19 November 2018

The Watts Riots, Rodney King and Me

by Paul D. Marks

I cannot tell a lie, this piece has been published before in a couple of different places. Nonetheless, it has a lot of personal meaning for me, as well the larger societal context. My novel White Heat was partly inspired by the Rodney King riots and both that and the Watts Riots have helped to shape L.A. as it is today.

*          *          *

When people think of Watts they think of the Watts Towers—and the Watts Riots of August, 1965. That year, while the Beatles sang about Yesterday, another chant went up in South Central Los Angeles.
*          *          *

1965: "Burn, baby, burn!" is the anthem that many remember the Watts Riots by. It is the chant shouted by people as the city burns. The spark that sets off the riots is a black man being stopped for a traffic ticket. Long-simmering frustration boils over and the city ignites. Thirty-four people are killed, a thousand-plus are wounded and almost four thousand arrested. Tensions in Los Angeles are as high as the smoke rising from the smoldering city streets.

Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

1991: Another motorist is stopped for speeding and evading the police. His beatdown is caught on video:

1992: The cops accused of beating Rodney King are acquitted. People pour into the streets. Looting.
Assault. Arson. Murder. Fifty-three dead. Twenty-three hundred injured and sixteen-hundred buildings damaged or destroyed.

Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

I was in Los Angeles in both ’65 and ’92. I remember the smoke, the fear permeating every quarter of the city.

During the Watts Riots, we were lucky to be able to watch it on TV and not be in the middle of it. My then-girlfriend's cousin was a National Guardsman assigned to patrol Watts during the riots and what he saw was so horrible he would never talk about it.

But I have a different memory of Watts. It isn't of the riots, but occurred during another hot summer, not long after.

I met a boy named Walter in class. Unlike everyone else in the class and just about everyone in the school, he was black. And he wasn't a local, but was on some kind of student exchange program from Jordan High in Watts.

I'm sure we were as much a curiosity to him as he was to us. After all, we were the privileged white kids and he was the angry young black man. Only he didn't seem angry. He seemed like just another nice guy with glasses. He invited a group of us to come down and see where he lived: Watts. A word that sent shivers down a lot of Angelinos' spines in those days.

We were a little apprehensive about going down there, especially as Walter had told us to come in the crappiest cars we had. No shiny new cars. There were six or eight teenaged boys and girls in our little caravan of two crappy cars. But crappy in our neighborhood meant something different than it did in Walter's.

Our caravan weaved its way through the Los Angeles streets until we were just about the only white faces to be seen. We finally came to Will Rogers Park (known today as Ted Watkins Park). Mind you, this is not the Will Rogers Park on Sunset where the polo ponies play on Sundays. This park is in the heart of South Central and I can say that all of our hearts were beating faster than normal.

Watts Riots - 1965

We parked nearby and walked as a unit to the park, as if we were a military outfit. People looked at us—we didn't look at them. But maybe because we looked like hippies and we were young nobody bothered us.

We met Walter in Will Rogers Park in South Central Los Angeles and sat under a shady tree, a bunch
of white kids and one black guy. We sat, just rapping—in the vernacular of the time—talking about music and houses and politics. We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb and people started coming over. Big dudes, little dudes. Cool dudes. Girls. No one seemed to resent our being there. In fact, they seemed glad to have us. Glad to be able to share with us and have us share with them. There was no sense of rancor or resentment. Just curiosity—a curiosity that went both ways. This was a time when people wanted to come together, not be separated. None of them knew Walter and they certainly didn't know us. But they joined our group and we rapped on.

After a while we got up and played a game of pickup basketball—try doing that in a pair of cowboy boots.

Then Walter said, "You want to see where I live?"
Jordan Downs Housing Project

Of course we did. So he took us to the projects—Jordan Downs. We drove past burned out buildings and vacant lots that not so long ago had had buildings on them. And we saw how the other half lived.

"It's not the best place in the world to live," Walter said. "But it could be a whole lot worse."

Watts Towers

Our last stop was a trip to the Watts Towers, those soaring spires of glass, steel and concrete built by Simon Rodia. They are a monument to what anyone can do if they put their mind to it.

We finally returned to our cars and, to our relief, they hadn't been stolen. And, corny as it might sound, I think we all learned that we're more alike than different, with the same aspirations, hopes and fears.

That day was one of the most memorable experiences of my life—one that I wouldn't trade for anything. It was a wonderful day and we all went home full of hope for the future. We just wanted to get to know each other. Ultimately I think Rodney King had it right when he said, "Can we all get along?"

Why the hell can't we?

