“Hail, Caesar!” Is a Joy from Start to Finish

I had been looking forward to the new Joel & Ethan Coen movie, “Hail, Caesar!” which is based on the novel plot point that the lead actor in a huge studio spectacle is kidnapped and held for ransom just as the film is in the midst of shooting. The time frame for the film is the early 1950s, which means that musicals and religious spectacles (think “The Robe,” “Spartacus,” etc.) were big. Anyone old enough to know who Esther Williams was will like this movie.

I was lucky to see the film at a theater that showed clips from some of these old movies prior to the feature film. There were clips from an old Frank Sinatra/Gene Kelly film, complete with dancing and singing. There were several choreographed swimming movies with Esther Williams (and others) looking every bit as good in her spangly swimsuit as any of today’s starlets. All of these snippets of films of yesteryear helped establish the tone and mood for the feature film.

And the feature film was a doozy! Outstanding amongst a terrific cast, for me, were the new face playing cowboy actor Hobie Doyle, Alden Ehrenheich. Alden is shown as a terrific horseman who can ride and rope with the best of them and can also sing. Because westerns were big in that era, Hobie has a career in westerns, but is suddenly traded by his studio to play the lead in a romantic drawing room comedy drama entitled “Merrily We Dance,” being directed by the oh-so-cultivated (and probably gay) director Laurence Laurentz, played by Ralph Fiennes. Since Hobie can barely speak, the scene where Fiennes tries to coach Hobie on how to deliver his lines is a comic delight. It goes without saying that Hobie cannot understand half of the terms Director Laurentz uses (words like “importune”). As we know from the clip that portrays Hobie’s dilemma, if asked to rope a cow, he would be in his element. If asked to dress up in a tuxedo and talk in a refined manner: not so much. The best Hobie can say, in trying to please his director, is, “I’ll give it a shot.” (His task: speak the line, “Would that it were so simple.”)

Josh Brolin plays the hard-working head of the studio who must put out fires on and off the lot.   Ed Mannix must deal with the kidnapping of the lead in his Biblical epic, an actor called Baird Whitlock (George Clooney).  The group that has kidnapped Baird (Clooney) calls itself “the Future.” It is a group of egghead Communists, and the leader of the group is a reveal when it comes.

The cast is uniformly great and the send-ups of what the old studio culture was all about is genius. Tilda Swinton plays two gossip columnists, an homage to the dueling gossip columnists Dear Abby and Anne Landers, probably. There is a veiled reference to the old story of Loretta Young’s love child (supposedly by Clark Gable) being adopted by its own biological mother. The rumors of gay stars and directors having to conceal their homosexuality are legendary.

On the evening talk shows, co-star Channing Tatum shares the difficulties he faced in his part, since he had to learn to tap dance. The tap dance sequence is great. The swimming sequences that mimic the Esther Wiliams movies of old are wonderful, especially when Scarlett Johanssen speaks.

Noah Hill doesn’t have enough to do (nor does Frances McDormand) but lines like this kept me wanting more: “God doesn’t have children. He is a bachelor—and very angry.” The send-up of the old westerns with singing cowboys (“Lazy Ol’ Moon”) was equally good.

I really needed a light-hearted comedy that realizes there are a few adults left in the world who go to the movies. I’ve been seeing what looks like a re-boot of “Animal House” updated to the seventies. No offense to its Austin-based director Richard Linklater, based here in Austin, who helmed the classic “Dazed and Confused,” but I’d rather stroll down memory lane with the Coen Brothers. This movie was thoroughly entertaining, from start to finish.

