Why I love Halloween

It’s that season of the year again!

Last night I went out for a walk in my neighborhood around 7 pm. (We’ve had an unseasonably warm spell here in the Cincinnati area.) I didn’t take into account how quickly the dusk settles in this late in the year. I was only halfway out when it suddenly became very…well, dark.

I therefore walked back to my house in the dark. The houses around me were festooned with various Halloween decorations: skulls, black cats, and even some cool Halloween projector lights.

I love Halloween. For me, Halloween is the time when we mortals come to terms with two constants of human existence: a.) the unknown, and b.) the inevitability of death.

The celebration of Halloween is an act of acceptance. Our lives will always contain tragedy, dissatisfactions, and uncertainty. But we cannot allow ourselves to paralyzed by fear…or by sadness.

Halloween is a time when we laugh at death, and embrace our mortality.

A few years ago, I wrote a Halloween novel called 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN. This nostalgic, coming-of-age horror tale is set on Halloween night, 1980. Check it out here.

The Headless Horseman returns

How I wrote a horror novel called Revolutionary Ghosts

Or…

Can an ordinary teenager defeat the Headless Horseman, and a host of other vengeful spirits from America’s revolutionary past?

The big idea

I love history, and I love supernatural horror tales.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was therefore always one of my favorite short stories. This classic tale by Washington Irving describes how a Hessian artillery officer terrorized the young American republic several decades after his death.

The Hessian was decapitated by a Continental Army cannonball at the Battle of White Plains, New York, on October 28, 1776. According to some historical accounts, a Hessian artillery officer really did meet such an end at the Battle of White Plains. I’ve read several books about warfare in the 1700s and through the Age of Napoleon. Armies in those days obviously did not have access to machine guns, flamethrowers, and the like. But those 18th-century cannons could inflict some horrific forms of death, decapitation among them.

I was first exposed to the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” via the 1949 Disney film of the same name. The Disney adaptation was already close to 30 years old, but still popular, when I saw it as a kid sometime during the 1970s.

Headless Horsemen from around the world

While doing a bit of research for Revolutionary Ghosts, I discovered that the Headless Horseman is a folklore motif that reappears in various cultures throughout the world.

In Irish folklore, the dullahan or dulachán (“dark man”) is a headless, demonic fairy that rides a horse through the countryside at night. The dullahan carries his head under his arm. When the dullahan stops riding, someone dies.

Scottish folklore includes a tale about a headless horseman named Ewen. Ewen was  beheaded when he lost a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. His death prevented him from becoming a chieftain. He roams the hills at night, seeking to reclaim his right to rule.

Finally, in English folklore, there is the 14th century epic poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. After Gawain kills the green knight in living form (by beheading him) the knight lifts his head, rides off, and challenges Gawain to a rematch the following year.

But Revolutionary Ghosts is focused on the Headless Horseman of American lore: the headless horseman who chased Ichabod Crane through the New York countryside in the mid-1790s. 

The Headless Horseman isn’t the only historical spirit to stir up trouble in the novel. John André, the executed British spy, makes an appearance, too. (John André was a real historical figure.)

I also created the character of Marie Trumbull, a Loyalist whom the Continental Army sentenced to death for betraying her country’s secrets to the British. But Marie managed to slit her own throat while still in her cell, thereby cheating the hangman. Marie Trumbull was a dark-haired beauty in life. In death, she appears as a desiccated, reanimated corpse. She carries the blade that she used to take her own life, all those years ago.

Oh, and Revolutionary Ghosts also has an army of spectral Hessian soldiers. I had a lot of fun with them!

The Spirit of ’76

Most of the novel is set in the summer of 1976. An Ohio teenager, Steve Wagner, begins to sense that something strange is going on near his home. There are slime-covered hoofprints in the grass. There are unusual sounds on the road at night. People are disappearing.

Steve gradually comes to an awareness of what is going on….But can he convince anyone else, and stop the Headless Horseman, before it’s too late?

