Books, Writing, and Reviews
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Books, Writing, and Reviews
Books to read, tips on writing, books in general.
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Water, Water Anywhere

Water, Water Anywhere | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Ever since living in Israel and working at the Environmental Health Laboratory of the University of Jeruslalem, I've been very aware of water. How limited fresh water resources are. How fragile.


When our well went dry last year -- not for the first time -- it was brought home with the greatest possible force that the ONE thing we cannot live without, is drinkable water. Without fresh water, our world is over. Think about it. Read about it. Don't pretend it's going to go away and never be your problem. It is everybody's problem.

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Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan Is a Superhero - GeekMom

Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan Is a Superhero - GeekMom | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

I came to one conclusions after reading the 13 books of The Hollows series: It's one of the best superhero sagas ever written. I’ve just finished a two-month binge reading session of Kim Harrison‘s Hollows series. This turned out to be good timing, as I finishedThe Dead Pool just as the advanced review copy for the last book, The Witch With No Name, became available. Now I’ve read the entire series, front to back.

And I’ve come to one conclusion: Rachel Morgan, the witch at the center of the Hollows, is a superhero in every sense of the word.


The last book in the Hollows series, due out 9/9. Cover via HarperCollins

Rachel lives in a world where a genetically-altered tomato led to a plague that nearly destroyed human civilization. Out of the shadows came humanity’s unexpected saviors: vampires, weres, witches, warlocks, elves, and other fairy-tale creatures like demons, gargoyles, banshees, and pixies.

The good: The supernatural creatures prevented a complete societal collapse into anarchy. The bad: The supernatural creatures play by their own rules. The less powerful you are, the greater the chance you become cannon fodder. And humanity is at the bottom of the power pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, at least as the series begins, are the immortal vampires who run their society as they see fit, largely without interference.

As the series begins, there’s an uneasy power balance among normal and supernatural. Rachel, a witch who can create powerful earth charms, begins the series as a “runner” (read bounty hunter) for Inderland Security (I.S.), the supernatural police force that ideally keeps all the creatures from hurting each other an humanity. In reality, the I.S. is headed by the most powerful vampires and their goal is to keep vampire society as strong as they can, no matter what it costs other creatures. If they have to pay lip service to justice to do it, so be it, but justice isn’t their aim.

Rachel joined the I.S. with the best of intentions. She soon has the blinders removed, as she quits the I.S. in the first book, Dead Witch Walking, and the I.S. sends assassins after her.

On the flip side is the Federal Inderland Bureau, the human law enforcement agency that tries to operate as a real police force. Unfortunately, since humans are low on the power scale, their ability to enforce the law is limited, especially as they have no jurisdiction over supernatural crimes.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

"The Witch With No Name" will be out September 9th. I'm so ready!

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James Lee Burke Talks About His Fiction, History, and the American Dream

James Lee Burke Talks About His Fiction, History, and the American Dream | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
Abandoning the badasses in his usual Louisiana haunts, the Edgar-winning author crafts his first historical novel about oil, movies, and the American Dream.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I haven't read it yet, but it's up next!

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Camera Industry: the trend towards "good enough" is effecting enthusiasts too

Camera Industry: the trend towards "good enough" is effecting enthusiasts too | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

A lot has been written about how smartphone cameras have decimated the point and shoot market. It’s actually worse than that. Most regular people, non-enthusiasts, don’t really want to use DSLRs — they’re just too big and cumbersome. I see former DSLR owners just bag it and end up using smartphones instead. But how about people like me, the crazy, passionate photo enthusiasts. What are we doing?


Well, we are falling victim to the “good enough” mantra too.


I see two distinct groups of photo friends. Some diligently continue to use DSLRs for their serious work and then flip over to an iPhone when capturing casual snaps. I got a laugh when we go on photowalks. We all have expensive, sophisticated gear and we end up taking group pictures with an iPhone. These people are the same as the masses, documenting their world on smartphones. Except, for their serious pro or hobby work, they break out the DSLR. It’s like they have two distinct modes.


See the rest of the story on AtMTX Photoblog at --

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I can't argue with any of this ... and that worries me. Because "good enough" really isn't the same as "good."

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The Non-Complexities of Pretty Racist Chef Paula Deen

The Non-Complexities of Pretty Racist Chef Paula Deen | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

I must say. I love Paula Deen’s defense. It has the benefit of being both ridiculous and perhaps something her critics could actually agree about. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A representative for Paula Deen says that the 66-year-old celebrity chef used the “N-word” because she has roots in another era.” Or as you might translate this, ‘Look, she’s on the old side and pretty racist.’ Which sounds about right and sort of like the criticism rather than the defense.


Another thing it made me think about though is that these days, in 2013, if you’re in your 60s, you really didn’t grow up in the ‘Old South’. More like you grew up in the Civil Rights Era. Paula Deen was born in 1947. So she was 8 or 9 during the Montgomery bus boycott, sixteen for the March on Washington and twenty-one when Martin Luther King was assassinated.

It’s worth remembering how ingrained these words were for whites from the South from a certain era, not only for people who were fierce opponents of civil rights but even from some of their greatest advocates. The words signal the mental world of Jim Crow.


I’ll always remember this story told by Roger Wilkins, who was a young attorney in the Johnson administration, but also then and later a civil rights leader, historian, journalist and more.


This is back during the bleeding, breakthrough years of the Civil Rights Movement, with a President who is pushing through the big epochal legislation that changed the face of the nation but also helped wreck his presidency (in electoral terms) and tear the Democratic party apart for a generation. Notably, for Johnson, he did all of this with his eyes quite wide open.


I’ve read many things about Johnson in this period and it’s really human, almost Shakespearean stuff, because you’ve got this guy raised in the Jim Crow South, who’s gotten religion on the civil rights issue and is pushing the stuff in spite of the politics. And yet at some level he’s still an old school guy from Jim Crow Texas and can’t make sense of why after he’s been part of pushing through this landmark legislation and putting the presidency on the side of right that African-Americans aren’t more grateful to him. On thr contrary, the country starting to tear itself apart with riots in the big cities and young African-Americans and many non-young African-Americans not at all satisfied with the post-Civil Rights Act status quo.


In any case, Wilkins - then in his early thirties - saw all of this up close and clearly loved and admired the guy at a deep level and understood and breathed the historical context of all he was accomplishing and yet saw his limitations and how he was actually totally lost in the racial politics of the 60s.


Back to that anecdote, Johnson’s there with a bunch of aides in Oval Office, Wilkins included, and in a moment of frustration he slips into using the word ‘nigger’. This is from an American Experience documentary. It starts with the historian Robert McCullough talking and then Wilkins comes in …

“McCullough: [voice-over] It was called “the Golden Chalice”, the marriage of the President’s younger daughter, Luci Baines Johnson. One reporter said, “Nobody was invited except the immediate country.” It was August 6, 1966. There was war in Vietnam and riots in the streets, but there was still more Johnson hoped to do. What he wanted was time — time to build his Great Society. “We can’t quit now,” he told an aide. “This may be the last chance we have.” But time was running out.

Over four long, hot summers, riots had become a brutal fact of American life. Johnson looked helplessly on as more than 150 cities went up in flames. Detroit was the worst — 43 dead, 7,000 arrested, 1,300 buildings destroyed. Johnson dispatched army paratroopers and prepared to send his own task force to investigate. As part of the task force, Roger Wilkins was there as the President issued his final instructions.


Roger Wilkins, Attorney, Johnson Administration: And he started in a low key. “I don’t want any bullets in those guns. You hear me? I don’t want any bullets in those guns! You hear me, gentlemen? I don’t want any bullets in those guns. I don’t want it known that any one of my men shot a pregnant nig — ” and he looked at me and his face got red. I was the only black in the room. “Well, I don’t — I just — no bullets in those guns.” But he was clearly embarrassed, and everybody in the room was embarrassed. So then he told us to go home and pack and get an Air Force plane to go to Detroit.


