News and Notices from the Writing Trenches #140…

March 8th, 2017

Calling all horror/fantasy writers. I saw an old movie recently. Although it was really bad, bad enough that I don’t remember the title, I found it entertaining. At the end the heroine buries pages of some demonic how-to book in the Bonneville Salt Flats to keep a warlock safely stashed away in hell. What’s that about? I’d never heard of salt being good for stopping evil magic. Anyone out there care to educate me? Does it work? I can think of several places to use it in politics—for example, burying a copy of the Citizens United decision. Help me out here. The first person that gives me a satisfactory explanation before the next Friday 13th (October 13, 2017) will receive a free copy of Gaia and the Goliaths. Same for sending me the title of the movie. Use my contact page and put “Salt of the Earth” in the subject line.

Movies based on books. They’re often a cut above the usual Hollywood fare—steaks compared to hamburgers, if you will. Yes, of course I’m biased. Two notable ones this year were Hidden Figures and Lion. Don’t miss them. Who’s the most represented author on the silver screen? I’d venture it’s Phillip K. Dick. To see the entire list, just google “Phillip K. Dick Movies.” You’ll be surprised.

Plots and themes. Stephen King puts plot above theme; I’m the reverse. For me, themes in a work of fiction make an ordinary story become extraordinary. Woven in and around the plot, they put meat on the bones of the latter. Consider Then She Was Born by Cristiano Gentili, a book I’m currently reviewing. The plot is the quietly intense story of an African child. The theme is the horrific fate of albino children in Africa. I suppose you could have the first without the second, but that plot wouldn’t mean much without the theme. I hate to say Stephen King is wrong, but he is in this case. Or he just thinks that nothing serious sells. Another book with important themes, Hidden Figures, was mentioned above. Such books enrich my reading life—they will enrich yours too.

Articles about writing and the book business. Most of these would appeal to readers and writers alike. Recent ones deal with censorship, misleading stats in book sales figures, the new return to apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and tomorrow’s article about the danger of gleaning an author’s opinion from what a character says. New articles generally appear every Thursday. They are archived in the blog archive “Writing.” I might repeat some of these during the spring and the summer like I did a few years ago. Writers go on vacations too.

More golden nuggets. You’re reading this because you’ve discovered my blog with its variety of articles (or you’re just looking for news and notices about books and the book business, which is OK too). The articles mentioned above are short—generally 500 to 1000 words—but I’m even less verbose on Facebook. The content there on my author page complements the content here. Take a gander: https://www.facebook.com/authorStevenMMoore. “Like” the page or the comments. Of course, you can “like” the articles here too…and share them with friends and relatives. And thank you for visiting either this blog or my Facebook page. Being an educated citizen is more than just reading books. Read the rest of this entry »

Post-mortem of a speech to Congress…

March 7th, 2017

In some dilating time machine or Mr. Trump’s parallel universe, ages have passed since he gave that speech to Congress. In real life, it was only a week ago—can you believe it? Everything he said is meaningless now, so dissecting that rambling rhetoric of a delusional man is anti-climactic. But let’s do it anyway because the president left the Twitter-sphere long enough to sound presidential and hide his narcissistic psychosis.

It’s curious that the media, after the president declared them to be the “enemy of the American people,” fell all over themselves to state that his “state of the union” (read: state of Trump’s parellel universe, that one that circulates among the dark energy and matter of his mind) set a new tone. Il Duce was even called presidential because he sounded presidential. But not for me—he’s not my president! He never will be my president, and isn’t the president of a majority of the American people.

What I heard was empty rhetoric reminiscent of Goebbels’s 1930’s propaganda in Germany—in other words, fascistic spin and appeal to populism playing on the fears of good Americans. His handlers, Bannon, Conway, and Miller, who take turns at the puppet strings—yes, he’s a marionette, even stringing himself along—carefully planned this atrocious display. If it was some crazy attempt to reach across the aisle, Dems won’t buy the snake oil from this charlatan, and didn’t—the thumbs-down from the Dem women in white were refreshing and evidence for their general mood—Trump the misogynist is women’s rights worst enemy. Narcissus the Wonderful shows no concern about women’s issues—we know he sees them only as objects—and on abortion, he’s as much a right-wing bigot as they come.

