Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

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“Trespass Against Us” Did Not Work, Despite Fassbender/Gleeson Star Power

When you tell me that Michael Fassbender is starring opposite veteran UK actor Brendan Gleeson in a film, I’m there. I’m expecting good things. These are two great actors and the plot, set across 3 generations of the Cutler family of criminals, sounds exciting.

The Cutler family live as outlaws in their own anarchic corner of Britain’s richest countryside. (At one point the patriarch of the clan suggests they move on to Kent, where I spent a homestay as a foreign exchange student, and Kent, just a short train trip out of London, is a wealthy suburb.)

Chad (Michael Fassbender) is the heir apparent to his bruising criminal father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson) and is supposed to spend his life hunting, thieving and tormenting the police.
However, Brendan’s masterful criminal plans are about as workable as a bank heist planned by Donald Duck. The heists make little or no sense and bring in little revenue that can be easily translated into cash.

However, Chad has a wife, Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) and 2 small children and his young son Tyson is causing him to take a closer look at the future. Chad was never sent to school by his dear old dad, so he is illiterate. He really would have a hard time finding any kind of honest work with that gigantic hurdle to overcome. He and his wife want their son and daughter to get an education.

The entire family live in a series of trailers in a gypsy caravan existence, complete with a village idiot named Gordon (Sean Harris) who serves little plot purpose other than to show Fassbender’s character being unnecessarily cruel to him at one point when he is particularly stressed out. It did lead to one line of dialogue that was memorable, however:
Chad says (to Norman): “Gordon, don’t be an idiot,” and Gordon responds, “I AM an idiot.”

I found the scene where Chad (Fassbender) tries to buy a puppy for his son’s birthday among the most moving. At least the scene was not 90% profanity in a thick British brogue, and I could actually understand what was being said and realize the injustice of the rest of the world towards the Cutlers, when they were merely trying to be normal members of society.

There was also a creative scene where Chad escapes from the police, who are searching for him with infra-red equipment using helicopters. Chad crouches beneath a cow in a pasture full of grazing cows. (It’s not every day you get to see Michael Fassbender crouched beneath a cow, so there’s that.)


Although the opening bumpy scene of Chad driving through a field (he has apparently been the designated get-away driver in previous burglaries and robberies) is exciting, the camera work in all of these driving scenes is as choppy as any Jason Bourne movie.

Furthermore, what was the point of the “Free Bryan” stunt, i.e., painting a car yellow and driving it through town, when Bryan (Chad’s incarcerated brother) is never mentioned in the plot again and all the stunt did was draw attention to the crew from the authorities on the eve of a big job? The police are already upset enough with the lot of them. Yes, it was a cool chase, but it made little sense in any context, criminal or otherwise.

Most importantly, I haven’t seen a movie this badly miscast since “The Human Stain” (2003) cast Anthony Hopkins as a black professor and Nicole Kidman as a washerwoman. Nobody would believe that Brendan Gleeson is Chad’s biological father and, if we accept the premise that perhaps the MIA Mrs. Colby was impregnated by someone else (which lets Brendan off the hook as to paternity), we still have the problem of Michael Fassbender being way too cultured and good-looking for the ignorant oaf he is portraying.

I was also thoroughly annoyed that the film didn’t have Chad finally stand up to his destructive father and save his family from the inevitable fall. Not only is the patriarch of this clan a lout, he is an ignorant lout who argues that the world is flat. Furthermore, Chad’s young son is becoming his grandpa’s ardent follower.

I do want to commend the young George Smith who played Tyson Cutler. He did a good job of playing the nine or ten-year-old thug-to-be and I’m sure we’ll see him in future roles.

Adam Smith directed this film, which one critic in Toronto described as “the worst film I saw at the festival.” The writer, Alistair Siddons, cannot be blamed for casting the excellent Fassbender in a role that just doesn’t’ suit him. [Scoring Michael Fassbender for a part in your movie has got to be a coup.]

The plot, far from having a happy ending where Chad’s announced goal (“I’m not in that shit no more. I just want a quiet life. No troubles.”) is achieved takes us in an entirely different direction and asks us to root for the bonds of family over everything and anything else. (From Gleeson: “You have to stand up against them so they don’t trespass against us.”)

Only a satisfying POV if you are self-destructive masochist.

Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in "Trespass Against Us."

Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in “Trespass Against Us.”

“You’re Killing Me, Susana!” with Q&A from Director at Chicago Film Festival

The new Gael Garcia Bernal film, based on the Spanish novel “Deserted Cities” by Jose Agustin explores the changing nature of male-female relationships in Mexico and the world. This entire concept of the changing nature of female roles in the world has been a big topic in this year’s films, including “The Eagle Huntress” (from Mongolia) and documentaries “Girls Don’t Fly” and “The Swedish Theory of Love,” (in which we learn that the growing independence of women in Swedish society means that full 25% of Swedes now die alone.) Perhaps that is to be expected in a presidential election year in the United States in which a woman heads the top of a major party ticket for the first time.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” played to a packed house, which I attribute to the star power presence of Gael Garcia Bernal, who broke out with “Y tu Mama Tambien” (2001) but is also known to U.S. audiences for “Babel” and television’s “Mozart in the Jungle.”