I decided to set the novel in 1976 for a number of reasons. First of all, this was the year of the American Bicentennial. The “Spirit of ’76 was everywhere in 1976. That created an obvious tie-in with the American Revolution.

Nineteen seventy-six was also a year in which Vietnam, Watergate, and the turmoil of the 1960s were all recent memories. The mid-1970s were a time of national anxiety and pessimism (kind of like now). The economy was not good. This was the era of energy crises and stagflation.

Reading the reader reviews of Revolutionary Ghosts, I am flattered to get appreciative remarks from people who were themselves about the same age as the main character in 1976:

“…I am 62 years old now and 1976 being the year I graduated high school, I remember it pretty well. Everything the main character mentions (except the ghostly stuff), I lived through and remember. So that was an added bonus for me.”

“I’m 2 years younger than the main character so I could really relate to almost every thing about him.”

I’m actually a bit younger than the main character. In 1976 I was eight years old. But as regular readers of this blog will know, I’m nostalgic by nature. I haven’t forgotten the 1970s or the 1980s, because I still spend a lot of time in those decades.

If you like the 1970s, you’ll find plenty of nostalgic nuggets in Revolutionary Ghosts, like Bicentennial Quarters, and the McDonald’s Arctic Orange Shakes of 1976.

***

Also, there’s something spooky about the past, just because it is the past. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

For me, 1976 is a year I can clearly remember. And yet—it is shrouded in a certain haziness. There wasn’t nearly as much technology. Many aspects of daily life were more “primitive” then.

It isn’t at all difficult to believe that during that long-ago summer, the Headless Horseman might have come back from the dead to terrorize the American heartland…

View REVOLUTIONARY GHOSTS on Amazon

Happy Labor Day 2021

Today begins the Labor Day holiday weekend of 2021.

Labor Day is, on one hand, the unofficial end of  summer. The way school years were configured in my youth (the 1980s), Labor Day was usually the first weekend of the new academic year. (None of that back-to-school-in-mid-August nonsense for us.)

And in my hometown of Cincinnati, Labor Day weekend has long meant the WEBN fireworks. 

But there’s a history behind Labor Day as well, which is summarized in the History Channel video at the top of this page. You should give that a watch. 

***

Finally, Labor Day is the beginning of the final third of the calendar year. For me, this means getting serious about accomplishing my goals for the year. There are only four months remaining, after all.

This has been a reasonably productive year for me so far. I have published the first three books of The Rockland Horror series, and at least two more will come out before year’s end. I’m also working on a World War II historical suspense series that will show up on Amazon this fall.

I am also planning some more content for this blog. While I am mainly focused on writing books, I enjoy having a platform out here in the world, that anyone can stumble upon. So look for some more essays and posts after September 7. Maybe some more short stories, too. 

Have a happy Labor Day weekend, everyone!

An August hot spell

As regular readers will know, I’m an Ohioan.

One thing about living in the American Midwest: you get to experience the worst of all possible weather—from snowstorms to blistering heat.

And natural disasters, too. We have tornadoes; and yes, we have earthquakes, also. The only significant weather hazard we’re missing is the hurricane.

The Ohio warm season lasts from the beginning of May through the first half of October. (We almost always get an early October heat wave, sometime after the initial autumn cool-down.)

Those five and a half months are not hot all the way through. There a cool spells and rainy spells. But we often have entire weeks in which the weather turns positively Venusian; and this is one of those weeks. Daytime highs in the 90s, with heat indexes in the triple digits.

Hot weather is not my proverbial cup of tea. I’m already looking forward to crisp late October nights, and the frosty morning lawns of early November. But for the next week, more or less, Ohio is stuck in the dog days of summer.

Above:  a Midwestern earthquake that I remember well. I was getting ready to leave for work, when I heard the gutters on my house rattling. At the time, I thought I was delusional. Later that morning, I heard about the earthquake . 

‘Billy Summers’? Yes, I’ll probably get around to reading it

A few of you have emailed to ask if I’ve yet read Stephen King’s latest novel, Billy Summers.

