April 5, 2014

A hustle here, and a hustle there ...

I hadn't paid much attention to the buzz about American Hustle, even during Oscar season, so I didn't even know who the stars were until after the film started rolling. I recognized the actor who was playing the leading character, but the long hair and beard threw me off. I had to go to Internet Movie Database during a pee break to learn that the star with the heavy New York accent was Christian Bale, who in real life speaks with a decidedly British accent.

Bale is to be applauded for his portrayal of Irving Rosenfeld, a two-bit hustler with a bad comb-over who let Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) take him in new directions, adding strength and finesse to his cons. The two team up with overly ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to take on the New Jersey mafia and corrupt politicians. Rosenfeld and Prosser had tried to scam DiMaso out of $5,000 early in the film, and he forced them to work for him to catch bad guys.

Based loosely on a true story, American Hustle is exciting to watch and worthy of Oscar nomination, but a bit on the tedious side. It seemed to drag on unmercifully near the end, which was way too predictable, and for that I can't give this film my highest rating.

Amy Adams was one of the most exciting leading ladies I had seen in a long time. And Jennifer Lawrence is no slouch as Irving's half-witted wife. I hesitate to even mention Louis C.K., or whatever his name is, because he just annoys the shit out of me. His performance in this film is more of the same. I give it just 1.5 thumbs on my rating scale of two thumbs up. Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Will Daniel

March 12, 2014

Boyhood adventure novel available from Amazon

The Boys of Sullivan's Island
This happened sooner than I expected. My boyhood adventure novel The Boys of Sullivan's Island is now available in paperback from Amazon.com. It is a short book, just 90 pages, and an easy read for a general audience. Excerpts from the book earlier appeared on this blog here and here.

Here is the description as it appears on the Amazon page: “You don’t have to be a boy to enjoy this collection of Lowcountry boyhood adventure stories from the 1950s—adventures that modern-day boys can only dream of. Follow Eddie and his pals at the mortar battery, the dump, Goat Island, community center, and the baseball diamond. Share Eddie’s fears as he is stranded in the darkness, faces a ghost after breaking into the wrong summer house, finds a monkey on the beach, and fights with bigger boys. Laugh at Eddie’s adventures and misadventures with the ladies, and share his embarrassment as he falls in love with the shrimp boat captain’s wife. Although originally intended for a youthful audience, there is something in this book for everyone.”

The title could have included Isle of Palms, a somewhat larger island that sits right next to Sullivan's Island. I lived there for a brief time as a boy before my family moved to Sullivan's Island, and it figures into many of the stories in the book. I've been carrying this book around in my head for 50 years. It's my legacy from the time I lived there.

I have just two more tasks on this book: marketing the hell out of it and configuring it for a Kindle version. It is currently available only in paperback, and the list price is $12.95.

Next, I will put all of my energy into my next book, Delaware River Reflections. Let me take this opportunity to remind you of my Kickstarter campaign still in progress. Click here for details, or visit my website at www.willdaniel.com.

Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Will Daniel

March 11, 2014

Kickstarter campaign starts today

Rancocas Creek is a tributary of the Delaware River.
This morning I hit the "Launch" button on my Kickstarter campaign for Delaware River Reflections. Please click here to view the page and help me spread the word about it through whatever social media you use.

I also have a link on my Facebook page and on the Facebook group Riverscape Photography. I have posted previews and teaser announcements here, but it's now live.

This project could easily have been placed in Kickstarter's "photography" category, but I chose "publishing" instead because my books are much more than just my photography. Delaware River Reflections will be a coffee-table book of photos, to be sure, but also much more. My first two books each contain approximately 22,000 words of anecdotal text and research-based historical narrative. This nonfiction book, third in a series, will follow that same style of photojournalism. Another reason I chose not to enter it in the photography category is most of the projects there are asking for funding for publishing expenses, which in my case will be borne by my publisher under a contract signed in February.

My campaign is modest in comparison to some of those in the photography category because I'm seeking only some relief for the travel expenses I will incur hundreds of miles from my normal geographical area. At Kickstarter's urging, I made sure the rewards I offer for donations are equivalent to what donors would receive had they purchased those items at retail.

The Kickstarter page explains more about the project in detail. It also has a place where you can ask questions about anything on the page, the project or anything else you want to ask.