And as we’re leaving, he called me and he said, “Come in here, Roger,” and I went into his office with him. And he didn’t say anything. I mean, I knew he wanted to say, “I didn’t mean to say ‘nigger’,” but he meant to say ‘nigger’. And I knew he wanted to say, “I apologize.” He didn’t know how to say it.

And so he walked me over to the French doors that went out to the Rose Garden, and it’s the area where Eisenhower had his putting green. And he looked out, and he looked at me, and he looked down, looked out, looked down. There were pockmarks on the floor where Eisenhower’s golf shoes had hit the floor. And he finally looked at me, and he looked at the floor, and he said, “Look what that son of a bitch did to my floor!” And then he patted me on the back and said, “Have a nice trip.” And that was his way of apologizing. It was very human, I thought.”


Not to state the obvious, but Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908.

It’s not proven from the deposition - but the nature of the plaintiff’s deposition combined with Deen’s ‘defense’ in her deposition makes it pretty clear that Deen speaks like this … today, pretty much all the time. And far more than ‘talks’ like this, it seems pretty clear that she thinks that way too.


That’s why I think it’s a good thing when this stuff comes out. Because it shakes us up from the comforting denial that that there aren’t a lot of people in the country still living in the Paula Deen world, which it would be nice to think is the world of the 1920s but in fact, for a lot of folks, is the world of 2013.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

A beautifully written reminder that it was Lyndon Johnson who got it done. Others talked the talk. He walked the walk.


He knew in pushing through the civil rights bill, he was falling on his political sword and ending his career. He used all his political leverage because he believed he was the only one who could do it.He was probably right. It was LBJ's finest hour, an act of genuine political valor. 


The heart has gone out of our political system. We may never live to see it again.

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The Ongoing Story: Twitter and Writing

The Ongoing Story: Twitter and Writing | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
Does a piece of writing that is never seen by anyone other than its author even exist? Does a thought need to be shared to exist? And is tweeting the same as publishing?
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Really interesting article! If you blog and write, you should read it.

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News of NSA surveillance sparks increased sales of spying literature - CTV News

News of NSA surveillance sparks increased sales of spying literature - CTV News | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
CTV News
News of NSA surveillance sparks increased sales of spying literature
CTV News
NEW YORK -- The country's book-buyers are reading up on being watched.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Silver lining?

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Jean Stapleton and Edith Bunker are Gone Aged 90

Jean Stapleton and Edith Bunker are Gone Aged 90 | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

Jean Stapleton, who played the scatty, but clever, Edith Bunker to the bigoted Archie Bunker in the 1970′s sitcom All in the Family has died according to her son John Putch who said that she died on Friday surrounded by her friends and family. She died of natural causes.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

A full life and a long career, remembered by us all.

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No niche for iPad: A cautionary tale on 'needing a purpose' | ZDNet

No niche for iPad: A cautionary tale on 'needing a purpose' | ZDNet | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

After almost two weeks with the latest iPad, I walked back to the Apple Store in Grand Central, New York and handed it back to the blue-blazoned staff hipster who greeted me at the top of the stairs. 

"Was there something wrong with it? And, do you need a replacement? We can get you a replacement, no problem," signaling to holler over a fellow colleague. But I declined.

"There's nothing wrong with the tablet," I said. "I suspect it's actually a problem with me."

Within the 14-day period in which Apple consumers are granted a stay of financial relief on their purchases, I returned my tablet not with a heavy heart but nonetheless with a feeling of disappointment in myself. It's not that I didn't like the iPad. The build quality was excellent, the software functionaliy was superb, and there was nothing but the highest of intent for burgeoning productivity potential.

It was that I simply didn't need one. And not just an iPad, a test case as it turns out, but any tablet for that matter.

Cue the back story. 

I fell into the Apple ecosystem. At first, anyway. But I don't think of myself as an Apple user. I am the kind of person who will use whatever tools that are necessary for the job in hand. It just so happens that I've become accustomed to the way these devices work together, just as other same-brand ecosystem devices do.

Almost two years ago I bought a MacBook Air. Still to this day, it has become a crucial, necessary, ultraportable laptop that has, granted with its occasional failings, has served me well. The battery life is acceptable, so long as certain conditions are met, but in spite of the likely unique gripes rather than hindrances, it's a fine piece of kit.

But above all else, OS X was the driving force for change. Gone are the days where apps weren't available. That's the cloud's business now. And thanks to the App Store, many previously unavailable apps have migrated to the Mac. 

Pleased with the design and the quality, but above all else the OS X operating system that had become so simple to use yet powerful by design, I ripped out the cords on my desktop machine — that whizzed and whirred in the corner of my home office with a subtle yet constant background-fading drone — and I replaced it with a Mac mini.

It was all too easy. I looked for a catch, but there wasn't one. 

A staunch Windows user for my adolescent and early adult life, there should've been a level of discomfort and disconcertedness. But there wasn't. With fond memories of blue screens and translucent windows, I began to prefer a sense of simplicity

The last step was my eventual move to the iPhone, albeit for a second time. The first was not the best of experiences but as a result of my confidence in the Apple ecosystem, I thought it was at least worth another try. And it was worth it. 

We can tick off the MacBook Air, the Mac mini — and all the peripherals to really go all-in — and the iPhone. (In between, I'd also bought an Apple TV, but it just makes sense when you're downloading TV and movies). The next logical step, surely, was to get an iPad.

With glee and excitement, I picked it up from the Grand Central store the following day on my way to work. I configured it, I synchronized my music, my pictures, apps and everything else. 

And then I went back to work. 

Not on my iPad, but my MacBook Air, which I take with me to work. I took my iPad home and it was sat there on my coffee table for three days until I picked it up again. It wasn't that I was avoiding it, and I wanted to use it, but I didn't have any particular reason to use it. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the iPad. And, I suspect there is nothing particularly wrong or different with any other tablet. It simply doesn't fit into my lifestyle.

My iPhone is my primary email communication device, plus my music. That sticks me firmly in the "prosumer" category. But because of my job, I require a keyboard. Granted, typing on the iPad is not the most difficult thing to do in the world, but it's less natural than a keyboard. I'm automatically drawn to a keyboard.

That said, it's a fine device but I have, as part of my one-brand ecosystem, other devices that at least for me are better suited for purpose.

Even for "play" and non-work reasons, there was nothing drawing me to it that I couldn't already do on my ultra-portable iPhone, my keyboard-enabled yet still light and portable MacBook Air, or my work-personal life separating Mac mini that allows me to walk away from it at any point.

If I were a financier, a marketer, or an artist, a tablet may be perfect. But not for me.  And you know what? That's OK. It's my problem, and not the fault of the tablet. 



Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I find myself increasingly confused.

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Annette Funicello Gone Aged 70: Now it's Time to Say Goodbye

Annette Funicello Gone Aged 70: Now it's Time to Say Goodbye | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

When I was five years old, we lived in Sacramento California and I used to watch the reruns of the original Mickey Mouse club. In black and white. One of my favourite “Mouseketeers” was Annette Funicello. This dark-haired song bird stole my five-year old heart.


Of course by the time I saw the old Mickey Mouse show, Annette was already getting ready to make those “beach” movies with heart-throb Frankie Avalon.


But television is a sort of time machine and when I watched first the Mickey Mouse Show and later the Wonderful World of Disney, Annette would be the same age, even though years had passed. She exuded, through the magic of television, an ageless “girl-next-door” glow that made her special to an entire generation of Mouseketeer fans.


These same fans would go on to love her even more as the love interest in a swimming suit. But however you were introduced to Annette, it was her voice and they way she sang that impressed and made you fall in love with her all over again.


Bio’s will tell you that she was the last Mouseketeer chosen and that she was the most popular. But what they can’t tell you is the special magic that this young girl and then woman had. A magic that kept her in people’s hearts long after the Mouse Club and the Beach Party films ended.


She was a champion who fought for everyone who had Multiple Sclerosis, which she had been diagnosed with the disease in 1987 and after a five-year silence went public with the news. Her fans never stopped loving her and supporting her and she passed that love and support to others who suffered from the disease.


It was complications from this disease  that took her life aged 70.

It is with a lump in my throat and prayer for her family and friends that I write this short love letter to the Mouseketeer of my youth.


So long Annette. Like the song says, you made me love you; but with a pure childlike love that never grew up.


I’ll finish this by including a video from YouTube that, quite appropriately, features Annette and her fellow Mouseketeers singing the “Goodbye” sign-off song from the show.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

She was the start of the Mouseketeers, the beloved of every adolescent lad. Good-bye Annette. Sorry to see you go, which could have stayed longer.

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The Decline and Fall of the English Language

The Decline and Fall of the English Language | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

Are we seeing the decline and fall of the English language? Has poor education and texting the cause of its demise or a symptom?


What has happened to the English language?  Although there have been changes over the centuries, they were evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  That is no longer so.  Google is now listed as a verb in that last bastion of language traditionalism, the Oxford English Dictionary.  Mind you, I am not saying that is wrong.  Brand names often become the generic term in common usage, such as Kleenex and Scotch tape, but it is rather rare to have that happen in the OED and never so quickly.  It is a sign of the times, although not a bad thing.  It is the rapidly progressing decay of proper English that appalls me.  It is not so much an evolving of, or even radical revolution in, the rules, but a total disregard for them.   “Rules?  We don’ need no stinkin’ rules!”


Read MORE. . .

Via Sharla Shults
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Remember when we used to set priorities? That was before we could prioritize. Times change. Language changes. Just Google it!

Sharla Shults's curator insight, March 3, 2013 11:06 PM

Consider this quote from John Myhra’s article on this subject: “Although students are writing more than ever, they are writing with little to no depth, terrible grammar, and are abbreviating almost every word they write. Texting has negatively affected the way students write.”

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'Les Misérables' brings the spectacle home on DVD and Blu-Ray

'Les Misérables' brings the spectacle home on DVD and Blu-Ray | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

Even when it moves to the small screen, it rarely lessens the impact of the cinematic spectacle that has moved audiences to applause and cheers across the globe. “Les Misérables” was the crowd pleasing hit of the awards season with countless nominations and now this adaptation of this Broadway smash that tells the tell of an ex-prisoner, a destitute factory worker and a vicious law enforcement officer in the backdrop of the French Revolution is now available for all to enjoy on every format imaginable.


This musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel takes us to 19th century France where Prisoner 24301 otherwise known as Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) breaks his parole to begin a new life for himself while on the run from the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) who has been tracking him for decades. The two men reconnect later right when Valjean agrees to care for the daughter of one his factory workers Fantine (Anne Hathaway). Valjean and his new ward, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) begin their new life together until years later in a revolutionary France, Valjean and Javert cross paths once again.


While this story is an obvious crowd pleaser that does transfer over to the screen with a fair bit of ease, it’s also not a project that every director can handle. Tom Hooper has a solid yet occasionally unspectacular track record as a director but after watching the pomp and the spectacle of “Les Misérables”, it’s easy to see that it may have been a little too big for him to handle. The staging of each musical number ranged anywhere from epic in scope to downright pedestrian in nature. He overused the close up shot on a number of the songs and the set design at times looked like it was set design for the stage and not the screen. That combined with some editing oddities, historical incongruities and song mix choices that caused the occasional hiccup that mildly distracts you from the overall narrative, it surprisingly never stops you from enjoying it over all thanks to some incredibly strong performances that draw you right back in when something in the visual fabric of it all gets you distracted.


If there was a better Hollywood star that could have played Jean Valjean then Hugh Jackman, please send me an e-mail and tell me because I can’t think of one. The strongest vocalist in the group, he carries the bulk of the group musical numbers and shines in the return to his Broadway roots. As Javert; Russell Crowe was actually quite good, delivering a menacing yet conflicted vibe all throughout his character, although I was quite surprised as they never really bothered to hide some of his vocal deficiencies that were incredibly noticeable in group numbers. Anne Hathaway shines as Fantine as does Amanda Seyfried as the older Cosette, with the marvelous Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, however the real gems in this ensemble come from some of the supporting players. A familiar face in a number of productions before this one, Eddie Redmayne deserves to become a household name after his gripping turn as Marius and in her film debut lifted from the latest London production and 25th anniversary concert of the play, keep an eye on Samantha Barks in the small yet key role of Éponine who turns a lot of heads in the short time she is on screen and is a triple threat star in the making.


The picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray were first rate as expected and the special features on this Blu-Ray include 6 behind the scenes featurettes about the making of the film, the stars, certain key scenes and shooting the film while singing live right on set as well as a look Victor Hugo's original masterpiece and a feature length commentary from director Tom Hooper.

“Les Misérables” is not a film that will ever really live up to the countless stage adaptations considering how beloved it is across the globe but these unique artisans adapted to make a very epic cinematic adaptation of this epic musical in spite of the occasional moment that takes you out of the narrative and feeling a little too rigid at times. However when the emotion is flying at the appropriate levels, the end results on the screen are simply electric..

4 out of 5 stars.


“Les Misérables” is now available to rent on DVD & Blu-Ray at video stores everywhere, as well as via all major on demand providers. You can also find it for purchase at all major retailers like HMV, iTunes and

Don't forget to subscribe to my feed above or follow me on Facebook and Twitter as the Pop Culture Poet for all the latest and greatest news and reviews from the world of entertainment.

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Beware Exasperated Kidneys: Can You Spell-Check Disaster?

Beware Exasperated Kidneys: Can You Spell-Check Disaster? | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

Some years back, there was an incident in the Boston Police Department‘s boot camp. In an attempt to be as tough as any Marine Corps drill instructor, the BPD instructor in charge of recruits forced a group of newbies to stay at hard exercise during one of the hottest days of the summer, without rest, food or water.


One of the recruits died when his kidneys failed. He had an undetected pre-existing condition. Dehydration proved fatal. This was a tragedy and a scandal.


The Boston Herald is one of the city’s two leading papers. The Globe is now owned by the New York Times and wants to be taken seriously. They have excellent writers and often the most thorough and unbiased coverage of important news. The Herald is a tabloid with a really great sports section. Intellectuality be damned, if you follow the teams, you read the Herald. Besides, the Globe is ridiculously expensive on Sundays.


So, back to the story. As it unfolded, the Herald pointed out that the young man who had died was already afflicted with kidney problems which were exasperated by being forced to go without water, food or rest in extremely hot weather.


I looked up from the paper and said to Garry, “This poor fellow suffered from exasperated kidneys. I can hear them now … (in a kidney voice) ‘That’s IT, I’ve HAD it, I’m OUTTA here …’ “


Obviously an automated spell-checker had struck again. The word had been exacerbated but the spell-checker didn’t know the word, so … the young man died of exasperated kidneys. What a pity. And so young, too.


There’s a moral to this story and that is (I hope) obvious and relevant to all of us who write or blog. Don’t depend on spell-checkers. They are helpful, but they are not intelligent. They have no ability to understand context or meaning. Or, for that matter style. You may want to say “my own” rather than simply “my.” The spell-checker will argue the point until you want to put your fist through the screen.


Proofreading is a big problem for all self-published writers, including bloggers. I’m tempted to give up on text and publish only pictures without captions. Even a headline could prove fatal. I am the typo queen. Worse, I hold the cut and paste error championship. When moving text, I can count on leaving something behind or taking something away that ought to have been left behind. It’s frustrating, it’s embarrassing and occasionally  funny … but not in a good way.


If I took everything to heart, I would have long since given up blogging. I do not have someone dedicated to proofreading and/or editing my copy. There are two reasons for this:


1) No one wants to do it. They have other things to do (What? Something is more important than me? How could that be? Aren’t I the center of the universe?)


2) No one I know is any better at proofreading than I am. I know this because I self-published a book. It was read and re-read by all my friends and family members and there are dozens of typos remaining.


Authors are generally lousy proofreaders of their own work. Sometimes, they are lousy proofreaders, period. As authors, we see what we meant, not necessarily what’s really on the page. It has nothing to do with sloppiness or not caring. Writing and proofreading are different skill sets. Hemingway didn’t have to do his own proofreading, nor did Thomas Wolfe. If they’d had to proof and edit their own copy without the excellent support of their publisher and Maxwell Perkins, they would never have made it into print. Nor would many of today’s most popular authors like Tom Clancy make it to print. Clancy, by his own admission is a very poor editor and proofreader … and in many people’s opinions, not a great writer, either, but I digress.


William Maxwell Evarts Perkins, was the editor for Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe and many others. He is probably America’s most famous literary editor. Where is he when I need him?


In the past few decades, editors and proofreaders have been mostly eliminated as too costly. Authors are expected to present press-ready manuscripts. Unless you are one of a publisher’s big money-making authors, there’s a very high likelihood that no one will read your manuscript before sending it for publication.  The result has been visibly lower quality manuscripts. You see it in printed books and even more on e-books. The official position of publishers is nobody cares. But readersdo care.


Who doesn’t care? Publishers don’t care. Readers don’t get a say in the matter. If we want to read, we learn to cope with and compensate for text errors. The absence of proofreaders and editors is part of cross-industry cost-cutting and bottom-lining. The idea is to keep eliminating support services until there are no more services to cut … and then be thunderstruck that your product has suffered.


I spend hours going over my posts and I still miss stuff. It’s infuriating and embarrassing, but no one has time or inclination to read everything I write. It’s my blog and my responsibility. Not everyone has someone to backstop blog posts. My choice has been to write shorter — and fewer — posts. Fewer words, fewer mistakes. As it is, I spend more time proofing than writing. Ten minutes to write the post, 2 hours or more to proofread. There aren’t enough hours in my day.


If this means people won’t read my stuff because I’m a crappy proofreader, then I throw my hands into the air and say fine, whatever. I agree punctuation and spelling count, but so does content. If punctuation and spelling are theonly things that count, something is wrong with the reader, not just the writer.


But what about spell-checkers? Surely they will catch the typographical errors! Yes and no. Remember exasperated kidneys? Spell-checkers will find words that are misspelled and occasionally a few words used incorrectly. Spell-checkers will never find words that are spelled correctly but should not be there (cut and paste errors). They will “decide” what you wrote should be something else — witness exasperatedinstead of exacerbated. Spell-checkers only catch blatant misspellings. They won’t catch a missing word, a wrong word, an extra word. If you let them, they will change your text to mean something different.


And don’t forget the pleasures of auto-correct. That’s a total hoot. There’s no convenient simple answer. In the end, we do the best we can with whatever resources are available.


If perfection is going to be a requirement for blogging, most of us would give up. Perfection will never be achieved by anyone.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Typos ... the bane of modern writers. Alone we battle them, agonise over them. But one way or another, they aren't goiing away.

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Dodge City, Tombstone, the OK Corral and 'Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life'

Dodge City, Tombstone, the OK Corral and 'Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life' | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
Historian Andrew Isenberg's absorbing, meticulous account of Wyatt Earp's life is a must-read for anyone who loves American history and tales of the Old West.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Excellent review and discussion of the Earps, Holliday and that time in the old west.

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‘Wayfaring Stranger,’ by James Lee Burke

‘Wayfaring Stranger,’ by James Lee Burke | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
James Lee Burke’s sprawling novel connects an encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to the Battle of the Bulge and the oil boom.


Here in the Lone Star State, we have a subgenre of the Great American Novel we like to call the Novel as Big as Texas. A representative N.A.B.A.T. features lots of pages crowded with multiple generations of characters fighting Comanches, driving cattle, bringing in oil wells, eating Mexican food, settling ancestral grudges and brooding about the pitiless immensity of the Land. The category arguably began with Edna Ferber’s “Giant” and has proven elastic enough to encompass not just earnest cycloramic texts like James Michener’s “Texas” but also literary benchmarks as varied as Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove,” Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and Philipp Meyer’s recent epic, “The Son.”


James Lee Burke’s enormous reputation centers mostly on the 20 novels in his Dave Robicheaux mystery series, which is set in Louisiana. But Burke was born in Houston and has long conducted a brisk side business west of the Sabine River with novels that chronicle the lives of the Hollands, an archetypically Texan clan. Son Holland, the patriarch, appeared in “Two for Texas,” which took place during the time of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution, and his descendants Hackberry Holland and Hack’s cousin Billy Bob Holland each anchor their own series of mystery novels.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

This is James Lee Burke in top form. If you like his writing, this will be a treat for you. It's part of the Holland family of mysteries and a very good one.

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Awakenings: The Lost Spirits

Awakenings: The Lost Spirits | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

Today is a quiet day...a co-o-o-old day so definitely a day to stay inside simply enjoying the warmth of hearth and home. Just finished reading The 12-ft Teepee by+Marilyn Armstrong (featured below) and thought I would take some time to visit blogs I am following. How surprised I was upon coming across The Lost Spirits @A Misbehaved Woman. 

What better topic to revisit than that of the American Indians? 

Disturbing, however, is the fact this story is not totally past is tied to history, yes, but it is also right here, right now, in America, in New York City.

Read more on Awakenings -

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

So much good stuff to read in this post ... including (blush) the best review I've ever gotten of my little book. 

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Paradiso or Inferno? Writers on writing

Paradiso or Inferno? Writers on writing | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

I’ve just started writing a new play after a fallow year spent licking my wounds when a promising commission failed to materialise into a theatrical production. I know, I’m too thin skinned; finding time to write has also been my greatest problem: when you work and have a family, time slips by before you know it. Of course, this is a convenient excuse. Why not get up two hours earlier and write before work? How about stopping writing this blog and turning out four pages of dialogue instead? The fact is, for me journalism and blog posts are fun, flow easily and I love sharing them, but I find creative writing tough going. I’ll make any excuse – even doing the ironing, for crying out loud, a job I loathe, rather than sitting down in front of that anxiety-producing blank page.


It made me wonder about other writers’ procrastination techniques, and their attitude to writing. Years ago, I interviewed the playwright Tom Stoppard for my university magazine and he told me that although he loved the rush of adrenalin when his writing was pouring out of him, the hardest thing for him was to get started. “I’ll do anything to avoid sitting down at my desk”, he said. “I’ll drink five cups of coffee. I’ll read the paper. If I really want to avoid writing, I’ll even clean my tennis shoes!”


He’s not alone, but not all writers  hesitate. Some relish the act of creation. “I love writing”, said James Michener. “I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.”  For writers with a strong ego like Saul Bellow, writing was a manifestation of self-belief and “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”  Similarly, Martin Amis refutes the idea of the struggling writer and the pain of writer’s block, stating he follows a “throb, a glimmer, an act of recognition” that turns, inevitably, into a novel.  For John Barth, the creative muse is awoken following an intriguing ritual which includes filling his Parker fountain pen, opening up a 40 year-old ring-bind folder and inserting crisp pages of lined paper and wearing wax earplugs to banish external noise. Writers are also notoriously superstitious. In the delightful film Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare rubs his quill between his hands, spits three times and practises his signature before writing Act I of Romeo and Juliet. We can only guess if he did this, of course, but we do know Roald Dahl used to rug up to write in his freezing garden shed in the depths of winter because only when he felt uncomfortable did his imagination roam freely. To each his own.


Writing is a hard task master, an unforgiving mistress. “You must write every single day of your life”, Ray Bradbury urges us sternly. (He obviously never got up at 2am to feed a crying baby, nor spent a day with a sick toddler who vomits every half hour.) Sometimes, your best intentions go by the wayside. “I love deadlines”, quips Douglas Adams in The Salmon of Doubt. “I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” As  Ernest Hemingway put it with characteristic terseness: “The first draft of anything is shit.”


If only there was a blueprint to follow, things might be easier, but W Somerset Maugham dashes even this faint hope: “There are three rules for writing a novel”, he asserts. “Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”  Even the prolific Neil Gaiman recognises the frequent futility of the task. “Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job”, he muses. “It’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins… This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”  The outcome is always uncertain and you’ll probably agree with Michael Cunningham that “one always has a better book in one’s mind than one can manage to get onto paper.”  You only hope you’ll avoid writing the kind of novels, as Charles Dickens observes in Oliver Twist, “of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”


So why stick pins in yourself? Are all writers stark, raving mad? Yes, says George Orwell. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”  As for Imre Kertész, whenever he sat down to write, “it felt like a tragic fate I had to endure.”   Again, Hemingway recognises the folly of the writing process. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”


Still, when the work is completed, there’s a definite feeling of satisfaction and relief.  “I hate writing”, Dorothy Parker confides, “I love having written.” And then maybe, just maybe, you night have made a difference. “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” advises Toni Morrison.  After all, as Ishamel Reed notes wisely – “no-one says a novel has to be one thing. It can be anything it wants to be, a vaudeville show, the six o’clock news, the mumblings of wild men saddled by demons.”


Back to the drawing board. I’ve run out of excuses. I’d better crack on with Scene 4. To quote Neil Gaiman once more: “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

We start off making our first excuses in elementary school. When we can look our third grade teacher in the eye and declare the dog ate our homework when we don't even have a dog, we have acquired a life skill that will serve us well when we have to call in to work and explain why we are too sick to come in to the office. If we get very good at it, we can become politicians ... or ... writers!! This is a great piece. I wish I'd written it.

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Aaron Sorkin Reveals Depth of 'Newsroom' Angst, Season 2 Reboot, A-List Consultants

Aaron Sorkin Reveals Depth of 'Newsroom' Angst, Season 2 Reboot, A-List Consultants | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
Admired and attacked in Season 1, the HBO drama reboots with A-list advisers as its creator opens up about his process (up to 6 showers in one day), how he broke his nose and dealing with hate-watchers:...
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

If you like the first season ... here it comes again. Not sure what to make of it.

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'Space Odyssey' author inspires imagination research center - Fox News

'Space Odyssey' author inspires imagination research center - Fox News | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
'Space Odyssey' author inspires imagination research center
Fox News
The creative mind behind the communications satellite and "2001: A Space Odyssey" — Arthur C. Clarke — has now inspired an academic center dedicated to studying imagination.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

He's been the inspiration for so many things. Why not an academic center?

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DOMA | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

More than a few of my friends may be clutching their hearts and falling over, actually.  I did not mean to lead you down the road to heart attack.  An issue that does not impact your life one bit should not worry you so much.  I know you did not expect me to be so blunt in my approach, but I have given it a bit of thought. This even surprises me, because the issue does not affect my life.  There are no male suitors, to be sure, and whileBrad Pitt and a million bucks up front might be tempting, I seriously believe I am not walking down that aisle.  So why would I change my position when I have generally been indifferent to the whole matter in the past?


The legislature of the Great BankruptState of Illinois has adjourned without taking a vote on gay marriage.  It was expected to be called for a vote with a good chance of passing.  Perhaps the votes were not there or perhaps, like the group in the District of Columbia, they were moved to inaction on just about everything.  Whatever the excuse, we have delayed moving forward on this.  When the issue was generating interest, however, the opposition consistently fell back on one major point: “The Bible is against it.”


Perhaps the Bible is against it.  Perhaps all good Christians will vote no to gay marriage.  Perhaps man should not lie with man like woman, or perhaps the actual translation of theAramaic text refers to male prostitutes as some scholars suggest.  Perhaps we should not eat pork.  Perhaps we should stone women who have had sex before marriage.  Perhaps we should cut off the hand of a woman who rises up in defense of her husband.  Perhaps we should put to death disobedient children.  Perhaps we should stop playing football as the ball is made of “pigskin” (allegedly).  Perhaps we should stop pretending that we know for sure what the ancient Greek and Aramaic texts actually mean and start loving one another as we love ourselves.  Do unto your neighbors as…you know the rest, or do you?


The arguments against gay marriage are religious arguments, put forth mostly by Christians.  I have been told by a Muslim friend who follows Islam, that gay marriage is unacceptable in their culture as well.  Even so, the objections are based on what certain groups of religions believe.  There is no other reason put forward.  As the Supreme Court is likely to come down on the side of separation of church and state, what follows is that religious arguments offer no valid support of DOMA.  In addition, misquoted Bible passages are no defense to a Defense of Marriage Act that creates separate and unequal classes.  We already know what the Supreme Court and Constitutional scholars think of that.


So there is no defense for the 1996 law.  In an era where who is married is the same as who and what the individual states recognize, each state will have to wrestle with the issue in its own capital.  If all they have to offer the general public are a collection of dubious statements based on alleged readings of poorly translated texts of ancient languages, then I think we have no reasonable opposing point of view.  The state will have to decide separately from its various religions that there is no rationale for us to concern ourselves with who loves whom.  Just as surely as the state has no interest in what sex acts are going on in the home of a man and woman, they should equally be unconcerned with any two law-abiding people who love each other in the privacy of their homes.


You may respond, “They are committing sin and they will go to Hell!”  OK, but you do not stop people from gossiping, another stoning offense, and you do not generally interfere with adultery where no civil law is broken, so why do you pretend to care about gay marriage?    Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos but I see no legislative action to shut tattoo parlors.  Marriage after divorce is adultery and women should not speak in church, but little is done about these “offenses.”


I do not pretend to speak for God, so I wish my legislators, in the spirit of the separation of church and state, would stop doing so as well.  Promoting the general welfare of society is not brought further along by twisting Bible passages to suit someone’s personal moral agenda.  At one time the concept that some were pushing a “gay agenda” became so twisted that the term ended up a punch line.  A hateful “moral agenda” will be a sad punchline too.  The recent work of three university scholars on the various types of marriage, that are acceptable in ancient Biblical text but not allowed today, may be found in a recent Des Moines Register op-ed piece that garnered plenty of hate in reaction.  It indicates that people only want to hear what they want to hear and please do not read them Bible passages that do not go along with their Rush Limbaugh / Glen Beck way of thinking.


You are now free to go forth and do what you will in the privacy of your own home.  OK, you would do that anyway and none of the rest of us would be any the wiser.  I must leave and attend to my friends who are having heart palpitations, or perhaps it is just a cholesterol reaction to the extra chicken wings and french fries.

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7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy (An Insider's Perspective)

7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy (An Insider's Perspective) | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

When I was a kid, I acted in a few movies.

It was generally a good experience, but every day I'm glad I wasn't Olsen twins famous. Not many child stars make it out of Hollywood alive or sane, and at any given time there are at least three former ones having very public breakdowns.

But why does this happen?

#7. Their Parents Won't Help Them …

I chose to start acting when I was 5. It was my decision, and my parents tried their hardest to discourage me. When I insisted, they allowed me to act, but were always very protective of me.

I saw many child actors who did not have that, and they were all miserable. Kids whose parents pushed them into acting often grow up to resent them. They never had a choice, and worse, they never had the chance to be a kid.

