Monday, June 29, 2015

Who’s Brian Williams? And Why Should I Care?

I sit slack-mouthed in front of the TV as the host of this News program discusses the “scandal,” the fall-from-grace of Brian Williams, the NBC News Anchor Numero Uno. I now know the name, the face and the story. How could I not, with its being shoved in my face daily by the silly, allegedly News People? Then his Internet Fan Club President, a serious-miened middle-aged woman (from the Mid-West, I presume, because aren’t they all?) says she’s grateful to the Network for re-instating Brian as a News Anchor because she’s missed him. Am I getting a sneak-peak into an Alternate Universe? Is this unstaged, real NEWS?

I accept on the evidence before my eyes that Williams is, indeed, loved by his Network executives and his fans like Mrs.-What’s-Her-Name. Apparently, his great sin was inventing stories of derring-do starring himself while covering the Iraq War. He put himself aboard a helicopter that came under fire at the front. Fact is, never happened. He misremembered, he says, being “in a bad place” then. He’s right about Iraq being a bad place, more so for those with their boots on the ground, rifle in hand, than for Williams.

His fellow journalists brand him with a Scarlet Letter and propose to wash his mouth out with soap, professionally. His fans just want him back on the air brightening up their lives. Old news clips flash on TV of Walter Cronkite, in fatigues and flack jacket, reporting the Vietnam War. Walter Cronkite, the Paragon. I recollect him (who doesn’t?) reporting JFK’s death in Dallas. But I mostly remember him as host of the Sunday night News Program, “You Are There.” In particular, as he reported from the scene at the Sack of Troy. Walter was no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’m, in describing the wily stratagem of Ulysses and his band of good-ol’-Greek-boys. No way did Walter imply, even hint, that he was aboard the Trojan Horse when it rolled into history.

Frankly, I’d be the last one to throw stones at Brian Williams for gilding the lily. When I was a cop in the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the mid-1970s, at end-of-tour we’d all end up in the B & G Bar, couple doors down from the Precinct Station House. And after we liquored up, we’d begin to rewrite freshly-made history. What happened on patrol that night; who did what to whom; how we saved the citizens of NYC from the Barbarians at the Gate—all was recalled, enhanced and fleshed-out, recast as befit good storytelling. The product became the Official Version forever after. Brian would have fit right in, felt to home at the B & G. Except our Bar is long gone, like any reliable memory of what really happened so long ago.

© 2015 Robert Knightly

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How to Write about Sex & Respect Yourself in the Morning

Welcome, Alice Orr

Human beings are whole beings. They are born, grow, learn to use their bodies and minds, often have sex, procreate, create symphonies and novels, slow down in time and eventually leave the home planet…

Few topics breed as much controversy as sex. Some like it cold. Some like it hot. It's as different for each person as individual appreciation of the stars and moon…

Alice Orr has a long and distinguished history with Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. Award-winning author, literary agent, editor, lecturer - she is highly regarded by many writing institutions. She has been one of the strongest guiding lights in the development of Mystery Writers of America, New York Chapter, for many years. I am honored that she shares her expertise in so many areas of the publishing world with our very talented team at CWC today!

I recommend her book
NO MORE REJECTIONS - 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript That Sells - to both new and experienced writers.

Thelma J. Straw

A glib title for a serious subject. Serious because it affects the quality of your storytelling. Badly written love scenes turn the reader off when they should turn the reader on. Specifically they turn the reader off to the rest of your story no matter how well it’s told.

Badly written love scenes are often written solely to titillate the reader. They don't deepen our understanding of your characters or advance your story in any real way. They aren’t about authentic real life because they don't reflect the complexity of human sexuality.

Worst of all badly written love scenes turn off editors and agents who’ve already suffered through reading too many of them. Though they seldom read them to the end. Those authors cared too much about tweaking the libido and not enough about touching the heart and that sent them to the rejection pile.

Notice I refer to love scenes not sex scenes. When these scenes work they’re about love in its many facets not just sex in its single facet.

I'm obviously not talking about writing pornography – a perfectly legitimate genre if you choose it but not my choice here. Not because I’m going all moral on you but because I’m going all market on you.

The readers of novels are mostly female. Romance. Fantasy. Literary. Even Mystery. All read mostly by women. Fifty Shades of Grey not withstanding – most women readers aren’t captured – hooked in storytelling terms – by slam-bam sex-only lust-making devoid of love.

The sales potential of pornography also has its limits though erotica is now finding a mass market. Nonetheless mainstream fiction – both commercial and literary – has broader potential for book sales over the broad expanse of a career. Note how few pornography titles become bestsellers – Fifty Shades of Grey not withstanding.

I don't mean you should write lukewarm love scenes. You should write hot love scenes. Love scenes are hot when they’re passionate. Passion isn’t only a physical turn-on. Passion resonates throughout your characters’ lives far beyond the bedroom.

It's okay to be honest about the turn-on. In fact it’s essential. Well-written love scenes turn readers on sexually. They also turn you on when you write them. If they don't you should probably rewrite because you’ve probably failed to create true passion between your characters.

If you fail to communicate passion to yourself how can you communicate it to your readers? And if you fail to communicate with your readers how can you respect yourself in the morning?

My current novel is A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – available at This is my 13th novel and if you don’t like passionate love scenes you should avoid Chapter 26.

Alice Orr

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nostalgia IV

Youth music is always going to be about being young and in love and in lust. This can lead to some great music, but some pretty banal stuff too. After all, being in love is one of the most self-absorbed and inner looking states there is. And teenagers are already pretty self-absorbed to begin with. So you can get some pretty treacle-y and annoying stuff, like all those old fifties songs about your earth angel who met some early and tragic fate and for whom you will pine away forever. In my day, we had a sense of humor about some of this. Weird Al Yankovic sang about losing his girl and “being stranded all alone in the gas station of love, where I have to use the self service pumps.” He also opined about a lost love that he would “rather dive into a swimming pool filled with double-edged razor blades than spend another minute with you.”

And then there is lust. Meatloaf captured it with humor and pinpoint accuracy in “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights,” and Aerosmith talked with tongue firmly in cheek about it in “Big Ten Inch Record.” By comparison, two of the more popular songs about young love and lust today, by Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, are entitled “Shake it Off” and “Grenade.” Swift apparently had a bad boyfriend, and she tells us she is going to “shake it off” approximately 47 times (I lost count). She uses another five or six words that rhyme with off to round out the lyrics and call it a song. Bruno Mars, in “Grenade,” tells his girl, thrillingly and with such poetry, that he would “catch a grenade for you, step in front of a train for you”, and then finds a number of words that rhyme with grenade and also calls it a day. Beyonce, another huge star, tells us she is crazy in love in one song (“Crazy in Love,” of course), and then switches things up for another in which she announces she is drunk in love (you guessed it, “Drunk in Love”): “I’ve been drinking, I’ve been thinking, I get filthy when that liquor get into me.” Kind of what you would have if the Beatles weren’t kidding when they sang “why don’t we do it in the road.”