Let’s consider a few points. On trade, Trump might have sounded a wee bit like Sanders. There’s a huuuuge difference, though. Both men were born in Brooklyn, but the two are light years apart—Trump might actually live in one of those other multiverses where his marionette strings are tangled with those of general string theory. In particular, where Bernie was an earnest and honest champion for the working class, Il Duce doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about their plight—it’s all just show. He follows the time-tested fascist strategy of pretending to do so, of course—that’s how Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini came to power in the 1930s! U.S. workers should be wary about buying anything from this snake-oil salesman. Pay attention to his false promises at your own risk!

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Monday words of wisdom…

March 6th, 2017

What made Mexico so evil back in the 1840s, well before our Civil War, is that slavery is illegal there. Remember the Alamo? With that war we were making California our own, and a lot of other people and properties, and doing it as though butchering Mexican soldiers who were only defending their homeland against invaders wasn’t murder.—Kurt Vonnegut

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Action on the southern border! No, it’s not Trump beginning the construction of The Wall. It’s Chen and Castilblanco fighting terrorists, a cartel, and neo-Nazi militias. In Angels Need Not Apply, this deadly duo from the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” go undercover to fight crime as part of a national task force. On sale now at Smashwords until March 31—use coupon # KL38P on checkout. You can also purchase there the recently published 7th book in the series, Gaia and the Goliaths. The entire series is available in all ebook formats on Smashwords, and you can also find the ebooks on all the sites of its associated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc) and lenders (Overdrive, etc). You can also find all the ebooks on Amazon.

In libris libertas!

Apocalypse redux…

March 2nd, 2017

Redux = brought back, revived. We’re talking about the apocalypse again. Apocalypse is the event. While a dystopian society can cause it or be its aftermath, post-apocalyptic is reserved for the aftermath. There is a resurgence in these themes now. Everyone knows the reason: what’s happening in the U.S. right now as well as across the world has frightening parallels with 1930’s Germany, Italy, and Spain as well as with the darkest days of the Cold War. There’s nothing religious about this apocalypse.

Most dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic tales in the past were associated with the two world wars or the Communist threat. Brave New World was dystopian; Ape and Essence was post-apocalyptic. Even The Time Machine was post-apocalyptic. 1984 and Animal Farm were dystopian. Later sci-fi novels like Not This August were post-apocalyptic. Many classics can be found in these subgenres. Many soon-to-be classics like Wool are too. They all are warnings about what could happen. It’s common that interest in books and movies in these subgenres reflect troubled times in the world.

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the world. As that hand on the Doomsday Clock inches toward midnight, these sci-fi subgenres become more popular. Some readers ignore them, burying their heads in the sand by reading schmaltzy romances and fluffy adventures that avoid most serious themes of any type. Which group is right? Beats me. I just tell stories. If one of them comes out apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, so be it. Almost all my stories have serious themes, though, but not all of them are in the aforementioned subgenres.

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Does Trump have a human side?

February 28th, 2017

Or his cronies and supporters, for that matter? Compassion and human kindness seem to be absent as the ogres lash out at all their perceived enemies. During the long campaign, I guessed he and like-minded individuals were lacking in these qualities, but I never guessed it could be so bad, and there’s every indication that it will become worse as parallels with 1930’s Germany continue to increase. One Facebook friend likened his takeover of the government to this generation’s Pearl Harbor. That attack was about war, so maybe my friend has a point: we’re in a social war as we fight to save the soul of America. Right now he’s taking us straight to a hell of his own creation. Let’s consider the evidence for answering the question of the title in the negative.

