A spectacular performance of La Boheme on Lake Massaciuccoli

puccini_s_lake_800pxhThe hard life of an editor just doesn’t let up.
Lisa Penington is a stalwart of the Editorial Menagerie, where she edits books byDakota Franklin, Andrew McCoy and Andre Jute for CoolMain Press.
Every year in July and August Lisa takes a break at her house near Nice, with side trips to the open-air opera in Tuscany.

lisa_waiting_out_rain_at_outdoors_opera_800pxhPUCCINI FESTIVAL
TORRE DEL LAGO, TUSCANY, AUGUST 2014
by Lisa Penington

We missed out on a visit to the Puccini Festival last year but my daughter and I made it again this year. Torre del Lago was buzzing as usual at this time of year and our first visit was to Turandot, an opera I have seen eight or nine times but which never ceases to enchant. The production was spectacular, beautifully dressed and well sung. Surprisingly for August in Tuscany the night was chilly and a great commerce was done by blanket sellers! We had not expected rain on the Thursday but literally five minutes before the end the conductor signified that the orchestra should stop and we all rushed for cover in the foyer of the arena as the deluge started.

At least that was better than my Verona experience some years ago when it rained for an hour in the first interval, then after the second break we waited in vaIn for the forecasters to announce an end to the bad weather. We left without seeing the last act, the one everyone is waiting for with the wonderful aria Nessun Dorma.

toasting_clear_weather_800pxhWe had expected bad weather on Friday but to our surprise we were warm and comfortable during La Boheme with no sign of the expected rain despite the threatening clouds you can see in our shot of Lake Massaciuccoli taken as we walked to the arena. This was a new production by the veteran film director Ettore Scola and it was very beautiful. The Cafe Momus scene was outstanding with a great atmosphere as the set had a second floor where you could see waiters serving customers while the action was proceeding in the street outside. Both Mimi and Rudolfo were excellent, experienced singers from the famous opera houses of the world. Daniela Dessí is apparently the first singer to perform an encore of ‘Vissi d’arte’ at the Teatro Comunale in Florence since Tebaldi in the ’50s. It was nice to be able to stay to give them the applause that was missing due to the rain the night before.

This time we stayed on a great little B&B right next to Puccini’s villa/museum so there was no rush for the cars after the performance.

A perfect stay!

More from Lisa:
The hard life of an editor
Three days in Tuscany

Text and photographs © Copyright Lisa Penington 2014

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The 10 most beautiful bicycles, according to the editors of the hoon’s automobile magazine, Top Gear

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The 10 most beautiful bicycles, according to the editors of the hoon’s* automobile magazine, Top Gear, starts with the bike above… That abomination is indicative of most of the rest of their choices.

One has to wonder whether any of them cycle.

They aren’t too hot on auto styling either.

Andre Jute

*a hoon is an Australian road hooligan

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Cycling history personified! On his 90th birthday, my bike builder is honored by Volkswagen.

Henk Kluver, the master craftsman who built my everyday bike, a Utopia Kranich, and made the coachlines on it, is 90, and in recognition of his lifelong dedication to quality transport, has been given a brand-new VW Transporter for being a “real craftsman” — that’s the “egte vakman” they’re searching for near the beginning of the touching video.

Among other things the video shows Meester Kluver assembling a near relative of my Kranich crossframe by hand, and, most interesting of all, coachlining it with a special tool.

90 and still working!

See my bicycle page  for my other bikes. This photo essay on my Utopia Kranich includes more images of Meester Kluver at work, and also of the 1930s version of my bike.

Andre Jute
Riding history

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SuperWhooper Escapes the Isle of the Damned

The Bandon River, on which I live, is one of the places the Whooper Swans overwinter. I often ride out on either of the two roads that flank the field on which they sit. You can get very close on one road, where cars have accustomed them to noise and people, and on the other you can look down on them with binoculars. But you shouldn’t conclude from this painting’s name that it is a realistic rendition of a Whooper; it isn’t, it is an allegory, a Whooper crossed with Dante’s Inferno, and I’ve crossbred it with a snow goose from some vague notion that a snow goose wouldn’t like the heat of Sodom & Gomorrah. The mind of a literarily inclined artist is awfully confused— er, I mean subtle.