When one of my preteen co-stars didn't seem that into acting, I asked him why he even bothered doing it. "For the money," he said. I hadn't considered that. My own money was an abstract concept: locked in a bank somewhere, to be used only after I turned 18. I was just acting because I liked it. But this kid was supporting his family.

This isn't a new problem. Back in the 1930s, Jackie Coogan was not only the biggest child star in the world, but one of the biggest stars, period. The kid had $4 million (more than $48 million in today's money) to his name, but when he turned 21, he found that his mother and manager/stepfather had spent almost all of it. Coogan sued his parents, and while he only got $126,000, he did get a law named after him. That's a nice consolation prize, right?

The Coogan Law isn't perfect, though: While it has long protected a kid's right to a trust fund, it still only protects 15 percent of a child's earnings. There are still lots of ways parents can misuse their kid's money. And it's easy for them to get away with it, because most kids don't have the guts to take their own parents to court and scream about all the things they can't handle (the truth, and so on).

The next time a former child star is in the news, look at the age at which he or she started performing. Then imagine making a life-changing decision at that age. Chances are good he or she wasn't the one who made it.

#6. ... or Their Parents Can't Help Them

Even good, non-stage-parent parents can have trouble asserting authority over their kids. My parents, I think, did most things right. They didn't always pick the greatest movies for me to be in, but they were supportive and responsible about money. But even they had to answer to a higher power.

When I was 7, I went to the premiere for the movie Nine Months. I don't remember much about the movie beyond Hugh Grant stammering and some placenta jokes, but I do remember a red carpet reporter asking me my opinion about Hugh Grant getting busted for prostitution.

If he had been arrested for something like defacing a Lion King poster or stealing bouncy castles, I might have cared. But while I knew he'd been arrested, I didn't understand what for and didn't feel comfortable answering. My father called the station the next day to suggest that they, you know, not talk to a child about soliciting sex. But he was rebuffed, and the complaint was ignored. Even then, as a kid, I knew that parental power was gone.

When Miley Cyrus went through a series of scandals in 2010, one involving the scarier-than-pot-but-somehow-more-legal salvia, Billy Ray Cyrus went on record saying that he had very little control over his daughter anymore. Her Disney entourage had long since taken over. Even if he wasn't telling the complete truth about his role in his daughter's scandals, it was clear that he, the parent, was not in control.

#5. They Get Used to Love and Attention, and Then Lose It

The first week of my first movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, I got gifts from every cast member. When an interviewer asked me what I loved most about acting, I forgot all about the joy of becoming someone else on camera and said, "You get a lot of presents, sometimes!"

Combine the regular amount of free stuff celebrities get with all the presents people give kids just for being cute, and you've got a recipe for one spoiled-ass child. My parents tried to keep me grounded: They made me share a room with my sister, kept me in public elementary school, and encouraged me to think of acting as just a hobby. But I'm sure there were still times when I was an entitled little shit.

This tends to happen: It's called the hedonic treadmill, which sounds like something 1950s sci-fi writers imagined we'd all have in our pod-houses by now, but actually means that even people who have the best of everything quickly become used to it. The thrill of new things and new experiences always wears off.

Adults know that infatuation is fleeting, but kids don't understand this. A year in a kid's life seems like an eternity, and they think anything happening now will happen forever. Years of adulation and money and things quickly become normal, and then, just as they get used to it all, they hit puberty -- which is a serious job hazard when your job is being cute.

It's basically a real-life version of Logan's Run. A child actor who is no longer cute is no longer monetarily viable and is discarded. He or she is then replaced by someone younger and cuter, and fan bases accordingly forget that the previous object of affection ever existed.

Most of you reading this felt pretty disgusting and useless while you were going through puberty. But imagine that people you once relied on and trusted -- as well as millions of people you'd never met, who had previously liked you -- had told you then, "Yeah, it's true. You are exactly as ugly and worthless as you feel."

#4. They Have Been Sexually Exploited

Speaking of which, you know that one lucky asshole you grew up with who never seemed to go through an awkward age, at all? The child stars who make the most successful transitions tend to be those kinds of assholes: They were adorable kids, and now they're beautiful adults. The rest typically disappear.

But it's not always a smooth transition: To be a teen idol is to be vulnerable. Brooke Shields has said that being a sex object led her to feel like she wasn't in control of her own body, and is one of the reasons she didn't have sex until she was 22. Natalie Portman has said similar things.

And sometimes it gets violent: Former child stars Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, and Todd Bridges all went on record saying that they had been sexually assaulted by adult men when they were young, and that there were likely many more child molesters in Hollywood. Actress Rebecca Schaeffer was killed by a stalker after he saw her in bed with a male character in a film and denounced her as "another Hollywood whore."

But even when it's not violent, it's not pleasant. When I was 12 years old, I made the mistake of looking myself up on the Internet. (I know not to do that now, unless I want to stay up all night imagining the kind of person who would replace my Wikipedia article with nothing but the word "poo.") One of the things I found was a foot fetish website dedicated to child actresses.

Now, at the time, I thought this was hilarious. I was in seventh grade and couldn't say the word "sex" with a straight face; fetishes were beyond me. I never told my parents because it seemed like too much of a joke, not a threat.

Then, two or three years ago, I was talking to a friend and casually mentioned the foot fetish thing. Her eyes went wide. "So, basically, you were on a child porn site?"

"Uh ... I guess so." I hadn't thought about it like that. Suddenly it wasn't as funny as I had once thought.

There was worse, both for me and for others. Like the Coogan Law, there are too many loopholes. If you ever need to convince someone not to get their kid into show business, inform them that it's still legal in several places to Photoshop a child's head onto a nude adult body. Sexual exploitation is just part of the package.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I was caught by surprise. A surprisingly perceptive and honest article.

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Riding With the Dalton Gang -- Desperadoes: A Novel, by Ron Hansen

Riding With the Dalton Gang -- Desperadoes: A Novel, by Ron Hansen | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

This is not a new book. It is being released for the first time as an Ebook (Kindle) on May 28, 2013. Desperadoes has been available in soft or hardcover (currently, only soft) since 1997.

I love western movies and have since I was a kid. I've read a lot of "western" novels too over the years, enjoyed some, didn't much like others. Over all, I prefer this genre as cinema rather than on the printed page. Nonetheless, I was drawn to this book after I realized I know very little about the personal lives and motivations of these notorious bandit gangs of the  turn of the century wild west.

Until this book, I hadn't realized the James boys, the Youngers, Coles and the Daltons were all related. Cousins, it turns out.  This led me to interesting speculations about relative importance of DNA versus environment in character formation. The familiar relationships certainly present some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps the cousins were all copying each other's "feats." The story hints that there was at least some jealousy by the Daltons of cousin Jesse's fame.

Desperadoes is well-written and feels authentic, so much so that I found myself asking how much of this was "made up" and how much was historical.

The answer is that although a lot of it is fact, a lot of it isn't. Fiction and fact are beautifully woven throughout the story until it is difficult to teaze them apart. Nonetheless, this is a novel, so if you are want history, this isn't it. On the other hand, if you are more interested in the psychological profile of these characters and the feeling of being transported to another time and place, this might be exactly the right book. Sometimes fiction contains more truth than "only the facts" can convey.

Whether you enjoy the book will depend on if you can find a way to emotionally connect with any of the characters. All of the Daltons and their close associates lack a moral compass as well as a fundamental understanding of right and wrong. Even granting that they came from backgrounds of extreme deprivation and their role models were as depraved as they themselves became, it's hard to understand the characters' rapid -- virtual overnight -- transformation from relatively decent people and officers of the law into rustlers, bank robbers and sadistic thrill killers.

