Friday, April 07, 2006

Best Southwest Bookfest

Judy and I will be on the road this weekend. In an hour or so we'll take off for the Dallas area for the event linked below. Naturally blogging will be light to nonexistent for the next couple of days, but we'll be back at the old stand on Monday.

Welcome to the Best Southwest Bookfest :: 3rd Annual April 7-8, 2006: "The Best Southwest Bookfest is a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging reading and the love of books and to be a force in improving the cultural opportunities of the Best Southwest area.

The Bookfest, presented by the public libraries of Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Lancaster, and the University of North Texas Dallas Campus Library is the area's largest literary event. Proceeds from the Bookfest are used for the promotion of literacy in our community through the Best Southwest Bookfest Foundation."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

There's a Blue Ring around Uranus

Planet Uranus has a rare blue ring - - "The recently discovered outermost ring of gas giant Uranus is a bright blue, scientists said Thursday.

Saturn is the only other planet with an identified blue outer ring in the solar system. Both blue rings are associated with small moons; Saturn with Enceladus and Uranus with Mab.

'The outer ring of Saturn is blue and has Enceladus right smack at its brightest spot, and Uranus is strikingly similar, with its blue ring right on top of Mab's orbit,' said Imke de Pater, professor of astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley."

Bill Nye, The Science Guy, Visits Waco, Texas

Don't confuse us with the facts. We're Texans.

'The Science Guy' is entertaining and provocative at MCC lecture: "The Emmy-winning scientist angered a few audience members when he criticized literal interpretation of the biblical verse Genesis 1:16, which reads: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.”

He pointed out that the sun, the “greater light,” is but one of countless stars and that the “lesser light” is the moon, which really is not a light at all, rather a reflector of light.

A number of audience members left the room at that point, visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence.

“We believe in a God!” exclaimed one woman as she left the room with three young children."

Happy Birthday, Merle Haggard!

One of the days the music died was when they stopped playing Merle Haggard on country radio. He turns 68 today, and he can still sing better than any of the hat acts out there. I stole the stuff below from today's Writer's Almanac.

It's the birthday of country songwriter and singer Merle Haggard, born in Bakersfield, California (1937). His parents were dustbowl migrants from Oklahoma, and Haggard grew up in a house that had been converted from a railroad boxcar by his father. He grew up poor and restless, in and out of reform schools, and by the time he was fourteen he was hopping trains and hitchhiking around the West Coast. He supported himself as a migrant farm worker, but he also stole cars, wrote bad checks and became a petty thief.

He eventually got caught trying to burglarize a roadhouse and he spent twenty-seven months in San Quentin prison. He decided that he didn't ever want to go to prison again and became a model prisoner. He also joined the prison's country-music band. Before he was released, Haggard got to see Johnny Cash perform in concert for the prisoners. Haggard even got to meet Cash, and the experience persuaded him to pursue country music as a career.

The first song he wrote, while he was still on parole, was "Branded Man" about the life of an ex-con. He began recording with a friend who ran a record company out of his garage. His first single sold only 200 copies, but within a few years, his song "All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers" became a top-ten hit on the country charts.

Today, Haggard has released more than six hundred songs, thirty-eight of which were number-one hits.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Blood Red Sea -- Ron Faust

I liked the first two books (Dead Men Rise up Never, Sea of Bones) in Ron Faust's series about Dan Shaw quite a bit. Shaw reminds me a little of Travis McGee, and the Florida setting in the books is very well done. Somehow I missed The Blood Red Sea when it came out last fall, and I guess a lot of other people did, too, since as far as I know there's not a fourth book scheduled. That's too bad because The Blood Red Sea is very good.

The comparison to the Travis McGee novels is bound to occur to a lot of people after reading the opening section when Shaw rescues (in a sense) a woman who's been left to drown. There's none of the old T. McGee patented therapy, and the woman Shaw saves isn't like a JDM heroine. She's damaged, all right, but she's not so easily healed. Shaw and his friends cook up a plot to get her son for her, and that's when things start to go wrong.

You might think you have the book figured out, that this will happen and then that will happen and then will come the expected ending. You'll probably be wrong on all counts, though. Faust doesn't go in any of the standard directions. That's about all I'm going to say about the plot. You'll just have to read it for yourself. I'll bet it's going to be a little darker than you think. Maybe you'll like it, maybe not. It worked for me.

I first read Ron Faust's work back in the late 1970s and early '80s when he did some books for Gold Medal. I remember talking about them with Joe Lansdale at an AggieCon or two. We both thought that Faust was going to be a contender, but somehow he never quite made it to the top. I thought the Dan Shaw series would do the trick for sure, and if there were any justice, it would have. Maybe it has, and I'm just not aware of it. Boy, I hope so. I hope there'll be more books in the series. I really do.

Nice Story on KACC, the Pride of Alvin | Music | KACC Mentality: "It may not look like much -- a low brick structure amid ACC's Air Force base-like cluster of buildings on a sun-baked Brazoria County prairie in suburban Alvin -- but it's where just about every radio station in town gets its fresh young talent. And the weird thing about it is that it is also the best rock station in town. (Or at least it is in the parts of town where you can pick it up -- primarily on the south side.)"

Political Post -- Please Skip

I've gone out of my way to keep politics out of this blog, since that's not what the blog's about. Sometimes, though, I have to let off a little steam, mainly because I've become a grumpy old man. I think it's hormonal. When you get old, you lose your testosterone, your hair, your teeth, your . . . never mind. Anyway, if you've read this far, please stop. Go find something entertaining or informative to read.

Today's Gripes:
1. I was a college student throughout the 1960s. I thought the questions about freedom of expression had been pretty much settled. I guess I was wrong.

2. I never thought I'd be living in a country where people who don't even know the definition of "scientific theory" would be driving the debate about what could be taught in biology classes in the public schools.

3. Has any president ever made (or tried to make) more disastrous appointments to important government positions than George W. Bush? This one is only the latest. (And can you imagine what Rush Limbaugh would be saying if Bill Clinton had made this appointment?) I'm sure you remember this one and this one and this one, too. Yet we're supposed to believe that the two men recently appointed to the Supreme Court are absolutely the best-qualfied jurists in the country because of the thoughtful vetting and research that's gone into making the choices. UPDATE: Good grief!

4. Why is it that the people in Congress who scream loudest in demanding accountability for every penny spent on education or programs like Medicare and Medicaid don't give a flying fig about accounting for the the billions of dollars we spend every month in Iraq? You'd think they'd feel a little hypocritical, right?

5. And finally, You damn kids get off my lawn!

Something to Look Forward To

AP Wire | 04/04/2006 | Dick Francis' 39th novel due in fall: "Dick Francis' 39th novel due in fall
Associated Press

NEW YORK - Best-selling mystery author Dick Francis is ending a six-year hiatus and publishing his first book since the death of his wife and collaborator, Mary Francis.

This fall, G.P. Putnam's Sons will release 'Under Orders,' his 39th novel.

'I am delighted that ... my family has talked me back into the literary saddle,' the British author, 85, said Tuesday in a statement."

Gene Pitney, R. I. P.

Aw, man, not Gene Pitney. Here's a guy I never met who had a big influence on my life through his music. The first song by him that I remember hearing is "(I Wanna) Love my Life Away," a great hit back in the spring of 1961. Those were the days. - Gene Pitney found dead in hotel - Apr 5, 2006: "Pitney was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on February 17, 1941.

His 40-year career included hits such as 'It Hurts to Be in Love,' '(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance,' 'Every Breath I Take,' 'Town Without Pity,' 'Only Love Can Break a Heart' and the operatic 'I'm Gonna Be Strong.' His last U.S. hit was 'She's a Heartbreaker' in 1968.

Pitney was also a highly regarded songwriter -- he wrote the Crystals' No. 1 hit, 'He's a Rebel,' Rick Nelson's smash 'Hello Mary Lou' and Bobby Vee's 'Rubber Ball.' Some of his own hits, though -- 'Only Love,' 'Liberty Valance' and 'Tulsa' -- were written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

He was an early subject of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound -- Spector produced Pitney's version of Carole King and Gerry Goffin's 'Every Breath I Take' as well as the Crystals' 'He's a Rebel' -- and an early supporter of British bands such as the Rolling Stones."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Earl Kemp's Latest e-Zine

It's right here. Politics and paperback covers, not to mention some letters about the "Dean Hudson" issue mentioned here. Check it out.

How to Become a Complete Nonentity -- Richard Wormser

When I read about this book, I knew I had to have it, even though $12.95 (plus postage) seemed like a lot to pay for a slim 90-page memoir. The thing is, Richard Wormser is far from a nonentity in my book. He's the author of some fine Gold Medal novels, including Drive East on 66, A Nice Girl like You, and the Edgar-winning The Invader. The memoir was written years ago, and is just now seeing the light of publication, thanks to Ira Skutch, one of Wormser's nephews.