Compare these with songs like The Eagles’ “Desperado.” Or Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” which were real love songs written with genuine thought and feeling, so real to me as a teen that for a time they became a kind of standard I compared the adolescent girls around me to. And finally, my all time favorite love song, Bruce Springsteen’s “For You”—

Princess cards she sends me
with her regards
barroom eyes shine vacancy
to see her you gotta look hard
wounded deep in battle
I stand stuffed like some soldier undaunted
to her Cheshire smile, I’ll stand on file
she’s all I ever wanted

This is both a ballad and an epic. I am not really sure what it all means, but we’ve all been wounded deep in the battle of love, and imagined there was someone for whom we would give up everything, someone who truly is all we ever wanted. Springsteen does not allow himself to be restrained by simple rhythms and rhymes, with simple sentiments that cloy. Here is a little more of the same song (and then I will stop):

Crawl into my ambulance
your pulse is getting weak
Reveal yourself all now to me, girl
while you've got the strength to speak
'Cause they're waiting for you at Bellevue
with their oxygen masks
But I could give it all to you now
if only you could ask.

Here is the urgency, the tragedy, of young love. Not the silly, not the trite, and not the merely horny—The Boss manages to do the same kind of thing Shakespeare does with young love in “Romeo and Juliet.” He treats young love with a kind of seriousness that is missing in the glib and cynical stuff that is foisted on us today.

And there are no epics songs today, no anthems, none that express the angst and alienation of being a youth (or even an adult) in a society you feel is full of shit. Where is Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues?” Or Don McLean’s “American Pie?” Springsteen, again, in “Jungleland”, tells us that in his desperate Jersey neighborhood,

The street’s on fire in a real death waltz
between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy
and the poets out here don’t write nothing at all
they just stand back and let it all be….

Now tell me that is not great stuff, or that there is anything equivalent to that in today’s music. And where do you have anything like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” where they boldly announce “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control.” It is as if their music really did come from a counter culture, really spoke for it, and even if it was just some music mogul selling it to us, even if it was “the man” that was selling it to us, he wasn’t selling us crap. I would like to think we would have refused to buy the crap that they put out today.

And what of books in the new millennium, in the second decade of that new millennium? (God, I am getting old). Books are dominated by pap, by sticky feel good syrupy concoctions (“The Five People You Meet in Heaven”) or the same old teenage vampire, werewolf, the sky is falling, the apocalypse is coming, or is already here, type stuff. Last year, Veronica Roth had “Divergent,” “Allegiant”, and “Insurgent” all in the top ten for books sold. Give me a break. They find one thing that works and flog it to death while we all wish that they would come up with something a little more creative and genuine, not so mass-manufactured and trite. And of course the irony is that we are fascinated by the apocalypse in books, but are ignoring it as it actually approaches, as the climate goes haywire and food and water become more scarce and the world more dangerously populated.

In my youth, we had authors that actually had something to say about what it was like to be human, to be an American, to be a man or woman, and who did it with style. Kurt Vonnegut was in the top ten in 73 and 76, and you had others like John Irving, Saul Bellow, Graham Greene, and John Updike in the top ten at various times in the 70s. These were serious authors, and even a genre writer like Stephen King wrote interesting and fairly three-dimensional characters. Now we have teen dystopia (and when was the world of teens ever anything but dystopic?) and Dan Brown, whose admittedly great plots are populated by characters that might be given numbers or letters, so cardboard, generic and unmemorable are they. They are there solely to be moved around a game board by an all-powerful plot, and plotter. If a great author creates characters that become so real they threaten to challenge their author and do what they damn well please, then Brown’s are a submissive and servile bunch of wimps.

OK, so there you have it. The current music manages to be about nothing but desire, and desire in and of itself offers no vision, inspires no poetry. There is no object for that desire, no romance, no vision of a better world, and so it comes off as little more than a kind of techno-musical masturbation. There is no rebellion in it, nothing of the pain of being young, of being in a world you never chose and knowing it is the only one that is ever going to be on offer. The industry panders to a willing audience that doesn’t bother to ask for anything more.

The book industry churns out retreaded and thoughtless crap, or comic books, to teens, who don’t get tired of the same old, same old apocalyptic, supernatural and pulp visions. There is little or nothing for the intelligent adult here, I don’t think, or the teen who wants to be one, nothing that comments intelligently on the human condition. Certainly no “Catcher in the Rye,” no “A Separate Peace,” and no “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Next week, I end my rant by summing up what else bothers me about present day American Culture, and why I think we did it all better when I was young.

© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, June 26, 2015

Thrillers and How to Write Them

Last weekend I took an online webinar, as they call them, on thriller writing, sponsored by Writers' Digest. It was quite entertaining, and may even have been helpful. Time alone will tell whether my two hundred dollars was worth spending to resuscitate my perishing writing career. I know I can thrill people if I put my mind to it, but it's possible that I need professional help. Thrilling people, I mean. Professional writing help.

The webinar consisted of six presentations lasting about an hour and a half, one of which blew up fifteen minutes in, and two of which I had to miss, since they took place while I was at work at the Marshall House. But I can see them later today, when the webinar people send me the links. For those of you who don't know what a webinar is, and I didn't, before I undertook this, here's how it went:

First thing I did was to log on to the link they sent me. That presented me with instructions to download the software to put the webinar on my computer. The webinar appeared in two panels, one to show the video portion, one to play the audio while displaying the name of the person talking. You could type questions into a box. You could not speak to the presenter through the computer microphone, not for this webinar, though it may be possible for others.

Then came the presentations.

Hallie Ephron gave her usual bracing talk on how to give your story forward momentum. I have my notes right here, in case you've never heard her. My notes say, open with an unanswered question, use a hook-and-grab scene structure with rising stakes and a ticking clock, put your major plot twists at the end of Act 1, the middle of Act 2, and the end of Act 2, and go to the Conklins' for meatloaf at six-thirty. (Wait, that was when the Conklins called in the middle of the presentation.) And a bunch of other notes. I took more notes during her talk than anyone else's, because she had so much useful stuff to say. I'm not going to tell you all of it because it's her presentation, and also because I don't have the space.

The next presenter, William Martin, talked about historical fiction, which is what I write these days. Instead of giving a Powerpoint presentation he spoke into the camera in his computer, positioned so as to give us a nice view of his handsome and orderly office. He mentioned that the office, and the house it was attached to, were paid for with the proceeds of his writing, but he was such a nice guy that I couldn't quite bring myself to hate him for that. Particularly not after he went on to tell us many useful things, not only about building a good story but about research. People want to be educated as well as entertained, he said, which is why you want to get the details right. Never stop doing research, he said. Read the contemporary newspapers. Walk the ground. I felt inspired.

Larry Brooks, the next speaker, began to tell us about putting the maximum thrills in your thriller, whereupon his cell phone failed; with no audio, all we could do was watch his cursor flailing ineffectually across the screen, where his PowerPoint presentation was still being displayed. But not to worry. I can catch up on everything today, when the folks from Writers' Digest will email me a link to his completed presentation.

I missed the first two presentations on Saturday. They looked good, but I had to go to work, as I mentioned. I'll get them later. The third and last was all about voice. It was presented by D. P. Lyle, who read from a number of famous and well-written books, illustrating and commenting on the voice of each author. I see here that I wrote almost nothing down about this one, being mesmerized by his speaking voice, beautiful, with a touch (or more than a touch) of the South. I did write it down when he said that knowledge, experience, and confidence will form your writing voice, and you must read a lot and write a lot to develop these things. Respect the reader, he said. I can do that.

So I'm off to write my thriller, in a special thriller voice that I will work on for the occasion, perhaps stealing it from renowned Dan Brown. Or not.

This morning a book came in the mail that gave me a genuine thrill. I can't remember when I was so excited about anything. It was this: the 1915 yearbook of the New York Yacht Club. Von Rintalen lived there, you see, while he was spying for the Germans in New York City. I had to know: Was he listed in the membership? Not as von Rintalen, as it turns out, but rather as plain Franz Rintalen. He had been a member since 1906. Which means that when he came to New York in 1915 to blow up all the ammunition destined for the British, he had been there before, and indeed had already established himself as a person of high social position.

A bonus in the little book are the many pages of colored private signal flags, the flags of schooners, single masted vessels, yawls, steamers, power boats, and launches belonging to various members of the club, as well as flags for members who were non-yacht owners. What names. A roster of Waspdom. Tarrant Putnam. Percy R. Pyne. G. W. Quintard, 3d. (Franz Rintalen had no private signal flag. Tells you something.)

To possess an artifact like this from the period you're working on is the next best thing to walking the ground. I'm terribly excited. Thrilled, in fact.

© 2015 Kate Gallison

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lessons from the (Badminton) Net

Reading: All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis
(Bethany McLean & Joe Nocera)
Watching on TV: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
Re-watching: Clean & Sober (1988; Michael Keaton, Kathy Baker)

Last month, David and I rediscovered badminton (which I always want to spell “badmitten” and which is probably not a good thing to admit since in my other career, I’m an editor).

David wanted to get off the treadmill up in his office and go outside for exercise after our brutal winter and nippy spring. I wanted something to raise my heart rate that wasn’t called Liam Neeson.

As children, David and I both loved to play badminton —minton. It was one of the few sports I was naturally pretty good at. In fact, when I look back, I had some talent for high-net sports. But volleyball could only be played at school in gym class, and then you had to deal with the girls who didn't want to go after balls if it might make them sweat in front of the boys. The closest I ever came to brawling in school.

David found a portable set in a catalog, and early in the morning, before it gets too hot, we will set it up in the backyard and play for about an hour (40 minutes of play + 20 minutes of gasping and sit-down-with-water breaks).

At this stage, David refers to our game as Worseminton.

Badminton’s history is a bit vague, including why it was named after Badminton House, the home of a guy called the Duke of Beaufort. The game was probably blended from games played in India and the Far East, and it might have been brought back to the UK by Brits who, as was their wont back then, were continually marching armies off to foreign shores looking for some sunshine.

But back to the present day. Let's get out our rackets.

The first lesson I learned was that playing at age 12 is a lot different than playing with bifocals. The birdie enters my peripheral vision and then the Bermuda Triangle.

The second lesson is The Ugly Truth: For exercise to work, it has to test you. It doesn’t have to render you drained and nauseous — that’s what your commute is for — but it has to make you work. In one month, I’ve lost 3 pounds by doing nothing different except playing badminton 2 to 3 times a week. In a year of a regular routine of walking, I got sore knees.

Probably because I was light-headed from lack of oxygen, one morning I began to see parallels between badminton — minton — and writing.

Lesson: As in writing, forces beyond your control can make you doubt yourself.

Think your game’s improving? Here, have a little wind. Have some humidity. Have a day when your legs are totally unfamiliar with the concept of acceleration. Have a day when after you’ve told someone at a cocktail party what you write, they feel compelled to tell you how much they hate amateur sleuth novels because they are so contrived.

Lesson: When a problem comes right at your head, you don't rationally consider your options.

You do what you can to protect yourself and remain rooted to the spot. Ask any writer who’s been told by their publisher that the next book in their series isn’t being picked up.

Anybody who tells you they didn’t react that way for a while… Well, think twice before you loan them money.

Lesson: There are times you shouldn’t keep score.

When a writer friend gets a rave review in a publication that has trashed you, it’s best to celebrate her success. The alternative is not going to do anything positive for your career or your character.

David and I have decided instead to see how long we can keep the rally going. We're at 35 years and counting.

And this winter, I’m playing in my badmittens.

© 2015 Sheila York

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

In the Aftermath of Murder

It’s Not Easy Bein’ Sad

The news reports could make one despair.

The news reports could make even an optimist like me terminally angry.

The news makes your heart hurt.

If your heart doesn’t hurt, go away now.  I don’t want to know you.

At times like these, I find consolation in music.  The Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem,  Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings can turn my anger or sadness into sound and somehow make them bearable. 

This week, I found something to listen to over and over.  The choice may surprise you.  I don’t know why this song by the great Joe Raposo was what I craved.  Here it is.  Though it brings tears to my eyes, it calms me and makes me feel better.  I am putting it here in the hopes that it will do the same for you.

Annamaria Alfieri

Sunday, June 21, 2015

When Murder Was Golden

Some years ago I got an electronic subscription to The Spectator, a British magazine known for its ties to the Tory Party. Most of us know it from those essays of Addison and Steele that we read in high school and college. It’s most famous contemporary editor is the mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Though I rarely agree with the Tory political view, the magazine is well written and has an excellent book section. I frequently find out about books that are available here, but not reviewed or in any way noticed.

My latest find in that category is The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards who is himself a mystery writer. Edwards tells the story of The Detection Club, which was founded in London in 1930. Among its early members were Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. It’s first president was G. K. Chesterton.

Its oath said, in part, that members would “do and detect all crimes by honourable means; conceal no
vital clues from the reader; honour the King’s English and observe the oath of secrecy in matters communicated within the brotherhood of the Club.”

My favorite part of the oath is this: “Do you swear to observe a seemly moderation in the use of thugs, Conspiracies, Death-Rays, Ghosts, Hypnotism, Trap-Doors, Chinamen, Super-Criminals and Lunatics; and utterly and forever to foreswear Mysterious Poisons Unknown to Science?”

