Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year's Eve link-oh-bartender-gimme-another!

Henry Ford said: "Two percent of the people think; three percent think they think, and 95 percent would rather die than think."

As New Year's Eve approaches, and what heck, let's go for all of 2016, be a 2 percenter.

** So apparently "Kurt Russell" were the last words Walt Disney ever wrote. Interesting interview with Goldie Hawn's husband here. I'm going to make this my one movie of 2016.

** The stories this guy could tell. What a life.

** Another study that is not exactly rocket surgery.

** More science.

** From Noise, as in the magazine, comes the top 10 rock albums of 2015.

** So the President had a bad year.

** Wall Street Journal's best books of the year, fiction/non-fic/mystery.

** Get your wine on, in the mail. There are many South Dakota wineries that will make you forget about those other states that think they are the only ones that can grow grapes.

Effective January 1, 2016, any winery located within or outside of the state may ship wine to South Dakota consumers if they have met the requirements to obtain a wine direct shipper license.

** It's Charlie Robison's New Year's Day in the red dirt of Texas. Take a listen, and don't miss the Casey Donahew Band in Deadwood next week! I'll be there with Ulm, my black-hatted partner in crime.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Finished: Chaput's 'Render Unto Caesar'

I put aside the serial killer blood and guts and noir detective sleeze novels for Advent season (or at least a week of it) and decided something a bit more thought-provoking and religious might be in order.

So I delved into "Render Unto Caesar" by Archbishop Charles Chaput, former bishop of the Rapid City Diocese and kind of a big deal. It's a signed edition because I'm kind of a big deal too in Rapid City, well in my house by Rapid City, well in my office of my house, until Stanley comes in and then he's the big deal.

According to Wiki, Chaput is the second Native American to be consecrated a bishop in the United States and the first Native American archbishop. And, according to me, he is a wise man.

The book is great, thought-provoking, straight-hitting and entertaining. He delves into church history, the Founding Fathers, JFK and recent history to about 2008 when the book was published. He writes in a non-academic manner that even a goof like me can understand. He basically urges Catholics and all Christians to be vocal and informed and not afraid to espouse their faith in all parts of life and in politics. I filled the book with highlights, notes and asterisks.

I finished it just before Christmas so, I digress a bit here, it was especially noticeable when I saw political messages on social media using Christ's birth as fodder. It's interesting how the Gospel according to Joe Facebook often differs from Matthew or Luke as to fit Joe's political issue of the day. To some, Mary and Joseph's 65-mile trek to Bethlehem to be counted for Caesar's census is somehow analogous to the immigration issue or to homelessness. Ironically, those arguments often seem to come from people who wet their pants when Christians cite the Bible in opposition to abortion. Others like to incorrectly cite "eye for an eye" as support for the death penalty. Seems like Bible stories, like statistics, can be twisted for the beholder.

But no political party is immune from hypocrisy, and Chaput clearly states too that there is no one party for the Catholic faith either. All have their pros and cons.

Chaput writes: "But too oftentimes, I find that both these slogans - 'don't impose your beliefs on society' and 'the separation of church and state' - have little to do with fact. Instead, they're used as debating tools; a kind of verbal voodoo. People employ them to shut down serious thought."

And: "People who take God seriously will not remain silent about their faith. ... As a friend once said, it's like asking a married man to act single in public. He can certainly do that - but he won't stay married for long."

So speak up. Read this speech of his.

And read this book! Unless you're afraid.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The tail of Ragnar

I could write a book about my history with rabbits. From the death of Johnny Depp while we were on vacation to the shooting incident with Prince there are quite a few stories to tell. But none would be sadder than the tale of our current rabbit Ragnar.

Ragnar is my fertilizer machine, and being a Norwegian he is quite good at spreading the fertilizer, if you know what I mean. From April through November he lives in a spacious cage with all the amenities down in my garden. He feasts on lettuce, cabbage, turnip leaves, whatever is green and available. Occasionally he is let out to free range inside the fenced in garden. He has a pretty good life.

 Then when cold weather, and the time change, hit, he gets moved to his winter home which is closer to our house. The cage sits below a plum tree, next to a bird bath, and right outside my kitchen window so I can wave to him in the mornings. It also reminds my feeble mind to go out and feed and water and talk to him. Yes, we talk. Well, I talk. He listens.

So all's been well this winter. In fact, I was outside last weekend and resupplied his rabbit hole/bedroom with dead grass and straw and shredded paper from work. He seemed safe, secure and happy. That was until this morning when I looked out the window while eating my toast and noticed everything askew in the rabbit world. The cage was still standing, but off kilter. The big dried up potted plant next to it was knocked over, as was the bird bath. The roof of his cage was in pieces. Yet Ragnar, ever the cool Viking leader, was nibbling on his pellets.

A similar thing happened a couple years ago and I blame a neighbor from down the road whose dogs get loose and rambunctious and take about terrorizing bunnies. I haven't seen them loose in a while, so I can't say it's them for sure but they are at the top of my suspect list. Just above coyotes, perhaps even a deer who came streaking through the area, or a small chance of a mountain lion. Though I'm pretty sure I'd be writing Ragnar's obit today instead if it were a lion.

Anyway, this morning, while I waited for my vehicle to warm up, I went about picking up the area. Fixing his roof and arranging his feeder and such, I noticed this furry thing on the ground. I figured it was some fur that went flying, as Ragnar has a nice puffy winter coat about now. But it wasn't that. It was his tail! I'm a guy who is oft accused of being cold-hearted and unfeeling, but not when it comes to my dogs or my rabbit. I felt terrible for him. It's like he had been violated. My guess is that when he was being attacked, he raced around in circles in his cage, as I've seen him do, and somehow his tail got caught in the wire. Ouch. Even worse would be if it was sticking out of the cage and something bit it off. Ew. He otherwise seems okay. There was no blood. But it did set off a pretty funny text message routine between myself, wifey and junior.

 It concluded with her asking: "Can rabbits live without a tail?"

 I suggested: "We do."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What's the good word?

Star Wars! Just kidding. Nothing about Star Wars here. Not interested. But I plug it like I plug Amanda Knox! because it's a Google-getter and the people who end up here to see what's up sometimes even buy books by our favorite author.

Go figure. Isn't the internet grand?

Assuming you are on the internet now, then I'm assuming you've been to to look up some of the big words I use; even if you're just here fugaciously or because of your propinquity to me.

Not to be outdone by Time Magazine announcing its person of the year, announced its 2015 Word of the Year, which they say encapsulates "the most robust fields of language evolution and user interest this year."

Obviously, if they choose anything besides "Kardashian" or "breast" they are lying. But that doesn't stop internet sites. Should I ruin it for you or let you click on the link? I'll ruin it for you, because that's the kind of guy I am.

The word of the year is: "identity."

Of course it is.

And if you need to ask why there's a picture of Amanda Peet, as if I need a reason, Google it.

** Do you folks listen to podcasts? I'm kind of a novice at them, but they're growing on me. I heard good things about Serial.

Their new series is out on the controversial deserter and Jason Bourne-wanna-be Bowe Bergdahl. I'm going to give it a go. Sounds interesting.

Their first season was on Hae Min Lee "a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he's innocent - though he can't exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found."

** This story claims researchers are fine with your kids climbing on the monkey bars.
Failure, danger, and aversion to risk are becoming the center of the conversation, and it really does start at the playground. Consider the “safe” playground: a structure that takes the risk out of the equation.
Yes, fewer children get injured. Yes, fewer parents worry. But maybe we’re preventing the wrong anxieties by helping parents rather than kids.
So screens may cause their own problems, but as far as mental health at early stages goes, the biggest concern appears to be keeping kids from getting up, getting creative, and doing stupid things. Same for helicopter parenting, bland adventure-less playground equipment, and constant supervision.
** And this was a big ol' joke by the New York Times: The most pressing issue in 95 years finally gets editorialized on the front page.

** And if a guy didn't know better you'd think the NYT was a tad liberal. Here's their story on Ted Cruz.
“Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.”
** For annoying me so much, I tend to read them quite a bit. Here are the Times' picks for the 10 best books of 2015.

About the only one that somewhat interests me is - One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway.

Otherwise I don't see anything I can't live without.

** Why does Europe hate Israel so much? Brendan O’Neill takes a stab at it in: The wretched reason why Israel became Europe’s whipping boy. I'll ruin it for you again:
 Plucky, keen to protect its sovereignty, considering itself an outpost of liberalism… Israel is a painful reminder to today’s morally anchorless European thinkers and agitators of what their nations once were.They hate Israel because they hate themselves.
** And what would the world be without the wisdom of Arnold Schwarzenegger? This story claims Arnold has been a passionate advocate for alternative energy, and I would add pretty passionate about his housekeepers as well.

And the great communicator knows he's right and you are wrong and no he's not being a bully because he's over-compensating for something small.

He just says: "I don't give a f--- if we agree."

Well, thank you sir for your kind consideration.

** Here's this week's music link you and Arnold can chill out to in case you might have missed it on NPR: Jump the Gun by Halestorm.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Relax ...

According to Twitter, it seems a lot of families argue politics during Thanksgiving. Not at my house. Dissenting opinions are not allowed, but if one dares, it's met with a: "Shut the hell up, I'm watching football."

But if you want to get your undies in a bundle, here's some reading for you:

** They're feeling the Bern in Vermont; and SD seems quite fond of Thune too. Approval rates of Senators in their states.

** This guy's in a grumpy mood. Is your kid a weirdo?
America is in the grip of a crisis, namely a shortage of normal people. Evidence indicates that the population of kooks and freaks is rapidly increasing, and there are simply not enough sane people to keep the weirdos under control. Especially among the under-30 demographic, the United States is struggling to cope with the proliferation of dangerous perverts, drug addicts, psychotics and Ivy League liberal arts majors. 
**This is kind of ranty and f-bomby but says what a lot of people think, without being all anti-Muslim.
Running is great. I’ll never fault somebody who chooses to run or hide when bad things happen. Every one of us has a different level of training, knowledge, and commitment, and what is the right answer for you, isn’t the right answer for your grandma. If you are the kind of person to get involved, you need to have a clue. However, since the only constant of gunfights is that they suck for somebody, you can do everything right and still die. On the bright side you at least bought everybody else some time.
I haven't read any of his books, but I might have to give one a try just because he has about the best (and longest) author bio I've ever read.
No matter how poor we got, there was always an ammo budget.
** Lest you need some cheering up, start the music, strike up the band, it's a forgotten grooveyard fave from Dr. Hook! You Make My Pants Want to Get Up and Dance

Friday, November 20, 2015

First snow of the year linkage ...

I was going to go out today and buy Adele's new album, but then the terrorists would win.

So I did some linkin' instead:

** This sounds like a case for Gabriel Allon. Eleven masterpieces stolen.
“It’s as if you broke into the Uffizi Galleries (in Florence) and stole a Botticelli. You couldn’t sell it on the open market,” said Tomaso Montanari, an art historian. “It’s certainly the most serious theft in the history of Italian art.” 
** I like this lady's attitude. Seems like a winner. My only question on how she lost her artificial leg is why she wasn't wearing it on the airplane, unless she has more than one or a special one for running. Either way. Happy ending. Here's the story.

** A free plug and two thumbs up for and the two prescription eyeglasses, delivered, for under 25 bucks. Seemed too good to be true, but very happy with them.

** This is pretty cool: This beautiful poster captures 42 (Great American novels), together with the location in which they are set. From Ahab off Nantucket, to Ignatius J. Reilly in the Big Easy, Tom Joad fleeing the Dust Bowl to HST entering Bat Country - it's all here.

** Today's group to jones on isn't new, but this song popped up on Pandora today and reminded me how much I like them: Confederate Railroad. Here's "She Never Cried."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Some babbling about Billy Shakes

So this theater dude from Brooklyn takes offense in this Federalist column because the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is translating some of Shakespeare's work into a more modern, easily understood version.

As any good condescending elitist would do, he asks: Are we too dumb for Shakespeare?

I'd answer: No, and offering more options as to how we read him doesn't make us so.

I was going to be an English teacher, came darn close in fact. But the second semester of my senior year at Augustana College, now University, I drew the short straw and was told I was going to do my student teaching in Lennox. As I was even dumber in college than I am now, I opted to nix that idea for various reasons.

But chief among them was that I'd been working part-time in the sports department at the Argus Leader throughout college and really enjoyed it. Heck, I'd moved up to have my own weekly bowling column! So I knew what I wanted to do with my life and made it official that I was going to pursue a career as a journalist, where they actually get paid less than teachers but don't complain about it as much.

So now I've sent three kids through high school, assuming the boy graduates this spring. I've watched a lot of their English teachers over the years, in various settings and grade levels. And, honestly, I haven't seen a bad one. My kids have been very fortunate to have been educated in two of, if not the best two, schools in the state: Brandon Valley and then St. Thomas More.

My oldest graduated from Black Hills State University last year and I remember her telling me early in her college career that many of the kids writing papers didn't even know what a bibliography was. "We were doing that for Mr. Garcia in the eighth-grade."

But what I want to touch on here is not the grammar and research side of English teaching, but the literature side, where I think too much emphasis goes into teaching the old, often boring, classics, and not on reading material that students will enjoy and spur them to become lifelong readers.

Both my daughters, the youngest a senior at SDSU, are avid readers, but it's not because they were forced to read Catcher in the Rye or Giants of the Earth. In fact, in spite of that. I give credit to one person and one person only: Harry Potter.

He was born when the girls where in elementary and middle school and their reading interest blossomed through him. If J.K. Rowlings hadn't come along, I'm not so sure her fellow Brit William Shakespeare would have inspired the same enjoyment of reading that has become a lifelong passion of theirs.

It's not that I'm even against teaching Shakespeare in high school, but I'd scale it back. You can give kids a taste of his style and language without making them read Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. I took a semester of Shakespeare in college and much to my advisor's chagrin hated it even then. You need to, at minimum, give teenagers some enjoyable stuff to read too.

My kids have had required reading during the summers from STM. This past year my boy read Giants of the Earth, which even I find tedious. Do we really think this will inspire him to want to read more? If I were assigning summer reading, I would assign a shorter classic, like Red Badge of Courage and then assign them one fiction book and one non-fiction book of their choosing. That's one book a month during the summer. Even a 17-year-old in love with baseball and a girl can fit that in his schedule.

We need to develop a love of reading in our youth. It's not easy and it's not going to happen with a lot of the classics, when the alternative is the new season of Walking Dead on Netflix and Assassins Creed on the Xbox.

There's no reason students can't be reading some popular fiction in their lit classes as well. Harry Potter, the Twilight series, Hardy Boys, Louis L'Amour, heck I read the entire Tarzan series in junior high. Throw in a Dean Koontz Odd Thomas Book for good measure. There are tons of great contemporary writers and topics that can teach setting, place, voice, plot and character development as well as or better than the novels that our college professors told us we had to teach so we could check the box and they could maybe answer the Jeopardy question someday: Who were the two feuding families in Romeo and Juliet?

And many of the great authors of old wrote terrific short stories. Assign those quick-hits instead to these attention-span-challenged kids. Don't bore the kids or turn them off from reading. If they enjoy it, they have a better chance of picking up a novel on their own. When they don't see reading as an enjoyment, but as something to struggle through, who can blame them for turning to the Alaskan Bush People instead.

If our youth acquire an affinity for a reading, then we can spring some of the more challenging authors on them in college, or they may choose to do so on their own as adults. I'm all for challenging our youth, but save Billy Shakes for the more advanced readers who have proven an ability to grasp deeper reading.

While ol' David Marcus of the Federalist considers Shakespeare's English the same as America's modern English. It's not. It's practically a foreign language. As you wouldn't drop a French version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables on a 15-year-old, they should be eased into Macbeth as well and experience it a point where it won't so overcome them that it discourages them to read more. And if adults want to see or read a play by Shakespeare in a manner more easy for them to understand, so be it.

I'm more about encouraging people to read than worrying about what they read or in which language.

“Receive what cheer you may. The night is long that never finds the day.”  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bacon up some links of sausage and stuff

So you may have read recently that the World Health Organization has declared that reading this blog will cause cancer. It's not a matter of when or if. In fact, if you've made it to this sentence you've probably got about 15 minutes to live.

So go fry yourself a wheelbarrow full of bacon and read these links. Might as well go in style:

** Trying to stay hip with the latest app? Me either. But just in case.
In this list you’ll find juggernauts like Facebook and Snapchat along with hidden gems that haven’t hit the top of the App Store’s charts yet. Every one of these apps serves a valuable purpose, making life easier, better, or just more fun.
** Been there, done that: Prince Invites Fans to Party With Him at Paisley Park
"If you don't leave here feeling fantastic, there's something wrong with you," Meier said.
** Politics anyone? Nate Silver says next presidential election is 50-50. That's cutting-edge thinking folks. Sigh.
I’m not saying Clinton is doomed. Rather, I think the “fundamentals” point toward her chances being about 50-50, and I wouldn’t argue vigorously if you claimed the chances were more like 60-40 in one or the other direction. But Clinton is no sort of lock, and if she loses the popular vote by even a few percentage points, the “blue wall” will seem as archaic as talk of a permanent Republican majority.
** At ESPN, mistakes were made. Like showing soccer matches.

** So, you made it this long, eh? Might as well enjoy some coffee, eggs, pasta, wine and chocolate too, as those used to be considered bad for you too. 

And, you gotta check out Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and their song S.O.B., and yeah it might have some cuss words in there. As this website says: "The song depicts the struggles of alcoholism in a soulful, chaotic way." 

If your toe isn't tapping by the end, you're probably dead now.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Making the pitch for some baseball books

There are some serious goofballs in baseball. Fortunately, people write books about them.

With America's pastime heading down the home stretch, I thought I'd take a look at some of the baseball books I've read over the years. Most of the more autobiographical ones I read during my youth in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, either my tastes have evolved or the athletes and managers don't tend to put pen to paper as much, relying on the easier and less sophisticated Twitter characters and emoticons to express their thoughts.

I have one baseball book sitting on my to-be-read shelf: Fathers Playing Catch with Sons, essays by Donald Hall.

I have another thick fiction book that I'm a third of the way through, but haven't touched it for several months. I haven't quit on it yet, and intend to finish it, but it just wasn't doing much for me at the time: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

So here's a glance at some of the better ones I've read. I'm not going to go to all the work of providing links to these. You know how Google works:

* How Life Imitates the World Series - Thomas Boswell

* Who's on First - William F. Buckley Jr.

* Steinbrenner - Dick Schapp

* Ball Four - Jim Bouton
* Ball Four Plus Ball Five - Jim Bouton

* Temporary Insanity - Jay Johnstone
This guy was one of my favorites. Quite the prankster.

* The Wrong Stuff - Bill "Spaceman" Lee
After being traded by Boston, Lee said: "Who wants to be with a team that will go down in history alongside the ‘64 Phillies and the ‘67 Arabs?"

Also, I'd forgotten about this, but Wiki reminded me that: "in 1987 he announced plans to run for President of the United States for the Rhinoceros Party.

* The Umpire Strikes Back - Ron Luciano
* Strike Two - Ron Luciano
My favorite line of his was: "I never called a balk in my life. I didn't understand the rule."
Luciano committed suicide 10 years ago.

* In the Country of Baseball - Dock Ellis
He threw a no-hitter in 1970 under the influence of LSD.
He threw at every batter in the Cincinnati Reds lineup in a game in 1974, because he could. Today, in an era where a bat-flip causes acne conglobata among ESPN anchors and the rest of the sports media, imagine what that would've done to them.

* All My Octobers - Mickey Mantle
You've probably heard of him.

* Tales from the Minnesota Twins Dugout - Kent Hrbek

* When You Come to a Fork in the Road Take It - Yogi Berra, RIP

Monday, October 5, 2015

Finished: Block's 'Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes' and need a cold shower

It's amazing how much a guy can get accomplished on the weekend with the kid working and the wife away visiting her family. I read an entire Lawrence Block book.

The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes is really good. It's Block latest, published under the Hard Case Crime imprint. He goes back to the dark, sexy, noir genre and hits it hard. There's a little more hard-core sex in here than I was expecting (that's what she said) and a couple times I found myself thinking about the author and going: "Man, this guy's quite the horn-dog for being 78 years old."

Still, while it might have been a little overly explicit in places, it wasn't entirely gratuitous. The scenes were necessary to delve into the psyche of a couple of the characters (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). The plot was good, the twist at the end was good (though I saw it coming just in the nick of time).

I'd like to know why Block chose to write this under his own name, rather than under his Jill Emerson pseudonym of which he wrote Getting Off just four years ago. Seems if you're going to have a name for each genre, it might have been more appropriate there. Still. Very good. 7 out of 10 on the Haugenometer. Goodreaders have it at 3.75 of 5.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Time to go on a binge

There's binge watching ("24" comes to mind); there's binge drinking (college comes to mind); there's binge eating, and then there's probably the best thing for you: Binge reading.
For me binge reading is a joy. To spend consistent time in company of one specific group of characters, or one author's voice, is to spend quality time with good friends in a world far removed from the stresses of daily life. It is escapism at its purist.
I've done the binge reading thing a few times, not always with just one author, but also with a topic or genre. For instance, currently I've been joyfully stuck in the dark alleys of detective noir, reading Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block and their earlier work under pseudonyms. Am in the middle of Block's newest book, a throwback to his dark noir days, "The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes."

Most recent author I binged on was Robert Parker. Great stuff. I've binge-read Tim Dorsey's first ten books until I got caught up on his current stuff, as I did Vince Flynn.

It's fun, but you kind of hit that spot where you need to stop before things get old. Haven't got there yet with my dark, sexy, murderous 1950s-60s noir novels yet. Hope I never do.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Amanda Knox and other stuff

The click-bait poster child Amanda Knox has been cleared once and for all. Justice has finally been done for the woman with the far-away eyes.

Go Italy!
In a statement issued Monday, Knox said: “I am deeply grateful that the Italian Supreme Court has filed its opinion and forcefully declared my innocence. This has been a long struggle for me, my family, my friends, and my supporters. While I am glad it is now over, I will remain forever grateful to the many individuals who gave their time and talents to help me.”
You're welcome, Amanda.

Stories of other interest:

*** The League of Denial: 87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease

*** This reminds me of the old joke: Where does an elephant sleep?

Anywhere he wants to.

So, where does the Pope sleep during his visit to the U.S.

*** Time for a task force to increase writers' salaries!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Whatcha been reading, Haugen? Sleaze

As you see, I took the summer off from the blog-o-sphere. Been doing really important stuff, going to baseball games, gardening, jogging less and slower than usual, and goofin' around with my dogs. Like I said, important stuff. But I can't hold back the angry hordes any longer. A blog-posting I must go.

I did squeeze in a lot of reading this summer, but I won't bore you with reviews of every one. I will, however, bore you with highlights. In order of most recent:

* Memory - by Donald Westlake. My man DW wrote over 100 books in his career and this was the last one, though another was published posthumously (that's after he died for those of you from Iowa). The majority of his books are sarcastic, satirical, dark comedy; but this was just plain old dark. I was in kind of a jammed up funk myself for a few days and normally a Westlake novel, like a Prince CD, would unfunk my junk; but this just funked it up more. Was glad when I was done. Did I mention it was dark and depressing. Even the ending. Gave it a 6- on the Haugenometer.

* Man Hungry - by Alan Marshall (aka Donald Westlake). DW wrote under at least 4 pseudonyms, and this was his first of any of them, written back in 1957. I've resolved to read all of Westlake's books. It actually crossed my mind to read all of them uninterrupted (I've got about 80 to go), but I nixed that idea for being too weird, even by my standards. This book was vintage Westlake, albeit a little more the sultry pulp fiction side. This had to be pretty salacious stuff by 1950s Happy Days standards, as there were hookers, lesbians, college professor/student sex and lots of vodka. Good characters, some dark humor, and all the twists and turns you come to expect from The Donald (the one I like). Gave it a 7 on the Haugenometer, because I really liked vodka in college.

* Gathering Prey - by John Sandford. Detective Lucas Davenport chases bad guys from my backyard (Sturgis) to Minneapolis and beyond. You don't find a lot of popular fiction featuring Jugaloos. Sandford pulls it off though, as usual. Haugenometer hit 7 again.

* Tiger Shrimp Tango - by Tim Dorsey. I keep telling myself I'm done with Dorsey, but then he puts out a new one and I can't resist the stupidity and hijinks of Serge Storms. It's like the SpongeBob Squarepants of novels. Sometimes you just have to go for the chuckle. Managed a 6- and I lost a few brain cells in the process.

* Pastime - by Robert B. Parker. This is the 18th in the Spenser series (think Tom Selleck and Spenser for Hire). It was good, not great. A 6.

* Getting Off - by Jill Emerson (aka Lawrence Block). As lifelong buddy with Westlake, Block shared his affinity for pseudonyms. This was one of Block's oldies too, as I continue to delve into the 1950s-60s noir novels, which sounds better than saying I'm dabbling in soft-core porn (of which Block wrote 7 novels as Jill Emerson). Basically the main character, a woman, kills men after she sexes them and is now going back and killing the ones she missed earlier in her life. Her lesbian lover eventually joins in the fun. It was Penthouse Letters meets Murder Mystery. I liked it. 7+.

* The Rembrandt Affair - by Daniel Silver. Another in the Israeli spy thriller series with art restorer/secret agent Gabriel Allon. 7-.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Finished: Daniel Silva's 'The Defector'

The Defector is the ninth of 15 books in Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series. Allon is a Mossad agent and art restorer.

Silva's strength lies in his ability to describe scenes without going all Dan Brown or Harper Lee on you. The plot in this one though is relatively generic: introspective spy with hot wife tracks Russian oligarch to forest hideaway to rescue friend and wife, bullets fly, love is made. Basically, it reads like my autobiography.

There were several clever lines I wanted to remember, but was too lazy to get off the couch to find a pen. Basically, a more accurate autobiography of me.

Amazonian's give it a 4.5 out of 5. Goodreaders are a little less generous at 4.26.

I thought this one slipped from Silva's usually high standards. Still good, but not great. A 6-plus on the 10-point Haugenometer.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Finished: Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood'

Truman Capote is credited with inventing the true crime genre with this book, and it has subsequently only been surpassed in sales by Helter Skelter. In Cold Blood is enhanced by the legend of Capote, his relationship with Harper Lee, the controversy at the time (1959) as some claimed not everything in the book was a true as Capote claimed, and the continued controversy today, plus the three movies which have been made about it (with stars from Robert Blake and John Forsythe to Daniel Craig and Sandra Bullock).

So the book has quite the back story. And, it's quite the book on its own.

From Wiki:
In Cold Blood is a non-fiction book first published in 1966, written by American author Truman Capote; it details the 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife, and two of their four children.
When Capote learned of the quadruple murder, before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. He was accompanied by his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee, and together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested six weeks after the murders, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book.
Here's a Wall Street Journal story from 2013 on the controversy.
Truman Capote's masterwork of murder, "In Cold Blood," cemented two reputations when first published almost five decades ago: his own, as a literary innovator, and detective Alvin Dewey Jr.'s as the most famous Kansas lawman since Wyatt Earp.
But new evidence undermines Mr. Capote's claim that his best seller was an "immaculately factual" recounting of the bloody slaughter of the Clutter family in their Kansas farmhouse. It also calls into question the image of Mr. Dewey as the brilliant, haunted hero.
Amazonians give it a 4.5 out of 5 rating. I gave it a 6+ only because I have a negative bias against non-fiction history books (as I consider them more as reporting or research papers than products of an imagination requiring building your own characters, settings and plots). But, I do give Capote credit for some excellent writing here, really bringing the individuals to life and a good sense of place, which still works even now over a half century later.

This is a good book, should be read in all high schools for its cultural/historical value and Capote's prose.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finished: Harlan Coben's 'Deal Breaker'

I felt like a bit of an idiot for not having heard of this Harlan Coben dude. Considering he's won all the big mystery awards (Edgar, Shamus, Anthony), and that he's written close to 30 novels, including best-sellers, and that his main character is a sports agent, it seems like the kind of thing I'd have heard of before running across him just recently (I don't remember how).

So I figured I'd start with the first book in his "critically acclaimed" Myron Bolitar series, Deal Breaker. While keeping in mind my general rule that an author's first novel isn't usually his best, expecting that they get better as he perfects his craft, I was still disappointed.

I like the character, Myron, the sports agent, and I like where the plot goes in that his star client is in trouble and he tries to help him, but it was a struggle to get through.
From Amazon: Sports agent Myron Bolitar is poised on the edge of the big time. So is Christian Steele, a rookie quarterback and Myron’s prized client. But when Christian gets a phone call from a former girlfriend—a woman who everyone, including the police, believes is dead—the deal starts to go sour. Trying to unravel the truth about a family’s tragedy, a woman’s secret, and a man’s lies, Myron is up against the dark side of his business—where image and talent make you rich, but the truth can get you killed.
I'm not a guy who likes a ton of characters in a novel. I'm a simple man. Keep it simple. Coben had a ton of characters I had trouble keeping track of (never end a sentence with a preposition). At times, the dialogue was amateurish.

However, his surprise ending got me. I pride myself on seeing those coming, but his twist whacked me along side the head and left me humbled. And it wasn't too far-fetched, as some do, where you go: "There's no way a guy could've figured that out."

Still, I gave it my lowest rating of 2015, a 6-minus on the Haugenometer. I don't even give 5s, because I usually quit the book before it gets to that point (which seldom happens and hurts my heart when it does). Still, I'm not giving up Coben and owe him a second chance. So I'll pick one of his mid-series books. He also has a young adult series, so I might pick one up for Junior as it seems like something he might like.

Goodreads and Amazon readers give him a 3.9 of 5, so I'm not far off in my rating, just a little lower.

In the meantime, I've moved on to Truman Capote's 1965 true-crime novel "In Cold Blood" and hoping for a good palette-cleanser.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Huck scores exclusive author interview

"They" say that author interviews are a good way to promote your book. But there are a couple factors that hamstring me a bit in hawking my work, like a job that requires me to be a bit less crazy and obnoxious than I might otherwise be inclined, and an evolving personality trait that is nudging me toward hermit status. So I've had to turn down some requests that might have already catapulted Runaway Trane into best-seller status.

But, you know, it's actually kind of fun telling Oprah "no." I got the impression she doesn't hear that much. And when I told O'Reilly he couldn't handle me in the no-spin zone, that was kind of cool too. It's almost empowering to do this whole Salmon Rushdie-Hunter Thompson reclusive author bit.

But then, last night, one of my two dogs, Huckleberry, came into my library/greenhouse/spare bedroom and jumped up on the bed behind my chair at the desk. He gave me his serious look and said: "We need to talk."

At first I was startled, but then amazed, that this dog with two brain cells could actually speak. Nobody will believe me, I figured, so I flipped on the tape recorder (yes I still have a mini-cassette recorder). But Huck slapped his paw on the stop button and said: "I have some questions for you about this new book of yours, off the record."

As a former reporter myself, I figured it was off-the-record for him to report my answers, but okay for me to do so. Later that evening I transcribed the conversation to the best of my recollection.

Here's how that author interview went:

Huck: "Rumor has it you have a new book out. Is that correct?"
Me: "Yo, Dog."
Huck: "Don't call me Dog."
Me: "Okay."
Huck: "In this book, apparently there's some guy named Bobby Trane who gets in the middle of some trouble in this town and tries to save it and the pretty girl. Is that correct?"
Me: "In a nutshell, yeah."

Huck: "And, in this book, does that Bobby Trane have a dog?"
Me: "Yes. He kind of adopts this ranch dog who wasn't eating and was depressed because his master, a little girl, was missing."
Huck: "We don't call you 'masters.'"
Me: "What do you call us?"
Huck: Depends on the person.
Me: "What do you call me?"
Huck: "You don't want to know. But back to the book. Does this dog have a name?"

Me: "Yes. Stanley."
Huck: "You realize we have a Stanley dog in our house?"
Me: "Our house? You paying rent now?"
Huck: "Don't change the subject."
Me: "Yes, I'm very well aware we have a Stanley in this house."
Huck: "And is there another dog in that book, perhaps named Huckleberry?"
Me: "No."
Huck: "Why not?"
Me: "Frankly, you have not earned literary status yet. Stanley has."

Huck: "What does he do that I don't?"
Me: "It's more about what you do that he doesn't do?'
Huck: "Such as?"
Me: "You eat poop. He doesn't."
Huck: "Oh, like you've never eaten poop?"
Me: "Nope."
Huck: "Wish we could all be as perfect as you, Prince boy. What else do I do that you find so objectionable?"

Me: "You take off running throughout the neighborhood whenever you get the chance and don't come back when we call you."
Huck: "Oh, so when Thomas Jefferson wants freedom it's a good thing, but when ol' Huckleberry wants a little hair-of-the-dog I'm the bad guy?"
Me: "Just looking out for you so you don't get run over."
Huck: "Anything else I do?"
Me: "You drool excessively while watching us eat. It's pretty gross."
Huck: "So I have over-active salivary glands. Sue me."

Me: "Don't get me wrong, we love you even with your flaws. It's somewhat endearing."
Huck: "But not endearing enough to get me in the book."
Me: "Frankly, there wasn't a role for another dog. Tell you what, I'll try to work you into a book in the future."
Huck: "Like Stanley? Rescuing people and being all Lassie-like? You do realize how obnoxious he's been now that he's in a book? He's all nah-nah-nah and stuff."
Me: "Well, no guarantees."
Huck: "You don't sound very convincing. I'm disappointed in you."

Me: "Uff da, what is that smell?!"
Huck: "Oops, add another thing to my list."

Monday, May 4, 2015

Happy link-o-de-mayo

There's no "I" in "Haugen" but there is an "ug" and a "hug" and even a "Nuge." Here's some of all that:

*** Erotic book about Rob Gronkowski leads to a lawsuit to remember.

*** How cool is this?! Mark Twain as a San Francisco journalist – read the long-lost stories.

*** When bravado does battle with the brain, the brain will win. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not as tough as he thinks, from TIME.

*** This is kind of a cool idea. A tool library is opening in Minneapolis.

*** Hitler commits suicide. Or he escaped and lived the rest of his life in Argentina.

*** If you can't wait for the e-book version on May 9, you can get the paperback version of Runaway Trane here NOW.

*** Out of respect for the deceased I won't make any compost jokes here, but you know it's killing me not to.

*** Be warned here, if you aren't into Ted Nugent's politics and are too immature to handle reading an opinion perhaps contrary to your own, still click on this story but skip down to The Nuge's 8 rules for success for boys. Pretty tough to argue with any of them.

*** As far as jogging companions go, Stanley has nothing to worry about from me regarding this robot, but it is pretty cool.

*** This is pretty good. Dog shows baby how to crawl. Dogs rock.

*** And a reminder that Saturday is National Train Day. And you know what that means!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Finished: Lee Child's 'A Wanted Man'

You can't go wrong with a Jack Reacher novel. It's as simple as that. This is the 17th novel in the series.

Even one of the lesser ones, like I consider this one, is better than most other books. Kind of like the old saying that a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at work.

I also enjoyed the short story added at the end called "Deep Down" which takes us back to Jack Reacher in the Army. Pretty cool. You see more authors doing that, adding little extra's and P.S.s, like  a certain author of the novel "Runaway Trane" did as well.

According to Goodreads:
All Reacher wanted was a ride to Virginia. All he did was stick out his thumb. But he soon discovers he has hitched more than a ride. He has tied himself to a massive conspiracy that makes him a threat— to both sides at once.
Goodreads readers give it 3.96 out of 5. Amazon a 4 of 5. The Haugenometer hits it at a 6+.

And remember Reacher's rule: When in doubt, turn left.

Monday, April 20, 2015


If you are a fan of The Vikings television series on History Channel, you know that King Ragnar has infuriated many of his pagan followers by recently getting baptized into Christianity.

Well, here's the opposite happening now in Iceland.
The degree of religiosity among the (pagan) church’s denizens, however, is a matter of debate. “I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,” Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, a high priest of the Norse god religious church, Asatruarfelagio, told Reuters. “We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”
** The AP says, playwright Tom Stoppard said he will accept PEN's highest award next month in New York to help put a spotlight on a "frightening time" for free expression.

** So if you combine Air Force veteran, Playboy model and goofs walking on the U.S. flag, you'll get this story.

** Because I'm a murder mystery, crime lit, mass murderer aficionado, I found this little tidbit interesting and troubling.
The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.
** Stumbled across this website and think I'm going to like it. A lot.
Dallas Mildenhall used obscure science to crack cases all over the world. Then a murder took place in his own backyard.
** Odds are your kid is going to be okay.
Kids are dying less often. They’re getting hit by cars less often. And they’re going missing less frequently, too. The likelihood of any of these scenarios is both historically low and infinitesimally small.
** So, writer Frederic Morton has died at age 90. Morton wrote 12 books including "The Rothschilds" and "A Nervous Splendor," both of them National Book Award finalists. Here's his brief, but interesting, Wiki page.

** Baseball fans, check it out: Fastballs, fastballs, fastballs.

** And, yeah, this will knock your socks off.

** And, just so you know you're not alone, thinking you're the only loser who reads this goofy blog, it went over 1,000 views in the last 30 days. That's a new record. Yeah, Drudge isn't trembling, but sometimes it's comforting to know there are others who suffer from your same malady. A misery loves company kid of thing. Carry on.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Get smashed

If you are an avid reader of the e-book variety, one of the cooler websites out there is It's filled with books from independent authors, many of whom have gone on to be best-sellers, as well as other shlubs like me.

There's no registration cost, tons of variety and you don't get those annoying emails filling up your mailbox every week. So far they have over 350,000 books published, with over 50,000 of them free.

They run the gamut from “how to” books on business to compilations of poetry to vampire erotica and regular old mysteries and romance. The talent level runs the gamut as well, just like at Amazon, with some authors better than others.

As for me, I use it for business and pleasure. I distribute my e-book versions there because of its ease of use, and the fact that they then convert my books and distribute them to Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony and several other book sites and libraries. So in addition to being available for sale on Smashwords, they are made available everywhere else, except Amazon, though you can download it to a Kindle at Smashwords. It distributes in all formats, even just to read on your laptop. Pretty slick, and it's worked well for my needs. Another feature I like is that the author sets the price and gets a much-higher royalty than at the big stores.

I’ve sold hundreds of books there, with almost 4,000 downloads of my e-books and free short stories. So Stephen King and John Grisham aren’t losing sleep about ol’ Haugen cutting into their business, but it’s also not like I threw a party and nobody showed up. Also, that’s just on Smashwords and doesn’t include Amazon and Kindle and direct sales to drunks at the Hermosa Bar.

The site was started by a dude named Mark Coker in 2008. I got on board in 2011. It's well worth checking out and it has a default "safe search" if you don't want to be caught looking at book covers of werewolves in thong bikinis and such. (You don't have that problem with my books ... yet.) And if you want to be able to look at the more risque romance novels, you can turn the safe-search option off, or so I hear. Check it out.

From Wiki:
Coker, a former Silicon Valley publicist, started Smashwords in 2008 with the lofty goal of using technology to democratize publishing - allowing writers to appeal directly to readers without having to deal with gatekeepers such as agents and editors.
In keeping with this mission, Smashwords applies no editorial screening. The only e-books Coker refuses to distribute are ones that contain plagiarism, illegal content or incitement to racism, homophobia or violence.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Meet the band

Here's the cast of characters you'll get to know a whole lot better if you read my new novel Runaway Train:

Bobby Trane - A talented boxer in his youth, he's a fan of paperback Westerns and a devout preacher. But after 10 years serving congregations in Montana, Father Bobby grows frustrated with their inattention and his inability to see any tangible results of his preaching. So he leaves, wants to meet the sinners on their turf and minister to people who might never step foot in a church.

Momma Badlow - Vivian is the queen bee of a Satanic cult that would like to make Buffalo Gap their compound. She's accused of burning churches, welfare fraud, killing dogs and makes a living selling drugs.

B.B. Badlow - Vivian's adult son is addicted to teeth whitening, but that's his only virtue.

Jupiter Badlow - Vivian's beautiful, but nasty, adult daughter is so unBadlow-like in appearance that it's suspected she was stolen at birth. She has "more curves than the Norbeck Scenic Highway" but unfortunately "she was about as well traveled upon."

Tracy Jordan - She moved to Buffalo Gap with her husband and bought the local bar with high hopes of hosting wedding receptions, dances and a nice bar. But then the town went to hell and her teacher husband is doing time for manslaughter after killing a kid in a traffic accident after one beer too many after school.

Mudflap McGee - Semi-retired from a local outlaw motorcycle gang, his home often hosts his brothers. He's old, still chiseled from his year's lifting weights in prison, and drinks enough to help Tracy make her house payment. He's questionable.

Ed Flair - A local rancher, he gets off on the wrong foot with Bobby. He's had a tough go of it, losing his wife to cancer and his daughter gone missing for a year. He suspects kidnapping. Some rain would help his mood too.

Faye Flair - Ed's missing daughter is being held captive with two other girls, cooking meth in an underground bunker for somebody somewhere. She's the glue holding the girls together.

Stanley - Only the greatest dog in the world, with an eerie resemblance to my dog. He's Faye's dog and still waits every day at the end of the driveway for the school bus that never stops anymore. He's hobbled by a blow he took defending her, barely eats, but is nursed back to health by Bobby, and does a mean Lassie impersonation.

Fathers Tyler and Simon - Two priests of opposite personalities, they are on the secret POWA team assigned by the Bishop to find Bobby, the Priest Out Wandering Around. Both coming off tough assignments, one in Iraq, the other on a reservation, they use the POWA duties to wind down; but trying to find Bobby is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But they try, from the oil fields to the Sturgis Rally. He's not helping them unwind.

All these folks interact with some other doozies, and I think you'll enjoy them all.

The paperback version is available now. You can buy it here. You know you want to.

Friday, April 3, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: 'Runaway Trane' available today!

Here ya go, just birthed my fourth novel, Runaway Trane, and it's available now in paperback at Amazon.

The book is 370 pages, but don't let the length scare you because it contains two novels. More bang for your 13 bucks and change! As I can't seem to do anything the normal way, let me explain. The newbie, Runaway Trane, is about 39,000 words (170 pages). It is followed by Zoo Falls, about 41,000 words (190 pages), which had only been available in e-book form the last couple years. Some of my friends in the timber industry here complained that it wasn't in the dead-tree format, so I included it in this book; because I always try to make the customer happy, especially when they are bigger and hairier than me. (As proof I'm not the only goofball to do things this way, I'm currently reading a paperback "Three Famous Short Novels" by William Faulkner. If it's good enough for Bill, it's good enough for me.

So as of today, Runaway Trane is available only in paperback form and only at Amazon. I will let you know as it becomes available in other outlets.

As for the e-book format, that will be available for pre-order very soon and you will be able to do that at the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords sites for every type of hand-held device you may possibly own. It's good to pre-order and you won't be billed until it downloads on May 9. Why May 9, you ask? Because it's National Train Day, of course! (Even though they spell it wrong).

So here's a bit about Runaway Trane. It won't make you any smarter, but it will make you smile. Buy it now!
Bobby Trane surprises his Montana church one Sunday by not showing up. That's usually not a big deal, except when you're the priest. 
Tired of blank faces, know-it-alls, complainers and cell phones ringing during his sermons, Bobby follows the lead of a mysterious letter he receives and takes off to save the world and meet the sinners on their turf. He is guided to the tiny South Dakota town of Buffalo Gap where sinning is aplenty. With a den of drug-dealing Satanists on one side of town, an outlaw motorcycle gang on the other side, and a pretty, young bar owner trying to make ends meet in the middle, Bobby falls hot on the trail of a local ranch girl who's been missing for almost a year. 
Meanwhile Bobby's boss dispatches the church's secret POWA team that specializes in finding Priests Out Wandering Around. Fathers Tyler and Simon venture into the most sinful places they guess Bobby may have gone. From the oil fields of North Dakota to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally they encounter all kinds of sinners and saviors, but none named Bobby Trane. The POWA duo's search mission turns into a rescue mission as they try to find Bobby before the town (and Bobby) go up in smoke.
While Bobby talks a tough parable, he also packs a mean punch -- just ask the local drug dealers. He vows not to leave Buffalo Gap until the missing girl is reunited with her father and the town with no churches or dogs finally has at least one of each.
Get it here. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The back story on the front cover

I've been intrigued for some time about the value of book covers, especially as I was noodling ideas for my own.

I asked all my book-reading friends and few, if any, ever bought a book because of it's cover. Sure, you might pass on one if it was totally unprofessional, done in crayon, or smeared with fish blood. We have our standards.

But most buy their books based on recommendations from friends, a snappy summary on the back cover or inside jacket, or they buy one because it's the latest effort by one of their favorite authors.

What I've been wanting to do for a long time is to make book covers look like old album covers or CDs. They seem to have fewer rules, especially my man Prince. He's as unconventional as they come and inventive in his covers and even in the distribution of his music.

So one day a few years back I ran across an album by the Black Keys and it was so cool and weird and dumb that I said to myself: "Self, you need to steal this idea for your next book cover." So I did, as you'll see.

Of course, I had my doubts about going against conventional wisdom. As the title of my soon-to-be-released book is "Runaway Trane" (a play of words off the main character's name, Bobby Trane), I scrolled through image catalogs of trains, railroad road tracks, cabooses, train crossing signs, nice scenic photos of trains rolling through the countryside, smoke stacks belching CO2 next to pretty trees, pretty much anything train related. I saved a couple possibilities, kept coming back to them and kept belching at them myself and decided to stick with my first gut feeling. That gut feeling being the album-cover take-off.

I ran it by a couple people, with mixed results. Decided adults are boring, I ran it by the cool kids. I showed it to my 17-year-old boy. He started to laugh, but then stifled it as it dawned on him that it might not be the reaction I was looking for. But it WAS. So that cemented my decision, sent it to my designer, and she fiddled with it, even though it was so simplistic it probably was something she learned in kindergarten Photoshop class.

Then last week Harper Lee released the cover of her much ballyhooed new novel. And guess what it it is: A train traveling down railroad tracks by a big oak tree. Not that anyone would've ever confused Harper Lee with Mark Haugen, but I did think it would look pretty stupid if I came out two weeks later with a train on the tracks going past a tree. "Real clever, Haugen," I could hear all three of my fans saying.

So I sent a note to graphic designer Hayley, told her about the Harper Lee cover, and said how glad I was we didn't go with the serious, adult, industry-standard cover I'd briefly considered.

 And she replied: "Your cover is going to be clean, RED and fabulous, Mark." So there ya go. Hope you agree, or at least laugh:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Finished: Koontz's 'Saint Odd'

This was the seventh and last of Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series. Reading the novel, while knowing that, was like reading a person's obituary.

The trouble with series is that the author usually has to restate things from previous books, assuming there's always some goofball out there who starts with the most recent book instead of starting at the beginning of the series.

Koontz does a great job of managing that background while introducing clever new characters. He is my favorite living author, showcasing a versatility you don't see in many of the most prolific writers. I've always thought it's tougher to write an original novel now than it was 100 years ago, and tougher next year than last year, simply because the plots have been taken, the mysteries have been solved, and there are only so many ways to kill a person or make them interesting. But Koontz does.

I gave it a 7-plus on the Haugenometer. Goodreaders gave it a high 4.13 of 5, and Amazonians a 4.4 of 5. So I was even low by their standards, where you don't see many 4s.

And Odd always has great lines appropriate to our day:

"Everything barbarians do is nothing, no matter how loudly they insist it's something."

"I never knew if I was drawn to eccentric people or if they were drawn to me."

"Free will. The thing that makes life worth living in spite of all the anguish it brings."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Link Omanda

For some reason, a post I did a couple years ago about the "lying eyes" of Amanda Knox gets more hits than anything else every week on this dopey little website. Lots more. Like ten times more.

So I'm more than happy to see another link-baiting possibility with this story on a new book coming out about the whole spectacle. Just to be clear, this post includes Amanda Knox, sex, rape, murder, Italy, and just for click insurance, even though it doesn't: Kim Kardashian.
There were even rumors that a student serial killer was on the loose. Like any story that lures the press, Ms. Kercher’s murder at face value was enough to rally the troops. 
Then, everything changed with the arrest of Ms. Kercher’s American roommate Amanda Knox. From the moment Ms. Knox was arrested, along with her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, the media scrum turned into a full blown circus, fed by what, at times, seemed like the audible sound of website clicks as we, the press, fleshed out the new version of the story.
Of all the strange twists in this saga, one of the oddest to me is her current employer. Amanda Knox has been deemed guilty of rape and murder and sentenced to 28 years in prison. She refuses to return to Italy to serve the time (I get that; I wouldn't either). So what is she qualified to do for employment in the U.S.? Oh, yeah, let's hire her as a journalist. Yep, she's working for a Seattle newspaper. Must be part of their Hire a Convicted Felon on the Run Program.

UPDATE: I wrote this post last night and then lo and behold today came the news that Knox was acquitted by Italy's high court. Go figure. I go back and forth on her guilt or innocence and probably, from what I've followed, wouldn't have been able to vote to convict. But I still have my doubts about her innocence and probably wouldn't hire her at my newspaper or want her rooming with my daughter.

Here are some other stories I better link to before they get whacked by breaking news:

*** Don't let facts get in the way of an agenda. U of M prof calls BS on cow book.
My experience shows me that the real truth is that dairy farmers care deeply about their cows. The care of cows is very good and gets better all the time. The milk produced is the safest, most regulated and inspected and wholesome food we consume.
*** Why the war on cancer hasn't been won. Good story.
"The war on cancer will not be won in one dramatic battle, it will be a series of skirmishes."
*** Don't buy any ripe bananas. The end is near.
Physicists predict the universe is primed for a “cosmological collapse” that will cause the universe to stop expanding at its current rate and ultimately collapse in on itself to wipe away all known matter.
*** Reading is hard. Calling people racist is easy.
Unfortunately what gets missed in the fun game of “You’re a racist for disagreeing with me!” is a discussion about how much people should be forced to subsidize the lives of others, whether entitlement programs that disincentivize labor are healthy for individuals or society, whether the explosive growth of disability rolls can be sustained and so on and so forth.
*** Cover design unveiled for Harper Lee's new novel. It's a tree. A moody tree. And we all go: "ooh, ahh."

*** Ellen Conford, an award-winning children's writer, has died.

*** The most anticipated books of Spring 2015, besides Runaway Trane.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Deep thoughts from a shallow pool

The subhead to this fine blog "There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Haugen way" is from my father, who was primarily an English teacher, among other classes.

When a student would try to stump him or argue with him about the correct usage of a word or phrase or anything, and it seemed Dad might be on the losing end of the battle, he would spout that phrase and add: "In this classroom, it's the Haugen way."

It's pretty much served as the mantra of my life. I saw it phrased differently in a Donald Westlake novel I read recently where a character said: "Break other people's rules if you want, but never break your own."

I mention that because over the course of the last 10-15 years I've been able to do my own writing without obnoxious, bossy editors referring to stylebooks and dictionaries and correct usage. I can resort to the Haugen way.

In publishing books, like my new one coming out soon, it's the same way. You can read countless articles about how long or short chapters should be, how long or short a novel should be, how many characters you should introduce, how the story arc should go, etc. A recent one I saw said if you are writing a murder mystery, you need to have a dead body within the first 30 pages. Another said 100.

If it's a writer I respect, I read their suggestions. If it's some blogger or agent or other person "in the biz" I pass. I stick with the Haugen way. When it comes to length of chapters or book, I go back to something I heard long ago regarding newspaper reporting and how long the story should be (in the days before USA Today bastardized the business) and that's: Start at the beginning and end when you're done. Seems logical.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Finished: 'The Comedy is Finished'

I finished Donald Westlake's aptly-named novel The Comedy is Finished. It's aptly named because it was the final novel he wrote before passing away.

It was not your typical Westlake novel. It was great, but different. He usually offers some slapstick humor, odd characters and clever twists. He's usually light-hearted. This was darker. It had a lot more sex and much more bloody murder. When it comes to sex and murder in a mystery, count me in. I'll be at the front of the parade waving the baton. But it was out of the norm for The Don, as I and other friends call him.

This was also a thinker. When I finished the book, I turned off the television and pondered the ending in silence. It was that good.

The other thing about this book that made it stand out in my mind is the cover. I think I'll write another post about this, but I've been thinking about book covers lately. I decided I've never purchased a book because of it's cover. I've bought them because of recommendations from friend, because they're by a certain author, or I've heard mention of them in other media.

But this one, I bought because of the cover! Technically, I was looking through 20 Westlake books, trying to decide which one to buy and this cover caught my eye, because, well who doesn't like a gal in sunglasses? So I bought it. You should too.

I'm giving it a 7-plus on the Haugenometer. Amazon gave it a lower 3.2 out of 5 (and I'll grant that the middle part was a little dry, but I also think some of that lower rating is because it's not what Westlake fans were expecting). Goodreads gives it a 3.54 out of 5.

Goodreads summarizes:
The year is 1977, and America is finally getting over the nightmares of Watergate and Vietnam and the national hangover that was the 1960s. But not everyone is ready to let it go. 
Not aging comedian Koo Davis, friend to generals and presidents and veteran of countless USO tours to buck up American troops in the field. And not the five remaining members of the self-proclaimed People's Revolutionary Army, who've decided that kidnapping Koo Davis would be the perfect way to bring their cause back to life...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday 81-degree-link-o

For those of you who like short link-o-ramas:

*** Never read this dude, but know some who have and sounds like he rocked it.
Fantasy author Terry Pratchett, whose Discworld series delighted fans with liberal doses of imaginative storytelling and off-beat humor, has died at age 66.
*** The twisted history of your fave board game: Monopoly.
An interview with Mary Pilon about her new book, ‘The Monopolists,’ which uncovers the real story about how Monopoly became the game it is today.
*** Disney makes $1 billion bet on a magic wristband.
If you want to imagine how the world will look in just a few years, once our cell phones become the keepers of both our money and identity, skip Silicon Valley and book a ticket to Orlando. Go to Disney World. Then, reserve a meal at a restaurant called Be Our Guest, using the Disney World app to order your food in advance.

Friday, March 6, 2015

My fave characters ...

I was thinking of whom my favorite pulp characters are and found it's mighty tough to start ranking them in order. Of the top 20 I put together, they all have their strengths. If they were fish, there's not a one of them I would throw back if they landed in my boat. Then again, with my fishing prowess, I never would have caught them in the first place.

My top 20 fictional action characters from a recurring series are ... envelope please:

Jack Reacher - Veteran (Lee Child)

Odd Thomas - Fry cook (Dean Koontz)

Virgil Flowers - Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension (John Sandford)

Gabriel Allon - Mossad (Daniel Silva)

Bob Lee Swagger - Former Marine (Stephen Hunter)

Matthew Scudder - PI (Lawrence Block)

John Dortmunder - Thief (Donald Westlake)

Lucas Davenport - Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension (John Sandford)

Alex Hawke - MI6 (Ted Bell)

Serge Storms - Homicidal maniac (Tim Dorsey)

Alex Cross - Psychologist (James Patterson)

Stephanie Plum - Bail bondsman (Janet Evanovich)

Evan Tanner - Adventurer (Lawrence Block)

Deucalion - Monster (Dean Koontz)

Spenser - Detective (Robert B. Parker)

Alex Delaware - Child psychologist (Jonathan Kellerman)

Bernie Rhodenbarr - Burglar (Lawrence Block)

Parker - Thief (Richard Stark/Donald Westlake)

Mitch Rapp - CIA (Vince Flynn)

Jack Ryan - CIA (Tom Clancy)

   Honorable mention:
Keller - Hitman (Lawrence Block)
Peter Decker - Detective (Faye Kellerman)
Jesse Stone - Police chief (Robert B. Parker)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Finished: Ted Bell's 'Warriors'

Took me a while to finish this almost-500-pager, but all was good with Alex Hawke and his Warriors.
Dashing counterspy Alex Hawke must rescue a kidnapped American scientist as the United States and China move dangerously close to all-out nuclear war in this adrenaline-fueled thriller in the New York Times bestselling series that combines the hallmarks of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming, and Daniel Silva.
The Amazonians give it a 3.9 out of 5. Goodreads about matches that with a 3.87. The Haugenometer puts it at a relatively high 7-.

The one thing that stuck out to me more in this novel than in other Hawke novels is how stereotypical Bell's characters are. Sure, you have Hawke being the rich Brit and Stokely the big, tough black guy; and Fancha, his hot rap pop diva; but then there's Froggy the Frenchman, Chief Rainman the Native American, and Brock the CIA guy and the Chinese Ninja's. There's not a stereotype that gets challenged. Oh, well, sometimes the characters don't need to surprise you if the plot does.

I realize I'm not glowing over this novel despite giving it a good rating. I really did enjoy the book, it's just that the character thing bugged me a bit. They were good, just not interesting in and off themselves.

Quote I liked about Hawke: "It's said he was good at war. Maybe it was because he was so inordinately fond of peace." Seems I've heard something along those lines before, but can't place it.

And the book also spurred me to do some reading about Seneca, the first century philosopher. Pretty interesting stuff if you're into the whole Caligula, Claudius, Nero thing.

And it also spurred me to order Truman Capote's true-crime book, In Cold Blood. Stay tuned for that one.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday's Link-O-Rama

I found these interesting and see no reason why you won't:

*** Don't take political correctness lying down.
So there I am, never smoked in my life, just minding my own business trying to get treated for the flu, and the Smoke Nazi is pontificating to me about my father’s perhaps suboptimal health choices when he gave up cigarettes in 1962, two years before the Surgeon General’s Report about it, when I was seven. Hence the dilemma that always arises in these situations: do you let this stuff slide or call the guy on it?
*** An interesting theory on: Were Those Really the Gold Old Days? Why 'New' Old Art is More Popular Than New New Art.
I suspect that for all its seeming popularity — as measured by such indexes as museum attendance — there is a continuing and pervasive unease with modern art among the public at large, a sinking feeling that no matter how much time they spend looking, reading or listening, they’ll never quite get the hang of it. As a result, they feel a powerful longing for “new” work by artists of the past.
*** This is pretty funny, especially if you hate meetings. I can't remember who said it, but I agree, that any meeting longer than 20 minutes is a waste of time. Might have to try some of these: 10 Tricks to Appear Smarter in Meetings.

*** As a former bowling columnist (don't laugh), I only wish this had happened during my tenure. Boston-area amateur bowler Hakim Emmanuel notches 27th perfect 900 series on record. Impressive.

*** Somebody actually FOIA'd Scott Walker's communication with God. People are funny.

*** Joe Theismann's letter to his younger self. Good stuff from the Notre Dame grad.

*** Check out charming and unusual bookstores from around the galaxy.

*** Kid Rock has a new album out. So all is well in the world.

*** The photo shoot that broke up Van Halen.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A McCutchens McUpdate

I tweeted on this last week and I assume everybody follows every link I tweet. If not, I provided the link again.

This guy has a different take on Andrew McCutchens' essay about how difficult it is for young black baseball players to get noticed. And makes some good points.
This is the crux of McCutchen's argument. That there is no other option other than expensive travel teams. That you can't get noticed, you can't get anywhere without these traveling teams. That's simply not true. Frankly, it's silly.
The guy (who doesn't blog with a name so I call him "the guy") says players don't have to be on expensive travelling teams to get noticed. Basically, strike batters out or hit the ball and you'll get noticed.
Do you know what gets you noticed? An extraordinary amount of God given talent and hard work. There's no other way. There's no magical shortcut. Talent. Hard work.