$888 For My Book? Are You Crazy?

I went over to Amazon to look at how my novel CHICAGO TIME is doing. Plus, I don’t get tired of seeing my book for sale on Amazon.com (or Smashwords for that matter).

When I looked the page over, I noticed that others were selling my book, too. One vendor in particular caught my eye.

Really? $888? I’m sorry, but if anyone pays $888 for my book, they’re getting ripped off. To top it off, that vendor doesn’t even give you free shipping. Which is beyond insulting.


Being a Soccer Dad

Last Fall I volunteered to coach my son’s soccer team. Thankfully, I’m just the assistant coach. The coach played a soccer as a kid and knows quite a bit more than I do. I played almost no soccer as a kid. What soccer I did play was in a high school gym class, without being told what the rules were. You take a bunch of US teenagers in the 80’s, give them a soccer ball, shove them out on a field and you end up with something that resembles a cross between rugby and hockey, but without penalties.

Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.

Thankfully, the boys on my son’s team are all in first grade and have the benefit of being taught how to dribble and pass, when to throw-in, or have a corner kick or goalie kick. That said, I’m amazed we can get them to stay within the boundaries of the field.

During one game in the Fall, a plane pulling a banner ad flew high above the field. Most of the kids on the field stopped to look up at the plane and to point it out to their fellow teammates. Nevermind that the ball was still in play.

There was one game where, in the usual Magnet-Ball style of play, six of the eight kids on the field were kicking and jostling for the ball. My son, one of the six kids vying for the ball, took this opportunity to vocalize the song “Duel of Fates” from Star Wars The Phantom Menace. This is the song used during the fight scene between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jin. My son was trying to create his own soundtrack to the game. (We haven’t yet taught the kids “Nessun Dorma.”)

I laughed and shook my head, then went back to doing my usual job of trying to coax the boys into playing a game that at least attempts to resemble soccer (with passing, dribbling, defense, etc.), with mixed results.

I should mention that my son has inherited my build, which means he’s pretty much doomed to being small and skinny for a good portion of his youth. He’s not going to be a power hitter, linebacker, power forward, or anything which demands size and raw strength. Take a look at us, from the first game of the season last Fall,

I bring all this up because a guy by the name of Dave Kuo had a meltdown over his four-year-old son’s first soccer game. (I stumbled on this post courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.) He titled his post, “On Being An Absolute Asshole.”

You can read some excerpts below. I encourage you to read the whole post.

I’m not going to be too judgmental. The reason being is that despite loving my kids and trying to be a good father by showing them that love, and encouraging and supporting them, and giving them proper discipline, there are times when I’ve been an asshole. When those times have occurred I have apologized to them. I want my kids to understand three things: 1) People make mistakes, including daddy; 2) It’s important to be honest and admit those mistakes; 3) You should apologize to the people you’ve wronged.

Anyway, from Kuo’s post,

His biggest flaw? His penchant to be a cloud watcher. A dandelion gazer. His penchant to be a dreamer and not fully engaged with his coach or the game.

– snip –

The game starts. My boy kicks the ball into his own net — even as the coach is telling him to turn around and go the other way — and is happy. He thinks he’s just done something awesome.

I’m fuming.


– snip –

I continue watching. My boy stands looking at the clouds as his coach yells out his name. He turns and instinctively kicks at the air. The other team runs by him. Other parents are yelling advice to the kids. The coach is out there on the field — this, apparently, is how midget soccer works, with an omnipresent coach guiding each side around the field.


Moments later, he runs over and asks if he did great. Kim says yes. The coach says yes. Me? I’m half way between, “Awesome!” and “You suck!” I want to go for the former, I cannot say the latter. After the tiniest of pauses, I say no.

Nanoseconds feel like hours. He looks blankly at me.

I suddenly feel bile in the back of my throat. What did I just do?

“I”m joking, buddy! I’m joking! You did great.”

“Bad joke Daddy.” He walks away. Kim walks away. An assistant coach looks at me with sad incredulity. I AM now one of those dads.  I want to vomit. But I’m too consumed with my snowballing rage – a rage now firmly directed at me too.

I HATE the coddling of America’s youth. I HATE everyone always been told that everything is terrific no matter how much it sucks. I HATE that we lead the world in self esteem and suck at math and reading. I HATE soccer games that don’t keep score. I HATE participation ribbons. Now I’m mad at our culture too.

The first thought I had when reading this post, was that Kuo has no realistic conception of what Not-Quite-Five-Year-Olds are capable of. If, without any kind of training in Early Childhood Education, you can get more than half-a dozen of them to walk in a straight line for longer than a minute, you’re doing remarkably well.

Their attention spans are short. Their curiosity about everything is seemingly endless. They learn best through active play. You start to talk, and some word you said makes them suddenly want to tell you a story in total earnestness about how this one time their mom, dad, sister, brother, friend, grandpa, grandma did something or had something happen to them, and, and, and!….

Kuo doesn’t like the fact that no score is being kept in this pre-school game. We don’t officially keep score for our games, either. But I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that the kids in our league know the score of each game they play. They keep track of the number of goals. They know who is better and who is worse. They know who won or lost and they talk about it. They know who the good players are. (I think second grade is when the scoring is kept officially.)

Last Saturday, in the first game of the Spring season, my son, in attempting to block a ball from going into the goal, ended up kicking the ball into his own team’s goal. No one had to say anything. He knew what he’d done and was frustrated by it. I was on the field when it happened. I winced. But I didn’t say a word to my son about it. Later, he still had the presence of mind to get between the goal and the ball when the other team was on the offensive. He managed to block several balls, keeping the other team from scoring.

My guess is that Kuo’s son will learn in due time to do what it is you need to do to play a good game of soccer. (It’ll probably take a few years, since he’s only four.) And Kuo will learn sooner to accept where his son is at with his listening and soccer skills.

Salvaging the Legacy of TRON

My wife and I watched the original TRON movie the other night. I borrowed it from the library. I hadn’t seen the movie since I was teenager. Back then I loved the movie. I loved the visual effects, the action, and the idea of being inside a computer. I think the latter was the most appealing to the 13-year-old me: that being inside a computer was just like playing a video game. In that respect the movie was made for the first generation of kids to come of age with video games.

I also fed many quarters into the original TRON game at several arcades.

As a teenager I also owned what my friends and I called a “TRON mirror.” It wasn’t a mirror. It was a glass part of the video game cabinet. It was cool. It had been salvaged from the Bally Midway manufacturing plant that was in my town. My friends and I would salvage materials from the dumpster at night. Materials were thrown away if they had even slight blemish. Bad for arcades but cool for us geeks. I once got a Wizard of Wor sign that was used for the top part of the arcade cabinet.

The TRON panel I had was from the large cabinet for the Discs of TRON game. You can see it here.

It’s the portion with TRON’s arms held up over his head. It was fairly large. This I did not salvage myself. Someone else did and I traded cash and few other things (I think 5 1/4 inch floppy discs). Oddly enough, I don’t ever remember playing Discs of TRON.

I had that glass panel for many years and then it was sold at a garage sale when my parents cleaned out my old bedroom.

My future wife wouldn’t let me bring the TRON panel into our apartment when we moved in together.

Which is just as well, I suppose. TRON is not as good as I remember it being to my teenage self. The movie has little to almost no character development and a plot that is quite thin. Though still much better than TRON: Legacy. That was a horrible movie with great special effects and an even better soundtrack by Daft Punk (which I still listen to quite frequently). Whereas the first movie could have told a more complete and interesting story, but didn’t, the sequel tried to cram too much story into a short period of time leaving numerous plot holes.

There are so many plot holes in TRON: Legacy that there are several web sites dedicated to pointing them out.

This is a shame because with time and hindsight, and a better budget, the sequel could have been an improvement to the original TRON. As it stands now, TRON: Legacy looks more like a missed opportunity for making what could have been a compelling piece of science fiction.

P.S. I also learned, thanks to the DVD extras, that the original TRON was not nominated for an Oscar for Best Special Effects. The reason given was that because they relied on computers to generate the special effects that it was somehow “cheating.”

P.P.S. My wife hated TRON: Legacy and I think still holds it against me for wasting two hours of her time.

Book In Hand

It’s a pretty damn good feeling to be holding the book you’ve written in your own hands. I received my own copies the other day.

So please allow me a few bits of bandwidth to revel in this; my very own copy of my very own first novel.

See, my novel CHICAGO TIME sits on the shelf in some good company. 🙂

About That Backwards Flowing River…

There’s a scene in my novel Chicago Time where Elise spouts off about how Chicago’s river flows backwards and how crazy that is. It is pretty crazy once you think about it for a bit. I’m not aware of another river in the world where the flow was reversed.

Why was the flow reversed? Because there were cholera and typhoid outbreaks in the city.

Why were there cholera and typhoid utbreaks? Because people were getting those diseases from the drinking water, which was being pumped in from Lake Michigan, which was taking in water from the Chicago River, which was being used as a moving dump for sewage and industrial waste. Better to connect to the Illinois River and reverse the flow of the Chicago River and send all that sewage and waste Downstate.

In addition to improved drinking water, the flow reversal had the side effect of improving shipping and commerce. It also amplified the mutual mistrust and disdain that the people of Chicago and Downstate Illinois have for each other. At least until water and sewage treatment plants were built, providing cleaner water and a place to put patronage workers (aka, the Water Reclamation District).

