Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When Pigs Fly gets its butt kicked

Here is the latest review (ForeWord Clarion Review) of When Pigs Fly, and it's hardly kind. The writer's main point is that he hates my humor. Even his compliment about my storytelling is framed as a slap in the face. Mainly, though, Diet Cola is pissed off. He worked so hard to be an asshole in that story, and all the reviewer can focus on is what he drinks.

The review came through iUniverse, and they offered me the option to kill it. I told them heck no. Let it run.

When Pigs Fly
Bob Sanchez
290 pages
Softcover $17.95
Two Stars (out of Five)

“George Ashe sat in the passenger seat, inside the ceramic urn still protected by the FedEx box,” Bob Sanchez writes in a line that is typical of the humor in his latest novel. When Pigs Fly tells the story of Mack Durgin, a former police officer from Massachusetts, who has settled into retirement in Arizona only to be sucked into the biggest crime caper he’s ever seen.

Sanchez’s plot sounds original, but the novel reads like a watered down version of a Coen brothers’ script. First, there’s the compelling protagonist who wants nothing more than to settle down and enjoy some peace and quiet. Of course that can’t happen, because a box arrives with his friend’s ashes contained in an urn inside, and Mack knows that he has to fulfill a promise. The fulfillment of that promise becomes a harrowing task that involves over-the-top, one-dimensional characters like “Diet Cola”—an ex-con with a craving for calorie-free soft drinks—and an Elvis impersonator who is actually named Elvis.

Mack sets out to spread George Ashe’s ashes over the Grand Canyon. Along the way, he’s pursued by a variety of oddball characters who want to get their hands on another item contained inside the urn. This twist provides the hook that propels the tale forward.

Sanchez’s humor falls flat from the beginning because the novel seems to be trying too hard to be something that it isn’t. The characters are clichés that readers will have a hard time taking seriously. There are bad one-liners (“We’re not in Kansas anymore Dodo”) and downright shameless gags such as an Elvis impersonator getting stabbed in the eye with a tampon. Additionally, Sanchez contradicts himself often by making a point, then immediately overruling himself, as in this line: “Too bad tires were so hard to shoplift, or Ace could pick up some nice radials Stealing tires was always possible but it was tough getting them installed.” Statements like these lead readers to question the tale as a whole.

The real shame, however, is that Sanchez is actually a good storyteller when he puts his mind to it. The narrative flows well and actually captivates at times, but sadly, his writing skills are overshadowed by silly character names and lackluster dialogue.

Even in the craziest of crime capers, readers must be able to identify with the characters and believe that, as strange as the story is, it could actually happen. When Pigs Fly does not succeed in this.

Liam Brennan

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Turkey Day in the Southwest

A short Thanksgiving essay of mine has just appeared in the newsletter of The California Writers's Club (West Valley Branch), thanks to their editor, Kathy Highcove. You'll need to scroll down to page 11 of the PDF, where I am honored to have space next to Alice Folkart's essay. Here it is:

Turkey Day in the Southwest

By Bob Sanchez

Kathy Highcove recently asked me to write about food for your Thanksgiving issue, and she could have picked no one more qualified. Indeed I have consumed food my entire life, and for virtually every reason one can imagine: hunger, consolation, gluttony, boredom, celebration, love, parental threats, desire to please, and the time of day, to name but a few.

Thanksgiving gives us one more reason to tie on the bib. It’s that wonderful day when we give thanks for football and our God-given freedom to overeat. In 1950s New England, we’d go to a high-school football game that Thursday morning and return home to the aroma of the baked turkey and mince pie that Mom was just pulling out of the oven. She’d make the piecrust with lard and the gravy with bird grease. Clogged arteries were a thing of the future—the near future, as it turned out.

When we sat down at the table, Dad led us in a swift and perfunctory Bless us oh Lord for all those delights we really took for granted. Critical questions followed: White meat or dark? (Always white for me.) More stuffing? (Yes, please.) Cranberries? (Yes, please.) Lakes of gravy filled the craters in the mashed potatoes, while salt and pepper rained over all. At one such meal I politely asked my brother’s girlfriend to “please piss the butter,” causing everyone but Mom and me to get up from the table, choking with laughter. Mom glowered and said nothing.

We didn’t know the word tryptophan back then, but we felt its effect as the afternoon wore on. Then in the days after Thanksgiving we’d pick away at the turkey’s carcass until there was nothing left of that poor bird but the bones and a plaintive gobble.

Half a century has passed, and now my wife and I live in New Mexico, where the official state question is “Red or green?” referring to one’s preference in chile colors. Our holidays have been drained of most of the fat except what we carry around on our persons, but otherwise we still have turkey on Turkey Day. So when my online friend Miz Highcove said, “Hey Bob, what’s a Hispanic Thanksgiving like?” I was briefly stumped because I’m not Hispanic (long story short: Papa Sanchez was from British Honduras and swore allegiance to King George).

So I delved into research for a few minutes, and it turns out that Southwest holiday fare isn’t much different from what you might expect: mix a bit of chile into the stuffing and go easy on the Pilgrim references, and you’re pretty much there. Several Web sources (and you know how authoritative they are), say that the real first Thanksgiving was celebrated near El Paso—therefore, near me—by a conquistador in 1598. Take that, Plimoth Plantation.

Of course, some original research was necessary, so we went out to eat. A Hispanic waitress told me that on Thanksgiving she likes to serve her family cornbread muffins made with chopped jalapeño, which sounds delicious to me. Finally, a Google search turned up such worthy suggestions as mixing spicy chorizo into the stuffing and combining a sweet and sour chile sauce with a cranberry base. So with a little Googling, you can easily add a Southwestern flair to your Thanksgiving meal.

Just keep an eye on the butter.

Bob Sanchez is an ex-New Englander living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he’s webmaster of The Internet Review of Books. In the past, he’s been a technical writer and a few other things he’d rather not talk about. You might find his blog interesting and his novels amusing. They are When Pigs Fly and Getting Lucky.