TALKING ABOUT TV – CONVERSANT ARE WE

CONVERSANT ABOUT TELEVISION?


We are not too sophisticated to watch TV. Despite Karl Marx who said “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people,” somehow this got translated into “Television is the opiate of the masses.”

Personally, I think that would be cell phones. Heavily opiated.

We watch television. Sometimes, we watch a lot of television, depending on what’s on to view. Right now, we’re watching a movie. It’s “The Candidate,” one of the better, sharper, more intelligent political movies.

Made in 1972 starring Robert Redford, it’s an education about how getting elected has a price tag, even if you aren’t a pawn of the NRA or the Koch brothers. Despite the years, it is still surprisingly relevant.

Last night, speaking of relevant, we watched “7 Days in May.” Kirk Douglas. Burt Lancaster. About how the U.S. government stood in imminent danger of being taken over by a military junta — run by Burt. Brilliantly scripted by Rod Serling.

If you haven’t seen it, do. Not the recent new version of it which wasn’t half as good. See the 1964 original. The Serling script is so on target. This movie used to give me chills. Now, it makes my stomach knot with fear. When we were young, we were afraid military guys would try taking over the government.

Who imagined — even in our wildest dreams — we’d be living in 2018 with a traitorous president and an administration where the only sane people in government are the military!

Of the unlikely things we might be expected to watch, the unlikeliest was “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” which is on Netflix. I had heard reviews of it from a variety of unexpected sources all of whom said something along the lines of “I didn’t think I would like this, but actually, it’s pretty good.” But no one told me what it was they liked so when we finally turned it on, we watched the first show and looked at each other.

“Well,” I said, “That was different.”

“Not bad,” Garry contributed.

“I’ve never seen anything like it on television.”

We thought about that for a while and neither of us could remember any television show remotely like it. It is a rather weird combination of sitcom crossed with an MGM musical. Dancing. Singing — and some pretty good music. Everyone in the cast has real voice. But. The story is terribly 2018 and sometimes, the Valley Girl accents get on our nerves. Also, she really is a crazy ex-girlfriend. Accent on the “crazy” and less on the “girlfriend.”

If you are looking for something absolutely nothing like anything else, try this one. You may hate it, but it IS a musical. The amount of production for each show is huge. These must be expensive shows to produce. Some of the music is remarkable, though the words are bizarre.

Otherwise, we are watching late night comedy and occasionally, when we  think we are strong enough to handle it, we watch the news. On a good day, we may get through 15 minutes. As long as they aren’t doing interviews with whatsherface Huckabee or you-know-who da-prez. Then I feel I need an immediate shower to wash off the sleaze.

SOMEONE SAYS SOMETHING WONDERFUL AND THE WORLD GETS BETTER

FROM GRETCHEN ARCHER TO ME ON FACEBOOK


We all complain about Facebook, don’t we? And then, one day, someone says something so incredibly wonderful I feel like hugging it (hard to hug social media, but I can try) and definitely Gretchen. I review her books … but she reviewed me. Literally, bringing tears to my eyes.

From the day I read her first book (Double Whammy), I knew Gretchen Archer had “it,” that ineffable “something” that makes a writer an author. Her first book wasn’t perfect, but it had the heart of the winner and the soul of the future. She created characters that have grown and changed and become increasingly real. There are very few authors who get characters well enough to allow them to change in a normal way, with flaws and all and moreover, to put them through all those experiences that make us human. Her characters are never repetitive, never dull. They aren’t always doing the same thing, book after book.

What a pleasure to follow an author and watch her mature. I love you too, Gretchen!

Double Dog Dare will be available on March 20, 2018! 


Good morning, Players!

Gretchen Archer

If you have a minute, please read the review of Double Dog Dare Marilyn Armstrong posted here (look down) yesterday.

I *met* Marilyn and her husband Garry after Double Whammy released. Literary reviews (reviews written by people in the industry who know what they’re talking about) of your first book are terrifying/exhilarating/soul-crushing, and for me, in the mix of reviews, one stood out–Marilyn’s. They tell us, they warn us, they mean business: don’t contact reviewers. I did. Just the one. I had to. I had to thank her, because of all the reviews, Marilyn got me.

