Update

I may not be able to post as frequently as i would like to, but I will post when I can.  In addition to work and family commitments, I’ve decided to do a couple of things.  I’m going to go back into “study mode” for the next couple of months to learn more about writing, more specifically screenwriting and storytelling.  I’m going to start by re-reading Stephen King’s brilliant memoir On Writing.  I read it way back in college and I feel like I can benefit from reading it again since like so many books of yesteryear I barely remember any of it. There are aspects of my writing that I feel can improve by reading more and learning more about the craft so that’s pretty much what I’d like to do.  I intend to keep writing during this process, but I don’t really know if I’ll write anything worth posting.  I’ll just have to wait and see.

My ultimate goal for this year, however, is to adapt my own story which propelled me to start writing again. About 2 years ago I started reading the Ian Fleming Bond books and thought (like so many others before me) “what would an American Bond be like?” Of course, this isn’t a wholly original idea.  Characters like Indiana Jones, Ethan Hunt, and Jason Bourne owe a great deal to Fleming.  The creators of many of these characters have all but admited to borrowing a great deal from Bond while “Americanizing” their respective characters. My idea, however, is to not only to introduce a contemporary “noir” element to this new character but also to make it so that the character is already retired. The Bond franchise itself has flirted with the idea of the Bond character getting older, most notably with the unofficial Connery film Never Say Never Again.  In Skyfall, you get the sense that Daniel Craig’s Bond has past his prime and it takes a good deal of the film’s running time for the character to regain both his confidence as well as his physical prowess.  Towards the end of the Fleming novels, we get a sense that Bond is certainly past his prime as an agent but he’s still very capable and far from retirement even if his body had been repeatedly driven past the breaking point.

My idea stems from the prospect of a Bond-like character already in retirement but still unwilling to resign himself to civillian life and therefore he’d find himself on cases even when he’s not supposed be.  I want the tone of it to be a present day noir, and I want it have some of the elements I enjoy from both Fleming and noir writers like Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.  Of course, when I wrote the story 2 years ago, it was more about just getting the story down and I really didn’t think to refine the story all that much other than to work out the basic plot. Even with my own very limited abilities and low writing standards, it took me a few weeks to complete Detective Frank’s Daytime Dilemma .  It turned out to be the first of 3 stories I wrote for the character.  I subsequently wrote Detective Frank Takes a Swing and Detective Frank Strikes Back. Then, I started writing new stories with new characters and I kind of put the character on a shelf for a long while. I hope to write more stories for the character, but I feel like I have enough material to start with to begin writing a prospective screenplay for either a series pilot or a movie. The prospect of writing a screenplay is a bit daunting to me since I’ve never attempted to write one before and until the emergence of free formatting software designed specifically for this purpose, I didn’t think it would be possible. While I’m not under any delusion that any thing grand will come out of it, I think I would regret it if I didn’t at least try.

Even though the headache of properly formatting a screenplay has been somewhat subdued, there’s still a lot that I need to learn in order to put forth my best effort.  Not only do I still need to learn about screenwriting, I also have to learn more about writing and storytelling in general. Also, while I have 3 original stories for the character written and completed as short stories on this blog, the stories themselves are far from perfect.  I have to take time to once again dive deep into these stories and figure out what I got right about them and what I got wrong before I can even begin to take the plunge of starting to adapt them into screenplays.  I need to get a better grip of what the strengths and weaknesses of these stories are as well as the strengths and weaknesses in my writing overall.

There’s a lot to think about and a lot to do if I want to follow through on this and of course there’s also real life, work, and family to consider as my priorities. So, if this blog goes a bit quiet, this is the reason.  As always, I’m very grateful for any feedback, and I’d appreciate any advice anyone has regarding all this whether it’s criticism of my stories, my writing, or just ideas that might point me in the right direction (books, websites, screenplays to read, etc.)

Many thanks for coming over to the blog and checking out my writing.

Jack

Some Kind of Hero – Book Review

With its meticulous research into the history of the Bond film franchise and close attention to many of the franchise’s little known details, Some Kind of Hero is the ultimate nonfiction book for Bond fans. Authors Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury conducted over a hundred interviews with noteworthy participants in the Bond film saga, uncovered countless little known facts, shed light on many of the franchise’s unsung heroes, and poured years of research into a well-crafted epic tome. It’s a worthy addition to anyone’s library whether you’re a hard core Bond fan familiar with the franchise’s history or a casual fan looking to read and learn more about the Bond phenomenon.

The only thing that would have cemented this book as even more definitive would have been an interview with Sean Connery himself.  Rest assured, the authors landed interviewssean-connery_8814825-original-lightbox with every other Bond actor and then some. Connery, however, has become notoriously elusive in recent years. Although he has been seen a number of times in public, I imagine it would be a challenge to land an interview with him particularly if the sole topic was to be about Bond and not say Scottish independence.  The authors recount their efforts to get an interview with Connery in the Introduction and they did in fact come very close.  I suppose an in-depth interview with Connery relating his side of the story in regards to his experience as 007 might make for a book of its own.  Even without Connery’s participation, I think the authors did a fantastic job of informing the readers about many of Connery’s concerns and issues with the franchise as well as the producers without necessarily taking sides.

