One week, three novels and all three excellent reads

WATKINS GLEN, New York - In quick succession this past week I read Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates, World Gone By by Dennis Lehane and The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle.

For me, that's something of a reading record.

It's not that unusual for me to read three books in a single week. But normally it's one novel and two quick-read non-fiction books.

Novels have to be really good to grab my attention. Most of the time I come home with an armload of books, taking most of them back within a day.

And so it is that I am still stunned that all three of these books, grabbed quickly off the shelves of the Watkins Glen Public Library, were all amazingly good reads. I burned through them. And they will be back in the library this afternoon.


Jack of Spades takes the reader on a wild ride through the eyes of a best-selling author. Right there you know what hooked me at the outset. (Oh! To hit the best-seller list!) But you don't have to dip very far into this psychological thriller before you realize what you see on the surface isn't what's really going on.

It's a little like looking at a quiet mill pond where the surface of the water seems ever-so-peaceful. But down below there is a boiling turmoil of the aquatic animal kingdom competing, fighting - and perhaps even munching on each other.

Joyce Carol Oates does an amazing job of pulling the reader deeper and deeper beneath the surface of the author's life pond until you are almost gasping for air in the final pages. Like other work by Oates, the characters aren't what they seem to be at first. And who they turn out to be is as unpredictable at weather in suburban New Jersey where the book takes place.

Highly recommended reading. But read with extreme caution if you are a writer going through some kind of psychological doldrums or distress.  (And what writer isn't most of the time?)

World Gone By in its opening lines seems like it will be a simple, almost pedestrian crime novel, further stereotyped by its setting in World War II Tampa, Florida. Then four paragraphs into it, without warning, the characters emerge so strongly they jump off the page before you even get through the prologue.

Books filled with psychotic gangsters can be fascinating - or a complete turnoff. In World Gone By Lehane humanizes some, dehumanizes others but always, always make them so interesting you can't look away even when guns blaze or knives flash. Kind of like trying to avert your eyes from a slow-motion, car-wreck video.

What becomes abundantly clear is that every character in the book is complicated. Very complicated. And those complications, set against the backdrop of criminal activity (and sometimes violence) make for very readable book.

There is even a bow to race relations - a la 1940s - using the rough underworld of that era in Florida.

Lehane is a veteran novelist with many best sellers to his credit including the highly acclaimed Mystic River. I'm not sure World Gone By will get that same traction. But it should.

Recommended reading, especially if fast-paced novels are what you like.


The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle is as quirky as much of the rest of Boyle's work. And equally captivating.

It leads with a 70-year-old, retired high school principal going through an identity crisis of sorts as he faces a life of, well, boredom. Boyle sucks the reader in with early pages making the book sound like a Paul Theroux travelogue as the principal and his wife bounce along on a pothole-strewn Costa Rica road uncomfortable on a smelly, third-world bus, part of cruise ship tour.

Then the principal violently thwarts a robbery attempt.

Paul Theroux disappears and T.C. Boyle emerges.

Like most of Boyle's work, his characters are incredibly complicated. And The Harder They Come take the reader on a nearly 400-page wild ride through the marijuana patches of Northern California's coast, the twisted anti-government minds of a middle-aged woman and eventually to the principal's son. Law enforcement gets hit a few whacks in the book, too.

It's painful to read in spots, but never dull. And just when you think you can predict what the characters will do next, you get surprised.

Especially by the principal's adult son - every parent's nightmare.

The Harder They Come is an artful book that is well worth taking a day or two to be immersed in.

I couldn't put it down.


'Fracking Justice' Kickstarter - 13 days to go now

WATKINS GLEN, New York - The Kickstarter campaign for Fracking Justice is past the midway point, with 13 days left to run.

That leaves 13 days to preorder a print book, e-book, audiobook or a T-shirt. Or maybe some combination of all four.

LINK to Kickstarter campaign.

After yesterday's blog post (and email) a number of folks jumped on the Fracking Justice Kickstarter bandwagon.

Thank you all!

So far, 31 folks have contributed $1,200, preordering their print books, e-books, audiobooks and T-shirts.

The T-shirts - designed by Canandaigua artist Amy Colburn who also did the book cover - are being printed and will be ready in the next few weeks.

And this  week - provided my cold goes away - I will be in Scott Adams' Hector, NY studio to record the soundtrack for the audiobook of Fracking Justice.

If you have any questions about the Kickstarter or how the rewards/purchase/preorder works shoot me an email by clicking this link: Michael.FitzgeraldFLTcolumnist@gmail.com

Thanks for your support.


'Fracking Justice' final proofs done - now it's all Kickstarter

ALAMEDA, Calif. - The final-final-final page proofs of Fracking Justice are done! I found the last out-of-place commas, formatting errors and (OK, OK!) spelling goofs today.

Now the book will be put into its final form by Mill City Press, still on track for a June 1 public release. Kickstarter backers will see their copies earlier.

This week Adm. Fox and I launched a Kickstarter campaign for the book, similar to what we did for The Fracking War. This time  Kickstarter backers can pre-order a print edition, e-book, audio book, a specially designed T-shirt - or a combination of any of these.

The audio book has proven to be the most complicated part of all this.

With the encouragement of Canandaigua, NY artist Amy Colburn, (who did the cover art for Fracking Justice),  I went into the recording studio of Hector musician Scott Adams where I recorded an audio book of The Fracking War. And when I return to the Finger Lakes in a week, I'll be recording the sound for production of the audio book of Fracking Justice.

Ever try reading aloud for hours without making a single mistake? 
Or stifle a cough mid-sentence? 
Or stop your your stomach from gurgling so loud the sound gets picked up by a microphone?

Kee-rist it's hard.

This week we also finalized the back-cover endorsements for Fracking Justice, too.

Here they are, also listed on the Kickstarter page (LINK: to Kickstarter):

Josh Fox - Director of Gasland and Gasland 2:
"At a time when fracking and other forms of extreme fossil fuel development threaten to destroy everything we hold dear, Fracking Justice is there to remind us of the true cost of fracking. It may be fiction but it shows how the fossil fuel industry is fracturing not only our land but our communities. Read this page-turner, then pass it on. "

Will Potter - author of the compelling book Green is the New Red:
"This isn't just a good read—it's grounded in a very real ecological crisis, and a backlash against those who dare to speak up. Fracking Justice captures exactly what is at stake, both for the planet and for our freedoms."

Mystery fiction writer Elle Ashe - author of Chasing the Dollar:
"A smart, powerful page-turner." In the new genre of environmental thriller, she says, "It’s exciting, edge-of-your-seat writing, and is all the more scary because it’s so timely."

Executive editor of the daily Finger Lakes Times newspaper, Mike Cutillo:
 "Fitzgerald has the uncanny ability to write in the meaty, fact-filled manner of a veteran hardscrabble journalist while also weaving a deft and enjoyable storyline befitting a seasoned novelist. In Fracking Justice — just like in The Fracking War — he puts his knowledge about the environmental and social issues associated with hydraulic fracturing to use in crafting a real page-turner with characters you feel for and care about. This is a must-read -- whether you want to learn more about fracking or are simply a fan of good writing."

With praise like that, they have set the bar pretty damn high for Fracking Evil, the third book I plan to write in this fracking series.

Did I say damn high? The evil is creeping up on me already...


"The Book of Mormon" musical opens in San Francisco...

ORPHEUM THEATER, San Francisco, Calif. - The theater critics who said the musical "The Book of Mormon" is over-the-top, irreverent, obnoxious - and even in bad taste in spots - were all right.

But it's also hilarious, entertaining and provides some interesting insight, not only into the entire Mormon culture, but human nature.

 The plot revolves around a group of young Mormon men headed out on their church mission.

And what a mission they go on.

Adm. Fox and I viewed the show from some waaaaaaay back seats at the classic Orpheum Theater on Market Street. Even so, it was hard to take your eyes off the stage for even a second, the action moved so fast.

And the singing! And the choreography! It was timed so neatly the two+ hours of show zipped by.

The show was written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone which explains a lot of the more eye-popping elements/concepts presented. I won't spoil the show by saying what they are. But wow!

Parker and Stone must be confident that God has a good sense of humor. (I'm sure she does. I watched the movie "Dogma.")

In the end, perhaps ironically, "The Book of Mormon" musical seems to offer a message for nearly everyone. You will have to check it out in person to see what the play has to say to you.


Springtime - and spring sneezes - in the Sacramento air

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The shock of 60+ degree days after the past few winter months at Seneca Lake was, not surprisingly, almost as startling as when Adm. Sylvia Fox and I used to fly into Puerto Vallarta, stepping out of an air-conditioned plane into a sauna masquerading as a resort city.

But here in California it hasn't been just the temperature, it is the sunshine. Hours and hours of it. Hours. Sunshine.

 Still,  this isn't entirely a paean to the drought-stricken Golden State. In addition to the warmth and sunshine, I rediscovered why we weren't always thrilled with California in the spring when we lived here for years.

Allergies. Lots of allergies.

My airplane flights from Elmira to Chicago, and then Chicago to Sacramento, sent my sinuses into such a paroxysm of congestion I wondered if it might need to use a half stick of nasal dynamite to unclog the logjam. But a day of hot showers and gentle sinus rinsing brought my breathing almost back to normal.


Then we started taking long, glorious walks in the sunshine, past carefully tended flower beds and gardens, all gloriously in bloom here while still  a faroff dream for upstate New Yorkers. And amid the glorious sunshine and blooming there were also some less-glorious puffs of pollen that have sent my sinuses almost back to where they were when I got off the cattle-car flight from Chicago.

All that said, sitting in the sun and not having to put on boots (for either snow or mud) is a treat. And if it means I have to lug a small box of tissues with me, it's worth it.

I bought an extra box to take home with me to New York when I travel in about two weeks. Thing should just start blooming shortly after I get back.

And I hope the sun has returned, too.


St. Patricks Day: Whiskey & 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People'

WATKINS GLEN, New York - St. Patrick's Day is usually a day of, well, celebration and little work..

But most of the morning (and now afternoon) ended up with organizing some short stories for a book/collection Adm. Fox has been itching for me to put together. (I did promise her I would do this, oh, a year ago!) And that led me to reworking a novel-in-progress (tentatively titled Jack's Boat) for a couple of hours. I started writing Jack's Boat, oh, so long ago I won't mention it here.

By the way, the Jack in Jack's Boat has no connection to Jack Stafford of The Fracking War or Fracking Justice.

But in a few hours I am heading to that hotspot of wild party activity - downtown Watkins Glen - for a drink or three. Then I will head back home to watch Darby O'Gill and the Little People. It's kind of a tradition.

I'm sure I saw it in the theatre when I was 11 or 12 years old. And I had been bombarded with Irish stories and Irish lore by my grandmothers. One grandmother always insisted that some of her relatives still in Ireland had some of the little people living right under their cottages in County Cork.

If you haven't ever seen this 1959 Disney movie, you should take a peek at it. It has leprechauns, pots of gold, rainbows, whiskey, a pretty Irish lass - and even Sean Connery.

Yes that Sean Connery. And he is singing. I'm not kidding. Singing.

The film also features an Irish ghost called a 'banshee.' If you heard the wind howling in an especially evil way today, that might have been a banshee warming up to warn of a death tonight.

A banshee wailing
I had nightmares as a kid after watching the banshee in the movie, though the cleaned-up Disney banshee wasn't nearly as scary as the image I'm posting to the left.

Hope it doesn't give anyone a fright.

I had been thinking about stopping by the Democratic Party's corned beef and cabbage party downtown tonight, but because I don't eat beef anymore, just cabbage seems a little, well, plain. And it's doubtful they will have any whiskey on hand to wash the cabbage down.

Happy St. Pat's Day to all!


Out in the cold at the Town of Reading Town Hall - again!

TOWN OF READING, Schuyler County, New York - The weather was the same (cold, snowing) the cast of characters slightly different when court convened in the Town of Reading Wednesday night for the 40 people scheduled to be arraigned on charges of trespassing.

They faced hearings for blocking the gates of Crestwood Midstream, the Houston-Texas company that has been pushing a project to store 88 million gallons of propane in salt caverns on the shore of Seneca Lake.

It barely needs mentioning this is a colossally bad idea that has people all around the Finger Lakes protesting. A regional rally is planned for Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. in Geneva.

Since October the group We Are Seneca Lake has been blocking traffic from entering or leaving the 576-acre facility - at least until Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputies show up and haul them off, citing them for trespassing. The deputies are feeling the pressure and have been exhibiting signs that their senses of humor are stretched pretty thin.

When the weather turned cold and snowy, so did the hearts of the members of the Town Board of Reading and the elected town supervisor who said the courtroom would remain open, but the balance of the spacious, taxpayer-funding building would be remain off limits.

Thus anyone who couldn't fit into the courtroom had to stand outside. I did my best to embarrass the town in a column last week in the Finger Lakes Times.

Wednesday Sandra Steingraber spoke again about the movement, the arrests, the obnoxiousness (and dangerous aspects) of the lockout and also gave a knot of shivering arrestees and their supporters some words of encouragement - and news that the ACLU was stepping in. Of course, given the mindset of the people running the Town of Reading, the ACLU carries very little weight.

The two county sheriff's deputies on court duty continued to enforce the town's new policy of keeping the public out in the cold. But it was pretty clear neither of the deputies liked doing so.

And in the courtroom, I observed that Judge Raymond P. Berry - the same judge hearing most of the arraignments for the 200 people who have been arrested - has become more adept at reading the mandated state script about defendant's rights to counsel, rights to contact someone and the other assorted legalities.

He also now reads the script with the same enthusiasm as a flight attendant explaining how to buckle your seat belt on a commuter airline.


The sun is shining, the snow is falling and I want to stay inside

WATKINS GLEN, New York - This phenomenon I don't remember from my years growing up in Lakewood, NY.

The sun is out (albeit low on the horizon) and it is snowing - fairly heavily with swirling winds and snow accumulating fast enough that the village snowplow has roared past twice in the past hour.

Outside my office window, between snow squalls

I wouldn't be quite so winter sensitive today if I didn't have to bundle up in every piece of clothing I own and go out. With the temperature down at 10 degrees (probably zero with the wind chill) the sensible thing to do would be to stay indoors, get my exercise by bouncing on my mini-trampoline and eat some of Adm. Sylvia Fox's excellent minestrone soup.

But nooooo.

The Town of Reading court has called a special 2 p.m. session that I need to attend to shoot some photos for the Finger Lakes Times newspaper of Geneva. A 1:30 p.m. rally will precede the court - held outside!

But mostly I need to get the skinny on whether the town officials will let people into the town building (those persons not required to go into court) to stay warm while court is in session. In recent weeks the town officials have not let people in, except to go directly to the small courtroom. But those times were in the evening when the building is normally closed. Today's session is, well, during the day. And logic would indicate the public building would be open to, well, the public.

But this is the Town of Reading, New York.

Will the Reading officials do the right thing and let people in the town hall. Or make them shiver outside in subzero temperatures?

My already cold feet are rooting that they do let people in. If they don't, my Ugg boots will have to work overtime, again.


The Captain's Blog six-month sabbatical has ended

WATKINS GLEN, New York - After a six-month hiatus to chase other writing projects (including the novel, Fracking Justice) The Captain's Blog is up and running again.

In this era of Facebook and Twitter, blogging in some ways seems waaaay too slow and cumbersome. Ironically, blogging has become the equivalent of long-form journalism in the social-media sphere.

Noting that, this post will be brief.

Hans and Franz, or is it Franz and Hans?
Adm. Sylvia Fox and I (as the dateline indicates) are in Watkins Glen, not Puerto Vallarta (or even California) where we would normally be this time of the year. Instead, we are wearing Ugg boots, long underwear, covering up our faces with balaclavas and stuffing ourselves into enough clothing to resemble "Hans and Franz" from an old Saturday Night Live skit.

Our Toyota Tundra is sporting aggressive-looking snow tires on the rear wheels and sandbags in pickup's bed. And my red Nissan truck has been living most of its days at a local auto shop getting minor repairs done.

It doesn't seem to like the zero-degree temperatures and blowing snow.

But we are foregoing  sub-tropical and tropical climes to help in a regional effort to stop a Texas corporation named Crestwood from turning the shore of Seneca Lake into an sprawling industrial wasteland of natural gas and liquid propane gas storage.

Sometimes this fight seems like a Don-Quixote/Sancho-Panza-like endeavor, other times not, such as when NY Governor Andrew Cuomo banned hydrofracking for natural gas in December.

When he made his announcement it clearly felt like a windmill had been toppled in a crash that still has hydrofracking supporters stunned.

If you read Cervantes' novel, you know that even Don Quixote gets a good shot in once in awhile.

That why I believe Crestwood of Houston will be the next to fall.

Sancho! Hand me my sword!


A two-court tango for anti-salt cavern propane storage activist

SCHUYLER COUNTY, New York - Local anti-hydrofracking, anti-propane storage activist Jeremy Alderson of Hector, NY had double court dates Wednesday June 18, the first in the Town of Reading, the second in the Town of Dix.

Reading is where a Houston, Texas-based gas company wants to put in an 88-million gallon propane storage facility, using old salt caverns. It also is using the project as Phase One of a massive industrial complex to serve the propane and natural gas needs of the entire northeastern United States. Gas from hydrofracked gas wells in Pennsylvania is also likely to find its way into the proposed facility before being shipped to export terminals for overseas sales.

Alderson has been arrested twice for protesting at the gates of the Town of Reading Crestwood facility.

Here's a video of the first arrest Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012:

In the Town of Reading trial, and again last night in the Town of Dix, he was unsuccessful in getting the judges to let him use what's called a justification defense. That defense is based on the accused's  belief that there is a clear and present danger.

Both judges disallowed the defense, saying it had nothing to do with his trespassing on property owned by the Crestwood Corporation. Crestwood bought the property, along with U.S. Salt and a development plan from the Inergy Corporation of Missouri. Alderson has argued - unsuccessfully - that it has everything to do with not only his defense, but having the community understand what it will be like if the project is approved.

In addition to additional truck traffic and likely water and air pollution, no safety plan has been draw in the eventuality of any major explosions, fires or spills at the company site.

Here's what Alderson had to say outside of court Wednesday:

And here is a video of Alderson's second arrest, June 28, 2013:

Ten days ago the Schuyler County Legislature narrowly passed a resolution in favor of the project, but only over the objections of nearly 300 local residents who came to a meeting to protest. Representatives of Crestwood and U.S. Salt attended. The pro-project attendees (most of whom worked directly for Crestwood) were provided with company t-shirts if they agreed to speak in favor of the project. Local opponents said only a handful of the 48 people in T-shirts were actually local residents. The rest were bussed in and/or came from out of state.

A request to Crestwood to confirm - or deny - that it provided t-shirts, lodging at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, and food for a cadre of out-of-town, paid supporters was answered by this email from Debbie Hagen, a Crestwood spokesperson:

"We encouraged project supporters to attend Monday’s meeting 
but we have no way of knowing how many supporters 
attended on their own.  
That said, we are grateful for those who attended 
and showed support for the project."

Here's a video of the  Schuyler County Legislature meeting:

In the second court hearing, the judge was briskly efficient, rendering a guilty verdict on the trespassing charge in just under two hours. Repeated objections from defense counsel Jerry Kinchey of Sayre, PA were generally brushed aside quickly. The same thing happened with the contention by Alderson that the entire question of trespassing and property lines has never been established.

The district attorney and Crestwood have never produced legal documents showing property demarcations at either of his trials.

Alderson will go back into the Town of Reading court sometime later this summer. The Town of Dix court however will see Alderson July 9 for sentencing.

In the meantime, local activists opposed to the project are burning up social media with various conversations about issues related to Crestwood's project, other propane and gas-related issues nationally and internationally and continuing a simmering resentment over the Schuyler County Legislature's 5-3 vote to support the project.

The five members of the legislature who voted in favor of the Houston, Texas company's plan even found themselves featured on a wanted poster. From left to right, Stewart Field, Phil Barnes, Dennis Fagan (chair of the legislature) Van Harp and Thomas Gifford.

Barnes is up for re-election in November and will likely run unopposed.