June 30, 2015

'Doing the Devil's Work' - a novel with good and bad cops

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana - Female characters sometimes suffer badly at the hands of male authors. It's something I am struggling with right now, drafting a novel called Jack's Boat. The first half of the book centers around a female character, the second half a male lead.

It's complicated.

But in Bill Loehfelm's Doing the Devil's Work, he pulls it off nicely with a female police officer in New Orleans who is tough, human, and above all honest. It's hard to imagine Maureen Coughlin involved in any of the wildly awful incidents we see posted on YouTube too often of police going rogue.

The character of Maureen Coughlin made her first appearance in Loehflem's earlier book, The Devil She Knows, a novel on my list to read soon.

But in Doing the Devil's Work the author has Coughlin fight against police corruption, racism, militants, cop haters and ultra-wealthy socialites of post Katrina New Orleans who believe they can do no wrong. There's drugs, money, danger, and definitely some violence.

It is a mystery cop book.

What makes the main character so intriguing is that she is flawed but recognizes it. Her struggles become the reader's as you make your way through the chapters.

Bill Loehflem

I wish she smoked fewer cigarettes, but that's part of that flaw thing.

Several times in Doing the Devil's Work, I thought that the author might be making his female cop just a little too tough - too male. But just as I thought that, the scene would shift and it would become obvious that any cop - male or female - would have to be that tough to survive.

Recommended reading. And on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

June 24, 2015

'This Changes Everything' changes, well, everything

VALOIS, New York - This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate is a fascinating book to read from a journalist's standpoint, full of amazing details about what we can expect - and not expect - in future years as humans grapple (and don't grapple) with the fallout of man-made changes from climate change.

From the standpoint of a citizen of earth, it's the kind of book that makes a person want to throw up their hands and give up.

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein's book isn't without hope for humankind. But her descriptions of the obstacles we face to slowing down the warming of the earth from excess CO2 emissions nearly defy description.

But I will try, of course.

Right out of the publishing blocks, Klein jumps into her central thesis. Capitalism, with its madcap drive for growth (and increasingly voracious appetite for energy) is largely to blame for our current overhearing environmental predicament. Most of all, she blames the world's faith in the market to save the planet. The free market, she argues, is what got us into this mess - and continues to keep us from implementing solutions.

There are solutions to provide alternative energy and stop the aggressive expansion of fossil fuel extraction (and use). But she cites examples of how anytime these solutions get close to touching any kind of negative impact on corporate profits they disappear as quickly as trees and animals in the tar sands area of Alberta, Canada.

Klein also takes a solid whack at many of the supposedly green organizations which, it turns out, are heavily invested in oil and gas company stocks as part of their portfolios. And in most cases they defend the investments because of what they tout as the overall good service they are performing.

But Klein's most frightening - and depressing - section is about the potential use of geoengineering to solve the climate change crisis. Rather than try to lower emissions and use less heat-inducing technologies (like solar panels or wind turbines), many governments (and scientists) are exploring incredibly wild technological schemes that would make probably Gene Roddenberry (creator of the original Star Trek TV series) blush with disbelief.

These schemes are being considered seriously and quietly. But if I read Klein correctly, when we start experiencing even more severe weather events and climate-related catastrophes, expect to hear, for example, about shooting particles into the atmosphere to block the sun's rays and slow down warming.

What could possibly go wrong with that idea?

Klein's book is detailed, footnoted and written in a clever enough style that even though it sometimes can cause the reader to gasp with disbelief, it's never dull. Depression-inducing, absolutely. But never dull.

I liked the book enough that I ordered a copy to have in my library. Which means I will reread it so I can mark it up with a highlighter. I think some parts of it are likely to become part of my talk, "Fracking Fiction: You Can't Make This Stuff Up."

The book is on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

June 23, 2015

Jon Krakauer's 'Missoula' - powerful and disturbing

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Jon Krakauer's latest book, Missoula, is a disturbing tale about justice and injustice in the Montana town from which the title of the book is taken.

Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air, Into the Wild and my personal favorite, Under the Banner of Heaven, has done a stellar job of capturing the events and emotions surrounding a rash of rapes of young women - and the fallout for the community and everyone involved.

In telling the story, the author takes no prisoners and uses documents, news accounts and interviews to weave his narrative. But he includes plenty of his own observations demonstrating how most of these cases were badly bungled.

It's a stinging indictment of Missoula, the University of Montana, and the football culture that seems to dominate the town.

Jon Krakauer
It's a sad tale, too, as Krakauer relates many of the horrible outcomes and repercussions - for the female victims - even those cases where, in theory, justice has been done.

Missoula is a disturbing book - but important. It should be required reading for every university administrator on the planet.

Missoula is on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen, NY public library and available through Amazon.com at this link: MISSOULA.

June 16, 2015

The thrill of victory, the agony of da feet

WATKINS GLEN, New York - The Green Festival in Washington D.C. had an amazing array of weird gadgets and paraphernalia, all environmentally friendly, of course.

And in our wanderings around the festival after I gave my talk, "Fracking Fiction: You Can't Make This Stuff Up," Admiral Sylvia Fox and I discovered a shoe product that turned out to be also feet-friendly.

They are called massaging insoles, made by a Florida company (where else?) called Best Sole.

And damn! They work.

For years, no matter how good my shoes were, 15 minutes of standing relatively still on concrete floors guaranteed my lower back would start to hurt. Really hurt.

And so I would find a chair or barstool (I am partial barstools, but that's another issue) to keep my back from getting out of control.

Now, 10 days into wearing these shoe inserts I can report that I can stand  on a concrete floor for, well, I haven't timed it, exactly. But I haven't felt the need to grab a chair or barstool when we are out socializing.

So there it is for folks who don't like to stand on concrete. Massaging insoles.

Oh, one more thing.

When you first put these things in your shoes, you think there might be rocks in your socks. Give it a minute and walk a little. It feels weird, but good.

June 11, 2015

Town of Reading meeting - and attorney - overheats

TOWN OF READING, Reading Center, NY - Going to meetings as a journalist is a lot more fun than going as a participant.

I knew this before I went to the Town of Reading Board meeting Wednesday night. But I never envisioned getting into a verbal altercation with the board's attorney - actually telling him that he was "out of order" when he interrupted my comments to the board. (More details on that imbroglio later including an audio file.)

My participation at the meeting as a citizen - as opposed to a newspaper columnist for the Finger Lakes Times - was because a friend asked me to personally deliver 10 copies of my newly released novel Fracking Justice to the members of the board.

Some people seeing this have already finished reading the novel - or are closing in on the explosive ending. Those folks understand the significance of book and relevance to the proposed storage of liquid propane gas in unlined salt caverns adjacent to beautiful Seneca Lake.

At the meeting I submitted a two-page letter of concern to the Town Board members and spoke briefly. I urged them to write a letter to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, reserving the Town's right to ultimately say no to the Texas-based company (Crestwood Midstream of Houston) that wants to cram (under great pressure) 88 million gallons of explosive propane in the salt caverns.

Presenting Fracking Justice to the Reading Town Board
After I spoke, many others opposed to the LPG storage spoke, too.

And the evening wore on. (I've been waiting to write that line forever... So there it is.)

After the last of the public comments, the attorney for the Town of Reading (Thomas Bowes of Painted Post, formerly with NY Congressman Tom Reed's law office) spoke. He started out slowly, sort-of even-handedly explaining the situation legally to the town board. He reminded me of an algebra tutor I had in high school, patient, but losing patience with every word.

Then he went off the rails by referring to Crestwood as if it was a person (a la Mitt Romney's famous quote that "corporations are people, my friend"). He essentially told the Town Board letters to the DEC and the things suggested by the audience were for all intent and purposes, probably moot.

That got a rise out of the audience, prompting me to walk up to the front of the meeting, where I asked the chair to recognize me again, even though the official public comment period was over.

I had barely begun when the Town of Reading's attorney launched into a diatribe cutting me off cold. And so, I told him he was "out of order."

Thomas Bowes
I quickly added that the chair of the Town Board really should be the one to rule the Bowes out of order. My blurting out "out of order" was a complete reflex after God-only-knows how many meetings at my university as a department chair and chair of the faculty.

I ruled a lot of people out of order at meetings in my university career. And they usually deserved it.

But my offhand, out-of-order comment lit the rocket of attorney Bowes. He blew up faster and hotter than I have ever seen an attorney do in a public meeting. Usually when attorneys are sitting as a paid legal consultant to a municipality, they seem so calm, you wonder if they might be on tranquilizers.

Bowes wasn't. Particularly when he barked this at me:
"You can sit down."

I think I might have said "Ooooooooo." Not all that professional of me, either, I suppose. But it just kind of slipped out. I heard a couple of "Oooooooooo" remarks from the audience, too.

I started speaking again, quickly made my point (even as Bowes made grumbling remarks in the background). Then I thanked the chair for allowing me the time to speak.

Outside the meeting, the folks who had spoken - and who were hopeful the board would take a position against the LPG storage last night - were disappointed. The board said it needed more time to ponder the situation before members would make a decision.

That pondering might have included the long, closed-door session with attorney Bowes that occurred right after the regular meeting ended.

I just hope none of the Town Board members stood up without permission.

Standing room only at the Town of Reading board meeting Wednesday night

June 7, 2015

'The Stranger' - a chilling novel by Harlan Coben

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Harlan Coben's latest novel, The Stranger, is frostbite of a chiller, combining family dynamics, Internet crime, the small mindedness of a small-town and the politics of youth sports.

Oh, and there is enough deception and deliberate author-induced misdirection to make Arthur Conan Doyle smile.

The basic premise - having a stranger whisper something to you that makes you begin to doubt, well, everything - makes this book impossible to put down.

And as the story unfolds, the main protagonist finds himself swept up in a search for his wife - and the truth about both his relationship to her and his own culpability in his (and other people's) troubles.

Harlan Coben
The books moves along rapidly like all of Coben's novels. This one has some double twist somersaults in the plot that will force you to smile, even as your gasp at their meaning.

The Stranger is highly recommended, though it's no beach novel.

And it's on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen library.

June 3, 2015

'Fracking Justice' launch party was fracking awesome

HECTOR, New York, USA - The launch party Tuesday at the Hector Wine Company for the novel Fracking Justice was nothing short of fracking awesome.

And I really hate to use the word awesome. But dammit, it was awesome. I was overwhelmed at the support people offered and their encouragement to start writing the third book in the trilogy.

Signing copies of Fracking Justice

Adm. Sylvia Fox and her amigos put on one great party that ran from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It could have gone on and on.

Cousin Brett Beardslee provided fine music and Hector Wine Company wine flowed while I tried to keep up with signing copies of Fracking Justice and last year's The Fracking War. I even signed one of the Fracking Justice t-shirts, designed by Amy Colburn of Canandaigua.

Editor, proofreader and official Fracking Justice photographer Darlene Bordwell shot photos all evening. A sample of those can be seen here:  Launch Party photos.

There was one personal glitch.

My mind kept going blank on people's names. And these were people I see all the time in Watkins Glen, Hector, - even at church! They would come up with their books to sign and I would have to ask them their names.
Thanking Sylvia for, well, everything...


But except for that gaffe it went great with lively conversations. And my brief speech got sufficient laughs that I am not worried about giving a long-form version of the same talk at The Green Festival in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

At one point, Sylvia rallied the crowd to get people to write a review on Amazon of the book which will boost it through some weird Amazon algorithm to make the novel pop up more often for readers interested in a eco-thriller.

I won't pretend to understand how that all works.

Thank you to everyone who came out for the launch party - and all the other folks who have been sooooooo supportive of this novel and our efforts to get it published.

In the real world, it's past time for some real fracking justice. I hope the book can help with that. Somehow.

With Joseph Campbell and Yvonne Taylor, founders of Gas Free Seneca.
Fracking Justice is dedicated to them.

June 1, 2015

'Endangered' a suspenseful modern-day western

CHEYENNE WYOMING - The novel Endangered by Wyoming writer C.J. Box is a cleverly written book, full of suspense and as many twists as the winding roads of the mountains and plains in which the book is set.

It's another installment in Box's "Joe Pickett" series.

Normally, I shy away from such series novels. The characters often get really tired or turn into stereotypes. (The works of James Lee Burke are notable exceptions.) But this novel is a great standalone - and good enough that I am going to break my rule and look at some earlier "Joe Pickett" novels.

Endangered is that good.

This novel involves murders, abductions, an amazing family of evil miscreants that wreak havoc - and more than a few heroic actions on the part of not only Pickett, but other characters around him.

The law enforcement portrayals are realistic and gritty. And the final, climatic scenes are as good as any mystery detective novel.
Author C. J. Box

Recommended reading.

And if you live in Watkins Glen, it's on the new book bookshelf.