Good News

Posted On: December 6th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

 We’ve recently gotten some very good news, and most people don’t seem to be aware of it.

A NASA telescope, launched in 2009, and named Kepler after the famous German astronomer, has recently confirmed that there are many, many, many, earth-type planets orbiting other stars.

This is great news. Why? Because it means for the first time in mankind’s history we know for certain that there are other worlds out there. New worlds to explore, the possibility of life, and of other intelligences. The number of planets in temperature zones similar to Earth’s makes the likelihood very high for some planets to be able to support some form of life as we know it.

NASA has made an interesting video summarizing the Kepler mission findings which you can view here.

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Coming home

Posted On: November 12th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

People who have lived for a length of time in another country often find that when they return home, it takes time to readjust to American culture.

Last year I posted some comments from a friend of mine, Tamara, who was working for the Peace Corps in Madagascar. She has now returned and I asked her to share her first reactions to being ‘home.’ She sent me the following comments, which I think are quite interesting:

“I keep having a dream that I am back in my village in Madagascar, with no running water, no electricity and no toilet. I have been back home three months, and my life in Madagascar now seems like a strange dream, even though by the time I left it felt quite normal. Although I appreciate the convenience of electricity, running water and a toilet, adjusting to life in the USA has held a number of less-than-pleasant surprises.

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Nintheenth Century English Literature

Posted On: October 27th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

On a dark and stormy night in the summer of 1816 Marry Shelley began writing one of the most famous books ever written, Frankenstein. She was 18 years old, and spending the summer with her soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley at a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. That summer at the villa, Lord Byron’s private physician, John Polidori, also produced a memorable book called The Vampyre which brought the ancient legend of the vampire into the form we know today from the Bela Lugosi movies.

There’s an interesting 1986 Ken Russell film about that summer called Gothic, and an even better 2006 book about it called The Monsters, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.

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Dark Music

Posted On: September 25th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

In my collection of short stories titled Dark Music, I explore some of the darker corners of music making. Like a lot of writers, I love talking about the stories I write, and since I just completed this book, the characters are still alive in my mind, so I can’t resist talking about them and mentioning some of the sources from which they sprang.

My favorite story in the book is titled “String of Pearls” after the Glenn Miller tune of the WWII era. That tune and others like it lifted the spirits of many who were far away from home. It was especially favored by the WASPs, the Women’s Airforce Service pilots, who were young women assigned to ferry fighter planes from manufacturing facilities to staging bases where they were given to combat units.

These women also learned to love another kind of music – the music made by the high performance engines of the aircraft they flew. It’s an addictive sound – the sound of power, tinctured with fear.

Being a light plane pilot myself, I was fascinated to read about the WASPs. These women were usually quite young, most of them still in their twenties, and they were flying some of the most powerful, highest performing aircraft in the world. Not an easy task.

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A Place Outside of Time

Posted On: August 27th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

In the photo to the left the actress Luana Anders is about to open the door and leave her ‘place outside of time.’ Unfortunately for her, the penalty for leaving is very high indeed. This is an Outer Limits episode entitled “The Guests” broadcast in March 1964. It is not one of the best episodes of Outer Limits, in fact it is one of the worst, but the concept of a place outside of time is wonderful, and of course watching the talented and beautiful Luana Anders is always a treat. The photo to the right is from Francis Ford Coppola’s first major film “Dementia 13” in which Luana had a major role. Sadly, she died in 1996, only 58 years old.

The concept of a place outside of time has enduring appeal. James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon is the classic example. In Hilton’s version of the place outside of time, Conway leaves Shangri-La only because he has to help someone else leave. But having left, Conway then spends the rest of his life trying to get back. I like the final line of the novel, where friends are wondering if Conway ever made it back to Shangri-La and one asks another: “Do think he will ever find it?”

A famous version of the ‘leaving paradise’ plot is, of course, Milton’s Paradise Lost. But don’t worry, I will not be discussing Milton’s poem here since I share Professor Jenning’s (of Animal House) view that it is way too long and often rather boring.

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Green eyes…

Posted On: July 29th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

Asmahan was a singer, and later an actress in 1940’s Egypt. Although she was of Syrian descent (which caused many complications in her life) she spent much of her adult life in Cairo, which at the time was one of the major entertainment and movie-making centers of the Arabic-speaking world. She was a rising star, her singing widely admired. In my book New Empires Rising, one character is a great fan of Asmahan’s music.

