Sunday’s this and that, often called hash

  • I just finished Carly Shabowski’s The Watchmaker of Dachau. For my taste, the book wasn’t as strong as The Rainbow, but I wasn’t disappointed. The story differs from most concentration camp novels in that the principal characters work at the commandant’s house rather than in work details. Coming up next is her novel The Note as soon as I finish Kathy Reichs’ Cold Cold Bones (my change of pace novel and a first look at a story from the Temperance Brennan series that inspired the TV show “Bones”).
  • In my 1950s-era novel in progress, my main character, and secret agent Pollyanna Hoskins is changing her disguise from a grey-haired, elderly bag lady to a young woman with strawberry blonde hair. Back to the research biz: what kind of make-up and clothes would she wear? This takes a while to figure out, especially for a man, because Internet searches for vintage products often lead to retro sites featuring takeoffs on the originals.
  • I was intrigued by Charles Passy’s article “Why Americans should think twice about watching Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.”  The subhead reads: “Yes, it’s an occasion to mourn a respected global leader, but let’s not forget why the U.S. fought to free itself from Great Britain.” Apparently, half of the world’s population will be watching. Passy points out that Americans live in a country that doesn’t need kings and queens, even figureheads with limited power, so why do we love the Brit’s monarchy?  I wonder about this, too. Even the BBC was a bit puzzled over our fixation on the Monarchy. (I have no plans to watch it.)
  • My wife’s birthday is today. Her age is, of course, classified. She has told me to stop referring to her as my trophy wife. The photograph, with my granddaughter Freya, was taken at Disney World several years ago. We’re kind of low-key about our birthdays. We exchange cards but stopped buying birthday gifts some years ago because both of us order the stuff we need/want Online and don’t need a separate birthday list. So, we’ll have some comfort food for supper and find something interesting on TV to watch other than anything about the monarchy. Our next “road trip” is scheduled for Thanksgiving when we visit my daughter, her husband, and my two granddaughters in Maryland.
  • I’m looking forward to Stephen King’s latest novel Fairy Tale in which “King goes into the deepest well of his imagination in this spellbinding novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher—for that world or ours.” His books are well written, though I usually avoid the industrial-strength horror stuff. I haven’t read a King novel for several years since I got ticked off at the third book in his “Mr. Mercedes” trilogy because he changed genres from police procedural to fantasy, something I considered out of line and probably illegal.


Friday’s potpourri

Yeah, I know, I’m supposed to save these news roundup posts until Sunday, but the week’s been strange.

  • We moved into this house, which we built new, in 2014, and since then the land has destroyed three mowers, leaving us with nothing at present to mow the lawn with. So, the fourth tractor is on order. If it weren’t for the continuing supply chain woes, some or all of these mowers could have been repaired–if anyone could get parts or employees to accomplish the task. Our mowers really weren’t built for such rough land or such high grass. So, they break down even though they’re nighly rated. Yes, we’re the 5th generation of the family to live here, but we didn’t expect that maintaining “the lawn” would become such a chore.
  • When “Bones” began airing on TV in 2005, my wife and I watched all the episodes. Now, with our “regular” TV shows on hiatus for the summer, we’re watching them again when we can’t find an old movie that fits our mood. The show is loosely based on the books and career of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. After all these years, I finally became curious about her novels of which there are over thirty. So, I ordered the latest for a change of pace, reading-wise. Now I’ll find out how the Temperance Brennan in print compares with the Temperance Brannan on TV played by actress Emily Deschanel. This will be a change from Winterkill and The Watchmaker of Dachau. I’m looking forward to something that’s new to me.
  • I’ve finally found a way to include short excerpts from my novels on my limited-space website. I’ve stolen half of the ABOUT page. I decided nobody needed to know that much about me when they did need to know more about the flavor of the books. The HOME page now has a picture of a book with the word “excerpt” superimposed over it that links to the current excerpt. I began with Fate’s Arrows, the most recent novel in the Florida Folk Magic series.
  • Current temperatures here are in the 80s, decent weather for cutting grass if all of our mowers weren’t broken down. And we’ve gone without rain for several days as well. We’re fortunate that we don’t have a SoCal rainfall from tropical storm Kay or an Alaska weather problem from an incoming typhoon.
  • According to Publishers Weekly, “ALA officials reported 681 documented attempts to ban or restrict library resources in schools, universities, and public libraries through the first eight months of 2022, on pace to shatter the 729 challenges ALA tracked in 2021. The challenges thus far in 2022 have targeted some 1,651 different titles—already more than during all of 2021—with some 70% of this year’s challenges targeting multiple titles. In past years, most challenges sought to remove or restrict a single title.” This is a good time to be aware of banned books week.


