Weekend Potpourri: Homecoming Edition

I seem to have a mild case of creeping crud — headache, congestion, sneezes, that kind of thing —  and combined with the bit of sunburn I picked up yesterday, I’m not entirely stoked about getting some lesson planning done this afternoon, but figured I could get rolling after I jotted down a few things over here. Thanks for dropping in!

***

This was Homecoming Weekend in Mondoville, and the Spawn was involved in a couple of activities, which Mrs. M and I wound up checking out. She rode in the parade with a crew from her sorority. The parade route was maybe 5-6 blocks long (we’re a small school in a small town), starting at a former elementary school that now houses the college’s education department and culminating at our main entry, where one will find a large fountain and our admin building, the portico for which doubled as the reviewing stand. Mrs. M and I sat on the fountain’s edge and watched the various groups go by, including a contingent from Mondoville’s Class of 1967, who sang the fight song as they passed in review.

After the parade, the Spawn did a shift for her sorority’s charity fundraiser, the annual “Teeter-totter-a-thon.” I kicked in a couple of bucks, and cheered the Spawn on for a bit. The ladies seemed to be having a good time for a good cause, and I saw more than a few of their alumnae swinging by as well.

And of course, the Old (and not-so-old) Grads are a big part of Homecoming. This is my fifteenth year at the college, which means I’ve completed fourteen years, which in turn means that the Freshpeeps I taught in my first semester here were showing up for their ten-year reunion. That hadn’t actually occurred to me until I ran into a group of same, including former Berries Andrew and Evan, as well as a number of other alums of more recent vintage.

A real kick for me is getting to meet the children of the kids I’ve taught. They’re almost all in the baby-to-toddler range at this point, and the Spawn and I served as impromptu sitters for the five-month-old son of a couple of recent grads as they posed for the big alumni picture. On several occasions, I was thinking, “OK, if I teach until I’m 70, then I could maybe have this kid for a year or two.” Not a bad goal.

Seeing my former students, and hearing about how they’re making their ways through life, is one of the benefits of this gig, and it reminds me that a small college in Mondoville can be a pretty good place for a career.

The football game, alas, didn’t go so well for the home folks. We jumped out to a 17-0 lead at the half, but gave up several big play and lost on a field goal with a few seconds to go, 27-24. Even so, it was a nice day for football and for seeing folks I hadn’t seen in a while. A personal highlight came when a former Mondoville football star walked by my section of bleachers, carrying his toddler son. I said hi to Will, and to his little boy. Will said to his son, “This is Dr. Moore — he’s the best teacher I ever had anywhere. He’s the smartest man I’ve ever met.”

After Will and the little guy had moved on, someone sitting near me said, “Kind of makes the job worthwhile, doesn’t it?” And it does.

***

Another highlight of the week was the visit of this year’s Gerding Author, crime writer Danny Gardner. The Gerding program involves Mondoville’s freshpeeps reading a book from the author, who comes to town for a couple of days and gives talks, both to the freshpeeps and the larger community. I’ve talked about past authors with whom we’ve worked, such as Ron Rash, Mary Doria Russell, Dave Cullen, Silas House, Peter S. Beagle, and Lawrence Block. Although Danny’s a debut author, we thought his novel, A Negro and an Ofay, would be a good work for our kids to check out.

The hunch played well, and our students seem to have gotten a great deal out of the book. But they got even more, I think, from meeting with Danny himself, and Danny appeared to get a lot out of meeting with them. His address at the Newberry Opera House was passionate, personal, and inspirational, covering topics like responsibility, education, and the importance of self-definition in a world that seems only too happy to reduce us all to a collection of stereotypes. He covered similar topics in a less formal chat with the freshpeeps on Friday morning, and signed books as long as there was anyone asking him to do so. But he also spent a lot of time in intense conversation with the kids as he dealt with them. Over and over, I heard him tell kids — especially those interested in creative fields — that the most important thing for them to do was to maintain their enthusiasm. Many more people quit on their talent, he said, than have their talent quit on them. Stay at it — stay afire.

And the last kid to whom I saw him speak? That was something special. The kid was a young African American man who said he wants to write, but had some difficult life circumstances get in the way. Danny sat down with him for twenty minutes, encouraging him, talking about his own experiences, and concluded by sharing some personal contact information with the instruction to reach out anytime. And he meant it. They embraced, and the kid went on his way. With luck, I’ll see the kid in one of my creative writing classes soon, and when I do, I’ll be glad that he had this talk with Danny that may have sent him my way.

Thanks for coming out, Mr. Gardner — and feel free to drop by anytime.

***

And speaking of books, I’m pleased to report that Broken Glass Waltzes officially makes its return tomorrow, thanks to the fine people at Down & Out Books. If you’ve read it and left a review, I thank you. If you’ve read it but never left a review, I encourage you to do that. And if you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to do so — I’ve tried to make it worth your time.

Meanwhile, my short story “The Birthmark and the Brand” may be found in Betrayed, a charity e-anthology from Pam Stack’s Authors on the Air Press. Profits from the anthology will go to combat domestic violence, and you’ll enjoy some fine stories from some very good writers along the way. Check it out!

Also, my story “Ampurdan,” based on a painting by Salvador Dali, will be appearing in Lawrence Block’s new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, which comes out in just over a month. But you can beat the Christmas rush and order your copy now, and with authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Joe R. Lansdale, and David Morrell in the anthology, that’s not a bad idea at all.

And last but not least, I’m scheduled to do a reading at a special Christmas-themed edition of Noir at the Bar at 106 Main in Durham, NC on Pearl Harbor Day (7 December, for the less historically inclined.) If you’re in the region, I’d love to see you there!

***

Well, I have some work to do, so I’d best get to it, but as is my habit, I’ll leave you with a bit of music. Here’s an odd little cover of post-punk heroes New Order’s best known track, “Blue Monday.” Orkestra Obsolete approaches the song with oddball 20s- and 30s-era instruments, including Diddley bow, hammered dulcimer, harmonium, zither, musical saw, dulcitone, glass harp, and other items from the toy box. I dug it — maybe you will, too.

See you soon!

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Bouchercon, Day the Last (And the Fates Laughed)

On Sunday morning, I woke up alone. This wouldn’t be worthy of remark, except (What a twist!) I hadn’t done that earlier in the week. Mrs. M accompanied me from Wednesday until Saturday, but the Spawn didn’t want me to advertise that she was home alone, so I avoided mentioning it on the blog. But now the story can be told. So I just did.

Deb and Me on Ryerson Ave

With Mrs. M on Ryerson Avenue, near the flophouse where we used to stay.

But she was gone on Sunday morning, so I had breakfast, got packed up, and checked out, leaving my bags — well really, just my main suitcase — at the hotel until I came back to catch a cab for the airport.

In the meantime, I wandered once more to the convention hotel. I hung out in the lobby, chatting with friends old and new, wishing them farewell until the next time our paths might cross. I also struck up a conversation with Abby, the author of Crime By the Book, a blog worth your attention.

After a bit of that, I decided to make one more sweep of Eaton Centre and Nathan Phillips Square, two of my frequent haunts any time I’m up there. Once more, I had a street vendor’s hot dog, and picked up a frozen coffee at a nearby Tim Horton’s.

Frozen coffee

Yeah, I drink sissy candy-flavored coffee. So sue me.

That would be my last meal for quite some time, in Toronto or elsewhere.

I made it back to my hotel, relaxed for a minute or two, and took a cab to the airport. A cold front was coming through Toronto yesterday afternoon, and it was breezy throughout the day. At one point, a squall blew through, with heavy rain, lashed by the wind. My driver still got me there, and I checked in, checked my bag, cleared customs, walked past the “LAST CHANCE” snack shop, and made my way to the departure gate.

I had scheduled my flights to give me a little over an hour to make my connection at Dulles, but after I sat down, I heard that our flight from Toronto was going to be delayed by the weather. The departure time was moved back by thirty minutes. I was less than thrilled, but what the heck? It still gave me a half-hour and change to make my flight to Real City.

And then they pushed it back another half-hour. We were informed that the weather delay had spawned an air-traffic delay, so the dominoes fell, tick tick tick. I spoke to the gate agent. He told me that even with an hour’s delay, I might be able to catch my connector. “But it’ll be tight,” he said. I alerted my colleagues at Mondoville, letting them know that I might not be in class this morning. The next delay confirmed that, so I e-mailed my Freshpeeps and told them what was up, also posting their next writing assignment. Meanwhile, my knee, which had been troubling me for a few days, decided to inform me that there was no comfortable position in which I could wait. Standing? Nope. Sitting normally? Not really. Sitting with my leg extended? Well, maybe for a couple of minutes, but… nope.

