8.16.2021

Down In the Sawgrass Boneyard

 


On an otherwise ordinary spring day in sunny Jacksonville, Florida, an unhinged gunman shreds the fabric of a nation in yet another outburst of senseless gun violence.

His victims are children—innocents walking home from school in those final fleeting days before the promise of spring break and time spent with family and friends.

When the families of the loved and the lost unite in a push for meaningful reform in the national gun laws, the National Rifle Association squelches their efforts with a series of backroom dealings and political saber-rattling.

Nothing changes; but, for so many, nothing will ever be the same again.

This is Darren Torrance’s sudden reality—a life without his family in a world that no longer makes sense.

But there is something he can do. A change that he can make in the names of his son and his wife.

Every few years, a celebration of opulence and excess known simply as the Gathering takes place in the heart of the Florida Everglades. Similar to the infamous Bohemian Grove meetings in California, the Gathering is a week-long celebration of privilege and wealth as attendees shape political policy and forge business deals.

Jackson Ashcroft—the controversial and charismatic President of the NRA—is attending this year and celebrating yet another successful anti-regulatory campaign season.

If Torrance can utterly transform himself and blend into his surroundings in the River of Grass, he just might be able to provide Ashcroft with the ultimate Everglades survival experience.

Down In the Sawgrass Boneyard is Darren’s story of transformation and redemption, as vengeance blooms among the swamp lilies in this gritty thriller about the power and persistence of a father’s love for his family.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Down in the Sawgrass Boneyard by Daniel Powell

Down in the Sawgrass Boneyard

by Daniel Powell

Giveaway ends August 27, 2021.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

6.21.2021

Summer Reading, Gratis...

It's summer here in Florida, which means beaches in the morning and an inevitable series of thunderstorms and rain showers in the afternoon. Whether you might be lounging in a beach chair or cozying up in your favorite reading spot while the winds rage outside, it's a great time to get some restorative reading knocked out.

Reading is the mind's creative battery for the productive writer, and reading widely certainly stretches out a writer's range. In that spirit, I'd like to post links to a pair of excellent anthologies that you can purchase for free right now on Amazon.

TOR remains one of the finest publishers in the business of commercial fiction, and I love their taste in short stories. If you are interested in an eclectic mixture of intriguing plots, strong writing, and creative speculations, these are superb books. Enjoy!

They typically create an annual anthology of their finest stories, and I just picked up the following tomes:

2019 edition






1.09.2021

Movie Review: Da 5 Bloods (2020)

One of the serendipitous outcomes of the 2020 stay-at-home orders (depending on your movie-going habits, of course) was a flood of excellent Hollywood fare migrating directly onto the various streaming platforms. Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods (2020) was one of those highly anticipated films that you can now view on Netflix. It's one of Chadwick Boseman's final roles, and it's a doozy of a film that takes a while to fully process. 

The film is vintage Spike Lee. He's one of my favorite filmmakers for both his ability to tell stories creatively and for the various signatures that stamp his films as uniquely his. Delroy Lindo is amazing in this film as the complex character Paul, and he has one of those great Lee monologues late in the film when he's tramping through the jungle, spouting his philosophy directly into what is probably a steady cam. The film is spliced through with famous stills from the Vietnam War, as well as archival footage of such Civil Rights luminaries as Muhammad Ali and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. These hallmarks of Lee's narrative style add historical context and serve to underline the persistent narrative that both the natives of Viet Nam and the disproportionate number of African American soldiers killed and wounded in action were heavily traumatized by the war. 

The film spans multiple genres. It's a political film, a buddy caper, a heist movie, and an action film all rolled into 150 minutes of compelling, unsettling imagery. The piece builds slowly while characters bond, and the chemistry among the principal cast is authentic and rich. The third act is a pedal-to-the-medal sprint toward redemption, however, and in this way it's also indicative of a few types of film melded into one cohesive work of art.

The plot involves a group of war veterans returning to Viet Nam for two purposes. They hope to recover the remains of their leader, Boseman's Stormin' Norman, but they're also searching for a large cache of gold bars they'd buried in the jungle during their last tour in Viet Nam. Along the way, they encounter all manner of trials and assaults in the run-up to the bloody, strangely satisfying conclusion. 

It's a fine film, illustrating Lee's work at the height of his creative powers. The acting, staging, and writing are superb. It's never a comfortable watch, but it's always compelling--the calling cards of a good Spike Lee film. Give it a watch, but be warned that it can get a little graphic toward the conclusion.  



1.08.2021

Shame and Disgust

When the United States of America began an aggressive bombing campaign against top Iraqi government figures in 2003, the campaign was initially labeled one of "shock and awe." That's a military phrase meant to characterize an effort to assert "rapid dominance" over the enemy, and I remember with great clarity the images from CNN depicting a surreal nighttime apocalypse in the Middle East. 

