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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Suggestions For Your Holiday Gift List

Gift giving time. You might consider sending some Attwood fiction. Amazon makes it easy to give these works to someone on your holiday list. For ebooks, you just need an email address; for paperbacks, a mailing address. Here's the cover of each work, along with one review that might tempt you grab a read yourself and/or gift someone.

Crazy About You
Having spent my formative years in Larned, Kansas, and also having worked briefly at the state mental hospital there, I can tell you that Attwood's descriptions of life at the state hospital are totally spot-on! The story line is also good--but I won't spoil it for anyone. Funny, sad, poignant. And suspenseful! All of the elements of a well-written book. I would recommend this book to anyone, Larnedite or not!

Attwood's done it again with a knife-edge ride on a political snowball thundering downhill at high speed. It's the story of a decent-enough guy scraping his living together who finally reaches the breaking point over the ever-escalating price of fuel. His pockets are so regularly plundered by Big Oil, which, in a flash of clarity, he devises a way to get back at them and make some money along the way. His allies are the unlikeliest "think tank" you could imagine. Sarcasm drips from these pages in wide, viscous streams. Like all of Mr. Attwood's other political writing, you're laughing out loud at the moment you begin to understand he's making a point here. SPILL is a must-read for anyone who has had it with the lobby-spin that is running out lives and the self-righteous pols who reap its rewards. If we're not laughing, we're crying, so we might as well laugh. And think.

Randy asked if I could assign a genre to The 41st Sermon, but honestly, I can't think of any genre it fits into neatly. There is a bit of mild erotica, there are definitely lots of different themes - finding yourself, redemption, finding faith, learning what life is all about - but none that relates itself to a specific genre other than general fiction. I really liked the book, though - it had a lot of good things to say, and I thought the story was one in which many people could find enjoyment, once they get past feeling shocked about some of the issues that come up. I warn that you need to be open-minded about the story, but if you are willing to do so, you should find something in here to love. Check it out!

is an intoxicating tale of circumstance and choice. A harrowing abduction by Hezbollah militants leaves Phil McGuire disillusioned with his journalism career, he searches for comfort in the place he once felt safe. Back home, he molds his dream of owning a bar into a tangible reality. His bare hands work old damaged wood as they knead the sorrow out of his soul. Fate is a whimsical mistress, and he soon finds himself under the spell of his reporters' instincts when bodies turn up and the CIA starts sniffing around a quiet little town in Kansas. Atmospheric and philosophical, Tortured Truths is a skillfully written journey into a wounded mind searching for peace. A thoughtful commentary on power and corruption, and an asset to any library.

Attwood lavishly, with great respect, brings forth the mystical Navajo legends and thought and brilliantly entwines mystery and suspense with a twist of Native American history unknown to most....The written words in Heart Chants flow with ease keeping the reader always turning one more page seeking the treasures and secrets each offers. Attwood has an flawless ability to create characters that capture the reader's exciting novel that is in my opinion arguably one of the best releases of the New Year. Heart Chants is an impeccably written novel with a truly unique plot that is a must read.

Ironically, I read Rabbletown between Good Friday and Easter. The book projected the reader into a future world of Evangelical Fundamentalism morphed into a neo-Fascist world government. The author retraces an all-too familiar tale, yet in a style and context that holds the reader and keeps the pages turning. One is left in the grasp, along with the well-defined characters of this tale . . . of those sanctimonious hypocrites who use religion to gain power, wealth, influence and control over others who believe in them, as a matter of simple "faith." 

If you were alive during the late 1960s, then you will totally relate to this story. If you were not, chances are you have heard about the 60s all your life, most likely from your own parents, maybe grandparents. Well, here's your chance to immerse yourself into the world of the late 1960s, on one of the most beautiful and respected college campuses in the nation--the Kansas University at Lawrence, Kansas. Yet, Then and Now is not unique to KU, but typical of the social revolution that took the youth of this country, and around the world, to challenge and defy the "man" . . . government of all forms. As a heady blend of drugs, acid, jazz, rock & roll, sex, the draft, Vietnam, and many other issues compelled them into the ubiquitous search for "it." 

After reading the first two paragraphs of this book I wanted to stop because I knew it would be disturbing. I continued reading because I've looked at my neighbors' homes and thought about the possibility that they're hiding terrible secrets in their basements and attics and no one will ever know. Apparently, Randy Attwood has also. Thought about it, I mean. I hope. The plot in Blow Up the Roses is clear and easy to follow, the setting painted a vivid picture in my mind - as I read, I could see the characters. The subject is cringe-worthy but the author's skill in telling a story is worth the read.

