Two songs for Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day, at least in the United States.

If you were fortunate enough to have a relationship with your father, and if your father is still alive, take a few minutes today to show him your appreciation.

I was blessed in this regard. I had a good relationship with my father (who is still with me) and my grandfather (who passed in 1998).

There are many memories of them both that I could relate. Perhaps I’ll get to that later in the day. For now, though, I’m going to leave you with two songs about fathers and fatherhood.

The first of these is Dan Fogelberg’s “The Leader of the Band” (1981), which explores the father-child relationship from the child’s perspective. The second is Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” (1975), which looks at fatherhood from the father’s perspective.

Both are worth listening to and reflecting upon as you begin Father’s Day, 2021.

JibJab, and when America still had a sense of humor

Between 2004 and about 2009, JibJab was one of my favorite destinations on the Internet. The JibJab guys specialized in political humor.

Take this one: “He’s Barack Obama”, from 2009.

The above short piece pokes fun at the (then) newly elected President Obama. The video parodies Obama’s over-reliance on platitudes like, “Yes we can” and “Hope and change”. Also, on a more serious (but still funny) note: Obama’s tendency to over-promise and under-deliver, and his blithe disregard of the national debt.

“He’s Barack Obama” is clearly a work of political satire. That said, the video is not shrill or mean-spirited.

JibJab was bipartisan. The small production company also had a good time parodying Republican George W. Bush, as in this video from late 2005.

I would mark 2009 as the approximate point at which America lost its sense of humor. That period between 2004 and 2009 wasn’t so long ago; and yet, it seems like another world.

I’ve been referring to JibJab in the past tense, I realize. JibJab, for what it’s worth, still exists. But JibJab now avoids political satire. Who can blame them? We now live in a world of Twitter mobs, social media bans, and ever-watchful culture nannies.   

JibJab now specializes in mildly amusing, but basically ersatz, holiday e-cards. That’s a shame. I would love to see what JibJab might have done with AOC, Joe Biden, or—for that matter—Donald Trump.

H.P. Lovecraft and first-person narration

A small addendum to my earlier post on HP Lovecraft.

I have noticed that H.P. Lovecraft has a strong preference for first-person narration.

First-person narration is neither intrinsically good nor bad. I’ve used it myself in a handful of novels, including The Eavesdropper, Termination Man, Revolutionary Ghosts, and 12 Hours of Halloween.

I suspect, however, that Lovecraft’s excessive reliance on first-person narration traces to his generally weak sense of character and characterization. As I previously noted, every Lovecraft character is essentially the same person: a solitary male engaged in arcane pursuits, often with the assistance of an uncle who is a professor at Miskatonic University.

But all writers, I should note—me included—have their quirks and habitual crutches. This is not a condemnation of Lovecraft, but merely a literary observation.

‘Complicit’: a cerebral spy drama

A British MI5 agent must foil a terrorist plot before it’s too late.

Pitted against him is a dedicated British-Egyptian Islamist group. But he must also overcome unhelpful  superiors, institutional cynicism, and endless red tape.

That’s the setup for the Channel 4 television film, Complicit, starring David Oyelowo.

This is one of the best spy/espionage movies I’ve seen in a while. A warning, though: this is not a James Bond movie with endless car chases, gun battles, and explosions. The suspense here is more situational and cerebral, as a lone intelligence agent struggles against the odds to avert a catastrophe.

Complicit is full of memorable characters (on both sides of the law), sharp dialogue, and an evolving mystery. The ending (small spoiler alert) is ambiguous, like a typical John le Carré story.

If I had to put this one in a nutshell, in fact, I would say that Complicit is a better version of a John le Carré story.

The Rockland Horror FREE series starter (June 13th & 14th only!)

The Rockland Horror 3 will hit Amazon and Kindle Unlimited within a few weeks.

In advance of that, this is your chance to start the series for free.

***

The year is 1882. Twenty-one-year-old Ellen Sanders is beautiful but poor. She lives with her parents on a struggling farm in southern Indiana.

Ellen awakens one night to the sound of ghostly moaning, only to be confronted by a supernatural presence. 

Days later, a wealthy older man makes Ellen an offer of marriage that she can’t refuse.

Ellen is immediately pulled into a world of witchcraft, necromancy, and the living dead!

Get the first book in the series FREE for two days only (June 13th & 14th!)

Cincinnati cicada update

Cicadas are everywhere in Southern Ohio now. When I step out into my front yard, I am literally dodging them.

I don’t mind them too much. They’re harmless, and they only come once every 17 years. I saw my first cicada brood in 1987, when I was 19. This year I turn 53. The next time the cicadas arrive, I will be in my 70s. And who knows how many cicada outbreaks I’ll see after that?