###

18 November 2018

Bullies 1 — Blood on the Hands

by Leigh Lundin

trenchcoat mafia
Long ago, Criminal Brief and more recently SleuthSayers discussed bullies and the havoc their trail of tears wreak. I was weighing national stories that made the news, when I stumbled upon terrible, untold instances of bullying of people close to me, stories that never made the light of day.

Virtually all states now carry explicit laws that can be construed as anti-bullying. Most also require school policies of one sort or another. A majority of states outright outlaw cyberbullying and more than a dozen states criminalize other aspects of child bullying.

Denial of the problem has become harder to defend as are the ‘right of passage’ claims, Darwinist ‘It toughens you if it doesn’t kill you’ theory, and the related aphorism, ‘We survived, what’s wrong with you?’ A pocket of Central Northwest States– Montana and the Dakotas, have lagged behind the rest of the country, but the notion it’s strictly a political issue is fading in the realization that bullying policies and legislation can save lives.

Up Close and Personal

Nearly as bad as bullying is the imputation targets are cowards. Taller, older, more massive tormentors typically travel in packs. The unspoken irony of intimidation reduces to one question:
How cowardly is a gang of bigger, thicker, towering bullies compared to a victim a fraction of their size?
Today I bring you a unique sketch of an abused kid about to blaze headlines in all the wrong ways.

One Less School Shooter
trenchcoat mafia
Focus… focus…

Hoss.

Ogre.

No bombs, no Columbine.

Marty’s not furious with the whole school, just the tormentors, big bastards they. The boy folds an air rifle under his trenchcoat followed by a machete.

The knot in his gut, not anger, not rage, but agony and despair, accretions packed and rolled like an iceball. Layer by layer, it’s basted like a poisonous black pearl. Like rings in a tree trunk– that one the kick that dropped him to his knees, here the slug that blackened his left eye, there the kidney punch that left him gasping on the restroom floor.

Him or them, he feels no choice, survival, he can take no more.

Book bag, glasses, look normal. Nothing to see here folks, move along. No parents on deck, no one sees him leave the house, no folks kiss him good morning and goodbye. No mother, no father spots the bulges under his duster. Win or lose, on his own, it comes down to him.

School hall. The boy nods to his two friends in the world, Chip, Dale, never mind the jokes. At the lockers, they try to converse, small talk, trash talk– girls, cars, sports, rat prick jocks, Old Lady Tucker’s Eng lit class, screw it, and damn, the girl with the cute butt– she’s hot.

Not today, please, Marty’s not having it. Not rude, but distracted, focused, Marty blows them off, intent on the task at hand. He touches the blade under his coat, confidence, he’s not powerless now.

The big one, Ogre, strides down the hall. Him, bring him down first, element of surprise. The machete, cut him down to size, sever hamstrings, drop him to his knees, on his god damn knees like he forced Marty half his size. Cut his throat, hack, sever, decapitate, slice ‘n’ dice the ’tard.

Then Hoss, he stares at the rifle, sunken barrel shotgun wide, doesn’t grasp it’s only a .177, the calibre growing bigger along with his eyes. Control him at a distance, once up close, the machete, sabre slash, hack the cretin, moments count before Marty’s arrested or killed by cops, the Hoss won’t die, damn him, épée stab, cutlass kill.

Then police. Weapons down. He’s not upset with cops. Prosecutors try him as an adult, maybe life, sick-o but not too mental for the death penalty, say authorities, send a message, say authorities… violence won’t be tolerated in schools.

Except for bullies.
If he couldn’t save himself, maybe he could save others. That’s how Marty planned it a hundred times. ‘Ideate’ shrinks called it.

The boy meticulously worked his way through the first few steps, but he hadn’t counted on friends he could count on. Dale spotted the rifle under his coat, then the machete.

“Oh shit. Chip! Grab him.”

They hustled Marty into the restroom, kicked open doors to make sure they’re alone. They refused to let go of their friend. Machete, then rifle, they disarmed him.

“Marty, what the hell are you thinking?” asked Chip.

Dale said, “I know what you’re up to and it’s not going to work.”

“Leave me alone. Let me go, let me at them. Now or never, I can’t take one minute more.”

Chip leaned close. “Your head’s not on straight, man. You can’t win this, not this way.”

“Listen to us,” Dale said. “Their karma will come, but you can’t bring it on.”

“No, I…”

“Marty, you idiot. You think prison’s any better? Eternity with Bubba Butts and the lifers? Forget it, man.”

Gradually his friends coached the kid back to reality. They hurried him away, smuggling the weapons out, aware they’d helped Marty and the bullies dodge a bullet.

