Thursday, August 26, 2021

Happy Trails to the Western

The Western I have been working on sporadically for five years finally bit the dust. It is no more. It’s pushing up daisies. It has gone to join the choir celestial. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It has ridden off into the sunset, kicked the bucket, bought the farm, and taken a dirt bath.

 It is an ex-Western.

 I noticed during the final days of working on it that I wasn’t enjoying myself. Usually second drafts, where I rewrite the entire book, are fun. This was drudgery. The decision to cut bait after 34,000 words came when I realized the problem: it violated Edith Wharton’s fifth rule of writing:

 Have a point.

 The book was a mash-up of scenes from Westerns I’ve enjoyed, some good character interactions, and dialog I was happy with; the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Even I would have got to the end and thought, “So what?” I have projects on the back burner that do have points. I’ll work on those. (I have two or three possible Forte stories still in the embryonic stages, and a Penns River book is coming together rapidly since I abandoned the Western.)

 Another problem was the voice. I finally found what seemed to be a voice that sounded appropriate for a Western, but writing it was as left-handed an exercise as I can remember. I considered going back and re-writing it again in the voice I’ve developed over twelve crime novels just to see how it worked, but realized I’m sick of looking at this story. If I’m going to essentially start over, I should have something worth writing about.

 I may well try another Western. I picked up a couple of non-fiction books on the recent vacation that could generate ideas. I also plan to revisit Charlie Siringo’s memoir, which has a story I remember as having potential.

 The ultimate problem with the book I just set aside was its origin: I wanted to write a Western. It wasn’t that I had a story I wanted to tell or a character I wanted to explore. There was nothing organic about it. If nothing else, this has taught me to keep the horse before the cart when starting out on a new book.

 I should have known better. I’ve always wanted to write a heist or caper novel, but never had the idea for one that struck me as something I could write well enough to make it worth spending a year on. Same thing with a straight-up comedy. Whatever governor I have that made me realize those desires didn’t have legs took a vacation when it came to the Western.

 I suspected this was the case a while ago, but I’m a stubborn bastard. Everything I found wrong could be fixed, and I kept fixing things until what I had was a Frankenstein’s monster of a book. So I’m setting it off on an ice floe to bother me no more. I can always cannibalize bits if they fit into another book.

 No time spent writing is ever wasted. I learned a lot from this. I wouldn’t have minded learning it a little quicker, but that’s how life is sometimes. Knowledge is not always achieved in a timely manner. Just ask those people whose last words before being intubated are, “Can I have the vaccine now?”





Thursday, August 19, 2021

Bouchercon 2021: A Look Back

Today is the day I would normally post my pre-Bouchercon message. (No, not because it’s August 20. It’s the Friday before Bouchercon.) Since this year’s event has been postponed, I’m posting thoughts about that. I am not, and have never been, on an organizing committee, so I can speak frankly. Consider that fair warning.


First off, this year’s Bouchercon was not canceled; it was postponed. Things that are canceled never happen; postponement puts things off until a later date, in this case 2025.


There has been griping about the handling of this year’s erstwhile conference. Stop it. This year’s committee did yeoman’s work under extremely difficult, ultimately impossible, circumstances. They deserve every kudo they would have received had the conference come off. They did all they could and deserve full honors.


Every year there are complaints about some aspect of the conference; I have done so myself. That said, based on my experience of attending ten Bouchercons, and having gained some insights into what has to happen to make them work, I have some well-considered advice for the most common grievances.


“I don’t like my panel assignment.” Shut the fuck up.


“The venue is too small/large/hot/cold/stuffy/not close enough to places I’d like to go, etc.” Shut the fuck up.


“They chose the wrong people for this panel.” Shut the fuck up.


“Why is it in [insert city name] during [hurricane, fire, natural disaster of your choice] season?” Shut the fuck up.


“The book room is a mess,” or, alternately, “I can’t get my book into the dealers’ room.” Shut the fuck up.


(Unique to this year.) “I’m canceling because of the virus. Why can’t I get my money back?” Read the registration form, then shut the fuck up.


The ultimate solution to all these complaints is to volunteer for a future committee. Spend your time (and money) negotiating contracts, finding alternate activities for spouses and kids, booking guests of honor, coordinating with publishers for receptions, handling book sales logistics, organizing panels, last minute changes, and the myriad of other things—some anticipated, others not—that go into pulling off a Bouchercon. Do that once—one time—I guarantee you’ll shut the fuck up forever after.


Bouchercon is a labor of love, and few loves require more labor on the part of those who have volunteered to make it work. I have been to Bouchercons that worked better than others, but never have I had even an inkling those that weren’t as successful were due to any lack of effort or involvement by the organizers.


There is no “Bouchercon Inc.” or “Bouchercon LLC;” these folks often have to put up their own funds as deposits. Until you’re willing to do that, and put your money where your mouth is, I only have one word of advice as to what to do about going public with your Bouchercon complaints: Shut the fuck up.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

What I Did on my Summer Vacation


The Great Adventure of 2021 has concluded, covering twenty-one days and fifteen states. I did no writing (some research was accomplished), so this week’s post will be an accounting of the highlights. Not that you care, or should, but I like thinking back on them and I need a topic.


Date: Tuesday July 13

Woke up in: Laurel MD

Highlights: Closed the last of my parents’ accounts. Dinner at Primanti Brothers; dessert at Glen’s frozen custard, the best in the world.

Went to sleep in: Harmar PA


Date: Wednesday July 14

Highlights: A driving day. Hooked up with Culver’s burgers and custard. Both are very good and will be even more appreciated over the next several days.

Went to sleep in: Madison WI


Date: Thursday July 15

Highlights: Visited Spam museum in Austin MN. Dinner at the Rusty Spur, the only functioning restaurant in town.

Went to sleep in: Murdo SD


Date: Friday, July 16

Highlights: Visited an authentic 1880s town. Tried to get lunch at three different places before settling for beef jerky and energy bars in our room.

Went to sleep in: Murdo SD


Date: Saturday, July 17

Highlights: The Badlands and Custer State Park; bighorn sheep and buffalo. Drove out of Badlands on longest gravel road in North America. The dust may still be settling.

Went to sleep in: Custer SD


Date: Sunday July 18

Highlights: Drove past Devils Tower. (Line was too long to get in.) Took three tries to find a place open for lunch.

Went to sleep in: Gardiner MT


Date: Monday, July 19

Highlights: Yellowstone. Saw hundreds of buffalo, some close enough to touch. Lost an argument with a picnic table at Sheepeater Cliff picnic area; swore vengeance.

Went to sleep in: Yellowstone Park, then Gardiner MT


Date: Tuesday, July 20

Highlights: Yellowstone again. Even more buffalo. Later we watched an elk grazing on the main street of Gardinar. Returned to scene of yesterday’s altercation to find the table already occupied, so I’m having mine cold.

Went to sleep in: Cody WY


Date: Wednesday, July 21

Highlights: Buffalo Bill Museum of the West. Rodeo in the evening.

Went to sleep in: Coy WY


Date: Thursday, July 22

Highlights: Dinner with former co-workers.

Went to sleep in: Fort Collins CO


Date: Friday, July 23

Highlights: Hung out with my brother’s family. Outstanding bison parmigiana at CafĂ© Jordano.

Went to sleep in: Lakewood CO


Date: Saturday, July 24

Highlights: Delivered family heirloom to niece’s new condo. Cook out at my brother’s included some wicked cornhole games.

Went to sleep in: Lakewood CO


Date: Sunday, July 25

Highlights: Family time. Dinner at the 49th State in Denver.

Went to sleep in: Lakewood CO


Date: Monday, July 26

Highlights: Driving day. Heavy rain caused a brief waiting period.

Went to sleep in: Abilene KS


Date: Tuesday, July 27

Highlights: All Abilene attractions closed, though it didn’t appear we were missing much. Dinner at an excellent microbrewery tap room in Hamilton.

Went to sleep in: Hamilton MO


Date: Wednesday, July 28

Highlights: The Quilting Capitol of the World. The Beloved Spouse™ ravaged the town while I hung around the library and ice cream shop. Dinner in the tap room again.

Went to sleep in: Hamilton MO


Date: Thursday, July 29

Highlights: See entry for July 28. Dinner at the tap room again again.

Went to sleep in: Hamilton MO


Date: Friday, July 30

Highlights: Lunch in St. Louis with my trumpet teacher from New England Conservatory and his friend.

Went to sleep in: Louisville KY


Date: Saturday, July 31

Highlights: Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. Drinks with Chad Williamson and the lovely Alice Blevins at the one bar in Louisville Jimmy Hannah hasn’t gotten Chad banned from.

Went to sleep in: Georgetown KY


Date: Sunday August 1

Highlights: Kentucky Horse Park. Found what must be the southernmost Culver’s for custard.

Went to sleep in: Georgetown KY


Date: Monday, August 2

Highlights: Driving day.

Went to sleep in: My own bed.


Total driving distance: 5,090.5 miles at 32.0 miles per gallon.


A wonderful vacation. Not perfect: restaurant issues due to lack of staffing, extremely hot weather in places, the altercation with the picnic table and its aftermath. I’d do it again even if I knew all of the above would happen.


Many thinks to my brother’s family (Stu, Cris, Aspen, and Hailey); Charlie Schluter and Mary; my former co-workers at USDA; Chad Williamson and Alice Blevins; and various new acquaintances, including, but not limited to: Vinnie at the Rusty Spur; all the folks at the Sheepeater Cliff picnic area (If I had your names you’d get cards), Mari of Mari’s Bed & Breakfast, both librarians in Hamilton, and, last but not least, Toni, Amanda, and all the staff at the Levi Gallagher & Sons Brewery in Hamilton.


This trip was so much fun, I enjoyed toting up the bills because of the memories they evoked.


Thursday, August 5, 2021

Bosch, Season 7


(I held this post back to allow those who care time to see Season 7 of Bosch. Spoilers abound.)


The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched Bosch’s final season on its first weekend of availability. We’ve had mixed emotions about the past few seasons, as the stories are always compelling, the storytelling less so. Season 7 took this to the point where we’re just as glad it’s not coming back even though there’s a lot to like.


What’s to like? As I said, the stories. Using Michael Connelly’s stories and universe as the jumping-off point was inspired. They’re the kinds of stories that hook you right away, and deft handling of the procedural matters is a huge separator from more mainstream television and movies.


The casting is outstanding, and the acting is solid, within a caveat I’ll describe below. It is now impossible to read a Bosch book without seeing Titus Welliver in the role. Amy Aquino was excellent as Lt. Billets. My sole complaint about Gregory Scott Cummins and Troy Evans as Crate and Barrel is that they’re not used enough.


The production values are outstanding. This was among the first of Amazon’s streaming series and has serves as the flagship ever since. The care taken and attention to detail is obvious in each episode.


So why am I ready for it to be over?


While the stories are compelling, the storytelling is not. I understand about getting in as late as possible and getting out as early as is practical, but Season 7 suffers from Attentio Deficit Disorder, moving from scene to scene so quickly it’s hard to keep track of what happened, or to remember it when it becomes important later. One scene stands out. Bosch gets a phone call, the caller asks how he’s doing, he says he’s fine, and that’s it. The scene reminded us Harry is dating a judge, which will matter in another episode or two, but it goes by so quickly, and in such an uninteresting manner, The Beloved Spouse™ and I both looked at each other and asked So what? The relationship between Bosch and the judge was shown, briefly, in a previous episode. Nothing worth mentioning passed between them, the scene easily forgotten.  


Plot exists so scenes have a point; scenes are where the entertainment and storytelling take place. Season 7 plays like a mash-up of Law & Order and The Wire. The problem is, the side stories are not particularly compelling and are sometimes extraneous.  Chief Irving’s premature baby is at best a distraction, at worst a waste of time. The scenes with Maddie and her boyfriend are necessary only because a member of Bosch’s family is in mortal peril. (Again.) With only eight episodes, each well under an hour, fewer story lines with more attention paid to each would have been a better choice.


The dialog is turgid, at best. Too many characters pontificate, and too often one character describes something the listener clearly already knows for the benefit of the audience. That’s lazy writing. Fewer, longer scenes with real interaction between characters would be welcome.


The pregnant pauses don’t help. It’s almost like someone held a stopwatch and directed the actors leave at least three seconds between lines to allow time for meaningful facial expressions. The end result is a sequence of flat deliveries and disruption of chemistry.


Then there’s the ending. After disrupting a major federal investigation that gets their confidential informant killed, Bosch gives the chief a (literal) fuck you; shortly after, Bosch hands in his badge. The chief then makes a half-assed attempt to talk Harry out of it. My police friends may correct me, but I have to believe Harry wouldn’t have a chance to resign; the first words out of Irving’s mouth would either be “You’re fired” or “Where don’t you want to go” so he can bury Bosch just as Bill Rawls buried Jimmy McNulty in The Wire. I also kept waiting for some fed to remind Harry that Sammy Gravano got passes for nineteen homicides to get him to flip on John Gotti. They’re not going to tolerate some local cop ruining an investigation intended to take down at least one major drug organization, no matter how much that cop believes everyone matters or no one matters.


What bothers me more than anything about the end of Bosch is how it symbolizes the failure of streaming services to live up to the hype for their original programming. Shows like Bosch and Goliath showed great early promise, but what’s come after is mainly things too edgy or overtly sexual or graphically violent or had too much foul language for the broadcast networks. I have no problem with overt sexuality and graphic violence; regular readers know I’m all fucking for foul language. Having all of the above doesn’t make a show good. How do we get what we get and no one has created a streaming vehicle for Tim Hallinan’s Junior Bender or Brad Parks’s Carter Ross or Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager is beyond me. (Editor’s Note: This is far from a complete list.)