a good father and husband. He said some great things today about his wife and grandmother, and he is a perfect example of a humble superstar.

Thanks for all the great memories, Fred. It'll be good to have you working with the organization as the Jaguars move into a great future...


Picture This, Jacksonville

Imagine a major metropolitan area in Florida that took full advantage of its greatest resources: its diversity of human capital and its rich natural resources.

Imagine a place where people had a genuine mutual respect for one another--where they operated under the golden rule in their daily interactions, regardless of age, race, economic status, religious background or ethnicity.

Imagine a place carved from an ecosystem teeming with wildlife and with some of the greatest access to the natural world in all of the United States of America. Imagine a place with some of the finest fishing on the planet, with some of the best golf courses in North America, with miles and miles of pristine beach.

Imagine a place filled with colorful history. Imagine a place that is home to first-rate museums, a wonderful zoo, beautiful botanical gardens, dozens of state and national parks, and the largest municipal parks system in the United States.

Imagine a place where the community supported education. Imagine a place where our teachers were given autonomy to teach a curriculum unbound, at least partially, to standardized testing. Imagine a place that respected its public servants, and where parents instilled in their children a desire to strive for a station in life that surpasses their own.

Imagine a safe place for everyone. Imagine a place where folks could make a living wage without the need for a college education, where the citizens could work for companies that were successful enough to give their employees access to dentists and doctors.

That place could be Jacksonville, but it's not.

This community is blessed with some of the greatest fundamental assets of any place I've ever been, and I lived in Colorado and Oregon prior to moving here in 2005. Those are two places that have recognized the wealth of opportunity they have, and they've capitalized on it. We have many wonderful advantages here, but will we ever harness the community will to capitalize on them?

Fifteen people have been shot in Jacksonville in the last four days. Four have died as a result of the shootings, including an unborn child, and a toddler is now fighting for his life in the hospital. A witches' brew of circumstances has certainly contributed to the sorrowful place in which our city now finds itself: unemployment, a lack of education, a diffusion of weapons among young people, a lack of viable opportunities for our new college graduates.

It's a real shame, this sense of community nihilism.

My wife works as a counselor at Forrest High School, where she puts in long hours helping students achieve success and move toward college. There are many like her, and yet the dropout rate in Duval County is a staggering 30% (and that number takes into account some generous accounting). Many of the kids lack parental involvement and stable home lives.

I encourage our school board, our educational leaders and our public safety community to work hard to hold parents accountable for truant children. We have viable after-school programs for our kids, but we need more. Many of the sports we no longer fund (because our tax basis faltered, and the decreased revenues led to cuts in education and extracurricular activities) kept kids occupied and working toward concrete goals.

I hope, as the federal government works to re-think the "No Child Left Behind" legislation, that our educational leaders will devise a plan that recognizes testing as the important tool it is, but doesn't make it the greatest measure of a person's ability to learn and execute fundamental skills. In Oregon, the educational system had specific testing benchmarks, but the emphasis for students was on developing critical thinking skills, using technology effectively and focusing on effective communication skills.

I work with around one hundred students every term here at Florida State College. These are intelligent people with strong fundamental academic skills. They are hungry to learn, and they are taking advantage of the great opportunities that our state has to offer in higher education.

But my students are in the extreme minority. We have one of the least expensive higher education systems in America (I believe we rank #49 in total cost for in-state tuition). We also have one of the best, in terms of value and practicality. The problem here is the disconnection between high school preparation and ascension to college. Our students, for various reasons, are dropping out of school at such an alarming rate that they never even see this great opportunity as a realistic option. Our city and educational leaders must work with families in disadvantaged communities to stress the value of education and push for lifelong learning. We need to take advantage of VPK in these areas and re-think our approach to siphoning the best students from our struggling schools and sending them to our best magnet schools. This practice only exacerbates the problems of the haves and the have-nots.

Jacksonville is beautiful. I'm thankful that our community doesn't subscribe to the saccharine, insincere cultural make-up of Disneyfied Orlando, or the pumped-up, cosmetic nature of South Florida. The people here are sincere and refreshingly unpretentious. And we should use that cultural ethos as part of our pitch to capitalize on tourism.

If I'm Mayor Brown, whom I admire and voted for, then I work with my economic development team to apply for every federal dollar available to develop Jacksonville as a destination spot for folks looking to revel in "Old Florida."

I'm working to first find federal money, and then work with community leaders to venture into places like Brooklyn, where folks are out of work; I'm taking that money and giving them jobs working on our finest natural assets. I get the Palms Fish Camp up and running and I work with the St. Johns Riverkeeper to keep our waters clean and I identify other city properties for tourist development.

I put my butt on the plane and I pitch Jacksonville to every major community in America. Come here for our history, our climate, our cuisine, our friendly people, our beaches, our fishing and our sporting activities! I get businesses to locate on the waterfront in downtown, taking tourists out on the St. Johns and into the creeks for birding and shrimping and fishing.

