Monthly Archives: June 2015

Goin’ Molein

imageMy neighbor thinks I’m nuts.

Now, when I say that, i don’t mean “My neighbor probably thinks I’m crazy, ha ha”.  And I don’t mean that it’s crazy that my neighbor would think I’m nuts.  I mean that I’ve given plenty of reasons for my neighbor, a probably-normal-in-most-ways woman in her late 20’s, every reason to believe that she’s living next to a man who has at least twice his own personal share of quirks.

I don’t intend to give her that impression.  I’m not trying to act weird around her in any way.   That’s not what’s happening at all.  It just seems that whenever our paths cross, I’m…well…possibly not showing my most sane side.

Where I live in Fayette County, when it’s night, it’s dark.  That may sound redundant, but there are no city lights to brighten the night around there.  If you drive home and pull into your drive, you may have left some outside lights on, and that helps, but it’s still not bright.  My neighbor works late shifts and is usually coming home after the sun has set.  And me, I’m outside many evenings going for a walk with Graham.  Sometimes I lead and sometimes I follow.  I’m the Alpha Male, but he’s still going to make his opinions known.  And he likes to wander over into the field past her driveway…  So when she pulls in and gets out of her car, I have to make my presence known so I don’t freak her out – and so I don’t get maced .

I used to do this by saying “hi” to her.  But that didn’t really work for some reason.  So now I try to make small talk with Graham just so she’ll hear me talking and not freak out that I’m there.  But for some reason, hearing “You ready to go in now?”, “What in the world did you get in your fur?”, or “Think it’s time for turkey?” coming from a guy she doesn’t know in the dark field doesn’t seem overly settling.

I’ve been out on the side of our lane in full daylight when she’s pulled in and waved to her from a mere few feet away and not received the slightest glance.  So I know she wants nothing to do with me.  But…last night I think I finally made the image of all images out there…

I was outside (with Graham of course), just recently being home from work.  I’d changed into a Walking Dead t-shirt, the only pair or workout pants that were clean, and a pair of old running shoes that were red from putting in mulch the day before.  Then…I finally saw the little trouble maker who’d been tearing up the yard for weeks.  A mole.  Graham and I watched him go through the mulch and out into the yard – either with no fear of us, or with a complete lack of a survival instinct.  Either way, I instantly had a healthy amount of respect for him.  Once I realived that he and Graham could be trusted near each other (Seriously, Graham wouldn’t hurt a fly.  And I mean that literally.  I’ll have to share the story that proves that one day), I went inside for the proper mole catching equipment.

Soon, after much searching, I came back out carrying a bright orange shoebox.  I know…you probably didn’t know that was the required mole huntin’ gear, did you?  That’s okay, because neither did my neighbor…

Just as I was about 5 minutes into my endeavor, crawling under a tree with my orange box, trying to convince an uncooperative mole to trust me with his relocation needs, she came out of her place dressed for a night on the town…  And Graham didn’t help by choosing that moment to walk away with a “Him?  No I don’t know him.  Never seen him before in my life” look on his face.  Have you ever seen a look of embarrassment on a cat?  Sheesh.  There I was on my own, on my knees, talking to a mole that couldn’t be seen from five feet away – let alone from across the yard – guiding a shoebox across the grass.

While I’ve never wanted to settle for being ‘normal’, I do like to think that I don’t usually come across to most people as weird.  But you should have seen how dramatically she avoided me.  And there was gravel flying as she pulled out and away…

I’ve named the mole ‘Lil Squatch’.  Both because of the huge “tracks” he’s left in the yard and, because he’s hard to spot.  My neighbor doesn’t even believe he exists.  But I’m expecting to see him again soon.  I carried the shoebox a ways away and dropped him off in an area that I think might make a good alternate home for him but, if it was within walking distance for me, it’s walking distance back for him as well.   And…I think he and Graham played and bonded while I was inside looking for my mole trap.  So the little guy will probably be back where he’s grown too comfortable seeing us.