The short answer is: not yet.

Here’s the longer answer. I was a rabid Stephen King fan in the mid-1980s. I mean: rabid to the point where I spent a year (1984-5) devouring everything he’d written to that time, and reading virtually nothing else.

Then I read It in 1986, and I noticed a change in his narrative style. Let me explain.

King’s early novels—‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Carrie, Christine, The Dead Zone—are all written with a disciplined narrative style, and fast pacing. His first short story collection, Night Shift, includes some of the best short genre fiction ever written. Read “The Lawnmower Man”, “The Mangler”, or “Trucks”. There is not a single wasted word in any of these stories.

Then around It, King shifted to a much more verbose, more meandering style. I remember thinking at the time that It was about three hundred pages too long. That was probably me being generous. It was more live five hundred pages too long.

I have since struggled to finish some of Stephen King’s more recent books: 11/22/63, Doctor Sleep, The Outsider. I was unable to finish Under the Dome, Cell, Dreamcatcher, or Lisey’s Story.

Right now, I’m midway through his 2020 novella collection, If It Bleeds. I won’t lie: I’m struggling with this one, too.

No matter what I think, Stephen King is still one of the most commercially successful writers in history. That means something.

A writer can sometimes catch a wave simply because a particular editor or publishing company really likes his or her work. Garth Risk Hallberg’s debut novel, City on Fire, was published to great acclaim in 2015, and at a large price tag for the publisher. But the book received very mixed reviews from critics and readers alike, the consensus being that it was over-written and overly focused on literary navel-gazing. Hallberg hasn’t published much since then.

But that’s one flash in the pan. Stephen King, by contrast, has been commercially successful since 1974. I was in the first grade in 1974. I’m now in my fifties. That puts his long career in perspective.

The simple explanation is that Stephen King’s work has changed since the mid-1980s. He’s acknowledged that himself. I prefer the earlier Stephen King. I know plenty of people who prefer his later stuff.

Moreover, I am no longer the same reader that I was in 1984 or 1986. I was in my teens then; and I’m now creeping toward late middle age. Perhaps Stephen King and I have simply grown apart.

King still pleasantly surprises me once in a while. I did like Joyland, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and Mr. Mercedes. I enjoyed all of the stories in Everything’s Eventual, and at least half of the stories in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. I also found Full Dark, No Stars to be quite entertaining.

So I am by no means “done” with Stephen King. The early reviews for Billy Summers are strong, and I’m intrigued by the book’s premise: a troubled Iraq War veteran turned hitman, carrying out one final assassination.

I’ll almost certainly get around to reading Billy Summers…eventually. But right now, there are just too many other titles on my TBR list.

Ghostbusters, 1984

A quick musical note: On this date in 1984, Ray Parker Jr’s song “Ghostbusters” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. As the above tweet mentions, the song remained in the top spot for three weeks.

The song was a tie-in with the movie, of course. And since this was the era in which MTV still played music videos, the song was also a big hit on MTV.

The Ghostbusters song, heavy on concept, was ideal for the highly visual MTV medium. Watch the video below. It is now hopelessly dated, but still kind of fun. 

What was your friendly author doing on August 11, 1984? Whereas I’ve just celebrated my 53rd birthday in 2021, on this date in 1984 I had just turned 16. I already had my learner’s permit, and I was learning how to drive. I took driver’s ed that summer, as I recall. 

“Ghostbusters” was one of the constantly played songs of the late summer of 1984, and it quickly faded away afterward. This is no slight on Ray Parker Jr. A song based on a comedy film about ghost hunters is only going to have so long of a shelf life. 

The result is that whenever I hear this song, it takes me back…to a better, vanished time, that long-ago summer of 1984.

Fifty-three

The author with maternal grandparents, 1968. (Both were then younger than I currently am.)

Today is my birthday. On August 9, 1968, I came into the world in the little town of Sparta, Wisconsin. (Or so I’ve been told, I don’t remember much about that day; I’m taking everyone’s word on the matter.)

