The Convert’s Song

converts songSebastian Rotella has returned with The Convert’s Song, the sequel to Triple Crossing, and it’s a worthy successor. Where Triple Crossing felt more like a crime novel, The Convert’s Song definitely steps over the line into an international thriller.

Valentine Pescatore, the hero of the first novel, is living in Buenos Aires and working as an investigator for a man named Facundo Bassat, who runs an agency that works out of the triple border area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. As the novel opens, he’s helping a Miami doctor whose son was killed by a business partner get justice. They will visit a judge Facundo knows and offer him forty thousand dollars to keep the suspect in jail. It’s an attempt to top the suspected thirty thousand dollars the other side has offered to stall the investigation and let the suspect go free. That’s just the way business is done in Buenos Aires.

After completion of the deal, Pescatore escorts the man back to the airport for his return flight to Miami. As the doctor makes it through the checkpoint, a hand falls on Pescatore’s shoulder. It turns out to be his old friend Raymond, who we met in the prologue.

The last time Pescatore saw Raymond was some ten years earlier, when he accompanied Raymond to a drug deal as security. But when Raymond reveals he plans to double-cross the dealer, Pescatore leaves. Raymond shoots the dealer and is later arrested with the drugs and the money.

Now, Raymond claims he’s changed. He’s married, has a couple of boys. He got out of the drug bust by becoming an informant and giving up everyone he knew. And, it turns out he’s a converted Muslim. He’s a businessman, has some investments in the Middle East and Europe.

But a couple times during the reunion, Raymond’s phone rings. The first time, he ignores it. The second time, he answers, and it’s plain he’s talking to a woman. A few triple-frontier-brazil-argentina-paraguay-tripointmoments after he hangs up, she texts him, which he also blows off.

For a week after the meeting, Pescatore isn’t sure what to think of the encounter. In some ways, Raymond seems changed. In others, he’s the same old trouble maker.

Then, there’s a terrorist attack at a local mall. Pescatore’s boss has a heart attack while responding in the attack. The next morning, police kick Pescatore’s door down, claiming he’d participated in the attack, that the terrorists had called him. He has no idea what they’re talking about, of course, until he realizes the call was made to a cell phone he rarely uses. It’s the number he gave his old buddy Raymond when reluctant to give him his working number.

Calls are made and the FBI bails him out. This starts a long chase, first into Argentina, then France, then Iraq, where it becomes more and more evident Raymond isn’t at all what he presented himself as being. In fact, he’s worse than he was when Pescatore knew him a decade earlier.

triple crossingThe Convert’s Song is definitely a worthy follow-up to Triple Crossing, and I’m very curious to see where Sebastian Rotella will take Valentine Pescatore next. If you like international plots intertwined with terrorism and varied, exotic settings, this is a book for you.

Later,
Gil

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M*A*S*H

M-A-S-H_TV_title_screenRemember M*A*S*H? I do. I’m working my way through the first season right now.

I discovered the show when I was in the Army. I’d heard of it before that, but had the impression it was some kind of soap opera-type show. I’m not sure where I got that impression, but it was there. But then I found it on syndication and was instantly hooked. I owned a VHS of the original movie, as well as the final movie, Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen, which I watched several times.

To be honest, the original movie doesn’t do a lot of me, as much as I hate to say it. And I think it’s because I first got acquainted with it as a television series, so I’m used to the Alan Alda version of Hawkeye Pierce. The movie is okay, but the series has a different feel to it, and Donald Sutherland plays Pierce as a totally different character.

I used to own about six seasons of the show, but hit a hard spot financially and sold them. Now Walmart has the first two seasons and they’re only ten bucks, so I decided it was time to start building my collection up again. In my mind, it’s one of the best shows ever on TV.

The pilot episode feels like most pilots do, like they’re trying to find their way around what they want to do with the show. And there are characters in the first season that slowly fall by the wayside as the show progresses. But overall, by the fourth episode (“Chief Surgeon Who?”), the series started hitting its stride.

