Jan 212015
 

 

Josh Getzler

Last night, Amanda and I took the whole family—eyes a-rolling and smartphones in hand, to see Selma in commemoration of MLK Day. And for two hours we were all gripped. There are all kinds of discussions and online complaints about what was added or emphasized or neglected in the story of the conflict, marches, and violence in that period of the Civil Rights Movement. But honestly, they were beside the point, and I think one of the real strengths of Selma the Movie was that the decisions Ava DuVernay made ultimately cast great relief on the biggest of the issues. It’s a big, broad, statement movie, and it works.

One of the most powerful scenes was when President Johnson appeared before both houses of Congress to urge them to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The kids understood extremely intensely what had gone into getting the President into that room to make that speech.

As we were leaving the theater, one of the kids mentioned that this evening was going to be the State of the Union Address. They know that Amanda and I watch it every year, talking to the television, keeping score of the points the president makes (ANY president) and when he falls flat. How often the Speaker or the VP falls asleep, how often one side or the other stands and claps. But this time, we’re watching a little differently, thinking about how inconceivable it would have been to both the majority of the marchers in Selma in 1965, and the people within and without politics trying to stop them, that a president who looks like Barack Obama could be giving a State of the Union Address.

Now it’s time for us to go watch. We’ll get back to publishing next week.

 

Jan 122015
 

Jeff Cohen

1. I will not follow your cat.

2. I will not follow you just because you follow me. I have to know who you are. I'm funny that way.

3. I will feel free to post about my books and urge you to buy/nominate/vote for them.

4. I assume you will feel free to ignore me if you don't want to read stuff like that.

5. I will use Twitter to say stuff I think is funny. If you don't, that's entirely your right.

6. I will occasionally say political stuff. Again, your option is to block, ignore or argue with me.

7. I will block you if you get personal in your arguing with me. I won't get personal arguing with you.

8. I still won't follow your cat.

9. I will follow famous people--if I respect their work--and try to get them to notice me. Isn't that what Twitter is for?

10. I won't follow people I know to be dead. 

11. I WILL follow some people I know to be fictional, if they're entertaining about it.

12. My baseball-to-posting ratio will be higher on Twitter than elsewhere. I'm an impulsive fan.

13. I do not expect you to follow me unless you want to. 

14. I will post about television, movies, sports (well, baseball), current events and things other than books. 

15. I will not post to anyone in my family, because none of them has a Twitter account.

16. I will check my Twitter account multiple times per day.

17. E.J. Copperman's account will be checked every once in a while.

18. Maxie Malone has a Twitter account. That almost never gets checked.

19. I will follow other authors, especially if they're actually friends.

20. I will not pay much attention to the number of followers I have. Perhaps I should.

21. I will follow the President of the United States. The fact that he follows ME confuses me a little.

22. I will block you if you try to impose your religion, political beliefs or sports affiliations on me. If you just want to state what they are, that's your business. Don't tell me what to do.

23. I will not always use "cozy" language on Twitter. I don't really have a problem with any word in the English language, depending on how it's used.

24. If you use one of those un-cozy words to insult or provoke me, I'll block you. I don't use them that way.

25. No. I'm not following your cat.

Jan 122015
 

Jeff Cohen

The Golden Globe awards (ha!) were given out last night , and Oscar nominations will be announced Thursday, so the usual group of self-important fun-free flicks will gather up all the honors on the way to a glittering night of unremitting bordom relieved occasionally by a funny comedian (but Robin Williams is dead, so that's a problem) or the anticipation of a jaw-dropping faux pas. I love the Oscars, but this is not an especially interesting year. I'm writing this before the nominations are announced, but I'm already bored. Imagine.

But that led to another train of thought, which is the real reason I asked you all here today. 

Believe it or not, Hollywood is not the only place where awards nominations are being pondered by anxious people placing far too much importance on their chances. Yes, it's nomination season in the mystery book world, too, and if you think people like me (that is, any author who actually managed to get a book--or two--published in 2014) aren't thinking about such things, well, you are adorable. 

There has been much made in various social media outlets (that's what we communicate on these days, kids--outlets) about the proper etiquette for authors to "remind" readers (and voters, we love voters!) that their brainchildren (books) are eligible for various honors. And it's a sensitive issue, seriously.

On the one hand, we don't want to appear to be relentlessly blowing our own horns, to be campaigning outwardly (is there a way to campaign inwardly?) for a crass pat on the back and an ingraved something or other. We don't want to alienate readers, who are kind enough to read our work and hopefully to like it, by becoming annoying one-note singers constantly blathering on about how you should vote for our stuff.

But on the other hand, we really want those nominations.

Writers work in a vacuum. (I'll leave a space here for the inevitable Hoover joke.) We work by ourselves, basically for ourselves, laboring away at a story that didn't exist until we decided to make it real (ish). It can take months. Or years. And all that time, we have precious little, if any, feedback. We honestly don't know if what we're devoting our time and creative energy to might actually be any good. Or not.

So yes, we crave a little ego stroke now and again. And again. We even get one, occasionally. The complimentary review. The thoughtful email from a reader. The Amazon sales number we check with some regularity (is every 6 minutes "some regularity"?). 

The awards? Well, you have to be nominated, and that at least allows the writer imagine, for a few weeks, what it might be like to win the contest. Some actors remove their names from eligibility because they say artists shouldn't compete. I say, bravo to them. But my name--both my names--are staying right out there because I want to get that affirmation. There, I said it.

So here's how I have decided to deal with the campaign-but-don't-campaign conundrum: I will mention in this forum--because I'm guessing you decided to read this blog of your own free will--that both Question of Missing HeadTHE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, by Jeff Cohen and E.J. Copperman, and Final coverINSPECTOR SPECTER, by Copperman alone, if such a thing is possible, are indeed eligible for the Agatha Awards given at the Malice Domestic conference, and my personal favorite (because it recognizes humor), the Lefty Award from Left Coast Crime, this year held in Portland, OR. If you are a nominating voter for either of those presitigious awards and have read and enjoyed either or both books, I would greatly appreciate your consideration.

But because I really do want to be fair about it and because I really don't want to seem incredibly avaricious and self-centered, now I'll invite other writers whose books might be eligible for an award this season to comment here and tell us all about it/them. Please do so. I'm sure everyone who reads this blog would be interested in knowing. We'll look below for your comments.

I encourage all those who can to fill in those spaces on the nominating forms. Whether or not one of the books pictured (subtly) above is included in your choices. Because this is about what the readers really like.

Of course, I would like to know if I have a chance at an award to put on my mantle. Because I don't have a mantle, and would have to price one in the coming weeks. That would be okay, believe me. I've always wanted a mantle.

So let's get the game started. Who's going first?

Jan 072015
 

Josh Getzler

This past weekend, two men died. Mario Cuomo and Stuart Scott were from different generations, with very different career trajectories, and other than both being fathers and public figures—a politician and a sportscaster—didn’t have much in common. Governor Cuomo was 83 and died of heart disease hours after his son followed in his footsteps and was sworn in for his second term as governor of New York. Stuart Scott, who has two teenage daughters, died of cancer—which he publicly fought for the past seven years—at 49.

I had a real reaction to these deaths. Not simply because they were figures in two of my longest-held pastimes, politics and sports. It was because Mario Cuomo and Stuart Scott, bridging decades, reminded me of Sunday nights.

When I was 11 or 12, I used to listen to a transistor radio under my pillow after lights out (c’mon, Mom, you knew). Most of the time I listened to whatever local New York team was playing, whatever sport. One Sunday night, though, it must’ve been football season, or the Knicks were on the West Coast, or the Yankees had played in the afternoon, because there was nothing on. As I flipped though the stations, I stumbled on a guy talking in this thick New York accent, not a newscaster. He said something like “This is Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo, taking your calls for the next hour. I’m here to help.”

The next thing I knew, it was an hour later and I was hooked. He was friendly to some callers, combative to others. He had a rough job—New York was going through tough times and lots of people were angry or depressed. But what I remember was thinking, in my pre-teen way, that he was smart and he was kind. Now certainly not everyone will agree with the kind part—read Jonathan Mahler’s masterful Ladies and Gentlemen the Bronx is Burning to see a terrific take on the complexity of Cuomo’s early political career navigating the cesspool of local borough politics—but everyone knew he was smart.

From that point, I was a fan of Governor Cuomo, even when he seemed to dither about whether to run for president; even when he occasionally descended into the muck of negative politics. I think my obsession with the political process started those nights listening to a young Mario Cuomo tell Florence from Brooklyn that he’d look into why her neighbor was allowed to keep chickens in the back yard.

After I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment—a studio with a lovely view of the Hudson River until Donald Trump built high rises directly in front of my building—I began to watch SportCenter on ESPN, almost always The Big Show at 11 PM. I spent several years watching Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann revolutionize the highlight show, and it was as much a part of my night as listening to the radio under my pillow growing up.

Eventually ESPN started a second station, and Stuart Scott joined ESPN2 for a while, then shifted over to work The Big Show, mostly in those days with Rich Eisen. And while Dan and Keith and Berman and Craig Kilborn were in some ways the dorks who took over, with their catchphrases and snark, Stuart Scott was a whole different thing. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow, to use one of his own phrases. He brought hip hop to SportCenter, made it even quicker. And like Lieutenant Governor Cuomo, he was so clearly smart and, it certainly seemed, kind. Sunday nights as a twenty-something watching Stuart Scott on ESPN were like Sunday nights as a kid listening to Mario Cuomo on the radio. It was the end of the weekend. I was tired and a little tense because I knew the new week was beginning, but I wanted to listen or watch. I knew I’d be entertained, and I often learned something. After I got married, Amanda and I would watch SportCenter a bit less often (though I’m lucky to have married a woman who shares my twin obsessions), and we saw Stuart Scott’s health decline. We saw him a couple of months ago for the first time in quite a while and were taken aback by how gaunt he looked. But he still had a twinkle, still put over the catchphrases, still entertained.

Look, I didn’t know either Stuart Scott or Mario Cuomo, and my perception of their character was shaped completely by what I saw and heard and read about them. But I know that, decades apart, they affected me in similar ways, on Sunday nights.   

Jan 052015
 

Jeff Cohen

New-year-2015

(That's me on the right!)

Personally, I have little to complain about with the year just ended. Yes, there are tweaks I'd have made here and there, not everything was perfect, but professionally and personally, I'd have to rank it among the better years, particularly of late.

But 2014 was a disastrous year for comedy.

In the course of those short 12 months, we lost (among others) Sid Caesar, Harold Ramis, Joan Rivers, Jan Hooks, Mike Nichols, David Brenner, Rik Mayall and possibly the most painful of all, Robin Williams.

Living comedians weren't exactly having the best of times, either. Ask Bill Cosby (who in all likelihood has not deserved to have great times for some decades now). 

The Colbert Report ended its nine-year run. Craig Ferguson left The Late Late Show with no immediate announcement that he will be continuing his incredibly subversive take on a talk show anytime soon. 

And late in the year, a relatively stupid stoner comedy from the guys who brought you Pineapple Express actually started a real international incident, to the point that the President of the United States had to answer questions about a Seth Rogen movie at his year-end press conference. There were threats of violence, although to date none has been perpetrated, thank goodness.

There were no comedy films (particularly non-animated ones) in the Top 10 of the year's box office grosses, according to a web site devoted to such tallies. There were all of three in the Top 20. Then you have to drop down to #34 to find another, and get to Dumb and Dumber To, which is a comedy technically in the sense that it isn't a drama.

Things were somewhat better on television, as has been the case for a number of years now. Discounting popular (if somewhat predictable) tired standbys like Two and a Half Men (who's the half-man now?), TV comedy has settled into a sort-of uncomfortable but sporadically interesting groove with such cool-but-funny shows as Veep and Transparent

But as with most things, once the TV business settles on what is the new exciting thing, it replicates that thing mercilessly until you're sick of it even when it's done well. Veep  begets Alpha House which is a variation on House of Cards which in turn leads to... who cares by then? I believe it was the radio comedian Fred Allen who once said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of television."

So with the end of 2014 comes a sincere plea: Let's hope there are more laughs this year. With everything else that's going on, we could certainly use them.

Happy new year, everybody!

Pitchers and catchers report in 46 days.

Dec 292014
 

Jeff Cohen

It is that strange time, that limbo between Christmas and mid-January, when the only thing that's going to happen is that nothing is going to happen. One can debate the merits of a system that creates a de facto period of inaction in virtually every industry, but what I know is that the brilliant pop duo Everything but the Girl wasn't just talking about one day when they said about Christmas, "it's cold and there's nothing to do."

This is a natural time to reflect, to look back on the past 51+ weeks and try to determine what it all meant. Since so little progress is being made in most areas, this is when people compile Top 10 lists, write retrospectives on those who have died since last January 1, and overwhelm us with instant analysis of the past year even before it has completely passed.

I say, the hell with that. Let's look forward.

Life offers no guarantees. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow despite my having plans to watch the Marx Brothers on New Year's Eve. So with that in mind, the following is not a list of things that will definitely happen beginning on Thursday. It suggests that things don't change as much as we'd like to believe, so the best security we can anticipate is to know that things that have happened before are likely to keep doing so until something drastic forces them to alter their behavior.

Things That Will Happen in 2015

  • There will an unexpected, overwhelming phenomenon in publishing, and I won't read it. I haven't read Gone Girl. I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey. Hell, I still haven't cracked the cover on The DaVinci Code. This stems from what some people (okay, my wife) refer to as a "pathological need not to jump on the bandwagon." And I suppose that's true, although I remain to this day a fan of the most popular band on the planet, and have been since I was six years old. But I do not own a copy of Michael Jackson's Thriller.
  • Film will continue to not be much fun. I like to go to the "serious" movies at the end of the year in order to root for someone or something at the Oscars in February. This year, It's going to be a tough slog. Birdman is a pretentious, indulgent headache (not helped by the almost-all-percussion soundtrack) despite my admiration for Michael Keaton and the terrific cast. The Imitation Game is  a standard biopic with a nice performance. Into the Woods... well, I don't like Sondheim anyway but those around me who do say it's a disappointment and goes on too damn long.
  • Jon Stewart will remain brilliant. Of the Oscar-bait movies I've seen, my favorite is definitely Rosewater, Stewart's screenwriting-and-directing debut. Which for fans of his astonishing work on The Daily Show leaves us with a conundrum: Do we hope he makes more movies?
  • Late night TV will remain a white boys' club. Yes, change is relative and that applies to some people in my family. But David Letterman will give way to Stephen Colbert next May, and Craig Ferguson (whose subversive, hilarious talk show will be badly missed) is stepping out of the way for the Baker from Into the Woods. People of color? Well, Larry Wilmore will take over Colbert's slot. Does that count? Women? Not so much, yet.
  • Crime fiction will continue to be good. Yeah, some things--hopefully not mine--are going to be overly safe and familiar, but even those might require a brain for the author and the reader, and that's not a bad thing. Respect? No, we don't get it, but should we care? Readers tell the story in a way. What they read is what should be held in esteem.
  • Television will continue to do better work than film. The best drama and comedy now being produced is not in your theater. Television, given its much broader possibilities now, is offering great examples of each, even if a lot of it still shows its lower budgets and shorter schedules. Film? We just went through a period when a Seth Rogen movie was a political cause. That should say something right there.
  • I'll write two books. That's the pattern now. They'll come out in October and December. Too close together? People who know more about publishing schedules than I do say it's not a problem, and I trust them.
  • The baseball team I follow will not have a great year. This has been the case for two years. It is not likely to change very soon. It will still be a joy to see the guys out on the field every night. Baseball season is just better than other seasons, and that's all there is to say.
  • I will continue to be grateful that anyone at all reads the stories I write.

Was any of that coherent? I'm on about seven different kinds of cold medication in what will undoubtedly be a futile attempt to get me into some kind of shape before the ball drops on Wednesday--or Thursday, depending on how one measures such things.

Thanks to all who read DEAD GUY and have a lovely 2015!

Dec 072014
 

This week we welcome our newest DEAD GUY! Every other Sunday you'll be hearing from Cynthia Chow, branch manager for the Hawaii State library system, who'll be offering perspectives on pretty much everything from her viewpoint. And you're going to love it. Trust us.

By Cynthia Chow

Comic books have been around for decades, but it has been a long journey for them to be accepted as legitimate forms of literature.  The eighties had their WatchmenPersepolis,and Maus, but even those groundbreakers were still considered to be part of a niche market.  That is finally changing.  Comic book superheroes have become a part of pop culture, with millions of “average” people - whose previous experiences with comics may have extended only so far as to the perusal of the Sunday newspapers (what are those?) -  being able to list off characters from the AvengersGuardians of the Galaxy, and X-men.  Now that Hollywood has realized just how much money we are willing to spend to see our icons brought to life, there is a virtual smorgasbord of superhero movies scheduled all the way through 2028. Turn on the television virtually any night of the week and you will see some version of a comic book; the broodily overacted-without-Batman-Gotham, the very fun Flash, the how-could-they-not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the cigarette-smoking-but-probably-going-to-be-cancelled-anyway Constantine, and my favorite, Arrow (more shirtless training montages, please).  These shows take their comic inspirations seriously and are as far from campy as you can get, unlike various incarnations from the past, when Adam West apparently couldn’t be bothered to do a sit-up.  These superheroes do not wear tights.

My love of comics began decades ago, when I was stealing into my brother's room to rifle through his Batman and Spider-Man collections. It seems only fitting that my first summer job was working in a failing bookstore/comic book store, and I managed to become one of those people who collected comics sealed in plastic bags. I still have the black armband included in the Death of Superman promotion (spoiler, he's not dead). 

Comics – loosely defined as graphic novels when published together as a continuous story arc- are also what led me to my actual career.   I was a new Young Adult Librarian who actually saw value in putting them in my library, and when a teen loves one comic he/she will only want to read more. 

And graphic novels have gotten GOOD. Just like any genre, some writing is better than others, but now established and "respectable" writers have entered the playing field. I thoroughly recommend that you give these a try:

  • BatwomanQueen and Countryand Whiteout by Greg Rucka. Although he has always had roots in comics, the author of the Atticus Kodiak and Jad Bell thrillers is incredible at crafting kick-ass female heroines.  He has created a wonderful Batwoman – don't mistake her for Batgirl – series.  Rucka’s Queen and Country series features an awesome female spy agent and led to a series of novels expanding on the same storylines.  His graphic novel Whiteout is essentially a locked-room mystery that has a U.S. Marshall trapped in the Antarctica with a murderer. 
  • DC’s Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer.  The bestselling mystery and thriller writer depicts how a criminal act enacted on a superhero’s wife, and the Justice League’s response, completely divides the team.  It’s absolutely brutal - in a good way.
  • Wonder Woman: Love & Murder by Jodi Picoult made waves - and received mixed reviews - when the fiction writer took over an entire Wonder Woman storyline. 
  • Castle: Richard Castle’s Derek Storm.  Yes, he’s a fictional author on ABC’s Castle writing fictional mystery novels, but ABC produced thrillers that are actually enjoyable and the graphic novelizations of the Derek Storm books are very fun.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8.  Joss Whedon continued his awesome television series in comic form, freeing him from studio production and budgets.  It gets wonderfully weird.
  • These are just the graphic novels written by authors specifically to be comics.  Janet EvanovichPatricia BriggsRichard Stark/Donald Westlake, and Laurell K. Hamilton have all had their series turned into pretty impressive graphic novels that take their novels into illustrated realizations.

    It's never been a secret to teachers and librarians that comics are the gateway drug to getting reluctant readers to read.   My suggestions here are just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope that these graphic novels written by skilled mystery and fiction writers will tempt adult mystery lovers into delving into the world of comics.  Never let it be forgotten that Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, was the secret identity for a truly heroic occupation. In her “real life,” Batgirl was… a librarian. 

 Oh, and if you doubt my love of comic heroes…That’s me as a very green Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. Gamora

 

 

                       

Nov 242014
 

Jeff Cohen

There's what I want to think, and what I think. They're not the same thing.

Like many people, I have watched in morbid fascination over the past few weeks as allegations have multiplied against Bill Cosby. This past week, as they reached a crescendo, it was almost impossible to avoid the rising furor.

Let me say right off the top that I think sexual assualt of any kind is a horrendous, reprehensible crime that should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent of the law no matter who the accused party might happen to be. And at the same time, I have no knowledge whether the allegations are true or not. It is not for me to judge.

But it will be impossible to enjoy the comedy the same way ever again, no matter what. And that is what is personally hitting home right now. More than anything else, the Bill Cosby story now makes me sad.

A month of two after his son was shot to death Cosby gave an interview during which he said (and I'm paraphrasing) that people would see him and they would look sad. And that especially bothered him.

Imagine what he's seeing now.

That is not to in any way minimize what it has been said happened to a growing, seemingly large number of women over a very long period of time. If the allegations are true, their suffering is much more serious than anything that happens to fans of a comedian. For those women to find some measure of justice would be far more important.

For me, though, the accusations have damaged, perhaps beyond repair, a mental connection to an influence that helped formed some of the way I think. That's not easy to absorb.

I've posted here before about the way Cosby's stand-up comedy impacted me when I was a child, how it helped form some of the way I use language, which is (let's face it) a large component of what it is I do for a living, and even more, how I express every thought I have. I can't say I don't have some reflexive speech patterns that started when I first heard the man do comedy.

It's not the "America's dad" persona that is most destroyed for me. That was a period after I was an adult, when I could be more critical and had already formed my own personality. I'd seen the other iterations of Cosby before that. And he was one of those entertainers whose work I truly admired, a storyteller and observer with almost no peers at all. I thought Bill Cosby, if we were to meet, would understand me.

Now it would seem I, along with much of the culture, had misjudged him badly. Or that he was remarkably good at projecting an image that was completely contrary to his true character. If that is the case--and maybe even if it transpires that we never know for sure--the damage, on my side, has been done. 

Much as I'd like to say that one can separate the art from the artist, I'm not sure I'll be able to listen to "Go-Karts" or "Track and Field" again the way I once could. To admire the way the comedy was constructed like a piece of music, the rhythm and the pitch of it. To immerse myself in the amazing speed with which the comedian could create characters and situations, switch back and forth from one to the other and have them pay off.

If what is being claimed is true, a number of truly awful crimes were committed by a person we thought we knew. It is perhaps that idea--that we thought we knew someone most of us had never met--that is especially hurtful right now. There's a strange trust between an artist and those who connect emotionally with the art. And when that bond is broken, the art can be broken, too.

Selfish as it is, I'll miss the Bill Cosby I once really admired. Too bad he probably wasn't real.

Nov 232014
 

Jessy Randall

81ZqOFyzSjLIn her new book Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned", Lena Dunham includes a section entitled "17 Things I Learned from My Father."

Number 13: "Hitting a creative wall? Take a break from work to watch a procedural. They always solve the case, and so will you."

So that's why we read mysteries!

I'm serious. That might be why.

Nov 032014
 

Julia&jeter

 

Jeff Cohen

Thanks to the lovely Julia Spencer-Fleming and equally lovely Ross Hugo-Vidal and all the gang at Jungle Red Writers for giving me a place to play last week! 

(Pay no attention to the photograph above. It's not their wedding picture, I'm relatively sure.)

Now on to business: Because Josh is a great agent, I had a little bit of extra money in the bank account. Not enough to go buy a new car or put a down payment on a mansion, but I didn't want those anyway. This was just a little extra. Enough after paying the bills (always a joy!) that I could indulge myself a tad.

So I went out looking for a guitar.

I have an excellent 12-string acoustic AGTW7N-EG523B12-fTakamine that my wife and children got me for a birthday that can't possibly be seven years in the past, and yet is. And I love that guitar. But every once in a while, you feel like playing something else, to get a different sound. 

A few weeks ago, I joined my lovely wife in New Orleans for a few days after she had finished her work at a convention she was attending for her job. And strolling around while we were there, we'd wandered into a music store where a used six-string was on display at a very reasonable price. I sat down to play it and while I didn't fall in love, I certainly had a decent infatuation.

The problem was, by the time we added a case (you can't transport it without a case) and the cost of shipping back to New Jersey, it was no longer a very reasonable price for a pretty low-end guitar. So we passed it up--not really a big deal--and went to get some more beignets.

But it had put the idea into my head, so I figured I'd look around a bit. 

Long story moderately shorter, I have been to all the music stores I know in the area. I've seen some nice guitars, many of which I couldn't afford no matter who my agent might be, and some that were affordable and knocking on the door of adequate.

But I haven't gotten an infatuation again. And I know why.

It's not the guitars' fault. No matter which brand name or model I try, the fact is that I'm not a very good musician. I can play all right as long as nobody's listening but me. I know a couple of tricks but my technique is certainly wanting, and 40 years of practicing bad technique have made it difficult to fix.

So I keep trying out guitars and I still sound like myself, which is disappointing. I'm sure that with some professional instruction I could improve my playing, and the day might come when I decide that's something I'd like to do. But a new instrument wasn't going to fix it.

It's the same with writing, to some extent. Each of us is born with whatever talents we're going to have. It's up to us to cultivate them and constantly strive to improve. But if we think that a new software program, a course from a "professional author" or an upgraded laptop is going to increase our talent level, we are seriously mistaken.

Yes, you can get better at writing. Practice doesn't make perfect, but it certainly does make better. But if you were meant to be a painter, no new gadget or online advice is going to make you a literary lion. You're already the writer you are. Practice and some instruction will make you the writer you're going to be. But if you're not a writer--someone who doesn't write just because s/he has to--there isn't a magic formula that will transform you. 

Mel Brooks once wrote, "You may be Tolstoy--or Fannie Hurst." He did not suggest that if you're Fannie, you can become Tolstoy by getting a better pen.

I'll keep trying out guitars, though. And one of these days I'll come across one (probably used) that will have a sound I find pleasing when I play it. I just won't expect it to turn my into Eric Clapton.

That job is filled. My job is to be me.

P.S. I ended up getting a set of lighter-gauge strings. A definite improvement for less than $10.