Wednesday, December 28, 2011

BEST SHORT STORY IN 100 YEARS

Today I read the best short story I have read in a 100 years: Steve Almond’s “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched” in The Best American Short Stories, 2010.

It's about a shrink who is a compulsive and addicted gambler, a poker player. I could not believe how good it is. It has everything: internal and external conflict, writing style, mixed and complex sympathies, insight into characters and the world and human nature, rising tension, great climax.

Wow. I am always looking for good writing, and it is hard to come by. This one is a winner, at least for me. If the rest of the stories in this collection are as good, I will buy this book. And that is really rare.

More later, as I read along.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle  

Friday, December 23, 2011

CRAP ART

I read in Newsweek the other day (Dec. 12, Page 54) that the so-called artist Paul McCarthy "sold three copies of White Snow Dwarf (Bashful) at this year's Art Basel Miami Beach for $950,000--each."
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/12/04/why-is-art-so-damned-expensive.html

My God! How stupid can you get? Why would anyone make this crap? And why would anyone buy it, let alone pay nearly a million dollars for such junk?

I try not to use the word stupid when it comes to other people's creative work.

But this takes the cake. It is off the charts.

These figures are not remotely original, and originality is one of the hallmarks of anything creative. Look at the great artists, musicians and writers: Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Mozart, Bach, Goya, Georgia O'Keefe, and on and on.
http://totallyhistory.com/art-history/famous-artists/

Their work is original and meaningful, not derivative and meaningless.

My God. What a bunch of crap. Makes me sick.

-- Roger

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A WRITER'S CURSE

I am still trying to find motivation to do my work, my writing.

I realized something the last day or two: If I’m going to finish any of these projects, I am going to have to work at it. The stuff is not going to write itself. I’ve been waiting, and it ain’t happenin’, folks.

I hate that. I never used to work at it. I just did it, because I enjoyed it, because I had to do it, for some reason, and the work swept me away. I got lost in it.

Sometimes these days I get lost in it. But not often, not every day. The work has become work, for some reason.

I'm gonna have to put my shoulder to the wheel, my nose to the grindstone, my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

Damn, it has come to this. I hate that. I want it to be fun, like it used to be.

As William Faulkner said: 

“It's a shame that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can't eat for eight hours; he can't drink for eight hours; he can't make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.”

And this from William Butler Yeats:

"A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world."

Amen to that, brothers.  

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle  




Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DOES WORK INSPIRE YOU?

First quote of the day:

"Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work."
— Chuck Close

That is especially meaningful to me, since I have been lolly-gagging around, waiting for inspiration to strike before getting off my keister and getting down to work.

My own work is something I choose to do, my writing. Currently, I am working on five different projects: a novel, a short story, a screenplay, a memoir, and a self-help joke book.

But lately I have been waiting for inspiration, which comes seldom enough. I’m starting to realize that my work is just that, work, and I need it. I need something meaningful and challenging to do every day, and not just when I feel like it.

Part of the challenge and the benefit of work is doing it when you don’t feel like it. So yesterday I just worked, regardless of inspiration, whether I wanted to or not. It was a good feeling. Inspiration comes more often when you concentrate on the work, more than when you fart around.

I used to have unlimited energy for my work. Lately, not so much. I used to believe it was going to change my life (for the better, ha-ha-ha). Now I know you can't count on that.

As Gertrude Stein said,  “An audience is always warming but it must never be necessary to your work.” 

Gotta go. Back to work. 

-- Roger


Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BEST SHOW ON TV HAS LOW RATINGS

There is no doubt in my mind that "Prime Suspect" with Maria Bello is the best show on TV.
You know why I say that? Because it's not stupid.

It is so much better than "NCIS," the top rated drama on TV, that it isn't funny.

Yet, "Prime Suspect" is number 79 in the overall ratings, while "NCIS" is number 2.

Why is that? Is everyone stupid? Or have they just not heard about "Prime Suspect"?

I don't know, but it sure is a shame. Below is a link. I believe you can watch full episodes online:  
http://www.nbc.com/prime-suspect/

Catch it before it goes away.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

'ONE IDEA IS AS GOOD AS ANOTHER'

Yesterday, in the NY Review of Books, I read the following startling quote from the famous artist Willem de Kooning:

“In art one idea is as good as another.”

Hmmm. Let us think about that. What difference does it make whether a painting is figurative or abstract? A nude or a flower?

There are great paintings of all types, of all subjects, from flowers to protraits to the horrors of war (at least great drawings).

Now, does his startling revelation apply to works of literary art? What is the weight or importance of theme in literature?

Let us examine some of the great works.

"Hamlet" in my opinion is the greatest of Shakespeare's plays. It is about a young man, college age, who comes home from abroad to find that, apparently, his father's brother has murdered his father the king and married his mother the queen.

Who, baby. Incest. Fratricide. Regime change. It seems the stuff of soap opera or telenovela. What is the theme of "Hamlet"? Ambition destroys both family and kingdom? Perhaps.

What is the theme of "Moby Dick"? Madness kills? Obsession destroys?

OK, but so what? We writers need themes on which to build our stories. But does it matter which theme?

What is the theme of "Macbeth"? According to Lajos Egri, the famous dramatic theorist, ruthless ambition leads to death and destruction.