It’s not that she gave Whammy five fat stars and loved it to the point of me printing and framing the review, it was that she liked it (which, with Book One, is quite enough), allowing me a big sigh of relief. But more than liked it, Marilyn saw its possibilities–my potential. She was the one savvy reviewer who picked out the elements of Whammy that gave it the promise to go on and be a successful series. She was the one reviewer who took the time to (inadvertently, sneakily and stealthily, within the review) give me advice. Very good advice.

Marilyn Armstrong reads between the lines.

She gave me the courage to keep writing. Her honest review was perfectly in line with how I truly felt about my own book.

I’ve loved her every minute since.

Thank you so much, Marilyn. For your deep understanding of publishing, characters, plot, prose, and me. xo

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT LASER PRINTERS – GUEST POST BY LAUREN RIEBS

From Lauren Riebs of lauren.riebs@reviews.com comes this excellent review of laser printers. I have always wanted a laser printer. Compared to inkjet, they produce far cleaner text and a single cartridge lasts a very long time. But, laser cartridges are more expensive to buy in the first place, so you need to have sufficient printing to make the purchase worthwhile.

If you are working on a book and printing out many manuscripts, a laser printer might be exactly what you need, assuming you don’t also need a flatbed scanner and fax machine too. On the other hand, it might be worth buying a laser printer and a separate flat-bed scanner since they no longer cost as much as they did. 

You will find much more information and details on the author’s home site.


Finding the Best Laser Printer for Your Needs

Every small business or home office needs the right tools to succeed, but we’re not all tech experts. If you’re in the market for some new tech tools for your work, Reviews.com puts together extensive, comprehensive guides to all the products you’ll need. The following is their research to find the best laser printers available – and their four top picks.

(Following research originally featured on Reviews.com https://www.reviews.com/laser-printer/)

Research

A laser printer is ideal for a home office or small business looking to print up to a few hundred pages a day. People with only occasional printing needs, like movie tickets or their annual 1040, are better off with an inkjet as they probably won’t see the high use cost benefits of a laser printer. Laser printers are designed to print long documents much faster than their more common inkjet counterparts. For example, a laser printer can print on average 25 pages per minute compared to the average inkjet printer’s 15 pages. Even better, laser printers use toner. Although toner has a higher initial cost than printer ink, it’s cost effective in the long run because the cartridges last a lot longer — on average they’ll print 2,500 pages vs. an ink cartridge’s 200 pages.

Canon Color image CLASS LBP612Cdw

All-in-one printers aren’t really worth it. Multi-functional laser printers, or all-in-ones, include functions like faxing, scanning, and copying, but our experts advised we should steer clear. If one feature breaks down, that could leave you unable to print while waiting for repairs. Harmon says if you need a laser printer for personal work or a small business, “Don’t get an all-in-one printer. Buy a printer that does its job.”

We knew we wanted to provide both a black and white and a color option to meet varying business needs. Color laser printers are more expensive and you’ll also need to buy color toner which will add to maintenance costs. But even starting models have high output and let you add color to simple graphics like a graph or chart. If you simply don’t need color, save yourself some money and go for a black and white. So what’s the best laser printer? The answer comes down to a few key criteria. First, it should be able to produce high-quality documents with precise text and clear graphics. It should also be cost efficient, and setup and maintenance, such as replacing toner and paper, should be quick and painless.

The industry is largely dominated by five big brands: Brother, Canon, Dell, HP, and Samsung. Since specs aren’t always comparable between brands, during our reasearch we compared printers within each brand to find the best quality and price options for a home office or small business. We pored over consumer reviews from retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and Office Depot, and considered recommendations from sites like CNET and Consumer Reports, to identify printers highly regarded for being reliable and easy to use, and which ones we really ought to miss.

Top Picks

The HP LaserJet Pro M203dw Printer is our pick for the best black and white laser printer because it excels at printing crisp text and sharp lines for graphs and charts. Pretty simple. Outside of wireless connectivity, the printer doesn’t offer any features, but we don’t mind, because using the printer and replacing toner or paper is painless. It’s more expensive than others on the market, coming in at $200, but If you want to quickly print documents with consistent high quality, the HP M203dw is a solid bet.Our pick for best color laser printer is the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw. This printer surprised us with its ability to produce vibrant colors, and even high-resolution images, accurately. The color is a bit dark, but with sharp text and clean lines the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw outperformed all the other color printers we tested. At $300, it’s not cheap, and it will require additional color toner cartridges. But its crisp results and features like an intuitive touch screen for checking toner levels or calibrating the printer make the HP M252dw a great pick for daily printing needs.

