Monday, April 25, 2011


Today, I heard a story on NPR about product placement and "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

The funny thing is, this guy Morgan Spurlock is making money, hand over fist, by making fun of making money, hand over fist. 

His movie is about product placement in movies.

He filled his movie with products -- 15 company sponsors, plus promotional sponsors -- and exposed the practice at the same time.

So he is both whistle blower and hustler, in one.

I think we should all do this.

I'll put, "This novel brought to you by Pepsi Cola," inside the front cover of my next blockbuster, if Pepsi will give me a million dollars to support me while I write it.

How's that for a deal? Are you listening, Pepsi?

All artists should do this. Painters could sneak in corporate logos. Or they could paint cans of Campbell's soup. Wait, that's already been done, by Andy Warhol. Musicians could quote ad jingles in their compositions.

Sexy women could sell ad space on their underwear. Whoa, there's an idea. Studly men could sell ad space on their U-know-what. Hell, I could do that.

Everything is for sale, ladies and gentlemen. You, me, everyone.

Step right up. And bend over.

We are about to drive you home.

-- Roger

(Brought to you by Trader Joe's green tea, Dos Equis beer, and Full Sail beer, by turns.)
© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, April 24, 2011


I finally watched the Facebook movie -- "The Social Network" -- last night.

I found it trivial and superficial. The only issues are who is going to get the money and who is the biggest asshole, i.e., the most self-centered, self-aggrandizing and most obnoxious person in the movie. I didn't care about either question.

The flick is well done -- well acted, well filmed, and well edited. I loved the opening scene and liked the first half, more or less. But as the story developed I got less and less interested. There is nothing meaningful at stake. It reminds me of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" I don't care.

And I still don't know how Facebook makes all its money, or why people think it is a big deal. Maybe it is a big deal just because it makes a lot of money.

Ho-hum. Wake me when it's over, when the country matures a little and stops worshipping money.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I started reading "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy again this morning. Oh, God, what a bleak vision, but finely rendered. The language is magical. This writer knows his craft, and his art.

After all, he is America's greatest living novelist. (By America, I mean the English-speaking USA.) His greatest books are "Blood Meridian" and "Suttree." His worst book is of course his most commercially succesful, "No Country For Old Men," a bad book made into a good movie, typical of Hollywood.

I started re-reading "The Road," an horrific nightmare of a story, because my friend Joy said she wanted to discuss it, and I hadn't read the whole thing. I had put it down after 25 pages the first time; it was too depressing.

This is adapted from an e-mail I sent to Joy:

Before, I thought the book was self indulgent. By that, I mean he sits in his plush armchair in Santa Fe, NM, where he hangs out at The Santa Fe Institute, a place where famous scientists, et al, gather, and he creates an unbearably bleak world for us to live in, as we read.

You know, we use our imaginations when we read. We re-create the world of the story in our minds. Reading is a powerful experience. The most powerful of the arts, it seems to me.

Creating such a horrific world is self-indulgent, like a kind of torture porn. He may have enjoyed writing it, and it may have been fulfilling for him, but it is a hellish world to live in. He can get away with it, because he is our greatest living American writer.

But he is not being kind to his readers. I think as a writer you have an obligation to your readers not to put them through hell unless there is a good reason.

I don't know yet what that reason is. I haven't read the whole thing.

We'll see how far I get this time.  

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, April 22, 2011


I saw the old movie "Network" on cable last night. It's about how TV news has been co-opted by corporations and big business interests, and how TV trivializes everything in life.

It's also about how this corruption affects the people who report the news and those who run these organizations. Both the talent and the suits are demoralized and destroyed.

The first half of the movie is really good, I think, but the second half isn't very well worked out. News anchor Howard Beale goes nuts, and the network exploits him, and it hires some black militants so it can exploit them, too, for higher and higher ratings. 

The ruthless TV people exploit anyone with a soul.  

It's kind of like "The Truman Show," in which the TV people are ruthless. Both these movies foreshadow the rise of reality TV in our own time.

But the end of "Network" didn't work for me. They set up a killing on their own TV show, supposedly to fight back against the big corporation. Huh? Whose ox is getting gored here? Strong message, weak drama.

I thought "The Truman Show" was better.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, April 21, 2011


This morning, I took a break from my own writing and picked up "Three Seconds," the "award-winning" Swedish crime novel.

I opened it arbitrarily somewhere in the middle (Page 174, by chance) and read a paragraph at random. The writing was so clunky that I burst out laughing. So bad, yet so funny.

Here's why: It was exposition thinly disguised as dialogue. People don't talk like this, in real life or in good fiction. Nobody ever says this stuff.

Here is the graf:

"I love you. I love Hugo. I love Rasmus. I love this house. I love knowing that there's someone who calls me my husband and someone else who calls me Daddy. I didn't know it was possible. I've gotten used to it. I'm completely dependent on it now."  

It sounds like complete and utter horseshit. Like what some horse's ass would say on the Oprah show, a festival of bullshit if there ever was one.

The problem is, these people don't know bad writing when they see it. They probably don't know good writing when they see it. That's too bad. It's sad.

But anyway, it handed me a good laugh.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Years ago, I belonged to a writer's group in Orange County, CA, and they were a good bunch. Lots of serious and successful writers. One of them was making a million dollars a book, and that was 20 years ago.

