Monthly Archives: May 2012

Stormy weather

So far this week has been a terror, with wind and hail Tuesday night beating on my windows like the world coming to an end. Tonight seems calmer, although high winds are supposed to kick in about midnight. Well, maybe, maybe not.

Last night our tornado siren went off while I was eating supper. Bummer! I just took my plate and went to my walk-in closet and finished supper and finally the siren stopped.

It made for an uneasy night’s sleep so today I settled my nerves with a trip down Memory Lane — I listened to The Beatles on You Tube.

Paul McCartney singing “When I’m Sixty-Four” brought back some great memories of a trip to London. My niece and I took a taxi out to McCartney’s house and the cab driver serenaded me with “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Then he hoisted my niece up to look over the wall into McCartney’s yard.

Now Sir Paul is rich and famous and 69 and I am way past. I’d give anything to be 64 again. It was a good year.

Oh, well — I love the recording, but — gulp! — Paul sounds like he’s about 12 years old. If my voice has changed that much I must sound well over 150.

The tatty old photo of Yours Truly stepping into the taxi was snapped with a Polaroid camera. The photo of Paul McCartney is from Wikipedia.
The You Tube recording of “When I’m Sixty-Four” is at:
http://tinyurl.com/7aafsc4

Remembering Mother: Mother Said

Faded old photo taken in Lisbon 1975.

“Root, hog, or die,” Mother said.

This was the mantra of a woman who got her master’s degree by going to graduate school summers and weekends while she raised five kids and taught school, and did household chores without electricity or indoor plumbing. I remember that every time I think I’ve reached the end of my rope.

In hard times, we wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes. Mother said, “If your hair looks nice and your shoes are polished, that’s all that matters.”

My bad hair day has lasted a lifetime. My shoes look old the second time I wear them. Maybe it’s because my big toes turn up, or maybe it’s because of Mother’s bunions. I inherited her feet along with her sense of humor.

Mother said, “If you’re wearing a smile, nobody notices your clothes.” I’ve relied on that assurance for most of my life, smiling like an ad for toothpaste, but now—it’s criminal what aging does to teeth. When I began losing mine, Mother said, “You have 50-year teeth, just like your father.”

At the bottom of the Great Depression we lived in a small rural community that traveling salesmen always managed to find. Mother swapped whatever she could for whatever she wanted. She swapped eggs and chickens and jewelry that she never wore.

The summer I was 12, Mother and I were on the front porch shelling peas when a car came up our red dirt road and parked in our front yard. A man wearing a straw hat and seersucker suit got out. He was selling subscriptions.

Mother swapped a sapphire ring for The Ladies Home Journal and a ruby ring for The Kansas City Star.

“My children are my jewels,” Mother said, and gave him a smile as bright as the morning sun.

Years later, when I visited her in the hospital after she broke her hip, Mother said, “I suppose you all turned out as well as could be expected. At least none of you was ever in jail.”

Her opinions, warnings and admonishments have stood me in good stead. At the time I would have said they went in one ear and out the other. I would have been wrong. They come back to me in some way almost every day.

My brothers and sisters and I have aged well, all things considered. Our jewel-like luster has dimmed but we’re still at large.

Mother, I think, would be pleased.

Alice Duncan, Full Bloom in Life’s Rose Garden

What you should know about Alice, from her website:

“I’m Alice Duncan, Emma Craig, Rachel Wilson, Anne Robins, and even Jon Sharpe a couple of times. Alice, Emma, Rachel and Anne all write historical novels, both romances and mysteries. Jon wrote westerns. Two of them. When I was young and didn’t know any better, I wanted to write the Great American Novel. After life kicked me around for a few decades, I decided I not only don’t want to write the Great American Novel, I don’t even want to read it. What I like in my reading material is to be taken away from life’s travails for a few hours. That’s what I aim to do in my own novels, and I consider it a most worthwhile goal.”

Just between us, I do well just to keep up with Alice Duncan, never mind all her other disguises. My favorites of her books are those set in 1920s Los Angeles. That time and place wafts across the page like a fine, light perfume.

I just read one of her books that had me laughing from beginning to end. It’s the first in her Mercy Allcutt series, and here’s my review.
***
LOST AMONG THE ANGELS
By Alice Duncan

From Chapter One:
(Quote)
You know how people always say that writers should write what they know? Well, l didn’t know anything. How can you write novels if you haven’t lived? And I don’t care what anybody says, living on Beacon Hill in Boston during the fall and winter and then in a mansion (called a “cottage”) on Cape Cod during the spring and summer isn’t really living. Oh, maybe if you’re a man it is, because you still get to leave your mansion and go work in the city. But if you’re a woman, all you do on Beacon Hill or Cape Cod is sit in your gilded cage, order your butler around, and look down on the rest of the world. Play tennis occasionally. Gossip. Hire and fire servants. That’s not for me, darn it.
Don’t tell my mother I said darn it, please.
(End Quote)

Meet Mercy Allcutt, age 21, escaping her stultifying Boston background for the home of her sister, Chloe, whose husband, Harvey, is a movie studio big shot. With her bred-in-the-bone manners, speech and dress, Mercy is lost among the angels of a gaudy 1920s Los Angeles.

She quickly learns that nobody in Los Angeles uses a last name, and every other person, no matter how shopworn, kills time in menial work while waiting to be discovered and turned into a movie star. Determined to fit in and get “experience” Mercy takes a secretarial job with a PI named Ernie.

An ex-cop, Ernie is straight out of Central Casting. Think a young Spencer Tracy, leaner and meaner but rumpled in appearance and attitude. He pegs Mercy as a slumming rich girl who will last about 15 minutes in a job but what the hey. He hires her and takes her to lunch.

Mercy’s office skills and good manners make her the perfect receptionist, but as an apprentice P.I. – her true goal — she has ten thumbs and two left feet. Her adventures begin with concern for a waif whose mother, a dancer at the notorious Kit Kat Klub, has disappeared. This thrusts the agency into cases involving everything from murder to drug smuggling. Mercy makes the scene and never loses her hat.

Mercy is a pip. I laughed all the way through this book and stayed up until 4:00 in the morning to finish it. I was still laughing when I turned out the light. Not a bad way to end one day and start another.
***
Alice Duncan’s web site is at http://www.aliceduncan.net/

Murder, He Wrote … and Wrote … and Wrote

Pity the poor conference chair who must introduce Tom Sawyer. The man has done everything from comic strips to a contemporary opera based on the life of John F. Kennedy. Writer of more than 100 network TV episodes, he was also producer, creative consultant or story editor on such network series as “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Law & Harry McGraw.” His first novel, THE SIXTEENTH MAN, is a thriller with a stunning twist on the Kennedy assassination. NO PLACE TO RUN, his new thriller from Sterling & Ross, is the first novel to make the case that people high in the U.S. enabled 9/11.

Tom is the creator of PLOTS UNLIMITED, an interactive plot-generating software for fiction writers, and co-creator of its successor, STORYBASE, published by Ashleywilde, Inc. He travels the country as a conference speaker and guest lecturer. His book FICTION WRITING DEMYSTIFIED, also published by Ashleywilde, Inc., is a user-friendly and entertaining course in the specifics of fiction writing.

I first met Tom online, 11 years ago almost to the day. We were both in an iUniverse chatroom on May 15, 2001. I still have my printout of the transcript of that session. Tom had just written his first thriller, THE SIXTEENTH MAN. I read the book and we have been e-mail friends ever since.

Sometimes you get lucky. Tom was a presenter at the Oklahoma Writers Federation conference in Oklahoma City this past weekend, and I finally got to meet Tom and his wonderful wife, Holly, in person. They met my sister Beth and me for Sunday brunch and a chin-fest before catching their plane home.

Tom has a million stories about his life in show biz and the writing world. If he ever writes a memoir I’ll be first in line to buy it. He also had some interesting stories about his research into the JFK assassination. Fascinating – and scary – stuff.

But the popular vote, if one were taken, would probably go to “Murder, She Wrote” (1984-1996). It surely is one of the best long-running series TV ever gave us, and Tom has some great stories about that as well. Angela Lansbury was pure delight as Jessica Fletcher, and the guest stars were – well, everybody who was anybody showed up sooner or later.

The best news is that all seasons are available on DVD from Amazon.com. An embarrassment of riches, you think, and not cheap. How do you know which season to pick first? No problem. At Epguides.com, Jeff DeVouge lists all 264 episodes, episode by episode, with a logline and cast of characters. It’s at http://tinyurl.com/73qndzc

For more information about Thomas B. Sawyer and his works, check out his web site: www.thomasbsawyer.com/

Tom and Holly make a great couple. Meeting them was such a pleasure. My thanks to both of them for their generosity and friendship.

A Thriller That Asks, What if?

This year will mark the 49th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I’ll be re-reading Thomas B. Sawyer’s novel, THE SIXTEENTH MAN, for the umpteenth time. This is a novel that is still as timely as the event itself, what with real-life stories still in the news. For one, former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, who was charged with safeguarding Jacqueline Kennedy, has written his memoir of those times and that day in particular.

Sawyer’s novel grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. All the time I was reading, I had the feeling he knew something I didn’t, perhaps knew what really happened on that dreadful day in Dallas. What if … what if …

From the Synopsis on Sawyer’s web site:
“Dr. Matthew Packard’s relationships and his career are at crisis points when he’s almost killed in a motorcycle accident in Muleshoe Canyon, near Moab, Utah. The mishap results in his discovery of an ancient burial shaft containing sixteen male skeletons. Fifteen of them date back 100,000 years, dramatically older than any human remains ever found in the Americas….”