Dell E310dw Multifunction Printer

The Dell E310dw is great for those who want a cheap printer and don’t require perfect prints. At just $80, the Dell E310dw is the cheapest out of all the printers we tested and still prints crisp text without any problems. But, for those who need straight lines for their graphs or charts, the Dell might not be the best choice. It also has a small (32 MB) memory, which means documents of more than 30 pages may need to be printed in two sessions. Even so, it’s a great budget printer for text-based documents.

HP M252dw

 For those who prioritize precise colors above all else, the Canon Color imageCLASS LBP612Cdw produced the most accurate color tones. However, in terms of text and lines the printer was outclassed by the HP M252dw. Curved lines with the Canon were jagged and text wasn’t as detailed. In addition, navigating the Canon’s menu is a bit more difficult because the menu screen is smaller.

If you print a lot of colored graphics, the $250 Canon LBP612CDW is definitely worth a look.

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.

A HARD AND ROCKY ROAD: WHY AUTHORING DOESN’T PAY

I probably will never need to buy another book. I’m a popular reviewer. When I worked at Doubleday, I was extremely popular there, too. Probably because I read the books. So many reviewers don’t read the books they review. You can tell when you read their reviews that all they did was skim the first couple of pages and work from the publisher’s summaries. TV critics seem to be doing the same thing these days. Sometimes movie reviewers, too. It’s why we read a book or see a movie, then check reviews and wonder if it’s the same book or movie.

english-writersI remember at Doubleday I would discover that the publisher’s summary was factually wrong. Wrong names for major characters. Wrong relationships between characters. Incorrect plot description. It was clear whoever wrote the summary had not read the book.

So … who did read the book? Did anyone read it? That was in the mid 1970s, when most people did read, at least sometimes. Now? Does anyone read books before they are published, and have reviewers read the books they are praising or panning?

Until this year, I was a judge for a major book award. I did it for more than a decade. It started out as fun. You’d get a bunch of books, read, review, and rate them, picking a few to move on to the finals. A few years ago, they started sending me more books … so many I could not possibly read even half of them in the allotted time. Last year, I think I had almost 100 books to judge with an average of more than 300 pages per book. And just five weeks to read them all.

It was hopeless. A couple of books were more than 500  pages. These were books that needed considerable stage-setting before the story began. Depending on genre, authors may devote a couple of hundred pages to explaining how their world works. If there’s magic. Rules of the physical world. Some geography. Who and what gods are extant — or were. What languages are spoken. A bit of history, so characters don’t walk onto an empty stage.

Tolkien was a genius at world-building, which is why he remains the gold standard for the fantasy genre.

mugar_library

If you only have an hour to give each book you’re judging, how can you, in good faith, even get a sense of what the book is about, much less if it’s good? Were you to put J.R.R. Tolkien to this test, you’d never get out of Hobbiton. More than 300 pages of Lord of the Rings is geography, language, history, and demographics.

All history books require substantial background, as do historical novels and time-travel books that are historical novels in science fiction garb. A lot of writers use “the wormhole in time” to get readers to be “in the time” rather than looking back at it. It’s been a popular ploy for generations.

quill penSo this year, I said no to judging. It wasn’t fair to the authors to judge them without giving them a proper reading. I have to wonder how many other “awards” are done this way, with over-burdened judges who have too many books or whatever to review without adequate time in which to do it. I’m sure I was not the only one who got down to the wire and was unable to even skim several books before “judging them.” I wouldn’t do it again.

For all of these reasons, I’m diligent about reviewing books — or anything else. I’m not getting paid and reviews won’t make me famous or rich. They won’t even buy me a quick meal at Mickey D’s. But it is a big deal to authors. Reviews make or break books, even for established authors.

I suspect all authors are perpetually being judged. Reviewed. Each book is a trial by fire. A book doesn’t sell and suddenly, your publisher forgets your name. The industry wants nothing to do with a failing author. Even if you have written a string of major best-sellers, you are only as good as the sales figures of your most recently published volume.