Duck Soup Labor Day weekend

  • Our wet weather continues in NW Georgia as our county and the county north of us have gotten ten inches of rain in twelve hours. And there’s more to come. I’m glad we live on a hill, though I expect one of our roads into town is flooded. So much for my plan to pick up a few groceries today. (My wife ordered me not to leave the house!)
  • The nearby horse rescue farm (Sunkissed Acres) north of us has experienced a lot of flooding. Their access to the barn has been cut off. The images on their Facebook page are sad and disturbing. A four-foot-high fence is completely underwater. Today’s volunteers have been turned away for their own safety. If you’re not already using the “Smile” feature on Amazon to send donations to a charity for each book you purchase, Sunkissed Acres can use your help.
  • This is a good weekend for that cauldron of chili I made yesterday and a stack of cool books to read. Carly Schabowski, the author of the bittersweet novel The Rainbow, which I just finished, has an interesting new WWII novel out, The Note. I’m tempted to put it on my reading list. The publisher’s description starts out this way: “Auschwitz, 1942. Adeline and Jozef cling to each other as they are directed off the train and pulled apart by Nazi guards at the gates of Auschwitz. Stripped of their belongings, their arms are inked with prison numbers. In the death camp, their days are numbered––will they ever see each other again?”
  • As for the current war, Oliver Bullough, in “Beyond the fog of war: books to help us understand the invasion of Ukraine,” (The Guardian) has a few ideas “from Ukrainian history to Putin’s kleptocracy and Gogol’s stories.” He writes, “with Russian forces pushing deep into Ukraine, bombarding Kharkiv, Kyiv and other cities, and an unprecedented wave of western sanctions pushing the rouble down to an all-time low, it is hard for any of us to tear our eyes away from the news. But the currents of history that led up to this crisis are deep and complex, and understood in profoundly different ways in Moscow and Kyiv.”
  • If it’s dry where you live, I hope you have a great Labor Day weekend experiencing high-quality outdoor activities that don’t include soggy picnics or lightning-charred steaks on the grill. If it’s not dry, have fun reading and watching old movies on TV. (Yesterday, my wife and I stumbled into a “Starwars” marathon somewhere out there on DISH and now don’t know what planet we’re living on–if it’s Tatooine, things ought to be dryer outside than they are.)


Sunday’s medley (or possibly hash)

  • I’m happy to see that one of my favorite authors, Patricia Damery (Snakes, Goatsong) has a new book out, Fruits of Eden, about her ranch in Napa Valley and her fight against overdevelopment and bad stewardship of land and water. This richly illustrated book comes with color photographs, but it is also available in a money-saving black and white version here.
  • My wife and I have discovered an important truth about health. (You might want to write this down.) When two people live in a house, the sick one will start getting well at the same moment the well one starts getting sick. This provides a time when both people are out of it.
  • Since I enjoyed Donna Everhart’s The Saints of Swallow Hill, I’m trying another of her novels The Moonshiner’s Daughter. Plenty of grit in this one, too. It’s a little like “Thunder Road” without Robert Mitchum. (Don’t write that down.)
  • As a writer, I often wonder how other writers kill people–er, in their novels. Sometimes a busload of nuns blows up and if any of them have names at all in the narrative it’s unusual since they are often presented to readers as a group and mourned together. It’s more difficult when a major character dies. I finally know how it’s going to happen in the work in progress, but I’m avoiding writing the words. Until I write down what happens, it hasn’t happened.
  • Well, now that he was attacked by a coward, Salman Rushie’s name is showing up in op-ed pieces about getting a Nobel Prize. I think it should have happened already. One writer said Rushdie deserves the prize because he’s been a long-time proponent of our freedom to write. I applaud his stance–and his involvement with PEN America–but believe the prize should be based on the quality of his books, especially when his work is looked at over time.
  • I like this story in the Christian Science Monitor: “Speaking whale? Scientists are working on it.” Our lack of better communication with other animals always makes me sad because I think we are missing out on a rich body of knowledge and the opportunity for more loving and productive interactions. I think it’s probable that the voices of the creatures of the deep are saying more than “So long and thanks for all the fish.”


Sunday’s potpourri

  • Coming soon from Robert Hays and Thomas-Jacob Publishing, An Empty House by the River: “Lacy, who sees beauty wherever she looks and expects others to be as good as she is, can no longer count on her big brother to protect her from an abusive husband, and the family learns a hard truth: No one is immune to the quirks of fate, be they blessings or tragedies, and the river takes more than it gives.” Hays is also the author of A Shallow River of Mercy.
  • I have a good case of the flu or the flue (not sure which) that isn’t being made better by the daily rain storms.
  • Best I can tell, this typical Joan Crawford film that we watched last night didn’t improve my health either. Where are all the happy movies when you need them, stuff like The Exorcist or Juliet of the Spirits or Cape Fear?
  • Plus, the cats chose last night to squabble over which of them got to lie where in the bed. Chances are good that if you’re waked up at 4 a.m. with those kinds of shenanigans, you’re not going to get a good night’s sleep. And I didn’t! Got up at 6 a.m., had two sausage biscuits, and fell asleep on the couch for two hours. When I woke up, one of the cats was lying on top of me.
  • We watch a few programs on HGTV. (Don’t quote me on this.) Everyone wants an open concept floorplan these days, you know, where the main floor’s about the size of a gymnasium that’s bigger than our house–including the yard. People want stuff to “flow.” Those who do the family’s cooking want to be able to see what their children and/or guests are doing while they (the cooks) are burning stuff in the oven. Ten years from now, homeowners will be hiring contractors to add a few walls and a little privacy. I guess if you can afford a house that costs $2 million, you can waste that money however you want.
  • I read The Satanic Verses as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. I thought it was a hoot. The book’s in the news again after the cowardly attack on Rushdie. A lot of commentators say it’s dangerous. Is it? I don’t think so even if it offends some people. But if it is dangerous, that’s good because people need to be shaken up enough to question why they believe what they believe and why they’re angry when others don’t agree with them.


Sunday’s Mixed Stuff

  • I like everything John Hart has written except this debut novel. It has everything in it but the kitchen sink and the main character is an unsympathetic sad sack. I’m glad he got this approach out of his system before he started writing novels where the nasty stuff is within limits and the protagonists are the kind of people readers can get behind.
  • We’ve had a lot of rain in North Georgia lately including a nasty thunderstorm after midnight two days ago that killed the power and scared the cats into piling into our bed.
  • I liked The Seekers a lot for their pure, sweet voices. So I felt sad seeing this news: “Judith Durham, singer of the Australian pop band The Seekers, has died at age 79. According to Universal Music Australia, Durham’s cause of death was chronic lung disease.” Wikipedia notes that the group had Top 10 hits in the 1960s with “I’ll Never Find Another You”, “A World of Our Own”, “Morningtown Ride”, “Someday, One Day” (written by Paul Simon), “Georgy Girl” (the title song of the film of the same name) and “The Carnival Is Over” by Tom Springfield, the last being an adaptation of the Russian folk song “Stenka Razin”.
  • As a writer and a reader, I wonder why so many authors speak of train whistles in their novels when whistles on trains have been gone for years. Other than tourist steam engines, American diesel-electric locomotives all have horns.
  • This book of short stories has been more interesting than I expected. I bought it for the English translation of Hayashi Fumiko’s (1903-1951″ autobiographical story “The Accordion and the Fish Town” which I mention in my novel in progress. But, I’ve found more to like in this selection of works that show how the Japanese short story has developed over time. The book was released in 1997. While the novel has been king in the West, the Japanese focused on shorter works.
  • Two days ago, Lesa was trying to catch up on the yard mowing, ploughing through grass that was almost too high for the mower due to daily rain showers. She stopped mowing at dusk when she ran over a hidden yellow jacket nest and got stung twice. Ouch. We seem to have more of our share of yellow jackets and wasps in this neighborhood, and that includes white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
  • Long-time friend Keith Willis has released the latest novel (#4) in his Knights of Kilbourne Series, Stolen Knight. If you love snappy writing, hijinks, and dragons, this fantasy/romance should be on your nightstand.  Or, as Willis says on his website when he introduces the series, “If you like swashbuckling adventure served up with a helping of romance and a dollop of humor (and topped with a dragon) then these books are for you.”


Sunday’s diverse potpourri

  • Speaking of rain, many of us are getting tired of water and flash flooding. And yet there are some nearby farms that haven’t gotten a drop. We’ve had some heavy showers even though North Georgia isn’t in the dark green area on this map.
  • The 2001 Ken Follett novel Jackdaws about French resistance fighters during World War II has a surprising formatting problem at the beginning of the paperback. In the middle of chapter four, we suddenly find the front-matter praise for the book followed by the title page and the entire book starting over. Assuming that the initial print run was done via offset, an error like this would have been easy to spot during proofreading. My copy is from the 2017 printing which may well have been produced via print-on-demand. Even so, there would have been a proof copy where this error should have been found. I don’t expect this kind of screw-up from a publisher the size of Penguin.
  • Typical of indoor/outdoor cats, Robbie occasionally leaves a dead mouse or a dead bird on our welcome mat where they probably aren’t very welcoming to guests. He came inside late yesterday afternoon after the rain had made it dark enough outside to obscure the gift. When I opened the door to let him out this morning, he acted like the dead bird as a bomb and came to a sudden halt. Finally, he jumped over it and ran off. I have since removed the bird. Maybe he thought another cat left it there. Cats!
  • Kenan Thompson thinks “Saturday Night Live” could end in three years: “50 is a good number to stop at,” he said on “Thursday on Comedy Central’s “Hell of a Week” when asked about rumblings that the show could be planning its exit. “Well, I need to start planning,” he joked, but acknowledged, “there could be a lot of validity to that rumor.”  Personally, I haven’t watched it much since the original cast disappeared.
  • Speaking of rain again, there was a storm approaching when I started typing this post. Now it’s mysteriously gone and we have a sunny day once more.
  • We sat down with a snack last night, flipped on the TV, and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was running. We left it on the screen while deciding what to watch and got hypnotized into watching the whole thing. Normally, we would record it because there are way too many ads on the SYFY channel. Nonetheless, we had fun seeing it again. And, isn’t that cemetery really awesome?
  • Huffington Post: “Stuart Woods, an author of more than 90 novels, many featuring the character of lawyer-investigator Stone Barrington, has died. He was 84. Woods died in his sleep on Friday, July 22, at his home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, his publicist, Katie Grinch, said Wednesday.” I read a fair number of his lightweight novels featuring the globe-trotting attorney Stone Barrington, so it’s too bad there won’t be any more. I guess Woods paid his dues–and then some. Barrington seemed to end up in bed with every woman he met. What an inspiration!


Sunday’s who-knows-what’s-in-it HASH

  • The oldest of my granddaughters starts high school this fall. In trying to learn more about the place, I visited the website. What a mistake. Seemed Greek to me from the curriculums to the clubs. We had chess club, math club, and physics club. They have clubs like Taylor Swift’s music club which sound more like Facebook groups than H.S. clubs. Sigh. Her school begins with 9th graders, the system I’m used to.
  • I think I read most of the novels I buy two or three times. This week it’s Kristin Hannah’s Night Road. Since it came out so recently, I thought I might remember everything that happens before it happens. But, so far, so good, even after reading this excerpt from the description: “Jude does everything to keep her kids out of harm’s way. But senior year of high school tests them all. It’s a dangerous, explosive season of drinking, driving, parties, and kids who want to let loose. And then on a hot summer’s night, one bad decision is made. In the blink of an eye, the Farraday family will be torn apart and Lexi will lose everything. In the years that follow, each must face the consequences of that single night and find a way to forget…or the courage to forgive.”
  • As a journalism school graduate, I found this story in the Guardian discouraging: “Broken and distrusting: why Americans are pulling away from the daily news This excerpt sums up the situation: “The Reuters Institute revealed last month that 42% of Americans actively avoid the news at least some of the time because it grinds them down or they just don’t believe it. Fifteen percent said they disconnected from news coverage altogether.” In short, the right thinks the news is untrustworthy and the left is overwhelmed. In recent stories about these trends, some say the growing lack of interest in local news has kicked the foundation out from under the entire medium.
  • When your regular shows are on hiatus, we fall into the depths of nonsense by watching HGTV where people are buying houses with price tags that sound like they belong in San Francisco and/or feature open-plan houses where the entire main floor looks like a gymnasium with little clusters of stuff that remind of my high school’s career day. Many people say they entertain a lot and seem to want a home that reminds them of a cruise ship or a nightclub.  We think most of these house plans, to use a technical term, are horseshit, especially when I see that our entire house will fit in the dining room/kitchen.
  • If you have a cat, does it like cantaloupe? Robbie always wants to know what we have on our plates. We tend to eat off of TV trays rather than sitting in the dining room, so it’s easy for him to walk across the furniture to see what we have. He wants to drink out of our water glasses; that causes a tug of war over who gets to hold the glass. Twice lately, I had the rind of a finished cantaloupe on my plate and wondered what he’d do with it. He licked the things for ten minutes. This seems a bit odd. Cats!
  • You can still get a copy of my publisher’s latest anthology for free on the Thomas-Jacob Publishing website. I have two short stories in it, and the rest of the crew has some fun stories and poems in it as well. The Things We Write shows you the kinds of things we write. (Duh) And, being free, you have nothing to lose. I had so much fun with the Smokey Hollow short story, I’m not expanding it into a new novel.


Click on my name to see my website. The books shown there have not been pre-licked by the cat.

Sunday’s succotash (who invented that stuff, anyway?)

  • As you can see by the AccuWeather graphic, our heat wave in North Georgia has eased up a bit, leaving us with an outdoor sauna bath without anyone handing out fresh towels and cold beer. At present, my desktop weather simply says “rain off and on.” Other than not having fresh towels, we’re also not having grass dry enough to mow. The yard’s not looking its best right now. About all I’m doing outside these days is pulling the wheelie bin out to the road and going out to buy groceries (which ensures that I’ll have to keep moving garbage from the house to the road).
  • I was happy to see this news: “Novelist Jesmyn Ward has become the youngest person ever to win the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.” Her words are well controlled and still carry magic in them. According to Michael Shaub’s story on Kirkus, Ward said, the award “not only because it aligns my work with legendary company, but because it also recognizes the difficulty and rigor of meeting America on the page, of appraising her as a lover would: clear-eyed, open-hearted, keen to empathize and connect.”
  • Currently, my light reading has taken me to Ken Follett’s Never (2021). I must confess I hadn’t read anything from him since The Pillars of the Earth. His work still reads well, though it tends to be long and (in Never, at least) includes multiple venues that take a while to get used to. If we can trust Steven King, and I think we can (more or less), he said, “Ken Follett can’t write a bad book, and Never is his best. It’s terrifying. I defy anyone to put it down once the last 150 pages are reached.”
  • We’ve been watching old movies at night because most of our “regular shows” have taken their usual long summer vacation. How long has it been since saw you Sydney Pollack’s neo-noir “Absence of Malice” from way back in 1981? Since my wife and I started out as journalists, it was fun seeing an old-style functioning newsroom. As Wikipedia notes, Variety called it “a splendidly disturbing look at the power of sloppy reporting to inflict harm on the innocent.” I always liked Melinda Dillon, Wilford Brimley, and then, Paul Newman wasn’t bad either. I kept expecting Sally Field to show up looking like the flying nun or Forrest Gump’s mom in which she’d explain the whole box of chocolates thing to Paul Newman.
  • On a completely irrelevant side note, our local Food Lion grocery store has finally started carrying Newman’s Own salad dressings and other products. The product shown here not only tastes great on a tossed salad but also works as a great marinade for steak. According to the company’s website, “When Newman’s Own first began, Paul Newman declared that 100% of the profits would go to good causes. The mission continues today through Newman’s Own Foundation. In total, more than $570 million has been donated to good causes since 1982.” By the way, Newman wasn’t wearing that crown in the movie.
  • Those of you who know me, whether you’ll admit it or not, know that I’m a fan of poet/engraver William Blake (1757-1827). So I was happy to see a story about him in The Marginalian, “The Only Valiant Way to Complain Is to Create: William Blake and the Stubborn Courage of the Unexampled.” It begins on a disturbing note: “In the first days of a bleak London December in 1827, a small group of mourners gathered on a hill in the fields just north of the city limits at Bunhill Fields, named for “bone hill,” longtime burial ground for the disgraceful dead. There, in what was now a dissenters’ cemetery, the English Poor Laws had ensured a pauper’s funeral for the man who had died five days earlier in his squalid home and was now being lowered into an unmarked grave.” He saw what others seldom see and probably don’t understand–especially in 1827. The story notes that Blake was the man Patti Smith would celebrate as “the loom’s loom, spinning the fiber of revelation” — a guiding sun in the human cosmos of creativity.

So, I ask you, where else can you read about Sally Field, salad dressing, and William Blake in the same post?


Sunday’s gumbo, &c

  • I’m picky when it comes to gumbo. I prefer cajun to creole and okra to filé powder. Yet, for today’s post, it’s a great symbol for a tasty mix. You might need some antacids if you’re not used to it.
  • Today at 1:52 p. m. the temperature here in Georgia is 91°. The weather forecasters keep saying we have a chance of rain. They’re talking about imaginary rain. Or, possibly, in-your-dreams kinds of rain.
  • I’ve just finished re-reading The Zoo Keeper’s Wife. I’m impressed by the willingness of people to fight, hide Jews who are escaping from the Ghetto, and risk their lives sabotaging the Nazis. I hope that if Americans face similar circumstances, they will be as strong as the people in Warsaw. (And Ukraine, of course.)
  • When it comes to the Supreme Court’s action in overturning Roe v Wade, I dissent. And if the justices were bound and determined to tinker with precedent, I agree with the Chief Justice that the court went too far. To counteract the most meanspirited states, the court should have declared it’s a violation of equality and liberty rights to force a woman to give birth to a child created out of rape or incest. Women will also need protection from arrest for having a miscarriage.
  • This Facebook meme is especially apt this week. Speaking of Facebook, and I’d rather not, it still hasn’t addressed the software fault on my author’s page. I have unpublished it, and it will go away forever if the fault isn’t fixed before the count-down-to-deletion ends. (13 days from the day I unpublished it.) Some people say that Facebook doesn’t need support because everyday users aren’t their customers. I beg to differ inasmuch as the company wants me to see my page as a business, one where I spend money to advertise my books and “boost” posts for wider audiences.
  • Filed under cute animal news in the Literary Hub, is this turned out to be an interesting article: “Do Birds Dream About Their Own Birdsong?” As I read it, I found myself wondering, “Why have I never thought about this before?”
  • And, under “frightening news” we find this story in the Desert Sun: “Leave it to the Westerners to come up with solutions to their problems by causing problems for others. Las Vegas resident Bill Nichols’ June 22 suggestion of diverting Mississippi River water to the Southwest to help solve the Southwest’s drought problem is nothing more than a plan to steal, under federal-government oversight at taxpayers’ expense, water that belongs to the Midwest.” Nichols probably got this idea from the mayor of Los Angeles.

Enjoy your bowl of gumbo,