290 posts categorized "Me Gassing on About Stuff"

Old Yeller

I turned 50 years old today. That entitles me to certain privileges. I can join AARP, for instance. I can update strangers on the state of my lumbago. (Not that I have lumbago. But I can still talk to strangers about it if I so choose.) I can start putting "the" in front of nouns that don't need it. ("Did you hear about Ethel? Turns out she's got the diabetes.") I can believably reference friends named "Ethel." And I can rant at anyone younger than me on how things were done in "the good old days." Ahhh, I can hear it now....

OldYou young whippersnappers with your Tweeter and your Facialbook and your Snappychatter! Back in the day when we wanted to talk to somebody we did it the proper way: We marched over to their house, rang their ding-danged doorbell and yelled at 'em! And this music you listen to. Beyondsy and Lady Goo-Goo and the rap. It's just noise! When I was a boy we had songs with melodies and harmonies and lyrics that meant something. You know -- "Party All the Time"! "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go"! "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car"! Real music! And the movies today. Don't get me started. It's all superheroes and special effects and things blowing up. Where did the stories go? The charm? The magic? Like in Megaforce and Howard the Duck and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace? Bah! It makes me so mad my lumbago flares up!

But no. A few days ago, I wrote a post over on the SleuthSayers blog about how much I dislike the modern world and try to escape it both as a writer and reader. Here's the thing, though. That escape? It's to somewhere else -- somewhere I can go to give my brain a break from the discouraging, infuriating, heartbreaking news I see every day. Yet I don't pretend that the past I'm fleeing to was perfect. Taken as a whole, it wasn't any better than today at all, except that it wasn't quite so many ticks along on the ol' Doomsday Clock.

Honestly Abe - get a new hatHere's something else I'm permitted to do as an official oldster: trot out a credential. I have a history degree. Yes, it was granted in that ancient year nineteen hundred and ninety. But I don't think the field's changed that much since then. It's not like we've discovered Atlantis or Noah's ark or conclusive evidence that Abraham Lincoln was an alien lizard. (Hmm...though that would explain the guy's big, dopey hat. He couldn't comb his head frills down.) 

History's still history, more or less. And here's one of the things that hasn't changed about it: change. As in, it's always happening. It's inevitable, inexorable, inescapable, and resistance is futile. There is no golden era we should be striving to return to, and even if there were recreating it would be impossible. Because: change. 

Take me, for instance. There's no glory that was Greece, grandeur that was Rome in my past. Which is a fancy literary way of saying I've always been a bit of a clumsy dumbass or a bit of a space cadet or a bit neurotic or a bit lazy or a bit something. I was never, not for a single second, perfect. So I don't pine for my lost youth. I'm smarter than I was at 20, happier than I was at 30, healthier than I was at 40.

Sure, it's gonna suck when my knees go or I find out I really do have the lumbago or the diabetes or the cancer or the whatever. And it's gonna happen, sooner now than later. I have my own personal Doomsday Clock, as do we all, and...well...tick tick tick, you know?

But in the meantime, no midlife crisis for me, thank you very much. Once upon a time, men of a certain age (mine) were permitted such things. They'd buy sports cars or chase young secretaries around their desks. (God -- remember when that was considered funny?) It was almost expected of them. Boys will be boys. Men will be men.

Nowadays, boys and men are expected to be different. Better. Which is change. Which is good.

SuperjerkOf course, not all change is good. Superman shouldn't be a murderous asshole, for instance. The same goes for Batman. A movie theater Coke shouldn't cost six freakin' bucks. Trader Joe's used to have this stuff called "Global Village Nut Mix" that was spectacular, but they stopped stocking it in, like, 2004. And when I was younger, I used to think that the only people I truly hated were Nazis...and that was sort of like hating mastodons, because there weren't any around anymore. (Man, talk about "the good old days.")

Bottom line: I'm definitely older and arguably wiser, and although I'm not totally down with now I don't worship or long for then. Yesterday is gone, and it was flawed anyway. Tomorrow will be flawed in new and exciting and depressing ways.