What is the theme of James Joyce's "Ulysses"? Perhaps that one man's journey of one day in one city is equal somehow to another man's journey of thousands of miles over the seas and through dangerous adventures.

My argument is that you have to have a theme, but that it doesn't much matter which theme you choose. It just has to make sense.

Theme is just one element. All the other things matter just as much or more: good writing, interesting characters, the exploration of the human condition and human consciousness, a story problem or difficulty that raises a strong dramatic question, the experience of reading or hearing or seeing the work of art.

Theme? Anything of import will do. One idea is as good as another.

What do you think?

(Of course, like any other subject, I reserve the right to change my mind.)

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle


Saturday, November 26, 2011

HAWAII DUMB-0

I am getting more and more disappointed with "Hawaii Five-0," the new remake of the old TV cop show that I never saw. When a friend first said, "Book 'em, Danno," I had to ask what that meant.

The new show has gotten more cartoony and more nonsensical. The plot-lines are goofy as hell. If you think about them, they fall apart, like wet newspapers in the rain.

Last night, I watched the show that ran Monday, Nov. 21. It was so goofy that I turned if off in the middle and almost didn't watch the rest. I canceled my scheduled recording of the series and then later reinstated it. This episode had some good moments in spite of the silly plot. But it barely redeemed itself.

Here are some of my notes, about two of the episodes: 

11/8/2011

I really enjoyed last night’s episode until the climax, when the explanation made absolutely no sense. The guy who was dying of cancer killed the lovely young Customs investigator why, again? I even rewound and watched the explanation scene again. Cuckoo. I never could figure it out. It had something to do with smuggling exotic animals.

But why go to all the trouble to kill her and then put her in a plane and fly her halfway to somewhere and bail out of the plane?

And how would you make sure to hit the spot where you left your motorcycle in the jungle? Huh? Let’s try that again. I think the jungle looks pretty much the same from the air, and why go to all that trouble?

The writers set up all these fascinating mysteries without giving any thought to their solutions, hoping that we don’t care.

Good luck with that. 

11/26/2011

        Just watched Monday night’s episode. It was goofy and cartoony and over-the-top. The not-hot woman worked for the CIA and she’s trying to find her fiancĂ©, but the CIA won’t help her, right? Huh? Is that a spy thriller convention, or does the CIA really abandon its people? Somehow, I doubt that they do that.

        She’s gone three months, pretending to be in D.C., but she is really hiding here in Hawaii. Huh? Why? None of this makes any sense. Then McGarrett flies with her to North Korea, with a bunch of off-duty Navy SEALs on their own hook. Say what?

        And she finds her fiancĂ© and I guess he is dead, although I couldn't tell. She digs into his flesh and pulls a pin out of his knee. Say what? How the hell does that work? Sweet Jesus, doesn’t anyone think about these scripts? Cuckoo-cuckoo. Realism is not one of their concerns, I guess.

        I don’t find these stories believable. And it’s hard to care about these characters, they are so cartoony.

        I wish I could find something better on TV to watch.

        Good luck with that.

        I don't know how much longer I can keep watching this show. I wonder how other people feel. Hmmm. Why do people watch this stuff?

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, November 21, 2011

TAY-TAY AND THE OLD GEEZER

Last night, Taylor Swift won a swift-boat load of awards in music:

http://www.kens5.com/news/American-Music-Awards-2011-Taylor-Swift-wins-artist-of-the-year-134243198.html

I think my granddaughter Bippy likes Tay-Tay, as she calls her.

So I went on YouTube and tried to listen to some of her music:

https://www.google.com/search?q=youtube+taylor+swift&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=&oe=&rlz=

Good God, am I an old geezer or what? I found it so boring! Yargh! I couldn't stand it. I tried two songs and that was enough for me. Nyet. Nein. Non. No. I could wait to hit the pause button.

I find a lot of so-called art sucks these days. Why is that? Is the work crap, or is it me?

I can't stand most pop novels and most so-called literary novels and most mystery novels and most literary short stories and most popular music and most new visual art.

Is it me, or is the culture drowning in crap?

You decide. And let me know what you think.

(Don't disappoint me now. You know the right answer.)

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WALKING WITH THE DEVIL

Quote for the day:

“It is permitted, in a time of great danger, to walk with the devil for awhile, until you have crossed the bridge.” – Balkan proverb, quoted by FDR during WWII.

I think FDR was talking about his alliance with Stalin.

Don't know how this applies to our situation today, but it must.

Maybe it's Obama and the Republicans.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, November 14, 2011

MOVIES? WHO CARES?

I was listening to a radio show today, on KCRW, the local NPR station, about Hollywood and the movies.

They were talking about the Academy Awards and various gossip around town.

My thought was, who cares? Honestly, does anyone even go to the movies anymore? I sure don't. Haven't for years.

When I was a kid, I loved the movies. They were my escape from my unhappy family. I learned how to be a grown-up from watching the movies. Silly, I know.

Even 12 or 15 years ago, I went to two or three new movies a week in the theater.

Then, for several years, I watched two or three movies a week from Netflix.

Now I just don't care. I'd rather read.

How long has it been since you saw a movie you loved? One that transported you and changed the way you see the world?

I used to come out of a movie with new eyes, as if looking through that filmmaker's camera lens.