At this point, I had other worries, as I knew my connector (which I was now going to miss) was the last flight to Real City on the night. So I got in line to speak to the gate agent once again. I stood there about 45 minutes or so, occasionally wondering if my leg was going to buckle, as he dealt with various other passengers — or more to the point, non-passengers. Meanwhile, we were informed that the plane and crew that was supposed to take us to Dulles had just gotten airborne — at Dulles. It’d be showing up in, well, 90 minutes or a couple of hours, depending on how long it was in a holding pattern.

When I was the next person in line to talk to the agent, a second one appeared and took me aside. “At this point,” I said, “I have two goals. I want to get to Columbia, SC some time tomorrow, and I don’t want to sleep on the floor of an airline terminal. How can [Unnamed Airline — heck, let’s call them Untied Airlines] help me accomplish these things?”

Untied booked me the earliest available flight from DC to Real City, leaving just past noon (and remember, per the guidance from Security Theater, that means I should show up at the airport around 10 a.m.) but there was still the matter of the son of Madge having no place to lay his head. Also, I would need the bag I had checked through by bedtime (when/wherever that would be), which meant that it would have to be reclaimed in DC, rather than just giving it a nice home at the airport until the new flight to Columbia. Oh, and by the way, Untied informed me that because the delay was due to weather and air traffic issues, they weren’t going to foot my hotel bill.

But! Out of the goodness of their hearts, they could get me a reduced rate at a hotel near the DC airport. All I had to do, I was told, was identify myself to the gate agent in DC, who would hook me up, summon the bag, and otherwise make the best of a bad situation. Well, if that’s what you can get, it’s what you can get, so I limped back to my seat as they pushed the departure time back once more.

Eventually, the plane and crew showed up, and we boarded the flight to DC at about 10:10, two hours and forty minutes after the original scheduled departure. And then we waited through the refueling. And then we were told a sensor was acting odd, and they were going to essentially reboot the plane to see if that made a difference. So they did, and rechecked everything — I looked out the window at one point to see someone (a mechanic? a baggage handler?) crouched a few yards from the wingtip, looking at… something… as machinery buzzed, whirred, and otherwise waxed onomatopoetic. Finally, though, we were good to go, taking our place in the departure line. That place would be spot #22.

The good news is that I was alone in an exit row, giving me some extra legroom. The bad news is all that really did was allow to squirm around, as every position became uncomfortable in fairly short order. But! We got into the air, and I was cheered by the idea of getting some rest at the hotel before I had to make my return trip to Dulles for Security Theater.

So we arrived at the gate, and I saw someone wearing Untied Airlines gear and carrying a clipboard. “Are you the gate agent?” I asked.

Getting an affirmative answer, I said, “I’ve missed my connecting flight, and was told that you –”

“You need to go to Customer Service. They’ll be able to set you up.”

“Okay. Where’s that?”

“[Fifty gates away]. Just start walking that way.” And poof! He’s gone. So I start hiking through the postapocalyptic emptiness of the terminal building. Finally I gimped my way to the desk — which has one of those back-and-forth rat-maze layouts, despite the fact that there are three attendants and no customers when I got there. So I do the back and forth thing, and discover that my situation is apparently unprecedented in the history of Untied Airlines. The Customer Rep was a very nice woman, and even though English was not her first language, she tried really hard to make things work. She called the hotel and got a desk clerk who apparently knew nothing about the whole “airline rate” business, but after a lengthy process involving several holds, things were squared away. She then made the arrangements to have my bag pulled from the luggage stream and sent to Untied’s office at Baggage Claim. “After you have your bag,” she explained, “all you have to do is call the number on the voucher and they’ll send the 24-hour shuttle.”

“Great,” I said, basically having been reduced to monosyllables. “How do I get there?”

“Oh, just follow the signs [past another 20 or so gates], catch the train, and then follow these other signs.”

I did as I was told, and did in fact find my way to the office, where they told me my bag would be on the regular carousel. Fine. Get the bag. Now I need to call the shuttle, and —

My phone battery is dead.

Go back to the office. Explain the deal; can they call the shuttle?

Sure! Just go to point (X,Y). Fine, I do that. Nope, I’m actually at point (X, Y-1), the cab stand. So I make the adjustment, and one of the folks from the office comes running up and tells me that they’ve decided to put me on a cab. Back to the cab stand, dragging my big bag and my right leg. She directs the dispatcher to put me on a cab to Airport Hotel, and says she’ll be back in a minute — to give me another voucher for the cab ride? To give one to the cabbie? To wave from the pier?

Well, I’ll never know, because as soon as she’s out of sight, with her “I’ll be back” still echoing in my ears, ZOOM! The dispatcher has done his work, a cab has arrived, and before I can even say “I think we’re supposed to wait for –“, we are on the road.

I made it to the hotel about two this morning, and was unpacked (enough) and in bed by 2:30. I placed an 8:30 wakeup call. I might be wearing the same day’s clothes, but I at least want to get a shower before I get back to the airport by 10. Of course, I hadn’t counted on the fact that the previous occupant had set the alarm for 6 a.m. That was only a temporary interruption, however.

After all that, today’s trip was pretty uneventful, apart from the fact that by the time I got to my car at the Real City airport, I had 56 new e-mails and realized that I hadn’t eaten anything since that hot dog in Toronto 26 hours earlier. So I grabbed a couple of fast-food burritos before I got on the Interstate to Mondoville.

I’ve been home for a few hours now — I’ve done laundry, and I’m trying to decide if I’m going to eat anything else before I go to bed. And tomorrow, I’ll be back in front of my classes, and back to my committee work and the like. But even though the trip home was considerably more draining than I expected it to be, and even though my time in Toronto already feels a bit dreamlike, I can hardly wait for my next Bouchercon, for the writers and fans (and I’m both), for the positive energy and camaraderie.

And speaking of camaraderie, this might make a nice time to mention the fact that I’ve worked with a lot of other talented writers on the anti-Domestic Violence anthology Betrayed, which is now available for purchase on Kindle. Check it out!

But right now, sleep sounds good.

Posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Bouchercon, Days Green and Melvin: Lack of Sleep Begins to Affect the Prof

So it occurred to me this morning that I had forgotten to post my report from yesterday. “That’s okay,” thought I, “I’ll just double up tonight.” And so here we go, in the standard Saturday Potpourri format.

Friday’s panels began at 8:30 yesterday morning, so I got up at 6, hit the hotel buffet for breakfast, and walked the few blocks to the Sheraton in time to see a panel on violence in crime fiction. The panel was moderated by Thomas Pluck (with whom I share space in the forthcoming Alive in Shape and Color — Have you ordered your copy yet?), and included Chris Holm (whose Collector series I recommend) and Joe Clifford (who is making waves with his Jay Porter series.)  One of the interesting points that came up was that all the authors emphasize that in their work, violence is never a pat solution to problems, and almost always takes a toll on the ones administering it, as well as those receiving it. I also was struck by a question from the audience about whether the authors would let their kids read their books, and at what age. The Spawn was in her mid-teens when Broken Glass Waltzes came out the first time, and while she has never read more than the opening scene, that’s her choice — she doesn’t like thinking about stuff like that crawling out of her dad’s head.

***

Next up was a session on comedic mysteries, and then a panel on revenge as a motivation in crime stories — from the characters’ standpoints, although I think the authorial end of it might have been interesting as well. It was also a good time because I encountered Eryk Pruitt and Kate Pilarcik, doing some catching up and chatting about upcoming projects; Kate and I have stories in Betrayed, a charity anthology that comes out on Monday, and I’ll be reading with Eryk at a Noir at the Bar in Durham, NC on Pearl Harbor Day.

Eryk Kate and Me

L-R: Eryk, Kate, and Mondo. Photo by Kate’s husband.

I then headed outside into the grey midday, and had a couple of hot dogs at Nathan Phillips Square, one of my Toronto traditions.

***

After lunch, it was time to take in a panel on tough/hard-boiled characters, moderated by British ex-cop Colin Campbell and featuring Zoe Sharp, who pressed on despite the beginnings of a migraine. I ducked out after that and spent a little time unwinding at my hotel, followed by a walk around Queen West, which I think of as “my old neighborhood,” including the hotel where Mrs. M, the Spawn, and I stayed on several of our vacations. In fact, because I’ve visited Toronto so many times over the years, I found myself offering advice to numerous convention friends on cool places to check out, good cheap eats, and other such tourist info. By the time I got back to the Sheraton, however, my knees were bugging me, so I trudged the last few blocks to my hotel and packed it in.