I was initially a bit frustrated with the book because Edwards does not always seem very organized. He dwells too long on Agatha Christie’s disappearance and Dorothy Sayers’ illegitimate child. I did uncover what I believe to be the chief trait of the successful mystery writer: girth.

That’s right, guys and gals! Feel free to chow down.

Edwards mentions repeatedly the large size of G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham. He also mentions that Allingham became so depressed that she underwent ECT. I was a bit surprised by this as I just recently read her wartime memoir, The Oaken Heart, and she seemed absolutely intrepid and unflappable.

But Edwards clearly loves these authors and their work and talks about many other writers not as well known as the founding members of The Detection Club. The book is also filled with interesting tidbits (usually found in footnotes):

W.H. Auden, a mystery addict, was approached to “write a few poems masquerading as the work of P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh.” He was a James fan but died before he could honor the request.

Of the first 10 Penguins published, two were mysteries: The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.

Josephine Tey was never invited to become a member of the Club.

Georgette Heyer refused membership, probably, says Mister Edwards, because her husband developed the mystery plots.

The chappie who reviewed The Golden Age of Murder for The Spectator complained that the author never met a Golden Age mystery he didn’t like. But I, for one, was reminded of writers I hadn’t thought about in a while (Anthony Berkeley and Nicholas Blake) and introduced to ones I knew nothing about (Muriel Bowers, Helen Reilly, Raymond Postgate, Anthony Gilbert.)

While I’m sure it’s true that some writers’ reputations fade because their mysteries don’t wear well, it’s also true that many very fine writers never get the recognition they deserve. I’m sure I’m find some gems among these Detection Club members who are now largely unknown.

Stephanie Patterson

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Nostalgia III

Ryan is sixteen now. We went to a lot of movies together when he was a kid (I think he is still a kid, but he demurs). We started with “Charlotte’s Web,” and worked our way through computer animated stuff like “Antz” (which was pretty good, I must say) up to heavy duty superhero stuff—“Thor,” “The Avengers,” and “Iron Man.” We also saw (unfortunately) “Hot Tub Time Machine” (which they made a sequel to, which to me is like bringing back The Inquisition, the Pet Rock, or even, God forbid, the mullet). We even saw “The Way,” with Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, when he was twelve. It was sad, too sad, I worried, but when I asked him what he thought, he said “it made me sad, Uncle Mikey, but I was happy to be sad.” Wiser than his years, that one.

Movies nowadays are an expensive and elaborate proposition, accessed only when you can get a ride to the mall and you are flush with cash. When I was a teenager, I would just walk downtown to the Rialto and plunk down four bucks on rainy weekend days and watch whatever was playing. I saw “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “The Sting,” “Take the Money and Run,” and even Mel Brooks’s less remembered but still funny “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother” and “Silent Movie.” And then there was “Mr. Majestyk” and “The Mechanic,” Charles Bronson grind house classics, along with “Hard Times,” one of the great tough guy movies of all time.

It was my sanctuary, that movie theater, a subterranean refuge, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, safe from the worries of home and school, the only place I felt I could lose myself except on the basketball courts behind South Ocean Avenue Middle School, a block from the Rialto, and in the library, a block in the other direction. I don’t think it is that way for Ryan. To him, the movies are merely another gaudy distraction in a life full of them, another shiny bit of video voodoo to demand his attention, as if he was a fish and entertainment a glittering lure. Why go to the movies when you could be playing that video game where you slaughter Nazi zombies, a game you can play “interactively” with a kid from Australia or Myanmar of Pakistan if you want to.

The movies made me question who I was, and the world I lived in. In my solitude, there was contemplation. It was a time alone freighted with thought, not filled with images of cartoon carnage, but with imagination.

I’m not sure what movies do more—tell us what to think and feel, or reflect what we already think and feel. The “Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now” either reflected judgments we had already made about Viet Nam or helped us make those judgments, or both.

Movies nowadays don’t seem concerned with judgments, or in making any kind of analysis of human, political or social nature that is anything but glib and superficial. Sports movies don’t explore the exploitation of student athletes, and war movies are jingoistic exercises in cheerleading that never question our justification to be at war, much less whether war itself can ever be justified.

Romantic comedies progress formulaically form the cute-meet to the block to love to the reconciliation and reuniting of the lovers and on to the happily-ever-after, which was never seriously in question in the first place. “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” explored the exhilaration and complexity of love and its sad, bittersweet and doomed nature, and nothing out there now is as sophisticated or funny.

And what of satire? Where is “MASH,” where is “Dr Strangelove”? (“Gentlemen, there will be no fighting in the war room”). Now movies explore how many ways you can get hit in the gonads (the “Jackass” franchise) and how many ways you can leeringly euphemize about coitus and farting. High Art, all that.

He still likes the movies, to a point, my nephew, but now there is tweeting and twittering and Facebook. If he wanted to he could live all alone at home in a kind of electronic bunker. Thankfully, he has his girlfriend and football to keep him in contact with other actual flesh and blood people.

I was a baby boomer, and like my fellow boomers, I spent what I could of our nation’s post WWII prosperity on books, records and the movies. And the movie and music industry somewhat catered to the teen. But they didn’t condescend to that teen. There were no young adult movies—you either went to see Bambi of you went to adult fare like “Annie Hall” or “The Deer Hunter.” Now, there is a huge industry that sells mostly to that teen, “tween” market. And it’s all about the end times, the Apocalypse, and being a teenaged vampire or werewolf, and what that does to your chances of getting a date to the prom. And the irony seems to be lost on most people that there is an incipient environmental and economic apocalypse that is threatening to take place for real, and not as some kind of silver screen metaphor about how hard it is to be a teenager (boo hoo).

It’s not that I object to apocalyptic and fantastical stuff. It’s fun, to be sure, to take the old horror standbys and turn them on their heads, to express teenaged social confusion through a ghostly and ghastly prism, but it gets old. How many “Mockingbird” or “Mocking Jay” or Mocking whatever movies are there going to be? I am presently working my way through THE WALKING DEAD, on TV, and truly enjoyed TRUE BLOOD on the tube, and “Fright Night” with Colin Farrell was a vampire movie that gave me both chills and the giggles. And Harry Potter was great. But why focus on this creepy crawly stuff to the exclusion of everything else? It’s boring, and condescending, as if we are a bunch of dolts, young and old alike, that never tire of the same old tired trick. Besides, Stephen King did it all better in “The Stand” and “Salem’s Lot.”

they are inane idiocy about how being in love or having a thirst for justice, or being on the right side of whatever issue is popular a particular year, allows you to conquer all. My movies were a little more complex. I think of Rocky (the first one, anyway) in connection to this—he’s got right on his side, and yet he is a realist, knowing that for a bum from the neighborhood you need to set your sights low, and he even tells Adrienne “I know I can’t beat him—I just want to go the distance.” And he does, but he doesn’t somehow pull out the kind of upset that just would not occur in real life. That happens in Rocky II, when the franchise went the way of the future.