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is charmingly hilarious, depicting a womanizing Mexican actor (Gael Garcia Bernal was a Mexican soap opera star in real life) named Eligio whose wife abandons him in the dead of night and strikes off for a writers’ conference in Iowa. Upon reading this plot point, I assumed the Writers’ Workshop would be the world-renowned Writers’ Workshop at my alma mater, the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, so I was interested in seeing how it was portrayed.

That assumption proved incorrect, as the scenes that represent Iowa were actually shot in Winnipeg, Canada and the college is the fictitious Middlebrook College, which looks nothing like the “real” Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa (nor the city of Iowa City).

The plot has Eligio walk off the soap opera set in the middle of filming (when a fellow actress protests, he says, “Tell them to kill me. It’s a soap.”) to chase his now missing wife to the United States, landing at Central Iowa International Airport, (which is non-existent, as well). Funny scenes ensue at the airport when he is rather vague about where he will be staying while in the U.S. and Customs steps in to perform a strip search.

When Eligio reaches Iowa, there are many amusing scenes of culture shock.
I remember this theme from as far back as 1979’s “Time After Time” when Jack the Ripper is transported into the present and must cope with modern life. The culture shock between coming from Mexico City and landing in whatever fictional city in Iowa this is supposed to be is no less vivid to Eligio. In fact, one of the funniest scenes involves him stiffing the cab driver for an $84 fare from the airport and hiding in piles of leaves on campus to avoid paying. Eligio seems to always be big on breaking petty rules, which makes him lovable but also exasperating.

Neither Eligio nor Susana can believe that nobody is out walking around on the streets of the (supposedly) Midwestern town, when he is from Mexico City, one of the most crowded cities in the world. Eligio is also upset to learn that Susana has been having a fling with a Polish poet, who stands at least a foot taller than Eligio. I admit that I also laughed out loud at the prospect of Eligio trying to drive a car to Chicago through a blizzard when Susana and the poet flee again. Eligio obviously knows nothing about driving in Midwestern winter weather and proves this.

Director Sneider, who now lives in the United States, when asked, after the film, about his reaction to seeing it in Chicago said, “When I saw it, I wanted to change it. I tend to think different things, even in editing.” He added, “I love the character of Eligio. He is deplorable in many ways, but very human. I also saw an exploration of how relationships between men and women are being re-imagined. (See first paragraph above) We think we are beyond machismo, but we’re not. I think it’s a lot about self discovery. Eligio feels fidelity is overrated—until he experiences infidelity. It’s definitely not funny then. We see the characters fighting themselves.”

Sneider added that much of the dialogue was improvised and that Gael Garcia Bernal (who is also a director) enjoys improvising, unlike some other actors. “It feels very raw, spontaneous and fresh (if you improvise). I felt this was important to get that feeling of freshness.”

Sneider commented on the jump cuts in the film, cutting through the scenes to pick the moments and improvising in front of the camera. “I think he does some very deep serious roles but I, personally, like to see his great sense of humor and how he gets to display that here.”

Sneider also remarked that “music was super important because the music softens the tone.”
He gave credit for much of the music to a San Antonio based group (StumpFhauser and Victor Hernandez) and said that the entire movie was shot with a hand-held camera. He mentioned the song “Uncertainties of the Heart.” We hear the lyric “He who loves a woman doesn’t know what he gains when he loses her. Another one comes along.”

When asked how much time is supposed to have passed between the time that Susana leaves and Eligio follows her, he said, “7 months and 3 days” with a laugh, leading me to believe he plucked the number from thin air. He added, “I wanted the ending to be a little like the end of ‘The Graduate.’ They each look at one another and say, ‘What now?’ I think the characters are both full of defects, but they’re still the same. I actually think with many couples you think, ‘Should we be in this position?’ There are some things in relationships that we can’t explain.”

When asked about the casting of Veronica Echegui opposite the male lead he admitted that he was “looking for chemistry between the leads” and that he found it in the lovely Veronica, who plays Susana, a strong-willed, beautiful woman who is also a great writer and wants to find her own fulfillment of her own talent.

Sneider said that Gael Garcia Bernal has done 3 adaptations of Mexican novels and that this novel (“Deserted Cities”) is “very much an exploration of what it means to be a Mexican man.” He commented, “In Mexico, he’s just a guy. Now, in the U.S., he’s a Mexican guy.”

American audiences (especially female audiences) will probably wonder why it took Susana so long to pack up and leave. She had plenty of provocation prior to her actual departure.

The ending, which is faithful to the book and involves Eligio spanking Susana, was also questionable, but adhered to the novelist’s vision. (Good luck with that approach with feminist audiences in the U.S.)

“The Infiltrator” Delivers Summer Suspense at the Movies

“The Infiltrator” is Bryan Cranston’s (“Breaking Bad,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Godzilla”) new film. It is based on the 2009 Bob Mazur book about his experiences as an undercover agent for the FBI. Mazur was the federal agent who infiltrated one of the largest drug syndicates in the United States. He also suggested “Operation C-Chase,” which would follow the money instead of the drugs. [ I just spent July 5th within FBI headquarters in New York City hearing, firsthand, about undercover work from the experts, as a part of the ITW (International Thriller Writers) Conference, so the film was particularly timely and relevant for me].

