Skip to content

The Sunset Rises: A 1990s Romantic Comedy (sample chapter)

I wrote the first rough draft of this novel in 2013, a couple decades after everything happened.  I probably shouldn’t have waited so long.  Even though the details still seem fresh in my memory, I’m not sure what’s real and what my brain has made up.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I occasionally make up memories.  Every once in a while, I’ll ask a friend or family member who knew me in the early 1990s whether or not a certain event in my memory is true or not, and they usually confirm that my recollection of events is accurate.

Even so, sometimes I wonder.

I’ve spent almost 10 years writing and rewriting this story.  I’ve rewritten it once as a 60 episode blog serial.  I’ve tightened up some scenes by creating composite characters.  I’ve added details to clarify background information.  I’ve debated word choice in numerous scenes time and time again.  At some point, enough is enough.  No matter how much time and effort I put into making improvements, this will never be perfect.  It’s time for me to just quit writing and tell the story.

Prologue

When I was in college, the best kind of girlfriend was the literary girlfriend.  Literary girlfriends liked to read, so dates were cheap.  We could go to poetry readings or hang out in the university library.  The only problem with literary girlfriends was that they thought watching football was a waste of time and emotion.  Looking back, they were right, but it was tough for a college guy in the late 1980s to see that.

The literary girlfriend stereotype is that all of them are thin and pasty, with long straight hair and big glasses.  I’ll admit, my literary girlfriends in college fit that stereotype.  That was okay because I was pale and skinny too, but I had short hair and contact lenses, so it didn’t feel like I was dating myself.

After I graduated from college and became a middle school English teacher in a major city in Texas, literary girlfriends were difficult to find.  Female English teachers were either too old for me or wanted to talk about classroom war stories.  Most women in other professions seemed to think teachers were below them in status.  For whatever reason, single women seemed disinterested when I was around.  Maybe it was because I liked to talk about books and grammar.

So for two years I went without a girlfriend.  My friends and family thought I was a lonely guy.  It was kind of embarrassing being known as a lonely guy.  I wasn’t really a lonely guy, though.  I had my books.  I just didn’t have a girlfriend or any prospects.  But all of that changed in the most unlikely of places.

*****

Chapter One- The Ultimate Bust

The low point of any week was doing laundry.  My apartment complex’s laundry room was a few units away, so I had to stuff all my dirty clothes into one basket, carry them outside down a flight of stairs, walk past the outskirts of the parking lots past several other units, and then hope there were available washing machines.

There was no perfect laundry day.  Families could be hanging out at 2:00 in the morning.  Drunks could be lounging around at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Maybe I could have washed and dried all my clothes without interference around 7:00 on a weekday morning.  Maybe.  But I usually had to work then.

The laundry room had six washing machines and three dryers, so residents would try to stuff two loads of wet clothes into one dryer and hope the wet piles of clothes would dry in one cycle.  One day I walked into the laundry room when two mothers surrounded by little kids were cursing and threatening each other over who would get the dryer next.  I don’t like loud profane conflicts, so I turned around with my stack of clothes and left.

The most awkward situation was when a load in the dryer would be finished but the owner hadn’t picked up the clothes yet.  I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want to be the victim of rudeness either.  I soon learned simple laundry room etiquette.  If the clothes belonged to a man, I took them out and placed them neatly on the laundry table.  Men didn’t care.  Once a shirtless tattooed guy with a bunch of scars caught me taking his clothes out of the dryer, and I thought for sure I was going to get stabbed, but instead he sheepishly apologized to me for being late.

From that point on, I was confident that men understood the importance of keeping the dryers running on time.  But if the clothes in the dryer belonged to a woman, I would rather wait than get cursed out by a loud, profane mother.

One Friday morning I called in sick to work because of a bad cold and decided to do my laundry.  I was 25.  I was single and living in a second floor apartment.  All I wanted to do was get my laundry done for the next week and go back to bed.  The laundry room was empty.  I was in torn shorts and a pitted white shirt, but I didn’t care how I looked.

As I struggled past the row of dryers, I noticed that only one of them appeared to be working.  One dryer had an official “Out of Order” sign from management.  The other had a college-ruled sheet of paper taped to the top with a handwritten note that said: “THIS PEICE OF SHIT ATE MY QUARTERS!!!!!!” 

I had a red pen in one of my pockets, so I crossed out PEICE and above it wrote in PIECE.  It was a simple rule, “I before E, except after C, that I remembered from an old Peanuts Special where Charlie Brown had been a spelling bee contestant.  Yeah, the spelling rule had a few exceptions, I thought, but it was still a stupid mistake to make, even if the piece of shit dryer had stolen the guy’s quarters.  

I took my time.  I dropped my basket and began tossing the clothes into the washing machine. I reached into my pocket for quarters when I heard the door behind me open.   Whoever had just entered was potential competition. I got paranoid.  The best thing to do was to avoid eye contact.  Just concentrate on putting quarters into the machine and get out, I thought.  Don’t look at the competition.  Don’t look!

Of course, I looked.

From a sideways glance, it seemed like a hot chick had entered the facility, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  I saw long dark hair and tan legs, but I had learned from past experience that a corner glance hot chick could turn into a full-view scary dude, so I played it cool and pulled quarters out of my pocket until the newcomer walked up beside me.

The newcomer’s laundry basket slammed in place on top of a nearby machine, and I turned for the mandatory but uncomfortable greeting.  It got uncomfortable alright.  She was a hot chick with a tiny basket filled with… I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to look too closely.

It’s tough being casual when looking at hot chicks.  I had to acknowledge her, but I didn’t want to look at her too long, so all I saw was long dark hair, brown skin, and a light colored tight t-shirt, a really tight t-shirt. Seriously, that t-shirt was almost skintight. And her eyes, whatever color they were, were directed straight at me.

“Hi,” she said, with perfect posture and her hands on her hips, so I forced my eyes up, up, up until I saw only her forehead.

“Good morning,” I muttered.

My nose was runny, and I was unshaven, not with the cool five o’clock shadow that ladies swoon over, but the kind of scraggly face that made people think I’d ask them for spare change. I could clean up nice when I needed to, but this was not my morning.

The hot chick put quarters in the machine slot, picked up her basket, and dumped her clothes in.  Then she suddenly turned and faced me again.

“How do you think we’re going to do this year?” she asked.

“Excuse me?” I said, looking back up to her forehead again.

“You know,” she said.  And then I saw the logo for our local NFL team on her tight bootleg t-shirt with the slogan “Its Time to… Luv Ya Blue!”  I had noticed the tight bootleg t-shirt, but I hadn’t noticed the Houston Oilers logo on it, and she had just busted me checking her out.  This was the ultimate bust.

“How do you think we’re going to do this year?” she asked again.

“Your shirt’s missing an apostrophe,” I said.

Her eyes narrowed, so I continued.  “The slogan ‘Its time to… Luv Ya Blue’ means ‘It is time.’  When you combine the words ‘it’ and ‘is,’ you use an apostrophe.”

“That’s the first thing you noticed,” she said.

“It’s a glaring punctuation error.”

“I thought only English teachers cared about that crap,” she said.

“I’m an English teacher.”

She hesitated then asked, “Why aren’t you at school?”

“I stubbed my toe,” I said, and then I decided to clarify. “My students suck, and I don’t want to deal with them on a Friday.”

She laughed.  I liked her laugh.  It made me feel happy, so I decided to answer her original question.

“We’ll make the playoffs,” I said, “but we have to get past Buffalo to get to the Super Bowl.”  Buffalo had just been to the Super Bowl two years in a row.

“Buffalo sucks,” she said.

“They don’t suck,” I said.  “I don’t like them, but they don’t suck.”

“Buffalo sucks.”

I wasn’t about to argue the meaning of the word ‘sucks’ with a hot chick in a skintight bootleg football t-shirt.  

“Okay, they suck,” I agreed.  “But we still have to get past them.”

The hot chick nodded and turned to leave.

“Hey!” I said.  It must have been with some authority because the hot chick stopped and turned.

I asked, “How do YOU think we’re gonna do this year?”

She grinned.  “We’re gonna kick Buffalo’s ass.”  Then she turned and left.

I strategized.  The hot chick was likable, but she was still my competition.  She’d been busy loading the washer while I’d been staring at the lack of punctuation on her tight bootleg football t-shirt.  Since she had a head start on me, I reset the washing machine settings to quick wash.  I had to get to that dryer before the hot chick, I thought.  And it couldn’t be a tie either, because a tie went to the woman, whether she was a hot chick or not.   My clothes had to be in the dryer before the hot chick even got back to the laundry room.

I thought I had timed it perfectly.  I returned to the laundry room 30 minutes later.  I stopped the washing machine in its final spin cycle, took out the damp clothes, and stuffed them into the lone working dryer. 

As I placed quarters into the slots, the hot chick came in, and as soon as she saw me, she shook her head and said, “I’m going to take this shirt back and get a refund.”

I’ve never believed in returning merchandise after I’ve used it, so I said, “I don’t think lack of punctuation is a refundable offense.”

“I thought you’d be on my side, English teacher,” the hot chick said, walking her clothes to the nearest dryer, seemingly unaware that it was broken.

I had a dilemma.  Should I tell her that there was only one dryer?  I felt like a jerk either way.  If I pointed out the warning notes, then she’d probably figure out that I’d rushed down here to claim the dryer before she could.  If I didn’t tell her, then she might lose her quarters in the broken machine.  Either way I’d be a jerk.  But if I didn’t tell her, then she wouldn’t know I was a jerk.

I started the dryer. And then the hot chick flipped out.

“Shit!” she said.  “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

“Did the machine eat your quarters?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes red and her face tight.  “Did you know this dryer was broken?” she asked, hands on her hips.

“You didn’t see the warning notices?” I said, pointing at the notes.

“I hate this fucking laundry room,” she said.  “I hate it!”

“As high as the rent is around here,” I said, “you’d think we’d get better machines.”

