All posts by John Maberry

A writer, a lapsed lawyer, a former government employee, a father of two and a 30+ year (in this lifetime) Bodhisattva of the Earth. Author of Waiting for Westmoreland. A happy man and a funny guy.

First Book Review of 2019–The Hat, C.S. Boyack

My reading goal for 2019 is thirty books–The Hat is a novella, a quick read.  Get it here.

The HatThe Hat by C.S. Boyack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very funny and quick reading story. A creative writing showcase–with a magical and thinking hat that carries on conversations with the inheritor of it. As an author myself, I’ll take it as a good reminder of how to use my imagination to make even a very outlandish concept come alive. Also nice that it’s an afternoon read!

View all my Goodreads reviews here.

With such a short review, here’s an update on my 2019 determinations (resolutions for those of you still calling your annual goals by that term).

  • Already connected with some new bloggers–following more people
  • Added some new followers and a friend on Goodreads
  • Did first drafts of three flash fiction stories and one short story for my next collection coming this fall–plus made a good start on another story

Despite obstacles that may arise–like an encounter with an unfriendly agave, I will not be deterred :). Best wishes to all of you in this New Year on achieving your goals!

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#Happy New Year

2019 Here We Come—Big Plans for a Bigger and Better Year

Quote from Daisaku Ikeda and "make resolutions that succeed"

I’ve lived enough of them to know that some years are more challenging than others, even when they are successful. 2018 had only a few goals achieved. Various obstacles (mostly health) obstructed other objectives. More on that below. 2018’s off year won’t stop me from making and achieving some very ambitious determinations for 2019. I will try again to make resolutions to succeed—more on that below as well.

Before I let you in on some highlights for 2019, I want to thank those fellow writers and bloggers who steadfastly followed and commented on posts here, despite some lack of reciprocity on my part. That, by the way, is one of the major goals for 2019–connecting more with all of you in that group and supporting your own efforts.

Some  of my 2019 Determinations:

  • Writing, blogging and social media
    • Follow and interact with more writers/bloggers
    • Make the most of Goodreads (see below about Google+ and Facebook)
    • Publish the 2nd collection of short stories in late 2019
    • Work diligently on a novel to come out late fall, 2020
    • See more on future writing goals here
  • Travel
    • Puerto Vallarta for a few days
    • Canada for a few weeks, with our dog—with some distraction free writing time
    • Florida for a few days in December to the FNCC
  • Maintain my weight loss and keep muscles in tone

2018 Challenges:

Mental fatigue impacted my writing—a CPAP machine helped but didn’t clear it up completely while doctors have no clue. A one-off cardiac event interrupted my writing agenda as well as other goals. After much testing—no invasive procedures were done. No new drugs and no changes in exercise were needed either. As the Simple Minds song goes, I amalive and kicking.” I plan on staying that way for years to come. I’ve done as Ikeda urged and didn’t give up.

Goals met include:

  • 29 books read (surpassing a goal of 24)
  • A decoratively curved patio/walkway for enjoying the view from our hilltop home in sunny New Mexico
  • Completing a two-year weight loss goal, 80 pounds off—I am not even overweight.

Goals unmet:

  • Didn’t expand my networking with fellow writers/bloggers and others
  • Didn’t join Facebook (not sure now if I still want to), expand use of Goodreads or the dying Google+
  • Took no vacation and didn’t publish that book by the same name (The Vacation)

If I couldn’t conquer those obstacles in 2018, how can I win in 2019—with much more ambitious goals? Nichiren Daishonin, founder of the Buddhism I have practiced for 41 years, says

“Employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other.”

By this he means use the practice first, not last. When medical treatment doesn’t cure a problem, then practicing one’s faith is a rational choice. Once I made a stronger, more focused prayer to be clear headed, the brain responded with focused energy much more of the time.

My wife and I have achieved too many goals (that some might say were impossible) to list them here. You can find many of them in Waiting for Westmoreland. My recent reminder about the tired mind confirms that I can achieve victory in 2019.

Whether you find Buddhism or any other faith a means for achieving success, having a clear process for accomplishing goals is essential. We’ve put these steps out in prior New Year’s posts, but here they are again.

Making Your Resolutions Come True

  • Don’t call them resolutions–call them determinations
  • Make an action plan to attain or achieve them
  • Execute the plan
  • Monitor your progress
  • Forgive yourself for occasional shortfalls
  • Never give up
  • Reinforce your confidence with recollections of past victories
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Acknowledgements: Quotation from Daisaku Ikeda on https more...

Possibilities–A Book by Herbie Hancock, Reviewed

Possibilities–Grab Them Like Herbie Has

I read and reviewed Herbie Hancock’s book last year. I post this review now because it is ineluctably linked to my own writing goals for 2019 and beyond. (See the last line of this review)I’ll post those  goals on my other blog late on New Year’s Eve. Check back here early next year for more on how I’ll make those writing plans come true–along with other New Year’s Determinations (no, I don’t call them resolutions–that’s a tired cliché satirized ad nauseam).

Herbie Hancock: PossibilitiesHerbie Hancock: Possibilities by Herbie Hancock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must confess to being both bewildered and inspired reading this book. I’m bewildered because much of what Herbie talks about in this book is Greek to me—I am not a musician and the details he offers about the evolution of his own musical techniques makes less sense to me than a discussion of the finer points of calculating interstellar trajectories using advanced mathematics.

I’m inspired (and a little jealous) of his many successes. He started on his musical career as a child and continually refreshed his style and knowledge of music. The title, Possibilities aptly describes his refusal to adhere to a status quo but always to innovate–no matter what learning curve might be required. Like Herbie, I am a practicing Buddhist. Forty-one years for me this year–more for him. Much of his success–his many Grammys, an Oscar for the musical score of Round Midnight, his Kennedy Center Honor, his record sales, etc., has to do with his practice of Buddhism. From it, he early on recognized that we are in control of our own destiny and that only surrender to doubt or the obstacles that occur in life will keep one from achieving whatever one sets out to do.

I had the good fortune of meeting Herbie in 1982 when he, Tina Turner and Patrick Duffy–among others, were preparing to perform at the “Aloha We Love America” event on the mall in Washington, DC. I worked in the control center, in L’Enfant Plaza where we did our morning Buddhist prayers (Gongyo) around 7 am for several days. All those celebrities were among the twenty or more people doing Gongyo there every morning. Herbie was an incredibly sincere and devoted member. He told the organization’s General Director to let him know whatever he could do to help. One of my tasks was to drive Herbie and his wife Gigi around Washington, DC. They were without pretension and without condescension. He was a star and I was no one of great stature but that mattered not at all.

The book touches only briefly on his Buddhist practice, just enough to establish its importance to him without a heavy handed push to persuade them to practice. Still, there’s enough encouragement to anyone open to this belief system to learn more. As it happens, I was among a large group of fellow Buddhists attending a conference in Florida when the Grammy for Album of the Year was awarded to Herbie for River: the Joni Letters. The first time in the history of the Grammys that a Jazz album had won this award.We watched the award show that night and rejoiced with him.

I too wrote a memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland, which has quite a bit more to do with what the practice of Buddhism has meant to me in reforming my own life and working to make the world a better place. I am envious of Herbie only because my career as a writer has begun at such a late stage in my life. It will be very difficult to acquire fiction writing skills comparable to Herbie’s skills as a musician in the years that I have left. But, inspired by his success and confident in the power of my Buddhist practice, I will make my mark in the next decade or two.

View all my Goodreads reviews here.

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A Not So Recent Review

I’ll wind up the year with a review of a book I read a while ago, 11/22/63. Why post it now? Because we just recently watched the miniseries version on Blu-ray.  Despite the fact that author Stephen King had some involvement in the series, the book is better.  If you happened to watch that but never read the book, I  urge you to go back and do that–a warning, it’s 849 pages! Note: the miniseries changes the portal arrival date to 1960; the review reference to 1958 is correct.

11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a story about what happens when Jake Epping, high school teacher, is introduced to a time portal surprisingly hidden at the back end of the pantry of Al’s Diner. Al, in his wisdom, doesn’t spend much time explaining the phenomenon beforehand to Jake; instead he urges him to check it out. Only after the experience with the portal does Al explain his purpose–Jake needs to go back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK in Dallas in 1963. The portal, coincidentally, takes one back only to one certain date in 1958 and no matter how much time spent in the past, the time elapsed in the future is only two minutes. The why of these functional elements is never explained, nor is it necessary for the story’s evolution.

I have read countless books that include or predominantly revolved around time travel. This may not be the best time travel book ever written, but it is very good. Without adding spoilers, it does a decent job of showing, not telling, the complications of traveling through time–clothing, money, time-bound cultural norms, etc. What it does a very good and very interesting job of is illustrating the resistance to changing events that the warp of time imposes on one who tries to do it.

Along the way, King treats us to an evolving love story, a partially factual and partially invented (the details at least) history of Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, his wife and “friends.” King does a good job developing the characters. What I found compelling about this book, is how it wound to the not entirely unexpected conclusion.

Not until the very end do we get a brief explanation of the portal from a gatekeeper of sorts, that Jake encounters each time he comes and goes. That this character is a gatekeeper is hinted at, but the foreshadowing is not heavy handed.

View all my Goodreads reviews

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The Bewitching Hour Approaches the White House

A Blue Wave Comes in January–Mueller Too?

The Democrats have won 40 House Seats in the next Congress–meaning they will have a 235 to 200 majority. It won’t be pretty for Trump. Investigations will ensue. Agency heads, cabinet officials and others will be called to testify. All those people who weren’t subpoenaed by Devin Numbnuts (Trump co-conspirator and chair of the House Intelligence Committee) or were allowed to not answer pertinent questions will have to answer in the Democratically controlled House.

But what of Mueller? Will more indictments come from Mueller in December? More in January? A report to Congress? Yes, it could all happen. On Friday comes the sentencing memo for double-flipper Manafort. The prevailing opinion is that this will be a public document detailing all of Manafort’s misdeeds.  Meanwhile, Trump is once again publicly adding fuel to obstruction fire–all but admitting that he has dangled a pardon for Manafort in exchange for info on what Mueller is up to.

But is all the chagrin and worries advanced about the duplicitous behavior of Manafort, his lawyers and Trump’s half-assed legal team (calling them JV would be overstating their legal acumen) warranted? How much would Mueller’s team have let Manafort in on during their hours together? Not much, in my opinion. As tight-lipped as the Mueller team has been with news media, Congress and everybody else, why the hell would Manafort be trusted with intimate details of what others had testified to–or what evidence Mueller had???

Continue reading The Bewitching Hour Approaches the White House

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Another Thanksgiving Day

A best of previous posts celebrating this great American holiday (and  one observed in other countries as well–but on different dates) .  

On this day we offer our thanks and appreciation for the bounty in our lives. For some, it’s a religious occasion. For others it’s all about eating turkey and watching parades or football. For me, it’s all of that.

I am so very thankful for the loving relationship with my wife–a marriage that has endured for 38 years now.  I am also thankful for still being alive and kicking after some medical challenges facing me this year. More on that in December but meanwhile, click on this short music video with the “Alive and Kicking” chorus.

“None of us can exist in isolation. Our lives and existence are supported by others in seen and unseen ways, be it by parents, mentors or society at large. To be aware of these connections, to feel appreciation for them, and to strive to give something back to society in a spirit of gratitude is the proper way for human beings to live.” Daisaku Ikeda

I owe gratitude to countless people. My parents, who brought me into the world, especially my mother who did her best to care for me after my father passed away. My brother and his wife who took me in at age 16 after my mother too passed away. Another brother who offered many life lessons. Teachers who inspired and gave me tools I use today. The person who introduced me to Buddhism and all those who have guided and inspired me in continuing to grow in that practice which has enriched my life.

Whatever your observance of this day may include, I hope it will bring much joy and happiness. Eat well if you can but not more than you should. Stay away from politics if possible; it likely won’t help the digestion or make for a happy occasion. Give thanks and appreciation in the way best suited to you and your family.

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Acknowledgements: Simple Minds, "Alive and Kicking" m more...

Don’t Be a Settler–Updated from Eagle Peak Quarterly

In May of 2018, we published the last Quarterly issue on Eagle Peak Press. As noted then, henceforth an annual edition will be published, with the first one coming in Spring, 2019. In the meantime, just to refresh some of those articles and remind people to tune in next year, we will share some of them here over the next few months.

With thoughts of Thanksgiving in America coming soon and New Year’s not far behind, it seems timely to consider getting a head start on planning celebrating successes and vowing for more. That could mean not settling for less than optimal outcomes in one’s life–whether they be in health, wealth, relationships or more.

So here’s an updated version of an article from the June 2016 Quarterly that offers some tips on winning over self.

“We’re settlers.”

Sound familiar? If you watch TV much, you may remember seeing the silly commercials for DirecTV trying to switch you from cable to their satellite television service. The commercial made a good analogy. The point? Accepting shortcomings rather than challenging them. We stay up too late. We mean to apply for that promotion. We want to exercise more or eat better but we don’t. Sure, it’s easier to simply accept the status quo. It could be procrastination. It could be avoidance. Or it could be just settling. The things we settle for aren’t necessarily bad. Other things may well be more important. But if we settle for less, we’re missing out on better.

As a Buddhist, I am supposed to be aware of such things and make use of my practice to improve my life. But I too sometimes settle. Year after year, I made goals to exercise and lose weight but failed. Weight WAS a perennial problem for me. Then I determined that 2017 would be the year that I succeeded. From January 1, 2017 through November 10, 2018 I went from 240 to 160 pounds. Read more about weight loss techniques that work in this article. [NOTE: I continued the program in 2018 and achieved that current weight].

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to challenge yourself. If you are, you know that you are the one in control of your own destiny. If you don’t take action, no one will. But again, whether you apply the Buddhist practice to your life or not, the point is that you don’t have to settle. You just must recognize when you have a bad habit you want to get rid of, make a plan to do so and execute it. You have a goal but it seems too much work or too difficult, so you settle for what you have. That’s OK, except after a time you become inured to living with less vigor. You become satisfied with being less than you could be. If will were a muscle, this kind of thing can leave you with an underdeveloped one.

Contrast this with Maria Popova’s observations about self-comparison in a commencement address she gave. [see Worth Noting, also in the June 2016 issue–at the top of the piece].

But here’s the thing about self-comparison: In addition to making you vacate your own experience, your own soul, your own life, in its extreme it breeds resignation. If we constantly feel that there is something more to be had — something that’s available to those with a certain advantage in life, but which remains out of reach for us — we come to feel helpless.

What she means is comparing oneself with others; not comparing a present self with a past or future one. Yet the essential truth is that once we accept some chronic condition or habitual shortcoming we settle on a lesser self. A self unable to accomplish all of our dreams. We are diminished. 

my office, designed by meI always wanted to be a writer, now I am; it only took a few decades. Because I am frugal (some might say cheap) I learned to do minor electrical and plumbing work in my own house. Ditto drywall and painting. Landscaping too. I had a decent paying job and my wife worked as well but being a do-it-yourselfer funded wonderful family vacations. When I retired from the day job, I began writing. But I had more do-it-yourself projects on tap, like establishing and maintaining websites like this one. I also needed to design the dream house we now live in; I used a computer application to do that. I didn’t build or paint that office at left, but I designed it. All it takes to do anything unfamiliar is a will to learn and the discipline to succeed. I won’t settle for not doing something because I don’t know how. Challenges are just that. Obstacles can be overcome. Persistence pays off; victory over procrastination does the same.

Don’t be a settler!

We should never decide that something is impossible and buy into the belief, “I’ll never be able to do that.” The power of the entire universe is inherent in our lives. When we firmly decide, “I can do it!” we can break through the walls of self-imposed limitations. Daisaku Ikeda.

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Three New Book Reviews

Three New Book Reviews

Haven’t made much of a dent in the writing objectives this year.  While the creative brain took a vacation most of the year I met and will surpass my goal of reading 24 books. It will be gangbusters on the writing front next year–stay tuned!

Gather the Sentient (The Sevens Prophecy, #2)Gather the Sentient by Amalie Jahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great read–the circle of light expands and more becomes known about the dark/evil ones. The great thing about this series is how the psychic powers are applied to current political and social events–focusing on greed vs things like healing and putting criminals behind bars. You need to read book one–don’t just jump into this one.

OutinOutin by Brandt Legg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Keeps things moving along at a decent pace for the story line. The YA situation raises it’s head a little more with a challenge for the 16-17 year-old protagonist having in dealing with relationships between himself and two girls. If it weren’t for that and occasional age mentions, I’d overlook it and forget about it. That said, it’s a great read with all the extra-normal powers being developed continually and constantly dealing with the threats posed by the bad guys. For mystery lovers, there was some foreshadowing of an issue about who was leaking the info about where people were–but you’ll have to figure it out for yourself. By the time that was resolved, I’d forgotten about my early suspicion. Lots of action and suspense. If you liked the first book in the trilogy, you’ll like this one too. But you should read the first one before this; it won’t work well as a standalone.

GalápagosGalápagos by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This could be perhaps more accurately be labeled satire, literary fiction or simply fiction–all with Vonnegut’s typical “humor.” I’d have to say he was running out of gas at this point in his life. It could reasonably be written in half the space it takes if 2/3 of the continual redundancies about “big brains” were eliminated. Likewise the asides about Trout’s ephemeral self-assessments. Most of all, the “development” of the characters. Just not that funny, too telegraphed and too despairing without a rational explanation about why the devolution of the human race happened. He told the reader it had happened within the first chapter and spends the rest of the novel somewhat fleshing out the characters that take us there. I’d really like to give it 1.5 stars, but that’s not an option. Disappointing from one of my favorite authors of long ago. I once wanted to write like him; but I don’t have that dark a view of humanity anymore so I can’t.

View all my Goodreads reviews

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America Worst? (With Trump It’s Not “First”) Save America–Get Out and Vote!

The #MAGAbomber, brought to you by Donald J (for Jackass) Trump.

Was it Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller that appropriated “America First,” Lindbergh’s Nazi sympathizer slogan from the 1930s? No matter, Trump eagerly adopted it. What results is America Worst. Trump is the laughingstock of the world and America is looked down upon by developed nations. Instead of being the shiny city on the hill, America is in danger of being regarded as the sh**ty city on the hill.

What does MAGA really mean? I came up with Making America Grievously Abhorrent. I’ll bet you can come up with a better one. Let me know in the comments.

When he says, he is a Nationalist, he implicitly means he is a White Nationalist. He distinguishes himself from Globalists, which can be an economic term but is also a code word for Zionist financiers–or an anti-Semitic smear. He encourages violence against protesters at his rallies and against others. The racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance that Trump repeatedly espouses gives free rein to right wing extremist violence.

In addition to the MAGAbomber, Trump is ultimately responsible for these other attacks from just the last week–the anti-Semite shooter at the Pittsburgh Synagogue and the Kroger shooter that would have killed people at a Black church if he could have got into it. Since Trump’s ascendance, white nationalist terrorism has increased dramatically.

Sarah Sanders said (Monday, 10/29), “I think the president had a number of moments of bringing the country together. . . .” Well, that’s for sure—more and more people in America are coming together opposing Trump’s imperial presidency, his cruelty, his corruption, his lying, his racism, his misogyny and more.

What can we do, coming together in opposition to Trump? We can vote. Democrats and true Independents may not take over Congress completely, but just defeating the corrupt Trump sycophants that make up the GOP Trump Cult would make America better. Let’s restore a modicum of decency, morality, honest and integrity to America. Let’s elevate America’s status in the world to somewhere near what it used to be.

Perhaps Trump will be impeached by a Democratically controlled House, but he could not be convicted and removed by a Senate even if the Democrats won a majority. Well, maybe–if the Mueller report and additional indictments are strong enough. Not likely to happen. Maybe Trump will have a stroke or heart attack?  With his diet and lack of exercise (he drives golf carts onto the greens!) it’s possible.  Time will tell.

But what’s the scariest Halloween costume you could imagine? A  person with a Trump mask holding a newspaper heralding his reelection in 2020—now that’s a real horror!

So vote NOW to give him a clue of what’s to come and maybe he’ll leave voluntarily if it gets to hot in the White House.

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More Book Reviews

Ore Pirates (Federation Diplomat #2)Ore Pirates by E.J. Randolph
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An oddly entertaining story about the (mis)adventures of Kate Stevens, Federation diplomat. The author sets up some humorous situations and laughably named characters–like Really Big (her supervisor). For anyone who has ever worked in a government bureaucracy, the bosses and their behavior will be unfortunately all too real. Still, it’s sci-fi–so we have the issues of meals aboard a spacecraft, the effects of gravity that’s higher or lower than Earth’s. That makes for some interesting development of the emigres who live there. On the political side, we have the standard problems of greed, corruption and malfeasance. In examining the development of colony planet cultures the author even tosses in a planetary regime clearly modeled after North Korea–complete with a “Beloved Leader” and not just secret police but secret, secret police. I enjoyed it. You will too if you like your political humor a paler shade of dark than Vonnegut or Dick–maybe a mid-range gray.

A Spider Sat Beside HerA Spider Sat Beside Her by K.E. Lanning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing work of the perhaps no longer new but not yet widely known cli-fi genre (a subset of sci-fi). Lanning develops well the lead character of Lowry Walker, her somewhat estranged (and angry plus manipulative) father, an uncle and the nefarious political villains. She throws in some dishonest politicians and the corrupt intent of–yes, latter-day colonialists against what in Canada are known as First Nation folks, just like what happened in the USA way back when. But then, all is not what it seems in the conflict over who really attempted to sabotage the International Space Station (ISS). Despite her credentials, the author doesn’t make this a truly hard sci-fi story so don’t be put off by technological talk–it’s not much more than most of us are familiar with in today’s world. A great book. I’ve already downloaded the next book in the series, which apparently stands alone along with an upcoming third one.

The Broken World second revised editionThe Broken World second revised edition by Harley Brent Hightower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many folks have heard the admonition to “write from life,” especially those who are writers. Broken World is styled as fiction but the characters are so real that one might easily conclude there were some biographical (if not autobiographical) elements to it. Assuming not, then Hightower has some good observational skills and a vivid imagination enabling the creation of a very dysfunctional extended family of characters. Parents who verbally abuse children. Spouses who argue with one another. Self-absorbed people who justify their own misbehavior and withdrawal into small worlds of their own. It’s not a book with a happy ending. Nonetheless, it’s entertaining and worth reading for how the protagonist, Byrd Keane, escapes the insanity of the broken world that surrounds him by his excursions outdoors in rural New Mexico. He is intelligent beyond his twelve years and seemingly one of the few normal characters in the book. In some ways, I can see elements of John Irving mixed with Kurt Vonnegut. Take note that the fictional northern New Mexico town that Byrd lives in is called Alma Perdido, which means Lost Soul in Spanish. It could mean abandoned, missing or other things; you be the judge if you read the book.

UpstagedUpstaged by Aaron Paul Lazar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still good, but I’m getting less keen on the Julia Child parts, the song lyrics and the church services. The characters, the crimes and looking for foreshadowing is all there. It’s not quite a “cozy mystery,” as I understand the term but it is certainly not as hardcore as some. So if you are looking for less blood, gore or heavy violence (It does have some but not too graphic) then this is a good choice.

View all my Goodreads reviews here

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