Sunshine DeCastro

This will not be a long post, but I am a writer. I deal with grief by writing about it. I’m pretty certain this will not be the last time I write about it.

A couple of weeks ago we were informed that the family dog Sunshine (Sunny for short) had terminal cancer, and that we would sometime in the near future be faced with making the humane decision. We concentrated these last couple of weeks on making Sunny’s remainder of life as joyful as possible. We learned that she really liked donuts. It has been difficult, of course, but it has been special, too. Love for the family pet can run deep, and so it was with Sunny.

Sunny had been pretty good these last weeks. She has been on some medication to ease her discomfort. For the most part, she had just acted like a nearly 12 year old large dog. But yesterday I had her out on her evening walk, and she was attacked by three large unleashed dogs. Sunny stepped in front of me…obviously to defend ME. It was a horrific experience to see your sick dog attacked. I was able to get her safely removed without taking any wounds.

Unfortunately, she had a very bad night. Would not eat. Would not drink. Did not really walk. Same this morning. These were all the things the vet had told us to look for in knowing it was time. We took her in. Dylan, Jill, and I. There was more discussion about the right thing to do.

We did the right thing.

And it hurts like hell.

Rest in Peace, Sweet Girl.

–Tony

My Challenge – 2022 (NaNoWriMo all year)

I’ve been reading a lot about Dean Wesley Smith’s (Insane) Challenge. Mostly interested in how he looks at a challenge, and his thoughts on making it a “challenge” as in pushing himself to go beyond what he has done before. Obviously, it got me thinking about my own journey, and deciding on a challenge for myself.

Many writers have heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Everyone has an opinion on it. Haha. I first participated in 2003. I cannot remember which November I first succeeded, but it was sometime way back yonder. I don’t often officially participate now, but I don’t have anything bad to say about it. (I could air some grievances, but that is in my opinion the nature of the beast with such successful endeavors…baggage comes along with the success).

For the purpose of my challenge, I got to thinking about the fact that I have completed that challenge a few times. I’ve had a year, maybe two, where I’ve written the 50 thousand words in a month multiple times. But I’ve never really sustained it. So, here is the deal. My challenge for 2022.

I will write 50,000 words (intended for commercial publication) every month of the year.

Where I stray from the NaNoWrimo rules

  1. 1. I won’t limit myself to novels. I will produce the words. However, they fall is fine by me. Short stories, Novels, Novellas, Poems (wouldn’t that be a surprise), even Essays or other non-fiction. What I won’t count is the nonsense I write on here or emails or mailing list stuff. I know many writers count pretty much anything they write in their production goals. And that’s fine for them, this is just my rule. (Note: I have no intention of collecting blog posts into a book or anything like that)
  2. 2. The monthly framework has nothing to do with the end result. It just sets and re-sets my monthly word quota. 50k that’s it. If the story I’m writing on Jan 31 leaks into February. Great. No big deal.
  3. 3. Everything I write must be put on the market. One way or the other. Or it doesn’t count. This doesn’t mean I can’t publish or submit late 2022 work in 2023. It just means for the work to count I can’t write it with the sole purpose of tossing it in a drawer and forgetting about it.

A couple of things about what all this means. The math, if you will.

In general, my particular writing “process” allows me to write about 750 – 1200 words per hour. That process consists of a lot of cycling back and writing as clean a first draft as possible. Most months, I’ll have to write between 1600-1700 words per day. February’s stupid 28 days being the exception. So, I need to find two hours per day. Every day. All year.

The challenge for me will really come down to sticking to it when the work schedule gets hairy. I write first thing in the a.m. before the rest of the house wakes up and before the workday can dig into my writing time… but, what scares me are those days when I need some early hours at work.

That fear (a silly word really, it’s not like I’m swimming in a pool of sharks) had me think about a fall back position. Dean has this in his challenge. I decided against it.

So, this is it. NaNoWriMo all year round. If I succeed, I have 600,000+ more words of commercial fiction (or some non-fiction) in my stable.

Wish me luck!

Tony

Merry Christmas – A Gift

Fellow Earthlings,

My first novel Everything is Broken is available free as a Kindle book on Amazon today and for four more days. (Apologies, I’m too lazy to figure out what date the free gift giveaway ends). Some things of note:

  1. This is truly a gift, and it is for a limited time. This book will not be listed permanently free.
  2. I would love to be able to give free paperbacks of my books away for readers who do not “do” eBooks. Sadly, I cannot go into debt to do this. BUT, if you are one of those readers, Contact Me, and I’ll be happy to provide the book at my cost (i.e. Author Copy rate).
  3. If you are a Kindle Unlimited reader you will see this book is available in KU. If you are really interested in reading my book but think you can get around to downloading it later because it’s in KU anyway. Forewarning, I am ending my KU experiment, and my book will no longer be available on KU on or after January 3rd. I’m costing myself money here, but my recommendation is to go ahead and download the Free copy.

