Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Garrison Keillor Interview

Garrison Keillor may seem, to some, a throwback to the age of Ozzie & Harriet or Leave It to Beaver. But if you've never heard A Prairie Home Companion you've missed out on a true slice of Americana. With his traveling road show, still heard every week on NPR, Keillor brings his quirky characters to life on the stage, and all of them are funnier than the folks you find these days at your typical suburban shopping mall. (Note: this interview dates from 2012.)
JONATHAN LOWE: You have an association with Minnesota Public Radio and with Highbridge Audio, and you often tour the country with your radio show, besides teaching at the University of Minnesota. What gives you most satisfaction--writing, performing, or teaching?
GARRISON KEILLOR: I don't associate work with feelings of satisfaction. Rather, guilt, frustration, and resentment of people who write better than I do. Writing is the main gig around here, and teaching and performing are sidelines, an excuse for not writing more. Working on a novel and on an opera make me seriously want to retire and find a volunteer job as a docent at the zoo explaining to schoolchildren where frogs go in the winter.
Q: What inspired you to begin this journey? Who influenced you?
A: I was inspired by the need, as an English major, to earn a living in the world and to pay the rent and purchase coffee and cheese danish. I spent most of the 60s in college, imagining I was brilliant, and then, in 1969, my son was born and I had to find work that someone would be willing to pay me to do, and the choices were limited in the extreme. Fortunately, I caught on as a DeeJay in public radio and I've clung to this raft ever since. My last job interview was in 1969. I will never write another resume. This is my earnest prayer.
Q: In your novel Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 you mention a lady who hypnotizes chickens before chopping their heads off. Then there's the Doo Dads singing "My Girl" while repressed 14 year old Gary tries to both indulge and conquer his adolescent urges. With all the description and depiction going on, your town of Lake Wobegon really comes to life, and has people asking you if the place really exists. Do you see that question as a compliment or a nuisance?
A: Nothing that readers say or do strikes me as a nuisance. Anyone who cracks open a book of mine is, to me, a gem. And I am impressed that you know about the chicken hypnotizer and the Doo Dads and the boy's adolescent urges. Most interviewers don't have time to read my books. They ask questions like "What's your favorite TV show?" or "What's it like to be your age and know that the twilight years are near?" As for Lake Wobegon, it's a real place, so the question is easily answered.
Q: You live in St. Paul, in the land of 10,000 oft-frozen lakes. I was born there, but haven't been back since age six. How has the area changed, and is the longing for simplicity and family values more alive there than elsewhere?
A: In the time since you left, son, Minnesota hasn't changed all that much, except the Twins won the World Series twice, and we elected an irate oaf for a governor, and a lot of farms have been lost to housing developments with names like Woodlawn and Riverwood and Floodcrest. I don't detect a longing for simplicity so much as a longing for a 28 hour day. People are ferociously busy, and it's taken a toll on all the leisurely arts, such as friendship and humor and good samaritanship. There isn't time for it. As for family values, they are whatever they are--some families are tight, others are blown away like dandelion puffs. A main value in Minnesota is still: don't waste my time, don't B.S. me, I wasn't born yesterday.
Q: What is audience reaction to your shows and signings? Any anecdotes to share?
A: I did a reading in Seattle a which a little girl in the front row fell sound asleep. She slept for more than an hour. It was sweet. I seem to have a God-given ability there. Some people in the room were hooting and slapping their knees, and she simply leaned her head against the fat lady next to her and dozed off. It's good to be useful. A boy wrote me once to say that he loved it when the news from Lake Wobegon came on the radio because it meant that his parents stopped arguing. That was an eye-opener for me. You work hard to polish your act and then you find out that it does people good in ways you couldn't predict. The audience is invisible and that's good. Somewhere my voice is drifting through a swine barn and the sound of it seems to perk up the sows' appetite. Or a lady is listening on headphones as she jogs along a beach, running to my cadence. Or a dog sits in front of the radio, head cocked, and the sibilants excite him in some mysterious way. A dog's humorist, that's me.
Q: Your guests are an eclectic mix of musicians and storytellers. Who are you most proud of having had on the show, and who do you wish would appear or come back?
A: Chet Atkins was a classy act. Nobody like him. The man never had a bad night. And Willie Nelson. A great musician, very underrated. Bogan, Martin, and Armstrong were great, an old black string band from Knoxville. And Emmylou Harris and Gilliian Welch and the Fairfield Four. And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. When they left, at the intermission, the hall was suddenly half empty. I wish Willie would come back, but then I also wish I were 36, so what can you do?
Q: On the show you also have comedy radio drama skits and fake commercials. Are those items advertised ever real?
A: They're all real, actually. Bertha's Kitty Boutique, and the American Duct Tape Council, and Bebopareebop Rhubarb pie, and Powdermilk Biscuits. And if you'd like to buy a few shares of stock, see me.
Q: What does Garrison Keillor do during off hours, if there is such a thing as off hours for you?
A: Sleeps, cooks, reads, plays with the kid, goes to movies, shovels snow, sits and yaks with friends. I'm a lucky guy. I get to sit around every day and indulge in make believe and get paid for it.
Q: What's next for you?
A: A show on Saturday. Look forward to it.
Charles Dickens Great Grandson reads A Christmas Carol.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Dawn of the New Everything by Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier is known as the father of virtual reality technology, and has worked on the interface between computer science and medicine, physics, and neuroscience. In his new book DAWN OF THE NEW EVERYTHING he explores the connections between technology, philosophy, and people living in the real world. The audiobook, narrated by Oliver Wyman, is a fascinating blend of memoir and future science, colored by his personal story and the facts which are often ignored in our headlong rush toward “the internet of things.” An unhappy childhood in the deserts of El Paso and Albuquerque with his father spark reflections on what constitutes being a real human versus an avatar in a computer constructed universe. The current propensity to use technology for spying on people, together with social platforms like Facebook and Twitter becoming juggernauts that “stand in” for actually talking to people in person (or even on the phone) are decried as not fulfilling tech’s potential for good. (A similar stance is taken by the author of “The Filter Bubble,” in which only short term profits matter to giant corporations that exploit the data to mine users while pointing to bottom-of-the-barrel products that sell best, like Grand Theft Auto 5, which made a billion dollars in three days of release, allowing the virtual experience of killing cops and civilians.) Lanier is critical of the total immersion society is having with their gadgets (a 2010 book by him was You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto.) If “offbeat” is a bad word, and not a popular one in our conformist culture, that is clearly a loss, because “offbeat” is also another word for being original and new. Wikipedia is also part of this “mob rule” mindset in which the “factoids” that Ray Bradbury once talked about in Fahrenheit 451 stand-in for actually thinking and reading. Quantity has taken precedence over quality, and bigger is considered “better.” (Ask Mr. “Wonderful” on Shark Tank.) Hailed by physicists like Lee Smolin, Lanier’s humanistic approach to VR, AI and the Internet is understood more clearly in this new book, which offers more perspective on his being “one of the most original thinkers and writers in technology,” and points the way to correcting the road which the Information Age is currently traveling. AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH.   
Texting while driving. Cell phone in hand, head in the back seat.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Typhoon Fury by Clive Cussler (plus Interview)

TYPHOON FURY: Hired to search for a collection of paintings worth half a billion dollars, Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon soon find themselves in much deeper waters. The vicious leader of a Filipino insurgency is not only using them to finance his attacks, he has stumbled upon one of the most lethal secrets of World War II: a Japanese-developed drug, designed, but never used, to turn soldiers into super-warriors. To stop him, the Oregon must not only take on the rebel commander, but a South African mercenary intent on getting his own hands on the drug, a massive swarm of torpedo drones targeting the U.S. Navy, an approaching megastorm—and, just possibly, a war that could envelop the entire Asian continent.  Much fun. Co-writer Boyd Morrison is an author, actor, and engineer. He started his career working on the NASA space station project. After earning a PhD in engineering from Virginia Tech, he used his training to develop US patents for various companies as well as manage video game testing for the Xbox division of Microsoft. Now a full-time writer, he has written several popular novels. He lives in Seattle.