The human mind can be very curious, weird, and often bizarre. Get ready for a roller coaster ride inside Randy Attwood's mind! A gifted storyteller, who never fails to engage the reader with stunning characters, situations, and stories--Attwood delivers again in Very Quirky Tales. This collection of short stories ranges from a young punkster woman who transmits radio signals from all her pierced metal contacts in "Tell Us Everything"; to a surreal self-encounter in "It was me"; and the amazingly shocking mind-bending psycho-thriller--"The Notebook"; plus the final three stories--all lock in the reader and hold tight. My favorite was the novella, "A Match Made In Heaven" a tale of Android love that stretches the mind and imagination to realize the future world, or worlds . . . that may await us . . . HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

I'm an older gentleman living out in the boonies, so sometimes I forget that the world has seemingly sped up, even as I've slowed down. Having said that, this book felt like a dust storm packed in a tornado and wrapped in a hurricane. And I say that in the most flattering way. Attwood (this is my first experience with this author, and I'm pleased to say a surprisingly delightful one) manages to include so much back story in such a short space that I couldn't help but feel a bit rushed...and yet it didn't feel rushed. It was well constructed. The story itself was such a delight to discover. One More Victim left me breathless.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Great Shouts, Starting with "Stop the Presses!"

At a newspaper where I once worked, I had the occasion to run into the pressroom and yell “Stop the presses!” The effect was immediate. Ink-smudged men, who before had barely grunted an acknowledgment of my existence as night editor, scrambled. Buttons were pushed. The roaring noise of the press subsided. The run of papers through the Goss machinery had just begun so we did not lose too much money by pulling one of the plates and to correct a gross error (mine) in a headline that would have made us the laughing stock of the town.
Ever since, I have ruminated on the event, remembering how the phrase “Stop the presses!” had by itself bellowed with magnificent authority from my own terrified lungs. More remarkably, the words galvanized pressmen into immediate requisite action. I realized they reacted not because of any authority I possessed, though in editorial control, but rather the authority of the shout itself. There was no doubt about it. “Stop the presses!” was a Great Shout. I had discovered a new linguistic category.
Great Shouts share will all shouts a right-now urgency about them. But regular shouts are mere visceral reactions. “Ouch!” “Hey!” “Don’t!” or “Big dummy!” and “Yo momma!” are shouts that can be yelled with effect in certain situations, but a Great Shout is a specific phrase voiced in the particular situation that demands it be shouted so that the moment is described and requisite reaction understood. “Stop the presses!”
“Fire in the hole!” is perhaps the greatest of the Great Shouts. It relates the essence of the situation and leaves it to you to assess that situation and decide within the next second or three, how you should react.
“Timberrr!” is likewise a Great Shout. If you are in the woods and hear it with enough volume to know t may affect your actions in the next few seconds, you will cast your glance rapidly around you. “Timberrr!” shows the economy with words Great Shouts possess. A kind of genius, really. It’s pretty easy to imagine how “Stop the presses!” originated. Two editors probably looked at each other and said, with shock showing in their eyes, “My God, Fred, we’ve got to stop the presses.” They probably marched back to the press room, found the foreman, and -- with presses roaring n the background -- each issue coming off adding to their sweat -- said to that foreman bending his ear close to understand what they were saying, “Bob, we’ve got to stop the presses.” Bob probably said, “What?” At which point one or both of the editors yelled at the top of their lungs, “Stop the presses!”
How did “Timberrr!” arise? “Tree about to fall!” must have died an early death. “Falling tree!” is beneath the dignity of any lumberjack. Some spark of insight realized that the act of cutting the tree, its falling to earth, was making it into timber and so the new Great Shout rang forth in the forests.
“Timberrr!” is in the warning category of Great Shouts. I don’t think “Heads up!” is a Great Shout, although when yelled by a gym teacher will bring attention from his young charges. War, however, has given us some forceful warning Great Shouts. “Hit the deck!” for example. But since economy of words is the hallmark of a Great Shout, “Incoming!” from the Vietnam War is a beaut. It really says it all. You can’t beat “Dive! Dive!” when accompanied by klaxons for romance, although “Bogey at three o’clock!” isn’t bad. Perhaps the oldest Great Shout from war is simply “Charge!” And it will still give order and direction to a gang of boys in a snowball fight. “Hey Rube!” accomplished the same thing for circus workers.
I can’t think of any Great Shouts from the entire arena of sports, which is filled with yelling. But the yells are visceral, reactions of the diaphragm to actions on the field. Baseball has many great silences, for example when you wait to see if a ball will make it out of the park. “Going! Going! Gone!” may be an apt descriptive shout, but not a Great Shout. Linebackers do have “Draw! Draw!” and “Pass! Pass!” they shout at each other, but those lack pungency of situation.
By pungency of situation I mean, for example, if you were on board a ship and heard “Man overboard!” you would help pass the cry forward to the helm. “Thar she blows!” culminated days and weeks of searching. Then after months on the water, “Land ho!” must have been a beautiful Great Shout to hear. Great Shouts cut through the essence of communication.
Yes, the publisher the next day had some of his shouts for me for having to stop the presses, none of which I judged to be great.

I concentrate more on fiction these days. Here's that smorgasbord.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How To Be A Column Writer

For the 16 years I worked in newspaper journalism in addition to reporting, editing, writing editorials, and managing staff, I wrote a column at least once a week. I've been revisiting some of the columns and thought I'd share some of them here.

– Never lie. In print.
– It's okay not to know what you're writing about as long as you don't know about it in an interesting way.
– The longer the column, the greater the number of important sentences it must contain, and not only do column writers not have a great number of important sentences in their heads, readers can't deal with too many of them anyway.
– The hardest thing to attain in a column is your own individual voice: try to force it and it cracks; fail to search for it in every sentence and it disappears.
– Truth, that bastard child of reality and perception, shines brightest unadorned.
– When all else fails, do satire, and then repent.
– Political columnists have it easy, they only have to write with their heads. But when intellect takes over prose, prose loses is poetry.
– Comic columnists are fun to read, but comedy reaches truth only through the door of dark cynicism.
– The sources of inspiration are too fragile to explain; leave them alone.
– Love thy neighbor for his foibles; they give you something to write about.
– Gather criticism and compliments in the same crucible of skepticism.
– A column that disturbs no one has no mark to hit; a column that disturbs everyone has missed the mark.
– Learn the columnist's prayer: "God, grant me the courage to complain about that which I cannot change."
– Learn the columnist's confession: "God, forgive me for complaining so much."
– Learn to write aphorisms; they'll get you through another day.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Golf, the Supreme Sport

This is the newspaper column I wrote that led me to compose the fiction short story Downswing.

Golf, of course, is the supreme sport. I use sport here in the truest sense of the word. More people may watch baseball or football. Youth baseball and beer-belly, adult softball may its legions. More sweat may be produced on the tennis courts. Golf shines as the pinnacle of sports and self-involvement.
In the first place, a normal physique is more than adequate for the game. To play football, you have to be bear. To mash home runs you need forearms the size of Easter hams. But, even the most svelte of forms can learn to knock the golf ball a respectable distance. The over-muscled and large-sized man who tries to use his force alone to crush the golf ball will find it dribbling off the tee in mockery or whizzing in a slice lost amongst the trees.
Timing, rhythm, grace, and balance are the qualities to make a golf ball sit up and take notice. Grip the golf club too hard and you destroy the muscular fluidity golf requires. Bad shots bring tension; tension leads to more bad shots. Golf teaches the blend of mental balance and muscular control.
No other sport requires the full range of using one's muscles: from crushing a drive to tickling a delicate putt ,the small "plunk" in the hole the required sound so the previous satisfyingly crack of the drive has real meaning.
Baseball players who can knock the ball over the fence tell me that feeling is nothing compared to the glory of a long drive. "It makes you shiver all over."
Other sports require umpires and referees. The dishonest golfer suffers in his own hell: taking gimmes on putts he's not sure could make, not counting strokes he ought, playing Mulligans. There are hundreds of ways to cheat at golf, but the one who is cheated is the golfer himself. Most learn this soon. Most beginners soon find satisfaction in honestly breaking 100 on a decent course, breaking 100 with no gimmes, no Mulligans and all the penalty strokes counted.
You've seen baseball, basketball, and football players whine, cry, shout, argue with officials about penalties called. The real golfer, with only God as his witness, calls penalty strokes on himself.
In what other sport does the key point of action before a crowd bring that crowd to absolute silenced? It exemplifies that key element in golf that makes it supreme – courtesy.
Talk about your game of inches! After traversing 440 yards on a long par four, the game, the tournament, one's wits may come down to the small white ball taking one more roll to plop victoriously into the hole – or sit in abject misery at its edge.
In golf, you can play along or with friends, with strangers, or with enemies. And you learn something new about yourself – and them – every time.
Golf is a sport that will last your lifetime. You can begin it young and finish your life with it as an old man. What other sport, besides fishing, can be your lifetime companion?
Golf is a harsh but lovely mistress: lulling you, exciting you, embarrassing you.

Ben Hogan once noted that it should be perfectly possible for someone to birdie every hole, yet no pro has ever shot 18 under in a PGA tournament. Golf has no master. The best you can hope for, dream for, dedicate your life to, are those precious moments of sacred bliss when individual shots work and you are left alone in the universe with your humble glory.