Friday, October 21, 2011


I just had the weirdest experience reading a short story. It was wonderful at first. Then it went from being great baseball fiction to really bad thriller writing.

The story is "Beanball" by Ron Carlson. I think he heads the MFA fiction program at UCI, where I got my MFA years ago.

"Beanball" was first published in One Story, a literary magazine that puts out one story per issue and never publishes the same writer twice, according to its website:

I read "Beanball" in "The Best American Mystery Stories" of 2009. At first, it didn't seem like a mystery at all.   

Our hero, Driscoll, travels all over the world scouting for talented young pitchers for a major league team, a job I've always thought would be great.

The fictional Driscoll used to be a catcher in the majors, but he was hit in the head by a pitch and almost died. So now he is a scout. OK. So far, so good.  

He finds a talented kid in Guatemala, and the kid goes to the majors and is hugely successful, until he beans a batter who dies. At that point, the story still had me.  

Then it turns out that things are not as they seem. A kidnapping. A girl's finger is cut off. Money exchanges hands. Dirty work. Huh? WTF?

I don't want to give away too much of the plot. But Driscoll goes back to Guatemala, buys a gun and stalks the bad guys. 

Turns out, the bad guys forced Alberto, the young pitcher, to kill the batter on purpose. But why? I never figured that out. Apparently, it’s not just for money. That would make too much sense.

The thriller stuff here didn't make any sense to me.

Why does Alberto show up at the end at just the right time? Apparently, just for the convenience of the plot. Did Driscoll set this up? Beats me.

And then Driscoll's old coach, mentor and good friend turns out to be another bad guy. WTF? This is like a bad Hollywood ending to a bad movie.

There are too many convenient details. The second driver in Guatemala just happens to have a gun that he is willing to sell. How does Driscoll know the gun works? He doesn't. I would not trust that gun. And it is way too convenient for the plot.

Suddenly Driscoll goes from being a baseball pitching scout to a black ops killer. He kills a man in cold blood and has no reaction. Huh? Where did that come from? Again, too convenient for the plot.

This could have been a great story. It is a good idea to have a story about the corrupting influence of money. But is that true in baseball? I have no idea. I would believe it. Unfortunately, that is not what this story is about.

What is it about? I don't know. It seems to be a weird hybrid of baseball fiction and bad thriller writing. Maybe a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do

My verdict? A good story gone horribly wrong.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I recently finished reading "Hayduke Lives!" -- Edward Abbey's sequel to "The Monkey Wrench Gang."

It's another rompin', stompin' hell of a good ride. I loved it. (I recommend reading "The Monkey Wrench Gang" first, to get the continuity and the whole picture.)

For me, the first issue these two novels raise is values. What do these two writers care about, and what role do their values play in their fiction?

If we take these writers seriously, what do they tell us about how we should live our lives?

I realized, several years ago, when I read "Anna Karenina" by Count Leo Tolstoy, that people like to read about characters like themselves.

In other words, readers like to identify with the characters and the way they live, their issues, problems, and values, the things they care about. I think the same thing is true today in popular culture: TV, the movies, fiction.

"Anna Karenina" is a huge sprawling portait of Russian life in the 1870s. Tolstoy covers the peasants, the aristocracy, the bureaucrats, the armed forces, the land-owning farmers. He even does a scene from the point of view of the family dog. There is something for everyone.

One theme is the contrast between a healthy relationship (Levin and Kitty) and an unhealthy one (Count Vronsky and Anna Karenina).

Anna and Vronsky, a dashing young cavalry officer, have an affair outside her marriage and outside society. They can't hobknob with other artistrocrats in Russia, so they go to Italy, where they find themselves even more isolated. They never recover their social bearings, and finally Anna commits suicide, throwing herself under a train.

In contrast, Levin and Kitty fall in love, get married, have children and live a gregarious social life, in symbol the very center of Russian society. They have dinner parties, have friends over, run a farm, raise their kids, fulfill their responsibilities to society and keep things running among their employees and families. Theirs is a full, rich, enviable life. 

In these Edward Abbey novels, there are also two kinds of people, those who love the Earth and want to protect it (Earth First! Earth--Love It Or Leave It), and those vicious, careless developers, cattle ranchers, mine owners, and politicians who exploit the Earth for profit and care nothing about nature.

The people with bad values don't come to a bad end, but they do have their defeats. This is a constant battle, worth doing, and worth reading about. Bishop Love, a total horse's ass, and his ilk are mostly clueless. They ride roughshod over the Earth and over the decent people who want to defend it. They are fools.

I enjoyed both Tolstoy and Abbey, partly for their values, but also for the good writing and their story telling abilities.

Their values are the same as my own: family, healthy society, healthy planet.

Abbey is still important now, although he died in 1989. His villains (developers and those who would destroy the biosphere) are much like the Tea Party extremists of today who want to dismantle the federal Environmental Protection Agency and make unlimited money while destroying the envirnoment that sustains us all.