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Ian Fleming with producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli

The personalities of Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman permeate this book.  In fact, I feel I have better sense of who those two individual men were as people than I did before reading it.  Each of these men whose names have become synonymous with the James Bond film franchise has an early chapter devoted to them before the main crux of the book continues with a chapter devoted to each Bond film.  As the narrative unfolds, the authors impart many subtle details and personality traits of each of these men along with the roles they took on as the partnership progressed.  There are quirky details like Saltzman’s unenthusiastic reaction to Paul McCartney’s condition that he be the one to perform the song he wrote for Live and Let Die when Saltzman would have preferred Thelma Houston.  Prior to that Cubby Broccoli described Ian Fleming’s disappointment at having had his meal pre-ordered for him at a restaurant in Turkey. The most fascinating chapter, however, is devoted to the ultimate breakup of their partnership after The Man with the Golden Gun.   The complex details concerning the dissolution of their partnership are explored in a chapter the authors call “Two Scorpions in a Bottle – Broccoli vs Saltzman.”  Here, we learn from Harry’s son Steven that film title designer Maurice Binder served as a “back-channel” between the two producers when they were most at odds.  We also learn a great deal more about the circumstances that led to Harry Saltzman being forced to sell his shares and controlling interests to United Artists.

Some Kind of Hero also gives us a very compelling look at some of the unsung heroes in the Bond franchise.  Of particular note is Johanna Harwood whose screenwriting contributions remain largely unrecognized within Bond fan circles.  The authors were

johanna harwood

Johanna Harwood

lucky enough to sit down for an interview with Harwood, who has not frequently spoken publicly about her role in the Bond saga.  She enters the story as Harry Saltzman’s assistant but her actual role was to write scripts. She described Saltzman’s personality at one point saying, “[His] big fault was that he was tactless. He was always rubbing people  up the wrong way because he was saying things, unkind things but he wasn’t actually unkind.  He never thought this might upset this person . . . He was an extraordinarily good salesman.  If he had one really big quality, I would say it was he could sell anything.  He could go off with an idea and sell it to anybody. What he couldn’t do later was develop the idea.”

Saltzman first tasked Harwood with writing synopses of all the Ian Fleming books and it would appear that Harwood did a considerable amount of work prior to Richard Maibaum coming on board submitting her own scripts and developing early adaptations of Fleming material.  She even wrote her own Bond short story called “Some Are Born Great.”  Harwood went on to receive screenwriting credits on Dr. No and From Russia with Love but her work on Goldfinger remains uncredited.  Although many of her contributions may have been changed by subsequent writers especially on From Russia with Love, the authors of Some Kind of Hero have done Bond fans a tremendous service by getting her story down and shedding light on the important role she played during the creative process of those early Bond films.  Harwood also co-wrote EON’s early non-Bond movie during the sixties called Call Me Bwana.

Also of note are some of stories the authors have uncovered which have garnered media attention over the past several months.  First there was the story of how Amy Winehouse might have done the theme song for Quantum of Solace were it not for her untimely death.  David Arnold had “sketched out” some musical ideas leaving the lyrics for Winehouse to complete.  The authors were also able to get Pierce Brosnan to unleash a few more details about his departure as Bond. Brosnan describes the phone call he received after his agent informed him that negotiations for him to star in his fifth Bond film had stopped.  Brosnan told the authors that he “was utterly shocked and just kicked to the kerb with the way it went down.”

some kind of hero 1

All in all Some Kind of Hero reads very swiftly despite its rather thick appearance.  Although the book clocks in at over 700 pages, the main narrative is actually just over 600 pages with the notes and index taking up the last 100 pages.  It could be read either from start to finish or one might decide to read chapter by chapter as you watch the films chronologically. I’m glad to have read it once all the way through, but I could easily see myself returning to Some Kind of Hero as I re-watch the Bond films re-reading each chapter that corresponds to whichever film I decide to put on.  I feel like this book tells the story about the key people involved in the Bond saga better than most books on the subject.  You get a real sense of the personalities involved, the various conflicts that ensued, and a rationale behind many of the decisions that were made.  Each chapter in the Bond saga is given its due and although it’s obviously way too vast to convey the entire scope of this book into one review, it’s safe to say that I believe most Bond fans would benefit from reading Some Kind of Hero regardless of how well-versed they believe themselves to be regarding the history.

Review by

Jack Lugo

jack with some kind of hero

 

 

 

 

 

I originally posted this review over at the James Bond Radio podcast website but I recreated the review here for your convenience. You can find the original review posted over at jamesbondradio.com here: http://jamesbondradio.com/some-kind-of-hero-book-review-by-jack-lugo/?utm_content=bufferdc0eb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

Old Age

Fred was eager to see Jill again.   It was all he could think of after so many years.  He wondered if he could even hold his own in a conversation with her anymore.  Ever the consummate romantic, Fred had enshrined Jill in his memory as a symbol of his youth or at least his earlier years before life became a dull futile exercise burdened with age and unrelenting routine.  Such great expectations were bound to result in utter disappointment, but Fred refused to allow the reality of his predicament to enter his mind.  After so many years, he was just happy that Jill agreed to see him again, not that there was ever any real reason for their estrangement other than the typical “life getting in the way” and “we all must move on” platitudes we tell ourselves in these kinds of situations. There had been no big argument or confrontation to split them apart before.  It was like two rivers drifting apart for a time only now to merge once again further downstream. Fred tended to think of things in a slightly poetic way although some might call it melodrama. In retirement, he found himself writing short stores to pass the time. He had always loved books and reading and it was a passion he knew Jill shared as well.  Although he humbly refused to entertain any sort of delusion pertaining to his creativity and talent, he was still proud of his writing and hoped to one day have a kind small circle of readers inclined to forgive him his inadequacies as a writer.