And then I’m certain that when Graham and I are playing with him out in the yard next time, that will be the exact moment when the neighbor comes home.  And I won’t blame her as she does her best to pretend she doesn’t see us at all…

 

 

Grammatically Speaking…

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I should’ve climbed the fence to get a better shot.  Or as least gotten closer to the fence so that the chain links didn’t get in the way of what I see driving by each day.  What cracks me up is that they have multiple signs saying the same thing and only this one didn’t get “leaveing” correct…

Now let me make this clear… I’m not with the grammar police.  I’m not even a grammar narc.  I’m not the kind of person who jumps in to correct everyone when they use the wrong word in conversation, or makes a typo in an email or text message.  I completely keep it inside (and maybe die a little on the inside.  That’s all…) 🙂  But it happens.  Heck, without spell check, some sentences that I write would barely even appear to be in English.  And I have the tendency to spell some words so horribly that I completely stump spell check.  Now that’s embarrassing to see that red, squiggly line underneath a word and read “no suggestions”.

But there are some things that drive me nuts here in Fayette County.  Certain things that are completely commonplace throughout the county, and all of the people who have been calling this place home for much longer than I have just make me shudder using them.

Quotes for example…  Walking through a grocery store and seeing a sign advertising “fresh” fish for example.  I’m not a seafood kinda guy anyway, but if I was, “fresh” just wouldn’t cut it.  And, if I can’t keep my mouth shut and make a comment about (just to someone I know of course), they don’t understand my concern.  But what if I commented on their “well behaved” kids, or their “attractive” haircut?  What if I thanked them for their “intelligent” contribution to the conversation or told them their dress “doesn’t” make them look fat?  Think they might start catching on to the way those simple little marks change everything?

And made-up words, those I can handle, even if they trip me up.  They’re part of the color and charm of different areas of the country.  I had a friend from South Carolina who said ‘A’it’ when he agreed with you.  An abbreviation for ‘All right’.  The south has ‘y’all’ for ‘you all’.  But here in western PA we have ‘Yins’.  Short for ‘You Ins’ as far as I can tell.  It’s this area’s mutant cousin of ‘Y’all’.  As in – “Yins going down to Picksburg to see the game?”.  Which brings up two more issues…  Pittsburgh is north of Fayette County.  And the word Pittsburgh doesn’t have either a ‘c’ or a ‘k’ anywhere near it.  Makes me a wee bit dizzy…

Which brings me to the one that’s really been getting to me lately.  One that it seems absolutely everyone here does.  And that’s using ‘don’t’ in place of ‘doesn’t’.  As in – “He don’t have any culture”.  It’s a step up from saying “He don’t have no culture”, but not by much.  At least I can’t remember the last time I heard a sentence start with “He/She ain’t got no…”.  If I start hearing that, I think it’s time to go.  Otherwise I’m going to start laughing and get myself in trouble.  After all, even sharing grunts and growls with Bigfoot up in the mountains would make for a better conversation than anything that starts out like that…

 

Somebody I Used To Know

 

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I’m not trying to be mean or difficult.  I’m not trying to pick on the work of other writers.  So when I start another review for a book that I’m critical of, I want to make that clear from the beginning – that’s not my goal.  I love reading, and I love discovering authors I’ve never read before.  There’s a joy in that, something that other readers can attest to I’m sure.

But…there are going to be hits and misses.  And not all books resonate with everyone in the same way.  So here we go, discussing Somebody I Used To Know by David Bell…

First, let me share with you the description of the novel:

When Nick Hansen sees the young woman at the grocery store, his heart stops. She is the spitting image of his college girlfriend, Marissa Minor, who died in a campus house fire twenty years earlier. But when Nick tries to speak to her, she acts skittish and rushes off.

The next morning the police arrive at Nick’s house and show him a photo of the woman from the store. She’s been found dead, murdered in a local motel, with Nick’s name and address on a piece of paper in her pocket.

Convinced there’s a connection between the two women, Nick enlists the help of his college friend Laurel Davidson to investigate the events leading up to the night of Marissa’s death. But the young woman’s murder is only the beginning…and the truths Nick uncovers may make him wish he never doubted the lies.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?  That’s what I thought and why I was happy to receive a free on-line version of the novel from Penguin Group in exchange for an honest review.  I was looking forward to reading this new work from an accomplished and well-reviewed author I had never read before.  And…

Well, it’s not bad.  It was a good idea for a story and…the execution was simply flawed.  Maybe it’s because it was the non-final version and there are edits that were yet to be made to this version.  I hope that’s the case.  Because I was incredibly distracted by certain, fixable aspects of the book.