Directed by Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Runner, Runner”), the quest for the rights to make the film took two and one-half years to obtain, as many other high profile stars were in a bidding war in Hollywood to secure the rights, including Leonardo DeCaprio and Tom Cruise.

As Bad Furman told Frank Gonzales in an interview entitled “Inside the Infiltrator,” “Fortunately for us, one of my best friends from college, Don Sikorski, who is a producer on the film, brought the book to my attention. We both loved it and tried to go through official channels to obtain the rights with no luck. So, with nothing to lose and in true investigative journalistic fashion, we tracked down Bob Mazur’s phone number and I cold called him.”


The upshot is one of summer’s best films, with stand-out performances from star Bryan Cranston and extremely good support from John Leguizamo, whom Director Furman described as “one of my dearest and closest friends.” Furman went on to tell Gonzales, “I’ve known Benjamin Bratt (Alcaino) and Yul Vasquez (Ospina) for 20 years and Diane Kruger (Kathy Ertz) and I had met on a movie a few years prior, so I’ve had deep personal relationships with the core base of actors in this movie, and I think it paid wonderful dividends for me, for them, and for The Infiltrator.”


Another close tie that really enhanced enjoyment of the film was the great script by Furman’s own mother, Ellen Brown Furman, a well-known Hollywood scriptwriter, as Furman added, “My mother really wanted to show the balance Mazur struggled with in trying to have a family and in trying to do his job. Bob was going back and forth from Tampa to Miami and he was away from his wife and children. Mom really brought out how hard that was for Mazur. She was also able to show how even drug lord’s lives were influenced by their families. She should get a lot of credit for her brilliant work in crafting a screenplay that got it right.”

Leguizamo has some of the film’s best lines and his performance is as stellar as Cranston’s. It is made clear from the beginning of the film that Mazur (Cranston) is leery of working with this Hispanic fellow officer, who seems to live life on the edge. He asks that he not be assigned to work with him, but is told, “He’s your way in.” Leguizamo’s character wants to pay a snitch he knows $250,000 to assist them; Cranston is skeptical that the man is trustworthy, saying, “These people who sell information…they walk on the dirty side of the street, and then they cross over to the clean side, but their shoes always stay muddy.”

Pretending to be Bob Musella (Cranston) and Emilio Dominguez (Leguizamo), the duo scores a better office. (Leguizamo says, “ This is so much better than our old place. It was so filthy even the rats ran from it.”). Cranston’s sidekick is incredulous that Mazur has just turned down a nice, safe retirement offer, saying, “You and the kids and the wife could be playin’ cricket on a yacht or whatever-the-hell it is white people do when they retire.”

But that’s just the point: Bob Mazur doesn’t want to retire. In fact, he did not after the bust—despite facing intense danger in going deep undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s drug-trafficking plaguing the nation in 1986, by posing as a money-laundering businessman named Bob Musella. The impulsive and streetwise Hispanic agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and a rookie female agent who poses as his fiancée, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) the two pull off befriending Escobar’s top lieutenant Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) to the point that Alcaino says of the bogus engaged couple, “We love them like family.”


In one memorable exchange, Alcaino comments on a hit on a different infiltrator, Barry Seal (played by a virtually unrecognizable Michael Pare, once Eddie in “Eddie and the Cruisers”), saying that he had 2 rings made of coca leaves and gave one to Barry Seal and had him to dinner at his home. Alcaino says, with disgust, “I wasted my knives on the meat.” Adds Alcaino (to Mazur): “The politicians think it’s a drug war, but it’s a business like any other. Trust is necessary. Without it, there is no loyalty, and without loyalty it never ends well.”

Completely trusted by Alcaino, Mazur learns about “the anonymous window” of the Federal Reserve Bank, which has been allowing the CIA to fund a secret account that helped fund Noriega’s Contra organization. ($10 million of Escobar’s money was frozen by the bank). All this led to the Reagan years Contra scandal, which inspired another Leguizamo scripted line: “Ronnie should have stayed the Gipper. He is nothing but a God damned two-bit drug pusher.”


The movie is exceptionally well paced, although some of the exciting near misses are inscrutable and difficult to decipher as a first-time viewer. Why is that man apparently following Mazur in a car as Mazur completes his morning jog? Who was that guy silently observing Mazur talking to Emir (Leguizamo) from across the street? The time/city locations are also a bit difficult to follow (Is this Miami or Tampa?) and I am still wondering how a group with as much money as Pablo Escobar’s drug outfit couldn’t have run a more in-depth background check on imposter Bob Musella, and/or why the criminals wouldn’t have, at the very least, bugged the room that the supposed engaged couple shared, to see what they were discussing. But that’s probably just me; a second viewing cleared up my confusion.

The good news for the U.S. is that 85 drug lords and the corrupt bankers of BCC (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) which laundered their dirty money were taken down by two brave agents who risked their lives and played their parts as well as any Hollywood actors.

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Playa del Carmen, The Mayan Palace on Nov. 9th, 2015

Beach at the Royal Mayan.

Beach at the Royal Mayan.

The weather here is beautiful and no rain (so far). Forecast does suggest tomorrow might bring showers, but the past 3 days have been great.

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

When we arrived at Cancun International Airport, however, we were told it had been raining for 4 days straight, and the humidity in the air confirmed that.DSCN1037

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

We went to the beach today, rather than the pool. However, when it became unbearably hot, we joined a volleyball game in progress and played 3 games, all of which our team lost. (Apparently, I can barely serve overhand).DSCN1023

Another lovely day, with authentic Mexican food this evening at a poolside restaurant.

Happy 92nd Birthday, Nelson G. Peterson!

I am posting this on the eve of one of my very best friend’s birthdays: Nelson G. (for Gene) Peterson of Moline, Illinois.  Nelson was born Aug. 20, 1923. He is 92 today. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NELSON!

I first met Nelson when I began teaching at Silvis Junior High School in the 1969-1970 school year.I taught Language Arts to 7th and 8th graders. He taught History in the room across the hall from me. In fact, we taught across the hall from one another throughout our years on-staff (my years there ended in 1985; Nelson retired earlier).

But teaching was not Nelson’s only job. He is a World War II veteran (the Battle of the Bulge, I think) just as his own father before him served in World War I. He also worked at the Arsenal and came to teaching later in life. Nelson used to say his initials (N.G.P.) stood for “No Good Prick” but that’s not true.  He is one of the sweetest, kindest, nicest people I know. He has always been my friend and has never waivered or let me down or tried to hurt my feelings, intentionally or unintentionally. Nelson has never come to a funeral home and gone out of his way to snub me, as a different old friend has done on two  occasions. If the funeral is that of someone who was a mother to you for close to a half-century (my mother-in-law) it is particularly distressing and upsetting to be on the receiving end of mean-spiritedness at an already trying time. (Better not to come at all than to come just to be mean.)  But that’s the way some people roll— although not Nelson. He even came to one of my book signings at the (now-defunct) Book Rack in Moline and another one at the Hy-Vee Grocery store in Silvis— in the middle of winter— for a children’s book, despite having no children or anyone who needed books. He has truly gone out of his way to be the great friend he remains today. (Thanks, Nelson! I appreciate it!)

Nelson G. Peterson

Nelson G. Peterson

Since Nelson, at 92, is the Renaissance man who literally has everything, I stole the idea of 3 of his other friends  who took him out to dinner on his 91st birthday. That was a GREAT idea. Kudos! My husband and I decided it would be the best way to salute Nelson on (or near) his special day.

I purposely did not plan dinner for the REAL day, because Nelson, who speaks fluent Swedish, has many cousins in the area and many other friends from his Baptist Church who probably also want to fete him on his birthday today (the REAL day). For example, 3 friends who taught with him for a long time, (as did I), took him out to dinner last year. Perhaps they plan another such outing for this year on August 20th, or perhaps the cousins in town will be “on the case.” [Best not to muck that up and ruin 2 dinners out for the Birthday Boy—although Nelson did say, as we dropped him off at home, that he hadn’t been out after 8:00 p.m. in a long time !]  One of Nelson’s cousins, Rose Fuller of East Moline, has shuffled off this mortal coil, but also taught with us at George O. Barr Elementary School for years, so, sadly, she won’t be among the relatives there for him. (R.I.P., Rose). Nelson never married.

I love Nelson and appreciate his sense of humor and his loyalty as a friend, which mirrors my own. I try very hard to be the Best Friend Anyone Could Be, remembering special days, offering help if needed, and just generally trying to be a friend, for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.  I don’t need (or want) thousands of superficial friends. I only want the really good ones, like Nelson. I won’t befriend you simply because I think you are going to do some good for my social status or because you have a lot of money or any of those other bad reasons that can come into play. I have only ever befriended people I truly like, who (seemed to ) truly liked me.

On this night, I gave him a card that said, “Everyone is young once…(and, on the inside) Your time is up.” He laughed and seemed to enjoy that and the catfish dinner he selected from the menu at Short Hills Country Club. We were (literally) the only people dining on Tuesday night and out-numbered the staff. I asked the waitress if she could turn down the air conditioning, as it was  frigid. The waitress said, “Well, you’re the only people here, so why not?” The A/C was promptly reduced to something that did not threaten to turn me into a popsicle during dinner, for which I am grateful. (Thanks!)

I am also grateful for true-blue friends like Nelson. It is possibly my aversion to early mornings that makes me an unsuitable friend for invitations to join others as they take  (took) trips to Chicago or Wisconsin or Las Vegas or wherever over a 40-year span. (Anything before 10 A.M. is verboten.) I admit that early, early mornings are not my thing; I write late into the night (30 books, so far). I didn’t know that being a Night Owl made me a bad person, but apparently it is a fatal flaw. Speaking your mind is not appreciated, either, but I have always spoken out and been honest about things, both for myself and for others, and if that is a flaw, I plead guilty with a certain measure of pride. It is not always easy suffering the backlash of being outspoken, but, for instance, during 4 terms as President (or Co-Chairman) of the Silvis Education Association, it was necessary in order to unionize our district’s teachers. And there are many occasions in a classroom setting where a teacher has to intervene to insure fairness. When I have spoken my mind, it has sometimes been applauded and other times, [because the truth hurts if it is unflattering], I have been reviled and, later, treated very poorly. One should, instead, play their cards very close to the vest and pretend they like people that they (may) actually despise—maybe even send them an oh-so-proper little note of some kind to suck up to them. I never aspired to such dishonesty.

Craig, me and Nelson as the evening ended.

Craig, me and Nelson as the evening ended.

I try to be loyal, honest, and true-blue— not a phony or superficial or sometimes friend . But I don’t play golf, don’t like early mornings, and I never was a teacher at our local high school (UTHS), United Township High School. I’d say that was a criteria for inclusion in dining out with Nelson in a group, although one guest last year  [Judy LeMaster Patchin] was not a teacher at UTHS, either, but taught with him in Silvis, as did I.   Judy made the guest list; I did not. (She is better with early mornings, for sure, but I don’t think that is the entire story.)

I was judged and found wanting, probably because I tell the truth instead of currying favor with one and all by any means possible.  I am positive I am just as good a friend of Nelson’s from our mutual teaching days as any of the other attendees with whom I also taught, and the Amish “shunning” thing is both childish, hurtful and unnecessary. Is 10 years of that not enough for having noted that the invitations to the “fun” things went to others, but the invitations to help out or pitch in came in pretty regularly and routinely, and I did my best to comply.

Then, too,  I’m usually off on an adventure of one sort or another that others don’t find interesting or noteworthy (*Nicest compliment of the week from someone I did not know in a store I frequent: “Your life is an adventure.”)

Yes, my life IS an adventure. It is true, as Shakespeare wrote (roughly paraphrased), “If you cut me, do I not bleed?” It is hurtful to be shunned when you have done nothing to deserve it. If you must be punished for feeling left out (when you were left out) and saying so, is that a life sentence? It is also sad to realize that people you thought were your good friends don’t stand up for you in the face of  meanness directed at you for over a decade without good cause, don’t remember your special day (even if  you always remembered theirs), and disappear without a trace. But, c’est la vie—right gang?

I’m lucky, though. I have a wonderful husband, wonderful kids (my daughter drove me all the way to Indianapolis to see the Rolling Stones for my birthday in July!) and at least one truly wonderful, loyal, long-time Quad Cities friend: Nelson G. Peterson. (I’d name a couple of others, but I’m a believer in quality over quantity and I don’t want to jinx my good fortune or cause them to be ostracized.)  I’m pretty sure Nelson won’t leave town and move to a remote location without so much as a phone call to me, nor, intentionally or unintentionally, forget my birthday, (which he remembered this year, as he has every other year.) I’d recite a list of other loyal friends, beginning with my college roommate (who does not live in this area), but this post is for Nelson on his special day. [If you see him, wish him a “Happy Birthday!”]

Nelson G. Peterson, my good and special friend, long may he live and be my friend and here’s to many, many more birthdays! (We’re aiming to have Nelson replace the lady who was the Oldest Living Veteran at age 110.)

Jennings Radio Podcast with Connie (Corcoran) Wilson

Jennings Wire. @: [Connie Wilson Podcast on Jennings P.R.](http://www.jenningswire.com/marketing/podcast-secrets-to-successful-self-publishing/)

This is the link to the Jennings Wire podcast I took part in recently. The post was about promoting what you write after you write it. Can’t say I’m an “expert” on this subject, but, after 12 years of learning by doing, I know a few things.


Post Script to “Hellfire & Damnation III” KDP Give-away

One of the Free Book Sites that is posting the knowledge of “Hellfire & Damnation III’s” being free on April 24, April 25, May 2, May 3 and May 4 asked me to post a link to their site. Here it is: www.fkbt.com

Also, in my previous article about same, when I said tarantula, I think the lifeguard who carted off that spider the size of a Buick said it was a form of scorpion and there were LOTS of smaller ones around. So, my “tarantula” reference perhaps should have been “scorpion.” Not sure WHAT it was that bit me, but the bite was not a puncture would, as a bee would leave. It was a horizontal slash mark about one inch across, like that a knife might leave if you slipped while cutting a tomato. It was “no big deal” at the time, but it sure left me with a big problem.

Of FREE Books NOW & Tarantula Bites Then ?

This is the day that I remind you of tomorrow’s FREE give-away of the 3rd installment in the Hellfire & Damnation short story series. The KDP (Kindle) give-away is scheduled for April 24, April 25, May 2, 3 and 4th. For more information on the book(s) and for trailers, check at www.HellfireAndDamnationTheBook.com.

DSCN0153While letting readers know about the give-away (again) is one concern, my biggest concern the past week has been my left leg. Something bit me in Mexico. I think it happened on Wednesday and, no, I’m not kidding about the possibility it was a small tarantula, since I had watched the lifeguards at the beach in Cancun cart one off on a stick that was (roughly) the size of your knuckles. I remember that my friend said, “What bit you?” and I nonchalantly said, “I don’t know. I probably ran into something.” The small (about 1 inch) cut was bleeding slightly.

By the next day, I was hot and uncomfortable and sweaty.  That was just the prelude to a “fit” of sorts that took place at 4:10 a.m. on Friday. My teeth were chattering so hard that I couldn’t speak and all my muscles became rigid, while my arms and hands resembled the tragic footage of the Saran gas victims in Syria that was shown on “Sixty Minutes” recently. I was absolutely baffled; nothing like this had ever hit me before. My husband said (later), “I thought you were having a stroke.”

