Saturday, June 16, 2018

Is a Gift Card an Appropriate Gift?



My kids called to find out what I wanted for Father’s Day. When I asked for a gift card from Amazon, they said that would be impersonal. I didn’t argue, but it made me wonder why they asked.

Their response made me think about the appropriateness of gift cards. I think they’re great. If emailed, shipping costs are nil, they arrive at the speed of light, and I get to pick my own gift at the time of my choosing. What could be better?

Then I thought about it. What would be better is a present the giver enjoys giving. A gift is not one-way social exchange. Fathers used to be effusive when they received ugly ties. There was a reason. The giver was a loved one … perhaps a loved one with lousy taste, but a loved one nonetheless. You don’t make someone feel crummy because you didn’t like their gift.



That said; I’m getting an Amazon gift card for Father’s Day. How did I convince my kids? I told them I would email a thank you each time I bought a book for my Kindle. That promise overcame the biggest negative of gift cards; the giver never knows what the recipient does with it ... or if it's lying in a drawer somewhere.



Gift cards are becoming ever more popular and they are changing the ebb and flow of book sales. Print sales are best before the holiday and ebooks are better after the holiday. You can almost feel people using gift cards to load up their electronic devices.

By the way, if you expect a gift card for Father’s Day, download samples of my books now so you can decide where to spend your largess.

Honest stories filled with dishonest characters.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Excerpt from Deluge, A Disaster Novel





Greg Evarts and Patricia Baldwin are back and this time they only need to save the state of California. Here's an excerpt from the first chapter of Deluge.

Baldwin said into the phone, “Mr. Gleason, I understand. I’ll be in Sacramento first thing Tuesday morning.” After a pause, she added, “Of course, sir. Thank you.”
She tapped to end the call, turned off her phone, confirmed that it had gone dark, and then exclaimed, “Shit!”
“The lieutenant governor?” Evarts asked.
She lifted her eyeglasses slightly and let them fall back on her nose. “Yes, damn it. They’re in a panic over this damn rain. Rain, for Pete’s sake.”
“I take it they want you up there Tuesday?”
“I wish,” Baldwin answered. “The commission meets at 8:00 AM on Tuesday, meaning I leave noonish Monday, and they want me to bring a week’s worth of clothes. Damn it, I have classes, committee meetings, office hours, and a speech in Los Angeles on Thursday night.” She threw her phone onto the couch. “I wish I had never accepted the governor’s appointment.”
The governor of California had appointed Baldwin to the Seismic Safety Commission, and she had been on the advisory council for less than a year.
“I thought that commission dealt with earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes.”
“Some idiot evidently believes a few days of rain can trigger one of those. I don’t need some volunteer work to destroy my career. This is stupid.”
“It may hamper your career, but it won’t ruin it. It’s Saturday. This storm will probably pass before you sit down for your meeting. You’ll be back in time to make your speech.”
Suddenly, she asked, “What are you eating?”
He held up the chop by the bone. “Last night’s leftovers. I need protein.” He ripped off a piece of meat with bared teeth like he was ravished, and she laughed at his antics.
“Don’t we make the couple,” she said. “You walk around chewing on a bone like a caveman, and I’ve been talking to the lieutenant governor in pajamas. I’m surprised they don’t deport us back to Oxnard with the riffraff.”
“We had fun there. Maybe I can buy back my old house.”
“No, I’m good. Just frustrated that this stupid commission can jump up and disrupt my life.”
“You’ll be back soon. You know bureaucrats, always making a big thing out of nothing.”
She walked over to a sofa table and picked up her coffee. She took a sip while staring out to sea.
“Perhaps not this time. I heard fear in Paul’s voice. They got seven inches of rain in the last week.”
“Seven inches? Our drizzles haven’t added up to squat.” He thought about the implications. “Did he say if any dams were in jeopardy?”
“Yes.” She didn’t turn away from the murky, cloud-enshrouded ocean. “All of them.”

Disaster, gangs and political inertia, but that isn’t the scary part.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Deluge—New Release Now Available

Natural disaster, street gangs and political inertia … but that isn’t the scary part.
Deluge is now available in print and Kindle. This book is a little bit of a departure from my normal fare and fun to write. A traditional disaster story, Deluge will get your adrenaline going while sitting in a barcalounger.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

New James D. Best Novel on June 4th!



In 1862, a sixty-five day downpour pummeled the western United States. California suffered the brunt of the storm. Almost a third of the state was under water, roads were impassible, telegraph lines down, rivers overflowed, hundreds of people died, and hundreds of thousands of animals drowned. Sacramento remained under water for six months, forcing the state government to move to San Francisco.
Geological evidence shows that a flood of this magnitude hits California every one to two hundred years.
What if it happens again?