It was a quiet morning except for the occasional chirping of birds.  Fred woke up from his bed, dressed, and made sure to put on matching socks.  He took hold of his cane, and went for a walk in the park heading straight for the pond although he must have checked his appearance in the mirror several times prior to that. On the last occasion he stared at the old man before him and told him, “Don’t mess this up now, you old fool.” He’d brought some bread for the pigeons and thought about what Jill might look like when she’d approach to meet him. His wrinkly hands felt like an aberration and he suddenly began feeling self-conscious.

Attempting to shrug off the oncoming negativity, he imagined how Jill would make him feel young again. Would she be the same woman she was all those years ago?  He recalled the warmth of her embrace and the touch of her chest as it met his.  He thought about how strange a thing like memory could be. That brief hug the last time he saw her felt as if it had lasted a good deal longer than it actually was, and the moment when their arms wrapped around each other felt as if two hearts had become one.  For the life of him, he couldn’t recall why he’d ever allow the distance between them to grow after that moment, but that’s just how life was.  There were always obstacles.  One might argue that life itself was merely one elaborate obstacle course where only those with the wisdom of many years know exactly which finish line is worth the struggle, which victory is worth claiming, and what -or more importantly who- would be waiting on the other side. In the time when their paths had once met, Fred had been a young man confused and torn between certain obligations and responsibilities.  The path he took may not have been the path of his ultimate destiny, but it was a path he had to take nonetheless. Now, things were different, and finally after years of toil and struggle he found the peace he had desired all his life only now there was no one to share it with.

Jill had agreed to meet him in the park. He promised himself that this time would be different.  This time, he’d tell her everything that was in his heart.  He’d tell her of all the nights he’d spent thinking about her and how he wished she had shared his life with him during all these years they had been apart.  He would admit to her that just about every story and poem he’d written since retiring had been about her.  In his mind, she would listen to everything he’d bottled up in his heart after so many years.   It would come flooding out of him like a dam that had been destined to burst under the right conditions.

Fred sat and watched the birds thinking to himself. That cliché about youth being wasted on the young shouldn’t be considered a cliché at all. It should just be considered an undisputable fact. I’d actually change the expression to LIFE IS WASTED ON THE YOUTH. His thoughts lingered for a while as he reflected on them in the same way he reflected on most of the deeper thoughts of his life.  It all came down to the fact that for Fred the vitality he longed for had been so intimately bonded to the concept of youth to such a degree that ‘youth’ and ‘life’ were no longer mutually exclusive. In order to be alive, one had to be young, and those who are young are the only ones who are truly alive. Of course, Fred allowed for such platitudes as “you are only as young as you feel” to enter into his basic philosophy, but how does one go about ‘feeling’ young exactly?  In his mind’s eye, Fred hadn’t aged a day over 35, yet when he looked in the mirror he saw a feeble old fool in front of him riddled wrinkles, bald patches, and moldy skin. Was there a portrait of Dorian Gray beyond that looking glass that mocked him somewhere in an alternate unobtainable reality?

Across the other side of the pond, Fred saw an old man playing with some children, probably their grandfather. They threw pebbles into the pond and Fred would watch the ripples in the water along with them each and every time.  He laughed to himself thinking that if there had only been more time he might be on this side of the pond doing exactly the same thing. Both he and the elderly man across along with the boys would perhaps become mirror images of each other in such a scenario and there would be symmetry.  It’s what the universe likes while at the same time despising those of us who counteract and undercut that symmetry.  Fred imagined the vengeful universe exacting its revenge by allowing him to feel envy and loss for those things which he never had.

It was getting closer to the time when Jill had agreed to meet him. Fred looked up at the sky and pleaded the universe for one final act of undeserved kindness.   He had try to dream of what she’d look like only to find himself unable to satisfy his own curiosity despite his blessed gift of imagination.  In his mind, she stayed the same.  He couldn’t bring himself to sully her memory by aging her face or adding a few more inches to her waste.  The way Fred remembered her was the way she remained after all these years.  She was highly intelligent with a brilliant personality and a healthy sense of humor.  She was voluptuous with curves that would inspire him indefinitely if he had only been a painter.  Her hair was dark and beautiful and he’d lose himself in it when he imagined it down.  She’d been a good listener and full of fascinating stories of her own.  She had the most beautiful laugh he’d ever heard on a woman, and her smile could brighten any room.  Fred closed his eyes and imagined her the way she had been for the last time before preparing to meet the woman who would meet him now.

He then felt a hand on his shoulder so he opened his eyes and looked up.  It was Jill.  As she stood before him, time seemed to shift and they were both young and the days that had past shed between them like unseemly skin. It was then that Fred realized what he should have known all along. He stood up from his bench with renewed fleet of foot resolute in the certainty that he’d never see an old man in the mirror again. Jill hadn’t aged a day and now that he found her, neither did he.

Trump: Is It Racism or Political Strategy?

If you’ve been compelled react to the recent bigoted statements of Donald Trump via social media, congratulations you’ve just handed Trump the victory he’s seeking.  Trump is no more than a narcissistic billionaire with daddy issues desperate for publicity and attention. He wants us to all be talking about him and it doesn’t matter whether our opinions about his positions are positive or negative.  In fact, it can be argued that Trump ultimately benefits from those of us who express moral outrage at his pigheaded proclamations.  His most recent outrageous statement about banning all Muslims from entering the country is not only indicative of his own flawed and prejudiced ideology but also far more indicative of his megalomaniacal need to manipulate the media into letting him dictate the tone and content of our society’s political discourse on a national level.  Unfortunately, even journalists with the noblest intentions cannot help but to play into Trump’s hands because it’s impossible to cover Trump in the media without sensationalizing the coverage.  That is exactly how Trump wants it, and this is how he intends to win the Republican primary.

In reality, I don’t think Trump believes half the verbal manure that has been spouting from his mouth.  Sure, there may be a part of him that may agree with some of the racist, chauvinistic, xenophobic, and sexist statements inherent to the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, but I actually believe his sincerity when he denies being a racist. No racist ever believes he’s a racist.  What Trump is doing is very simple.  He’s pandering to racists by telling them what they want to hear. He’s doing what the Republican Party has been doing for decades.  They pander to their base because it’s the fundamentalist Christian lobbyist groups who fund their campaign and essentially bribe politicians and political candidates to say what the base of their constituents want to hear.   Republicans depend on the votes of poor, uneducated, white Christians to support their campaigns.

The Republican Party has been vastly co-opted by powerful lobbyist groups who want to dictate government policies based upon fundamentalist Christian beliefs.  As a result, we all lose because we have one political party controlled by extremists while the Democratic Party also suffers from its own internal shortcomings.  Rational fiscal conservatives cannot elect their candidates solely based upon their conservative economic vision.   They are forced to support candidates who must first pander to their base who dictate where the candidates must stand on broader social issues.  Hence, it’s difficult to find a Republican candidate who supports a woman’s right to choose. Even if they vaguely take a semi pro-choice position to appeal to female voters, they must emphatically stress their opposition to Planned Parenthood despite the fact that not one penny of federal funding to Planned Parenthood goes to fund abortions.  Instead, the organization performs cancer screenings, facilitates access to birth control, and helps to treat STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

What Trump is doing is in some ways politically ingenious from a strategic perspective.  He’s swooping in and clutching away the support of the more traditional candidates – candidates who would be sanctioned by the powerful Christian lobby groups – and appealing to the base of their constituents by pandering to them and dominating the tone and rhetoric of political discussion across all forms of media.  What this is doing is essentially stealing away thunder of the other Republican candidates and exposing the bigotry inherent to Republican Party politics.  Previously, the Republican Party preferred a brand of bigotry and chauvinism that was more covert.   When it comes to contending in general elections, it’s impossible to win without at least paying lip service to the notion of equality, liberty, and justice for all.  In the past it was enough for them to at least pretend as if Republican candidates cared about all its constituents even as they deployed deplorable practices such as disenfranchising minority voters with unfair voter ID laws while also gerrymandering district boarders to insure victory.  Now, Trump has forced (some might say bullied) the Republican Party into pressing forward with overt bigotry and chauvinism.  If you need to ask why, then you haven’t been paying attention to the media.   It all boils down to media coverage.  Trump must realize that what he’s saying is vile and wrong on every moral and ethical level, but he also knows that every racist, chauvinistic, bigoted statement garners massive attention and free coverage across every media platform.  That attention rallies his supporters who are the voters Republicans have traditionally depended upon due to their defiantly uneducated, uncultured, and prejudiced personal politics. Nevertheless, Trump knows that as long as he has their support, he can steal away enough votes to win himself the primary.

Republicans have a tough decision to make.  Do they defy their base constituents made up of poor uneducated white Christian voters by rejecting Trump or do they embrace the increasingly fascist ideology of the person currently dominating the polls?  In some ways, they are trapped in a conundrum of their own doing and I doubt traditional Republicans such as Dick Cheney and Paul Ryan, who both recently denounced Trump’s statement about Muslims, could do much to sway public opinion within the Republican Party away from Trump’s off the cuff reactionary sentiments.  This is a political party who had previously benefited from the poor essentially voting against their own self-interests based upon what was once covert prejudice and chauvinism.  Now that Trump has exposed the true underbelly of these attitudes is there a way for the Republican Party to go back?  Perhaps its time for the GOP to re-evaluate its stance on social issues and eschew the powerful fundamentalist Christian lobby groups who dictate their position on social issues.  Imagine how revolutionary it might be to see a Republican Party candidate who is progressive on social issues yet conservative when it comes to the economy. Wouldn’t that be something interesting? The American voters deserve to choose between candidates that they respect instead of casting their votes against a candidate with morally egregious social positions dictated by lobbyists.

