Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm a Fan, But...

I love STAR WARS. I even watched the first one on Friday night - the 30th anniversary of the movie's release, but there is no way in hell I'd be caught dead looking like this.

And I'll never refer to STAR WARS as Episode IV: A NEW HOPE.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What I Do During the Day

The New York Times on Sunday published an article about the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine, which is where I happen to work. For some inexplicable reason I'm not mentioned - I guess the reporter was interested more in what my boss and the Provost of the University had to say. Can you imagine that? If you read the article and look at the photos attached to it, my boss is the one pounding on the drum. I do all the work and he gets all the credit. :)

Oh, if you happen to follow the link to the Wabanaki Center, just know that I'm in the middle of updating it, so it doesn't look all that great right now. It's my summer project.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Interesting Resource

Looking for things to occupy my mind I came upon Charlie Rose's website. I think just about every show is available to watch, but the most interesting to me, and hopefully to you, is the long list of writers the famed interviewer has had on, accumulating some 1200 episodes. Some of the authors include Joyce Maynard (talking about her relationship with J.D. Salinger, though it's much cooler to see her talk about it in person), Kurt Vonnegut, William Goldman, Carl Hiaassen, John Irving, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hunter S. Thompson.

If you are unfamiliar with Charlie Rose, his program is on PBS (that channel you flick past when seeing what's on VH1). The interviews delve much deeper than other television talk shows. You don't get any of the superficial pre-packaged info that seems to be the foundation of other programs.

If you check out any of the interviews (and there are plenty more on topics such as art, politics and science), let me know.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Publish Date:
Monday, May 21, 2007


EAST MACHIAS - Clayton Albert Holmes Sr., 78, died peacefully May 19, 2007, surrounded by his loving family at his daughter's home. He was born May 16, 1929, in East Machias, the son of Carroll and Gladys (Geel) Holmes. Clayton enjoyed working in his garage, camping, fishing, hunting, following professional boxing and reading. He liked traveling, having the opportunity on one cross-country trip to travel as far as Alaska, a state with which he held a long fascination. He also enjoyed taking early morning rides around his hometown before returning home for a second breakfast. He loved to spend time with his friends, neighbors and family. Clayton worked for many years as a mechanic and heavy equipment operator for Hanscom Construction, before taking a position as a maintenance supervisor for Champion International. He retired from Champion in 1994. Clayton was always willing to help with whatever he could, and was known for his quick wit. His sense of humor will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Frances (Cropley); his son, Clayton "Butch" Holmes Jr. and his wife, Leah, of Bangor; his daughter, Deborah Dorr and her husband, Leon, of Orrington; grandson, Stephen Allan and his wife, Kathryn, of Bangor; granddaughter, Hea-ther Rickman and her husband, Joseph, of Holden; his great-grandchildren, Duncan and Lorelai Allan; and many stepgrandchildren, great-stepgrand-children, nieces, nephews, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law; as well as his loving dog, Misty; his siblings, Roberta Crone of Pennsylvania, Clyde Holmes and his wife, Valerie of Connecticut and Mowana McGarry of Florida. In addition to his parents, Clayton was predeceased by his sister, Mona Cole. The family would like to thank the services of New Hope Hospice, as well as all the special friends and neighbors who visited while Clayton was ill. A graveside service will be held 1 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Jacksonville Cemetery, along Route 191, East Machias. A service of Brookings-Smith, 133 Center St., Bangor.

Facing Death

It's funny how some people, actually most when I think about it, look at a death in a family in terms of what it means for the future. Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, all changed forever with the passing of a loved one. They will no longer be there, wherever there may be: a graduation, a wedding or a mundane dinner on a typical friday night. They are simply gone.

