Wednesday, March 31, 2021

WRW: Breaking Bad


For WRITERS' ROOM WEDNESDAY, we're visiting the BREAKING BAD folks.

Read some

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Nasty Against Nasty

While I await the epic fight that I'm sure we'll see in the coming Godzilla vs. Kong (which I hope I like as much as I liked the old King Kong vs. Godzilla as a child), I am thinking of the battle I saw presented when I watched I Care a Lot the other night.  

There's Rosamund Pike as the "lioness" Marla Grayson, who works the system to get court-appointed guardianship over helpless and affluent retirees so that she can get them consigned to assisted-living facilities and strip them of all their assets.  Not admirable, but she does what she does with such sociopathic skill and ferocity, not to mention sheer ballsiness, that you can't help but be impressed by her.  She has had a successful run for quite some time, apparently, and lives a stylish and comfortable life with her partner both professional and personal, Fran (played by Elisa Gonzalez).  With the unwitting aid of a clueless judge and the purposeful help from people in this world -- a doctor willing to make false diagnoses of dementia, an assisted living facility chief who aids Marla in isolating the unwitting seniors sent his way -- Marla has everything in place to keep accruing the wealth she is so keen on accumulating.  But then she works her scam on a woman named Jennifer, Dianne Wiest, and this particular elderly woman not only has all her faculties, but is not as alone in the world as Marla and her cohorts, despite their research into Jennifer's past, thought. Jennifer has a connection to a person who turns out to be a Russian gangster, and this gangster, in the person of Peter Dinklage, is as ruthless as Marla, as determined to "win" as Marla is.

I can't remember the last time I saw a gleefully nasty black comedy, but I Care a Lot is certainly one.  Do you enjoy a movie that pits one cold and unscrupulous person against an icy, albeit thoughtful, gangster?  If you do, you should like this.  And you can never go wrong with Dianne Wiest, whose character for a good stretch knows more than Marla does and whose secretive chuckle makes you chuckle with her. 

In Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike was totally committed to her character, and that movie played much more as a dark comedy on marriage than any sort of mystery or thriller.  Once again, in I Care a Lot, she's pitch-perfect, and as I watched, I was thinking how this kind of person is in some ways more unsettling than the proverbial tv and film serial killer. There are more people like Marla floating around the world, working their grifts and harming people, than serial killers.  And I won't give away the end, but let's just say that overall the film follows its basic premise through to its logical conclusion.  The Marlas of the world and the outwardly respectable gangsters of the world are doing quite well these days, and there are plenty of media venues for them, with their gleaming smiles, to talk up and promote their businesses. We are doing the planet a world of good, they say, and their media enablers nod approvingly.

Hard not to like a film that leaves you both laughing and with a slightly bitter taste in your mouth.

Monday, March 29, 2021

UNLOADED: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns


With recent, horrific gun related murders as a backdrop, our society continues to argue about gun violence. The call for commonsense laws and local community efforts to raise awareness about gun safety is a starting point, but a point we should have been at years, if not decades, ago.

On the fifth anniversary of its publication, Do Some Damage takes a look back at the ground-breaking, Anthony nominated anthology UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS and the equally popular follow-up, released in 2018, UNLOADED VOLUME 2.

Both collections were edited by Eric Beetner and authors for the first collection included; J.L. Abramo, Patricia Abbott, Trey R. Barker, Alec Cizak, Joe Clifford, Reed Farrel Coleman, Angel Luis Colón, Hilary Davidson, Paul J. Garth, Alison Gaylin, Kent Gowran, Rob Hart, Jeffery Hess, Grant Jerkins, Joe R. Lansdale, S.W. Lauden, Tim O’Mara, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Pitts, Thomas Pluck, Keith Rawson, Kelli Stanley, Ryan Sayles, and Holly West. While bestselling authors E.A. Aymar, Chris Holm, Dana King, Nick Kolakowski, Lori Rader-Day, Bill Crider, Laura McHugh, James R. Tuck, Scott Loring Sanders, James Ziskin, John Rector, Sara Paretsky, and many more contributed to UNLOADED VOLUME 2.

All the writers provided their stories for free, and the proceeds from both anthologies were and continue to be donated to States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization that supports gun violence prevention groups across the country.

The main objective of these two anthologies, both featuring tales of suspense, crime, and mystery, but no guns, is to draw the reader in with the action, tense story line, and pace they are used to from crime tales. With a variety of settings featured, the point that violent crimes can and will happen everywhere is effectively driven home. That violence can be unintentional, planned or fueled by rage is secondary to the tragic mark it leaves on the characters.

The collections speak to how the stories, with or without guns and much like society, will continue to thrill even in the absence of guns. In fact, when the crutch of a gun is removed, the writers create plenty of wicked ways to end a life; baseball bats, incinerators, trains, and cash registers. And the plots are interesting and hair-raising, as well; think a simian on the loose, a dying serial killer out for one last thrill, or androids with buried secrets. All of the stories are creative and dynamic, featuring traditional and non-traditional protagonists up to their necks in trouble and willing to go to extremes to come out on top.

These are tough tales, brutal stories that will leave the reader thoughtful and unnerved. A highly suggested collection with quite a bit to say about our society.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Two Giants, and How One Paved the Way for the Other

By Claire Booth

I was scrolling through the news Friday night when I saw one thing. And right below it, another. Beverly Cleary died. Larry McMurtry died.

Two giants in the world of writers, who couldn’t be more different. He wrote tomes as varied as Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment. She wrote almost exclusively for children and young adults. He was mostly identified with Westerns and his “unromantic” (the New York Times’s word) view of that facet of American history. She reveled in the everydayness of being a kid and took on current issues. 

He won a Pulitzer.

She sold 85 million books.

He was 84.

She was 104.

So she came first. And I mean that as more than an observation about their ages.

If you went on to reading someone like McMurtry, you probably started with Henry Huggins, or Ramona the Brave. Especially if you’re from my Gen X cohort. If you fell in love with reading, if you identified with characters in a book, there’s a very good chance it’s because of Cleary. I remember reading the Ramona books and thinking, “This could’ve been written by a kid,” which when you’re a kid, is the highest praise possible.

And if you’ve experienced reading that good—that relatable—of course you’re going to seek out more. I didn’t arrive at McMurtry until adulthood, but his characters are just as universal. Which is the key to great literature. Which was what they both produced, to the benefit of generations of readers—of all ages.


Saturday, March 27, 2021

The First Taste of a New Series is Delightful: Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop by Darci Hannah


Scott D. Parker

As an outsider looking in, there appeared to be certain cliches associated with cozy mysteries. Up until now, just a few books into what I'm calling Cozy College, I had not encountered any of those cliches. Well, with Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop by Darci Hannah, they are all mostly here, and it started with the book description.

"After catching her celebrity chef fiancé sizzling in the arms of another woman, Lindsey Bakewell left big city Wall Street for small town Beacon Harbor, Michigan, to pursue her own passion as a pastry baker--and gets mixed up in someone's sweet taste of revenge."

The rest of the description is just as puntastic as that opener and it truly sets the stage for what I consider my first traditional cozy mystery. Even John McDougall, the curator of Murder by the Book's Cozy Corner subscription service--in which you get a new cozy mystery per month--comments on the cliches in his write-up. And I'll be honest: before enrolling in Cozy College, I would have rarely picked up this book and, if I had, the description would have made me roll my eyes. Now, however, It made me chuckle and I happily dove into the book.

Lindsey is a pretty fun narrator. She tells the story in first person so you get to hear her inner thoughts as she meets all the characters in Beacon Harbor. She buys an old lighthouse and she and her dog, Wellington, move in and set up shop. Her neighbor is Rory Campbell, a local hunk, ex-military, who is writing a book. The pair meet when Wellington takes a bite out of Rory's caught fish. Sparks ignite and the romantic sub-plot ensues. Betty Vanhoosen is the local realtor who sold the lighthouse to Lindsey yet neglected to mention a certain ghost that may or may not be haunting the lighthouse. Kennedy Kapoor is Lindsey's best friend. Kennedy is an uppity fashion and food blogger with her own podcast who stands out in small town Michigan just like Lindsey did when she moved there. Not only does Kennedy have Lindsey's back, but she also is at odds with Sir Hancelot, her pet name for Rory.

