SCHOOL. WAS. DULL.

I always find myself defending school to kids. They complain it’s dull. That there’s nothing in it that “grabs” or fascinates them. I find myself trying to explain that school … well … wasn’t fascinating. That wasn’t the point.

School was dull. I remember being the one who had a book in my lap so when no one was looking, I would read. I love science today, but in school? In elementary school, junior high school, and high school? It was boring. I remember in high school I had a double period of botany beginning at eight in the morning. When I was, in any case, half asleep. The class went on for two endless hours. We had a teacher who knew her stuff, but could not speak in anything but the most droning voice. She’d start to talk and I’d black out. Completely. Gone.

I did not do well in the class. A pity. I was actually interested, but she was better than a sleeping pill. Twice as good, really. Nothing I ever took knocked me out as well as she did.

Social studies which would today be what? Social science? History? Some weird version of both? It consisted of everything that wasn’t English, math, or science. What we called “the rest of the stuff.” I was a passionate, ardent, enthusiastic reader.  I loved history and the world. But social studies? With those stupid work books where you would answer a question and then you had to color the pictures. Seriously? Color the pictures? I flunked coloring.

English was dull, too. We had to read books that were of no interest to anyone. I suspected the teachers found them duller than dirt too, but it was in the curriculum and that’s what they were supposed to teach. They did. We yawned. I drew pictures of horses in my notebooks. Sometimes, when I got tired of horses — I never got the feet right — I moved into castles. I was better at castles.

If they let us write something, I was definitely good at that. But being good at it didn’t make it interesting. My previous summer vacation wasn’t the stuff to brighten my week.

The teachers droned on and on. Those of us who intended to go to college hung in there. It never — not once, not for a split second — crossed my mind that I should drop out and work at entry-level jobs for the rest of my life merely because I was bored at school.

For me, going to college was exactly the same as going to heaven. I would go to college because as a child, there wasn’t another choice. I knew I could learn. I never doubted my ability to think. I was sure once I made it to the top — to college — the rest would follow.

I did learn a lot of things in college, but really, I learned most of the stuff which eluded me in school — math, science, statistics — while working.

When you are working, you learn things that make sense. You discover science has a reason. Numbers in context are not random forms on a piece of paper which you jiggle around until you either get the answer or sit there with empty eyes wondering what this is supposed to mean. I did stuff at work I had found impossible in a classroom. It wasn’t my fault. It was their fault. They taught the material so poorly no one who didn’t have a special thing for it ever figured it out. What a pity for everyone. Worst of all, they meant well. They did the best they knew how.

College had its share of drones and bores … but there were enough insanely wonderful teachers who opened whole new worlds for me. Out of all the courses I took, there were maybe a dozen teachers who were inspirational. It was enough.  For each year, there were at least one or two each semester. Plus, I was in an environment where learning was a thing everyone did. We wanted to learn. We needed to learn. We chose it.

We had managed to stay awake long enough in lower levels to get to this higher one and we weren’t going to toss it away. I know many people dropped out into the world of free love and acid and all that, but most of us stayed. If we were going to mess around, we were going to do it outside of class. We hadn’t gotten this far to ditch it for weekends of fun.

We never properly explained the whole school thing the way it should be explained to our kids or grandkids. We’ve told them “Oh, it’s not that bad.”

Except, it really is that bad. Sometimes, it’s even worse than that bad. School comes with incredibly boring teachers, but also with brutal, cruel classmates. That is very bad. Whether they are teasing you because of your color or because you are smart and they aren’t … cruelty is cruelty and kids are cruel. You don’t stay in school because it’s fun or because the quality of education is uplifting. You are there because you know in your brain and your guts that this is what you have to do if you want to have a real life.

If you also get wonderful, inspiring, enlightening teachers, that’s much better. But even if they are duller than you, duller than your dullard friends, you need to be there.

School is the work of childhood. It’s the “why of the how” of growing up.

DOUBLE UP BY GRETCHEN ARCHER — COMING IN TWO WEEKS!