Get A FREE E-book of “Obama’s Odyssey” thru March 5th

Obama_cover vol2ObamaIf you would like to read a FREE copy of Volume I of Obama’s Odyssey, in exchange for an Amazon (and, perhaps, Goodreads) review, simply claim your e-book copy from Reading Deals. Here is the information:

We have created a new landing page specifically for your book, so that people who are interested can join our Review Club and start reading and reviewing your book. Here is the link:

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So, there’s that.

vol2Obama

In addition, I will be speaking “live” on Monday, February 22nd at the Root Room in Chicago from 6 to 8 p.m. about the 2 volume “Obama’s Odyssey” book, chronicling my coverage of the 2008 presidential election. I’m flying in from Texas to do so.

The entire odyssey began, for me, with articles on my own blog and on Associated Content, which became Yahoo.  I posted over 1,000 articles, focusing on entertainment and politics. I began covering the caucuses because I had recently retired and it was boring. So, a sixty-something Iowan went off on an adventure, hiking at least 15 miles a day, it seemed, and having a variety of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, which I didn’t write in book form until Yahoo kicked back the articles to the members of the Content Contributors Network in order to hire Katie Couric for $10 million. (Yahoo recently announced another big lay-off of its employees—something like 170,000—, as the Katie Couric thing isn’t working out too well, apparently.)

My coverage of the Iowa caucuses began to pick up interest as the caucus season heated up. My posts on Yahoo were “hit” roughly 3 million times. Some of my predictions (like the one, in advance, that Obama would carry Iowa) were quite controversial and generated a lot of debate.

After the Iowa caucus articles appeared, I was contacted by my editor at Yahoo, Tim Skillern, and asked if I would consider going to Denver to cover the Democratic National Convention and to St. Paul to cover the Republican National Convention.

“We’ll get you inside,” Tim promised.

I think my response was, “Heck! I’d pay YOU for that, but you’ll have to find me some place to stay that is less than $500 a night.”

Hence, I ended up in a room within a house of Yahoo bloggers, all in their twenties, sleeping on an air mattress. There was no closet in the room, which did not bother me, but the lack of a chair eventually caused me to take one of the dining room chairs and struggle upstairs with it, so I could crawl over to the chair and use it to help myself up from the on-the-floor air mattress. (The door knob was taking a beating!)

And all of it ended with me being named Yahoo’s Content Contributor of the Year.

I will be talking about my adventures in Denver (inside) and St. Paul (inside) and at the Belmont Town Hall meeting in Nashville (inside) and following Rudy Giuiliani around in Florida and talking a good friend into covering the Nevada caucuses, plus the unforgettable experience of attending the Ron Paul Rally for the Republic in Minneapolis at the Target Center as a member of the press.

My anecdotes about my personal experiences [falling down the hill outside Invesco Field while following the Fox News Team (“One More Reason to Hate the Fox News Team”)] or being detained by the police outside the “Rage Against the Machine” concert in downtown Denver, or attending various state parties after the day’s work was done are highpoints of my life. There are many funny stories among them.

I will be talking about Volumes I and II from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Root Room in Chicago (5203 N. Kimball Ave.). This presentation will be filmed and streamed “live.” The live streaming will be able to be viewed on Amazon’s Kindle Fire channel and here is the link to learn more about how that works: http://www.meetup.com/authors-showcase/about/

 

Haskell Wexler and me, May 22, 2012, Grant Park, Chicago

Haskell Wexler: Activist and Cinematographer Par Excellence

Haskell Wexler, world-famous cinematographer and liberal political activist, died 2 days after Christmas in his sleep at his Santa Monica home at the age of 93. It was a big loss to the world of cinema, and, on a personal level, I regret postponing the interview I planned  (which he agreed to) that I never got around to conducting. He goes right up there with Christa McAuliff as (yet another) celebrity who I should have spoken with sooner.

On the even of the Monday, February 2 caucuses in Iowa, I think back to Wexler’s work on behalf of liberal causes and sneak in the prediction that Hillary will (probably) win Iowa but Bernie could take her in New Hampshire before mentioning some of Wexler’s accomplishments and quoting his son, Jeff, who works in the industry, as does his movie producer son Mark.

