Wednesday Reviews: Iguana Love by Vicki Hendricks

Iguana Love

Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks is often compared to James M. Cain. In here stories, it’s the woman who is led astray sexually or romantically into a dark and dangerous world while the man plays the seducer. Of course, Hendricks’ world is much more violent.

And interesting. Iguana Love, however, differs from Miami Purity in that it’s more an erotic tale than a crime fiction story. In fact, the crime fiction takes up only the back quarter of the story. Ramona Romano, a woman whose mother probably got naming tips from the father of Ed McBain’s Meyer Meyer, is bored with her marriage. She is bored with her body. She craves adventure. She craves sex. She craves making herself into a muscled goddess. Ramona dumps her husband Gary and begins hanging out with a pair of divers, Charlie and Enzo. Both want Ramona, and she takes them, along with a few of the other divers in her rescue class. Meanwhile, she decides to bulk up with steroids as she begins body building. This is a woman who wants to take control. Eventually, she settles on Enzo, but discovers that his way to make money is by running drugs from the Bahamas to Miami, using his diving skills to discreetly retrieve product.

As I said, the book is more erotic than criminal. Three fourths of the book concerns Ramona’s physical and sexual experimentation, as well as her goal to become a rescue diver. The last fourth is almost a short story unto itself with Ramona willingly trapped in her relationship with Enzo. This being noir, at least in name, it does not end well. For the characters, that is. For the reader, the ending is bizarrely ambiguous.

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Ronald Reagan

Ronald ReaganOur 40th president is easily the most popular president since World War II, even among his detractors. It’s easy to see why. More conservative than predecessors Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (not to mention his vice president, George H.W. Bush), his roots actually lay in the New Deal. In his diary, he even laments how the press has painted him as trying to undo the New Deal when he felt it was Johnson’s Great Society that needed to be dismantled.

The America Reagan presided over in 1981 was broke, exhausted, and self-loathing. Vietnam, Watergate, and a stagnant economy combined to batter the population and convince most Americans that we were in severe decline. (Sounds a bit like today, doesn’t it?) Reagan knew the nation needed a shake-up to get things going again. His role models?

From a leadership perspective, Reagan turned to FDR, a man he voted for in all four elections, along with Harry Truman in 1948. Roosevelt might have been opposite in ideology to Reagan, but he had many things to teach Reagan about uniting a divided and demoralized population. Having good working relationships with opponents helped. His relationship with Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil is well-documented. There are numerous entries in his diary where he accuses O’Neil of playing games or obstructing his agenda, then, on the same day, has dinner or cocktails with O’Neil. What many fail to understand about the presidency and Congressional leadership is that it bears more resemblance to the old Warner Brothers cartoon featuring Sam the Sheep Dog and Ralph Wolf than most of the nonsensical pap spewed by radio talkshow hosts and demagogic pundits.

Reagan did something that had not been done since Andrew Jackson in 1835. He survived getting shot by a would-be assassin. John Hinkley’s bullet did far more damage to Reagan than Charles Giteau’s did to James Garfield in 1881, but better security, better medical techniques, and, the advent of antibiotics saved Reagan. It’s highly likely Garfield might have lived had he been shot 100 years later, but had Reagan been in his place, even the best efforts of doctors in 1881 would not save him.

One of the things that is pointed out about Reagan is his hands-off approach to management. Reagan would give orders and expect it to be carried out. Unlike, say, Richard Nixon, who elevated micromanagement to an art form, this tended to separate Reagan from his subordinates. It allowed Reagan to have a broader focus as president, but it also got him into trouble when those under him, such as Attorney General Edwin Meese or Lt. Col. Oliver North, went out on their own on the assumption the president wanted plausible deniability.

Many of Reagan’s policies and views painted him as a racist and hostile to the poor. His diary reveals the opposite, though while he decries a biased press, he concedes that, by not following the herd on solving race problems or continuing the top-down approach begun under LBJ, he did indeed look like he was pandering to rich, white men. Compounding this were some hardline views on drugs and on abortion. Indeed, a more nuanced view of abortion common today had yet to evolve during Reagan’s term.

In foreign policy, Reagan’s twin triumphs involved standing up to the Soviets, particularly as he found himself dealing with a fractured Politburo propping up three dying neo-Bolsheviks, and developing rapport with Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan was a staunch anti-communist, and this often put the US in an embarrassing position. As long as the Cold War raged, the United States took the approach of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” which meant friendship with the repressive government of El Salvador and with brutal dictator Ferdinand Marcos of The Philippines. But Reagan had excellent relationships with the leaders of Canada, France, Italy, West Germany, Japan, and, in particular, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. Thanks to Reagan’s efforts, Russian became part of what’s now called the G20. This goodwill extended to China, which recently formalized relations with the US when Reagan took office, and even saw a near thaw in relations with Cuba. Reagan did not see enemies, a flaw Nixon could never overcome. Reagan saw rivals. You can respect and deal with a rival. It’s one of the reasons the Cold War ended in 1990 and not 2010.

It’s the economy that leaves Reagan still controversial among Americans. If FDR showed Reagan how to lead, Calvin Coolidge showed him what the agenda would be. Coolidge was a small-government fiscal conservative whose policies appealed to Reagan. He saw the tax code as punishing the rich for being rich and choking businesses from investing. Did it work? In the high-tax atmosphere of 1981, slashing the tax brackets and simplifying the tax code was a no-brainer. The irony lies in the same thing that has plagued pro-small government presidents for the last half-century: It resulted in deficit spending.

What mars Reagan’s legacy with the working class is the switch to a free trade policy as opposed to fair trade. In the long run, free trade has been a boon to the American economy, but early on, it devastated the auto, rubber, and steel industries. Pittsburgh will never again be a steel town, and Detroit is a shell of its former self. In another irony, it took a New Deal-style bailout to rid General Motors and Chrysler of the mismanagement that kept both companies from adapting to compete with Japanese auto makers. Then again, like the New Deal coalition, the current conservative bloc suffers from the same inertia that keeps it from adapting to new problems and a new generation of voters.

I recall not liking Reagan very much in high school. I was a child of the Steel Belt. There was supposed to be a factory job waiting for me after high school, maybe even at General Motors or Ford. Indeed, my first election was 1984, and I voted for Mondale. (The more I learn about Carter as president, the more I regret that vote.) But four years later, I saw Reagan, President-elect Bush, and Mikhail Gorbachev standing in New York looking out at the Statue of Liberty, smiling and shaking hands. Yeah, the President of the United States was genuinely friendly to the President of the Soviet Union. We had no idea the Berlin Wall or the failed putsch or the breakup of the Soviet Union was coming. But we knew it was a lot less likely that our lives would end like something out of The Day After. My opinion of Reagan changed over time, much as it has for Bill Clinton and will likely change for George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Reagan saw a nation in need of shaking up and a boost in confidence. When he left office in January of 1989, it felt good to be an American again.

Space Stuff: The Search For Plot

duck-dodgers

Source: Warner Brothers

Finally into the the middle act. It’s slow-going, but I put two of my characters at odds over each other. Then, just to keep it interesting, I had a giant saucer like the ones in V zoom in overhead. It’s taken an interest in the city the aliens recently nuked, which suggests the bomb is a bit cleaner than one would expect. I actually worked out the physics of how that would work with my SF writers group. We still don’t have the aliens and the surviving humans in direct conflict yet.

Instead, I’ve had a summary execution (You shoot civilians trying to steal their food, they shoot you.) and my two male rivals out in the woods confronting something similar to a werewolf. Not a humanoid that transforms into a wolf-like being, this is a canine-like predator that can walk on its hind legs. I like to start small and work my way up.

In the meantime, I need to map out the “premium” content. The short story this novel is based on is out making rounds. There are some background stories I want to send out as well.

The next thing I have to do is to get “Dick’s” web presence up and running. I’m going to have to differentiate between Jim Winter and my Dick Bachman. Different clothing styles, maybe different backgrounds for the photos. The blogs will have to have little overlap. Once I get “outted,” it won’t matter. At that point, I can merge the two brands, but for now…

It’s like when Stephen King put out novels as Richard Bachman. He wanted to see if he could do it again. Interesting note on that: When “Bachman’s” Thinner was revealed to have been a Stephen King novel, it had already sold 10,000 copies, not bad for a little known novel. If the guy who tried to get King to pay him for his silence had himself kept his mouth shut, Misery would have been the next Bachman novel, and quite likely his “breakout.”

I would just think it was funny if “Dick” became more famous than me. Not that I remotely qualify as anything resembling famous.

You Know I’m Worth It

workforfreeFor the past ten years, I’ve been willing to give my work to non-paying markets. It’s called paying your dues. It’s put me with some really good editors: Anthony Neil Smith at the original Plots With Guns, Gerald So and Kevin Burton Smith at Thrilling Detective (who eventually started paying), and even an anthology edited by Jochem Vandersteen, a long-time fan of Kepler.

But there comes a time when you have to ask if it’s worth it to give it way. At what point is it no longer enough to write for the credit? I have been paid. Thrilling Detective, Futures, Spinetingler, and the anthology West Coast Crime Wave all paid. That last one paid nicely.

And yet for crime fiction, there are really only four paying markets: Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Spinetingler, and All Due Respect. Beyond that, you need an anthology credit, and those, even when they don’t pay, almost always require an editor invite.

As ebooks have gone mainstream and made self-publishing respectable (since it doesn’t cost you the amount of a Bouchercon trip to get into print now), we have the option of putting out short stories or groups of short stories cheaply and easily accessible.

So I’ve decided, with two exceptions, no longer submitting to non-paying markets. If I’m going to be a professional, that implies I want to be paid.

I’m not sure why I didn’t reach this decision years ago. I do know the recent link to a Harlan Ellison rant about not giving it away caught my attention. It’s certainly not that I regret placing my work where I did. It just seems to be time to ask for compensation for my time. Why shouldn’t a writer ask for that?

Thursday Reviews: Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare; The Green Mile by Stephen King

Henry VI, Part 2
William Shakespeare

Last time I looked at Shakespeare, it was part one of his Henry VI trilogy (with Richard III, my favorite Shakespeare play, btw, part of the War of the Roses tetrology). Henry VI was a very early play of Shakespeare’s, though he had two comedies under his belt when Part I debuted. The reason Part I was so weak was that the central character, Henry VI himself, was such a weak character, and the story involved the loss of England’s French territories, including the royal family’s ancestral home of Normandy. Historically, Henry was an infant during all this. It was as though Shakespeare (and, as some scholars believe, his collaborator) had a hard time getting a handle on such a weak and ineffectual ruler. Consider Shakespeare’s later historical work, Julius Caesar, Richard III, Henry V. Shakespeare invented the modern political thriller and the action movie template. Ian McKellan even directed Richard III as an action movie.

But if Part I fails to show what Shakespeare could do with political intrigue and larger-than-life characters, Part II remedies that. It’s pretty clear already that Henry VI is not his famous father, nor the scheming son of York from Richard III (who makes a cameo as York’s younger son.) He is a whiny, easily manipulated wimp, and there’s no shortage of manipulators: His Sicilian bride Queen Margaret, his Lord Protector Gloucester, the Duke of York who believes he is the rightful king. History is corrected in Part II, as Henry actually notes that he was “but an infant” when he came to the throne. Margaret resents Gloucester’s role as Lord Protector as Henry is an adult now. (Never mind that he was somehow an adult in Part I, which opens with news of Henry V’s sudden death.) She schemes with York to remove Gloucester. When Lady Gloucester is condemned for consorting with seers and witches behind Henry’s back, the Queen and York make their move. Soon, Gloucester, popular with “the commons”, is killed, and a civil war ensues. First, Henry finds himself besieged by John Cade, a “common” who claims to be descended from King John and thus the rightful heir. Though one of Henry’s allies manages to turn the rioting commons against Cade, Henry is then faced with York and his Irish troops, come to claim what he believes is rightfully his. In modern terms, this is The Empire Strikes Back, with the heroes sent on the run while the forces of darkness triumph in a three-part story. Of course, Shakespeare depended on patronage from a Tudor queen, one whose grandfather killed the last York king at Bosworth Field. So naturally, York and his sons are the forces of darkness.

