‘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

To Metamora by train

This past weekend I accompanied several relatives on a train trip from Connersville, Indiana to the historic town of Metamora. We traveled via the Whitewater Valley Railroad.

Inside the train station at Connersville

I’m an Ohioan, but I consider myself an honorary Hoosier (and an honorary Kentuckite, too, for that matter). I live in Cincinnati, which is often called the Tri-State Area, the three states being: Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Moreover, my dad grew up in Indiana, and I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. Indiana might not want to claim me, but I claim Indiana.

I had never been to Connersville before, though, and certainly not to Metamora. Traveling up Indiana Route 1 from Lawrenceburg via car, we passed through the town of Brookville (a very nice town) and many other well-kept little towns whose names escape me.

Also, we passed plenty of farms, miles of woods, and acres of open pasture. Indiana is a great place to be if you like nature. They have lots of it.

The train ride was not what I expected, exactly. To begin with, this was not exactly high-speed rail travel. The 13-mile trip from Connersville to Metamora took a little more than an hour. One of the passengers, checking a smartphone GPS app, reported an average speed of 11 m.p.h. That sounds about right.

This was also a trip through the woods, more or less. But we did catch some scenic stretches of the Whitewater River.

Metamora itself was interesting. There was some old architecture worth seeing, and part of a canal that dated back to the 1840s.

Let’s be honest here. This was not the Grand Canyon. On the whole, there were parts of the trip (and the sights) that were a little underwhelming. Both the train (especially the track) and the historic district of Metamora were in need of some maintenance. The train ride was a little bumpy…probably safe, but a little bumpy.

That said, this is a tourist attraction that is bouncing back from the crippling economic effects of COVID. Several of the shopkeepers in Metamora said that they’re in the middle of renovation drive.

Everyone affiliated with the railroad, as well as Metamora itself, was extremely nice. If you happen to find yourself in east-central Indiana, you might give the Whitewater Valley Railroad trip a try. On the whole, my relatives and I had a pleasant day.

The Rockland Horror 3: sneak peek

The Rockland Horror 3, the third installment in the Rockland Horror series, is in the final editing stages. 

The Rockland Horror 3 takes place thirty-five years after the first two books, in 1917.

For those of you who are interested, here is a sneak peek at Chapter 1. (Note: This has not yet been through the editing/proofing stage, and thee may be a few typos.)

Chapter One

It was a chilly, wet day in March 1917, and thirty-year-old Joe Cullen was overdue for a smoke break.

Joe shot a quick glance over his shoulder. He wanted to make sure that his foreman was nowhere in sight.

Joe was relieved to find himself completely alone on the tree-lined road. All around him there was nothing but the silent woods. And the light, cold moisture falling from the leaden sky.

Well, almost nothing. There was the Briggs House, too.

This thought made him smile self-consciously. Country people and their superstitions. Never mind that Joe was as country as they came. He also read books, dagnabbit.

He bent and laid his shovel down in the long, sallow, late-winter grass at the edge of the road. The road itself was muddy, owing to the wet weather. He did not want the handle of his shovel to get muddy, too. He still had a lot of work to do with that shovel before quitting time.

That done, he stood, removed his gloves, and slipped them into the lower left side pocket of his coat. From the lower right side pocket he removed a box of Lucky Strikes and a box of wooden matches.

Joe was wearing a broad-rimmed hat, a treated canvas raincoat, and heavy boots. The overhanging tree branches—though still bare of leaves—also caught some of the light rainfall. But when you were working outside in weather like this for an entire day, it was impossible to avoid either the dampness or the chill.

Today’s precipitation was not a hard, driving rain; but it was a steady, unrelenting spittle that varied between mist and drizzle. Fireplace weather, Joe’s mother would have said.

But there would be no fireplace for Joe today—not until quitting time, at least; and that was still several hours away.

***

Joe was currently employed by the Indiana Department of Transportation, a brand-new state agency created by the Indiana Highway Act of two years prior. Joe was part of a crew that had been charged with preparing Washington Hill Road for paving.

At present, the road was all packed earth and gravel. It was literally the same road that had been used in the pioneer days. Washington Hill Road turned to mud every springtime, or even during a midsummer thunderstorm. That might have been suitable for the age of the horse. It would not do for the age of the automobile.

