Living Hell

Today I experienced something more painful and unpleasant than having a surgeon hack away at my arm with a knife…

I sat through the BRIDGET JONES sequel. Unlike my surgery, I would have welcomed anesthesia during this ordeal.

Oh, the things a man will do to please his wife.

Pitt the Pits

The Los Angeles Times today published a scathing review of the BLACK WIND, the latest Dirk Pitt novel. 

But Cussler’s prose is uniformly and relentlessly awful. Not just in the occasional howler ("You have an annoying proclivity for survival, Mr. Pitt, which is exceeded only by your irritating penchant for intrusion"), but sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, it’s hurried, sloppy, ungrammatical, clichéd.

We finish "Black Wind" with profound relief — that the world has been saved once again, and that we don’t have to read more.

I haven’t read a Dirk Pitt novel in years, but the following story point is enough to keep me from ever reading this one:

Cussler, assisted by his real son Dirk, is a good mechanical plotter. Every few chapters, he puts the Pitts or other good guys in seemingly hopeless predicaments — shot out of the sky in a helicopter, trapped in deep-sea wreckage with air running out, imprisoned in a sinking ship, tied to a platform under a rocket about to be launched — and dares us to guess how they’ll escape. Once, for the fun of it, he cheats. Dirk Junior and Summer, swimming a five-mile-wide river, chased by thugs in a speedboat, are rescued by a restored Chinese junk piloted by … Clive Cussler himself.

I hate it when real-life authors literally insert themselves into their fictional stories as characters… it’s very, very rare when an author can actually pull it off without making the reader cringe (I understand Stephen King manages to make it work in his latest book).

But this review also points out a pet peeve of mine… the rampant use of cliches in bestselling novels. Aren’t editors editing any more? I found the following cliches on just one page of a recent, bestselling thriller:

  1. Let’s rock and roll.
  2. They had all the bells and whistles.
  3. He took one look at her and wanted to head for the hills.
  4. We got down to the nitty-gritty.
  5. Close but no cigar.
  6. He entered the picture and swept me off my feet. He was my knight in shining armor.

How could any author write that last line, in particular, and not hit the delete key? One writer I know defends using cliches like those above by arguing "That’s how people talk."

To me, it’s just bad writing… and more and more of the most successful writers in the mystery-suspense field are doing it and that saddens me, particularly when it’s one of my favorite authors. Perhaps its the pressure of turning out a book a year that’s making them sloppy… or perhaps it’s hubris, getting so big they think they’re "beyond" editing any more. I don’t know. What’s your take?

Getting Started

I’m in that exciting, anxious, slightly-nerve-rattling, stage of writing a book…the research. I have a pretty good idea where my story is going, and who the characters are, and now I have to fill in the details… of character, of place, of clues, etc. So I hit the Internet in a big way, researching hundreds of different things, from forensics to the different ways of folding a pair of socks, from Blue Chip Stamp Collecting to different kinds of urinals.

For this book, I am researching things like currency collecting, cigars and how financial managers embezzle money from their clients.  I am also checking out how some people have sold stolen goods on ebay… and how they got caught. And I’m looking into dozens of other things. I print up everything I find and stick it in an ever-expanding binder I call my "Murder Book" (which also includes my ever-changing outline and, once I start writing, pages of my work-in-progress).

And as I do this research, in the back of my mind I am still plotting… during my last book, while researching cars that were popular in 1962, I stumbled on a fact that significantly changed the entire story…and for the better.

The Internet is a wonderful research tool. Within minutes, I can find an expert, a website, and a discussion group for any subject I’m interested in. I’ve already found a half-dozen experts in currency collecting and cigars who have inundated me with useful information.

Another great tool is other authors… I have found the DorothyL mailing list… a collection of mystery authors and fans…a wonderful resource for information and useful contacts.

So now, with one good hand and one not-so-good-one, I am browsing and surfing and procrastinating… putting off writing while I gather facts. But I can also feel the time slipping away…the book is due March 30th, and the holidays are coming up, so I don’t have much time before I have to do the really important work.

Making stuff up.

How to Become Gay

An East Texas school was forced to call off their "Sadie Hawkins" day after a Christian group complained that the "cross-dressing" event encouraged kids to become homosexuals.

Delana Davies, who has two children in the Spurger school, complained this year that the tradition could promote homosexuality and got the Liberty Legal Institute, a right-wing Christian legal group, to take up the cause.

