“She could take care of herself…”

He sipped his martini and appreciated how her faded jeans stretched against her haunches as she kneeled to work the fire. He thought about the size of the staff needed for a place like this. A full-time grounds-keeper, for sure. A pool man. Maybe a handyman, too. Housekeeper, definitely, even with auntie in residence. The guys in the truck. It added up.

One thing was certain, somebody filled that ice bucket, somebody put this wood out here, somebody took the covers off these chairs, somebody lit these torches, somebody swept away the desert that would never give up its claim to the land. Maybe she called ahead on that radio-phone in her fancy XKE.

He wondered how long it would be before she mentioned her husband again. Or would he have to bring it up. He knew he should feel guilty, but he didn’t. Mrs. Lyman was a big girl. She could take care of herself. (from “Joey’s Place”)

“Vegas” – a missed opportunity

The opening cattle drive, with “Las Vegas” superimposed over the alleged 1960 setting, should have been a warning. Starring Dennis Quaid as Sheriff (to-be) Ralph Lamb and Michael Chiklis as Vincent Savino, the new boss of the fictional Savoy Casino, the “Vegas” premiere episode quickly reminded me why an animal gnaws off its own foot to escape a trap. Granted, I wasn’t expecting a documentary, but when the lead character is “based upon” a real-life Nevada native and Clark County Sheriff, a little authenticity would be nice.

It all starts with Quaid’s character getting angry because an inbound passenger plane scatters his herd, so he gallops to the airport to complain that they should bring the planes in “from the east, over the casinos.” This reminded me of when I worked at the Desert Inn pool as a kid and tourists would ask, “Does the sun set over there every day?” Note to show’s producers: McCarran is east of the Strip, therefore, east of the casinos that existed in 1960. The subsequent fistfight with the oddly thuggish airport personnel was probably meant to emphasize Lamb’s two-fisted personality, but it came across like bad backyard antics on Youtube. Remember, this was all before the first commercial break.

The historical gaffes continued: no one would have said “interstate” in 1960, they would have called it the LA Highway, Highway 91, or just 91; why is the city mayor involved in selecting who will investigate a murder victim found in the county? why are the road signs for the Stardust and Sahara on the same side of the strip? why does the Fremont Street sidewalk make the Golden Nugget look like it’s in a strip mall? why are there vehicles made after 1960 on the road? Las Vegas has to be one of the most filmed and photographed cities in the world, so I also wonder why no effort was made to utilize actual film, video, and photos in the story-telling.

This is network television, not premium cable like HBO or Showtime. Therefore, the people in charge apparently decided they needed to hook the viewer with a mystery before the first commercial — brutal murder (in the county) that (according to the city’s mayor) must be investigated by maverick rancher (and future sheriff) with the usual suspects (including the rodeo-riding, broken-hearted boyfriend of the victim and a biker gang that seems to have time-warped back from “Sons of Anarchy”), which ultimately leads to a perverse casino exec who attempts to flee in a small plane. When character and context development is done, or attempted, expository dialogue is the device, saving time, I guess, for the on-screen glowers of Quaid, the pro forma Mob violence of Chiklis, and the showdown scenes between them.

Quaid appears to think his glower means he’s “cowboy tough,” but he looks more like a retiree who just discovered that the buffet has run out of vanilla pudding (which is almost comical when he’s carrying a shotgun). Chiklis’s character has been sent by “the boys” to straighten out the badly run Savoy Casino and, unfortunately, he comes across more like Gordon Ramsay forced to manage a Golden Corral. James Russo, the casino exec whose new boss is Chiklis, just looks lost. Maybe more will be done with his character as the characters are developed. If they are developed. The same can be said for Carrie-Anne Moss, assistant district attorney, whose primary purpose seems to be providing a potential romantic interest for Quaid and sarcastically pointing out the apparent corruption of the mayor and district attorney.

When I stopped gnawing and switched off the program, Quaid’s character was stalking down a freshly paved runway, six-gun in hand, apparently determined to have a showdown with a Cessna piloted by the perverse casino exec. The real shame is that Ralph Lamb came from a very interesting (and large) Nevada family and had a very interesting life. See this link from a Review/Journal series noting Las Vegas’s 100th anniversary: http://www.lvrj.com/1st100/part3/lamb.html. So did his brothers, Floyd and Darwin.

Lamb and the department did have memorable showdowns with biker gangs, he was willing to “throw down” when the situation demanded it, he did have a “unique” relationship with the gamblers who ran things (publicly and behind the scenes), and that era was a remarkable time in Las Vegas. Perhaps, with all the on-screen talent involved, there might still be hope for “Vegas.” But its pilot earned it a C- grade. And that’s being generous. Score this show, so far, as a major missed opportunity. Episode #2 is on the DVR, but after reading its breakdown (another crime of the week) it may stay there until it gets automatically deleted.

[Since posting this, I have been “taken to task” by those pointing out “It’s a hit!” My response? “Honey Boo Boo” and “Let’s see for how long.”]

Keeping track of research…

JP_CoverPage_313x231I once had a writing partner who was a maniacal note-taker, but his organization skills left a great deal to be desired. One day, I couldn’t help but notice pages and pages and yellow pad after yellow pad strewn around the floor of his living room. When I asked him how he kept track of what he had written, he tapped his head and said, “It’s all up here.” I pointed at the floor and said, “Maybe, but it looks to me like it’s all over there.”

Starting work on my Las Vegas crime novel, “Joey’s Place,” and its planned prequels, I knew that tracking and utilizing the research necessary would be a challenge. I started looking for research software. One I found was Personal Brain.

Having three hundred years of known facts about southern Nevada and the southwest as well as the biographies and character sketches of many individuals (great and not-so-great) readily available and easy to access was a necessity. Then there was the geological and pre-historic information that I would need to give my stories veracity. And I wanted to be able to link or relate elements of my research quickly, easily, and flexibly.

Thirty or more years ago, I would probably have had index boxes filled with cards, like a library’s card catalog system. Thankfully, computer software eliminated that. But hierarchical outlines and index card software (and I tried and used quite a few) usually forced me to tediously apply either hyperlinks or connecting “arrows” that didn’t give me the whole picture pertaining to an event, person, or locale with a single click or “mouse-over.”

Keeping track of my own notes and research had always been a challenge (but never to the extent of my writing partner’s non-system). Then I discovered “Personal Brain” software. After testing its demo version, I realized that this was software that could keep my work organized and still allow me the flexibility I needed for basic brainstorming.


For example, in the image at right, you can see the connections I created from and to the Flamingo Hotel/Casino. In the text box are the various facts I gathered about the resort — its origins, dates, events, etc. — from a variety of sources, online and in books or magazines. This thought is a “child” of a parent thought called “Hotels/Casinos” and, on the right of the Personal Brain screen, you can see all the other thoughts linked to this parent. On the left of the screen are “jump” thoughts to individuals (in this case) who had some type of connection to the Flamingo. Note how these individuals can also be linked via “jumps” to the other establishments (on right of screen) with which they were associated. You can also see how the establishments themselves can be associated with “jump” links. It’s just as easy to remove the links if you want or need to. Expanding and decreasing the size of the text displayed in the thoughts area, or “Plex,” is as simple as click ‘n’ drag.

Across the top of the screen are “thoughts” (mostly parent thoughts), that I have “pinned” for quick and easy access. Across the bottom is a history of the thoughts that I have most recently accessed. New thoughts arise from old thoughts, old thoughts and links are revised and altered as new ideas occur. Just as important, research information is readily available for review with full text formatting to indicate what has been used, what might be used, or what is still needed.

If you are looking for a powerful research and brainstorming tool, you might want to consider Personal Brain.

(I have no personal or professional connection to the vendor of this software.)