Why I Like THE ROCKFORD FILES

James GarnerJust heard James Garner’s biography on audio, and was struck, not just by his honesty, candor, or his anecdotes on movies, but his generous attitude and lack of ego, despite being labeled as a “curmudgeon.” The Rockford Files is one of the few TV series that I truly enjoyed, due to its offbeat yet believable writing, its humor, and its lack of bling. (One of many surprises, Jack Warner of Warner Brothers was a foul-mouthed mini-Hitler who hated actors, writers, and agents…but he was afraid of Garner, thinking he might pick him up and throw him out the window, as Errol Flynn once threatened to do!) Garner appreciates writers, unlike many other actors, and never tried to change scripts as bigger egos tried to do.

If you can’t live up to “What would Jesus do?” as a motto, don’t descend to “What would Joel Osteen do?” but instead consider “What would Jim Rockford do?” In a world of hustlers and con men, Rockford maintained his honesty and dignity, was loyal to his friends, and treated everyone as equals. Modest, yet unimpressed by fame or fortune, he gave everyone a fair shot, yet never fell for a sucker punch twice, and had a nose for deceit. A man of his word, even if he bent the rules, Rockford was nobody’s fool, yet he had a heart of gold. Women depended on him, even if they never took him seriously in the end, living in that trailer, and often betrayed him. But he never used them. Simple and sincere, Jim Rockford was one of a kind, with his own thoughts and values, which were unshakable. Often the victim, the good guy who finishes last, he reemerged intact, able to enjoy the sunrise of the next day. How many men in the real world can go through what he went through, yet remain true to themselves?  —JL

James Garner dies

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We’ll Always Have Paris

Paris

We’ll always have Paris…Texas.”

Just got to Greenville SC after a drive from Tucson (and a cruise to Alaska.) Observations:
1) There are no bears or whales to be seen in Alaska from a cruise ship, although the staff frequently sighted many from the bridge and excitedly told everyone to look either to port or starboard. (Favorite awe shucks: “Must have gone under the ship to mate with Nessie.”)
2) The only calving of glaciers to be seen from a cruise ship are on the videos they attempt to sell you (along with photos of you taken by them every chance they get…plus liquor.) The ship (Holland America) turned around some four miles from the glacier, and didn’t approach another for safety reasons “because of icebergs” (although in the publicity shots you see the ship surrounded by icebergs.) I think this is to sell more shore excursions. Indeed, I took a shore excursion to one of the glaciers, but had to run part way to it due to “time constraints.” (The driver joked, “You know what the bears call tourists five minutes late for the bus? Lunch.”)  Again, and alas, no calving or bears. Or bald eagles. (“Look, there’s one! See it?” Everyone in unison: “Nope.”)
3) Cruise ships burn the equivalent of two swimming pools of fuel every week (yes, with a deep end suitable for the Olympics), and there are hundreds of such ships, along with dozens of tankers transporting the oil from the Persian gulf. Not to mention thousands of jets and millions of cars in operation at any one time. In fact, we’ve gone through millions of years of fossil fuels in one century, and this last year was the hottest on record. So why can’t I see one sheet of ice fall from a glacier while being asked to buy videos and tee shirts featuring whales and bears and eagles…and rum drinks?
4) Alaska is wild and cold and huge. Driving across Texas is wild and hot and (according to Sarah Palin) “a cute little place.” That cute little place took the better part of two days to traverse nonetheless, with drivers who imagine themselves NASCAR racers (complete with tee shirts.) I heard on the news that Texas needs so many new prisons they’re thinking of letting reckless drivers and drug dealers out early to save on bed costs.  Why not let loose the serial killers too? Sure, just take away their driver’s licenses and put them to work in road construction. Then the DUIs and NASCAR wannabes will take them out, two jailbirds with one stone(d). Better yet, we should charge admission to prisons for tourists, like at theme parks. Bring the kids, make a picnic of it. A year in fees of $20 a head would pay to keep Gitmo open for one more week.
5) I never made it to Paris, and who knows, maybe I never will. Never got married either. (Nor did my sister, with whom I traveled to Alaska and across the country…she’s nine years older than I, legally blind, and can’t drive OR spot wildlife.) A girlfriend once told me that she couldn’t wait until I became rich and famous as a writer. The next day I learned that she meant it, literally. She couldn’t wait, and didn’t. Me? I’m still waiting. Next up, my memoirs. Fiction, I think, mostly. My real life is just too boring. In my fictional life, I married Kim Kashkashian (violinist), went to Paris, bought a big house with a tall white picket fence for the bald eagles to land on…and to keep out the bears. We have a yacht bigger than James Patterson’s, and as it roars past the glacier, engines burning its $20 per gallon fuel, huge blue slabs of ice fall into the aquamarine waters. And then, inexplicably, a charming and friendly whale, rising from beneath us, (fresh from his tryst with Nessie), smiles on us and breaks one of the floes into fragments small enough for our rum drinks.Sitka

TFOB

 

James Lee Burke Interview

James Lee BurkeIf ever someone asks me “which author impressed you most?” the name James Lee Burke inevitably passes my lips.  In addition to Ray Bradbury and Clive Cussler, he has most influenced me to become a writer, too.  He is best known for his offbeat and moody mystery novels featuring a former police detective turned bait shop owner, Dave Robicheaux.  Many authors write mysteries, but this man has no peers.  I spoke with him via phone at his home in Montana a few years back.

JONATHAN LOWE: You’re in Montana now, where your novel Bitterroot was set.  I take it you’re what they call in Arizona a “snowbird?”

JAMES LEE BURKE: Well, I guess that’s fair to say. We live in Louisiana part of the year.

Lowe:  It is New Iberia or Lafayette, Louisiana where you go in the winter?

Burke:  New Iberia, now, which is a couple hours west of New Orleans.

Lowe:  What is your background. When did you start writing?

Burke:  A long time ago. I published my first story when I was 19, and my first novel back in the mid-1960s.  It was titled Half of Paradise. After college, and before Black Cherry Blues, I did a lot of other things to make money, and that included teaching, social work, driving a truck, and working in the Texas oil fields.

Lowe:  Where did your characters Dave Robicheaux and Billy Bob Holland come from?  You seem to be alternating point of view between those two in some of your books, much like you alternate between states yourself during the year.

Burke: Well, all the characters have been published in over twenty books now.  I think they all have the same origin, and are composite biographical characters, but have a reality of their own.  Like any writer, I draw from the subconscious.  The elements of myth, which comes from the unconscious, figures into it, and there are allusions from classical literature too.

Lowe:  You’re one of my personal favorite authors, and I can tell you why. It’s because you don’t use lazy clichés like “he screamed like a stuck pig,” something I read in a bestseller by another author who shall be nameless.

Burke: (laughs)

Lowe:  I also like it that you actually take the time to create images, making characters out of objects and settings. Just like John D. MacDonald did in the Travis McGee series. Who are your favorite authors, and who influenced you?

Burke: I’d have to say Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, and Gerald Manley Hopkins, and William Faulkner.

Lowe: You’ve been compared to William Faulkner, who used stream-of-consciousness as a literary device.

Burke:  Well, that’s an old method. The Sound and the Fury is one of the best books we have.

Lowe:  What do you think about the state of fiction today?  I’m pretty disappointed with the serial killer sub-genre.  I don’t want to know who-dun-it, but rather why they did it. Get the feeling you’re the same, true?

Burke:  I feel that the psychological story as narrative art is what interests me. Hemingway did it well, and you can spend a lifetime learning it.

Lowe:  Will Patton is the perfect narrator for your own stories on audio. He’s got the accents down, but more than that, the attitudes of the characters. Very believable.

Burke:  He’s done a very good job, and also Mark Hammer on the unabridged. They’re both excellent as narrators.

Lowe:  My favorite book of yours is Sunset Limited, I’m not sure why. The last CD of that one contains some of the best writing I’ve ever heard.

Burke:  Thank you.

Lowe:  Do you have a favorite?  I suppose you have to say it’s your latest, in answer to that question, though, right?

Burke:  Well, actually, my favorite is Purple Cane Road. Everything came together on that one.

Lowe:  Thank you for that. It’s a great novel as well.  Very personal and also a culmination of redemption for its first person point of view character.  What about Bitterroot?

Burke:  Well, it’s set in Montana, about a former Texas lawman who helps a friend in trouble and then runs into a prison parolee who’s out for revenge. That’s the overview, anyway.

Lowe:  What was your Hollywood experience like?  I loved your movie Heaven’s Prisoners, which starred Alec Baldwin.

Burke:  Yes, it was adapted, and my experience on that was really good. Everyone on the creative team very vibrant.  Of course in Hollywood it’s all a matter of money.  If you have a hundred million for the budget, you can take anything and make it look good.  It doesn’t take much to be a producer, either, besides knowing how to write a gaudy bill.  You just get you director Michael Mann and screenwriter Joe Esterhaus, and you’re off to the races! (laughs)

Lowe:  So is there another movie in the future, do you think, based on another book?

Burke:  I don’t know, I kinda stay away from that.

Lowe:  Do you work all the time, or just part of the year? A book a year, or more?

Burke:  Oh, I work all the time. I work every day, seven days a week.  It’s what I do. Been at it for a long, long time. 

Download his novels on audio HERE.