I took a break from Steve and his friends to write a disaster story. This one's a corker. I didn't know I could imagine such mayhem.

For Steve Dancy fans, I have started Coronado, A Steve Dancy Tale and it should be available before the end of the year.

Back to Deluge. Greg Evarts and Patricia Baldwin are back from The Shut Mouth Society. The stories are unrelated, so Deluge is not a sequel. The novels just shares the same cast and locale. The characters have changed, of course. Greg is now chief of police in Santa Barbara. Patricia is still a history professor, but has transferred from UCLA to UCSB. When the sky falls on California, our two heroes must once again save the day. There's rain, inept and ept politicians, murading street gangs, cage fighters, spies, and collapsed dams that send mountains of rolling water toward everything we hold dear.

Deluge will be available in print and Kindle formats on June 4th. Happy reading.

Can a 150-year-old conspiracy be unraveled before it’s too late?


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How many New York minutes can you cram into nine days?




We have three grandchildren in New York City and we try to visit them as often as we can muster up the energy and coin. Let’s see, we were there nine days. In that time, we saw a Yankee’s game, celebrated our son’s birthday, celebrated our granddaughter’s birthday, watched our two grandsons play collectively ten—count them, ten—lacrosse games, saw our youngest grandson play two baseball games, watched our granddaughter perform in a school production of Pirates of Penzance, attended our grandson’s First Communion, ate innumerable meals in restaurants, and rode in countless cabs, ubers, and car services. All this, while being entertained by a new bernedoodle puppy that made the energizer bunny look languid. We even snuck in some private time to tour Radio City Music Hall on tickets we bought two years ago.



I know I forgot tons. The entire week is a blur. We’re a couple of retirees who on most days lumber from room to room to get enough exercise to laze about some more. When my wife yells that we need to go to CVS tomorrow, I mutter that she ruined my entire day. If it’s CVS and the hardware store, I get out my iPhone and schedule the chockablock activities in my calendar app.


We love New York, and we really do love all the activity, especially when the weather doesn’t mug us. This was not one of those visits. My son never leaves a Yankee game early, but in the top of the eighth, the stadium turned into the biggest icebox on the planet. A near capacity crowd was thinned to a few guys hawking sodas before the Yankees came to bat. We left our hotel in fine weather to walk to Radio City Music Hall. Halfway there, it turned blustery, cold, and wet. Us, without an umbrella or decent coats. We even entered the restaurant after our grandson’s first communion drenched, with teeth chattering. Last Saturday, the weather for the lacrosse games was perfect. Perfect. It was a trick. On Sunday we were smart enough to wear layers, but twenty wouldn’t have been enough. It went down to forty with gusts of hurricane proportions that made me understand what chilled to the bone really meant. I’ve posted recently about the springtime snow in Omaha. New York likes to do the chill bit without the pretty white fluffy stuff.

In the end, it was all good. We hit the Big Apple at the perfect time to see all three grandchildren strut their stuff, and we got in on some nifty celebrations. But we were exhausted by our last day. 

As we drove back into the city from some farm that boasted plenty of lacrosse fields, my daughter called from Omaha. She wanted to know what time we flew in that night. What’s up, I asked. Our Omaha grandson wanted to know if we could make it back in time for his Sunday evening baseball game.


Friday, April 6, 2018

The weather outside is frightful: Part Deux

Yesterday, the gardener showed up for Spring Cleanup. This morning, I woke to this.



Burr!
Since the same person does my snow removal, I guess he show up today to clear my driveway.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Weather Outside is Frightful


WTH


Every year, I leave my home in Omaha after Christmas to spend the winter in San Diego. I return each Easter to spend the holiday with family. What’s an egg hunt without grandkids, nieces, and nephews? This schedule has worked out great in past years. I avoid the worst of winter in the Midwest, visit my west coast friends and relatives, bask in the sun, get a little surfing in at Pacific Beach, and return for glorious springtime on the plains. Only not this year. This year, they predict snow three times this week. There’s not a leaf in sight. The prominent color is brown. And polite Midwesterners are a bit grumpy.



I even built a fire the first night to ward off the chill. With the thermostats set at fifty in our absence, the couch cushions made us wrap in blankets. Yeah, “But the fire is so delightful.”

Deluge is still at the editors, but I expect it back soon, which will keep me busy. I also have three more essays to write for this year’s Constituting America’s 90-Day study. Lots of indoor work. Unfortunately, I have a couple problems that need attention in the garage, which is more like an icebox. Oh well, whenever I get lethargic writing, I can get my blood moving again by doing garage chores. 

Or … maybe I’ll check for discount airfares back to San Diego.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mark Twain's 10 Writing Tips




Curiosity.com published a list of writing tips from Mark Twain. Now, Twain never actually published a list, but his letters provided plenty of tips that just needed to be gathered up in one place. 


1. "Write without pay until somebody offers to pay."
2. "Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream."
3. "Great books are weighed and measured by their style and matter, and not the trimmings and shadings of their grammar."
4. "The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction."
5. "If I had more time, it would have been shorter."
6. "The more you explain it, the less I understand it."
7. "Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very.' Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."
8. "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
9. "Use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences... don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in."
10. "As to the adjective: When in doubt, strike it out.”

Good advice, but I believe scrutinizing Twain’s castigation of James Fennimore Cooper provides even more guidence. Among other things, Twain wrote “Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in "Deerslayer," and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.” 

If the criticisms of Cooper were rewritten as positive statements, they would make a great guide to great writing. Which I took the liberty of doing here. You may also want to check out my catalog of writing advice from the masters. 



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Leadville Laurel comments on my book Leadville

"Author/Blogger James D. Best found me on the web and sent me his novel Leadville: A Steve Dancy Tale (2nd in a series) to review! I haven't yet posted my review on my website, but I can tell you that even if I weren't living in Leadville, I'd still love this Wild West mystery adventure! Best's writing style is a romp, and he nails the dialogue. Two thumbs up!"








Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 1982
versus

Blade Runner 2049


IMDB users rate Blade Runner 2049 at 8.2 out of 10. Pretty heady rating for IMDB. I’m aware that anyone who preferred the original gets dissed as an ol’ fogey. I fall into the old category, but don’t admit to the fogey part. Nevertheless, I will go on record as preferring the original. (Both films scored 8.2)

My reasons are from a different perspective than most. Admittedly, film is an art form and presentation certainly plays into the craft. From a visual perspective, I might even give Blade Runner 2049 the edge. It paints a dystopia world with deft precision. Where it falls behind the original is the crux of good storytelling. Bad guys gotta be bad.

In the original movie, Rutger Hauer portrayed Roy Batty with relentless malevolence, yet managed, in the end, to elicit compassion for his character. Batty was a worthy rival, who transitions into a sympathetic victim. A fine piece of acting, that.

Luv vs. Roy

On the other hand, Sylvia Hoeks plays Luv like a high school mean girl, and the script resorts to clich├ęs to portray her evilness. For example, when Luv stomps on K's mobile projector to kill Joi, it reminded me of a B-movie where the antagonist kicks a dog to convey dastardliness.

And then when Luv finally dies, we think, oh good, it’s over. When Batty dies, we weep.

I’m prejudice, of course. I believe the art in storytelling requires an antagonist that presents a heavy challenge to the protagonist. Heroes need villains to be heroic. We want the protagonist to win, but he or she keeps losing until just before the curtain falls. The tension comes from uncertainty. Even though we’ve seen story upon story, each time we are transported to another place and time where the villain might actually win. Sometimes, we get a reveal at the end that turns the protagonist’s victory poignant. A neat trick, when done right, and the original Blade Runner pulled this off with panache.

And that’s why I prefer the Blade Runner 1982.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Back from a vacation of surfing and writing

I took a break from social media for about four months. Fatigue, I guess. I wanted to write, enjoy my family, and surf.  The writing and family went great. The surfing so, so. I still get rides, and occasionally good rides, but embarrassments are less occasional.  I’m with Hobson in the movie Arthur. On his death bed, Arthur asks, “Do you want anything?” and Hobson replies, “I want to be younger.” My birthday is coming up, but asking for youth as a birthday gift seems contradictory.

Arthur
John Gielgud as Hobson in Arthur

The first draft of Deluge is complete at long last. Actually, the second draft, but who's counting? This is a disaster story and since I had never lived through a disaster, I had to do a lot of research. It was a fun book to write, and I'm confident you'll enjoy it. Unfortunately, it will be many months before it makes it through the remaining steps to publication. 

In the meantime, Crossing the Animas is now available from Center Point Publishing in a hard cover, large print edition. Libraries are the primary market for this format, but it would make a dandy gift for some of us older guys who like our print large and our stories larger.

Now in large print, library binding

The Steve Dancy Tales
Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters

I'll return sooner next time. Have a great 2018!