Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mutant Mice And Petty Larceny: The Middle Age of Aquarius

“And just when everybody stops being worried about mental health, June sneaks up on us with National Accordion Awareness Month. Man, that’s cold. That’s just wrong.” ~ Barry Parham
Writing or reading humour is an entirely different beast from a novel. The pacing’s different, the tone’s lighter, and it usually makes you laugh more. Unless the writer is doing something entirely wrong. In which case the book has backfired. I’ve read many humour compilations. Some of them are from columnists with weekly or daily columns in newspapers, magazines, or online sites. Others are from stand-up comedians. The good ones have made me fall about laughing. The bad ones commit the cardinal humour sin of not being funny. Ray Romano, I’m looking at you. And your ghost writer.
Fortunately Barry Parham is firmly part of the former. He has been writing humour columns online for a long while, compiling his work into books. I recently dove into one of his books, The Middle Age of Aquarius. And I quickly found myself smirking and laughing at the way he tells a story, and his deft skill with a punchline.
The book is organized roughly by theme, with recurring elements playing out as we go along. Making fun of getting older comes up again and again. The buffoonery of politics is tapped into (of course, that’s a subject that’s just begging to be lampooned). Life in the South is another topic for fodder. Skewering traditions and pop culture. And of course a twisted, clever variation on Dear Abby.
I started laughing early, and kept laughing throughout. Parham writes of pitting show horse stallions against monster trucks, of the real meaning of The Nutcracker experience, or why people are in such a rush to get through South Carolina. Then he turns around and explains what’s wrong with the Zodiac, wonders how old is too old for Hallowe’en trick or treating, and recounts how Southerners overreact to a snow storm. He’ll don his Dear Abby persona to dole out advice about everything from caffeine insanity to idiot fellow employees to political shenanigans. From there the horrors of math are laid out, death in the age of Facebook is examined, and the perils of the average daily commute are spelled out. Then we get into the art of stupidity and the ordeal that is shopping in gigantic monolithic box stores. And there’s much, much more.
Parham has a smart, cynical style of writing that I found very enjoyable. He knows how to build on a story, with just the right pacing for the joke. He’ll start you off with a laugh in each topic, and build from there. By the time he reaches the punchline, you’re straight out laughing at where he’s taken the story... not to mention the sacred cows he’s sacrificed along the way. It’s a deviously hilarious book, and it’ll get you laughing too. Unless your idea of the highest form of comedy happens to be Ray Romano. In which case, God help you.
In closing... can we talk about National Accordion Destruction Awareness Month?

The Middle Age of Aquarius, along with Barry's other twisted books, can be found at his page. He can also be tracked down at his blog, Mooncalf Communion. He refers all legal challenges to his lawyers and swears he had nothing to do with knocking over the Bellagio.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Chronicles Of Elections: The President, The Mittens, And The Wardrobe

Well, the endless ordeal that is the American election campaign grinds ever on. Governor Mittens continues on the road to his inevitable crowning as Republican nominee for November. Only one contender, the Crazy Old Man known as Ron Paul, still stands in his way. The Crazy Old Man has pretty much stopped campaigning (the money must be running out, and first rule of campaigning: never dip into your own money), but hasn't quite thrown in the towel. Rumor has it he's taking a very long nap, in hopes that if no one wakes him, he can't actually concede the nomination.

And so the editorial cartoonists remain hard at work, lampooning the process, while the President and his staff sharpen the knives and prepare to finish what the rest of the GOP nominees started in tearing apart Governor Mittens. I've said it before, I'll say it again... it's going to be a long summer....

President Obama has, of late, made the point that Public Enemy #1 (no, not Kim Kardashian, but thanks for thinking that) was killed on his watch. Obviously it annoyed Governor Mittens, particularly the implication that on his watch, it might have never happened...

And one of the failed contenders, Fig Newtons, aka the Newtron Bomb, still made noise as the door hit him on the way out. In an ideal world, Fig Newtons would love to be on the ticket as Vice President (this after savagely attacking Governor Mittens for months on end). The political cartoonists of the world love this guy. He gives them no end of material....

