Thursday, June 30, 2016

Film Pairings — Crime Tales of Two Cities

Films can take us where we’re not likely to go on our own. And sometimes that’s a blessing.  Here are two quick trips to places, one we, as Americans, were once unable to visit and one we might not want to get to know very well.

3 Days In Havana – Though I’m sure some critics disagree, we are treated to clever shades of noir in this short and twisty crime film. However Havana is the star and makes this quirky, often wacky little film worthwhile.  Gil Bellows directed and starred in this light-hearted, dark humored 2013 release. Most of the kudos go to the cinematographers, Doug Schwartz and Blaine Ackerly.

Metro Manila – And now for something completely different.  While there is footage showing the beauty of the Philippines and while the film  certainly reveals what life is like in the Philippines, Metro Manila is, like most great movies, a reflection of something universal. No matter what you believe to be right what would you do if backed into a corner and you had to feed your family?  Sean Ellis, co writer (along with Frank E. Flowers) directed this 2013 film about a family no longer able to eek out a living on a farm and who believe their only hope is the big city of Manila. But the young farmer, his wife and two kids must start at the bottom of the economic ladder.  They soon find themselves in a ghetto within a ghetto and scammed out of what little they have by others more desperate and certainly more seasoned than they are. To feed the children, she takes a job as a bar girl and he might have made a friend who just might guide him through the perils of metro Manila..  Are things turning around? Might the family be destined for a good life after all?  Sometimes the cards are stacked against those who only want to live a good and just life.  Jake Macapagal, Althea Vega and John Arcilla head a talented cast in this excellent international, award-winning film about the making of a criminal.

To accompany the double feature: One of the things Cuba and the Philippines have in common is rum.  It’s summer.  It’s hot.  Rum and tonic and a twist of lime would work for both films.    Even if you opt out of the alcohol portion of the program, think citrus. Tonic optional.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rant – Defeating The American Politics of Hate

I’m reposting an edited version of this rant from last year. It seems more relevant today than it did then.

I’d like to think I’ve mellowed, but lately I’ve succumbed to the other side of old: disgruntlement. With all this unbridled hate from so many Americans based on skin color and religion, I have to hold back a loud screaming, “A pox on all your houses!” Some houses are worse than others, despite the fact that many of them claim to be God’s house.

Unfortunately God, in all his or her guises, has been imagined re-imagined, co-opted, adopted politicized, interpreted, and reinterpreted to serve mankind’s baser instincts. The so-called “word” has been translated into so many languages so many times no one really knows what was intended, not even the folks who claim to have heard the word directly from God’s mouth and transcribed it for posterity. Then again, what do we usually think about people who hear “voices?”

What’s going on here and around the world really is a battle of people afraid of knowledge and science, bound instead to superstition and paranoia. They form gangs of often violent followers who demand you believe in their made-up story, not the other guy’s. There has been and will be torture and torment in nearly every land in the world because someone says Mohammed is the greatest, another says Christ, another Buddha, another Ganesha (my personal favorite).  Moses fits in there somehow. And then there’s that whole Zeus-Jupiter dispute, not to mention the sun Gods. And let me add: I think pantheists are vastly under rated.

There is enough confusion just in Christian circles. When I was growing up, I was curious about the seeming unexplainable.  A Catholic kid who lived a couple of houses away learned that my family was Lutheran and told me matter-of-factly that I was definitely going to hell. Only Catholics went to heaven.  I told a young friend of mine, an evangelical Christian, what my other friend said and he told me to stay away from Catholics because all Catholic schools had guns in their basements and planned to kill us all when the time was right. In my formative years I went to various churches, places where bodies were dunked in water, eventually sputtering, coughing, choking to the surface suddenly saved or reborn. I could do that at home, in the bathtub, I thought. I’ve always had an independent streak. I could save myself, thank you. I also listened to those souls who testified, in a state of mind just short of a voodoo trance.  