From Chapter One:
“He’d been staring at nothing in particular. But then he saw it. Another skull – somehow different from the first one. Packard reached down, brought it up to eye-level, dusted the rear surface. ‘Okay, I’m examining another cranium. This one doesn’t appear to be as – wait a minute…’ He had turned it so that he was looking into its face. ‘This one, there are a few hairs attached. And the teeth – Christ, they’ve got silver fillings.’”

In alternating chapters, Sawyer tells two stories separated by more than 30 years in time.

First story, set in 1963: Tracking an errant wife whose husband wants evidence for divorce, a private eye accidentally photographs a small group of men with rifles, one of whom is a dead ringer for Lee Harvey Oswald.

Second story, set in present time: A dirt bike accident dumps an archaeologist near a rock fissure that leads him to a pile of skulls and bones. Fifteen sets of bones appear to be thousands of years old, but the sixteenth skull still has some hair attached, and there are silver fillings in the teeth.

Sawyer weaves these stories together so smoothly that hair on the back of my neck stands up when the story threads cross. The ending, on a narrow cliff in Muleshoe Canyon, is a knockout.

Sawyer writes: “Random events. Causes. Effects. Paths crossing, tangents briefly met, then curving away. All of it so incredibly random, and yet — what — fated?”

I think: It’s fiction. That didn’t happen. But what if? What if?

A thriller to take your breath away

So now we approach the halfway mark of this year and are hard-charging toward the fall and winter holidays. Don’t know about you, but my tongue is hanging out. What a year – one disaster after another, and that’s just the weather. We do live in interesting times.

Tom Sawyer has such an inventive way with conspiracy novels they leave the reader wondering if he made the whole thing up or if it might just have happened that way. His latest thriller – and Number One Bestseller – is NO PLACE TO RUN. Published in 2009 by Sterling & Ross, it was voted Best Novel of 2009 by the American Book Readers Association. A political conspiracy thriller, it’s the first novel to make the case that the 9/11 hijackers received serious help from high up within the U.S.

All that’s left is for Hollywood to pick up NO PLACE TO RUN. It would make a dandy movie, and that really would give this year a glorious turn. Here’s my review of the novel.

NO PLACE TO RUN by Thomas B. Sawyer
Sterling & Ross 2009
Opening lines:
***
There it was again.
Ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka…
He stopped breathing.Then, almost as quickly as they had come the noises diminished,
vanished. He exhaled. His pulse began to slow. Once again, the loudest sound in the murky foyer was his heartbeat.

A rat, probably. As frightened as I am. Strike that. Not even close. Bill Lawrence realized he’d lost count. His fear bordered on terror. Not of getting caught–he was here, after all, with the tenant’s permission. At his request, actually. Nor was
it the singularity of what he was doing. Skulking on his hands and knees in dark places was well outside Bill’s normal professional activities.
***
You might assume from the riveting first pages that Bill Lawrence is the protagonist. You might be right. You might be wrong. Things are not always what they seem in this Byzantine tale of the discovery of certain facts about the events leading to 9/11 – and the desperate, damn-the-costs attempt to prevent them from emerging.

What rogue federal agents do to protect a powerful Washington figure with a connection to the terror attacks of 9/11 makes for nasty
business. Sawyer brings it down to human levels with a 24 year-old sister and her young brother running for their lives, trusting no one, not even the agent intent on saving them, as they try to solve the cryptic evidence uncovered by their father.

The 12-year-old brother, who has made a science of outwitting adults, adds a humorous note to this nail-biting, stomach-churning story.

Sawyer is a TV/film veteran and it shows in the quick cuts from scene to scene, with no wasted motion. The first few chapters are like the
opening of a suspenseful movie. People appear and disappear with only the briefest of introduction or explanation. There are visuals – scraps of scratch-paper notes and news clips.

Along about page 50 the story stretches out a little with a bit of back story. But don’t get comfortable. The whole thing blows up with a shocking twist, and takes off in a different, unexpected direction.

The great director Alfred Hitchcock described a McGuffin as “the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.”

Here, it’s the papers. Draw your own conclusions. Sawyer’s McGuffin propels the plot right up to the surprise ending.

NO PLACE TO RUN is an exciting, satisfying, thought-provoking stomach-churner, one worth staying up late to finish.

Tom’s web site is http://www.ThomasBSawyer.com

If computers were Fords …


This is the funniest thing I’ve read in ages. I tracked it down to the Snopes web site, where it’s listed as an urban legend. Apparently it started as a simple joke about 1997 and just grew from there. The Snopes web site is at:
http://www.snopes.com/humor/jokes/autos.asp

But urban legend or not, it’s still funny, and here it is.
***
At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, “If Ford had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”

In response to Bill’s comments, Ford issued a press release stating:
“If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be
driving cars with the following characteristics:”

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash …twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive — but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single “This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation” warning light.

7. The airbag system would ask “Are you sure?” before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off. When all else fails, you could call ‘”customer service” in some foreign country and be instructed in some foreign language how to fix your car yourself.

***