Well, Romney has things pretty much in hand. He's well ahead of the Crazy Old Man and working on his campaign strategy, alienating independent voters with his inability to empathize with average people, and choosing a VP running mate (Mama Bear, aka Sarah Palin, would like to volunteer). Not to mention getting all foggy when anyone asks him about certain bullying things he used to do in school. The party itself keeps wondering, do we have to have this guy run for the presidency? Can't it be someone else? Better luck in 2016, Republicans. This is what you get for destroying the moderate wing of the party.

Yes, my friends... it'll be a long, long stretch yet until November. By which time the whole thing will start all over again with the run-up to 2016.

It never ends!!!

And in closing, this tidbit....

Personally, I'd trust Gul Dukat more then I'd trust Romney, but there's really a remarkable resemblance, isn't there? Must run in the Cardassian genes.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Day In The Life Of A Vulture

6 AM. Time to wake up. Feeling hungry. Sun coming up to east. Will look about for anything that died during the night.

6:45 AM. Circling overhead awhile. Have spotted dead raccoon. Breakfast time! Always did like the taste of raccoon first thing in the morning.

7:15 AM. Satisfied with breakfast. Will do until mid-morning snack. Off soon to visit with friends.

8:10 AM. Met Charlie and Dolores at their perch on the cliffside. Chatted about what we've had for breakfast. We vultures do tend to eat a lot of dead things.

8:30 AM. Charlie and Dolores mention watching human reading in park four days ago during their last trip. Apparently one of their younglings reading what's called a comic book, featuring a human being calling himself the Vulture. Discussing why humans would want to take on our attributes, and by extension, why such a person is a quote... villain, unquote, rather then the hero. This starts off an existential discussion on the meaning of life and death. Talk of death makes me peckish.

9:20 AM. Charlie, Dolores, and I go off in search of a snack.

10:45 AM. Success at last. Discovered elk, freshly killed by wolves. Wolves have left area, but we'll be watchful for their return. In the meantime, we can dig in. We all do so love the texture and taste of freshly killed elk.

11:20 AM. Finished eating our fill of elk. Charlie, Dolores, and I talk about that time last fall when we hadn't had any dead thing to eat in a day or two and came across that freshly dead skunk roadkill. Eating that was something of an ordeal. Took weeks for the stench to wear off. Note to self: only eat skunk in dire circumstances. Meat tastes good, but the smell is atrocious.

12:10 PM. Bid goodbye to Charlie and Dolores. Off to find lunch.

12:50 PM. Success. Have found dozens of lemmings at base of cliff. Rumors that they do commit suicide in mass numbers are in fact true. All the better for me. Always did like the taste of dead lemmings. Even better dipped in a lemon sauce, but since I'm a vulture and can't make lemon sauce, will have to eat them as is.

1:20 PM. Finished eating. Quite tired. Feel like a nap. Will snooze a long while.

3:40 PM. Wake up from nap. Descending from cliff to look for afternoon snack.

4:05 PM. Come on. Where can a hungry vulture find a tasty morsel?

4:45 PM. Somewhat annoyed. No sign of anything dead to turn into snack.

5:50 PM. Finally found potential meal, but may have to wait. Was almost set to start panicking when I came across stranded hiker in woods. Waiting for him to expire so that I can start eating. Hiker is prone on his back, unresponsive to pecks, but I can still see breathing going on. Hiker must be five days away by foot from civilization. Wondering if hiker would be missed. Impatient for hiker to stop breathing. Don't want to start on him while he's still alive.

6:40 PM. Hiker finally dead. Confirmed heartbeat no longer occuring. Unresponsive in all other ways. Dinner time is long overdue. Have compensated for lack of afternoon snack by getting full sized freshly dead human all to myself. Yum yum.

8:00 PM. Gorged myself on dead hiker. Ate my fill until fully stuffed. Still much of him left. Wondering if there will be any more of him left in the morning when I come back. Thoroughly delicious. Contemplating standing guard over food for the night. Don't want my prize picked over by other scavengers.