Despite occasional actions that could be interpreted as "gallant" or at least decent, their primary goal was attention. Fame. They wanted to be feared and recognized. Towards that end, they also stole money but money was never a primary motivator. To achieve this end, there were no lines they would not cross, no rules they would not break. At no point is there any feeling that it mattered a whit to any of them how many people's lives they ruined or ended. They were sociopaths (maybe psychopaths -- I've never been entirely clear on the difference), utterly lacking in empathy except for one another ... and there were limits to that, too.

The story is told in the first person by Emmett Dalton, the one brother who survived. He went out to Hollywood where they were happy (apparently) to pay him big bucks to "advise" and provide authenticity to the making of movies.  Of all the bandits -- all his brothers and cousins -- only he remained alive to "cash in" on the notoriety.

Ironically, they started out as lawmen. While still functioning in that capacity, the began rustling horses. They didn't think there was anything particularly wrong with it. It wasn't that they didn't know it was illegal, but the whole "right" and "wrong" thing seems to have been a rather hazy concept to them. Moreover, working as a sheriff or deputy sheriff was so poorly paid that they actually couldn't live on that money, so they initially considered horse-stealing to be a way to supplement their incomes. When they eventually were caught -- really, only big brother Gratton (Grat) who was probably mildly retarded was actually arrested for rustling and although he spent a bit of time in jail, he was ultimately released. Mainly released because it would have been a serious embarrassment to the judge who had employed the Daltons as lawmen to have it known that his employees were horse thieves. Except that everyone did know. It just wasn't official never became official.

The Dalton boys' decision to become an outlaw gang was exactly that: a choice. They were not forced into a life of crime. They genuinely enjoyed being outlaws and criminals. They liked beating people up, breaking their body parts and killing them, sometimes just because they felt like it. No sense of remorse is forthcoming through the voice of the narrator.

Emmett, as the first-person narrator, supposedly was privy to every moment of the life of his brothers. This is a bit hard to swallow unless the other gang members spent all of their free time telling Emmett everything they had done since they'd last talked. But you have to suspend your credibility or there's no way to get into the book.

Of the Dalton lads (there were 15 bothers and sisters and you never learn what happened to most of the others) Bob is the true glory hound. Grat is a big dumb guy who seemed to not have any thoughts about much of anything. Emmett, two years younger than Bob, is his older brother's passionate admirer. His adulation of his Bob Dalton was unlimited, though to Emmett's credit (?), he did occasionally think up an interesting crime to commit, so he was not without a degree of personal creativity. He also appeared to be, of the gang, the only one with any capacity for love -- in a severely circumscribed way.

Then there's Bob's psychopathic girlfriend, Eugenia Moore who was the real brains of the outfit, though perhaps brains is too strong a word.

As you can probably tell, I didn't like the characters. There is a high probability that the author has captured the essence of these people accurately, but accuracy alone wasn't enough to make me enjoy being in their company. Ultimately, if I can't relate to at least one character in a book, it's difficult for me to enjoy the story. I spent the first half of this book looking for a redeeming feature in someone. I spent the rest of the book wishing I'd never started reading it in the first place.

This was Ron Hansen's first novel. He has written a dozen or so since then and he is highly regarded. I have no argument with his skill as a writer and perhaps I would like his later novels and non-fiction better than Desperadoes.

I didn't hate the book, but I didn't enjoy it. Perhaps the nature of the material fore-ordained my response. Sadistic, vicious sociopathic killers are not romantic -- in my opinion. They make my skin crawl. But other people obviously did like the book and it has received some excellent reviews on Amazon. If you can read it as a case study of a bunch of old-timey criminals, you might like it better than I did. It is well-written and thoroughly unpleasant at the same time. I guess that's what you get when you write about outlaw gangs, even when you write really well.


Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Outlaws: serial killers on horseback. Not romantic. Not even a little bit.

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The Slow Death of the American Author

The Slow Death of the American Author | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

LAST month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, which are often cheaper than domestic editions. Until now, courts have forbidden such activity as a violation of copyright. Not only does this ruling open the gates to a surge in cheap imports, but since they will be sold in a secondary market, authors won’t get royalties.


 This may sound like a minor problem; authors already contend with an enormous domestic market for secondhand books. But it is the latest example of how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.


Authors practice one of the few professions directly protected in the Constitution, which instructs Congress “to promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The idea is that a diverse literary culture, created by authors whose livelihoods, and thus independence, can’t be threatened, is essential to democracy.

That culture is now at risk. The value of copyrights is being quickly depreciated, a crisis that hits hardest not best-selling authors like me, who have benefited from most of the recent changes in bookselling, but new and so-called midlist writers.


Take e-books. They are much less expensive for publishers to produce: there are no printing, warehousing or transportation costs, and unlike physical books, there is no risk that the retailer will return the book for full credit.


But instead of using the savings to be more generous to authors, the six major publishing houses — five of which were sued last year by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division for fixing e-book prices — all rigidly insist on clauses limiting e-book royalties to 25 percent of net receipts. That is roughly half of a traditional hardcover royalty.


Best-selling authors have the market power to negotiate a higher implicit e-book royalty in our advances, even if our publishers won’t admit it. But writers whose works sell less robustly find their earnings declining because of the new rate, a process that will accelerate as the market pivots more toward digital.


And there are many e-books on which authors and publishers, big and small, earn nothing at all. Numerous pirate sites, supported by advertising or subscription fees, have grown up offshore, offering new and old e-books free.


The pirates would be a limited menace were it not for search engines that point users to these rogue sites with no fear of legal consequence, thanks to a provision inserted into the 1998 copyright laws. A search for “Scott Turow free e-books” brought up 10 pirate sites out of the first 10 results on Yahoo, 8 of 8 on Bing and 6 of 10 on Google, with paid ads decorating the margins of all three pages.


If I stood on a corner telling people who asked where they could buy stolen goods and collected a small fee for it, I’d be on my way to jail. And yet even while search engines sail under mottos like “Don’t be evil,” they do the same thing.


Google is also at odds with many writers because in 2004 it partnered with five major libraries to scan and digitize millions of in-copyright books, without permission from authors. The Authors Guild (of which I am president) sued; years later, with a proposed settlement scuttled by the judge, the litigation goes on.



Google says this is a “fair use” of the works, an exception to copyright, because it shows only snippets of the books in response to each search. Of course, over the course of thousands of searches, Google is using the whole book and selling ads each time, while sharing none of the revenue with the author or publisher.

It got worse in 2011, when a consortium of some of Google’s partner libraries, the Hathi Trust, decided to put online some 200 books that the group had unilaterally decided were “orphans,” meaning they couldn’t locate the copyright owners. The “orphans” turned out to include books from writers like the best-selling novelist J. R. Salamanca — alive and well in Maryland — and the Pulitzer Prize winner James Gould Cozzens, whose copyrights were left to Harvard. The Authors Guild sued, and Hathi suspended the program. But that litigation also continues, even while millions of copyrighted works are stored online, one hacker away from worldwide dissemination for free.


Sharla Shults's curator insight, April 19, 2013 3:57 PM

Millions of copyrighted works are stored online, one hacker away from worldwide dissemination for free.

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The 20 Best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Last Decade

The 20 Best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Last Decade | Books, Writing, and Reviews |

We are in the midst of a glorious Golden Age of paranormal fantasy—the last ten years, specifically, in genre fiction have been nothing short of landscape-changing. The days of rigidly defined categories (romance, fantasy, horror, etc.) are long gone. Today, genre-blending novels reign supreme: narratives with virtually limitless potential that freely utilize elements of fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, and science fiction.


I’ve been asked to compile a list of the best paranormal fantasy novels of the last decade (2003–2013): a virtually impossible task, considering how many iconic series and authors have risen to prominence during that period—Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs, Richard Kadrey, Kat Richardson, Stacia Kane, Nicole Peeler, and Jaye Wells, to name just a few.


I did a comparable list back in 2009 and, while researching this post, I realized how radically paranormal fantasy has evolved in just a few short years. The list below includes 20 novels that are not only extraordinarily good, but have also dramatically influenced—and continue to influence—the course of the genre.


20. The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, by Mario Acevedo (2006)
This is the first book in Acevedo’s Felix Gomez saga, a series that went a long way toward redefining the genre when it was released in ‘06. And talk about great opening lines: “I don’t like what Operation Iraqi Freedom has done to me. I went to the war a soldier; I came back a vampire…”

19. Pride Mates, by Jennifer Ashley (2010)
The first book in Ashley’s Shifters Unbound saga, this was a transcendent read for me—it was the first paranormal romance that worked just as well as a paranormal fantasy. This remains one of the most wildly erotic novels I’ve ever read.

18. No Hero, by Jonathan Wood (2011)
This sadly underrated debut is one of the most audacious novels I’ve ever read. The novel’s main character, Oxford police detective Arthur Wallace, is obsessed with Kurt Russell. Throw in conjoined triples, an antisocial ninja assassin, prophesizing twin girls who live in a pool with octopi, battery-licking sorcerers, grimoires hidden in Peruvian temples, killer cats, and more tentacled monstrosities than you can shake a sword at, and you have an unforgettable read!

17. Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire (2009)
The first book in McGuire’s October Daye saga, this series is an utterly readable fusion of dark fantasy, mythology, and hard-boiled mystery. It’s a profoundly deep series that is at times filled with starkness and existential angst and at others with breathtaking images of magic and beauty.

16. Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs (2006)
The first Mercy Thompson novel, this series has experienced a few ups and downs in the last few installments, but for my money, Moon Called has to be on this list. A sexy, tattooed shape-shifting auto mechanic, Mercy is arguably one of the most memorable paranormal fantasy heroines ever created.

15. Already Dead, by Charlie Huston (2005)
Huston’s first novel featuring vampire Joe Pitt, this series expanded the boundaries of paranormal fantasy. In my review, I described this novel as “a savage and sardonic novel that blends blood-sucking fantasy and horror elements with the hard-boiled style of noir thrillers.”

14. and Falling, Fly, by Skyler White (2010)
White’s debut novel was an intensely passionate, sublimely poetic, soul-rending work of art. The entire novel—which revolves around the relationship between a vampiric fallen angel named Olivia and Dominic, a neuroscientist with a “bizarre” affliction—reads like dark ethereal poetry. Unforgettable.

13. Four and Twenty Blackbirds, by Cherie Priest (2005)
Priest’s debut and the first of her Eden Moore novels, this haunting and poetic read marked the fledgling steps of a writer who has become one of the most innovative—and significant—figures in genre fiction. This novel and its two sequels are vastly underrated.

12. Blue-Blooded Vamp, by Jaye Wells (2012)
The concluding volume of Wells’s stellar Sabina Kane saga, this is how you end a series! This novel is chock full of shocking plot twists and bombshell revelations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this series will go down as one of the best paranormal fantasy sagas of all time. It’s that good.

11. The Taken, by Vicki Pettersson (2012)
This was just an amazing read. From my review: “This novel transcends genre categorization—yes, paranormal fantasy readers will LOVE this novel but so too will hardcore mystery and romance fans and, most importantly of all, mainstream fiction fans. This is Vicki Pettersson’s coming out party—and we’re all invited.”

10. A Rush of Wings, by Adrian Phoenix (2008)
Phoenix’s debut novel—and first installment of The Maker’s Song saga—is one of the edgiest series out there. I mean, c’mon! How can you go wrong with a duo that includes an undead rock star and a sexy FBI agent? A hugely under-appreciated series.

9. Dead to the World, by Charlaine Harris (2004)
The fourth book in Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, this is when the series really got good for me. You can say what you want about the HBO series True Blood but, regardless, this is an iconic series featuring an iconic heroine.

8. Tempest Rising, by Nicole Peeler (2009)
The beginning of one of the most beloved paranormal fantasy series on the shelves, the novels are powered by selkie-halfling heroine Jane True, who is in many ways the the antithesis of the conventional paranormal fantasy heroine. She’s short, not exactly athletic, socially awkward, works in a bookstore, and instead of wearing stiletto heels and leather miniskirts, Jane rocks comfortable jeans and purple Converse. I love this series!

7. Cerulean Sins by Laurell K. Hamilton (2003)
LKH’s Anita Blake saga is easily the most divisive saga on the shelves. This long-running—and historically significant—series has had its ups and downs over the years, but a high point for me was Cerulean Sins, still my favorite book in the series.

6. Greywalker by Kat Richardson (2006)
Richardson’s debut novel and beginning of her Greywalker saga, one of my all-time favorite series. Featuring Seattle-based private investigator Harper Blaine, who can see into the realm of the dead, these novels are exceptionally written and almost flawless in their execution. Classy and classic, this is one series that will stand the test of time.

5. Blood Blade by Marcus Pelegrimas (2009)
The Skinners novels read like a cool, supernatural-powered video game—nonstop action, ghastly monsters, unique weapons, intriguing and well-developed protagonists, and plot twists around every turn. But the series is so much more than that. It’s a highly addictive blend of splatterific horror, dark fantasy, mystery, supernatural thriller, and sardonic social commentary. I’ve called Pelegrimas “the Bram Stoker of the 21stCentury” for good reason.

4. Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane (2010)
The first novel in Kane’s Downside saga, this is the most socially significant fantasy saga I’ve ever read. From my review: “Never before in paranormal fantasy have I read a series that features the combination of grand-scale world building, labyrinthine mystery, superb character development, and social relevance. Stacia Kane’s Downside saga is taking paranormal fantasy to another level…”

3. Dead Beat by Jim Butcher (2005)
Butcher’s Dead Beat—the seventh installment in his Dresden Files—was a blockbuster book when it was first released. Not only was it the first Dresden Files novel to be released in hardcover, it was a clear indication of just how much the series had expanded to embrace mainstream fiction readers. The first printing sold out in a just few days! The commercial success of the Dresden Files paved the way for countless other noteworthy protagonists, including Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt and Mario Acevedo’s Felix Gomez.

2. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey (2009)
An in-your-face fusion of fantasy, horror, and hard-boiled mystery. It’s Kadrey’s biting wit that makes this novel so unforgettable. His blunt and acerbic writing style makes for simply addictive reading. For example, here’s how he describes Los Angeles: “L.A. is what happens when a bunch of Lovecraftian elder gods and porn starlets spend a weekend locked up in the Chateau Marmont snorting lines of crank off Jim Morrison’s bones. If the Viagra and illegal Traci Lords videos don’t get you going, then the Japanese tentacle porn will.” Classic.

1. For a Few Demons More, by Kim Harrison (2007)
The fifth installment of Harrison’s phenomenally popular Hollows saga featuring endearing gray witch Rachel Morgan and company, this novel was the first hardcover release in the series and, at least for me, heralded its ascension to elite series status. With only two novels to go until the series concludes, there is no doubt in my mind that the Hollows saga will go down as arguably the very best paranormal fantasy series ever written.

What are your favorite paranormal fantasies?

 Tags: best of × paranormal fantasy × roundups
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Don't Miss any of these, but especially Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series and my absolute all-time favoriate, Kim Harrison's Hollows series. It is wonderful.

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A Half Hour Radio Show

A Half Hour Radio Show | Books, Writing, and Reviews |
This site hosts the original broadcasts of the cult radio comedy show “A Half Hour Radio Show,” syndicated around the US in the early 1990’s.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

When I was in college, I worked at the radio station. This show was a very big hit at the time. Since then, it has gone through a lot of iterations, refinements, rewriting ... and it's still hilarious. Take a trip in time. Enjoy a type of entertainment that used your imagination instead of special effects. Fall back in love with radio!

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