Muslims as Villains

In their year-end issue Entertainment Weekly (#1239/1240, Dec. 28, 2012/Jan. 4, 2013) has a list prepared by Stephen King of “The Best Books I Read in 2012.” Note that title. Books he read this year, not necessarily books published in 2012. In fact, topping his list of 10, is Michael Gruber’s The Good Son, which was published in 2010. For Gruber’s works, see his home page.

When I read the book back in August 2010, I had just come from reviewing a few thrillers that used Muslims as villains. The difference between those works and Gruber’s was immense. Instead of a right-wing vision of evil Saracens (Can I jokingly call them that, using a term familiar to anyone who studies the late Middle Ages or Renaissance, when Muslims were equally reviled?), Gruber offers a character who (as Stephen King says) “out-mullahs the mullahs.” In doing so, the character (a woman) and the author reveal an understanding of Islam that far surpasses that of most writers.

As King also noted, he “learned more about the jihadist mindset in these pages—and in an entertaining way—than in all the cable-TV punditry I’ve seen since 9/11” (p. 107).

He thinks Obama should read the book (maybe he has). If it’s that important, you owe it to yourself to read the book as well.

Gruber’s thriller (if I can call it that) led me on to several other novels of his, including Tropic of Night (hey, in part because that title’s so close to Tropic of Fear, a thriller of mine published in 2006) and The Forgery of Venus. An interesting author who does an excellent job at integrating research into his plots.

Optimist or Pessimist? Or, What’s in Your Christmas Stocking?

Maybe you’ve heard the story, often told this time of year, about the difference in temperament between an optimist and a pessimist.

On Christmas eve, a father with two boys decides to put a fine gold watch into one son’s stocking and a pile of horse manure into the other’s.

Christmas morning, the first boy comes to his father and glumly says, “Dad, I don’t know about this gift. It’s too nice, too fragile. I’ll never wear it. I don’t want to risk breaking it. I wish you’d gotten me a video game.” About then, the second boy runs up with a chortle [a word invented by Lewis Carroll], and says, “Daddy! Daddy! Santa left me a pony! Now if I can just find it!”

May you find horse manure in your stocking! Happy holey days to all!

Author Bios, Alcohol, and the Past vs. the Present

Over the last couple of years I’ve been reading several biographies of writers, most with a common theme—the destructiveness of alcohol(ism). The first was Blake Bailey’s A Tragic Honesty. The Life and Work of Richard Yates. What a grim life Yates led, what a sacrifice for his art, admirable, I suppose, although one wishes he had a jailer who would have stopped him from excessive drinking and smoking (as much as five packs a day in his prime). He lived longer than I would have expected (in fact, more than long enough), but his later work was adversely affected.

Bailey also wrote a bio of John Cheever, but I stopped midway, since I had just read Susan Cheever’s Home Before Dark. A Biographical Memoir of John Cheever by His Daughter. and Bailey’s work seemed just more of the same. Susan Cheever’s memoir was very well done. Made me want to read more of John Cheever’s work. That’s one of the nice things about bios—they introduce you to works (often minor) that you might otherwise have skipped.

And then it was Jackson J. Benson’s Under the Big Sky: A Biography of A. B. Guthrie Jr. Very enjoyable. Once, when Bud Guthrie returned to Montana late in life (he lived from 1901 to 1991), he felt the state was much diminished. From my experience, you have only once—usually when you’re young and naive—to experience a place with awe. I think of my sophomore year in Pavia, Italy, and how immense and overwhelming Rome appeared to me, a 19-year-old from a town of 5,000 people (Gresham, Oregon). Then, years later, as I tramped over the city, having lived in the Bay Area and Chicago, as I walked from the train station to the Vatican and back, with numerous stops in between to see ancient sites, the city seemed much diminished.

Same for the Western U.S. of my childhood. The wide-open spaces now overrun, rivers cluttered by hard-drinking, late-night partiers, trails crowded by exercise nuts. The vast silence of place is much diminished. One resents the newcomers who feel like natives and make you feel like an outsider. But they never had a chance to know the place you did. Gresham, can you believe it?, now has over 105,000 inhabitants! A growth of 100,000 in 40-some years. The town is now the fourth-largest city in Oregon.

One of the main differences between then and now is the current rush—a hububaloo (my preferred neologism instead of hullabaloo) of speed, color, noise, flash, and soccer-mom frenzy. When the West was less populated, one sought noise in the silence, the muffler throbbing its steady roar as you shifted into a lower gear on a lonely country road and let off the gas. It was loud but a loudness in the midst of silence—or what passes for silence in nature. You could spot an opossum at night, caught in the car beams, and have it fake death at your approach. I picked one up one time, brought it home, and kept it in a rabbit cage, before finally letting it go. Today all you find are stores, heavy traffic, congestion. The library next to which I lived and where I spent much of my time is now an historical relic, though still a beautiful building. At least it hasn’t been torn down . . .

More on author bios in a later post. I’ll conclude with a corrective thought that comes from Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier (1528). The past is not better than the present; people are not worse today than they used to be. It’s only the old who think like that. And they have bad memories to boot!

Still, I think I’d rather face a lance than an assault rifle.

