Thursday, June 30, 2011

Musical shorts

Technology simply baffles me. I have a laptop, an iPad, and an iPod Touch, which I commonly carry around in my pocket. The Touch has a nice note-taking app, so when a brilliant idea occurs to me I can tap-tap the screen and record it. That's much better than stuffing my shirt pocket with jottings on scraps of paper napkins from Subway, or forgetting the idea altogether. It also has a little camera that's let me snap images of street signs in case I've forgotten where I left the car. Often, though, I'll place it on my desk and play classical music from my iTunes collection.

All that is very nice, but there is this one little quirk: it doesn't have an Off button. Oh, it has a button to turn off most of its functions, but none for the music. If I've had enough music for one day, there is only the Pause button. And ninety percent of the time, that's just as good as Off.

But then it goes into my shorts pocket, and perhaps I go to a writers' group meeting. It can be handy there, especially to jot down those to-do's that inevitably arise. Then when someone is talking, usually making a serious point, we're all treated to a lovely orchestra playing Brahms's Fourth or The Red Army Choir bellowing out The Volga Boatmen.

My iPod Touch just goes on by itself, perhaps to liven up the meeting, perhaps to embarrass me. Has it bumped against the side of my chair and activated Play? Maybe, but sometimes I could swear I wasn't fidgeting in my seat.

Apple makes terrific gizmos, sleek and efficient, without a smidgen of superfluity. It even goes on without prompting.

Who needs a button for the sound?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Remembering the Sixties

This is an essay I plan to submit to a local writing competition. Any suggestions, comments, or memories of your own are most welcome.

Robin Williams joked that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.

I remember. How could I forget?

China took its Great Leap Forward and almost leaped off a cliff. The Cold War nearly heated to thermonuclear temperatures over the Cuban missile crisis. Vietnam burst into America’s consciousness like a bad LSD trip. The civil rights activists Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner ended up in a Mississippi landfill. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy all died by gunfire. My father died of a heart attack. Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. The Beatles conquered America. I married my girlfriend.

I commuted to Boston University back then. As a transfer from a junior college, I decided to join ROTC in my sophomore year to make the most of my inevitable military service. A sergeant in the Army ROTC office told me incorrectly that they didn’t accept transfer students, so I stumbled into the Air Force ROTC program.  One afternoon, I walked into Economics class to hear that President Kennedy had been shot. Our instructor grimly refused to cancel class, but I could not focus on her lecture.

After my graduation in 1965, the Air Force sent me to the deep South to be a weapons controller, a job that placed me in front of a radar screen to direct fighter pilots running practice intercepts in case of a Soviet bomber attack. Many of those pilots went on to fly combat support missions in Vietnam. The experience convinced me not to become a civilian air traffic controller.

That first duty assignment landed me in Montgomery, Alabama, from where I toured radar sites in the Southeast. Once I looked up a cousin in Biloxi, Mississippi, and had trouble finding him, so I rolled down the window of my Volkswagen bug and asked a young black woman how to get to Kuhn Street. She kept walking as though I didn’t exist, which I suddenly wished were true.

After three years I received orders to spend 1968 at Fire Island Air Force Station in Alaska, within sight of Anchorage and the Chugach Mountains. Fire Island is about three miles long and a mile wide and accommodated about one hundred unaccompanied men and an unknown number of moose. People drank too much, slept too much, and in early summer played softball until after 10 p.m.  Once at midnight, the ghostly lights of Aurora Borealis shimmered above us.

One day, a light plane tried to land on the narrow beach but caught its landing gear on a power line, flipped over, and exploded. In December near the end of my tour, I said goodbye to an Army officer who had been assigned to our unit on temporary duty from Fort Richardson. Lieutenant Murphy hailed from Southern California, so we called him Murph the Surf. A couple of days after our farewell, he boarded a plane to the Aleutians, replacing his boss who had come down with a cold. The plane disintegrated in mid-air in sixty-below-zero weather, its pieces scattering across a frozen lake. No one survived.

Alaska put me far from the battlefields of Vietnam and America, but the daily disaster reports reached us by television. We heard Walter Cronkite read the daily body counts from places like Pleiku—with dead enemies stacked so high, how could we not be winning? Life Magazine reported a visit by General Westmoreland to his troops who had just returned from combat. A soldier said he had killed an enemy.

“How did you know he was dead?” asked the general.

“Because I cut him in half,” the soldier replied.

“Good,” said the general.

I wondered if America had gone mad.

In Chicago, the Democrats convened amid disaster, while police beat both war protestors and innocent onlookers. Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic presidential nominee, but by the time I mailed in my absentee ballot, his position on the war seemed little different from that of Richard Nixon, except that Nixon said he had a “secret plan” to get us out of Vietnam.

After my discharge in 1969, New York Life hired me to sell insurance. Around the time of the Woodstock Festival, I sold a $6,000 policy to a recent Navy veteran who killed himself in a car wreck a week or so later. Months later, the company issued a $12,000 double indemnity check to the 19-year-old widow and mother.  I’d planned to quit my job anyway, so my delivery of the check to the woman’s father-in-law marked the end of my sales career.

For me personally, my marriage to Nancy provided the one enduring legacy of the Sixties. In 1961 we went to the high school senior prom together, and in 2011 we will attend our fiftieth high school reunion together.

So I do remember the Sixties. How could I forget?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Slang from the bad old days

Do you ever think back to expressions popular in your childhood? In my case, that's the 1950s. If you write about an era, it's good to recall the jargon people used then. My childhood was surrounded by blatant racism. Back then blacks were widely called negroes, and anyone who thought they had any rights was likely to be labeled a nigger lover. An important secret, especially an unsavory one, was the nigger in the woodpile, but if you did someone a kindness, that was mighty white of you. If you asked too many questions, you might be asked in return if you were writing a book. Of course, we all knew there was a sucker born every minute, so you shouldn't take any wooden nickels. If you were lazy, you'd better get on the stick, and if you said something stupid, your friends would want to know if your mother had any kids that lived. And you didn't want to call that palooka a homo, because he'd have a cow. Then you'd be cruisin' for a bruisin' and hurtin' for certain. You'd wind up with a knuckle sandwich, maybe even be pushin' up daisies.

How about you? What were your decade and the expressions you wouldn't touch today with a ten-foot pole?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mesilla gate

This is the lovely gate to Josefina's Restaurant in Mesilla, New Mexico. A few short steps away is the town center and the site of the jail Billy the Kid broke out of after he'd been sentenced to hang. Walk a little farther and you arrive at El Comedor, where our Fiction critique group meets.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Emailing to your Kindle

If I send you one of my novels for your Kindle, there are a few things you have to do (Amazon's rules, not mine):

1. Go to You'll need to sign in to your Amazon account.
2. Scroll down to the section marked Digital Content, and select Manage Your Kindle.
3. Add my address,, to your Kindle Approved E-Mail List.
4. Send me your Kindle email address, which you can find on your Kindle under Menu/Settings/Device E-mail.

This will allow me to send the file directly to your Kindle. Unless I'm on your list, they will automatically screen my mail out as spam.

All three of my novels are available in Kindle format. Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Introducing Dorothy Webb and Chindii Woman

Let me introduce Dorothy Webb, a writer who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Dorothy's murder mystery, Chindii Woman, is set on the Navajo reservation where she grew up. The heroine comes to the reservation to learn about the apparently accidental death of her brother and gets in serious trouble when she asks too many questions.

I've read Chindii Woman and found the story, the characters, and the setting appealing. Dorothy recently answered a few questions about the book.

Your main character, Darcy Redbird, is a Lakota Sioux. Why does she feel so out of place among the Navajo?
From being raised in Chicago by her adoptive parents, Darcy knows nothing about being a Native American, much less the Navajo culture. But she tries to learn. She is aware that the Native Americans are closer to nature but cannot accept their belief in the supernatural, like spirits and other things that cannot be seen.

How much research did you do for Chindii Woman, and how much came from your personal knowledge?
All of the information in Chindii Woman is from my personal knowledge. There really was a legend of the Chindii Woman who lived in a very dangerous canyon called Satan's Pass that we had to go through in order to get to Gallup from Crownpoint.  The other taboos, spirits and ceremonies were part of my daily life. I asked friends who continue to live on and near the reservation to read parts of Chindii Woman to insure that I had them interpreted correctly. 

What are the traditional beliefs that drive the story, and to what extent do Navajo still hold to those beliefs?
Of course, the legend of the Chindii Woman drives this story. Depending on the Navajo individual, the traditional beliefs continue to be practiced. For example, a deceased person's name may be mentioned within the three days after the death only if it is done respectfully.

Darcy is an appealing heroine. Do you have another adventure in store for her?
Many who have read the book have asked for a sequel, using Darcy and Raymond. As soon as I get to a place where I can concentrate, I'll see what I can come up with.

Learn more at Dorothy's web site, Books can also be obtained from Author House ( Search on her name and the book will pop up. It is available in hardback, soft cover and e-book. Chindii Woman is also available from Amazon and  Barnes & Noble. For an autographed copy, contact her at ($15 plus $3 postage).