Haskell Wexler was still filming (the 2012 NATO demonstrations in Grant Park) at the age of 90, and that is when the picture accompanying this article was shot, in Grant Park.

This is me, in Grant Park, with Haskell Wexler. I was star-struck to realize Haskell was shooting film there (as was I) during the big NATO trade meeting (and demonstrations in Chicago in May, 2012.) He was 90 then and still working; we should all be so lucky. Haskell died in his sleep in Santa Monica this past December 27th, (2015). He was 93.
I ran all the way across the park to meet him and have this photo taken, bailing on a Vietnam veteran I was interviewing who was going to return his medals during the Occupy protests. Later, I had the photo framed, wrote a thank you note for the hours of entertainment that his movies provided to all of us, and gave it to him, in person, at a Chicago Film Festival I was covering. I asked him if I could interview him at that time, and he was very gracious and gave me his e-mail. I planned to do it, but I first needed to do more research on his many outstanding films, a few of which I had not seen (especially his documentaries, which are sometimes hard to obtain).
That didn’t happen and now he is dead. “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
During his rise to prominence, Haskell met such future luminaries as a young George Lucas (he advised him to go to film school) and William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”) when he was working as an usher in Chicago.
Chicago was a big part of Wexler’s life. He was a native son (born at 2340 Lincoln Park West to a father (Simon “Sy” Wexler) who worked for Allied Radio, a progenitor of Radio Shack. From an early age he began filming, working as an assistant to Mickey Pallas, who chronicled unions and civil rights groups—causes which Wexler would believe in and document all his life.
Probably his most famous chronicling of politics occurred in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention when actor Robert Forster (last seen on “Breaking Bad”) starred in his film “Medium Cool” and actual protesters and police appeared in the film.  Haskell wrote, directed, shot and produced the film, getting his cousin, blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield, to do the music. Wexler’s “cinema verite” hand-held camera style on the film, much like Costa Gravas’ “Z,” has been much studied in film schools since, and, as Glenn Erickson, writing for Turner Classic Movies said, “His footage looked so good that one would think the confrontation lines had been pre-lit for his camera.”  Haskell himself described how he would coach the young female lead to go right up to the barricades and ask, nicely, if she could duck underneath them and go where the action was, with Wexler shooting her every step of the way. He captured the brutality of the thugs beating protesters against the Vietnam War in Grant Park, across the street from the Hilton on Michigan where the DNC was taking place at the time. When “Medium Cool” opened, film critic Roger Ebert called it, “The only feature film to really capture the life of Chicago’s neighborhoods.”
Haskell Wexler had a life-long love affair with Chicago, saying he always wanted to make his first film in Chicago because “Chicago is a real place and L.A. is a motel. I am a Chicagoan.”
The scenes Haskell Wexler gave us, including the black-and-white squabbling of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and the lush grassy grace of a young Richard Gere in “Days of Heaven” stay in the memory. Faye Dunaway’s sexy chess game with Steve McQueen in the original “Thomas Crown Affair” (with its split-screen shots); “Coming Home” and Bruce Dern’s walk into the sea; “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with Jack Nicholson (from which he was fired by Milos Forman); “In the Heat of the Night,” where he discovered that the lighting for black actor Sidney Poitier must be adjusted to suit African-American actor’s skin tones; “The Conversation” with Gene Hackman; “American Graffiti” with a young Harrison Ford and Ron Howard. The list goes on and on, and is enumerated below.
Haskell’s son, Jeff, who works in sound for movies, was Oscar-nominated himself for “The Last Samurai” and “Independence Day.” He relates, “Steve McQueen would come by the house and pick me up in one of his new Ferraris. Pop would take me to work. It was just terrific for me to visit the set. If they hadn’t put the camera on the dolly yet, he’d let me ride on the dolly. I was in heaven.”
Two things that few knew about Haskell Wexler, says his son Jeff, “Dad was color-blind. He kept it a secret for the longest time.” Also, when WWII began, Haskell joined the Merchant Marine, was torpedoed, spent two weeks in a lifeboat, and had to swim through burning oil to survive. That sort of sealed the deal as far as his anti-war stance.”
Wexler is survived by his son Jeff, his movie producer son Mark, a daughter, Kathy, and his third wife, actress Rita Taggart.
R.I.P., Haskell Wexler. You were truly a visionary and one of a kind.
From IMDB:
Two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler was adjudged one of the ten most influential cinematographers in movie history, according to an International Cinematographers Guild survey of its membership. He won his Oscars in both black & white and color, for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)  and Bound for Glory (1976). He had served in the merchant marine with Arlo Guthrie. (He actually won the very last Oscar for b&w cinematography that was awarded.)
He also shot much of Days of Heaven (1978), a gorgeous Richard Gere film directed by Terence Malick, for which credited director of photography Nestor Almendros — [who was losing his eye-sight], won a Best Cinematography Oscar that Wexler felt should have been jointly shared by both. “Days of Heaven” was not a commercial success but is now considered a seminal film of the seventies, especially because of its gorgeous cinematography. (Sam Shepherd was also in the film). In 1993, Wexler was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award by the cinematographer’s guild, the American Society of Cinematographers.
He received five Oscar nominations for his cinematography, in total, plus one Emmy Award in a career that  spanned six decades and lasted into his nineties, as I saw him shooting film in the park on May 22, 2012, during the NATO meting/protests. He was 90 when this picture was taken, and he was still working. Haskell suggested to George Lucas that he go to film school, and Lucas never forgot this helpful advice.
Weskell is one of only 6 cinematographers to have a star on Hollywood’s Starred Walk of Fame and once formed a business with famed director Conrad (Connie) Hall. (One of the other 6 cinematographers to have a star and whose last film was “Road to Perdition.”)
In addition to his masterful cinematography, Wexler directed the seminal late Sixties film Medium Cool (1969) and has directed and/or shot many documentaries that display his progressive political views. He was the subject of a 2004 documentary shot by his son Mark Wexler, Tell Them Who You Are (2004).
Films:
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25 Things You Might Not Know About Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

On the eve of the Iowa caucuses (4 days away), here are 20 little-known facts about Bernie Sanders, courtesy of Bloomberg Businessweek, which ran Bernie’s picture on its latest cover with the logo: “Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Want Your Vote” (going on to explain that many of its readers are hedge-fund managers).

  1. Sanders  became a national political figure by giving a speech on Dec. 20, 2010 that lasted 8 and 1/2 hours. The speech railed against extending Bush tax cuts and seemed like a filibuster, but it wasn’t. It was so popular that it was later made into a book.

2) Sanders does not enjoy selfies.”If I had my options, I’d prefer to shake hands,” says Bernie.

3)  Bernie grew up with an immigrant father in a tenement with 3 and 1/2 rooms.

4)  Bernie has attracted crowds larger than Trump’s: 28,000 in Portland, Oregon; 27,500 in Los Angeles; 20,000 in Boston; 15,000 in Seattle.

5)  Sanders has a son named Levi, who is a paralegal at Greater Boston Legal Services.

6)  When asked to describe the U.S. to a Martian he used the phrase “wealth and income inequality.”

7)  Sanders’ former Chief of Staff says he had 2 interests when Mayor of Burlington: basketball and wealth inequality.

8)  Sanders has the highest constituent approval rating and lowest disapproval rating among U.S. Senators.

9)  Sanders is a graduate of the University of Chicago and once was arrested during a civil rights demonstration (he was a member of SNCC, the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, among others.)

10)  Sanders spent most of 1972-1976 running in Vermont as a third-party candidate for governor (2x), for senator (2x) and once got 4% of the vote.

11) Sanders won a weird race for Mayor of Burlington, Vermont (four-way race) by 10 votes, becoming their mayor for 8 years, a period during which the city boomed.

12)  Bernie ran for Congress twice becoming the first Independent elected to the House in 40 years.

13)  Bernie spent 16 years in the House before running for the Senate in 2006, with the backing of the Democratic Party, which he officially would not join.

14)  Bernie has 3 labor unions backing him, representing about a million workers. (*Clinton has about 18 unions representing 11 million workers supporting her.)

15)  In the 1960’s, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a few years before moving to Vermont. When he arrived in Vermont, he first lived in a maple sugar shack and cooked food over a coffee can filled with a roll of toilet paper soaked in lighter fluid, a poor man’s Sterno which his friends called a “Berno.”

16)  His brother, Larry, who first got him interested in liberal issues, is a Green Party politician in England. (*Donald Trump’s father-in-law and mother-in-law are both members of the Communist Party in their native land.)

17)  Until 2015, Bernie had 5 digits’ worth of credit card debt.

18)  When he ran for President of James Madison High School in Brooklyn in a 3-way race, he came in last. (*His elementary school basketball team won a city-wide championship, however.)

19)  There is a Bernie Sanders Drinking Game where, every time he mentions a free government program, you take a drink of someone else’s beer.

20)  Invited to speak to a United Way fundraiser once, he attacked the group in a short speech, telling them that they shouldn’t exist; that taking workers’ pay to do the government’s job was shameful.

21)  At Bernie’s rallies, Steve Earle’s “The Revolution Starts Now” and Bob Marley’s “Revolution” play, but not the Beatles’ famous song because it ends with the line: “Don’t you know it’s going to be all right.”

22)  Bernie ascribes to this FDR quote:  “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.  Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today.  They are unanimous in their hatred of me—and I welcome their hatred.”

23)  Robert Reich (economist and Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton) says, “Essentially, America faces a choice between authoritarian populism, represented by Donald Trump, and reform populism, represented by Bernie Sanders.”

24)  In college, Bernie also belonged to the Young People’s Socialist League, CORE (the Congress for Racial Equality), SNCC and the Student Peace Union.

25)  Bernie’s message is that of Martin Luther King, which King termed “the urgency of now”: “If you see stuff that’s bad and you don’t respond with the urgency of the moment, you’re not alive.”

Special Promotion Day: January 28, 2016

KHAKI = KILLER, Book #3 in THE COLOR OF EVIL series.

KHAKI = KILLER, Book #3 in THE COLOR OF EVIL series.

The award-winning novel Khaki=Killer, voted one of the Top Indie Thrillers of 2015 by “Shelf Unbound” magazine in its Dec./Jan. issue will be on a special Amazon Nation Kindle promotion on January 29th ONLY that will reduce the Kindle price from $3.99 to $1.99.

 

The Color of Evil (Bk. #1); Red Is for Rage (Bk. #2); and Khaki = Killer (Bk. #3) on the shelves of the bookstore voted Best Independent Bookstore in the U.S. by Publisher's Weekly.

The Color of Evil (Bk. #1); Red Is for Rage (Bk. #2); and Khaki = Killer (Bk. #3) on the shelves of the bookstore voted Best Independent Bookstore in the U.S. by Publisher’s Weekly.

At the same time, the first book in the (so far) three book series, “The Color of Evil,” will be reduced to 99 cents in Kindle for the period between January 29th and February 6th (Jan. 29, 30, 31 and Feb. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6th.)

Writers Digest Weighs in on This Year’s Xmas Cats

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer (Book #4 in The Christmas Cats series, www.TheXmasCats.com)

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer (Book #4 in The Christmas Cats series, www.TheXmasCats.com)

3rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards

Entry Title: The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

Author: Constance Corcoran Wilson

Judge Number: 100

Entry Category: Children’s Picture books

Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”. This scale is strictly to provide a point of reference, it is not a cumulative score and does not reflect ranking. Our system only recognizes numerals during this portion of logging evaluations. As a result, a “0” is used in place of “N/A” when the particular portion of the evaluation simply does not apply to the particular entry, based on the entry genre. For example, a book of poetry or a how to manual, would not necessarily have a “Plot and Story Appeal and may therefore receive a “0”.