Meanwhile, I was blaming it on overly cool air conditioning–which was not really the case and didn’t explain any of the baffling symptoms described above. All day Friday I felt punk, sleeping until almost 3:30 p.m. after trying to get up and get going earlier. I had no appetite and could eat no dinner with the other 3 vacationers.

DSCN0154As we sat there on our last night of vacation, feet propped up on a pillow watching television, my college roommate said, with alarm, “What’s the matter with your leg?” I had not been aware that there was anything the matter with my leg, but I knew I didn’t feel good. When she had me put both feet out, side-by-side, it was obvious that there were two roughly fifty-cent sized red places on my left shin.

Dr. John Rhodes, vacationing with us, came in from the balcony and immediately said (after examining the leg), “You’ve got cellulitis,” which is an infection of the skin that can be caused by insect bites, staph or other bacteria, or even by mersa, the flesh-eating bacteria. The antibiotic I have been taking in 500 mg. dosages 4 times a day since Sunday (the earliest I could get back to the United States and be seen by another doctor to receive a prescription) is designed to protect against nearly every infectious agent, and the leg IS responding, but my need(s) to let the world know a book is free has faded slightly in significance when compared to the thought of intravenous antibiotics in a hospital.

Meanwhile, I’ve provided you with graphic evidence of why you should always travel with Bactine or another antibiotic ointment and use it if you are bitten by some mysterious bug. I wish I had.

Circle Three: “The Battle of Gate Pa” (from “Hellfire & Damnation III”)

[This is an excerpt from my new short story collection “Hellfire & Damnation III,” now available for purchase from Amazon in both paperback and e-book versions.]

Circle Three: Gluttony
The Battle of Gate Pa
April 29, 1864


IMG_3890 IMG_3894Rawiri Puhirake circulated amongst his Nai Te Rangi New Zealand
“Do not talk. Do not speak. Do not whisper. Be as silent as the ghosts
of your ancestors.”
The men were crouched in a rabbit warren of tunnels dug beneath the
surface of the New Zealand hill known as Gate Pa. They had worked on
the site for days, making it nearly invisible to the British, three hundred
of whom would come against them at daybreak. Rawiri knew they would
come. He had guaranteed it. He invited the British to do battle at a certain
time, in that certain place, with a carefully worded message. The challenge
was phrased in excellent English. It was transcribed onto parchment using
elegant calligraphy.
The message, headed Potiriwhi District of Tauranga, March 28, 1864,
To the Colonel:
Friend, salutations to you. The end of that, friend, do you
give heed to our laws for (regulating) the fight.
Rule 1: If wounded or captured whole and butt of the musket.
Rule 2: If any Pakeha being a soldier by name shall be
traveling unarmed and meet me, he will be captured and handed
over to the direction of the law.
Rule 3: The soldier who flees, being carried away by his fears,
and goes to the house of the priest with his gun, even though
carrying arms, will be saved; I will not go there.
Rule 4: The unarmed Pakehas, women and children will be
The end.
These are binding laws for Tauranga.
Terea Puimanuka
Wi kotiro
Pine Anopu
Rawiri Puhiraki
Rawiri—who had been well-educated by A.N. Brown and his
wife Christina (and, before Christina, by Brown’s first wife, Charlotte),
missionaries at The Elms—was an outstanding student. He easily mastered
English. He wrote in a beautiful cursive handwriting, inviting commanding
Brigadier General Carey to fight at Gate Pa.
The letter was so succinct in its composition, so grandly executed in
a formal, stilted style, laying out the exact time of day and location of the
battle, that it was tantamount to baiting the Brigadier General. Brigadier
General Carey had, so far, refused to engage in battle with the Maori, other
than defensively.
It was merely adhering to the Rules of War in that day, time and
place. Courtly. Chivalrous. Polite. The Rules of Engagement had been
hammered out in discussion with the signers of the invitation, the authors
of the pact. When, seven weeks later, the brilliant Rawiri was killed in a
different battle, the rules of engagement would be found sewn into the
lining of the coat of Ngai TeRangi (one of the chief authors of the document)
along with these words: “If thine enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts,
give him drink.”
The invitation to take up arms was successful. It succeeded in
convincing the British to move militarily against the native peoples of
New Zealand in the Tauranga Campaign. After the courtly invitation to
do battle at Gate Pa, the General was determined to fight to put down the
opposition he termed “savages” and “niggers.”
Missionary A.N. Brown, who had been at The Elms from 1830 (and
remained at The Elms until 1887), had mixed emotions. He was British,
but he and his two wives had come to know the natives well. They had
come to appreciate the Maori. At this point, Missionary Brown had known
the Maori for thirty-four years. He had taught many of them to read and
write English. The Maori were good students. They learned quickly and
were quite clever.
A church—a prominent feature of The Elms—was established to
convert the Maori to Christianity. Therefore, it was with very mixed
emotions that Brown and his second wife, Christina (first wife Charlotte
had died in 1859), hosted a grand dinner for the British officers on the eve
of the battle.
April 28, 1864, The Elms, Gate Pa, New Zealand, Evening
Rather than apprehension about tomorrow’s battle, the men appeared
to be in a festive mood. They feasted in a gluttonous fashion. Suckling pig.
Local produce. All manner of beverages. Good Scotch whiskey. Christina
favored the assembled ten officers with songs on the piano following the
“Aren’t you fearful that you or some of your men will fall tomorrow?”
Christina asked Brigadier General Carey as they dined. She shivered slightly
as she addressed this sensitive question to the General, seated to her right.
He wiped his mouth with the white linen napkin before responding. His
fingers were greasy from tearing the legs from a small, cooked, quail.
“Pshaw, my good woman. They are a half-naked, poorly armed bunch
of savages, outnumbered ten to one by well-trained British troops. We
have 1,650 men available to us. Only three hundred will march tomorrow.
I doubt if we need that many. We shall bombard them with four batteries
of artillery from a range of 350 to 800 meters for eight hours before we
advance upon the poor devils.”
The General sipped from his cup. He fixed Christina with a look of
utter confidence. Then he continued, “By then, if they haven’t run off, they
will wish they had.” Carey smiled a wry smile. The nine officers listening
at the table chuckled politely in agreement. “In fact, I shall send troops
behind the battlefield, to make sure the savages don’t try to sneak away into
the morning mist and flee to the hills.” General Carey took another drink
from his tumbler of good British ale. His actions conveyed to Christina
that the subject was closed.
The dining room for the feast the night before the battle was no more
than twelve feet by ten feet. Narrow. A shoebox shape. With the table, the
breakfront, the piano and the hutch usually containing Charlotte’s prized
china (displayed there when it wasn’t in use), there was barely room to move
around the outside of the burnished wooden table.
Directly to the left of the dining room was Reverend Brown’s office.
Very tiny. Beautiful wood everywhere. Barely enough room for his desk.
Trophies on the wall, along with guns.
The British soldiers were in fine spirits at dinner that night, gluttonously
relishing the opportunity to consume a fine home-cooked Elms meal.
Unconcerned. Almost nonchalant.
“Tomorrow, we will put down the savages, once and for all,” Brigadier
General Cary said with confidence. The 1,650 men the British had at their
disposal were distributed this way—700 from the 68th Regiment, 420 from
the Naval Bay, 300 from the 43rd Regiment, 50 from the Royal Artillery and
180 from, variously, the 12th, 14th, 40th, and 65th regiments. The natives were
badly outnumbered. The British had vastly superior weapons.
Addressing the subject of the battle that was to come on the morning
following this sumptuous feast, Brigadier General George Cary said, “We will
move on them at daybreak. We have four batteries of artillery. In addition to
the 110 pound Armstrong gun, we have two forty pounders and two six pound
Armstrong guns. In addition, we have two 24-pound howitzers. Two eight inch
mortars. Six Coehorn mortars. What do the savages have? knives? Rocks?”
The British officers laughed openly at the last dismissive remark. The
mood on the eve of battle rivaled that of the Mexican troops under Santa
Ana at the Alamo. The Mexican troops had reveled the night before their
assault on the fort with mariachi music, the festive strains drifting back to
the defenders of the San Antonio Fort. The British officers this night did not
have an accurate impression of the enemy they would face on the morrow,
nor did they give the Maori the respect that they deserved.
Rawiri Puhuraki, the great Maori strategist, continued to rally his
troops throughout the night. He moved amongst them stealthily as they
crouched in their trenches, waiting patiently. Rawiri urged complete
“Do not let them know where we are. Do not let them know how
many we are. keep perfect silence until I give the signal to fire. Now, who
will go with me to take the white picket fence that surrounds the garden
at The Elms?” asked Rawiri.
Rawiri smiled as two eager young volunteers jumped up to join him.
The three Maori approached under cover of darkness. They quietly
dug up the white picket fence that surrounded a vegetable patch. The tinny
piano playing of Christina Brown wafted from the open window while the
natives worked silently under the full moon, and the officers inside gorged
themselves while listening to the playing of their hostess.
The Maori carried the fence back to the ramparts of their home-made
trenches, aligning the sharpened planks so that any advancing soldier would
have a sharp, pointed stake aimed at his mid-section to navigate before he
could move on to breach the Maori trenches. As the Maori re-buried the
fence, they smiled with pleasure at the irony of their action. They were
using a picket fence from British property as a weapon against those very
British. Rawiri was amused. He was filled with great good humor at the
justice of turning a picket fence belonging to the enemy into a weapon to
be used against the enemy, all while tomorrow’s combatants supped within
The Elms, singing songs, eating, and sipping tea.
The officers within The Elms with the Browns continued to enjoy
the wild boar, suckling pig, wild turkey, quail, British wines and whiskeys
imported from London, and other delicacies of the house. The ten officers
left the table quite full of themselves in both body and soul.
The next day, only one of the officers sitting at The Elms table on April
28th would still be alive. The medical officer was the sole surviver.
April 29, 1864, Dawn, Gate Pa, New Zealand
The British began the battle at dawn by shelling thirty tons of metal
at the enemy for a full eight hours. The Maori, however, for the first
time in recorded wartime history, creatively had improvised trenches.
This technique would later be used extensively in World Wars I and II.
The heavy artillery shells sailed harmlessly over the trenches where the
Maori silently crouched, awaiting the advance of their opposition. The
Maori prepared for the moment when the enemy soldiers would enter
the killing Zone.
Although fifteen Maori died, the battle was pronounced a rout for the
British. It was considered a disaster by British standards. Local newspapers
reported that the British forces were “trampled in the dust by a horde of
half-naked, half-armed savages.” One paper described the Maori battle
plan as “a remarkable tactical ploy, brilliantly implemented as well as
brilliantly conceived.”
The British did not anticipate that their artillery would sail harmlessly
over the heads of their opponents. Soon, the unsuspecting Brits were
engaged in hand-to-hand warfare with courageous Maori warriors
decorated with the striking tattoos of their tribe. The re-purposing of the
white picket fence from The Elms proved to be just one of many hurdles
that caused the troops to become paralyzed with fear. If they could find a
way out, they streamed from the killing Zone in frantic retreat.
All the other officers, wounded, dying or already dead, would be
brought back to the small house at The Elms, a building roughly large
enough for ten people to inhabit at once. Eighty wounded men were cared
for in the house. Most of the soldiers would be placed on the grassy lawn
outside. Thirty-one of the British soldiers would die, nine of them the very
same officers who had dined in such splendor the night before the battle.
Among them was an officer named Hamilton.
After the British infantry marched into the maze of pits covered over
with raupo shares (a New Zealand bulrush, Typha orientalis, with sword-
shaped leaves, traditionally used for construction and decoration), they
began to die. They marched two deep. Sailors on the right. Side-by-side
under the breast of the hill until they were seventy yards from the Maori
trenches. There they halted.
Hamilton exhorted the men, “Steady now, men. This will all be over
soon.” Hamilton was right. But his prediction of an easy British victory
was incorrect. Like the other soldiers, he was oblivious to the true nature
of the enemy.
A member of the First company, Glover Garland, described Maori
warriors, decorated with war paint and provoking fear by their very
appearance, poking their rifles out of the trenches when only three yards
away. They killed many of the British soldiers, inflicting fatal head wounds.
Captain Hay from the ship the Harrier was critically wounded. Bob Glover
found his younger brother suffering from a major injury to his head, a
nearly crushing blow above his left ear. Bob began shouting over the din,
his voice reflecting shock and fear, “Will no one help my brother?”
Utterton of the Second company and Hamilton and Clark of the Third
company and Moran and young Glover of the Fourth company: all lay
dead. Hamilton—who had reassured the men just moments before—was
on his back, a gory corpse. When young Glover was lifted up amidst all the
confusion, his brains were clearly visible spilling from his gaping head wound.
“It was so hot,” Bob Glover said later. “So hot. The men were paralyzed
with fear. They didn’t expect anything like this. They didn’t know whether
to retreat or to press forward.” Sergeant Major Vance lay face-down in
front of them, dead and grotesquely disfigured. Corporal Booth could be
heard moaning, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” His comrades in arms
were trying to find a way out of the maze. Amidst the heat and panic and
sound of gunshot, all was chaos. Confusion.
Hamilton, one of The Elms officer dinner guests, had tried valiantly
to rally the bewildered, panic-stricken men. He seized a rifle. Held it
aloft. Shouted, “Come on, Men! Follow me!” As Hamilton uttered the last
sentence, he was fatally shot, collapsing as quietly as he had hitherto been
loudly exhorting his troops.
It was a terrible defeat for the British, but a wonderful victory for
Rawiri Puhurike and his Maori natives. What made the victory even more
gratifying was the code the natives had agreed upon before the battle.
The human rules of engagement that the so-called “savages” imposed on
themselves and on the British did not go unremarked. The Maoris’ gallant
behavior under the leadership of the forty-year-old Rawiri later influenced
the colonial governor to permit the Maori to keep their lands and live
peacefully amongst the British.
Thirty-one of the British were killed. Eighty were wounded, including
nine of the ten officers who dined the night before the battle with the Browns.
Only fifteen Maori were killed. The Battle of Gate Pa became known as “the
single most devastating British defeat in the New Zealand Wars.” Later, word
spread that some of the Brits were cut down by friendly fire as they circled
behind the trench area, as ordered by their commanding officers.
The great Maori chiefs, (Ngai Te Rangi, Te Reweti, Eru Puhirake,
Tikitu, Te kani, Te Rangihav, Te Wharepouri and the master tactician,
Rawiri Puhirake) agreed, seven weeks later when the British returned
to New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty and resumed the Tauranga Campaign,
to cease fighting. At that battle seven weeks later, Rawiri was killed. The
chief architect of the Rules of Engagement also died in the fighting. The
turnaround from the May battle convinced the Maori to agree to terms in
order to stop the slaughter.
Make no mistake: the Maori won and revolutionized warfare forever.
The bellicose Brigadier General George Carey agreed, after the Battle
of Gate Pa, that defensive action, only, might be the better, wiser course
of action. He had not expected to face an opponent so fierce, smart and
Not only had the Battle of Gate Pa introduced the world to trench
warfare for the first time (just as the Battle of Ypres in World War I was the
first use of chemical warfare), but the primarily peaceful Maori agreed to
lay down their weapons “if we can have full claims over our lands and the
Governor will promise to see that no harm befalls us.”
Unlike the American Indians of the western United States, promises
made to the Maori were kept. The fighting ended with peace in New
Zealand, a new-found respect for the native inhabitants, and an entirely
new way of warfare that would endure forever.

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