Nowadays, there are no movies where the victory is merely moral or symbolic, or existential—you have to live happily ever after, your self-sacrifice must be rewarded, which of course renders it not a sacrifice at all, but what the hell.

Next week—music and books.

© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Nightmare of Modern Life

I just woke up from a dream in which I opened the Crime Writers' blog to see a long post from some guy I never heard of. It was written in strange fonts, all red and blue. Bad grammar, many misspellings, hardly any punctuation. What did it say? A lot of rambling chatter about how grammar, spelling, and punctuation were no longer needed in the modern day, and how great that was.

There are two other writers on this blog besides me who know how to post here, so I assumed he must be a friend of one of them, strange as it seemed. But then I paged down further and found that the blog was covered all over with click bait ads, maybe fifty of them in little red and blue squares. It was then I understood that we had been hacked.

I picked up the telephone to call the people at Blogspot and warn them that gross hacking was taking place. But, wait! I didn't know their number. Luckily, I didn't even have to dial before a smooth talking support person came on the line and asked how he could help me.

"Is this Blogspot? My account has been hacked."

"Yes, we've had a severe attack today," he said. "Donkey wars."

Donkey wars? Is that a thing? Yes. Donkey wars, where the young and illiterate take over our culture and try to get our attention and our money.

"I can help you," the man on the telephone said. "Is your computer on? I want you to enter the following commands."

"That's okay," I said to him. "I know how to take care of it myself. Have a nice day." I hung up. Clearly the hackers had seized control of my telephone as well as my blog; one of those vultures was on the other end ready to give me instructions that would expensively screw up my computer. But I was too smart for them.

Next thing I knew I was lying in bed and it was morning. Only a dream, after all. I think.

© 2015 Kate Gallison

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Ebook Dilemma

A Man Who Wears Hats of Many Talents…

My warmest memories of Tom are not merely from his work at Murder Ink, the world's first mystery bookstore, but as a member of the planning group at my apartment a few years ago, when the MWA-NY Mentor Committee devised mysterious ways to encourage new MWA writers in their work!

Welcome again to CWC, Tom, and congratulations on your new achievements in this mysterious, challenging world of crime fiction!

We have the same intitials - TJS, but I wish I could be as famous as Tom!

T.J. Straw

Hello again. Two years ago, my first post in the Crime Writers’ Chronicle was about venturing back into the world of publishing after a long absence. Now I’m posting a sort of progress report based on my experiences in the last two years. It’s mostly positive, but not all. I’ve noticed a problem in our industry that you may have noticed as well, and I think we should address it.

First, the good news: I have two new titles since I was last here. A Penny for the Hangman was published last October, and Mrs. John Doe will be published this coming October. Mrs. John Doe is something new for me, a novel of espionage and international intrigue, and it’s the first novel I’ve ever written that isn’t set in the USA. My title character is a classic “innocent bystander” running all over England and France, pursued by shadowy assassins who are willing to kill her for something she inadvertently has in her possession. I had a lot of fun writing it, and early readers seem to be enjoying it. I’m also writing a new novel about a type of criminal I’ve never tackled before: con artists. And my entire backlist is now back in print, so I’m doing well at the moment. Still, there’s this problem…

My two new titles are ebook originals from Alibi, Penguin Random House’s new line of electronic-only mysteries. This means they are not available in “book” form, either hardcover or paperback. My self-published backlist titles are also available only as ebooks—I can’t yet afford to offer them in a print-on-demand paperback format. And that’s my problem: A lot of people are missing out on my works, both newand old. Why?

Because they refuse to read ebooks.

Yes, it’s true. I know, because people have gone out of their way to tell me that. Electronic publishing has been heralded as the publishing wave of the future, the new format for reading. Ebooks are the convenient, space-saving, paper-conserving, eco-friendly, relatively inexpensive alternative to hardcovers and paperbacks. Unfortunately, many readers simply will not purchase them. And that’s only half the problem.

While there is a resistance in the marketplace, there is also a problem in the industry itself. The major (and minor) publishers have not yet developed a way to market ebooks effectively. They run ads here and there, but what else can they do? You can’t hold ebook signings in brick-and-mortar bookstores where the product itself is not available for sale. You can’t send the authors around on tour to promote the work. Where would they go? Where would they appear when they got there? How would they sell the ebooks? Similarly, literary magazines and journals don’t review ebooks, only “real” books, so there’s no chance of good reviews that might spur sales. And most literary awards do not recognize electronic publishing. There may soon be a Pulitzer or Edgar or Hammett category for ebooks, but they don’t have them yet.

In other words, anyone who publishes electronic-only ebooks—like, for instance, me—has very few opportunities to promote their work or even have it recognized by the literary community. I’d like to be able to report that this state of affairs will soon change, but I see no early signs of it happening anytime soon. Ebooks—the “wave of the future”—are being greeted with decidedly mixed feelings, and we writers who have no choice in the matter are the ultimate victims of this Catch-22 situation. I have no idea how this is all going to end. If anyone out there has ideas or suggestions, I and many other writers would love to hear them.

I’d like to thank Thelma Straw and the Crime Writers’ Chronicle for inviting me here again and allowing me to present this to you. Later, folks!

© 2015 Tom Savage

TOM SAVAGE is the author of eight novels and numerous short stories. Many of his short works (plus a brand new novella!) are available in his collection, Jumbie Tea and Other Things: 8 Tales of Mystery and Suspense. His next novel, Mrs John Doe, will be published by Penguin Random House in October 2015. His bestselling novel, Valentine, was made into a Warner Bros. film. He lives in NYC, where he worked for many years at Murder Ink®, the world’’s first mystery bookstore. Visit him at

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Nostalgia II

In the interest of full disclosure, some of my curmudgeonly response to my nephew and the era he is coming of age in was due to my feeling of obsolescence. My nephew doesn’t really know this, but he taught me how to be an uncle. When we first met, I didn’t know what to do with babies or little tykes anymore than I knew how to split an atom (now an infinitive I could split, and still can). So he showed me, crawling up on me when I was hesitant to pick him up, and cornering me and demanding answers to his childhood questions (even when I had pretty bad ones, he didn’t seem to mind). I learned that it wasn’t so hard, really, to care for a kid—you just paid attention, treated them like they mattered, and they responded. Even bloomed. Like flowers that needed just a little water to flourish.

Now, those days are gone. When I come to visit, he doesn’t have a movie already picked out for us to go to. We don’t watch cartoons, and we don’t discuss the important questions anymore, like could Batman beat Superman in a fair fight (one that didn’t involve kryptonite). Once, it seemed we would be addressing the great questions forever, but now he either has figured it all out for himself, or he figures I have been faking it all along and don’t really know more than all those other phony grownups (he once considered me not grown up, not really, and that was a great compliment from a six-year-old).

