Christopher Tolkien 1924-2020

Christopher Tolkien, son of the late JRR Tolkien, has passed away. 

He was JRR Tolkien’s third son. As a child, Christopher Tolkien was the first reader of The Hobbit. After the death of JRR Tolkien in 1973, he assumed the management of his father’s literary estate. 

In 1977 Tolkien compiled and published his father’s unfinished novel, The Silmarillion. For decades, he continued to publish various works from his father’s massive collection of papers.

Tolkien stepped down from this capacity in 2017, citing his age and declining health.

Christopher Tolkien was not a fan of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the Tolkien universe. In a 2012 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Tolkien said, “They eviscerated the book, making it an action movie for 15-25 year-olds.”

(Make of that what you will. Personally, I enjoyed the Peter Jackson films….but no, the films couldn’t take the place of the books.)

Christopher Tolkien, age 95. R.I.P.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond

Yet another series in The Walking Dead franchise will debut in April. This series, World Beyond, will be about the generation born during the zombie apocalypse.

I’ll be honest with you all here: I’m skeptical. I absolutely loved The Walking Dead for the first few seasons. Then it started to repeat itself. And then it started to grind down.

Likewise, the first spinoff series, Fear the Walking Dead, started off weak, and never got much better.

The first episode of the original TWD debuted on October 31, 2010. Almost a decade ago.

At the time, The Walking Dead was something fresh, and highly original. Even though George A. Romero and others had done zombies before, this was the first show to take them seriously, and the first show (or movie) to fill them with interesting subplots and sympathetic characters. (Most of Romero’s characters were so bad, you rooted for the zombies.)

But after nearly a decade, this is starting to seem like a cynical money grab, an attempt to squeeze yet one more drop of milk from a very tired cash cow. It’s like the 17th Star Wars film, or the many, many iterations of various superheroes who first appeared in the mid-twentieth century.

There is a time to let every story be done, and move on to the next one. Create something new.

That point has long since passed for The Walking Dead

Memories of ‘The Evil Dead’

I can still remember the first time I saw  The Evil Dead—sometime back in the 1980s, on VHS. (I don’t believe this 1981 film had a long run at the theaters—it wasn’t exactly date night stuff.)

The Evil Dead wasn’t like The Exorcist, in the sense that it would send your imagination running and keep you awake at night. Rather, The Evil Dead was one long series of endless jump scares.

The movie started intense, and it just never stopped. 

The Evil Dead was also Sam Raimi’s best work. There was a certain dark humor in the film. But Raimi didn’t overplay the humor element—as he would in subsequent installments of the franchise, and later movies like Drag Me to Hell (2009).

The setup was simple: A group of people spend the night in a remote cabin. They play a recording that summons evil spirits from the bowels of the earth.

One by one, they are turned into homicidal zombies. The End.

And yet—maybe horror tales (whether on the page or on the screen) are best when they have simple, readily accessible plots. I remember reading Dan Simmons’s overlong Carrion Comfort and thinking, man this is just too much plot for a horror novel

The Evil Dead was good storytelling. The special effects are primitive, by today’s standards. But the movie is still quite unnerving to watch.

Horror from the 1980s

Or…why I chose to set 12 Hours of Halloween in the year 1980.

A reader recently asked me via email why I chose to set 12 Hours of Halloween, my coming-of-age horror novel about three friends who battle supernatural forces on Halloween Night, in 1980 instead of the present day.

Good question.

There are two reasons behind this choice.

First of all: there’s the generational factor.

What I mean by this is: I know my limits.

Although 12 Hours of Halloween is a supernatural tale, it is also a coming-of-age story. This means that it involves getting into the “head space” of the story’s adolescent protagonists.

Some aspects of adolescence are universal. But others are heavily dependent on changing generational factors.

I’m a member of Generation X (born in 1968). This generation reached the early teen years of adolescence around 1980—the year in which 12 Hours of Halloween is set.

I figured that I could depict the adolescent experience in 1980 most accurately, because I actually lived it. (I turned 12 in 1980.)  I’ve written before about the perils of middle-age adults writing about the present-day teen experience: During the 1980s, most of the teen films were written by Baby Boomers; and certain aspects of these movies seemed anachronistic, because the scriptwriters were actually writing about the teen experience of the 1950s and 1960s—even though they thought they were writing about the 1980s.

Another reason I chose to set 12 Hours of Halloween in 1980 is: The past is haunted.

The year 1980 is now 40 years in the past. (1980 was 35 years in the past when I published 12 Hours of Halloween in 2015.)

That is recent enough to be accessible to most readers, but distant enough to be surrounded by a certain haziness.

That year is  not quite like our own. After all, in 1980, there was no Internet, and no cell phones. We had television, but cable TV was still a “new” thing.

It isn’t difficult to believe that in 1980, wayward spirits and vengeful supernatural creatures walked the earth in one Ohio suburb—just like in the book.

***

Want to read 12 Hours of Halloween? You can preview the book here on this site, or get it on Amazon (available in multiple formats.)

Horror in Mexico!

Short horror fiction at Edward Trimnell Books

Read the short story Thanatos Postponed on Edward Trimnell Books. A tale of terror inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

Mark Bonner is a young American college graduate. He lacks direction, and he seeks adventure.

Mark thinks that he’s found the perfect job: as a private English tutor at the estate of Raul Garcia, a wealthy Mexican businessman.

But there is something horribly wrong in the household of Raul Garcia. Read Thanatos Postponed here on Edward Trimnell Books.  

‘Hobbs & Shaw’: Ed’s review

The Fast & Furious franchise, now nearly 20 years old, is the franchise that has no end, apparently. Hobbs & Shaw is a F&F spin-off, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. 

This is the setup: A shadowy terrorist organization called Eteon has gained control of a super-virus that can wipe out all human life on earth. Two reluctant agents who don’t get along (Johnson and Statham) decide to put their differences aside and track down the bad guys. 

You’ve seen various versions of this movie before. There is nothing new, here, plot-wise. But perhaps originality is overrated. 

As for the acting: Dwayne Johnson is, as usual, the big, likable tough guy. Jason Statham is, as usual, the snide hero whom you can’t quite bring yourself to like. (Statham projects the same personality, more or less, in every one of his movies.)

This is a visually spectacular film. The special effects and chase scenes are really something. The climactic scene, involving a string of vehicles and a helicopter, will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

The script, however, is written toward the same 13 year-old audience that flocked to Deadpool. Although it’s billed as an action thriller, Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t take itself seriously. There is a constant laugh track, and the jokes are only occasionally funny. (For example, there’s an extended dialogue between Johnson and Statham, in which one compares the other’s company to “dragging balls (yes, testicles) across broken glass”).

If this is your idea of fun, then you’ll probably enjoy Hobbs & Shaw. Likewise, you’ll enjoy this if you’ve enjoyed previous installments in the Fast & Furious franchise. If you’re in the mood for something fun and fast and not very challenging, then Hobbs & Shaw might be your ticket. 

Hobbs & Shaw is not exactly a bad movie, but it isn’t exactly a good one, either. I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars. 

Rush: You either got them or you didn’t

Given the passing of Neil Peart last week, I’ll probably have a few Rush-related posts in the upcoming days.

The above video contains a particularly insightful interview from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Topics covered include: Neil Peart’s drumming, and (of particular interest to me) his song-writing.

The man interviewed is, like me, a lifelong Rush fan in his fifties. Unlike me, he’s also a musician.

At the 2:20 mark, he says that Rush was one of those bands that, “You either  got them or you didn’t; and if you did ‘get them’, you became a lifelong fan.”

Well put. I couldn’t agree more. 

‘Rambo: Last Blood’: Ed’s review

Rambo: Last Blood is the greatest movie ever!

Okay–maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. But I watched this (final?) installment in the Rambo franchise a few days ago, and I was favorably impressed. 

First, let me explain something to you: I’m from the 1980s. I’ve been a fan of Rambo ever since First Blood (’82), and yes, I’m old enough to remember when that film was new. Since then, I’ve watched Rambo bring down thunder and whoop-ass in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Burma. 

I’m also a Stallone fan. I liked the Rocky movies, too.

So that’s where I’m coming from. If you’re looking for a politically correct, hoity-toity movie review, visit The Guardian. They have plenty of them over there. 

Rambo: Last Blood follows a very basic revenge plot. As the movie opens, the 70-something Rambo has found a home, of sorts, with a few members of his extended family in Arizona. One of the members of the household is his college-aged niece, Gabriela (played by Yvette Monreal).

When Gabriela is kidnapped by sex traffickers south of the border in Mexico, Rambo goes into action.

I can’t tell you much more without going into spoilers, but that’s the setup, in a nutshell. Again, it’s simple. This isn’t Game of Thrones

The movie makes no attempt to hide the fact that Stallone is not the young man he was in 1982, when the first Rambo movie came out, or even the late-middle age man he was in 2008, when Rambo was released. Early in the movie Rambo is seen taking meds, presumably for hypertension, or some other age-related condition.  

Stallone (who has always had a creative hand in his films) also has the ego-restraint not to portray himself as the romantic interest of women young enough to be his daughters or granddaughters. In this film, he’s in a strictly protective, patriarchal role. (But then, Rambo never had much time for the ladies, did he?)

There is a lot of action in this movie, and a few surprisingly tender emotional moments. (If any Rambo movie will bring a tear to your eye, this one is it.)

My only (minor) quibble is the extreme, graphic nature of the violence. I mean, everyone expects a Rambo movie to be violent, but this one is over-the-top, borderline grotesque in a few places. 

The grotesqueness does add to the primeval nature of the revenge plot. But this factor also makes the movie a bad choice for some younger and more squeamish viewers who might have otherwise enjoyed it. 

I’ll give Rambo: Last Blood 4.5 out of 5 stars. This movie does what it sets out to do, in a very entertaining manner. 

Neil Peart (1952 – 2020)

I found out yesterday that Neil Peart, the drummer and primary lyricist for the Canadian rock band Rush, passed away earlier this week at the age of sixty-seven.