As he paused to light his cigarette—cupping both the cigarette and the match in his hands to shield them against the moisture in the air—Joe allowed himself a look at the Victorian mansion that was impossible to miss at this point on Washington Hill Road.

The Briggs House rose above him in the distance. The decrepit monolith appeared old-fashioned and dark, even when silhouetted against today’s cloudy gray sky.

The Briggs House was on the left side of the road. It  stood at the top end of a long, winding, overgrown private lane that rose to a promontory. When the trees were bare, the roofline of the mansion could be partially glimpsed far below Washington Hill, Joe knew. He was a lifelong resident of Rockland, Indiana.

He smiled to himself, and took a drag on his cigarette. Joe Cullen knew all about the Briggs House—the murders, the whispered stories of witchcraft and necromancy. Much of that was pure fabrication, and at least half of it was pure nonsense.

Joe Cullen had no way of knowing that within a matter of minutes, he would hold an entirely changed attitude about the Briggs House.

View The Rockland Horror series on Amazon

The novels of W.E.B. Griffin

I’m presently reading The New Breed, the 7th book in W.E.B. Griffin’s Brotherhood of War series. This novel follows the lives and adventures of several U.S. Army personnel involved in covert operations warfare during the 1960s, particularly in Vietnam and the Congo.

Like most W.E.B. Griffin novels, The New Breed is not simply a series of combat scenes strung together. Nor is this a novel in which the Fate of the World rests on one man’s shoulders.

The New Breed is more a slice-of-life look at fighting men and their wives, girlfriends, and children. The entire series is like that. What Griffin wrote was not so much military fiction, but fiction about people who are in the military. Griffin’s novels are light on action, as novels set in global conflicts go. There are, in fact, quite a few W.E.B. Griffin novels in which not much seems to happen.

But when he was at his best, Griffin wrote engaging characters that drew you in to the story. I’m working my way eagerly through the Brotherhood of War books. Many readers have gone before me, and many more are sure to follow. 

When he was not at his best, Griffin’s books tended to ramble. Griffin was most on-point when he wrote stories set narrowly within the US military. When he strayed beyond that, he sometimes seemed to lose the plot.

Speaking of plot: I may be wrong, but I would be willing to bet that Griffin was a discovery writer—that is, he did not compose from an outline, but simply wrote down the story as it came to him. This kind of writing makes for memorable characters, but occasionally ersatz and meandering plots.

The consumption of alcohol is a big part of Griffin’s stories and characters. I’m not talking about drunken bacchanals here, but simply the demonstrated conviction that a grown man must be properly lubricated with spirits at all hours of the day and night. This was no doubt a real part of the postwar military culture in which Griffin came of age.

Also, it’s very clear that Griffin never bothered with what are now called “sensitivity readers”. There is a scene in the The New Breed in which one of the characters actually describes a woman’s breasts as “knockers”. Regular readers of this blog will know that I loathe political correctness; but even I would think twice before using this word in an unironic manner.

W.E.B. Griffin’s work largely avoids the ever-vigilant gaze of the culture nannies, though, because the culture nannies don’t read much military fiction. (So please, don’t link to this blog post on Twitter. Okay?)

W. E. B. Griffin (1929 – 2019) lived to within a few months of his ninetieth birthday. This is probably a wonder, as most photos of the author show him to be rather rotund, and smoking a big stogie.

After a childhood split between New York and Philadelphia, Griffin joined the U.S. Army in 1946. He therefore missed World War II; but he was involved in the military occupation of Germany. He also served in the Korean War.

Griffin was modest about his own military career, however. He once told an interviewer, “My own military background is wholly undistinguished. I was a sergeant. What happened was that I was incredibly lucky in getting to be around some truly distinguished senior officers, sergeants, and spooks.”

Nevertheless, the level of detail in Griffin’s military novels could only come from an author who has actually served in uniform. These books are extremely popular with veterans, as well as less qualified readers like me—who never served, and sometimes regret their failure to do so. 

Most of the Brotherhood of War series was written during the 1980s (with the exception of the final installment, Special Ops, which came out in 2001). All of these books are still in print, however, and available on Amazon in multiple formats. Highly recommended to the veteran and nonveteran reader alike.