Today I get cake.

News Talk

I've got good news and bad news.

The good news: The new "Holmes on the Range" novel is done!

The bad news: The new "Holmes on the Range" novel isn't done.

To explain that, I've got bad news and good news.

The bad news: The new "Holmes on the Range" novel isn't good enough.

The good news: The new "Holmes on the Range" novel is almost good enough -- and will be good enough (and hopefully better than just "good enough") soon!

The getaway vehicleTo explain that, I've got more news. I don't know if it's good or bad. It's sort of like when you read about people stealing a shark from an aquarium touch pool using a baby stroller. I mean, that's not good news. Not for the shark. I'm sure he was all like, "Oh, come on! It's bad enough they stick me in this little tank so 4-year-olds can yank my tail with their grubby Capri-Sun-coated fingers. Now these idiots are gonna wheel me out in a freakin' baby carriage? I'm a damn shark! Grrrrrr! Show some respect! Haven't you seen the trailers for Meg? We're bad asses!" On the other hand, the thieves were caught and the shark rescued, so there's a happy ending. Bad news doesn't have a happy ending...unless it's reported under the headline "[INSERT NAME OF POLITICIAN YOU DON'T LIKE] Enters San Quentin to Begin 50-Year Sentence," am I right or am I right? 

Anyway, the sort-of-neutral news: My beta readers (not to be confused with betta readers) have the first draft of the new novel, and I've already gotten some extremely helpful feedback. 

"Extremely helpful feedback," by the way, translates from writerspeak as "I've been told that the stuff I suspected was weak was weak, and it's easily fixed." "Extremely unhelpful feedback" would have been more like "I've been told that the stuff I love was weak, and it's going to take months to fix if I decide to change it." Or simply "I've been told that the book sucks."

So I guess this is actually good news. So far. Not everyone's reported in. I could still have a "This book sucks" coming my way. But even if I do, there'll be good news to go with the bad news.

The good news (eventually): I will finish the damn book...

The bad news (possibly): ...even if the rewrites kill me.

Holmes Renovation

When I tell someone I’ve just met that I wrote a novel about crime-solving cowboys called Holmes on the Range -- and this always seems to come up within the first minute of conversation, for some reason -- I inevitably get one of two responses.

Response #1: “Oh, that sounds cute!”

Response #2: “Oh. That sounds cute.”

Response #1 is coupled with a look of amused interest.

Response #2 is coupled with a look of mild dyspepsia and a glance past my shoulder. (The words that follow are usually some variation on “Excuse me. I think I should go stand over there now.”)

I hope for Response #1. But I understand Response #2. The Sherlock Holmes spinoff has a long and checkered history. And I’ll admit it: Holmes on the Range is a pretty wretched pun. But come on! You write a novel about cowboys reading Holmes stories and trying to become detectives and let’s see what you call it. Really -- what you got, hotshot? Huh? Huh? Can’t think of anything, can you? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

O.K., maybe I do get a little defensive about Response #2. But back to my point: There have been Holmes spinoffs way crazier than mine. (Note: I call them spinoffs because many of them, like Holmes on the Range, aren’t true pastiches. I wasn’t trying to write like Arthur Conan Doyle and I’m pretty sure the guy who wrote Sherlock Holmes and the Underpants of Death wasn’t either. And, yes: That's the title of a real book. So again, people -- do not give me grief about freakin’ Holmes on the freakin’ Range!)

Holmes has fought Martians. Holmes has fought zombies. Holmes has fought dinosaurs. Holmes has fought Nazis. Holmes has fought icky Lovecraftian yuck-gods. Holmes has fought the fiendish Fu Manchu. Holmes has fought Dracula...a lot! Like, maybe not as often as he’s fought Jack the Ripper -- would those two just get a room already? -- but at least half a dozen novels have chronicled the master sleuth’s battles with the count.

There’s a book in which Holmes and Watson borrow a time machine from H.G. Wells so they can travel to ancient Jerusalem and determine whether or not Jesus was really the son of God. (Spoiler alert: He is.) Another book is comprised entirely of Holmes and Watson debating the merits of the Warren Report.  