I doubt any of the great authors of the past would thrive under these conditions. Can you imagine Hemingway doing his own PR? Or Capone? Can you imagine Shakespeare dealing with focus groups and fighting for his contract to be renewed?

75-BookStory HPCR-1

So I do my bit. Not for money or glory, or even for the authors, who I love. I do it because if no one cares about the quality of books being published, eventually it will all be pulp and garbage. There will be classics from days of yore and nothing new worth reading.

I have had people tell me I’m stupid for doing so much work for free, but authors don’t have money — and publishers won’t pay. Even successful authors — unless Hollywood has bought their books — aren’t financially secure. Maybe Stephen King and Michael Crichton don’t have to worry about where the next check will come from, but every other author I know — and at this point, I know more than a few — are scraping by. Many still keep their day jobs because there are mortgages to pay and kids to feed.

You have to love writing for its own sake. As a profession, authoring is a hard and rocky road. Glory and riches come to few.  Maybe publishers get rich. I hope someone is making money, because as far as I can tell, most authors don’t.

AUTHOR’S PICK: MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2015 *

(*) At least those I can remember!

Statistics don’t tell the whole story. I’ve been looking through the stats on my various posts to see what they tell me about the “best” posts of 2015. Statistics reveal which posts got the most hits … but that’s all. It doesn’t take into account how the author felt about it.

Because I publish about 1000 posts per blogging year — including re-blogs, photographs, and four authors — it is difficult to remember what I posted this year. I have to rely on statistics to give me a list of the popular posts for 2015. I’m leaving out any post I already mentioned in the “all time top ten.”

These are my favorites of those that made the top hundred most popular — using views as the sorting tool … and then my opinion as the final criteria. Click on a title to open the original post.

72-pacemaker_2

WHAT EMPOWERS YOU? From July 2014, this post apparently resonated with a lot of people and is still accumulating hits. It’s one of those posts that fell out of my fingers into the keyboard. On rereading it, it’s not bad. Perhaps I haven’t given it its due.

96-Moon-Small-34

MARILYN’S FAVORITE YEAR – 1969 Originally published in September 2014, it is still getting hits. Some posts apparently are “evergreen.” Not popular when first published, but has gathered momentum during the weeks and months that have followed. I’m glad, because it is one of my personal favorites.

NormanRockwell Little Rock

NON-WHITE AMERICA IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS – HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT,  JANE ALLEN PETRICK – This is a review of a lovely book that got almost no attention the first two times I published it. Yet this third time, it garnered hundred of views and several reblogs. I hope it convinced a few people to buy the book.

I’m not shy about republishing pieces that I feel were overlooked or under-appreciated.

72-Portrait-Anniversary_4

HE SAID YES was published in January 2015. It’s a piece of the very long story of Garry and my courtship. Edited for a G-rated audience and to keep the main characters out of jail. The truer story is longer … a book, not a post. Maybe I’ll write it. I’ll think about it. I’m not sure just how much personal information I’m feeling public about.

Brown-recluse-coin

BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS DON’T LIVE HERE! So after Garry got bitten by one or two brown recluse spiders — who don’t live here even though everyone except the experts agree that they most certainly do live here — this is a piece of the story of the great spider bite debacle of 2015.

1988

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM! – GARRY ARMSTRONG Garry’s affectionate memories of his mom, on her birthday this past July, 2015.

aluminum-foil-hat_directions

PASS THE ALUMINUM FOIL (DIRECTIONS INCLUDED) A humorous anecdote of one of the more amusing wackos I’ve met over the years. A little astrology and directions to make your very own aluminum foil hat.

Banks Ernie Plaque 142_NBL_0LET’S PLAY TWO: REMEMBERING ERNIE BANKS – GARRY ARMSTRONG Just what it sounds like. In Memorium for a baseball great.

Heston-Charlton-Ten-Commandments

DON’T COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS I couldn’t remember the ten commandments. Doesn’t everyone know them? But Garry couldn’t remember them either, though we more or less pieced them together — two minds being slightly better than one. But then, what was the correct order? I’m still not sure.