I didn’t grow up in Wisconsin, either, or spend any significant portion of my life there. In 1968 my father was finishing up his enlistment in the US Army, and he was stationed at nearby Camp (now Fort) McCoy. About the only thing I did in Wisconsin was to be born there.

If I were a member of an earlier generation, I might remark about how much has changed in my lifetime. My paternal grandfather was born in 1909. That was before mass-market automobile ownership, the interstate highway system, commercial air travel, computers, and manned space flight. Not to mention nuclear power. My paternal grandfather watched all of those things come into existence between his birth and the age of 53.

Not me. All of the above had long existed by the time I was born. A few of those things have been significantly enhanced since my birth, computers being the most obvious. Some, like commercial air travel and the interstate highway system, are about the same.

But a few have actually seemed to move backwards. NASA landed a man on the moon in 1969, the year after I was born. (The first manned space flight was in 1961, seven years before my birth.) NASA hasn’t been back to the moon since 1972. And since the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979, Americans have become much less optimistic about the wonders of nuclear power.

In 1968, people were dying of cancer, heart disease, and communicable pathogens. People are still dying of cancer, heart disease, and communicable pathogens. But they didn’t have COVID in 1968. Or AIDS.

***

The major technological advances of my lifetime, of course, have been the Internet and digital technology. I reached early adulthood in an era of typewriters, landlines, and cassette-based answering machines. As a result, I certainly appreciate the Internet. But as paradigm-shifting developments go, Facebook and Twitter can’t compete with the first manned space flight or the invention of the computer itself…all of which came about during my paternal grandfather’s lifetime.

***

What about politics? The year I was born, 1968, America was bitterly divided over what are now called “the culture wars”. In many ways, we are still arguing over the 1960s.

The Soviet Union existed in 1968. As I turn 53, the USSR has been gone for almost thirty years. But Russia is now a different kind of adversary. China, for all practical purposes, has replaced a Maoist interpretation of Marxism-Leninism with statist crony capitalism. But China remains our adversary, too.

***

So much for the world. What about the age of 53 itself?

The decade of one’s fifties occupies a nebulous middle ground. In your fifties you are neither fish nor fowl. Young adults equate you with their parents. Elderly adults equate you with their children. I have actually been described as “old” and “young” in the same day, depending on who I’m interacting with.

This isn’t a roundabout way of saying 50 is the new 30. To be sure, once you reach the mid-century mark, you are no longer “young”, in the conventional sense of that word. As a rule, people in their fifties don’t compete in the Olympics, have children, and get married for the first time—things that twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings typically do. Many of my former classmates are now grandparents, in fact. Very few of them still have school-age children.

And yet, at the age of 53, there is still much to do, much that can be done. Fifty-three is a full generation younger than either of the final candidates for POTUS in 2020. (My parents were both born the same year as Donald Trump, in fact.)

***

I’ve almost certainly passed the halfway mark of my life. I don’t expect to be alive 53 years from now, in 2074.

And having reached the halfway mark, I feel a certain freedom as I face the years ahead.

There is no need to worry about impressing anyone when you hit 53. Once you’ve passed the age of 45 or so, you naturally tend to drop off society’s radar a bit. No one cares how “cool” you are anymore. In fact, for middle-age people, the bar for coolness is substantially lower than it is for 20- or 30-year-olds.

Even Jennifer Aniston (one year my junior, born in 1969) isn’t very hip nowadays, even if she’s exceptionally well-preserved. Never mind that she was the “it” girl of the 1990s. No one much under the age of 40 remembers the 1990s. And most people over the age of 40 no longer care about the 1990s.

***

Looking back on the last five decades, I have no major regrets. This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do anything differently. Of course I would do many things differently. There are times when I fantasize about riding a time machine back to 1987, and thwacking the 19-year-old version of myself on the head.