That phrase tripped through my mind two days ago, albeit in a markedly different context, when I watched in horror as hundreds of misguided traitors stormed the United State Capitol building, destroying property, inciting terror, and diminishing the hard-fought legacy of American democracy.

News broke this morning that one of the defenders of the Capitol Building, Officer Brian D. Sicknick, perished last night as a result of injuries he sustained in the melee. So very sad for his family and friends, because this never should have happened!

Nothing else can quite crystallize the toxic effects on logic, rational thinking, groupthink behavior, and misinformation that digital communication platforms have had on the American informational ecosystem as can this particular case study in idiocy. 

While this group of dithering delinquents of despotism claim "revolution" in their unvarnished responses on air, there is nothing so romantic or authentic afoot in this "movement" by hate mongers, conspiracy theorists, and ill-informed conservatives. 

In two short decades, digital communication tools have done so much to inflame the worst behaviors in a small subset of the American people. Their effects include (among so many others that won't be discussed in this blog post):

  • Inspiring previously hidden bigots to step out into the light, spewing their hatred indiscriminately and mucking up the larger social media infrastructure with incivility, anger, and misinformation. Sure, these people existed before Twitter, but their reach was confined to shoddy newsletters and clandestine F2F meetings. Now, they congregate online, egging each other on, which leads to:
  • Toxic groupthink idiocy. When swept up in the throws of a riot, most human beings behave in ways they never rationally would on their own. This group in particular, being both ignorant of reality (there were more than sixty attempts by trump to overturn election results; few among them were successful) and emboldened by their leader, took things ten steps too far earlier in the week. Goodness, gracious people...
  • The fomenting of paranoid conspiracy theories. Look, it's easy to retweet things. It's easy to like things, and to read headlines without checking the veracity of a story. A discouraging percentage of the people that stormed the Capitol believe in the outlandish, ridiculous theories espoused by nameless writers on private threads in the QAnon movement. Look, some of the stories this group disseminates are simply insane. I won't get too deeply into it here, but their reach into the lives of marginalized, disgruntled, ill-informed loners and social pariahs seems to be a serious threat to those doing the difficult work of serving the American government. Some of those duped by these outlandish theories now regret it, and I think the QAnon presence at Wednesday's debacle was pretty significant.
  • Lack of quality content-moderation practices. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms either don't care or don't have the wherewithal to delete these inane posts, although I do credit Facebook and Twitter for locking down trump's accounts in the wake of his damning videos whipping these folks into a frenzy.
Ease of dissemination. Inability to discern truth from conspiracy. Toxic hatred. Lack of oversight.

These four ingredients combined in a horrible stew of anti-American destruction on Wednesday, and I didn't feel any sense of shock and awe in the sense of its original meaning. Of course, I was shocked by their behavior and in awe of their brazen stupidity, but that isn't a recipe for "rapid dominance," is it?

Instead, I felt shame and disgust. These people represent a small (but vocal and growing) minority of our American population. They are followers (those same sheep they love to crow about in their tweets) from the margins of American life and society, content to travel around "protesting" (proud boys my ass) instead of improving life in this country. They are divisive, destructive, and deluded. 

Thankfully, our American legislators returned to their work later in the evening and certified President Biden's election victory. That, in my view, is heroic work that speaks to the strength of American democracy.

I am an Oregon democrat living in Jacksonville, and I didn't vote for either George W. Bush or donald trump. In both cases, however, I accepted their victories as the will of my fellow Americans, and I supported them in their efforts to guide our country and move us forward. 

I am a patriot--and no, that isn't a bad word. I am proud to be an American and thankful to live in this country. It's not perfect, of course, but I still feel optimistic about America's promise. 

But, even as a patriot, I cannot support trump. I think he's both dangerous and ignorant, and that's a potentially combustible combination. I echo Colin Powell's views that trump should resign. Powell is a great American, by the way, and his interview touched me because it was so reasonable and assertive. Heck, even that conservative bastion The Wall Street Journal is calling on this man to step down. 

You know, in twelve days all of this is going to change. I felt shame and disgust all day Wednesday and on into yesterday afternoon. I was saddened for this great country. But all of this is about to change, and I feel optimistic again for the future in the wake of Congress completing their work and the national reaction to the heinous actions of so many depraved traitors. May part of their punishments be to actually read the United States Constitution...


Figure 1-1: Not Democracy, Not Revolution



1.07.2021

Turning the Page on 2020...

 


We snapped that photograph back in March, in the middle of what was one of the most enjoyable and surreal family vacations that we've ever taken. We travelled down to Everglades National Park over spring break. It was our first trip to the Glades, and the park is simply stunning and one of the world's most wondrous places. I enjoyed it every bit as much as I have such national landmarks as Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park and the Redwoods National Scenic Area in California. 




We saw every manner of wildlife that you would expect, from enormous alligators to docile manatees. We explored the entire park and spent a few enjoyable nights in one of the strangest towns I've ever visited. Stay crazy, Homestead! We spent the night at a resort inside the glades and explored Fort Myers on our way up the gulf side en route to spring training. 

Alas, that was when things got surreal and COVID-19 swept across the face of American life like a Montana whiteout, shuttering sports leagues, restaurants, hotels, museums, and all manner of public venues. We cut the vacation short by a day and, while driving home to Jacksonville through Florida's horse country, sat in silence while the anchors on NPR discussed teh scope and magnitude of the Coronavirus and how it was altering our near future. 

We circled the wagons back at home, sliding into the new normal fairly easily. Luke attended a few more weeks of daycare before taking a long hiatus while Lyla finished the spring semester fully online. My classes for the summer and fall were migrated fully online via Canvas, and Jeanne worked from home throughout the summer before heading back to Fletcher in August. 

We haven't eaten in a restaurant since that trip to the Glades. No Nights of Lights, Spooktacular, corn maze, Riverside Arts Market, or movies since March. Basically, it's been visits to the grocery store and walks in the woods. I've visited Deerwood a few times to retrieve items from my office, but I won't be fully back on campus until May. 

Our families are weathering things as best as can be expected, and for that we are deeply grateful. My mom has a pretty fragile constitution, and she and my dad have done an amazing job of keeping themselves safe. My sisters and their families are doing okay, although my nephews miss being in school with their friends. My niece is thriving in Eugene at the University of Oregon, and she is navigating these strange times as best as can be expected. 

I won't reiterate here what a strange, heart-breaking year 2020 was. No need for that. It strained our relationships and taxed us mentally. The four of us were not immune to that strain. But we made it through and I find myself typing this in early January with a renewed sense of optimism, some new coping skills for dealing with stress, and a fresh perspective on what it really means to struggle and stare into the abyss of self doubt. I am thankful for so many things, with the health of Jeanne, Luke, and Lyla at the top of that list. 

I think we have greatness ahead of us, as a country and as a species. The same existential threats that have plagued us for many years--climate change, inequality in human rights, and global aggression--remain, but I feel slightly better about our ability to persevere after what we saw last year. 

That's not to say that we've done a good job here in the United States with our response to COVID-19. We haven't, and my heart aches for the more than 350,000 Americans that have died in part as a result of COVID. I grieve for their families, and I hope that we can turn our inability to administer these vaccinations around quickly and efficiently. 

Happiness is never more than partial, of course, and we can expect ups and downs in all areas of our lives. But there were many downs in 2020, and I'm optimistic that we'll see just a few more ups in the new year. Happy New Year to you and yours. Stay safe, stay the course, and try to inject positivity in your days as much as you're able...

8.03.2020

Summer Reading for the Stay-Inside Set

I don't know about anyone else out there, but I'm on pace to shatter my previous record for total books consumed in a year by the end of 2020. In an ordinary year, I might actually knock back forty-five or fifty traditional book-length works (50,000+ words on the short end, with most checking in around 80,000 words) before Christmas, with another twenty or twenty-five cookbooks mixed in for good measure. I love reading cookbooks, but that's a post for another day.

I've reached the end of my patience with Kindle Unlimited, so I have been borrowing books via the Jacksonville Public Library and purchasing odds and ends at Costco to round out my home library (If It Bleeds is good!).

As good fortune would have it, however, I encountered a pair of worthy stories in the last week that are both skillfully written and downright creepy. 

Matt and Harrison Query recently sold their tale My Wife & I Bought a Ranch to Netflix. It's a six-part tale unfolding on Reddit, and the piece has an enviable, slowly mounting tension beneath its intriguing plot. While it reads a bit like a stream-of-consciousness nightmare in places, that style is also part of its charm. The central characters (I enjoyed Dan's gritty, no-nonsense approach to discussing such absurd shenanigans) are multidimensional and believable. I enjoyed it quite a bit and read it on a stormy afternoon, which enhanced the experience a bit.

Josh Malerman is one of my favorite new authors. I was riveted by Bird Box long before it became a film sensation, and I think his serial novel Carpenter's Farm might be even better than that earlier effort. Characterization, setting, and the author's keen approach to phrasing have made this my favorite novel I've read thus far in 2020. I won't get into the text for fear of spoiling a great story, but I loved the sense of alienation and the uncanny that the author explores here. 

What's scarier, after all, then losing track of ourselves? Of our personal identity?

I hope you are well where you are. As I write this, I haven't been teaching at FSCJ on campus with any regularity in 2020. I won't be, either. We are going fully online again in the fall. While in some ways it feels like a wasted year, in others it has been revelatory. I hope for some calm and positivity in the months to come, and I look forward to brighter days ahead...

Down In the Sawgrass Boneyard

  On an otherwise ordinary spring day in sunny Jacksonville, Florida, an unhinged gunman shreds the fabric of a nation in yet another outbur...