Here is that Kickstarter link once again. While you're there, be sure to check out the video on the page. Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Will Daniel

March 10, 2014

Another book, another great adventure

Delaware and Rehoboth Canal
I started shooting photos for my new book Delaware River Reflections Saturday along the Delaware side of the Delaware Bay. I had been following the weather online, so I knew I had just a short window of blue sky, and that ended around 2 p.m. when the clouds rolled in. Still, I got plenty of photos for the book.

I fell in love with the historic town of Lewes, Delaware. Its quaint charm and cleanliness are quite pleasant. Combine that with the beauty of the bay and the Delaware and Rehoboth Canal, and you can spend days there. I will return this spring to begin my journey up the New Jersey side of the bay via the famous Cape May-Lewes Ferry.

I am always fascinated with derelict boats, so I couldn't help photographing this one (below) at Woodland Beach.
Woodland Beach, Delaware

If you're reading this, you might know that I will launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign tomorrow. I will post the links and other information here, and I ask only that you help me spread the word about the project. If you don't know about Kickstarter, it's a "crowd sourcing" method of raising funds in which donors are offered rewards in return for specific levels of donations. The Kickstarter folks told me that the rewards offered should be equivalent to what donors would expect to receive for their money at retail, and so I have done that. Watch this space tomorrow and my Facebook page for details.

St. Jones River, Dover, Delaware
For the first time Saturday, I used that back-facing second camera on my smart phone to take this selfie in Dover. The dam behind me is the point where Silver Lake flows into the St. Jones River, a Delaware tributary.

Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Will Daniel

March 6, 2014

McConaughey, Leto shine in film about dark subject

When you watch Dallas Buyers Club, you'll immediately see why Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won 2014 Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role, respectively. This film was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture, but was beaten out by 12 Years a Slave. Jennifer Garner also turned in a powerful performance in this one as Eve, a young doctor.

You've probably seen the trailer in which Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), who has AIDS, is told that he should get his affairs in order because he has about 30 days to live. Eve was one of those doctors, and Woodroof insults her by calling her a nurse—a mistake that was easily made in those days. That was in 1986, according to Woodroof's biography. Woodroof reacts violently to the news because he is a straight man who everyone now assumes is gay. He is also not an intravenous drug user, which makes the cause of his condition even more perplexing. He was, however, quite the womanizer, and during the course of trying to figure out the cause he remembers having sex with a certain woman who may have been infected.

Little was known about AIDS in 1986. Doctors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration were struggling to find a cure. In what he thought would be his last 30 days on earth, Woodroof visits his local library and crams into his brain everything he can read on the topic of HIV and AIDS. His research puts him in direct conflict with doctors in Dallas who were trying to treat the disease with massive doses of the drug AZT. He eventually ends up in Mexico, where he finds an expatriate American doctor who heaps piles of medicines on him that are not available in the United States. He loads his trunk with these possible cures and heads home, only to be stopped at the border and interrogated by an FDA official. This leads to a long and nasty fight with the FDA.

With the help of his transsexual friend Rayon (Jared Leto in extreme drag), he begins selling the drugs out of his car to infected people all over Dallas. This leads to the business he named Dallas Buyers Club—not an original name as similar buyers clubs already existed in other parts of the country.

Eve becomes extremely dissatisfied with the older doctors at her hospital, whom she believes are not taking seriously enough the effort to find a cure for their large and growing number of Dallas patients. So, she teams up with Woodroof and Rayon in what becomes a warm and fuzzy friendship.

Woodroof died of AIDS in 1992, several years after the doctors gave him just 30 days to live, and his methods of treatment caught the attention of AIDS researchers everywhere.

This is a serious film on a serious topic, but it wouldn't be a McConaughey film without some light McConaughey moments. They are few, but they exist at just the right places in the film to keep it from becoming too maudlin. One of my favorite character actors, Steve Zahn, adds to some of those light moments as Woodroof's cop buddy, Tucker. McConaughey did something for this film that I consider dangerous. He starved himself into a very thin condition in order to add realism to his AIDS-infected character. It worked and he is now back up to his normal weight, but I wonder about the long-term effects on the actor's health.

This is a great film, well deserving of the Oscar nomination.  On my scale of two thumbs up, this one gets two full thumbs. Everyone should see this true story. Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Will Daniel

March 4, 2014

Kickstarter campaign set to launch March 11

Next week I plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for my Delaware River Reflections book project. If you're not familiar with Kickstarter, it is a program that seeks donations in exchange for "rewards" for those donations. The rewards I will offer are comparable to what donors would receive if they were to purchase those items at retail, so I'm not begging for anything. However, I have asked that all of my Facebook friends share my announcement next week, and ask all of their friends to share, and so on.