So I wanted to avoid the bench press question, wanted to get his attention, wanted to feel like my past was worth something, and get a rise out of him, to engage with me about something. I wanted to feel visible to him again (and maybe to all the young world he lives in). I wondered if my brother was feeling the same kind of irrelevance, but I wasn’t going to ask him (we’re Irish, and don’t go in for this soul searching type stuff, at least not with each other).

And then there is my aforementioned sense 2015 really and objectively sucks. Oh, I know you can’t really prove something like that, but I am going to try anyway. Try and show that his generation is inward and narcissistic and immature, that they are complacent and lack a certain amount of guts and creativity and joie de vivre. I think of those long German words when I think of 2015—the zeitgeist (spirit of the times) gives me weltschmertz (world weariness), almost as if this were the end time, the Gotterdammerung (twilight of the Gods).

My biggest gripe about “Modern Times,” of course, is that we have sacrificed our freedom for some elusive and illusive guarantee of security. As if it is only terrorists, and not our own government, that we need freedom from. Benjamin Franklin said that those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither. He also said fart proudly, but he still has a point.

I also hate the way today’s news is often about the news. News outlets, desperate for something to add to the dumbed-down discourse, cover the way other news outlets pander, the way the other ones (but no, not us!) appeal to our lust for the lurid and voyeuristic. As if this faux news about the news was not pandering in and of itself! And reality TV sucks, too, while I’m at it. It is a way to not pay real actors to portray real characters. They are less then real, these “real” people on “reality” television, because when you put a camera on them they are not what they truly are any longer. It’s the Heisenberg principle in action—the observer (the omnipresent camera, on smart phones, on street corners, in the sky, observes our every move, and we respond not naturally but the way we think will look best to our audience) alters the thing observed.

Then there are the politics of victimization—everyone trying to get a leg up on the rest not by being smarter or tougher but by having more handicaps (I know you are not supposed to use that word, which is why I am using it). I couldn’t help being an axe murderer because I have ADHD and was abused as a child, and I am part of a marginalized social class, blah, blah, blah. I understand that everyone has a load to bear, but give me a break—it shouldn’t be a race to the top by racing to the bottom. Case in point—Hope Solo (what kind of name it that?) She immediately got on TV and painted herself as a victim after her arrest, knowing that there was refuge in that status if she could obtain it, like a pity passport. Now that the facts are coming out, it appears she was at least as much assailant as assailed, but even if she had not been, I would have been annoyed at her blatant grab for mercy, to be coddled.

While we are at it, our present attitude towards female sexuality is weird. We sexualize pre-pubescent girls by making them think their worth is based on being a size 5 or less, by looking provocative at an age when they don’t even really know what being provocative means or entails, and then we get our collective panties in a twist when Janet Jackson’s breast goes live on National TV. Or we cluck and tut-tut as we read about the epidemic of anorexia, and then go out and get Halloween costumes for our six-year-old-daughters that make Madonna at her worst look like an Ivory Girl.

Add to the mix the fact that income inequality is the greatest it has been since the Great Depression, and that no one seems to really care, and that we are fiddling while the environment burns, and you can see why I am exercised over the whole era. Millennials, Generation Z, phooey.

To be fair, there are some good things nowadays. BREAKING BAD, THE SOPRANOS, THIRTY ROCK, RAY DONOVAN, SONS OF ANARCHY—all of these are better TV shows than the ones of my generation. Of course, you have to pay for cable to get them, but still—better. I feel nostalgia for THE ROCKFORD FILES and COLUMBO, SOAP and BARNEY MILLER, but are they even in the same league as the current crop? Nope.

Now movies—these were better in the 70s. For one, we didn’t have all these damned sequels, although to be fair, JAWS and STAR WARS were the start of the dreaded block-buster-franchise trend. But now, that is all we have—any movie that is even marginally successful gets spun off and retreaded ad infinitum and ad nauseam. There is no substance, just special effects and body counts, cartoons and computerized special effects. Blech. And don’t tell me that it’s what the people want to see, as they are staying home in droves to watch TV.

Basketball in the mid 70’s was worse, before Larry Bird and Magic saved the game, and passed the torch to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James. The ratings were through the floor, and the players all seemed to be taking and dealing drugs. You did have DR J, and Bill Walton and the Trail Blazers had a dream season in 1977, but besides that you had a blasted waste between the Knicks’ last championship in 1973 and Magic’s first championship in 1981. Then again, sports interviews nowadays suck, completely scripted as they are (talk about the observer altering the thing observed). Typical is something like this: “Did your collapsing zone in the second half help you shut down Dwight Howard?”

“Well, Bill, I think our collapsing zone helped shut down Howard in the second half. And remember, we all have ADHD and have had to give a hundred and ten percent to be where we are today. And we didn’t have anyone that has recently died to dedicate our effort to tonight, and we won anyway, which is a testament to our willingness to step up, take it to the next level, draw a line in the sand, to look inside ourselves and pull together.” Oh, and one more thing, as it just stuck in my curmudgeonly craw—in the 70s, we did not have Rush Limbaugh, talk radio, and the worst genre of talk radio there is: sports talk radio.

Still, on the upside, the Catholic Church is presently suffering, which is good, since they have caused so much suffering themselves. The pedophilia scandal is hitting them in the holy pocketbook, and they are also in a bind because they are behind the curve on gay marriage and women priests, especially since the Church is not known to be able to make lightning quick changes in policy. Claiming that you got your policy directly from God makes it hard to do so. Still, they got around that earth-as-the-center-of-the-universe thing, and back stepped on that no-meat-on-Friday thing, so they might get out of these theological and public relations (and, more importantly, economic) jams also.

So, although Hoops is better now, and TV too, and I am happy to see the church get a little of its own medicine (at least in terms of suffering, as I don’t think they are all that capable of guilt), we’ve presently handed over our freedom and jettisoned the environment because we don’t care or we just feel it is too hard and costly to fight for them, especially when Dancing With The Stars is on. We whine about being victims and demand much while contributing little. We turn inward and life becomes one big virtual reality exercise, even as we need to reach out to fight against the haves as they turn more of us into have-nots. And even if the Catholics go by the wayside (and they have shown remarkable staying power so far), people will always be willing to pay someone a little hard cash for a perceived hedge against the harshness of life and the inevitability of death. There are fanatics of all stripes out there, the only difference between them being what kind of stripes they decide to wear. All in all, I still think 2015 sucks.

Wow, that was a rant. I feel a little better. But what about the entertainment industry—movies, books and music--in terms of its quality Now and Then, in terms of how it reflects the society it is imbricated in, of the accuracy of the images it presents, its motivation for choosing the images it does, and the effects those images have on society and vice versa? All that for next time.

Mike Welch

Friday, June 12, 2015

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

I once was on a panel—I think it was at Bouchercon—discussing authors who rose from the ashes of miserable failure to regenerate their writing careers. Janet Reid, famous agent, was in the audience. I was talking with her later. She found it annoying that the cessation of a series of projects, or the leaving of a certain publisher, or even a certain agent, should be referred to as “failure.” This is the normal course of a writer’s career, she said. It’s not failure.

It didn’t occur to me to mind being branded a former failure, since I come from a race of cold-blooded, slow-witted northern Europeans who take five or six months to realize they’ve been insulted. Writing careers do tend to wax and wane, and mine certainly has. My first book—did I ever tell you about that?—was reviewed in the New York Times, favorably, I might add, and earned out its advance plus a thousand dollars more in royalties. It was a quirky detective story called Unbalanced Accounts.

Jonathan Kellerman’s first book was written up in the same review. His writing career from that point on did better than mine. It may have been that he was more diligent about promoting himself. It may have been that he worked harder at writing and had fewer distractions. It may be that he is simply a better and more entertaining writer than I am, or scarier, or less quirky, or more firmly plugged into the zeitgeist. In any case I’d be willing to bet that nobody ever put him on a failure panel.

So time went on. A number of publishers took me up and put me down again. The detective series reached a logical end. Time for something completely different. I wrote Bury the Bishop, the first in a series of traditional clerical mysteries. A Dell paperback, Bury the Bishop is the most successful thing I’ve written so far in terms of copies sold. After four more in that series my publisher let me go and my agent quit the business. They all said, “I hope you won't stop writing.” Why would I do that?

At the time of the aforementioned Bouchercon rising-from-failure panel I had a new agent who had just sold The Edge of Ruin, a historical murder mystery about the early days of the movie industry, as well as its sequel, The Brink of Fame, to St. Martin’s Press. The day after I accepted a prize for The Edge of Ruin from the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance it was remaindered. Come to find out I was supposed to sell it myself. Who knew?

I thought, if that’s the way things are done these days I might as well self-publish. So I wrote a little fantasy set in Lambertville and called it Monkeystorm. It had a video game in it and a couple of grisly murders. The protagonist was mental, in a charming sort of way. But the title didn’t really work. Nor did the cover, which was too scary for the book. A good publisher would have fixed those things, maybe even promoted the book. But, alas, you see. So nobody bought that one either. My friend Mark liked it. He’s a Terry Pratchett fan, which gives you some idea.

Still I refuse to stop writing. Once again it’s time for something completely different, and this time I’m going to undertake to write a spy thriller set in New York in 1915. Animals will be killed. It’s not a cozy. There was a war on, for Pete’s sake. Bad things happened.

So here goes. Wish me luck. You know what they say: if you never try anything, you’ll never fail, but then you’ll never succeed, either.

© 2015 Kate Gallison

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Man Who Spoke Out-of-Turn

I never thought he’d have the cojones to show his bare face in print again. I was wrong, he did and bad-mouthed the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, as he did in 2011, the last time the Circus came to Albany.

He’s Steve Barnes, the former restaurant reviewer for the Albany Times-Union newspaper, a man whose sharp tongue earned him a pasting in a restaurant parking lot by two men allegedly hired by the owner of another restaurant he’d been unkind to in print. The men were arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault in Albany Police Court but acquitted at a trial. Apparently, the jury thought Barnes had deserved his ‘review’ in the parking lot.

At the Times-Union Center show most recently, Barnes reaffirmed being bored by the nine tigers: “…much less fun than even the laziest house cat; they sit on trapezoidal platforms, snarling and swatting at the trainer’s stick before rolling over on their backs or putting paws the size of snowshoes onto a pylon. One of them defecated in the middle of the act. That was my verdict, too.

“The sad fact is,” Barnes continues, “that tigers and elephants and their wild brethren simply aren’t entertaining. The elephants—big, sad lumberers—are as placid as a pond and about as interesting to watch. Ponies, donkeys and llamas trot in circles. Some jump over things. It’s stupefyingly retro.”

Sadly, this man doesn’t get that it’s a wonder, a delight, to simply witness these magnificent creatures close-up—the tigers as they leap, snarl and slap their great paws in the air; the elephants as they trumpet loudly, lumber and queue up in a Conga line, front legs up on the backs of their sisters. The poet nailed it:

“Breathes there the man,
With soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said:
“Look, daddy, the tigers!!!
Mommy, the elephants!!!”

In a spirit of Reconciliation (Mr. Barnes does write a decent theatre review and he said he likes dogs), a word of caution, friend. Elephants have historically long memories so if you notice a big lumbering one in your parking lot, stay indoors.

Robert Knightly

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dave and Mom

David Letterman aired his last show Wednesday night. My mother would have been sad to see him go. Mom had insomnia and watched a lot of late night television.

I remember waking up in the early mornings when I was a child and hearing my parents discussing what Johnny Carson had said the night before. Mom watched Johnny until the very last show. But after he left The Tonight Show, Mom felt no loyalty to his successor.

Jay Leno got The Tonight Show. Dave Letterman got my mom.

Mom was an avid fan. When I would visit she would regale me with bits from the Letterman monologues, Top 10 Lists, and interviews. At times it seemed Mom was keeping me posted on the doings of a zany relative whom I rarely got to see.

Mom always wanted me to stay up and watch Dave when I visited her, but I’m one of those annoying morning people and by the time Dave appeared I was deeply asleep. During these visits, I slept on a futon in front of the T.V. She tried a time or two to wake me up when he started his monologue, but she was unsuccessful.

“Whaaat?” I would ask.

“Oh, never mind. You’re asleep.”

As my mother got older, she developed health problems and we all decided that she could no longer live alone or at least not so far away. We moved her from Maryland to New Jersey and my very generous mother-in-law invited my mother to live with her for a time.

Alas, my mother-in-law believed in an early bedtime.

My husband and I took my mother and mother-in-law to breakfast every Saturday. One Saturday, as my husband and mother-in-law went to pay the check, I chatted with my mom.

“So, how’s it going?” I asked.

“I haven’t seen David Letterman once since I moved in with Aida. She shoos me off to bed.”

I had a word with my husband and Mom and Dave were keeping company again.

Below you’ll find a clip from the final show. I think Mom would have liked it.

Stephanie Patterson

Saturday, June 6, 2015


My nephew Ryan has been feeling his oats lately. And eating them also, as at 15-years-old he is six-feet-tall and weighs 185 pounds, all of it muscle. He wanted to know how much I could bench press so I changed the subject, baiting him about how shallow his 2015 youth culture is compared to mine, circa 1975. Seeing that I wasn’t going to take the bait about bench-pressing, he went back to texting his girlfriend. I tried again. Yes, I told him, your culture is insipid and vapid and unappealing, vulgar and base and lacking in any meaning, or even in any desire for meaning.