Andre Jute: SuperWhooper Escapes the Isle of the Damned, acrylic on canvas, 2014, 6x8in

Andre Jute: SuperWhooper Escapes the Isle of the Damned, acrylic on canvas, 2014, 6x8in

I enjoyed making the Isle in the background so much in acrylic with a colour shaper that I’m ordering an oil bar (a thick stick of pigment mixed into wax that one applies directly to the canvas) of burnt sienna to slash at a larger canvas. I’m not ordering a set of oil bars because I really like working with water soluble oils and have plenty of other media, including normal solvent-based oils; we’ll see how I like one oil bar, then perhaps I’ll buy a set.

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Painting with bicycle found. Unfortunately, it’s a fraud!

Geocycle on the Thorn forum found the exact image I was thinking of. This is what I was looking for:

Fake bicycle poster with "Vincent van Gogh" background

Fake bicycle poster with “Vincent van Gogh” background

And this is what made me think of Vincent van Gogh, because he did paint the background.

Vincent van Gogh, Langlois Bridge at Arles

Vincent van Gogh, Langlois Bridge at Arles

Someone added a rider and a bicycle over a crude copy of a van Gogh scene. No wonder I couldn’t find it in the Musée d’Orsay!

Thanks to all who helped solve the puzzle for me by suggesting avenuses of investigation. Give Geocycle the big cigar!

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Painting of artist with bicycle? Who knows where to find it?

I’m looking for a painting of an artist with a bicycle.  He’s standing on an angle, perhaps coming up from a river, fields and maybe factories in the background. The bicycle is a Pedersen. Can you help me find it?

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Here I have  Robert Rosenblum’s beautiful book of the paintings in the Musee d’Orsay open on my treadmill and am paging through it, looking for the “missing” painting of the artist with a bicycle. I’m also in the photo; you can see my halo.

rosenblum_s_book_on_the_musee_d_orsay_thick_800pxh

But it’s slow work. There are about 900 pages in the book: here it lies on a box for a 100 canvas panels, so you can see how thick it is. Stewart, Tabori and Chang, who published it, give real value for money! More books of paintings from our shelves to follow until I find it, because it’s needling at me to know the painting exists and not be able to put my finger on it.

– Andre Jute

 

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Desiree (a dromedary) yawns, or perhaps intends to spit on the sketcher

Andre Jute, The Circus passes (without incident): Desiree (a dromedary) yawns, or perhaps intends to spit on the sketcher, 2014, approx 8x4 inches, acrylic on wax paper

Andre Jute, The Circus passes (without incident): Desiree (a dromedary) yawns, or perhaps intends to spit on the sketcher, 2014, approx 8×4 inches, acrylic on wax paper

There was some paint left over after I made a painting in my book of canvas sheets. It was still wet, so I couldn’t turn a page to make a new sketch. But I had the wax paper from my sandwiches… It pays not to be a litterbug!

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Andre Jute: Carpet of Flowers, Mishells, June 2014, Watercolor in custom sketchbook, A5

Where I cycled, and stopped to paint the carpet of flowers.

Andre Jute: Carpet of Flowers, Mishells, June 2014, Watercolor in custom sketchbook, A5

Andre Jute: Carpet of Flowers, Mishells, June 2014, Watercolor in custom sketchbook, A5

 

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If you can decipher Dakota’s cryptic message, you don’t want to miss this book!

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If you can decipher Dakota’s cryptic message, you don’t want to miss this book!