In high school, a group of us regularly met in a basement to discuss such matters without resolution or agreement, but with mutual respect and the enjoyment of a hearty discussion.  In college, nearly every night of my freshman year, often while playing euchre, we discussed the meaning of life, and sorted, with my friends, through various philosophies, Eastern and Western. Despite my focus on theatre and journalism, over the years I took elective courses in Western Philosophy, Buddhism and Hindu. And like most folks of my generation, I dipped into the popular and mysterious literature of the times, from Hermann Hesse to Carlos Castaneda.

After sitting at a bar in Bloomington, Indiana with still another group of intellectually curious friends, a young man whom I’d never met and never saw again said that everyone searches for an epistemology. I sensed truth here. Perhaps it was like hunger or sex. Something built in.  I asked about him later and no one in our little group heard from him again.  Perhaps he found his epistemology or perhaps he went off on a search. A third possibility was that he thought the whole idea was foolish and that his comment was far from an endorsement, more of a futile, disappointing observation.

He may have been puzzled at the notion that we need a rulebook at all.  At the time, I thought that by epistemology, he meant people needed a set of rules to live by. Most religions had them, it seemed. That would explain this extraordinary and to me silly dependence on so-called sacred text, no matter in what part of the world, or when it originated. Nearly everyone may be looking for the official rulebook, the one that would guarantee him or her not only an afterlife, but a damn fine one at that.  So imagine if you think you’ve found it and you did your best to live by it, then someone comes along and says you’ve been reading and abiding by the wrong rule book all your life. You are going to get pissed. Why not just try to live a good life?  You know how to do that. Do you really need a book to tell you not to do harm to others?

There are more than 4,000 religions on earth, and more than seven billion people, (a few more than can fit in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco). So maybe we, at least here in the U.S.A., need to listen to our founders who fled religious persecution and wanted religious freedom for all. That’s who we are as a nation. Work to protect all our freedoms and not be pro one religion and anti-another. So believe what you will, live as you like as best you can in a just manner, and keep your rulebooks to yourself.

Incidentally, “epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief,” according to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. So we might want actual science to play a role in the outcome of our endeavors.

A final note: We, in the U.S., are approaching elections to determine who will represent American interests at home and abroad. Lately, we are experiencing a major candidate who seeks office by tapping into our fear and ignorance of other cultures and religions.  He takes advantage of world events, reshapes their meaning to ride the fear they have created. He skews statistics and blatantly lies. His party would revisit the tactics of the Nazis and use them on certain people they erroneously consider dangerous or inferior. His party would reinstate pre-Selma voting laws that would prevent certain Americans from voting. They would deny full rights to minorities based on little more than unverifiable folktales.

Let’s put the bluster of modern–day Mussolinis to rest.  Let’s keep the old-style Klan-inspired segregationists a footnote to history. Let’s ignore those who believe this is a nation that holds a single religious or philosophical belief.  I don’t regard pride as something to seek, necessarily.  However the United States of America should be proud of being a melting pot of the world. It has been our single, most outstanding accomplishment. It has been the source of our entrepreneurial energy and the inspiration for invention.  With the possible exception of native Americans — and they likely came from somewhere else, only much earlier — we are a nation of immigrants.  Many colors, many languages, many faiths. Let’s not get caught up in the cynical attempts to scare us into hate and discrimination.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

On Writing And Publishing – Comments On The Book Industry, Plus Some Blatant Self Promotion

James Patterson is to books what Starbucks is to coffee. So big, one wonders if there’s room for anyone else. His major venture into a marketing tsunami began a few years ago when he partnered with other writers to mass produce his own novels, creating a virtual novel-writing factory. Co-writers do get second billing, so to speak.

Now, book factory foreman/ master writer/master marketer Patterson is pushing his new imprint called BookShots. These are low-priced, skinny thrillers longer than a short story and shorter than a novel (150 pages or less). They are designed to be read at one sitting.  The new venture is backed and promoted by Hatchette, one of the Big 5” publishers that dominate the book industry. Publicity for the new imprint likened BookShots to the old pulp paperbacks you’d find on wire racks in the drugstore a few decades ago. It’s a great idea, but, despite the hype, it isn’t a new idea. Also, it’s not the only product of its kind in the marketplace.  A few years ago Penguin tried to capitalize on what hey saw as a retro trend by reviving a Dutton imprint called Guilt Edged Mysteries. They hoped to get in on the Kindle craze, offering the work only in the inexpensively produced electronic format. They published a few books, including my short novel Death in The Haight, before the imprint faded to black.