One of the things I’ve always admired about M*A*S*H was its integrity. It was still popular when they decided to call it quits, and I respect that. I used to have a book called MV5BMTQ3OTM1NjM5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTI5NDY0MQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_The Last Days of M*A*S*H, and it was written by Alan Alda. In it, he states that the chief reason they decided to end the series was they were having more and more trouble coming up with good ideas. After eleven seasons, they’d explored pretty much every situation they could, and if they kept going, the show would become a weak shadow of itself. Better to get out while it was still good and leave the fans with fond memories than run the thing into the ground and be remembered for ruining a good show.

There are shows these days that could stand to learn that lesson.

Actually, there are shows these days that could stand to be cancelled before the end of the first season, but that’s beside the point.

Like old movies, many old TV series don’t stand the test of time. For me, one of those is The Dukes of Hazzard. I loved that show when I was a kid, and I understand it’s still very popular in syndication, but the last time I tried watching an episode, I came away wondering what I’d seen it. I finally decided it was Catherine Bach (who played Daisy Duke) and the General Lee. I still love a ’69 Dodge Charger, and if I ever get rich, I’m gonna own one. It won’t be a General Lee, but that’s just fine with me.

M*A*S*H holds up very well, in my opinion. Yes, some of the humor is a bit lowbrow, but that’s the way it was written. Overall, the show is intelligent, even if the cast members get away with things that us veterans know they’d never get away with. No matter how brilliant they were in the operating room. The Army really wouldn’t care about that, I don’t think. Especially in the 1950s.

gty_mash_cast_jef_130214_wmainSo if you’re tired of what’s on TV these days, or just want to rediscover a great old series, I suggest running out and getting a season of M*A*S*H. I think you’ll enjoy it, especially for the price.

Later,
Gil

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Bragging Rights

I have to brag on my daughter a little. Will you indulge me that?

She got into a program recently that teaches you to build websites. They start out teaching you how to do it by hand—hard coding, in other words, rather than using a WYSIWYG editor. This is good because using an editor such as Dreamweaver, while it streamlines building a site, also removes some of the flexibility and control you have. I’m not so much putting down programs like Dreamweaver—I’ve used it and Studio Expression, and they’re good for what they’re made for—as pointing out their limitations. Yes, they allow people who otherwise know nothing of writing code to build their own sites, but they also remove a lot of the customization from those sites. Though I have to say Dreamweaver is better at this than most.

Regardless, Jas is learning HTML5 and CSS3—the latest basic coding languages—and she’ll finish up the course by building a site using WordPress—a very popular platform these days.

I got a text with pictures a couple of days ago showing me the site she’d built. Evidently, they had a choice of how to do it, and out of eight students, she chose to build one completely from scratch, and this is what she did.V__4C46

Now, I know how to build sites by hand using code. And while this site she built is a simpler one, it’s still a beautiful site. Its simplicity is its beauty, because that leaves it clean and uncluttered. A very nice look. She has a couple of images there, and she’s using stand-in text in place of real content, but she still had to position that text and put it in paragraphs.

I’m damn proud of what she did here.

For those of you who don’t have experience, every element on a site has to have code written for it, no matter how small or insignificant that element might look visually. example-css-form-563x358And when you get into things like forms and capturing email addresses, now you’re into jQuery, JavaScript, and PHP, and things are getting complicated. Jas’s site doesn’t have that, but in the real world, it might well do so, since it’s a site for a consulting firm. At the very least, I’d advise them to have a Contact page, with a form for doing so.

But keep in mind that Jas is only in Week 4 of her classes, with six weeks left to go yet. And she’s doing better than the rest of the class from what I’ve seen. They actually had to stop last week and go through the basics of using a computer—and this after potential participants had to go through an interview process before being chosen. At the end, they have the possibility of placement in paid internship positions, as well as being able to keep the laptop they’re issued in the class. It seems to me you’d better know your way around a computer if you’re going to take a class like that, but evidently some folks slipped in somehow.

Anyway, I’m proud of my daughter for her creativity and motivation. It’s something I can have in common with her, and at this rate, she’ll be teaching me things (I don’t know how to build a site using WordPress).

Way to go, kiddo!

Later,
Gil

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Post 9/11

9-11-memorialI’m not sure why this didn’t occur to me before, but the other day I realized there are a lot of kids out there for whom 9/11 is just a historical event.

Okay, so I’m slow about some things. I’ve stated that before.

