Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Give Away!

Hello all!

I was recently challenged to define what find of author I am.  Not by genre, because, as you may know, I tend to write a story and worry about the genre later. Romance, humor, mystery, inspirational, suspense, I love them all.  But that was not the question posed to me.  The person speaking at the time wanted all of us in the room to decide why we were writing.  Was it because we enjoyed writing?  Was it because we had stories we needed to tell?  Was it because we wanted to make pots of money?

Well, let me just say, if I were in it for the money, I'd have quit long ago.  The vast majority of people who write and publish do not do it as their main source of income.  All of the published authors I know personally have other jobs:  Teacher, nurse, stay at home parent, airline attendant, lecturer, writers' studio owner, manager, and chief instructor, museum employee, pizza delivery guy, locksmith. Me?  I work as a very small cog in the huge wheel that is workman's comp cases.  

No, if we are in it for the money, most of us are going to be sorely disappointed.  Writing, even in this day of self publishing and e-publishing is still not the sure fire way to make a fortune.  Oh sure, there are the fortunate ones, the J.K. Rowlings, the Stephen Kings, the John Grishams, who have captured the eye of readers across the globe, and their hearts and they can now write what they want

when they want and live their lives the way they want.  For the rest of us, we still write in the wee small hours of the morning, the dark of midnight, or furtively on our lunch hours.

As for my, what kind of author am I?  I'm a story teller.  Would I like to be on a best seller list?  Sure, who wouldn't?  But I've got 11 books out there right now with my name on them and it's not looking like the New York Times is coming to call any time soon.  I'm really okay with that.  I'm a story teller who gets to tell exactly the story I want to tell in the way I want to tell it.  I'm not pigeonholed, I'm not under contract (although I'm not ADVERSE to being under contract), I'm not guided by much more than my own instincts and comments from my writers' group and my lovely critique partners.  I'm free to tell my stories and that's what brings me joy in my work.

To that end, I'd like to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.  While ultimately I would love to see more book sales, I'm really interested in connecting with my readers.  So I've decided to do a giveaway.  This is where it gets good for you, the reader.

I'd like to know what book you think is the most brilliant thing you've ever read and why. This is NOT a request for your favorite book.  (That's easy for me, "Wuthering Heights.")  What's the most
brilliant book you've read and why.  Here's mine:  Room, by Emma Donoghue.  (now a movie nominated for Best Picture.)  I find it brilliant because it is so simplistic: told from the view of a very young boy, set primarily in a single room. How can that possibly be good or entertaining?  It is. It is beautiful, it is mesmerizing. And I really wish my brain worked like that.  "Room"is one of those books that makes me want to write MORE.

So what's the most brilliant book you've ever read and why?  Leave a note for me here or contact me through my website here.  Or, if your prefer, message me at my Face Book page here. Leave your name and the country where you live. That's all we'll nee for now.

Today is January 30.  On March 4 I'm having hand surgery and
won't be able to type for a while. I won't take anymore entries after March 4.  I'll take that time to go through your messages and read about your books.  Then I will enter your names into a blind drawing.  The winner will receiver his/her choice of one of my 11 books, autographed. I will ship anywhere in the world I'm able to. (Clearly, this giveaway is going to take some time.)

So friends, let me hear from you. Someone is going to win a free book. Ready, set, GO!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Review you can use: 13 Hours.

Good afternoon!

In keeping with my New Year's resolution, I'm determined to see more movies in the theater.  To that end,  Hubby and I have just seen Michael Bay's newest film, "13 Hours."

Like so many things in our world these days, "13 Hours" is not easily categorized. Is it an action movie?  A thriller?  A war film?  A political statement?  A dark comedy?

It is all of the above.

"13 Hours" tells the true story of the events of September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya when ambassador Christopher Stevens and Information officer Sean Smith were killed in an American Embassy during a coordinated attack by militants. Another compound approximately 1 mile away was also attacked and 2 CIA contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty, were killed. Both Woods and Doherty were former Navy SEALS, The event is also called the Battle of Benghazi.The movie details the events leading up to the attack, the attack itself and the aftermath.

It's a breathless, fast paced film. I checked my watch about halfway through and could not believe how fast time had gone. Surprising and excellent performances by Jon Krasinski  and former fellow "The Office" castmate David Denham.  Krasinski makes the leap from comedic goofy guy to convincing serious action guy smoothly, and his performance is one bright star in a sky of sparkling moments.  Director Michael Bay presents the film with the unblinking feel of a documentary, complete with several time stamps.  