There are independent presses out there publishing pulp-inspired as well as short crime fiction in print and in electronic formats. One of the best is Hard Case Crime (their Fade To Blonde by Max Phillips is one of my all-time favorites). While publishers like Hard Case are devoted to a concept, they aren’t bound by a single vision and a formula. I don’t mean to be mean to James Patterson, but I grow tired of highly branded products overpowering individual voices.  Starbucks, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, Nestle, etc. And I am reminded once again how years ago how moneyed corporations like Barnes & Noble and Borders wiped out independent bookstores and now that they have pretty much dissolved, we are left with nearly none of either.

Fortunately the spirit isn’t dead.  There is still real innovation despite not having the mammoth blunt edge of an unlimited publicity budget to get interesting work to the market place. In a slightly different way, Canada’s Orca Books has created a novel (pardon me) approach.  Their Rapid Reads program, as part of their Raven Books Imprint, not only publishes short reads, but books that are both fun and easy to read, encouraging the reluctant reader to get his or her feet wet. Unlike the Bookshots brand, these are quick reads by several different talented authors, writing at a length perfect for that flight from New York to Chicago. And they have been doing this for a few years now. Among Rapid Reads’ choices are works by such proven authors as Reed Farrel Coleman, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, William Kowalski, Rick Blechta. Vicki Delany, and Gail Bowen.

I am shamelessly including a review of my first Rapid Reads contribution, The Blue Dragon, because the reviewer’s words also cast an appropriately glowing light on the Rapid Reads series and the concept itself.

"What an incredible beginning to a new mystery series by Ronald Tierney...This cover art also provides a capsule view of the multi-dimensions of the novella and becomes more meaningful as the reader progresses through each chapter... [This was] my first introduction to “Rapid Reads” and I am enthralled not only by the individual title selection experience but also for the incredible discovery of this reading series.” (Library Thing Early Reviewer 2015-08-23)

I have nothing against James Patterson.  He is a dedicated advocate of literacy, generously supports bookstores, is by all accounts, a genuinely good guy and judging by his popularity, also very good at what he does.

My point  (though sometimes I wonder if I’m doing anything more than lighting a single match in a very big, very dark cave) is that to find something that isn’t market driven, isn’t formulaic, and to find books that are independent works from diverse creative minds, one has to look beyond the overpowering searchlight of the big 5 machine and the brands of their celebrity authors.  There are many good reads — short and long — for those willing to dig a little deeper. We might have to look beyond the “impulsive buy” rack at the check-out counter of our local super market.

I hope you’ll consider some of the crime fiction available on the links above. Talk to your bookstore about stocking books from quality independent presses.  Here is a list of mystery bookstores:  And here is a list of independent bookstores in general.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Rant — Trump For President: A Case For The Bunco Squad

If it weren’t so terrifying, it would be hilarious.  I remember the TV series “Dragnet”. I wasn’t a fan; but for some reason I couldn’t not watch it.  Occasionally they had a case of fraud, a “con’ man “ who found a “mark” and through lies and trickery took the mark for all he had.  That’s when Jack Web would say something like: “Turn the case over to “Bunco.”  The Bunco squad handled swindling, confidence games, and money-making schemes that broke the law.  Until now, Bernie Madoff may be one of the best- confidence men ever. He operated a Ponzi Scheme that cheated all sorts of folks, including charities, out of millions. He was a kind of understated con man — perhaps merely subtler than the current business model.

The current champ is made of different stuff. Here’s what Mr. Trump’s subconscious advises you to if you want to be a successful Bunco Artist.

What you do to be successful in the field is create a character.  If you want someone’s money, you must pretend you are already successful. You make a big deal out of it.  Put your name on everything. It is an effective cure for an inferiority complex or feelings of insecurity. Remember how much fun you had putting your finger in wet cement.  People knew your name! You also want to surround yourself with pretty women and hang out with A-list celebrities.  If you are a woman, find someone like me to protect you.  Otherwise you’ll never make it here or anywhere.