If You’re A Painter Best to Be Dead

klimt-portrait of adele bloch-bauer
You might know Gustav Klimt’s painting “The Kiss” but what about his “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”? Library Journal had a review in the last issue—O’Connor, Anne-Marie. The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Knopf. ISBN 9780307265647. $32.50 (ebook also)—where the reviewer notes that the painting was auctioned at the start of this century for a record-breaking $135 million. Klimt, a Viennese Secessionist painter, lived from 1862 to 1918. Adele Bloch-Bauer was a noted patron of the arts. Hey, maybe the gold leaf itself was worth a million.
Aren’t these prices for paintings a bit ridiculous? That’s why my younger brother, Feral Artist Bill Terpening, refuses to sell to investors and prices ALL his paintings at a modest $350. If you can’t afford a Klimt, buy one from Bill! Your heirs may thank you 100 years from now when Bill’s paintings go for a hundred million. Man, he’s going to be angry . . .
Here’s one of my favorites (among many)–“The Jousting Knight” (#502 Oct 1996 53″ x 41″):
The Jousting Knight
The Jousting Knight, Oil on Canvas, $350

More Free E-Book Days

This long blog post contains
• info on the dates of free downloads for two e-books at’s Kindle store:
Storm Track (a thriller)
The Turning (young-adult fiction)
• book covers, plot summaries, blurbs for both books.

Storm Track: FREE DAYS (for devices as well as the free “Kindle for PC” application):
→ from Friday (12:01 a.m.), Dec 7 through Saturday (11:59 p.m.), Dec 8

    Derek Stone didn’t want to be on an oil rig off the coast of Tunisia, watching his bride die in a terrorist attack. He didn’t want to be two hundred feet deep in the Mediterranean, out of oxygen and with two divers intent on killing him waiting above. But sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to. Sometimes you don’t have a choice.
    The question is: How do you do it and stay alive?
    Stone, a commercial oil-field diver, once worked as a saboteur for the Canadian Intelligence Service. Now He’s working for himself—or so he thinks. As his quest for his wife’s murderers leads him through the hills of Malta, the plains of Tunisia, and the coast of Italy, into the byzantine, murky world of spies and counterspies, thieves and betrayers, where nothing is as it seems, Stone begins to realize that he is being subtly manipulated. And the puppetmaster is an international arms merchant, who is busy trafficking in NATO secrets and isn’t about to let anyone get in his way.

“Highly recommended” by Library Journal for its “nonstop action,” “breathtaking pace,” and “its settings in Italy, Sicily, Malta, and Tunisia.” — William C. McCully, Library Journal

Storm Track is one of the best researched novels of suspense I’ve ever read, with a wealth of fascinating details about commercial and deep-sea diving, the oil business and oil platforms, shape-memory metals, the island of Malta, and Tunisia. I loved this thriller from first page to last.” — Suzy Smith, The Write Word (author of 30 books including The Afterlife Codes, The Book of James, and Ghost Writers in the Sky)

Find the e-book at

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The Turning: FREE DAYS (for devices as well as the free “Kindle for PC” application):

from Monday (12:01 a.m.), Dec 10 through Tuesday (11:59 p.m.), Dec 11

    It’s not even midnight yet and sixteen-year-old Artie Crenshaw, working the night shift at a cannery in Oregon, has been let go early—a slow summer night, raspberry season running out, blackberries not yet started—and Artie has the family car with nothing to do until morning chores on the farm. Nothing to do, that is, except clash with some greasers outside the bowling alley in town, meet Reta Jane and slaughter a pig dying of a heart attack, get shot at in a cherry tree and help fix a Ferris Wheel at the county fair, stumble across Wendy, get stuck in a ticket booth with two hoods trying to make him kiss pictures in a magazine, fight a rival at the local lovers’ lane, have a run-in with an angry woman in a tent on the banks of the Sandy River, and encounter Colleen, a new girl in town.
    With the ominous specter of his dad’s pickup flashing by, Artie charges through disaster after disaster, a night-long series of adventures and encounters that leads him, after a final confrontation with his father, to the top of a Ferris wheel and—just maybe—to the girl of his dreams.

A coming-of-age story
• that the New York Public Library placed on its list of “the best of the previous year’s publishing for teenagers”
• that the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association selected for their “Young Adult Top Forty” list
• that Appleton Wisconsin High School selected for their “Top Fifteen Books of the Year.”

“Set in the 1960s in a small town in Oregon, this quiet story is a touching tale about a teenager caught between adolescence and manhood. The plot develops consistently … and the characters are believable and well developed. This well-written story conveys the seriousness of the issues and will find a wide audience.” —Karen Hoth, School Library Journal

“Too good to be just for teens! The apparent simplicity veils a formal complexity that will appeal to adults” — Monique Wittig, the late literary critic and author, winner of the Prix Medicis

“A superb story with a terrific theme, beautifully structured!” — Stephen Mertz, author of Blood Red Sun

“Exuberant story-telling!” — Rob West, author of The Colossus of Richard O’Leary

“Poetic simplicity. Anyone who remembers being young will love this book. I literally couldn’t put the book down.” — Gerard Agniéray, the late poet, winner of the Prix du Consul de Belgique

Find the e-book at