Bay steers clear of pointing a political finger, although much of the fall out stemming from the Battle of Beghazi has been hard to avoid in this presidential election year.  The viewer is left not so much blaming one person or one party, but rather blaming the breakdown of leadership and the "cover your a**"" mentality that is so much a part of the fabric of the US government.  There is no question in the point Bay is trying to get across by telling this story about the battle that's lead to months of testimony and chest thumping about emails and phone calls and and more emails.  Bay is shining a light on the six men who managed to defend more than 30 Americans against all odds when the rest of the US refused to help.  These six men did not worry about polls or votes or politics or political correctness.  They worried about defending the people in their care even though repeated calls for help went unanswered.

As an American I am proud of those six men.  

This movie is not for the faint of heart.  It is violent.  But it is also touching, and at moments funny.  This would fall into my "important movies" category.  You should see this. You should educate yourself about the Battle of Benghazi. You should teach your children, because they aren't learning history in schools anymore, and certainly not much in the way of current history.  Watch this film.  Read what you can.  Draw your own conclusions.  For me, the last line of the movie said it all.

And I'm not going to tell you what that line is. You need to see it for yourself.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sneak Peak Saturday: Missing in Manitowoc

Good morning!

I just finished watching the Netflix docuseries:  "Making A Murderer."  I lived in Manitowoc from 1982 to 1989, although I was away in college for some of those years, but the Steven Avery story was hard to miss. Was he guilty?  Was he framed?  I don't know.  The author in me has thought about this story for a long time...but even that twisted part of my brain isn't making the judgement call.

 Anyway, if you're reading "Missing in Manitowoc" and you want to know if the places in the book actually exist, I can say oh yes they do.  Because "Making a Murderer" is silly with video images of my old hometown that meant a lot to me as well, enough to make it into my book. I haven't been back to Manitowoc in a couple years, so it was nice to see color images of the places I see so clearly in my mind.

Today's sneak peak is a description of a place you'll actually see in "Making A Murderer."  I mean, you'll see the outside sign...I describe the inside. So fans of the docuseries who have never been to Manitowoc, enjoy this...and every...just enjoy!

“Welcome to the Best Western Lakefront Hotel!”
The desk clerk’s chirpiness is wildly annoying considering I haven’t had the proper amount of coffee yet this morning. Is there the proper amount of coffee to prepare someone like me for someone like her? She’s a living, breathing stereotype. Her blonde, perfect, shoulder length hair and perky toothy smile are a little too cheerleader for me. I step away from the registration desk and pull out my phone, thankful I found the charger last night and thusly am able to converse with people of my own choosing.
Right now it’s a business call I have to make. Before I check in and commit to two nights in this building, I want to make sure I am still stranded here. I check the clock. The garage should be open by now. I call the garage. A man answers. “Terrell brakes and auto repair. This is Jack.”
“Hey Jack, it’s Nora Hill.”
“Nora!” He sounds just a tiny bit too glad to hear from me. If I were a normal person, I’d probably take that as a compliment. But I’m not normal and I’m not terribly interested in making connections with anyone, even Jack Terrell. I just want my car and I’m praying, hope against hope, my car is fixed and I can make my escape.
“Were you able to overnight the parts?”
“I’m sorry, Nora, I can’t. It’ll definitely be Monday before I’ll be able to get you back on the road.”
“But it will be Monday, right, Jack?” I know I sound imperious. I don’t care. In my world I have to be very clear about things with people.
“Yes, of course.” He waits one beat. “Nora, are you sure you don’t want to go to the reunion tonight? I mean, you’re stuck in town anyway.” He waits. “I’d really like it if you came along…with me.”
I’m not made of stone. I know exactly how sweet he’s being. I close my eyes. I know he means well, so I have to be patient and not howl at him. “I’m sure, Jack, thanks. I’m checking into the Best Western Hotel, so I’ll be fine here. I’ve got plenty of work to do anyway.”
He’s quiet for another beat. “Ok. I’ll give you a call on Monday when it’s done.”
There’s a note of defeat in his voice. As I touch the “end” square on my iPhone screen, I realize I never asked him anything about his life. And I should have. My mother would have. My sisters sure would have. Jack Terrell was the smartest guy in our class and the nicest. He was headed away from Manitowoc, he was going to go to one of those ultra pricey colleges and become the next Bill Gates or something. As I shove my phone back into my duffle, I wonder how a guy like that wound up staying in town and fixing cars.
Sucking up my annoyance, I make contact with the cheerleader at the front desk and register. I then check out the complimentary breakfast. I do like a good breakfast, and my memory of this place involves a very good one. Of course, my memory of this place also involves room service, which is not going to be an option anymore.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I’m a complete sucker for eggs and hash browns and all the breakfast meats. The ones they used to make at this hotel were really special. When Rose got married we had the post wedding breakfast here. I still remember the Eggs Benedict.
Sadly, today there will be no Eggs Benedict. There will be no room service. There will be, from the looks of things, waffles I can make all on my own. I’m crushed.
In a bit of a snit, I dump my duffle in my room and head out of the hotel, again, to find food. The fog has broken slightly, the sun trying to force its way through like a single headlight pushing through…well, fog.
Hey, I write for young adults, not upper crust literary genius types.
Once outside, I realize I haven’t a clue where I can get a good breakfast. My old standby was the Big Boy. And then my memory stirs. Warren’s. Of course!
Warren’s Diner, once the arch rival of The Big Boy, is now pretty much the only breakfast place in the downtown area. Since I’m not about to take a bus all the way out to the Perkins near Interstate 43, Warren’s is my only choice.
I could wait for the bus to take me back to my original starting point or I could walk. The fog lifted a bit further and I started out. It’s half a mile. That’s not a big deal. I do a lot of walking. There have been times I’ve parked my car further than that away from a truck stop or a rest stop on the interstate, just so I don’t get dinged for overnight parking. Half a mile…bah!
Every step, however, makes me realize just how conspicuous I am to passing motorists. See, walking for most people isn’t a big deal. You walk along a street, people honk, you recognize them, you wave. It’s a lovely social exchange. It’s a little different for me. I walk along a street, people honk, I haven’t a clue, and I don’t wave. When I was a kid, people would take this as an insult from the minister’s daughter and they’d report my transgression to my mother who would then lecture me on the sins of being rude.
Here I am, in the town I swore I would never, ever return to, walking along a street and heaven only knows who is going to see me and recognize me. Frankly, I can’t get to Warren’s fast enough.
Warren’s Diner. Like many of the businesses in the area Warren’s Diner is in a dumpy, nondescript building with wide windows revealing diners to passing customers. I remember staring at those same windows from my post at the carry out counter in the Big Boy across the street. My manager cursed each morning, watching people walk into Warren’s, even as people walked into The Big Boy. In the battle of breakfast places, I knew who won day after day. I was a dumb teenager, but I could count heads. I could read the signs on the sidewalk in front of Warren’s touting this or that ridiculously low priced breakfast. Who would want to pay five bucks for eggs and toast at Big Boy when the very same meal was available across the street for a half the price AND included coffee?
And yet, all these years later, I’m standing in front of this restaurant, hoping they have Eggs Benedict.
Walking in, I change my mind. I use Eggs Benedict and Rueben sandwiches as sort of a benchmark for eateries. If a place can do one or the other well, I’ll come back. If not, well, that’s pretty much it. There’s a diner in Waukesha that touts the “best Rueben in the world.” I have tried to disprove the claim. I haven’t been able to yet.
Why those two dishes? Well, I could go into some deep foodie dissertation on how a good Hollandaise sauce is the mark of a legitimate restaurant, but that would be stupid because it’s just not true. Truth is, I liked the names of the dishes when I was a kid. I liked to picture what a Benedict or a Rueben might look like and it turns out they seemed like pretty jovial gents. As I got older I ate them out of habit. Nowadays, honestly, Benedict and Rueben are pretty much my two closest male companions on my journeys.
But even my craving for Hollandaise isn’t going to overcome the lack of confidence I have in Warren’s. I take a seat on a sticky vinyl chair and scan the torn paper menu. The electric sign outside boasts air conditioning. Since this close to Lake Michigan it rarely hits temperatures worthy of AC, using that as a selling point is setting the bar impossibly low.
Then again, they are still here, open, and thriving from the looks of things. Meanwhile, my old place of employment won’t open until four and then the special of the day is today, as it was yesterday, as it was, I suspect, every day for the last handful of yes, spicy crispy chicken.
I take a chance on the strawberry pancakes. Hey, it’s a rare person who gets food poisoning from pancakes. I’m delighted, once the polyester clad waitress with the brunette pony tail puts the plate in front of me, that the pancakes look and smell amazing. They drip from center to edge with bright red strawberries, not gooey pie filling, and the whipped cream, while probably not homemade, at least tastes fresh. Unfortunately the coffee is a disappointment because it’s burned and weak. I remember too well the lingering bitter flavor of Big Boy coffee, coffee left too long on the pot warmer.