A Vessel Filled With Bluster and Greed
You must say you give a lot of money to charity. This shows you have heart. Also, be the life of the party, any party, by saying outrageous things. Making fun of the disabled will get you some attention. It’s especially wise to talk tough, maybe get in the ring with a lot of sweaty wrestlers (people who believe wrestling is real will likely think you are too) pick on a minority group or two or three, to show you’re not one of those politically correct wimps. Talk tough. You can tell them that prisoners of war are losers because they got caught. I gotta tell you that’s double tough, right guys? If I can pick on POWs nobody’s free from my disdain. Also don’t worry about telling lies.  The people who will follow you will never check the facts. (For example, they won’t know I bugged out on Vietnam, deferred because of a bone spur on my foot. Ouch.  Of course that didn't prevent me from skiing and playing other sports).

And IF someone actually does tell the truth about you, remind your followers the accusers are being unfair. Remind them you are being victimized again and again like me. I was victimized by the judge while I defended my business practices at my fake university, one of the thousand lawsuits I have been involved in. I was victimized by the Republican Party because they refused to yield to my wishes. (A reminder, throw a couple of tantrums when you don’t get your way.It works. I have been victimized by the IRS who would like to know a little more about my bankruptcies and other business dealings. Who do they think they are?  Don’t worry. My followers don’t understand anything. They don’t know that in those bankruptcies I didn't pay workers for their work or suppliers for their products. My followers believe I’ll create jobs.  Yeah, I will. They just won’t get paid. Suckers.

If you are running for office, don’t be specific about policies (except when you want to punish minorities for being minorities). Instead, call your opponents by childish names: “Wicked Wendy” or “Stupid Stewart.” This is especially effective during recess. Don’t worry; your audience will think you’re funny like the guy who blows 7-up bubbles out of his nose. They will applaud you for your cleverness.

More Helpful Hints From My Wonderful And Huge Subconscious:

Vocabulary, Schlmocabulary: Don’t fret about a limited vocabulary. Pick a few meaningless words and phrases and just use them over and over: Unbelievable, Great, Believe me, I gotta be honest with you, Gimme a break. You wouldn’t believe it. I gotta tell you. What can I say?  It’s huge. You don’t have to say anything to be popular.

If you want to get an idea of the way I talk, listen to Regis Philbin.  He’s been doing my shtick for years. Most important, though, don’t ever say you are sorry. Don’t ever admit to a mistake unless you underestimated how great you are.

Donald’s Angels: Get a team of young, Stepford women to appear on CNN and CNBC and Fox. Train them as spokespeople.  Make them memorize five responses to questions.  They arbitrarily rotate the answers no matter what the questions are.  Also, to show their undying loyalty and respect, these pretty little things must always refer to me as MISTER TRUMP. Make sure the men do the same thing only without the cheap make up.

Where’s the Money? Never release your tax returns.  People might find out you are not as wealthy as you say.  They might find out you pay less taxes than a Wal-Mart cashier.  They might discover you give very little to charity.  Look at what I did. In order to sell products (my book and a board game, for example, I promised to give the proceeds to charity.) Did I?  Oh, well.

Let’s You and Him Fight; Take a cue from me, the Donald.  Your physical gestures should include clenched fists.  That’s what a tough guy does, even those of us who dodged the draft. Next, you stir up the brain-washed crowd to do your fighting for you. It’s a lot of fun.  I get so adrenalin-charged when I do this, I take extra shots at the media because they victimize me too. Everybody is out to get me. Look at the Washington Post.  They said something I didn't like.  They are banned.  Banned, I tell you. Freedom of the press wasn’t my idea.

If you succeed at all this, it’s likely your followers are gullible like mine.  In other words they will believe anything. So go for those cheap and easy conspiracy theories.  Hillary murdered some guy. Obama was born in Kenya.   Just sayin.’

Make Atlantic City Great Again:  Come up with a catch slogan. I pretty much owned Atlantic City. It’s quite likely I can do for America what I did for them.

If you vote for Donald Trump, you are his mark, his stooge, his schnook, his victim. Ask Chris Christie who holds Mr. Trump’s coat and picks up his lunch.