Not anymore. I find the movies so boring and so badly done, I just don't care. The movies have lost me, I think forever.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, November 12, 2011

BIG HYPE, BORING FIGHT

Like a lot of other poor misguided morons, I watched the big UFC heavyweight championship fight earlier tonight between challenger Junior Dos Santos and champion Cain Velasquez on Fox Sports.

After all that hype, the fight lasted one minute and four seconds. It was the lamest fight I can remember. It's too bad, too, because both these guys have had great fights before.

Junior hit Cain with a roundhouse right and landed not as a full fist, but on the middle knuckles on his hand. It didn't even look like a real punch. It caught Cain above the ear on his left side. He said later he lost his equilibrium. I guess so, but it sure wasn't pretty.

Cain fell on his back, and Junior swarmed him and threw a flurry of heavy punches. Cain apparently could not defend himself and turned over, a bad mistake. The referee stopped the fight.

I was really disappointed. I didn't go out on the town with a friend tonight, so I could stay home and watch the fight live, in real time.

Too much hype, too big a letdown. Makes the UFC look bad.

I am sure it will recover. But I won't go out of my way to watch another big fight live soon. I usually record them and fast-forward through the boring parts.

This fight was all boring parts.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, November 5, 2011

BEST NON-FICTION BOOK I'VE EVER READ: 'EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON' by S.C. Gwynne

I just finished reading "EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON" by S.C. Gwynne, the best non-fiction book I have ever read.

This book is to non-fiction what Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" is to fiction. It's big, glorious, and compelling, a hell of a read. It covers everything.

It doesn't oversimplify anything, not the characters, not the events, not the sweep of history. The trouble with many N-F books is that the authors don't respect the readers. They assume we are children and can't handle complexity.

Gwynne, a former reporter and editor for Time Magazine and Texas Monthly, doesn't skimp on the details or the moral ambiguities.

I got so excited I looked up some Comanche songs on the web. Here is a good one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nqq0l5NNhkI

And I plan  to read more books on Native Americans.

I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, but I didn't learn much about the true history of the Old West. Also, I went away to Camp Rio Vista, near San Antonio, Texas, for two summers when I was a kid, so I am somewhat familiar with the Comanche hunting grounds.

The Commanche were truly the lords of the Great Plains. Their history is a great, sad, tragic story. Their fate, at the hands of the white man, makes me sad, but I recommend this book highly. I couldn't put it down.

This is not only the best non-fiction book I've ever read, it is one of the best books I've ever read.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, October 21, 2011

'BEANBAG' - BASEBALL THRILLER?

I just had the weirdest experience reading a short story. It was wonderful at first. Then it went from being great baseball fiction to really bad thriller writing.

The story is "Beanball" by Ron Carlson. I think he heads the MFA fiction program at UCI, where I got my MFA years ago.

"Beanball" was first published in One Story, a literary magazine that puts out one story per issue and never publishes the same writer twice, according to its website: http://www.one-story.com/

I read "Beanball" in "The Best American Mystery Stories" of 2009. At first, it didn't seem like a mystery at all.   

Our hero, Driscoll, travels all over the world scouting for talented young pitchers for a major league team, a job I've always thought would be great.

The fictional Driscoll used to be a catcher in the majors, but he was hit in the head by a pitch and almost died. So now he is a scout. OK. So far, so good.  

He finds a talented kid in Guatemala, and the kid goes to the majors and is hugely successful, until he beans a batter who dies. At that point, the story still had me.  

Then it turns out that things are not as they seem. A kidnapping. A girl's finger is cut off. Money exchanges hands. Dirty work. Huh? WTF?

I don't want to give away too much of the plot. But Driscoll goes back to Guatemala, buys a gun and stalks the bad guys. 

Turns out, the bad guys forced Alberto, the young pitcher, to kill the batter on purpose. But why? I never figured that out. Apparently, it’s not just for money. That would make too much sense.

The thriller stuff here didn't make any sense to me.

Why does Alberto show up at the end at just the right time? Apparently, just for the convenience of the plot. Did Driscoll set this up? Beats me.

And then Driscoll's old coach, mentor and good friend turns out to be another bad guy. WTF? This is like a bad Hollywood ending to a bad movie.

There are too many convenient details. The second driver in Guatemala just happens to have a gun that he is willing to sell. How does Driscoll know the gun works? He doesn't. I would not trust that gun. And it is way too convenient for the plot.

Suddenly Driscoll goes from being a baseball pitching scout to a black ops killer. He kills a man in cold blood and has no reaction. Huh? Where did that come from? Again, too convenient for the plot.

This could have been a great story. It is a good idea to have a story about the corrupting influence of money. But is that true in baseball? I have no idea. I would believe it. Unfortunately, that is not what this story is about.

What is it about? I don't know. It seems to be a weird hybrid of baseball fiction and bad thriller writing. Maybe a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do

My verdict? A good story gone horribly wrong.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, October 20, 2011

EDWARD ABBEY, MEET LEO TOLSTOY

I recently finished reading "Hayduke Lives!" -- Edward Abbey's sequel to "The Monkey Wrench Gang."

It's another rompin', stompin' hell of a good ride. I loved it. (I recommend reading "The Monkey Wrench Gang" first, to get the continuity and the whole picture.)

For me, the first issue these two novels raise is values. What do these two writers care about, and what role do their values play in their fiction?

If we take these writers seriously, what do they tell us about how we should live our lives?