Rush was formed in Toronto in 1968, the year I was born. The group’s debut album came out in 1974. Rush made its last studio album in 2012, and continued touring intermittently through 2018.

In the thirty-eight years between the release of that first album and the last tour, Rush never achieved the universal recognizability of Elvis, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, or Taylor Swift. There are plenty of people who don’t know what Rush was. (I think it’s safe to say that everyone has heard of the Beatles by now.) But since the 1970s, there have been millions of Rush fans; and most Rush fans are fans for life.

I discovered Rush in the fall of 1982, shortly after the band’s Signals album came out. I was a freshman in high school (an ideal age to discover Rush) and I was immediately hooked.

Right away, I could tell that Rush’s music was “different”. This brings us back to Neil Peart. Peart will be remembered as a virtuoso drummer, but he will also be remembered for his lyrics. Peart wrote the lyrics of almost all the songs Rush performed.

Neil Peart did not write sappy love songs, or hard-driving tributes to rock-n-roll. He wrote songs that got you thinking about the “big issues”.

By this, I don’t mean to imply that Peart wrote the sort of ham-fisted “message art” that has become such a staple in the culture wars of the twenty-first century. His songs sometimes took a stand; but they also left room for personal interpretation and ambiguity (which is what good art usually does.)

And sometimes he contradicted himself. For example, the song “Freewill”, from the album A Farewell to Kings, strongly implies an atheist mindset. But in a subsequent song, “Mystic Rhythms”, Peart suggested that maybe there really is something out there, a side of reality that human rationality cannot fully grasp or comprehend.

In a tribute to Neil Peart published yesterday, National Review’s Kyle Smith wrote, “Peart was a genius at tapping into the restless alienation of late-teen boys who think they’re smarter than everyone around them.”

There is something to that. Neil Peart’s body of work offers something for everyone; but his songs seemed to particularly resonate with a certain kind of male who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s.

My teenage years were basically happy; and my high school experience was mostly positive. Nevertheless, there were times when I did feel alienated from both my peers and the adults in my midst. When you were a teenage boy who felt like the rest of the world was out-of-touch, Neil Peart was able to perfectly channel your angst with songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Subdivisions”.

But Neil Peart’s songs were by no means one big tub of sour grapes. On balance, there was more aspiration than alienation in his lyrics.

One of my favorites, “Marathon”, perfectly captures the enthusiasm of the long-distance runner. I ran cross country during my last two years of high school. (That was the only sport I was ever any good at.) When I heard “Marathon” for the first time in the fall of 1985, I was blown away. I couldn’t believe it: Neil Peart had written my personal sports anthem, it seemed.

I wouldn’t be the first teenage boy of the Reagan era to say that Rush’s songs, and Neil Peart’s lyrics, formed the soundtrack of my life during that period. But I’m going to say it here, nonetheless, because that’s more or less the truth.

But Neil Peart wrote about more than abstract ideas and feelings. His songs weren’t exactly educational, in and of themselves. (That would have been asking for too much from rock music—even from Neil Peart.) But many of them were intellectual gateways.

Among the references in Peart’s lyrics are: the philosophy of Ayn Rand (“Anthem”, “2112”), the epic poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“Xanadu”), Greek mythology (“Hemispheres”), the French Revolution (“Bastille Day”), and the development of the atom bomb (“Manhattan Project”).

As a teenage boy, listening to this music, I often found myself digging into reference books, so that I could better understand what Neil Peart was talking about.

And this formed another, equally important side of Peart’s music: While he wrote songs that were perfect accompaniments to adolescent navel-gazing, he didn’t stop there. He also wrote songs that pointed you toward a much bigger world, and much greater concerns, than those of your teenage microcosm.

Our artistic tastes and intellectual discernment change over time, of course. As an adult, some of Neil Peart’s songs strike me as a bit pretentious. Or at the very least, he was tackling themes and ideas that couldn’t be adequately covered in five- to seven-minute songs.

Here’s one example: In 1985, I first heard the song “Territories”, in which Peart seems to condemn any form of nationalism. At the age of 17, that song struck me as incredibly profound. Today, the same song strikes me as a simplistic appeal for a borderless world—which I don’t believe to be realistic. The real world is far more complicated than that.

But “Territories” got me thinking, at the age of 17, about issues beyond my day-to-day concerns. Would I have gotten that from Michael Jackson or Bon Jovi? I think not.

Moreover, Neil Peart wasn’t writing songs for the 51 year-old I am today. He was writing for the teenager I was then.

Peart said in a Rolling Stone interview (quoted in Kyle Smith’s article): “I set out to never betray the values that 16-year-old had, to never sell out, to never bow to the man. A compromise is what I can never accept.”

At the age of 51, I can’t necessarily make the same claim. I’ve made plenty of compromises, and bowed to the man more times than I can count.

There will be no more Neil Peart songs. But I’ll always treasure what remains of his music.

Speaking of bombastic: It would be bombastic of me to state that my adolescent years would have been miserable without Rush’s music and Neil Peart’s lyrics. So I won’t say that. But those years would have been different, more artistically and intellectually barren, without the soundtrack that both Rush and Neil Peart provided me. R.I.P.

Photo: Wikipedia

Corporate thriller: FREE on Kindle January 9~10

Get the Eavesdropper FREE on Amazon Kindle for two day only!

The Eavesdropper is a corporate thriller.

Do you like the novels of Joseph Finder and John Grisham? You’ll like the Eavesdropper!

Three of your coworkers are planning a murder. One of them is your boss. Will you stop them, or become their next victim?

Get The Eavesdropper FREE on Kindle (Jan 9~10 only!)

FREE for two days only!

FREE horror tales: today only

If you’d like to read my first short story collection, Hay Moon & Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense, today is your chance to get it for FREE on Amazon Kindle. 

All of these stories were written between 2009 and 2010. They’re quite an eclectic mix.

Hay Moon & Other Stories will be FREE through the end of today (1/5/2020). Sometime tomorrow (I’m not sure when), the price will return to normal.

The Iran I remember

My memories of US-Iran relations

The Islamic Republic of Iran is back in the news again—and not in a good way. 

Same old same old.

I’ve lived long enough to see American attitudes shift in regard to various countries. Seldom, over the course of a lifetime, does the image of any one nation remain exactly the same.

But one country—Iran—breaks the mold.

Russia and China

Throughout most of my childhood, Russia was the USSR, the Evil Empire. Then for a while in my early adulthood, there was a widely held hope that post-Soviet Russia would become a normal country. Now Russia is an Evil Empire again—-but this time, a czarist one.

Likewise, China. In 1979, when Deng Xiaoping had first come to power, most Americans believed that China was on the verge of becoming our new best friend in Asia. Those hopes have since been dashed. But at least we had that hopeful phase.

Iran: nothing but bad news since 1979

Not so with Iran. Throughout my living memory, Iran has always been a thorn in America’s side. No matter how calm other international matters were going, you could always be certain that the Islamic Republic of Iran was up to no good.

I was in the sixth grade in November 1979, when radical Iranian students overran the US embassy in Tehran and took fifty-two American diplomats hostage. That sorry drama continued for 444 days. They did not return home until January 1981. 

Anyone who was alive then, who remembers the Tehran hostage crisis, will tell you that it dominated the news and public debate. President Jimmy Carter tried, without success, to win the hostages’ freedom through diplomatic measures. Then, in early 1980, he tried—-and failed—to win their release with a military operation. The now mostly forgotten Operation Eagle Claw, in which American aircraft and personnel burned in the Iranian desert, remains one of our country’s most humiliating defeats. 

The Iranian radicals, from Khomeini on down, always bore a particular grudge against Jimmy Carter. They did not let the hostages leave Iran until Carter’s replacement, Ronald Reagan, had been sworn in. 

The Iranians played a pivotal role in ending Carter’s presidency, too. Many factors plagued Jimmy Carter during his single term in office: an energy crisis, a bad economy, a Soviet resurgence. The Iran hostage crisis, however, was possibly the one that hammered the final nail in the coffin of his presidency. Carter lost the White House in a landslide on Election Day 1980.

Anti-Iran memes of 1980

The early 1980s were less politically correct times. Multiculturalism as we know it today was but a glint in the eye of a few Ivy League professors. Throughout the Iran hostage crisis, it was perfectly okay to despise Iran.

No one referred to “memes” in that pre-Internet era. But there were memes nonetheless. One meme of the Iran hostage crisis was the image of Mickey Mouse flipping the bird, with the words “Hey Iran!” inscribed beneath.

And then there was the song “Bomb Iran”, by Vince Vance & the Valiants. Sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”, “Bomb Iran” got a lot of airplay in 1980. (The tune enjoyed a brief resurgence more than a quarter-century later, when John McCain was running for the White House.) 

A future for Iran?

I’ve known exactly four people from Iran. One of them I didn’t like. Three of them I was quite fond of. None of them, though, struck me as fundamentally flawed or insane. 

Iran does not need to be the international pariah it has become. On the contrary, before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran was a steadily improving country. Some wags called it “the Japan of the Middle East”. 

Pre-revolutionary Iran was also a stalwart ally of the United States—and Israel. While never exactly filled with Americans, there was a civilian American presence in Iran during the 1970s.

Americans in pre-revolutionary Iran

One of my former coworkers was employed by Bell Helicopter. His company stationed him in Tehran from 1976 through 1978. When I discovered that he had been stationed in Iran, I buttonholed him and picked his brain. You don’t meet many Americans with firsthand experiences of that country.

My coworker loved the Iran that existed before the mullahs took over. He married an Iranian woman, who turned out to be a shrew (in his opinion, anyway). But she was no Islamic fanatic. 

Much of Iran, in fact, was quite modern and liberal during the 1970s. This suggests that Islam and fanaticism are not inextricable and inevitable companions. 

State-sponsored terrorism of all kinds

But there is something rotten about the current regime. Throughout the 1980s, Iran was the leading perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism, often carried out against America and its allies. 

