I went from having the most productive month of my entire career in October to having my worst month so far this year in November. That’s probably not too surprising. Sooner or later the gas always starts to run low in the tank. The good news is that while I wasn’t getting as much written, I was still pleased with the quality of the pages I was turning out. As I think I’ve said before and no doubt will say again, a writing slump is just like a batting slump in baseball. The only solution is to hit your way out of it.
These are the books I read in November:
THE BLACK ANGEL, Cornell Woolrich LONGARM AND THE WOLF WOMEN, Tabor Evans (Peter Brandvold) PITY THE DAMNED (apa SLUM SINNERS), Andrew Shaw (Lawrence Block) FURY ON SUNDAY, Richard Matheson THE EMBEZZLER, James M. Cain RIDE THE NIGHTMARE, Richard Matheson THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD, VOLUME 2 HAVEN: SECRETS RISING, Suzanne McMinn
I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk lately and half the time can’t figure out what I want to read next. That leads to stopping and starting a lot of books. When that happens to me, I usually read short stories until the mood breaks, but this time I’m finding it difficult even to concentrate on short stories. All it takes to fix that, though, is finding the right book, and I’m confident that I will soon.
Since we’ve been back home, we’ve been able to watch more movies than we did down at the coast. Here are the ones we watched this month:
TRANSFORMERS SHREK THE THIRD SPIDER-MAN 3 RATATOUILLE MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET THE MYTH LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
No question which of these I liked the best: MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. There’ll probably be some more Christmas classics coming up in December. It’s been a long time since I watched IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and WHITE CHRISTMAS, and I think I’m in the mood for them.
And I thought that Jackie Chan movie strained believability! LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD has enough “Oh, come on!” moments for three or four normal movies. But I’ll bet you can guess what I’m going to say next: I liked it anyway.
I enjoyed the original DIE HARD a lot, the second one was okay, and the third one was still watchable. I’ll go along with the general consensus on this fourth entry in the series, which if I recall correctly was that it was not as good as the first one but better than #2 and #3. I could drag out my usual complaints about most modern movies – too badly lit, too choppily-edited, too hard to follow in places – and they certainly apply to this film, too. The plot finally made sense, I guess, but for too much of the movie it was a matter of “There are these bad guys, see, and for some reason they want this computer nerd dead, and Bruce Willis has to protect him. Stuff blows up.” What saves the film for me is its sheer audacity in asking the audience to believe in what’s going on, and the fact that Bruce Willis is just so damned likable. To continue the comparison to Jackie Chan’s THE MYTH, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Willis in a movie where I didn’t like him at least a little. He’s possibly the most believable movie tough guy in the business today, although at times he seems to be parodying himself (THE WHOLE NINE YARDS and its sequel). His world-weary cop role in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD doesn’t ask him to do much except run and shoot and jump on or off of things as they’re about to explode, but he manages to bring something more to it anyway in the quieter moments.
If you liked the other DIE HARD movies, you’ll probably enjoy this one quite a bit. If you didn’t, you’d be better off giving it a pass.
It’s difficult to categorize Jackie Chan’s THE MYTH. It’s part ancient Chinese historical epic, part modern-day archeological thriller, part fantasy, and part knockabout martial arts comedy of the sort that Chan is best known for. He plays duel roles: a Chinese general assigned to protect a princess, and in good old Roy Rogers fashion, a modern archeologist named Jack Chan. It’s obvious from the first that the storylines are going to wind up being connected, but that’s not enough for the filmmakers. They also throw in a bunch of levitating priests, hollowed-out mountains, an anti-gravity machine, and immortality pills, with most of the action taking place in, to borrow a line from Woody Allen, a fictional-but-real-sounding country. Believe it or not, though, by the end of the movie everything gets tied together into a somewhat coherent plot.
Speaking of believing it or not, this movie requires a considerable suspension of disbelief. More than once while watching it I said out loud, “Oh, come on!” But if you can just go with it and not ask for things to make much sense, it winds up being pretty enjoyable. I like most of Jackie Chan’s movies and THE MYTH is no exception. The historical parts of this film are probably the best, featuring some nice battles staged with what appear to be hundreds of actual stuntmen and extras, rather than CGI. Chan plays it straight in these scenes and does a fine job.