I realized, several years ago, when I read "Anna Karenina" by Count Leo Tolstoy, that people like to read about characters like themselves.

In other words, readers like to identify with the characters and the way they live, their issues, problems, and values, the things they care about. I think the same thing is true today in popular culture: TV, the movies, fiction.

"Anna Karenina" is a huge sprawling portait of Russian life in the 1870s. Tolstoy covers the peasants, the aristocracy, the bureaucrats, the armed forces, the land-owning farmers. He even does a scene from the point of view of the family dog. There is something for everyone.

One theme is the contrast between a healthy relationship (Levin and Kitty) and an unhealthy one (Count Vronsky and Anna Karenina).

Anna and Vronsky, a dashing young cavalry officer, have an affair outside her marriage and outside society. They can't hobknob with other artistrocrats in Russia, so they go to Italy, where they find themselves even more isolated. They never recover their social bearings, and finally Anna commits suicide, throwing herself under a train.

In contrast, Levin and Kitty fall in love, get married, have children and live a gregarious social life, in symbol the very center of Russian society. They have dinner parties, have friends over, run a farm, raise their kids, fulfill their responsibilities to society and keep things running among their employees and families. Theirs is a full, rich, enviable life. 

In these Edward Abbey novels, there are also two kinds of people, those who love the Earth and want to protect it (Earth First! Earth--Love It Or Leave It), and those vicious, careless developers, cattle ranchers, mine owners, and politicians who exploit the Earth for profit and care nothing about nature.

The people with bad values don't come to a bad end, but they do have their defeats. This is a constant battle, worth doing, and worth reading about. Bishop Love, a total horse's ass, and his ilk are mostly clueless. They ride roughshod over the Earth and over the decent people who want to defend it. They are fools.

I enjoyed both Tolstoy and Abbey, partly for their values, but also for the good writing and their story telling abilities.

Their values are the same as my own: family, healthy society, healthy planet.

Abbey is still important now, although he died in 1989. His villains (developers and those who would destroy the biosphere) are much like the Tea Party extremists of today who want to dismantle the federal Environmental Protection Agency and make unlimited money while destroying the envirnoment that sustains us all.

I say let us read Leo Tolstoy (also spelled Tolstoi) and Edward Abbey, and learn something of their values. They each have something to teach us.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, October 10, 2011

MORE BAD WRITING

The Los Angeles Times published a letter to the editor of mine yesterday:

     I got all excited, at first, when I saw a novel excerpt on Page E9, in Oct. 2's Book Review.   

     Then I started to read it. What bad writing. Most of it is clunky exposition and awkward back-story. The rest is lame story and poorly done description.  

     Why should we care if Richard wears boots or cross-trainers, or if anyone would notice?     

     Shotguns don't "stomp" people. That is ridiculous.

     I wish you would look for better writing to reprint. 

     If this book is a bestseller, that's sad. 

     As Flannery O'Connor said, “There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

     This one should have been prevented. 

     Roger Angle
     Culver City


It referred to a novel excerpt that they had printed:

What do you think? Is that stuff crap or what?
-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, October 1, 2011

MYSTERY WRITING VS. REAL WRITING

I've been hoping to get published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, so I've been trying to read some stories published there.

You know, get the lay of the land.

I got, from the library, a book called "The Cutting Edge," a collection of short mysteries published in EQMM.

The first one is by Lawrence Block. In "Looking For David" a retired detective is on vacation in Florence, Italy, and runs into an old criminal he arrested for murder years ago. The bad guy tells him why he killed and carved up his gay lover.

As I read it, I got the feeling that Block didn't care about any of this. He didn't seem to care about the characters or the story or the writing. The whole thing is lackluster. No oomph. No pizazz. No jazz. No music. No depth. No energy.

So when I read it, I didn't care either. I quit about halfway through and skipped forward to the end. I cared even less when I finished.

On the other hand, I just started reading "Hayduke Lives!" by Edward Abbey, a sequel to "The Monkey Wrench Gang," one of my favorite novels.  

The writing is completely different. I get the feeling that Abbey cared about everything: every line, every description, every cactus, every blade of wild ricegrass, even an old turtle, every word, every character.

The writing is full and rich. Full of imagery and detail and insight. Full of energy. The prose dances, and rocks and rolls, and puts the pedal to the metal and drives ahead. It illuminates the characters and brings the story to life.

It's a treat to read, and a startling contrast to the dull, lackluster writing of the genre mystery.

I think caring is part of the game. Like any art form, or any profession, if you don't care, it shows.

One time I went to a doctor who told he had been retired in his mind for ten years. The work just didn't interest him anymore. Boy, I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

That's how I felt about this mystery story by Lawrence Block.

My advice: Whatever you do, especially if want to get paid for it, and if you want other people to participate, you better damn well care about it, and you better do your best.

Otherwise, your work will be dead, and that will show.

-- Roger


Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, September 30, 2011

MY VISIT TO A TV TALK SHOW

Why do millions of people watch TV talk shows? Most of the conversations are trivial, banal, and mundane.

The guests talk about what other shows they are on or movies they are in (show biz feeding itself), where they were born and to whom they are married or whom they are dating (gossip), when they started doing whatever they are famous for, and other topics that are trivial to the rest of us.

It's all very narcissistic. They are promoting themselves and the shows they are in, or on, or directing.

