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!