Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review -- City of Whores

Zingy one-line repartee and poolside parties with Clark Gable and Tallulah Bankhead, exquisitely decorated Hollywood mansions and the best tailor-made suits, trans-Atlantic European cruises and dinners with the rich and famous, such was the life of a nineteen fifties Hollywood star as depicted in the popular magazines  -- the dream for any small town boy or girl who wanted to make it big in Tinseltown.  But behind the glamour, behind all the success and glitz often lay hidden pools of stinking corruption and enough greed and lust to sink the Titanic. Working the well-cultivated ground of California depravity, City of Whores by Mark B. Perry weaves a fantastic and entirely captivating chronicle of the descent into madness and paranoia of a Hollywood threesome that can't ever face the truth or consequences of their illicit sexual attractions.

Underdog Texan Dan Root, a good looker with trembling hands and a self-medicating, Mary Jane jones, drives west to escape his small-town childhood and abusive parents, only to fall into the clutches of a powerful producer, Millie Langford and his famous actress wife Lilly Sinclair. The two provide Root with an alternative family and a ready made Hollywood career complete with screen tests and access to studio roles in exchange for sexual services for Lilly and, in good time, a sexual partner for the tortured and self-loathing Millie. When it becomes clear that he is being toyed with, Dan, now with the ironically ridiculous stage name of Dexter Gaines, tries to break loose but finds he is too enamored of the good life, and of Millie, to get away. It is only years later, with the sordid deaths of Millie and Lilly, that Dexter/Dan gains peace of mind.

Told from the first person perspective of the ingénue Root, City of Whores makes an entirely believable case, explaining and demystifying the world of closeted homosexual shame, pertinent still today. But as with many Hollywood exposes, our solidarity with the denizens of the city of whores comes clouded with a sense of inevitability as we witness the downfalls and tragic unravelings suffered by those enticed by such sordid and empty dreams. Nonetheless, Mr. Perry has produced a page-turner replete with authentic period details, excellent and witty dialogue, and a layered plot worthy of the finest of Hollywood's golden age.

This debut novel by Perry, a veteran television writer and producer of award winning shows such as Northern Exposure and Picket Fences, marks an impressive foray into the world of fiction, although at times it reads like a padded out screenplay with insert here tabs for expanded visual and other sensory details. But there is no doubt that City of Whores is sure to make a splash with readers fond of the behind the scenes, tell-all Hollywood memoirs which provided Mr. Perry with much of his inspiration.
Where to purchase City of Whores

Anthony Caplan is the author of Savior, available as an ebook from Harvard Square Editions and on Amazon.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Good Book for Fall Reading Pleasure - Savior by Anthony Caplan

It is fall now, the season of decay and death and what better thing could there be in this season than a good book to remind ourselves of our condition, either by looking at similar lives under the microscope of an expert observer or by looking at lives seemingly different.

I want you to read my book, Savior, published in April and currently available as an ebook from Harvard Square Editions. So why Savior? Why not the collected works of the esoteric yoga mystic Charles Schitsky or the bound volumes of the six masters of contemporary vampire urban noire? Here's my reason why:

Savior is about a man and his son, normal people, people like you. Let's talk about you.

You have nothing to fear. You are at home, trolling the internet for interesting tidbits, information to spark your interest. Your life proceeds as it always has. Not much changes from day to day and you like it that way. You do not fear for your life or for the lives of your friends and neighbors. There is no authority that is intent on quashing your liberty or your ability to support yourself or your inclinations to a life of pleasure. As far as you know tomorrow will be pretty much the same as today, except that you will be one day older. But you do not even fear the passage of time because you are largely in control, of your destiny, your thoughts and certainly of your actions.

You know that you are okay.

But what if one day you awoke at the bottom of a hole, a prisoner with no hope of mercy from a death cult that was about to take over the reins of power from a largely impotent military/industrial government? What if the one person in your life who might fight for you was a teenage boy who was happier surfing and hanging out with his girlfriend than pushing himself or risking discomfort? How would you keep hope alive? How would you survive?

You are intrigued. Here is an excerpt from the thoughts of Al Lyons, the man in question.

I'm breathing slowly in and out. I'm stringing one breath after another in a prayer chain. I'm thinking hard, focusing my mind on an image of Ricky. My son is fine. He is strong. I know it. Because he is good. And good will always triumph over evil. This is my faith. It is strong. I am strong. But when I hear the train overhead, a chill runs through me.
Maybe he will come today. Not my son. I'm talking Samael Chagnon. It has been many days and I do not miss him. Even so, the toxins he brings strengthen me. The stink of his words gives me the slightest purchase on life, better than the sheer nothingness of solitary imprisonment. The foulness of his ideas sharpens my mind. It is enough to go on. And worth the pain he brings in his wake. I have a high tolerance for pain, especially when I feel myself sinking closer to death. It is a fine line. This is how I demarcate it, one breath after another. Walking that line. But without that shock of contact with the death force of Chagnon, I am unmoored, floating in this sea of blackness. This is an ultimate sort of pain beyond pain, the despair of a wasted breath, a meaningless life that is not worth pursuing down the rat hole of what my mind is in danger of becoming.

The train rolls by again, like a corner of the world coming unhinged. My head is bursting with pulsating waves of pain. I hear my name. He's here again. The guard unbolts the door. I try to open my eyes to the light, but the pain is too much. A short, stoutish figure in a hooded sweatshirt, like a medieval monk, silhouetted by the light, walks in. Next to him are the two guards with shaved heads, black shirts and loose fitting pants who accompany him always, unquestioning, muscular loyalty, the cream of the Santos Muertos, barrio warriors from Tegucigalpa to Las Lomas. With nonchalant inattention, as if I were a sack of inert matter, they strap me down, pinning my arms and legs to the rough mat with rubber ligaments.

It is possible to keep alive in the worst possible conditions, under the worst of circumstances. Al is a prisoner of the Santos Muertos, a gang of thugs who use beheadings and human sacrifice as a tool of terror and subjugation. Sound familiar? I won't give any more away, but read it and let me know what you think. 

(Photo courtesy of New Your Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

Monday, June 9, 2014

Jareds Juiced on Tea

When you get people full up of conspiracy theories about the government trying to enslave its own citizens, eventually there will be a crack and the weak link will go on a bender for blood. This is what seems to have happened again this weekend in Las Vegas. There is a spectrum of mass murder ailing us, running the gamut from an out and out crazy like Jared Lee Loughner - who shot Gabrielle Giffords in a psychotic haze, to Jerad and Amanda Miller, coherent and politically active Tea Partiers who apparently acted out of a desire to spark a political uprising.

It will be difficult but not impossible for right wingers to claim a distance from these two. It looks like even Cliven Bundy knew they were a couple slices short of a club sandwich - they were asked to leave the Bundy compound in the middle of that family's faux showdown over grazing rights. But what they have in common with Loughner besides a first name, is a propensity to blame the government for all the problems in the world, a propensity they seem to share with the Republican Party platform. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Literary Scene Today

I was going to write about social media. I don't really have any expertise, but who does? But instead I thought i'd touch on a broader idea, and that is the notion of grassroots literary culture. This is the  emerging world of self-publishing and independent publishing that is beginning to shake out authentic voices from the multitude, voices capable of gaining a readership on new literary platforms such as Amazon or Smashwords. Traditional publishing that once held a monopoly sway over opinion and access to print has crumbled under the rush of technological change and societal pressure for reform. Many have been resistant to the revolutionary sweep of the change, including writers who had gotten used to the familiar voice of the old master and his promise of easy living in the big house of belle letters where all writers would have to do was cogitate and dream, untouched by the drama of real life and the possibility of confrontation with authentic rejection. The critique of the new literary landscape until now had been an elitist lament that the unwashed masses were incapable of discerning quality in the written word. But I think this is nonsense on multiple levels. Literature is meant to serve the people and if they are directly engaged in the search for what pleases them, their tastes will be expanded by the variety of new voices they are exposed to.

Instead of a cloistered existence apart from the battlefield of the culture wars, writers now must get used to the fact that their work will be taken up into the whirlwind of debate and argument that marks every corner of our collective life as a people. This is a calling worth pursuing, and not just a new opportunity to chisel out a crust of bread in the form of cheap entertainment. Readers too, must take their responsibilities and opportunities for curation seriously, and help promote the voices that will bring this vision to light.

The reason this is a fresh topic for me is my book SAVIOR, in the middle of its first few months of existence on Amazon, is struggling to find a readership, and every review is like a touchstone marking a victory or defeat on the long march forward. Here's a shout out to Kateshine, for your honest and simple words of support and encouragement in the latest review. It's awesome to connect with readers who have taken the initiative to set down their support.

By the way, SAVIOR will be on sale for 99 cents this week from Thursday, June 5 to Sunday, June 8. Pick up a copy and spread the word by sharing the link:

Illustration from Wikimedia (The Editorial Staff of Krokodil by P Belyanin 1929)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Farm Bulletin: Managing the Wild and Cultivating the Feminine

I hoped my posts would stay inside their boundaries, but life is not that neat and we need to give up our illusions of mastery, especially in a male dominated society. I've said it all, now I just need to put it in the context of Farm and Country bulletin number two.

Weeds. Go easy on them. That's my advice in a  nutshell. Or go easy on yourself, because what is the mania for weed obliteration if not a masked male inferiority complex easily manipulated by the forces of Wall Street and Madison Avenue in a gruesome combination. Go easy on the weeds.

In my case, I spent several years eliminating milkweed from the fields, It took a fair amount of aggression and even hatred channeled into long afternoons of walking and hand pulling to get out the plants by the roots. I knew I was giving in to the forces of Madison Avenue and Wall Street in gruesome combination as referenced earlier, but I did not care. I was determined. I wanted green grass and that was it for my sheep. No offending and unsightly presence of the amazingly productive and almost magical flowering and swaying stalks that produce sustenance for the migrating monarch butterfly. Today I regret what I did and wish we had more monarchs. We used to get swarms of them. Maybe they'll come back. Maybe they won't.

Another example staying with the sheep. They are beautiful animals but prey to many including a parasite known as the barber pole worm that is endemic anywhere there  are sheep. I used to dose like crazy several times a year experimenting with combinations of medications, but then i learned the barber pole was developing massive immunity to all the known medications and I stopped trying. I lose less sheep now. Why? I let them graze on the fields that have not been mowed or weeded. When the grass is longer than four inches there is less chance of the sheep ingesting barber pole larvae. As a culture we need to step back from the impulse to dominate nature with our technological prowess and learn a knew approach. Of course I'm not trying to make a living from the land. As soon as you introduce market forces and you need to maximize profits you have to give up on the Tao of farming and it's open warfare a la Colin Powell with massive infusions of capital, technology and hatred for the wild in order to come out ahead. Is that what's happening to us as a society? We need smarter approaches across the board.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Reaping the Sacrifices

Memorial Day is a great day because it's about memory. And living in the present. And feeling good and feeling sad at the same time because people died for us. And when we feel good and do fun stuff we don't have to feel guilty about it because it's what they died for and would have wanted.

This morning I took one of my daughters down town to watch the parade, It was one of those perfect days, windy and not hot and the town felt clean and fresh as if the summer had not really started and that's largely because it was such a brutal winter people are wearing their tank tops and stuff but not quite believing it can be the right time for it and so being very appreciative of just the simple fact that it was a nice day and the river was running full of water you could tell below the stone bridge and the old people in the Drum Corps with the funny red hats and tassels and scarves wrapped around their too large bellies who march every year looking as immortal and nerdy as ever. Then the parade started and veterans marched by in their uniforms and then followed the town mahoots in the jeeps who came down the street waving followed by the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts and then the little league teams throwing candy. After they marched to the town hall and the little cemetery in the back and fired off some volleys we all adjourned to the bandstand to hear a speech from the high school principal, a 26 year military veteran who graduated from RPI on an ROTC scholarship, married someone from his hometown in Massachusetts and served in the two Gulf Wars before retiring as a colonel on the same day as his 16th wedding anniversary. In other words this was a man you could like and his speech was an exegesis of the Star Spangled Banner complete with facts about Francis Scott Key I did not know, such as he was a successful lawyer with a commission from the US Navy to negotiate the release of US prisoners on board the British warships blockading Fort McHenry. They released the prisoners to him and told him to sail behind their lines as they continued to bombard the fort through the night. So he watched the battle from the decks of his ship out on the water wondering whether the fort which stood between the British and the city of Baltimore could withstand the attack. I didn't know that. And the principal tied this in to questions we all have about whether our missions will succeed in life and whether the sacrifices we make will be worthwhile and remembered by others. It was a good speech as far as Memorial Day speeches go. And plus I saw a couple of people I hadn't spoken with in awhile, so there was that good feeling of reconnecting in the place where I live and liking probably almost all of the people that were there.

Thank you Memorial Day, for making us be appreciative of the need to remember.

Next week: A hike in the Minks.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Writing the Vida Loca -- Truth and Fantasy

All right, I said I would do it, so I am. A man of my word, here is the truth about the writing life. If I told you it was no life at all, I would be lying, but not by much.

In my younger days I was enamored of being the man of letters. I imagined a life of high adventure and interpersonal relationships marked by camaraderie and a code of honor shaped by bullfighting and deep sea fishing. You know what I'm talking about, that 1950s cultural icon that somehow survived into the seventies despite taking a beating at the hands of folk music and drugs and the sneaking suspicion that people cared more about the Mary Tyler Moore show than the latest tome from Norman Mailer. When it became apparent that the writer had been relegated by the culture to a sideshow, a carnival attraction, then for me writing became an underground war of attrition, a personal quest that kept me sane by clinging to a juvenile obsession that had not only marked me for life, but determined all the major choices I ever made: college, career, life partner,  etc. It was kind of like being a secret monk, scribbling away nights, typing up drafts of novels and stories from varied locales that all had in common a resolute distance from the centers of literary opinion.

And then last year came the breakthrough i'd been waiting for. A publisher willing to take a chance, put my name on their brand and launch me out into the world of legitimate writerhood, (authorship?). Despite the slap in the face of a contract that specified marketing and publicity would be up to me, I told myself that was just the state of play in the "industry" and I went all in, applying the marketing lessons gained from self-publishing previous titles, and when SAVIOR came out as a Kindle Ebook in April, I was like a proud parent, beaming with the new presence in the world of my book. The reviews were good, some were excellent, and sales have been solid, if not spectacular to date.

So how has my life changed and what have been the benefits and drawbacks of the experience? These are legitimate concerns and despite the fact that i know nobody cares, I'm going to try to spell it out anyway.

In most visible ways, nothing has changed. My kids still think I'm a doofus and remind me of it. My wife would rather I not spend as much time as I do on extraneous Twitter like marketing activity which she does not understand and does not want to understand. A couple of my Spanish students have asked me about my book and how it's doing and one even got excited when I told him it would be on sale in a couple of weeks. So I am that high school teacher guy with the mildly interesting hobby/sideline. (I remember my algebra teacher in 9th grade, Mr. Mucarzel, and his leather handbags.)

One of my neighbors won a free copy of SAVIOR in exchange for helping out with crowd funding, and another neighbor asked me at my daughter's soccer game how the book was doing.

My mother refuses to talk about my writing and changed the subject on Mother's Day when I brought it up in desperation. My father, who actually went out and bought a Kindle so he could buy a copy of SAVIOR, said I was improving but said he's not into dystopian fiction.

So that's it as far as the people around me and the impact the book has had.

Next week: Social media - Benefits vs. Pitfalls

SAVIOR is available as an Amazon Kindle Ebook.