The individual incidents are too many to list here, but the one that most sticks out in my memory is the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Iran funded and trained the suicide bombers who blew up the barracks, as Iran has funded and trained suicide bombers throughout the Middle East over the past 40 years. 

Iran has been no friend of literature, either. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini decided that Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, were blasphemous. Khomeini didn’t simply pan the book, or ban it in Iran. He issued a fatwa against the author, declaring that all faithful Muslims had an obligation to at least attempt his murder.

Some Muslims in Europe took the fatwa seriously. In 1989, two floors of a London hotel were destroyed when a bomb meant for Rushdie exploded prematurely, killing the would-be bomber. Bookstores throughout Europe were looted and burned, and the book’s Japanese translator was killed.

***

After seeing the present government of Iran misbehave so badly, for so many years, I’d like to live to see regime change in that country. I hope it doesn’t take another 40 years. 

An end to the Islamic Republic of Iran—its replacement with something freer and more benevolent—would be good for the world. 

But most of all, it would be a blessing for the 82 million people of Iran. They have endured four decades in the long, bloody shadow of Khomeini. They have suffered tyranny under his mullahs. The people of Iran deserve much better. 

The new blog format for 2020

Some things will be changing here at Edward Trimnell Books in 2020. Other things will remain the same.

What will stay the same?

The fiction. I primarily write fiction, and I’ll continue to post novel excerpts and short stories here.

I may even serialize a complete novel here before the end of 2020.

What will change?

The blog. No—I don’t intend to stop blogging. You will, however, notice changes in the length, tone, and style of the blog posts in 2020.

We will still discuss current events. That said, there will be no effort here in 2020 to follow the daily news on a headline-by-headline basis.

This site isn’t Huffington Post. Nor is it Breitbart, Daily Kos, or Instapundit. Those are all group blogs. I’m one person, and this is a personal website.

What you’ll get here instead in 2020 will be a deeper perspective. That will, though, necessarily mean narrowing the focus, and letting some headlines go by.

A semi-autobiographical orientation

Many of this year’s essays will be semi-autobiographical.

No, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be telling you what I had for breakfast each morning (oatmeal and a protein shake today, just in case you do want to know.) But I’ll be adding more of a personal spin to the blog this year.

Some of you will like that—others may not.

Time and perspective

As I begin 2020, I am fifty-one years old.

Granted, that’s much younger than many people who remain in the public eye. Former President Jimmy Carter, at the age of 95, could easily be my grandfather, after all. President Trump, age 73, was born the same year as both my parents.

On the other hand, though, I’m old enough to be the father of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, age 30. (Not that I’d want to be, I should note, but I’m old enough). If you’re old enough to be the parent of a sitting congressperson, well, you’re no longer a kid, are you?

A half-century on the planet has taught me a lot of lessons.

Chief among these is the need for humility, and the corresponding pitfalls of taking oneself too seriously. When we are young, we see the world, and ourselves, in very black-and-white, absolutist terms. As we get older, we are forced to accept that real life—and real people—involve many shades of gray.

Sometimes we are tested and we come through. Sometimes we are tested and we come up short. I have made my share of mistakes. At least some of this year’s essays will detail how I screwed up—and how I would do things differently, if I had my life to live over again.

In many cases, it might be too late for me to change my circumstances. But it might not be too late for you. If that happens to be true, then it really will have been worthwhile for me to talk about myself.

I have also changed my mind on occasion, when the available evidence has changed. Politicians often say that their opinions have “evolved”—which usually means that their opinions on a particular issue have shifted to the left.

Well, not always. Sometimes my opinions have “evolved” to the left—but just as often they’ve “evolved” to the right. I’ll probably find time to delve into some of those about-faces, or subtle shifts of perspective, too.

***

Anyway, that’s a little bit about the new blog format for the New Year. Welcome to 2020. I hope it’s a happy, healthy, and productive 366 days for you.

How New Year’s Eve 1986 made me swear off alcohol

Another New Year’s Eve has arrived. I know that many of you will be consuming large quantities of alcoholic beverages tonight.

Not me, though. I haven’t consumed alcoholic beverages very much at all since New Year’s Eve 1986. But that night I did consume a lot of wine, beer, vodka, and other spirits.

For the last time.

I was eighteen years old on 1/31/86. The drinking age in Ohio had just been raised from 18 to 21. But what did I care? In fact, I hadn’t cared much about such niceties since 1981, when I’d begun experimenting with alcohol at the age of 13.

Hey—it was the Eighties! There was no helicopter parenting back then. Moreover, in those freewheeling times, shopkeepers could sometimes be persuaded to sell beer or wine to underage teens who looked mature. I started shaving at the age of 14.

And as for the hard stuff….well, let’s just say that not all parents minded their liquor cabinets, let alone installed locks on them.

Between the 8th grade and my high school graduation, I did my share of drinking. I wasn’t a lush, mind you, but I managed to try everything from beer to bourbon. (Rum was the only drink that I never tried, and I’d always wanted to shout, “Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle o’ rum!” with a pirate’s inflection, while holding a bottle of Bacardi or Captain Morgan.)

I quickly learned an unpleasant truth about drinking and me: I didn’t like hangovers.

Hangovers manifest themselves differently for everyone. For me, a hangover invariably entailed projectile vomiting, extreme fatigue, and the sense that my head had just been used to ring a church bell. A hangover left me feeling really bad—for at least one day, and probably two.

By New Year’s Eve 1986 I already knew that alcohol affected me this way. But I was eighteen years old. Since when have eighteen year-olds been fast learners? I had graduated from high school the previous spring, and a girl from my class (one I sort of liked) had invited me to a New Year’s Party. I therefore had to attend. And being a typical teenage herd animal, I had to drink—because that’s what everyone else would be doing.

I don’t know exactly how many drinks I had that night. I got drunk enough, however, that the operation of a motor vehicle would have been out of the question. (I had arranged for a ride that night, so no—I wasn’t drinking and driving; nor did I ever do that.)

The next morning, 1/1/87, my first thought upon waking up was that eighteen years was plenty long enough for any one person to live. I should just die now, and be done with it.

I had a bad hangover—my worst one to date.

I got out of bed and went for a run in the frigid morning air. This helped—to a point. I felt decent as long as I kept running. The thing about running, though, is that you eventually have to stop. Within a few minutes of completing my run, I was feeling just as lousy as I had upon waking up.

I still lived with my parents at the time. They decided to celebrate the New Year by going out for breakfast. And of course—I readily agreed to tag along when they invited me to join them. (Like I said, most 18 year-olds are not quick on the uptake.)

As soon as we were seated in our booth, I wanted to leave. I realized that I wasn’t up to eating anything. My parents, though, wanted their breakfasts. My mother insisted on ordering a breakfast consisting of eggs, hash browns, sausage, and gravy. If your stomach is up to snuff, that might be a delicious combination. But what if you have a hangover, and you can barely keep a glass of water down? In that case, the aroma of a typical “country breakfast” platter is a barf-inducing olfactory concoction.

My parents, being no fools, saw what was up. So did our sixty-something waitress, who poked fun at my misery while I sat there without breakfast.

When I arrived back home that morning, I had an epiphany: I’d been an idiot. Binge drinking was nothing more than self-induced misery.

And no, it wasn’t “cool”. What is so cool about projectile vomiting?

I clearly remember the moment—on January 1st, 1987, in which I said, “never again”.

I made a vow never to put myself through that again. More than thirty years later, I still haven’t. I’ve never consumed alcoholic to excess since that night.

I have had the occasional glass of wine or bottle of beer. But even these are rare. (My most recent tipple was a beer at a trade show in 2002.) Alcoholic beverages and me just don’t mix. I haven’t missed them.

And besides—now that I’m more than old enough to drink legally, what’s the point?

New Year’s resolutions 2020

Another New Year is almost upon us. Out with the old, in with the new!

As I’ve written before, it’s my habit to create New Year’s resolutions around this time of year.

My New Year’s plans/resolutions for 2020 are as follows:

Write/publish more books

I’ve got lots more books on the way in 2020, including at least one (possibly two) in January.

Continue to exercise

At the age of 51, I am fortunate to have my good health.

Many years ago, I developed an addiction to exercise. Dieting is not as easy for me, but I have enough discipline to avoid the really bad stuff. I plan to continue my fitness regimen in 2020.

Read more books

This year I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to. I plan to spend more time reading and reflecting in 2020.

Avoid social media

I haven’t seen much positive on Twitter, YouTube, etc. Social media seems to bring out the worst in everyone.

I do have a personal Facebook account, which I use to maintain contact with my old high school classmates and work colleagues. I will continue to use that in moderation.

But I’m done with the outrage, snark, and shrillness of the wider ocean of social media, beyond people I know in real life.

The world was better off before social media existed. I believe it will be better off after social media is gone, too.

Become a better person

Like many people do in middle age, I’ve fallen prey to cynicism at times. I’ve been guilty of the sin of pride.

I have often been too harsh toward my fellow human beings. I haven’t empathized with others as I should.

In 2020, I plan to speak more kindly, to love more deeply. To be less prone to anger and defensiveness. To see the good in others.

Or at least I will try. I am—like most of you—a deeply flawed human being.

But I will try to do better in 2020.

***

Anyway, those are my plans for the New Year, at a high level. Good luck achieving your New Year’s resolutions.

And if you haven’t yet come up with any, you still have time before 1/1/2020.

New on Amazon: ‘I Know George Washington’

Available FREE for subscribers of Amazon Kindle Unlimited:

($3.99 for non Kindle Unlimited subscribers)

I Know George Washington and other stories: five dark tales

View it on Amazon!

Five dark tales of crime, supernatural horror, and suspense…

In Tennessee, a father and his adolescent daughter must battle two evil men who harbor sinister intentions toward one of them.

In Zacatecas, Mexico, a recent college graduate takes a job as a private English language tutor for a wealthy family. But the entire household is hiding a horrible secret.