One cannot live in the past, even though so many of us try, but I think the best way to handle death, or especially a long illness that preceeds it, is to immerse yourself in memories. I guess as I watch my family cry over the past couple of months, I felt like I wasn't experiencing the same thing. Yes, I was sad; yes, I was afraid of the emptiness my grandfather would leave; but for some reason, and I think I know why, his death didn't affect me in the same way. Perhaps my idea of death and life are different from the concepts of those I'm close to. I think it was because I chose to remember rather than project that caused the difference of experiences. Perhaps that my philosophical beliefs are different, and hence my perception is slightly askew from those of the rest of my family.

Or, it could be that we really were experiencing the same things, and it was our interpretations and handling of those experiences that were executed differently. Some became angry, and were vocal about it, whereas my own frustrations were probably expressed in a very passive way: by buying and reading Christopher Hitchens's GOD IS NOT GREAT or researching Richard Dawkins's ideas. Well, passive in that it may be a quiet protest to anyone who may have walked by, but also a giant fuck you to any spiritual being that may or may not exist.

There are no atheist in foxholes, and I'm pretty sure there are no atheists when it comes to consoling the grieving; which puts you in an odd place if you are agnostic at best. While you are dealing with your own sorrow, you must also take care in not offending those trying to comfort you with prayers and mentions of Jesus Christ, whom, to tell you the honest truth, has always given me the willies. (How different my view of religion would have been if Kevin Smith's Buddy Christ was an actual tool of the church.)

Of course some of my attitude toward death is because of my time working for a Hospice. There, death was not only a part of life, it was part of your workday. I only ever went out on visits on really rare occasions, basically for employee training and awareness, learning what the organization does so that I may feel like my work on the IT system was of the most importance; however I still had to deal with names and histories of people who were one day active and the next, their folders were purged from the current files. Ones and zeroes, along with numerous bits of paper - dealing with Medicare, the government, always means numerous bits of paper - were the accumulation of these people's lives as far as I and the computers were concerned. But computers are stupid and lack any moral center, and the computer operator, while still just as stupid, is cursed with a heart. And how do we deal with matters that bother our hearts, our conscious? With humor. And dark humor at that. It is much easier to understand what death is, especially on a daily basis, with laughter rather than tears until you can develop your own idea of what death means to you.

So, what does it mean to me? Well, that's much easier for me to understand than it is for me to explain. I'm not a philosopher, and I'm pretty sure that explination I've created for myself could be demolished by even an undergrad Philosophy major. Does that mean I don't have faith in my own thoughts? Perhaps. I never said I had the answers, just the answers for me. But it makes sense. Isn't that what we are looking for when we look at the world, when we question why? We want it to make sense.

And while my philosophical thoughts may seem ill conceived here, or to put it another way, never truly revealed, it has caused me to look at this experience of watching my grandfather die with a different perspective, basically through memories of who he was and what we did together, the actions and places that will define him for me forever. I chose to go back and relive some of those moments. As sad as I am, there is a larger part of me that feels greatful that he was in my life. In the end I'm happy in celebrating his life, because the greater sorrow would be that he never existed.

I will miss my grandfather, and already do. He was a great man. And as for that sudden vaccuum created by our loss, well, I have more than enough happy memories to fill it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday Interview: Victor Gischler

Today's guest is novelist Victor Gischler, who has written some of the best noir books in the last ten years. Each one is filled to the edge with enough action and violence to choke …well, just about anyone. His first book, GUN MONKEYS, was nominated for an Edgar Award; and I have to say that each novel that followed only got better and better.

Gischler earned a PhD in English from the University of Southern Mississippi, so that means he's a doctor like Dr. Phil is a doctor, but yet Victor doesn't have his own show or have Oprah on the speed dial.

Noir Writer: When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?

Gischler: I don't know if the word "novelist' was in my vocabulary in 1st grade, but we did a project where we made books, glued the pages together and used fabric for the cover. Naturally, we had to fill the blank pages. I wrote a story called The Case of the Missing Donuts about a detective who tracks down dwarves who've been stealing pastry. The story ends with one of the most gruesome gunfights ever written by a first grader.