Something struck me as I was reading the chapters in the first section of the book: wasn't this supposed to be a murder mystery? I got lost in all the ins and outs of setting up the bakery and meeting the characters that I actually forgot. Finally, when the death occurs--it's her ex-fiance's new girlfriend who arrived in town to disrupt the bakeshop's opening day--it came out of the blue. (Yes, it's on the back cover description, but I hadn't read it since I started the book. One of my little quirks in reading a story is not to go back to the description time and again while I'm reading the actual book. It helps me with the verisimilitude.) But the dead woman is an outsider. If this book follows the true traditional mystery pattern, there will be more bodies.

And there are.

I read and watch so many mysteries with professional detectives that I'd forgotten what it was like to have an amateur sleuth be the lead. Absent is Lindsey with a badge, but present is Lindsey with intuition and a nose for asking the right questions. In fact, there is a little taste from the Sherlock Holmes stories here, with a police force slightly behind our lead character. It added a bit of spice to the mix and I enjoyed it.

The resolution I found nicely surprising and satisfying. Perhaps I wasn't reading closely, but it came out of the blue for me. Other readers might pick up on clues better than I did. What I also appreciated was the supporting cast. Another assumption I made about cozies was that they were populated by over-the-top, eccentric characters. In Hannah's book, I didn't find that. Sure there were some character tropes in play--especially with British-accented Kennedy and snobby Betty in the audio version* narrated by Amy Melissa Bentley--but all the folks in this story came across as real people. It was refreshing and fun.

The best thing about the Cozy Corner subscription service via Murder by the Book** is that you don't know what book you're receiving. It's like a birthday present each month. Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop was the February 2021 selection. As I mentioned before, it was a book with a style and a tone I likely would have just passed over earlier in my reading life. Now that I've read it, I happily look forward to the next book in charming series.

*Interestingly, the audio version has a different image for its cover.


**I highly recommend the Cozy Corner subscription service. It's only $99 (slightly more if you want to have the books shipped to you). There are two other subscription options available. Check the website for details.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Beau Johnson and antagonizing antagonists


This week, Beau takes a look at The Unrepentant by E.A.Aymar

Eighteen-year old Charlotte Reyes ran away from an abusive home only to end up tricked, kidnapped, and taken across the country by criminals. Charlotte manages to escape with the help of a reluctant former soldier named Mace Peterson, but she can't seem to shake the gang or the crooked cop paid to bring her back--alive or otherwise. With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, Charlotte realizes she only has one option. She has to fight.

Set in the Virginia, Maryland, D.C. triangle, The Unrepentant combines page-gripping action and black comedy, and provides a no-holds-barred, necessary examination of the dark corners of the human mind.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Scout Tafoya on the Films of Tobe Hooper

Scott's Note:  Scout Tafoya is the writer this week, and I'm excited he is.  For the last few years, Scout has been doing some of the best film writing anywhere.  He's written for venues such as The Los Angeles Review of Books and Kinoscope and he's a regular contributor at  His ongoing video essay series on the web, "The Unloved", looks at films that haven't gotten the attention or respect they perhaps deserve.  It's somewhat in the spirit of "The Unloved" that Scout has written a book on the work of filmmaker Tobe Hooper.  There's a lot more to Hooper than the man who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it's safe to say that no one yet has written anything that takes in Hooper's entire career like Scout's book does.

So, to talk about the book and why he wrote it, here's Scout:

As you age, some of the movies from your youth age with you. And some stay rooted in the exact spot where you first encountered them. They don’t become ideologically complicated, they don’t reveal new things, they don’t communicate anymore about their directors or you, the adult watching a movie to mark a thirty-year anniversary of an event that should mean more to you.

I was fortunate that I had my pick of great art as a kid. My dad, Dennis Tafoya, would publish his first crime novel when I was in college, and together he and my mom, Jill Steelman, watched just about anything, and let it be known to their three kids that they loved art of every stripe. We saw them enjoy everything from Happy Gilmore to Trainspotting, the music of The Gypsy Kings, Tom Waits, Tool, and Enya. High and low culture mixed with abandon, but there was an attempt to get us to understand the difference even if consuming one or the other was never discouraged. When I discovered Italian horror, it came with a warning from my dad about its relative quality. He wasn’t wrong either: it took me something like a full decade to get over my own allergy to the formal considerations and how the best films were defined by a complete embrace of style over plotting.

When I asked them, having heard the name in any of a hundred possible places (maybe in one of the dozen horror movie reference guides that littered our house, maybe as one of a hundred clips chosen for the movie Terror in the Aisles, which I watched more than once back then), if they’d rent The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for me, there was, I recall, a little hemming and hawing before eventual acquiescence. After all, I’d say through Dawn of the Dead, Pumpkinhead, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Alligator, could this movie, older than all of them, hold anything I hadn’t seen before?  Some weeks later, after finding that neither Blockbuster nor Hollywood video had the VHS of Chain Saw, we drove to the dusty mom and pop video shop in the weird part of our small town and retrieved it.

I bragged to all of the neighbor kids I’d be watching it, seduced no doubt by the promise of extreme violence (none of us were strangers to the gory extremes of movies, whether in the flashes of cruelty in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park movies or in the to-us perplexing From Dusk Til Dawn or indeed in the Hooper directed Poltergeist which was just a movie to us - I didn’t know what a director did unless Michael Mann was behind the camera - it took me years to fully GET IT), but when I walked to the bus stop the morning after having seen it, they could see the look on my face was not one of having peeled back the curtain of the adult pleasures of cinema a few inches further. No, I looked confused. Upset. Just what was that movie, with its shrieking hysteria in place of a third act, its sweaty psychological realism, its pathetic, despised cast of characters spoiled by the things I hadn’t yet been taught to expect? It had delivered everything in its lurid title, but I still felt cheated.

Years would pass before a viewing of Alien 3 on television would hook me on the idea of a movie genuinely embracing the randomness of fate not simply as plot but as an ethos. The hopelessness of that movie got stuck in my head like a song with a great verse and no chorus. In high school, my dad got me Joe Bob Briggs’ Profoundly Disturbing and I read the piece on Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw with renewed curiosity and something like pride. I didn’t know half of the grotesque titles the book unpacked, but I’d survived Texas Chain Saw as no more than a boy. Maybe now was the time to learn what I’d missed.

I bought the DVD and the first in a long series of rewatches began. I’d have friends over and we’d watch it again. By the time I graduated high school, I’d probably watched the movie 20 times. An interesting thing then happened, which was as I grew not simply to admire but really to love Texas Chain Saw, I did what I always did with directors I loved (this was right when the Internet was becoming reliable as a replacement for film reference guides) – I went looking for more proof of their genius. I found none.

I’d look up reviews of horror movies to wipe away the hours at either dreadful summer jobs or on train rides to class, and Hooper’s name came up only fitfully. I’d be midway through a review of a film that combined all three Hammer Quatermass movies and then... it was directed by whomst?! Wait wait wait, how did he go from A to B? And how had he fallen so low that his mid-90s Stephen King adaptation was somehow prized beneath the shockingly dull likes of The Stand, The Green Mile, and The Langoliers? I guess he hit rock bottom somewhere in there. I’d turn on the Sci-Fi channel sleeplessly in the middle of the night and there would be Mortuary, beautiful and upsetting but looking...well normal and good. Like a regular horror movie! How...? What...? Just what the hell goes on here?