Cicadas make you aware of their presence while you’re driving, too. If you drive through a swarm, you may have the impression that it’s raining cicadas. (Cicada collisions with windshields can also be quite messy.)

This past week, cicadas were even blamed for an automobile accident here in Cincinnati. A car went off the road and crashed into a utility pole this past Monday, when a cicada entered the vehicle and smacked the driver in the face.

Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but the car was totaled.

Diane Franklin and 1980s film culture

Diane Franklin appeared in a slew of memorable 1980s films. These included her breakout role as Karen in the surprisingly meaningful teen sex comedy, The Last American Virgin, in 1982.

That same year, she delivered a haunting performance as the doomed eldest daughter of the quasi-fictional Montelli family in Amityville II: the Possession. This film was loosely based on the infamous Amityville, New York murders of 1974.

Oh, also: Better Off Dead (1985), TerrorVision (1986), and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).

In this interview with Ray’s Happy Hour-ish podcast/YouTube channel, Ms. Franklin discusses some of her iconic roles, storytelling in the movies, and 1980s pop culture. She also talks about her recent and upcoming film projects. Enjoy.

‘Killing Them Softly’: darkness without redemption

A crime film starring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, and Ray Liotta. This is going to be good, I thought.

I love crime films and fiction, after all: The Godfather trilogy, The Sopranos, the novels of Michael Connelly.

But I didn’t like this “neo-noir” movie. Not at all, in fact.

I don’t mind a bit of “noir”. But noir, in its quest to be endlessly and relentlessly dark, can sometimes lapse into self-parody.

That’s what Killing Them Softly is. Despite the all-star lineup, this movie is hampered by banal dialogue, bad artistic sensibilities, and an aimless storyline.

Let’s start with the dialogue. I don’t mind a few F-bombs. The Sopranos was full of them. But there were entire strings of dialogue in Killing Them Softly in which “fuck” was the most frequent word. That gets boring after awhile—and it usually means lazy scriptwriting.

Likewise, I’m not politically correct. (Read some of my other blog posts.) I’m not a “sensitive guy” or a “male feminist”. I attended high school and played boys’ sports in the politically incorrect 1980s. I’ve heard my share of locker room talk.

I don’t, however, need a film scene in which two male characters ramble on forever about women’s genitalia. There was more than one scene like that in Killing Them Softly.

The setting is dreary. I mean dreary. This is a movie shot in a world where the sun never shines. (I’m sure that was intentional, part of the self-consciously overdone “noir” effect.)

But there’s little plot to fit inside the grim scenery. The plot just goes from one violent and/or depressing scene to the next. There are no discernible stakes. It’s all nonstop, chaotic bloodshed and depravity that don’t really go anywhere. What’s the point?

There is not a single likable character. This means that there is no one to root for.

A movie about horrible people, and only horrible people. Who cares if they all die? I certainly didn’t. (That might make the movie end sooner, I thought.)

***

 

Dark themes and storylines (horror, crime, war, etc.) only work if there is an element of redemption. There has to be good struggling against the evil. There has to be a glimmer of hope. There has to be at least one character that the audience can become invested in.

Yesterday I wrote a review of the rather violent horror film, Wrong Turn. Wrong Turn, on one level, is every bit as violent as Killing Them Softly. But it’s also very different.

Wrong Turn has at least two protagonists—a college student and her father—whom the viewer is inclined to care about. Wrong Turn has moments of extreme depravity, but also moments of nobility and heroism. By the end of Wrong Turn, you’re rooting for the college student and her dad. You want them to survive their ordeal.

There is no nobility or heroism in Killing Them Softly. It’s just a slog through the mud of human existence. (Please don’t watch this movie if you’re already feeling down about the state of the world.)

There is one bright spot, and this may be the only bright spot. According to Wikipedia, the original director’s cut of Killing Them Softly was more than 150 minutes (2.5 hours) in length. We can be grateful that they trimmed the final version to only 97 minutes. But it was still 97 minutes too long.

‘Wrong Turn’: fun horror movie

A group of progressive-minded college students from the city visit a small town in Virginia, with the aim of hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

What could possibly go wrong?

The town folk aren’t too friendly, to begin with. There are Confederate flags all over the place. The people seem clannish. And one of the college students seems determined to pick a fight with the locals.

But all of the locals insistently warn the college kids, over and over again, to stick to the tourist route when hiking the trail. 

And don’t go up the mountain!

As is always the case in horror movies, though, the protagonists don’t follow sensible advice. Hijinks ensure.

This is a reboot of an earlier film by the same name, which I also saw many years ago. The new reboot, starring Charlotte Vega and Matthew Modine, is better, and more complex.

***

Reboot or not, the basic idea itself is not original, anyway. If you’ve read Deliverance (or seen the movie), you’ll recognize the setup. A 1981 film called Southern Comfort used a version of the same premise. (Only in that film, the victims of the backwoods brutality were National Guardsmen.)

The conflict between the city and the country is as old as civilization, and certainly as old as America. It is especially acute now, in the midst of the culture wars.

What this movie was not—to its credit—was a simplistic put-down of Southerners or country people. There is a lot more going on than that. Before the end of the movie, we also discover that at least one of the “liberal” college students lacks any sense of integrity when the chips are down.

There are some major plot holes toward the end of the film. But they’re forgivable in the context of an overall plot that is already farfetched.

This is definitely not a boring movie, even if it’s a less than perfect one. 

Warning for sensitive/younger viewers: There is no explicit sex, but there is plenty of violence that is often painful to watch. How could there not be, in a movie like this?

View on Amazon!

Horror fiction: sharks in the Ohio River

I have had a lifelong fascination with—and dread of—sharks.

I have also been a lifelong resident of southern Ohio, a region that borders the Ohio River. As I type these words, the Ohio River is but a short drive from here. (I could walk there, in fact.)

A few years back, I started reading news reports about bull sharks turning up in the Mississippi River. The Ohio River, though far to the north, connects to the Mississippi.

I got to wondering: what if there were sharks in the Ohio River?

Hey, what if?

The result was the short story, “By the River”, which you can read for free here on Edward Trimnell Books.

“By the River” is one of the stories in my 2011 collection, Hay Moon & Other Stories.

Rereading Lovecraft in 2021

I’ve been working my way through that body of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction that is loosely based around the Necronomicon, or the Cthulhu Mythos cycle. (Actually, I am listening to the audiobook edition, mostly while I mow my lawn and work out at the gym.) This edition, read by various narrators and published by Blackstone Audio, is the edition authorized by the Lovecraft estate.

The readings are well done. The narrators take Lovecraft’s frequently purple prose seriously, without overdoing it. If you like audiobooks and you like Lovecraft, you’ll enjoy this audio collection.

Lovecraft’s body of work is partly nostalgia for me. I read most of Lovecraft’s stories during my college years. I discovered Lovecraft while browsing through the shelves of the University of Cincinnati bookstore in 1988. Also, Stephen King had mentioned him in several of his essays.

Reimmersing myself in Lovecraft after all these years, a few things stand out, both good and bad.

Let’s start with the good.

First of all, H.P. Lovecraft had an incredible imagination. When he wrote these stories, there were no horror movies. There wasn’t even much fantasy fiction as we know it today. Lovecraft died in 1937, the same year that The Hobbit was published. Yet Lovecraft created so many horror/dark fantasy tropes and conventions from thin air.

Working within the constraints of the pulp fiction era, Lovecraft did a fairly decent job of establishing continuity across his stories. The Cthulhu Mythos cycle isn’t technically a series. These stories were published individually, at different times, in various pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. The marketplace more or less forced Lovecraft into the short story/novella form, and every story had to begin with a blank slate. The writer couldn’t assume that any given reader had read his previous works. Nevertheless, when Lovecraft’s stories are compiled, there is a discernible consistency running through all of them.

And yes, his purple prose. Lovecraft was hyper-literate. You can’t read, or listen to, Lovecraft’s stories without increasing your vocabulary.

Now for the not-so-good.

His narrative style. Lovecraft was a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Read Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” or Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”, and you’ll definitely see the differences.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald wrote in a style that we would recognize as modern. Hemingway, in particular, was well-known for his direct, economical prose. But both Hemingway and Fitzgerald thought in terms of showing, rather than telling.

Lovecraft, by contrast, writes more like Herman Melville or Thomas Hardy. Rather than creating scenes on the page, Lovecraft often simply tells you what happened. This makes his writing occasionally cumbersome to wade through, and less accessible to modern readers.

There isn’t much we can say about Lovecraft’s characters, because his characters are paper-thin. They exist only as observers of the supernatural phenomena in his stories.

There are notably few exceptions here. The two main characters in “Herbert West—Reanimator” stuck in my mind a bit longer than the characters in the other stories, who disappeared as soon as the stories were over.

The typical Lovecraft character is a scholarly male recluse who is drawn into arcane research and observations by chance, or by idle curiosity. Lovecraft has virtually no female characters. Not even any damsels in distress.

In some literary genres in recent years, there has been a tendency to depict every female main character as a tough-talking heroine who can whip every male villain she encounters, even if they’re twice her size. We often see this in television shows and movies, and no one believes it.

But Lovecraft errs in the opposite extreme: I don’t want to read female characters that were obviously crafted for the sole purpose of making a feminist statement. But I don’t want to read a fictional world that is entirely comprised of guys who can’t seem to find dates, either. 

Lovecraft’s writing also reveals his prejudices, which were extreme and extensive even by the standards of his time. Lovecraft looked down on just about everyone who wasn’t an Anglo-Saxon New England brahmin. His stories are filled with savage Africans and “swarthy”, conniving Greeks and Italians.

Not that he cared much for white, native-born rural people, either. Multiple Lovecraft stories discuss the degraded hill people who live in the backwaters of Vermont, for example.

There has been much writing, and much posturing, in recent years, about “canceling” Lovecraft because of his attitudes on race. His name was removed from a prominent award, and some book bloggers have even declared that Lovecraft’s fiction is no longer suitable for people with the “correct” attitudes on social and political issues. The hand-wringers often forget that while Lovecraft certainly didn’t like African Americans, he didn’t like much of anyone else, either. Lovecraft was an equal-opportunity snob/bigot. 

I am not going to make a show of being offended by a piece of pulp fiction that was written eighty or ninety years ago. But an undeniable fact remains: H.P. Lovecraft comes across as a rather narrow-minded person with a narrow range of experiences and interests.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read his fiction. As I said by way of disclaimer: I’ve already read all of these stories at least once. (I believe I’ve read “The Colour Out of Space” four or five times, the first time in 1988.) The scope of Lovecraft’s imagination was so broad, that these stories are worthwhile for any reader drawn to horror, dark fantasy, or so-called “weird fiction”. Lovecraft was a flawed man and a flawed writer; but he nevertheless produced some very engaging tales.

Fiction/release updates

The big item here is The Rockland Horror 3, which is presently in the editing/final revision stage.

The Rockland Horror 3 will be somewhat longer than the previous two books in the series. Both The Rockland Horror and The Rockland Horror 2 were around 72K words. The third book will be closer to 90K words.

This is one reason why it’s taking a bit longer to complete. But  I think you’ll like the final result.

I’m working on some other projects as well, including a World War II epic. More details to come.

Summer and wasps: my annual war of annihilation begins

After an early May that veered between March-like cold and constant rain, summer has come roaring into Southern Ohio. Afternoon temperatures in the Cincinnati area will flirt with the low 90s this weekend. (That’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit, for you readers in Canada and the UK.) No rain on the horizon for at least three or four days.

People in my neck of the woods are currently getting worked up about cicadas. Cicadas don’t bother me. Bring ‘em on! as they say. I survived the great cicada outbreak of ’87. I’ll make it through this one, too.

There is only one insect—only one creature, in fact— that I despise with implacable, murderous intent: the wasp. I have always hated them, and my market share of wasp spray is likely a line item on the balance sheets at both Raid and Spectracide.

There is an old German proverb, “God made the bee, but the Devil made the wasp.” It’s absolutely true. Wasps are pure evil. And they know when you’re about to come after them. I have the stings to prove it.

There is a group of wasps building a nest under the eaves on one side of my house. Armed with a good supply of chemical warfare agents, I intend to send as many of them as possible straight to Hell before the weekend is over.

I usually pimp my short horror story, The Wasp, in late May or early June. It’s like an annual rite of summer for me. But you can read it for free here on the site.

I hope you enjoy your Saturday, wherever you are. As for me, I’ll be cutting grass, trimming trees, oh…and killing wasps.

Photo credit: Maine.gov

Cicadas and anxiety

There has been a lot of talk in the media of late about the upcoming emergence of Brood X, the next great wave of cicadas. And—in keeping with the spirit of these traumatized, triggered times—some people are now coping with severe cicada anxiety as they wait for the appearance of the red-eyed insects.

For me, any mention of cicadas takes me back to 1987. That was another major outbreak year. I was then 19 years old, and a student at the University of Cincinnati. As this contemporary article from the Los Angeles Times notes, Cincinnati was a major hotspot for the short-lived, unprepossessing bugs.

Cicadas were everywhere in Cincinnati that summer. They crawled on lawns, on the sidewalks of the inner city, on cars. The husks of the dead ones were everywhere, too.

The cicada mania of 1987 even inspired the song, “Snappy Cicada Pizza”.

Let’s return to the issue of cicada anxiety. I can’t say that I like cicadas, or that I would be pleased to come home and find a swarm of them inside my house. But they don’t cause me anxiety, either.

I sympathize, though, with the cicada-anxious. I have an extreme aversion toward wasps. My lifelong dislike of wasps even inspired a short story, “The Wasp”, which you can read here on the site.

Photo credit: Fairfax County, VA