THE BACK STORY ON DOUBLE KNOT – GRETCHEN ARCHER

Double Knot CoverWith DOUBLE UP coming out in just two weeks, this seemed a good time to run this little story from Ms. Archer’s previous great story of Davis Way and the Bellissimo Resort and Casino.


I love back stories. I’m one of those nosy people who has to research everything. I want to know not only what happens in the movie or the book, but what the author or director was thinking. Why he or she did it that way and not some other way. I love hearing about the inspiration behind a great piece of creative work.

To say that I loved Double Knot doesn’t quite capture my feeling on the subject. I loved that Ms. Archer stretched herself to go beyond snarky humor and easy laughs to explore her main character’s heart and motivations. Davis Way has gained depth. The things she does, the ways she reacts are no longer “out of the blue.” There is context where before, there were just questions. I also love the whole “locked room” genre. It seems every mystery writer tackles this at least once. Agatha Christie did it in several books and was, perhaps, the all time grande dame of the locked room mystery. Conan Doyle did it too, as have almost all great modern mystery writers. Who could resist? Not me!

The tension between a few characters locked together in a race with death? Whether it’s a train, a haunted house in the country, or below decks on a luxury cruise ship — this is the ultimate setting for mystery and murder.

And now, without further ado, here’s Gretchen Archer to give you an inside look.


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Gretchen Archer

Question: What made you take the leap into writing a classic locked room mystery with a pregnant Davis Way in the middle of the action? What were you thinking?

What was I thinking? I wanted to challenge myself. Writers have to do that, I think. Maybe we all need to do it, to compete with ourselves and see what we can do that we haven’t done before.

I knew I wanted a locked-room mystery. Double Knot is the fifth book in my series. My characters needed a change of scenery. They’d covered every square inch of the Bellissimo Resort and Casino, the fictional Gulf Coast casino where the Davis Way crime capers are set in Double Whammy, Double Dip, Double Strike, and Double Mint. So, I built a boat. I packed my characters into a suite and sent them on a Caribbean cruise. I locked the door, threw away the key, and let loose the dogs of war, as it were.

Question: Unlike in your previous books, this one has a very tight timeline. Why?

That tight timeline was my second big challenge. The previous four books each spanned weeks, sometimes months. I allowed myself just two days for Double Knot. My goal was to write eighty thousand compelling words that would take place in forty-eight hours.

Question: You brought in new characters and left old characters out of the story. Again, why?

Character arc was my third big challenge. First, I profiled an unlikable and unsympathetic character with the intent of gradually redeeming her. Next, I took a core character — who my readers didn’t know well and surely didn’t embrace — and I put her out there. With all her hopes, fears, trials, motivation … and hopefully, salvation.

And in what turned out to be the biggest test of all, I let my star — Davis — start a family. A pregnant main character is unusual for the mystery genre. Going in, I didn’t think anything of it. After all, I’ve done it myself. How hard could it be?

As it turned out, very hard. Striking a balance between Davis taking care of herself while actively solving a mystery was a high-wire act. Truth be told, three wonderful editors, all of whom were on one side of the labor and delivery fence with me — thrice on the other, led to more treacherous editing waters than any of us expected. I’m happy to say we survived and Double Knot endured. I’m a better writer for it. (My editors might not agree.)

Was it easy? KNOT! I mean NOT! Did I love writing this book? A resounding yes. I hope readers connect with it. If knot, a chuckle.

Happy reading, and thank you Marilyn!

COMPUTERS, ICE, WINTER, WHATEVER

Yesterday Garry’s computer up and died. It apparently didn’t die of not having a battery because (are you ready?) — it doesn’t have a battery. It’s got some other weird thing in it. On the positive side, my previously hot computer is still really hot. Aside from having a rather full hard drive left, it is a computer worth fixing. Forever. That is the point of buying a really good computer. If you need to fix it, you can. Meanwhile, it’ll do fine on Windows 7 for at least the next few years.

Hands in motion

Hands in motion

I was doing okay, all thing considered … until my Kindle died. It was one thing over the line. I could cope without my second computer. I wasn’t happy, but I was okay. Garry needed a computer? I had one.

But when the Kindle stopped working, I totally, utterly, lost it. Not that too. It turned out for reasons someone knows (but I don’t), my Kindle was no longer listed on Amazon. None of my audiobooks were listed. There are other Kindles there too, but for some reason, this “main” one seems to be the only one that really counts.

Three hours later, having given up on every possible other thing, we had to de-register, then re-register the Kindle. Then wait while 1,500 audio and regular books … maybe more like 2000 … loaded. That’s a lot of books. A lot of audiobooks. I didn’t even bother to deal with the email. Too much like work.

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Meanwhile, it tuns out, our guy can fix Garry’s computer. For the $100, it’s cheaper than anything I could buy. Whatever that thing which isn’t a battery is, it’s being replaced. I will use it and let Garry use “the much better one.” I need one on which I can write. A keyboard and a screen. This will be fine … and amusingly, it will be my computer again because it was my computer, then it wasn’t. Now, mine. Again. They come, they go.

I did totally lose it last night. To lose Garry’s computer and then the Kindle in one single day was one thing over the line for me. It’s weird. All kinds of other stuff can happen to me, but losing a computer? That’s where the buck stops. Take away everything, but leave me the WiFi, router, modem … and a computer.

Meanwhile, my granddaughter came over, stayed the night. Leaving her car at the bottom of the driveway. Who leaves their car at the bottom of a long, sloping driveway in the winter? Really? She got it out eventually. We are getting rain for a few hours and Garry’s going to “hit the grocery” while he can. By nightfall, it will be freezing. Everything will turn to ice. Even the computer guy knew not to put his car at the bottom of the driveway. Sheesh.

So, everything will work out. One way or the other. As long as nothing else breaks down.

ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and allow yourself to be surprised.

I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

Heinlein All You Zombies

In a strange infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears.

During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.

Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.

Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.

The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.

I found this amazing diagram on the Heinlein Society’s web page. They have lots of other cool stuff too and if you’re a fan, take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

all-you-zombies-heinlein-time-twisterThe circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.

Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have been forgotten by many people, but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines — newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.

I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the ultimate paradox where the past, present and future come together.

All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.

CRITICS

CRITICIZE | THE DAILY POST


Terrible reviews. Everyone hated it. One of our favorites.

Terrible reviews. Everyone hated it. One of our favorites.

I almost never read the “professional” critics these days.  By professional critics, I mean those men and women who are paid to review entertainment: television, movies, and books. Reviews by “the pros” never seem to have anything to do with me. I don’t know from what planet these folks are coming, but it isn’t my part of the galaxy.

Do they see the same movies? Read the same books? Watch the same TV shows? Almost all my favorite moves were panned by critics, though many have since achieved “classic” status. Many favorite books were ignored by critics but have ultimately done pretty well, if they had a publisher who believed in them.

Got mediocre or bad reviews -- we loved it

Got mediocre or lousy reviews — we loved it

It’s easy to slam something for its imperfections. It’s harder to find the good and put the less good into perspective. I have wondered why critics are so negative so much of the time. Is is laziness? Are they are just taking the cheap and fast way out? Are they jaded? Do they get paid more for bashing than praising? Are they completely out of touch with the idea that entertainment should be “fun” — and that entertaining fun is a legitimate “good thing” — not to mention that it’s the stuff most of us want from TV, books, and movies?

Serenity got tepid or worse reviews. Love it. Of course.

Serenity got tepid or worse reviews. Love it. Of course.

So here’s how it works. I read the review. If the critic totally hates it, I might love it or at least, enjoy it. If they love it, I might enjoy it, but probably won’t. If the words “poignant,” “sensitive,” “heart-rending,” or “artistic” appear up in the review, I’ll probably run screaming from the room.