I say let us read Leo Tolstoy (also spelled Tolstoi) and Edward Abbey, and learn something of their values. They each have something to teach us.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, October 10, 2011


The Los Angeles Times published a letter to the editor of mine yesterday:

     I got all excited, at first, when I saw a novel excerpt on Page E9, in Oct. 2's Book Review.   

     Then I started to read it. What bad writing. Most of it is clunky exposition and awkward back-story. The rest is lame story and poorly done description.  

     Why should we care if Richard wears boots or cross-trainers, or if anyone would notice?     

     Shotguns don't "stomp" people. That is ridiculous.

     I wish you would look for better writing to reprint. 

     If this book is a bestseller, that's sad. 

     As Flannery O'Connor said, “There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

     This one should have been prevented. 

     Roger Angle
     Culver City

It referred to a novel excerpt that they had printed:

What do you think? Is that stuff crap or what?
-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle


Every time Democrats or Progressives suggest that rich people should pay their fair share of taxes, for a change, the Republicans whine about "class warfare." They are very clever with words, these shills for the rich.

Oh, no, we can't have the rich pay more taxes. The top 1% of the wealthy in the good old USA own something like 40% of the wealth. But the good old GOP will do anything and say anything to keep the rich from paying more taxes.

Do the rich work for this money? No.

Do they get up every morning and go to a job and work 8-5:00? Do they put on overalls and work in the fields, from dawn till dark? Do they put on work clothes and make cars? Do they work on factory floors, helping to build anything?

Do they teach in our schools? Do they put out our fires? Do they arrest our felons? Do they guard our borders? Fight our wars? Make our subways and trucks and buses and trains run? Build our highways and bridges?

No. They sit on their fannies, and the money rolls in. They make money off their money. Let your money work for you.

OK, nothing wrong with that. Let the fat cats earn money off their money. But they should pay equal taxes.

Who does the work that produces that wealth? Who puts on work clothes and turns the gears that creates that wealth?

Guess who. The middle class and the working class.

But do the rest of us get any of that wealth? As little as possible. Too often, we get the minimum wage, which is not a living wage. Not even close. The rich get rich by screwing the poor.

When we suggest equal taxes, their lackeys in Congress whine about class warfare. But we have always had class warfare, since the days of the robber barons in the 19th century.

And guess who has been winning.

The rich have been screwing the rest of us for generations, more and more since the decline of unions, and since the rich have been shipping jobs overseas.

Class warfare? I say bring it on. They started it.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I have been reading a special section on capital punishment in Newsweek:

I used to believe in putting vicious killers to death. The men who dragged that black man to death in Texas. The man who chopped off that girl's arms years ago in California. Ted Bundy, who killed some 160 young women.

Those horrible crimes seemed to deserve a firm response. The death penalty seemed to say: We won't allow this. We will stop you from killing again. You don't deserve to live. You are no longer welcome on this Earth. We need to protect innocent people from you. Some crimes are too horrible to bear.

And in some cases, executing the murderers seemed the only remedy. A few years ago, a group of Aryan Brotherhood leaders were on trial for ordering murders from behind bars:

They were in maximum security prisons, yet still ordering death. Killing them seemed like the only way to stop them.

But I have changed my mind. I still have a strong emotional attraction to the death penalty. My blood boils when I read about certain crimes. I have thought about it long and hard.

The death penalty seems like a good idea in the abstract. Like going to war. Like wrestling Ken Kesey when he was alive, if you were a horse's ass literary critic or editor. Like shooting Pablo Escobar, famous South American drug kingpin.

Yet the death penalty exacts its own price on those who carry it out. Ever seen the "thousand-yard stare" of men who return from war? Ever seen the ragged, desolate look of a homeless Vietnam vet? Read in Newsweek about those who have carried out society's most gruesome task.

Executioners and our military personnel have killed for abstract ideas. On our orders. And look where it got them. Look where it got us. Death is no deterrent.

What would it be like if each one of us had to pull the lever, at least once, to kill a man or a woman? I believe that would change the whole picture.

I say, let the killing stop. It doesn't do what we want it to do. It doesn't accomplish what we want it to accomplish. It doesn't say what we want it to say.

It is an exercise in futility. And barbarity.

Enough. Let it stop.

Join Amnesty International and others in their crusade to stop the death penalty:

-- Roger

NOTE: I have since changed my mind, yet again.

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I've been hoping to get published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, so I've been trying to read some stories published there.

You know, get the lay of the land.

I got, from the library, a book called "The Cutting Edge," a collection of short mysteries published in EQMM.

The first one is by Lawrence Block. In "Looking For David" a retired detective is on vacation in Florence, Italy, and runs into an old criminal he arrested for murder years ago. The bad guy tells him why he killed and carved up his gay lover.