BatholmesIn the 1987 TV movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes, our hero is awakened from suspended animation and begins investigating crimes in modern-day Boston. In the 1993 TV movie Sherlock Holmes Returns, our hero is awakened from suspended animation and begins investigating crimes in modern-day San Francisco. Why there weren’t subsequent TV movies called Sherlock Holmes Has Returned (in which our hero investigates crimes in modern-day Chicago) and Sherlock Holmes Is Returning (in which our hero investigates crimes in modern-day Des Moines) I don’t know. But there was Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, in which...oh, god. Please don’t make me explain it. Heck, the guy has even palled around with Batman, which is something I wish I could say.

What’s up with all the returns? Why do writers keep reviving Holmes in forms both familiar and freaky?

Simple. Public domain, baby!

Well, that’s part of it anyway. Consider this, though: Long John Silver’s in the public domain, and we haven’t seen Long John Silver Returns in our TV Guides yet. All the poor guy got was a greasy fried fish joint. Someone makes a new Robin Hood film every decade or so, but it’s not like superfans called “the Merry Men” get together in Sherwood every year to debate whether or not he was real.

Yet Holmes still inspires stories and novels and movies and comics and games and art and decorative license plate frames. (Really. I found one online. $19.99 plus $2.99 for shipping and handling.) Obviously, he’s got something Robin and Long John don’t.

It could be that he's a product of the late Victorian era, a time we seem to love despite all the filth and racism and prostitute murders and child labor and such. (I love the Victorian era, and I'm not a fan of racism, prostitute murders and child labor at all. Filth I don't mind, as one glance around my office would tell you.) But if we just dug Holmes because he's Victorian, why would Sherlock and Elementary be so popular? (Aside: Around 2008 or so, I pitched an editor on the idea of a modern Sherlock Holmes revamp, with Afghan invasion vet Watson blogging about his kooky new crime-solving roommate. “Nah...Sherlock Holmes is overdone,” the editor said. “How about a modern Robin Hood?” Sigh. If anyone out there wants to do Robin Hood in the 21st Century, the idea’s still available.)

Whatever it is we love about Holmes, it's malleable. It's not tied to deerstalker caps or meerschaum pipes or hansom cabs or London fog. It's not even tied to Holmes himself, in a way: We've seen good-natured Holmeses and a-hole Holmeses and action hero Holmeses and daffy Holmeses and Holmeses who bear an uncanny resemblance to Max Headroom.

Gaslight Gothic 270But there are a few constants. Holmes is smart. Holmes is curious. Holmes is brave. And Holmes likes to have a Watson (though they vary, too) by his side. With those things in place, Holmes can go up against anything, anyone, anywhere, anywhen.

Including the weird and wonderful world of gothic horror. Congratulations, my dear reader -- you've reached the real point of this post! Not-at-all-weird (so far as I know) yet still wonderful editor/superfan Charles Prepolec has just produced a new anthology of creeptastic Sherlockia. It's called Gaslight Gothic: Strange Tales of Sherlock Holmes, it includes contributions from such Sherlockian superstars as Lyndsay Faye, David Stuart Davies and James Lovegrove, and it's available for pre-order as of this week. I've ordered my copy. Because there's one more thing about Sherlock Holmes that never changes.

We'll always love the guy -- myself included.

Idea Man

There's a barber I don't go to anymore, and here's why: He had a great (he thought) idea for a book.

Why should I hold that against him? After all, I'm a writer. I have lots of great (I think) ideas for books. What am I, jealous?

StripesHere's the problem: The barber found out I’m an author, so he wanted me to write his book. It was going to be about a barber who's a hero to all the neighborhood kids. They come to him for advice, and he dispenses wisdom while cutting hair. If there was going to be an actual plot, the barber didn't mention it. He did say, however, that he would generously split all the profits with me…after I wrote the book and got it published.

Gee, thanks.