He yawned. Still, accustomed to blindly blundering ahead, especially when I could see no alternative, I continued to harangue him on how he was more concerned with buying $200 sneakers than Guantanamo Bay, implying that I had been concerned with Watergate (only when it interfered with prime time programming, I’m afraid to say) forty years ago, and that I was satisfied with the canvas Converse All Star high tops I purchased for $9.95 at a store called THE GREAT OUTDOORS on South Ocean Avenue in Patchogue (I wasn’t, but they were all I could afford).

He sat there texting, and I cringed to think of how base and crude his romancing of his young sweetheart might be, having role models like Fifty Cent and Justin Timberlake (or are they passé already, I wondered), and congratulated myself for never having texted, equating it as I do in my mind with other pointlessly absurd activities like playing hacky sack or Grand Theft Auto, and watching reality TV Shows about bitchy, catty housewives or women who turn into extraordinary shrews as their weddings approach.

I hoped for something trenchant to say that would regain his attention (there was a time when his attention would focus so intensely on his Uncle Mikey that it overjoyed and frightened me all at once). I pointed out that when my brother and I went on vacation with my parents to Vermont for a week of camping in the summertime, it was a twelve hour car ride, and we had no smart phones, or IPADs or lap tops to watch movies on. We might read a book (I always got car sick when I tried, and I don’t know why it never occurred to anyone to give me Dramamine), or we might have to talk to each other. It was torture, twelve hours of hell, and this did command his attention for a second.

But then his girl must have texted something really sweet or funny (or provocative) and I lost him again. I went on about how music today has no lyrics, and all the movies are silly action hero adventures or computer animated dreck that the studios put out so they won’t have to pay any real actors to actually act. Then I started in on how SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE really sucks now, and segued into how “suck” used to be a verboten word, and finally started in on books. In the 70s, you still had some crappy books, sure, but you might also find Philip Roth or Saul Bellow or Kurt Vonnegut or John Irving on the best seller list. Now you get pap like THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN, or tame porn for the masses like 50 SHADES OF GREY, or right wing conservative propaganda like Bill O’Reilly’s KILLING JESUS, wherein he reveals that Jesus was a libertarian tax rebel who was dead set against redistributing wealth to the poor. Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth, but apparently it is actually being left to rabble rousing idiots who manage to appeal to rabble, who nowadays seem to be easily roused. He yawned, and I told him I was going to write about all this in a blog I appeared in called “The Crime Writer’s Chronicle.”

“But it’s not about crime,” he said.

“I know,” I told him, “but my stuff about crime books and movies is getting pretty stale anyway.”

“Do you get paid?” he said, now genuinely interested.

“No.” Lost him again.

Still, I thought, it is a topic that interests me. The word nostalgia was coined in the 17th century by a scholar writing about a yearning for home so intense it could be thought of as pathological. He felt it was suffered by the Swiss particularly badly (who the hell knows why). It is a rendering of the German heimweh (home woe) and is a joining of the Greek algos (pain, grief, distress) and nostos (homecoming).

A lot of people experience grief at never being able to go home again. Of course, for others, the most painful thing is going home. Thomas Wolfe said you can never go home again, and I think he was right, in a way. I can go to the house I grew up in, but I will never be young and growing up in it again, doing for the first thrilling time all those things that have gotten stale to me now, getting hair on my face instead of on my back, looking forward to all the women I was going to meet instead of wondering if I was ever going to meet one again. And there is something golden about youth, even if that is a cliché. You can’t ever be 16 again, Ryan, so don’t waste a day of it (by listening to Justin Timberlake and Beyonce, I wanted to say, but I kept my mouth shut, knowing that I didn’t listen to anybody over 30 then, and he wasn’t going to listen to me now).

Of course, just as with childbirth, or monster truck pulls, you can forget the pain of the past, and imagine it was better than it was. I remember Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd, and have conveniently forgotten Leo Sayer and The Captain and Tenille. So is it only my silly nostalgia that makes me think my teenaged years occurred at a much more interesting and important time than the era Ryan’s are occurring in now? How could I make such a judgment? I decided I would attempt to objectively explore the question by addressing some of the most popular books, movies, music and other examples of pop culture of the two eras. No fool worse than an old fool, as they say, and I didn’t want to remount my attack without some powerful arguments in my arsenal. Then I would show the callow youth something for sure.

I just don’t want to be a silly and irrelevant old fart! I imagine that when my Dad was fifteen in 1951 and Alan Freed coined the term “rock and roll,” there were old farts going on about how Rudy Vallee had these silly teenagers beat seven ways from Sunday. And I can remember how my Dad would kid about how when he was a teen they didn’t slap each other five, but gave each other “some skin.” I thought the notion of giving somebody some skin was terribly quaint and a little silly, kind of like being a beatnik or getting your kicks on Route 66. Kids today, youth is wasted on the young, all those old bromides—and then there is the bromide about how every generation is wrong to think that the one coming along after it has got it all wrong.

I can’t shake the feeling that things are presently really going to hell in a handbasket, and fast, or even that we have already gotten to hell and no one has made the announcement yet (only those of us not busy texting have noticed). My Dad thought that my favorite movie of that long ago era, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, was a poor excuse for entertainment. Not that he minded satire, parody, and lampooning old movie forms (he loved Monty Python and the Holy Grail), but he was disturbed by what he saw as ROCKY HORROR’S shallowness, its banal attempt to lampoon the banality of sci-fi flicks and conventional morality, sexual and otherwise.

I begged to differ. I thought it was pretty sophisticated stuff, in its way, and was funny, (easily as good as KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and THE GROOVE TUBE), which was just as important. But he just went on about SHOWBOAT and Ava Gardner, and I couldn’t make him see my point. And when I pointed out that THE DEER HUNTER was an important movie, a serious and important movie, like NETWORK and NASHVILLE, he just scoffed, even though he had seen neither one. He did give credit to Jack Nicholson for his performance in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. Still, he insisted my culture was vapid, banal and insipid, certainly more so than his, even though the 50’s had Ike and THE BLOB (not to be confused with one another).

He also thought that Rocky Marciano would have cleaned Muhammad Ali’s clock, calling Ali a sideshow, a man that was more style than substance, and not even an original, but a poor imitation of the wrestler known as Gorgeous George. This seemed to be a surrendering of reason to emotion on his part, but I didn’t know how to counter his arguments, and I realized that it’s very hard to argue about preferences, or things that can never be tested. How do you defend chocolate against vanilla, or resolve those knotty hypotheticals?

But it is still my strong feeling that 2015 is a much shallower and less interesting and important time than 1975. And I am going to prove it, even if it doesn’t get my nephew’s attention (score one for me—if my uncle had crapped on 1975 I would have come to its defense, even if my girlfriend was on the phone). Next week—popular entertainment Now and Then, and why Ryan’s Now sucks in comparison to my Then, or any Then, for that matter.

© 2015 Mike Welch