As I read it, I got the feeling that Block didn't care about any of this. He didn't seem to care about the characters or the story or the writing. The whole thing is lackluster. No oomph. No pizazz. No jazz. No music. No depth. No energy.

So when I read it, I didn't care either. I quit about halfway through and skipped forward to the end. I cared even less when I finished.

On the other hand, I just started reading "Hayduke Lives!" by Edward Abbey, a sequel to "The Monkey Wrench Gang," one of my favorite novels.  

The writing is completely different. I get the feeling that Abbey cared about everything: every line, every description, every cactus, every blade of wild ricegrass, even an old turtle, every word, every character.

The writing is full and rich. Full of imagery and detail and insight. Full of energy. The prose dances, and rocks and rolls, and puts the pedal to the metal and drives ahead. It illuminates the characters and brings the story to life.

It's a treat to read, and a startling contrast to the dull, lackluster writing of the genre mystery.

I think caring is part of the game. Like any art form, or any profession, if you don't care, it shows.

One time I went to a doctor who told he had been retired in his mind for ten years. The work just didn't interest him anymore. Boy, I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

That's how I felt about this mystery story by Lawrence Block.

My advice: Whatever you do, especially if want to get paid for it, and if you want other people to participate, you better damn well care about it, and you better do your best.

Otherwise, your work will be dead, and that will show.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle


It is hard to find things that go right these days in public affairs.

But last night I saw about 200 bicycle riders across the street in the Ralphs/Best Buy parking lot, along with lots of cops.

At first, I thought the police were arresting the bicyclists, but no, it turns out they were protecting them.


I talked to my neighbor Ed, who said he had talked to several of the cops. Word had come down from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (who was injured on his bicycle last year) that the police were to protect these mass bicycle rides that I think are called "Critical Mass."

I thought it was wonderful.

Ed said the cops were riding along on motorcycles and blocking off the intersections to let the riders go through and protect them from angry motorists, who sometimes get so mad they crash into the bike riders on purpose.

Good for you, mister mayor. Good for you.

Bike riders need all the help and protection they can get. Why should one person on a bike have fewer rights that one person in a car?

There have been several cases where crazy-mad drivers in cars have injured bike riders on purpose. Insane.

Thank you, mister mayor.

-- Roger


I am reading an article in Newsweek about "Ceasefire," a program that has been successful in some cities to stop gang violence:

It's a way of getting gang members together with citizens and rival gangs, to develop some empathy--feeling for others--and a sense of responsibility. You are hurting innocent people who don't deserve this pain. You do this again, and you are going straight to jail.

Of course it has to be done consistently. If you let it drop, the violence comes back.

I think this might help in Laredo and its sister city across the border, Nueva Laredo.

My own belief is that not all gang members and drug cartel members are bad. I think they get caught up in a cycle of violence and give in to peer pressure. Violence begets violence, drug profits are high, the drug gangs fight for distribution channels, and the massive hunger for drugs keeps increasing in the dysfunctional USA.

I think we should legalize drugs, to reduce the profit and the violence, turn our resources to drug treatment and education, and institute programs like Ceasefire.

Certainly, something has to be done. (See the previous post, below.)

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle


Last night, on the History Channel, I saw an episode of "Gangland" that made my blood boil.

Two young women (one was 27 and very beautiful) from Laredo, Texas, went to a concert across the border in Nueva Laredo and didn't come back.

(People in their family had been going back and forth across the border for more than a generation, with no problems.)

One woman's stepfather went across the border looking for them and found their car in an impound lot owned by a federal judge.

The stepfather asked the local police to help find them. But the police were no help. He kept asking on the streets and found someone who said the two women were pulled over by the police, who gave them as a gift to the Zetas, a drug gang that rules Nueva Laredo.

The stepfather put flyers all over Nueva Laredo and called "America's Most Wanted," the TV show. They aired a segment, and 30 minutes later a DEA agent called their house to say that a hit squad was on its way from Mexico to kill the whole family.

The police and DEA stopped the hit squad, but now the family lives in fear.

Wait a minute, this family has been wronged. Where is justice? What about decency? The Zetas want to kill them for being decent? For doing what is right?

Are these Zetas animals? Have they no decency? No shame? I thought they were supposed to be decent people who cared for ordinary people and didn't abuse "civilians."

I would like to appeal to their sense of decency. What if this happened in your family? Please, Zetas, tell us, what happened to those two women?

Do we in the USA have to live in fear of these gangs? Is this Somalia?

Where are the Navy SEALs when we need them? Makes you want to send in the Marines, doesn't it?

What an outrage.

And we, the most powerful nation on earth, supposedly, sit by and do nothing.

(Of course, with the government cutbacks, the DEA, the local police and the Border Patrol do not have the manpower they need to stop this kind of thing. This is the world the Tea Party wants to bring us. That would be a shame.)

My advice: Don't let your daughters go to Mexico by themselves.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle