jump to navigation

RIP, Harlan Ellison June 28, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Television, Writing.
add a comment

Died in his sleep, according to a family announcement today. He was 84.

As he said, “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.”

Ellison is one my favorites. I wrote this about him many years ago, so I’ll link it here.

Advertisements

A Decent Haul May 19, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books.
add a comment

Today’s gleanings from a big annual library sale I make a point of hitting every year.

Not too bad… two books on Hollywood. One all about government files on various Hollywood personalities (the cover blurb on Lou Costello’s giant porn collection made it an instant into-the-box decision), and another “Cut!” which is basically the encyclopedia of celebrity death and murder. Now THAT’S entertainment.

Also a very extensive academic study of the origins of bible stories, which seems more a candidate for looking up a particular bible episode and reading about it rather than a cover-to-cover read.

Frank Kermode’s “Shakespeare’s Language,” another one to add to my never-ending Shakespeare kick, this one analyzing how the language evolved & changed from Titus Andronicus to The Tempest.

Also what looks like a very interesting book on Victorian-era forensic science applied to Sherlock Holmes stories, or the real-life history behind the inspirational material for The Murdoch Mysteries, I guess.

Another book on technical analysis trading to add to my shelf load – and much like my filtering for adding cookbooks (since I already have too many of those, too), I skimmed through parts of it and what she has to say about specific trading indicators and signals looked intriguing enough to spend A WHOLE DOLLAR on it.

An old book on how to approach publishers and agents, something I’m planning on making another go at after getting the next two books out there by year’s end. I’m sick of doing all my own marketing and publicity and the like. It’s very exhausting. And while I’ve read and am cynical about much of the how-to-get-published material out there, this guy’s in-your-face attitude and advice seems like it would be worth looking at, since much of what he’s talking about really hasn’t changed in the publishing biz since he put this book out over 30 (eek!) years ago. His advice on the psychology of pitch & sell looked totally applicable to today.

And finally, rounding things out (pun intended), Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat. I never read this one, only read summaries of Taubes’ theories online, and since his principles helped me drop some weight and keep it off while not sacrificing my gourmet inclinations, I figured it’d be worth a read.

The next big book sale & safari comes up in about a month. <Cut to Rocky-esque training montage…>

 

Saturday Roundup: Patriots Draft Picks, Cat Petting And A Book Safari April 28, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Books, Cats, Football.
add a comment

Today I went on a quest for cheap furniture – combing through a bunch of thrift stores in search of a replacement comfy corner chair for my classroom, as the old one is on its last legs, literally. Came up empty there, but found a couple of good books as long as I was there.

One looks like a nice true narrative of a major art forgery scandal called Provenance, about a forger & conman who managed to get the forgeries into collections and museums all over Europe where they remain to this day.

If forgeries sell tickets, they’ll say on the walls. It’s not like the public can ever tell the difference.

I read a lot of books on art forgery and theft rings while working out story elements for Wagstaff & Meatballs, and I continue to enjoy reading about the topic.

I also picked up a copy of The Truth Will Out: Unmasking The Real Shakespeare, a 2005 book that put forth a Shakesperean authorship theory I’m not as familiar with, making the case for Sir Henry Neville as the actual author of the plays & poems. CONFESSION: I am a confirmed skeptic as to the accepted idea that the Stratford actor Shakepeare wrote all that material, and I lean towards the Oxfordian theories. I think there’s a much stronger case to be made against Shakespeare than any positive case can be made for the different supposed authors, but I’m open to reading anything as well researched as this thing seems to be from my first skims. And it was only a buck!

And a brief Wagstaffesque synchronicity moment: As I browsed the racks of books coming up empty, some old dude who looked WAY too much like Scott Adams of “Dilbert” fame browsed the shelves over my shoulder, and he carried a couple of big volumes he’d scooped up. One of ’em was some enormous compendium all about Shakespeare performances in America. I always get annoyed every time I see other people holding onto books I didn’t get a crack at whenever I’m at some thrift store or library sale or whatever, and I thought to myself how it’d be cool if I found another Shakespeare book, especially on the author conspiracy theory.

Before I left the store, I figured I’d check the unsorted new-old-junk racks they’d just wheeled out…. and that’s where I found The Truth Will Out book.

On top of that? The Shakespeare authorship mischigoss is one of the elements in the third Wagstaff book I’m currently writing.

So I guess it immediately goes to the top of my reading list.