Clive Cussler and his crew of volunteers have discovered more than 60 historically significant underwater wreck sites.  Owner of a fleet of classic cars, Clive divides his time between Colorado and Arizona. Among his many books are RAISE THE TITANIC, GHOST SHIP, SAHARA, NIGHTHAWK, SACRED STONE, DEVIL’S GATE, ODESSA SEA, THE ROMANOV RANSOM…some written alone, some with his son Dirk or with co-authors. This interview dates from just after the time my first novel Postmarked for Death was endorsed by Cussler, who is still the #1 adventure writer in the world over a decade later. Interview with narrator Scott Brick also at this blog.
JONATHAN LOWE: You have a degree in maritime history, yet you worked in advertising, then in a dive shop on a lark, where you started writing. This was what, the mid-60s?
CLIVE CUSSLER: Yes, that would have been the mid-60s. But I got the degree, though, in 1999 or 2000. Sometime around then.
JL: How long had you been diving before NUMA?
CC: Started diving when I was in the Air Force. We were in Hickam Field in Hawaii for a while in 1951, and my friend Don Spencer and I sent for a dive tank and regulator from Cousteau in France, who’d started manufacturing them. I think we might have had the first tank in Hawaii, and I remember we went into the hanger and filled it up with a couple hundred pounds of stale air out of a compressor, and just ran into the water. So I would have started diving in 51.
JL: Finding lost shipwrecks isn’t easy, is it?
CC: Oh, no. Sometimes you get lucky, but I would say most of the time it’s difficult. The ghost ship Marie Celeste, we found that in the first hour. The Civil War submarine Hunley took me fifteen years.
JL: Is it the location that makes it difficult? Do the wrecks shift or drift?
CC: No, it’s just that the records aren’t good. I always give the example that, say, a plane crashed in your neighborhood. . . you could come back in two hundred years to find that site, but of course everything has changed, and you don’t know where to begin. Maybe they gave you a street, but maybe the streets not there. And they didn’t say it crashed two hundred yards from the old rock, you know? So you can see how difficult it is to find the exact spot. That’s the same way it is with shipwrecks. Nobody puts a big marker up and says here it is. So when you come by later, there’s no GPS coordinates.
JL: Like in the story The Gold Bug by Poe, where they drop the line through the skull to find the treasure.
CC: Yes, but even then they had a ball park.
JL: How many expeditions have you mounted by now?
CC: Oh my, there must be a hundred or more.
JL: The two Sea Hunters books outline some amazing successes, like the Hunley, Carpathia, Marie Celeste. Is there a ship still out there that beckons you, though, or still nags at you?
CC: For sure. John Paul Jones, the Bon Homme Richard. I tried for that four times, haven’t found it yet.
JL: Where did that sink?
CC: In the North Sea off Yorkshire.
JL: How goes SEA HUNTERS TV series? Will it air here?
CC: I don’t know. It’s under National Geographic, and airs internationally. What’s so funny with Geographic, I narrate the program overseas, but here they run a few of them under Mysteries of the Sea or something, and I’m cut out of it. (laughs)
JL: So you don’t know what’s going on?
CC: Well, somebody told me, and I don’t know how true it is, but they didn’t want to upset Bob Ballard, who found the Titanic.
JL: Your novels have been wildly successful, I think, due as much to the research behind them as the pacing and characters. Are you doing research for some lost shipwreck when it occurs to you that Dirk Pitt might wade in?
CC: Not really. I haven’t really combined the two. I had Pitt looking for a Pharaohs barge in the Nile one time, but we really haven’t crossed paths. I don’t know why. I think it’s just because the storyline doesn’t work as far as following anything I’ve done.
JL: Are there any more Pitt adventures in the works?
CC: Yes, I’m about two thirds through the next one.
JL: Really? I thought you were just continuing with Kurt Austin.
CC: No, those are just spinoff series. I come up with most of the plotting and they’ll start the writing, and I’ll edit, that sort of thing.
JL: So you switch off with Craig Dirgo and others.
CC: Right. Together we just finished a fiction book which has nothing to do with NUMA or Pitt or anything. In one book, Flood Tide, I had this ship that looked like an old beat up tramp steamer, had all the exotic gear, and people who ran it were like corporate mercenaries, they go around the world, like a Mission Impossible plot.
JL: Where did the name Dirk Pitt come from?
CC: My son’s name. He was six months old when I started writing. His name is Dirk, and I used it for fun, really. I was looking through an encyclopedia about the British prime ministers during the Revolutionary war, Pitt the younger and Pitt the elder. So I thought, well, that works, because I wanted a one syllable name.
JL: I was thinking, you know, like one letter less than James Bond, and easier to type than Brandon Tartikoff or something.
CC: (laughs) Well, that’s it. It’s easier to say Pitt jumped over the wall than that. I think that’s why Fleming wanted a simple name. James Bond. There was an ornithologist by that name too.
JL: What does your writing schedule look like these days? Do you work nonstop on a project?
CC: Pretty much, but I get so many interruptions. I mean, an expedition, or I have to go out to L.A. to fight over the screenplay or the movie. Or I have to speak here. There’s always something. But I try to work nine to six. Some nights now too.
JL: You know what would be great is a full cast and sound audiobook of a Pitt or Austin book.
CC: Yes, it would.
JL: Do you ever get fan mail from people about your audiobooks?
CC: Yes, I do.
JL: Have you ever been on the Tonight Show? Leno’s a car buff.
CC: No, I never have, but I remember I talked to him at Pebble Beach one time and I asked him: “How come you don’t have more cars on the show?” And he said he had Carroll Shelby on one time, and the audience just had no connection with him. So producers got after him, and other than a brief bit with him in a car now and then, that’s about it.
JL: Who are your own favorite authors?
CC: When I started out the one I leaned on the most was Alister McLean. And then Hammond Innes, in his eighties now and still writing. I like Nelson DeMille. But I don’t have time to read. I had lunch one time with James Michener, and just for fun I said, “Have you read any good books lately, Jim?” And he laughed and said “I don’t read,” then clarified it by saying he doesn’t read fiction because he’s always working. I’m pretty much the same way. About the only fiction books I’ll read is like in your case, try to help a new author with a quote. I gave a quote for The Hunt for Red October for Clancy.
JL: Really? Clancy? That’s amazing.
CC: If you ever find an original, those things sell for about a thousand bucks. And then there’s Stephen Coonts, for Flight of the Intruder. Tells you how long I’ve been around, doesn’t it?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Even the Butler Was Poor

EVEN THE BUTLER WAS POOR by Ron Goulart is an offbeat mystery with a satirical twist after the style of the Elmore Leonard movie/book "Get Shorty," but with more spontaneous comic lunacy than an episode of "Mad TV." Rick Dell's parting utterance to his girlfriend H. J., "ninety-nine clop clop," is a cryptic clue that, if figured out, may allow her to retrieve what she's owed. Her ex husband Ben Spanner helps, learns of her former infidelities, and gets involved with blackmailers in the process. The dying utterance in question involves a joke (about a centipede with a wooden leg) that leads to H.J.'s searching inside the leg of a ventriloquist's dummy, among other things, to identify Dell's killers. Goulart has written many genre books under his own name and other pseudonyms, and is an expert on comics. Here he displays his skills at dialogue and descriptions like "the headlights blossomed to life. . .the Mercedes went rushing by like a harsh night wind." Narrator Clifton Satterfield animates the various voices, including female, with distinctive character so that they can't be mistaken. Only the exposition narration and the girl are played straight, while the other characters are allowed more melodrama, like characters on a fun vaudeville stage. So if you need a breather between those cheerless serial killer entrĂ©es, this short novel will enable you to "cleanse your palate" for another course of mayhem. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Red Mountain by Boo Walker

Red Mountain in eastern Washington is home to a community of eccentrics. Otis Till, the area's visionary winemaker, has been known to howl at the moon--fully nude. Single mother Margot Pierce moved across the country to build an inn, but so far all she does is binge on gelato, the Hallmark Channel, and fantasies of murdering her ex. High school senior Emilia Forester, daughter of celebrity parents, is struggling to build her own life outside of their shadow. And Brooks Baker is a man haunted by his past spent living on the streets as an orphan. Somehow, everyone lives together harmoniously, their lives intertwined like the vines in Red Mountain's beautiful and renowned vineyards. 
Tower Review) You’ve always wanted to write, but you’re involved in the winery business. Did you start with articles or fiction? 
Boo Walker) I used to play music in Nashville for a living with a band called the Biscuit Boys. My first taste of the creative process and putting words together was writing songs. When I left that career, I had to fill the void. Being a voracious reader, I always wanted to try my hand writing fiction. So I went from songs to full-length fiction.
TR) Anything happen at the winery itself that could be described as “mysterious” or “suspenseful?”
BW) There’s always things that happen at the winery with a sense of suspense or mystery. Our winemaker was nearly killed by the press one year. A year before that, someone stole our neighbor’s grapes, picking them at midnight during harvest. I’ve seen wars waged between humans that may not resolve themselves for generations. Eastern Washington is desert country, the wild west. We have coyotes that will track you, we have badgers that will maul you, and we have rattlesnakes that linger in the grass. Even though Red Mountain is a tiny blip on the map, the potential stories are endless!
TR) Drinking a bit helped me with live interviews, and many writers have been aided by wine in loosening up the free flow of ideas. Red or white for this?
BW) Ha! The best interviews always begin with a glass of white. But I have a steadfast rule… no drinking while writing. Even Hemingway stuck to that.
TR) Favorite authors? Influences?
BW) My favorite author for many years has been Pat Conroy. We share pasts in Charleston together. If I could emulate one writer, it would be him. But I read Plum Island by Nelson Demille while traveling through Ireland after high school, and it gave me the thirst. I was in Waterville on the west coast, and I remember thinking that I had to write a book. Not that I could or should, but that I had to. So I owe him a lot. My favorite book right now though, one that has utterly blown me away, is A Gentleman in Moscow. I’ve never felt so motivated as a writer. Amor Towles puts words together in ways that make my eyes water. The way his mind works is pure art and genius. And most importantly, he’s reminded me to be free in my writing. I don’t need to subscribe to any particular way of doing things. I need to write from the heart and let my voice shine.
TR) Your wine is carried at Whole Foods, bought by Amazon. Some of your characters are in wineries, too. Ever thought about sending a case to Jeff Bezos? He might buy movie rights.
BW) I love the idea of sending wine to Bezos! I sent him an email one time; he never responded. Perhaps a box of wine would do the trick!
TR) Hobbies? What’s next for you?
BW) I’m halfway way through the sequel to Red Mountain. Once that’s wrapped up, I’ll be writing a few books from my new home in St. Pete, Florida. After many years in Washington, my wife and I decided to take a new adventure. So I’m getting out and about in St. Pete, learning the history, the culture, the people. And then I’m going to throw it all in a blender and see what kind of fiction comes out. I always tell my new friends that they better be careful what they tell me, because I’m always looking for new material. Other than writing, I still play some music and absolutely thrilled to be buying my son his first guitar this Christmas. My newest hobby will be teaching him everything I know!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Downpour Deals

The range of deals depend on whether you sign up for the program, but you are not required to join the club. Click HERE to see the deals.  

Mystery, suspense, sports, biography, romance, adventure, science fiction, pets, history, politics, religion, you name it and it's available in CD format or as download to any device (iPhones, iPod, Android, Tablets.) For other great deals on electronics, kitchen, health, or even an $8000 massage chair go HERE. Ebooks at Kobo at this page or HERE. Travel HERE. Music HERE. Happy Holi-daze!