But there is a difference between looking back and saying, “Wow, what an idiot I was then!” and having deep, soul-piercing regrets about the past. Nor do I spend much time beating myself up over the wide knowledge and experience gap between 53 and 19. If I would have known better, I would have done better. Probably.

There is a lot more I could say, about loss, and mortality, and the importance of finding a spiritual compass for one’s life. But I have several writing projects on my plate, and I want to get them out into the world… while there is still time.

As noted above, at the age of 53, one no longer has the sense that time and life are virtually unlimited, barring major catastrophes—as most of us do at 19. At 53 there is still some sand in the hourglass; but there is a lot less sand than there used to be.

Music from the summer of ’88

It remains one of my missions here to remind readers (especially those too young to remember), that our culture wasn’t always as angry, self-destructive, and generally mucked up as it currently is.

Music often reflects the spirit of the times.  The summer of 1988 was a happy time. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the US economy was booming, and the dominant mood was one of optimism. (You sure could use a bit of optimism nowadays, couldn’t you?)

In the summer of 1988, I was in college. During that summer, I worked as a bagger at Thriftway, a now defunct grocery store chain in the Cincinnati area. (I also did stints in produce and seafood, if you want to get technical about it.)

That was a summer of some great music. No protest music to speak of, just songs about falling in love, getting on a roll, or going for a drive with your girl (or guy) on a summer night. 

Below are some of my favorite songs from that long-ago summer of 1988. These are songs that take me back…and might take you back, too, if you were around then.

Listening to ‘Fevre Dream’ by George R.R. Martin

Long before he was known as the novelist behind the HBO series Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin wrote a vampire novel called Fevre Dream.

Fevre Dream is set on the Mississippi River, just before the American Civil War. Abner Marsh is a riverboat captain who is down on his luck. Joshua York is a vampire who needs a human partner for an atypical “mission”.

Originally published in 1982, Fevre Dream is one of GRRM’s best works. I understand that A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones has become a veritable force of nature in recent years. But many of Martin’s earlier works are just as good, and require much less of a time commitment. (Martin also wrote tons of short stories and novellas, many of which have been compiled into two collections that you can get on Amazon.)

The vampire of Fevre Dream is not a supernatural creature, but a separate-but-similar race of quasi-humans. This alternative interpretation of the vampire is now common, but it would have been innovative in 1982. 

The interplay between the two main characters is the best part of Fevre Dream. Abner Marsh is a gruff but good-hearted riverboat man. Joshua York is an urbane antihero who is trying to overcome his bloodthirsty nature. Abner and Joshua need each other, and yet their basic worldviews are very much in conflict. The perfect dramatic setup.

Throughout the book, there is a competing group of evil vampires in Louisiana, who will ultimately come into conflict with Abner and Joshua (who gathers other “good” vampires to him). This plot device, too, is now common. But once again, it would have been original in 1982.

The Mississippi River is also a character in the book. George R.R. Martin is originally from New Jersey. But he spent some time as an instructor at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa during the 1970s. Dubuque is situated on the upper Mississippi. Martin would have gained a familiarity with the river during his time in Iowa, and that familiarity definitely shows up Fevre Dream.

I initially read Fevre Dream back in 2009. My rule of thumb is: If ten years have passed since I read a particular book or saw a particular movie, the story may be worth experiencing again. None of us is the same person we were a decade ago, and so a story will mean something different to us after an interval of ten years. (We’ll also, in most cases, have forgotten significant portions of the plot.)

Another difference is that this time, I’m listening to the audiobook version of Fevre Dream. As I noted in a previous post, I have developed the habit of listening to audiobooks while I mow my lawn and do other yard work. And this is July, the season for such things. 

**View George RR Martin’s Fevre Dream on Amazon**

80s rock moment: REO Speedwagon

One of the great bands of my youth was REO Speedwagon. The band’s most commercially successful albums, Hi Infidelity (1980), Wheels Are Turnin’ (1985) and Life As We Know It (1987) were all released in my adolescent/teen years.

REO Speedwagon’s ballad, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was near the top of the charts throughout the spring of 1985, my junior year in high school.

