Hawking Up Hairballs

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

James Lee Burke

”On the burnt-out end of a July day in Southwest Texas, in a crossroads community whose only economic importance had depended on its relationship to a roach paste factory the EPA had shut down twenty years before, a young man driving a car without window glass stopped by an abandoned blue-and-white stucco filling station that had once sold Pure gas during the Depression and was now home to bats and clusters of tumbleweed. Next to the filling station was a mechanic's shed whose desiccated boards lay collapsed upon a rusted pickup truck with four flat bald tires. At the intersection a stoplight hung from a horizontal cable strung between two power poles, its plastic covers shot out by .22 rifles.”

James Lee Burke is the finest writer among those who currently publish in the crime genre in the USA. Whoever is number two isn't even close. As they might say in the sports world, there ain't a one of them who could carry Burke's jockstrap. In a way, it's a shame that he writes in the genre. He could have really done some damage as a serious novelist had he chosen to do so, but he just keeps churning out a book a year, and it's remarkable that he's as good as he is with that kind of production.

The above passage is from his latest book, Rain Gods. It's a sample of why he's so good. That paragraph really sets the scene. And how does he do it? With details, my friends, with details. “On the burnt-out end of a July day in Southwest Texas” tells us that it's deep summer and the adjective “burnt-out” suggests the desolation that is characteristic of that part of Texas. Burke doesn't just tell us that there's a shut-down factory in the town. He gives us the details. The car without window glass is another nice detail, suggesting that the young man driving it is one of society's losers. The collapsed mechanic's shed is nicely described, and instead of just saying that the stoplight's plastic covers had been busted out, Burke tells us that they'd been shot out. That reminds us that this is a place where gun violence just might come easily.

Not all of Burke's prose in Rain Gods comes up to that paragraph, nor is it realistic to expect it to, given the way Burke churns out his novels. And a couple of turns in the plots made me groan a bit. They were just too expected and cliched. He didn't seem to want to let any of the “good guys” get killed, when the logic of his narrative seemed to dictate that they should have been. His main villain is over the top as well, but that's something that's to be expected in this genre. If one's a fan of crime fiction, this one isn't to be missed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An Exercise In Futility?

I've been getting busy with querying agents for my novel Buster Bungle's Big Top. It's tedious work but thankfully most of them now take email queries. That saves a lot of time and money. Still, I must confess that it feels like an exercise in futility, sort of like trying to fund your kid's college education by playing the lottery. According to the agencies themselves, they get around fifty queries a day and they only accept a handful of new clients every year, so you can see the kinds of odds that a new author faces.

Some of you are undoubtedly thinking that I should perhaps consider self-publication, whether of a traditional book or an e-book. That's a hypothetical option but, from a practical standpoint, it's a no-go. You'll drop a couple of grand on a traditional book and end up with boxes of unsold books in a back room of your house or apartment. And, yes, I'm aware of the print-on-demand services, but they turn out not to be substantially cheaper. As for e-books, there's not much cost in offering them for sale on a web site. However, the fact is, in either case, that most novels will be lucky to sell fifty copies through such outlets. I would hope for a bigger audience than that.

So, the question is, what to do? I guess I'll keep sending out the queries, though I feel like an idiot for doing so, given that I'm not the sort of person who plays the lottery. I know when the odds are stacked against me. In the end though, I'll probably self-publish an e-book and set up a web site for myself, though the thought of having to resort to that really angers me. But, you know what they say about beggars.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ranting On

In my previous post, I confessed to hating greeters. I've been thinking about that and I've decided that the truth is that I just plain hate the human race. I'm a damned misanthrope. It's the reason I've come to live such a reclusive existence. People just aren't worth the trouble. My two cats make better companions.

Upon reflection, how can one not be a misanthrope? Just look at the track record of the human race. There are wars, racism, genocide, all of which lead to indiscriminate killing on a wide scale. And remember, those of the Book, like Christians, Jews, and Islamists, say that we are made in the image of their God. That right there is reason enough for atheism.

Now, most people are pleasant enough one on one, but it's been my experience that, at best, people disappoint you and, at worst they use you or stab you in the back. Even in marriage, which is supposedly the most intimate of relationships, people disappoint. As a college friend of mine said upon getting divorced, marriage is just two people, each trying to get his or her own way. A lifetime of observation tells me that this is true. In any intimate relationship, one of the partners will assert his or her dominance and the other partner will accept it, or the relationship will be dissolved.

All that said, I can't say that I wish the worst for people, and I take no joy from events like the earthquake in Haiti. The poor bastards. Not only have they suffered under US imperialism, but now the just and merciful God slaps them with a horrible earthquake. Just and merciful, my ass.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Just Leave Me Alone!

I hate greeters. You know who I'm talking about, those people at the entrance to various stores who are there to greet you as you enter. As far as I'm concerned, they're more annoying than anything else. I mean, for Chrissakes, I'm going to the store because there are things I need to buy, not because I want exchange pleasantries with some grinning fool.

I'm guessing that these stores think that greeters make for a positive shopping experience. A marketing firm somewhere probably did a study that shows people buy more when there are greeters at the door. Then again maybe not. In a lot of these stores, if you're leaving with an item that is too big to fit in a bag, like a large container of cat litter, they ask to see your receipt as you exit. You don't have to show them your receipt, and I always refuse to do so. What's the point of it then? It's just an annoyance.

Perhaps they think greeters deter shoplifting. Or maybe they deter those who might make a dash for the exit with their arms full of goods that they haven't paid for, though I can't imagine the people who work these jobs stepping in front of an escaping thief. Most of the greeters seem to be elderly, and they would just get run over.

I'd like to be rude to greeters, but I just can't do it. If the job were a career choice, that would be one thing. If it were something you could take an associate's degree in, like those offered by those bogus schools that advertise on late-night TV, then I'd really lay into them. That's not the case though. I suspect that greeters are the most poorly paid of the people who work in the stores. They're probably on the lowest rung of the employment scale, so I can't bring myself to be nasty. For the same reason, I always make a point of tipping generously at restaurants. Why make the lives of those who have shitty jobs any more difficult than they already are?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Lest I Needed More Proof

For a few hours there the other day, I thought that I might have been wrong. I thought that there just might be a God. And what would make me incline toward that conclusion? It was the news that Rush Limbaugh had been taken to the hospital with chest pains, and that he was listed in serious condition. When I read that on the internet, I slid on out of my chair, and to my knees. I put my hands together, looked skyward, and I prayed. Yes, I did. I actually prayed. Please, please, God, cast him down into the perdition that he deserves, and without a supply of oxycontin to get him through.

I should have known better. No one was there at the hospital to drive a stake through his black, black heart, and the darker spirits stirred themselves to help him rally. The next thing I knew, the news was that he was resting comfortably. They didn't know what had caused his chest pains, perhaps the spasming of an artery. Or, perhaps the bitter bile that flows through his veins in place of blood.

Not long after, there was Limbaugh, standing before a microphone after being released from the hospital. He was proclaiming that he could say from personal experience that there is nothing wrong with the healthcare system. What can one say in response to that? Of course, there isn't, not if you're a man of Limbaugh's means. He undoubtedly has one of those boutique medical insurance policies that guarantees first-class service.

That's one of the truly sad things about life. There is no justice in the world, nor can one expect it in some hereafter. The bastards prevail, and the masses suffer.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

You Could Be Next

"If you don't have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he's illegal, we can make him disappear." Those chilling words were spoken by James Pendergraph, then executive director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of State and Local Coordination, at a conference of police and sheriffs in August 2008.

The above quotation comes from an article in The Nation about America's immigration prisons. Along the same lines, a poll showed that 58% of the people felt that the Nigerian who tried to blow up that jet should be tortured. Just how stupid can people be? As Chris Hedges pointed out in a recent piece, due process is gone in the USA, for citizen and non-citizen alike. If the executive branch declares a person an enemy combatant, he can be spirited away to some secret prison without access to a lawyer or to the protections that once applied in this country. It doesn't matter whether or not he's a citizen.

It's ironic. These right-wing assholes are always railing about the government but, at the same time, they have such faith in the various police agencies. If government is corrupt and oppressive, what makes them think that the police agencies are any different? And they do trust the police. That's why they don't mind the restrictions on our civil and human rights. They believe that if the police think you're guilty of a crime, then you must have done something wrong.

All I can say is, good luck, folks. The Great Recession is nowhere near over. The Wall Street scum may be doing all right, but the average person is still suffering. Sooner or later, they're going to feel the need to take action, to demonstrate and protest. Wait and you'll see it, those demonstrators and protesters will start being designated as enemy combatants.