Well , you can’t win everything. So the pancakes were good, the coffee was bad. Sure, I have a bitter, burnt taste in my mouth, but on the flip side I’m not hungry anymore. It’s all about balance.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Review Your Can Use: The Hateful 8

Good afternoon all!

So it's the new year and one of my resolutions was to go out and see more movies in the theater.  We're on Day 2 of 2016 and I've been to two movies already.  A good start.

I'm not going to bore you with a review of Star Wars.  You're going to go see it either because you love Star Wars or because everyone else on the planet is going and you're going to enjoy it because it's a movie built to be enjoyed by everyone.  Instead, I'm going to write a review of a movie whose release was limited to very specific theaters across the US, but is genius on several levels:  The Hateful 8.  

Let me first say I'm not a Quentin Tarantino fan. I'm telling you this so that you know I'm not writing a litany for worship at Tarantino's feet. I didn't like "Pulp Fiction" much and word that there's a third "Kill Bill" doesn't make me giggle with glee.  I did enjoy "Django Unchained" and "Inglorious Basterds" is one of my favorite films.  So I am reviewing "8" with a completely balanced eye, and I'm moved to write this review because I'm a writer and frankly when I see great writing in any form I need to give it a cheer.

Set almost completely in a snowbound cabin in Wyoming, "8" has the feel of a stage play.  The movie is dialogue heavy.  We learn nearly everything we need to know about the characters through what they say more than how they look or what they do.  Costuming is simple: heavy, brown, filthy, lumpy coats and boots all around, so in the staging Tarantino has leveled the field. Everyone pretty much looks alike.  Everyone sounds similar, with the exception of a couple accents.  But in words and phrases there's no telling the good guy from the bad guy simply by looking at them or hearing them speak.  Nope, this is a movie where you actually have to LISTEN to what's being said and that's where the genius of the film comes in.

Tarantino wants to give us the old time feel of what going to the movies meant a couple generations ago, so he's filmed it in 70MM, which means all these fantastic digital screens can't handle it. Hence the limited release. Simply put:  there aren't many theaters that even have the technology to run this film, which is actually a FILM. He didn't stop there, however. The movie is over three hours long. Yep.  More than three hours. I have trouble sitting still that long. But Tarantino gives us something we haven't seen from a long movie in a long time:  An intermission.  We actually had time to get up, get another soda, use the facilities, whatever, for about fifteen minutes.  It was perfect. And the fact that the movie clips along lightening fast didn't hurt either.

So what's it about?  It's a Western...set in winter...with bounty hunters and prisoners,  former Civil War officers from both sides, and unabashed racists all find themselves trapped in a single room.  They are all taking shelter from a blizzard.  Battle lines are drawn and redrawn as, through conversation, each character sees themselves allies and then enemies with every other character.  The movie is hardly for the faint of heart, given Tarantino's love of shock language and graphic violence.  In today's ultra sensitive society, there are those who are going to decry the treatment of Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy) who is punched and beaten and shot at pretty much the whole film. Let's all remember, folks, this is a story, it's fiction set in a time when the N word was part of every day speech and bounty hunters had the choice between "dead or alive."  It's not like this is set in a grade school in Beverly Hills in 2016.  Oh, and yeah, dear Daisy is as bad a bad guy as any of the others.  

Tarantino's sense of humor is also prevalent.  You're going to find yourself laughing out loud at some really dark moments, and that's okay.  Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell bounce off each other smoothly and it's great to see Bruce Dern in another film.  The winner of most of the scenes, however is Walter Goggins, as the former Rebel soon to be sheriff, Chris. 

It's a great cast doing excellent work in a very well written film.  If you don't have the stomach for very strong language, graphic nudity (there are a few moments of really graphic nudity, but only a few) or violence, or if you're just going to gripe that some of the characters are racist while others are violent toward a woman, then don't go see this film. If you want to see one of today's top movie makers actually produce something that's both original and nostalgic while also being entertaining, then go ahead and see it and have fun.

Of course, you can always also just go see any one of the ten billion sequels or remakes Hollywood is puking out at an alarming rate. Sure, you won't see anything new, but at least your sensibilities won't be stirred up. 

I'm giving this Five out of Five.

And speaking of movie reviews...

My very good friend, fellow author and movie lover, Linda Schmalz and I have released our first movie review book:  Two Moms, Three Glasses of Wine, and a Movie. For our first edition, we chose to review our favorite 50 films each and then 25 movies we both love.  You can get it in print or for the Kindle right now.  Our hope is to turn this project into a long series because, what we've noticed, is that there just are not enough movie reviews written by women while they're drinking wine.