I guess for me, it’s the fact it so dominated and changed my way of thinking that it never dawned on me there’d be some folks who didn’t see it that way. I lived through it—like a lot of people reading this blog, I’m sure—so it’s imprinted in my mind till the day I die, I’m sure.

Take, for instance, my boys. They’re sixteen and fourteen. So one of them wasn’t even born when it happened, while the other was a little over a year old. You think the disaster at the World Trade Center meant anything to him at the time? He was far too young to understand what was happening.

I guess it’s a little dumbfounding to me. And I’m sure members of the Greatest Generation felt the same way about those born after Pearl Harbor and World War II. I came along almost a quarter century after Pearl Harbor, so for me it’s a historic event, though I have to say, having seen pictures, it amazes me anyone survived. And seeing videos of Pearl Harbor survivors going back is moving indeed for me.

But, for the most part, I’m emotionally disconnected from it.

Another thing that, for me, makes 9/11 different is this: After Pearl Harbor, we had a definite enemy in the Japanese Empire. And we managed to extend that to Nazi Germany. I’m not at all belittling the sacrifices made during those years. We lost more men in some single engagements of that war than in all the wars we’ve fought in the71381-004-534732C4 Middle East combined. It was hard. It was heartbreaking. They deserve the moniker The Greatest Generation, and I’d never even remotely suggest taking it away.

But the advantage they had, in the long run, was they were fighting an enemy that at least had the guts and integrity to put on a uniform. The perpetrators of 9/11 and their ilk will do no such thing. They hide among their fellows, scream about death to the West, and then scurry into their holes in ways that no self-respecting rat would. We’ve now spent almost fourteen years fighting these people and, thanks to such bonehead moves as announcing when we’ll leave a certain country (image FDR saying, “We’ll leave Germany in September of 1944”) and kowtowing to the enemy as our current leader does, we’ll likely be fighting them a lot longer.

Part of it is their nature. We fought armies in World War II. There were skirmishes, battles, campaigns. When the enemy retreated, we knew where he retreated to. When he advanced, we could see him coming.

But the other part is what’s going on here. During the 1940s, America was united in its efforts to back our troops. Despite sad news delivered to hundreds of towns big and small around this country on a daily basis, there weren’t loud voices clamoring for our government to bring our soldiers home. Yes, we wanted them home. But not before the enemy—the threat to liberty that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan presented—was beaten. There was rationing of resources, drives for war bonds, and people turned out in droves when some hero from the war came to town.

What do we have today? Idiots like Michael Moore criticizing snipers while escorted by an armed guard. Presidents who play golf while men are dying in the hot sand. FDR ddaydidn’t play golf. He talked with Churchill and they devised Operation Overlord and drove the Germans out of France—at the expense of hundreds of thousands of men. And when they thought the war would be over by winter of 1944 and it turned out the Germans fought back—in an action now known as the Battle of the Bulge—they didn’t give up. They didn’t say, “There’ll be no boots on the ground.”

They fought. They kept our troops over there. And, despite poor logistics planning that left many of them without proper cold weather gear in a winter that was the coldest in many years, our soldiers fought on, battling frostbite and malnutrition as much as they did the Germans. And in the Pacific, the Marines went from tropical island to tropical island, fighting malaria and jungle rot as well as highly dedicated Japanese soldiers who made our boys pay dearly for every single inch gained.

Why did the Germans and Japanese fight so hard? They had a homeland to protect, just as we did. They didn’t hide among innocent civilians.

And now Japan and Germany are two of our greatest allies. This won’t happen with countries like Iran and Syria. We have more in common with a culture as foreign to ours as Japan’s is than we do with these people in the deserts of the Middle East.

What’s more, the Greatest Generation didn’t let the Baby Boomers forget. They reminded them of the cost of liberty and freedom. I’m afraid the Millennials—and even many of those of us who lived through 9/11—are in danger of forgetting what happened that pleasant summer day in 2001. We are a nation so divided—and we’ve let the firefighter9-11imagenational political parties and the media split us this way—that we maintained our united front against radical Islam for all of maybe two years, tops, and that’s probably being very generous.