#iomtt #TouristTrophy GOD’S SCOFFLAWS by #Dakota Franklin now out. Get your #free sample! http://t.co/cjRKo4uSzT

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Bluebells from Ireland, pen and wash by Andre Jute 2014

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Bluebells from Ireland, pen and wash by Andre Jute 2014

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Andre Jute: The Fire that Ate Poacher Tom’s Cottage

Andre Jute: The Fire that Ate Poacher Tom's Cottage; acrylic on canvas, 6x8in; 2014

Andre Jute: The Fire that Ate Poacher Tom’s Cottage; acrylic on canvas, 6x8in; 2014

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IDITAROD by Andre Jute, reviewed by LeAnn Neal Reilly

IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute

IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute
Reviewed by LeAnn Neal Reilly

I very much enjoyed this tale of adventure, romance, and danger on the Iditarod Trail. Set in 1985, the heart of the story is an impetuous bet between one Rhodes Delaney, a sled-dog racer from Colorado, and James Whitbury, an Olympic gold-medal skier who also happens to be an MIT-trained engineer and inventor with a trust fund. (Yes, James is a bit too-good-to-be-true, but I’m happy to let that slide. After all, I actually know a few young men who could satisfy at least some of these traits. Mostly it’s the trust fund part that doesn’t convince me.)

Jute carefully establishes the main characters, including a monstrous wolf pack, before the actual Iditarod race begins, deftly weaving in details with a light hand. Initially misunderstandings and unfamiliarity color the nascent relationship between Rhodes and James (they met by chance at the outset), who train for the race of a lifetime in very different ways. Rhodes, the daughter of a Colorado rancher, will eschew corporate sponsorship to keep her father’s hand-carved wooden sled unspoiled with advertising; instead, she’ll work 12-hour days in a salmon-processing factory to raise the $20,000 to compete. But at least she’s bred and trained her own dogs and has half a lifetime’s experience racing. James, on the other hand, can afford to train and race, but he accepts sponsorship from Frontier Construction, getting dogs, training, and other elite help in return for designing and testing a lightweight alloy sled. He spends the better part of his training-year prototyping and testing a sled for production, but that’s okay. He’s got an experienced dog breeder and coach, along with the best nutritionist and gear that money can buy.

Once the race begins, so too does the story. Jute skillfully paces the writing to match the events. Though it moves quickly, the story never gets ahead of itself. At first, the story is told from Rhodes’s point of view, but at a critical, terrifying moment, it switches to James’s and then to a third-person view of the wolf pack, a distant but clearly festering problem. As the two racers face growing dangers and challenges on the 1200-mile trail from Anchorage to Nome, the wolves circle just outside their awareness but never far outside the reader’s. The viewpoints continue to alternate until settling down with Rhodes’. Jute ups the ante as the race draws to a close, heaping exhaustion and terrifying danger upon his two main characters. The final harrying sequence of events, while not nail-biting, does require sitting up straight, scooting to the edge of the seat, and paying attention very closely.

I particularly enjoyed the story because of its realistic, and thorough, description of the Iditarod race, its history, the trail, and what it takes to compete. For a brief (and irrational moment), I wistfully wished I could experience the thrill of riding on the runners behind a sled pulled by a dozen well-trained dogs. However, I’m not so keen on facing angry moose, bear, or wolves, nor do I wish to ride into the teeth of 40-mile-an-hour wind. And I’d prefer to sleep more than a few hours at a time, especially on a soft, warm bed.

I must also say that I found the romance between Rhodes and James both charming and a bit quaint (though I don’t mean anything pejorative by this). James has a gentleman’s manners from another era: he politely requests permission to be excused by an elderly woman at the beginning, and he gallantly charges into a blizzard to help Rhodes, then camps chastely with her.

It isn’t simply the romance that calls to mind a different, more genteel, era. There is a clear sense of propriety and duty throughout, a stiff-upper-lip sort of stoicism in the face of grievous difficulty, the understanding that the race takes precedence over everything else for Rhodes and James because they have said that they will run it, and their honor and sense of self are bound up in completing it to the best of their abilities. I personally am attracted to such characters.

IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute
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On Winsor & Newton’s Bijou Paintbox, my Little Postcard Pocketable Pochade Tin, and bicycling in the bitter Irish Spring

Last year for my birthday one of the gifts I received was the last Winsor & Newton Bijou Box from Green & Stone in London. I never actually received the brush supposed to go with this box but would in any event have chucked it out to fit in four more half pans, new total twelve, because the standard eight is one short of my minimum palette and a more normal palette for me is twelve colors. I have one of those WN travel brushes that came with another WN kit, and it is uselessly small, except I suppose to people who want to paint the eyes on gnats. The Bijou Box, about the size of a visiting card, now lives in my Little Watercolor Pochade Tin, a pocketable traveling watercolor kit kept on the hall table by my glove chest to grab whenever I go out. Today I went out on my bike, and the first thing I saw that I wanted to sketch was a well kept hedge, the pride and joy of some farmer’s wife.