This is not as strong as the later works (Julius Caesar, Richard III, King Lear), but it’s quite good. It’s less surprising that the writer of Part II became the English language’s most important writer than the writer of Part I. Though even scholars acknowledge the Bard wrote a few stinkers over the years.

The Green Mile

Stephen King

This is probably one of King’s best works. If you’ve seen the Tom Hanks movie, you know this story already. A giant of a man named John Coffey is brought to Cold Mountain Penitentiary, condemned to die. He will spend his final days on “The Green Mile,” what passes for death row at Cold Mountain. Paul Edgecombe, the lead “screw” on the Mile, gets to know Coffey and learns that he is not just another killer. He is something quite special. None of the guards, except mean, dimwitted Percy, can figure out how such a gentle, tormented, and slow-witted man could have raped and killed two young girls. The truth emerges as does Coffey’s special talent: Coffey can heal with touch.

King released this originally as a serial novel. The single-volume version remains relatively intact, though King acknowledges tweaking a continuity error that bugged him. The movie is pretty faithful to this novel, though it dispenses with a parallel plot about Edgecombe’s life at a Georgia nursing home in 1996, where he eventually reveals to his girlfriend that he is 104 and likely to live for a long time to come, the effects of his association with John Coffey. The movie also is more chronological than the book, a function of its serial origins. Nonetheless, the emotional punch in this story is one thing that translated loud and clear into the movie. Coffey’s supernatural gift is a plot point, but it’s not the center of the story. It demonstrates why King is more highly regarded than virtually any other horror author since Poe. It’s pretty clear he could step away from the horror genre and still execute with as much skill and style as he did when he made The Stand an American classic.

Space Stuff: Kids In Spaaaaaaaaace!

The Swinetrek from Pigs in Space

Source: Henson Associates

Yes, Dick (as in my Dick Bachman to the Steve King that is Jim Winter) is going YA with the SF project. And last week, as I started Part 2, I ran into some problems. Like I said last week, I know how it ends. I wasn’t sure how to get there.

Then a CNN article on YA popped up on my Twitter feed. I have to give a shout-out to Ashley Strickland, who wrote the article. There were three components to the best-known YA.

First, there is a clear line between good vs. evil. OK, that’s covered. Big, mean, human-like things drop out of the sky and start shooting the place up and even drop a couple of tactical nukes. If that’s not evil, it’s at least not very nice. So we were already covered. Harry had his Death Eaters. Katniss has the Capitol and the Game Makers. My kids have aliens with all the charm and etiquette of a lesser biker gang on crystal meth.

Second, the protags learn they have powers, they have skills they did not know they had, or they learn skills they never thought they’d need. Check. All the teens in this story are becoming soldiers at an age when they should be fighting acne, getting into gaming, and telling their parents “You’re not the boss of me!” My main male protag, out of sheer luck, has killed nine of the invaders. The main female protag has wandered for hours in a dark subway tunnel to flee an atomic blast. So, check.

Third, they have love triangles.

Um…

The male protag and the farmer’s daughter had just become an item when stuff in the sky started blowing up. My female protag has four friends with her, but given that a mushroom cloud erupted some twelve miles away, giving them barely enough time to run into the subway system, nobody’s really thinking about prom dates right about now.

So how did I handle it? Well, assuming this gets picked up as a series, my male and female protags have to start interacting. So, taking a page from Battlestar Galactica and jumping ahead a few weeks, I have my runaway showing the Girl Who Fell to Earth how to use the aliens’ favorite hand weapon. (Second favorite. They seem to like knives best.) This makes the Girl’s soldier boy friend jealous. Eventually, it will make the farmer’s daughter jealous. So now I have two love triangles, both of which my main protags were unaware of.

OK, I know how to get to the end. Back to work.