“You’ve got the only good dryer in here,” she said, eyeing me.  Then she took a deep breath and her voice sweetened.   “Do you mind sharing it?”

I hesitated. “I don’t think that’s legal in Texas.”

She laughed and rolled her eyes at the same time.  “I’m really in a hurry.”

“These dryers aren’t very good,” I said.  “If you put your clothes in with mine, we’ll probably need to use a second cycle, and then we’ll both be behind schedule.”

The hot chick didn’t blink the whole time I had been talking.  “Are you serious?” she asked.

“No, I’m not serious,” I said, even though I had been.  “I have a monotone voice, so people can’t tell when I’m joking and when I’m serious.”

“Are you serious right now?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, opening the dryer door.  “Go ahead and put your stuff in.”

“Your voice really is monotone,” she said as she dumped her clothes in with mine.

It was the first time I had ever done laundry with a woman without buying her dinner first.

Old Book Review: The Darkness and the Dawn by Thomas B. Costain

When I saw a hardback copy of The Darkness and the Dawn by Thomas B. Costain in the used book store, I said, “I remember this book.”

I actually said it out loud. I still talk to myself sometimes, even in public. I didn’t say it very loudly, though. I don’t think anybody heard me; all the other used book shoppers were too busy mumbling to themselves to pay attention to what I was saying.

From my point of view, The Darkness and the Dawn is kind of an old book. It was published in 1959, and I remember that I had read my dad’s copy of it, I think when I was in high school. I remembered Attila the Hun and a major battle between the Huns and the Romans. I remember enjoying the book at the time.

The cover of The Darkness and the Dawn is kind of misleading because it makes the book look like the main characters are a girl and a horse. Yes, the girl and the horse are important, but they’re not the main characters. The horse is known as the fastest in the racing world, and the girl is the only person that the horse lets ride him, so, of course, a bunch of men fall in love with the young woman. Even Attila the Hun becomes obsessed with her.

I guess back then an attractive woman riding a horse was like a hot chick driving a manual transmission today. Something about being able to handle a stick shift makes a young woman even more attractive to men. At least, that was true in the 1980s. My wife drove a manual transmission when I met her back in the early 1990s. When I saw she could do that, I thought, “Yeah, she’s a keeper.”

Our relationship started going downhill when she switched to an automatic. I never should have let that happen.

Sigh…

Anyway, here’s a sample page from The Darkness and the Dawn that I thought was interesting:

*****

BOOK REVIEW-The Darkness and the Dawn isn’t as good as I remember. The first half of this book was entertaining, with the main character Nicolan serving the Roman general Aetius as a slave, escaping, and then serving Attila the Hun. Nicolan despises Roman decadence and thinks the world would be better off with Attila as an emperor/ruler. Most novels today would have made the Battle of Chalons the climax, but here it’s in the middle of the book.

The main character is so handsome that women fall in love with him, and he’s so intelligent that Attila the Hun requires his services. This guy would have been too much of a genetic freak to have the humility that he did. To be fair, he didn’t seduce/rape any women in this book (as has happened in several novels from the 1940s-1960s that I’ve read).

After the major battle in the middle of the novel, it feels like the author Costain lost interest. Events fall into place for the protagonists. Coincidences happen conveniently, and problems are solved without much sacrifice. I mean, I don’t wish for horrible things to happen to characters, but it all kind of sucked. So if you read The Darkness and the Dawn, just read The Darkness part in the first half.

I’m still glad I found this copy of The Darkness and the Dawn. It brought back some pleasant memories, and I actually enjoyed the first half. If I see it again in the used book store, though, I’ll probably just nod my head at the memory. I don’t think The Darkness and the Dawn will cause me to talk to myself again.

SHOCKER!!! Cheapskate Supports Indie Author on Kickstarter!

I’m supporting a book called An Atlas of Bad Roads by Misha Burnett on Kickstarter, but I’m not going to talk about the book all that much. That’s how you know I’m not getting paid to advertise. Here I am, writing a blog post about somebody else’s book, and instead I’m going to talk about how much of a cheapskate I am. If I were an author paying a blogger to advertise my book, I’d be kind of ticked off.

Like I said, I’m a cheapskate. I admit It. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, so I won’t get into the details again, except that I buy most of my books used and I have real issues with spending more than $10 on a paperback book. Having said that, over the last couple months I’ve decided to throw down $20 or more more on several books written by independent authors on Kickstarter.

Supporting a book project on Kickstarter is a bit risky. The indie books might suck, and if that’s the case, I’ll be annoyed that I spent more than $20 on a crappy book. I don’t mind crappy $2 books from used book stores. But $20 or more? Plus, the book might never get finished. A creator on Kickstarter has no legal obligation to finish a project. I could spend $20+ on a book and end up with nothing. Cheapskates like me hate that!

I have a good reason for being a cheapskate (it’s not just for the sake of being a cheapskate); I don’t like being in debt. I won’t get into a long rant about how debt negatively affects your life, but I’ve intentionally lowered my standard of living a little bit to climb out of debt. As far as reading material goes, I sold off most of my comic book collection a few years ago and have been borrowing books from the public library and buying books from used book stores.

