Favorite Bands: Genesis

I caught Genesis at just the right time. Back in 1981, I was in high school. A few friends of mine were into this new guy named Phil Collins, a short white guy with thinning hair who sounded kind of black. He had this album out called Face Value. But he was in this other band called Genesis. What had they done?

Oh, friends and neighbors, the stuff then getting radio airplay was just the tip of the iceberg. There were only three guys in Genesis, though the live band had five members. Phil Collins, the drummer and vocalist, was the best known. Soon enough, though, guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford would become well known for his other band, Mike and the Mechanics. You never heard much out of the keyboardist, this short, timid-looking guy named Tony Banks. But hey, did you hear? That guy that sang “Shock the Monkey” used to be in Genesis. And about five years before I discovered them, they had this really good guitarist named Steve Hackett, back when they did a song called “Squonk.”

Like I said, at the right time. I caught the Genesis many people remember, sometimes unfairly as Phil Collins’ backing band, right when they became famous. I only had vague notions of “Squonk” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” which WMMS would play on weekends when all the stoners listened in their natural state. (They also played Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” at 3 AM in all its creepy goodness, but that’s another tale. Perhaps my best friend Rob from high school will regale us with it some time.)

It was after high school, when most of us get to know more about sex, drugs, booze, and rock and roll, that I learned who Genesis really was. I scraped the bottoms of budget bins for the pre-Phil Collins/Steve Hackett era albums And the Word Was Genesis (a truncated repackage of their debut From Genesis to Revelations) and Trespass. The music was not quite psychedelic, but not quite progressive, either. What you had were four Cambridge schoolboys in search of a drummer and of a sound making some interesting, ethereal noise. The hook was this strange guy singing lead named Peter Gabriel who had a penchant for costumes in their live shows and a flair for the dramatic as he sang.

They found their drummer, but lost guitarist Anthony Phillips to stage fright. (I’m not making that up. It’s on the band’s web site.) Phil Collins, a former child actor, won the drummer’s seat after listening to two other drummers flub their audition while taking a dip in Gabriel’s pool. To replace Phillips, they summoned Steve Hackett after reading his ad in Melody Maker. To say the band finally formed is an understatement. The only similarity I can think of is Marillion, which finally solidified after they peaked in popularity.

And so out came Nursery Cryme, Selling England By the Pound, and their 1972 masterpiece, Supper’s Ready, which is the only twenty-minute progressive rock epic to ever move me to tears. (The way the final segment of the title track ties the whole suite up in a bow is amazing. It still gives me chills in ways that Yes, King Crimson, and especially ELP have failed to do over the years.)

But by 1974, Gabriel was bored and wanted to do something else. The line-up put out its final effort, the double album and rock operaish The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Here, the music was more aggressive and the theme incredibly bizarre. Street punk Rael is sucked into another dimension, loses his penis, and has to find it to get back to New York City. Don’t laugh. It was Gabriel’s idea, and really, the music is some of the best prog ever recorded.

But it was Gabriel’s last with Genesis.

Unable to find a vocalist to fill Gabriel’s shoes, they pressed Collins into service as his voice sounded similar to Gabriel’s. They proceeded to do two more albums somewhat in the vein of the earlier Genesis, but with shorter tunes and more radio-friendly sounds. “Squonk,” about a creature so ugly that it weeps itself to death, dissolving into its own tears, is the earliest song I remember hearing when it came out. There’s also the title track to the album A Trick of the Tail, the only non-concert video to feature both Steve Hackett and Phil Collins’ original hairline. It’s also the video Collins is most embarrassed by as he’s only six inches tall singing to the rest of the band.

(OK, I lied. Phil’s wearing a stocking cap in that one. Sorry, Phil’s original hair.)

But Hackett, too, had had enough, and he left in 1979. And Then There Were Three, the album describing the band’s predicament in the title, emerged, giving us the sound they became famous for in the 1980’s. Between 1979 and 1983, they proved they still had the chops they displayed with their longer, more complex songs from the early 70’s while performing more aggressive music, much of which ended up on Miami Vice and Magnum PI. (There’s a really dramatic Magnum scene where Magnum looks for a missing woman while the industrial rock “Mama” pounds in the background, Phil wailing desperately over it all.)