It's kind of a bummer, because the guy was a good barber. And cheap. But I've got ideas of my own. Too many, in fact. Which is why I'm going to be giving some away today. And I won't even ask for 50%! I'll settle for a shout-out in the acknowledgments and a beer if we're ever at a writer's conference together.

With my buddy Lisa Falco, a fantabulous tarot expert, I used to write a series of cozy-ish tarot-themed mysteries. (I say the books are cozy-ish because I've been told that our heroine/narrator was too snarky to be a traditional cozy protagonist. To which I would reply, "Me and Lisa? Snarky? Chuh. As if. [Sneer. Eyeroll. Whatever 'W' with fingers.]" And I say "used to write" because the series didn't make it. Which Lisa actually foresaw in the cards before the first book came out. God's honest truth! She did a reading that perfectly predicted the rocky road the series would have. But that's a story for another day....) There's a big market for cozy (and cozy-ish) mysteries with interesting themes, and despite what certain barbers think I don't have time to write them all. So if you're looking to jump into the exciting world of mystery writing, feel free to do it with one of these ready-made series.

Murder Is Nothing to Sneeze At: An Allergies Mystery
Feisty (but not snarky) allergist Lanie Cooper dispenses allergy-fighting tips while hunting for the killer of a local pharmacist.

Death Can Get Stuffed: A Taxidermy and Embalming Mystery
Feisty (but not snarky) taxidermist Janie Hooper dispenses animal mounting tips while hunting for the killer of a local mortician.

Hair Today, Gone to Murder: A Hairstyling Mystery
Feisty (but not snarky) stylist Annie Jackson dispenses hair care tips to adoring neighborhood kids while hunting for the killer of a pushy barber.

Procrastination Can Be Murder: A…Uhh…A Something Something Something Mystery
Feisty (but not snarky) procrastinator Frannie Johnson dispenses the occasional self-motivation tip (when she feels like it) and thinks maybe she should get around to hunting for whoever killed that lady -- you know…what's her name? -- one of these days.

Murder Can Be Murder: A How-to-Get-Away-with-Murder Mystery
Feisty (but not snarky) murderer (and noted allergist) Lanie Cooper dispenses homicide tips while trying not to get caught for the killing of local procrastinator Frannie Johnson.

Website Updates Can Be Murder: An Author Promotion Mystery
Feisty (and kind of snarky) mystery writer Stephanie Hocken dispenses bad book ideas nicked from an earlier guest blog post in a desperate attempt to keep her website feeling fresh. If you end up writing this one, let me know. I can help you with the research.

Monkey Shines

Someone broke the passenger-side window out of my car last night and stole the shoulder bag I take to work every day. I guess they thought it would have a laptop in it. No such luck for the thieves. And no luck for my family. Because you know what was in that bag? Two monkeys and an owl. Bobo, Lou from the Zoo and Barney the Barn Owl, to be specific.

The Three AmigosEvery day for the last year or so, my son Mojo picked out three of his "guyzos" (his huge posse of stuffed animals) for me to take to work. During the day, I'd send him pictures of the guys helping me do my job. The makeup of the group changed every day except for one constant: Bobo. Bobo always came with me. Because Bobo was special.

Mojo is autistic. There were times a few years ago when it was almost impossible to get him to communicate or cooperate or control himself. And you know who he almost always listened to? Bobo. Bobo could calm him down. Bobo could get him to listen. Bobo could get him to talk about himself and what he was feeling.

Bobo probably would have offended my Italian friends. He-a sounded like-a theese-a. You know: He had a "Whatsa matta for you?" old school faux-Italian accent. Why? Because it's a silly accent I can do, and a long time ago it became my job to give the guyzos distinct voices and personalities. (It's not easy. In fact, there are several guyzos with the same voice. Baby and His Brother Baby, for instance, and they sound a lot like Ted the Christmas Bear who sounds almost exactly like Big Ears the Rabbit.)

Bobo was an upbeat, can-do dude. "Let's-a try it, my friend!" he'd say. Or "You can-a do it, my friend!" (He called everyone "my friend.") And "I love-a you, my friend." And Mojo would say, "I love you, Bobo."

Bobo shared Mojo's distaste for shows of affection, though. "No lovey-doveys!" they liked to shout when things got too icky-sentimental. So I'll honor Bobo's preferences and wrap this up.

My wife and I were in a restaurant celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary when Bobo was stolen. When we came out and realized what had happened, we drove around the neighborhood looking for the bag and the guyzos, hoping the thieves would dump everything when they realized they hadn't snatched anything of value. To them.

We were in tears. Not over an old, stained, to be honest slightly stinky stuffed monkey. The tears were for what Bobo represented. What he gave us. A narrow window into our son's mind and heart.

That window is wider now. Mojo's doing fine. He listens and communicates and (usually, in his unique way) cooperates. This morning, when my wife and I told him what had happened to the guyzos, he said, "Oh, no...oh, no." His lips trembled, and tears came to his eyes. And then, after we talked about it a little longer -- about how much we loved Bobo and would miss him -- he said, "Oh, well." And he was ready to watch his Saturday morning cartoons.

He's still hurt, I can tell. But at this very moment he's watching Bugs Bunny and eating a doughnut. He acknowledged his pain, and then he moved on. What we all have to do all the time. Mojo can do it, too. I couldn't always say that.

A stuffed monkey helped that happen. He's gone now, but the window he opened remains.

Thanks, Bobo. And goodbye.

Yeah, you smelled. But I love you, my friend.


The Tower of Babble

As anyone who's still waiting for the sixth Holmes on the Range novel can tell you, I'm not a fast writer. I'm so slow, in fact, I just wrote an entire blog post about it for my friends over at the Sleuthsayers website. There are a few reasons the new novel's taken me a while -- indecisiveness, rights issues, other projects, the need to feed and clothe children -- but it really does boil down to plain old-fashioned slowness most of all. When it comes to writing, Speedy Gonzales I am not.

He feels the need the need for speed(I'm also not Speedy Gonzales when it comes to escaping from cats and whatever else Senor Gonzales does to pass the time. I recall one cartoon mouse remarking to another that "Speedy Gonzales is friends with everybody's see-ster," so we might know at least one other thing Speedy does around the village with great speed and enthusiastic shouts of "Andale! Andale!" Some things maybe it's better not to re-watch as an adult.)

(Oh, and I should have included "dumb distractions" on my list of reasons the new book's so overdue.)

In my Sleuthsayers post, I lay most of the blame for my slowness as a writer on the fact that I like to hear what I write out loud. Which shouldn't necessarily slow me down, I know. Legend has it Erle Stanley Gardner dictated his later novels to a team of fast-typing secretaries. (When I say "legend has it," I mean I read it on Wikipedia.) I already know that wouldn't work for me, and not just because I can't afford a team of fast-typing secretaries or even one secretary with missing fingers and tinnitus. Putting words together is something that requires effort for me -- lots and lots of effort if I want those words to form good sentences. Imagine if Bizarro became a novelist: "Me want to finish new book last year, so me am still writing it as slow as possible." That's me.

And I don't just move slowly when putting words together as a writer. I even do it slowly as a reader. Just as I want to hear everything I write, I "hear" everything I read. I'm not saying I read everything out loud, though I might as well. I mean I read at the speed of speech. Any faster than that and I just start skimming.

That makes me a pretty good copy editor and proofreader and a lousy mystery fan and colleague. There are so many books I want to read -- hundreds, it feels like -- yet in a good year I get through maybe 20. Making things worse: When I see one of those books I want to read on sale, I buy it...even though I know there's a good chance I won't crack the thing open before Judgment Day. (And when Judgment Day comes, the first thing St. Peter's going to say to me is "Why the hell did you buy so many books?")