“It might be fun today to dress up like a little girl — kids think it’s cute and things like that. And you start playing around with it and, like drugs, you do a little here and there [and] eventually it gets you,” Davies told reporters.

"It is outrageous that a school in a small town in east Texas would encourage their 4-year-olds to be cross-dressers,” institute litigation director Hiram Sasser said.

Next, Ms. Davies group is going to try to ban Halloween, because it clearly promotes serial killing, Devil-worship, and necrophilia. I don’t know what’s scarier — the ignorance of Ms. Davies and her supporters or the cowardace of the school board officials.

Back in the Blog Again`

Hello friends… I’m glad to report that I’m back-in-action after a few days of recuperation. The surgery to remove all the scar tissue and my titanium implants went very well… and I was awake for the entire 3 hour operation, which I also watched. It was fascinating. I don’t understand how I can watch them tear up my own arm, but I cringe during the fake surgical scenes in NIP/TUCK. Makes no sense. Anyway, it looks as though I’ve regained considerable motion in my arm… now the trick will be keeping my new-found flexibility. For six hours each day, I’ve been using a machine that bends and extends my arm…and I’ve been going to physical therapy, too.

Now it’s time to get back to work writing, so I can pay for all this top-of-the-line medical care. I want to thank my brother Tod for keeping the blog afloat in my absense with his wit and wisdom.

Book Burners of the World: Unite and Take Over

From the desk of Lee’s still better looking and, apparently, filled-with-free-time younger brother Tod, keeping the site warm until Lee’s return from prison.

An Open Letter to Kurt & Karen Krueger, Proponents of Book Banning,

Dear Kurt and Karen,

Your kids are going to hate you. Seriously. They are going to hate you. Do you want to know why? Because you’ve done the one thing that children recognize as bullshit: you’ve made an issue out of your own parenting, or, perhaps, your own lack of confidence in how you raise your children. You recently asked the school board in your town of Merton, Wisconsin to ban "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky, "Like Water for Chocolate," by Laura Esquivel, "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and "The Joy Luck Club," by Amy Tan from an elective course in contemporary literature. You said that these books should be removed from the reading list because they "are filled with suicide and things that don’t reflect the standards of the community," including, you noted, oral sex, masturbation and, that most dreaded scourge, homosexuality.

Fortunately, people with an advanced sense of humanity voted this week not to ban the books you think are ruining the moral fiber of your city from the course, but to require parental consent forms, which, in my opinion, is almost as bad. At any rate, Mr. & Mrs. Krueger, you decided that now that you’ve lost that appeal, the book should be banned all together, lest children learn how to give blow jobs, masturbate or, worse, turn to same sex love.

"Now I want it banned," said Karen Krueger, who had argued all along that she wasn’t asking for the book to be completely removed from the school. "Their parental notification is ineffective."

Mr. and Mrs. Krueger, you do understand that books are fiction, that life is real, and that words only do harm to those sheltered by reality. Teenagers have oral sex. Teenagers masturbate (a lot). Teenagers kill themselves and teenagers are gay. Members of the adult community in your city do likewise, and worse. Asking intellectual property to be banned invites your children to be close minded and unprepared for life. Asking for a book to be removed from a school because it goes against your moral code and then impressing it upon other children not your own is dangerous and borders on the malicious. If you don’t want your children giving or receiving blow jobs, masturbating or becoming gay, I suggest keeping them locked in the closet, because those are the types of things that happen in the real world, with or without books you don’t like.

Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Kruger, I suggest you read a book or two. I say, start with Fahrenheit 451 and work your way back to reality.



Why Crying Wolf Is Not Such A Good Idea

About a month ago, an anonymous romance writer — or at least she was anonymously interviewed, but apparently other romance authors sussed her out — claimed that the government came in and seized her computers and work under the guise of the Patriot Act, ostensibly because of the research she was doing

(From Necessary Dissent, which posted this from an article in the Romance Writers Of America trade magazine): 

SB: What type of story were you researching?

Dilyn: Mainstream women’s fiction adventure. It was set in (Cambodia, all about the theft of antiquities. In my research I learned, about the atrocities that still go on there even today, much of it coming from one the Al Qaeda-linked groups. I actually went back though my book and deleted those specific terrorist references after 9/11 and changed the terrorists to a rogue band of thieves because of 9/11 and terrorist sensitivity.

It turns out, this anonymous writer is actually not anonymous at all…and that they seized her computers because, as the Associated Press and FOX News in Indianapolis reports, she was under criminal investigation for something entirely different:

Marion County prosecutors have charged a husband and wife in connection to a social security scam. They’re accused of allegedly bilking the government agency out of nearly $83,000 in unentitled disability benefits.
Police arrested the Dianne Holmes-Despain, 51, and her husband Joel Despain, 43, Tuesday morning. They’re being held at the Marion County Jail.
Prosecutors say an anonymous tip to the social security fraud hotline started the investigation rolling last year. Holmes-Despain is charged with theft, fraud and 14 counts of forgery. She began receiving disability benefits in 1985 when she was determined to be eligable claiming she had rheumatoid arthritis and couldn’t work. However, prosecutors say she was getting disability checks while she continued to teach education classes at IUPUI.
They also say she was writing romance novels and books at the time under different aliases like J.J. Despain and Dianne Drake and getting paid.
Many are books about cheating the system titled "Government Secrets, "Money Secrets" and "Inside Info: The Secrets You Should Know."
Allegedly she used her husband’s social security number to conceal her income. Joel Despain is charged with conspiracy to commit welfare fraud.
"I think they put a substantial amount of effort into keeping this a secret. I mean that seems to be what she was doing. She writes about keeping secrets, she writes about government secrets and publishing secrets and the whole time the biggest secret of all is that she’s not disabled," Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said. In the end the couple collected about $83-thousand dollars over a nine year period. Holmes-Despain could spend as many as 16 years in prison. Her husband could be looking at eight.

Nothing too romantic about that, he interjected tersely.

The Saviour Of Comedy: Joe Roth?

Day Three of Love in the Time Of Tod Goldberg…

Variety reports that movie producer Joe Roth has inked a deal to develop sitcoms for CBS:

"My sole purpose in starting this company is to quickly" work on launching comedies, Roth told Daily Variety. "That’s what’s missing from TV right now. The networks have plenty of dramas, and I couldn’t develop a reality show if my life depended on it.  I’ve always found the best strategy in business is to focus on one thing."

There are plenty of sitcoms on TV, just not enough funny ones.

The last movie I walked out of and actually asked for my money back on (vs. just sneaking into something else) was the Roth "laffer" Anger Management, which nominally starred Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. I say nominally because neither actually did a whit of acting in it. It was just drivel. Anyway, after walking out on the movie I became interested in finding out the root of my hatred of this film and found, to my surprise, that it might be Roth himself. Of all the movies I’ve walked out of in my 33 years, a total less than 30, Roth has at least five: Nightbreed,  Low Down Dirty Shame, The Jerky Boys, Daddy Day Care and the aforementioned Anger Management. On the upside, I did love Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise.

And The Winner Is That Other Woman You’d Never Heard Of

From the desk of Tod Goldberg, Lee’s better looking, fully ambulatory brother:

Lily Tuck has won the National Book Award in fiction for  The News From Paraguay, a novel I haven’t read, but which literally dozens of other folks have, which I don’t think is a knock in any way against her nomination and eventual victory. When I was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for my novel Living Dead Girl my competition was Scott Turow, George Pelecanos, Henning Mankell and Stephen L. Carter, which, aside from Carter, whose book The Emperor of Ocean Park I found to be unreadable crap, made me feel like I was in some pretty fancy company, irrespective of book sales. Good is good, no matter how many people choose to buy the book, which, in the case of Living Dead Girl, was strikingly small in comparison. I, for one, was happy the NBA wasn’t all about Phillip Roth and stuffy men in bad sweaters, though I thought for certain my favorite book of the year would be nominated, at least.

The New York Times has the full rundown of winners.

Bigger. Stronger. Less Titanium

Tod here reporting on the new and improved version of Lee. My understanding, from sources close to the surgery, is that Lee was awake for the entire surgery and watched with eager pleasure as his crack staff of doctors removed all the precious metals from his arm. While watching this occur, Lee was horrified to learn that aliens had implanted a tracking device into his arm at some point in the past and that all his thoughts, emotions, true feelings about the likelyhood that Richard Hatch and the Dagget once copulated, and a pilot idea for a show about crime fighting crossover TV/ fan fiction writers ("This week, the cast of the Love Boat solves the mystery of who shot JR…") had been turned into a database that will later be used to enslave all of mankind deep in the center of the earth.

All that being said, he’s in good shape and eagerly awaiting word from the Mothership.