I got rewarded for visiting the thrift store in the same shopping center as a pet supply place with a big black store cat who I like to visit and pet whenever I’m jonesin’ for kitty. He’s easily found napping on one of his many dedicated cat trees around the store. Today I learned his name – Carlos the cat. I already knew he preferred chin rubs to damn near everything else. I didn’t disappoint him.

Then I came home and reviewed the rest of the Patriots draft picks in the final rounds today. It looks like they plugged all the position holes left by departing players. They scored a couple of cornerbacks who might replace Malcolm Butler. They got a wide receiver whose physicality and stats suggest a replacement for Danny Amendola, both in the slot and in punt returns. They picked up a couple of linebackers who will hopefully make good pass rushers, something they need badly. And, they did indeed draft a quarterback, Danny Etling out of LSU, a kid who doesn’t turn the ball over but clearly needs a lot of work. Can THE SYSTEM that made Cassell and Garroppolo into NFL quarterbacks work its magic on this kid? I certainly hope so, but who knows?

My realistic & cynical heart tells me that the Pats will be in a bad place psychologically next year. Losing the Superbowl despite what the offense accomplished and the controversy around the benching of Butler will hang over the psyche of the team akin to how the Seahawks were dogged by “Why didn’t we just run it into the end zone?” and how the Falcons were dogged by “Why didn’t we run down the clock and kick a field goal?” when they respectively blew both of their Superbowls against the Pats. Now it’s the Pats turn, I fear, and some of the stuff said by departing players about the overall not-fun and overly-regimented atmosphere within the team culture only bolsters my feelings. It all has that win-the-division-by-default but then go out in the first round as the third seed vibe. You heard it here first, sports fans. And I hope I’m wrong.

Now I’m throwing a soup & potstickers light dinner together and watching the Yankees pounding the Angels, at least so far. THIS IS THE YEAR!

New theory: Aaron Judge wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays. I’ll get back to you on my research.

 

Journeying Through Some Old Mystery/Horror Comics, Part 1 April 8, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Books, Cats.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

I recently bought a boatload of old 1960s-1970s Gold Key horror/mystery comic book scans from this guy’s online store, and have been plowing through them.

It’s been a lot of childhood nostalgia, as well as a lot of memory-poking of old stories and the actual old comic books I’ve got boxed up & totally unorganized (perhaps a summer project might be going through them all & fixing that). The actual copies of these things are pretty tough to find and aren’t too cheap, so the digitized deal is quite the good one, if you enjoy this sort of crap.

And I certainly do!

I started out reading the complete run of the Dark Shadows series, all 35 of ’em. I have one actual issue of the thing, bought by my mom since we were both fans of the actual show at the time, and it disappointed both of us.

And in reading the rest, the reasons for that disappointment so many years ago still stand – while the Gold Key DS series reproduces a few of the characters from the show & utilizes vampire/werewolf/witchcraft plotlines, it doesn’t have the tone of the show at all. The art is also poor – the only character who looks like her TV counterpart is Joan Bennett’s Elizabeth. Barnabas the vampire is the main character & hero of the thing, but Julia’s role from the TV show is reduced to nothing, and Angelique only turns up a few times to torment him as a ghost. And they don’t look anything like Grayson Hall and Lara Parker, nor does Barnabas look like Jonathan Frid.

Later comic book versions of the thing I perused on Amazon are far truer to the look & feel of the 1966 TV series, and anything beats the forced campiness of the Tim Burton movie. I trudged through them, a couple of the stories weren’t too bad, but overall, weak tea.

Then I started on two different comics I had a few issues of back in the day – The Twilight Zone and Ripley’s True Ghost Stories. Both of these titles began in the early 1960s and ended around 1980 or so.

The T-Zones have a wider range of stories, from offbeat scifi to eerie revenge tales, similar to the TV show. A comic Rod Serling serves as narrator, and while the art is generic, there are clear attempts by the artists to crib the look of some characters from familiar faces of TV actors who you’d expect to turn up on the show. While many of the stories are formulaic and hit a real dead spot in the mid 1970s before recovering somewhat before the title ended, a lot of them are pretty good. Much like the show, you can categorize the stories into various sub-genres: someone changes identity (either via clothes, bodies, faces, masks, etc) and things go right or more often wrong; someone gets wishes granted and things go wrong; someone enters the past/alternate dimension/reality and must escape;weird unreal stuff happens to someone ordinary and then we find out we’re not in an ordinary world, a la “Eye of the Beholder,” etc.

The Ripley’s stories are all along similar lines – someone in the present or the past comes across some place that’s haunted, some local or creepy caretaker tells them the sad story of some wrongful death that resulted in the ghost, and they either GTFO or find a way to put the spirit to rest. The best of these are either the creepiest, such as one tale of a voodoo shaman with a sugar cane harvesting zombie army who try to dig their way back into their own graves, or ones where the “believe it or not” aspect is most likely true – like the story of two graverobbers who accidentally revive the “corpse” whose jewels they try to steal – a young woman who then returns home after being mistaken for dead and several years later gives birth to Sir Walter Scott.

I’m moving through the Grimm’s Ghost Stories series and the Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery ones now, more on those later. In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite stories from the collection so far… read it & you’ll see why I’ve always liked it.  It’s written (uncredited) by the legendary comic writer Len Wein. Link to PDF: A Thing About Cats

Keep Those Reviews Coming July 7, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
add a comment

A quick update on the literary canon of yours truly:

I have an appearance in the Independent Book section of the current issue of the New York Review of Books. (Link opens to a PDF). This is sort of an experiment on my part – I’m assuming the disproportionate majority of people who look at this particular outlet are directly related to the publishing biz – agents, editorial assistants, “scouts” and so forth of various degrees. It’ll be interesting to see who takes notice.

And if you do, that email is just over to the right… drop a line and say hello!

Another nice thing to happen is that readership of Wagstaff & Meatballs is driving more interest in the first book in the series, Cut To Wagstaff. Sales of that have perked up and new reviews might start to appear.

The third in the series is in the plotting stages, if you’re curious.

The first book of a different series, this one a lightly comic scifi adventure series for younger readers of all ages, is in the illustration stage.

AND I’ve been selling all sorts of old crap on ebay for way more than I ever thought I’d get. At some point, I’ll be able to see the floor in my closet once again!

Everything’s coming up Milhous!

So if you’re out there & haven’t posted a review of either book to Amazon yet, please join in! People in other creative fields get to enjoy the reaction from their audience immediately. Writing can be a lonely thing – you spend countless hours cobbling the thing together & banging it out, only to send it out into the world for dribs and drabs of reaction over time, if you get them at all – since reading, too, is a solitary and often lonely thing.

But I wanna know! What to people think? Any minor characters you particularly like and want to see more of in future stories? Any aspect of the book really stick with you?

I can never predict these things, so I’m always curious. I think all writers are, whether they admit it or not.

So keep ’em coming, thanks!

 

The Slow & Ambling Paths of Plot Percolation June 20, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Writing.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

“So, where do your ideas come from?”

It’s one of the more common questions writers are asked.

While still promoting the current Wagstaff novel, I’m also into the develop-the-outline stage of Wagstaff 3 at this point, even while I hone the edges on a different series of books that will appear shortly.

Bow down, helots! I’m a multitasker!

I also made a fresh fettucine bolognese completely from scratch today, but you already knew I’m a CULINARY GENIUS.

Anyway, to get back to the “where do my ideas come from?” tack, since the Wagstaff series regularly features motifs, actors and plot points from all sorts of old movies and TV shows all mashed up together, damn near anything I watch might wind up in one, somewhere.

Especially if all that pop culture junk turns up in some off the wall dream I have. Every dream Wagstaff has in both of the books that turn out to be clues are ACTUAL dreams I’ve had in real life, by the way.  But that’s for another post.

Today, I wound up watching a couple of obscure movies I can tell you about.

I’ve already thought of the main-plot-drivin’ films I think I want to mine for the plotline of Wagstaff 3, but if any quasi-related tangential material crosses my radar, I usually feel obliged to watch it, just in case some detail or odd factor inspires me to use it. It’s basically the same mentality I use when browsing yardsales and thrift stores – I never know what might turn up, but after something does, it feels totally natural.

Today I started by watching Nick Carter: Master Detective, the first of three Nick Carter movies (more…)

Today’s Heartwarming Creepy Old Man Story June 16, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, General.
Tags: ,
add a comment

No, not me. This is ANOTHER creepy old man.

So today I had to drive down to some medical office and give my mom a ride home when her regular ride could not be reached due to telephone problems (long story, whatever). We made the most of it and swung by the best deli in LA for lunch since it wasn’t too far off, and then I dropped her off.

Then I figured since I wouldn’t be back in the Valley for a while, I’d swing by a big thrift store I liked over in North Hollywood to see their book selection.

Hell, yesterday between a YMCA fundraiser and a big dumpy thrift store in Reseda, I’d scored BIG – 9 total books between the 2 stops, with material on stolen art rings, history of food, old movies, and an autographed first edition of a Martin Yan cookbook, among some other items.

I hoped my luck would continue. So I took the long way back to the freeway which would swing me by a regular book hunting stop.

Unfortunately, pickings were thin. It looked like they’d been gleaned pretty well without replenishment from new donations. The only books worth getting were ones I already had (some Lidia Bastianich cookbooks) and ones I really didn’t need (even more cookbooks). Meh, whatever.

Two guys going through the books discussed how the store had been “going downhill” and how there wasn’t as much to pick from. Then one of ’em told a story I eavesdropped on as I browsed about buying some big box of English lace at an auction. I kept hoping he’d discuss wearing it so the story would really get interesting, but he only mentioned it since he had found a book about British lace at this store shortly after that where he discovered that some of the stuff he had was evidently worth quite a lot. Who knew?

And then there was the creepy old dude. (more…)

Yay! A Plug In Rhode Island’s Major Alternative Publication! June 1, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Rhode Island’s legendary Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World column in MotifRI has given yours truly a booster shot in their latest column!

Phillipe and Jorge have been writing from Casa Diablo for many years now, offering their darkly humorous take on the cesspit of Rhode Island politics among other topics. Back in the pre-internet days of voluminous dead-tree alternative city papers, they appeared in The Providence Eagle before moving on its competitor, The New Paper, which eventually got swallowed up by it’s Boston counterpart and rose from the takeover ashes as The Providence Phoenix.

The Phoenix folded some years ago, Phillipe & Jorge (otherwise known as Rhode Island’s legendary Rudy Cheeks and Eagle sportswriter Chip Young – OMIGOD, I UNMASKED THEM, SUBPOENA ME IMMEDIATELY!) migrated to MotifRI.

Here’s what they had to say if you didn’t click on the link above:

New Book Reeks of Rhody (and a Lot More)

Kudos and congrats to Casa Diablo regular and Vo Dilun native Jim Berkin  (nee, Berkowitz) whose recently published second book in his Professor Wagstaff mystery series is now available via Amazon. Its title is Wagstaff & Meatballs and is loaded with pop culture and Vo Dilun references (from Brown and RISD to OC — that’s organized crime, aka, LCN, for the uninitiated). The book is a detective/mystery/comedy that would make two of its inspirations (Groucho and Providence’s own SJ Perelman) proud.
Jim has been teaching college courses in history, film and television in the southern California area for many years now. We highly recommend this book as a light and fun summer read.
Your superior correspondents do not wish to provide any spoilers so we hope this brief description will suffice. The first Wagstaff mystery, Cut to Wagstaff, is also available on Amazon and, to find out more about the author (one of the few people P&J know who was a contestant on “Jeopardy”), go to jimberkin.com.

I teach college? Who knew? I don’t know about you, but I’m not insisting on a correction!

Now, to be fair – I’ve known Rudy since my college days. I met him when he regularly ran “Comediac,” a weekly screening of so-bad-they’re-great movies at a local bar called One Up that I really miss. He’d screen stuff like Ed Wood films and The Creeping Terror and Humanoids From The Deep and, of course, The Brainiac, while adding one-liners and commentary via a portable mic and speaker.

And yes, this was YEARS before Mystery Science Theater 3000. I always thought Rudy had pioneered the idea.

Those regular Monday night Comediacs, drinks and all, helped me immensely in compiling material for my honors thesis in college. There was no other way I could have been able to see all those films in such a short amount of time in that pre-internet streaming world. I give those Comediac nighta a brief homage in Wagtaff & Meatballs when I refer to an alcohol-improved nerd argument I had with Eagle film critic Les Daniels about Rock & Roll High School during a game of pool.

Rudy wrote two regular columns for those alternative papers, his own “That Proves It” column, titled as a nod to Plan Nine From Outer Space, and co-wrote the Phillipe & Jorge bit as well. His long history with Rhode Island’s rock and blues scene is well known, starting out as the sax player for The Fabulous Motels and then as sax player/comic/songwriter with The Young Adults, who I guess could be Rhode Island’s early 1970s pre-answer to The Tubes meet The Dead Milkmen by way of Bo Diddley, I guess. Members of the Young Adults would go on to play alongside fellow Rhode Island blues legends like Duke Robillard (who I saw live one New Year’s Eve at One Up) and Roomful of Blues.

Rudy would go on to a morning radio gig on the top FM rock station in Providence after I moved away from Providence, as well as an AM afternoon talk radio program.

Rudy would appear with the Young Adults in the Rhode Island based rock comedy It’s A Complex World, the title coming from one of the Adults’ best loved songs.  Much more information on the film at the link!

Rudy suffered a stroke in the past year, but he’s been recovering nicely through the struggle. Slowly but surely, he’s lost weight and gotten his energy back, and is gradually recovering dexterity and mobility. His eye surgery was also a complete success and he can once again see out of both eyes. Well, how the hell do you think he read my book, anyway?

Best of luck to Rudy in his recovery, and thanks for the mention in the column. It’s not easy way out here in California to spread word about Wagstaff & Meatballs in Rhode Island, where everyone LOVES anything about Rhode Island, so thanks for the help!

 

 

I Got A Good Review! May 22, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

From Kirkus Reviews (click here to go to Kirkus Magazine):

Berkin’s (Cut to Wagstaff, 2012) second Wagstaff adventure pits his protagonist against the Rhode Island mob.
En route to a reunion at Brown University, Wagstaff stops in Las Vegas, where he thwarts a carjacking and saves Alfie Palumbo’s life. Alfie is the son of a Mafia chief from Rhode Island, but he’s no hoodlum; he’s an upstanding art historian who happens to have a disreputable dad. Nor is Wagstaff an ordinary good Samaritan; he freelances as an investigator for a mysterious, “off-the-books” intelligence agency. Key to his success is his faith in “Jungian synchronicities”; in other words, he doesn’t believe in coincidence. Instead, he filters occurrences through his encyclopedic knowledge of film. For example, if something reminds him of a movie, he overlays that film’s plot on what’s actually taking place—then his brain fizzes into action, making unusual connections.

When he realizes that Alfie is one of the same Palumbos who ran his own hometown, he decides to find out who’s behind the attempted murder. The Palumbo family is thrilled by this, and they provide him with a bodyguard and other assistance—but can they be trusted? Central to the mystery are a lost Caravaggio painting that Alfie uncovered in an Italian monastery and an art heist from the 1980s. But when a local man winds up dead in a dumpster, Wagstaff worries that he could be next.

High-spirited, high-stakes mayhem fills every page; there are nonstop scrapes and chases, wise-guy jokes, and references to everything from The Gong Show to Star Trek, The Godfather, and even the 1990 film The Freshman. Berkin’s story is preposterous and his leading man improbable—but the novel’s endearing goofiness makes this a winning combination. Film buffs will love spotting the various movie references (and Wagstaff’s disquisition on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window), while action fans will find plenty here to raise their heart rates. Readers shouldn’t read this book while hungry, though, as Wagstaff’s most intense nostalgia is for Rhode Island cuisine—all described in detail that will leave readers drooling.
Wacky, worldly Wagstaff is a winner.

Yee-haw!

I’m glad they liked it!

Working on getting some more reviews… keep watching this blog for updates!

Get your copy by clicking here! DO IT!

Reviews Are Starting To Appear May 2, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

So far, so good!

If you’ve read the new Wagstaff mystery, please post a review!

Big-time professional reviews forthcoming…. I gotta wait in line behind some other books for those.

Get your copy here & read an excerpt (the Kindle one is longer!)

It’s also part of Kindle Unlimited – so it’s FREE to check out if you’re on that service! The first Wagstaff book is too! Click here!

The current debate I’m having in my own li’l mind is whether or not to advertise the book in an upcoming Brown Alumni Monthly issue focusing on Brown authors.

I’m not sure how Brown will react to the book. Sure, I set it at an alumni weekend and offer all sorts of descriptions of Brown, Providence and its environs, with numerous episodes around town in restaurants, legendary RI food must-haves like Allie’s Donuts or Iggy’s Clamcakes.  An actual reunion I attended at Brown a few years ago inspired much of this one, ranging from the classmates I reconnected with to the changes in downtown Providence and the spectacle of WaterFire. I worked it all in, all within a story involving the special brand of Rhode Island mafia I grew up around.

So, yeah, there’s plenty of local color to go around, but I HAD to include some episodes satirizing academic classes at Brown. While it was tempting to go after the truly low-hanging fruit of current day safe space grievance studies, I saved the biggest rant for a film class I actually took back in the day, a class that made me sit through pretentious anti-cinema for semiotic purposes & totally got Hitchcock wrong.

Well, I felt like I got some revenge with that small section of my story. But I’m not sure how Brown will react to it, since it’s the hook I’d use in the advertising.

The troublemaker in me says to do it.

And the cheapskate says only if it’s not too much money.

So, we’ll see.

I have nice things to say in the book about the Brown band and the art at the RISD museum. Some of it even figures into the mystery.

The real debate is whether or not it will increase or decrease the chances of that honorary doctorate, right?

Check it out for yourself! And don’t forget to add to the reviews! Thanks!