And then, there are the movies and TV shows about which I have to ask: “Did they actually see this show/read this book — or did they write the review based on a summary provided by the publisher/producer/publicist?” I can’t help but wonder.

SHARING MY WORLD – ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

Share Your World – February 6, 2017


Regarding your fridge, is it organized or a mess inside?

It is an organized mess.

Do you prefer your food separated or mixed together?

Separated. I like to taste each thing as itself. Otherwise, I’d just throw it all in one big pan and cook it together.

Do you prefer reading coffee table books (picture), biographies, fiction, non-fiction, educational?

I mostly listen to audiobooks these days, but regardless of form, speculative science fiction and fantasy is my top genre with detectives and mysteries running a tight second and history running a very close third. I tend to read in waves. When I find a new author, I read everything he or she wrote, sequentially if possible and sometimes, twice. Favorite authors (in no particular author) include Gretchen Archer, Kim Harrison, Ben Aaronovitch, Mike Carey, Jim Butcher, Barbara Tuchman, Jodi Taylor, Connie Willis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough, James Lee Burke, Jasper FForde, and Anne Golan. I’m forgetting dozens more because I haven’t had nearly enough coffee.

I have a particular love for anything funny, witty, involving time travel, and the undead (except zombies … I’m really not into zombies). I do not like dystopian future stuff because it depresses me. Reality is entirely dystopian enough. I do not need to feed the beast.

I also love a good thriller and historical fiction, as long as it isn’t too sappy. My love of history started long years ago with Thomas Costain’s books and of course, the brilliant and oft-overlooked Angelique series. Fiction got me hunting real history and taught me that no matter what people make up, the stuff that really happened is more bizarre. You can’t make that stuff up.

Close your eyes. Listen to your body. What part of your body is seeking attention? What is it telling you?

My right shoulder, the one with the bad rotator cuff, is trying to kill me. I wanted to get it repaired years ago, but was told (and I think I should have gotten another opinion on this) that it was beyond repair. Usually, if I’m careful, it doesn’t bother me. The problem is that I am short and that shoulder really hates when I raise my arms to get something from a cabinet … all of which are above me because I am really SHORT. The stretch and lift thing is lethal. I have reached a few times too many recently. Now, as I sit here with the heating pad on my back, I realize I am going to have to give it a rest. If I don’t, it will keep getting worse until I can’t do anything at all.

ADJ150-RodeoGarMarHorseback

This is another reminder of the days when I rode horses and fell off a few. I yanked that right shoulder out of joint a couple of times. Eventually, it began popping out of the socket whenever I used the arm fully extended. I had to tuck the arm in and keep the elbow bent and below shoulder level. I didn’t count on shrinking as I got older and having every cabinet above my head.

My shoulder is telling me to stop, just stop. Give it a rest. This is extremely inconvenient because it’s my right shoulder, which is attached to my right arm, which is further attached to my right hand. Guess what? I’m a rightie.

Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 

Grateful to the Pats for winning the Superbowl.

Shamelessness, thy name is sports fan. For nearly a hundred years, no team in New England won anything. Except the Celtics (basketball, for the sports-challenged) who had an incredible run from the late 1950s through the 1960s during which period they were the best (and dominant) team in the sport.

Otherwise, it was a long, barren time for New England fans. A pathetic and seemingly endless run of embarrassments, near misses, and coulda, shoulda, woulda. Then the world turned the corner into the 21st century. The Sox got new owners. In 2004, they won their first World Series since 1918. They won again 2007, and 2013.

Meanwhile, the Pats got Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Brady wasn’t supposed to be the “real” quarterback. He was filling in for Drew Bledsoe, who was injured. Talk about Serendipity.

patriots-superbowl-win-2017

The rest, as they say, is history. This year’s Superbowl was, even as spectacular sporting events go, spectacular. If you aren’t a sports fan or are a hardcore “I hate the Patriots” sore-loser, too bad. Because that come-from-behind victory in the first-ever overtime in Superbowl history was amazing. The Pats were toast. They couldn’t win. Down by 25. Then, magically, the game was tied with just 57 seconds left on the clock.