Since I’m a cheapskate supporting stuff on Kickstarter, I can’t support stuff just for the sake of supporting stuff. I only buy something from an independent author if I actually want to read it, and I think I want to read the book posted above, An Atlas of Bad Roads. It has a cool title and a cool cover. We’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but I think judging titles is acceptable. Plus, I think this is a pretty good idea for a collection of short stories.

Now that I’m supporting the occasional indie author, I have to be careful that I don’t start accumulating too much stuff again. Most of the books that I have now are either books that I intend to read, books that I’ll reread, or cool books that are out of print. Now I’m adding books that are specifically written by independent authors. I just have to be careful not to get carried away and end up with too much debt again. I don’t think the point of Kickstarter is to just add another way to put normal people in debt.

I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised, I guess, but I don’t think that’s it.

I’m pretty sure the occasional $20 for an indie author won’t put me in debt. An Atlas of Bad Roads looks like it could be a cool book too. And the world needs more cool books.

Read more about An Atlas of Bad Roads!

Hey, this cheapskate who writes Dysfunctional Literacy bought a copy, so it had better be good!!

Why Did I Buy This Book?: The Tolkien Reader by J.R.R. Tolkien

Maybe I shouldn’t have bought The Tolkien Reader by J.R.R. Tolkien, but this book cost only $1.00 at a used book store, so money wasn’t an issue. I like the cover. A lot of fantasy books had covers like this when I was growing up in the 1970s, so I could probably justify buying this book just for the cover, but I’d like my justification to have a little more substance than that.

I’m not really a J.R.R. Tolkien fan. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings a couple times and The Hobbit once, but that’s it. Even though I bought a copy of The Silmarillion when I was a teenager, my dog chewed it up when I was 30, and I never missed it. That dog was just a big puppy at the time and took out a row of books on a lower shelf, gnawing everything up except The Bible.

I would have been really ticked off if the dog had chewed up The Bible and left The Silmarillion alone. Yeah, I never did finish reading The Bible from start to finish like I intended to a couple years ago, but I’ve read enough to get a decent idea of what it’s about. I like The Sermon on the Mount. Whenever I talk about The Bible, I mention The Sermon on the Mount. People argue about Revelations, or Genesis, or the Holy Trinity, but if you read/follow the Sermon on the Mount, you know not to waste time arguing about stuff like that.

Anyway, I’m not much into fantasy world building books like The Silmarillion. I just want to read a story, process it a little bit, and then move on to the next story. Reading about somebody else’s fantasy world is a waste of time. If I’m going to get into world building, I’ll just read regular history. There are so many cultures that I know nothing about that I’d be better off reading histories about cultures on Earth instead of fake histories attached to a cool story or two, especially if the histories are hundreds of pages long.

Somewhere out there, there’s some guy who failed history class but has The Silmarillion memorized. That guy might appreciate The Tolkien Reader more than I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel guilty for buying this book. I haven’t completely ignored this book since purchasing it. I’ve gotten familiar with it. Some of it has been more interesting than I thought it would be. And there wasn’t as much world building as I thought there would be.

  • The nine-page forward by Peter Beagle (whoever he was) was worth reading but probably not enough to have purchased the book for it.
  • The introduction to the poem “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhtnoth’s Son” was interesting and history-based rather than fantasy, but I’ll probably never read the poem itself. The sample is short but quite the slog.
  • Maybe I’ll read the essay “On Fairy Stories,” but I probably won’t read the fairy story “Tree and Leaf.”
  • I originally had no intention of reading “Farmer Giles of Ham,” but the story is filled with tiny illustrations, so maybe those will help me stay attentive while I read.
  • The last selection in The Tolkien Reader is a 50-page poem called “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” I’m one of THOSE readers who was bored by the Tom Bombadil section in The Fellowship of the Ring, but… but… but I might actually try and read the poem “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. The poem seems to have a consistent rhythm pattern and it rhymes, so at least it’s a real poem and not some free-verse nonsense that lazy writers have wanted to pass off as poetry for the last 100 years.

*****

A few weeks ago, my wife and daughter brought a new puppy into our home, and last night I accidentally left a copy of The Tolkien Reader next to my wife’s word search on the couch. In the morning, we discovered the two books untouched, but the pencil my wife uses for the word search had been semi-devoured.

Even though the new puppy prefers pencil lead over paper, I’m still making sure to place all of my books out of the puppy’s reach. I don’t want The Tolkien Reader to share The Silmarillion’s fate. I’d hate for that $1.00 to have gone to waste.

Home Contractors Gave Me Writer’s Block!!!!!!!

At least he showed up on time (image via wikimedia).

Yeah, yeah, I know writer’s block isn’t a communicable disease. This wasn’t a situation where a plumber had writer’s block and sneezed all over the place, and I breathed in sneeze particles filled with writer’s block and got it. Writer’s block doesn’t work like that.

No offense to the home contractors, but even if they had writer’s block, they probably wouldn’t know it. They’re just spreaders who don’t show the symptoms. They knock down walls, play loud music, turn off all the water in the house, bring in strange smells, and make the pets nervous.

*****

Even though my writing has always been inconsistent, I have a basic routine. I get up, make coffee, do a few chores, drink a little coffee, do more chores while the caffeine kicks in, and then write while drinking the second batch. Some days I can churn out 600-900 words in 30 minutes. Some days it’s 200-300. On a slow brain day, all I do is edit and revise. No matter what, though, I need a quiet environment to write.

My house has needed some basic improvements over the last few years, and we finally (kind of) have the money to pay for them. You never really have the money, but anyway, we decided it was time to fix a few annoying things that needed fixing. And so we had to hire some contractors to come into our house and ruin the quiet writing environment for a while.

Contractors have many fine qualities (they can do stuff that I can’t quite do correctly on my own), but they’re not quiet. Their tools make a lot of noise. They talk loudly. Contractors are rarely on time, and work usually takes at least twice as long as they predict. For me, writing needs a routine, and the only routine with contractors is disruption.

Our home improvements were supposed to take five business days, and the whole thing ended up going over three weeks. I’m not going to list everything that went wrong (you can get that on any home improvement cable TV show), but of course, a lot of stuff went wrong. I’m sure half of what went wrong was legitimate and half was a rip-off, but that’s how things go. Even with all the little extras and delays, we stayed within my budget (the contractors don’t have to know that). The house looks a lot better. And it’s getting quiet again, so I can write… maybe.

Unfortunately for my writing, as soon as the contractors finished, just as soon as I thought I could write again, we adopted a puppy. As cute as the puppy is, it is a distraction. Between the whining at night and the monitoring during the day, I haven’t been able to get my writing routine back on track. And I can’t blame the puppy for my writer’s block.

You can’t blame a puppy for anything, except for the occasional mess on the floor, and even then you have to be nice about it. If you try to blame a puppy for writer’s block, people get mad at you. They’ll say you deserve writer’s block. People get spiteful when you blame a puppy for stuff.

So until my writer’s block goes away, I’ll continue to blame the home contractors.

And the teachers.

And the Ivy League.

Now if I can just get the writer’s block to go away.

My Brother Was An Only Child by Jack Douglas… a book filled with dad humor?

My Brother Was An Only Child by Jack Douglas is a cool book to own, but I don’t want to read the whole thing. From the title and the cover, this book looks like it’s filled with dad humor.

I should like dad humor, but I don’t, which might seem strange because I fit the dad humor demographic. I’m a dad. I like humor. Why wouldn’t I like dad humor?

First of all, dad humor exists because dads feel like they have to edit themselves. They can’t tell the jokes that they want to tell, that they used to tell, because there are kids around. Plus, women today will get (or act like they are) offended. Dads feel like they can’t talk the way they want to talk because they’re worried about offending somebody. Dad humor is harmless, and ‘harmless’ seems to be a good description My Brother Was An Only Child.

Since Jack Douglas, the author of My Brother Was An Only Child , was a comedy writer for Jack Paar, who was the host of The Tonight Show in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it makes sense that a book written by a television writer would feel restrained, hence the dad humor. Television humor was regulated heavily back then. I’m pretty sure Jack Douglas had to hold back and censor his jokes when he wrote this book.

Today, humorists are so desperate to shock that they put profanity in their book titles. At least there’s no profanity in the title of My Brother Was An Only Child. Back then profanity in the title would have been groundbreaking. Today, it comes across as desperate. I’d rather read a book filled with dad humor than a book filled with unnecessary profanity.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind profanity. I wrote “The Ten Worst Bad Words Ranked in Order, the U.S. Version,” and I spelled out all the words (except one). I’m a fan of strategic profanity, but unnecessary profanity is unnecessary.

I’m pretty sure the term ‘dad humor’ didn’t exist in 1960 when this copy of My Brother Was An Only Child was printed. There were still categories for humor, but the word ‘dad’ wasn’t in any of them. I wasn’t around in 1960, but ‘dad humor’ seems to be a recent term for lame humor. Lame humor has always existed. Just read the back book cover:

If you think of a guy with fake painted eyebrows and a fake painted mustache as you read this book, it might become funnier.

There are a bunch of references in this book that I’m not familiar with. Even though I could have used use a search engine to research a bunch of the stuff I didn’t know about, I instead focused on the stuff I actually understood to determine if the pop cultural references were funny or not (to me). Chapter 15 is called “The Private Mitty of Walter Thurber” which is a reference “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber.

Mixing up words for a pop culture joke is easy to do. I think it’s lazy. If the book had been longer, I would have understood using a lazy pop culture reference as humor, but this book is only 128 pages, and a lot of those pages aren’t even filled up.

On the other hand, I liked Chapter 19. Chapter 19 is famous for a reason. I didn’t want to take a picture of Chapter 19 because I’d have to spread the pages in this old paperback and that would damage the binding. Even though I have some complaints about this book, I don’t want to hurt it. That’s kind of my personality. I might complain, but I don’t want to harm anything.

Anyway, Chapter 19 says:

*****

Chapter 19

To hell with Chapter 19. Every damn book you pick up has a Chapter 19.

*****

That was it for Chapter 19.

Putting the words ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ in the same sentence was pretty hardcore for 1960. This might have caused most readers back then to gasp. Even Holden Caulfield thought Jack Douglas was pushing the boundaries a little bit.

I’m not sure that My Brother Was An Only Child holds up. If you were born before 1960, you might think it’s funny. If you were born after 1965, it might seem dated. Still, I think it’s a cool book to have. I like the cover. People my age might complain about the way things are now, but I’m glad there’s way more variety in humor than back then, even if there’s an over-reliance on profanity.

Just so you know, I’m almost done with my own book, the first book that I’m willing to commit to paper. It doesn’t have a Chapter 19.

Jack Douglas can rest easily, knowing that at least one (aspiring) author has taken his advice. To hell with Chapter 19. Jack Douglas got that part right.

My best friend had lousy taste in books, starring… Created, The Destroyer #1

I bought a copy of Created, The Destroyer by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy in memory of a good friend who died last October from a heart attack. He’d had some weight issues and was a high stress guy. He’d had the option to retire from teaching a few years ago, but he kept going back to the classroom because he wanted to end his teaching career at a certain age. His family and I had been trying to get him to just retire and find a low stress job and relax with his hobbies.

One of my friend’s hobbies was reading crappy books. I read crappy books too, but I’ve always admitted that they’re crappy. My friend actually thought some of the crappy books were good and would recommend them to me. If I enjoy a book but know that it’s crappy, I usually don’t recommend it.

I found this copy of Created, The Destroyer a couple weeks ago at a used book store for $3.49 and I thought of my deceased best friend who often recommended this series to me. This was back in the early1990s, before either of us got married; we had a lot of spare time and talked about books, movies, sports, comics, and women. Never video games, though. Video games were for losers.

Anyway, my now deceased best friend thought that I’d like The Destroyer series since I liked The Punisher comic book. The thing is, I didn’t really like The Punisher comic book all that much; I would just read my friend’s copies and say they were okay.

You can tell that Created, The Destroyer was written in the 1970s. The protagonist is a Vietnam vet. The protagonists complain about rising crime and how society is falling apart. And it’s okay to kill the criminals. I can visualize the overly wavy hair and tacky clothes without any of that being described in the. book. I grew up in the 1970s. I’m not a big fan of that decade.

The chapters in Created, The Destroyer are short. The protagonist is amazingly awesome as a state of being. Even though there’s action, there’s not really any suspense because you know the main characters are going to survive, and you don’t care enough about the minor characters for there to be any suspense. The characterization is one-dimensional. The dialogue is occasionally funny but usually crappy. I wonder why it took two authors to write this book.

Wait a minute.

Short chapters?

Action but no suspense?

One-dimensional characters?

Crappy dialogue?

Co-authors?

I’m reading a James Patterson book that was written before James Patterson books even existed!

Now everything makes sense! Right now there are over 150 books in The Destroyer series, starting in 1971 with Created, The Destroyer. The two authors managed to write about five books a year in the 1970s. It’s not quite at James Patterson’s pace, but keep in mind that the two authors were focusing on The Destroyer series and James Patterson’s co-authors write for just about every genre.

As of 1977 when this copy came out, The Destroyer series had sold 11,000,000 copies. Maybe that’s impressive for a paperback series back then. From the back of the book, it looks like there were at least 23 books in the series at the time this copy came out. That’s just under 500,000 copies per book. I don’t know if that’s really very impressive for the 1970s.

I think a higher percentage of people read books back in the 1970s. The mall in my hometown had two book stores. I remember the convenience store in my neighborhood had a book rack filled with trashy bestsellers, trashy romance novels, and trashy adventure pulps like The Destroyer. Maybe the 1970s sucked, but at least book stores were everywhere.

Yeah, this first book in The Destroyer series was crap. I think it’s funny that James Patterson is so intent on making crappy novels popular again. As much as I might mock The Destroyer books, this first one is better than a lot of what James Patterson writes. I might be too harsh with these Destroyer books. They’re cheap and fast-paced and reflective of the 1970s. There might be some value in reading an occasional crappy book from the 1970s. I don’t think I’m ready to try a Mack Bolan book yet, though. Not yet.

Anyway, I miss my best friend, but he had crappy taste in books.

Or he had a low opinion of my reading ability.

11,000,000 readers had crappy taste in books.

The Golden Hawk by Frank Yerby- Uh,… isn’t that rape?

The novel The Golden Hawk by Frank Yerby was okay, but I think the main character was a rapist. I mean, he didn’t think of himself as a rapist. He was never actually described as a rapist. But what he does in the novel would be considered rape by today’s standards.

Several scenes go like this: Male protagonist approaches woman. Woman says no. Male protagonist forcefully kisses woman. Woman struggles and says no. Male protagonist gets really forceful (holding her tight, tearing off her clothes). Woman finally relents and likes it a lot.

This approach might work for really attractive men with lots of money and power and alcohol (and more powerful substances/drugs). But for normal guys (or ugly guys with no money, power, or status), this approach is a disaster and would probably be called rape or attempted rape. It makes me wonder how much rape happened before I was born. I mean, if things are bad now, they had to have been really messed up before I was born.

I don’t even want to contemplate how much rape there used to be. At least, according to popular fiction of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, there had to be lots of rape going on. But it wasn’t called rape.

The cover blurb calls this type of behavior ‘lust’:

THE BESTSELLING EPIC OF PIRACY AND LUST ON THE LAWLESS SPANISH MAIN

In this case, ‘lust’ could be replaced with ‘rape’ and attempted ‘rape.’ I think a more accurate blurb would have been:

THE BESTSELLING EPIC OF PIRACY AND RAPE ON THE LAWLESS SPANISH MAIN

I’m no saint, but if a woman ever told me no, I’d back off. When I was dating, I tried to avoid being in a position where a woman told me no in the first place. I’d look for non-verbal signals. Did she voluntarily stand close to me? That was often a good sign. Did she flinch if I casually moved closer? That wouldn’t be so good. Did she have older brothers threatening to beat the crap out of me if I ever looked at her again? That was an automatic turn off.

The women in The Golden Hawk aren’t necessarily weak. Early in the novel, one major female character even shoots the male protagonist while he’s making a ‘lustful’ advance. Instead of contemplating the error of his ways, he spends the entire novel trying to hunt this woman down and seduce/rape her. I don’t want to belabor a point, but if a woman ever shot me while I made a lustful advance, I’d deduce that she wasn’t into me.

This 1966 paperback copy of The Golden Hawk proclaims that it was a bestseller. I think my dad read this book decades ago because I remember seeing Frank Yerby books, along with books by James Michener and Harold Robbins, around the house when I was a kid. My dad also liked Horatio Hornblower books (I don’t remember the author’s name) and Isaac Asimov, but I don’t think there was any lust/rape in those books. If you liked lust/rape, you’d read Frank Yerby and Harold Robbins.

Other than the rape (if you can ignore it), this was a very uneven novel. Some scenes were written well, with great dialogue, fast moving action, and reasonable descriptions/exposition. Then a great scene would be followed by a poorly written scene accompanied by unrealistic plot armor, crappy dialogue, and actions that didn’t make sense.

And then there’d be an attempted rape, usually followed by actual rape, except the woman ended up liking it, but it was still rape.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe women like to have men force themselves. Maybe I’ve allowed myself to fall for today’s wimpy social constructs. Maybe the pre-1960s had it right. Maybe. But I’ll let somebody else test it out for me today. I don’t want to go to prison.

Pirate… Adventurer… RAPIST!!!!!!

Judge a book by its title! starring… Assassins Have Starry Eyes by Donald Hamilton

That’s a lot of words on the cover.

Assassins Have Starry Eyes is kind of a stupid title for a book. That’s okay. Assassins Have Starry Eyes by Donald Hamilton is kind of a stupid book.

I like reading stupid books from the 1950s. The paper smells old. I don’t sniff the paper like some people do, but I usually hold the books close enough to my face so that I can catch the faint aroma of the pages. If a book like Assassins Have Starry Eyes were republished today, I probably wouldn’t buy it just because the paper wouldn’t smell old enough.

I think I just like holding and reading old paperback books. A few months ago, I realized that I had lost all interest in current fiction, but once I started reading old books with yellow, crumbling paper, my interest in fiction was rekindled.

Anyway, the title Assassins Have Starry Eyes caught my attention. I’m not sure if this is a good title or if the title is so stupid that it’s good.

The book’s former title Assignment-Murder is also kind of stupid and very misleading. Assignment-Murder sounds like the protagonist received the orders to kill somebody. It sounds like a James Bond knockoff title. In Assassins Have Starry Eyes, a couple of losers get the assignment to murder the protagonist, and they fail. You can’t have a book titled Assignment-Murder unless the murder is successful.

The book cover kind of gives the mystery away. From looking at it, the reader can infer that the blond chick on the cover is the assassin. She turns out to be the ringleader (kind of), but she doesn’t really threaten the protagonist like this in the novel. Plus, you can’t tell from the picture whether or not she has starry eyes.

The protagonist in Assassins Have Starry Eyes is an engineer developing atomic/nuclear weapons in the late 1950s, and people are trying to kill him. He’s not your typical scientist/engineer, though. He’s nice looking, and he knows how to talk to women. He’s more socially aware than most mad scientists or engineers because he knows not to talk about science/engineering to women. He talks normal stuff to women and makes fun of the other scientists/engineers behind their backs.

The scientist/engineer protagonist also likes to do masculine stuff life hunting and camping and getting laid in his spare time. He’s actually successful at all three while being an engineer; that’s how you know this book is fiction.