The beginning of the novel is filled with short, choppy sentences, leading the reader to feel like this was written for a younger audience.  I even wondered for a moment if this was a book for middle-grade children rather than adults.  Characters were described in overly simple physical descriptions, they all used far too many cliches when they spoke to each other, and everyone seemed to have to spell out everything to everyone like a group of formal little morons who couldn’t put two and two together without the large cross of an addition sign halfway between them.  “…oh I see.  You’re being sarcastic,” as one character tells another.

And, while I am usually led to reading (and writing) in 1st person, I think this author could possibly have been better served by writing in 3rd.  His main character tells us everything rather than letting us see anything that’s unfolding.  “Show, don’t tell” is one of the oldest axioms in writing, and it was ignored completely in this novel.  And the main character seems like a weird little guy who knows some other weird people who all speak alike.  So no character stands out from another by anything other than their name.

The novel does get somewhat better as it goes, leading me to believe tha some serious work and editing could make this a strong novel in the end.  But, even while the tempo picks up, and more of the mystery is revealed (though I have to say there are no real surprises), everything is revealed by characters telling each other everything.  It makes for a less than enjoyable read, even while the overall concept is a good one.

We all live in the past to some extent.  We all have events from younger days that have impacted us and either led us to where we are, or perhaps stagnated our progress throughout life.  We can all relate to wondering “What if…?” and think about alternate versions of how things could have turned out if only…  And we’ve all made mistakes.  The premise of this novel isn’t crazy or extreme.  And you can put yourself into the situations that the characters have found themselves in.  That’s something important in writing a successful story.  And because that’s there in this one, I do feel like it’s redeemable.  It’s a good idea that just needs the author to spend some more quality time with it.  And characters who are okay with giving up some control over telling everyone everything that’s happened and is happening around them.  And I wish them luck.

But for now, I think I’ll hesitate Before picking up a new book to try and find something else to do to mentally split from the experience.  Hey, it’s rained every day for the past week and a half and the ground’s soggy out there.  Good day for finding Bigfoot tracks, right?

Finally a Review

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Graham at play in the stacks

Have I told you that I like books?  Honest to goodness books that have pages and are cool enough to fill up bookshelves?  Those kinds of books?

I bring that up because I received a free copy of Manhattan Mayhem from Quirk Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I thought it looked like an interesting one, based on the cover they showed online and the general description.  The book is a selection of short stories – crime stories – all taking place within the different neighborhoods of New York City.  Best-selling novelist Mary Higgins Clark put together the anthology and even wrote the first story of the group.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a big fan of NYC (though I’ll promise to love it if someday I have an agent and/or publisher there and fly out every so often to meet with them and discuss my new releases).  Or maybe it’s because the copy I received was an on-line version and I’m not used to reading books on my iPad instead of on the page.  Or maybe it’s because I love a good novel and really need a short story to completely grab me and be unforgettable to make me feel that it was worth my time to read in place of a few chapters of a novel. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that this might not have been the book for me.

I’ve never read anything by Mary Higgins Clark before and I was definitely curious to read her story “The Five-Dollar Dress” that started the anthology.  But…I was completely underwhelmed.  It seemed like she put it together in a hurry and wasn’t completely invested in it herself.  It kind of seemed that way with a lot of the authors – like they thought this was a cool idea but that they could just throw something together and the idea, or the concept, would carry it home.

Margaret Maron’s “Red Headed Stepchild” red like a short children’s book.  Fine if that was the goal, but not what I was expecting, and probably not really the goal either.  The main character of Persia Walker’s “Dizzy and Gillespie” was a product of the inner city who showed a lack of education with her use of the English language, yet used five and six syllable words correctly at other times.  It was distracting and inconsistent.  And Angela Zeman’s “Wall Street Rodeo”, well…I’ll be nice and simply say “no” to that one…

There were some decent works – “Sutton Death Overtime” by Judith Kelman was definitely a strong work that was memorable after you put the book down.  And that’s what I’m going for in a short story.  Something that’s not instantly forgettable.  Something that packs a little punch.

I’ll admit that part of the issue is me.  I’m just not a fan of New York.  Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and other cities just hold so much more charm for me.  But I think the concept of this book was interesting and I believe New Yorkers – those who live there and those who hold it as a special place in their hearts – will enjoy this book.   It does well at bringing out the ideas of the different neighborhoods of the city.  They’re just not my neighborhoods, so that wasn’t enough to get me past the average writing and stories.

I have to give this a 2 out of 5 stars – anything else would just be cruel…  Maybe someday I’ll go back and read it again with a little more appreciation for that city.  Someday when I have an agent out there who loves the place and is showing it off to a writer who’ has just signed a contract for a book deal and for whom everything – even New York – is beautiful.