Over time as Marty grew muscular, bullies backed off. The boy and his friends graduated. He worked hard, often teaching himself. He married a wonderful woman, fathered three kids, children now much older than he was that long ago day. He put into practice the best revenge– living well.

Years after the near-fatal confrontation, he heard his name called in a store. Instantly he recognized Ogre. Marty’s nails bit into the palms of his hand. The pain, the anger, the frustration came rushing back.

“Marty? Hey, how are you doing? Where are you working? You married now?” Ogre hesitated. “Listen, man. I’m sorry for treating you like crap. We took things too far, I was an ass. I’m sorry, so damn sorry.”

Thoughts jousted– old hurt, torments, and anger, and yet Ogre had the guts to apologize. He hadn’t expected that. He nodded.

“Marty, I heard a rumor.”

“Yeah?”

“I, uh, heard you planned to kill me. Is that true?”

Marty nodded. “Absolutely planned to. I would have done it, if I hadn’t been stopped at the last moment.”

“Oh Jesus. I never realized how much I hurt you. Christ, I feel awful what we did to you. I’m sorry, really, really sorry.”

Marty accepted his apology. He understood he had one asset other school shooters didn’t have– two best friends.

Lifelong friends, you don’t forget an experience like that. Decades later, the boys still get together, shoot the breeze– girls, cars, sports, rat-prick jocks. Not the girl with the cute butt… Marty married her.

The boys, they chat and sometimes pontificate, but they never talk about the day they stopped a school killing.

17 November 2018

Strike Up the Band: Stories and Music


by John M. Floyd



As a movie lover and a music lover, I've always been intrigued by scores and soundtracks. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the movies I like to watch over and over again are the ones that have what I think is good music. Maybe it's not of vital importance, but it sure helps. Italian director Sergio Leone once said, "It is the music that elevates a movie to greatness."


Masters and commanders

Like many of you, when I walk into a bookstore or go to Amazon.com, I find myself looking first for books by writers I'm already familiar with, writers I know I'll like reading. For me it's novelists like Nelson DeMille, Joe Lansdale, Carl Hiaasen, Greg Iles, Martin Cruz Smith, Lee Child, Nevada Barr, Stephen King, and several others. I have such confidence in those authors I know I'll probably enjoy whatever they write.

It's almost the same with film directors. There are some I like and respect, and when I see one of their names beside a movie, I'll usually watch it. Scorsese, Spielberg, Hitchcock, Carpenter, Joel and Ethan Coen, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, J. J. Abrams, Richard Donner, Frank Darabont, John McTiernan, and--believe it or not--Quentin Tarantino. Sometimes I'm disappointed, but not usually. I'm also especially fond of some composers: John Barry, John Williams, Carter Burwell, James Newton Howard, James Horner, Lalo Schifrin, Mancini, Zimmer, Herrmann, Morricone, Goldsmith, etc., etc.

Creative teamwork

If you're strange enough to be interested in that kind of thing, I'm sure you've noticed that some--if not most--directors choose to work with the same composers, again and again. And because I honestly couldn't think of anything else to write about today . . . here's a list of sixty of those collaborations, along with some of their resulting movies.

First, my top-ten favorite director/composer combinations:


1. Steven Spielberg / John Williams -- E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

2. Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone -- A Fistful of Dollars; A Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the West; Once Upon a Time in America

3. Robert Zemeckis / Alan Silvestri -- Forrest Gump, Romancing the Stone, Contact, The Polar Express, Cast Away, Back to the Future

4. Alfred Hitchcock / Bernard Herrmann -- Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Wrong Man, Torn Curtain, Marnie, Psycho

5. David Lean / Maurice Jarre -- Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India

6. Blake Edwards / Henry Mancini -- The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Peter Gunn, 10, The Great Race, Days of Wine and Roses

7. John Carpenter / John Carpenter -- Escape From New York. Dark Star, The Fog, Vampires, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween

8. M. Night Shyamalan / James Newton Howard -- Signs, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Lady in the Water, The Village

9. The Coen Brothers / Carter Burwell -- The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, True Grit, Miller's Crossing, Fargo

10. Ron Howard / James Horner -- Apollo 13, Cocoon, Willow, Ransom, The Missing, A Beautiful 
Mind

If you're not fed up with all this by now, here are fifty more director/composer teams that might be familiar:

Tim Burton / Danny Elfman -- Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Beetlejuice, Batman
Michael Curtiz / Max Steiner -- Virginia City, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Mildred Pierce, Casablanca
Alfred Hitchcock / Dmitri Tiomkin -- Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder
Frank Capra / Dmitri Tiomkin -- It's a Wonderful Life, Lost Horizon, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Howard Hawks / Dmitri Tiomkin -- Red River, Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo
Joel Shumacher / James Newton Howard -- Falling Down, Flatliners, Dying Young
Lawrence Kasdan / James Newton Howard -- Wyatt Earp, Grand Canyon, French Kiss, Mumford
John Huston / Alex North -- The Misfits, Under the Volcano, Prizzi's Honor
Sam Peckinpah / Jerry Fielding -- The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway
James Cameron / James Horner -- Avatar, Titanic, Aliens
Edward Zwick / James Horner -- Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire
Sydney Pollack / Dave Grusin -- Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, The Firm, Tootsie
Stanley Cramer / Ernest Gold -- On the Beach, Inherit the Wind, Ship of Fools
Tony Scott / Hans Zimmer -- Days of Thunder, True Romance, The Fan, Crimson Tide
Christopher Nolan / Hans Zimmer -- The Dark Knight, Inception, The Man of Steel, Dunkirk
Ron Howard / Hans Zimmer -- Backdraft, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Inferno
Ridley Scott / Hans Zimmer -- Thelma and Louise, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator
Penny Marshall / Hans Zimmer -- A League of Their Own, Renaissance Man, The Preacher's Wife
Gary Marshall / John Debney -- The Princess Diaries, Valentine's Day, Raising Helen
Paul Mazursky / Bill Conti -- An Unmarried Woman, Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto
John G. Avildson / Bill Conti -- Rocky, The Karate Kid, Lean on Me, 8 Seconds
Clint Eastwood / Lennie Neihaus -- Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven
Peter Jackson / Howard Shore -- the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbitt trilogy
David Cronenberg / Howard Shore -- The Fly, Crash, A History of Violence
Martin Scorcese / Howard Shore -- Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo
Martin Scorcese / Elmer Bernstein -- The Grifters, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence
Robert Mulligan / Elmer Bernstein -- To Kill a Mockingbird, Love With the Proper Stranger
Evan Reitman / Elmer Bernstein -- Ghostbusters, Stripes, Animal House
George Roy Hill / Elmer Bernstein -- Hawaii, Slap Shot, Funny Farm. Thoroughly Modern Millie
J. J. Abrams / Michael Giacchino -- Lost, Fringe, Alias, Star Trek, Super 8
Billy Wilder / Andre Previn -- Irma La Douce; Kiss Me, Stupid; The Fortune Cookie
Billy Wilder / Miklos Rozsa -- Double Indemnity, Five Graves to Cairo, The Lost Weekend
Don Siegel / Lalo Schifrin -- Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Charley Varrick
Kenneth Branagh / Patrick Doyle -- Hamlet, Henry V, Sleuth, Dead Again
Mel Brooks / John Morris -- Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein
Cameron Crowe / Nancy Wilson -- Almost Famous, Elizabethtown, Jerry Maguire
John Milius / Basil Poledouris -- Red Dawn, Flight of the Intruder, Conan the Barbarian
Franklin J. Schaffner / Jerry Goldsmith -- Planet of the Apes, Patton, Lionheart, Papillon
Joe Dante / Jerry Goldsmith -- Gremlins, The Burbs, Innerspace
Robert Aldrich / Frank De Vol -- The Flight of the Phoenix, The Longest Yard, The Dirty Dozen
Bryan Singer / John Ottman -- The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns, Jack the Giant Slayer
Mark Rydell / John Williams -- The Reivers, The Cowboys, The River, Cinderella Liberty
Oliver Stone / John Williams -- JFK, Nixon, Born on the Fourth of July
Irwin Allen / John Williams -- The Towering Inferno. Lost in Space, The Poseidon Adventure
George Lucas / John Williams -- Star Wars episodes I, II, III, and IV
Sam Mendes / Thomas Newman -- Skyfall, American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead
Steven Soderbergh / David Holmes -- Ocean's Eleven, Out of Sight, Haywire, Logan Lucky
Peter Weir / Maurice Jarre -- Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Year of Living Dangerously
Anthony Harvey / John Barry -- The Lion in Winter, They Might be Giants. The Glass Menagerie

And #50: I'm cheating here, but composer John Barry teamed with four different directors (Guy Hamilton, Terence Young. Lewis Gilbert, and John Glen) for the following James Bond scores: Goldfinger, Thunderball, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Diamonds Are Forever, and The Man With the Golden Gun.

There are of course many other collaborations, both foreign and here at home, but these are the ones that came to mind.

Trivial matters 

In looking around for this director/composer information, I found the following little-known (to me, at least) facts:

For Sergio Leone's movies, his former schoolmate Ennio Morricone usually wrote the score first and then Leone shot the film to fit the music, rather than doing it the other way around.

Besides John Carpenter, several directors have served the double-duty of also composing the music for some of their films. Among them are Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins.

When John Williams first played the Jaws theme on his piano, Spielberg burst into laughter and thought it sounded ridiculous. Two years later, Williams went through 300 versions of the five-note Close Encounters theme before Spielberg was happy.  (Mostly, though, they seem to agree: They've made 28 movies together.)

Bernard Herrmann served as "sound consultant" on Hitchcock's The Birds, which used electronic bird noises instead of music. (More on this in a minute.)

Danny Elfman composed the music for Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas AND sang Jack Skellington's singing parts.

Max Steiner composed 11 other film scores the same year he scored Gone With the Wind.

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard shared composing duties for some of The Dark Knight. Zimmer wrote the themes for the Joker, and Howard wrote the themes for Batman.

Henry Mancini composed the music for 38 movies and TV series for director Blake Edwards.

Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri decided not to have any music at all during the entire time Tom Hanks was stranded on the island in Cast Away. The score begins only when the castaway sails away. (Other well-known films had no music: Rope, Fail-Safe, Dog Day Afternoon, etc.)

John Williams is the most Oscar-nominated person alive today (51 nominations). His 1977 Star Wars score remains the highest-grossing instrumental-only soundtrack of all time.

James Horner said, about his score for Titanic, "I probably wrote all the material in about three hours. The themes literally came to me in twenty minutes."



Questions

What are your favorite story/music collaborations? Do you ever choose movies based on the director, or even the composer? If so, does that ever backfire? I can think of a few big mistakes I've made, using that approach (Exorcist II, Batman & Robin, The Last Airbender, etc.). Are you a film-score fan, or does the music in a movie not matter that much to you? Do you ever find yourself humming theme music instead of "real" songs?

Wait--is that a fin I see in the water? DUMdumDUMdumDUMdum . . .





16 November 2018

Show ... without a lot of telling

by O'Neil De Noux

An excellent example of this is the final scene in Stanley Kubrick's movie about World War I, PATHS OF GLORY (1957). A movie about war and pain and suffering, destruction and the unfairness of death.



The final scene involves a group of war-weary French soldiers in a cafe where a German girl is brought up on stage. She is terrified. Is she going to be molested? Made to take off her clothes? Killed? No. She is told to sing.

She stands in front of the crowd and sings through tears and trembling lips and as she sings, the racous crowd grows quiet, tears well in the eyes of these hard, lonely, distraught soldiers. Kubrick shows us what the men are thinking through their faces.



No one molests her because she is not seen as a sex object, but a woman, their girlfriend, their wife, their mother, someone to treasure. She is no longer the hated Bosche, no longer German, no longer the enemy. She is – a woman. For a brief moment, she brings beauty and music into the lives of these men.



The genius of the scene is how Kubrick shows us this without telling us. No one explains what's happening. No one says anything. We know without explanation. Sometimes, when I view this scene, I get a little choked up and I wasn't in WWI.

This is what showing instead of telling is about.

SIDE NOTES:

The actress who plays the singing German girl is Christine Harlan. Stanley Kubrick marries her and she remains his life-long companion until his death in 1999.

For its anti-war message and damning portrait of the French officer class, PATHS OF GLORY was banned in France for twenty years.

The scene described above can be seen on YouTube. Check it out here.

www.oneildenoux.com

15 November 2018

Of Deadlines & Legos

by Brian Thornton

Earlier this year I announced the completion of a deal with Down & Out Books to collect and edit an anthology of crime fiction inspired by the music of '70s jazz-rock legends Steely Dan. I've written sparingly about the anthology in the intervening months, because, frankly, I've been busy, both with the anthology and with so many other things.

You know the drill (or maybe you don't!). Life stuff, work stuff, other work stuff. Other life stuff.

It's a near-constant juggling act. And, as is the case with most aspects of the human condition which rely on accrued wisdom and developed skill, "the more I know, the less I understand" (with apologies to Don Henley): I'm really much better at juggling this sort of stuff now than I have ever been. And yet I also realize just how inadequate I can frequently be at covering every base in need of coverage.

The terrific thing about this particular anthology is that I have the great pleasure of working with a group of seasoned pros. Several of them submitted stories so perfect, they defied any attempt at editorial "improvement." Others required several drafts to knock the story into a shape which works with this particular theme. Every single one of them has been an absolute delight to work on: the joy of discovery coupled with the satisfaction of having assisted truly talented artists in getting the absolute most out of their work. All in varying degrees, of course. As I noted above, every story is different.

Speaking of development, as I've mentioned before, I have a six year-old son. He's in first grade, loves Thomas the Train Engine, a revolving cast of superheroes, puzzles, games, playing tag, and music. He has also recently discovered that he loves dancing. And either because he's six, or because he takes after his old man in this regard, he has yet to be the slightest bit self-conscious about doing it in public.

(His mother really hopes it's because he's six. I, on the other hand, think the kid's doomed...)

Oh, and Tinker Toys.

And Lincoln Logs.

And, of course, Legos.

More to the point, he loves playing with Legos, with me.

Let me back up a little bit.

Before he started kindergarten, our son had the great good fortune to attend a preschool run by a fabulous woman named "Ms. Mo." High energy, relentlessly positive, a constant ray of sunshine (and able to pull that off without ever once coming across as one of those fake Suzie Sunshines who are just the worst).

Our son loved his preschool. He learned to read there. He learned to love playing tag there. He formed solid friendships there. Every nickel we put into his tuition there was a nickel well-spent.

Ms. Mo loved signs: the bigger, the brighter, the more eye-catching, the better. My favorite one of all of her signs dispensed the following words of wisdom:

The sign itself looked different from the one in this example, but the message is the same.

This one has really stuck with me. I find myself mulling over it constantly. At least two or three times every day.

If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about. Friends in the know tell me all the time: "Enjoy this age. He won't be like this forever."

And I gulp, and resolve to invest every scrap of time I have into reinforcing this relationship. In selfishly doing my best to ensure that he always enjoys spending time with the old man in one way or another (A fool's errand, I know. NO ONE enjoys being around another person ALL the time. But I think you know what I mean...), or not so selfishly, that he will grow up self-confident and still possessed of the incredible capacity for love that I find so admirable in his six-year-old self.

And then I get busy with work. Or with replacing the blown tire on my wife's car, or in cleaning the house, or in doing laundry. or, or, or...

Or working on my anthology.

I've juggled in that regard by letting him watch TV (we are pretty careful about both TV and internet/electronics. They both get earned and rationed out accordingly.) in my office while I work at my desk. Or letting him play with his Legos on the floor of my office, while I continue to wrestle with the anthology deadline which marches inexorably toward me.

But my kid likes to play Legos with me.

So I'm gonna go do that.

One final thought before I go.

I have shared earlier this year how I once wrote eighty thousand words in eight weeks. I mentioned near the end of that post how I was single then, and I'm married now. I am positive I could still pull that sort of pace off if required to do so, married or not, son or not, day job or not.

I could, if that were my main priority.

But sometimes you have to manage your deadlines, or they're gonna manage you. I'm doing that, and my project is slated to come in on time and ready to publish in mid-2019. Good thing, too.

Because, sometimes, if you know what's good for you, you're gonna prioritize the Legos.

And on that note, I'm off to build something called a "catcopter." I'll let you all know how it turns out!

14 November 2018

Telemark

David Edgerley Gates

I've always had a soft spot for the 1965 war thriller Heroes of Telemark. Directed by Anthony Mann, first off, not to mention I'm a longtime Kirk Douglas fan, it's one of those outnumbered-commandoes-attack-Nazi-stronghold yarns, better than Where Eagles Dare, not quite in the same league as Guns of Navarone.

Telemark is based on a true story, and although they take more than a few liberties, it's reasonably accurate. I was in fact reading The Saboteur, an Andrew Gross novel about the Norsk Hydro raid, exact in its details, when news came that the last surviving Norwegian veteran of the attack had just died. Joachim Rønneberg lived to be 99.

The thing about the Norsk Hydro raid, the real story, is that the fictions actually fall a little short. There's a lack of contrivance, and you have to dramatize a story that's more about endurance and less about blowing shit up. You might even play down how high the stakes were.

In late 1942, there were two trains running. In the U.S., the Manhattan Project, and in the UK, what was known as the Tube Alloys program. What nobody on the Allied teams knew was how far along the Germans were, specifically Werner Heisenberg at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. Absent hard intelligence, it was thought better safe than sorry, and senior Brit spooks at the Special Operations Executive began mapping out sabotage missions to damage the Uranverein, Nazi atomic weapons research.

In the occupied territories of the Reich, the Norsk Hydro generating plant at Vemork, in Telemark, was the most reliable producer of deuterium oxide, also called 'heavy water,' an essential component in nuclear fission. German experiments relied on heavy water, and Norsk Hydro became a primary target for SOE.

Access was the main issue. The plant was in a gorge, and a night bombing raid was discussed. If the Lancasters could navigate accurately in the dark, could they pinpoint the ordnance and destroy the target? Odds against. The only thing they could be sure of was heavy collateral casualties among Norwegian civilians.

It had to be boots on the ground. SOE mounted Operation Grouse in October 1942. They parachuted in an advance party, local Norwegians, to scout the terrain and set up the approach. A month later, they sent in a combat group to rendezvous with Grouse. Everything went wrong. The two gliders crashed, the men who weren't killed were captured by the Germans, and then executed. The four-man Grouse team hid out on the Hardanger plateau, scrubbing lichen off the rocks to eat. They were holed up for three months.

The follow-up mission was launched in February, 1943. Six more Norwegian commandoes dropped onto the Hardanger and made contact with Grouse. Because of the failed attack the previous November, the Germans knew Vemork was a target. But the garrison was small. It was the geography that protected Norsk Hydro. The river valley narrowed at the Rjukan Falls, and the slopes were near-vertical. The mountains are high enough to block out the sunlight from September to March. The plant was built on a rocky shelf 1,000 feet above the river. Security checkpoints had been established further up, overlooking the plant, and on the bridge across the gorge. The commando team made their assault from below, climbing out of the steep ravine in the icy darkness.

They got inside, they wired the explosives, they blew the containment vessels to smithereens. Then they got out. Amazingly, they all escaped, with upwards of 3,000 troops out beating the bushes for them. A couple made it to Oslo, a couple stayed behind. Rønneberg and four others skiied to Sweden. Skiied. 400 kilometers. The wartime German commander, von Falkenhorst, later called it the "best coup" he'd ever seen.

There's a postscript, in that the Germans reestablished heavy water production not long after, but after daylight bombing raids, decided to ship the inventory they had by ferry and rail back to Germany. Norwegian saboteurs sank the ferry as it crossed Lake Tinn, and German atom research sank with it.

Did the Telemark raid change the outcome of the war? In all honesty, no. There was nothing remotely analogous to the Manhattan Project in the German war effort. Albert Speer, the armaments minister, was never convinced it was a workable goal. There's a whole other story, of course, about Heisenberg in Berlin, but we'll save that for another time.

Meanwhile, let's raise a glass to Joachim Rønneberg, and the memory of men and women like him. We honor the debt we owe them. We hope we deserve the world they gave us.  

13 November 2018

To Read or Not to Read: the Reviews of Your Books

by Paul D. Marks 

From the truth in advertising department: I did this piece a few years ago at a different blog. I think it’s worth repeating. But the main reason I’m doing that is because I’m having major computer issues and it’s hard to work on my computer. I hope we have these issues worked out over the next few days. Believe me, I’m ready to CENSORED.

And I want to say that I hope everyone had a good Veterans Day and that we actually stopped to remember what it was for.

So, how do I react to negative reviews? 

I call up my friends in the Mossad and tell them to seek out and destroy all negative reviewers in the shank of a dark and stormy night. Oh wait, no, that’s what a producer said he was going to do to me when we got in an argument about a script.

Take 2:

Some people say never to read reviews and that’s probably good advice, and probably what one should do. But it’s hard not to. Why? Because, I’m sure, we all want to have our egos stroked. And we’re looking for the positive reinforcement that says we haven’t wasted our lives working on something that nobody likes. So our expectation—our hope—is to get good reviews for that and other reasons. When we don’t our egos are shattered. And those who say it doesn’t affect them, well, let’s just say I think they’re most likely doing that stiff upper lip thing.

I’ve been gratified by most reviews, whether by professional reviewers or consumers on Amazon and the like. But every once in a while...

Even big stars like to check their reviews. I was on the Warner Brothers lot (though it may have been called The Burbank Studios at the time, now it’s back to Warner Brothers [long story]) one day and saw Bill Murray leaning against a car reading a review of his version of “The Razor’s Edge” (1984) that had just come out (and based on my tied for favorite book along with The Count of Monte Cristo). It wasn’t getting rave reviews to say the least, but as I say above, we all want to be validated and maybe also get some constructive criticism as to what went wrong. And I remember thinking even Bill Murray, with all his popularity from “Ghostbusters,” etc. still must feel the sting of a bad review like everyone else.

Hell, even Bob Dylan doesn’t like the sting of being booed, as when he first went electric and rock from strictly acoustic folk music. Check out this YouTube clip. It’s less than a minute long:



So let’s focus on Amazon reviews because they’re there, for good or ill. I don’t like reading negative reviews, but how I react depends on the review. Not everybody can like everything. I get that. Of course, one is tempted to remind some reviewers what their mommies told them, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But that isn’t the real world, is it? So for me, it depends on what the reviewer says. Does it seem like they actually read the book? Do they have an axe to grind? Are they offering constructive comments about what worked or didn’t for them or are they just off on some kind of tangent? Did they get what I was trying to say and, if not, is that my fault or theirs?

I got a couple of one star reviews for my short story collection “LA Late @ Night”. And they did piss me off. I had gotten some lukewarm reviews on “White Heat” and lived with them. But these two reviews for “LA Late @ Night” just didn’t make sense to me. These two reviewers, who seemed cut from the same cloth (literally), both hated the book and the stories in it. But their comments made little sense.

One said: “Uninteresting, choppy writing. No plots. I wouldn't waste my time reading this series of books as they are rambling writings.”

Where do I start? With the fact that it’s not a series. Uninteresting, well, that’s your opinion. Choppy, well that’s my style on some things. But each story had previously been published in a magazine or anthology, so somebody found them interesting. No plots, see previous response. Bottom line, I wonder if they even knew what book they were reviewing—But Wait: There’s More. The Kicker is yet to come. But First:

The other crappy review:

“Not that great of stories and the writing is stilted...I didn't even finish them all!”

Oh, where to begin: How ’bout them criticizing my writing as being stilted when their sentence is grammatically incorrect? So maybe someone who doesn’t know proper grammar criticizing my grammar is actually a compliment.

Okay, here it comes. Hold your breath. The Kicker:

Being a glutton for punishment, I of course had to check each person’s profile to see why they hated my book so much. What I saw were reviews for muffin pans, muck boots, kitchen gadgets, children’s books, religious/inspirational books and very few mystery books, and no noir or hardboiled books. So I wondered why they even bought my book…if they really did? Judging from their other reviews I could have told them they wouldn’t like it and would have saved them the time, aggravation and money.

It made no sense to me why they would even read a book like mine. So I had to assume there was an agenda going on. I called this to Amazon’s attention, asking them to remove these reviews, which they wouldn’t. I still think there was some kind of agenda happening here, though I couldn’t say exactly what the motivation is and these are the kind of reviews, totally baseless, that really piss me off. And I know authors are not supposed to say that, we’re not supposed have emotions or respond, but hey, we do.

And here are some other One Star Amazon reviews for your entertainment pleasure, only the names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Reviews from Amazon – yellow highlights and purple comments have been added by me.

Reviews of The Big Sleep: 

One Star, boring 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase

"The book is a big sleep." (Paul’s comment: Well, some of us who liked this book must just be insomniacs.) 

One Star 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

"Dated."

Reviews of Crime and Punishment: 

One Star 
By Amazon Customer
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"Very slow & plodding." (Paul’s comment: That damn Raskolnikov, why didn’t he just get it over and confess? On “Law & Order” Briscoe and Curtis would have had him spilling all in 2 minutes flat.)

Too long 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"Long and pretty boring I don't like the old timely language they use in this book I know it's translated from German or Russian maybe but I was bored to tears and there was never any payoff really just goes on and on."

Reviews of 1984: 

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I love a good dystopian but this was just such a ... 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase

"I have always heard about 1984 being the father of all dystopian novels... I love a good dystopian but this was just such a hard book to read because in the entire story, there is no room for hope." (Paul’s comment: Maybe Katniss from “Hunger Games” should show up and rescue Winston and Julia from O’Brien.) 

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
...must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than "Catcher and ... 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"This must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than 'Catcher and the Rye'" (Paul’s comment: Is that a new book, Catcher and the Rye, or is that something you get at Canter’s Deli (or Katniss’ Deli) – or maybe Canter’s and the Rye, or maybe Ham on Rye – h/t Chinaski.) 


~.~.~.

Damn! I’m hungry now. So, overall, you have to take both the good and the bad with a grain of seasoned salt, a quesadilla and some damn good and spicy hot sauce.

***



And now for the usual BSP:


I’m honored and thrilled – more than I can say – that my story Windward appears in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler, which just came out this week. I wrote a blog on that on SleuthSayers if you want to check it out: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2018/10/the-impossible-dream.html .

I’m doubly thrilled to say that Windward won the Macavity Award at Bouchercon a few weeks ago. Wow! And thank you to everyone who voted for it.



And I’m even more thrilled by the great reviews that Broken Windows has been receiving. Here’s a small sampling:

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:  "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:  "This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com