The title is also kind of a lie. There were several assassins in Assassins Have Starry Eyes, and only one of the assassins would have maybe fit the description. The first two would-be assassins were dudes and weren’t described as having starry eyes. I don’t even think their eyes were described. One assassin had closed eyes because he got killed before the narrator even saw him. The other assassin got beat up, so he might have had a black eye or his eyes might have seen stars after he got beaten up. Either way, the fortunate male assassin who survived didn’t have starry eyes.

More accurate titles might have been:

The Hot Blonde Assassin Had Starry Eyes.

Hot Blonde Assassins Have Starry Eyes.

That Hot Blonde Holding a Gun Isn’t Really An Assassin, But She Has Starry Eyes Even Though They Were Never Described That Way In The Novel.

Assassins Have Starry Eyes wasn’t a bad book. I enjoyed it, but it was kind of stupid. The banter between the protagonist and his wife was funny. I can forgive a lot of flaws in a book if it’s funny. Having an egghead scientist beat the crap out of would-be assassins was a little far fetched, but it didn’t ruin the book for me. Yeah, the cover spoils the ending a little, even if the scene doesn’t exactly happen as it’s shown.

Donald Hamilton also wrote a bunch of Matt Helm books, which I guess were popular in the 1960s. I’m not going to go out and look for a bunch of Matt Helm books at the used book stores now, but if I see them, I might buy one or two, especially if they have stupid titles.

Hey, everybody! It’s an acrostic!

5 Ways I’ve Messed Up My Own Blog

I’ve been blogging on Dysfunctional Literacy for over ten years, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily good at blogging. I probably don’t have the traffic I should. I don’t get a lot of comments from new posts. I don’t make any money off of my blog. From those perspectives, Dysfunctional Literacy might be considered a failure.

On the other hand, I’ve written a lot of stuff that I’m proud of. WordPress recommended my blog for about 18 months a few years ago, so somebody other than my mom thinks I’m a decent writer.

As far as social media relevance goes, though, I’ve done a lot of things wrong. This might not be everything I’ve messed up, but it’s a pretty good list.

1. Putting profanity in a bunch of my post titles

A few years ago I wrote a bunch of posts about the etymology of certain profane words. They were meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and I didn’t think much of them, but they kind of messed up my blog a little bit. I didn’t censor the words either. I wrote ‘shit’ instead of ‘sh*t.’ I don’t see the point of writing ‘sh*t’ instead of ‘shit’. Everybody knows what ‘sh*t’ means.

Unfortunately, these are the only blog posts that have caught Google’s attention. Now most of my blog traffic comes to read about why words like shit and fuck are bad words. And I can’t monetize my blog because Dysfunctional Literacy is not considered a family friendly website. I bring in enough traffic to get monetized, but the posts that bring in the traffic make my blog unable to be monetized.

That’s okay. I didn’t want their stupid money anyway.

2. Not having a product to sell

I should have had a product to sell. I didn’t even have a book to sell when I started Dysfunctional Literacy. I still don’t have a real book yet. I’ve put out a few ebooks as practice and learned a few lessons (I’ll get to those lessons another time).

My one actual real book should be ready in about six months, and I’ll use Dysfunctionally Literacy a lot differently once I start promoting it. Don’t worry. I’m not bombarding everybody with a bunch of crap five times a day when I start selling my book , but if I do decide to bombard everybody five times a day, it will only be for that one book and for a little while. I won’t make a habit of bombarding everybody with crap all the time.

3. Writing about books and writing

This blog has way too narrow of a niche. Out of all the things to review on a blog, books are the worst. Books take way too long to read. I should have picked movies, television shows, or even comic books to review. Those guys who review movies or television shows or comic books can crank out content every day or even more frequently if they want to. Me? I have to take a week to read a whole damn book, and then I have to process it before I even start writing.

For a while I wrote what was called a Literary Glance, where I’d read the first few pages of a current popular book and review that. I was reading so many crappy books that I wasn’t enjoying them at all. I was reading books just to have something to review; I had no desire to read most of the books I was reviewing for a Literary Glance. I should have a desire to read a book before I decide to review it.

4. Not responding to comments

I don’t respond to comments as frequently as I should. Years ago when Dysfunctional Literacy was a WordPress recommended blog, I’d get dozens of comments almost every day and I had a full-time job and a family, so I couldn’t respond to everybody. Besides, most of the time I had no response other than “Thank you.” Maybe I should have littered my comments section with “Thank you” after “Thank you,” but I’m slow on the keyboard; even that would have taken time.

If you write a comment and I don’t respond, I don’t mean to be rude. It just means that I have no response other than “Thank you.”

5. Not having a clear purpose

I write book reviews. I write stories. I write humorous pieces. But my blog doesn’t have one specific purpose.

Plus, my blog’s name is Dysfunctional Literacy. The good thing about Dysfunctional Literacy was that the domain name wasn’t taken when I chose it, but nobody knows what it means. At the time, I was thinking of the term ‘functionally illiterate,’ and I thought about people who were capable of reading and chose to read what is considered crap rather than what is considered literature. They were literate but dysfunctional in their choices. Hence the term ‘dysfunctional literacy.’

Next time I start a blog, I’ll choose a name that I don’t have to explain.