*If you wish to reference this review on your website, we ask that you cite it as such: “Judge, 3rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards.” You may cite portions of your review, if you wish, but please make sure that the passage you select is appropriate, and reflective of the review as a whole.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 3

Voice and Writing Style: 5

Judge’s Commentary*:

Our judges all have professional experience in their background, whether it’s as a teacher, editor, publisher, agent, published author, etc.

Judges are asked to write a short commentary, which you will find below. Some judges use this as an opportunity to critique, others as an opportunity to review, and others yet may choose to combine the two. Some judges choose to speak largely, or in general terms, about a work so that they can cover as much as possible. Others choose to hone in on a few key points, leaving out larger portions but hopefully giving examples on a smaller scale that can apply to a larger one.

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer presents with a classically illustrated cover that reminds me stylistically of old cartoons. I really loved this presentation.

And really, who wouldn’t love cats in hats? Great concept and a clever way to both entertain and inform children by using the things that they love to keep their attention. Children will adore the cats and their adventure as the screech in to save the deer from mean old hunters. I really loved this book from cover to cover. Great job!

In fact, my only concern was on some of the word choices. Will kids know words like “vandalism”? Just keep these choices in mind as you market this to your target audience.

Otherwise, the illustrations were lovely. The author’s voice was perfect for this genre and I was happy to find that the author has written other books. I hope this series is continued and I plan to share this one with my own children. It will be the perfect addition to any child’s library.

Interactive pages was a delightful touch! I commend you on an entry well done. Hope to see more from this author in the near future. Best of luck!”

New Movies, Including “The Big Short”

“The Big Short” didn’t open in the Quad Cities as early as it opened in Chicago, so I saw it there some time ago, and I can tell you that I need a crash course in the stock market. The breaking of the fourth wall with explanations helped some, but I am no financial guru and even discussions of derivatives from the Crash of 2008 were confusing for the likes of me (and English major).

Now, we have a movie with an All Star cast that includes Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei, Finn Wittrock and directed and written by Adam McKay, who is better known for lightweight comedies that do not require much thinking or intelligence.

This movie requires both. I found it to be a crash course in the financial crisis that nearly ruined the United States and world economy.

My favorite movie, so far, is “Spotlight,” but this film is definitely up there on the list of The Best of the Year. It was fun listening to NPR interview Adam McKay about the film. He talked about the advisers on the film and admitted that “Sell it all” is probably not the way a true broker would have voiced that particular command. Nevertheless, it was used in the film for the moment when Steve Carell finally agrees with his employees that the time for selling the “shorts” that bet against the variable mortgages was NOW.

I’ve not (yet) seen “Star Wars,” which I’m sure I’ll enjoy. I missed “Bridge of Spies” (Tom Hanks), but I did see “Spotlight,” which is the best I’ve seen, so far.  I saw “Brooklyn,” but it’s never a good sign when you begin making a grocery list while the movie runs. It’s beautifully photographed and Saiorse Ronan will probably receive a nomination, but I found that the film dragged considerably.

I could have seen “Carol” in Chicago during the Film Festival, but I was scheduled to be on a panel at the Highland Park Library, and it only showed that night, so I missed that one, which should garner Oscar nods for its leads, at least.

I remember being impressed with Jason Bateman’s performance in the thriller “The Gift” and I enjoyed the sweet nostalgia of “Creed,” if not the hip-hop rap score that accompanied Michael B. Jordan’s star turn as the fighter being coached by Sylvester Stallone in the Burgess Meredith role.

There are other movies on my Must See list. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Michael Moore’s new documentary in Chicago in October and “Hitchcock/Truffaut” documentary then, also. Both were very good.

More about movies in the future, my Big Time hobby and love. Just don’t say you weren’t warned that “The Big Short” will require some serious concentration and the male lead in “Brooklyn” is a bit short for its female lead. Maybe the director of “Brooklyn” should have told Saiorse to lose the heels in the scene in Central Park where she is to put her head on her boyfriend’s shoulder, because, with heels on and their obvious height disparities, it was a really awkward scene.

TubaXmas 060

Christmas in Chicago: Happenings in and Around the City at the Holidays

I came in to Chicago to pick up the daughter (from Denver) to drive her back to the Quad Cities, but good friend Mary Gerace had some other festive ideas for things to do in and around the city, including the free Chicago Youth Symphony concert at Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the Tuba Christmas concert at the Palmer House, and a performance of The Assassination Theater, which purports to prove who really murdered JFK (ending soon at the Museum of Television and other such things.

TubaXmas 013The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra performance, which was free, was just as good as when I saw them perform with Ben Folds a month or so ago. No Ben, this time, but just as great a performance, with a tour de force performance from a young trumpeter who was voted the 2nd best in the U.S. in a competition.

TubaXmas 057Then came 266 tubas of all ages and sizes. Performers come from all over the state (the youngest was 10 years old) and outnumber those at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tubas don’t often get to carry the melody, so it was fun to hear that many of them playing well-known Christmas carols. The audience was encouraged to sing along to the second verse. The house was packed. We had to arrive by 9 a.m. to get colored wrist bands or risk being in the “spill-over” room watching it on a TV feed. This was the 30th year for the event.

Then there were the lovely Christmas trees, including the one in Millennium Park barely a mile down Michigan from me, and the one in the Palmer House Lobby.

And, of course, Water Tower Place beckoned with shopping galore. Last night, when I was there, they planned to be open until midnight! Christmas Eve, demonstrators plan to demonstrate on the Miracle Mile, which the shops along there have claimed has cost them at least 30% of their normal business.

Last, but not least, I received word a while ago that I was one of the Finalists for the title of Best Indie Thriller of 2015 and had been named one of the Top 100 from among 12,000+ entries. I was sworn to secrecy until the newest issue of “Shelf Unbound” online magazine was published, however, and the Dec./Jan. issue is up now. I think “KHAKI=KILLER” is on page 58 (or 60?). Here is the link:

You can see the issue here: http://issuu.com/shelfunbound/docs/shelf_unbound_december-january_2015

Khaki = Killer is shown on page 58 or 60.

Lastly, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all, and if you are of a different religious persuasion, as our Christmas card said, “Merry Everything.”

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer (Book #4 in The Christmas Cats series, www.TheXmasCats.com)

Christmas Schedule for New Xmas Cats Appearances

“The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer,” 4th in “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” series, has been on a virtual tour for the past month and receiving generally five-star reviews from bloggers.

This year, there is a hard-cover book for the first time ever, but it is available only from me at the appearances listed below or from the book’s website (www.TheXmasCats.com) using PayPal. The paperback and e-book versions of the book are available on Amazon, but the hard cover is only available from me in person or on the Xmas Cats website.

Here is my Christmas Schedule, as far as I know it now. It starts this Friday (December 4th) with an appearance from 7 to 9 p.m. at Razzleberries in LeClaire, Iowa. Come join me and celebrate the season with the store cat on Friday night! (You never know when the Cat-in-the-Hat might show up to lend moral support.)