These topics are not in themselves compelling or fascinating or even remotely interesting. Yet people watch. By the millions. Why?

Where do these people on TV get all that power, to command all that attention?

My theory is that the power comes from the attention itself. It's like being at a dinner party. Notice the way the center of attention moves around the room, one person telling a story, another complaining about politics, another chatting about their husband or wife or child.

We all watch and listen, and we are not just being polite. We are genuinely interested. At the moment. Why? Just because we are all paying attention. It's some kind of basic human need, to pay attention and be paid attention to.

And of course TV concentrates that power and gives the people onscreen the added aura of celebrity, even if we have never heard of them before and will probably never see them again. Just being on TV is a big deal. All those eyes on me, or you, or them. A sense of heightened awareness. A feeding frenzy of attention. We do love it, don't we, as a culture?

These TV talk shows take the place of real conversations, I think. No matter how mundane and banal they are.  

I sat for more than two hours Thursday night in a TV studio audience and watched four people have a boring, trivial, inane conversation. I laughed and applauded when I was told to, like a trained seal. I didn't eat or drink or talk when I was not supposed to.

I made nice, like everyone else. All for a TV show.

My new friend Cathy B, who likes this kind of thing, and I went to CBS Television City in LA for the taping of "Rove LA." The host is an Aussie, Rove McManus, apparently a TV star and comedian in Australia.

About a hundred people sat in the studio from about 6:30 till almost 9:00 p.m. and applauded and laughed on command (belly laugh, chuckles, louder, softer, longer) and watched a trivial conversation that was to last about an hour on the air.

There must've been a dozen staff members there, working the four or five cameras, directing the audience and the camera people, doing makeup and tending to the needs of the host and his guests.

Rove's guests were Kevin Smith, (director of "Clerks" and "Red State"), Anna Faris, cute young actress (three Scary Movies, among many, many others), and Daniel McPhereson ("Wild Boys" and several others).

We learned that Kevin Smith does a podcast every morning with his wife. Anna Faris has worn see-through panties on the sets of movies. Daniel McPhereson has worn a "cock-sock" for sex scenes, and one time the sock came off.

Oh boy, fascinating stuff. 

Frankly, my friends are more interesting. Maybe the people who watch these shows don't have any friends. Or maybe their friends are very, very dull.

I don't have the answer. But it is a strange world we live in. Attention itself confers a certain power and fulfills a certain need. Maybe we all need it, and maybe that is what this is all about.

I must admit I had a good time, like going to the zoo, to see what strange things people do.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

'I THINK I CAN'

I hate to admit it, but I've been watching "Hawaii Five-0," an action-adventure cop show on CBS.
http://www.cbs.com/shows/hawaii_five_0/

In a lot of ways it's typical network stuff. Formulaic but attractive. Pretty girls and handsome guys who can kick ass and think, too.

One thing I like about the show, and what sticks with me, is the underlying attitude of the characters. I don't know what this is called. Theme? Meta-communication? Psychological underpinnings? Symbolic action? Whatever. It's definitely part of the audience appeal.

No matter what horrendous problem the 5-0 team faces--and some of them are extreme--the team girds up its loins and tackles the problem with all biceps flexing, pretty girls narrowing their eyes and frowning, everyone kicking ass, and all technology blazing.

The story problems--essential to any show like this--include one of our heroes in prison on wrong charges, a mysterious and deadly villain named Wo Fat, plus typical cop-show cases like kidnappings and witness protection.  

I love Wo Fat as a villain. You want to say, Whoa, Fat! Reminds me of Chow Yun Fat, the famous Hong Kong action star.

This Wo Fat bad dude is handsome and seems to have his finger in every possible evil pie you can think of and some you can't.

The thing I like best about the show is the attitude of the characters. Reminds me of that kid's story "The Little Engine That Could."

No matter how big and hairy the barriers, these people think they can overcome them. You can almost hear them chanting "I think I can, I think I can" as they get shot at and knifed in the belly and misunderstood and lose their badges and girlfriends and wives and get them back.

I guess the reason this idea is so popular in pop-lit is that it makes us feel that we can overcome our problems, too. Not a bad thing in life.

Cartoonish? Maybe. But well done. The show could be called Well-Done Fun, a new Chinese name.

Should I be ashamed? Maybe, but we all have our guilty pleasures. I sure do.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

BORGES MAKES GENIUSES OF US ALL

I was just reading a story by Jorge Luis Borges, "A Survey Of The Works Of Herbert Quain."

The writer Herbert Quain is totally fictional, as far I can determine. I love it when Borges messes with your mind. In another story, he claims that a writer named Pierre Menard wrote the story of Don Quixote. Line by line, word for word. Yet original. How funny. Hilarious.

Borges reminds me of John Cage, the late avant garde composer and performer. Years ago, at UC Irvine, I saw Cage with his collaborator, the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham.

When the show started, we wandered into a small theater on the campus, a theater-in-the-round, with steps leading up to a low stage. Music playing, very low, as I recall. As if in the background.

As we were sitting there, one by one apparent members of the audience got up from their seats, strolled casually up onto the stage, and began to dance.

It was wonderful. It messed with your mind, violating your expectations. Who was next? Was I expected to get up and dance? Is that woman next to me a secret dancer? Were we all secret dancers?

I loved it.

At one point, Cage was writing things down as he was playing the piano. He invited questions from the audience. Someone said, "What are you doing?"

Cage said, "I'm giving myself instructions and following them."

People laughed. He was making fun of the whole set-up, the audience, the third-wall convention, the act of performing, the status of being either a performer or audience member, the very act of creation.

I told my friend Tim about this, and he said, "I hate that kind of thing." Of course, as he told me one time, he was missing the point.

Watching was part of the art. The audience was part of the piece, as it always is, I believe.

Borges does the same kind of thing, making fun of the whole transaction, the whole creative process of writing, imagining, reading, recreating what is imagined.

By doing that, he sets us all above it somehow, so we can laugh at it and enjoy it and admire it, all at once.

Borges makes geniuses of us all.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, September 26, 2011

THE AGE OF CRAP: GOOD VS. BAD FICTION

What do we want from fiction? Do you read novels and short stories? I do. If so, why? What do you get from that? What do you want?

I myself want several things:
  1. I want first of all to be transported out of my own body and away from my own surroundings. I want to live in a fictional world for awhile. I want to escape the bounds of boring reality and live in a more interesting, more exciting and more meaningful world. I want to go somewhere I have never been and experience something I have never experienced. The word novel after all means something new.
  2. I want to learn something about human nature, to gain some insight or series of insights into the human condition, to learn something about myself that I didn't know. To come away feeling like I know myself better. This is what it is like to be me. Now I know. This is what happens to people like me if we do that.
  3. I want to learn something about the world at large, to gain some insight into a place and a people that are new to me. A new vision that is meaningful. Not mere escape.
  4. I want to have an aesthetic experience while I'm doing all this. To revel in the use of language, to read exciting and perhaps deathless prose.
  5. I want to feel comfortable in the hands of this creator, this writer, this author, who knows his world and perhaps loves it.
  6. Last but not least, I want to come away feeling like a better person, uplifted, full of knowledge and insight and purpose. I want to feel good about being human.
Is that too much to ask? It may seem like a lot, but I don't think it is.

The great writers do this: Shakespeare, Faulkner, Melville, Tolstoi, Joseph Conrad, Cormac McCarthy, James Joyce, Jorge Luis Borges.

But alas, the vast majority of modern American writers seem to have no clue. Someone, I think it was a NY Times drama critic, said most of the plays you see on the stage today are junk.

The same thing is probably true of most art, most cinema, most novels, most poetry, almost any art form. It is certainly true of most published fiction, at least the stuff I see reviewed and recommended.

This long rant was prompted by a little one-paragraph blurb in Parade Magazine (9-25-11, Pg 7) recommending "A Trick of the Light" (nice title) by Louise Penny.

I went to Amazon and read the first few pages.
(Link:) http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_5_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=louise+penny+a+trick+of+the+light&sprefix=Louise+Pe

My God. It's not even clear. I was not transported, I was appalled. What a mess. This is a bestseller? Lord save us.

As Flannery O'Connor said, “There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

Do we live in age where junk is praised? Is that the best we can do? If so, that is very sad.

As Ezra Pound said, “In the end, the age was handed / the sort of shit that it demanded.”

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, September 24, 2011

TWO GALLERY SHOWS IN CULVER CITY

It's Saturday night in Los Angeles, and when I moved here in 1999 I wanted to become an old man about town. Most of the time I've just been an old man at home.

So I got dressed up tonight and went out to two gallery openings. I used to go to these things all the time to meet women. And to enjoy and art and to mingle and sometimes they have free food and drinks.

Tonight, first I went to Gallery 3209 in Culver City, CA, and saw some very sincere but to me unrealized paintings by a nice looking woman named CK Lyons. I didn't talk to her, but I liked looking at her more than I liked looking at her paintings.

There were only five or six people when I got there, so it was easy to see the show.

One painting did work for me: a dead matador apparently lying on a beach, with huge flowers in the background. Fairly strong work. The rest seemed somehow uncommitted, as if the artist was groping her way toward something. The show seemed to climax in the one painting I liked.

Here is a link: http://gallery3209.com/?page_id=99

Around the corner, I went to another reception at Corey Helford Gallery. I thought this work was appalling, although the show drew a big crowd.

About a hundred people milled around, hip looking, young. Free hot dogs from a catering truck outside. Two uniformed security guards, and two plain-clothes and very serious looking young men in black suits with those little curly wires going into their ears.

I don't know what they expected. Maybe they thought someone would try to steal this razzle-dazzle crap art. Take a look at this stuff for yourself:
http://www.coreyhelfordgallery.com/#/home/

These paintings are like going to the dentist. They make my teeth hurt.

People make the mistake of thinking that because something is slick and popular and has emotive images that it is good.

My god. I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there.

Anyway, that was enough art for me. I boogied on home to have a cerveza Negro Modelo and relax.

It's hard to find good art, like it's hard to find good fiction or poetry. But sometimes the effort is better than sitting at home.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, September 23, 2011

STANLEY ELKIN - YARGH!

I just tried to read "STANLEY ELKIN'S GREATEST HITS."

Many years ago, I had a friend named Cunningham who was a big admirer of Elkin. I had the book in my "sell" pile for years. But I was looking for something to read, so I picked it up.

I thought the first long story, "The Making Of Ashenden," was wonderful until Page 39, when it turns to crap. Before that, it was bright, funny, clever, erudite, witty, wry, a rare form of humor. It makes fun of upper-class pretensions.