I was disappointed that the memoir says nothing at all about writing paperback originals, but Wormser also wrote for the pulps, the slicks, and the movies. He has more to say about those things, including some pretty funny stories, including this one: "Columbia Pictures wanted to buy one of [the stories] but they couldn't decide between one called 'The Frameup' and one called 'Right Guy.' After much coast-to-coast telegraphy, they bought 'Right Guy' and changed the name to 'The Frameup.'" Sounds like Hollywood hasn't changed a lot since the '30s.

Wormser has a straightforward writing style to go with his natural story-telling ability, and the memoir was fun to read. The anecdotes are consistently entertaining and amusing, and he mentions a lot of familiar names. I have to warn you that the book is an iUniverse production. There are a lot of typos, and Harry Cohn, whose name is spelled correctly on the back cover, is persistently referred to in the book as "Harry Cohen." Even at that,
I'm glad to have this book in my collection. Now I think I need to read one of Wormser's noves that I've never read before, and I happen to have one. It's a reprint of a hardcover called The Hanging Heiress. If I do read it, you'll see a report here eventually.

Mystery*File Update

More on Gil Brewer, and lots of other good stuff over at the indispensable Mystery*File today.

MYSTERY*FILE ON-LINE: "One of the unanswered questions about Gil Brewer’s career as a writer is which of the books published as by Harry Arvay did he write? While the investigation into the matter still continues, Lynn Munroe has added a footnote to his earlier bibliography, setting forth the state of the evidence at the present time."

Monday, April 03, 2006

And Yet Another List

I'm surprised at how many of these I've seen.

Empire's 50 Greatest Independent Films

Yep, another Blog to Bookmark

Murderati: "Welcome to Murderati

Pari Noskin Taichert a.k.a. Bad Girl O' PR


Cool name, hunh?

Think of it as a combo of something smart, glamorous* and appropriate: Literati glitterati murder.

(* Um, well, maybe “glamorous” is a bit of a stretch for mystery authors.)"

Here's a List I'm not Going to Read

Because I'm sure I'm on it.

The 100 unsexiest men in the world - Home Entertainment - The Phoenix: "Welcome to the first installment of's 100 Unsexiest Men in the World. After pouring through thousands of photographs, millions of frames of movies and TV shows, we have created a list of the least sexy males on the planet."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Veniss Underground -- Jeff VanderMeer

Every year at AggieCon, Scott Cupp and Willie Siros talk me into buying some SF books they think I should read. This year, one of the books was Veniss Underground. I realize Jeff VanderMeer is a hot writer now, so I figured I'd give the book a try, even though there are a couple of things about it that put me off.

One thing was that the book is divided into three parts, and the first part is told in first person, the second in second person, and the third in (you guessed it) third person. Is that a little to cute for you?

Then you don't even want to hear the rest of what I have to say. If you're still reading, here's the second thing. Veniss Underground is the kind of book that inspires reviewers to say things like this: "T
here is a knit cohesion close in service to the novel's overall themes, an unfolding symbolism and allegory that is ultimately let loose during the final chapters, unleashing a Babel of imagery recalling the febrile panels of The Garden of Earthly Delights." That should give you a clue that this isn't some Doc Smith space opera we're talking about here.

Instead, what we have is a very literary SF novel about a far, far future where all things are possible and where people are "born" in vats and where just about any kind of manipulation of the fleshly material is possible. Animals like meercats can be given almost human intelligence, and creatures like "ganesh" are possible. The story very obviously plays on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but there's a lot more going on as a fellow named Shadrach goes far below the surface, through various levels of the underworld, to bring back a woman he loves. The imagery and descriptions and the writing itself are more important than the characters, almost more important than the story. If you like that sort of thing, then this is just the sort of thing you'd like. Small doses are recommended. This volume contains a novella and three short stories set in the same universe as the title novel. One of these days I'll probably read them, but it will be a while.

Interesting True-Crime Links

The Little Professor has some really interesting true-crime links posted here. Included are things like this, this, and this. Check 'em all out.

Top Ten Femme Fatales

Entertainment Weekly's | Photo Gallery: Sexy... but deadly! 10 best femmes fatales: Check 'em out. Another list, sure, but this one has photos.