Then, in the midst of filming her second movie, Passion and Revenge, she died one night in a car accident. She was only thirty-one years old. The circumstances of her death remain mysterious. Some believe she was murdered—it was 1944, wartime, and both the Germans and the British did not trust her, believing she was spying for one side or the other. Her conservative family in Syria did not like the fact that she remained in Egypt and continued to sing in nightclubs and act in movies, activities not suitable for a woman whose family was highly placed in Druze governing circles. Or it could even have been political or business machinations internal to Egypt. No one will ever know.

There is an interesting book about Asmahan, written by Sherifa Zuhur, called Asmahan’s Secrets, published originally in 2000 by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and reissued in 2001 by Saqi Books.

Reading about Asmahan and her world reminded me of when my family lived in Lebanon, not far from Syria, for a year. It was 1956; I was ten years old. Those memories are very fond ones.

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Marjory Coleman Straughan 1937 – 2018

Posted On: June 26th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

I never met Margie, but before her death I came to know a little bit about her childhood days.

She and her husband lived in Texas, but in 2015 she learned that several of us here in western Boone County Missouri were trying to capture the recollections (and photos) of students, teachers, and one room schoolhouses in the post-WWII era. Many of us had attended one room schools in the final days of their existence. The schoolhouses all closed in 1957 and that way of educating, that had been the norm for a hundred years, vanished. We wanted to preserve a record of it.

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KKMC

Posted On: May 31st, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

Nearly forty years ago, an octagonal city took shape in northeastern Saudi Arabia. It was called KKMC, King Khalid Military City. It is still there, an active enterprise, inhabited by diverse people living and going about a multitude of tasks. But I am thinking of the days before the owners arrived, the days when I was there, along with several hundred other Americans, when it was being constructed. The years 1976 to 1986.

During those years we lived comfortably, our families were with us; our housing compound included a dining facility, a movie theater, tennis courts, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, and an elementary school for our kids. We drove company cars. We had a small airfield where company planes would fly us to the big cities of Riyadh or Dhahran.

But we worked many long hours. Construction continued virtually every day, often day and night. The project dominated our thinking and our lives. Managers and their families would arrive, work for two years or four years or six, and then depart. But the project continued.

And while we were there, the sense of community we experienced was unsurpassed – for the newest newcomer to the most seasoned veteran. We never locked our house doors or took the keys out of our cars. We all knew each, helped each other, enjoyed each other’s company.

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Days of Change

Posted On: May 4th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

A recent article by a friend of mine in the April 2018 issue of the Missouri Historical Review called “Chronicles of Discontent, Tribunes for Change” brought the late 1960’s vividly back to my mind. I was a senior at the University of Missouri in 1969, and a reader of the local underground press. The Missouri Historical Review article explores the influence those publications had on the politics and protests of those turbulent days.

And that influence was far greater than you might expect.  Publications such as Columbia Free Press and the Free Press Underground were the grass-roots voice of cultural change, and regardless of how heated their rhetoric became at times, they remained both credible and highly influential on those of us who were 22 year old University students at the time.

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Foundations of 19th Century English Literature

Posted On: March 18th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

In England in the 1790’s, for the first time in history, novels written strictly to entertain, were being printed on moveable type presses in large quantities for sale to the general public. The most popular genre among this flood of books being sold were the Gothic Romances. These tales, usually written by women, influenced a whole generation of English readers – and influenced the next generation of English writers, including Jane Austen. Her first completed novel (although not the first one published) was a combination of homage and parody of the Gothic Romances she had loved to read as a girl. Jane Austen went on to establish forever the form of the realistic novel which dominated the literature of the 19th century, but the roots of her work were firmly set in the Gothic Romances of the 18th century.

Click here to download a PDF of a presentation on The Foundations of 19th Century Literature I gave at the Missouri University Life-Long Learning Institute on March 23, 2018.