But then the main guy meets this legendary woman, with whom everyone "in Europe" is in love, and the story turns stunningly stupid. What is all this talk about picturing the coastlines? Who friggin’ cares?

Then she has some rare, fatal disease, and they carry on this unbelievably stupid conversation. God, the dialog is inane. And it is NOT funny.

Then he asks her to marry him. Huh? Say what? You have got to be kidding.

How stupid. I tried to read on, but it gets dumber and dumber. I waded on 5 or 6 more pages and finally gave up.

Now I know why I put this book in the “sell” pile.

I don't think I have ever seen such a pointless change in tone and style and direction and effect in a well-written story.

Yargh.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WILD HAIRY REBELLIOUS NOVEL

I just finished reading THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG, by Edward Abbey, a great, wild, hairy, rebellious novel.

The hero, George Hayduke, is all that, and more. He is also a tough guy, an ex-Green Beret, a Vietnam vet, and a great lover. A little crazy, in a good way.

But he is not a cliche. Don't expect one of those schlocky bestseller Jack Reacher types. The story is much better than that.

This novel has everything: great writing, strong plot, and good values.

Some of it sounds like Cormac McCarthy, the greatest living American novelist, in my humble opinion. The introduction says that Cormac McCarthy was a big fan of Abbey. I believe it.

The book has a driving, toe-tapping, page-turning, heart-pounding plot. Eco rebels burning down the house. Good people doing bad things in a good cause. And risking their lives to do it.

The other members of the Gang are well rounded. A sexy young woman who made my heart beat faster. A middle-aged doc with a heart of gold. A river guide whose heart is in the wilds. A good bunch. I admired them all.

You never know if they are going to triumph over the forces of evil, or if they are going to crash and burn and die. The forces of evil here are big mining companies that rape the earth, ruthless developers that strip the land, and government flunkies who kiss their asses for money.

It's a hell of a ride and a hell of a read. I recommend it highly.

You have to be the kind of person who loves the wilderness, loves to camp and hike and climb, and who wants to protect nature. I am all that, so I loved the book.

BTW, the Sierra Club looks like a bunch of lily-livered sellouts in this book. And I imagine there is truth in that.

Abbey writes well, especially about nature, violence and action. I didn't want to join the gang, but I sure liked reading about them.

Wow, what a book.

(Thanks to my buddy John in Colorado, who sent me a copy and urged me to read it.)

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, September 15, 2011

DO WE NEED A HERO?

The other night, I watched an episode of "The Sopranos" on cable TV.

If you have never seen the series, Tony Soprano, the main character, is a mob boss who lives in New Jersey, has a family with two kids college age, has some inner conflicts, and has been to a shrink, which he keeps secret. Also, he is overbearing, screws around on his wife, and kills people occasionally.

In this episode, it is Tony's 47th birthday and his sister and brother-in-law talk him and Carmela into driving up from New Jersey to a cabin on a lake near Canada.

It is a lovely place. Peaceful, serene. 

The two branches of the family are there: Carmela and Tony, plus Janice and her husband Bobby, and their cute little girl, and her nanny, a black woman.

All kinds of bad things happen. These people are a mess, psychologically. They don't know how to get along with each other. Or with other people. Their answer to any conflict is violence. They don't respect anybody, least of all themselves. Talk about a dysfunctional family.

I guess that is the point.

They drink too much. Tony says something trashy about Janice, and Bobby punches Tony in the face. They fight, trashing the living room. 

Tony and Bobby do business with two French Canadian gangsters, and Tony assigns Bobby to kill a man so they can get the price down on some imported out-of-date pharmaceuticals.

It's just business to these thugs, who have no sense of morality or decency.

Again, I guess that is the point. 

By the end of the show, I felt sick to my stomach. What is the point of all this? These people are worse than animals.

I wonder how real gangsters feel about this show. I hope the real people have more class than the ones on TV.

Now, here is what I've been driving at: In drama or in fiction, do we need to admire the main character? Or any of the characters?

When I was teaching at Orange Coast College, way back in the mid-1970s, there was a woman named Grace Sawicki who taught there.  

Grace gave her students an outline for a good play, or a good story:
  1. A strong character you admire tries to do something admirable and important to him or her.
  2. She meets increasingly difficult barriers.
  3. Things get worse, as the antagonist makes stronger moves.
  4. She has a conflict with her previously held values. (Maybe she would never lie, but she has to lie to save her son, for example.)
  5. She has to risk everything, at some point, and it seems impossible.
  6. She wins or loses, and her life changes forever. She learns something and can't go back.
I think this formula works pretty well. I have followed it myself, and I have taught it to my own students.

But "The Sopranos" does not follow this at all.

Tony Soprano is a strong character. For sure. But there is almost nothing admirable about him. He is not like "The Godfather," who is trying to lead his family into respectability.

Tony is not a total sleaze, but he is violent, venal and without morals.

Years ago, in my own writing career, I had a big disagreement with my then-agent about this same issue. I had written a novel about a character who admires a slick con-man and ends up becoming a criminal. He starts out as a reporter and ends up in prison.

My agent said the reader of commercial fiction has to have a character he can admire and root for.

"The Sopranos" sure isn't like that.