In the above video, the band’s lead singer, Kevin Cronin, performs the song as a duet with his daughter at a music festival in 2019.

This is a song about falling in love, so nothing original about the theme. But there are a million ways to fall in love, and a million angles on it. The angle here is innocence, commitment, etc. There was something refreshing about this ballad even in the comparatively simple world of 1985. It is especially refreshing now, in these cynical, dysfunctional times of the 2o2os. 

“What started out as friendship has grown stronger…” That would be a good way to fall in love, wouldn’t it?

The first ‘Star Wars’ generation

I remember sitting in a cinema one day in the early summer of 1977. I was just shy of nine years old, so I was there with my dad.

My dad wanted to see this new movie called Star Wars.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but my dad (then barely in his thirties) was excited about it. So I went along, too. My mom had no interest the movie. (My mom liked very few movies that didn’t involve horses.)

I remember watching the opening scenes. The big spaceships on the big screen. Oh, man, I was immediately hooked.

I know: this essay has already veered into cliché. By this point, everyone has seen those scenes in the original Star Wars movie. The CGI effects in 21st-century movies like Avatar, moreover, have since surpassed our collective ability to be visually amazed.

But keep in mind: in 1977, the average feature film was a Burt Reynolds movie that relied on conventional car chases. (In fact, one such movie—Smokey and the Bandit—was released within a few weeks of Star Wars.)

Most of the available science fiction in 1977 was campy and already a decade old. There was Star Trek, of course. But Star Trek was made in the 1960s, and it showed in the production values.

There was also Lost in Space, which had its original prime-time run between 1965 and 1968. (Oh, and the first season of Lost in Space was in black and white.)

I won’t tell you about Star Wars and how it was different because well…you already know. But you might not know what it was like to be part of the first Star Wars generation.

To truly get that, you have to have been there.

America in the 1970s was an unsettled place. The country was on a hangover from Vietnam, the counterculture, the 1960s, Watergate.

Many of the Baby Boomers, then at the peak of their childbearing years, were trying to reconcile parenthood with all the Me Generation stuff.

I should note that my parents were the exception in this regard. I had wonderful parents and—on the whole—an idyllic childhood. But my childhood was the exception. This was an era of small families, divorce, and adults working in parenthood as an afterthought. The 1970s was not a child-focused decade, on the whole.

This showed up in the marketplace. Corporate America didn’t put out much entertainment for children, because the demand wasn’t there, like it was from the mid-1980s onward. For most children, circa 1976, Saturday morning cartoons (mostly reruns from the 1960s) were the highlight of the week.

But then there was Star Wars. If you were a kid in that era, Star Wars was not just a movie, but a way of life…or a way of play, anyway.

Star Wars trading card, 1977

Publishers cranked out Star Wars trading cards and comics. Toy manufacturers rushed light sabers and action figures to market. There was always something new to buy…or to beg your parents to buy.

Burger Chef, a now defunct fast food chain, issued a set of Star Wars posters in 1977. Each one was given away with the purchase of a double hamburger meal, or something like that. I talked my parents into acquiring all of them.

My bedroom became a shrine to Star Wars. My room contained not just the posters, but all the paraphernalia I could acquire.

Burger Chef Star Wars poster 1977

I’ve watched the more recent Star Wars movies. I know that the last few have been controversial among longtime fans. I’m not interested in wading into that debate. For me, the first three movies—Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) are the only three “canonical” ones, anyway.

These three films traced the end of my childhood, effectively. I was nine when the first one came out. When Return of the Jedi hit the local cinema, I had completed a year of high school.

But this is about more than mere nostalgia. In recent years, the culture wars have invaded science fiction, superhero comics, and whatnot. There was little appetite for that in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Why? That era was already full of gloomy, abstruse movies that were overloaded with “message” and “issues”. And in the 1970s, the issue du jour was the Vietnam War, which was still very much in recent memory.