Noir Writer: Do you outline stories or do they evolve as you write?

Gischler: Too much of an outline is a creativity buzz-kill for me. By I do have several "key scenes" in mind, and I connect the scenes as I go along.

Noir Writer: Criminologist Lonnie Athens has stated that people who have never experienced violence should not write about it. He was talking about sociological studies, but I think he would extend that to crime fiction as well. Do you think his statement is true or is he full of shit?

Gischler: Oh ... probably full of shit. Speaking just for myself, the violence in my novels has a pulp cartoon quality. I think there are times when imagination trumps experience. Other authors can successfully transfer their experiences to the page. I respect that, but it's not where I live.

Noir Writer: You've only recently started blogging at the beginning of this year. With the current controversy surrounding the shrinking of newspaper pages dedicated to literary criticism, do you think the web is the future of book discussion in this country? And do you think the shrinkage effects genre fiction at all?

Gischler: Blogs, I think, are maybe just a more formal word of mouth. And I've always heard that word of mouth sells books. But I can't predict the future. I never would have predicted blogs.

Noir Writer: On this same topic, do you think there is enough scholarly writing on genre fiction and theory?

Gischler: There's an old saying about poetry ... more of it is written than read. I think that might apply to scholarly writing too. I hope good books get written about and talked about regardless of genre.

Noir Writer: Do you think it takes a certain type of person to write noir crime fiction?

Gischler: An intelligent person who doesn't wallow in his intellect. Smart is better than intellectual in some cases. The noir writer has to be smart enough to know what he/she is doing but not too proud or afraid to go for that lurid moment. You have to be smart enough to risk readers thinking you're juvenile.

Noir Writer: Your next book will be Go-Go Dancers of the Apocalypse. As you mentioned on your blog, Cormac McCarthy's last book was also about a post-apocalyptic world. Does this mean you'll be chosen for Oprah's book club? How will you celebrate? Or will you pull a Jonathan Frazen?

Gischler: If I get on Oprah, I'll reveal that my "novel" is actually a memoir. Then Oprah can yell at me for a little while. That'll be a nice treat for the audience. Honestly, I have nothing against Oprah. If she liked my book I would officially be speechless for life. A millionaire but speechless.

Noir Writer: Actually, let's talk seriously about McCarthy's success with The Road. Do you think Oprah's praise and the Pulitzer Prize was primarily due to McCarthy's reputation, or do you think people are opening up to the idea that genre fiction should receive the same type of recognition that literary fiction does?

Gischler: I think McCarthy's reputation went a long way in getting attention for the book, lots of reviews and buzz. But ultimately (I hope) the book has to stand on it's own. Here's the funny thing about genre fiction. As soon as it's declared "good" by enough people, it's no longer genre fiction. The late (and very great) Kurt Vonnegut said he wanted to stay out of the science fiction file cabinet because it was a cabinet critics too often mistook for a urinal. I think "genre" is too often confused with "formula" making it so easy to dismiss.

Noir Writer: You have your doctorate in English, what is your take on the clash between genre fiction and literary fiction?

Gischler: My take is that I wish that whole conversation would go away. I like to consider my novels parties to which everyone is invited but nobody has to stay. Just don't barge in telling me to turn the music down.

Noir Writer: There are a couple of deaths in your books, have you ever done a body count?

Gischler: Computers at NASA and M.I.T are working on it now. I like to populate my novels with red shirts. (A little something for the Star Trek fans.)

Noir Writer: If you could have another writer's career, whose would it be?

Gischler: Folks like Joe Lansdale and Christopher Moore seem to have a lot of fun doing just exactly as they please.

Noir Writer: You have a PhD. Do you insist on people calling you doctor? Also, if you're at a function and someone asks if there's a doctor in the house, do you raise your hand?