11:45 PM. Kept guard over remains of hiker. Chased off Frank, who's an annoying vulture to begin with and never shares anything anyway. No one likes him, so he won't bring backup. Time to settle down for the night. Well, maybe a few bites more for a late night snack. Yum yum.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Four Characters And A Bad Day

“You know, it would be nice if just one thing today would go right for me.”

That may be a tall order, given the events that play out in Bad Day, the novel by author Devon Cooper. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong for the characters in the book, which is set primarily in real time, on a single day, in and around an office building. It’s a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The story begins with an unnamed man (in third person, the exception in what’s mostly a first person perspective book) taking an item back inside the night before, a set-up for what’s to come. This is a wise choice to give the character anonymity early on in the action, particularly for the events of the novel.
The day’s action starts by introducing us one by one to the four main characters. Angie is an office worker eager for a promotion, preparing a presentation she hopes will get her on her way. Her day starts off badly right off the start, from sleeping in, seemingly running in circles getting dressed, commute troubles, and ultimately spilling her coffee onto her blouse.
Frank and Sam come next, two construction workers who are busy finishing up work high up in the same building where Angie is working. Frank is single, soft spoken, and we quickly pick up on the fact that he’s a man with anxieties that he tries to keep under control. Sam is older, happily married to Joanne, his high school sweetheart. Sam and Joanne have a good life together, a home and children, and Frank can’t help but be a bit envious. Their day doesn’t get off to quite the right start either; we find that their arrival is at the same time as Angie, who is in the midst of her day from hell. Their work at the top of the building goes awry when Frank has to head back to the garage for something he forgot. This is a problem for Frank, who has problems with heights, and deep-seated fears about closed spaces.
Joanne, the last of the four major characters to be introduced, is a teacher, and we first meet her ourselves after things start going wrong. We know enough about her from the earlier sequences that we already have a good sense of who she is, and as events unfold and she becomes increasingly worried about her husband, we feel sympathy with her.
Frank and Angie end up in the same elevator by chance, and with that, the day from hell really gets underway. The elevator comes to a screeching halt, setting off Frank’s fears and providing a breaking point for Angie’s building frustration. On top of this, a bomb threat is called into the building, prompting an evacuation and the summoning of the police. Frank and Angie, having no idea what’s happening, are trapped, and initially are very much at odds. Frank is frozen by his own fear, while Angie is less then sympathetic towards him, agitated by what she believes is the end of her professional aspirations.
Sam, whose age is starting to catch up with him as old injuries from his days playing football manifest themselves, must make his own lonely descent to ground level by the stairs, worrying that he’ll never see his wife again. And Joanne, upon learning what’s happening, makes her way to the building, frightened at the possibility that her husband’s life is at risk.
The novel succeeds due to a number of critical factors. First and foremost is the characterization. Cooper writes these people with a well-rounded humanity, and gives them depth. Both in the narrative of the one day (and the flashbacks to the past, the only other exception to the single day rule, which really flesh out the character’s histories), she gives us personalities who are flawed yet likeable, well drawn out, with the sort of attention to detail that results in each of them having their own distinct voices. The long relationship and deep bond between Sam and Joanne, whose love is deep seated, contrasts well with Frank and Angie, who start out in this very conflicted place and yet who quickly find an unusual chemistry. The good characterization extends from the major characters even to the minor ones- I particularly liked the way a group of bomb squad police officers were being written.
Another factor that I enjoyed was the pacing of the story, and how that reflected itself in the style of the writing. The narrative flows well, doesn’t seem to drag, which is a very good thing. And writing in the first person suits this author and the story well. Much of the book is written in multiple first person point of view, and there’s never a problem keeping track of whose point of view we’re seeing things.
Something else that I really enjoyed about the book is its sense of humour. Even with the dangerous situation these characters find themselves in, there are those moments of lightness to the book. From the small details like a security guard playing solitaire rather than paying attention to his work (hey, it’s a boring job!) to the black humour Angie really brings across at times, the author succeeds at defusing tension at the most appropriate moments. Cooper doesn’t take things too seriously, which is a very good thing.
At its heart, Bad Day is a character study, which allows for depth and sympathy in its characters. It tells a story of how anything that can go wrong in a given day does go wrong, and then how life goes in an entirely unexpected direction from there. I enjoyed it a lot. You will too.

Bad Day is now available in ebook format, with the paperback soon to follow. You can find it at, here at Devon's Amazon page.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Characters Are Named After Who?

"The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers." ~ Marshall McLuhan

"Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslateable." ~ W.H. Auden

"Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names." ~ John F. Kennedy

Naming your characters can be a whole lot of trouble. You might name them after people you know. You might name them after someone from history. You might even mix and match names from current day names and see what you come up with. By the way, I will never, ever name a character Apple, Trig, Dweezil, or Mitt. That's just cruel.

And so I thought that today I might talk about some of the pitfalls of character naming.

There are names that should be avoided at all costs. There are other names that you might like to use, but circumstances won't allow it. Some names must be forever off limits. I'll never name characters after my sisters for instance. As readers who've been following me for awhile know, I'm no longer on speaking terms with either of those two, so their names carry a certain negative influence.

Readers will also have heard my mentioning the idiot ex-brother-in-law from time to time. For those not aware, the idiot's name is Mike, and while I wouldn't use that name as is, I have used Michael as a character name, and I don't associate that character with the profoundly unpleasant bigoted jackass I had to put up with for years on end.

There are other names, people who pass in and out of our lives that we'll be wary of using, or refuse to use. In our joint novel Same Time Tomorrow, Norma and I (under our alter egos of Scarlett and James) have made use of a minor character named Jeremy, something of a real sleaze. Well, I do know a Jeremy, and yes, he's an irritating prat (Jeremy, face it, you are an irritating prat). Still, I don't have a problem using the name, but I'd never use it for a character I'd like. By extension, the name Scott is off limits to me. I also know a Scott. And as irritating as Jeremy is, compared to Scott, he's quite pleasant and cordial. Scott is one of those class A jackasses whom you wish would fall in front of a speeding train. (Scott, go jump off a train platform just as the VIA train is running through. We'll all watch. Scott? Scott? Where are you going, Scott? We're waiting on you to.... Damn. Moron.)

As I've been writing Heaven & Hell, I've used an unnamed American President. Down the line, however, I do intend to create a fictional president, and the surname I've thought for him or her (haven't decided that yet) would be Archer. This might be a bit of a problem, depending on the first name. You see, I'd find myself associating this President Archer with another Archer, who tends to be quite self absorbed, yells a lot, shoots at people much too readily, drinks too much, and has his way at any woman who crosses his path and proceeds to forget her name the next morning.

Then there are the names that might sound ideal at first, but something goes amiss. Hopefully you catch it early on. Because if you catch it after the book's finished, it's too late to go back and change everything. As I was starting out on Heaven & Hell, this was one issue that came up. One of my characters, Jacob Dayan, was originally meant to be named Jacob Cohen. I would have been quite satisfied with the name, but discovered that Jacob Cohen is, in fact, the birth name of the late Rodney Dangerfield.

I don't like Rodney Dangerfield. I don't like the whole drunken irresponsible schlub routine, the obnoxious oaf bit that he constantly did. Never did, never will. So the name had to go.

More recently, however, I made a discovery about my two main character's names quite by accident, and it's so ludicrous that I had to laugh. Primarily because it's much too late to go back and start changing names. Meredith Devon and Tom Stryker are the main characters of Heaven & Hell, and the books to come. I like the names, I've gotten used to thinking of them that way. A few days ago, I happened to go into IMDb to check on something. I rarely go there anymore, though I used to spend quite a bit of time there, and my user name has stryker in it. Rather then log in, I started entering stryker into search by mistake. A list of names came up, and one of them was one Devin Stryker. That was curious, I thought, having my two lead character's surnames match so closely to this woman's name.

That was enough to catch my eye, so I clicked on it. It seems that Devin Stryker goes by other professional names: Devin Striker, Devon Stryker, or Devon. Her roles include such titles as Intoxicated, Devon Is Girl Crazy, and Pussy Cats 2.

Devon Stryker

Yes, as you can tell from those titles, Devon is indeed a porn actress.

I told you it was ludicrous!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Avengers Destroy The Competition For Box Office Supremacy

Before going into today's mischief, take a look over at Lyn Fuchs' Sacred Ground Travel Magazine, where today I wrote about the Bay of Fundy. 

A word of explanation to start off. Years ago, my partner in crime Norma and some of her fellow writers had something of an inside joke in their novels, a fictional tabloid called the International Intruder. The tabloid made the occasional appearance, enough so that their fans picked up on it and asked if they all knew each other.

Recently Norma thought of resurrecting the notion, as another sort of inside joke. We've started up a Facebook page for the International Intruder, so check that out and like it. We've done the occasional tabloid style blurb for our own books and others, as well as skewed takes on other items of interest, some of which I'm reprinting below. You may have already seen this some days ago if you're following Norma's blog; if you're not, this will be a first for you. And on occasion the International Intruder will turn up again in this blog and in my own works; I've got an idea for introducing to you the villain in my next novel through a tabloid interview of sorts.

Anyway, what with the Avengers film doing big business at the box office, Norma and I wrote up several of these blurbs in the tabloid style, mixing and matching the characters against other film hits. Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

Dateline Panem: The Hunger Games were interrupted unexpectedly today when leading contender Katniss Everdeen was abruptly taken out by expert archer and Avengers assassin Hawkeye, who met with no resistance from observers. All who saw the final defeat of Katniss were in awe of the superior archer...and afraid to piss him off!

Dateline Forks: Avenger and SHIELD agent Black Widow was sighted in this Pacific Northwest town in recent days, coinciding with the deaths of several people, confirmed by sheriff Charlie Swan to be vampires and werewolves. One of the dead includes Sheriff Swan's daughter Bella. "I knew it would end up this way sooner or later," Swan told reporters. "She got mixed up with the wrong people, started down this path that I couldn't talk her out of, and now she's gone." Witnesses, meanwhile, were astonished by the ease with which the Widow dispatched all of the supernatural beings who tried to attack her. "It was like she wasn't even trying," one witness told us.

Dateline Collinsport: Chaos reigns at the Collinwood estate, where the Incredible Hulk, a member of the Avengers, has been on the rampage for several hours now. It has been confirmed that the angry green rage monster has stomped vampire Barnabas Collins into his native soil once and for all, shouting "Puny vampire!"

Dateline Pandora: Asgardian God of Thunder and Avenger Thor travelled to this distant planet and laid waste to the native inhabitants. A vicious race of blue skinned religious zealots, the Pandorians were bent on interstellar conquest while passing themselves off as benevolent and peaceful. The thunderer told reporters, "those smurfs had it coming."

Dateline North Atlantic: After expressing displeasure with his on board suite, billionaire Tony Stark, also known as the Avenger Iron Man, has bought the Titanic--and sunk it. You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen. There was no iceberg. Oh, and Stark reportedly referred to the journeyman artist Jack Dawson as a yellow bellied coward and an "Oliver Twist."

Dateline Hogwarts: Captain America, the heroic soldier of World War Two and leader of the Avengers, led a raid into a wizard's school on the British isles this weekend. When asked by reporters why students were detained, the Captain informed us that reports of demonic activity, including moving pictures, fantastic creatures, and an emphasis on the Dark Arts were more then enough reason to shut down the school. There has been no comment from Headmistress McGonagall as to possible retribution.

Dateline Empire: Loki, the treacherous Asgardian god of mischief, was sighted holding the Imperial Death Star hostage this weekend. The Dark Side powers of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine were helpless against the trickster, who unleashed an army of Loki duplicates against the storm troopers on the battle station. Loki was only satisfied and left peacefully after the galaxy's most annoying life form, Jar-Jar Binks was executed.