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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Its been a crazy week in Fayette County.   Though aren’t they all…?

The other day I came home from work and this was parked in the lot between where i live and my view of the mountains.  Granted, I don’t know much about mobile homes, but is a double-wide simply two single-wides held together with duct tape?  Is that really how it works?  And, knowing this area, does having this questionable pile of lumber and plastic siding make property values around here go down?  Or up?

I’m hoping that it’s a temporary thing.  That this eyesore will be moving on to its final resting place soon.  Because we already have our share of regular, ongoing quirks in the neighborhood and don’t need to add this one.

For example, there’s the guy who puts his trash out the morning of the day before trash day each week.   It’s like a 32-hour lawn decoration for the neighborhood to view every 7 days.  Or there’s Mr. Shirtless at the end of the block who seems to live outside every weekend in his short shorts, wiping smudges off his truck, and pruning his bushes with a pair of scissors, a ruler and a level.  Okay, maybe not that bad, but he’s definitely a slow-moving perfectionist about it, crawling and kneeling and staring closely at every leaf and twig, usually while his wife stars over his shoulder.  And that provides much more entertainment than a poor excuse for a house than looks like it’s mooning me from across the field…

I guess if it sits there too much longer I could sneak over one night and see if my SUV could tow it a few hundred yards down the road.  Then I could park it in the front yard of one of my neighbors the day before trash day.  It could block the view of overflowing trash cans for a day and maybe the garbage men would be motivated to haul it away the next morning…

I’m not really that bad of a neighbor though.  I may think about these things, but I wouldn’t necessarily act it out.  Though let’s see if that monstrosity is still there in a few weeks.

But I’m sure that I provide my own amount of entertainment to the neighborhood myself.  You get a few looks from people who are out walking their dogs when you’re walking your cat.  Most of those neighbors stop to talk though and Graham has met Romeo, the 45 pound Irish Setter.  And the young girls from a couple houses over admire Graham from afar as he doesn’t trust their two energetic mutts.

But the woman next door has started to avoid eye contact with me all together.  One of these days she’s going to turn her head away from me too quickly when she’s driving by and run herself right off the road.  And then she just might take out a few trash cans and some perfectly manicured bushes.

That should get us a fun little neighborhood get together.  I think I’ll have to video that one…

 

 

One of those days

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I’m in a weird mood today.

That’s probably not too far from my usual state (no sarcastic comments please) but that’s just how I am today. So I’m sitting here thinking about creating ‘Books, Beer & Bigfoot’ t-shirts. I’d love to see people wearing them around here in Fayette County so that I know who’s reading it locally (and who has a sense of humor). And I’d love to see how many different states they could make it into, and the looks they might get from people who have no idea what it’s all about. And, could you imagine readers wearing them on vacation in other countries? I’d love to think of the locals looking at them and asking (in whatever accent you would imagine them having) ‘What is this Bigfoot?’

I definitely enjoy my drive each morning but today I wasn’t able to find something to listen to as I wound through all of the crazy curves, and I just couldn’t sit still, so I flipped through all of the stations on the radio, entertaining myself with listening to one line from each station I hit, to hear whatever weird things I could. I think that idea came when I was passing through the talk/Christian stations and heard:

“Sometimes they bite”
“Amen”

So I just kept hitting that ‘Scan’ button. What can I say? I’m easily entertained.

The longer I’m here in Fayette County, the more I believe that I live in an area that time forgot. Where else could you flip through and have two different stations playing Elton John at the same time, separated only by a station playing Donna Summer? Or have Jim Morrison ask you ‘Don’t you love her madly? Don’t you love her madly?’ just one station before Van Halen asks ‘How do you know when it’s love?’, with Hot Chocolate’s ‘You Sexy Thing’ next on the playlist? It’s love in a time warp around here.

That leads me to a question I have for you… Music plays an important part in my novel. And, in one section I’m working on, I need a song that fits a particular situation. If you were to think of a country song that makes you think of someone from the past with a combination of pain and longing and regret, what would it be? Something that gets you all discombobulated about where you are, where you were and where you really want to be… I’m curious to see what ideas might be out there and what songs you think of that might not even be on my list. So let me know!

Okay, so you have your homework. So get thinking.  And I’ll get back to designing those t-shirts! 🙂