Monday, June 21, 2021

But is it Art?

 A good friend of mine who is correct in categorizing herself as a music artist often refers to me in the same terms (except "musical"). And I, for psychological reasons it would take months in therapy to resolve, always feel compelled to contradict her. I am not an artist.

Am I?

This is not a plea for misguided compliments, I assure you. I'll let you know when I need those. It's more an exploration of what it means to be an artist. And no matter how I define it, I pretty much come down on the answer that no, I am not. One. 

Defining art is an intellectual parlor game that's been going on since before the invention of parlors. Every person has his/her/their own definition, and they're all right. Because your personality is your filter and everything you think goes through it. If you think something is art, it is. For you.

Some people think Jerry Lewis created art. Or Tiny Tim. Or Mariano Rivera. And they're all correct. Those people looked at that work and it moved them in some way that convinced them they had seen a form of art. Go argue with them; I dare you. They'll win every time because the whole process and the whole definition is subjective. There is no formula that can definitively classify something as Art or not.

Which brings me to the silly mystery books I write. And I'm using the word "silly" here as a positive term. I like things that are silly. Monty Python was silly. Mel Brooks is silly. For that matter, Mark Twain could be silly, as could Leonardo da Vinci, the Beatles and Abraham Lincoln.

Silly is simply something that tries (and in the best cases succeeds) to find the funny side of something, whether it be an embarrassing situation, a pretentious turn of phrase or, yes, a tragedy. There's nothing that can't be silly if it's approached from the proper angle. So when I say my books are silly I'm defining their intention rather than their success in achieving that goal. That is left up to each reader to decide.

I don't trace my literary roots (and if that's not a pretentious turn of phrase dying for some silliness I don't know what is) to great art. My influences were not Ovid, Socrates, Homer, Shakespeare or even Agatha Christie. I tended to look for inspiration in places like Saturday morning cartoons (Bugs Bunny and Bullwinkle especially), the Marx Brothers (my personal religion), the work of Caesar's writers (Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Carl Reiner among them), Alfred Hitchcock (particularly North By Northwest, among his silliest movies), George Carlin and Gene Wilder. 

And while I consider many of those people (and scores of others I didn't mention) to be artists because that was their intention, they are all undeniably entertainers first, and that is the category into which I humbly suggest I belong.

I am not an artist. I am an entertainer. And proud to be one. 

I've always loved a good story (and even some bad ones) if it's told with some style. And the idea of entertainment (books, stories, films, TV, theater, music, a bracing oration) without ANY sense of humor is anathema to me. Casablanca isn't a comedy, but it's one of the wittiest movies you're going to find anywhere and possibly the best example of a studio film ever. Silly? No. Sense of humor? You can't go five minutes in that movie without a great line. Try to watch it and not laugh. ("I'm shocked - shocked - to find that gambling is going on in here!" "Your winnings, sir." "Oh, thank you very much.")

So I bow to my friend the musical artist, because she is that. It is her intention and she's really good at it. My intention is to entertain, and that's (without saying whether I think I succeed) a noble calling. Not everyone can do it. Those who do it well are among my favorite people.

Of course, your opinion is your own. I will not argue with it.

Monday, May 31, 2021

23 Things We Have Called Our Dog (Affectionately)

Gizmo (because that's his name)

Gizmo T. Dog (the T stands for The)

Mr. G.T. Dog

Mr. Mo




Gizmonic Plague

The Gizster




Herr Bag

The Amazing El Doggo

The Canine Commando

His Honor The Dog

The Dog



The Master of Gizaster

Master of All He Surveys

Hey, Beagle

Gizzie (Just the vet calls him that)

Friday, April 23, 2021

A Short Oscar Respite

 I'm a fan of the Academy Awards; I'll admit it. I place absolutely no value in the films that win such things but I love the spectacle of the ceremony and I'm glad it's being done in some version of "in-person" this year. We can all use the break.

So today I'm not writing about my books, which I'm sure will come as a relief to anyone who's ever clicked on this blog before. I also won't bore you with yet another prediction of what's going to win the award for best picture (Nomadland) or any of the acting awards. They seem especially predictable this year anyway.

As I often do, I'll concentrate on a little-attended-to category, the best short films. (As a quick caveat, I am not including the short documentaries because my family and I did not watch those. Our experience has been that they are not so short.) I do this as a public service because the vast majority of people will head into Sunday night's telecast of the Oscars without having seen any of the nominated short films.

You're welcome.

In the spirit of shortness (and being short myself I appreciate the quality), I'll give a brief description of each of the nominated live action and animated shorts, reveal my own personal bias for a winner and then predict which I think will take home the prize. 

Live Action Short Films   

The Present: A Palestinian man and his young daughter have to endure the checkpoint and racism of Israeli soldiers to buy his wife a special anniversary present, and there's no certainty either of them will make it back alive.

Two Distant Strangers: A topical, funny, harrowing version of Groundhog Day in which a young Black man wakes up in a woman's apartment and in attempt after attempt to get home and feed his dog is confronted and killed by a racist white police officer. 

Feeling Through: A young man trying to find a place to crash for the night is interrupted by an encounter with an older blind man and has to decide whether to jeopardize a roof over his head to help a stranger.

White Eye: An Israeli film about a man who finds the bicycle that was stolen from him and finds that trying to get it back could put another man's freedom at risk.

The Letter Room: A corrections officer (Oscar Isaac) is assigned to a desk job where he reads, censors and distributes letters to the inmates. He becomes involved in two of the prisoners' lives and tries to help.

If I were voting, I'd hope Two Distant Strangers would take the prize, if not just for its topicality than for its tone and inventiveness. Best guess for what will actually win: The Letter Room

Animated Short Film  

Burrow: The inevitable Pixar short, about a rabbit trying to find a place for a more comfortable burrow and being mortified by intruding on various neighbors.

If Anything Happens I Love You: Parents try to cope with an unspeakable tragedy.

Opera: A "one-take" metaphorical film about human society in general which really needs a big screen to do it justice.

Yes People: A group of people living in an apartment building go through a day facing various difficulties and in some cases being silly.

Genius Loci: Maybe the most French film ever made. A woman, possibly with some type of mental illness, experiences the whole of urban life around her in strange, metaphorical ways. Lots of smoking. 

To be frank, Burrow might be the most adorable thing I've ever seen and I would vote for it. Best guess to win: If Anything Happens I Love You because it is infinitely more depressing and the Academy loves that.

I promise not to edit this post after Sunday night. It's entirely possible I'm wrong. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Wait Is Over!

 That assumes, of course, that you've been waiting. I know I'VE been waiting, but that's another discussion entirely. 

In any event, the fact is that INHERIT THE SHOES, the first Jersey Girl Legal Mystery (and yes, there will be more) is now available no matter where you live, assuming they speak English there. And I'm pleased to say that those who have read it seem to like it pretty well. I'm proud of it but then I like all my books or I wouldn't have written them, so there's that.

INHERIT THE SHOES tells the story of Sandy Moss, a New Jersey assistant county prosecutor (we don't have District Attorneys here) who decides she's had enough of the putting-people-in-jail thing and decides to move to Los Angeles, where a tony law firm that specializes in family law (mostly divorces) has offered her a job. 

On her first case, a divorce between an actor who plays a lawyer on TV - and wants to study Sandy to gather "authenticity" - and a singer whose star has dimmed a bit, Sandy almost torpedoes her brand new career by speaking up when her boss has told her to... not do that. 

But it's not long before her previous experience is being called into play, because her client (the actor) is accused of murdering his soon-to-be-ex-wife - with a bow and arrow from the John Wayne classic The Searchers

And that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot. 

The book includes characters you're going to like (I promise) and has lots of action and a good number of laughs. Possibly a little romance is sprinkled in there, but I'm not saying.

You can read the reviews here and find out where to buy a copy here, but I think you'll enjoy INHERIT THE SHOES if you've liked any of my previous books. But then, I might be just a little biased.