Gischler: I actually heard a story where a university Ph.D. put "Dr." in front of his name on an airline ticket. When the flight attendant asked him to come look at a sick passenger he was probably kind of embarrassed. I don't make anyone call me doctor ... but ... for some reason I really like to be called Vice Admiral Gischler. Or Field Marshall Gishcler. Has a nice ring to it.

Noir Writer: Jessica Simpson, Jessica Biel or Jessica Alba?

Gischler: I had to look up the second two on Google. Can I have some other choices? Jessica Rabbit?

I want to thank Victor for taking the time for this interview. His books are available in the usual places, so go off and find them, read them and then talk about them with everyone you know. Until next time, have a great week.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Give Me a Fucking Break

The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), the ones who tell you which movies are good for you, is now considering slapping movies that depict smoking with an R rating. Yes, that thing you can see everyday in front of movie theaters everywhere will now be restricted from sight on the screen inside. While the smoking outside will only kill you, the smoking on the screen will damage your moral being.

I'm not a smoker. I like cigars, but only the expensive ones, so I've smoked very few. I really don't like cigarette smoke, especially when I'm eating. And if everyone on the planet stopped smoking tomorrow, I don't think I'd really care. However, if people want to smoke and they're not bothering anyone, let them do what they want.

The MPAA has some pretty strange guidelines when it comes to rating films. For instance, you can only have one or two 'fucks' in a PG-13 movie. If they're are more, even spaced out by two hours, that film is automatically slapped with an R rating. After two, you can pretty much have every character say 'fuck' as many times as you want. However, there are exceptions. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN has close to 30 'fucks' and it's rated PG.

So, just think of all the horrific and violent images that these new PG-13 horror movies have and compare it with a film with one person smoking, that would now be R-rated. Which is worse for children? "My child may have gotten the idea of chopping off someone's head from a PG-13 movie, but thank Jesus, she didn't take up smoking!"

Sunday Interview: J.D. Rhoades

Since my DSL was on the fritz this weekend, the Sunday Interview is again appearing on Monday. No worries, the interview is just as good no matter when it is posted.

Today's guest in redneck noir novelist J.D. Rhoades. Dusty, as most everyone calls him, has published two kick ass novels about bail bondsman Jack Keller (THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, GOOD DAY IN HELL). St. Martin's Minotaur will release the third book in the series (SAFE AND SOUND) in July.

Dusty also writes a regular column for the Southern Pines, North Carolina PILOT. Oh, and he's a lawyer, but since he's such a nice guy we won't hold that against him.

NoirWriter: Where did you nickname come from?

Rhoades: What nickname?

Actually, I have no idea. My parents have been calling me Dusty as far back as I can remember. There was a player on the 1954 New York Giants named Dusty Rhodes who apparently pretty much won the '54 World Series for them single-handed. But my Dad's never been a Giants fan, so who knows?

After my first novel was purchased by St. Martin's/ Minotaur, we had a conversation about whether or not "Dusty Rhoades" sounded more like a humorous mystery writer. We eventually settled on the initials of my
"birth certificate" name. The only person who calls me J.D. on a regular basis is my friend Gray, who started doing it as a joke when we were teenagers.

NoirWriter: What was the first book you read that made you want to be a writer?

Rhoades: That's a tough one. Probably some early Robert Heinlein or one of Harlan Ellison's short story collections back when I was but a yoot. The one that got me back writing again in my thirties, though, was Molly Ivins' collection MOLLY IVINS CAN'T SAY THAT, CAN SHE? I started writing newspaper columns soon after that. A few years later, I started reading the work of North Carolina's own Katy Munger, who wrote a series set in Durham. That really inspired me, because it showed me that where I was could be an interesting setting.

NoirWriter: What is your definition of redneck noir? How does it compare with other noir stories?

Rhoades: Redneck noir is basically dark crime fiction set in the South. It started out as more of an attitude I wanted to hold in my head as I wrote. I was listening to a lot of Steve Earle, who remains one of my favorite artists. Songs of his, like "The Devil's Right Hand" and "Copperhead Road" tell stories about southern boys on the edge, both of society and of their sanity. I used to call them "songs about psychotic hillbillies." But at the same time, there's a lot of compassion in those stories.

NoirWriter: Do you find that your work as a lawyer influences your writing?

Rhoades: To some extent. It's brought me into contact with the sort of gritty, desperate lives that a lot of people live in this country. In the more lurid cases, you run into people who've just sort of snapped, who've decided they've had enough and they're going to burn the whole world down with them in it. I'm fascinated by the actions of people who've just stopped giving a fuck.

NoirWriter: Like yourself, there have been a large number of genre fiction writers who use the environments and institutions of their real life for their stories, such as Richard Clarke and John Grisham. Do you think this allows one to play god and manipulate their surroundings as they wish they would be?

Rhoades: I try to portray the surroundings as they are rather than manipulate them. I'm not so much trying to change or gain control as to understand and report back from the dark places.

Characters, now...I do create some characters as people I wish I was more like. Scott McCaskill, Keller's long-suffering attorney, for example, is the lawyer I wish I was. He's a lot better dressed, for one thing.

NoirWriter: In the third book of your Keller series you drop the whole devil/hell theme with the title. Why? Did it seem too gimmicky?

Rhoades: That was part of it, yes. The actual idea I had, though, was that all of the books' titles would be taken from song titles. SAFE AND SOUND actually started off as the second book in the series, so it was titled before GOOD DAY IN HELL. When the time came to finish S & S, I toyed with the idea of another "Devil' song, but decided to leave it as is.

The fourth Keller book, however, has a working title of DEVILS AND DUST. Assuming it gets bought.

NoirWriter: Your next book is a stand-alone. Did you find it liberating in any way?

Rhoades: In some ways, yes. In others, not so much. There's been a fair amount of hard work involved in making this new protagonist not-Keller. I kept finding myself drifting back into his mannerisms, speech, etc. But I think I've succeeded in making Tony Wolf a different guy. He's a lot more careful and paranoid than Keller, but he has excellent reasons to be.

NoirWriter: Do you know if there will be only be a certain number of Keller books? Do you ever feel forced to come up with a story for the series?

Rhoades: I don't know how many Keller books there'll be. I know he has a few more stories left in him. The problem is, I try in my books to realistically portray the effects of violence on, not only its victims, but its perpetrators, even the perpetrators of "justifiable" violence. One of my dissatisfactions with many series is that, in real life, if the same character had been nearly killed, had to use deadly force to save himself or others, had been beaten, shot at, almost blown up, etc etc, and this had happened over and over and over again, he'd be a raving lunatic. Or worse, he'd develop such an emotional callus on his soul he'd be a monster. So there's a limit, I think, to how much Jack can take and not become a total basket case. He comes very, very close to that state in SAFE AND SOUND.

NoirWriter: How do you develop your characters? Do they evolve as you write, or are their personalities and histories figured out before you start to write? And if you do outline your characters, do you use Dungeons & Dragons character sheets and multisided dice?

Rhoades: Like most things in my books, they evolve as I go. Keller started as a guy in a strip club, questioning one of the dancers about someone he was looking for. After that, I started thinking, why is he there? Who's he after? Why? Then, at some point, I have to decide "what is the character's vulnerability (or as I call it, his Kryptonite)?" After that, things sort of develop naturally.

NoirWriter: If Hollywood wanted to turn one of your books into a movie, who would you want to make it? (Actors, director, grip, etc.)

Rhoades: I'd love for Quentin Tarantino to direct. As for stars, my wife and I disagree on Keller. She wants Matthew McConaghey, I'm leaning more towards Viggo Mortenson. Lotsa luck, right?

NoirWriter: The Devil's Right Hand - does that have something to do with masturbation? Are you going to write a sequel called The Devil's Hairy Palms?

