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What Are Dreams Made Of? June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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A quick note relating to a dream I had last night.

Not a dream with some celebrity in it where the plotline gets surreal and bizarre…. sorry, I save those gems for the Wagstaff novels.

In this dream, I met a woman who complimented me on my hair out of the blue as I walked past an old now-gone drug store in a shopping center from my childhood. You’d think I’d’ve known I was dreaming at that point, but I simply stopped in my tracks and decided to talk to her.  Hell, overcoming my shyness and chatting about my haircut with her should have clued me in that I was in a dream.  But I guess I’m bolder in the dream universe, so I talked with her about getting my haircut and checked her out and see if I could get a date out of it.

Much like what I’d do in real life, I made a point of looking at her eyes while I talked, since I either revert to my “Hey, Jim must be on the spectrum!” behavior of looking away from people as I talk, or reverting to my “Hey, Jim is a friggin’ dirty old sod” behavior by looking, well, elsewhere.

So because of that focus on her eyes, I got to study this young woman’s face while I chatted with her.  The image of that face stuck with me when I woke out of the dream and saw 5:53am on the clock. I thought about the face for a moment and it mystified me.

For  the life of me, I have absolutely NO idea who it was. (more…)

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

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Writing.
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“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…)

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

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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

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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

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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!

 

 

 

 

The New Wagstaff Book Is Here! Wagstaff & Meatballs available for order! April 3, 2017

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The new Wagstaff mystery novel is now available on Amazon!!!

Order your paperback copy today! Both paperback & Kindle editions are ready to go.

This one was inspired by a Brown reunion I attended a few years back. I’ve attempted to encapsulate all aspects of the Rhode Island experience into an offbeat mystery story loaded with action and humor.

And by “all aspects of the Rhode Island experience” I mean breathtaking autumn foliage, amazing food ranging from clamcakes to Allie’s Donuts, entertainingly inept mobsters, eye-roll inducing classes at Brown, cops who bend the rules, and an action set-piece at Providence’s famed WaterFire.

Okay, that last one is only in the book.

I tried to get everything I missed about Rhode Island into the book somewhere. And since you’d want more than my mere memories to fill a good tale, there are plenty of clues, twists, shoot outs and stuff blow’d up real good  to keep you turning pages.

All told in the Professor Wagtaff/Groucho Marxist bedtime story voice! Who could ask for more?

Here’s the plot description from the back cover:

On his way back to Providence for a college reunion weekend, Wagstaff saves the life of an art professor who turns out to be the son of a longtime Rhode Island Mafia chief.  From there, our mix of Sherlock, Bond and Groucho concocts a trail through feuding mob factions, old college friends and rivals, a long lost Caravaggio masterpiece, and the ecstasies of Rhode Island cuisine. As bodies begin to pile up, Wagstaff realizes the stakes are higher than who will run the local bookmaking rackets, and the flirtations from the Don’s daughter might literally be playing with fire… which means, once again, it’s time for another edition of  “You Bet Your Life!”

Order Your Copy on Amazon Here!

Order your Kindle Edition here!

Want A Free Preview of the First 4 chapters? Click the link below!

Wagtaff And Meatballs Sample (PDF)

The New Wagstaff Book Is Imminent! March 6, 2017

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In the proofing stages now after finally settling on a cover concept I liked. Look for availability on Amazon and elsewhere in a few weeks!

Here’s an excerpt from the back cover blurb:

On his way back to Providence for a college reunion weekend, Wagstaff saves the life of an art professor who turns out to be the son of a longtime Rhode Island Mafia chief.  From there, our Professor concocts a trail though feuding mob factions, old college friends and rivals, a long lost Caravaggio masterpiece, and the ecstasies of Rhode Island cuisine. As the bodies begin to pile up, Wagstaff realizes the stakes are a lot higher than who will run the local bookmaking rackets, and the flirtations from the Don’s daughter might be literally playing with fire… which means, once again, its time to play “You Bet Your Life!”

Coming Soon!

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of November 19, 2016 November 18, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football, Writing.
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grfootThe new Wagstaff novel is at the proofreaders/immediate feedback sources. I’m aiming for sometime in January to have it available on Amazon. Watch this space for any updates on that.

In the meantime, this means I can devote whatever gray matter I have left (most likely my internal organs at this point) towards making these picks, right? I keep reverting back to matching a coin flip, however, going 3-3 overall last week to bring my college totals to 18-15-1 and the NFL to 13-9, totalling 31-24-1. 56%. Ugh. I gotta do better than that.

Perhaps my constant trolling of people on Facebook with snark will sharpen my mind. And if not, well, at least I’m getting my jollies.

I think I will take advantage of the Thanksgiving break to design some possible covers for the new book. I’m aiming for something a little flashier than last time, something a little more colorful. The black & white noir thing worked well last time, but it’s time to gussy things up a bit. I have a decent camera and compositing software…. I ought to be able to put something together that’s nice. I have a concept in mind that shouldn’t be too difficult to stage.

Which reminds me… I need to rent a truckload of kangaroos dressed as clowns in bondage gear. Like I said, my concept shouldn’t be too difficult to stage.

In the meantime, in the college games this week, I like Virginia Tech plus 2 against Notre Dame, Temple by 15 over Tulane, Penn State to cover a big 28 over Rutgers, and as much as I LOVE home underdogs in rivalry games, I’m going to go against that and pick USC to cover 13 over UCLA.

In the NFL, I’ll take the Jaguars plus 6 1/2 against the Lions in a game where my cat will have no idea who to root for, the Cowboys by 7 over the Ravens, the Redskins by 3 over the Packers, and since I think it will be a low-scoring affair, I’ll take the UNDER 39.5 in the Rams/Dolphins matchup.

Looking forward to some much-needed downtime this week. I wish you all the same!

 

What Makes Some People Lucky – An Interesting Study August 2, 2014

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gladstoneYou gotta give action to get action.

That’s what the luckiest person I know said to me about gambling.

And evidently, a similar idea is now backed up by some very interesting research. A British psychologist named Richard Wiseman has identified numerous behavior & personality patterns of people who one would consider “lucky” as well as traits of people one would consider “unlucky.” He also believes you can teach yourself to be luckier.

An interesting idea – go read the article, and then come back here.

Done? Good! I gotta be honest – Wiseman’s theories involving being open to random happenings & observations certainly jibes with the entire M.O. of the Wagstaff novel series I’m working on.  As much as a lot of the material in them (and yes, the second installment is well on the way) is semi-autobiographical, I’m thinking I ought to reduce that “semi” somewhat if I want to improve my luck.

I certainly could have used more yesterday going after a 1.1 million Pick 6 pool at Del Mar. Got wiped out…. so much for that nine bucks.

The winning horse in the final race? The one I didn’t bet? His name was Jimmy’s Date.

A date I shoulda gone on, although believe me, I didn’t miss the Pick 6 by only one race. Del Mar is a BASTARD to bet compared to Santa Anita, at least to me.

But  still – shoulda gone with my gut on that one, even if his past performances were, well… lackluster. And then he won. Figures.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Vegas – the high cost of table games and the legality of advanced deposit horse wagering have kept me from caring about it as much as I used to. I also don’t have a cat sitter I can trust, and the star of Cat Thoughts is somewhat high maintenance. But the last time I was there, like so many times before, I went with a friend of mine who frequents the place much more than I ever would, as well as card clubs and the like. Yes, he enjoys gambling a great deal, and why not?

He practically wins all the time.

Well, at least he seems to win all the time. He certainly hit some big wins whenever I was along for the Vegas ride, which meant getting treated to some nice dinners (thank YOU, gamblin’ Gods!)

He’s the luckiest person I know. I’ve seen restaurants screw up his order & comp the bill or provide free dessert. I’ve heard stories of his airplane flights running out of seats and bumping him into first class. I picked a slot machine at random for him to play and he hit a thousand dollar pull within ten minutes.

And he told me that he thought he’d win a lot simply because he’d play a lot – “You gotta give action to get action,” he said.

Then he signed me up for the club card at the Wynn. He borrowed the card long enough to plug it into a slot machine and load $100 onto it, something he & I knew I’d NEVER do in all my cheapness – and he played the thing for maybe half an hour.

At the end of the half an hour, there was enough playtime on that club card to be registered for some freebies from the Wynn as well as a spin of their comp prize wheel. I spun it & won free buffet brunch for the both of us. And the Wynn has an excellent buffet.

Oh, and his slot play?After that half an hour he was up about two hundred dollars.

You gotta give action to get action. Gladstone Gander might agree. Ron Jeremy would certainly agree, but that’s another story (although I bet he’d love to win that Wynn buffet as well).

Richard Wiseman definitely would agree – but extrapolating his theories beyond gambling and towards opportunity in general, his ideas are quite fascinating. I always remember the line from Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays In The Picture – Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Wiseman has demonstrated how to prepare yourself to find many more opportunities, hence, increase your luck.

And now, back to the racing form…. there must be a horse named Bet On Me You Pathetic Male Crazy Cat Lady or something like that, you know, something to go straight for my gut.

My SMALLER gut, too! Scroll down & read about my no-carb success!

A Resolution For 2014 January 1, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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secofwar

… is to get back to posting on this blog.

I’ve been away from it a while, busy with a lot of other crap (mostly my big move and subsequent Casa De Wagstaff set-up), but since I need to get into big-time writin’ mode as the second Wagstaff mystery novel is one of my 2014 goals, I’ve resolved to post to this thing at least once a week – might be a film review, a music blog, something about food, sports, TV, more cat comics, a rant, whatever.

Just something to keep things fresh.

The new abode is pretty much set up now & I finally organized a lot of the ENDLESS CRAP I had boxed up to either unpack, stow for future assignment, or begin to (eek!) unload on ebay since it’s not giving me any jollies all packed away. May as well as pay it forward (at a price, of course!)

Oh, and the next Wagstaff mystery? Coming together nicely, thank you very much.