A pig farmer in a town hall meeting with Sen. Charles Grassley, who like many has been in the Senate far too long, pointed out that old Chuck had spoken of death panels in his criticism of Obamacare. The farmer went on to say that the GOP was going to create death panels AKA Congress and insurance VIPs denying coverage to millions, all across the entire country, and not just for the elderly, if Trump gets his way and kills Obamacare. Indictment number one: Trump, Grassley, and others of their ilk don’t care who dies, as long as the healthcare industry is a money maker for insurance companies and Big Pharma. Although at times Trump almost sounds like a fan of Medicare for all—hence his lies to Florida retirees about preserving Medicare and Social Security in order to gain their votes—all evidence indicates that he’d just as soon not waste money on sick people. Maybe he wouldn’t pull the plug on his own family members, but I suspect that complete strangers who are sick are just hunks of rotting meat to him.

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Monday words of wisdom…

February 27th, 2017

Social Security can pay every penny owed for the next 18 years. Lift the cap on taxable income and it’ll be solvent for decades.—Bernie Sanders

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The entire “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” is now available on Smashwords in all ebook formats, with #7, Gaia and the Goliaths, the most recent addition. #2, Angels Need Not Apply, will be on sale there starting March 1. Of course, the entire ebook series is also available on Amazon. Don’t miss the adventures of these crime-fighting cops. (Reviewers can read individual novels for free in return for an honest review.)

In libris libertas!

Fake news and misleading stats…

February 23rd, 2017

Hmm…LinkedIn? Now that Microsoft owns them, you have to wonder what they’re using that website for beyond ads. They’re certainly discouraging discussion groups, my favorite feature, but for what reason? Maybe they realize they can’t compete with Google or Facebook—the former makes a major portion of its profit from ads, although Google+ is weak compared to both in discussions, and the latter is trying to catch up with the ads but lights up with discussions.

They all have fake news. Should we also call misleading stats that appear on all of these fake news? Stats are rarely “clean.” First, authors of articles using them often leave out the hypotheses and description of how the dataset was collected and processed. Second, they often jump to conclusions based on biased sampling techniques. Third, the author of the article can choose, and often does, only those stats that support her or his opinion. It’s all a bit like the Bible: you can find stuff there that will support any position if you look for it.

Yep, many articles quoting stats are fake news if not downright lies. Here’s a recent example that occurred on LinkedIn. The author of a post was probably an innocent victim, but she provided a link to an article about a Nielsen report that gives stats showing ebooks are in decline. Do you follow links like this? It can be dangerous because the link might allow a virus or other malware to invade your laptop or smart phone. Your best bet is to go to the original site if it looks OK and read the article. That said, I read the entire Nielsen report.

But more on Microsoft’s LinkedIn for a moment. I’ve never found much use for it. I have a lot of connections. A lot of them are good people who seem to think I’m someone useful to connect with. Me, the introverted fiction writer? The shy fellow who will never do blog radio and is uncomfortable at any event where I have to appear in person and participate in one-on-one conversations? (I taught large lecture classes at one time, but there is a certain anonymity in that situation that made them easier for me. First days were scary in any class, though—and I was the professor!)

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Steve’s shorts: The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer…

February 22nd, 2017

The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

“Hiya Rollie.” I had to step aside as the ME, Big Tiny, stepped out of the small apartment into the corridor. “Prelim findings should be on your smartphone.”

“You can’t just tell me?”

Big Tiny carried a large super-mocha-double-double something-or-other in his large rubber-gloved paw. Whereas a defensive nose tackle is more muscle than fat, he was the reverse. A happy man, though, in spite of his profession.

“I’m off to another crime scene.”

“So this is a crime scene? It wasn’t clear before, but I preferred coming over to reviewing pending cases where Chen and I aren’t doing too well.”

“I expected to declare it a suicide, but I’m leaning to murder. The bottle of sleeping pills is almost full and there are signs of antifreeze. The tox workup will decide for certain.”

“CSU is still here, I presume?” He nodded. “They might come up with some more evidence.” Bid the big guy farewell, put on my Tyvek booties and rubber gloves, and went inside the apartment. “Anything?” I said to the first CSI I encountered.

He handed me a sealed plastic bag. A regular sheet of paper folded in half showed a crossword partially filled out.

“Right up your alley, o puzzle-meister,” he said.

Didn’t know the guy, but he knew something about me. “I don’t do crosswords. I’m more a math puzzle fellow. What’s special about this?”

“First, it’s homemade. Second, there’s a message. Take a look.”

He went about his business. I stared at the crossword.

Someone—the vic?—had started filling it in. None of the words were erudite—NY Times Monday level—but there was a message. “Death is a release. Relish it.” Huh? The crossword wasn’t large. How did it arrive at the apartment? If the vic had begun to solve it, where did she get it? Better yet, what amateur word smith had made the puzzle? Or, had the vic just taken the message as a sign to do herself in? That tox report would be important.

Hung around a bit more and then returned to the precinct. Chen had gone to chat with one of her snitches about another case, but she was back.

“Just received a message from Big Tiny,” she said. “He’s declaring your case a homicide.” I’d heard the ping but had ignored it. Guessed he didn’t take long on his other case. The big black bear had crawled back into his lair to drink his coffee thing in peace.

I’d snapped a photo of the crossword with my smartphone. Handed the phone to Chen. “This might be the murderer’s threat then.”

She studied the phone’s screen, nodded, and handed it back. “Just what we needed: a weird case. How do you want to handle it?”

***

Two days later, we had another murder with the same MO. This time the vic’s throat was slit. He was an old man. There didn’t seem to be any connection to the first vic. Random? Serial killers often act randomly. But old man v. young woman was interesting. Just a killing lust? I’m not an FBI profiler, so I was at a loss.

You want to make sense of killings like that. I knew that the psychotic mind was often not logical, but sane people want to look for the logic—something that makes sense of it all. The first often means the case isn’t solved. The second, if you can find it, often leads to solving the case.

“Undeserved death. Grim Reaper laughs.” That’s what the message said in this crossword. Still Monday level. The creator wasn’t the brightest serial killer we’d seen. But he had a way with words.

He? That was an assumption. I knew for a fact that women read a lot more than men. Did that extrapolate to women doing more crosswords than men? Didn’t know, but our killer could be a she. Had to keep an unbiased mind.

The throat-slitting had looked professional. Maybe ex-military? That still didn’t exclude a woman these days. Asked Chen’s opinion.

“Overpowering an old man is easier than a young woman,” said Chen, flashing her Asian Mona Lisa smile, “but you’re right. The perp could be a woman. I’m not seeing a pattern, though, besides the crosswords. Time to bring in the FBI?”

“Not on your life. We’ve barely started.”

***

My partner came up with a connection. It seemed tenuous. Both vics rented apartments in buildings owned by the same guy, a Richard Jenkins.

“Let’s find out more about this guy and then pay him a visit,” I said.

In that process, we discovered that Jenkins was a vocal opponent of rent control, and the two vics were in rent-controlled apartments. We started forming a theory. Chen didn’t think much of it—she thought rents should be tied to market value if they were regulated at all. Pam, my wife, and I had lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn for some time. We couldn’t have afforded a rent tied to market value. Maybe your opinion is biased if you’ve benefitted from rent control or not? Didn’t know what landlords thought, but suspected that they wouldn’t be in favor. Complex problem: How do you provide housing for poor city dwellers in one of the most expensive cities in the world, the Big Apple?

Pam and I now lived in Clifton, New Jersey, living the American Dream with our kids and heavily mortgaged house. Rent control was in our past. Still didn’t like what I saw in Jenkins’s record—he even went after New York mayors on the issue. Did that make him a killer? Doubted it, but it was time to interview the man.

***

Of course, Jenkins’s penthouse was luxurious compared to the two vics’ apartments. A maid showed us into a comfortable study and indicated two seats in front of a modest desk. We waited.

I studied the walls. Ex-Marine mementos, including ribbons. As an ex-Navy man, I liked Marines. Tough hombres who generally have your back. One pic on the wall showed our landlord, a heavyset man-bear, standing in a small group with a Navy captain in the middle. My captain—in the sense that I’d served on his carrier long ago in another more dangerous life where choppers would carry us off to wreak havoc and destruction for the Pentagon.