But every time I would criticize the chapter or scene we were discussing, it seemed, someone would say, "Yes, but that's what you have to do for this kind of book."

I got so sick of hearing that. I wanted to hear what you had to do to write a good book, not "this kind of book," which usually meant a mystery.

To me, that is what's wrong with publishing. Too many people writing "this kind of book."

It used to be, someone estimated, there were about 200 mystery writers across the country writing basically the same book over and over.

The L.A. Times Book Review published an article, some years ago, about mysteries. They are so formulaic. On Page 65, the hero gets hit on the head and knocked unconscious. On Page 95, there's a sex scene. One Page 200, the bad guy is revealed. You get the idea.

To me, that isn't writing, it's filling in the blanks. It's a paint-by-numbers kit. No, thanks, either as reader or writer.

I think a writer should always be after some kind of truth, and reading it should be fun, exciting, and aesthetic. I want to learn something about myself, have some insight into human nature, learn something about the world, enjoy good writing, and have a good time doing it.

Is that too much to ask?

If you can't do that, don't do it at all. I don't want to read your stuff. That's my opinion. For what it's worth. I'll just stick to Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Last night, I tried to read a "winner of the best Swedish crime novel," it said on the cover, THREE SECONDS, by Roslund & Hellstrom, whoever the hell they are. 

Honestly, it didn't work for me. I found the writing clunky and expository and not very clear, and it seemed to be trying way too hard, not to tell a story or create a world, but to jack up the reader. Snore.

I spent the first three or four pages trying to figure out who the hell the two characters in the story were and what they were up to. Not a good way to begin a novel.

I always told my students, back when I used to teach this stuff, that you have to orient the reader first.

We want to know who the characters are, where they are, why they are there, what they are trying to do, and what their problem is.

You know, in journalism they call it the five W's and the H: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

In fiction, you should show the characters in action and imply who they are and what they are up to. You should show enough evidence, or tell enough, that the reader's question is, how can they do that? Or, will they survive? Or, will they reach their goal?

The questions should not be, who the hell is this, and what the hell are they doing? To me, those are the wrong questions. That is confusion, not suspense.

I suppose some people might enjoy being confused, and I guess there is a fine line between confusion and suspense, although it seems obvious to me.

Anyway, this book starts out with a drug "mule" on a boat, but we don't know anything else about him. He has swallowed drugs and he is scared shitless. Then the narrative cuts to some mysterious character at some government training center with guns going off and a mock kidnapping attempt.

Who cares? Snore.

If you want crime suspense, I recommend James Lee Burke. His novels always keep me spell-bound. I also liked early Patricia Cornwell, before she got too successful. And early Thomas Harris.

I liked Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, and their series of comic crime novels about Max Fisher, the most egotistical and self-centered "hero" who ever "lived."

It's hard to find good fiction of any kind. I don't believe in the usual genre distinctions. To me, a good novel is a good novel. Period. And they are damned hard to find.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


(I know that title is snarky, but bear with me.)

Lately, Marcia Clark, who led the OJ Simpson prosecution team into the swamp of defeat and set a murderer free, has been getting a lot of publicity.

There was a story about her in the L.A. Times yesterday (18 April 2011) and one on NPR this morning. She has written a mystery novel. 

I hope it's better than her prosecution of the OJ case. She made so many errors it's hard to remember them all.

Her biggest mistake: Ms. Clark and her boss, Gil Garcetti, moved the trial from Santa Monica, where it would have had a mostly white jury, to downtown, where it had a mostly black jury.

It looked like this jury would have acquitted The Juice even if they had seen him do it. They seemed to be taking revenge on the criminal justice system for decades of discrimination.

Ms. Clark did a focus group with potential jury members, or people who fit their demographic, and found they had no respect for her. Yet, she went ahead to lead the team anyway, knowing the jury was biased against her. I guess she couldn't resist the call of fame.

At one point, she got caught at the Burbank airport with a gun in her purse, when she should have known better. 

Obviously, she was in over her head.  

She and her team spent months presenting the DNA evidence, when it should have been done in an afternoon. That arcane mumbo-jumbo would put anyone to sleep, and the more they went on about it, the more the jury thought they were trying to hide something. They dug a hole for themselves and kept on digging.

Ms. Clark allowed Chris Darden to use the shrunken leather glove, which in turn gave a huge gift to defense attorney Johnny Cochran: "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." The jury understood that, where they didn't understand the DNA evidence.

Cochran told OJ not to take his arthritis meds, so it would be even harder to get his big hand into the skin-tight leather glove, which had gotten soaked with blood during the murder. When leather dries, it hardens and shrinks. So did the prosecution's case.

I recommend Vincent Bugliosi's writing on the subject. Prosecutor Bugliosi famously put away Charlie Manson for life, even though Manson was not at the scene of the Tate-LaBianca murders.

That was a masterful prosecution. Oh, what he could have done with more concrete evidence.

In the OJ case, police found Nicole Simpson's blood in OJ's shower drain at his house, and they found OJ's blood on Nicole's dead body.

It was a slam-dunk case, or should have been. It took a series of colossal errors to set that killer free.

So Marcia Clark is famous for all the wrong reasons. She keeps coming back, like the Swamp Thing in the old horror movie.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, April 18, 2011


I don't know how much danger we need in life. I think a certain amount of risk keeps our blood pumping. I knew a cop one time who said when he arrests people, "I don't like 'em to go too easy."

I get the point. I used to race motorcycles off-road and cars on the street, and for years I rode mountain bikes. I especially liked the tricky downhill stuff where there were rocks and cactuses and you really didn't want to fall.

On the other hand, I didn't like riding next to a 200-foot dropoff over a lake. A little risk was fun, but a big risk was not.

We need a certain degree of risk in fiction, too. For women, I think, they mostly want emotional risk. Will Martha fall in love with Sam, even though Sam is married to her best friend Jill? For men, we need physical risk to keep our yah-yahs up. Will the cop stop the man who killed his partner before he kills again?

For the writer, the question in fiction is how much risk and when. You don't want it to be too outrageous. Fiction has to be more believable than life, as Borges says (in a book called "Borges On Writing").  

In the novel I'm writing now, my main character is going up against a very scary guy, the scariest character I've ever invented. So just being in the same room with the guy is a risk. The trick is playing it out in the scenes so the reader feels it.

This scary guy, I suppose, represents an aspect of myself. I think all the characters we create are aspects of ourselves. We like to see them play out their anger, their obsessions, their madness, to "murder and create," as T.S. Eliot said.

We just don't want them to murder us, unless it's on the page.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I think I've said this before: Writing is a series of problems that you try to solve the best way you can.

Hemingway said you never really master the craft of writing. You are always up against new problems.

My current perceived problem, which may or may not be the real problem, is keeping track of what is at stake and constantly raising the stakes, so the story builds.

In many of my favorite stories, the main character gets himself or herself into trouble trying to do the right thing. As he or she struggles to get out of trouble, they get in deeper and deeper.

An example might be a man in a rowboat who goes to rescue a pretty girl from sharks in the water. He gets there, but she is so scared she turns the boat over trying to get in.

Dum-dee-dum-dum. More danger, for them both. This is a story hook, a melodramatic example, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I felt bad writing so much about Che Guevara and thought I'd do a post on my novel, which is going well. I'm on Page 183 of "The Prince of Newport," and I'm pretty happy with it. But I haven't gotten to the hard part yet. I'm not sure what to do with a character named Isabella. Hmm.

Another problem I've had is deciding how much to show of the main character's inner thoughts. My favorite writers do a seamless job of presenting both the external and internal world at the same time. It isn't easy.  

Anyway, back to work. Next, Chapter 12, where I bring in a new character, Derek. 

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Last night, I read the chapters, in Jon Lee Anderson's bio of Che, where he and Fidel's rag-tag, tattered, bloodied, out-manned, out-gunned band of rebels won the revolutionary war in Cuba, against Batista's brutal dictatorship.

I cheered, and I almost wept. Stunning. Unbelievable.

I don't know about you, but when I read a book like this, I feel like I live in that world. So the experience is profoundly moving, in a different way from real life, of course. Perhaps, in a way, you understand it better, because you aren't so close to it.

But I don't understand how those small bands of guerrillas won all those dozens or even maybe hundreds of battles against superior forces. They started out with 22 men, for Christ's sake. Often they would be out-numbered ten to one, or a hundred to one.

There isn't enough detail in the book, except for the taking of the armored train in Santa Clara, where they threw Molotov cocktails and the train got too hot for the soldiers inside.

When Che entered one city, I think it was Santa Clara, with 350 men, one of his lieutenants asked a supporter how many soldiers the Army had waiting to fight them. About 5,000, the supporter said. Oh, good, Che's man said, with our jefe, that's no problem.

I thought, holy Christ. What confidence, what audacity. But he was right. They won. 

I imagine that Batista's Army had never fought a war like this. They were used to brutalizing and terrorizing the people, so I imagine they were unprepared to face such intelligent and dedicated guerrillas. Also, I doubt the Army soldiers were willing to die for their cause, which the rebels were.

I was amazed at the amount of thought that Che and Fidel put into preparing to rebuild the country after they won. As they were fighting, against tremendous odds, they planned their new world.

They hit the ground running and began on day one to create a whole new society, a whole new economy, and a whole new government, in all its complexity, from the military to the schools to the infrastructure to the tax system. 

No vacations here. These men knew how to fight, how to work, and how to plan. They were amazingly intelligent in their forethought. 

Then came the bloodbath. Apparently, Raul was the worst, but Che and Fidel did it, too. I'm not sure they needed to kill so many. The firing squads were brutal. Trials lasted a few hours, and then, boom, you were dead.

Che and Fidel claimed it was necessary to kill the men who had tortured and killed thousands of innocent citizens under Batista. But the top dogs got away, many of them. Che said he had seen the government in Guatemala collapse because the president didn't eliminate his enemies.

How many were killed? Several hundred, in the first few months. Maybe that is not terrible, given the numbers of citizens who had been tortured and killed.

The Cuban revolution was bloody, that's for sure. But they won, they got rid of a brutal dictatorship, and they reformed Cuba, which had been known, under Batista, as "the whorehouse of the Caribbean."

Not any more.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, April 15, 2011


As you may know, I have been reading Jon Lee Anderson's excellent biography of Che Guevara, and now I am up to Page 290, and they have been in the Cuban jungles and mountains fighting for about a year, supported by peasants and by sympathetic people in the cities and in the USA.

(At about this time, 1957 or so, it was my first or second year in college, and I remember seeing some Hollywood actor, I think it was Errol Flynn, on TV, I think it was The Jack Parr Show, talking about Fidel and the revolution. He made it sound romantic, glamorous and wonderful.)

Now, as I read the details of the fighting, I am appalled by the brutality, both by the revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and by the government of Fulgencio Batista.

Batista was a bastard. He and his men butchered thousands of people. They tortured people, executed people in the streets, and set fire to peasant villages. (Sound familiar? Much like the USA did in Viet Nam.)

But Che and Fidel summarily executed their own men if they deserted or if they disobeyed orders. On the good side, they dismissed volunteers who were not brave enough or committed enough, even if they wanted to say and fight.

And often, before a dangerous mission, they would let anyone go home who wanted to quit. But if any man betrayed the cause or was a spy or was suspected of treason, he was shot. Boom, dead. On the spot.

Che personally shot men in the head, maybe a dozen of them, up to this point in the book. It didn't seem to bother him. The brutality is horrific. I don't think I would have the stomach for it. You don't know what you would do, until you are there, with the gun in the your hand and the traitor at your feet.

You have to believe in the cause, I think, to kill anyone. Maybe that is the trouble. It wasn't my cause. Maybe you have to fight fire with fire. I don't know. But all this violence turns my stomach. Maybe that is what separates the men from the boys. If so, I am definitely one of the boys.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I have to admit that I didn't admire Ernesto "Che" Guevara and the man he followed into battle, Fidel Castro, when they were training in Mexico, preparing for their invasion of Cuba.

They seemed grandiose and self-absorbed, a little nuts, and taking themselves too seriously.

But as I continue to read on, in Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che, and as I learn more about the struggles they had in Cuba and the violence and viciousness of the Batista regime, I grow to admire Che and Fidel more and more.

It wasn't easy, what they did. Sure, they had big visions at first, and small capabilities. But they stuck to their guns, in more ways than one.

I don't agree with every action they took, especially some of the bloodshed. But by God they did it. And they overcame tremendous obstacles. And their cause was just.

They have won my respect and my grudging admiration. Say what else you will, these were men. And they put their lives on the line for what they believed was right.

I don't think I could have done it. Not many men could have.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I started reading Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che Guevara to find out if Che was a good guy or a bad guy.

Of course, it was a lot more complicated than that. Reading about Che and Fidel Castro training some 40 volunteers on a ranch outside Mexico City, in preparation for their invasion of Cuba, I am reminded more of "Lord of the Flies" than I am of King Arthur's roundtable.

Che would lead these all-day marches around the ranch, sometimes with little water and no food, to get the troops ready for the rigors of war, and one guy sat down in the trail and said, screw this. I'm not gonna do this crap.

Then they had a big debate about whether to execute him for insubordination. They had a court martial.

Hey, I want to say, give these guys a break. They are only volunteers. Fidel and his brother Raul voted to kill him, but Che talked them out of it. Later, supposedly, they did find a spy and kill him and bury him out there, on the ranch.

These guys remind me of children playing cowboys and Indians, only with real guns.

I suppose, since they won, a lot of people admire Che and Fidel. And history is written by the winners. But I didn't find these guys admirable. At first.

I do think the Latin American dictators, like Batista and Trujillo, created these revolutionaries, through their brutal and repressive policies. They tortured people and locked up anybody who didn't agree with them. 

So in a way, Batista brought about his own downfall. 

I'm glad I wasn't there. I don't think I would have joined either side. 

And the USA? What a joke. We were on the wrong side, protecting our business interests and those of the United Fruit Company. 

We were not heroic either.

-- Roger 

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

If you want to read more, here is a good article:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Now for the first time, Che is signing his letters "El Che," having adopted the nickname given by his Cuban comrades. The year is 1956.

He says he has given up his concept of self to become part of the group. He writes to his mother that he hates moderation and self-interest. He talks now about dying for the cause, an idea that he seems to find glorious.

Not me. Maybe because I have never been there, never walked in those revolutionary shoes. It always seems to me that there is good and bad in everyone, and in most political systems. I can't imagine dying for Che's ideals. Or dying for Fidel Castro.

Maybe I am too old to feel the way Che felt at 24 or 25. I am on Page 204 of Jon Lee Anderson's bio of Che. And 1956 is the year I graduated from high school. Che was ten years older than me.

I am not him, and he is not me. If I was there, then, with what I know now, and I had to choose a side, I think I'd go to New York and become a poet.

If I had to choose an Argentine to admire, I'd choose Jorge Luis Borges, a writer, not a fighter, as far as I know.

But I didn't see the things that Che saw. I have never seen brutal injustice up close. So I don't condemn him or vilify him. All I can say is that he isn't me, and I am not him.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


I don't really know yet if Che is a good guy or a bad guy, but he sure is a self-centered prick. (Pardon my French, but there is no better way to describe him.)

I'm on Page 194 of Jon Lee Anderson's excellent biography of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and it is the Cubans, already led by Fidel Castro, who are giving Che his nickname, which means "hey, you," or something like that, in Spanish. I think of it like we say "buddy" to a guy we hardly know.

Ernesto has a "girlfriend," Hilda, whom he is using for sex and as a source of borrowed money. He says in his journals, "too bad she is so ugly," but he is having sex with her because he needs a woman for that. In other words, he doesn't care about her, he only cares about himself.

Well, he is not the first man to do that. But it is not what I would call honorable.

Now, in the book, he is in Mexico, training for the Cuban revolution, along with about 40 Cubanos. He climbs mountains and goes to the gym and trains in firearms and hand-to-hand combat. He wins the respect of the other men who recognize him as a leader.

But it is hard to reconcile a man who wants to help others with the same man who is taking advantage of a woman who loves him.

He is becoming good friends with Fidel, and they are getting ready to attack Batista in Cuba.

I am learning a lot about Che. I don't particularly like him, as a man. He seems narcissistic, a person who only values himself, and everything he does for others he really does for himself, so he will look good in his own eyes.

But there is no doubt that he was charming and intelligent, and possessed leadership qualities and great talents. And he was making history. For better or for worse. Or both.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, April 11, 2011


Last night, I felt sorry for the parents of Che Guevara.

As I was reading the Jon Lee Anderson biography of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, I realized that he must have broken their hearts, and that of his whole family.

He was attracted to revolution and armed resistance against the USA. Yes, I think he was right to be outraged at the exploitation of Latin America, but I also think he was grandiose, self-absorbed, and perhaps even narcissistic.

Imagine the anguish of his parents. I know how long it takes and how hard it is to raise a child. How much of yourself you invest and sacrifice. It must have been more extreme here, with young Ernesto's debilitating asthma.

Now, in the book, Ernesto is in his mid-20s. His parents have spent all these years raising him, and protecting him, and supporting him, and they have put this brilliant kid through medical school, and they are so proud that he is a doctor.

As soon as he gets his MD degree, he runs off to pursue various adventures, and he goes to Guatemala, along with a lot of other left-wing idealists, to see a true revolution in action.

Then the USA invades that country and bombs it, to overthrow the duly elected government, because of our misguided fear of socialism and communism.

And there is Ernesto, in the wrong place at the wrong time. If circumstances had created a trap for someone who was young, idealistic, and foolhardy, he dove head-first into it. The experience radicalized him, to say the least.

How sad, tragic even. How could such a brilliant mind go so wrong? 

I wish I could go back in time. I'd say to young Ernesto: OK, help the poor. Become a revolutionary doctor. Work in a medical clinic in the jungle among indigenous people. Maybe run for office when you get a little older. But don't sacrifice your life. 

Last night, I flipped to the end of the book and saw photos of Che dead.  I couldn't help but think about his mother and father, and the rest of his family.

Such heartbreak. Such a waste.   

I don't know how much good he did in the world. We'll see. The book is a great history lesson. And a cautionary tale.

More to come. I'm on Page 164. I recommend the book.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, April 10, 2011


What the hell was the CIA doing in Latin America in 1954, and why were they trying to overthrow the duly elected government of Guatemala? For God's sake, what a bunch of crap.

This is part of Jon Lee Anderson's bio of Che Guevara. Pages 132-133.

It is maddening. So while young Ernesto "Che" Guevara -- not yet known as Che -- was talking about violence to get the USA out of Latin America, our CIA was meddling in places where it had no business meddling.

I don't know which was worse, Che or the CIA. At least Che was young and naive. The U.S. government should have known better.

Where was our integrity? Talk about social engineering.

And Eisenhower was president, a man I used to admire. Jesus.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


On Pages 124-126 of Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, we see the first mentions of violence in Che's diaries and notebooks.

The future Che had a vision of himself as a revolutionary warrior. The year was 1954, and Che was 25 years old.

It's sad, I think. This was a time when change was sweeping through Latin America, and the most reasonable country was Costa Rica, where they had disbanded the army, nationalized the banks, I believe, and maintained political tolerance and moderation. They had what amounted to a peaceful revolution, without bloodshed.

It's too bad that Che wasn't attracted to Costa Rica as a model for reform.

But he wasn't. He was already talking about slitting throats and annihilating capitalist "octopuses."

I find that hard to identify with and even harder to admire.

I am not attracted to violence. Apparently Che was. He seems to have admired Stalin and Lenin. I don't.

But I still have not decided whether he was a good guy or a bad guy.

We'll see. Right now he doesn't look so good.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


It's hard to have much sympathy for the future revolutionary hero, when young Ernesto Guevara, in 1953, was living like a bum in Ecuador.

He was an M.D., for Christ's sake. Why didn't he get a goddamn job? You'd think he could work in a hospital somewhere.

He seems to have preferred being a mooch.

I'm only on Page 115 of the Jon Lee Anderson bio, but the young "Che" seems like a jerk here. He says he has trouble showing emotions when he parts with his friends. He says he is "as usual cold... incapable of showing deep feelings."

Another friend recalls Ernesto "crying like a child" at their goodbyes. But I think I know whom to believe.

I hope this doesn't foreshadow him being cold later in Cuba after the revolution.

We'll see, as we plod onward.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


When I was a young man, I hung out with some very rich people, part of the Coleman family in Wichita, KS.

I realized that I could be one of those guys who lives in the guest house, comes in after breakfast and says, "Anyone for tennis?"

As I'm reading the biography of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, by Jon Lee Anderson, I realize that young Ernesto had the same choice.

He was handsome, aristocratic, fun-loving, a potential playboy.

But injustice in the world moved him too much. On a trip through Chile, he went to visit a huge copper mine, and he saw poor, indigenous people being exploited by rich American capitalists.

He was outraged, and that sense of outrage eventually changed his life. Why did he care? Many other people saw the same thing and didn't lift a finger. Why him? Why did he care so much?

Years later, when he was 39 and had become famous as a revolutionary, and the Bolivian army and the American CIA were about to kill him, he said, "Come on, coward, pull the trigger. You are only killing a man."

What brought him to that point?

I'm reading the book to find out if he was a good guy or bad guy. To settle an old argument between two friends.

The jury is still out. It's still early in the story. At this point, young Ernesto has not met Fidel Castro yet. Castro has just gotten out of jail for leading a student revolt. Others were killed by the Batista government. Castro was one of the lucky few.

In the book, history is moving forward. Their paths are about to cross.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, April 7, 2011


A couple of years ago, two buddies of mine got into a heated argument about Che Guevara. One guy, Jose, said that Che was the second most famous man in the world, after Jesus. The other guy, Richard, seemed to think that Che was less than admirable.

They argued late into the night, standing outside a restaurant in the rain. I didn't know enough about Ernesto "Che" Guevara to have an opinion. But I stood and listened. Now I am learning about Che.  

I'm reading Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che, and it is fascinating. Anderson is a wonderful writer--he writes for The New Yorker, my favorite magazine, after all. The book is remarkably detailed.

Che was a very active, intense, fun-loving, and idealistic young man. He was also an aristocrat and quite the ladies man. You might even say he was a skirt chaser. He was a lover before he was a fighter, although he was always passionate and fearless.

He suffered from asthma, and that colored his whole outlook on life. He seems to have inherited his fearlessness from his mother Celia, who was also a daredevil. Young Ernesto was a grandiose and Quixotic dreamer who thought he could single-handedly change the world.

He could also be enormously self-centered. On one of his many trips, he and a buddy were sleeping in the barn of a nice family that had provided them shelter for the night. Warned of mountain lions in the area, Che heard scratching and growling at the barn door and fired a single shot from a revolver, killing the family's favorite dog.

Instead of staying to face the family's anguish and anger, Che and his buddy high-tailed it out of there. He was 23, and this was the time of his "Motorcycle Diaries."

So he wasn't always admirable.

I'm only about 80 pages into this 754-page book, but I plan to read the whole thing. This is one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, and so far it's the best biography, more interesting even than those about Freud and Faulkner, whose writings young Ernesto also read, by the way.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I had an argument some time back with a buddy of mine about stand-up fast-gun shoot-outs in the Wild West. He believes they took place. I don't.

Both of us grew up on western movies where characters played by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood faced up to the bad guys and fired first.

Would you do that? I would not. I think you'd have to be drunk or high on something to walk out into the middle of the street and bet your life that you could draw first, fire first, and hit the other guy first.

Utter poppycock.

I did some research, and most of the time the old cowboys bushwhacked each other, ambushed each other. One famous lawman, I believe it was Wyatt Earp, would challenge some badass and say something like, "Meet you outside in ten minutes."

Then he would sneak around and climb upstairs and wait on the balcony. When the other guy came out, Earp would shoot the guy from above and behind. Surprise. You thought I was gonna stand and fight. Think again, dead man.

Once the guy is dead, who cares? Especially if Earp is the sheriff and the other guy is wanted for cattle rustling or something. Who cares if he was guilty or not?

I called a famous cowboy museum, I think it was in Wyoming, and the curator there told me that these movie-style shootouts happened very seldom, maybe once or twice, in the Old West.

I took a police shooting class a few years ago, and the instructor, from Long Beach PD, told us that most police shootings these days take place indoors, in people's living rooms, within 10-15 feet, and 80-90% of the shots miss.

Why is that? Because people don't hold still when you shoot at them, and because people shoot back. And it isn't that easy to shoot another human being.

In World War II, the U.S. Army found out that most soldiers, no matter how well trained, could not bring themselves to shoot people when they could actually see them.

So in the Viet Nam war, the U.S. military used a new tactic. They had our guys lay down fields of fire. In other words, the enemy is in those trees. Open fire. And they would blast away, firing like crazy as long as they could not actually see the people they were trying to kill.

Now back to the Old West. Were people that different back then? Were they more accurate and more deadly and more willing to kill people? I doubt it.  

I say the Wild West shootout was an invention of the movies, where it worked very well. It was very dramatic.

But did it happen in real life? Horse manure. 

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I've been reading Borges, and most recently found a fascinating story about a Samurai code of honor. The story, based on a Japanese legend, is shocking, to say the least.

The story is variously titled, in translation, "The Insulting Master of Etiquette Kôtsuké no Suké," or "The Uncivil Teacher of Court Etiquette Kôtsuké no Suké."

The emperor sends a master of etiquette to a local warlord's castle to teach him how to handle an emissary from that same emperor, who is due to arrive at the warlord's castle in a few days.

The teacher of etiquette is rude and disrespectful to the local warlord, who finally draws his sword. The master of etiquette runs away, like the coward he is.

The local lord is "allowed" to commit hara kiri, or ritual suicide, and his castle and holdings are decimated. The local lord's Samurai warriors are now reduced to 47 Ronin, or freelance mercenaries, who plot their revenge.

Their revenge takes two years. Finally, the 47 Ronin storm the fortified castle of the etiquette master, who escapes. They find him and ask him to commit hara kiri as an act of honor. He will not, so the warlord's men slit his throat.

The emperor's supreme court finds out and grants the 47 Ronin the "privilege" of committing hara kiri. Amazingly enough, they do. Online, you can see photos of their graves. (Link:)

At no point in this story, does any man act as I would, or as any normal Westerner would. If I was the warlord, I would have told the emperor to go make love to himself. If I had been one of famous 47 Ronin, I would have done the same.

But these legendary warriors and most honorable men refuse to defy their emperor or to defile their concept of honor. Wow. I keep thinking about it.

We westerners would die for our country, but not many of us would die like that, for a code of honor that doesn't help us or our kin.

I think we all have a code of honor. Mine can be more or less summed up as follows:

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other men and I expect the same from them."
-- John Wayne in “The Shootist”

Anyway, the Borges tale is much better than I have summarized it here. It is a great story, and I recommend it.

-- Roger
© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, April 4, 2011


I just finished watching the two-part French movie "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" and "Mesrine: Public Enemy #1" starring Vincent Cassel.

This bio-pic raises some interesting questions. What is the personality of a criminal, the character flaw? And why do we admire them?

(I liked the first part best. In the second part, we lose sympathy for Mesrine, and the movie becomes a tad long. Still, I recommend it.)

Why does an intelligent and charismatic man hang out with thugs and gangsters, rob banks and casinos, impersonate cops, beat people up, abuse women, neglect his children, and kill people?

The short answer is because he can, for awhile.

There is something missing in a man like Jacques Mesrine. He has no impulse control and no empathy. He wants something, and he takes it. He hates someone, and he kills them. The cops try to arrest him, and he shoots it out with them.

I don't know anything about the real Mesrine, but I presume the movie is fairly accurate. The Mesrine in the movie is a pretty disgusting character. But in a way he does what a lot of us want to do. He acts on our secret desires, our repressed impulses. Damn the consequences, he pulls the trigger.

In the second part of the movie, he kills a man in cold blood, because he thinks the man has written a magazine article criticizing him. Criticize me? How dare you! Here, taste my fist! Eat lead and die.

Some of us have impulses like that. In the movie, Mesrine does some terrible things, but they are things the rest of us want to do. We all get mad, and we all want to kill people, but we don't.

I think that is our fascination. We want to see what would happen to us if we followed our own worst impulses. The answer in this movie is clear: We would come to a bad end.

It's a lot easier to watch a movie about a criminal than it is to be one. It seems to me that most movies provide vicarious experiences. Here, it isn't really thrilling to be Mesrine, but it is grimly fascinating to watch him tempt fate and defy the law. It may be fun for Mesrine for awhile, but it is not fun all the time, and it is certainly no fun at the end.

Thank God for the cops, or the Mesrines of the world would run wild over the rest of us. Cities would be jungles. We can't allow ourselves to run wild, and we can't allow men like Mesrine to run wild either.

But they sure are fun to watch.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle



Now I'm on Page 157, writing my novel, The Prince of Newport, and I realize that I wasn’t taking my characters seriously enough. My protagonist Link thinks the antagonist, Walker Lang, killed his friend Jeannie, whom he loved.

I was forgetting that and allowing Link to joke around with Walker, not to put him at ease, but just because I forgot his anger and fear and suspicion. I got to thinking that the character feels the same way I do. I could learn something from the pop-fiction writers in this regard. Their characters are usually very consistent.

When the character is angry, he needs to stay angry, I think, until something happens that changes his state of mind.

BTW, this novel is going fairly well, although my eyes get tired staring at the monitor all the time.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, April 3, 2011


The hardest problem in writing a novel is to keep everything going at once, to keep all the balls in the air that are vital to the story.

You have to keep the flow going, the constant waking dream, as Ron Sukenick used to call it; to keep the imaginary world consistent; to keep up the tension, through unpredictable conflict; to develop the characters as you go along; to raise the stakes, for each character, page by page and scene by scene; and to make the story build, so it gets better, chapter by chapter.

All this, and you have to write well, too.

James Joyce solved this set of hairy problems partly through vertical or associative writing, so that the reader could dive into a deep river of allusions and associations while swimming forward with the plot. Not an easy task. I think he's the only writer to have ever done it so well.

Popular novelists, like John Grisham, solve this complex problem by simplifying it, by narrowing their focus, mostly to the plot, and having a fairly shallow narrative that is easier to control.

If you are more ambitious, you have to keep all these balls in the air. You have to juggle and sing and dance while riding a bicycle. Often, you feel like you're blindfolded, as well.

Well, if it was easy, anyone could do it.

Anyway, back to work. More later.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


I'm going to try something new today--a writing log, about what my writing problem is today and what I do to solve it.

Writing a novel for me is not only trying to write well, line by line, it's also solving a series of problems. Who is the main character? What is his problem? How does he solve it? What is the problem in this scene?

As my old writing teacher Oakley Hall used to say, there are long lines and short lines in a novel. In other words, there are little problems and big problems to solve. 

Today, I'm on Page 159 of The Prince of Newport, a mainstream novel with crime elements. This is about the 20th draft of this novel. It's a complete rewrite of a novel my old agent, Eric Simonoff, would not represent. It used to be called The Garden of Bliss. This time, the good guy is more sympathetic, and the bad guy is more despicable, which is something Eric wanted. In a way, it's more fun.

The characters include a scary con-man (like two men I worked for many years ago, only much more dangerous), a young reporter (as I once was), and several interesting women, most of whom the con-man has seduced. 

So it's a power struggle, truth vs. lies, good vs. evil, weak vs. strong, a man with little physical strength but with truth on his side against a ruthless, tough man who will do anything to win. So it's a contest. Much like the UFC, I suppose, only with a larger setting and more at stake.

Hmmm. Sounds good to me. Let's see how it goes. More later. 

-- Roger 

(Below is a link to one of my favorite stories.)

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, April 2, 2011


As the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

I think a lot about happy families, having come from an unhappy one myself.

A lot of young men have a problem growing up, which means going from being attracted to a woman, to having sex with her, to being involved with her over time, and then having children with her. Sometimes that happens fast, in a few months. A lot of young guys are not ready for it.

Having recently spent five years teaching teenagers and young adults, I see the story over and over: A young guy wants the sex, but he doesn't know how to handle a real relationship, and when the girl gets knocked up, he freaks.

Many of those young guys bail out on their women. Some of them help raise their kids and are proud to be fathers. Many don't. Some go off to find other girls to knock up.

Why is all this? What is the difference between families that develop happily and couples that fail to become a family?

One answer can be found in Toltsoy's novel, "Anna Karenina," the story of two different couples, Anna and her dashing young cavalryman, Count Vronsky, on the one hand, and Levin and Kitty, a farmer and a young beauty, on the other hand. 

Neither couple should get together, but both do. Kitty is too young and too popular for the middle-aged Levin, but they fall in love and marry and have children. They become a healthy, happy family. They live on a farm and grow crops and hold dinner parties and support employees and animals and have a rich, full life. This, I think, is Tolstoy's ideal.

On the other hand, Anna Karenina, a married woman, is restless and unhappy in her loveless but financially comfortable marriage to a well-to-do government official. When she meets the dashing Vronsky, Anna follows her heart. Anna and Vronsky have a hot romance.

But she and Vronsky are social outcasts. No one accepts them, because they live outside society's norms. They just don't fit in.  

Anna and her dashing young officer can't live comfortably in Russia, along with her peers, so they go off to Italy. But they are outcasts there, too, since they are foreigners, speak Russian, and have no real ties to the culture or the economy or the land. They are the opposite of Kitty and Levin, who have ties to everything in Russia.

Anna and Vronsky return to Russia. But they are still isolated, and their relationship fails. Nothing is working out, so Anna throws herself under a train and commits suicide. Tragic, since she was beautiful and intelligent and could have had a wonderful life.

(Tolstoy wrote the novel after seeing the body of a woman who committed a similar suicide and tried to imagine why.)  

There is a real message here about what it takes to create a happy family. Love alone is not enough. Here it takes not just a village but a whole society to create a happy marriage. Many young men become Vronsky rather than Levin. It's too bad. They should read Tolstoy.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, April 1, 2011


I've been trying  to figure out why I watch so much fighting on TV.

In these mixed martial arts contests -- the ones I watch are usually on the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) -- two men in shorts go at each other hammer and tongs, with fists of fury, with knees and feet and padded knuckles. They try to knock each other out or "submit" each other with various choke holds and arm twisting and leg torquing.

They kick and punch and elbow each other silly. It's a cross between school-yard tussle and bar-room brawl, and all in all, it's sort of disgusting. So why do I watch it?

It's hard to figure out. But here's what I think. One, there's almost nothing else on. CATV is a vast wasteland that is mostly slow and boring and pointless. Two, there is something basic and primeval about it, a perverse fascination in who can throw the harder punch, in who can take the most pain, in who can almost twist the other guy's arm or leg out of its socket.

Often, it isn't the biggest, strongest, most muscular guy who wins. Some of the skinny guys who look like wimps are the toughest. I would not say it's fun to watch, but it is oddly compelling.

Hell, I'm a guy, and I enjoy a good fight. I identify with the fighters and imagine myself in the octagon. After all, I trained in a bunch of fighting forms, from boxing, with a professional fighter -- Craig Rosenberg -- to shotokan karate, tong soo do, judo and finally Krav Maga, which I thought was the best, although boxing is good, too.

Maybe watching other men fight is a way of getting out my aggressions, of blowing off some steam. Or maybe it's just the ultimate way of farting around.

But who cares? Think I'll quit worrying about it and just enjoy it. Wonder who is fighting tonight.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle