A half-day late and (as usual) a full dollar short

Also: Covid's not even over and I'm already sick of flying places

Hello and welcome to the November edition of my humble newsletter! And thanks for sticking with me so far. That reminds me—I’ve got a question for you, dear reader. What is it that you hope to get out of this newsletter? What would you like me to write about, or write more about? What would you like me to stop writing about? How can I make you feel more like you’re getting your money’s worth out of your (free) subscription? Please leave any and all suggestions in the comments. Thanks!

The Caribbean is a long way away

So I think I mentioned in previous editions of this publication that I had a wedding coming up. It was originally supposed to happen in October of 2020, but did not, for obvious reasons. (We got legally married on a Zoom call with the city clerk / justice of the peace / whoever back then anyway, because who the hell knew what the future held.) I’m pleased to report that it happened on schedule, the caterer showed up, there were only minimally embarrassing incidents caused by the open bar, and a good time was had by all.

The next day we flew from San Francisco to the Turks and Caicos Islands—a thirteen-hour trip, with the layover in Miami—for a weeklong tropical honeymoon. We chose TCI specifically because they were, at the time, the only place requiring proof of Covid vaccination to get past customs. Recent test results weren’t enough, though they were also required. Technically, I’d been to the Turks and Caicos before, but that was for a refueling stop when I was in the Coast Guard, and I didn’t even get to leave the ship (we were only there for two hours). So I had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, all the effort turned out to be worth it.

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What I’ve been reading

The thing about beach vacations (and the long flights needed to get to them and back) is that they’re perfect for burning through your to-read list. And boy howdy, did I ever:

  • Knockemstiff and The Devil All the Time, by Donald Ray Pollack

  • The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

  • Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman

  • A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

  • Northland by Porter Fox

So yeah, October was a big month for crime / noir / Southern Gothic for me. Pretty heavy material for beach reading, I know. The lone exception to that pattern, Northland, is a travel memoir of a canoe trip across the border separating the US and Canada. (Fox also runs the excellent travel writing site Nowhere Magazine.)

I think the reason I chose these reads is that I’ve been looking for more direction in my own writing practice, and one of the ways I’m doing that is leaning into genre a bit more aggressively. Yes, How I’m Spending My Afterlife is a crime novel, in its own way, so I’ve already got one foot in that camp. But I’ve never seen myself as a genre writer. Until recently, that is, when someone at my publisher told me “you write thrillers with a humorous edge.” (He’s also referring to my as-yet-unsold second novel, which he’s seen.) At first, I was irritated that someone could—or would even dare try to—sum up me and my work as succinctly as all that, especially because my short story collection (which is also looking for a home, so if you know any agents or editors …. ) is not in that vein at all.

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, maybe he’s right. I have plenty of ideas for future work that fit under that broad umbrella. And it’s a fun genre to write. So maybe it’s time to explore my place in it with a little more intent.

These are my records: "Yellow Submarine"

If there is a Beatles album that could be described as "non-essential," or "disposable," or "give me my money back," it's Yellow Submarine. Consider—and then quickly dismiss—the entire second side, which is just a series of short orchestral compositions by George Martin for the soundtrack to the animated film of the same name. This leaves us side one—a handicap, but not a fatal one; there are plenty of worthwhile albums out there that have one really good side and one that's best ignored—but the two famous songs on that side (the title track and "All You Need Is Love") weren't even new when this album was released.

The original plan was apparently to release the other four songs on side one—you know, the actual new-in-1967 ones—as a standalone EP. Had they done so, it almost certainly would have gone on to be held in higher regard than Yellow Submarine ever was. These tracks are mostly pretty good: George's two turns at the mic act as bookends, first in the passive-aggressive, floating-dream-state dig at his bandmates' business practices that is "Only a Northern Song" and then on the psych-pop masterpiece "It's All Too Much;" in between, Paul the ditty-meister leads a few back-porch jug-band verses of what basically amounts to a goofy childhood nonsense song ("All Together Now"). It's fine, if somewhat uneven, work.

But the track that would have held that EP together—and the one that works the hardest to redeem this disc—is "Hey Bulldog," a four-four stomper with a tough-guy piano riff intro and some absolutely screaming guitar tone in George's solo. It also has Paul and John barking like dogs for reasons that are unexplained (and probably best left that way). If you follow that link, be sure and listen to the way the slight echo in the snare hits in the chorus adds tension and forward motion, but is something you might not even notice unless it was pointed out to you.

Ever since I was a kid (we had a lot of Beatles albums in my house growing up; in fact, I’m pretty sure this very record was one of them), I've been able to put "Hey Bulldog" on a loop and just let it repeat for half an hour or so. Too bad it doesn't get the support it deserves from the rest of the disc, but if you happen to spot this in the bargain bin at your local record shop, it's probably worth a couple bucks on its own.

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Thanks again for reading. And seriously, I meant what I said earlier—I want to know your thoughts on this newsletter. Just leave all suggestions, critiques, and rants in the comments below. Thanks!