***

Apparently the travel caught up with me a bit, because I overslept a bit this morning. OK — I overslept by two hours, but still made it to the Sheraton in time for a panel on social issues in crime fiction, with panelists who live and work in Southeast Asia, as well as writers who explore issues like human trafficking and political corruption. Fellow Down & Out author Ian Truman got off a comment that I found terrifically apt — he noted that he simply writes about life in the working-class neighborhood of Montreal where grew up; what outsiders call social problems, he said, were just part of getting by.

I picked up a copy of Truman’s Grand Trunk and Shearer, as well as an old Shell Scott novel, in the book room, and did a bit of schmoozing, gladhanding, and other fancy stuff until 1 p.m., when I saw a panel where Eryk and several other writers talked about setting crime fiction in small towns. After that, I had a quick meeting with Eric Campbell and Lance Wright from Down & Out, grabbed a drink, and returned to the presentations.

***

The afternoon panels included a discussion between cozy and hard-boiled writers, where each discussed the positives of the other subgenre. After that, I saw my speed dating tag-team partner Dale T. Phillips in a panel on darkness (in mood and morality) in the stuff we read and write. Interestingly, all the panelists mentioned that they try to leave at least a scintilla of positivity in their work. I spoke to Dale afterwards, and said, “Man, you’re gonna hate my book.”

***

The last panel of the day was on noir, and as usual, the panelists acknowledged that noir is far easier to identify than it is to define. Still, the discussion was lively and fun. A question that came up in each of the last two panels was how the authors manage to resist going full-tilt nihilist when they write this stuff — how do they pull away after spending imaginative time in some seriously nasty places? Nearly all of them acknowledged that they had to do that from time to time, with coping strategies ranging from playing with the kids to walking the dog. And that brings us back to something I’ve noticed before — pretty much every crime writer I’ve met has been a sweetheart. Yay, catharsis!

***

At last things were wrapping up, so I walked out of the hotel and into a steady rain. Rather than get drenched, I caught a cab to a poutinerie for dinner, and a second one to my hotel.

So here we are, and I have one more day to go. Stick around, huh?

Posted in Alternating Feet, Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Family, Literature, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Bouchercon, Day Two: Speed Dating, History, and Innocence

The alarm woke me at 6 this morning, giving me time to get civilized before I made the short walk to the convention hotel. I found my way to the Grand Ballroom and checked in for Author Speed Dating. In the words of the organizers, here’s how it works:

Each author gets a chance to pitch their book(s) to 20 tables of up to 8 readers to a table. Authors are put in groups of 2 and move from table to table every 4 minutes — so if you and I were paired I would talk for 2 minutes and then you would talk for 2 minutes. We’d pass out bookmarks or other stuff. And then at the 4 minute mark we’d travel to the next table!

My partner in this exercise was New Englander Dale Phillips, who managed to beat the traffic into town a few minutes before things got rolling at 8. The combination of adrenaline and coffee had placed him somewhere between “ebullient” and “auctioneer on meth”, so I suggested he go first as we made our way around the room. As one of us would talk , the other  would make sure that the attendees got promo material, in the form of trifold brochures from Dale and a flyer (designed by my friend Justin) for me. We developed a rhythm pretty quickly — I think by the time we were finished, Dale and I could have done each other’s spiels. I noticed a lot of folks taking notes as we talked — I told them they were considerably more awake than my usual 8 a.m. audiences.

After that, I spread my remaining flyers around, leaving some at the door of the book room and others at a table with lots of other promo material. From there I made my way to a panel on golden age crime writers. My acquaintances Peter Rozovsky and Sarah Weinman were on the panel, and the discussion was lively, and put me onto some “new” older writers.

I said hello to Peter and Sarah, and then made my way into Toronto’s underground city and hit a noodle place for some spicy beef. After that, I caught a panel featuring the nominees for the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original, which included Facebook friends Patricia Nase Abbott and Eric Beetner (who also did the cover for the original release of Broken Glass Waltzes).

The last panel I saw on the day was a presentation on a new book: Anatomy of Innocence. The book is a series of case studies of people who were wrongfully convicted of a variety of heinous crimes. It was fascinating to see the writers on the panel talk about how their faith in the system was shaken — or their lack of faith confirmed. If the book is as affecting as the panel was, it will be well worth your time.

And those were today’s highlights — more to come.