In Virginia, a young stockbroker’s colleagues insist that George Washington, the First President of the United States, is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

In rural Ohio, curiosity compels two travelers to stop at an abandoned schoolhouse with an evil history, and a reputation for ghostly activity.

In western Pennsylvania, a junior high student learns that his beloved teacher is not what he purports to be. 

A collection of five unique stories, each of which contains an unexpected twist.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the stories in this collection:

“The Van”: While traveling through Tennessee, a single father and his 13-year old daughter encounter two men who take an unwholesome interest in one of them. 

“Thanatos Postponed”: A recent college graduate takes a job as a private tutor at the estate of a wealthy businessman in Zacatecas, Mexico. But there is something horribly wrong in the palatial residence high in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. 

“I Know George Washington”: A young man’s new work colleagues insist that George Washington is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

“One-room Schoolhouse”: A young couple stop at an abandoned schoolhouse in rural Ohio. The schoolhouse is reputed to be haunted. 

“Mr. Robbie’s Secret”: a beloved English teacher is not what he appears to be. 

I hope you enjoy these stories.

Every Which Way But Loose

Admittedly cheesy, but good…

Clint Eastwood is one of the few actors for whose work I am a completist—meaning that I have made it my mission to watch everything the actor ever made. 

My favorite Clint Eastwood movies are the more recent ones: Gran Torino and The Mule. But if you’re in the mood for something cheesier, you might give Every Which Way But Loose (1978) a try.

Every Which Way But Loose is a movie about a guy, Philo, who drives a truck and bare-knuckle boxes for extra money. 

Oh, and Philo has an orangutan as a sidekick. And a human sidekick. And a foul-mouthed mother.

The movie takes place at various locations in the American West. But it begins in Southern California. Philo falls for pretty but dodgy lounge singer, Lynne (Sondra Locke). She takes off, and he pursues her to Colorado.

That’s the main plot—sort of. But Philo also makes enemies of two vengeful police officers, and a neo-Nazi gang called the Black Widows.

If this sounds a tad ridiculous, well—it is. Nevertheless, Every Which Way But Loose is an oddly entertaining movie. From what I’ve read (I was alive in 1978, but too young to have watched the film), this movie was roundly panned by the critics, but it was a commercial success.

It just goes to show: Never trust professional critics. 

View Every Which Way But Loose on Amazon

Star Wars cards, circa 1977

I was a member of the original Star Wars generation. I remember sitting in the cinema with my dad, in the summer of 1977, watching that opening text crawl:

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

I was instantly hooked. There was something special about being a kid in 1977, when Star Wars was brand new, and there was one movie, instead of a gazillion of them.

I also became one of the millions of child consumers who fueled the Star Wars licensing boom.

Collecting action figures would be an extremely nerdy activity for me today (pathetic, actually—I’m in my fifties); but at age nine I was just fine with that. I had many of the Star Wars action figures.

But I especially liked the Star Wars trading cards.

I had always felt left out of the baseball card trading craze of the 1970s. (I never minded spectator sports, but to this day I’m not crazy about them.)

But Star Wars cards, yes, I loved those.

Each card featured an iconic scene from the movie. Also, each pack of Star Wars cards contained a sticker (very useful for adorning my looseleaf binder in the fourth grade).

Oh, and a stick of gum—just like the baseball cards.

I doubt that kids bother with any sort of trading cards anymore. It’s all about i-this and i-that nowadays.

But forty-odd years ago, if you were a kid who was crazy about Star Wars, it was a lot of fun to collect those cards.

‘Revolutionary Ghosts’ $0.99 for a limited time!

If you haven’t read Revolutionary Ghosts yet, here is your chance to get it on Amazon Kindle for less than a buck.

Revolutionary Ghosts is a coming-of-age horror tale set in 1976…

Revolutionary Ghosts

The year is 1976, and the Headless Horseman rides again. A dark fantasy horror thriller filled with wayward spirits, historical figures, and a cool 1970s vibe.

Get it on Amazon Kindle for just $0.99 for the next three days!

Terrifying horror stories that you can read online for free

If you’re looking for frightening tales, you might turn to a book. (I’m definitely an advocate of those!) 

There are, however, plenty of short horror tales that you can read for free online.

First of all, the tales of Edgar Allan Poe are in the public domain. 

The copyright surrounding H.P. Lovecraft’s work is varied (and a little confusing). Much of it, however, can be found in the public domain. 

Plenty of FREE horror stories here!

I’m also publishing horror stories that you can read here—completely FREE. 

The list will continue to grow, but here are some to get you started:

Giants in the Trees: Unspeakable horrors are lurking in the trees of a suburban back yard. 

The Vampires of Wallachia: Three travelers discover that a Chinese restaurant in Ohio is home to the undead. 

The Wasp: Leo had always been afraid of wasps….for good reason, as it turned out.

For more horror fiction, check out this page, where I regularly post story updates!

Get some stories, help disabled vets

How would you like to get 981 pages of action-thriller stories, and help disabled vets in the process? 