But for me, certain episodes need someone I can hold onto. Someone I can admire and respect.

Otherwise, it feels like we are wallowing in pig slop. 

I don't want to see another episode of "The Sopranos" right away. (I had earlier seen three seasons on DVD and liked them a lot.)

This same question was raised years ago by "Long Day's Journey Into Night," a really depressing play by Eugene O'Neill.

I couldn't take it. My own family was too dysfunctional. The play needs a container, some perspective showing how sick these people are. Without that, we are just wallowing in the slop. It was a horrible experience, I thought.  

So that is the question. I don't mean a happy ending. I mean some ray of hope. Someone with decent values. Someone to admire and respect and root for.

Do we need that? Or do we at least need some form of reward? If the good guys don't win, do we need something we can take away and feel good about?

I sure do.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle
 

Friday, September 9, 2011

MINI-REVIEW: CATHERINE O'FLYNN

O’FLYNN, CATHERINE – “THE NEWS WHERE YOU ARE”

9/9/2011

I found the opening confusing, nonsensical and pointless.

In the prologue, an old guy named Phil is walking along a country lane feeling sorry for himself when he is run over by a car. Just before it hits him, he recognizes the driver, whose face is “white with fear and running with tears.”

Huh? WTF? I don't find this interesting or engaging or intriguing in the least.

In Chapter One, it is confusing who is who and what is what. It is supposed to be a father and daughter, but I couldn’t follow the dialogue, partly because "Mo" didn't seem like a girl's name, and I couldn’t see the point. What is there to care about? Where is the story? Is there a theme here? What is the relationship between these characters? And most of all, why should I give a damn?

I didn’t get far. I quit on Page 4.

Am I expecting too much? All I want is good writing, a character in some kind of difficulty or dilemma, and the sense that a competent writer is going to take me by the hand and lead me into an interesting world. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

MINI-REVIEW: GEORGE PELECANOS

I am always looking for good fiction to read. And that search seems to get more difficult all the time. The works in literary and popular magazines and the published novels touted on Amazon seem to get worse and worse. I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Anyway, here is a mini-review from a recent attempt:

"THE TURNAROUND" by George Pelecanos

9/8/2011 -- From an e-mail to my friend Adam:

I am trying to read "The Turnaround" by Pelecanos and can't get into it. I just do not care. He has not made me care.

I am on Pg 28, and I think the black guys are going to try to rob the Greek's diner, and he will chase after them and die of a heart attack. After all, he is a tough guy, an ex-Marine, but he smokes. 

I sort of like him, but there is no story so far. No dilemma, no story problem, no central conflict, no dramatic question. I don't care enough about the characters to keep reading. 

How were you feeling early on? What caught your interest? Nothing is catching mine.

Adam wrote back that the pace didn't bother him, and that he was interested in the social situation, which involved race relations, and that he liked the characters.

OK, so we have different taste.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

THE 'SLOW BURN'

A friend of mine likes what he calls the "slow burn" of certain novels, TV shows and movies. He thinks you should set up a dramatic situation and then let it simmer, giving the audience little information or drama and making them wait, and wait. And wait.

He likes that. Not me. But I suppose that depends on your taste and temperament. It also depends on the story.

A slow pace works for me at times. Some people think "Unforgiven," with Clint Eastwood, is slow. "Blade Runner," too. But I don't see a slow burn in either case.

If a story is too fast, it can lack character development and motivation, so it can seem meaningless, full of mindless action without emotional context, like "The Bourne Stupidity"--er, "The Bourne Supremacy"--and "The Bourne Ultimatum."

My favorite Bourne movie is the first one, "The Bourne Identity." The director, Doug Liman, said they tried to make the movie in such a way that you could take the action out, and the story would still work.

What a great idea. A man after my own heart. Finally, some brains in Hollywood. But of course, the geniuses who run things couldn't leave well enough alone. So, for the next two Bourne movies, they hired a new director, and the series lost its way in mindless action.

The first Bourne movie worked so well because of character development and the stakes each character had in the action. Jason Bourne is trying to save not only his life but also his soul and his values. Marie falls in love with Jason because of his values and is trying to save that love. So the action has an emotional context. 

In Bourne two and three, those emotional stakes are gone. What they needed was not a slow burn, but a deeper reason for the audience to care.
  
I am not a big fan of a slow burn. But I am a big fan of emotional stakes. Pacing alone, slow or fast, does not by itself make a story work or create suspense.

With all due respect to my friend, he can have the slow burn.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, September 5, 2011

WISH ME ART

When is a political statement a work of art? And vice versa?

I have been working on my political story, about a Minuteman who thinks he is guarding the border and helping the USA by keeping people out. He meets a lovely Latina and has to deal with his emotions. 

This is my first political story, and I have always believed that if the message overwhelmed the art it wasn't art at all.

I turned for guidance to Goya and his "Disasters of War," possibly the greatest artistic statement against war.

Are these etchings political? I would say so, for they certainly don't glorify war. French soldiers rape women and behead men and cut them into pieces. These sights are horrific.

My favorite etching shows women fighting back. One woman has a small child under her arm while she is killing a soldier with a spear. Good for her, I think as I look at it. Good for her.

Certainly these are great works of art.

So I am hoping that my modest story (38 pages and 7,000 words so far) will be a work of art.

Wish me luck. And wish me art.

-- Roger
 
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle