Irony of ironies

Summer loves winter.

She runs around the snow-covered back yard, digging her ball out and making snow angels. It takes heroic measures to convince her to come inside. 

She is a winter dog.

Did we goof when we named her Summer?

Or does she carry the warmth and delight of the summer season all year round?

All I know for sure is: Summer loves winter.

Staying drunk on writing

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I finished the podcast, none of the five books on the library waiting list has come up yet, and I was driving so I couldn’t browse for a new book, so I pulled one of my favorite chestnuts out and began listening (again) to Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.

I’m currently enjoying a little burst of creativity, so Bradbury’s book — subtitled “Releasing the Creative Genius Within You” — resonated in an interesting new way today. I found myself nodding along in the introduction when narrator Jim Frangione read,

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

“For writing allows just the proper recipes of truth, life, reality as you are able to eat, drink and digest without hyperventilating and flopping like a dead fish in your bed.”

He describes the book as a collection of essays about writing over 30 years that “all echo the same truths of explosive self-revelation and continuous astonishment at what your deep well contains if you just haul off and shout down it.”

There’s nothing more fun than diving off a cliff, pen in hand or keyboard under your fingers, and catching an air current that releases a story or a torrent of images worth preserving for all time, or at least for a week or so. Bradbury’s essays are a constant reminder that writing is play, not work. I often find that when my creative spirits are lagging, a dose of Bradbury is always good for the soul. And when I’m in a comparative groove, I can drink a case of Bradbury and still be on my feet.

The first day of winter

Today, say the folks who know how to calculate these things, the winter solstice will occur at 3:48 p.m. in the Central Standard Time, where I live. This is the shortest day of the year in terms of sunlight.

The only good thing about the first day of winter is that, slowly but surely, the days grow longer from now on. We won’t notice it for a while because it will be so cold and snowy and miserable, but then one afternoon we’ll pass a clock that says 5:30 and the sun will still be shining, and we’ll realize that the extra light is the first sign of spring.

Mom always used to say if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything. I want the record to show that I was able to think of one good thing to say about winter.

However, in deference to my dear late mother, that’s all I have to say about today’s subject.

W.B.’s Book Report: Air Monster

W.B.’s Book Report: Air Monster

My next book publication has been, um, flying under the radar, and now it’s on sale starting today. Air Monster by Edwin Green entered my life seven or eight years ago when I found a beat-up copy of this 1932 “boy’s novel” at an antique shop. How does a guy like me pass up a book called Air Monster? And it’s a fun enough book to share with the rest of us.

It turns out the “air monster” is the world’s largest dirigible, the Goliath, which the Navy has under construction at a secret location in those pre-Hindenberg days. The effort is being hampered by the efforts of an agent planted by the Gerka, the secret police of the evil regime in Rubania. Here’s the blurb from the original dust jacket:

“‘Lines away!’

“This is a story of the world’s greatest dirigible and of the dangers in the frozen wastes of the Arctic — a combination sure to provide thrills for every reader.

“The Goliath, largest dirigible in the world, is to meet the submarine Neptune at the North Pole. The Neptune encounters one mishap after another in the drifting ice of the Arctic and Harry Curtis, its radio operator, sends an S.O.S. to Andy High, assistant commander of the Goliath. The dirigible starts north, Captain Hawkins, the commander, is stricken, and Andy takes charge of the rescue attempt.

“What befalls the Goliath on the Arctic trip is only a part of the smashing action of this great book for boys. It’s alive and up-to-the-minute in every detail.”

Hey, it’s 1932. Who knew, 90 years ago, that it was a great book for girls, too? 

This feels like one of those forgotten treasures you hear about from time to time. Green wrote a sequel to Air Monster, called Secret Flight, and the response to this edition will help determine whether Book 2 is rescued as well.

If you like old stuff, if you like stories from the early days of aviation, if you like stories about old technology from when it was cutting edge, and if you like stories of high adventure and heroic camaraderie, may I suggest Air Monster?

Beware of knock-offs by other public domain publishers. Make sure you order this edition featuring the handsome cover illustration by James Group Studios Inc., with ISBN number 979-8-9863331-2-0. And keep your eye out for Gerka agents from Rubania! You know what they say: If you see something …

the return of w.p. bluhm

In my younger days I fancied myself a singer-songwriter. I banged out chords on a nylon-stringed guitar and, later, a 12-string guitar that I bought with $59 (or was it $79?) I scraped together from my first full-time job in the summer of 1975.

Over the years, in part through the miracle of multi-tracking — beginning with recording from one cassette machine to another in my bedroom — I created 20 (!) albums of homemade songs, some of them pretty good and most of them, I imagine, rather forgettable. I gave the albums names like “Crying Over Spilled Thyme” and “Folks Songs” and called the singer-songwriter “w.p. bluhm” because I’m such a fan of e.e. cummings.

When we built this house in 2012, I bought a couple of specially-designed hooks so that I could hang the two guitars on the wall — the better, I thought, to haul them down and plunk on them. Oddly, it had the opposite effect, and the guitars became another piece of artwork on the wall, collecting dust more than anything. 

Every so often I would take one or the other down and strum a few songs, but — other than a burst of creativity that led to my 20th album in 2010 — I haven’t made music for about a decade and a half.

I remember back in 1984, when I wrote a new song for the first time in a couple of years, and it was like reconnecting with a part of me that I thought I had lost. It was a simple little folk song (“Train Song,” for the handful who might remember), but I had written a song, and it was a relief to put words and music together again after so long.

When I moved across the house to the new office this fall, I put the guitars in their old cases and set them against the wall next to the 1941 Philco radio, in hopes that taking them off the wall might move me to pick them up and play, since I didn’t manage to take them down and play very often over those years.

Sunday morning, I picked up the old 12-string and an old notebook. There were words on one page that I’d written in June 2007, a couple of verses to a song, and a line that I added in October 2020, and words for another verse and a bridge that I wrote in June 2021. The hint of a melody has lingered in my mind over all that time, but I never set down chords for it. Sunday morning, I married the words to music.

Imagine how I might have felt back in ’84 when a song came out for the first time in two years. Now imagine how I felt Sunday morning when a song came out for the first time in 12 years.

Actually, I don’t think it’s done. It feels like there are at least three more verses out there waiting to be pulled from the ether. It has a name — “Song for My Daughter” — but it’s not ready to be shared.

But w.p. bluhm is back in the room. And that’s kind of exciting. 

W.B.’s Book Report: The Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy

Driving home the other day, I took my leave of the Crazy Rich Asians universe, the cast of characters Kevin Kwan created and carried through three novels — the sequels are China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

I have to say the resolution at the end of the third book is among my favorites in many years of absorbing stories in all shapes and sizes and formats. The loose ends are all tied up neatly and in ways that are true to the story. Nicholas Young and Rachel Chu, Astrid Leong and Charlie Wu, and all the rest of the characters land in a good place — even the “villains” are handled in wonderfully appropriate ways. 

Best of all is the final fate of Tyersall Park, the 64-acre estate where Nick’s grandmother Su Yi holds court. By the end of the third book, we have a stake in the future of Tyersall Park, very much like the feeling we have for what happens to Downton Abbey or — dare I say it? —the starship Enterprise (I am still bitter about Star Trek III). 

I managed to make it all the way to 2022 without any knowledge of what Crazy Rich Asians is all about, and so I hesitate to share any of the story for the benefit of others in my position. Part of the fun was being surprised by everything along the way. I don’t think I’m giving much away to give away that the books, and the trilogy, have a happy ending — they’re essentially comedies, after all. 

Kwan’s universe is populated with some of the most endearing — as well as some of the most petty and annoying — characters imaginable, and he does a masterful job of juggling a huge cast and keeping us engaged.

And audiobook narrators Lynn Chen (Book 1) and Lydia Look (Books 2 and 3) wonderfully bring all those characters to life. 

I didn’t expect to love this gang as much as I do. The ride home listening to the final hour was one of those bittersweet experiences that fiction readers have from time to time, when we know a favorite book is coming to an end.

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