Check out Origins of Honor: An Action-Thriller Collection on Amazon.

Many of the authors in the collection are military veterans themselves. 

100% of the proceeds go to the Oscar Mike Foundation for disabled vets.

I’m from that generation that was too young to serve in Vietnam, and mostly too old for the recent troubles in the Middle East. I turned eighteen in 1986. At that time, Cold War tensions between the US and the USSR were easing, but no one was thinking about the threat of Islamic terrorism yet.

I was twenty-one in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, and everyone naively believed that we’d seen an end to war and strife.

I did not serve in the military. 

Nevertheless, I’m immensely grateful to those who have. And we should all be grateful to those who have paid the ultimate price, as so many young men and women have in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So I finally saw ‘Taxi Driver’

Watching Taxi Driver (1976) had been on my to-do list for quite some time, and tonight I finally checked it off.

This was, first of all, a very dark film about the psychological and social malaise of post-Vietnam America during the Sickie Seventies. The film is set in New York, which—by all accounts—was truly a hellhole during that era. 

Robert DeNiro stars as 26 year-old Travis Bickle, a troubled Vietnam vet with obvious psychological issues. Travis takes a job as a nighttime taxi driver as an antidote to his persistent insomnia. 

Early in the movie, Travis meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). Betsy is a volunteer for the campaign of Charles Palantine, a surging candidate for President of the United States. Travis’s approach is a bit odd. But Betsy admires his spunk, and agrees to join him for coffee and pie.

At first it seems that Travis may find happiness with Betsy. But when he takes her out for a movie, his choice is very…inappropriate second-date fare. Disturbed by the date, Betsy stops taking his calls.

Disillusioned with Betsy, New York, and the human condition, Travis hatches a bizarre plan to assassinate Charles Palantine–though his plans take a surprise turn.

Travis also befriends Iris (Jodie Foster), 12 year-old prostitute. (Yes, really.) Although he has an opportunity to sexually exploit her, Travis only wants to save Iris from her life on the streets and her manipulative pimp.

How does it all shake out? I’m not going to tell you—just in case you haven’t yet seen the movie.

Taxi Driver is a good movie, but it’s a dark and depressing ride through nearly two hours of mid-1970s social decay, and the mind of an extremely disturbed young man. This is no John Wayne movie. Travis is an antihero; but there is enough good in him to maintain him as a sympathetic character.

Taxi Driver is also a film that would never get made today. The content in this movie would generate a long list of twenty-first century trigger warnings and speech code violations. Most shocking to present-day viewers (and this was even a boundary-pusher for me) was the blatant depiction of child prostitution. There is no underage nudity or sex scenes between adults and minors. Nevertheless, Jodie Foster would have been about thirteen when this movie was made. Though all the really bad stuff is merely implied, it would be a bit too close for comfort for today’s moviegoers. One can only imagine the outcry on Twitter.

Anyone who was alive in 1981 will know the historical significance of Taxi Driver. This was the movie that stoked John Hinckley Jr’s obsession with Jodie Foster, and gave him the idea of assassinating a president in order to impress her.

Hinckley originally planned to assassinate Jimmy Carter. But Carter left office before Hinckley could make a serious attempt. So Hinckley shot Reagan in Washington D.C. on March 30, 1981. (I can still remember hearing the news from a childhood friend’s mother; but that’s another story for another time.)

By all means, watch Taxi Driver; but realize that it will give you a mental hangover for a few hours. Although the ending is not entirely unhappy, this is not an uplifting movie.

But sometimes dark films can be worth watching, too. I believe this is one such case. 

View Taxi Driver on Amazon!

‘Treadstone’ is not to be missed

I’ve been watching the USA Network’s Treadstone. Loosely based on the premise of the Jason Bourne novels, Treadstone is an ambitious espionage action/adventure series with deep-cover agents, international locations, and multilayered plots.

I had been anxiously waiting for something like this. Since The Americans ended last year, there hasn’t really been much on television in the espionage genre.

Like The Americans, Treadstone involves a complex, ongoing story. It might be possible to jump in anywhere and begin watching; but you’re advised to start with the first episode and work your way forward.

The producers of Treadstone also take pains to make the show authentic—down to the details of language. Characters in North Korea actually speak Korean. When the action crosses over to China, they speak Mandarin. (There is even a storyline set in Hungary in 1973, and these characters speak Hungarian.)

I would like to see more television like this. I’m sick of goofy superhero retreads, and endless stories about teens performing magic.

Treadstone is an engaging series for an adult audience. I don’t like Treadstone quite as much as I liked The Americans, but I like it a lot. 

The future of Amazon

From Motley Fool: Why Jeff Bezos Might Want to Break Up Amazon

There’s a case to be made here. Those of us who can remember when Amazon was nothing but an Internet bookstore never dreamed that it would become what it is today.

A planned breakup might make sense functionally.

From a political perspective, the success of Amazon’s model has earned the company detractors from both sides of the left-right continuum.

Think about it: Both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Donald Trump have criticized Amazon in recent years. And those two agree about almost nothing.