I remembered the Masters of Horror series on Showtime clear as day, and there was an odd tension there as well. Hooper had been invited, good, sure, checks out, but everyone seemed to agree his were the worst? What? How? I felt like I’d woken up in a "Sound of Thunder"-style selectively reimagined alternate history where the director of the best horror film of all time was regarded as some bottom-feeding hack who lost his touch whenever he stepped too far from the warm glow of Texas Chain Saw’s reputation. What bothered me was that every time I tucked into these supposed banquets of bad choices and failing instincts, I saw the same guy who directed Texas Chain Saw, a movie that hadn’t stopped growing and indeed started to look more and more like Citizen Kane to me in that it subsumed the whole 20th century and then doomed its genius creator to a life in its shadow. Lifeforce? His Quatermass compendium? One of the most gorgeous and narratively expedient genre films of the Bush 1980s, teeming with classy elements (a first-rate cast of British stage talent, a score by none other than Henry Mancini!) brought low by Hooper’s fearlessness before the trashy source novel. Those masters of horror movies? Sweltering navigations of curdled counter cultural instincts that had led to 20 years of grandstanding rotting corpse republican governance turning the world undead as it rode glittering military tech to ticker tape parades. As in Mortuary, Hooper saw the GOP infecting the people, the land, the sky, everything it touched with its “good old days”.  Rhetoric of a return to norms while the flesh was melted off the bones of their opponents – foreign policy at least as old as the Vietnam war he none too subtly opposes in both Eggshells, his study of a Texas commune, and The Song is Love, his concert doc featuring a show stopping performance from the unlikely likes of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Like Hooper they too stuffed their classic-leaning art with a bitter anger at the status quo. And The Mangler? The first viewing I saw a gorgeously overwrought failure tangled in bad prose trying nevertheless to say something about capitalism. The second viewing I saw a modern Max Ophuls forgoing realism for an exploded tour of genre’s response to warfare through mechanized sensation. The third viewing I had a new favorite movie.

I pitched the Hooper book to a fledgling critical press that had already published work by writers I love like Tina Hassannia, but they were out of business by the time Hooper died. I took the chapter on The Mangler and adapted it to make a video essay to eulogize him on, but it still felt like a profound sadness that I kept aging with these movies and would never be able to tell the world what I saw in them. I wanted Hooper to have a permanent place on bookshelves in libraries and universities the world over. He meant that much to me. And every rejection from every publisher I asked (I lost count, but it was at least 30) just felt again like the culture was trying to bury him so deep no one could ever find him let alone re-examine a career filled with dreadful reviews and disappointing box office returns. Hooper died with his career in a bad place, and as with Welles, it felt like people wanted it to stay there.

And then when Covid happened I was talking to my friend Nell Minow about the movie Two for the Road, and at the end of our conversation, she mentioned in passing that she ran a publishing firm and did I maybe want to write a book during quarantine? As it happened...I already had one. Thankfully, in the interim, the rest of Hooper’s work that I hadn’t been able to see when first writing the book had found its way online, and I was able to add to the book and make it a much more thorough portrait of his artistry. I still can’t believe it finally happened and I’ve got a copy sitting a few feet away from me. It will, if nothing else, always be the first book I wrote and fought hard for years to publish. The kid who saw Texas Chain Saw is still in there somewhere, obstinate and proud, trying to explain to everyone at the bus stop what he’d seen the night before. The differences are many, and now I know exactly what I saw: one of the great works of art by one of the great American films artists, one of a few dozen and yet unlike anything else ever made.

You can get Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper right here.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Vacation Day

It’s the first weekend of spring and sunny and beautiful and the parks are full of dogs and kids’ sports games. So I’m going to bail on you this weekend. I'll be back soon.

Enough with the flowers--where's my walk?

Saturday, March 20, 2021

How Long Until the Murder?

by Scott D. Parker

It's funny how various things show up at around the same time.

I'm reading the February book from Murder by the Book's Cozy Corner, MURDER AT THE BEACON BAKESHOP by Darci Hannah. It is the kind of book I expected when I thought of cozy mysteries: a woman discovers her cheating fiancee, leaves her cushy New York financial job, moves to Michigan, buys a lighthouse, and opens a bakery in a small town. 

The story is good and there is a lot of talk about the buying of things needed for the bakeshop, the meeting of the side characters, the preparing for opening day, and things like that. But there was a thought in the back of my mind: this is a mystery, right? Isn't there supposed to be a murder?

There is, of course, and it came more or less around the two-hour mark (I also checked out the audiobook from the library and listen to it when I'm doing home things and return to the physical book at night). I remember frowning. The murder didn't take place until the one-quarter mark? That's interesting, especially in light of the seeming penchant for modern novels to kill off a character really quickly, usually in chapter one. 

Compare that with your average Perry Mason TV episode. After I read a great article about the joy of Perry Mason, I ended up watching a few. Instead of laboriously reading all the descriptions over the nine seasons and the twenty-five plus episodes per season, I let the random number generator help me. It spit out a random number between one and nine to get the season, and then another random number between one and thirty to get the episode number. And I didn't even read the description. I just let the chosen episode play.

I watched three Perry Mason episodes this past week, all from the latter part of the series. In each, Perry barely, if at all, showed up in the beginning. Instead, we get what amounts to a twenty-minute build-up to the murder with all of the new characters. Only after the murder occurred does Perry swoop in and defend the accused. Heck, these episodes don't even bother with the hiring process. It's just a fade-in to the courtroom. 

So, by reading this one book and watching a trio of Perry Mason episodes, I discovered something new to me: the murder doesn't have to occur on page/chapter one. It's perfectly acceptable to introduce the characters and show their interactions before things get dire. In fact, in some styles of books, it might even be preferred.

All of this played into my current manuscript. I reached a natural stopping point and I printed it out. I gave it to a pair of early readers and asked them to read strictly for flow. It seemed like the story was flowing well, but the exciting parts, while the legwork was being built, were still a little bit in the future. Did the slow build work?

One of the early readers came back with a question: where was the next chapter? "Not written yet," was my reply. Well, get to it then was her last remark. She enjoyed the story so far and she understood the flow. We talked over my outline and I realized many of the next few scenes really didn't have to occur on screen. My main character--and reader--can experience those scenes from afar.

It was a huge boost of confidence for the manuscript and a coincidental bit of learning from Perry Mason and Darci Hannah. A new wrinkle in my ongoing and never-ending writer's education. 

What about y'all? Do you hold off killing off characters until deeper into the book or do you have them early in the book?

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Speaking of the unspeakable


This week, Beau presents UNSPEAKABLE THINGS from Jess Lourey.

Cassie McDowell's life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents' strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she's grown accustomed to them.

All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.

One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed--violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who's responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie's own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

One Year Later

By Scott Adlerberg

Last year on this day, March 16th, I went to work in the morning like on any other day and found out as soon as I got to work that I would not be returning to the office the next day or anytime definite.  That's the day, without warning, an announced lockdown began and teleworking started. Covid had been spreading in New York and the country for a month or so, and everyone at work had expected a withdrawal from the office announcement at some point.  We just hadn't thought the announcement would be made so abruptly and with 8 hours to gather and order everything we needed to begin working full time at home.

Like everyone else, I had no idea that 366 days later, I'd still be working at home and the country and world, to all appearances at least, would just now be making legitimate headway against the spread of the virus.

No need here to go into all the loss and sadness people have experienced during this past year.  As someone who lives in New York City, I've seen my share, not so much in the way of people I know who've died (I know several who have gotten sick, as everyone, I'm sure, does), but in the magnitude of the losses to businesses and establishments of every conceivable kind.  I've lost track by now of how many bars and restaurants I like, or just have walked past for years without even frequenting, that have shut down for good in the last year.  Eventually, new places will pop up, and in some cases, they already are.  A large sports bar near my house that I used to go to sometimes closed during the pandemic (and no surprise considering its size; the rent the owners paid must have been high), but already a new pub has just opened in the same location.  I'm sure I'll swing by when I feel comfortable enough to do so, probably sometime after I get my vaccination shots.  Watching new bars and restaurants and stores pop up in the spaces that were occupied by places that became casualties of the lockdowns will be a bittersweet experience, but such is the way it is, I suppose, after such things as wars and pandemics.  

Between the usual cold and the pandemic conditions, it has felt like a long winter.  We're still in the days of dodgy March weather here, a warm day followed by three cold ones, followed by a mild one, and so on, with no predictability to the pattern, but once the spring sets in for real, I'll enjoy getting outside again and doing a lot of biking and walking.  In Brooklyn, in Manhattan, all over, it will be interesting, if not always uplifting, to become reacquainted with New York.  I suspect that to some extent that is what it will feel like, a rediscovery.  I've been inside so much the last year, I feel a little bit exiled from once very familiar surroundings, though I doubt that's a unique feeling.  I suspect it's common to many, wherever people live. This spring and summer, I'm eager to reconnect with this ravaged but enduring city.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Saving Women


"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." —Margaret Atwood

Sarah Everard

Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, left a friend’s house in south London at 9pm on March 3. She was on her way home to Brixton. It was a walk that should have taken less than an hour. Security camera footage shows her as she passed a residential street at 9.30pm. She was wearing bright colors and talking on the phone to her boyfriend, she stuck to main roads, seemingly following the rules all women know in order to stay safe.

Sarah never made it home. On Tuesday, a male London Metro Police officer was arrested in connection to her disappearance. A woman, the officer’s wife, was also arrested on suspicion of assisting him but soon released on bail. On Wednesday Sarah Everard was found dead in a wooded area not far from the suspect’s house, 55 miles from her own home.

Why has the heartbreaking and seemingly random murder of Sarah Everard sparked a worldwide call for justice? Because most women know there are very few random attacks on women. Victim and offender may not know each other, but the crime is not accidental. Crimes against women are anything but chance. How can it be chance when a great portion of the men in this world are taught to objectify women and rationalize their own baser wants? Violence against women is a consequence.

Nature and anatomy determine the physical difference between men and women. That men are often larger and stronger benefits them. Anatomy allows that men can hold power over women and control them. It is societal attitudes and norms that tell men whether they should or not.

An inability to move past outdated ways of thinking with regards to gender is one way in which society continues to fail women. A stubborn adherence to traditional gender roles, usually with women in positions of weakness, frees men to treat women with little thought or respect. Men are considered more aggressive, while women should be passive, and therefore a man who pressures a woman to have sex is acting as anticipated. When a man bullies, pushes or forces he is acting as expected. And because it has always been this way, men who sexually assault often believe they are entitled to behave this way. Perpetrators believe it is their right.

And what of women’s rights? Sarah’s murder has inspired women to share how far they have to go to protect themselves. These are depressing and exhausting lessons passed on from mothers and sisters. Don’t walk alone at night. Carry keys between your fingers, like a knife. Don’t dress too sexy. Don’t wear high heels. Don’t yell rape, yell fire.

It all becomes too much and often it seems best to stay inside where it’s safe. But the ugly truth is many women who are murdered are killed by husbands or partners. Domestic violence has worsened with the pandemic. In the first month after a lockdown was imposed in the UK murders related to domestic abuse tripled compared to 2019 figures, while calls to domestic abuse services jumped by 50 percent. It seems that even home isn’t safe.

Tiffany Michelle Yellardy 

There are so many victims. On March 10, in my neighborhood, 37-year-old Tiffany Michelle Yellardy was found dead in her home. Her teenage daughter discovered her body. Tiffany was murdered by her husband.

On March 13, across town, home security footage picked up the images of a woman being assaulted and abducted in the street. You hear her screams for help and how she begs for the male attacker to leave her alone. She was later found alive and a man arrested for domestic assault.

Male entitlement, misogyny, and violence against women are all alive and well and walking the streets around us, raising ugly fists. There are so many pieces to this puzzle that at times it seems impossible to attempt, but we need to change. Too many women are dying.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Do We Have Too Much Stuff?


Scott D. Parker

Note: this post uses television as an example, but the same could be said of books, movies, comics, and music.

Most Saturday mornings, I go back in time.

Saturday is the day the rest of the family sleeps in. I do, too, considering my weekday mornings I wake around 5:15 am to write. But on Saturdays, I still wake up at the latest by 7:30. The house is quiet, the coffee's made, and the dogs are fed. I run over to my favorite do-nut shop, Shipley's, a Houston institution I've known all my life, pick up a plain glaze and a cherry filled, and return home to watch Saturday morning cartoons.

Now, it's not always cartoons. I watched WandaVision on Saturday mornings. Ditto for Star Trek: Picard and The Mandalorian. Mostly it's because I have the house to myself but also it's just kind of fun to have that Saturday morning vibe like most of us did back in the day when that was the one day of the week with programming targeted directly at kids.

Another thing that's really helped this vibe is MeTV's broadcast of Saturday morning cartoons. For three hours, they show Popeye cartoons (I'm asleep for that), Tom and Jerry/MGM cartoons (I get half of that because of my wake-up time), and a Looney Tunes block. For the Looney Tunes, they even run the opener from the 1970s, a nice reminder of childhood you don't get when these shows are streamed or on DVD.

For the past few weeks, after that week's WandaVision episode, I've added in an episode from the 1977 New Adventures of Batman. This is the Filmation show featuring the return of Adam West and Burt Ward to the roles they made famous in the 1966 TV show. And yeah, this is the series with Bat-Mite. I have the entire run on DVD.  

This being the 21st Century, historical background for this show is only an Internet search away. Turns out only 16 episodes were made. They were first broadcast from 12 February to 28 May 1977. I remember being very excited about this show. I'd watch every Saturday morning with, you guessed it, Shipley's do-nuts.

The key fact of this series is the number of episodes. Sixteen. But this series ran in some combination until 1981. That's six years of reruns. Six years of wondering which episode would air and, over time, memorizing the events of each episode. Then again, when I first bought the DVD a few years ago and watched the series for the first time in thirty something years, I didn't remember much of it.

By the time Batman: The Animated Series debuted in 1992, there were a couple dozens episodes per season and, while there were some reruns, they were fewer because there were so many episodes. The likelihood of coming across any given episode was much smaller than the 1977 series. Ditto for The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and Friends (although Friends almost gets a pass on this because the show is now broadcast in reruns on multiple channels and you can ingest many more episodes on any given week).

Now our television habits have evolved to streaming services. And boy are there a lot of them. Within most streaming services are smaller niches. Just Brady Bunch or just Perry Mason or just CSI shows. For example, HBO Max has a DC Comics section where you can watch The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and any number of DC-related films. It's an embarrassment of riches considering that which we had back in the day. In fact, you could mainline any one of these series and watch little else.

But there is so much stuff to watch.

We are not constrained by the sixteen episodes the network broadcast over and over again. If we wanted to watch Batman on TV back then, your options were few. If you want to watch Batman on TV in 2021, you could fill up a few weeks in a row you could fill up watching only Batman. Or Marvel. Or any number of the things we dreamed about when we were kids.

We live in a Golden Age of Television. The content we have is so broad, rich, and with depth. But there is a lot of it. A lot. It's difficult to keep up. I might even go so far as to say almost impossible given how we live our lives nowadays: work, school, family obligations, and everything else. If you're like me and you chat about TV with friends and family, how many times do you arrive at a show you both have watched?

Now, you might think that I'm just a Gen Xer complaining about modern life. I'm not. I'm happy to have all the choices available to us. It's fantastic and there's always something to watch.

But how many of us dig deep into a series like we used to?

Yes, there are some like WandaVision or The Mandalorian or Sherlock or Game of Thrones which get the deep dive. There's probably more I don't watch that have devoted fans that pore over every detail of a show. But I think the casual awareness of shows has dwindled with the rise of cable TV and streaming. With so many choices begging for our attention comes a dilution of common content. Back the day, we all were more or less aware of the exploits of Happy Days, The Simpson, Friends, Grey's Anatomy, Modern Family, and CSI. Now? Not so much, especially if the hot show is on a streaming service you don't buy.

Or maybe all of this is on me. Maybe I'm the oddball now. Maybe I'm the guy who doesn't watch and re-watch the same content all the time because there's always something more to watch. Maybe I've become my parents.

Do you reach an age in which the obsession over a property just wanes or never materializes like it used to? Perhaps, but I think it also boils down to time.

When we were kids, there was loads of time to fill and not a lot of content with which to fill it. Now, kids probably have a similar amount of time to kill but so many more choices. As for us adults, our time has now dwindled to the point where, for me, I'm down to an hour of non-news TV a day on weekdays. And when all my favorite shows are an hour--New Amsterdam, Resident Alien, Prodigal Son, Clarice, Superman and Lois--I'm down to a show a night. So when I'm actually consuming only one show a night, it's difficult to find the time to re-watch a show. Thus, I find myself in a steady stream of one-time viewings. Hard to remember lots of details that way.

I guess that's the main problem. I just don't have the time.

Unless I had a time machine.