And then they went and did Invisible Touch. I remember waiting impatiently for that album to come out. It had been three years, dammit. At midnight on the day the album debuted, Akron’s WONE played the whole album. I was driving home from a late shift and damn near wrecked the car screaming (because, you know, you want to share this with an entire Cleveland suburb at 12:30 in the morning) “I waited three years for this steaming pile of crap?!?!?!?!”

It grew on me, but then so have a lot of albums I didn’t initially like. I don’t think I learned to appreciate it so much as tolerate it for the nuggets of gold it contained: “Tonight, Tonight Tonight,” “Land of Confusion,” “Domino,” and “Le Brazilian”. There was way too much filler on that album. They redeemed themselves six years later with We Can’t Dance, which was pretty solid. However, I couldn’t help thinking, “OK, you guys can stop now.” Phil went from this really cool guy we’d never heard of in high school to insufferably lame. He left Genesis.

Unfortunately, Tony and Mike carried on, recruiting a couple of well-regarded session drummers after dissing live drummer Chester Thompson, alienating live guitarist/bassist Daryl Stuermer, and turning down ex-Marillion vocalist (and Gabriel/Collins soundalike) Fish. Instead, they found the most un-Gabriel, un-Collins-like vocalist they could find. Usually, this works. Marillion has had Steve Hogarth for 23 years with no sign of stopping, and Deep Purple had great success with David Coverdale taking over for Ian Gillan. Speaking of Gillan, neither he nor Ronnie James Dio sounded like Ozzy Osbourne, but they both had successful runs with Black Sabbath. But Genesis…?

Even now I listen to their final effort, Calling All Stations, and wonder what that was all about. The music sounded unfinished, with only the title track of any interest. It’s as though Mike and Tony didn’t notice the party had broken up and Phil had been the last to pay his bar tab. Oops.

Still, like a lot of other long-lived bands, they benefited from multiple personnel changes. The partings were amicable. Hackett was so upset about leaving his pals in a lurch that he had his lawyer break the bad news for fear they’d talk him back into returning. And if you look at the members’ solo or side work, including founder Anthony Phillips’, you’ll see a lot of former Genesis members in the liner notes.

They’re not the rockingest band out there, but I was glad they were around for most of their run. (I could do with 1996, but then they admit they could, too.)

Thursday Reviews: The Eyes Of The Dragon By Stephen King

The Eyes of the Dragon

Stephen King

Stephen King had written thirteen novels (not counting those by his doppleganger, Richard Bachmann) by the time he penned The Eyes of the Dragon.  And in her thirteen years at that point, little Naomi King had not read a single one of them. Why would she? King’s novels might have been horror, but they were also chock full of adult things, like bills and bad marriages and relationship stuff and the odd act of violence. Besides, Naomi found werewolves and vampires and possessed cars icky.

So King sat down to write the story of two princes, Peter and Thomas, sons of Good King Roland of Delain. Peter is the oldest, the heir, and Roland’s favorite. Roland loves Thomas, too, if only because he’s bit like Roland himself, a good kid, but slow and clumsy. Thomas gets tired of standing in Peter’s shadow. Peter can do know wrong in the people’s eyes.

But then there’s Roland’s closest adviser, Flagg the magician. If he looks familiar, that’s because he wandered into our world from the world of the Dark Tower series to take advantage of a parallel timeline where the flu wiped out 90% of the human race. Yep, he’s Randall Flagg from The Stand. But that’s all in the past. Or the future. Or somewhen else. Um… Jennette? Help? Time travel stuff? Hurts my head.

Anyway, Flagg is all for causing chaos. He does this by killing Good King Roland with poison wine and framing Peter for it. All of Delain goes from ecstatic that this boy king will finally take the throne to despair that their shining king-to-be is a murderer. Thomas is elevated, and, well, Thomas isn’t really cut out for the job. He ends up letting Flagg sap all his power and drive the kingdom to the brink of civil war. But Peter? Peter is biding his time in his tower prison cell 300 feet over the castle keep. He asks for only two things: Napkins with his meals, and his mothers stunning realistic and fully functional doll house.

This is a neat, breezy story by King, clearly written with a child or early teen in mind. While more sophisticated than the average fairy tale, it has the tone of a child’s storybook without being childish. There was one scene early on that came off as a bit too adult for such a tale, wherein Roland conceives Peter. Get through that, and you spend the rest of the book wanting to put a fist through that evil grin of Flagg’s, pulling for Peter and his friends to pull off a coup. While set in the world of the Dark Tower series, the Roland here is not Roland the Gunslinger. He’s elsewhere, marching toward said Dark Tower and occasionally chasing Flagg when he’s not out trying to destroy worlds.

Being Of A Certain Age…

There’s an Internet meme going around lamenting that the days are gone where kids no longer play in the street, ride bikes without helmets, and have not known a world without personal computers, smart phones, or DVR’s. It’s true, there’s a lot I miss about those days. My two best friends and I thought nothing of going down to Lodi Community Park unsupervised and walking along the Black River, climbing the cliff wall that bounded the park on one side (I’m phobic about heights, and I swung on that cliff like a monkey up until I was 15), or, in fact, riding a bike without shin guards and helmets. Then again, I fail to see the nostalgia in cars without seatbelts and airbags. Having broke my nose sliding off the road in a snowstorm without a seatbelt, you may consider me a convert.

There are a lot of things I think kids miss out on today. The cartoons today, unless it’s, say, Family Guy or The Simpsons, are horrible. Most of them are gross-out humor. And while I loves me some Seth MacFarland and South Park, those shows are really aimed at adults. There aren’t any Looney Toons anymore, or even Tiny Toons or Animaniacs. Those were pure art. Bugs or Daffy could hit you with a zinger at five that you thought was incredibly silly, and then it would hit you again every couple of years when you realize the writers meant something else entirely. A lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons came out during World War II, and at 46, I’m still not sure I’ve gotten all the meanings yet. I’ll probably be cackling away at them in the nursing home as I get the joke all over again in a way I couldn’t when I was younger.

But there seems to be a lot of whining about safety. About seatbelts? Really? Your driving privileges end where my windshield begins. As I said, I broke my nose going into a ditch. The painful message was, “Don’t be a dumbass.” I buckle up. I like having an airbag under the steering wheel. Helmets on bikes. I suppose this one goes along with motorcycles. I do know a guy who refuses to wear a helmet even after hitting (and slicing in two) a deer on his Harley. No, he did not end up like Gary Busey.

Still, I think kids are missing out playing outside. Of course, in the 1970’s, I could tell you the names of the people next door, the people in the property adjacent to ours, and probably 3/4 of the people on all the surrounding blocks. And they knew my name and the names of all the neighbor kids. But was it really safer back then? If you’ve ever read Mystic River, you know very well that it wasn’t. We were warned not to get into strange cars or talk to strange people. Beware the stranger. So why do we hear so much about child abductions and the horrible things done to them now? Simple. When we were kids, Walter Cronkite had 30 minutes, part of which went to commercials, to tell you how that’s the way it is today. Now, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC have twenty-four hours to fill, and even to most idiotic political douchebag in your office can handle only so much of Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity before they get a headache. So the news directors fall back on that old news standby: If it bleeds, it leads. The Internet only makes it worse, since mentioning my wife stubbing her toe on Facebook at 9 AM can, by noon, turn into a domestic violence bloodbath that causes several laws to be rewritten. Meanwhile, my wife has since iced her toe, popped a couple of Advil, and gotten on with her day.

But aside from that, kids simply don’t go out anymore. We used to roll big, fat truck inner tubes down a nearby hill and play in the park and play basketball at the elementary school, even when we had our licenses and could drive. Now? AJ never leaves his room. His best friend is often at our house, and he never leaves the room. Sure, he’s 18, but he’s done this since I married his mom. At eighteen, I still went out as much as possible. And remember, I was one of those pasty nerds who donned Star Trek costumes for a couple of years. So, yeah, even I wanted out of the basement occasionally.

It’s different now, of course. Where are kids have the Internet and gaming consoles, which are interactive, we had TV, which was passive. If you wanted to make Batman or Captain Kirk do something, you and your friends had to go out and do it in the backyard or the playground. TV was passive. Now you can be Captain Kirk or Batman or even The Joker and make things happen on your own.

So were ours the good ol’ days?

Not really. You could die of a lot more things back then. I still have a small pox vaccination scar. Broken bones meant plaster casts. Almost any surgery meant getting sliced completely open. Cars pumped lead into the air.

But I miss the monkey bars and the two-story slides.

And Walter Cronkite.

The Writer’s Journey, Save The Cat, And Holland Bay

A few years ago, I asked a cop, who was also a writer, about the best way to handle a situation in Holland Bay. (Yes, I’ve been playing with this for that long.) He asked me a very important question.

“Who’s your main character?”

I said it was an ensemble cast.

“Let me rephrase that. Who’s first among equals?”

Ah. As this novel owes a debt of gratitude to Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct series, I needed to find my Steve Carella. The problem is the original draft of Holland Bay sprawls. As it went on, it grew new subplots and added characters and…

I didn’t touch the thing for two years. Finally, this year, I took it out, dusted it off, and decided to whittle it down to something readable. After all, a 105,000 word monster is not something you want to foist on the public. Not without some sort of SF or fantasy elements. Even then, I just don’t have that kind of patience anymore.

As I was working on the rewrite of Holland Bay, I read two books, recently reviewed here, on plotting. Both The Writer’s Journey and Save the Cat are geared toward screenplays, but the principles of each translate into novels. Of the two, I prefer The Writer’s Journey, which is more about crafting a novel over a common framework. Reading it, I understood why two movies can take the exact same premise yet be so wildly different in how successful they are. Let’s say someone makes another version of Titanic with the same characters but a new script. And it falls flat. Now a lot of it would be the absence of James Cameron’s talent, but more likely the new Titanic would be a lower budget film where the director and writers didn’t take time to hide the framework of the story. That’s exactly what Cameron did with his big, honkin’ movie. (On the other hand, we likely wouldn’t be Celined to death with “My Heart Will Go On” over and over and over…)

You see it in retellings of Greek myths. Clash of the Titans is a cheesy 1975 claymation film that mostly shows off its special effects. The 2010 film actually has some meat on its bones. Yes, the CGI effects are marvelous, but hell, you even give a damn about Hades, who, let’s be honest, was kind of a dick when it came to Greek gods. (And most of them made Satan look like Milton from Office Space. After all, he just got his desk moved to the basement.)

Of course, Holland Bay takes its cues from The Wire as well. The Wire really didn’t have a protagonist. It had several, and not all of them were cops. Some of the bad guys were cops. Some of the good guys were criminals. Most of the characters were both. Indeed, in the end, only Leander Sydnor, the young, quiet detective on Major Crimes, is the only one left who hasn’t been tainted by the game. And our last sight of him is repeating Jimmy McNulty’s trip to the judge’s chambers to say his boss is an ass and the commissioner is a corrupt moron. And the whole cycle begins again.

The problem with using The Wire is that it’s not a good model for what essentially will be a first novel. Yes, Holland Bay amounts to a reboot of my writing career. But first novels need to be narrowly focused and follow familiar patterns before the author starts breaking all the rules. Along those lines, I think I prefer the advice in The Writer’s Journey over Save the Cat. Journey was about dissecting one type of storytelling to its mechanics and putting it back together. Naturally, not every story is about a hero going off on a quest, which author Christopher Vogler takes great pains to point out. Save the Cat seems to treat the same structure as a religion, calling out some successful movies for “failing.” (The Spiderman example of having a supervillain when there’s already a superhero struck me as a bit dogmatic and stupid.)

Where Save the Cat works is in defining the “beats” of a story. It’s better suited for the science fiction project, which borrows heavily from Heinlein, Star Trek, and to some extent, Harry Potter. (Trust me, it’s its own creature.) But the SF project is a relatively young project. Holland Bay is going to require a bit more thought.


I’m facing a conundrum with Holland Bay. One of my main protagonists (there are two or three) is a female cop in exile. She’s been there for about four years, and, over the course of the story, is drawn back into the world of “real” police. That is she’s given some meaty work to perform.

Now, of course, we all know the obvious route to go when a police officer is burned out. They turn to drink. They turn to drugs. They even turn to crime. Why not? It’s not like this person gives a damn. The Wire took this a step further. Jimmy McNulty, the frustrated homicide cop on the Baltimore PD, compounds his borderline alcoholism by becoming a male slut. No one questions this. It’s clear Jimmy doesn’t handle stress very well, and when Jimmy McNulty’s stressed out, he’s an admitted asshole.

I didn’t want my character becoming the cliched drunk. Everyone goes there. Nor did I want her to be lighting up a doobie when her day of prowling increasingly deserted docks and ticketing loiterers is over. She’s divorced as a result of her exile, her ex deciding a disgraced cop would hurt his career, and anyway, it was probably time to get of them there trophy wives his bosses seem to like. So our girl decides she’s on the open market and is going to enjoy something she probably hasn’t really enjoyed since her wedding night: Sex!

See the conundrum? I am a white male writer creating a female character who, in the words of Peaches, f***s the pain away. Now, I can see Theresa Schwegel writing this or Laura Lippman or Robin Burcell. But Theresa and Laura and Robin all have something I lack. They have ovaries. So how do I walk the tightrope? How can a male writer portray a sexually ravenous female character without her coming off as wish fullfillment? Inquiring scribes wanna know.

Favorite Musicians: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan in Barcelona

Photo by stoned59 used under Creative Commons

I’ll be honest. What I know about the former Robert Zimmerman of Minnesota could fit into a thimble. What I do know of Dylan is his best-known album, Highway 61 Revisited. It’s that album that inspired the first scene of the first draft of Holland Bay, in which a doomed man sits in his car on a frozen lakefront dock listening to the album and reminiscing about a girl he slept with in college while being introduced to Dylan for the first time. As it turns out, his murderer, whom one would think would be into hip-hop, particularly gangsta rap, is also a fan of Bob Dylan.

I thought this made a nice counterpoint. At the end of the original draft, the killer is still walking free and climbing his way to respectability. As he chats with a cop who has no idea he’s the one she wants to send to prison, he enjoys a band in a city park playing “Tombstone Blues.” If you know the song, you can’t help but think of the first verse:

The ghost of Belle Star she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun she violently knits
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits
At the head of the chamber of commerce.

I don’t know if that scene will survive the rewrite, but the character was originally (and still is) trying very hard to sit on the Chamber of Commerce.

I used to make fun of Dylan when I was younger. His politics were farther to the left than mine ever were, and that singing style… I used to think that he couldn’t sing and was more of a poet. Oh, no, kids. If you listen to the Traveling Willburys, Dylan is leading doo-wop harmonies on some tracks, something you’d think Jeff Lynne or George Harrison would be better suited for. It turns out, as I learned when my musical knowledge grew more sophisticated, that this is a stylistic choice. Keith Richards does it. So does Tom Petty. So does Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Richards, in his autobiography, called it “anti-singing.” Like rap, it’s easy to make fun of, but try actually doing it. Yeah, you probably suck at it. That’s why other people get paid a lot to do it. Because you can’t. And if Dylan, et. al., didn’t do it, a lot of rock and roll would sound horrible.

But Dylan was very much the poet of his generation. His chops were earned during the beat era, when guys like Kerouac and Ginsberg could turn prose or poetry into sheer music when spoken aloud, but his philosophy leaped from the Great Depression and the ground-down likes of those you see in the Grapes of Wrath to the post-modern sixties where anything and everything needed to be questioned. And it’s here that Dylan earns his rep. For me, that will always be crystallized in Highway 61 Revisited, and if that were all he ever did, his place in the Rock Hall would be cemented. He is to folk rock what Johnny Cash was to country music and early rock and roll.

Thursday Reviews: Save The Cat by Blake Snyder, The Civil War: A Narrative – Volume 2 by Shelby Foote, Time’s Fugitive by Jennette Marie Powell

Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

Blake Snyder

A friend of mine sent this one when I dove into reworking Holland Bay. At the time, I was reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, which I reviewed here recently. Journey, which is also geared toward screenwriting, is more academic in tone. It’s Joseph Campbell distilled for the layman who wants to plot better. Save the Cat is the Cliff’s Notes version with an attitude. The difference here is that Blake Snyder is interested in selling scripts.

I will have to admit the first chapter almost turned me off. It was almost a commandment to sell out (not a term I’m overly fond of to begin with, since selling out is usually judged by someone not entitled to an opinion on the matter and an undeserved sense of entitlement. I digress.) But I pressed on. Where as Vogler talked about phases of the hero’s journey, Snyder simply breaks that down into beats – moments each well-written movie should have. He breaks down “high concept” (a much-abused and misunderstood term) as a means of distilling a story for the writer before the pitch is made. He shows the beats: The setup, “the bad guys close in,” and so on. He also comes up with techniques to get around necessary evils, like expository dialog. He calls one technique “the Pope in the pool,” citing the example of a movie where the expos was handled by a scene at the Vatican where the Pope is swimming in a pool while several cardinals talk to him.

There are a couple of big fails in this book as well. In citing his “immutable rules of movie physics,” he gives us two that don’t quite jibe. He’s right when he says there should only be one kind of magic in a movie. In other words, don’t have aliens and vampires in the same story. But then he cites the original Spiderman move for having a superhero and a supervillain in the same film. Therefore it failed. Except it didn’t. Most people I know have seen that movie several times, the second one even more than the first. It’s a superhero movie. Of course, it’s going to have a supervillain. Very bad example. He also cites Spielberg’s rule of never using the press in a movie, despite several films we’ve seen over the years doing just that to great effect (Robocop anyone?). That’s not an unbreakable rule. That’s a stylistic decision.

Over all, though, it sums up an approach to plotting I found invaluable. I can’t see them using this for The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, or Deadwood, but those are unconventional television series. Where movies that follow this pattern succeed is when they use it to get people’s attention. When you can’t do that, don’t bother being avant garde or unconventional. If no one’s paying attention, you’re whistling in the woods. One must, as Snyder says, learn the rules before one can break them.

The Civil War: A Narrative – Volume 2

Shelby Foote

When last we left our intrepid Union army, they had just had their lunch handed to them at Fredericksburg. Now they were turning the tide in the West by prying the Mississippi River from Confederate hands foot by agonizing foot. Good thing, too, because the Rebel hoard was fairly kicking their butts. Abraham Lincoln had gone through five generals over the Army of the Potomac, which spent most of the Civil War within earshot of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. It’s kind of like watching your favorite football team choke against teams they should have beat. How bad was it? Robert E. Lee was wondering why he hadn’t had to surrender yet. I’m not making that up.

But the Army of the Potomac was a decidedly eastern army. In the west, you had generals like US Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and even Napoleon wannabes like William Rosecrans and political generals like Benjamin Butler. But even at their most timid, these generals were aggressive. If you pushed them back or destroyed them in one battle, they’d just come back meaner, bigger, and tougher in the next. And Grant was a patient man, pouring over maps quietly, then throwing everything he had at the enemy. And if the enemy would not oblige him by surrendering, he wasn’t above a siege.

It is when Chattanooga is taken, then the siege against it broken by Grant that Lincoln finally finds the man who could end the war. By now, the South is divided. Emancipation, while still abhorrent to most in the South, is openly discussed below the Mason-Dixon line, and Sherman has an itch to burn Atlanta to the ground.

Foote makes this all a human drama. We see the foibles that caused the tide to turn in the second act, how Lincoln might have been letting politics get too much in the way of the war effort, and how Jefferson Davis started to lose hope before Grant even showed up on the Rappahannock River.

Time’s Fugitive

Jennette Marie Powell

When last we left our intrepid time travelers, Tony Solomon and Violet Sinclair, they had just decided they would, in fact, give dating a try. Tony ended up divorced (largely through an accidental warp back in time) and Violet… Without giving too much away, she has no clue who she is or what she had done in another time.

But all that’s neither here nor there on page 1. Tony likes this cute IT worker who doesn’t exactly fit the Hollywood model of beauty and uses swear words better suited for a 1930’s movie.  Then we get to page 2, and men with lasers come out. Sure, this is a romance, but it’s also a science fantasy novel. Men with nasty hardware are a great way to get a reader’s attention.

So who are these guys? And who is this Saturn Society that Tony is convinced is out to get him? And why, if some of them consider him a criminal, are others in the society trying to help him? And while we’re at it, why does Tony’s boss, the mysterious Keith Lynch keep turning up at odd times. Literally odd times, like on the banks of Ohio’s Great Miami River before there were any Miami Indians to name it after? It’s a romp through time – 1959, the Ft. Ancient era of the Ohio River Valley, the end of the Great Depression, and even 1976 (which Powell depicts every bit as tackily as I remember it. Even Jimmy Carter shows up on television.)

Tony’s suspicions about Violet do start to wear a bit thin once we’re into the book. There were a couple of times I wanted to grab him by the lapels and go, “Seriously, dude? Are you that frackin’ paranoid?” Eventually, as both Tony and Violet are put through the wringer, this starts to balance out. The second half of the novel literally had me on the edge of my seat, which is kind of embarrassing when you’re reading at work.

A bit of serendipity (probably due to boning up for last week’s Deep Purple post): While starting this, I ran across the Blackmore’s Night version of Rainbow’s “Street of Dreams,” sung by Candice Night (aka Mrs. Blackmore.) Aside from liking this version better than the original (because, hey, Ritchie had 24 years to tinker with it with three different bands), this cover struck me as being about Violet. With her memory prior to six years before the novel’s start all but gone, she’s struck by her familiarity with Tony. So with a female singer doing this classic song, it attached itself in my mind to Violet. (Unfortunately, there’s no video of the Candice Night-only version, or I’d post it.)

Social Media Overload

My Facebook and Twitter have been quiet lately. Google+ has always been quiet. I deleted MySpace years ago. I don’t have FourSquare, SecondLife, or whatever the hell else is out there. I have a private Facebook page that you will likely never see. That one gets some traffic coming and going. Why? It’s how I communicate with my brother, old friends from high school, and ex-coworkers from BigHugeCo. But that’s it.

Frankly, it just seems like a chore anymore to keep all that up. I haven’t even logged into Crimespace in months. In this modern era of self-publishing and traditionally published writers self-marketing, I know we’re supposed to keep up on all the social media platforms and make sure we’re updated and actively talking to our readers.

Here’s the problem. Even if I were a Laura Lippman or a Robert Crais, I would still not have enough time to sit in my office and do it all. If anything, it’s gotten to be so much noise I can do without. Does anyone really care if I send out my 100th tweet telling you Road Rules is only 99 cents?

I remember the good ol’ days when it was all email and mailing lists. I interacted with a lot of people back then. The only real extra work you had to do was stay active in some of the forums and do a blog. I don’t mind blogging. It’s like writing a newspaper column. I do remember way back when another writer (a show runner no less) who constantly bemoaned blogging and how it just sucked the soul out of him but he kept wanting to do it because all the cool kids did it.

His antiblogging rants appeared on his blog. I dropped in on his web site a few months ago. He bragged about not having a Facebook account because he has a life. But he has Twitter. I’m sure he tweets about how much he hates twitter.

I’ve pretty much given up on social media. I’m sure it works, but I don’t have the time or the motivation to put the effort into it. It’s an energy drain I can’t deal with anymore.

“So, Jim, how do you expect to sell anything without it?”

I am beyond caring about that. If you’re writing for recognition, may I humbly suggest shoving needles into your eyes instead? The pain and damage comes instantly, and you’ll have something interesting to write about.

Four Years Already?

In June of 2008, I left Cincinnati a single man and came back a married one. I married the former Juanita Lynn Brock in a mountain-top chapel in Tennessee as her son – now my stepson – gave her away. There was no bachelor or bachelorette party. Instead, we went white water rafting the day before the wedding.

Four years later, we are still together, endured a few crises, and watched AJ grow from a quiet middle school student to a newly minted high school grad contemplating college.

It’s been four of the happiest years of my life. I love you, Sweet Rose. You make my life worth living.