“Isn’t that our old friend?” said Chen. He had participated on a few cases. I nodded. “That’s some coincidence.”

“Not really. Jenkins and I are about the same age. Could be a good recommendation for him.”

We talked about our families until Jenkins showed up. He shook both our hands. For me, his grip was strong. For Chen, he let up a bit. Chivalry not dead?

“I understand you both have served,” he said, taking his seat behind the desk.

Pointed at the pic. “The captain is a good friend.”

“For me too,” said Jenkins. “I guess there are a few cops who served.” We nodded. “They probably have to tone down the military bravura on the beat. We’re not a fascist state, thank God. What can I do for you, detectives?”

I explained our case. “The only connection between the two victims is they both were your tenants in rent-controlled apartments.”

He frowned. “And I’m a suspect? Good Lord! I work within the system. I have to. I don’t have to like the fact that other landlords don’t have to put up with rent control, of course. It’s a bit random, you know. I’ve never met these two people, by the way. Where did they live?” I told him. “Yeah, those are my buildings. I’ll have to check with the agency that handles the rentals. They should have sent flowers to relatives if they’re local.”

“They’re not,” said Chen. She checked her smartphone. “Do you have an alibi for the range of times established by the ME in the TODs?”

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Is China or Russia more dangerous?

February 21st, 2017

When considering Russia’s brutal oligarchy v. China’s fascist capitalism, it’s hard to decide which one is worse. Trump seems to have a bromance with Putin and has long attacked China, but lately he seems to be waffling on both (although the bromance might get him or his administration in trouble). The split personality of his waffling is baffling too because some in his administration are talking about more sanctions against Russia. Moreover, the original tirade against the one-China policy has become a recognition of it. If, after this waffling, will he still keep his campaign promises: Be a friend of Russia and an enemy of China? The former seems in doubt after firing Flynn.

The waffling is strange because up until now Trump seems to checking off items on a list of campaign promises, even if they’re completely crazy, harmful to the country, and insulting to millions of people. Immigration? California farmers, even those who voted for Trump, are wondering where they’ll find the cheap labor needed to harvest their crops. The Muslim ban seems stymied, and his only response so far is to blast the judicial system like any tin-horn dictator would do. And many ICE cases not related to his unconscionable and unconstitutional Muslim ban are still ripping apart families.

Trump is a family man who doesn’t seem to care about any family except his own. He’ll stoop to blasting Nordstrom for daughter Ivanka when she’s in the White House and supposedly not working in her business anymore. He’ll also support Kellyanne Conway who should be brought up on charges for hawking Ivanka’s products. One son-in-law is in the White House (nepotism), while the other wants to buy the Marlins. Maybe Trump will send his family out to harvest the crops for the California farmers. Might be good for them to see what real work entails!

But back to China v. Russia. Which one is more dangerous? I can’t choose—I find the leadership and power structure of both countries despicable. The Chinese have adopted the most polluting, ruthless, and oppressive form of capitalism imaginable. They’re no longer communists but extreme fascist capitalists, willing to silence or murder anyone who goes against China Inc. The Russians can’t make anything worthwhile, but that doesn’t bother the oligarchy. Putin, the mafia don, makes sure that only the anointed (AKA sycophants to the Russian mob boss) get rich and any opposition is killed, from people running against him in their fake democracy to members of the press.

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Monday words of wisdom

February 20th, 2017

The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right for its people.—Bernie Sanders

***

It’s Presidents’ Day—let’s remember some big-league presidents who made this country great, but let’s not forget that the position is far more important than any position-holder, especially those who embarrass us by not respecting it and not doing their job well.

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Did you know the complete “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” is now available on Smashwords in all ebook formats, and at all its affiliated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, and so forth) and lenders (Overdrive, for example). The first book in the series is on sale at Smashwords until March 1. Of course, the entire series is also available on Amazon in .mobi (Kindle) format.

In libris libertas.