We live in a paradox. This place has such great advantages, and such a staggering disregard for those very things. I experienced a perfect metaphor for this earlier today. I was headed out to the St. Johns to do a little kayaking and fishing. There I was, enjoying the view of the brackish marshes, when a tricked-out Monte Carlo cuts me off, rolls down the window and empties an ash tray at forty miles an hour. It looks like a comet tail, all that foul garbage. Then, at 9:30 in the morning, the passenger throws three empty cans of Busch into the grass on the side of Merrill Road. Those cans will likely end up in the river.

Why? Because some people simply don't care.

This is the greatest task that we who care about this place face. How do we get others to buy in? How do we overcome this cultural nihilism that seems to pervade our city?

The stakes are too great not to try, but when I read about the things that happened this week in Brooklyn and I see egrets stalking minnows in shallows filled with floating garbage, I become discouraged, and that's no way to live...

Updated: I received a few e-mails on where I put in. The cul-de-sac on Ginhouse Creek...


I enjoyed Occultation just a bit more than I did The Imago Sequence. I think the former had a sparer, leaner prose style and a stronger sense of atmosphere. Both collections, through, were thoroughly enjoyable books.

These were stories that I couldn't wait to get home to read. The writing, dark and gritty straight down the line, stays with you throughout the day. Barron is certainly one of the stronger voices I've encountered in dark fiction in recent years. "Proboscis" "The Royal Zoo is Closed" and "Parallax" were among my favorites.

These are stories rife with witchcraft, secret societies, wild eccentrics, and ordinary objects that hold horrible properties. It's a great read for fans of the esoteric and literary horror fans alike. Highly recommended...


The Jaguars Make Me Cry

I love this time of the year. Even though we set a new record for high temperatures today (98) in Jacksonville, the weather is about five weeks from cooling down a bit. The baseball pennant races are heating up. College football starts on Thursday, with my Oregon Ducks playing in the national spotlight next Saturday.

But not all is right in Jagland. It's pretty far from it, actually.

I adore these Jaguars. I stick up for that guy you see in the picture there quite a bit; maybe I should stop doing it. David is seriously erratic, and he seems so far removed from his best play (2007). He just threw a sweet deep ball and Jason Hill whiffed on it, but he takes far too many sacks and he misses (usually high) a lot of open throws. I watched the Jags beat Atlanta last week and I saw Matt Ryan throw the ball away at least three times.

Just do that, David! Sheesh!

Our offensive line is bad in pass protection. The team can block the run okay, but they struggle with pressure, and it doesn't help that our first and second round picks from two years ago are pretty much either turnstiles or they're injured.

Our secondary is bad. I'm watching Ryan Fitzpatrick look like John Elway in his prime right now. He hasn't missed a throw. 10/11 and two touchdowns, and most of it isn't even close. He's making our secondary look terrible, which I think it is (when we lost to New England in 2007, Brady only missed two throws the whole night!).

Our wideout core is probably the worst in the league. Poor Mike Thomas. He's a stud, but he is facing a serious deficit when the teams double him all the time because nobody else can catch it.

Marcedes Lewis is a great player. Rashad Jennings is a great player. Maurice Jones-Drew is a great player. I think Tyson Alualu is good, and Daryl Smith can really play.

The Jaguars have a ticket-selling campaign. They keep airing these commercials with the players chirping, "It's go time."

If this team continues to play like this, it'll be "go time" for Jack Del Rio and David Garrard, among others...

To further piss in the corn flakes, I was terribly saddened to hear that Mike Flanagan committed suicide a few days ago. I watched Flanny pitch, probably, thirty games for my beloved Baltimore Orioles when I was a kid. It was strange--we were living in tiny John Day, Oregon, and our cable provider had a station called Home Team Sports. They carried all the Orioles games! Watched that team every night (my parents met and married in Baltimore, and we still have family up there), and Flanny was a fixture.

I won't deny that I got a little misty when I read that he took his own life with a firearm. I wish you well, Flanny, and I'm sorry that things had become tough for you in recent years. I hope you find some rest...

The O's, whose box score I still study every morning (yes, I get a real newspaper in my driveway), have won five in a row. I hope Flanny is enjoying the win they had last night over the Yanks (the O's will wear a patch with his number '46' on it for the rest of the season).

And, as I type this list of complaints out, David goes all David on me and has a monstrous, mannish run for a touchdown. Probably a top-10 play tonight on Sports Center. And that's why it's so damned tough to be a Garrard backer in this town! He keeps pulling me back in...

We'll be in section 405 for you on opening day, David. It's 9/11, and there will be a huge amount of emotion and passion in that stadium. I got your back. Not sure how Jeanne feels about you. But let's get this thing cranked up, Brother! Let's get this offense working!

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...