Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Review from Buzz

Have you ever used Yelp? It's a good way to discover what people say about restaurants and other businesses should you find yourself in a different city. Heck, I've discovered places in my own town thanks to Yelp.
The writing can get downright entertaining. In Redding, our star Yelp reviewer is a guy named Buzz. Buzz has over 200 reviews on Yelp, and he tells it like it is. I sent him a message a few days ago asking him if he did a blog, and if I could post one of his reviews on mine. Nope, he doesn't do a blog, and that's a shame. But, he gave me the okay to post this review.
So here's a Yelp review from Buzz, my very first, ahem, guest blogger. Caution: Buzz is rather blunt. His review concerns a place called the Palo Cedro Inn here in Shasta County, California.

Do you guys know how Game 5 of the NBA Finals turned out?

I'm asking because I went to PCI last night to watch the game -- our satellite dish was on the blink.  I watched the second quarter in relative peace -- the only distraction was listening to the guy sitting a few stools to my left go on and on about how the world's supply of crude oil is actually infinite, and conservation is bullshit, because God replenishes it as we use it up.  See, that's why the center of the earth is hot.   It's God's way of cooking up more crude oil.  There's actually so much oil that it's bubbling to the surface in Canada and the Dakotas, and the only reason there are shortages is because Democrats and environmentalists blah blah blah blah blah....

At halftime I'm eating my soup-and-salad dinner when a guy sits down next to me and proceeds to tell my all about his last five years in one long stream-of-consciousness epic saga.  Included were details about a nasty divorce from a member of a prominent local hill clan that involved a prenuptial agreement regarding an $8 million estate, a back-stabbbing housemaid who committed perjury, a bitter custody fight, multiple car wrecks and DUIs, bulging discs, disability, Medicare, sexual molestation charges involving a minor.....

About every two minutes he says something like, "And that's all I got to say about that. I said enough already.  You're trying to watch the basketball game.  (He looks at the screen.) Hey, nobody touch the nigger!  It's a foul if you touch that nigger.  Ha ha ha." Then back to his life's story.

I'm staring a hole in the TV screen in the 3rd quarter, hoping the guy next to me is going to follow through on his promise to go talk to the owner, which is why he says he's there.  A woman walks up and ask the bartender to change the channel.

This is the same bartender who knows I'm there to watch the basketball game, which I've been doing since I arrived, and I'm watching now with as much focused intensity as I can muster given that the guy next to me is still talking about how the girl involved in the molestation charge is a big fat liar, and he heard Glenn Beck say on the radio today that it's going to be a law that we all have to learn how to speak Spanish, and his only hope at getting the truth out about the molestation is the anchorman at Channel 24 News in Chico, and if you ever need a lawyer get one from Alturas 'cause they still make their living off the land over there, and the Grand Jury won't do shit about his ex-wife even though his lawyer told him they would.....

The bartender changes the channel.

Check, please.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Our Feet on Their Backs

A few years ago, my friend Algernon D’Ammassa wrote about taking a leave of absence from his employer. They filled his position with a temp. She was a capable, energetic woman who quickly showed her value to the organization, and when Algernon returned to his position, his employer decided to keep her on. One condition of her permanent employment, though, was a credit and background check. Alas, the credit check revealed that the young woman had once declared bankruptcy. Just like that, she was out of the running and jobless.
More and more, it seems acceptable in our culture to blame others for their own misfortunes. If someone has been unemployed for a long period of time, he or she must be lazy or stupid or both. Compassion is for suckers.
Nowadays, job ads appear warning the jobless that they need not apply. Last year, Sony Ericsson decided to move its headquarters to an Atlanta suburb. The move would create 180 new jobs, but included in the job announcement was this: “No unemployed candidates will be considered at all.”
More such ads seem be surfacing. In the words of Mr. D’Ammassa: “We put our feet on the backs of those who try to get back up.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


My friend Steve Brewer has a new novel out, titled Calabama. I’ve read sixteen of Steve’s novels, and liked them all, but this one will probably rank among my favorites when time puts things in perspective.

I was a fan of Steve’s before we became friends. I met him a few years ago at a gathering of local authors, and bought a book from him, Bank Job. At the time, I hardly read fiction at all, tending toward nonfiction almost exclusively.

Bank Job got me reading fiction again, and opened my eyes to the crime fiction genre. My wife Rhonda minored in Theater Arts in college, and acted in several plays during and after college. She says, “Good acting is when you forget that they’re acting.” I find a parallel in Steve’s writing. With twenty-two years under his belt as a journalist before transitioning to a career as a self-employed author, he brings a journalist’s strengths to his fiction, an economical, cut-to-the-chase style that allows the story to be king. With Steve’s work, I’m reading a story, I’m not reading writing.

In an interview, author Eric Beetner said it best. He was asked, "Which author should be much better known?" He answered, "My go-to for this is always Steve Brewer. He's as good as Elmore Leonard with a fraction of the accolades."

On the website Mystery Fanfare today, Steve wrote about Calabama.

You need certain key ingredients to get going on a new novel -- a setting, a notion of the plot, a good opening line, a protagonist that speaks to you. I also like to have a title in mind before I start writing, though we all know they sometimes change.

Occasionally, the title is the spark that sets an idea on fire. That was certainly the case with my 18th crime novel, CALABAMA.

I first heard the term from a friend in Redding, California, where I lived from 2003 to 2010. Redding is an isolated city of ninety thousand people, way up north near Lake Shasta, and it's the setting for one of my other novels, BANK JOB.

Soon as I heard the word "Calabama," I knew I must write a novel to go under it. It was the perfect description for life in inland California.

When most people think of California, what comes to mind is Los Angeles or San Francisco or beach towns like Santa Cruz, where I live now. But the state's vast interior is rural and socially traditional and politically conservative and prone to pickup trucks. It resembles Arkansas (where I grew up), but with palm trees.

I've bucked that redneck mentality my whole life, so it was easy to create a character who'd do the same. Eric Newlin is a dope-smoking slacker who landed in Redding by accident. He's unhappily married, works for his father-in-law and dreams of escaping Calabama.

Eric survives a traffic accident, one of those near-misses that feel like an omen, and he decides his life is going to change. It does. It goes straight to hell. Jobless and broke, Eric gets mixed up in a kidnapping scheme with a local crimelord named Rydell Vance, and things go very wrong.

The novel's a hillbilly noir, full of violence and greed and backwoods bitterness, but leavened with dark humor.

Kind of like Calabama itself.

Alas, Steve and his wife Kelly moved from Redding to Santa Cruz several months ago. Santa Cruz is a lovely place, but good luck finding an all-night taxidermist in that town.

Calabama is available today on Kindle and Smashwords.

Monday, June 06, 2011

An End of the World in 1969

When I was thirteen years old, in 1969, a local pastor in our area convinced most of his congregation to move from southern California to Tennessee. He’d had a vision that a monstrous earthquake would hit California, and that most of the state would end up underwater.

I think I remember that about three-quarters of his congregation left their jobs, homes, and lives in Oxnard behind. They pulled up stakes and moved to Tennessee. Some of the people were rather connected in the community, so it made front page of the newspaper.

A week after they arrived, the biggest earthquake to hit the Tennessee area in decades rumbled through. Could that be evidence that God has a sense of humor?

As I recall, the pastor had no comment.