I guess that’s about it. Have a joyous Holiday season and see you in the New Year. I will come bearing new stories. More on that in the coming weeks.

Happy Holidays,

Tony

What I am Reading – John Grisham

 Back before Harry Potter. Before Twilight. The release of a John Grisham novel was a book event. 

It’s true. In fact, the first book event I ever attended (and the last that involved me actually purchasing a book for myself) was a midnight release for John Grisham’s The Partner. I was struggling with insomnia, not an uncommon occurrence, and I recalled a mailer Books-a-Million had sent me about the event. So, I showed up, where I joined about twenty other men, roughly the age I am now, in searching the stacks of the store for a hidden free copy of Grisham’s new release. I don’t recall finding the book, so someone else must have won, and I must have parted with a double sawbuck and few extra Washingtons ($20+ ) and came home with Grisham’s latest legal thriller.

Years later, I attended several Potter and Twilight saga midnight events.  Sometimes with Jill, often by myself…but always to pick up the new book for her. I never got into Harry Potter or the sparkly vampires, but I’ve always loved how popular these books became.  They seemed to be the foil to the doom and gloom crowd, who always wanted to remind us that “nobody reads anymore.” The people, who say this, obviously never attended one of these events. When I think about waiting in line with all those kids and their parents, and the overall level excitement they had for getting a book it makes me smile. A whole generation of new readers were born with these books.

But enough about those books I’ve never read.  

I first read John Grisham when I was in college. The first three books were out, and everywhere. I read them back to back to back, and lost sleep and valuable study time to do so. I anxiously awaited the next release, The Client (and regularly complained that it wouldn’t be available in paper for at least a year after the hardcover release – $20+ for a college kid was too steep).  That annual anticipation of a new Grisham release continued through the release of The Partner (which I could actually afford in hardcover). Then, for whatever reason, I drifted away from Grisham.

Years ago, I heard or read, a fellow writer, mention something along the lines of “I’ve never read Grisham. I tried his first book, and gave up almost immediately because it was so poorly written.” I honestly cannot remember whether this was a face-to-face discussion or online communication, and I can’t recall who said it. I only recall roughly what was said, and my kick in the gut reaction.  Now, looking back on it, I chuckle and think, “Writers,” shaking my head.  A couple reasons for this:

1) This was Grisham’s first book. Of course, it’s going to have some offenses to the silly writer rules, and yes it probably has craft elements that hadn’t matured to the level of a later stage commercial fiction writer.

2) Grisham obviously did something right.  Millions upon millions of people (including myself) have read and loved that story.

It’s pretty common to use criticism as a way to bring someone down to the critics level in all facets of life. Writers are no exception. I’m sure I have been guilty of it, and sure I will continue to be. But I’m trying to see it for what it is, and stop this nonsense. 

One of the interesting results from watching all those JLB interviews was hearing some of the other authors talk about their work, and it has me interested in getting re-acquainted with some of them (no need with Connelly, I still check in on him). So, when I heard Grisham explain that he returned to the Jake Brigance character of his first novel, A Time to Kill, for  the novel Sycamore Row, I actually made it into a bookstore (with mask and socially distanced) for the first time since March and purchased a Grisham novel. It was like 1996 all over again.

I’ll just get it out of the way right now. I lost sleep reading this one, too! And to the person, who says Grisham cannot write, I’ll just offer that any author that can keep me turning the pages with anticipation for a story about probate court is a far better storyteller than me (and probably you). 

I read this book immediately after finishing JLB’s A Private Cathedral, and admittedly nobody is going to accuse Grisham of being a match for Burke as a prose stylist. But once I got over that, I was able to sit back and enjoy it for what it was, an incredibly satisfying read with plenty of suspense and twists and turns throughout the entire 600+ pages.  

People, 600 page books are not my thing. Grisham’s book was a breeze.

No deep philosophical themes. I won’t need to re-read this to see what I missed the first time. But it was a fine story.

A third book featuring Brigance is expected to come out later this fall.  I’m anxiously awaiting it. Like I did for Grisham releases in my twenties.

It’s good to be back.

–TD

What I am Listening to – Kathleen Edwards

 My wife knows me really well. So, it is no surprise that she gifted me Kathleen Edwards’s new record Total Freedom for our anniversary. Ms. Edwards is probably my favorite Canadian Singer-Songwriter not named Neil Young. 