Christmas Stops for “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer”

(Some of these are tentative. One of my former stops burned down in May, but re-opened today. I apparently asked too late for the Four Seasons, so I will be at a new restaurant in Geneseo that is just opening called “Genevino’s” from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

December 4, Friday: Razzleberries in LeClaire, Iowa from 7 to 9 p.m.
December 5, Saturday: Moline, Illinois, Public Library with other local authors. I am the first author of the day, at 10:30 a.m., who is to read or speak for 15 minutes. I will share the newest Christmas Cats book, which takes 3 minutes to read in its entirety. After that, I’ll mention my 4 other series and miscellaneous titles. This gathering of local authors ends at 2 p.m
December 5, Saturday: Village of East Davenport, (Iowa) Freddy Fritters’ Dog Bakery: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., hopefully with the Cat in the Hat stopping by. Freddy Fritters had a ribbon cutting ceremony on December 2nd to celebrate its re-opening after a disastrous fire near Mother’s Day. Come help us re-launch Freddy Fritters!
December 11, Friday: Gallery Hop in Rock Island, Illinois. Consult their map upon arrival. I am tentatively scheduled to be within a dining establishment. 6 to 10 p.m.
December 12, Saturday: Geneseo (Illinois) Christmas Walk. Although I’ve been at the Four Seasons in other years, this year I will be within Genevino’s, a new dining establishment at 217 South State Street in Geneseo, Illinois, near where the parade ends.
December 13, Sunday: There may be a Breakfast with Santa opportunity in Geneseo; stay tuned for further developments. I will know more about this after Monday, December 7th and will update on my blog.

       Other Series and Miscellaneous Books:
“Ghostly Tales of Route 66” (which recently reached #1 as a Kindle e-book with over 3,000 downloads). Volume I – Chicago to Oklahoma; Volume II – Oklahoma to Arizona; Volume III – Arizona to California’s Santa Monica. Quixote Press.
“The Color of Evil” novel series, with 3 entries – “The Color of Evil” (Book #1); “Red Is for Rage” (Book #2) and “Khaki=Killer” (Book #3). “Khaki = Killer” was named one of the Best Thrillers of 2015 in the December issue online of “Shelf Unbound” magazine from over 12,000 entries.
“Hellfire & Damnation” short story series, with Volumes I, II and II. Short stories that illustrate the crimes or sins at each of the 9 Circles of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno.”
“Obama’s Odyssey”, Volume I (Caucus to Convention) and Volume II (Convention to Inauguration). Nonfiction. From-the-field reporting on the 2008 presidential campaign from the 1,000 articles (3 million hits) that earned me the title of Yahoo’s Content Producer of the Year for Politics.
“The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” series, with “The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats,” “The Christmas Cats Encounter Bats,” and “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer.”

Miscellaneous: “Laughing through Life” (humor columns gathered from 5 different newspapers.
“Training the Teacher as a Champion” (nonfiction, teaching, from PLS Bookstores)
“It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” – movie reviews from the Quad City Times, with 76 photos and interactive trivia. The Merry Blacksmith Press.
“Out of Time” – science fiction novel from Lachesis Press
“Both Sides Now” – memoir
“Never Fear Phobias” – horror anthology. Fear of dreams and dreaming is one of 19 stories in this anthology.
“Never Fear Christmas Terrors” – anthology. One story: “Black Friday”.

The Color of Evil (Bk. #1); Red Is for Rage (Bk. #2); and Khaki = Killer (Bk. #3) on the shelves of the bookstore voted Best Independent Bookstore in the U.S. by Publisher's Weekly.

Book People Carrying “The Color of Evil” Series

Book People bookstore in Austin, Texas, was recently named the Number One Independent Bookstore in the United States by “Publishers’ Weekly.”

The Color of Evil series on the shelves of Book People in Austin, TX.

The Color of Evil series on the shelves of Book People in Austin, TX.

I met with store manager Michael McCarthy the day before Thanksgiving, and all 3 entries in “The Color of Evil” series (“The Color of Evil,” “Red Is for Rage,” “Khaki=Killer”) are now on the shelves of Book People.

The book will also be featured on the large table up front, dubbed “the Whale” for 2 weeks and inclusion in the e-catalogue and a book signing may be on the horizon, once we spend more time in Austin.

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