Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Six Weird Things About Me

"The Naked News" anchor Victoria Sinclair makes me happy.

My sideburns are so ridiculously curly that they have the Latin scientific name - sideburnicus pubicus.

John Lennon is my hero.

I enjoy embarrassing people who don't wash their hands after using the restroom. It's gross and I don't care if mum taught you to go without getting your hands wet! And for the love of God, don't use your cell phone in a bathroom stall.

I love Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs. I'm not sure if it's the twisty shapes, that wonderfully fuzzy light they make, or that flickering glow when they go out. I've changed out all the lights I possibly can at home.

I drink Diet Coke by the gallon. It's the greatest soft drink ever. Diet Coke makes the world go round. Damn the man who let Pepsi have the vending machine contract where I work. Damn the man who holds us down. Damn we need a Union!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Three Chambered Heart

"Relative Danger" is a mystery with a three chambered heart. First is Doug Pearce's hunt for answers about a long lost uncle who came to a bad end in a hotel room in 1948 Singapore. Doug is about the least likely sleuth one might ever encounter in the genre. He is an "innocent abroad" with a nice earthen hue. His only credentials are a blood relationship to the victim and (thanks to being laid off from a brewery job) enough free time to look into the case. His dependency on "the kindness of strangers" begins in chapter one with a mysterious benefactor financing his journey overseas. It continues person-to-person to the very end of the story with a timely arrival of Singapore authorities and media. This person-to-person connection makes the figures we meet along the way real, even recognizable.

All points in between Morocco and Singapore are connected in the second beating lobe of this story's heart by a hunt for a blood red diamond that chases through some of the most exotic and interesting places on Earth. The taste, smell and feel of each waypoint is so richly told that a it's hard to resist the urge to check the passport between chapters for freshly inked visa stamps.

The most delicious pulse of this story's heart comes from its third lobe, Aisha Al-Kady, a woman as exotic and sensual as the environment she fills. In Arabic, Aisha means life. In "Relative Danger", Aisha means life AND to have it more abundantly. She's so strongly drawn that dents in her halo are real, the beauty bone-deep, the sex exuberant, and the bullets deadly.

This isn't the kind of story intended to be heady or profound. No, what earns "Relative Danger" its chops is the way it's told. This is a story with compelling prose, a gut-feel reality, an unexpected twist ending, and a delightfully Southern pace. It is an Edgar Allan Poe Awards® 2005 Nominee for Best First Novel By An American Author. It is an impressive first outing for Charles Benoit. I look forward to more.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

How I lost the Great Goose War

This is a Canada Goose. Ages ago evolution stripped the pitchfork, horns and pointed tail off this devil and left behind this grass-chomping poo machine. This demon is swimming happily in my pond. We were at war.

I live comfortably in the city limits of the third largest city in the state. I share my pond with others. We formed a Homeowners Association and are a close community. Everyone enjoys the pond. While only 1/436 of the pond is legally mine, I feel perfectly comfortable walking the trail around the whole of it and communing with its abundant wildlife.

We have a nice assortment of white farm ducks that live on the pond. I'm not sure where these domestic ducks came from, but more seem to show up after Thanksgiving for some reason. Everyone in the Homeowners Association brings the ducks cracked corn and healthy grains to eat. We try not to feed them bread - even though they love it. Children love to feed the ducks and play on the playground equipment we've assembled in the park that we built beside the pond. The Homeowners Association buys cracked corn to feed the ducks to make sure that they get enough to eat every day and to keep them happy and healthy. Wild ducks often stop by and glide through the calm waters of the pond.

One day the devil birds, the Canada Geese, showed up. They are big birds. A full-grown Canada goose can grow up to 40 inches long, with a wingspan of up to 70 inches and can weigh between 7 and 14 pounds. A single bird can produce as much as a pound of feces per day according to the biologists. I think that estimate is conservative. They are aggressive at feeding time, and show no remorse when savaging their smaller cousins, our beautiful ducks.

One day I was feeding the ducks. They like it when I broadcast the grain by hand. I was raised on a farm, so I am familiar with the technique and am happy to oblige. A fat Canada Geese stomped up to me and stood on my right shoe. I ignored it and continued feeding the ducks. Then it started honking. I ignored it and continued feeding the ducks. It covered my shoe with poo. I lifted the stupid bird off my shoe and tossed it aside. I continued feeding the ducks. It came back. The Canadian eyed the sack of grain and then my clean left shoe. It flapped its great wings and honked. I caved. I offered it a handful of cracked corn, and the awful beast ate it all from the palm of my hand. Then it stomped off crowing its victory. My hand was wet with goose slobber and my shoe stunk.

I got on the telephone and called the State Wildlife man and complained. He said that there wasn't much that really works to get rid of the Canadian devils - other than hunting. I haven't hunted anything at all since the war, but it was personal now. This goose had violated me. Maybe if I did teach one of the birds as lesson, the others would fear me and respect my pond. I could go to the pond with sweet cracked corn in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other. One quick stroke and I'd be back on top of the food chain. What would I need to make this … legal?

The state wildlife man said the first thing I needed was a state waterfowl hunting license with a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. I was certain that I wouldn't need anything like that since the migratory extent of these beasts was from one side of town to the other. I'm sure they don't even know where Canada is anymore. The state wildlife man said "yes, it was stupid, but it was a federal thing with penalties that include fines and/or prison sentences." Given who's running the federal government right now, I could see the logic in just paying for the ridiculous stamp.

The state wildlife man said that the state legislature didn't approve of using a meat cleaver to hunt geese. He suggested a shotgun. I imagine myself dressed up in camouflage, sneaking between trees to the duck pond. There would be a renegade goose gorging on our homeowner's association lawn grass, slickening the footpath with poo, and laughing at our pain. I would lift the gun, breathe steadily, and then hold the last one, relax, lower an aim onto the bird, and squeeze the trigger. The gun would roar and all 436 homeowners in the association would simultaneously call the police. Nope, there had to be a better way.

The state wildlife man said that a bow and arrow were the only other legal method for "taking" a goose. I confess the idea has some appeal. Although I'm no match for Legolas Greenleaf the Elf, I did hit the archery target at summer camp with all three of the arrows they gave me. Of course, I was 12 then and hadn't practiced a bit since. But that target was still and the Canada Goose would be moving, intentionally making his profile as small as possible. What would happen if I merely wounded the bird instead of killing it? It would start screaming, flapping its wings, and then all 436 homeowners in the association would simultaneously call the SPCA.

I needed something manly, mean and silent. Something that would the geese would respect. I had to go Rambo on their feathered butts.

"Do you have to *shoot* the arrow with the bow?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" the state wildlife man stepped through the words like broken glass.
The telephone line crackled. The state wildlife man hadn't a clue.
"What if I just take the arrow and stab the goose?"

** click **
buzz …

This morning I again feed the ducks by hand. This is the Canada Goose that crapped on my shoe. He is still very much alive. The war between us is over. I lost, and as you can see, the only animal harmed in the making of this story was me.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Action, adventure, attitude ... fun

Meredith Fletcher's elemental thriller "Storm Force" is a hurricane that just made landfall at the intersection of action, adventure, and attitude.

Every year wilderness guide Kate Garrett gets to spend the month of July with her children who live with their custodial father. It's a date she wouldn't miss come hell, high water or both. So life gets really interesting when both of those meet belligerent customers, a Cat 5 hurricane, escaped convicts, a fortune in hidden cash, organized crime, and Shane Warren - a strength for strength match for this incredibly complex and interesting heroine. He's handsome, rugged and tough enough, but stands on the wrong side of the line - a line Kate may have to cross to save herself and her children from a storm named Genevieve.

Kate keeps her wits and battles through everything that is thrown at her - which includes the kitchen sink AND the house it belongs to! When it comes to her kids and ensuring their safety, it's personal. Kate's strength, skills, maternal instinct and steadfast determination make her more than a match for her adversaries - it makes her story a compelling and entertaining read.

The connection that forms between Kate and Shane is natural and fulfilling. It grows through language, communication, need and reason. What follows clinches the story and delivers to the very last page.

"Storm Force" is very hard to put down. Count on reading it cover to cover in one satisfying session. You'll be glad you picked up this thriller.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A lipstick smeared sledgehammer

Invisible Sister by Jeffrey Ethan Lee

"Invisible Sister" is a sunburst of pain and pleasure in stained glass world. I used to believe that a poem was "but a thought complete." Then I met Jeffrey Ethan Lee's "Invisible Sister." I feel like I've just discovered that the world is round, blue and beautiful.

In the Prologues, "Invisible Sister" is delicate and elegant as much for what is on the page as isn't. It's paced neatly by clean white spaces between tasty chunks of text. It's propelled by the senses, exploring race, sex, coming of age, violence, loneliness (and its opposite), and enough pain to be noir - a real, dark, and gritty experience of insufficiency.

The second portion of book, the title poem, is the elephant in the room. Iris is a soul that at the same time everyone knows, wants to know and never will know. She's the invisible sister, an icon and the victim of fragmented postmodern life and insanity. The very incompleteness of these fragments is a kind of gravity drawing in the mind, making the story tighter, and sharpening its hooks. There is nothing subtle about this descent into darkness; after all, "girls had exclamation marks instead of dicks" (p.24). If the Iris in your life pushed a little too far away from the sunlit center of reality, you already know how the story ends. If you don't know or you just like watching the dominos fall, then you must read this book. The next time the phone rings at 4 a.m. (p.37), you'll think of this poem as your hand touches the receiver.

Some of the work is presented as a pair of voices, each with its own story, and together making a strange harmony. This dialogic lyric makes for excellent punctuation in the greater storyline {especially in "4 a.m. phone call from my sister" (p.37)}, but difficult when used too much in "Iris returning after five mostly wasted years" (p.57).

Here the sensory content, depth, lush voice and quality of the poetry by itself is all that is necessary and sufficient to define a world of immeasurable beauty, fragility and elegance with the punch of a lipstick smeared sledgehammer.

So, yes, this makes you the poet, and me - the audience. A very good read.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A really, really good read

An excellent anthology of time travel stories. All of the stories are classics. This mix of authors and stories seems to be perfectly chosen because they are still contemporary and speak to today's more selective readers. A reader of any age will enjoy this compilation. Younger readers will find this broad range of stories especially tasty. The best one in my opinion is the "Love Letter" by Jack Finney. This story captured my imagination when I was in grade school and its sense of adventure, magic and romance never left me. That was something I have been able to pass along to my child because of this very nice anthology.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Johnny's missing minutes

THE unanswered question in "The Night of the Living Dead" is what happened to Johnny between the time his head was smashed on the headstone and when he pulled Barbra out of the house. The events of these infamous minutes are left as an exercise for the student in Steven E. Wedel's class "Writing Character Driven Horror Fiction" being taught at the Moore-Norman Vo-Tech.

Here is my homework for class. Let me know if this is how you think the "missing minutes" passed.

* * * *

Dear Sweet Barbra

The stinking man-thing was stronger than God had ever intended. It used the weight of its own body like a third clawing arm to trip me. Falling. I remember falling and the stink of dirt and mold, and that sound. It was like the crack of an eggshell, and then a wet pulse of its contents in one thick warm squirt. Then a yellow flash wrapped its arms around me. I could shut down, rest a moment here and everything would be alright. I heard her voice so clearly. Dear sweet Barbra. Are you singing or is that screaming. Is there a difference? Let me rest here a minute. I'll catch up with you later. It will be alright, you know.

Flickering spirits clung to the light like celestial moths tangled in the hair of God. It was a warm, safe, filling place. I felt content, complete and whole as never before. They should have told me about this in church before. Was it a secret for only a privileged few?

Something came to take me away from there. It was a hard pull I could not resist. Though I fought the invisible hand, I struggled in vain. My eyes once filled with light, dimmed but did not let loose of the sight of that far shore and there my stolen destiny. I landed with a crash into my wrecked body back in the graveyard. My skull smashed against a low gray headstone. An electric thrumming warmed the insides of my head. It hurt. I know it should have hurt more, but it didn't. When I dared to open my eyes, what sights I saw! The night rolled back before me. I saw the lilting paw of trees in the breeze, the rough covering of bark on their limbs, the yawning mouths of leaves sighing their last exhale of sunlight into the chilled suck of Fall, and the radiant spectra of roosting birds. What power had I obtained? Raw energy throbbed in my chest. I was new, even better than new. I was powerful.

That steady crackle of energy in my head warmed my spine and limbs. All the years of coming to this forsaken place to lay a wreath on Father's grave had been life draining ordeals. I only did it to appease mother, and it helped Barbra somehow. Dear sweet Barbra. She was shattered glass, lost and unfit for this world anymore. She was there when Father died, beside him, his bloody hand in hers. An icy country road, a sharp turn hidden by snow laden trees, and a hot apple pie wrapped in foil in the backseat. Barbra and Father spent the last hours of the feast holiday pinned in the crumpled husk of the car, beneath the broken jagged trailer of a semi-truck. Most of her ordered, sunlit world died before they found her there. Those scars never healed. Change was something she never did again.

Change was something I could do and had. I sat up and dusted myself off. I saw a lost shoe on the hump of a distant grave. I recognized it as hers. How could she have lost it? She loved her shoes. I remembered that awful man-thing monster. Oh no. What had become of her? She needed me. Dear sweet Barbra. When was this world going to stop being so cruel to you? It occurred to me then that I could stop all the cruelty, pain, and suffering. I had the power. I laughed, I had to - the truth of it was so clear now. I knew what all of this meant.

I pushed myself up onto my unruly feet. Steps helped loosen the stiffness there. I walked to her shoe and picked it up. It was cold to touch. My new eyes saw the afterglow of her presence in that shoe. The soft leather didn't give up its secrets through some sorcery, reveal her location or help me in the least. All it told me was the curve of her arch and instep, the hard roundness of her heel, and her fading scent. She was out there somewhere, alone and scared. She needed me.

I saw the others, locked in a slow trudging march toward a house a quarter of a mile away. Light peeked out of windows that were cross-hatched with boards. The light stung my hypersensitive eyes. I tossed the shoe aside and joined the crowd marching to the house.

That familiar electric drone in my head was stronger in their company. Some of them were fresh up from the grave, many others had moldered in peace for far too long, still others were wet with injuries that should have been fatal, and yet on they marched. We were many and we were strong. We were united in an aching emptiness, a strange hunger I couldn't explain. It was a feeling, like the one before a sneeze. It gripped me and pulled me along, bobbing in the current with these others.

The others surrounded the little house. They banged their fists on the doors. Each new arrival swelled the crowd. I could feel their frustration. Anger heaped upon white hot anger. The heat of it spilled out of them and burned the ground under their feet. They surged in waves against the barred windows and doors of the house. One group of them banged sticks on sticks, adding a rhythmic crack to the shrill screams of people inside the house. The low hungry wails of those outside it hung heavy the air.

Through a barred window, I saw Barbra inside screaming. One of the others had a handful of her golden hair. The people inside the house did not lift a finger to help her. One inside the house brandished a rifle. A shot rang out. Another clutched his side and dropped out of sight. The breakdown of the order of their world was complete.

I pushed through the crowd, my gloved fists battering the others in my way. I had to reach her. An arm smashed across my face. A single thought crowded the rest at the front of my mind -- I had to help Barbra. Dear sweet Barbra.

The truth of my own words tormented me. "They're coming to get you, Barbara." I wished I could take all of this back, restart the sunlit world Barbra and I left a few hours ago. The others gushed forward behind me, knocking me down. I struggled up but feet kept stomping me back down. I heard Barbra scream again. Red, hot fury fueled my body as I clawed my way up one their bodies until I was on my own feet again. I swung my elbows to clear the path to Barbra. My fingers balled into a fist of iron and I swung it at the spine of the one who had a clenched a handful of Barbra's hair. His death grip was pulling her neck backwards. My fist landed hard where I had aimed it. There was sound. The crunching noise of bone breaking bone, of desiccated corpse-flesh crinkling and tearing, freeing the gooey insides. It was an enemy who buckled and dropped underfoot. Her enemy.

Now that Barbra was free of his grip, she wheeled around and I saw her face. I saw the terror in her eyes. I could make her safe. She merely had to trust me one last time. She called my name. The sound came out feeble and overwhelmed. It was sweet to my ears nonetheless. I clamped my hand onto her and pulled her hard to the window. She struggled, too much in fear of these wretches around me. I wrapped my arms around her in a loving embrace and pulled her through the window. She pressed her head against me and hot tears fell onto my neck. I turned and pushed through the crowd with her as my prize, safely away from the others. She struggled in my arms to be free. These awful creatures around me frightened her too badly to reason through the situation. Now I could give her the gift of protection. I pressed my mouth to her neck. How she struggled in my arms for this gift. It thrilled me to give it to her. Her liquid scent filled my nose, and pulsed into my mouth and down my chest. She was so soft and warm. Finally, she relaxed in my grip. Her unmoving eyes consented, accepting to the offer I'd made. Dear sweet Barbra hurried to the safe place inside my stomach.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Satisfying, quick and fun

"A Matter of Honor" by Sally Malcolm is a catchy story about SG-1's visit to P4X-481, a planet that has some interesting security technology and even more interesting gravitational machinery. Ordinarily that would be enough for two episodes worth of adventure, or equivalently one trade paperback from Fandemonium Books. Because the adventure has a well wrapped Baal tie-in, a Senator Kinsey hook, and all the pull of the planet-chomping black hole from the season 2 episode, "A Matter of Time" -- it rates a royal treatment -- a double book presentation. "A Matter of Honor" is the first part of the story, and "The Cost of Honor" is its conclusion. The plot of "A Matter of Honor" is very well done. It reads as fast as it is fun.

The hardest thing in the SG-1 universe for an author to do is to get the characterizations right. Sally Malcolm did an admirable job bringing our favorite Jaffa, Teal'c, to life in the pages of this book. The mannerisms were spot on. His subtle humor was natural and effectively presented. I liked her presentation of General Hammond very much.

In three places in "A Matter of Honor" the author missed the characterization mark. These EXTREMELY jarring gaffs happened in the characterization of Samantha Carter and Jack O'Neill. The first happens very, very early in the story when Samantha Carter thinks about when she will HAVE to relieve Colonel O'Neill of his command. There is an unfortunate and out of place discussion of military service being equivalent to legalized murder. The last and most appalling is when Colonel O'Neill shoots Teal'c in the ear because he mistook Teal'c for an enemy. Daniel Jackson, Teal'c, Samantha Carter and Jack O'Neill are heroic characters. The SG-1 canon has never wavered on that point. Taking liberties with the heroic nature of these four characters is -- CHEATING. Don't do it! These three miscues are the only weakness that mattered to me in the story because the storyline is so strong and (otherwise) well done.

This book is definitely worth a read, even if you have to hold your nose to cross three bad paragraphs. All the rest of the 236 pages of "A Matter of Honor" are a pleasure to read.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mile 147

It's one of those days when everything feels a little out of whack. They had a fire alarm today. Everyone went outside, across the street, into an oversized gazebo, and out of the rain. A fireman climbed onto one of the picnic tables and announced that "as a part of fire safety week everyone should check the batteries in their fire extinguishers and make sure the pressure in their smoke detectors was still good". At first I thought it was just me, then the network server sympathetically failed when they announced who the "Employee of the Month" was. On a related note, they renewed the Son of Santa's network support contract today. A bald guy and a pregnant woman in a huge Chrysler challenged me to race to a southside taco stand. I didn't have enough gas for it. An abnormally tall man asked me why they put a buffalo on the back of the Kansas quarter because "everyone knew" that the last buffalo had already left and was swimming to the Phillipines. Is it still "dog paddling" if a buffalo does it?

Mile 147 is an ordinary mile marker on Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle east of Amarillo. Mile 147 is 1.4 miles from mile marker 146. This wouldn't matter if not for the fact that Mile 147 marks the secret entrance to the Isle of Misfit Toys. Stop by and say "Hi!" sometime. Rudolph and I work nights there with a small and charming Fish (who's our hero and union steward).

Monday, September 11, 2006

Faye 4 ever!

The world is full of people and one of her. I found her twelve years ago this month. It was a night like this one, just after midnight, and the Shelfmaster 2 project was almost ready for its debut. I was stuck on a programming point, and desperate. When in doubt, ask the internet. The beauty of working in the language I do is the community of programmers out there who are willing to share their knowledge. Hell, they even show it off. Contrast that with the hot burning Hell of C++ where everything about everything is secret, "professional" and just plain stupid. Someone out there knows how to code VB and getting the answer you need is only a question of finding that person.

I found one Chinese website that had an algorithm that did exactly what I needed to finish that module. Copy, paste, compile, run and success. That guy also had a webpage about his "girlfriend." Who could resist something like that? I clicked the page and this is what I saw:

There were a bunch of pictures of her on that page, and they got better the farther down the page I scrolled. Turned out this girl sang a thing called Canto-pop and had a few albums out. Canto-pop is popular music sung in the Hong Kong Chinese dialect called Cantonese. Her name is Faye Wong. I did a quick search for her music and found a bootleg music file. All these years later, I have all but three of her albums, which number almost 50 now. I'm still a member in good standing of the "Fayenatics", her international fan club :-)

I saw her in person Saturday, February 20th, 1999, in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. I had a ticket to her concert there that night, and the concert was excellent even though Faye was exhausted and not feeling well after the trip to LV from Hong Kong. She was in town for a one night only show. Before the concert she went into the casino to play some blackjack at the $100 a hand table. I saw her and she smiled at me while she was selecting a table to play. She was so breathtakingly beautiful, I literally couldn't breathe. I couldn't even move. I just stared.

My favorite album is called "The Decadent Sound Of Faye". It was Faye's first album in Mandarin Chinese. The songs on the album are a salute to Teresa Teng, the greatest Chinese singer from the previous generation. All those years ago the communist government in Beijing declared that Teresa's music was "decadent", so Faye winked at that in the title of her album. My friend, Josh keeps a webpage on this album here:
If you get a chance to visit, please check out the translation of the lyrics of "Girl of Nanhoi" :-) My email addy has changed since I wrote that translation.

Faye has retired now and has two children. I hope she will make a come back soon. Thanks for the great music Faye. Everytime I work late, I think of you and smile.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Hi! Just created the blog. Thanks for stopping by.