I will not attempt to type out the story of Kathleen’s break from music. It can be found ad nauseum all over the world wide internets. Let’s just say that it has been a loooong wait for new music from her, and in a year that has featured some outstanding new releases, this is the one I’ve been most looking forward to.  (Yes, in a year that has featured new releases by Bob Dylan, Drive-by Truckers, and Jason Isbell).  

And it is great. I have not taken it off my turntable in days.  If you are not familiar with Kathleen’s work this is as good a place to start as any (and that is saying something).

She recently recorded a live Album Release event for NPR at her coffee shop, Quitters, and it features her playing the album in full.  I’m not sure who mixed the sound, but it’s pretty damn impressive…I can’t imaging a coffee shop being optimized for acoustics.  At any rate if you’re so inclined you can listen here:

Not that it really matters but my favorite songs are the 1st, “Glenfern,” and the 5th, “Options Open.”  And the other thing of note is how great it is to see the sheer joy on her face when they launch into the first song. It seems the face of someone who is creating her art on her terms.  

“Glenfern” seems to be about coming grips with one of life’s bad rolls, and  learning to look back on it seeing the good “stuff”, while still being cognizant of the life lesson.  “Options Open” resonates with me because it’s all about realizing that at some point doors need to be shut behind you… keeping your “Options Open” only works for so long. *  

I hope she’s back with us for good.

*I believe in any art, that once it is introduced to the listener, viewer, reader they take over the ownership. So, while these may not be the themes Kathleen was exploring. I am confident that this is what the songs are “about”, because it is how they move me, the listener.

–TD

The 20th Year

 Oh, ho, oh. What is this tom-foolery, you ask?

Yes, I did celebrate my 49th birthday earlier this month, as we have already established.  I am celebrating my 19th wedding anniversary, today.

As far as I’m concerned, this is more worthy of celebration. It certainly has been more challenging, than existing for 49 years.

My wife, Jill, of course, deserves most of the credit. In fact, she probably deserve a medal of honor, of some sort. I also don’t think I’m alone in this. I suspect many of the lesser gender acknowledge the real work is done by their better half.

One of the fascinating discoveries I made early on in my marriage was that I never truly knew my strengths and weaknesses until I looked into the mirror of my wife’s eyes.  And yes, something happened when we made it official. Those eyes were more telling. A truer reflection of my good and poor qualities cannot be found outside how my wife reacts to them.  The happiness, the pride, the humor.  The anger, the disappointment, and yes, sometimes, the embarrassment.

Marriage, seems to me, is a journey all about tilting the scales in one direction. And becoming a better person because of it.

Happy Anniversary Jill Marie DeCastro, with love.

Yesterday’s Post (Links)

 It occurred to me that I could have done all of you a solid by providing some links to the JLB interviews I mentioned. I have yet to watch the Stephen King interview. It aired last night, after my blog post. There is some repetition in the tales Burke tells.  Even I have to admit to getting a little tired of hearing about the middle of his career where he wasn’t able to publish The Lost Get Back Boogie.  But if you haven’t heard it, then it is well worth the listen! It is a tale of persistence to make Rocky Balboa blush.

I’m sure most of you won’t watch all of the videos.  Keeping in mind that I’ve yet to watch the King interview, which I’m sure will be stellar. How could it not be?  My recommendation would be the Lee Child conversation. Interestingly enough, I could never get into Reacher.  But Child’s conversation, I dunno? He seems able to keep up with JLB.  No slight to the others, especially considering I actually prefer the work of Connelly and Grisham (I’ve yet to read Koryta).

Grisham:

Child:

Koryta:

Connelly:

King:

I’ll probably watch the King interview sometime today, when I have finished my own writing for the day.  IF, big if, I can keep myself away from Burke’s latest A Private Cathedral long enough to put in the hour and a half to watch it. The novel is an interesting mix of crime novel and magical realism that I think would make the late-great Toni Morrison proud, and more proof that genre fiction (and certainly Burke’s work) can be literary in nature. Even ignoring Burke’s jaw dropping prose, he is exploring themes and the human condition WELL BEYOND a simple mystery novel. Then, of course, there is the prose…I’ve yet to find a better living composer of prose…perhaps Michael Chabon comes closest (?). 95 MPH fastballs…

–TD

The 50th Year

 You being an astute reader have probably ascertained that I have begun my 50th trek around the sun. It’s true. This latest journey began earlier this month. If you are good with the maths, you probably realize that I celebrated my 49th birthday earlier this month. I may continue doing so every year henceforth.

But enough with the mental gymnastics, Jill and I watched The Karate Kid a few nights ago, and I was confronted with the terrifying realization that I am approaching Mr. Miyagi’s age. Pat Morita was 53 years young, when he created his career defining role (unless, I guess, you are a huge Happy Days fan). How did this happen? Seriously, when one of our fine young Americans refer to me as sir, it still sounds foreign to me. Just yesterday, I was struggling to make the cut on the varsity baseball team at Northeast High School. Right?

Wrong. That happened a few years after the movie was released, and I’m closing in on the old wise man from the movie.

This, of course sent me down the rabbit hole of what I’ve learned in all those years. As much, as I really didn’t want to catch up to Mr. Miyagi in the tally of orbits, it sure would be nice to have some of that wisdom.

Still I feel like a child.

My son is a Senior in High School this year. He will be taking classes virtually.  This was difficult for me to come to grips with. School is in the classroom. It’s also one of our earliest and foundation building social interaction exercises. Sure it lasts over a decade, but it takes that long. At least, this is my rationalization. Today is a different world. In a lot of ways, of course, but I fear this whole pandemic social isolation thing is a new norm for those of my son’s generation. I never could have imagined the level of global shutdown something like this could cause just a few short years ago.  Now it seems like even after we get through COVID19, there will be another season, like the inevitable hurricane crashing into our shores every summer to fall.  As far as school goes?  My wife was adamant about Dylan enrolling in virtual school for safety reasons.  As the summer crawled on and I saw our cultural difficulties with social distancing measures on display…as I saw the numbers of cases climbing… as I learned of people I know inflicted with the virus (one twice, long before the recent report of the “first case of COVID re-infection”)… as I heard of people I know succumbing to the disease, who are no longer with us… I pivoted on my strongly held belief that school is in the class room. Maybe, releasing some of my stubbornly held beliefs is Miyagi-esque wisdom?  Something, I’ve learned in my 49+ years? Maybe, I’m just smart enough to listen to my wife?  Surely, Mr. Miyagi could appreciate the wisdom in that.

Writing is a constant reminder that what you think you know as truth is often a lie. Hell, as a fiction writer, I ATTEMPT to tell the truth by feeding you lies (fiction).  I’ve had the joy of listening to a number of James Lee Burke discussions over the last few weeks.  He’s had sessions with John Grisham, Lee Child, Michael Koryta.  There is a forthcoming session with Stephen King!  Burke is fascinating and humbling. His intellect is so sharp, and his classical education obviously so much deeper than my own. I’ve never experienced what the writing mob refers to as Impostor’s Syndrome. In fact, even after having this regurgitated nearly every time I visit one of the online writing communities, I’m still not sure what it is.  I guess some feeling of inadequacy (?).  I’ve always just said  I’m just going to do my best. Try to be the best Tony DeCastro, because ultimately I’m not only the only one that can decide if that is good enough, I’m also the only one who will ever know if I’ve truly given my best.  This feels more like the wisdom of Forrest Gump, than Mr. Miyagi.  (Not meant as a slight, as Gump’s wisdom was sharp as well…remember Jenny asking Forrest what/who he wanted to be, and he simply saying, “Well ain’t I just gonna be me.”)  

Whoa, where was I going with this?  Right? Impostor syndrome. Watching these interviews, reading three of Burke’s books back to back (two re-reads), has probably left me as close to this mythical impostor’s syndrome, as I will ever be.  

When I was a Senior in High School, I was fortunate enough to play in a couple of Senior All-Star games, where the best seniors in the county got to play in exhibition games against other county’s squads. It was an opportunity to get a look from college recruiters and pro scouts… and for a lot of us, just another chance to get on the diamond and compete against others whose talents we admired. Now, I was a pitcher, and didn’t pick up a bat all season.  For whatever reason, in these All-Star games the designated hitter was not used, which meant pitchers would hit.  I was thrilled, and secretly hoped I would be lucky enough to get a chance to bat…It was an All-Star game, which meant that the coaches tried to get everyone into the games.  So, there was no guarantee that even if my spot came up in the line-up in the couple of innings I pitched that I would get my opportunity.  Pinch hitting was an excellent way to get someone into the game.

But…

I got my opportunity against the Hillsborough County All-Stars.  Against  a pitcher named Kiki Jones, who would be taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft that year. He was about 5′-9″ and maybe weighed 160 pounds after walking an hour through a driving rain, but God or the baseball gods or fate had reached down and blessed his right arm. I had never, and have never since, stepped into the box and had such a fast ball tossed in my direction. He threw 95 mph bee bees with the effort of someone tossing batting practice. I took three feeble swings, and walked back to the dugout thankful that Mr. Jones had command of his control.  I also then realized I would never throw like that.  Yet, the next fall, I tried to walk-on at a Division One NCAA baseball program. I failed, but I did my best.  The next year, with a year of college education under my belt, I gave it the ol’ college try again (pun intended). This time my best was good enough. Finding playing time as walk-on was an uphill battle as well…but I kept at it.  I never threw a 95 mph fastball. I never was drafted by a Major League team. But I very, very seldom ever left the field having not given my best.

So, it is with Mr. Burke’s 95 mph fastballs. I don’t have to do that. Hell, I don’t even have to step in the box against it. None of us do. We just need to do our best. 

I think we’re back to Mr. Miyagi….

Perry Mason

I’m not really a Perry Mason guy. I’m just not.

I have fond memories of hearing the famous introductory music for the old TV show starring Raymond Burr, and walking out to the living room and seeing my father watching it. In those childhood memories, I always imagine this happening in the wee hours, after my father returned from his late night shift at work.  I’m not sure that it was all that late. After all, these were the days before we had cable TV, and broadcast TV just was not on all that late.  Nonetheless, I have since watched some of those black and white classics in my adult years. And they are fine, and enjoyable way to spend an hour. I can take or leave ol’ Raymond Burr as Perry, though.

The Erle Stanley Gardner novels are not exactly to my taste either (for the record, I prefer the Cool and Lam series he wrote under the A.A. Fair pen name). If you like your mysteries to stack plot twist upon plot twist upon plot twist upon plot twist (you get the picture), then you will love Gardner’s Perry yarns.

Which brings us to HBO’s new series titled Perry Mason.  It is three episodes into its run, now. Up until episode three I have been in a wait and see mode. Episode three sees me jumping all in.

Della Street is a total bad ass, strong female character. I’ve liked her in the first two. In episode three, she is another level of bad ass female insisting the men up their game.

The Paul Drake character connects with Perry.  Drake in this version of the Mason-verse is a black cop. Now, it would be easy to write this off as a play for political correctness (or whatever they are calling not being a total douche-bag these days). But that would fail to recognize that exploring this character is fascinating storytelling. What would it be like to be an honorable cop, among a den of thieves (LAPD), in 1920’S LA?  What about a black one? It just adds some nice tension to Drake’s story… the pull of his family adding to that tension. That Drake has finally connected with Mason, probably, means we will get to see more of this tension. And I’m looking forward to it.

And more Della!

Perry, on the other hand?  Eh. I should like this Perry more than I do. He’s a gritty, private investigator rather than an attorney. That is my kind of guy. But I’m having a hard time with him, though the acting has been fine. I have to believe that this opening series is meant as backstory, and eventually Perry becomes the attorney behind that booming opening score. I do like the PI stuff. I am just having a difficult time actually liking the guy.

But, I am sold on the show,  because of Della and Drake, and great cinematography, and, yes, a twisty as hell story.

Are any of you watching?  What do you think?

–TD

Film Noir Friday – Panic in the Streets

Yes. Jill and I did this last night.

What’s that you ask?

We watched the film noir(ish) about an impending pandemic, and the race against time to contain it.

The film directed by (the eventually black-listed) Elia Kazan features oneof my favorite actors, Richard Widmark, in an atypical role, and the film debut of Jack Palance, the man with the mug born to play a film noir villain.

It’s a fun thriller with some gorgeous noir visuals set in New Orleans. Outside of the visuals and Jack Palance’s face there isn’t really much that identifies it as a film noir (other than that’s how Fox markets the DVD now that noir is a selling point), but whether a film is noir or not really has nothing to do with its quality.  And Panic in the Streets is a fine, entertaining film that I’ve watched half a dozen times, and while I’m not sure the repeat viewings provide any new discoveries, they’ve never failed to entertain. It’s sort of film’s answer to comfort food.

A foreign smuggler arrives in the port of New Orleans infected with pneumonic plague. Immediately gets down big in a poker game with some local thugs, and ends up floating in the Mississippi (or Gulf). Richard Widmark plays a good guy (I know, I know…I said atypical), Doctor for the Dept. of Public Health, who discovers the floater not only is riddled with bullet holes but was infected with a fast spreading contagion.  The race is on to find the killer and anyone who came in contact with the body to contain the plague…also to keep it all under wraps from the press to lessen the “Panic in the Streets.”

Yes, timely.

Widmark is fantastic as usual. As is Palance.  No real femme fatale to speak of.

Panic in the Streets, I believe is in the Public Domain. It’s part of the Fox Film Noir series (Spine #2 or 3 I believe). I’ve owned a copy for years, but if it is in the Public Domain, it should be found easy enough for free streaming at Archive or You Tube.

— TD