Overall this one gets a recommendation from me, with the reservations that you probably ought to be a Jackie Chan fan to start with and that sheer goofiness in a plot doesn’t bother you too much.
DUST DEVILS has made the shortlist for the Spinetingler Awards in the Best Novel -- Legend category. You can read about it and see how to vote here. Considering the competition -- Ken Bruen, James Lee Burke, Laura Lippman, and Ian Rankin -- you can be sure of two things: I'm tremendously honored to be included, and I don't expect to win. There are some very worthy nominees in all the categories, so you should definitely go and vote. I would tell you to vote early and vote often, especially if you're voting for DUST DEVILS, but, uh, they don't allow that, drat the luck. There's even a category for Best Cover, and all five of the nominees are great. Voting ends December 30, so get those votes in.
Prompted by the previous post, a friend of mine sent me a scan of the cover from this William Heuman novel. I like it so much I decided to go ahead and post it. I feel like I ought to know who the artist is, but I can't read the signature on the scan. I own a copy of this book but have never read it. I may have to dig through the stacks and piles of books and see if I can find it. In addition to Westerns, Heuman also wrote some YA sports novels, and I'll bet they're worth reading.
UPDATE: Thanks to Steve Lewis, I can confirm that the cover of this book was painted by Lou Kimmel.
I confess, I'm always interested when I see somebody reading in public, and I usually try to sneak a look at the book so I can see what they're reading. Most of the time it's something by Danielle Steel, James Patterson, etc., but today while I was walking in one of the local malls I spotted an older fellow (older than me, anyway) sitting on a bench reading a paperback called WAGON TRAIN WEST. I could see the title but not the author. It looked to be a pretty beat-up copy, but the yellow spine was distinctive enough I thought it was a Gold Medal. Sure enough, when I got home I had to look it up, and it was indeed a Gold Medal, from 1959, by a pretty good Western writer named William Heuman. I was going to post a cover scan but couldn't find one on-line. I have no idea why I find stuff like this fascinating, but I do.
The second volume of this on-going series collects ten more stories of the Batman, ranging from 1940 to 2003. I had read several of these before, either in their original appearances, in the case of the ones from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, or in other reprint volumes. They’re all entertaining, although none of them would be among my picks for the greatest Batman stories ever told. (As I think I’ve said before, those would be “Night of the Reaper” by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, and the Batman/Enemy Ace crossover, also by O’Neil and Adams, the title of which I can’t recall at the moment.) This volume features the extra-long story in which Jason Todd first became the infamous “second Robin”, a character so despised by the fans that he was eventually killed off. I’d consider this collection worth reading, since almost any story about Batman is going to be pretty good, but it’s a bit of a letdown after the excellent first volume in the series.
Earlier this year I read and raved about Duane Swierczynski’s novel THE BLONDE, which is still one of the best books I’ve read this year. Well, THE BLONDE has just come out in trade paperback, and as a bonus the book includes a new novella entitled “Redhead”, which is a direct sequel to the novel.
Anybody who liked THE BLONDE certainly won’t be disappointed in “Redhead”. It features the same blend of near-non-stop action with great dialogue and black humor that made the novel so much fun. In “Redhead”, two of the main characters from THE BLONDE are on the run from a team of vicious assassins and a mysterious, sinister woman. The action bounces back and forth in time, a technique that allows Swierczynski to play a neat trick or two on the reader while still being very fair about it. All of it leads up to a very satisfying ending that leaves the reader (well, me, anyway) hoping there may be more sequels to come.
If you haven’t read THE BLONDE, I highly recommend buying the trade paperback so you’ll get “Redhead”, too. That’s a one-two punch I don’t think you’ll be able to beat. But if you have read THE BLONDE, Duane has very kindly made it possible for you to read “Redhead” without buying the new edition. Check out the details on his blog, which I also highly recommend.
RIDE THE NIGHTMARE, originally published by Ballantine in 1959, is the third and final suspense novel by Richard Matheson reprinted in the Forge Books collection, NOIR. It’s also my favorite of the three, although I admired and enjoyed SOMEONE IS BLEEDING and FURY ON SUNDAY, too.
