Archive for November, 2011

I like zombies. Well, actually, I like zombie movies. It’s a pretty simple premise: the undead are hungry and they’re after you. All you have to do is kill them (usually with a head shot). Not a lot of hidden messages, or themes, or anything. Just be faster than the zombies and never (ever) run out of ammo.

So when “The Walking Dead” came to AMC, I thought “Good idea,” but I didn’t watch the first season. Frankly, I (somehow) missed the hype andthe buzz, etc., and just didn’t tune in. Plus, I was a little skeptical that zombies would translate very well to the TV screen. Generally, killing zombies is a fairly graphic affair, not to mention their mealtime etiquette.

But I have watched this season’s offerings, and I have tosay, the show is losing me, a little every week. At first, I was really pleased to see that the zombies did in fact carry over to TV – rather well. AMC, more free than broadcast networks, is able to push the envelope
on violence – not gratuitous violence, but the level of violence needed to dispatch your average zombie (that shot to the head). Same with language, but nothing that out of the ordinary (Hershel’s silent F-bomb notwithstanding, but I’m getting ahead of myself). And, clearly, the stars of the show are the zombies. It’s why I watch. And that may be the source of my waning interest.

The characters (the living ones, that is) just don’t interest me. I don’t even like most of them, except for Daryl The Redneck (I know, shocker). The show is loaded up with characters that aren’t very likable. And don’t give me the “well, they all have flaws” argument, because it doesn’t wash here. It’s one thing to be a flawed character. It’s another to be unlikable. These characters are selfish, dishonest, hypocritical, petty and – at least in one instance – disloyal and unfaithful. A brief rundown (without getting into spoiler territory):

Rick: The noble sheriff. Yeah, he’s noble, means well, got shot, stands up for zombie justice and all, but damn he takes his sweet time about it. Still, I at least admire the fact that he’s the least hypocritical of the bunch. He knows what he has to do and plans on doing it, but he’s not closed to alternative ideas (as his relationship with Hershel shows).

Hershel: Arguably the most likable character – and even he’s dishonest. He comes  off as righteous, almost pious, and he saved the boy’s life, no doubt. But he didn’t say jack about that barn full of zombies. And when Rick’s group got wind of that (so to speak), he copped an attitude of “they’re still people, though.” Yeah, maybe but even then he still didn’t tell the full story, until it was too late. He did manage to skirt the FCC censors but mouthing the F-word during The Shootout at the Zombie Corral. Oh, and he’s from Georgia, so the accent’s real.

Lori: Besides the fact that her husband (a) wasn’t dead and (b) even if he was, his body hadn’t even cooled before she’s boinking Shane, the woman is just a pain in the ass. First she hates her husband, then she loves him. She opposes his decisions, then she supports them. Takes the pills, then throws them up. Damn, woman, make up your mind! She’s forever in a state of high drama and at odds with somebody: her son, her husband, Andrea, Hershel, Shane.

Shane: Rick’s deputy, best friend, blah blah. Also boinker of his best friend’s above-mentioned wife. “Thought you was dead.” And a liar. And a cold-blooded sociopath. He’s the kind of guy who played third-string punter and now acts like he won the Super Bowl while playing with a punctured lung. Plays himself off as the moral compass of the group — this best-friend wife-boinking, local-murdering, psycho horn dog. I don’t like him.

Dale: The old guy who, too, wants to be the moral compass, which is like wanting to be the brakes on a sled. Why? Dale acts like he knows more than he does, has shifty eyes and  either preaches to Greg too much, tries to coddle Andrea too much or generally just gets in the damn way. Dale, during the zombie apocalypse, your role is simple: Shut up, reload, fire, repeat. You ain’t a sage, so stop it.

Daryl: I like ol’ Daryl. At least he doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He knows who he is. Hell of a shot with that crossbow, too.

Andrea: God, this girl’s a hot mess. Had to shoot her newly zombified sister. I get it, she’s upset. But not too upset to boink Shane first chance she gets. And not too upset to keep demanding a gun, which Dale won’t give her because he cares for her, is concerned for her and blah blah blah shee-it. And as soon as she does get a gun, you’d think she just sprouted a penis and is trying to get used to carrying it around. Even though she can’t hit a damn thing with it, but when she does … she shoots Daryl. “Thought you was a zombie.” Her “I’m a badass because I now have a pe–er, gun,” gets old quick.

Glenn: Is Asian and is in Georgia, so the deck’s already stacked against him. He lets himself be a doormat to the group way too many times, a fact pointed out to him by new-girlfriend (and cutest girl on TV) Maggie, who mercilessly calls him “walker bait.” Probably the most intelligent one in the bunch and has shown signs of redeeming himself. In other words, the boy’s starting to grow a pair.

The remaining two, T-Dog and Carol, are basically paper cutouts: the brother from the streets and the frantic mother who has lost her daughter. Their roles are predictable.

So, this bunch doesn’t keep me coming back. I’ll watch a few more episodes, just to see the zombies, but as far was watching 58 minutes of dysfunctional drama only to get to a 2-minute cliffhanger, I’ll pass.

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A friend posted a photo/link on Facebook today to a true bluesman, R.L. Burnside. (Tip of the hat to Warren) Never heard of him? That’s too bad — he was one of the classic Mississippi Delta bluesmen. But don’t feel too bad, because most people have never heard of him. But take the time to listen to him, thanks to the magic of the Youtubes, rip into “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line.” The footage is, apparently from 1978, about 20 years before Burnside was “noticed” by the “music industry.

I got the chance to meet Mr. Burnside in 1996, completely by accident. That summer, I was fresh out of the Marine Corps and back home in Columbus, Miss., working as a reporter for the local paper. That year was the first-ever “Howlin’ Wolf Blues Festival” over in West Point, about 30 miles away. For those of you not in the know, Howlin’ Wolf was born near West Point. Being a serious fan of the blues, I jumped at the chance to cover it and my editor agreed that we should. I didn’t even know who was on the bill, but I knew that it would be good. Mississippi blues all day and on into the night. A couple of days before the event, I got word that “Miz Wolf” — the Widow Wolf, or Lillie Burnett — would be there. No way in the world I was going to miss that.

I got to the venue (and I use that term loosely, being as the place was more like a metal warehouse) fairly early in the evening. The joint, as they say, was already jumping.  Musicians, most of whom I’d never heard of, streamed in and out, hauling gear, guitars and, usually, girls. Inside, a slide guitar moaned the devil’s music and the whole evening turned blue. I was, of course, looking for Lillie (who, I was quickly informed, simply went by “Miz Wolf”). She hadn’t appeared, so I started buttonholing musicians and interviewing them. They all had a Howlin’ Wolf story, and nearly all of them ended with, “But you need to ax Miz Wolf ’bout that time she cooked Mick Jagger breakfast.” Now, I knew that the Stones were big fans of Wolf. As was Eric Clapton and the Beatles. In fact, that was the core of what I wanted to ask Miz Wolf — if her husband was actually as irritated with Clapton and Company as he sounded on the London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions. See, I had a theory. I’d listened to that record a thousand times, especially the part where “the boys,” led by Clapton, claim to not be able to play a chord like the Wolf, and they try to get him to play it for them, ostensibly so they could learn how. It sounds fishy when you hear it, especially when you hear Wolf growl back at them that he just ain’t gonna do it. Man sounded pissed.

So that’s what I intended to ask Miz Wolf, if she ever showed up and if I ever got the chance.

But while I was waiting, I continued to interview the musicians. One said he’d never played with Wolf (always wanted to, though) but I ort to chase down R.L. ’cause he played with Wolf up in Chicago. “R.L.?” I asked, about as whitely as humanly possible, I’m sure. “R.L. Burnside, boy! He’s inside. Go find him.”

So I did. Inside, some white kid was beating the hell of a Stratocaster, doing his best Stevie Ray Vaughan. I’m not saying he wasn’t doing a good job, but he was no Stevie Ray. Hell, he wasn’t even that left-handed white kid I saw play W.C. Handy’s up in Memphis once (who later ended up back in jail for possession. Or so I’m told). That kid could flat out play.

Anyway, I eventually found R.L. Burnside. I introduced myself, flashed my credentials and  asked could we talk for a few minutes. He smiled and invited me backstage. Which is to say he told me to step around the keg and set down while he and the band “warmed up.” Yes, red Solo cups were involved. And it seemed like somebody had been burning leaves back there. Or something.

Burnside was, by then, well into his fourth decade of playing. He told stories of The Chitlin’ Circuit — “’53? ’54?” (“Hell naw, R.L. that was ‘57!”) — Memphis, Texas and Chicago. Shityeah he played with Howlin’ Wolf. B.B.,too. And Muddy Waters. All up in Chicago, damnright. He recalled an evening just sitting at the Wolf residence, playing whatever came to mind. All night. I could have listened for hours but the man had a show to do, and I had more than I’d need for my story, so I thanked him, he said make sure I talk to Miz Wolf, and off he went. Up on stage for the billionth time, tearing it up for a most appreciative crowd.

I did go talk to Miz Wolf. She arrived in style — big black car, beautiful white dress, smiles for everyone. Like the Queen herself. The crowd wanted to swarm her, but her “entourage” made sure that didn’t happen.  But she was a delight. She even told the entourage, “Oh, lemme talk to this young man. He’s got a job to do just like everybody else.”

Seems that back in the ’60s, the Stones did a couple of shows in Chicago that kept them there overnight. And in the wee hours who should come calling but Mick Jagger –“just the sweetest boy.” Not the Stones — Keith was probably burning leaves backstage somewhere — just Mick. To pay his respects, you understand. And, apparently, to eat everything he could get his hands on. “Oh, that boy could eat. And all he did was tell me how much he liked my cooking — no matter what it was he was eating.” And, yes, she did cook him breakfast the next morning.  “And he said he’d be back next time to eat some more!”

And then I asked her: Was Wolf getting pissed off at Eric Clapton?

Her eyes went wide and she smiled. “You’re pretty sharp. You the only newspaper person ever asked that question — and yes, he was.” The smile got bigger, even though I didn’t think it possible. “Wolf loved playing with them boys, but they were always trying to get him to play on their records and they’d try to trick him into it. If you listen to that record real close, you can hear him getting worked up. They kept saying, ‘Ohhhh, Mr. Wolf, you so good, we can never play that good.’ And Wolf was havin’ none of it, of course. He knew what they was up to and he just wouldn’t do it.”

And then she was off, waving to the crowd and disappearing like the royalty she was. I raced back to the newsroom at something like 2 in the morning and wrote the story up right then. When I left, the party was still going, Highway 45 practically jumping in the moonlight.

Hate to see a long holiday weekend end, but I am glad to see that most of the “Black Friday” hype is over — for the moment anyway. Around here, we’re already deep into the leftovers.  Did a little parade-watching and a lot of football-watching. Banished from the kitchen before 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, a new personal best.

Virginia had — and still has today — beautiful weather, so I even managed to get in a good ride on the Dyna. Now all that remains is an afternoon of NFL games I don’t care anything about — the Saints don’t play until tomorrow night. Oh, sure, I’ll check in on the games, but unless Atlanta is losing, I really don’t have a dog in the fight.

Don’t forget (not that you ever could in our society) tomorrow is “Cyber Monday.” Get your copy of A Simple Murder here.

Esme Claire Keith posted this interesting little piece today, in which she describes the first time William Faulkner really spoke to her, in a manner of speaking:

“William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is divided into four sections, each with its own narrator, and the third section is narrated by Jason, a sour, embittered soul. He opens with the observation: “Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say.” 

Shocking? Stunning? To Keith, it was. Not sure I agree, but I see her point which was Faulkner wrote with a bluntness uncommon for its time, but also made his characters instantly real and believable by doing so. What a redneck noir thing to do.

Tired of Black Friday, of all the made-up mayhem of a day that should be downplayed, given the state of the economy? Check out the true Black Friday. Of course I mean Steely Dan — what else?

Skip the long lines at the mall — buy on line. Get your copy of A Simple Murder here.

Dug up this little gem over the weekend. I found this book about 15 years ago in a used bookstore (remember those?). At the time, I was really studying fiction as a craft, but still hanging on to the idea of creating a series of Wade Stuart novels a la John. D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series.

Death in Dixie is a collection of stories from Southern writers — most of which, I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of until I picked up the book. But it’s pure gold if you like stories of the South and all its rumor and innuendo, crime and punishment, and violence and vengeance. Good stuff.

The book’s author (collector/anthologist?) is Billie Sue Mosiman, whom I’d never heard of, but have read since.  She knows her business and this collection certainly influenced me, much the same way Larry Brown did/does. Mosiman writes a stirring introduction to the stories, in which she describes the tradition of storytelling in the South, how it’s part of our culture and our families, and how the story sometimes isn’t as important as the telling of it. And she points out that many of those stories are wrapped in violence and crime. She doesn’t claim to know why that is, but points out:

“Storytelling in the South is a rich tradition. In this collection of stories about murder and crime in the South, we might ask ourselves, is it the heat, suffocating and relentless, that causes violence to erupt? The fierce family loyalties and feuds? Or does crime find a home in the South because it is a place where the land is soaked in the blood of war and mired in the guilt of past transgressions, against outsiders and minorities?”

I have put this in the redneck noir category. Certainly these stories, a little more stylish than you might think, fall into the category. Much the same way Flannery O’Connor does. And regarding O’Connor, Mosiman quotes her on why her stories seemed to center of violence. O’Connor found violence “strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them for their moment of grace.”

This is the same woman who once commented, “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

But I love what Mosiman has to say about the everyday storytellers:

“Everyone told stories, it was an oral tradition passed down through generations. It was the way family history was kept alive and I believe it might have been a way for the elders to point out moral and acceptable behavior without lecturing their young.”

Yep, we Southerners like a good story. Probably every family has a storyteller — my own is blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with several. My uncle Tom is kind of our family leprechaun and a hell of a raconteur. As are his brothers, one of whom (that’d be Uncle Truman) is a Mississippi preacher. His kids are equally gifted with spinning a tale.

My own kids aren’t exactly Southern in the same tradition as me, or my cousins. Being raised in Virginia, they instinctively roll their eyes any time they hear me start a story with “When I was growing up in Mississippi …” But even they have their own way of telling a story, or re-telling it in a way to keep it entertaining. In that way, they’re becoming the latest link in the chain.

And what better time to start telling stories than a long holiday weekend with the whole family home?

Looking for gift ideas this year? Get ’em a Kindle from Amazon — then your copy of A Simple Murder here.

I make no secret of, nor do I apologize for, the fact that I’m an Ole Miss grad. And today starts of the annual week of public hate toward the Starkville school, which is returned in kind. So be it. Bring it on. Get some. Mission accomplished.

I grew up 60 miles from the University of Alabama, 30 miles from Starkville, and went to Ole Miss, some 105 miles away. Grew up an Ole Miss fan around cowbells and “Yeah, wait’ll next year!” and cousins who “love my bulldogs” on one side and “Roll Tide Roll” on the other.

And every year about this time, the pre-Egg Bowl feud kicks into high gear. I remember laughing all the way to school the Monday after Ole Miss won, 48-0 — and this was after Archie had graduated. And the Archie years were years of bowl games and thrillers, anyway. Then there were the too-many years of Ole Miss going into the game 5-5 and needing a win just to have a winning season and getting that win. Back then Ole Miss always won, because, frankly, Starkville’s football program was about as powerful as a 10-watt bulb.

My kids know this, even if they don’t fully understand it. But they know a few things about their future educational plans: they can go to college anywhere they want, as long as it’s not the school in Starkville. “But, Dad, what if I get a scholarship?” See you in four years.

My son and I were once watching a game on TV — Alabama and Starkville, and he was surprised to see me pulling for Alabama. “But, Dad, they’re from Mississippi, I thought you’d at least support them against Alabama.” Nope. If they were playing against the devil, I’d pull for Satan. Hell, they could be playing Notre Dame, and I’d be wearing green.

True, lately (the last 10-15 years), Starkville has gained some ground, gone to some bowl games and generally paraded about like a real football team. Well, except in that Peach Bowl they thought they had won. And the 45-0 ass-whipping they got in the Egg Bowl a few years back. And true, they’ve won the game the last two years. I acknowledge all that (but that don’t mean I have to like it).

This year is particularly bitter, though, and yes I’m doing what my Uncle Tom calls “taking a long driveway to a small house.” Ole Miss’ football program the last two years has been a 5-watt bulb. Three weeks ago, Houston Nutt was semi-fired: told he would not be retained following the end of the season, he was allowed to coach the remaining three games (which he’s lost by a combined score of 10-79). The Rebels lost to Louisiana Tech. At homecoming. La. Tech hadn’t beaten Ole Miss in 65 years, and hadn’t beaten an SEC opponent in eight. No SEC team has ever lost more consecutive conference games (13 and counting) than the current Ole Miss squad.

So, this morning, when I came across this piece of outstanding writing, I had to shake my head — and agree. I don’t know who this writer is, but he’s good. If you watch ESPN, you’ve probably seen the obtuse, ambiguous commercials for “Grantland.” I’ve been wondering for weeks, “What the hell is Grantland?” Now I know.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be pulling for the Rebels this weekend as hard as if they were in the SEC championship. Maybe more. It’s dark times for Ole Miss football, and the faithful only ask for one thing every year: “Just beat State.”

A Simple Murder is now available at Amazon. Download your copy here. Don’t have a Kindle? Don’t worry, you can download a free app for iPhone, Blackberry, Windows, Mac, iPad, Android or the Windows Phone 7 (via Amazon) here.

Ames Holbrook, author of The Deporter: One Agent’s Struggle Against the U.S. Government’s Refusal to Expel Criminal Aliens, filed this, the first review of A Simple Murder:

“My favorite thriller has just turned into a franchise, and its writer Phillip Thompson has cracked open the second installment in a beautiful new frontier.  Whereas the first Wade Stuart novel was so soaked in its Mississippi setting that the book felt deep-fried, this time we meet our protagonist on a sandy Oahu beach, where he’s toting a camera as a crime beat reporter.  That’s right, new setting, new occupation, and, oh yeah, a new girl: the ATF staffer out of Washington who knows Wade from his early agent days.

“Thompson’s new strokes spin your head and make you cling dearly to the familiar pieces that carry over from the first book, like the ruthless homegrown terrorists and the murder mystery (that’s a mutilated corpse with its face blown off on that sandy beach).  So now we’ve got a classic crime thriller and a fresh fish out of water story running parallel.  What holds it together?  Who do you think?  It’s our good-old Mississippi Alpha-dog protagonist, former Marine and resigned-over-principle ATF agent, Wade Stuart, taking on another nasty batch of domestic terrorists intent on spilling innocent blood.  Wade Stuart is back, just as cool as I remembered.

“Former Marine and newspaperman Phillip Thompson knows his hero, and, with a knack for straight-ahead breathless prose, runs Wade and us readers through the story at a snapping cadence.  The enemies, the place, and the world can change, but we’re sure glad Wade Stuart doesn’t.”


Still don’t have a Kindle? Don’t care for the e-book reading experience? No worries, you can still enjoy that traditional feeling of holding a book in your hands (Tom Bissell would appreciate that, I’m sure). In addition to tomorrow’s Kindle release of A Simple Murder, in a few days, you’ll be able to buy it in paperback.

I’ll admit, I still enjoy holding a solid book in my hands; I’m old-school enough to appreciate it. I read at bedtime nearly every night and have kept a book bedside for as long as can remember.

But the Kindle experience not only does a good job of recreating that experience, it enhances it some ways. I’m notorious for reading with a highlighter in my hand, especially if I’m reading nonfiction. Not sure where I picked up the habit, but it’s what I do. Problem is I can never remember where I put the highlighter. With the Kindle, it’s always there — you can highlight text. You can also save “clippings,”  and bookmarks passages, same as a solid book.

But what I like the most is the ability to take a mini-library with me anywhere using the size of, essentially, one paperback. This is a huge space-saver when traveling, especially when flying. And you can shop for new books from the Kindle.

No, this is not a paid advertisement. Just saying, I thought I would never give up the look and feel of “real” books for the electronic version, but I’m learning to like it.

I’ll post a link to the paperback version of A Simple Murder soon, so subscribe or check back in daily.

Gearing up for Monday’s release, here’s a look at the cover (so you know what to look for when you order it!). Feel free to leave a comment below.

A friend asked, “What took so long to get the second Wade Stuart novel out?” and the answer is that it wasn’t intended that way. I started writing A Simple Murder almost as soon as I finished Enemy Within, which coincided with me leaving the Marine Corps. So, that would be 1996-97. At least that’s when I tried to start it — had to start over a couple of times.

But it took about two years to write. I found I had to do more research than anticipated, I moved from Mississippi to Virginia, had a busy job, small kids, etc. But I managed to finish it up around 1999, about the same time Enemy Within was actually published. And when I did finish, I felt like I had a pretty solid story, one that might grab the attention of an agent in New York. So, rather than pitch the manuscript to Salvo Press (publisher of Enemy Within), I decided to make another run at New York. In early 2001, after countless rejections, one agent called me and asked to see the entire manuscipt. She and I worked together on it over the next few months, refining, correcting, etc.

Then Sept. 11 came. The agent, whose office was in Mid-town, naturally was off the net for a few weeks following the attacks. And, neither of us was really concentrating too much on a novel manuscript. When we finally reestablished contact, we talked through the manuscript again, but this time she felt she would have a very difficult time selling it — there is a scene in the book that, as she said at the time, would be “too much for people digest anymore.” I countered — though, honestly, without too much conviction — that the scene wasn’t the same thing plus I’d actually conceived of it two years prior — but she politely (and, truth be known, understandably at the time) decided to drop the project.

I made a few more attempts at agents, but decided to let the story sit for a while. I had recently spent a lot of time studying the craft of writing rather than writing, and I was ready to try something different. So, for the next couple of years, I focused more on learning than writing.

Eventually, I started another story, and let A Simple Murder sit. And sit. Meanwhile, I finished a third manuscript. I was exclusively focused on that until a good friend (and writer) told me that he, after years of being published by big-name New York houses (yet growing frustrated with the continuing demise of the industry of publishing), decided to put his newest novel out via Kindle.

I was of course familiar with Kindle — I’d heard of it anyway, but hadn’t really taken a look at the ins and outs of it. And I agreed that the state of publishing today, especially for “new” fiction writers, is dismal. That’s when it occurred to me that I had a completed manuscript ready to go — all I needed was an outlet.

After several discussions with my friend and the publishers at Salvo Press (which has made its own endroads into e-book publishing), I decided to give it a shot.

That shot starts Monday. Hope you enjoy it.

17 November 2011: Final prep

Posted: November 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

One day closer to the launch date for A Simple Murder, and I have a lot of work to do before then — including what I hope to be an added announcement. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, feel free to wander over to Goodreads.com and join the Q&A session (it’s public, so anyone, not just members, can join) to learn more about the release, Wade Stuart, or post a question.