The media will no doubt continue to relish in the frenzy of the Trump circus and it appears there is no return to the good ole days of the pre-Trump era of journalism when political scandals came and went in cycles.  Now it’s become all Trump all the time day in and day out.  This is exactly what Trump wants and this is exactly how he intends to win the Republican nomination.  Whether he does or not remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure.  Whenever Trump says something that riles you up and inspires you to denounce him, you’re probably feeding into the very frenzy he’s created.  The best thing to do is to keep in mind that Trump is only saying what the dregs of our society want to hear.  When we put it that way, maybe . . . just maybe . . . common sense will win out and the Republicans will get their act together and nominate a candidate that we might grudgingly respect even while tremendously disagreeing with the policy positions put forth by those Christian lobbyist groups, who are the true enemies of freedom by the way.

A Bootlegger’s Generosity

Since I don’t think I’ll be inspired to write any Xmas related stories this year, here’s one I wrote last year. If you haven’t read it already, then it’s new to you. I hope you enjoy.

Jack Lugo's Blog - Fiction and James Bond Musings

December 25th 1930

Samuel Chilton lay beside his wife as the sound of children echoed throughout the tenement building.  One of these days, one of those shrieking high voices would be his and perhaps he wouldn’t mind it at all. The faint sound of the Millers’ radio permeated the bedroom with the irresistible strings of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Embraceable You.” He was almost tempted to shout out to Hal Miller to raise the volume up slightly so that it might wake Sandra up and perhaps they could have a quick dance.  Instead he lay there watching her sleep resisting the temptation to stroke her fine black hair that adorned her pillow almost artistically. Any minute she’d wake up and he’d have to bid her farewell although not for as long as the average day.  She’d no doubt protest about the fact that it was Christmas Day, but a…

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A Rational Look at the Anthony Horowitz Controversy

Here’s an opinion piece I wrote for the James Bond Radio podcast website regarding the controversy surrounding Anthony Horowitz’s comments about Idris Elba.  Just follow the link to their site to check it out.

http://jamesbondradio.com/trigger-mortis-a-rational-look-at-the-anthony-horowitz-controversy/

You can subscribe to James Bond Radio over on iTunes by following this link for anyone who enjoys hearing news, reviews, discussion, and analysis of every aspect of the franchise.

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/james-bond-radio/id816222534?mt=2

Young Bond: A Series that You Must Read if You’re a Bond Fan

Here’s an overview of the Young Bond Series that I wrote as a guest blogger for Artistic Licence Renewed, a literary Bond site. Just click the link and head over to their site to check it out.

http://literary007.com/2015/09/02/young-bond-a-series-that-you-must-read-if-youre-a-bond-fan/

Artistic Licence Renewed

Article by Jack Lugo / Young Bond illustrations by Kev Walker courtesy of Ian Fleming Publications.

young-20bond-20cropped-1Fans of Ian Fleming’s literary James Bond may be hesitant to delve into the Young Bond series, but allow me to do my best to dissuade anyone from dismissing this brilliant and cleverly constructed YA series. Whatever fears you may have about Young Bond should be relinquished after reading what I have to say about this series and dare I say I think many of you who have yet to check this thrilling series out will find that once you begin this series, it’s very difficult to stop.

I know because that’s what happened to me.

In 2005 when Ian Fleming Publications released the 1st Young Bond book, SILVERFIN, many fans saw it as a cynical cash grab. Harry Potter had become an immensely successful series and some publishers were eager to follow suit…

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The Gentlemen

They watch you.  They wait for you to leave your home and they watch you and follow you wherever you go.  They all resemble James Cagney, and they all smoke cigars with those stylish grey suits and feathered fedoras keeping both eyes on you and making sure you don’t leave town.  It’s been like this for 3 weeks now in our little town, and every time I so much as go out for some eggs to fill up the icebox they silently follow me walking behind me at a steady pace.  They don’t follow me inside the grocers as the agreement the town made with them prohibits them from internal surveillance, but anytime we go outside, one of them is always ready and waiting to follow us.  Anyone who dares to protest or heaven forbid run – well, they end up disappearing, probably smoked. That’s the way it is here in Connorsville, and who knows how long it’ll last.

All of us have our own families to protect so there’s little chance of anyone stepping out of line.  No, the key is to wait it out. That’s what Sheriff Henderson told us. “Wait it out, and one day they’ll just leave. In the meantime, just go about your business, send your kids to school, and don’t change your routine.”   I suppose when faced with something this disturbing human instinct is to crave normalcy.  The various routines that define our lives during whatever phase of life we happen to be in traditionally offer us some comfort. No one likes to admit it but routines are indeed comforting.  Whatever inconveniences or distractions that occur in our lives only serve to help us appreciate whatever routines we have previously defined as “normal.”  The weekdays I’m used to getting Samantha ready for school while Susan makes us breakfast.  Then I read the paper while eating my scrambled eggs, finish getting dressed, walk Sammy to school with Susan, then head on over to my office at Smithson’s on Canton Avenue for a typical day of number crunching for the various businesses in town.  It’s mindless work, but it pays well and it’s given us a good home in this quiet little town.  We settled down here 5 years ago right after Sammy was born and figured this small town would be a nice place to raise her.  I liked the idea of a quaint little community where the neighbors all knew each other and everyone looked after everyone.  Sure, there was more than the usual round of gossip, but Susan had always been smart enough to keep enough distance from the uglier gossiping circles that tend to form in small towns like these.