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Literature | 2 Comments

Bouchercon, Day Zero (In Which the Prof Vandalizes Someone’s Inventory)

I flew into Toronto today, and boy, are my arms tired.

No, wait. My arms really are tired, but it’s because I had to get up at 3:30 to get to Real City in time to star in Security Theater before catching my 7 a.m. flight. I got the full patdown and hand swab — I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that in order to save money, I booked my return flight on a different airline, so it looked like I had a one-way ticket. However, I passed the check, and made it here a little after 11 a.m. Although I arrived before check-in time, the nice people at the Doubletree Hotel had a room ready. As I was checking in, I realized that I’ve been coming up here whenever possible for 25 years now. I hope the trend continues.

Because I’m bigger than the airline industry cares to acknowledge, I’ve been stiff and sore since my arrival, but I was able to make it to the food court at Eaton Centre for lunch, and followed that with a walk to the local bookstore/frappuccino preserve. As I wandered around, I saw that the store had two copies of In Sunlight or In Shadow, and both sported stickers announcing that the book had apparently been endorsed by a staffer named Jay. I took the two copies to an employee — not Jay, alas — and pointed to my name among the many on the cover.

“I’m this guy,” I said, “and I was wondering if you’d like me to sign the book.”

“Hang on,” he said. “Let me get my manager.” So he did, and I identified myself once again when she arrived. She seemed genuinely pleased, and grabbed a marker from the cashwrap. A moment later, I had done my bit, and she affixed “Autographed Copy” stickers to both.

“You realize,” I said, “that I’m the least famous writer in the book. I hope I didn’t lower the value.” But who knows? Maybe I’ll be the Button Gwinnett of the Edward Hopper anthology roster. Either way, it felt like a good omen for the convention.

My next stop was the Sheraton Centre, the HQ hotel for the convention. I found the registration desk with no trouble and got my swag bag, with plenty of stuff to read. After that, I chilled at the room for a bit, before grabbing dinner and supplies and returning here to do this entry and call it a night. I can use the rest, and I’m doing my “official” con appearance in the morning. But there’ll likely be other stuff as well, so check in for updates.

And in honor of my flight to Toronto, only one song seems appropriate:

See you soon, eh?

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In Which the Prof is Surrounded by Girl Scouts

So I went to my office this afternoon to take care of a few things for the week’s classes and a committee meeting tomorrow. Sunday afternoons tend to work well for that sort of thing. I usually have the building pretty much to myself, and since most of my music collection is there, I can listen to some of my favorite music at a volume that might grate on my neighbors during the work week.

I had been there about an hour and a half when I heard a set of building doors opening, followed by the voices of a bunch of little girls, with older voices directing them up to the third floor. I didn’t stick my head out of my office, but I heard the kids clomping up the stairs, their tread fading as they ascended. So I got back to work.

About 45 minutes or so later, my phone blatted at me. It turned out that an arm of Tropical Storm Nate had apparently flung a heavy thunderstorm our way, and Mondoville had gone under a tornado warning. I called the Spawn and told her to get to the concrete furnace room/hobo meat curing area, and the sirens downtown were going by the time I hung up.

Because I have a voice that can stun a police dog, I called up the stairwell and told whoever was up there to come down to my hallway immediately — it’s a designated shelter area for the building. A couple of young women from a sorority were in the stairwell and told me they had the kids up there with them for some sort of community service activity/project. “That’s nice,” I said. “Now bring them down.”

So in short order, a dozen or so Girl Scouts and an equivalent number of sorority women came hustling down the stairs. The little kids got there first, and I told them, “Hi, I’m Professor Moore. I work here, and this is the safest place to be, so everyone have a seat here in the hallway, OK?” The kids had clearly been through their share of tornado drills, because they got set up against the hallway wall with no problem. The sorority ladies sat down as well, as did a couple of moms/scout leader types.

My phone blatted with an update: The (seeming) twister had headed away from Mondoville, toward another section of the county, but we would remain under the warning for about another 25 minutes or so. (One of the sorority women told me she was far less concerned about the possible twister than about the exam she’s taking in my class on Tuesday.) So I filled the adults in, and the activities resumed in our new locale. The sorority folks taught the scouts about bees, butterflies, pollination and such, and after the warning had expired, I bid them adieu, called the Spawn and told her it was OK, and gathered my stuff to come home.

As I left, a mom held the door for me. “You were really on the job,” she said. “You got everyone down here and settled right away.” I laughed and told them it was no big deal. I’m sure the sorority women would have handled things just as smoothly. In retrospect, though, maybe I should have asked for a deal on some Thin Mints.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family | 1 Comment

Saturday Potpourri: Oktoberfest Edition

Oh, that’s right… I have a blog. Who knew? Well, let’s get a bit caught up, shall we?

***

As I had mentioned previously, we celebrated my 52nd birthday last weekend. Mrs. M fixed a large ravioli casserole that lasted several days, and the traditional chocolate cake. I also received cool stuff from the ladies, and the promise of more while I’m in Toronto later this week (on which more anon.)

I got a nice 3-CD retrospective from Yes, along with the remastered first album from Devo, and the Allah-Las’ eponymous album. All three are recommended. On the reading front, I scored copies of two noir classics, Dave Weigel’s new book on the history of progressive rock, and Lawrence Block’s Write for Your Life, the print version of a writers’ seminar he used to conduct. I read the first three books this week; because Larry’s is a different kind of animal, I started it last night and will work through it.

Weigel’s book is a bit of a tweener, not deep enough into the tall grass for long-time fans (ahem), but maybe a little abstruse for folks who are new to the genre. While most folks who write about prog tend to engage in full-on nerd-bashing, Weigel’s enthusiasm for the music comes through, and his snark is that of the self-aware nerd who knows he’s into something goofy, but likes it anyway. As a result, the book is engaging, and I would have enjoyed a longer version. While Weigel pays some attention to neo-prog (giving a quick look at Marillion) and prog-metal (Dream Theater), there’s a lot more territory to cover there.

I do think the book is pretty timely, given the recent deaths of a number of major figures in the genre, such as Chris Squire, Greg Lake, John Wetton, and Keith Emerson — whose story, from first purchase of a Hammond organ to his suicide, works as a sort of frame for the genre. And I guess that it’s better to leave the reader wanting more than less, but I think what I’d really want is a remastered edition of the book with bonus tracks, as it were.

Steve Fisher’s I Wake Up Screaming (1941, revised 1960 — I read the 1960 version) very nearly lives up to its title. It’s set in Hollywood, and has the feel of Dream Factory noir/industry expose. Most of the book gives us the sense of “frantic, spiraling doom” that James Lileks says describes the best work in the genre, and the character of Ed Cornell (an obsessive, consumptive detective reportedly based on Cornell Woolrich) is a terrific — and terrifying — character. Alas (for me, anyway), Fisher offers an ending that, while not a cheat, backs away from the abyss that a Jim Thompson might have embraced. I think the Mad Dog would be satisfied with the conclusion — which isn’t an insult — but it makes me wonder if the ending was dictated more by the needs of the film industry (where Fisher did quite well) than by the tone of the rest of the book. So close.

You Play the Red and the Black Comes Up (1938) was written by Eric Knight (the creator of Lassie), under the pen name of Richard Hallas. Woody Haut’s essay in LARB offers a very solid examination of the book, which Haut describes as “James Cain filtered through Thomas Pynchon.” I found it blackly funny — a sort of screwball tragedy — and quite entertaining. As an aside, my copy of the book includes an introduction from cartoonist (and Zappa fan) Matt Groening. He feels obliged to warn present-day readers that the book’s protagonist — an AWOL Marine from Oklahoma turned hobo, in a book written in the late 30s — is less than sensitive in his terminology for marginalized groups. “So it’s come to this, then?” ran through my mind. Still, Groening clearly likes the book. So do I.

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As I mentioned, I’m heading to the True North, strong and free (plus PST and GST) in a few days, where I’ll be attending and carrying on at Bouchercon. I’ll be doing my official bit on Thursday morning, where I’ll be taking part in “Author Speed Dating” as part of a promotional effort for the reissue of Broken Glass Waltzes. My tag-team partner will be Dale Phillips, who you may wish to visit here.

As is my custom at these things, expect reports to follow.

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And I think I’ll leave you with a bit of music. Here’s an odd one I heard this morning, from an “Afrocentric” South African beat group called the Shangaans. At least one writer describes the all-white band as “bleached Zulu,” but it seems to be with a certain affection, and the group seems quite happy to use native instrumentation. Anyway, this was one of the singles from their only album, 1965’s Jungle Drums (which, by the way, includes some Miriam Makeba compositions). This is “Yeh Girl”.

See you soon!

 

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