***View the Brotherhood of War series on Amazon***

I discovered Zane Grey

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to listen to audiobooks while I mow the lawn. This past weekend, I started listening to a new title, The Fugitive Trail, by Zane Grey. I had about four hours worth of yard work to do, so I made my way through about half of the novel.

I’ll confess that I’ve never been a big fan of westerns. This may be partly due to generational factors. I started watching television and movies in the 1970s, just as our culture was becoming more cynical and “ironic”. The post-Vietnam cultural shift diminished the market for the big John Wayne-style western, with all-American heroes, and unambiguous lines of good and evil. Watch a cowboy movie made prior to 1968 today, and you’ll find any number of violations of political correctness.

I’ve watched Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, the films he made with Italian director Sergio Leone during the Vietnam era. I generally like Clint Eastwood, but the antiheroes he plays in these films are not endearing. The John Wayne version of the cowboy, while arguably less realistic, is far more sympathetic.

Zane Grey (1872 – 1939) lived, wrote, and died long before our culture turned against itself in the 1960s. His most popular book, Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was published the year the Titanic sank…before World War I.

I’d been vaguely aware of Zane Grey for years, of course. I’ve been told that my paternal grandfather was an avid reader of Zane Grey’s novels. (He used to read them during his breaks on the night shift at Cincinnati Gas & Electric, according to my father.) But I’d never gotten around to reading any of his books myself.

Until I happened upon a discounted audiobook version of The Fugitive Trail, that is. I began the book prepared for anything—including the possibility that I might hate it. But as chance would have it, I liked the book a lot.

Zane Grey was a master of “pulp fiction”. He wrote fast-paced stories with passionate heroes and heroines, driven by universal human drives.

Speaking of modern sensibilities: The heroine of The Fugitive Trail, a young woman named Trinity Spencer, is no helpless damsel in distress. She takes the initiative in determining her own outcomes, and has no qualms about standing up to the men in her midst. Imagine that: popular fiction had strong women characters decades before anyone was “woke”.

That said, some of the language and dialogue in the book is dated, even clichéd. But that’s part of the fun.

Zane Grey probably won’t become my favorite author. This is fortunate, I suppose, since he’s been dead for 82 years and won’t be writing any more books. But The Fugitive Trail won’t be my last Zane Grey book, either. I already have my eye on the aforementioned Riders of the Purple Sage.

Check out The Fugitive Trail on  Audible.com

(BTW: While not a western novel as such, fans of western novels (and good vs. evil adventure tales) may want to check out my Kentucky crime novel, Blood Flats.)

When your favorite history professor writes a book

During the spring semester of the 1986 to 1987 academic year, I was a freshman at Northern Kentucky University in the Cincinnati area.

That proved to be an interesting and academically enriching semester for me. For one thing, I had the opportunity that spring to meet poet Richard Wilbur (1921 – 2017). I took a particularly enjoyable astronomy class.

I also took a class on the American Revolution. I wasn’t a history major, and this was a general studies requirement. Not that I minded. I have always loved the study of history, and I almost chose it as my major.

The professor, Michael C. C. Adams, was British. Oh, the ironies, right? A British professor teaching a class on the American Revolution, in the heart of America at the height of the Reagan era.

It turned out to be one of the most enlightening history courses I’ve ever taken. Dr. Adams provided a unique, admittedly British perspective on the American Revolution. And I learned a lot about the revolution that I hadn’t known.

For example, Dr. Adams pointed out why the British were taxing the American colonies so heavily to begin with: mostly to pay off the debt for the French and Indian War, which had benefited the American colonists in various ways.

He also informed us of the mythologizing of the so-called Boston Massacre. It wasn’t quite like I’d been led to believe: evil redcoats wantonly massacring American colonists.

The poorly named Boston Massacre was actually a case of mob control gone awry. By most accounts, the redcoats were outnumbered and goaded into firing. Some members of the crowd were shouting at the British soldiers, “Fire and be damned!”

Oh, and the mob was pelting the outnumbered Brits with ice, rocks, and oyster shells.

I didn’t interpret these lessons as the sort of knee-jerk anti-Americanism that is common in American academia today. This was miles removed from neo-Marxist nonsense like “critical race theory”, or the distorted pseudo-history of the late Howard Zinn. Dr. Adams’s perspective was, rather, a valuable counterbalance to the hagiographic, almost mystical depiction of the American Revolution that I’d grown up with.

As chance would have it, Dr. Adams lived not far from me, and I ran into him a few times off-campus. He was a bit standoffish (as one would expect a British professor to be when forced to mingle with unwashed Yanks); but he was always cordial enough.

While browsing on Amazon, I recently discovered that Dr. Adams has published several books in the intervening years. His titles include Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War, and The Best War Ever: America and World War II.

His main publisher is Johns Hopkins University Press, which explains the horrible, uncommercial covers. (Dr. Adams, being a credentialed academic, probably wouldn’t be hip on the idea of self-publishing, and I won’t quibble with that. In academic publishing, being vetted by an established publishing house still matters.)

Both books seem to do what that long-ago class on the American Revolution did: present a side of our history that might not be immediately obvious and apparent to the average American reader.

If history is your thing, I would recommend you check out both books. I haven’t read either one yet, but I can definitely recommend the author.

I should also note: Dr. Adams had no part in this endorsement. I haven’t communicated with him since 1987; and he wouldn’t remember me as a student in one of his classes at NKU more than three decades ago.

He probably wouldn’t even welcome this endorsement/recommendation. In fact, I rather suspect that he’d be mildly horrified. But I’m going to make the endorsement/recommendation  anyway. Like I said, Dr. Adams was one of the best instructors I had during my college years.

‘Big Sky’ season 2

I’m enjoying Season 2 of Big Sky, ABC’s crime drama based on The Highway series of novels by C.J. Box.

This show features two persistent lady sleuths, an interesting Montana setting, and lots of nasty, nasty villains.

Speaking of villains, Brian Geraghty is back for Season 2 as Ronald Pergman, the momma’s boy from hell.

I give Big Sky my highest recommendation. Don’t miss it.

Kindle Vella: first impressions

Kindle Vella is Amazon’s newest subscription e-reading program. Several of you have asked me via email if I plan to write new stories for it.

I might start with the basic question: What the heck is Vella? Vella is a serial fiction platform. The best analogy I can think of for US readers is Wattpad, which seems to be mostly oriented toward teenage girls (given the prevalence of YA romance stories there). Online serial fiction is not especially popular among adult readers in the United States (yet), though it is popular with adult readers in Asia, especially those in China.

At least one major Chinese web novel publisher is now actively targeting the US market. Wattpad, moreover, has become a major online publisher within the YA romance niche.

I suspect that Vella is Amazon’s way of trying to eat the lunch of Wattpad and the Chinese web novel publishers. The creation of a paid platform for web fiction has some complicated aspects, of course; but it would be easy enough for Amazon.

You can’t read stories on Kindle Vella just yet. Kindle Vella has yet to be unveiled to readers, though Amazon is encouraging publishers to create content for it in advance of the launch.

Michael Kozlowski of Good E-Reader has done a detailed write-up of the fine print. There are some positive points: Vella will allow readers to get the first few chapters free, and the “pay as you go” system should discourage many of the scams that have plagued Kindle Unlimited.

On the downside, Vella content must be exclusive not just to Amazon, but to the Vella program itself. If a writer wants to republish a serialized story as a complete book, she will have to take it out of Vella.

Then there is the question (which Kozlowski raises) of whether or not Vella is likely to be a hit with readers. As Kozlowski notes, Amazon’s 2012 Kindle Serials program languished in obscurity and was eventually discontinued. But that was almost a decade ago. That’s a long, long time in  publishing.

I have mixed feelings about all this. My writing dream was born in the 1980s, when “writing” meant writing a book that would (hopefully) find its way to a shelf at Waldenbooks. Nowadays, most of my readers get my books on Amazon Kindle (though I do sell quite a few paperbacks some months).

I’m not opposed to the idea of digital serials, but I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach to Kindle Vella. I want to see how Amazon rolls it out and promotes it first.

I have also flirted with the idea of serializing a few long-form stories here on my site. Don’t get me wrong: I love Amazon, as a reader, writer, and general consumer. (I just ordered some vitamins for my dad from Amazon.) But I don’t want all of my content to be exclusive to one company and one website. That would be a bad business strategy. And exclusivity tends to be the first rule of play with all of these Amazon programs.