RIDE THE NIGHTMARE has a fairly typical set-up for a novel of this sort: Chris and Helen Martin are living a happy suburban life with their young daughter Connie when something happens to disrupt it and put them all in mortal danger, in this case a phone call from someone who claims to know Chris . . . and who also wants him dead. Chris’s past contains a dangerous secret that Helen never knew about, and once that barrier is breached, things just get worse and worse for both of them.
There’s nothing in the plot you won’t see coming, but what makes it work so well is purely a matter of style and pacing. Poor Chris and Helen hardly ever get a breather before something else terrible comes barreling down on them, and Matheson is a master at keeping the reader flipping the pages to find out what’s going to happen next. In lesser hands, this technique can get a little silly. Not in this case, though, as Matheson pulls it off just fine. I highly recommend this novel, and for that matter, the entire collection . . . although I might quibble a little with the title, since I don’t consider any of the novels to truly be noir. As examples of straight suspense, though, you won’t find many that are better.
After watching the dog show this afternoon I decided to stick around and watch NBC’s telecast of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, since I haven’t seen it in quite a few years. I’ve liked this movie ever since I first saw it as a kid, and I still think it’s not only a good Christmas movie but a very good film, period. Of course, I like just about any movie with the gorgeous Maureen O’Hara in it (MIRACLE’s one drawback is that it’s in black-and-white, so you can’t see her red hair). But the rest of the cast is great, too, with Edmund Gwenn and John Payne being backed by a fine stable of character actors, many of whom, like Jack Albertson and Percy Helton, are unbilled. The script is sharp and funny and touching. Other than the abundance of commercials, I had a great time watching this one again.
All this reminds me that the first time I saw MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET was almost certainly not at Christmas-time, but more than likely in the summer. When I was a kid one of the local TV stations ran an old movie at 8:30 every morning during the week, and another one at 3:30 in the afternoon. I was a regular viewer of those movies when I was out of school during the summer. Since this was the Sixties, most of those “old” movies were from the Thirties and Forties. Whoever picked the movies didn’t care whether or not they were seasonal, so you might see MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET or IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or any other Christmas movie at any time of year. I didn’t care. If the movies were good I liked ’em anyway.
And while I’m on the subject of Christmas movies, I don’t know if we’ll have a white Christmas this year – they’re rare around here – but today we got something even more rare: a white Thanksgiving. That’s right, it snowed here today, two days after we set a record on Tuesday when the high temperature was 84. That’s Texas weather for you. Of course, the snow didn’t stick since it’s not below freezing, but it was coming down pretty thick for a while, and great big flakes, too. Made for a nice beginning to the Christmas season.
I hope all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving have a wonderful holiday today. We're not visiting relatives this year, so we're looking forward to a quiet day at home: watching the parades and the dog show, the traditional turkey dinner, maybe a little football, and of course I plan to write some, too.
I don't really feel qualified to comment much on this movie, since I slept through probably half of it. However, the other three members of the family watched all of it and didn't care for it. All I can say is that the animation looked pretty good, but obviously, the story didn't really engage me.
Here's an excerpt from an email a friend sent to me today:
"Incidentally the copyright records have turned up a western pseudonym I had not seen before - though I had assumed it probably was. Nick Sumner, author of three westerns in the 1950s, turns out to be a woman, Nancy Salomon. Attribution and spelling confirmed by her publisher's archive (Dodd and Mead). But that is all I know. I don't suppose you have ever come across her? It would be nice to know what else she did as well as write westerns."
And from a later email concerning Salomon's Western novels:
"All were originally hardbacks from Dodd and Mead. 'Border Queen' then appeared from Pennant in 1954, 'The Boss of Broken Spur' from Bantam in 1957, and 'Bullet brand' from Dell in 1954.
All three were published here by Robert Hale, 1955-56, and one 'Bullet brand' was published in paperback by New English Library in 1966. Quite well published for an unknown author - at least today.
We did find a Nancy S. Salomon, born 1917, who died in 1991, Possibly her, but as she died in New York City an obituary seems a faint possibility. She is not in the New York Times obituaries."
I have to admit that I never read any of the three Nick Sumner novels and don't recall ever hearing of them before now. All three of the paperback reprints are available on ABE for relatively low prices. The only Nancy Salomon book listed there is a crossword puzzle book published within the past few years, so almost certainly not by the same Nancy Salomon. I'm tempted to order one of the Westerns because I'm always interested in obscure authors, but I don't know . . . If anybody has read any of them, or knows anything else about Nancy Salomon, I'd love to hear about it, and so would my friend.
James M. Cain is one of those authors whose work I haven’t sampled extensively, nor do I know all that much about him and his career. More than a quarter of a century ago I read his novels THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and SERENADE and liked them both, especially POSTMAN, which is still one of my favorite noir novels. I have Roy Hoopes’ massive biography of Cain but haven’t read it yet.
I decided to try another of his novels, and when I looked around I realized I had THE EMBEZZLER in three different editions: its original appearance in the hardback omnibus THREE OF A KIND, the Avon paperback reprint shown here, and the excellent Gorman and Greenberg anthology PULP MASTERS, which is where I actually read it.
THE EMBEZZLER is narrated by Dave Bennett, a likable and bright-but-not-too-bright former college football star who’s the vice-president of a California bank. He falls in love with the wife of the head teller who works for him, and it just so happens that said teller has been steadily embezzling money from the bank. Dave and the sexy Sheila set out to deal with both of those problems, and you just know things aren’t going to work out the way they intend. Sure enough, every twist of the plot just makes things worse for them, until things get desperate enough for gunplay and a considerable amount of slam-bang action.
This is a short novel in the best sense of the term, with plenty of plot and character but not an ounce of padding. Cain moves the story right along and never lets the reader’s interest flag. I saw the major plot twist coming before it got there, but the ending took me a little by surprise. I thought it worked really well, though. I don’t know how this book ranks in the general consensus of Cain’s body of work, but I really enjoyed it and Ed Gorman’s intro to it in PULP MASTERS makes it clear that he did, too. I’ll be reading more of Cain’s novels, and I hope it won’t be another twenty-five years before I get to the next one.
Now that we’re back home where our trusty DVD player is and are starting to catch up on everything we got behind on while we were at the coast, we’re watching a few movies again. Last night we watched a couple that are the third entries in their respective series, SHREK THE THIRD and SPIDER-MAN 3.
If you saw the first two Shrek movies, you know what to expect in this one: fast-paced silliness laced with pop-culture references. And that’s pretty much what you get. The old king of Far, Far Away dies, leaving his son-in-law Shrek the ogre faced with the choice of taking over as king or going off on a quest to find the only other heir, Fiona’s cousin Arthur. Shrek doesn’t want the responsibility of ruling a kingdom, so off he goes, accompanied by his usual companions, Donkey and Puss in Boots. But while they’re gone, the evil Prince Charming takes advantage of the opportunity to seize power in Far, Far Away.
I agree with the critics who said this is the weakest of the three Shrek movies, with the laughs not coming as frequently, but it’s still pretty funny in a lot of places and it has more action than the first two. If you liked the other Shrek movies you ought to like this one, and in my opinion it’s well worth watching.
So is SPIDER-MAN 3, but again, it’s the weakest of the trilogy as far as I’m concerned. We get two new villains, the Sandman (a very well-cast Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (a not-so-well-cast Topher Grace), plus the return of the Green Goblin, plus the introduction of Gwen Stacy and her father, police captain George Stacy. In other words, the filmmakers have taken bits and pieces from more than twenty years of comic-book continuity and crammed them together into one story. It makes for an awfully crowded movie, but I’ll admit that when everything comes together in the end it does create a definite epic feeling.
I don’t think I’m a fanatical purist about these things, but I’ll also admit that it bothers me how each movie in this series gets further and further away from the comic-book continuity. The X-Men movies were the same way, and I liked them less as they went along, too. At least the Spider-Man movies still get the heart and soul of the characters pretty much right, and Stan Lee has a nice cameo.
Speaking of Stan, SPIDER-MAN 3 is the first movie in the series to feature a main character (Venom) that wasn’t created by Stan and Steve Ditko during the first three years of the comic. In fact, I find it interesting that all three of these highly successful movies have used a version of Spider-Man that has been all but retconned and rebooted out of existence. The comics industry turned some corners I didn’t like, first in the Eighties with CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and then later in the Nineties with the reboot of Superman and the lengthy run of retconning at Marvel that I absolutely hated. By now, of course, the thirty years or more of continuity in which I had an investment as a reader is long gone. I still read comics, but mostly reprints of old stuff or newer stuff that at least resembles the titles I used to know, like JONAH HEX and BATMAN. I realize the industry doesn’t care that much about the geezer market . . . but at times I still miss the experience of going to the drugstore every Tuesday after school to pick up the new comics off the spinner rack.
