We Have Better Writers

Kevin Spacey tells Stephen Colbert why House of Cards makes for better viewing than the drama issuing daily from the ‘real’ White House. “I do believe we have better writers.”

Season five binge-watching begins May 30. “I have to say, I think we’ve never been more relevant.”

Earlier thoughts on the House of Cards opening credits… Not just some anodyne tour around the nation’s capital…. a sly, purposeful montage fit for the cunning Frank Underwood.

Best 90 seconds on TV.

Trump’s In Flight Entertainment

What are Trump & Co. reading as they wing their way to Saudi Arabia tonight?

Two Pumps for the Body Man!

This black comedy set in Saudi Arabia does for American diplomacy what Catch 22 did for military logic: The enemy in the War on Terror can’t kill us if our own institutions kill us first.

Jeff Mutton walks the diplomatic beat protecting American officials in Saudi Arabia. An expert with guns and knives, grenades and rockets, he’s survived assaults and sieges, stabbings and chokeholds, car bombs, carjackings, criminal hits, and countless other enemy threats. But instinct tells Mutton the menace he now faces dwarfs all these killers combined. The fool!—his foot fetish has him in hot water again.

Part soft-boiled noir, part literary satire, Two Pumps for the Body Man is an unserious look at a serious situation, a grim reminder that no matter how high the barricade, how sharp the razor wire, there is no front line to the War on Terror. And the enemy is everywhere, even within.

Available in print and electronic versions from New Pulp Press through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online vendors. Review copies available upon request.

 “A wonderfully wacky consular bash in a place called The Kingdom, a nightmarish place straight out of Catch-22 where bureaucrats use very acronym under the sun… haywire bureaucracy at its finest.”
                                  -Robert Bruce Cormack, You Can Lead a Horse to Water    
                                                                         (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)

The F-Bomb Drill

A few years back my son told me about his day in kindergarten: ‘We practiced the truder drill. It’s like the fire drill, only instead of going outside we go to the back of the room. The teacher locks the door and pulls the shade. We all keep quiet.’

His anecdote about a potential armed intruder at school has haunted and inspired my writing since.

Following is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel, The Patchworks, about life in the slow lane as the federal bureaucracy attempts to solve the issues that matter most.

Teague said, ‘I told my boys, ‘They’ve been doing drills since forever. Different drills for all kinds of emergencies. Emergencies that never happened. Like the A-bomb.’

William asked, ‘A-bomb? Is that like the F-bomb? Hayden got in trouble for using the F-bomb. What’s an F-bomb? Miss Belmont sent him to the principal’s office for using the F-bomb. Are we going to have F-bomb drills?’’

The F-Bomb Drill

Mother Land: A Review for Mothers Day

Stephen King reviews Paul Theroux’s new novel, Mother Land at the New York Times this week (PeaceCorpsWorldwide brought it to my attention).

King gives voice to the love-hate relationship so many readers have with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, novelist and travel writer, whose prolific career spans nearly six decades and whose vicious pen reaches the furthest places on the globe—including home.

“All self-educated readers (that would be most of us) have holes in our curriculum vitae, and I’m no different. I’ve read Dickens and Tolstoy but not Austen; most of Faulkner but little of Hemingway (and regretted what I did); all of Philip Roth, but none of Saul Bellow. Paul Theroux was one of my holes, a prolific writer I had always meant to get around to. Now that I have, I’m not exactly sorry, but I’m certainly gobsmacked, and although I knew next to nothing about Theroux’s life, by the time I’d read the first 100 or so pages of “Mother Land,” I began to suspect that what I was reading was not so much a novel as a kind of masked autobiography.”

Why the love-hate relationship? One answer here: Crossing Paths with Paul Theroux.

Happy Book Launch Day Vikram East!

Congrats to Vikram East today as he launches his debut novel, Fun in Ancient Greece. The book manages to do for homework what homework never did for books: make learning fun!

The assignment? Convince the elementary school principal to take the third grade class to one of four civilizations: Rome, Greece, Egypt, or China.

Fascinated by gods and warriors, Vikram chose to head off to Ancient Greece.

Stop by later for an audio edition and an interview with the young author. Enjoy!

Can Zeus and friends save the day?

Ms. Hollier’s school will be shut down if she doesn’t take the third grade back to ancient Greece. She has the students build a flying surfboard to take them there so they can gather the information—and an artifact—they need to save the school. Will the class make the discoveries in time to keep Collie Cosher Elementary open?

“Fun in Ancient Greece had me gripping my chair in amazement. This debut is one exciting adventure!”                                    -Shirkus Reviews

Let Us Not Be Quiet

Revisiting Remarque before peace eludes

My copy of All Quiet on the Western Front is a tattered thing. The cover, already coming apart in brittle pieces, fell off entirely as I read. It was appropriate to the fate of narrator Paul Baumer to see that cover come away.

It is the father of all modern war writing (though it disdains fathers).

It gives us the Lost Generation in its rawest form. It came out about the same time as A Farewell to Arms (1929) and Remarque seems to have tapped the same narrative vein as Hemingway. Is it the standard voice of those who witnessed firsthand the horrors of WWI; or is it the standard voice of all warrior-writers? Mailer, Heller, Tim O’Brien, Kevin Powers write with the same wry tension when they write of the Second World War, Vietnam, the most recent war in Iraq.

Heller is far windier than the others, so it surprises me to think that so much of Catch-22‘s invective can be found in Remarque. It is invective born of rage at the military as an institution, at institutional blindness writ-large.

Remarque’s first big battle comes in Chapter 4. The next big battle—bigger than the first—is recounted in Chapter 6. In between, the reader is introduced to Corporal Himmelstoss, the squad’s chief tormenter, and it’s no mistake the chapter opens with the difficulty of crushing lice. Killing each separate louse is a tedious business when a man has hundreds. The little beasts are hard and the everlasting cracking with one’s fingernails very soon becomes wearisome.

Thereafter Himmelstoss, chief military louse, makes his appearance. He taunts the squad about responding to his authority. But Himmelstoss is a man from camp and his authority is viewed as vapid. “Stand up there, bring your heels together when your superior officer speaks to you,” Himmelstoss orders Tjaden. The soldier waves him off. “You take a run and jump at yourself, Himmelstoss.” Himmelstoss is a raging book of army regulations. The Kaiser couldn’t be more insulted.

The only peace that comes of this exchange is that the command comes down light on Tjaden and gives him open arrest. Baumer and Kat sneak off, pillage a goose, and bring him the roasted meat. Himmelstoss is soon crushed like a louse, shown for the coward he is during the great battle that rages next.

Remarque aims his barbs at the military’s institutional rigidity and ignorance time and again. On home leave Baumer fails to salute an old major and is forced to practice the protocol. It enrages him. What does the major know of sacrifice? The military hands out new uniforms in time for the Kaiser’s inspection—then collects them again when its over. The military sends fresh recruits with no training, and two companies are mown down by a single airman. What do they know of cover?

My copy of All Quiet on the Western Front is in tatters. It is well read. It is a well-read copy with lines like these underlined: There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best—in a way that cost them nothing. And that is why they let us down so badly… They ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress—to the future… While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger.

As I read All Quiet on the Western Front these past two days Remarque’s strong prose consumed me entirely. The story is timeless. So many have read this book, yet still our current leadership would tear down the very institutions dedicated to preventing similar stories from being re-lived—the State Department, USAID, the Peace Corps—to build up a store of arms and creative means for killing our fellow man.

How has a book so well-read managed to be so poorly taken into account?

Thinking in Tens

The Top Ten Dumb Things Internet lists have made me do (one is a lie):

10. “Like” things that merely interest me
9. Assess the duplicity of others
8. Avoid work, especially writing
7. Scroll while driving
6. Scroll while biking
5. Groan aloud in public
4. Puzzle over others’ music interests
3. Read lists
2. Make lists

And… The number one dumb thing Internet lists have made me do is:

Think in tens

100 Days? 1300 More? I Surrender!

As POTUS appears on the verge of surrender this week in the tired battle over his border wall idea and a spending bill  to fund it, I wanted to draw attention to a lesser  known capitulation from America’s past.

For 35 years the good citizens of Key West have beaten back fascism and demagoguery with humor and booze to celebrate their 1982 secession from the United States. The newly founded Conch Republic declared war on the former Homeland, quickly waved a white flag of surrender, then submitted a request for foreign aid—which naturally never arrived.

The 10-day Conch Republic Independence Celebration is in full swing this week, ending Saturday with an event far more significant than anyone’s 100 despicable days of Making America Gag Absolutely #MAGA.

In fact, the bed races on Duvall St. in Key West this weekend might be just what the country needs after waking up bleary-eyed each day since the start of this four-year national nightmare.

History of the Conch Republic 

Established April 23, 1982 as a rebuke to the U.S. Border blockade of the Florida Keys, The Conch Republic has as its stated Foreign Policy:

“The Mitigation of World Tension through the Exercise of Humor.”

When the U.S. Government installed a Border Patrol checkpoint at the head of the island chain, treating the Keys like a foreign country, Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow seceded from the Union. Non-reaction by the U.S. to this assertion of the rights of man, according to international law, resulted in sovereignty

The Conch Republic was born!

On its home page the proud Conch Republic notes it has its own passports and has had “citizens and Diplomats received by thirteen Caribbean countries, Mexico, Sweden, Russia, France, Spain, Ireland and Germany.” The Republic even maintains what it calls ‘Conch-sulates’ in Switzerland, Havana, Maine, and New Orleans.

The Conch Republic calls itself the world’s first fifth world country and exists as a State of Mind. “We aspire only to bring more Warmth, Humor and Respect to a planet we find in sore need of all three.”

It’s former home to renowned patriot, WWII German submarine hunter, and erstwhile writer Ernest Hemingway (there he wrote Death in the Afternoon, The Green Hills of Africa, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and parts of A Farewell to Arms), playwright Tennessee Williams, and many other notorious writers and artists. My publisher is located there.

The Conch Republic calls itself “The world’s first functioning Meritocracy whereby anyone that sees a job that needs doing can do it, and be recognized in that position.” They recognize the “World Principle of Human Rights and Ambitions”—because what are rights without the ability to realize ambitions?

Their annual Independence celebration is carried out in a “public and notorious manner” over a ten day period in April of every year. It concludes on Sunday, a day after Saturday’s Duvall St. Bed Races, and the 101st day of the current effort to Make All Greed Awesome #(MAGA!)


World Book Day

On Earth Day I pollute. On World Book Day I watch movies.

If I list my favorites, it becomes clear that most actually started out as novels—even Cool Hand Luke (Donn Pearce, ’65) and Midnight Cowboy (James Leo Herlihy, same year).

Easy Rider (’69) is the exception.

Love and Protest

Amy’s Story by Anna Lawton sets a tempestuous romance against the turbulent half-century of global change that erupted in the 1960s and flowed across the land like a modern Great Flood. The novel plants the seeds of these decades in the post-World War One migration from Europe to the United States and reveals the newest fruits—poison to some, nectar to others—in the closing pages. The private romance and the public turmoil work together to create a story as much about love as it is about progress, about aspiration and success as about longing and loss.

A third conflict, the subtle struggle between the adventurous Amy and childhood friend Stella (with whom she shares a surprising connection) can be summed up in a line: ‘She tried to pull me back and make me think before jumping into action, although my instinct often prevailed.’

At every level the book addresses the question, ‘Where are you from?’ And the structure suggests there is no true answer without first understanding the history that brings you there.

The protagonist arrives in L.A. from Turin as the lover of a charming, if arrogant, Fulbright scholar. Jim is writing an industry-shattering book about Italian film’s influence on Hollywood, an anti-establishment work that will keep him struggling for years to win his place at the table. The pair struggle together; they’re a team; and their struggle occurs at a time when baby boomers around the world are struggling to upend the status quo.

We know the reasons: the war in Vietnam; political assassinations; craven and unstable American leadership; beats and hippies and drugs and music; the push for racial and gender equality. A trip to Mexico during these years reveals the nightmare women endured in the years before Roe v. Wade, a stunning description of the harrowing limits being pushed in the struggle to maintain control over a woman’s own body.

But as her mentor makes plain, not all protestors understand exactly what or why they protest. ‘These kids fill up their mouths with words such as Marxism, Communism, class struggle, revolution, but they don’t even know their true meaning. They lack historical knowledge, never went to the roots.’

The roots he refers to are the ideas from Europe that stitched themselves into the fabric of the American Constitution. And his lesson carries an eerie foretaste of the conformity and demagoguery that duped 46.1% of voting Americans last fall: ‘The ‘mass’… this is one of the favorite words in Marxist parlance because the mass can be easily manipulated. All you need is a charismatic leader, a simplistic doctrine, smart images on posters and banners, and…. A new dogma is born, an absolute truth, and all genuflect to it.’

Continue reading Love and Protest