There’s a book out now that contains photos of the Chicago River when it was a newly-reversed river. It’s called, The Lost Panoramas; When Chicago Changed its River and the Land Beyond by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams.

To say I want this is an understatement. I’m always fascinated by old photographs of the city, especially of places, like the Chicago River that are now changed completely since the photos were taken. You can see a sample of these amazing photos, and read the story of how the photos came about, here.

I was thinking about this, too (all the changes that is), when I recently read the first volume of Ernest Hemingway’s collected letters. In it, the young Hemingway describes taking a canoe trip with a close friend on the Desplaines River to the Illinois River, ending in Ottowa, Illinois. He was 17 years old when he did that. This is not the kind of thing that parents let their kids do anymore. It’s also just about impossible to do on those rivers now. The areas next to those rivers are so developed, you can’t just park your canoe and camp on the riverside anymore.

The flow reversal was quite an engineering feat. But with all of the positive consequences, there have been some negative ones too, especially those which conform to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Under the latter category, you can firmly place the Asian Carp problem. Now there is even talk, something completely impossible to think of even a decade ago, of somehow cutting off the Chicago River from the Illinois River.

Writers Remix Their Lives (Sort Of)

A friend on Facebook remarked last week that after reading some of the early chapters of my novel CHICAGO TIME, that she noticed vague similarities to my life and used the phrase “loosely based.” I had to laugh because it’s true. Writers and artists always use bits of their own lives in their art.

There’s this fun Youtube video I found courtesy of Slate.


The person (Pogo) who made this took sounds, dialog, and scenes from the movie Monsters, Inc. and mixed them to make, well, musical elements and set them on top of a techno-based background. The result is a new music video.

This is not all that dissimilar to what writers do.

We also take inspiration from other writers. We also use our imaginations. We use bits and pieces of our own lives. We take a story we once heard an uncle tell us, an incident from our lives when we were seven, a situation a friend told us about, a structure borrowed from another artist, and an insight into the characters we’ve created, and mix it all together.

We coax all these elements (what are oftentimes disparate) into a cohesive whole. It’s this coaxing that takes the longest. It requires lots of re-writing.

The best evocation of this type of remixing I have ever come across is in the movie Providence by Alain Resnais. It has Sir John Gielgud, Dirk Bogarde, and Ellen Burstyn. The film features some fantastic one-liners, like, “Science soothes the savage rectum” and “Don’t I deserve to be fucked by a genius?!” It’s also a very unusual and sometimes confusing film. The viewer follows along as the dying writer, played by Gielgud, struggles with the plot of the story he’s working on.

(I would be remiss if I did not note that I was introduced to this film in a class by the wonderful writer John Rechy…lest he ever find out I did not properly credit him. “Ladies and gentlemen, did you know that Richard Hellinga a former student of mine referenced a movie called Providence and did NOT credit me for introducing it to him? And can I just tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that that Gore Vidal is such a bitch!” The latter sentence is something Rechy actually said.

He also said a lot more things. “I haven’t seen that shade of green in a long time, Richard. But it suits you. I think you just might bring it back.” He said that about a green sweater I was wearing. He was very concerned about what we wore to his class because, as he said, “Afterall, ladies and gentlemen, I have to look at you for three hours every week.”…It was quite a class. Along the way I learned a lot about imagery and how to take control of your prose.)

Back to Providence. The movie jumps from the writer’s present life, where he is confined largely to a bed, with scenes from his overflowing imagination that’s attempting to shape a work-in-progress. Only at the very end do we see his family as it actually is. I won’t give away much more than that. But the film does a wonderful job of showing the wild swings and evolution of a project in progress.

The key here is imagination. It’s imagination which both fuels the remix and conducts the transformation of events and images, making it all into something new.

I use the term “remix” because in this day and age it’s easily understood. It’s an imperfect metaphor. In the future, after several leaps in technology have been made, giving us a new perspective on the world and how it is processed, there will probably be a whole new metaphor, a better approximation, to use in understanding what writers do.

Wow! That Was Fast!

The printed version of my novel CHICAGO TIME is now available for purchase from Amazon.com for $10.00.

I only found this out because I went to Createspace to purchase several copies for myself when I saw that one had been purchased. I thought, how could anyone purchase it? It’s not available yet. And then I saw I was wrong, because there it was, on Amazon’s web site.

Chicago Time paperback on Amazon

Honestly, I thought it would take a bit longer for the book to be available. I was told it usually takes five to seven days from the proof being approved until it shows up in the store. But it’s there already. So for those of you who prefer the Dead Tree version, have at it.