Immortality, sort of

Posted On: February 28th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

It’s impossible to forget the smoky voice and sultry beauty of the late Joan Greenwood. Beautiful and talented, she had a solid career from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, both on the stage in the movies. She is probably best remembered for her role as Lady Bellaston in the 1963 movie Tom Jones, but I believe an obscure 1947 British film called October Man was her best performance. Read More »

An island in the Baltic

Posted On: January 20th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

I’ll admit I enjoy Ingmar Bergman’s sentimental reminiscence Wild Strawberries better than many of his later, darker, films, but Persona is probably his best film from that era: a perfect movie for a mid-winter evening, mildly surrealistic, nostalgic, with that silken patina of Nordic melancholy. Summer on Faroe island, the breeze blowing the window sheers, the rocky beach, the grey sky, grey Baltic water, rainy days…wonderful. The film really shouldn’t really be called black and white since the wonderful nuances of silken grey were among its most powerful elements – the work of Sven Nyqvist, the finest cameraman of the 20th century.

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The ‘horrids’

Posted On: December 31st, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

She was paid more for her manuscript than any other writer of her century. The book was a bestseller, reprinted multiple times. It was translated into French, Italian, Russian and German. It received rave reviews with one reviewer (Sir Walter Scott, no less) calling it “The most interesting book in the English language.” Yet I’d never heard of Ann Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ until recently when I was reading Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ and a footnote mentioned that all the titles of the novels Isabella Thorpe recommends to Catherine Morland in chapter six were real works of 18th century fiction.

And they were among Jane Austen’s favorite reading.

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Reconsidering Anna

Posted On: November 26th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

In this day and age who’s going to read an 860 page book with 7 major characters and over 150 minor ones?

Not me.

I have wanted to read Anna Karenina for a long time, but I am intimidated by the book’s length. So, like a lot of people, I watched a movie of it instead. Several movies actually, but the one I like best is the 2012, Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright with screenplay by Tom Stoppard. This version is a fantasy extravaganza that somehow still manages to capture all the glory and pathos of Imperial Russia, Levin’s adventures, Oblonsky’s dreary life, and the doomed love affair of Anna and Count Vronsky.

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Twenty minutes before nine o’clock

Posted On: November 8th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

She created the definitive image of the mysterious gothic lady in the spooky house.

Her striking features and commanding stage presence made her perfect for the role of Miss Havisham in the 1946 movie Great Expectations. She was a British actress named Martita Hunt.

Hunt was born of British parents in Argentina in 1899 and lived there until she was 21 years old when the family moved back to Britain. That move must have been a wrenching experience for the young Martita – to leave behind forever a place and people where you have grown up. I believe that when the ship sailed out of Buenos Aires harbor in 1920 carrying Martita and her family to England, it left the real Martita behind. Read More »

Friends in Madagascar

Posted On: October 24th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

Our friend Tamara has now been in Madagascar with the Peace Corps for nearly a year. Her many experiences with a totally unfamiliar culture are exciting, nerve wracking, funny, and sometimes a little sad. The people and the countryside are beautiful. And, yes, there are wild lemurs there.

In her host’s home there is electricity (one overhead lightbulb) but no running water. The only water available is brought by buckets and boiled for kitchen use, plus a bucketful a day for washing in an outdoor shower.

Ironically, there is plenty of water in Madagascar, it’s just not clean water.  Read More »

Dark Fire

Posted On: October 19th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

I love a spooky ruined mansion.

And we don’t have to seek out Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield or travel through Borgo Pass to find one.  There is one in Missouri, perched high on a crag in the Ozarks.  It was built in 1900 by a well-to-do Kansas city man named Snyder.

I visited it one day, and it’s atmosphere of isolation and loss (it was destroyed in a fire) is quite…spooky.

The true story of Robert Snyder acquiring 5000 acres, building a stone mansion on a crag in the remotest part of the Ozarks, is fascinating. Mr. Snyder dies in an accident before it is complete, his sons fight with each other then fall on hard times, the incomplete mansion stands there for years. Locals say it is haunted. Then a mysterious fire destroys it. My story ‘Dark Fire’ in my 2017 anthology Edge of Reality explains these tragic events. Read More »

Adventuress

Posted On: October 19th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a multi-part series of educational presentations titled Women, War and Change.

One session was devoted to Olive Gilbreath, born in 1883 in La Plata, Missouri, population 1500.  Her father was well-to-do, so Olive received a good education, but could not find satisfaction as a teacher in the Midwest.  Instead she set off, by herself, to be a journalist covering the Russian revolution of 1917. She rode a train across Siberia in the company of Russian soldiers.  In Petrograd she saw first-hand the growing revolution and the final days of the glittering aristocratic life of Imperial Russia. Read More »