I don’t know of a solution. At least, not one anyone will implement. So I’m not offering anything of the sort, not saying, “Here’s the way out.”
Too many people will disagree with me and say we’re not in anything to begin with anyway.

Later,
Gil

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Boring Horror Movies

evil dead remakeI don’t get it. I haven’t seen a good horror movie in years. And it’s not for lack of trying. Is it just me? Have I become so old and jaded that the creepy stuff doesn’t do anything for me anymore? Or have the movies simply become that bad?

I suppose I should give an example.

I recently watched the re-make of Evil Dead. Now, I want to say at the outset that I’d put off watching this re-make because I’d watched the original back in the eighties…and didn’t care much for it then, either. So, if I didn’t care for the original (so-called) classic, why in the world would I want to watch a re-make of it?

Don’t get me wrong. This thing was well-made. God knows I’ve seen some really horribly made horror movies over the years. Hell Night always comes immediately to mind. It’s an old Linda Blair movie, and there’s a scene where you see the boom mic at the top of the frame as plain as day. Was the editor asleep at the wheel? Or did they really say, “Ah, we don’t have to money to re-shoot that scene. Just leave it in. They’ll never notice it.”

I bet you haven’t even heard of that movie, have you? Well, now you know why.

As for this new Evil Dead, the acting was good, the production values were spot on, the effects very believable. Unfortunately, as all the blood and demon voices and gore and heroic last-ditch action was going on, I spent the entire movie asking myself, “Why do I care?”

Okay, they had a decent premise. Group of friends are in the cabin in the woods (the movie of that name actually made me sit up and take notice because of its premise; ifhell night you haven’t seen it, go get it) for a logical reason: one of them is a drug addict and they want to clean her up. She doesn’t seem quite as willing to clean up as they are to clean her up, but that’s life. Makes it bit more believable.

It also helps me believe she’d be the one most receptive to being possessed by a demon bent on destruction. Going through the throes of withdrawal would tend to make one weak to outside influences.

But despite all this, I just couldn’t drum up any sympathy for all these people. Maybe it’s that they’re so young and I don’t really relate to that anymore. I’d hate to think that was the case. Or maybe it’s just that I can’t put much credence to their supernatural troubles. Or maybe the writers gave a couple of the characters—the drug addict and her brother especially—a few too many flaws and brought me to the point of, “Hey, give in and die already.”

And yet, I kept watching it, just to see how it turned out. Would everybody die? Well, I guess you could say I had a professional interest—as a writer—in seeing how it all turned out. But I spent pretty much the entire movie impatiently waiting for it to end. I thought about fast-fowarding through it a couple of times, but I didn’t want to miss any possible nuances.

Of course, I needn’t have worried.

In the end, I think it’s probably a combination of the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of this post: I’m old and jaded and the movies aren’t as good. Especially the ones that rely on supernatural elements of possession and such. For reasons I won’t go into here, I have trouble putting stock into that kind of stuff being a major worry, so feeling sympathy for characters who get caught up in it is hard for me.

Fangoria322And, probably, I’ve just watched far too many of those kinds of movies by now. They have nothing left to offer me. I see all the similarities in them, the shared elements that have been repeated so many times I’ve lost count.

So if you like these kinds of movies—and seeing as how you can still pick up magazines like Fangoria there have to be a lot of people who do still like them—don’t take offense. I’m not denigrating you for liking them. Be warned, though, that you might reach the same jaded place in life that I am, and you’ll have to find something new to love.

Like, maybe, writing stories of your own. Play it right, you might be the next Stephen King.

Later,
Gil

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The Perfect Victim

PerfectVictim_Front-200As a general rule, I don’t care much for psychological thrillers. They move at too slow a pace to earn the moniker thriller for me. We see lots of things engineered to endear us to the protagonist, but the action is a bit glacial for my taste. Plus, so many of them seem built around a premise that makes me want to take the protagonist by the collar and shake them, yelling into their face, “Can’t you see what the f&@k, is going on?!”

The Perfect Victim starts out just that way. Mary Brock is a single mother of an eight-year-old named Michael. Her best friend Anne “buys” her a deputy sheriff at a charity auction. He’s a little over six feet tall, slim, has wavy blond hair, and goes by the name Billy Joe Wilkins. Billy Joe promises Mary the perfect date.

Almost immediately, though, ominous signs begin appearing. Billy Joe calls her every night at home, every day at work. This last is more problematical because she works at a credit union where most of the employees are single mothers like herself, and the credit union isn’t exactly the gem of employers. Personal calls are strictly forbidden.

Too, Billy Joe doesn’t seem to get that dating for a single mother is tough. She’s on a very limited budget—at the book’s beginning she’s wrestling with her son wanting Nike Airs while she has to decide which clothes she can afford to wash this week—and can’t just take off on a whim, as Billy Joe seems to want her to do.

As the book progresses, these signs from Billy Joe become even more ominous, and it is quickly evident that he’s a controlling, abusive, dangerous man who uses his authority as a law enforcement officer to give him personal advantages in his quest to, for all practical purposes, own Mary while getting her to get rid of her son, who he refers to as “the kid.”

And now we arrive at the point that frustrates me about psychological thrillers: why can’t the protagonist see what’s happening? For me, it’s like the old joke about slasher movies: if you’re alone, in the dark, and weird things have been happening, why in the world are you investigating that noise? Why are you going up those stairs? For that matter, why’d you come out here camping in the first place?

The difference in The Prefect Victim is this: Mary finds a dark spot in her that responds to Billy Joe’s domineering ways. She likes the rough sex, likes it when he takes control, bringing her to the point where she’s afraid for her life, then treating her as if she’s a china doll that’ll break at the lightest touch. It seems that, when he perceives he’s frightened her, he backs off, reassures her it’s all fun and games.

With every mercurial rise and fall of Billy Joe’s temperament, Mary finds herself riding the same pattern of crests and troughs, a small boat on a large and violent ocean. She sees the problems but finds herself helpless to change what’s happening. He’s a complete and total ass, but the sex is like nothing she’s ever experienced before and is afraid she never will again. Does that make her shallow? Or does it make her human, just like the rest of us?PamelaFoster-200

If I go any farther, I risk revealing some spoilers, so let me wrap it up this way: by the time you reach the end of Pamela Foster’s The Perfect Victim, you may find yourself wondering what you’d do in a similar situation, and if you’d go down the same dark paths Mary finds herself having to follow.

Because, in the end, what makes us human and vulnerable also lets us win in some horrible situations.

Later,
Gil

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Women in Writing

Want to know what it takes to be a successful writer? Would you perhaps like to see some successful women writers who know what they’re talking about?

womenThen you need to be at the College of the Ozarks in Hollister, Missouri February 20th and 21st. That’s a Friday and Saturday, just to help you out. Several authors will be there giving workshops: Jan Morrill, Sylvia Dickey Smith, Pamela Foster, Velda Brotherton, KD McCrite, Ronda Del Boccio, and Kay Lawson, with special guest Parris Afton Bonds and August McLaughlin.

But don’t let the roster of women and the theme of A Celebration of Women in Writing deter you from attending. The workshops these good ladies are giving will address the needs of all writers.

ParrisParris Afton Bonds is the author of thirty-nine published novels and a co-founder of the Southwest Writers Workshop and co-founder and first vice president of Romance Writers of America. ABC’s Nightline declares her one of the three best-selling authors of romantic fiction, and she’s been interviewed by people like Charlie Rose, featured in major newspapers, and published in more than a dozen languages. She teaches creative writing classes to grade school children and female inmates, donating freely of her time. The Southwest Writers Workshop established the Parris Award in her honor, and they’ve given it to such people as Tony Hillerman and Pulitzer nominee Norman Zollinger.

AugustAugust McLaughlin is a nationally recognized health and sexuality writer based in LA. She’s the creator of the empowering brand Girl Boner and the author of In Her Shadow, a novel based on her experiences with anorexia and body dysmorphia while she was a professional model. In Her Shadow won a National Indie Excellence Award and was an Amazon bestseller. August spends much of her time speaking about eating disorders as well as mentoring individuals with these and other psychological disorders through LA Health Works, LuvUrSelf Fitness, and Bridges to Recovery. She is also the executive producer of Weight Limit, a series of PSAs related to body image.

So if you want to see some successful women talk about writing, come on down to the conference. Who knows what you might learn?

Later,
Gil

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