The truth is that after spending our whole lives living in a big city, we craved something different.  Susan’s father had been a banker, and she grew to resent the hustle and bustle of the city with its loud boisterous noises every minute of the day and people always in a hurry.  She had always wanted her dad to slow down and finally he did, only it was because his heart gave out. She didn’t want me to suffer her father’s fate.  A job in finance could be stressful, especially when working for people whose every action in life is motivated by greed.  A cousin of hers told her about an accounting job opening in Connorsville far from the big city, a town with a population of only 300 people on the other side of the country.  It would be a huge lifestyle change for each of us, but after all the stress of my big city job, I had been determined to make the arrangement work.  We would be able to afford a house twice the size of the one we had in the city, and the arrangement became ideal. Sammy loved living in a big house with large backyard where she could play and run and do what kids do as they grow up.

I was playing catch with her in our backyard when Harry Summers drove by and told me there was this big town hall meeting that everyone had to go to.  Something had happened and there were important decisions to be made. He offered to drive me and I left Sammy home with Susan who had been preparing dinner for that evening. Harry had left his 2 year old son home with his wife as had most of the men who attended the meeting.

After some initial rumbling and waiting, a clearly panicked Sheriff Henderson got up at the podium to speak.  The sweat on his brow had been clearly visible as were the armpit stains in his uniform shirt.  He shuffled back and forth nervously hesitating before Carl Smolder prompted him to speak.  After all, Carl had his customers to get back to at his bar and this had taken up precious time for him already.

“Well listen up,” began Sheriff Henderson,” Everybody listen up!” The town hall quieted down as we all listened. “There are some gentlemen here from the city and the bottom line is that Connorsville is now under their control, but if we all cooperate they will be gone before we know it.”

“What is this some kind of joke?” asked Stanley Ruthman.

“Not a joke.  These gentlemen . . . well all they want is for us all to stay put and not leave town.  Connorsville has become a . . . location of strategic importance to them . . . but I’ve been assured that it’s only temporary.”

We were explained the rules.  We were all to adhere our regular routines only there would be one of these gentleman following each and every one of us wherever we go.  We were not to leave town and to make it easier on these gentleman, any irregular outing should be coordinated by house numbers.  So on even numbered days, even numbered households could have one unplanned outing to say take a stroll or go into town spontaneously.  The same would apply to odd numbered households on odd numbered days.  Each household would get a sum of $600 a week for every week that these gentlemen remained.  The payments would start immediately, and if anyone objected or protested in any way . . . well, that would be dealt with by rather discouraging means.

Most of us were clearly unhappy about this, but none of us had the courage to do anything.  Why stick your neck out when you know it’ll just be cut off? We all had families to protect and so we all agreed to go along with it.  Besides, it was made clear that these men would never actually enter our homes or follow us inside any building or structure so long as we were deemed in compliance.  Our routines were not to change and so work could get done and this extra cash would be some decent pocket money.  Clark Gasling had always wanted a pool in his backyard and Stephen Fowler had wanted to redesign his kitchen.  I always thought it would be nice to own a 2nd television set even though having just one set was considered a luxury. We each had our own ideas of what to do with the money.

The first few days came and went without incident. I had to explain to Sammy that there were men that would follow us while I took her to school every morning but that when the time was right, these men would go away.  She had even tried to say hi and wave to the pair that tailed us the next morning, but they ignored her and simply followed with their eyes on us each step of the way.  After Sammy had gone into school, I approached one of them and told them it wouldn’t hurt to have manners.  That’s when I was greeted by a snub nosed pistol in my face and told to “Stop making trouble or I’ll smoke yah.”

From then on, I had to content myself with following along. I could sense the frustration growing in the town, but no one dared to speak up.  No one dared upset the new “normalcy” that had been established.  We became prisoners in our own town vigorously following our normal routines under constant watch of these gentlemen.

I saw the strained look on Harry Summers face as he drove past my house today.  The gentlemen followed him in their Bentley.  He had been likely planning to go to the grocers but when he saw me, something inside him stirred. His face turned red and a defiant look crept across his face. He looked upset as he slowed down in front of my house. I had been watering my lawn with Sammy as he approached.  As soon as I noticed something amiss, I sent Sammy inside.  The gentleman watching me nodded in approval.  Then, I looked back just in time to see Harry’s truck speed off wildly down the road toward Bricket’s Underpass.  What was he thinking? I wondered.  The Bentley behind him sped up to follow.  They rammed him from behind then sped up alongside and ran him off the road.  Before I knew it, pistols were pulled out and Harry Summer’s brains had been spilt across the grass leading to Gaitlin’s townhouse.  The gentleman assigned to watching me water my lawn nodded in approval and smiled. I must have looked horrified, but as long as I didn’t do anything out of line I knew I’d be safe.  I went back to watering my lawn although I made sure Sammy stayed inside.

I don’t know what the destiny of Connorsville will be.  If the gentlemen ever leave, I imagine it’ll become a ghost town because I can’t imagine anyone would feel safe here ever again.  Tomorrow happens to be a big day at work for me. I look forward to getting up, eating my scrambled eggs, taking Sammy to school, and heading over to my office at Smithson’s on Canton Avenue.  There’s news of a new account being opened and that might mean a big promotion for me along with a raise of course.  I’ll try my best not to dream of poor Harry tonight, but if I do I’ll be sure to dream about the good times I had with him as my neighbor.  I imagine that whatever mess his blood and brains might have made up the road will soon be cleaned up.  These are gentlemen we’re dealing with after all.

A Look at Blood Fever by Charlie Higson

Charlie Higson’s 2nd Young Bond novel is a marvelous achievement that not only continues where SilverFin left off but also escalates the perils and hazards our young 13 year old hero must contend with challenging him to the very brink of his physical abilities.  The result is a thrilling adventure story worthy of Ian Fleming as Higson draws us in with exciting fast-paced sequences and transports us to a place filled with fascinating roots in ancient history.  For the first time we’re taken to a foreign location, Sardinia, where we encounter pirates, bandits, a secret society, and the sadism of a megalomaniacal villain intent on restoring the Roman Empire.

Set in 1933 to coincide with the Bond from the Ian Fleming novels, the story begins with a pre-title sequence where we witness hijacking and slaughter on the Mediterranean Sea when a pirate ship attacks and seizes The Siren, a ship belonging to the father of a young girl, Amy Goodenough, who we later learn is the sister of one of Bond’s fellow classmates at Eton. The pirate captain, a Hungarian named Zoltan, kills Amy’s father when he refuses to hand over a precious artifact considered a family heirloom. Amy’s attempt to avenge her father fails as she wounds Zoltan’s shoulder throwing her knife at him.  She and her tutor are taken hostage as the pirates kill the men and leave.  The question remains, however, how the pirates knew that Amy’s father would have that particular artifact in his possession since they seemed to know what they were looking for.

Back at Eton College, we catch up in with 13 year old James Bond who has joined a club comprised of schoolboys shirking the curfew called The Danger Society.  As the name suggests the club consists of boys who crave excitement and danger, but the main part of the club is simply getting to the meeting place as each boy must traverse a series of rooftops without being seen in order to get to the meeting.   If any boy is spotted they risk a “thrashing” or possible expulsion.  Bond brings one huge asset to the group, which is the Branson and Martin vehicle he inherited from his Uncle Max after the events of SilverFin.  His aunt Charmian, who makes a short cameo appearance in this novel, allowed James to keep the car near the school.  Only the boys in The Danger Society know about this, but when Mark Goodenough (Amy’s brother) learns of the fate of his father he has a mental breakdown and attempts to drive off with thoughts of suicide. James hops into the moving vehicle and talks Mark down in time but not before being spotted by one of the teachers, a Mr. Peter Haight who takes pity on young Mark and invites James along on a class trip to Sardinia over the summer holiday.

While still at Eton before the trip, James witnesses some suspicious activity by men speaking in Latin along with the presence of a new teacher that Bond instantly finds suspicious, a Mr. Cooper-ffrench, who takes offense when Bond’s Aunt Charmian questions the usefulness of the boys learning the dead language of Latin.

The Nuraghe de Santu Antine in Sardinia

The Nuraghe de Santu Antine in Sardinia

Once we get to Sardinia with Bond and the Eton College teachers Haight and Cooper-ffrench, we’re introduced to the incredible Nuraghe at San Antine, an ancient tower built between 1900 and 730 BCE by ancient Sardinians of the Nuragic Civilization. Built without mortar or anything binding the stones in place, the impressive structure consisting of a courtyard surrounded by a main tower and two smaller towers stands only by the virtue of the weight of the stones.   Along with Bond we learn a good deal about the history of the region, the culture, and its violent history of bandits.  It’s here where we see a first a attempt on Bond’s life as he experiences vertigo at the top of the tower.  Was he drugged or was he about to be pushed? Bond, sensing all is not right decides to leave the class trip to visit his elder cousin on his maternal side, Victor, who lives with a surrealist painter, an artist named Poliponi, on a sprawling beachfront property in Sardinia.  There he meets a young Italian boy named Mauro descended from a long line of bandits, and the adventure ensues after a strange visit from a Count Uggo Carnifex, a man obsessed with the history of the Roman Empire, who acts as if he were Julius Ceasar himself while hoarding stolen art and artifacts taken by the pirates under his command. We soon learn that Count Uggo is holding Amy Goodenough prisoner in his vast palazzo where he leads a secret society dedicated to the restoration of the Roman Empire.

The story organically weaves its adventure adding depth to the characters, especially that of Zoltan, in refreshing ways that I hadn’t anticipated as I read along.  While Count Uggo remains a megalomaniac throughout, it was surprising to find Higson adding layers of character depth and development to a character like Zoltan who begins the book as a repulsive murderer only to become somewhat sympathetic towards the end despite his deeds to the point where even Amy begins to see him as a multilayered person and not just the murderer of her father. I really like what Higson does with this character and there are a few subtle lines of dialogue from Zoltan that actually resonate with the adult Bond we know from the novels. While Zoltan never fully becomes a clear cut ally, he’s easily the most fascinating and interesting supporting character in the novel. Much of what Bond learns about how to defeat the villain and rescue Amy transpires during his interactions with him. Despite Zoltan’s vulgarity he is an immensely perceptive character who acknowledges the twisted fate he shares with Amy after killing her father.

We also get a proper Bond torture sequence for the first time reminiscent of the Goldfinger torture scene with lasers in the movie or with a circular saw in the Fleming novel.  Count Uggo unleashes upon Bond what he claims to be the “deadliest animal in the world”: the mosquito.  Bond is tied to the ground with leather straps and sprayed with perfume to attract the insects to bite him all over his body without giving Bond the ability to swat them away. Higson paints a very compelling picture of Bond enduring extreme discomfort as hordes of mosquitos zero in on his flesh.  With the help of a local Italian young girl named Vendetta (the girl was named that for a reason), Bond escapes to join the local bandits who wish to do away Count Uggo.  Bond must risk his life once again secretly making his way back to Uggo’s palazzo to rescue Amy Goodenough before it’s too late.

With some references to Fleming’s Thunderball and You Only Live Twice sprinkled throughout, Blood Fever gives the reader a thrilling adventure  putting Young Bond in real danger and demonstrating how Bond’s perseverance, courage, and bravery took hold long before he became 007.  This new adventure in the life of a young schoolboy provides a perfectly thrilling escape for adults and young readers alike. I must say that I’m immensely impressed with just how brilliantly Charlie Higson pulls this off.  With Blood Fever and its remote setting of Sardinia, Higson brings to life a world and an adventure that could have very well have been dreamt up by Ian Fleming himself.

Dance Floor Declaration – a Flash Fiction

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She looked at him quizzically as if she asked herself if he was playing games. The thought had never occurred to Max that Eve would react quite this way.  The music blared behind them as they stood motionless on the dance floor.  The DJ imagined himself an eccentric when really he had played the same setlist every other wedding DJ ever plays.  The sappy trending pop songs like, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” followed by Journey’s “Open Arms” with obligatory fare like the “Chicken Dance” and the “Electric Slide” interspersed in between.  There was nothing even remotely resembling a song that challenged the listener to think instead of feel.  Max always wondered why Elvis Costello couldn’t be played more at weddings.  Still, he stood there in his blue tux with the lovely Eve on his arm and she still looked puzzled as if the Best Men and Maids of Honor haven’t had a long history of courtship in the cultural imaginations of the western world.

“Perhaps, you didn’t hear me!” Max shouted awkwardly.

Eve leaned, her left ear almost pressed against Max’s lips.  Perhaps she only wanted to hear the words just right.  Maybe she needed to be sure she wasn’t dreaming.   After all, Max Scarborg was hardly ever the socially forward type.   The floor at her feet pulsated with the music coming from the large speakers not 10 feet away promising that if one waited for a quieter moment, one was bound to linger on endlessly in some sort of loud pop music purgatory.  She imagined that weddings in the 21st century would evolve into a less bombastic affair as Max’s lips percolated along with the beat by her ear drum and that’s when she heard the words.

Max had been waiting all night to tell her but the right moment never presented itself.  Best Man at a wedding meant his time would be limited.  It was all about Chris and Veronica after all.  Wedding Days were the ultimate exercise in vanity, however, Max had been honored that Chris had asked even if it meant all the extra involvement.  Stag parties had not been his thing and really grand reception parties weren’t his thing either, but he couldn’t help but notice when he saw Eve the first time that day.  She looked stunning in her blue strapless gown that seemed to compliment her in all the right ways.  Max hadn’t thought much of Eve before then, but his imagination hadn’t stopped spinning into over drive since he laid eyes on her earlier.  Now they were finally dancing again as custom dictated that the Best Man and Maid of Honor share at least one dance together, however, that first dance he had with her had been an awkward affair with multiple missteps and transparent nervousness on his part.  This was going to be it.  Max found it comical that his entire hopes for his attraction to Eve hinged on them having a dance to “Viva Las Vegas” by none other than Elvis Presley. Max had wished for perhaps a song by his other favorite Elvis, Elvis Costello.  Perhaps something off of the “Get Happy” or “Trust” albums but alas there was no room for sardonic wit in wedding music.  It all has to be sappy and syrupy because everyone there just needs to feel happy and forget about all the little inconveniences in life that would most certainly kill them if their petty thoughts lingered long enough on them.

Finally, his words came out, “I think you’re beautiful!”

“What?!?!”

“I think you’re beautiful!”

“What!?!  I can’t hear you over the music!”

With the bravest burst of energy Max had ever mustered, Max  drew his breath one last time so that he might declare what would be for him a bold proclamation just as the music stopped so that now his shout filled the venue with his unwittingly loud and fearless voice, “I THINK YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!”

His face turned red as he realized his faux pas with Eve taking a graceful step back.  She had never before been told something like that in such a bold and unabashedly shameless manner.  She could feel all the eyes on her as she closed her eyes for half a second taking in the words that came from Max’s lips, and then she did the only thing her instincts told her to do.  She leapt into his arms and kissed him and the audience that had built up around them started to clap.  Out of the corner of her eye she could see the bride Veronica turn to her husband by the dais table just beyond the dance floor.  Eve, who had long been practiced in the art of reading lips, saw Veronica say to Chris, “I thought those two would never get together.” Later on, Eve caught the bouquet, and despite never having before believed in that silly superstition, she couldn’t escape the overwhelming inner feeling that her fate had then been sealed as Max’s future bride.

Max, for his part, imagined a wedding with some Elvis Costello to dance to.   Perhaps, “Everyday I Write the Book” would be just right.

The End

Author’s Note:  Here’s the brilliant love song by Elvis Costello, “Everyday I Write the Book” for anyone who hasn’t heard it.