Successful Kickstarter campaigns depend on social networking, so we'll see how well this works. Research suggests that Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday may be the best days of the week to launch a project, so that's why I chose next Tuesday to launch.

Click here to see a video I put together for the Kickstarter page. Kickstarter folks insist that nearly all successful campaigns have a video, so this is mine (amateur video producer that I am).

Please use the comments link below for questions or comments about this project. Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Will Daniel

February 28, 2014

Gandolfini's last—Enough Said

One would think a movie co-starring James Gandolfini would be a mystery thriller or a gangster film, anything but a romantic comedy. In this quirky chick flick, Gandolfini is teamed up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as his awkward, yet cute love interest Eva, a traveling masseuse. Albert (Gandolfini) is a sloppy, overweight, very laid-back single dad who stumbled upon his new girlfriend Eva at a party.

At the same party, Eva also meets Marianne (Catherine Keener) who later calls and asks her for a massage. Eva is astonished that someone could be as successful as Marianne just by selling poetry. Come to think of it, I too am astonished by that. Anyhow, over time, Eva and Marianne become good friends. During the budding friendship, Marianne can't shut up about her awful ex-husband. Can you smell the chick flick plot already?

It turns out that Marianne's ex is none other than Albert, who by this time is deeply entrenched in a relationship with Eva. She puts two and two together to discover that Marianne has been bad-mouthing the guy she now has fallen hard for, Albert. However, Eva is too scared or too dumb to tell Albert about her new friend, and it all blows up in her face one day when she was at Marianne's house and Albert shows up to pick up their shared-custody daughter.

When I watch, or try to watch, romantic comedy chick flicks with Sharon, I usually walk out and find something else to do after 15 minutes or so. But I stayed with this one until the end, not because it is a good film, quite the contrary, but because I am a fan of all the actors in this film. Gandolfini is the best, Louis-Dreyfus is one of my favorite funny women, and Keener is just a superb actress. Another favorite of mine, Toni Collette, plays a minor role in the film as Eva's friend and confidant.

It's a shame, really, that Gandolfini's final role was in a crappy chick flick. He died before the film was released. His performance, as always, was perfect, but the film was not. On my scale of two thumbs up, I give this one thumb. Watch it if you like Gandolfini or if you like chick flicks.

© 2014 Will Daniel

February 26, 2014

Contract signed for third river book

Delaware River
Map courtesy Delaware River Basin Commission.
Last week I signed a contract to photograph and write my third book of riverscape photography. This time I will be working on the Delaware River from its beginning in Upstate New York to where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean—about 350 miles.

I told my publisher I would be covering the river's major tributaries, including my beloved Rancocas Creek in South Jersey. Even though I live in Virginia, I am intimately familiar with most of the Delaware, having lived near its banks for many years. I have already been in contact with city officials and directors of river advocacy groups all along the river and already have some comments to publish.

As I did when I worked on My Virginia Rivers, I plan to document some of my travels and images here. Please check back from time to time to follow my progress.

© 2014 Will Daniel

February 14, 2014

More excerpts from "The Boys of Sullivan's Island"

As promised, here are excerpts from chapters 8-14 of The Boys of Sullivan’s Island, my recently completed boyhood adventure novel. Click here to see excerpts from the first seven chapters.

Chapter 8: Eddie and Becky Find a Monkey on the Beach
The next day as the tide was going out, Eddie and Becky saw in the distance a crate that hadn’t yet crashed open. It was bouncing around in the waves as if it didn’t want to be deposited on the shore like all the other crap. A couple of cats ran into the surf pawing at the crate as if there were something to eat in it, so this caught Eddie’s attention. It wasn’t unusual to see cats on the beach eating fish or crabs that had washed ashore, but there must have been something special for them in this box.

Chapter 9: Jimmie and the Barracuda
Mary Henderson, Barney’s sister, wasn’t the cutest of the cute island girls, but she was using this moment to latch onto Jimmie. He wanted a girlfriend, and Mary would do. Mary had fallen hard for her monster-fighting hero just by hearing about his big adventure, and she wanted to hear more. She also wanted to carry his books and lunch tray, go to his house after school, and be his friend forever. If you ever needed a definition of “googly-eyed,” you only had to look at Mary.

Chapter 10: Eddie and Jimmie Set Fire to Fort Moultrie
Then Jimmie threw a cherry bomb in the tunnel and out came a whole family of bats, just about as mad as they could be. They were having none of this noise the two boys were throwing in there. This, of course, brought the boys much delight but also the disappointing realization that they hadn’t been smart enough to bring their BB guns with them that day. What wonderful targets those bats would have made, though neither boy was a good enough shot that he could actually hit one flying at them like a bat out of … well, you know.

Chapter 11: Meet Me at the Dump
Nowadays they’re called “landfills,” but in the 1950s, Isle of Palms had a dump at the end of 31st Avenue that was the premier meeting place for adventurous young boys. … Boys could find all sorts of good things to play with among the rusted cans, broken bottles, and discarded appliances. Cans rusted because they were made of tin, not aluminum like today’s cans. And when the boys got tired, they could always find an old chair or even a sofa to sit down on and rest. On a still day when the breeze was just right, they could hear the goats across the Intracoastal Waterway on Goat Island.

Chapter 12: The Community Center—Where Boys Meet the Girls
Eddie eventually overcame his awkwardness to become one of the best shag dancers on Sullivan’s Island. When American Bandstand, that nationally televised teenage dance show, became popular among America’s teens, Charleston’s Channel 2 decided to air its own dance show called Village Square for local teens and so-called pre-teens. Eddie was chosen to dance on TV, and it made him feel like a star. He appeared on the show several times, and the dance partner who made him look good was none other than too-tall Nancy Norris.

Chapter 13: Baseball, the Island Pastime
Sometimes he would switch from batting right-handed to left-handed in the middle of an at-bat. This confused the crap out of the opposing pitchers and their coaches, and that made Eddie smile. He was a competitor. And he was competing at a higher level that year. He had graduated to Pony League for older boys, and was playing against bigger and tougher opponents from Mount Pleasant and Charleston. It was in Pony League that Eddie and his teammates played night games on that magnificent field behind the famous Alhambra Hall, which sat right on the edge of Charleston Harbor in Mount Pleasant.

Chapter 14: Learning to Smoke Like the Big Boys
… Benny told Eddie to save the corn silk, especially the brown stuff at the end, and put it in a brown paper bag for a few days. Huh? What the heck for? “We can put it in a pipe or roll it up in paper and smoke it,” Benny told him. This sounded absolutely crazy to Eddie. But still, he wanted to look cool like all the bigger kids, so smoking corn silk sounded to him like a place to start.

Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.

© 2014 Will Daniel

February 10, 2014

Beatles show was extraordinary

I've been a Beatles fan since 1963. I loved the 50th anniversary show last night, except for a couple of performances that were sort of, well, not so good. First, my likes:
  • Katy Perry -- loved her rendition of "Yesterday" * (very special)
  • John Legend and Alicia Keys -- "Let it Be"
  • Maroon 5 -- "Ticket To Ride"
  • Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison (George's son) with Joe Walsh on guitar -- "Something"
  • Eurythmics -- "Fool on the Hill"
  • Dave Grohl and Jeff Lynne -- "Hey Bulldog"
  • Keith Urban and John Mayer -- "Don't Let Me Down"
  • Gary Clark Jr., Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh -- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
  • Imagine Dragons -- "Revolution"
  • Brad Paisley and Pharrell Williams -- "Here Comes the Sun"
  • Ringo and Paul, especially "Yellow Submarine," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Hey Jude"
Did not like:
  • Stevie Wonder -- "We Can Work It Out" (retire, Stevie)
  • Ed Sheeran -- "In My Life" (even Bette Middler covered this one better)

Which performances do you like? And where was Eric Clapton?
© 2014 Will Daniel

February 8, 2014

Excerpts from "The Boys of Sullivan's Island"

Today I finished my novel, The Boys of Sullivan's Island. Through the magic of modern-day copy and paste, I'm able to post a few excerpts for you here. Comments welcome.

Chapter 1: The Darkness

The place was a concrete and earthen battery on Sullivan’s Island’s Fort Moultrie, from which some of the first shots of the Civil War were fired upon Fort Sumter, a mile away in Charleston Harbor. Deep within the fort’s thick concrete walls are long, dark passageways that protected Confederate soldiers from bombardment during the Civil War. Those tunnel-like passageways were perfect for mischievous if not downright evil boys of the 1950s to scare the crap out of younger boys ... The victim is left standing there in total darkness—alone, terrified, and wanting to cry and pee his pants.

Chapter 2: The Indian Who Scalped Joe McFarland

Joe stammered over the “d-word” and his voice trailed off suddenly as it occurred to him that he might be talking to a ghost. But there’s no such thing as ghosts. Is there? Joe certainly hoped not because this Indian was fearsome indeed, and getting angrier by the minute. Come to think of it, most of Crazy Joe’s childhood chums knew full well what it felt like to become angry with Joe, but that too is a subject for another chapter...

Chapter 3: The Mortar Battery

The outside slopes of the mound that still stands on the island after all these years, are quite steep and well suited to a unique form of recreation that kept the boys (and occasional girl) occupied for hours on end. Using flattened cardboard cartons from refrigerators and other large appliances sold at the nearby hardware store, island kids “sledded” down the southern slope of that mortar battery with reckless abandon ... Rita slid down on her piece of cardboard wearing tight jeans, which the boys took note of, and her dad’s World War II leather jacket. The tight jeans drove the boys crazy, and the leather jacket protected her from scrapes and bruises. Smart.

Chapter 4: Teaching Barney a Lesson

Eddie learned a valuable lesson that day. It had nothing to do with courage—he was scared stiff. But he knew he had to fight this bigger kid because his mom said so, and he decided to just get it over with. Barney looked as though he wanted to discuss the matter at hand, and opened his mouth to say something when Eddie reached up and punched him right in his sparkling new braces. At that moment, Eddie learned that smaller kids could whip larger kids by using the tactic of surprise.

Chapter 5: Eddie and Frankie Break Into the Wrong House

Years later Eddie would come to understand some of what he experienced that day. He was in high school English—a subject he hated and a class he would skip whenever he could. ... He hated this class because his teacher made him read the mysterious and macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe and other dead authors, and write reports on them. As he was reading Poe’s “The Gold Bug” for class that year, Eddie felt a chill come over him as he became enlightened about the mysterious events all those years earlier on Sullivan’s Island.

Chapter 6: Joe and the Goat Man

“The panthers live in the marsh all the way on the other side of Goat Island,” Joe told his na├»ve pals one hot summer day. “They live there, but there is no food for them to eat. Often they swim to Goat Island and kill the baby goats for food, but the goats are born only in the spring. So in other times of the year, they cross Goat Island and swim the channel to Isle of Palms, where they feast on the raccoons that live here.”

Chapter 7: Eddie Falls in Love with the Shrimp Boat Captain’s Wife

Maria had long, wavy black hair and curves like Eddie had never seen. She reminded him of Gina Lollobrigida, that Italian beauty he had seen in the 1956 film Trapeze. He thought Maria was the most beautiful woman in the world, even though Miss Lollobrigida unofficially held that title. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of her and he stumbled over his words whenever he tried to speak to her.
Next time, I'll pick up with Chapter 8: Eddie and Becky Find a Monkey on the Beach.
Thanks for reading
© 2014 Will Daniel 

February 6, 2014

Old farts throw a wild party

One of these days, I'd like to hook up with three of my best old friends in Las Vegas. It would be a hoot, a bunch of creaky, cranky 60-something old farts drinking and carousing till all hours of the night reliving their drinking and carousing days of old. One of the old boys would be making the trip to marry his 30-something girlfriend, and the other three would be there for the bachelor party. One of the guys would trade in his life savings of $15,000 for chips at a blackjack table and play there all afternoon. When his buddies come looking for him, he would ask the dealer how much the chips in front of him are worth, and she would tell him $102,000. That would set off a frenzy of drinking and partying because the hotel, naturally, would "comp" the old boys a luxury suite in which to party all night long. What a hoot.

I've just laid out the entire scenario of Last Vegas for you. The film stars Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Mary Steenburgen as a lounge singer who steals the heart of one of the old coots. Gotta have some romance in the film, eh? But I haven't spoiled the ending for you. This film starts off like a guy-humor kind of film, but somehow picks up the traits of a classic chick flick, happy never-never land ending and all. Schmaltzy, but thoroughly entertaining.

I give this film one and a quarter thumbs on my scale of two thumbs up. You'll enjoy it if you're an old fart (or married to one), but I'm not sure younger people will get some of the old-fart humor. To my old friends Ken, Pete, Bing and Chip, let's do this!

Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Will Daniel