Rhoades: Heh! No, see above. It's a Steve Earle song about guns. Which may or may not be a Freudian symbol for masturbation. I'm more a Jungian myself.

NoirWriter: While we're on the subject - masturbation: for or against?

Rhoades: Against what?

NoirWriter: I think one can figure out your politics from reading your columns. Are you afraid the Treasury Department will come after you like they are with Michael Moore? And how long do you think it will be before Bush calls Moore an enemy combatant and throws him into Quantanamo?

Rhoades: Fortunately, that tide seems to be turning. People are beginning to realize that, hey, the sloppy fat guy might have been right all along. And Michael Moore, too. Hopefully, I'll stay out long enough to see this Administration gone, one way or another.

NoirWriter: Since Britney Spears is mentioned in the first sentence of your first book, do you feel a special bond with her? Did you want to shave your head when she did hers?

Rhoades: Britney's one who crossed right over into "I just don't give a fuck" territory. She's been a trainwreck for the past few years, and I'm probably going to Hell for finding it so entertaining.

Actually, though, that opening scene was written as sort of an homage to (aka blatant thievery from) Quentin Tarantino. He does an interview on the 10th anniversary DVD of Reservoir Dogs where he talks about the fact that criminals aren't always talking about crime. Most of the time, they're talking about stupid trivial guy stuff: pop music, TV, movies, etc. I tried to come up with the most amusingly stupid conversation I could. It seems to have worked.

I want to thank Dusty for taking the time to answer my questions. If you haven't read any of his books, do so. You won't be disappointed.

Next week we have go-go girl of the Apocalypse Victor Gischler. Until then, have a great week.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stumpy's on the Loose!

An armless, one-legged man in New Port Richey, FL outran police in a high-speed car chase on tuesday. He was arrested the next day. And this wasn't the first time he's eluded the law! His previous attempt to elude the law was in 1998 when tried to get away from police in a Corvette, hitting speeds over 120 mph!

He has one of the worst driving records in Pasco Country, Florida. No fucking shit.

Maybe I should write that sequel to Hump the Stump after all.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New York Movie

After writing about the Edward Hopper retrospective yesterday, I went back and looked at all of his paintings, especially one of favorites: New York Movie. I've always wondered what that woman was thinking, what was on her mind that was so troubling that she could not watch the film just off to the side of the painting's left border. So, I decided to make up the story myself and wrote a flash fiction piece for Bryon Quertermous's new flash site, Flash Pan Alley.

The title of the story, like the painting that inspired it, is New York Movie. If you read it, let me know what you think.

New York Movie, 1939

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Edward Hopper

Room in New York, 1932

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is showing a retrospective of Edward Hopper's work, which started Sunday and runs until August 19. I love Hopper's paintings. I know that Nighthawks is the apex of noir art, if there is such a thing, inspiring both filmmakers and novelists; but I've come to appreciate his other work much much more.

That starter novel that hides somewhere on my hard drive, the hard copies withering and decomposing within my file drawers, was greatly inspired by Hopper's work - it's not his fault the thing was so pretentious, that blame is the burden of a beginning MFA student who was trying too hard to write like someone he was not. (See?!? MFA's are dangerous if not used correctly) Each chapter of that terrible terrible novel was named after one of Hopper's paintings, Sun in an Empty Room, New York Movie, Room in New York. Each painting is a sad commentary on life, which was what I was trying to accomplish with disasterous results. Someday I hope to revisit some of the plot elements of that wretched novel, but with an entirely different approach - something less MFA.

I can't wait to see some of these paintings in person. So far I have only had the pleasure of reproductions in coffee table books and a framed poster that hangs above our bed. has posted a slide show essay on Hopper and his work. It's worth checking out. If your only exposure to Hopper is Nighthawks, I implore you to look at his other paintings. While his most famous work is a wonderful study of solitude and despair, it is only a minor reflection of the more heartbreaking and intimate images this great artist was capable of producing.

Sun in an Empty Room, 1963