Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I've been trying to read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin, a mystery novel nominated for an award in the annual L.A. Times Book Festival, coming up at USC at the end of April.  

The book was one of five finalists, so I thought I'd take a look. I am always trying to find a good literary thriller, a novel that combines crime and violence with real fiction, an attempt at discovery of the self, a book about crime and violence that offers insight into human nature rather than simply escape.

Good friggin' luck.

I quit on Page 42, in the middle of a back-story chapter. Some of the writing is very good. In the first chapter, I only found two lines I wanted to scratch out. Of course I didn’t, since it is a library book.

I guess this book’s appeal is based on its exotic details: a body rotting in a swamp, found by the buzzards in the sky; a weird geeky guy who everyone thought murdered a missing girl years ago; the killing of that geeky guy; a love affair between a deputy constable and an EMT (paramedic); another missing girl.

That all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I wish it was.

Ultimately, who cares? The back-story slowed it down, and I couldn’t finish it. It just didn’t hold my interest. I was doing OK until the back-story, which just got way too dull. But I saw no hints that the author was after any kind of truth.

I don't understand why these writers hunt such small game. Why shoot rabbits when you could shoot lions? (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Not to get all amateur Dr. Freud here, but I think I've figured out why I was feeling guilty about having it so easy these days. (See yesterday's post "Guilty Pleasure.")

My parents struggled through the Great Depression in the 1930s, and my parents wanted me to appreciate the value of a dollar and have a sense of obligation to help others in need.

During the Depression, if a man came to the back door and asked for food, my mother told me, you just fed him, no questions asked. I think some people invited men in and gave them a plate at the table. Don't know if I heard that or if they told me.

I think farmers in Kansas would give a man a job for the day, in return for food. Kind of like day laborers now, who are mostly immigrants. For some reason, the Tea Party nuts want those people to starve. I don't know why. They should have been around during the Great Depression. They should have been out of work.

In spite of being kind to others, in theory, my mother was pretty nuts. I was an only child, and she made me responsible somehow for her feelings. She was hysterical, as a basic state of being, and I could send her into crying fits just by giving her the snake eye. It was great fun till it wasn't.

I have always hated selfish and self-centered people. To me, the greatest evil is someone who cares only about themselves. Ah, the Tea Party again.

I'm a communitarian. I believe in community. Of course, I don't do much to promote that, but I believe in it in theory.

Anyway, I am trying to feel less guilty about having it easy. It isn't easy having it easy. If it was, anybody could do it.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I have a wonderful life. It's weird. I spend my days doing whatever the hell I want. I work on my novel, I work out, I write these self-indulgent blog posts, I e-mail my friends Adam, John, Sharine, and Laurel, among others. Part of the time, I just fart around.

I feel guilty because I'm not really doing much to help others. I've pretty much dropped out of MoveOn, partly because I didn't agree with their goals, and partly because I couldn't see any results.

I'm a results kinda guy. I like doing the laundry because I see the results: warm, clean clothes that smell good. I enjoy folding them and putting them in the drawer.

But I don't enjoy vacuuming the floor. It looks exactly the same afterwards as it does before. I suppose I could scatter baking soda on the carpet and then Hoover it up, but that seems too stupid even for me.

I feel guilty about what an easy life I have now. It's the first time in my life that I haven't had responsibility for others. And I was raised to think that taking care of other people was life's highest calling.

My son is grown, and he has turned out well. (I'm not biased. Just ask his wife.) I spent years as a single parent, and that made a human being out of me. I was terribly self-centered before that.

I've spent some time taking care of my grandkids. When the littlest Angels, er, Angles were in diapers, I used to spend one day a week taking care of them. It was hard and tedious, but it was great.

Then for years, I taught mostly high-school kids in Adult School. I felt responsible not only for teaching them academic skills and concepts but for a certain amount of moral guidance as well.

Now all that is in the past. I don't have to be responsible for anyone but me. And it's great. But I feel guilty.  

Oh, well, what the hell. Fukushima.

See my other blog:

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, March 28, 2011


Last night, for some reason, I got hooked on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." I don't know why. I have always hated those shows, like I've hated most TV.

Then today I watched part of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Pretty soon, they are going to have one of these shows for each person, man, woman and child, in the USA. "Law & Order: Roger Angle."

Wouldn't that be fun? And one for Adam and John and Leif and my neighbors Pat and Franco and all my friends. Like everyone has a dog and a bathroom, everyone can have their own Law & Order. "Law & Order: Eat A Banana." One for every activity you can think of.

They already have them set in the UK and in L.A. They will have one in your town soon. And in your car, even if it's in the garage.

What got me about the show was its remarkable moral complexity. This is serious, now. In one episode, a college student pulled an elaborate stunt to get the cops to look for his kidnapped little brother. (SPOILER ALERT) He sent out a video that made it look like a girl was being raped.

In the end, she was part of the stunt, and the cops did find the missing kid. Wow, the bad guy became the good guy, and in the end it seemed like he did the right thing. He got his brother back and freed him from the crazy woman who had kidnapped him. 

So the show was morally complex. I found that fascinating. And I thought the show was well done. Good acting, directing, writing. Riveting.

I don't know why I didn't like it before. Maybe I was too busy before and was bored last night before I turned it on. Whatever. I'm on the bandwagon now.

-- Roger

Law & Order: The Ninth Year

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


I don't really mind crappy escapist fiction, a good beach read or airplane book. What I do mind is the lack of imagination and originality in these novels.

And I mind the low level of quality in so-called literary or mainstream fiction. I'm thinking of books by John Banville, Adam Ross, Jess Walter, Jonathan Franzen, John Wray and other respected, so-called literary novelists.

God damn, their stuff is disappointing, to me at least. Sorry to have to say it, but it's mostly crap, what I have seen of it. I even have problems with the works of my acquaintance Michael Chabon, who seemed like a nice enough young guy when I met him once. He's a wonderful technician, full of brilliance, line by line, but he wouldn't know a complete story if it bit him on the butt. (Sorry, Michael.)

The great literary critic Harold Bloom posits several criteria for good literature in his book "The Western Canon." One criterion is originality. He says when you read a great work for the the first time, "you encounter a stranger, an uncanny startlement rather than a fulfillment of expectations." 

In other words, a real work of art doesn't give you the same old crap that you have seen a million times before, whether it be in plays, poems, novels, or visual art -- sculpture, painting, dance, movies. 

The real thing is new, sometimes shockingly so, although that is not enough to make it art. That sense of strangeness, coupled with truth or insight into the human condition, is one way you can sort the men from the boys, the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff.

Popular fiction is not usually original. It doesn't go for that. It does just the opposite. It gives you a warmed-over version of the same old story, the same old ideas or sounds or shapes. New wine in old bottles, as they say in Hollywood. Some people, in fact many people, prefer the familiar, like coming home to the same warm oatmeal. They read the same mystery story written under different titles by different authors. And that's fine with me. I don't have a problem with that.

As my friend Adam says, these bestseller writers are not getting paid to write well, they are getting paid to make you turn the pages.

Maybe there is a way to bring them together. We'll see.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Federico Garcia Lorca is my favorite poet, although I love others: Neruda, Rilke, even Borges, whom I think of mostly as a fiction writer.

Lorca has a poem that goes:


If I die,
leave the balcony open.

The little boy is eating oranges.
(From my balcony I can see him.)

The reaper is harvesting the wheat.
(From my balcony I can hear him.)

If I die,
leave the balcony open!

I am at a certain point in my life, where I think of this poem. I was just sitting outside, on the deck, like a balcony, drinking beer and reading Borges in the sun.

I've been an outdoor guy all my life, and I still love the outdoors, even if it is just sitting outside.

I am very fortunate to have passed this love onto my son and grandchildren, who all love nature, too.

I am fortunate, indeed.

If I die, leave the balcony open!

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


If you want to hear some damn good music, click on this link:

<iframe title="YouTube video player" width="480" height="390" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Don't ask, just do it.
You'll hear Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless. Whooo-ooo.

-- Roger

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I worked for an advertising agency years ago, and it was run by a young sociopath who cheated the clients on billable hours and was a great salesman. He could get the clients to go for any damn thing.

The other night, I saw a TV documentary on advertising, on the PBS series “Independent Lens.” They interviewed five or six giants in the ad world, and these rich fat cats all congratulated themselves extravagantly on how creative they were, and how they were doing “real art” and bragging about their famous ad campaigns.

Frankly, it was enough to make you puke.

One guy crowed on and on about "Where's the beef?" as if that was a stroke of genius. Oh, nobody wanted that campaign, and everyone whined about it, and it went on to be wildly successful and it sold millions of crappy cheeseburgers for some fast-food chain. 

Oh, goody. To me, that's just another form of bullshit. (See my other blog: I don't see any social or artistic value in crappy cheeseburgers, no matter how many you sell.

Another rich ad guy went on and on about Toulouse Latrec, saying that those paintings that are world-famous art now were just advertising posters back when he painted them.

Yes, I would say, but Latrec was an artist first and an ad man later. These assholes think that their ads are art first, but they are not. Sure, sometimes, they rise to the level of art, but not very often.

They showed a commercial for Nike that had a series of girls, from about four to 10 years old, on playgrounds, saying things like, "If you let me participate in sports... I'll be less likely to put up with abuse from a man when I grow up .. I'll be more likely to find myself a career...." Etc., etc.  

That was wonderful. It made me cry. I'm not sure I'd call it art, but it sure was moving. A good message presented in fine style. I don't know if it sold a lot of sneakers, or athletic wear, but that was its purpose. Its purpose was not artistic, no matter how touching it was.

Usually, these ad men sell their souls to the devil and then sing about it. They are basically salesmen, and they try to sell you on the idea that they are artists. They call themselves "creatives" as if that made them artists. It does not. It makes them clever hucksters.

To me, advertising is a perversion of the creative process. It puts manipulating people before revealing some truth about human nature, and before presenting an object of beauty for its own sake.

I would have more respect for these ad men if they were more honest: Hey, we're in it for the money, and we make a lot of money, and we make money for our clients, too. We try to do it in fine style. If you don't like it, you can kiss our ass.

That would be OK with me. They can kiss mine, too.

(BTW, this real-life agency was not anything like the one on TV's "Mad Men," which I thought was total BS when I watched the first few episodes.)

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, March 24, 2011


"For years I was doomed to worship a despicable woman,
To sacrifice myself for her, to suffer humiliations and endless abuse,
To work day and night to feed and dress her ...
Rather than face the scorn of her alluring eyes."

This is the beginning of "The Viper" by Nicanor Parra, a Chilean poet, from a book called Anti-Poems, published by City Lights Books in 1960.

When I was teaching at LACAS (L.A. Community Adult School, at L.A. High), I could not, for the life of me, convince my students that these lines were not literal truth.

They all thought the poet was in love with a terrible woman, that he had no control over his emotions, and that we were supposed to read this poem as the history of a real relationship. I was never able to convince them that this was an elaborate joke.

Perhaps they were too young to understand this one thing about human nature: No one is "doomed to worship" anything or anyone. The myth is that we don't have control over our own emotions. Teenagers often believe this. It may feel that way to a teenager.

I used to have a friend, Tom, who was a psychologist and school counselor. He would often see a rowdy or disruptive or violent student who had been brought into his office by the principal.

The student would invariably say, "I can't control myself." Tom would point his finger at the student's head and say, "If I put a loaded gun to your head, could you stop?" "Yes, of course," the student would say. In other words, the student did have control. He chose not to use it. Or he didn't see it at the time.

The same is true of the speaker in this poem. People who are insane, who hear the voice of the devil telling them to kill someone, may not have control over their emotions or their behavior.

Maybe a two-year-old, throwing a tantrum, is out of control. But not the speaker in this poem. This an elaborate ruse, a way of saying something else. It's like that old joke: "I shot a bear in my pajamas last night. I don't know how he got into my pajamas."

There was no bear in the pajamas. And no despicable woman. It's like a tall tale, like Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox. But you have recognize that it is a joke to be able to get the joke.

Which leads me to my definition of a poem: a coherent object in words that says something that cannot be said in any other way, that cannot be paraphrased. You can say things about a poem, but you cannot say the same thing in different words.

There is an element of humor in the Parra anti-poem. My students believed in the despicable woman, like believing in the bear in the pajamas. They did not get the joke. I hope someday they will. Otherwise, they may be doomed to worship a despicable woman. Or man.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I am in the process of rediscovering Borges, to me one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. It is a shame that he didn't win the Nobel Prize. 

For those who don't know, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was a writer from Argentina. My friend Florinda Mintz used to drive him around Buenos Aires when she was a teenager. Her mother and Borges were friends. Florinda, who later became a poet, had no idea at the time that Borges was a great genius. To her, he was just an old man who was partially blind and could not drive.

One of the things I love about Borges is his intelligence. When you read American popular fiction, you are struck, or I am, by the stupidity and banality of the writing. Oh, God, this stuff is dumb. I am talking about virtually all the bestsellers I have tried to read.

The writing is mindless and full of cliches. It seems that every male hero is a macho ex-special forces stud who is armed to the teeth and can kill 20 men in a single whack, while he's taking a leak with one hand and using his American Express credit card with the other hand.

I am always struck by how limp and lifeless the language becomes in their clumsy popular hands. I am talking about Lee Child and Faye Kellerman and Dan Brown and Harlan Coben and Denise Hamilton and Tana French and James Lasdun (who is mostly an academic) and Scott Smith, and many others, probably anyone who is usually on the bestseller lists.

It seems to me that stupid writing implies both stupid writers and stupid readers. Maybe I am being too harsh. Maybe these pop fiction writers and readers are smart people who want to rest their brains. Somehow I doubt it.

On the other hand, when I read Borges, I am struck by his vast knowledge and erudition and by his remarkable intelligence. I have to get out my dictionaries for French and Italian and look up words in Latin. And I have to get out my Bible, for Christ's sake.

Borges seems to have read everything in the world worth reading. Yet he writes about knife fighters and gauchos and thugs and gangsters in the slums.

When I was young, I loved to read, but I was too lazy to look up words. But when you read Borges, you have to know the words to get the entire meaning. So I look them up.

Borges pushes your imagination, your vocabulary, your intelligence, and your knowledge. He would be good for old people, like me, to read because he forces your mind to stay nimble.

Borges was fascinated by many of the same things that fascinate me: violence and genres and meaning in fiction.

One of the Borges's favorite things was false scholarship, dramatic and complex references to obscure texts that never existed. In one story, as I recall from when I first read him years ago, he posits the idea that if two people wrote the same exact book, word for word, one could be a world-famous classic and the other unknown and worthless.  

Borges played with meaning and ideas in a way that made the stories have multiple meanings on different levels. In the book I am currently reading, "Collected Fictions," Borges quotes George Bernard Shaw as saying, "all intellectual labor is inherently humorous." I believe it should be. Life is too short to be gloomy all the time.

Borges also said, "good readers are poets as singular, and as awesome, as great authors themselves." What a delightful idea. It is hard to find good readers, especially these days. It's getting rare to find people who even like to read. It is fun to think that the ability to read is as valuable as the ability to write. Not quite true, but there is a grain of truth, and much humor, in that idea. Writers do need readers, otherwise their work never comes to life.

Borges brings me an intense joy, a sense of limitless possibility, an excitement just to be alive.

I've been away from Borges for years, and I am sure glad to be back.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


You know I'm always having trouble finding something I like to read.

Well, I just read a story by Jorge Luis Borges, "the Intruder," from an old TriQuarterly anthology called Contemporary Latin American Literature, published in 1969.

Ah, how far back I have to go to find something good.

Anyway, Borges was a wonderful storyteller, a spinner of yarns. In this one, which is only four pages long, two brothers are deeply, emotionally entwined, and they are wild, tough men who sleep on cots and ride horses and gamble, and fight with knives as a form of entertainment.

They both fall in love with the same woman. There's the conflict, and it plays out wonderfully and brutally and ends in bloodshed, as it must.

This is what I love about Borges and the other Latin American writers. No gringo could have written this story. No white, middle-class, suburban man or woman would admit such intense passion into a story. That lack of passion is what I find so boring about Updike and Cheever and even Carver, although Carver was a great stylist and technician.

What I seek in fiction is intensity, magic, flights of fancy and deep insights into the human heart.

As Faulkner said, the human heart in conflict with itself is the only subject worth writing about.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Why are most movies and plays and novels so bad these days?

For example, I just tried to watch "Paranormal Activity," the first one.   

I had mixed feelings, from boredom to terror and back to boredom. Yes, it did freak me out, but I don't enjoy that kind of fear. I thought it was well done. Yes, it did seem like a home movie. But I got bored and fast-forwarded through a lot of it and never saw the end.

It was not at all entertaining, to me. I had to force myself to keep watching, because I didn't find any reason to care about the characters or their situation. The acting, BTW, was superb. But the premise -- a quiet suburban life interrupted by demons -- who cares?

I needed some other reason to care about the couple. Maybe if she was pregnant and he was getting turned off by the way she was changing, so their love was threatened and she was feeling insecure. Maybe that brings on the demon. and that would have hooked me. Some real emotional issue would have held my interest. But their life was too boring to care about.

The demon scared me, but I didn't care. That kind of setup is so lackluster. I don't care about boring middle-class people living a boring life in the boring suburbs. You almost want some demons to stir things up.

That is my main issue with movies these days. I don't usually care about the characters or their situation. The list of movies I have hated and turned off recently is endless: "Knocked Up," "The 40-Year Old Virgin," "Shutter Island," "The Town," "The Next Three Days," "Mind Prey," and "Paranormal Activity," 1 and 2.

To me, as a writer, reader, and a sometime movie lover, the hardest thing to find is a story where I care about the main character and the dilemma.

I guess what I want is real drama, "Hamlet" or "Oedipus Rex" or "The Great Gatsby" or "Moby Dick" or James Joyce's "Ulysses" or Tolstoi's "Anna Karenina."

Good new drama is hard to find, and it seems to be getting more and more scarce in today's world. I don't know why. But it is frustrating.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle



I hope you all know that I don't choose these ads that appear on my blogs.

Lately, I've noticed a bunch of ads for self-publishing, which I don't believe in. I think it is a huge waste of time and money. It's OK if you want to distribute some family history to your cousins or grandkids or something. But it is NOT real publishing.

In real publishing, a recognized and respected publishing house pays you for the legal right to publish and distribute your work. They usually pay an advance against royalties and then pay subsequent royalties on books sold. They print the books, warehouse them, and distribute them to bookstores and other book sellers. The publisher pays to advertise the books you have written and they do public relations for them. They send advance copies to the New York Times and other legitimate reviewers.

You don't pay them, they pay you. Legitimate reviewers will not review self-published books.

I think I read that there were about 185,000 books self-published in the USA last year, and about 90,000 legitimate books published by traditional publishing houses

You can always tell a self-published book. Just read the first page. These books are amateurish and self-indulgent. They often have misspellings and bad grammar.

Anyway, don't kid yourself about self-publishing. Do you want to build your own car, from scratch? Good luck.

I've also seen ads on here for schools I have never heard of before. Make sure that any college you go to is for real, that it is accredited by a real agency. I would check on the U.S. Department of Eduction website first:

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, March 21, 2011


Now that I am apparently over my computer virus, I can once again focus on the novel I am writing. It got screwed up, but I think it's OK now.

Since I've been back at the actual writing again, yesterday and today, I think I've found the center of the story, the theme or premise, which is its heart and soul.

This premise has to do with a core belief of mine, and I don't want to say what that is, for this novel. I want to work it out in the book first, and I'm only on Page 115.

I always think a story has to have a premise, in Lajos Egri's terms, and the premise should be something you truly believe. You have to prove it in the book, and that is easier to do and more meaningful if you really believe it. (This is different from Hollywood, seems to me. And different from most pop fiction.)

To explain how the premise works, let me use an earlier novel, "The Disappearance of Maggie Collins." The premise was, The perversion of love brings destruction and death.

The main character was a killer who became a monster because of his demented mother who abused him. It was her way of expressing "love." So when he grew up, he expressed "love" by kidnapping a woman and holding her captive in a kind of home-made dungeon.

This all seems pretty routine now, but 20 years ago, when I started the book, it didn't.

Anything supporting or developing the premise went into the book and anything that didn't went out. This method became a good way to organize the writing and keep it on track.

Anyway, I think I have found the center of the new book I am writing now. Of course, this new one is different from the old one, but the center seems to be working, holding the story together and keeping it on track.

We'll see how well it works. I've only got 500 or 600 pages to go.

As always, wish me luck. If it was easy, anybody could do it.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, March 20, 2011


The first time I heard of parallel universes, I think it was through Jorge Luis Borges, the famous Argentine writer, whom I loved for his depth and originality, and for dealing with novel-length themes in short fiction.

Now I have my own ideas about parallel universes. In mine:
  • I overcame my early childhood and my fear of beauty, and dated all the women I ran away from in this universe. The woman on the plane, the one at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, the one in line at Mother's Kitchen, the one who stood in line to talk to me after my reading at Beyond Baroque in about 1975 or whenever it was. I loved them all, but that is another story.
  • I published my first novel when I was 21 and became a wunderkind. Been famous ever since. Traveling the world and meeting the most interesting people and making love to the most fascinating women.
  • President Obama has pulled us out of Afghanistan and Iraq and left only enough troops to guard U.S. engineers as we build hospitals and schools. Our goal is helping people, not killing people.
  • People all over the USA have given up junk food and now they eat mostly beans, brown rice, vegetables and fruits. Healthcare costs have plummeted, and everyone has universal health coverage. No one complains. Our life span now is above 100. 
What goes on in your fantasy land, in your parallel universe? What is your wish list? And how can you make it come true?

Is this a valid subject for fiction? I believe it is. I think all subjects are valid. It's the way you treat them that is good or bad, art or not art, crap or work of genius. Borges was definitely a genius.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Years ago, when I lived in NYC, I used to go hear Rahsaan Roland Kirk at the Village Vanguard.

It was a wonderful time, with great music. Rahsaan had amazing chops, musical taste, and energy. He was one of the best jazz musicians I've ever heard. He was a musical genius and a musical freak. He could play two or three wind instruments at once, and he could hold one note forever. He could breathe in through his nose and out through his mouth at the same time. And when he was in "cutting" sessions with other jazz greats, he could cut them down, man.

Anyway, the great Rahsaan, who was blind, BTW, would sometimes march through the audience and play a song called "Volunteer Slavery," which had a line, "something that we all know."

The idea was that each of us chooses to enslave ourselves to something or someone. For a jazz musician, I'm sure it was the music.

For me, it's the writing. The idea of writing a real novel, a work of fiction that swings for the fences while it also swings, in the jazz sense.

Anyway, today it's back to work for me. I'm over a horrible stupid computer virus my system had for the last few days, so it's time to hit it again. As my son would say, it's not going to write itself.

Back to volunteer slavery, something that we all know.

Wish me luck. I'm humming Rahsaan's song as I open the file and start to write.

-- Roger


© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, March 18, 2011


It is weird that some of us devote our whole lives to art. In my case, it's writing -- poetry and fiction and dramatic forms.

But I don't know why.

In my case, I think I saw the respect that teachers gave it in school. You know, Faulkner, Hemingway, Shakespeare. Whole classes were devoted to these dudes.

I started writing, and I thought I could do it, and my teachers encouraged me, and I sent stuff out, and it got published.

At one point, I thought I was writing for future generations. I imagined I would be studied in English literature classes in a hundred years.

"Well, now we come to this amazing 20th century writer, Roger Angle." I could hear it in my head.

I actually thought I could knock James Joyce out of the ring. I wrote a 98-page novella called "Kissing The Mermaids Goodnight," which had no story and no characters, just a voice, like a prose-poem. I thought, hell, James Joyce never did that.

Lord, the things we do when we are young. Well, I was awfully literary and awful full of my own talent. Or so I thought.

I still recall some of the lines: "He ran, I saw that he ran." I think I was writing about myself, watching myself running away from something, perhaps it was life itself.

I know the writers of the past had their own troubles making a living. And I know that some of the greats died broke. Aye, there's the rub.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Why is creativity so lowly paid and little respected in our society?
Why do we have “the starving artist”?

Why are Vincent Van Gogh's paintings worth millions now, a lot more than when he was alive?

I think I know the answer: Because we don't know how to judge art or creativity. We don't know how to value it.

We know how to measure stock values on the NYSE. Prices go up and down in hard currency. We know how to value bread or cheese, jeans or gasoline. We know how much they are worth to us.

But when we see works of genius, we don't have a clue.

Hollywood is full of creativity, yet it values mostly those movies that make the most money. The almighty $ is their yardstick.

In the art world, B.S. reigns supreme. As a friend says, If you can convince the right six or eight people you are a genius, then you are. People will gather around and kiss your fanny.

But that isn't valuing creativity. That's valuing BS. And people do love their BS. More on that in a later post.

Another thought on Van Gogh: His paintings are worth millions not because they are great art, but because they are unique, highly recognizable and highly prestigious objects. To own a Van Gogh, presumably, you have to be rich. And it is because a Van Gogh is a status symbol that it is so highly prized. At least that's what I think.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The other night, I watched Part 1 of a two-part docu-drama called "Mesrine," about a famous French criminal.

According to the movie, Jacques Mesrine was a violent, vicious thug. But he was also a natural man, who went without hesitation or scruples for what he wanted, who let no man and no law and no convention stand in his way, and who was quick to land on his feet.

In one scene, he and a buddy get caught burglarizing a house. The unlucky victims, a couple, come walking in. Mesrine quickly impersonates a cop. "We have come from the police department to tell you that your home has been burglarized." 

In a way, it is hilarious and even admirable. But of course Mesrine deserves to get locked up, which happens.

The odd thing about the movie (or at least the first half) is that it has no conventional dramatic structure. No through-line, no central dramatic question. The only question in the back of your mind is, What in hell is he going to do next? 

Being constrained by the bio-pic form, the story is necessarily episodic. But it is fascinating. I can't wait to see Part 2. Do I want to be him? No. I am glad I am not Jacques Mesrine, but he is fun to watch. He goes to jail, but I don't.

-- Roger


© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


When I first decided to become a writer, I was about 20 years old. That would be about 52 years ago now. A long time in a way, and a short time in another way.

My friend Bob Jacka introduced me to good books, mostly published by New Directions. I read "Crackup" by F. Scott Fitzgerald and stuff by Henry Miller and Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud, and more.

I was in college and I got a lot of encouragement from my creative writing teachers. I had an artist friend, Jim Davis, who spent a lot of time in Mexico and met some artists and writers there who published their work in The Plumed Horn, a literary magazine published by Margaret Randall and her then-husband, Sergio Mondragon.

I sent in some poems, and, lo and behold, they got published. Voila! I had found my passion. I became an artist, of sorts.

Over the years I got a degree in literature and sent out poems and short prose pieces, and they mostly got published. I went to graduate school and got an MFA and worked for Poetry In The Schools, an NEA program, and I met a lot of poets and writers. Great people.

It seemed I had found my milieu, my place in the world. Before I graduated college, I had pictured a dusty office, with a frosted-glass door panel that had my name on it and the word "Poet" underneath.

After being a newspaper reporter and traveling some and getting to know the world a little bit, and going to graduate school and writing avant garde fiction, I decided I wanted to make a living as a novelist.

Aye, there's the rub. Sometime in the mid-70s I started studying and trying to write popular fiction. My old teacher, Oakley Hall, didn't like that.

But I persevered. Spent about 20 years hard at it. Wrote drafts of three big novels. One was about some guys who stole a top-secret experimental fighter plane and tried to ransom it back to the government. Years later, a similar novel was published and a movie made. So I guess that was a good idea.

Then, in 1996, I finally worked my way up the food chain of agents. I had spent 10 years working on a novel called "The Disappearance of Maggie Collins," about cops, hookers and a serial killer in NYC.

Trouble was, an obscure ad guy named James Patterson had come along and created a new sub-genre of pop fiction about serial killers. He owned that market.

I had the vague notion that was going on, but I decided to persevere, bull-headed as I am. I was rep'd by a new young agent at the best agency in the biz. He sent out seven copies of my novel. The next day, the head of one of the other publishing houses called him and said, Why didn't you send us this novel?

He said, Well, you've seen an earlier version from another agent. She said, well, since you re being honest with us, we'll be honest with you. We have already pirated a copy and we are reading it now.

Ultimately, 13 publishing houses--all the big ones--read it. I got a lot of praise for the writing. One editor said, "I read every word over the weekend, and I never do that." Another editor said, "This is the best written thriller I've every read, and I've read 700 of them." 

One publishing house said, "We won't go as high as $500,000. But we like this writer, and we'd like to grow this writer."

Three editors at that house had to say yes. Two said yes--the acquisitions editor and the head of the house--but one said no. The paperback rights editor said he didn't think it was a "big-launch book." The two who said yes were women, and the one who said no was a man. I thought that was significant.

All of the other 12 publishing houses said there were too many serial killer novels in the pipeline. Hollywood said the same thing. James Patterson had not only captured the market, he had spawned about two hundred imitators. Success in this business draws a lot of flies.

My number one publishing house said they'd like to bid against somebody else. If anybody else bids, they would bid, too, they said. I told my agent that's like saying to your girlfriend, Honey, I don't really want to marry you, but if any other guy asks you to marry him, I will ask you, too.

No one else bid, so number one house didn't, either. And the deal fell through. No bid, no offer, no contract, no deal. No dream.

Let that be a lesson to you. If you're going to write schlock, study the market and love the schlock. Know the rules. Hew to the form, as one agent had told me years before.

But if you're going to write real novels, for Christ's sake write real novels. Write the kind of novel you want to read. In my case, that means a literary novel with crime elements, a type of novel that is rare.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, March 14, 2011


I was thinking over the weekend, I don't know what my life would be like if I wasn't a writer. I would go crazy.

I don't understand how "normal" people do it. What do they do all day?

For me, I have to have this huge project going on, with new problems and new challenges coming up all the time. It is like building an airplane from scratch in your backyard. It's easy to build one, but not easy to build one that flies.

So many things have to come together at the same time for a novel to work. You have to have a main character or group of characters in motion, involved in something that is vitally important to them. They have to be trying to accomplish something and take a series of increasingly serious emotional and physical risks to get it done.

The whole thing has to engage the audience and keep them engaged. You have to make a series of decisions before you start: point of view, attitude, tone, story problem, premise, setting, time frame, the list seems endless.

And then you have to "sing like you don't need the money" as one old song goes.

If I didn't have that to do, every day, I think I'd go bananas. Life would be so boring. I'd have to find a job where I could travel all the time and have constant adventures. Otherwise, you'd have to lock me up, for my own protection.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Novels always give you trouble. Right now, I'm about 90 pages into the current rewrite, and it doesn't seem suspenseful enough or mysterious enough.

For suspense, you need to have dramatic questions that drive the story. For a sense of mystery, you need to have important things that need explaining.

I'm feeling like I don't have enough of either one, so I'm introducing a new character who is going to go up against the scariest character I've ever invented and see what happens to him. He's just a college kid, too. Poor guy.

I think of Hamlet, who comes home to find his father dead and his uncle married to his mother. He suspects his uncle killed his father. Dum-dee-dum-dum.

Raymond Chandler said that when he had trouble, he would just bring in a new character with a gun in his hand. This may be just the opposite. A gun implies power, and this kid has little of that.

Wish me luck. And him, too.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I hope this isn't too confusing, but this post, or column as I think of them, is about three things: William Faulkner, Ben Affleck and my own work.

The past few days, I have been reading and re-reading my favorite writer, William Faulkner, Nobel prize winner, son of the South, he of the long, impenetrable sentence and driven, ecstatic, almost apocalyptic prose.

Faulkner was a hell of a writer. He infused his material--his words and sentences and paragraphs and scenes and stories and novels--with an intensity of meaning found in few other writers. Certainly James Joyce. Some would say Ernest Hemingway, though I would not. Certainly Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville and their artistic descendant, Cormac McCarthy.

Isn't this what writing is all about? Yes, it is. Language charged with meaning. As Faulkner said, he "found a way of writing where each word was as dangerous as a stick of dynamite."

How did he do it? Through a combination of narrative drive and energy both from his narrators and his characters. His words do not lie dead on the page, like they do with most if not all modern popular writers. His language is alive.

I have been reading a book called, oddly, "Knight's Gambit: Six Mystery Stories by William Faulkner." Strange that the master would turn his hand to such a popular art form. I don't know if he intended these as mysteries. Perhaps he did. Certainly they have mystery elements: crime, danger, a smart "detective" who solves the mystery.

As my old poetry teacher, Charles Wright, used to say, "You have to tell 'em something new, or tell 'em something old in a new way."

Faulkner does that. These stories are further revelations about human nature as fired in the kiln of his native Mississippi, in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on his own home area around Oxford. His revelations are always new.  

I don't understand why anyone would try to remove layers of meaning from his language, as some writers say they do. Suffice it to say, Faulkner is always rich with meaning.

Now let's turn to another art form: film. Last night, I tried to watch "The Town," directed by and starring Ben Affleck. I didn't last long. I have the weird notion that if you you're going to spend several million $ making a movie, it should have something new to say. Or something old in a new way.

This movie starts out with a stock bank robbery, that we have seen a trillion times before, a violent thug, a woman victim. Snore. Sorry, but I didn't see anything new here.

Not that these elements don't interest me. They do. Crime, selfishness, violence, brutality, unequal power relationships, the good people of the world protecting themselves against the bad.

That is the stuff of fiction. But whether something is art or schlock depends on how you use the elements. As the publisher and porn star Gloria Leonard famously said, “The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting.”

Well, it may be a little more complicated than that.

In those terms, what I am trying to do is similar to what I think Faulkner was trying to do: create art out of these elements.

Wish me luck.

(I'm in a hurry because the new New Yorker magazine came in the mail, and I haven't done my ten pages on my novel yet today.)

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I just tried to watch "The Next Three Days," starring Russell Crowe, written and directed by Paul Haggis ("Crash" and both recent James Bond movies). 

I couldn't stand "The Next Three Days." It was so heavy handed it was painful. It made me wince and cringe, again and again. I wanted to say to the director, Gee, Paul, guess what? We are not all THAT stupid, do you know what I mean? No, he doesn't, or he wouldn't hit us over the head with such a sledge hammer.

At about seven minutes in, I had to pause it. Didn't know how much more I could take. We get it, Paul, we get it. I can't imagine who would like such a grossly ham-handed flick. Its fans must be people who are so insensitive they have to be spoon fed their emotions and can't figure out how to react on their own.

This movie is about a very, very, VERY loving couple who are hard to believe. She has an argument with an over-the-top bitch (there's no polite way to say it) who gets murdered. Guess what? Our loving, loving, LOVING wife is arrested and sent to jail for the crime. Yeah, right.

I tried to get through act one, but I couldn't. How do these people, who make such movies, get to be so successful? I wish I didn't know the answer, but I do. Their movies make money. That is the shame of it.

Needless to say, I don't recommend this movie or this way of making movies or telling stories.

Trust your reader or your audience to figure out some of it. Let them add two and two on their own. That's my advice.

(The title of this post, "Bad Haggis," is a joke referring to haggis, an earthy, gross Scottish dish made from a sheep's stomach that only a drunken Scot can eat. Somehow, that name fits this director.)

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Monday, March 7, 2011


I've been working on my own novel today, "The Prince of Newport," about a killer con man who comes to Newport Beach and ends up taking over a multimillion-dollar empire.

I question this as I go along. Is this the kind of novel I want to write? Do I want it to be one of the traditional genres or types? You know: mainstream, literary, mystery, thriller, etc., or a hybrid, say a literary thriller.  

I'm trying to write the kind of novel I want to read. And that is a tall order, because I am extremely critical.

It is very difficult to find something other than a classic that I think is well written. I can read Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy and Camus and the other greats, but contemporary fiction, to me, is mostly unbearable.

I especially hate those hyper-clever novels by young writers who think they are geniuses. Jonathan Safran Foer comes to mind. I tried to read his big hit "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," which I hated with a passion. 

Those writers have done nothing in their lives but go to school and read, and they think their vapid, vacuous "hey-look-at-me, ma, I'm-a-writer" crap is worth reading.

It isn't, and I hope they are embarrassed by it some day when they grow up. As I recall, one whole page in Foer's "novel" is occupied by a photo of a doorknob. This is clever? This is writing? No, it isn't. It's phony pretentious crap. Everything in that novel becomes an intellectual game.

Anyway, back to my own writing. What I'm trying to do is write a realistic novel that is actually about something, and that engages the reader on more than one level, and has something to say.

My novel needs to have all the traditional elements of a good story: a main character you care about, who is trying to do something important to him. He gets himself into deep trouble, trying to do the right thing, and as he struggles to get himself out, he gets in deeper.

There needs to be a moral dilemma, a series of difficult choices, and the main guy needs to learn something and have his life changed by these events and by his struggles.

That may sound awfully traditional, but this is storytelling, not just showing off.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Last night some friends and I saw modern roller derby for the very first time. It was the L.A. Derby Dolls against a San Diego team of the same name.

This was a very strange experience; it was surprisingly commercial, and tedious and repetitious. My friends and I were more excited ahead of time than we were during the match. We were almost more interested in the business model.

We had been wanting to go for a couple years. Somehow, word of mouth gets around. It seems to be a growing phenomenon.

The most amazing thing: This must be a money making machine for the organizers. We estimated 2,500 people in attendance, at $18 a ticket for standing room, if you can believe that. Plus another $20 for an upgrade to VIP status where you get to sit in bleachers. About 500 people did that. And I think you can pay extra for a cushion.

They don't tell you ahead of time that you have bought standing room. When you get there, you find a long line for will-call tickets. Since they don't send out any tickets, everyone is will-call. Then you find out you can upgrade for $20 and get to sit down. You can also avoid the long line. Hmm. My friend thought that was part of the business plan. 

My friend figured the organizers took in $60,000 that night, from the gate alone, plus concessions. He figured they spent about $30,000 renovating the warehouse where 20 contests are scheduled this year.

He estimates that expenses are low, and the sexy young women, who skate their lovely butts off and get bruises bashing each other around, are volunteers, according to the announcer. Hmm. All that from free talent.

That's $1.2-million a year, from the gate, plus beer, T-shirts and pizza, minus the cost of insurance, maintenance, security guards and other employees. Hmm. Nice business. Free talent.

The concessions were popular: beer, T-shirts, pizza, etc. I had a pint Tecate with lime for $6. It tasted great. The event was very well organized, with security guards and staff who seemed highly professional. The crowd was almost all white, young, hip, tattoos, piercings -- typical Silver Lake.

The derby itself consists of a series of "JAMS." Each one is a mad scramble, with women on roller skates racing and charging and banging into each other and falling down and jockeying for position. But each jam only lasts 60 seconds or less. Often less. And each one is basically the same as the next. 

The three of us found it too repetitious to be very entertaining. But we are not real sports fans, not the kind who enjoy spending the afternoon at a football game or evening at a basketball game. Those things take way too long for me.

Roller derby is part girly show and part sports, but to me it's not really successful as either one. Not sexy enough and not a truly engaging sport.

Last night, San Diego won handily, with better skaters and apparently a more experienced team. Those young ladies were fast and aggressive and talented. The crowd screamed and hooted and hollered and seemed to have a good time. But when the announcer asked how many people were there for the first time, more than half raised their hands.

I would not go back, and neither would my friends. That seems to be part of the business plan, too.

Frankly, the spectacle itself is not that much fun. Not enough variety. It's all in little short bursts, and it needs events of different length, complexity and meaning. Like a circus, it needs a sense of ebb and flow, rising and falling action, and the whole thing needs to build to a climax, which it doesn't. It just ends, after the last jam.

For now, the young women skaters (the free talent) seem to love it, and so does the mostly first-time audience, apparently.

And somebody is making a lot of do-re-mi. I bet they love it, too.

-- Roger
© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, March 5, 2011


One of the most upsetting conversations I've ever had about art was with an older couple, friends of friends, who were perfectly nice and well-meaning.

We were discussing an article in The New Yorker, my favorite magazine, about an internationally known artist, whose name is Rirkrit Tiravanija. This artist had reproduced his shabby Lower-East-Side apartment in a gallery, including his kitchen.

For his "work of art," he fixed his favorite Thai soup and served it to those who came to the gallery. Eating soup together was his work of art. 

Newsweek also did an article. It quoted a "French thinker" who described this as "relational aesthetics."  In other words, all these people eating soup together in a gallery is art because they call it art. I guess.

OK, then. If I have a barbecue for friends on my patio, is that a work of art? Or is it art only if we stage it in an art gallery and get a few academic theorists to call it art?

When I go to the bathroom, is that a work of art? Or is it art only if my buddies and I urinate in public at the same time and "relate"?

This seems like a mockery of art.
My friend's wife said, "Well, perhaps the soup can be a nice pleasant experience, like viewing a painting."

So anything that's nice and pleasant can be a work of art? If I take a nap in the afternoon, as I did today, is that a work of art? If I make love to my girlfriend (if I had one), that can be extremely pleasant. Is that a work of art? Is anything a work of art just because it is pleasant? Or do you have to stage it in a gallery and call it art?

What if we hire a couple to have sex in an art gallery, is that a work of art? Or is it pornography? Is it art only if ten or 20 couples do it at the same time and we call it art? Is it art if they are "relational"?

Is Michelangelo's "David" a work of art because it is pleasant to look at? Is it only a work of art if a group of people is looking at it at the same time and relating? What if they are all going "Oooooo" out of enjoyment? Is that the same as eating soup?

Does "art" depend on the thing itself, or on the experience of seeing it? Or on the experience of doing it? Or is it art only when you call it art?
So eating soup is relational art. I think this is a perfect example of "The Emperor's New Clothes." The art world has run out of ideas and out of common sense. 

Sorry, but a Bowl of Soup by any other name is still a Bowl of Soup. To re-phrase Gertrude Stein, BS is BS is BS. And I don't mean soup.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, March 4, 2011


Our criteria for art must be both subjective and objective.

As some great critic whose name I forget said, we don't spend the time to analyze something we don't admire.

First of all, I think, our admiration cannot come from what we tell ourselves. The power of the work must somehow come from the work itself.

I know it is fashionable these days for art critics and curators to tell us that limp, lazy, good-for-nothing art is somehow powerful and hip just because they say it is.

But I don't agree. If art is bad, it's bad. Period. that goes for music and sculpture and painting and writing and dance and any other art form.

Just because someone says it's art, that doesn't make it art.

So let's pick out some examples of good art and bad art and see if we can figure out why the good stuff is good, and why the bad stuff is bad.

First, let's compare two poems:

Gacela of Unforeseen Love - Federico Garcia Lorca
[trans. W S Merwin]
No one understood the perfume
of the dark magnolia of your womb.
No one knew that you tormented
a hummingbird of love between your teeth.
A thousand Persian ponies fell asleep
in the moonlit plaza of your forehead,
while through four nights I embraced
your waist, enemy of the snow.
Between plaster and jasmines, your glance
was a pale branch of seeds.
I sought in my heart to give you
the ivory letters that say always,

always, always: garden of my agony,
your body elusive always,
the blood of your veins in my mouth,
your mouth already lightless for my death.

Now let's take a look at "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer:


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,         5
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.  10
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,         5
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.  10
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

I admire one of these poems greatly, and I despise the other one. Can you figure out which is which and why?

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

The Selected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca
The Selected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca