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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Archive for the 'Daniel' Category

His stretch on the river

A great forgotten writer

June 1st, 2016

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

I learned three-quarters of what I know about writing from reading Richard Bissell, God bless him. — Elmore Leonard

Everyone who calls himself or herself a writer is asked from time to time, “Who is your favorite writer?” The writer may be prepared for this interview question and answer the same way every time, but the truth is more likely less monogamous. The position of favorite writer may change from year to year, from mood to mood, from book to book. Perhaps a more insightful question, with a more constant answer, would be: “Which writer first made you want to be a writer yourself?”

bissellI confess that like many teenage would-be writers of the 1950s, I imitated Salinger shamelessly. I also gobbled up Robert Nathan, laughed out loud at Patrick Dennis and Max Shulman, and was dazzled by Truman Capote. But from the moment I first read him, the writer who turned me on the most, the one who made writing seem not only worthwhile, but fun, was Richard Bissell.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Raiders of the lost tombs

Archaeological adventure novels

June 1st, 2016

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

American Caliphate
by William Doonan
Oak Tree Press, 2012

Were's a spellbinding archaeological novel about a “dig” (archaeologists prefer the term “excavation”) on the north coast of Peru, the ancient home of the Moche Indians, who built adobe pyramids. These pyramids, and one pyramid in particular, are of particular interest to a team of North American academic archaeologists, but in this high-stakes adventure novel there are other parties equally interested in what might be found inside a certain tomb. The CIA, for example. The Vatican. A strong-minded old Muslim woman in Lima. And whoever it was that shot and nearly killed Ben and Jila, a pair of romantically involved archaeologists, the last time they poked around the Santiago de Paz pyramids.

American Caliphate has a cast of intelligent, risk-taking characters driven by academic jealousy, political intrigue, religious rivalry, love and lust, outright greed, and insatiable nosiness about the ancient past. The plot is full of danger and discovery. And what these archaeologists discover may confirm rumors that Muslims fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal brought Islam to the New World.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Book Reviews, Books and Authors, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Ménage à trois

Life with Warren

May 1st, 2016

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

One morning about three years ago, Susan gave me a sad, sad look and said, “It appears we may have lost our best friend.”

“We’ve been through this before,” I reminded her.

“That was years ago,” she reminded me. “Before he’d really settled in.”
Susan was referring to Warren, the third member of our household, the one who holds down the papers on my desk and who sits beside me on the couch while I write; the one who keeps Susan company in the garden and who occupies her lap during cocktail hour; the one who joins us at dinnertime, especially if we’re having chicken or fish; and the one who shares our bed at night.

It may sound sentimental to call an animal companion our best friend, but Susan meant what she said, and I shared her sentiment. Friendship and love between members of different species is a real phenomenon, a generous blessing, a warm source of amusement and shared routines, and, at this moment three years ago, a cause for grief and near-panic.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Animal Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

The look

Denial in old age

May 1st, 2016

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

Susan’s mother, Barbara, was in Santa Barbara visiting us in late June 1990 when all hell broke loose up in the pass northeast of us, and what became known as the Painted Cave Fire roared down the mountainside, incinerating homes in its path and threatening to consume part or perhaps most of our city. Our neighborhood, Hidden Valley, was expected to take a direct hit, which I learned on our car radio out in the driveway, because all power was shut off and so were our phones. The radio ordered all residents of Hidden Valley to evacuate immediately.

I brought the news into the house and told Susan and Barbara by candlelight that we had to leave right away. We didn’t even have time to gather together the things we could not bear to lose. I filled a gallon plastic jug with drinking water, put two flashlights in the glove compartment, and urged Susan and Barbara to grab their toothbrushes, a change of underwear, and whatever else they needed for an overnight in whatever motel still had room for us.

Barbara didn’t move. She sat on the couch, petting Jessie, her yellow lab.
“Barbara, let’s go," I said. "We’ll take Jessie with us. She may have to spend the night in the car, or maybe we’ll find a motel that will let us take Jessie into the room, but we have to get going. Right now.”

Barbara looked up at me and gave me a look I’ve never forgotten, even though I saw it only by candlelight. It was the first time I’d seen that look of hers. That kill-the-messenger look. That was the first time, but I came to know that look well over the next decade.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Animal Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Very short stories

January 1st, 2016

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

In the October 2015 issue of Black Lamb, I told of my introduction to the pleasure of writing pint-sized stories. Actually, they’re smaller than pint-sized. At 55 words per story, they weigh in at about six ounces, which is what a Coke bottle held when I was a kid. It cost a nickel. I digress.

Over several years I wrote dozens of such miniatures, and most of them were published, under a variety of pseudonyms, in collections Steve Moss and I put together for Daniel & Daniel and Running Press. Here are some that were written, again pseudonymously, for a collection published by Quality Paperback Book Club. They were disqualified because the stories were supposed to be submitted only by members of the club. So these stories appear here in print for the first time.

From Here to Eternity

“Looks bad, Frank,” Saint Peter said. “Booze, broads, brawls….”

Frank shrugged. “I did it my way.”

sinatra“You belong downstairs with the hookers and gangsters.”

Frank smiled.

“But the Boss likes your singing,” Pete continued. “Put on this white robe. From now on you’re singing in the choir.”

“Like hell!” Frank thundered.

Pete smiled back. “Bingo.”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Trilogies & quartets

Short introductions to a few long works

July 1st, 2015

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

Many’s the time I’ve finished a novel and wished it could have gone on, that the story could continue, so I could spend more time with the characters and continue to enjoy the author’s brain and storytelling style. Of course I could reread the novel, and I often do, after a bit of time has elapsed. But what I really want is a continuation of the novel: an ongoing plot. I want to know what happens next.

This isn’t the case with all novels. Some wonderful stories are complete in one volume; and although I probably would enjoy reading more novels by the same good writer, I’m fully satisfied with where the one I have just finished, finished. But what a pleasure it has been when I knew I could go on to another step in the story’s journey. Or what a pleasant surprise to find out that a good story will live on in a sequel, for starters, and may turn into a trilogy or even a quartet of linked novels.

What follows is an annotated and opinionated list of sequential novels, books that belong to each other in threes and fours. In compiling the list I followed three self-imposed rules: (1) within each trilogy or quartet, each volume must be able to stand alone, but (2) together they form a narrative greater than the sum of its parts, and (3) I must have read the books, and I must have liked them enough to recommend them to others. I am presenting these in alphabetical order by authors’ last names, to overrule any tendency to rank the works.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Loess is more

In praise of Frank Loesser

June 1st, 2015

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

When asked who they thought were the most important writers of “The Great American Songbook,” most Americans today might say, “Never heard of that book. Is it available from Amazon?” If you tell them it’s a term for an important part of their cultural heritage, namely the popular standards, songs written for Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood from 1920 to 1950 or thereabouts, their eyes will glaze over. For them, what we call the standards are as dead as vaudeville or barbershop harmony.

loesserTry again. When asked who they thought were the most important writers of “The Great American Songbook,” most somewhat older Americans, for whom standards make up the soundtrack of their lives, are likely to answer, “Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and/or Hammerstein…” To name a few. I agree with those candidates, but would like to induct another into the Hall of Fame: Frank Loesser.

Frank Loesser, like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Johnny Mercer, wrote both music and lyrics to his songs, although, like Mercer, Loesser also wrote lyrics for melodies written by other composers. Loesser’s lyrics were as good as Mercer’s (that’s saying a lot), and his melodies were a lot better.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry

The woman in the black silk dress

My great-great-grandmother

March 1st, 2015

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

In the home in Dallas where I grew up, there hung on the dining room wall a steel engraving, a head-and-shoulders portrait of a woman wearing a plain black dress. I wondered why she should dominate the dining room, but I accepted her as part of my life and her portrait as an heirloom that had to be honored. She was, I knew, some kind of ancestor. She had a sober expression on her face, and she struck me as a sourpuss. My mother disagreed. She was a kind woman, my mother told me, and her face was beautiful. Serene. Her name was Hannah Neil. She lived from 1794 to 1868. She was my great-great-grandmother.

hannahneilHannah Neil’s portrait hung prominently in my mother’s house because my mother’s name was also Hannah Neil, those being her first and middle names until she was married. Her mother’s (my grandmother’s) name was Hannah Neil also. My sister was Hannah Neil Daniel until she was married. I also have a first cousin and a granddaughter named Hannah; and I had an uncle, a brother, and a first cousin named Neil, and Neil is my son’s, and his son’s, middle name. The names Hannah and Neil hang in abundance on my family tree. They collectively honor a woman in a plain black dress, who was by all accounts a saint.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Clothing Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry

A few tips on writing funny

September 1st, 2014

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

Okay. Lessee. Okay. A guy slips on a banana peel and falls on his butt. No, wait. The guy’s all dressed up, on his way to the career interview of a lifetime, and he slips on a banana peel and falls in a steaming pile of dog feces. Make that cat feces.

Did you hear the one about the man who was so poor he was reduced to eating his own shoes?

How about the woman who reads someone else’s mail by accident, misunderstands, and thinks the man she loves is two-timing her. It breaks her heart.

This working-class married couple lives in an apartment in New York. They yell at each other constantly. Their best friends are neighbors, a couple who also yell at each other. Sometimes the two couples get together and they yell at each other. By the way, one of the men is obese, and both of the men frequently threaten their wives with violence.

So this salesman runs out of gas on a country road. A farmer takes him in for the night, but the salesman abuses the farmer’s hospitality by seducing the farmer’s teen-aged daughter, making her pregnant and ruining her life. The farmer forces the two strangers to get married at gunpoint, thereby ruining both of their lives.

There’s this starving coyote, see. His prey eludes him and he accidently runs off a cliff and falls thousands of feet to the rocks below.
A nice Italian or maybe Jewish or maybe both fruit vendor is minding his own business when a gangster, a yuppie, and a cop all bash their cars into his pushcart, destroying his inventory and scattering all the money he’s earned that week.

A homeless drunk needs to urinate so bad that he.…

STOP!

What?

That stuff isn’t funny.

Maybe I’m not telling it right. People have been laughing at this material forever.

It’s not funny. It’s sad.

I didn’t say it wasn’t sad. What do you think humor is, anyway?

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry

The All-England Issue

Including the fascinating story of Willikins Rex

August 1st, 2014

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

During the summer of 1961 I worked for an antiquarian bookstore in Dallas. While I was there the store acquired a Book of Common Prayer inscribed by Caroline of Brunswick to her ward, William Austin, dated Christmas 1805, Montague House, Blackheath. The store manager sent me downtown to the public library to research these people in order to put a price on this book.

What I uncovered allowed us to charge $100, which was cheap, I thought. A hundred bucks bought a lot of book back then, but this one had a royal signature and included a special prayer for the King’s health, which was touch and go at the time, to the grief of his adoring subjects and the annoyance of his heir, who was impatient for the old man to get on with the business of dying.

georgeiii*Who were these people? The King was George III (pictured), who had lost his American colonies in 1776 and who was now mad as a hatter. The heir was George, Prince of Wales, the promiscuous, over-eating scoundrel who would eventually become Prince Regent and finally King George IV. Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick was the Prince’s first cousin as well as his wife, and the person he hated most in all the world. William Austin was Caroline’s darling child, whom she adopted in 1802, when he was three months old. Little “Willikins” lived and traveled with Princess Caroline until she died in 1821.

I typed up a one-page paper relating these facts, and it was displayed in a glass case next to the book. That one page was the first of hundreds of pages I wrote about Caroline and Willikins, off and on over the next twenty years. It turned into a novel of love and hatred, insanity and cunning intrigue, manners and scandal. Fortunately for my career, my novel, Willikins Rex, never got published. I had no business attempting a historical novel, but I enjoyed the writing and the research. Along the way I bought every book I could find about Caroline and George, many of which were deliciously opinionated one way or the other about the twenty-five-year royal squabble. At this point I don’t remember how much of my novel came from research and how much I made up. I told the story from the point of view of William Austin, who was a child, and bonkers at that.

Here are a few things that really happened.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All England Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

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