andre_jute__painting_the_hedge 800pxhMy favorite bike, a Utopia Kranich, and my Little Watercolour Pochade Tin, caught in action on the ten minutes in which it was pleasant to stand painting outside on a miserably cold spring day in Ireland.

andre_jute_painting_the_hedge_w_n_bijou_box_800pxhAndre Jute: The Hedge, 230g rough paper, 6x4in.

The photo shows that the Bijou Box is Winsor & Newton’s most compact paintbox, about the size of a visiting card. The box itself isn’t well made or finished, and will soon rust, starting at the bubbles and pinholes in the so-called “enamel”; with eight half pans of color it is grossly overpriced at 55 Euro, say about eighty US dollars. I’m not surprised that WN have stopped selling it if Fome cannot supply a better quality box.

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Rob Kulas: The Reader

rob-kulas-lady-reading-9b-pencil

Rob Kulas: The Reader, 2014, 5x7in.

Ha! I’m a novelist, so the intent, involved look on her face struck me first; I knew she was reading before Rob told me, the second I saw the portrait. Don’t you just love the wild life of her hair: I bet she curses it on days when she’s in a hurry to get out of the door and the curls won’t stay down.

This is an excellent portrait, made with the simplest tools. I’ll let Rob explain the details. — Andre Jute

As this woman read I tried to sketch her in my Moleskine. Because I do a lot of landscapes I tend to see everything through the eyes of a landscape painter. Her curly hair was fun and I imagined drawing trees, and bushes. Her oversized hoodie reminded me of of hills, valleys and other topography. I don’t know if my sketch does her justice, but it was really enjoyable to do.

In answer to questions, Rob added:

I completed the whole thing while observing her. I would guess it took about 90 minutes. But this is a small sketch about 5×7 on the page. 

She constantly moved. But luckily reading doesn’t have a high range of motion so she always returned to a similar position. 

I used a 9B graphite pencil. Because it is fast and I can get any value from black to anywhere on the greyscale with one pencil.

It is easy to smudge, but that is why I like it. For most of the shading and half tones I use a blending stump.

I first concentrated on her face in case she left. Which happens to me often. Than I did a quick lay in of her clothing.

I use a kneaded eraser to negative draw with. I pull out the white or lighten values with it. That’s what I did with her hoodie and hair tufts. 

Her hair was a mop of curls so I just ran wild, not even trying to match it.

— Rob Kulas

Find Rob and Andre on The Sketching Forum.

This article contains copyright materials that may not be reproduced without permission, including the sketch copyright © 2014 Rob Kulas.

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IDITAROD POST MORTEM: A RACE WON, A RACE LOST by Andre Jute

IDITARODcreatespaceBannerImage

IDITAROD POST MORTEM
A RACE WON, A RACE LOST
by Andre Jute

After Jeff King was blown off the trail and had to scratch only 25 miles from a fifth victory, this was Aliy Zirkle’s race to lose. And she did lose it by not being ready when the gritty, relentless competitor Dallas Seavey came from nearly two hours behind to blow without rest through Safety, where Aliy was resting. Dallas staggered on to victory in Nome.

1924633_754426211236322_206420366_nDallas Seavey, winning the 1000+ mile 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from 1h49m behind 77 miles before the finish.

That Aliy, had she not relaxed into champion mode already in Safety, could have caught the worn Dallas and his tired dogs is shown by the fact that, starting from 17 minutes behind in Safety, 22 miles later in Nome Aliy was only 2m22s behind Dallas, an otherwise incredible gain that tells us much about their relative condition.

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The popular Aliy Zirkle, runner-up for the third year running.

The post mortem and excuses will run and run, but the truth is that Dallas won this race because he is first and foremost a winner, and Aliy lost it because she presumed Dallas would behave reasonably. True competitors are rational. That’s not the same as being reasonable.

Before the race I picked Aliy to win, so yeah, I’m pissed off to see her throw the race away.

iditarod_trail_sled_dog_race_map_800_72_125kb

The toughest race in the world, this year a race of attrition because of trail and weather conditions.

My page Iditarod – a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth picks and follows semi-outsiders, the non-obvious top ten runners. My pick for champion next year: the poster boy, the Iditarod heartthrob, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who’s made two top ten finishes for two starts, an awesome record in this company. Also on my shortlist for next year, tipped to be second, Aliy Zirkle.

iditarod_cover_6dec13_72dpi_800pxh

André Jute is the author of the much-loved, multi-award-winning bestselling novel IDITAROD a novel of the Greatest Race on Earth.

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So what do you do at White Mountain to stop you putting stuff in your mouth?

Currently the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, where I take a busman’s holiday every year, is in purdah, the leaders taking a mandatory break of 8 hours to rest dogs and mushers before the sprint for Front Street in Nome after over a thousand miles running across the arctic tundra within a stone’s throw of the Arctic Circle. Tough stuff, and that’s just the waiting in my ergonomic Herman Miller Mirra chair.

I’m too excited to work (I’m a novelist). So, what do I do to stop me putting stuff in my mouth? I sketch, often with watercolors. These are crude, rough sketches, because they must be finished very quickly if something exciting happens. Here’s one from  last year. I just glimpsed a photograph Jeff Schultz took for the Iditarod Trail Committee briefly. liked it, then lost it again, so I quickly sketched it from memory . It’s a whiteout at one of those desolate checkpoints, with gusts of wind blowing in every direction, and snow making depth judgement even worse than I captured it, situation normal on the Iditarod.

http://coolmainpress.com/ajwriting/

Andre Jute, Iditarod 2013, watercolor, 300g hot press paper, A5 custom sketchbook. See
http://coolmainpress.com/ajwriting/

For those who perchance know my visual work from when I was a portrait painter and were expecting something polished, hey, I’m on day-release, on holiday. And no, I haven’t been drinking. That is a poodle, all right; it’s a historic reference to a real team before your time.

Andre Jute is the author of several dozen bestselling novels and nonfiction, a sometime intelligence officer, advertising executive, auto and powerboat racer, trans-ocean yachtsman,  an professional polo player. He is the author of the much-loved novel IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth and maintains a netsite where readers of his book can follow the race every year.

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Y’all are cordially invited to come racing at the Iditarod Tail Sled Dog Race with me.

Ally Zirkle, leading the 1200 mile Iditarod, cutting a corner tighty, fighting to keep her sled upright.
Y’all are cordially invited to come racing at the
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race with me.
You will need these pages:
The Greatest Race on Earth http://on.fb.me/10epqwn
Alaskan Clock http://bit.ly/1d7uzeu
Race Standings http://bit.ly/1fRn1xM
Race Map http://bit.ly/1cu1Pcw
KEEP THESE PAGES OPEN PERMANENTLY.
CLOSE ALL OTHER PAGES IMMEDIATELY YOU FINISH VIEWING
OR YOU’LL SOON BE LOST.THIS PAGE HAS FURTHER ENTERTAINMENT AND INFORMATION:
http://bit.ly/1fyvyag

 

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GUEST SLOT: R. Doug Wicker on Guns in Novels and Gun Control in Real Life, interviewed by Matt Posner, Part 2

See first Part 1: Air Traffic Controller, World Traveller and Novelist R. Doug Wicker

GUEST SLOT
R. Doug Wicker on Guns in Novels and Gun Control in Real Life
interviewed by Matt Posner

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Walther P99 chambered for 9x19mm round, First Generation with green polymer frame.

You’ve been noted as having exceptional knowledge of firearms. How did you acquire such knowledge? What is your reason for incorporating it into novels?

I come from a long line of military members. I was named for a great uncle who died in Sicily during World War II. Another great uncle I was fond of fought in every major land battle in the Pacific Theater of Operations during that same war. He was a B.A.R. man (M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle) in the Marines. My paternal grandfather was a hunter and a gunsmith who also handmade custom hunting rifles. My own father loved to hunt as well, and consequently we had several firearms around the house. I was taught shooting a very early age.

Later in life I became interested in handguns, particularly European semiautomatics, and that remains my primary firearms interest to this day. I have an extensive collection of Walther PP-series pistols, several Swiss-designed SIG Sauers at the behest of my Swiss-born wife, and some other handguns that I’ve collected because they interest me.

As for how I acquired so much knowledge, my first exposure to handgunning was a fellow controller who had an extensive collection of U.S. handguns ranging from the iconic Colt M1911 to the .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 of Dirty Harry fame. A couple of times out shooting with him had me hooked, and I acquired my first handgun shortly thereafter — a stainless steel Interarms/Ranger Walther PPK/S in .380 ACP (9mm kurz for your non-American fans). I’ve been researching and collecting ever since.

790px-Walther_P99_9x19mmWalther P99 chambered for 9x19mm round, First Generation with green polymer frame.

As for incorporating handguns into my novels, I do so only if the story calls for it. For instance, in my book Decisions the main character Donovan Grant is from the New York City area. Gun ownership by the law-abiding in that area is a rarity because of the restrictive laws. Thus Don doesn’t know the first thing about guns. The one gun in that entire book is revealed toward the very end, and all Grant can tell you is that it’s some sort of revolver.

Reynard Chevalier of The Globe however is an entirely different character. Reynard has an intimate familiarity with firearms. He’s former military, and he’s currently in charge of security aboard a cruise ship.

In my current project there will be not even one firearm. It’s my first attempt at a mainstream novel, and the story has nothing to do with guns, murders, or mystery.

(See  Everyone knows that one of the easiest things for writers to get wrong is firearms. — Andre Jute)

Given that you know a lot on the subject, what do you think of the idea, promoted by the NRA and others, to arm more “good guys” such as my fellow teachers to counteract the actions of mass shooters such as Adam Lanza.

Let me begin by saying I’m no fan of the NRA (especially following their recent ludicrous “endorsement” of the candidate with the worst anti-gun record to ever run for the office of president of the United States). Not everyone is either emotionally stable or personally responsible enough to own — let alone carry in public — a firearm. Adam Lanza certainly wasn’t, and it turns out that neither was Nancy Lanza who was so devastatingly irresponsible in keeping her firearms beyond Adam’s reach despite his known mental condition. Curtis Reeves, Michael Dunn, and George Zimmerman are other poster-child examples of people who should not own a firearm.

Now, all that being said, there is one inescapable fact that gun-control proponents choose to ignore or even deny. Gun-free zones get innocent people killed. Period. With but one exception, since 1950 every mass shooting resulting in four or more deaths has occurred in a supposedly “Gun Free Zone.” The problem is that only the law abiding are truly free of guns in such areas, and it appears to me that these areas are being specifically chosen because there is a reasonable chance that the shooter will not have any armed resistance.

Example: There were seven movie theaters showing the movie The Dark Knight Rises within 20 minutes of James Holmes’ residence. The one he ultimately chose was not the closest to him. It was however the only one of the seven that had a “Firearms Prohibited” sign posted on the entrance.

That means that the Aurora theater victims may very well have been targeted because firearms were “prohibited” in that venue. That’s a pretty scary thought. And it’s reprehensible that those who designate such zones then refuse to take responsibility for the carnage that ensues as a result.

If, say, a theater owner wants to proclaim his or her establishment a “Gun Free Zone” (as was the case in Aurora, Colorado), then it should be incumbent upon that owner to provide some form of armed protection for his or her patrons. Personally, I think the owners of that theater should be held civilly liable for the decision to deny their patrons the inalienable right to self-defense, and then not take the necessary precautions to make sure those patrons wouldn’t be harmed by someone not inclined to follow their decree.

The same principle should also apply to other venues such as schools, post offices, and the like. If one is going to deny the right to self-defense, then one should supply armed guards to protect those whom he or she just disarmed. However in a school environment I would be very wary as to whom I would license and how well trained they would have to be. Special care would have to be taken to ensure that any firearm is kept from the reach of a student.

Bottom line: Gun-free zones are a demonstrably failed social experiment. Yet, after each and every mass shooting, the first thing anti-gun forces do is call for the establishment of yet more gun-free zones. What’s that old saying about one of the first signs of insanity . . . ?

Visit R. Doug Wicker’s Blog

Matt Posner is a novelist and teacher

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GUEST SLOT: Air Traffic Controller, World Traveller and Novelist R. Doug Wicker, interviewed by Matt Posner, Part 1

GUEST SLOT
Air Traffic Controller, World Traveller and Novelist R. Doug Wicker
interviewed by Matt Posner

Introduce yourself. Then, where do you live and how do you like it there? How would you compare your present home to the many other places you have lived?

I’m a retired air traffic controller who served in both the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration over a total of 34 years, 5 months. I currently live where I spent my entire FAA career — on the U.S.-Mexican border in El Paso, Texas.

Both my wife Ursula and I love it here in El Paso, which is why we chose to stay here after I retired. Previously I have lived in Sacramento, California; Enon, Ohio (outside Dayton); Columbus, Ohio; Roswell, New Mexico; Rome, New York; Okinawa, Japan; Clemson, South Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; Biloxi, Mississippi; Lakenheath, England; and Tucson, Arizona.

You have been around aircraft your entire career, mainly as an air traffic controller. What do you think has drawn you to work in this environment?

I’ve been around aviation all my life. My father was a career U.S. Air Force officer and pilot, so my earliest memories are of watching airplanes fly overhead. Indeed, I wanted to be a pilot as well, but pilot slots were being cut by the Air Force in the wind-down from Vietnam. When that avenue became closed to me (I also did lousy in college — it bored me to distraction) I chose the next best option — air traffic control.

I have always envisioned the professional life of the air traffic controller as alternating between high stress and sleep-deprived boredom. Is there any truth to that? What was your job like day to day?

There’s a lot of truth to that. We were definitely sleep deprived because of the rotating shifts. A typical 5-day, forty-hour work week was a 2:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M shift, a 1:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M., a 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., and on the last day a 5:45 A.M. to 13:45 A.M. followed just over eight hours later by a 10:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. shift. It’s hard to command your body to sleep under those conditions.

As for the stress, we definitely saw more than our share of that — Thunderstorms, emergencies, heavy military traffic on Fridays and Sundays. You name and I’ve probably seen it short of a hijacking situation.

By the way, do you know how a controller differs from a pilot? When a pilot makes a mistake the pilot dies, but when a controller makes a mistake the pilot dies. Yes, controllers are indeed known for their morbid senses of humor.

You have been writing for a long time. How did you get started doing it? What makes it fulfilling?

I got started for several reasons. I’ve always loved the written word. I’ve always felt I could spin a good yarn. What I lacked was motivation and confidence. Then in 1988 I met a charming man by the name of James A. Michener. We were on an Alaskan cruise and I attended all his lectures. Then one day Ursula and I ran into him on an upper deck. He was there with his handler/assistant, out in the cold enjoying nature on an isolated portion of upper deck away from the passengers. We chatted for quite a spell and he seemed genuinely interested in my air traffic control career and the post-strike conditions under which we had to operate. Afterward I got to thinking that perhaps I should give writing a shot.

But what makes writing fulfilling?

That’s a great question.

I guess I just love sitting down in front of a blank computer screen and filling it with words. I love the research involved. I love developing characters. I love inventing new, intriguing and challenging situations for those characters to overcome. Most of all I love dialogue — wordplay, idioms, regional dialects, malapropisms, bad grammar, good grammar — it’s all fascinating to me because it is how most of us communicate on a daily basis in everything we do.

You wrote a book for kids about one of the most famous acts of terrorism in history, the bombing of Pan Am 103. What was the genesis of this project, and what response have you gotten from kids who have read it?

I was hired by Rosen Publishing to write that after I was recommended to them by one of their contributors. The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was but one volume in an entire series on terrorist acts. I was also asked to write the volume on United Flight 93, but I had to decline because at that time all controllers nationwide were forbidden by the FBI from making any public comment on the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I know Rosen Publishing was pleased with the book, but I’ve not had any personal responses from any readers. I assume any such letters would have gone directly to Rosen.

Your novel Decisions has been compared to Agatha Christie. Do you agree with the comparison? Was Agatha Christie a favorite of yours to read at some time in your life?

Decisions

I did enjoy Agatha Christie in my youth. However I think the Agatha Christie comparison was a bit over the top (but I’m not complaining, mind you — thanks, Publishers Weekly). It is a cozy mystery in her style, but the characters, the humor, and particularly the language (Don Grant is a New Yorker, after all) make the book pretty much unlike anything in her extensive body of work. I think those who’ve compared it to Nelson DeMille or Carl Hiaasen are probably closer to the mark.

The Globe is about a ship offering housing to the super-rich, great for them until a serial killer becomes active within their ranks. Where did you get this idea? Do you think the book appeals more to those who would like to be super-rich, or those who feel anger against the super-rich?

I got the idea from the real-life cruise ship The World, upon which The Globe is modeled. I’ve also cruised extensively, with close to thirty cruises (including a 54-day cruise) under my belt, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to want to play with such a setting.Globe

As for whom the book appeals, I think most people have a fascination with the super-rich and super-famous. We all aspire to be them. As for those who feel anger against them — get over it. You know you’d change places with them in a heartbeat if given the chance. Save your anger for the super-rich super-crooks on Wall Street or in the Mega Banks, the ones who actually robbed you blind and got away with it . . . with bonuses. Or the socially irresponsible super-rich, such as the Sam Walton heirs who apparently believe that their positioning on the annual Forbes list is more important than paying a living wage to their employees. Those are the super-rich who’ve earned my disdain, not the Bill Gateses and the Warren Buffets of the world.

Your blog features your very diverse interests. What can readers expect to find there? How do you get ideas? And how do you manage to update it three times a week?

I blog mostly on aviation safety, aircraft, driving and sports cars, humor, technology and new stuff, handguns, concealed carry, photography, travel, movies, books, foods and wines, and of course writing. Other topics may crop up as the mood hits me.

Ideas come to me fairly easily . . . most of the time! Updating thrice weekly can be a chore, but I just have to use a bit of discipline to make sure it gets done.

Tell an interesting story from your career.

Oh, I have a lot of those. Far too many to choose a favorite. Well, okay, perhaps one:

We had a Continental airliner diverting into El Paso because of a bomb threat against the aircraft. The caller had specified that the bomb would detonate at precisely 2:00 P.M. local time. I was working ground control (responsible for all aircraft taxiing to and from the runways), and I was also the Controller-in-Charge of the tower at the time. Annie was working local control (runway operations and airspace within 3 ½ nautical miles of the airport). We got Continental on the ground well in advance of the threat time and taxied the aircraft to the bomb threat area, whereupon the passengers and crew were evacuated.

As the clock ticked toward 2:00 I noticed Annie getting markedly more anxious. She kept glancing over to the Continental, apparently anticipating it going up in a huge ball of flame. Around five after the hour she started to ease, and by 2:10 she was completely relaxed. An obvious hoax, right? That’s when I covertly blew into the brown paper sack and popped it loudly between my palms. She must have jumped two feet out of her chair.

Did I mention that controllers are known for their morbid sense of humor?

Tell an interesting story from your writing life.

Well, there was the time my Hollywood agents all but assured both me and my literary agent that my second novel was a shoe-in for a big movie deal. But, as you can see, I’m still a relative unknown, so that never happened. I blogged about the whole sordid affair in a post entitled A Tale of Woe and Misfortune Unlike Any Other. (Do click through to this link: it is a morbidly funny story of big-money doings in Hollywood. – Andre Jute)

What would you like to say to readers to close this interview?

Well, first of all I would like to publicly thank you for the opportunity to connect with people unfamiliar with my works and my blog. This has been a really kind thing for you to do, and I truly appreciate it.

Secondly, I’d like to thank those who took the time to wade through this interview to arrive at this point. Those who did persevere must have found at least a little of what I had to say of interest to them, and a writer certainly can’t ask for anything more than that.

Visit R. Doug Wicker’s Blog

Matt Posner is a novelist and teacher

See also Part 2: R. Doug Wicker on Guns in Novels and Gun Control in Real Life

 

 

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