96-BabyOandMe-HP

GENERATION GAP – GROWING UP BOOMER Communication between generations. Maybe not the impossible dream? Is there hope?

GARRY ARMSTRONG’S FAVORITE MOVIES* – 2014 UPDATE

The title has an asterisk because this is an impossible post. I can’t begin to do justice to all the movies I love when limited to ten. However, a dear friend (and fellow movie maven) asked me to compile such a list for a project.

Hollywood Legends Poster

I saw my first film at age four in 1946. I recall relatives saying I talked like a grown up, spouting familiar lines. Frequently they were lines from movies.

72-Bette'sPix_05
Photo by Bette Stevens

That quirk would continue for the rest of my life right to the present.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many of the legends from old Hollywood, which sometimes clouds my perspective. I become totally immersed with movies. I become part of the film, sharing the feelings of the characters. Love, hate, joy and sorrow.

And now … the movies.

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – 1946. The first movie I saw. I was 4-years old. Mom and Dad looked like a celebrity couple. Dad, just back from active duty in World War Two, seemed 10-feet tall in his uniform. The film’s theme, GI’s readjusting to civilian life, would become a personal issue in our family.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 1960. If I love movies, I am passionate about westerns! I saw “The Magnificent Seven” 6 times during its first week in the theater. Steve McQueen was “the man”. The stars were so very cool. Eli Wallach was a hoot as the Mexican bandit leader. His line, “Generosity, that was my first mistake…” is my email signature.

INHERIT THE WIND – 1960. Every time it’s on, we watch it. Marilyn and I smile, anticipating the lines, waiting for the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow monologues. The Tracy-Fredric March courtroom scenes are perfect. Two masters at work. Gene Kelly does his best dramatic work as the acerbic H.L. Mencken character. The film’s an excellent classroom tool for anyone unfamiliar with the Scopes trial.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY – 1964. If you love great script and dialogues, this may be the all-time best movie. The real star is the script and its writer, Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner’s favorite movie and best film role. Garner was brilliant! Ably supported by Julie Andrews (her first dramatic role). Hard to watch a gung-ho action war flick after viewing this one.

TOMBSTONE – 1993. I came on board after the second or third viewing of this one because of Marilyn’s love of this version of the Earp saga. It’s fast-paced, well-acted, relatively authentic and beautifully photographed. The film gives us a jolt of vicarious pleasure as the good guys mow down the bad guys. We have coördinated Tombstone tee shirts.

GIGI – 1958. I remember seeing this first run. I was 16, head over heels in love with Leslie Caron. A couple of years earlier, I’d waited outside the tiny Trans-Lux Theater in Manhattan where Caron’s Lilli had a record-breaking run. A wonderful musical. Music, sets, cast. Marilyn and I know the songs and sing along. It never gets old.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN – 1952. Maybe best musical. Ever. So many wonderful “numbers” including Gene Kelly’s iconic (I know the word is overused) title tune sequence. Once upon a time, I used to dance to work in the rain, just singing and dancing – like Gene Kelly. I got more than a few stares.

SHANE – 1953. Marilyn and I saw this first run at the Loews Valencia in Queens, New York, but not together. The Valencia was like Radio City Musical Hall. Fantastic and huge, with a starlit ceiling. Alan Ladd’s finest performance thanks to director George Stevens. I’ve seen Shane dozens of times and still marvel at its photography and editing. The scene of “Reb’s” funeral is classic – cinematic magic.

S.O.B. – 1981. Blake Edwards scathing take on Hollywood. It didn’t endear him to tinsel town’s movers and shakers, and they tried to sabotage S.O.B.’s distribution. William Holden and Julie Andrews head a wonderful ensemble cast. Holden’s dialogue to a suicidal friend could well have been Holden’s own eulogy.

CASABLANCA – 1943. Who doesn’t love this film? I met co-writer Julius Epstein in the 70’s. He shared lots of great stories about the making of Casablanca. He said every day was crazier than the previous one, with new dialogue arriving as scenes were set up. We saw a remastered Casablanca on the big screen last year, a celebration of its 70th anniversary. Bogie and the gang were in their prime.

Ask me to name my ten favorites next month, you’ll get different answers (with a few carry-overs)! Hooray for Hollywood!