That’s enough ranting and nostalgia-wallowing. SHREK THE THIRD and SPIDER-MAN 3 are both pretty good. Good enough to get my recommendation, anyway.
A while back I read and enjoyed Richard Matheson’s first suspense novel, SOMEONE IS BLEEDING, originally published by Lion Books in 1953. Now I’ve read his second novel, FURY ON SUNDAY, also published by Lion in 1953, and I liked it even better.
I have a fondness for books that take place in a short period of time. Everything in FURY ON SUNDAY happens during a four-hour span, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. The plot is pretty simple: crazed pianist Vincent Radin escapes from the insane asylum where he’s locked up and sets out to kill the two people who have most wronged him, his former manager and the man who wound up marrying the woman Vincent was in love with when he went mad. Matheson cuts back and forth relentlessly between this handful of characters, creating a very effective atmosphere of suspense. His prose is pared right down to the bone, as it needs to be in a book of this type where the pacing is so important. It works here, whereas I thought the writing was rushed and sketchy at times in SOMEONE IS BLEEDING.
This novel is rare in its original edition but easily available in the Forge Books omnibus NOIR. It’s well worth reading.
PITY THE DAMNED sounds like a Gold Medal title if I ever heard one. Unfortunately, it’s not a Gold Medal. It’s a Reed Nightstand book, which means it’s a 1970s reprint of a soft-core porn novel originally published in the early Sixties – in this case, SLUM SINNERS by Andrew Shaw, the same pseudonym that was used on the reprint edition. And Andrew Shaw, at least some of the time, was really Lawrence Block.
Paperback scholar Lynn Munroe’s Reed Nightstand checklist can be found here. It’s his theory that when the earlier Nightstand Books and Midnight Readers, etc., were reprinted as Reed Nightstand books, the author’s original manuscript title was used. That could certainly be the case with PITY THE DAMNED, which sounds like a Block title to me. Supposedly the reprints were updated and revised as well, but there doesn’t seem to be much of that going on in this novel. There are a few word changes to make it more timely (a skirt becomes a miniskirt, for example), and the language might be a little more graphic than in the original, but without having a copy of SLUM SINNERS to do a real comparison, my best guess is that the revisions were slight.
This is the story of four people who live on the upper west side of Manhattan: the unhappily married couple Ruth and Glenn Lansing; beautiful, fifteen-year-old Monita Ruiz, who just wants to escape her life in the slum no matter what it takes; and tough ex-con Al Carter, who’s looking for a big score to make him rich. You can figure out going in that their storylines are going to twist and turn and intertwine with each other, and sure enough they do. As you might also guess, there’s also a lot of sex along the way, some of it fairly kinky.
Unfortunately, this never really becomes the noirish crime novel that it might have been, as some of Block’s early porn novels did. The sordid schemes that Al Carter comes up with might have gone that way, but instead the book remains more of a soap opera. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s well-written. That’s not really the case, either, as the book sort of ambles along and never generates much sense of urgency. I suspect that Block wrote it – several of the clues that usually point to his pen-name work are there – but it’s far from his best work. It’s worth reading, but probably only for Block completists (which I’m not, although I like his books a lot) or anyone interested in those early Sixties soft-core porn novels.
One thing about writing for a house-name series, unless there’s some continuity involved that you have to keep up with, you tend to be less interested in reading other authors’ entries in that series. At least, that’s the case with me. And I certainly don’t read somebody else’s book in a series while I’m trying to write a book in the same series. That just leads to overload.
For that reason, I don’t read many Longarm novels anymore. However, I get in the mood for one now and then, since I was a Longarm fan for years before I began writing them. So recently I picked up LONGARM AND THE WOLF WOMEN, #341 in the long-running series. Longarm (who is actually Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long, for those of you who don’t know) is assigned to track down a crazed mountain man and the mountain man’s two beautiful but equally vicious daughters who have been murdering prospectors in Colorado. It’s a simple plot, but the author who’s behind the Tabor Evans house-name this time around makes the most of it by throwing in some other off-beat characters and a lot of very well-written action scenes and humorous dialogue. This novel reminded me somewhat of the movie BANDIDAS, for those of you who liked that, and I happen to know it’s one of the actual author’s favorite films.
I also know who wrote this book, but I’m not sure if he wants to be publicly identified or not, so I’ll err on the side of discretion. I’ll certainly be looking for more of his Longarm novels, and if you’re in the mood for a good series Western (besides the ones I write, of course), I recommend LONGARM AND THE WOLF WOMEN.
After reading the Hard Case Crime reprint of Cornell Woolrich’s FRIGHT a while back and liking it a lot, I decided to reading another Woolrich novel. THE BLACK ANGEL is part of his famous “Black” series. They all have the world “Black” in the title, beginning with THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, but other than that they’re not connected.
THE BLACK ANGEL is narrated by Alberta Murray, a young woman whose husband Kirk always calls her Angel Face. Alberta thinks everything in her life is going along just fine (always a warning sign) until she suddenly discovers that her husband is having an affair. Worse yet, he’s planning to leave her and run off with the other woman. Alberta goes to the woman’s apartment to confront her, and yep, you guessed it, her husband’s mistress is dead, smothered with a pillow. Worse still, the cops arrest Kirk and charge him with the murder. In short order, he’s convicted and sentenced to death, and Alberta has less than three months until her husband’s execution to find the real killer and clear his name. Luckily, she just happens to have an address book she picked up in the murdered woman’s apartment, and a match book with the letter M engraved on it, pointing to the real killer. All she has to do is investigate everybody in the address book whose last name starts with M to find out who really killed her husband’s mistress and save him from the electric chair.
Yes, this book has its share of the coincidences and far-fetched plot developments that Woolrich’s work is famous for, but it also generates a considerable amount of suspense as Alberta searches for the murderer. Its structure is rather episodic, as she investigates each of the suspects in turn and the plot gets more and more complicated. Woolrich springs a nice reverse at the end that you’ll probably see coming. I did, but I enjoyed it anyway. And the final scene of the story has a sting of its own.
You could spend all day pointing out the flaws in Woolrich’s plotting, and his writing can be breathless and melodramatic at times. But nobody is better at using the emotions of his characters to capture the readers and sweep them along in a story. He’s also one of the best at utilizing the backdrop of seedy hotels and sleazy nightclubs and making that setting almost as much a character in his stories and novels as his human protagonists are. THE BLACK ANGEL is especially strong in that area. It’s a fine novel, and highly recommended by me. (I love that cover from '68 Ace edition, too.)
Just some assorted bird pictures from the coast trip. The seagull in the top photo is stealing some of our bait from the Rockport Pier. Livia took all of these pictures, by the way. I'm not much of a photographer.
Remember a couple of days ago when I said that I'd sworn off buying books because I just don't have room for any more? Well, today I went to Half Price Books to look for a specific book one of my daughters wanted. I found it without much trouble and told myself I ought to just pay for it and leave. Well, you can guess what happened. In addition to the book for Joanna, I walked out with a couple of Agatha Christie Dell Mapbacks, a double-volume reprint of a couple of Andre Norton SF novels, STAR HUNTER and VOODOO PLANET (I mean really, VOODOO PLANET! How am I supposed to resist a title like that? It's not fair!), a nice Bantam copy of John O'Hara's short story collection HELLBOX, and a hardback boxed set of O'Hara's SERMONS AND SODA-WATER. Whatever good intentions are worth, I had 'em, I really did, but maybe it's time to admit that I'm just hopeless when it comes to books.
This movie got quite a few positive reviews when it came out, although a lot of them were of the slightly snide “I can’t believe this movie is really pretty good” type. And it certainly did well at the box office. So, considering that I’m usually a little out of step with both the critics and the viewing public, it doesn’t come as a great surprise that I didn't like it all that much.
Not that TRANSFORMERS is a terrible film. It’s not. There are some funny lines here and there in the script, the human performers, especially Shia LaBeouf, do a fine job, and the ending is pretty stirring. I’m a sucker for plots where the earth and the puny humans who live here find themselves in the middle of a galactic war. But ’way too much of the film is badly lit, choppily edited, and difficult to follow what’s going on. Sure, the special effects are spectacular, but that doesn’t help much when you can’t tell which are the good robots and which are the bad robots and can’t keep track of what they’re doing.
Or maybe I was just too tired and cranky when I watched it. I’m getting to the point where these special effects laden films just don’t do much for me most of the time. TRANSFORMERS is watchable and mildly entertaining in places, but that’s about all.
The reason new posts have been pretty sporadic on this blog recently is that for most of the past five weeks, Livia and I were on an extended research trip to Rockport, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico about thirty miles up the coast from Corpus Christi. She went down there every year with her parents when she was younger and knows the area very well. I’ve been there a few times, too, beginning in 1976 when I took a trip there with Livia and her family. We drove down on October 1 so that we could attend Rockport’s annual SeaFair celebration, which for the first time this year featured a dessert competition. Since Livia writes the Fresh-Baked Mystery series for Signet/Obsidian and sold the fourth book in the series not long ago, she needed some sort of baking contest for her characters to enter, and Just Desserts at SeaFair seemed perfect. The characters get to go on a road trip . . . and so did we.
We stayed at Hunt’s Castle, a waterfront hotel in Rockport. The first couple of weeks our only Internet access was a single computer in the hotel lobby. Either that or go to the public library, which we also did at times. Then the hotel got a wireless network hooked up for all the rooms and things improved, but there were problems with some of the equipment and service was still inconsistent. Overall, though, it was a great place to stay, with some of the friendliest, most helpful employees you'll ever find. And the view just couldn't have been any better.
I didn't want to spend a lot of time on the Internet anyway. Not with research to do and pages to write (I took my work with me, of course), and miles of waterfront to walk along and a bunch of fish in the Gulf waiting to be caught and great places to eat and a handful of good used bookstores to poke through. I intended to write a detailed diary of what I was doing every day down there and then post it here on the blog when I got back, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was too busy (and too lazy) to do that. So what you’ll be getting is some random memories and a bunch of pictures, when I get around to posting them.
I’ve never been much of a fisherman. When I was a kid I fished once on Lake Brownwood, but after that I never dipped a hook in the water again until I started going down to the coast with Livia back in the Seventies. And then I wasn’t any good at it, not catching much except crabs and hardheads, and I couldn’t get them off my hook. Over the years we’ve fished a little in the surf on Mustang Island (which is what Padre Island turns into north of Corpus Christi, for those of you interested in the geography). The last time we went to Rockport I didn’t even bother getting a fishing license. I did this time, though, and I’m glad that I did because I discovered that fishing off the pier at Rockport Beach Park is a lot of fun. We didn’t catch anything big enough to keep, which is all right because my motto is if you don’t keep ’em, you don’t have to clean ’em and cook ’em. I enjoy catching them and throwing them back, though, and I did plenty of that, hauling in a nice black drum, a few speckled trout and redfish, the occasional skipjack or whiting, and a bunch of perch. Perch put up a good fight, even the little ones, and they can be vicious when you go to take them off the hook. I learned how to handle them, though, and tossed back probably fifty or sixty of them during the trip, if not more. One of the appeals of fishing, I discovered, is that you never really know what’s out there, and every time you cast, there’s a chance of something really good getting on your hook. That didn’t happen while I was there this time, but maybe next time.
There was also the day I accidentally threw a crab at Livia, but we won’t go into that.
Every day we also took at least one long walk up and down Water Street, which runs right in front of the hotel along, you guessed it, the water for a little over a mile. Most mornings we were up in time to see the sun rise during our walk, and it was incredibly beautiful. Rockport is also a birder’s paradise, not that I’m a birdwatcher, but I did enjoy seeing all the pelicans, cranes, blue herons, sea gulls, sandpipers, ducks, and black skimmers. I got a kick out of seeing the pelicans fly along low over the water, then suddenly plunge under the surface with a huge splash and come up with fish in their beaks. The last week or so we were there a group of small black ducks was always in the water right next to our route, so we got used to seeing them. The last day they weren’t there and I was actually a little worried about them. They’d just moved down to another place, though, so we saw them later.
Speaking of the water, it was extremely high for the first week or so, higher than even the locals could remember seeing it before. The local newscasts were talking about astronomical high tides and issuing warnings. Several of the roads along the shore were underwater at times, including Water Street. That didn’t last, though, and by the time we left the tides were actually a little lower than normal, I think. It always boggles my mind when I see someone wade-fishing a quarter of a mile or so from shore, and they’re only knee-deep. That’s what you get with these coastal bays, though. A lot of them are pretty shallow except in places.
I spent several days booking. There are a couple of used bookstores in Rockport, one in Portland, and two in Corpus Christi. Many years ago, back in the Seventies, there was a store in Corpus called Collector’s Bookstore that was run by a local judge who wrote and drew independent comic books on the side. (Yes, I know that’s sort of an odd combination.) His store was filled with comics, vintage paperbacks, and pulps. I spent a lot of money there on my first visit. By the time I got back a few years later, the store had moved and was mainly a comic book store, but there were still a few pulps stuck off in a corner, and I got the best of what was left. Now the store is completely gone. But I enjoyed poking through the places that are still there and bought maybe two hundred paperbacks on this trip. Nothing spectacular, though, and when I got back home and looked at the space I have left for books – none – I had to ask myself what I was thinking. I’ve sworn off buying books, at least for a while. Now we’ll see how long that lasts.
As you might expect, there are plenty of seafood restaurants in the area. I like Charlotte Plummer’s, which is right on the water at the Fulton Boat Basin, but the best place is The Big Fisherman, about halfway between Rockport and Aransas Pass. They have a chicken fried steak special for lunch on Tuesdays that draws people from miles around, not only because it’s very good but because the price is unbelievable -- $1.75 for soup, excellent mashed potatoes, and all the chicken fried steak you can eat. That’s right, finish your steak and they’ll bring you another one, for as long as you want. However, I never ate more than one because that was always enough.
The most unpleasant part of the trip came about because of a game of dominoes we were playing one evening. I tend to get enthusiastic, especially when I domino, and after slapping down the last of my dominoes I sat back – and the chair rolled right out from under me. This dumped me unceremoniously on an extremely hard tile floor, and as a result – to use precise medical terminology here – I whacked the hell out of my tailbone. It’s still sore, more than a month later, and I have a hard time finding a comfortable place to sit. It’s slowly getting better, though, so I’m hoping the pain won’t linger the rest of my life.
When the time came to go home, on November 1, neither Livia nor I wanted to leave. We did, though, and now that we’ve been back for almost a week, I’m starting to get caught up on things, including this blog. I have lots of pictures from the trip to post, and a few reviews, and I’m hoping that things will continue getting back to what passes for normal around here.
But the sea is calling me . . . well, the Gulf, anyway . . . actually Aransas Bay . . . but you get the idea.
Now for a very belated end-of-the-month update.
As I said, I took my work with me on the trip, and to my great surprise, I set a personal record for the most number of pages I’ve ever written in a month. I was about 20% into the book I had started before the trip, so my goal was to finish it while I was down there and maybe get a little of the next one done. Well, I not only finished that manuscript, I had it done by the middle of the month. Then I turned around, started the next book, and wrote three-fourths of it before we came home. What amazes me is that I was doing this by working until only one or two o’clock in the afternoon on most days, leaving plenty of time to do other stuff, too, like all that fishing and walking and eating. I may have to go back just to get more work done. Of course, if I was there all the time I might not feel so energized . . . but there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?
I didn’t read as much as usual in October because of all that other stuff I was doing. Here are the books I read:
RAINTREE: HAUNTED, Linda Winstead Jones THE ABILENE SAMSON, W.R. Burnett UNFORGIVEN, Lindsay McKenna PAL JOEY, John O’Hara THE DARK GATE, Pamela Palmer THE CASE OF THE DARING DECOY, Erle Stanley Gardner THE BUTCHER #4: BLOOD DEBT, Stuart Jason (James Dockery) TRAIL OF THE SILVER SADDLE, Les Savage Jr.
Since we didn’t have a DVD player, my movie-watching was almost non-existent. The only one I saw all the way through was THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT, and I didn’t really see all of it because I dozed off a couple of times. We also watched most of the Nicolas Cage remake of THE WICKER MAN one day, but I didn’t care much for the original and liked the remake even less. To me, one problem with creepy movies is that they spend so much time trying to be really creepy, they often don’t amount to much plot-wise. That’s certainly true with this one.
So, to wrap up what has to be my longest blog post ever, I had a great month in October, one I’ll probably always remember. And bear with me as I post the pictures. I’ll get through them eventually and will break them up with other stuff.