Overtime! They won. With a politically challenged, 39-year-old quarterback, they won. Roger Goodell got a well-deserved and totally earned booing. The Patriots made all kinds of history. Falcon’s fans sat in their living rooms stunned, wondering what hit them. Perk up Falcons and fans. You’re a great young team. Time is on your side.

It was a very good night for New England and a bright spot in what has got to be the most depressing year I can remember.

As for next week? I can just hope it isn’t too awful.

TIME TRAVEL, PARALLEL UNIVERSES & THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT – ELLIN CURLEY

I am fascinated with the concepts of time travel, parallel universes and the Butterfly Effect. Fortunately for me, there are several TV shows today that deal with these things. One is Timeless and another is The Flash. The Flash is a Marvel comic based series in which the hero can run so fast that he can bend time. He can move both forward and backwards in time. Timeless follows a government team of time travelers who have to keep going back in time to prevent the ‘bad guy’ from messing with major past events and drastically changing the timeline.

In both of these shows, each trip back in time results in an altered present. In each, a seemingly random individual who is important to one of the main characters, is either dead in the present or was never born and no longer exists in the present timeline.

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This brings up the Butterfly Effect, a theory popular with time travel enthusiasts. The theory, mostly used in science, states that a small change can result in a large, unrelated change down the road. In everyday life, this means that unimportant decisions, like whether to go out to dinner or eat in, can lead to very different ‘storylines’ in your life.

There is both a movie and a play that depicts the parallel universes created by a minor life decision. The movie is “Sliding Doors” from 1998 and stars Gwyneth Paltrow. It tracks the different careers and love lives that the heroine would have if she a) catches a particular subway train or b) misses the train. For example, if she catches the train, she also gets home in time to catch her boyfriend in bed with another woman. If she misses the train, she also misses this tryst. Her life takes very different paths depending on that fluke of timing.

butterfly-effect-cartoon

The play was a musical called “If/Then”, starring Idina Menzel. The show follows the heroine’s parallel lives if she either chooses to go to lunch with friend ‘A’ or if she chooses to go to a play with friend ‘B’ instead.

Interestingly, in both the movie and the play, the heroine ends up with the same ‘love of her life’, just at different times in her life. Her career paths diverge but I think most people like to believe that some people are ‘destined’ to be together. The Jewish concept of ‘Beshert’ says that every soul is a half soul and that there is another person in the world who is their perfect ‘other half’. So in time travel shows, many aspects of life are allowed to be affected by chance. But we don’t seem to want to accept that chance can also change the big things in life, like true love.

TimeTravelSome time travel writers have a different theory. They talk about the fact that the past ‘resists’ change. Rather than believing in the Butterfly Effect as it relates to time travel, many believe that at least the major events in history are more predestined and less susceptible to change. It might seem easy to keep a major past event from happening, especially if small changes in the timeline can eventually result in big ones. But time writers feel that events, like WWI, the assassination of JFK, or the sinking of the Titanic, will find a way to take place no matter how hard you try to prevent it. You might want to read Stephen King’s brilliant book “11/22/63” about attempting to go back in time to prevent the JFK assassination. It was also made into a mini series, but the book is much better.
I guess it is easier to accept the idea that relatively small things, like the details of an individual’s life, are changeable and not ‘meant to be’. Maybe this is because on a small scale, cause and effect is more linear and knowable. On the other hand, historians are still arguing about the multiple and interrelated causes of the Civil War.

delorean time machineMy grandfather was hit by a truck and killed when he stepped off a curb too soon at the age of 88. I used to obsess about what led him to that exact spot at that exact time. I used to imagine the tiny things he could have done differently that would have gotten him to that spot even a second earlier or later.

For about a year after that, I would imagine each time I reached a curb, that it could be my last moment on earth — if the stars were so aligned. Maybe this is the root of my love for some of these theories.