And so we got turgid, barely watchable films like The Deer Hunter (1978), Taxi Driver (1976), and Apocalypse Now (1979). In 1978, I remember hearing a news story about a Vietnam vet shooting himself at a screening of The Deer Hunter. That movie is incredibly gloomy and depressing to watch, as are the other two. (And the Jodie Foster scenes in Taxi Driver, in which she plays a child prostitute, are downright bizarre by today’s standards.)

Star Wars offered a break from all that. Star Wars was a movie about a war in space that didn’t ask you to think about Vietnam. Nor did it ask you to think about the nuclear arms race—another big “issue” of that time.

The original Star Wars trilogy had a relatively diverse cast. It wasn’t all white males in the spotlight. Who can imagine Star Wars without Carrie Fisher, after all? And the third movie of the original trilogy made a major star of Billy Dee Williams.

And yet, Star Wars didn’t ask audiences to engage in endless navel-gazing about race and gender. (These matters now greatly preoccupy the fandom of science fiction publishing, but that’s another “issue” for another time.)

The original three Star Wars movies were simply fun. They weren’t controversial. They didn’t try to change your worldview or your politics. Practically everyone liked them. (Even my mother relented and saw the second and third Star Wars movies, despite their lack of horses.)

And if you were a kid in the late 1970s, Star Wars was larger than life.

I’ll close with a blunt assertion: I think it’s high time for the film and comics industries to retire the franchise. To put this in perspective: I was not quite nine when the first movie came out. I’ll soon be fifty-three, and they’re still riding the Star Wars wagon, trying to squeeze a few more million out of the original story concept.

But who cares what I think? Maybe I’ll see the next Star Wars movie, and maybe I won’t. It’s not like I’m boycotting them. But like I said: for me, the first three are the only ones that really count.

1980s music: Susanna Hoffs

I’m from the 1980s, as many of you may know. (Actually, I never really left.) I still love pop and rock music from that era. Iron Maiden, Foreigner, AC/DC, Journey…I love ‘em all.

But there were also some great all-female acts during the 1980s. My favorite, hands down, was The Bangles.

The charismatic lead singer of The Bangles was Susanna Hoffs. Here she is performing “Manic Monday” before a live audience in 2021. This version is a little different, stylistically, from the original, but it’s basically the same song.

“Manic Monday” was released in 1986, my senior year in high school. I can’t hear it without being transported back to that time, which was a happy one for me. (I had a mostly positive adolescent/high school experience.)

Nothing else to add, except that Susanna Hoffs is still lovely and talented at 62. Enjoy the video.

And if you’re too young to remember the 1980s and that decade’s music, you might investigate some of The Bangles’ other songs on YouTube. The Bangles put Taylor Swift to shame, IMO.

New iMac time, and why and when I upgrade

I last upgraded my Macs (I use an iMac and a MacBook Air) in June 2016. Which means that I was more than due for an upgrade, by any reasonable standard.

I take a conservative approach to upgrading computer equipment…just like I take a conservative approach to practically everything else. My criteria when contemplating a computer equipment upgrade are as follows:

a) Is the existing equipment starting to malfunction?

b.) Could the new equipment provide substantial benefits (as opposed to simply being “the latest thing”?)

My 2016 iMac, which actually rolled off the Apple assembly lines in 2015, was starting to have problems. The webcam had not worked for quite some time. This was preventing me from restarting my YouTube channel—something that has been on my to-do list for a while.

More recently, the mouse had gotten buggy. Last week, the mouse stopped moving laterally (in either the right or the left direction) at all.

Okay, it was time for an upgrade. So I took the plunge. And hey, Apple needs some more of my money, right?

***

I’m quite happy with the new iMac, which is shown in the photo at the top of this post. I won’t turn this into a sales pitch or a tech review, but I will elaborate on one feature that is near and dear to my heart: native dictation capabilities.

The Siri dictation functions on the Mac have improved greatly. Dictation is something that interests many writers concerned about repetitive stress injuries.

But dictation has been problematic for Mac users.

A few years ago, Nuance Communications stopped supporting its Dragon Dictate products on the Mac platform completely. That included support for people (like me) who had already bought it. Thanks, Nuance Communications!

***

Apple needed to make progress on its native dictation functionality. That seems to have happened.

I’ve been using the dictate function for composing several rough drafts. The Siri dictation is still not quite as accurate as Dragon Dictate is at its best. But Siri dictation is worlds better than it used to be.

Like I said, I’m conservative when it comes to upgrades. Not only is there the cost of the new equipment to consider, but also the hassles involved in moving everything over to the new machine(s). My 2015 MacBook Air, purchased in 2016, continues to function with relatively few problems. I’ll probably replace it by the end of the year, but I’m in no hurry just yet.

Goodbye to Goodreads

I’ve closed both my author and personal accounts on Goodreads. My books will still be listed there, of course; but I’ll no longer maintain an active presence there.

Since its launch in 2006, Goodreads has inspired both enthusiastic fans and detractors. There are controversies about the outdated design of the site, and whether or not Goodreads has declined since it was acquired by Amazon in 2013. I’ll leave those debates to others.

Since I first dabbled with Goodreads almost a decade ago, I have found it to be neither a uniformly good nor bad experience. Goodreads is social media. And all social media is a mixture of good and bad, best encapsulated in the acronym, YMMV.

Most of the people I interacted with on Goodreads were pleasant. I also ran across a few yahoos, of course. Once again: social media.

But it’s important to remember that Goodreads is for readers, not writers. I don’t want to be the author on Goodreads who is shouting “buy my book!” Nor is anyone served by the writer who hovers over reader-reviewers.

Nor does a Goodreads account really serve me as a reader-reviewer at this point, because I mostly don’t do that anymore. Once I started seriously publishing my own fiction, I became hesitant to review other people’s books on Amazon, etc. That’s a bit like Ford Motor Company reviewing the latest Toyota Camry, right? If I really want to say something about another author’s book (and that isn’t often), I generally say it here, on my own website.

Finally, throughout this past year I’ve been reassessing my relationship with social media. Since the whole social media thing began about fifteen years ago, I’ve been on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the now defunct Google+. At least I never had a MySpace page.

I’ve really gained very little from social media, either spiritually or monetarily. (YouTube, though, is useful if you want to know how to fix a leaky toilet.)

And so it goes with Goodreads. I don’t exactly hate Goodreads, but nor do I particularly like it or need it. This is not a personal boycott or a blanket condemnation of Goodreads. If the site works for you, then by all means continue to use it. But it no longer works for me.

In the dog days of summer, “think January”

Today I mowed both my lawn and my dad’s lawn in 90-degree, near 100% humidity weather.

I sweated about two gallons. That was five hours ago, and I’m still trying to rehydrate myself. More water, please!

(Note: The only truly pleasant season in Southern Ohio is late autumn, from about mid-October through Thanksgiving. The rest of the year, the weather here swings between various disagreeable extremes. So…don’t move to Southern Ohio unless you have to. The weather here sucks.)

Today’s sweltering heat brings back a particular memory: In late August of 1982, I began my freshman year of high school. My high school had no air conditioning.

I recall taking an afternoon English class on the second floor of the school. It was hot, really hot. The entire class was sweating.

And let me be clear: this was 1982. It wasn’t as if air conditioning hadn’t been invented yet. So why wasn’t the school air-conditioned? I wondered.

Our teacher, in a wry acknowledgement of our suffering, wrote the following on the blackboard one afternoon before beginning the day’s lecture:

THINK JANUARY

That brought a laugh—or at least a chuckle—from every 14-year-old in the room. And for whatever reason, I’ve never forgotten it. Today, almost 40 years later, I shall be “thinking January” with the above photo.

(I actually took the photo on February 10th of this year; but that’s close enough.)

Wherever you are, dear reader, I hope the weather is more pleasant today in your part of the world. I repeat: don’t move to Southern Ohio unless absolutely necessary. The weather here sucks.