Sunday, March 27, 2016

I Sing the Body Electric -- A Review

But first please click on and read I Sing the Body Electric. No, you don't have to read the whole book. It's a collection of short fiction. And this link takes you to just the first part of the first short story "The Kilimanjaro Device," but you'll get-it. This reminds me all over again why I am such a Ray Bradbury fan.

If you read this review first, you will miss the joy of discovery, the ah has, and the satisfaction of getting-it.

Much of Bradbury's fiction has been adapted for the screen -- both great and small. "The Kilimanjaro Device" was an episode on the old Twilight Zone television series. You can find it on Netflix or Amazon Prime, but beware. Twilight Zone is one of those series you can lose a whole evening binge watching. Though I think that watching this story as opposed to reading it, could deprive you of one of its most important facets.

If you've read it before, read it again just for the enjoyment. And then, if you're a writer, read it again analytically.

If I'd read Body Electric before, it was a long time ago and I'd forgotten it. And if it was a long time ago, it was before I had classes with William Bernhardt, so it's safe to say that I did not read it analytically. I may not even have "got-it."

My husband is a voracious reader and watches Barnes and Nobles' Nook sales religiously. He likes free and cheap. Yesterday B&N had I Sing the Body Electric on sale for 99 cents and he told me I should buy it. He knows that I read short fiction as resource material for improving my own writing, and who better to teach me how to write short fiction than Ray Bradbury?

Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite writers. I love stories with a twist, a surprise, and an inside joke that I get.

I was just finishing Career of Evil, the third in J. K. Rowling's crime novels written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith so I put Body Electric on the back burner. I'll soon have a review on Ms. Rowling's Cormoran Strike series. 

And finish it I did. Then I had no book to take to bed with me. A good book helps me to go to sleep. (Or keep me awake, as the case may be.) So I turned to Bradbury's I Sing the Body Electric. 


He opens the book with a quote from Walt Whitman. Be still my heart. That is a sure method of hooking me. And the first short story is "The Kilimanjaro Device." 

Now, I do not usually read reviews before I read a book, so I was not aware this was a time-machine story. Not that that would have kept me away, it's just that having read The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, I am automatically prejudiced against anyone's attempt to write time travel. They couldn't possibly come up to her high standards. 

(Yes, I know I have lots of irrational prejudices. But isn't that the definition of 'prejudice?' And I know it, so that's why I don't read reviews before I read the story. Think how many good stories I'd miss.)

What was immediately apparent, however, is that "The Kilimanjaro Device" is written in the first person. Another of my prejudices.

Using simplistic, unadorned language, the narrator recounts arriving in the area of Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho, after a long road trip. At this point, I was disappointed. This was not the Ray Bradbury I loved.

And then, and then!

 The narrator talks about being a 'reader' not a reporter. He's looking for an 'old man.' The old man who wrote 'Michigan stories' and the 'Spanish stories.' The stories about fishing and bull fighting. But he is adamantly not looking for the grave.

Okay, here's the twist. He's looking for Hemingway, who is dead and buried.

And there's another twist as he talks about 'right deaths' and 'wrong deaths.' 'Right graves' and 'wrong graves.'

What he does not say in the story but I know is that in the summer of 1961, Hemingway shot himself to death at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, and was buried there. I was a young teen and I did not yet know that famous writers committed suicide. I'd never heard of Ketchum, Idaho. A 'wrong death' and a 'wrong grave.'

And then Bradbury gives us the surprise.
     "At your service," I said.
     "And when you get where you're going," said the old man, putting his hand on the door and leaning and then, seeing what he had done, taking his hand away and standing taller to speak to me, "where will you be?"
      "January 10, 1954."
      "That's quite a date," he said.

The old truck that our narrator is driving is a time machine.

      There is a mountain in Africa named Kilimanjaro, I thought. And on the western slope
      of that mountain was once found the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one
      has ever explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.
      We will put you up on that same slope, I thought, on Kilimanjaro, near the leopard, and
      write your name and under it say nobody knew what he was doing here so high, but
      here he is. And write the date born and died, and go away down toward the hot summer
      grass and let mainly dark warriors and white hunters and swift okapis know the grave.

Tote up all the "I saids" and "he saids" and the thoughts that we can see and feel and we have Bradbury's best inside joke. He's writing Hemingway!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Donald Trump -- You Do Not Speak for Me

image from

Carved on the base of The Statue of Liberty are these words:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Even these, "the least of these" are invited to this country. There are no exceptions listed here. No exclusions.

Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran minister who spent the final eight years of Germany's Third Reich in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, explained how the Holocaust could happen:

             First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
             Because I was not a Socialist.

             Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
             Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

             Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
             Because I was not a Jew.

             Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I am an American. As an American I must not silence the Donald Trumps of this country. No matter how strongly I disagree with what he says, our Constitution protects his right to say it. And I support that protection. Let him speak.

BUT I must say that I disagree! I must encourage the quiet and courteous among us to say out loud that they also disagree. I must spur the otherwise-engaged to pay attention and speak out. We cannot sit by and let the hurt or angry or fearful determine the political discourse of this Nation. Nor, indeed, the political course of this Nation.

WE, not people like him, are why this Nation is Great. We must speak out.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Shakespeare, Downton Abbey, and Banana Bread

image from Vic Trevino on Pinterest

                                                    "All the world's a stage,
                                                    And all the men and women merely players"

                                                    "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
                                                    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
                                                    And then is heard no more"

The first quote is from Shakespeare's As You Like It, classified by scholars as a Comedy. The second is from MacBeth, classified as a Tragedy. The difference my friends is that a comedy ends happily for its main characters. In Shakespeare's tragedies, they usually end up dead.

As a writer, I have a tendency to see my life as stories. Not perhaps the most pragmatic way to live, maybe not even the sanest way to live. But I'm still here.

These past few weeks have been difficult. My 90-year-old father's mind is failing. That's not unusual, unfortunately. Since I am, for all intents and purposes, responsible for his care, I've been trying to find an appropriate place for him to live.

Until last September, with a bit of help from home care givers, Daddy lived with my husband and me. That had been a good situation. Daddy has always been a social person, interested in the events of the day and the people around him and their lives. His care givers were kind, efficient, and best of all, they enjoyed visiting with him.

As his dementia worsened, it was obvious that we needed someone awake 24 hours-a-day, so he would be safe. It would have been financially prohibitive to have individual care givers around the clock, and it was too much for me. So he moved into an assisted care facility.

The facility was beautiful. He had a studio apartment and could push a button on his wrist for a care giver and they would come right away. The food was excellent -- a priority for my father. His enjoyment of food has not diminished in spite of the dementia.

Now, Daddy has always been the kind of man to get things done. He would analyze a problem, consider the options, then solve it. His natural inclination to jump-to-it has not diminished.

Therein lies the problem. He could remember to push the call button, but he couldn't remember to wait for a care giver. He's wobbly. And the disinclination to wait has led to a number of falls. None has caused injuries more serious than bruising, but injuries were inevitable if we went on this way.

Looking for a facility that offers 24-hour care was in the realm of tragedy. I would visit one. It would smell clean. The rooms were bright and cheerful. The staff were gracious and attentive, but the patients were all sitting in wheelchairs staring off into the distance.

Then a friend told me that her father had been in a residential care home. These are regular houses modified to take care of people. They have six or eight patients with trained care givers 24 hours-a-day. In the one I visited, the patients were all involved in various things. The sun had come out and a good ending to this story seemed at hand.

Before Daddy moved to his new home, he was concerned that the other people there would not "be as bad off" as he. I reassured him that some would not be and others would be worse off.

And truly that was the case. His roommate uses a walker and oxygen, still reads the daily paper and works Sudoku puzzles. One day the man was watching a television show -- on a Spanish language channel. He is not Hispanic and multilingual people are a rarity in our society. I asked him if he spoke Spanish. He looked at me as though my question made no sense at all. "No," he said. So his Sudoku puzzles may be only an entertainment in the same way. I don't know. I've not looked too closely.

When Daddy's doctor asked him if he had a roommate, Daddy surprised me by saying there was "a man who rides the same broomstick." He meant his roommate. Comedy? Daddy has always had a good sense of humor, but this was not an example of that. His confusion is advancing.

Daddy moved March 5. We moved all Daddy's stuff out of his apartment Sunday, March 6. Kind of sad really because there isn't enough room in his new bedroom for his things. He does have the really big clock that he can see in spite of his macular degeneration and the wedding picture of him and Momma and Momma's high school graduation picture.

But that night I had Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey has been my favorite TV series for all of its six years. My husband calls it a soap opera, and I suppose it is. But I care about the characters and it always seems to come out pretty much right for those characters or at least give me hope that it will. Eventually. It is the hour that I can escape my own dramas and enjoy someone else's.

The final episode. Everything changes. Everything comes to an end.

I was actually afraid that the whole thing would be tied neatly up with a shiny red bow. Words like "syrupy sweet" and "maudlin" hovered around me, threatening to undo my great regard for Fellowes' writing. How was Julian Fellowes going to end it without caving in the most Hallmarkian fashion to the public's desire that Edith be happy?

I was more concerned with Thomas. I know, I know. I adopt unlovable parrots that bite. Lovable dogs that bite. Eccentric cats that bite. I even liked Snape all the way through the Harry Potter books.

And, whether Fellowes handled it well or not (which by-the-bye, he did handle it well) the more anxiety provoking was what was I going to do with the rest of my Sunday nights?

Then, to top it all off, I decided to make a banana nut bread with the bananas Daddy had left in his apartment.

I turned on the oven to preheat, mashed the bananas, chopped the walnuts, stirred up the batter, poured it into a Pyrex baking dish that once belonged to my mother, and discovered that my oven was not heating.

Well, #$#@!

A new question -- does banana nut bread dough freeze well? Even more importantly does it bake well after being thawed?

But my husband looked it up oven repair on the internet and ordered a part. It's so nice to be married to him. Yesterday the part came and he fixed the oven.

Today is Sunday. And we have banana nut bread to eat with whatever I do with my Sunday night.

All's Well that Ends Well, not a line from a Shakespeare play, but the title. A play that the critics cannot put into a single category, but must be included in both his comedies and his tragedies. Just like life.
           Thomas in a bowler, a sure sign of success at last.        A fine loaf of banana nut bread.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Campaigns, Schmam-paigns

image from

Oh, my. Politics to the left of me. Politics to the right of me. And Peyton Manning/Brock Osweiler in the middle. I do live on the Front Range, you know. Guess I might have to tune into an infomercial.

And how does this fit in with my blog's purpose -- writing about writing? It's all life imitating fiction. Some thriller. Some Fantasy. Some mystery. Some horror...

I am a registered Democrat. In national and state-wide elections, I have almost always voted Democrat. I acknowledge that there have often been rowdy, even venomous Democrat campaigns, especially on the state level. (I'm from Oklahoma and I can think of quite a few Governor, U.S. Senate, State Attorney General, even Lieutenant Governor and Corporation Commissioner races that qualified as less than genteel, though never so vulgar as today's Republican race for presidential nominee.)

Will Rogers, another Oklahoman, once said, "I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

I still appreciate his succinct description of my party. It seems that this year's Democrat contestants uphold the tradition of differences of opinion or perception or point of view. Bernie, the idealist. Hillary, the pragmatist.

However, I'm going to have to cede to this cycle's Republicans the mantle of Most Disorganized Political Party. Indeed, they are currently authoring a state-of-being that has accelerated from disorganized to chaotic. Not to mention noisy.

We humans have short memories and think that our own time is either/and/or "the best of times ... the worst of times." Sometimes our collective memory is shorter even than a lifetime.

But division is nothing new.

Not for the Republicans. Abraham Lincoln, the first elected Republican president, was reelected on the National Union Party ticket his second time around. The Civil War was still raging and the Republican Party split in two. The other took the name Radical Democracy Party and nominated John C. Fremont of California, a supporter of general emancipation.

The Democrat Party nominated former General-in-Chief of the Union Army, George McClellan.

The outcome of the Civil War was still in doubt and McClellan supported the concept of union with slavery -- anathema to the abolitionists and the new territories who did not want slavery to spread.

Keeping in mind, all three of these candidates represented only the Union side. The Confederacy was still months away from recognizing theirs was a lost cause.

Talk about a mess!

And then there was the 1912 campaign for the Republican presidential nominee. Teddy Roosevelt had lost faith in William Howard Taft whom he had anointed his successor in the 1908 election. TedRo came back full bore. But, failing to get the Republican nomination, he headed a third party, the Progressive Party, also called the Bull Moose Party.

They lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

Third parties (other than Lincoln's, I suppose) have no history of winning presidential contests in the U.S.

Did I mention that the Democrat Party is not an organized party?

Probably the most exciting multi-party presidential campaign in my lifetime, but before I can remember, was the 1948 election which saw the Democrat Party divided three ways -- the segregationist States Rights' nominee Strom Thurmond; the liberal left Progressive Party's Henry Wallace; and the centrist Democrat incumbent Harry Truman.

A less contentious Republican Party nominated Thomas E. Dewey and with the historical precedents that divided parties lose elections the Chicago Daily Tribune went to press with this:

A victorious Harry Truman! The paper got it wrong.

Twenty years later the Democrat Party splintered again and another Wallace (this time a segregationist) headed the American Independent Party.

1968 was such a chaotic time -- Vietnam, Civil Rights, demonstrations, riots, and assassinations -- the Republican Richard Nixon, promising to restore law and order, won. (And we all know how he worked out in the world of law and order.)

In 1980, incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter's lagging popularity as President -- oil embargo, the Olympics Boycott, the Iran Hostage Crisis -- had him facing three other Democrats for the nomination.

Smelling blood in water, eight Republicans vied for the nomination. Ronald Reagan got the nod, but fellow Republican John Anderson pulled out and ran as an Independent. His defection hardly affected Reagan's win at all.

In 1992, Ross Perot's run as an Independent with the Reform Party is given credit (or blame, depending on your politics) for incumbent Republican President George H. W. Bush's loss to Democrat Bill Clinton. Perot, a billionaire who ran against Washington insidersSound familiar?

Thus endeth the history lesson for today.

So here we are in 2016. For some of us, this election cycle is a thriller with impending doom. Who'll save the day? For some a Fantasy with Utopian ambitions. For others, a mystery -- how is this happening? And for far too many, a horror too scary to even imagine.

Did I leave out comedy? Yes, I did. The humorous aspects have worn thin. I think I'll turn the TV and radio off and avoid Facebook comments.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Lincoln Letter and Mercy Street -- A conjoined review


Now you know. I spend all my time reading and watching television. NOT! But I do enjoy reading and watching television.

A peculiar synchronicity brought the American Civil War into my book/TV life this week.

I made a commitment to PBS to watch their original series Mercy Street and respond to a survey after each episode. And I've been watching Mercy Street since its January premiere.

I hate making commitments! Things always come up. Family responsibilities, electronic difficulties, bedtime. But I only missed episode 4.

Mercy Street which explores the American Civil War is set in occupied Alexandria, Virginia, which is across the Potomac River and about eight miles downstream from Washington, D.C.

The story, based on the real Mary Phinney's diaries, is told primarily from the points of view of two volunteer nurses.

Nurse Mary is a Massachusetts born abolitionist, volunteer in the Union Army Hospital.

Miss Emma Green was also a real woman, the daughter of the Southern family who owned the hotel, commandeered by the Union forces as a military hospital. Her real-life love-interest Frank was well and truly a Confederate spy just as he is in this production.

The initial intransigence of the women from opposite sides in the war is well-played, as is their gradual softening toward each other and the soldiers from the side opposite their own.

A secondary, but especially riveting, plot line involves Samuel Diggs, a free black man raised in the home of a Pennsylvania doctor where he learned medicine. Knowledge he could not publicly display in a Civil War era hospital -- Union or Confederate.

The production is graphic in its portrayal of medical procedures common to the Civil War era. And in its portrayal of a boorish white man's abuse of a nominally free black woman. Maybe too graphic.

But the portrayal of the lead characters and most of the supporting characters is very well done. A bright spot in American dramatic television. As a long-time, enthusiastic supporter of British dramatic series (Upstairs, Downstairs; I, Claudius; Silent Witness; Downton Abbey; Call the Midwife; etc.) I find it reassuring that Americans can produce good TV dramas, too.

Synchronicity, did I say? Yes, I did.

I bought The Lincoln Letter last fall while attending the Rose State Writing Short Course. William Martin was the guest lecturer there and he very kindly autographed my copy. It had been sitting on my bedside table since.

When I finished Sue Klebold's A Mother's Reckoning (see my review) and needed something much less intense to read -- there it was, right at hand.

The Lincoln Letter is not exactly a murder mystery. It is a mystery and there are murders. But, for the most part, the who-done-it is openly acknowledged in most of the murders. And in the murders involving murderers not initially clearly identified, it's not really important. The mystery is more about an unnamed item mentioned in the Lincoln letter.

The fifth in Martin's Peter Fallon series, The Lincoln Letter intersperses historical fiction with current day action. Peter Fallon is an antique books and historical documents dealer. He's the current day main character chasing the 'it' worth several million dollars.

Halsey Hutchinson (the historical part's main character) is a Union Lieutenant working in the War Department's telegraph office. President Lincoln, during his insomniac wanderings, develops a friendly relationship with Halsey. During a series of misadventures Halsey loses then tries to recover the possible 'it.'

This mixture of historical and modern day stories has been done many times before. As with James Michener's superior novels, I found myself more interested in the historical fiction part -- I hurried through the modern day passages, wishing Martin had just skipped Peter Fallon's part altogether.

I give Mercy Street four and a half stars. Three stars to William Martin's The Lincoln Letter.