Horror: Is it News?

Fahrenheit 451

Chemical attacks in Syria, denials on all sides, suicide bombers, domestic shooters, protests and marches, trade wars, and very few willing to consider compromise due to their political views (influenced by Facebook’s polarization filters.) Add Stormy Daniels and stormy weather, with televangelists profiled on American Greed, and you have either chaos as modus operandi, or cause for employing more satirists. Video gaming is thriving, as more people seek to escape reality. (Read “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonagal.) But it’s not all bad. They just don’t report the good, much. It’s tacked onto the end of the network news, along with ads for junk food and prescription drugs. They know what pays the bills (sex and violence), but they don’t want you to leave depressed. Neither do I

TFOB

Ray Bradbury was a mentor to many writers, including Stephen King. (He answered every letter I wrote to him as a beginning teen writer, inspired by his stories.) Dozens of movies and plays and TV shows were based on his books. He was consultant on Disney World, and was an icon not just in the world of science fiction. (Many of his stories were published in magazines that never published fiction, much less science fiction. Like Reader’s Digest and Life, not to mention three of the four first issues of Playboy.) His vision was timeless and universal, like the music of Chopin. HBO is producing Fahrenheit 451 once again for May 2018. The original classic movie had a modern retelling in the Christian Bale movie Equilibrium, which was great despite losing money. (Everything is about money and sports, these days. Fewer people read, while the media chases viral videos and McNews, which Bradbury called “factoids.”) Ray predicted many things that have happened in technology, including drones and driverless cars, but once said that his job was not to predict the future so much as “to prevent it.” That future is here. Television and “vid screens” have taken over the world, while “A world that reads less becomes more violent.”

Christian Bale

AGT.

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Wine Writer

Boo Walker

After picking the five-string banjo in Charleston and Nashville and then a few years toying with Wall Street, Boo chased a wine dream across the country to Red Mountain in eastern Washington with his dog, Tully Mars. They landed in a double-wide trailer on five acres of vines, where Boo grew out a handlebar mustache, bought a horse, and took a job working for the Hedges family, who taught him the art of farming and the old world philosophies of wine. Recently leaving his farm on Red Mountain, Boo and his family are back on the east coast in what’s called the Portland of Florida, St. Pete. As he wraps up the second book of the Red Mountain series, he’s got his eyes and ears open, building his next cast of characters. No doubt the Sunshine City will be host to the next few novels. The author of Lowcountry Punch, Off You Go, Turn or Burn, and Red Mountain, Boo’s novels are instilled with the culture of the places he’s lived, the characters he’s encountered, and a passion for unexpected adventure.

Jonathan Lowe) You’ve always wanted to write, but you’re involved in the winery business. Have a friend named Jeff Davis who has a wine show in Napa area. Did you start with articles or fiction?

Boo Walker) I used to play music in Nashville for a living with a band called the Biscuit Boys. My first taste of the creative process and putting words together was writing songs. When I left that career, I had to fill the void. Being a voracious reader, I always wanted to try my hand writing fiction. So I went from songs to full-length fiction.

JL) Anything happen at the winery itself that could be described as “mysterious” or “suspenseful?”

BW) There’s always things that happen at the winery with a sense of suspense or mystery. Our winemaker was nearly killed by the press one year. A year before that, someone stole our neighbor’s grapes, picking them at midnight during harvest. I’ve seen wars waged between humans that may not resolve themselves for generations. Eastern Washington is desert country, the wild west. We have coyotes that will track you, we have badgers that will maul you, and we have rattlesnakes that linger in the grass. Even though Red Mountain is a tiny blip on the map, the potential stories are endless!

JL) Drinking a bit helped me with live interviews, and many writers have been aided by wine in loosening up the free flow of ideas. Red or white for this?

BW) Ha! The best interviews always begin with a glass of white. But I have a steadfast rule… no drinking while writing. Even Hemingway stuck to that.

JL) Favorite authors? Influences?

BW) My favorite author for many years has been Pat Conroy. We share pasts in Charleston together. If I could emulate one writer, it would be him. But I read Plum Island by Nelson Demille while traveling through Ireland after high school, and it gave me the thirst. I was in Waterville on the west coast, and I remember thinking that I had to write a book. Not that I could or should, but that I had to. So I owe him a lot. My favorite book right now though, one that has utterly blown me away, is A Gentleman in Moscow. I’ve never felt so motivated as a writer. Amor Towles puts words together in ways that make my eyes water. The way his mind works is pure art and genius. And most importantly, he’s reminded me to be free in my writing. I don’t need to subscribe to any particular way of doing things. I need to write from the heart and let my voice shine.

JL) Your wine is carried at Whole Foods, bought by Amazon. Some of your characters are in wineries, too. Ever thought about sending a case to Jeff Bezos? He might buy movie rights.

BW) I love the idea of sending wine to Bezos! I sent him an email one time; he never responded. Perhaps a box of wine would do the trick!

JL) Hobbies? What’s next for you?

BW) I’m halfway way through the sequel to Red Mountain. Once that’s wrapped up, I’ll be writing a few books from my new home in St. Pete, Florida. After many years in Washington, my wife and I decided to take a new adventure. So I’m getting out and about in St. Pete, learning the history, the culture, the people. And then I’m going to throw it all in a blender and see what kind of fiction comes out. I always tell my new friends that they better be careful what they tell me, because I’m always looking for new material. Other than writing, I still play some music and absolutely thrilled to be buying my son his first guitar this Christmas. My newest hobby will be teaching him everything I know!

The Dark Side of Pharmaceuticals

Big Pharma

This is not about the opioid epidemic, something caused by Congress not voting for controls on illicit sale to pharmacies (due to lobbyists.) Biotech is big business, or as Trump would say, “very, very big.” Now a giant called Celgene is investing in biotech’s future by buying Impact BioMedicines with a possible $7 Billion ante up. Good investment? Well, biobucks are hotter than Bitcoin, long term. Just watch any network news report, the second half of which is all pharmaceuticals, with side effects. Development takes years and millions, and the payoffs are big, and losses also. (My sister has bone cancer, and her meds just on insurance co-pay are $500 a week.) Drug patents expire, rivals vie for space, with mergers and acquisitions the ultimate power play. Trump is trying to deregulate everything from the EPA to the DEA. It’s a “go big or go home” strategy. The cancer drug Jakafi is a huge seller for two other pharmaceutical giants, and Celgene wants to compete. They want in. On the ropes with their own drug expiring soon, they have little choice. The CEO touts the future of using genetic engineering to attach genes to molecules, similar to what Ron Howard’s show Breakthroughs reported last year in which a neutered HIV targeted cancers past the blood/brain barrier.  Meanwhile, supplements like Nugenix is being hyped to athletes to improve testosterone. (The Dan Patrick Show advertises it NBCSN. Wink, wink.) Is there a dark side to biotech? “CRISPR” (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which are the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. It may soon be possible to eliminate certain diseases genetically, to change the eye color (and more) of babies, and to lengthen the lifespan of humans. Many strides have already been made, such as the means to fight cancer using gene therapy. To some, this is all “playing God,” while to others it is progress: the “search for better explanations, leading to discoveries,” as David Deutsch put it in “The Beginning of Infinity.” Whatever one’s beliefs, there are problems with all technologies, as discussed in the new book on social media interfaces: “Dawn of the New Everything” by Jaron Lanier. In my novel “The Methuselah Gene” a neutered HIV is used, not as a cancer therapy, but to implant a longevity gene taken from a bristlecone pine tree past the blood/brain barrier, and extend human life by decades. A pill to do something like this is now in the works, and may be here within a decade. How much would such a pill cost, and will only the super rich be able to afford it, not the “Young, Dumb and Broke?” In the New Rules governing culture, before our young icons can acquire near immortality via science, what if nefarious forces tested it on a small town without their knowledge or consent…and discovered that there were side effects?