We recently had the floor redone in my office, so I had to pull my unread books off the shelf and move them for a few days. When it was time to put them back, I thought it would be fun to stack them into a literal To Be Read pile. Only I couldn't do it. Put that many paperbacks on top of each other, it turns out, and when you get about six feet up it starts to feel like building a chimney out of Jell-O. I could never get it to say up long enough to finish. (I'm guessing that's a sentence that would never come out of Speedy Gonzales' mouth. Callback! Arriba!)

Submitted for your approval: the closest I came to completing my To Be Read pile, documented by a notable photojournalist. (My wife.) And keep in mind I have two dozen more unread books on my Kindle. 

Anyone want to recommend a good book on speed reading?

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Dial "Femme" for Murder

I have a confession to make: I’m a guy. 
That’s probably not a surprise if you were paying attention to the website you just surfed to. It’s stevehockensmith.com, not evehockensmith.com. Sure, I could be Eve writing as Steve to sucker all those readers who want their writers super-manly. You know. Like that delectable hunk of man-meat James Patterson. But if a woman wanted to write under a male nom de plume, why the heck would she choose “Steve Hockensmith”? Brock Dashwood -- now there’s a pen name! That dude’s got a yacht and a six-pack (and not the kind I have in the fridge with “Pabst Blue Ribbon” on the bottles).
I want to beWhen I say I’m a guy, I don’t just mean biologically…though in these anything goes times, I suppose it’s not a bad idea to be 100% clear about that. So, yes: I am biologically male. I think in the modern parlance that’s “cis male”…? Which sounds a bit like “sissy male” to my confused guy ears. And that’s a bit ironic, as “sissy male” is exactly how my peers in high school probably thought of me. Because I’m a guy, you see, but I’m not necessarily a guy’s guy.
Allow me to demonstrate.
I love Westerns and James Bond. I’m fascinated by World War II. I hate asking for directions. Guy!
But on the other hand…
I don’t think sports cars or motorcycles are cool. I find football to be kind of stupid. I never had Farrah Fawcett-Majors or Pamela Sue Anderson on my bedroom wall (or on my mind -- not my type). Not so guy-ish.
But on the other hand…
I love barbecuing. I love beer. I have a hard time dressing myself in matching clothes. Guy!
But on the other hand…
I get a deep, soulful sense of satisfaction from cooking for my family. I waste long stretches of time watching cat videos on Facebook. I can’t stand professional wrestling or the Three Stooges.
But on the other hand…
I like (good) martial arts movies. I’m terrible with names. I hate talking on the phone. Guy stuff, right?
But on the other hand…
I like books and movies and TV shows with a light, comedic approach to murder mysteries. I prefer protagonists who aren’t hard-boiled macho men. I dig it when the crime genre doesn’t take itself so seriously. In other words: I’m down with cozies.
Do I have to turn in my guy card now?
Some people might say so. Or, if not my guy card, at least my serious writer card. But as you might have guessed already, I don’t particularly care about being a card-carrying guy or a “serious writer.”
I’ve written three cozy-ish novels with a female partner and a female protagonist -- the third, Give the Devil His Due, came out last spring -- and as I was planning the series I was aware that I’d need to get in touch with my feminine side. So when it came time to make up a name for the town our hero, tarot reader Alanis McLachlan, would have her adventures in, I went with “Berdache, Arizona.” “Berdache” being an old, not particularly politically correct (I’ve since learned) term for Native American “two-spirit people” -- i.e., individuals who are neither purely male nor purely female. And “Arizona” being…well, Arizona.
I liked basing Alanis in a place called Berdache because she has a mixture of stereotypically feminine and masculine traits herself. She’s cocky and jaded and wise-cracking but vulnerable and empathetic, too. Plus, she’s a creation of a man and a woman: me and my partner on the series, tarot expert Lisa Falco.
But I’m realizing now that I’m a bit of a Berdache myself. At least to this extent: I have soft spots for baseball and the Bee Gees, I enjoy cheap beer and fruity cocktails, and I respect hardboiled crime fiction and cozies. If that makes me less of a guy...well, I’ll console myself by throwing a steak on the grill, popping a John Wayne movie into the DVD player and pouring my effeminate self a cold PBR.