Monday, October 31, 2011

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 8 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Played down, yet again.
But the vic'try was hard won.
Still too soon to dream?

We have a defense!
Offense good. Now, hone the brains.
Complete team, are we?

Jacksonville Jaguars - 14
Houston Texans - 24

Record: 5-3 (1st in AFC South)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Forgotten Music: October 2011

Welcome to the October 2011 edition of the Forgotten Music Project. As always, if I missed someone (or if someone joins in for the first time), I'll add you to the summary.


Sean Coleman
Bill Crider
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Todd Mason
Charlie Ricci

Forgotten Music October 2011: Chiller by Erich Kunzel

Mozart never made a concept record.

No, I don’t count opera. It wasn’t until the 1800s that instrumental music made a natural progression and created pieces that evoked a sonic landscape with a unified story or theme. A concept record before there were even records.

What am I getting at? Program music—-that is, music with the intended purpose of creating images in a listener’s mind—-didn’t flourish until the Romantic Period in the 1800s. And it wasn’t long before music evoking a pastoral landscape gave way to things that scared us: demons, witches, and death. Often referred to as tone poems, some of the best are collected in the 1989 CD “Chiller,” by the late Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Kunzel made a niche market of popular movie music being recorded and packaged together to go with a common theme. “Round-Up” features western music, “Star Tracks II” showcases some great themes from science fiction films, while “William Tell and Other Favorite Overtures” shore up the usual pops orchestra material. So it was natural that they tackled the music of the macabre.

One of the fun things on a Kunzel CD is the sound effects. “Round-Up” begins with sounds around a campfire. The CD that includes music from “Jurassic Park” starts off with the sounds of a T-Rex stomping through the forest. So, as you can expect, “Chiller” starts off with a scream. A very loud scream. You hear thunder and rain, a mewing cat, and footfalls running up some wooden steps. Three knocks of the door knocker boom and the door creaks open. The woman, so happy that some is home, turns to look at...the thing in the doorway. She screams. The thing screams back. The short piece ends with the door slamming shut and immediately, the opening to the Andrew Lloyd Webber's “Phantom of the Opera” kicks in, the pipe organ played to full volume. It's fantastic.

After the Phantom has left the stage, the remainder of the CD’s first half (time wise; these are long pieces) meanders through the great supernaturally-themed orchestral pieces from the 19th Century. All the great ones are here save one. “Night on Bald Mountain” blows through your speakers with its accustomed ferocity. You hear the intense string line flurrying around and, then, suddenly, the thunder of the low brass bolts from the sky. Having played this piece before, it never gets old.

My personal favorite supernatural piece of music is Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre.” Musically, you hear night fall and the ghosts rise, led by Death sawing through his violin concerto as the dead dance. Kunzel and the orchestra nail this reading of the piece, bringing forth all the innuendos of the instruments: xylophone as dancing bones, harps tolling midnight, the oboe as rooster, among others. This piece just floats along and, man, you can just see the skeletons and ghouls prancing in the graveyard and over the tombstones. It all climaxes in a fantastic melding of two scales, one ascending and one descending, being played over each other. Just like when you turn up the volume on your car radio when you hear “Hotel California,” I always crank up the volume when these scales do their thing. And then it all ends at dawn.

The rest of the classical music includes two pieces from Berlioz (“March to the Scaffold” and “Pandemonium”) and Greig’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt, a piece that can always leave you panting. The one piece whose inclusion would have made this CD perfect is Paul Dukas’s “The Sorcerer's Apprentice.” You’ll have to get it elsewhere. “Classics from the Crypt” includes it as a few other pieces not on this CD. I have both and pretty well have all the great supernatural orchestral pieces out there.

The second half of “Chiller” is a let-down after the spectacular music from the 19th Century. It’s film music from the 20th Century. None of it is bad, it just suffers when compared to the older music. Moreover, the carefully-crafted mood evoked by the classical music is broken with happier-sounding material like the overture to the movie “Sleuth” or the theme to the movie “Without a Clue.” If I had selected the music for this disc, I would have included more pieces like the Herrmann music from “Psycho,” complete with the exact sound effect you’d expect from the famous murder scene. The theme from “The Bride of Frankenstein” does its job well, bringing to mind all the fantastic images from that horror film of that era.

The fact that there are images associated with the film music is why I enjoy the older tone poems better: they were intended to stir up, in the listener, images of their own imagination. Film music, by its very nature, compliments eerie pictures on a silver screen. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some great music is out there to correspond to some great horror films: the theme to the movie “Halloween,” for example, or the music from “Silence of the Lambs.” But so much horror film music is best experienced within the context of the film. The classical music on “Chiller” is of itself and the images are entirely yours. Yeah, I’ll admit that I can’t listen to “Night on Bald Mountain” and not think of the demon from “Fantasia” but that’s the exception (and, oh boy, what an exception!).

What made these concept classical pieces of the 19th Century so compelling was that we, as humans, didn’t know as much as we 21st Century citizens know. With our ultra modern lifestyle, we can keep the supernatural at bay more easily than we used to. Heck, we keep nature at bay. To some extent, with greater scientific knowledge comes with it a greater understanding that supernatural things our ancestors were scared of are merely figments of our collective imaginations. Death doesn’t rise from the grave and play a violin. There is no supernatural witches’ sabbath. With nature largely conquered in the western world, the things that scare us are falling stocks, serial killers, terrorism, or bio-warfare, things all man-made. We don’t get scared at the supernatural anymore.

Which is why “Chiller” is such a wonderful CD. With the classical pieces included here, you can get a sense of the frightening wonderment audiences experienced two centuries ago in the concert halls. After an 1870s concert featuring “Danse Macabre,” I can imagine a few folks looking around shadowed corners as they walked home or rode in carriages. Horror films do the trick for us nowadays, but there’s a part of you that knows, logically, that the amputated leg is fake, that the demons in a film use fake blood, or that it all is created on a computer.

Not so with this music. It’s all in your head. Which is why I would have loved to experience a demonic piece by Mozart. With his brilliant orchestral work, can you imagine how messed up and scared the citizens of Vienna would have been if Mozart trotted out a “Danse Macabre” or “Night on Bald Mountain”? I know your smiling one of your devilish smiles at that delicious thought. I am, too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thoughts on Acting: Part II

Dress Rehearsal

As I wrote yesterday, I recently participated in my first play as an actor. Writer that I am, I am putting my experiences in words.

I left off at the dress rehearsal where we actors would have to perform for an audience of ten that included our senior minister, and where I’d chosen to perform on stage by myself since one of my two co-stars had obligations that prevented her from attending. Now, the real shame of my fellow actress missing dress rehearsal is that the audience did not get to see her perform her monologue. I know she was disappointed to miss the rehearsal, and the audience definitely missed her presence on stage.

So did I. I’ve made no secret that I was extremely happy to have been paired with other actors rather than be given a monologue. Had I been assigned a scene in which I was the only person on stage, my worry level would have risen quite a bit more than it did. For one thing, having another person on stage means that the audience is only looking at you half the time. Whew! More importantly, however, we can help each other. Forget a line, the other person can finagle something to prompt you back on track. I needed the practice on stage with mics, even if that meant reciting both sets of dialogue.

I spoke both parts. It was weird, talking to a person who wasn’t there. I rushed through the lines, but did a passable impression of a dialogue. My “woman” voice—the slightly whisphery lilt I gave myself when I recorded that MP3 to help me learn my lines—rapidly decayed into my own voice for both male and female. Frankly, I think I confused the new audience members, but I got in the practice.

The rest of the dress rehearsal went well. Me and my other co-star—also a rookie in this acting business—performed well together in our skit (the driving one). We stage hands honed our prop moving abilities and our camaraderie backstage, and the entire cast did great. Driving home Thursday night, I was excited. I couldn’t wait until 3pm the next day when I’d leave my office and prepare for my first time under the lights. I felt good. All was well. Until 3pm on Friday.

Worry About the First Performance

When 3pm rolled around, I left my office and the butterflies swarmed into my stomach. You know that feeling you get on a roller coaster when you drop on that first, huge hill? Yeah, well, multiply that by ten. A great big ball of stress descended upon my shoulders and just hung there. Walking down the five flights of stairs from my office to the parking garage, I felt lightheaded. When I got to my car, I did the one thing I knew to do that would help: prayed. I prayed to God to help me and everyone involved to do their best, to help me remember my lines, and to calm my nerves. And, literally in the span of a minute, most of the stress and butterflies vanished. There were still a few, stray butterflies, but that was to be expected. I’ve read from just about every actor or singer who goes on stage that if you don’t have any nervous energy, you’ll likely do less than your best. As I drove home, windows open, classic Chicago blasting out of the speakers, my good feelings returned.


We all arrived 75 minutes before show time to get our makeup applied. Now, I don’t wear makeup and I had already made arrangements to have one of the ladies pretty me up. I watch “Project Runway” every week and there’s always the shot of the models getting their look applied. The auditorium where we performed isn’t huge—approximately 200 seats—so it surprised me and a fellow male rookie actor that we’d have to wear makeup. But, from the images I’ve see taken from the vantage point of the audience, it does help show off the face and lips. My markup artist did a great job on me and, naturally, some of the girls promptly informed me, upon my transformation, that I looked like a girl. Examining myself in the mirror, with foundation, a spot of rouge, eye liner, and mascara, yup, they were right.

My fellow co-star, the one who had missed the dress rehearsal, and I ran through our scene a couple of times. Interestingly, there’s a bit of dialogue where she corners me, and she told me she was going to hold her intense stare while I gave my weak rejoiner, and then flip her hair and stalk across the stage. My writerly instincts were amazed again. Here we were, backstage, less than an hour before going on stage, and we were changing things up. It made the scene funnier, but, darn, I’d have to remember one more thing.

As I said, the best part of my two scenes was that I had another person on stage with me. The second best part is that the eye-wandering husband scene was the first overall scene. When the lights dimmed and the opening monologue started, we were on deck. We were first! It’s wasn’t going to be a situation where I’d go on after a half dozen scenes were in the can—where I could hear how the audience reacted to things, where those butterflies might return in earnest—my co-star and I went in cold. To be honest, just writing this and remembering that feeling, a few of those butterflies have found their way back to my stomach. The seconds slowed down, the butterflies fluttered, I could feel the sweat trickle down my back and in between my fingers as I held the shopping bags that formed the basis of the scene, the house lights dimmed, the opening voice over started, and then it stopped, and then it was time to go on stage.

First Performance

And everything changed.

Think of any movie in which a character has one of those moments of clarity and the special effects wizards dampen the sound down to almost nothing. In the movie, all you can hear, maybe, is the character’s heart beating, all the other people in the scene are talking as if they were underwater. That’s how it felt going up on stage Friday night for the first time.

I said the opening bit of dialogue (“Come on, honey.”) to which my co-star replied, “Don’t ‘ah honey’ me, you know you did it.” She then proceeded to drop her bags on my foot, spilling the contents on the floor. That didn’t happen in rehearsal, but it worked because it allowed me a few extra seconds to say my next line as I cleaned up the mess. What happened next surprised me and proved one of the key factors that helped me during that first performance.

After my co-star’s next line (“Then explain why you tripped over the bench and fell into the planter.”), the audience laughed. To date, no one had ever laughed at that line. Like you see the actor’s do in sitcoms that were filmed in front of a live, studio audience, I had to wait to deliver my comeback or else have the line be drowned out. Those few seconds reminded me that there was another component in the mix heretofore absent: the audience. After all, this entire performance was for them, right? It’s why we rehearsed and practiced. Now, the audience was present. And they were laughing, at the moments I expected laughter and those I did not. Organic is an overused word to describe the delicate interaction of performer and audience, but it’s a cliché that’s true. For the rest of that scene with my co-star, we finally were not just two people reading lines and walking across the stage. We were actors, conveying a story, for a receptive audience. And it was magical.

Another thing helped me through that first, crucial performance: my co-star. She has experience on stage and it showed. Immediately. For all of the rehearsals, I thought that the audience was just going to watch a domestic scene and find a few chuckles. I never knew we were supposed to engage them in the conversation. She taught me—without words, there on stage, live, on the fly—what it was like to act on stage with an audience. There is an ebb and flow to all scenes performed in this production. With one line, one character gets a laugh, the next, the other character gets the laughs. It was like that throughout all 28 skits, and all of us learned to adapt. Some of us rookies learned under the lights which, frankly, might be the best possible way.

The rest of the Friday performance went amazingly well. By the time it came to my second scene, I had already done the first one and I had moved props on and off the stage as a stage hand. Interestingly, the mere presence of being on stage even in the dark carrying something helped to ease the nerves. My second co-star, also a rookie like me, cut her teeth in her Act I monologue. For all the nervousness I had of being on stage with another person, she went up there by herself and nailed it. Our scene together went fantastic and, seeing as the subject of the vignette was a man and a woman in a car, driving, the laughs came naturally. So did our interaction between each other. The lights helped, too, as they blinded us and we literally could not see the audience. For all intents and purposes, the world came down to just the two of us.

The first night rocked, and all of us actors, transformed in our costumes, aced our scenes. I drove home on a high I’ve literally never felt before. Finally, after months of preparation, I knew I could perform on stage. Now, there was only one more hurdle to leap: perform in front of my family.

Second Performance

For whatever reason, all during my preparation, I learned my lines without my family seeing or hearing any of the dialogue. Once, my son heard me rehearse the driving scene with my co-star and his only verdict was “There’s a lot of sass going on.” I’m not some Brando type who only wanted to rehearse with my co-stars, but that’s ultimately what happened. It worked out well, and it allowed my wife, son, friend, and parents to see the entire thing on stage and it be fresh.

Unconsciously or not, in the minutes before the second curtain, I located my family in the audience and took note of where they sat. And promptly made a decision not to look their way. Not that I could see their faces in the dark, but, with only one performance under my belt, I didn’t want a stray glance from them to throw me off.

Joelle Charbonneau, a fellow writer over at Do Some Damage, has performed many times on stage. I had emailed her after the first performance about my experiences. She gave me two great pieces of advice that late Friday evening. One, audiences are all different, especially second ones, so be prepared to adjust. Two, go to sleep and get some rest. I did, but I kept turning over in my mind the things on which I could improve.

And improve I did. The second night’s audience was different. The laughs came at different times or not at all when compared to the first night. Having learned about interacting with the audience on Night #1, I tried to do a few things differently on Night #2. A fast talker normally, you get any sort of nerves in me and I speed up. The director called me on it a couple of times and I slowed down my delivery. I didn’t succeed as well as I would have liked to, but I did learn. Above all, I just had fun. We all did.


I’ll admit something: as soon as the house lights came up after the second performance, I already started missing the experience. For weeks, this play and my part in it occupied a lot of my waking moments. And, just as easily as the house lights came on, it was gone. Truth be told, after my second scene on Night #2, some of that wistfulness left. As I told many of my fellow actors, I would have loved a third performance, a matinee, to top off the entire experience.

Alas, we only got two. But those two nights of theater arts ministry were pure magic.

I’ve experienced what it’s like to graduate from a school, say “I do” to the woman I love, hold my newborn baby after delivering him myself, finish a novel, see something I wrote published, and many more things. Each are special and without equal in their own way. They cannot be compared and I don’t even try. But, after this past weekend, I can happily add one more thing to the incomparable list: performing on stage.

I’ve performed on stages countless times with a saxophone in my hands, but never like this. To date, I’ve enjoyed entertaining people with my written words or my saxophone. With my horn, I don’t necessarily tell a story. With acting and writing, I do. My God-given storytelling instincts took over during this entire acting experience, widening not only my part in the blessing that is the theater arts ministry at my church, but also my outlook on my writing. Even in these early days after this first acting involvement, I can tell that my approach to writing has changed. How and in what form, I don’t know yet, but I just know.

There is also the high of knowing that I can do anything I set my mind to do. Back in June, acting was a whim. Sure, why not, let’s give it a try. As the date got closer, the ominous nature of it, the knowledge that I’ve never done any acting and who knows if I can or should, slowly slithered into my thoughts. With enough practice and preparation, however, I overcame those doubts, and was rewarded more than I’d ever would have imagined. This kind of dedication—to the rehearsals, to the learning of lines, to the interaction with other actors, to accepting constructive criticism from the director—is addictive. I plan to parlay these good thoughts first, to my writing life and later, to my next acting work.

Finally, there are the people with whom I shared this remarkable time together. Shared experiences bring people together. Some experiences are dreadful—war, disaster, unforeseen events—while some, like this production, are much happier. A bond formed between all of us in this group—the actors, the directors, the sound folks, and the stage hands. In a big church like mine, we formed a little mini family brought together for a common cause: to share the talent which God gave each of us. To laugh, and to cry. And, most of all, to share in the telling of stories. Those of us in this production gave of ourselves and we got back blessings that cannot be counted. They can only be cherished.

And cherish them we will, when we see each other in church hallways, the pew rows, or happenstance at the grocery store. With each glance and a smile, we’ll remember this wonderful time we had together. With good fortune, we’ll all return, together again, for another production and another set of memories.

As for me, I’ve had a mountaintop experience, one that I’ll be talking about for a long time. It changed me. A new part of me I didn’t know existed is now open. I’m thankful for it, I thank God for the talent he gave me, and I want to continue to share it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thoughts on Acting: Part I

It's a rare day when I can surprise myself.

I am a writer. It's what I do. I am always thinking about ways to say things, to communicate an idea, a feeling, or, as in my day job, a product. Most of the time, the words flow pretty well for me. It makes my day job as a technical writer working on the account for an oilfield services company somewhat easier. It can also make my fiction writing go a tad easier too, although that can be tougher, oddly enough.

At age 42, I'm relatively set in the things I know about myself. I know what kinds of TV shows I like to watch, what kinds of books give me the most pleasure, and how best to drive my car in Houston traffic. My daily routines are just that: routines. A friend of mine asked me once if I like structure. I said no right off the bat, thought about it for a few more seconds, then conceded the point. My wife thinks I'm high maintenance and she's right. But, unlike Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally...", I'm a high maintenance person who knows he's high maintenance, but occasionally does low maintenance things.

When it comes to things that surprise me, music and food provide the most variety nowadays as I'm always got my ear listening for something new and different, and my palate seeks out new, unexplored tastes. I know myself pretty well and, if I get off course, my wife's there to help me back on the right road. So it was with unexpected pleasure that I discovered something about myself this past week: I like acting.

Why Acting?

Looking back now, I can’t say for sure why it was that I wanted to read for a part in my church play. I had never done anything like it before. I play saxophone and the closest I’d ever been to participating in a play was as a member of the orchestra in my high school’s production of “The Music Man.” Frankly, I was content to be a musician and continue to enjoy my time in my church’s jazz band and orchestra.

Nonetheless, back in June, I went to the reading. The few of us that were there that day read through some sample scripts. This new production was a collection of vignettes about family life, church life, and the humor and sadness that comes in both. I had fun, and ended up reading a script with a lady I would eventually co-star with on stage. Now, “co-star” is a weird word, but it’s one I’m going with. There were over thirty actors involved in 28 scenes, and, for my first time doing this, was fortunate enough to act opposite two ladies, one in each of my two scenes. Other actors had monologues while some scripts had as many as five parts to them. Thankfully for me, I wound up on stage with someone else so, if I faltered, I’d have some much needed back up.

The Scripts

We got our scripts mailed to us in August. I was to play two different types of husbands. The first scene, “An Innocent Look,” was a humorous and poignant scene of a young couple. The wife and husband have returned from shopping at the mall and she’s furious with him for looking at another woman. He is wearing glasses and, yet, tells her the reason she “thought” she saw him looking at another woman was because his contact was out of place. The scene has funny moments, somber moments, and ends on a high. My second scene, “Circle of Love,” was of another married couple and their exploits driving in a car. Naturally, he thinks he knows where he’s going, she wants to stop for directions, and, well, the scene pretty much writes itself. It closes on a nice note as both of them realize that they’ve been focused not on each other, but on stuff that just doesn’t matter.

Practices and Rehearsals

Late in August, the rehearsals started. The show was schedule for 21 and 22 October and, from the vantage point of pre-Labor Day, October was a long, long time away. But, darn, you had to memorize the scripts. Well, duh! The first few rehearsals were easier, with scripts in hand, and in front of the director and her husband. Each of my two co-stars had monologues so my rehearsals with them were sandwiched in between their monologue rehearsals. Thus, at most, the audience was three. With the driving scene, my co-star and I sat in chairs, so it was quite easy to hold my script and treat it like the steering wheel. The “An Innocent Look” scene had me puppy-dogging my co-star as her character’s anger would not let her stand still. It was a little more difficult to hold the paper and look at her, but we managed. Our director kept saying the same thing: once you get out of your scripts, the character nuances will emerge and you’ll be much more free to, well, act (as opposed to read).

Boy, was she ever right—about this and everything else. I don’t know how others memorized their scripts, but I did a very 21st-Century thing: I recorded myself reading both parts of my two scripts. Then, I loaded them onto my iPod and was able to do anything—run, bike, weed the garden—and listen and learn my lines. Granted, more than a few people probably thought I was crazy as I walked to my boy’s school talking to myself, but, hey, we actors are weird, huh? But, it did the trick. Once I had the lines in my head—and knew the cue words from the ladies’ lines—I was ready to rehearse without scripts.

As a writer, I’m accustomed to creating everything for all my characters: backstories, motivations, looks, traits, dialogue, etc. It’s one of the best things about writing. With these scripts, the motivations and the dialogue were already there. The only thing left was to inhabit the words, and here’s where the fun began. For both scenes, my co-stars and I could try different things: change the intonation of voices, build the anger, make one of my characters more cocky, and other things. I found it remarkable how much I enjoyed the process. When I’m writing, this is all in my own head. Being able to work with others in a collaborative project and get “it” out of my head is quite liberating. Above all, the experimentation was the key takeaway from this acting gig to my writing life. To date, I’ve become so set in how my written characters Must Behave that I don’t let them be themselves. After this acting experience, I’m going to give my written characters room to breathe and tell me exactly how they’d react given a certain situation and give myself the leeway to change something that I thought was set.

Stage and Microphone Rehearsals

A week ago, we had our first rehearsals on stage with microphones. My church has these small mics that go around your ear and have the pick-up just near your mouth. A lot like what you see Peter Gabriel or Lady Gaga wear on stage. Needless to say, it’s a strange thing to hear your voice booming out of the loudspeakers, and it caused me to adjust how I spoke.

Now, up until our first stage rehearsal, we’ve been rehearsing on the floor of another room. Getting up on stage, with the set in place, the tape marks on the floor, a whole new world opened. We actors now had to be aware that we could literally walk out of the light. We had to make sure our shoes didn’t clog around on the wooden stage. Out went my original idea of footwear for my eye-wandering husband, in came my Doc Martens. Those quiet shoes came in handy, too, since I and another actor also took our turns as stage hands, getting props on and off stage with precision.

As I’ve said, up until these stage rehearsals, the audiences have consisted of the same 2 to 4 people. With 28 scenes, no one other than the directors had watched all the vignettes. I was looking forward to seeing what my fellow actors had been doing since August. This troup—come on, since I’m waxing on about this acting thing, allow me an actor’s trope—is a diverse group, ranging in age from ten to the golden years. The level of talent for this production was fantastic. We had folks who have acted on and off their entire lives mixed in with folks like me who decided, on a lark, to give it a go and see what happens. We actors performed some over-the-top funny scenes in which I laughed each and every time I saw them, some scenes that made me nod with commiseration, and a few that were heart-wrenching. Heck, in one rehearsal, I shed a tear or two. All in all, I could not have asked for a better group of people with whom to share my first acting experience.

Then came dress rehearsal last Thursday. For me, I considered dress rehearsal to consist of two things: you dress in whatever clothes you’ve decided to wear and you perform in front of new people. I was looking forward to it as the final time to get everything correct—and, believe me, I needed the reps—until I learned two crucial facts. One, our senior minister was going to attend as he would be unavailable on Friday or Saturday. A jovial, warm man as friendly as can be, he’s still the senior minister. I always had expected him to be one among many in the audience of a hundred or more. Nope. He was one of ten. Lovely. The second problem I personally had to face was to perform without one of my co-stars. She had another commitment that she had to do and could not attend our dress rehearsal. Lovely, again. So, not only would we be rehearsing in front of a smaller-than-anticipated crowd that included the senior minister, I chose to read both parts to a scene (the eye-wandering husband one) in which I would have no one opposite me.


Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you how it all turned out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 7 at Tennessee Titans

Yes! A statement game!
Texans played all four quarters.
Take lead in the South.

Houston Texans - 41
Tennessee Titans - 7

Record: 4-3

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 6 at Baltimore Ravens

My dream Texans' team:
Last year's offense, new defense.
The corner's not turned.

Fourth quarter play calls.
Four-yard dinky throws. The hell?
We needed long bombs.

Houston Texans - 14
Baltimore Ravens - 29

Record: 3-3

Pardon me while I go bang my head on something hard...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 5 vs. Oakland Raiders

As always, words fail.
Schizophrenic Texans team
Found a way to lose.

As heartbreaking as it is as a Texans fan, I can imagine that this game will live long in Raider lore. Thrilling win. In this age where corporate types handle things with kid gloves, Al Davis was an old-school throwback. He told it like he saw it and if you didn't like it, tough. That kind of spark is often missing nowadays, in sports as well as the rest of our culture. Mr. Davis: you shall be missed.

Oakland Raiders - 25
Houston Texans - 20

Record: 3-2, tied for 1st in AFC South

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review Club: Heat Rises by Richard Castle

(This is the October 2011 edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For the entire list, click the icon at the end of this review.)

Tell me if you’ve heard this one. A priest walks into a bondage bordello and… No? You haven’t heard that one? Oh, you think my joke is tasteless. My apologies, but I’m not the only one telling stories like this. The new book by Richard Castle, Heat Rises, starts the same way. Really? Well, go on then, if you’d rather read that book and not hear my joke.

Anyway, Heat Rises is the third in the Nikki Heat series of books in the ever meta world of Richard Castle, the TV show “Castle,” the actors that portray the characters, and the still-mysterious person writing these books. Oh, my bad. It’s really “Richard Castle” writing these books, and I’m here to say that he should increase his proficiency and bust out more than one book a year. I love these things.

In this new mystery, Detective Nikki Heat is called to the S&M dungeon where the body of man who turns out to be a priest, Father Graf, is found strapped to an apparatus, dead, with evidence of torture. Was that torture part of some hidden, kinky game Graf was involved in, or something worse? Heat, her partners, Ochoa and Raley (standing in for Esposito and Ryan from the TV show), have little to go on, but soon uncover a rather intricate plot that waxes over numerous suspects and leads.

In the season finale of the TV, it was revealed that Captain Montgomery was a part of the conspiracy surrounding the death of Kate Beckett’s mother. In this book, the author has Montgomery’s stand-in—Montrose; need a scorecard?—involved with this murder. He’s been acting strange and re-directing Heat’s investigation to a direction they both know will lead nowhere. Why might the captain be doing that? What is he hiding? As the evidence mounts, Heat is convinced, but doesn’t want to believe, that her mentor and captain is in on this thing.

One subplot is Nikki Heat’s potential promotion. On a lark, she took the promotion written exam and aced it. The open secret is that Heat will earn her lieutenant’s bars, and the interview portion of the process is a mere formality. Castle handles the politics of promotion so well that you get the impression that’s how things really go. Guess he learned that on his ride-along with Heat a few years ago.

The problem is, of course, that Heat gets too close to the truth and is stripped of her badge, her gun, and her job. Suspended, she has to turn to the only person who has the freedom to help her: Jameson Rook. Now, a word about Heat and Rook. Every week, the writers of the TV show have perform the delicate dance around the relationship between Beckett and Castle. Many viewers fear the “Moonlighting” Effect—that is, once the two leads get together, the show goes downhill. You could make the same case for “Lois and Clark.” Can’t speak to “Bones,” but by the time Mulder and Scully got together, “The X-Files” was already a pale shadow of what it used to be. I, for one, enjoy the dance and don’t want to see Castle and Beckett together anytime soon. But I do expect them to have their moment.

In the mirror universe that is the Nikki Heat books, they two leads do get together, and it can serve as a nice blueprint for the TV show writers. Heat and Rook clearly like each other, but things still get in the way. Since these books are almost exclusively told from Heat’s POV, you get to understand just how important it is for her to have a man like Rook—a non-cop—act as a refuge from the daily grind of the job. I find the relationship to be just right, and look forward to seeing how it plays out in future books.

In all three books, there has been a central action sequence that is written with such style and professionalism that it’s almost a textbook example of how to do action. The first book, Heat Wave, had Nikki fighting an intruder in her apartment after she’s left the bathtub. The second, Naked Heat, had Nikki battling a professional killer in Rook’s apartment. In this third book, the stakes are raised by ten. Nikki is trapped in an underpass, with a black suburban driven by a sniper behind her, and three trained riflemen approaching from ahead of her. She gets off a few rounds, but then loses her gun. How she escapes is pretty remarkable.

I have enjoyed all three of these Nikki Heat books, the second just slightly more than this one. But all are wonderfully enjoyable and Castle the writer—or whomever is really writing these things—has an effortless grace with his/her prose. It’s a page-tuner, but not the typical cliffhanger-every-three-pages type thing. It just moves and moves.

For those who watch the TV show: there’s the scene in this season’s premiere episode where Beckett and Castle talk after one of his book signings for Heat Rises. They discuss two things. One is the dedication. I’ll go ahead and divulge it here since it’s not a spoiler:

To Captain Montgomery, NYPD

He made a stand and taught me all I need to know about bravery and character

(Doesn’t your head spin with the meta nature of it all?)

Two, they obliquely discuss the ending of the book. Here’s a link to the episode online.

Beckett: Must’ve been hard to write that ending.

Castle: Yup, considering the circumstances.

For that to truly ring home, folks, you’ll have to read this darn good book.

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@Barrie Summy

Monday, October 3, 2011

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Any given game
Turns on key plays and players.
Defense won this game.

With the Offense slow,
Texans' D turned up the heat.
Foster ran away.

Dre out. Cause for fear?
Nah. Someone will step up, lead.
Pave our playoff road.

Pittsburgh Steelers - 10
Houston Texans - 17

Record: 3-1