WTF: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer


    There’s a secret, multinational cabal that’s infiltrated all levels of the US government, except for the Postal Inspector, has uploaded every gigabyte of digital information into one mega-computer called “The Beast” and plans to dominate the world, or extinguish it, no one is quite sure which, by monopolizing access to it.  On the other hand, there’s this group of potheads growing cannabis-laden plant-based computers who have a secret neurotransmitter-altering eye test that is opposing them.  So we’ve all got that going for us.

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a strange, strange and strange first novel by David Shafer, a Portland, Oregon resident with a journalism degree from Columbia whose recent work history includes taxi driving and carpentry.  It received rave reviews from The New York Times,, Salon,, and USA Today,

    Shafer claimed to the Portland Tribune he is “chuffed” about all this.

     Chuffed sounds suspiciously like some of the words used repetitively in the novel.  Car windows don’t go up and down, they zzzzzzzzz.  Screen door don’t open or close, they shrrrngggg.  There is no such thing as walking like a spider, there is “spidering.”  I listened to the audiobook, read by Bernard Setaro Clark.  Clark’s voice annoyed me to no end.

     The plot involves three 30-somethings who all seem awfully self-involved.  Laila, a NGO worker who witnesses something she shouldn’t have; Mark, a best-seller author and top of the line B.S’er who never met a drug he didn’t like; and Leo, the poor little rich kid orphan who is either crazy or smarter than the rest of humanity.  Perhaps the self-involvement of these people is the point?  I mean, I hate to disagree with the New York Times, which called Whiskey Tango Foxtrot the “book of the summer,” but wasn’t this kinda already done in The Matrix?  Or Avatar?  Or that novel back in the 90s that was about how energy flowed between all living things but you had to work a 12 step program in order to see it?

matrix1  Avatar-Movie-HD-Wallpaper-3

     Laila and Leo synch up to work with the anti-multinational monopoly group which goes by the moniker “Dear Diary.”  No kidding.  Mark has been working with The Committee without actually being aware of it; unsurprising, because Mark is aware of very little in his own life, including where he was the night before.

    I don’t know.  Maybe techie, dystopian, derivative, paranoid conspiracy thrillers just aren’t my cup of tea.  You might love it.  At the very least, you know the food and drink will be good.

MENU:  Whiskey

Jack Daniels’ Whiskey Birthday Cake

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

4 eggs

½ cup Jack Daniel’s® Tennessee Whiskey

1 cup chopped pecans

1 package (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Hot Buttered Whiskey Glaze (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 325°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside. Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in the brown sugar, eggs, flour mixture, and Jack Daniel’s®, stirring well after each addition. Pour batter into the greased pan. Sprinkle evenly with pecans and chocolate chips. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until center of the cake is firm and edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool on a wire rack and drizzle with glaze. Makes 16 servings.

Note: Cake may be baked in a greased 10-inch tube pan. Increase the baking time to 1 hour. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Drizzle with the glaze.

Whiskey Glaze

2 cup melted butter

2 cups powdered sugar

3 tablespoons Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Blend well with a wooden spoon. Drizzle over warm cake.

By the way, the Jack Daniels’ website has some fantastic recipes.

So does the Makers’ Mark website:

Find something you like and go with it.

MUSIC:  Tango & Foxtrot

You can stream tango music straight from any number of music apps.  My favorite is Songza.  I typed Tango in the search field and received an hour or so of fabulous Argentine Tango music.

Songza didn’t give me any foxtrot tunes, but iTunes did.

If all that gets you in the mood for a little dancing, here’s a lovely clip of two of the best dancing to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.  Fred, Ginger & the Foxtrot.



National Book Award Winner: The Round House, Louise Erdrich

round house

Activities Around a Maidu Roundhouse. 1964. Frank Day, artist. Oil paint on canvas. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Lyle R. Scott Collection.

It is 1988.  Joe’s mother arrives home covered in blood, in shock and severely physically and psychically injured.  She has been brutally attacked, raped and brutalized somewhere in the vicinity of a ceremonial Round House, a sacred space on the North Dakota reservation on which Joe and his family live.  Joe, a thirteen year old member of the Ojibwe tribe, decides it is beyond the ability of his father, a judge, and mother to mete out justice so he and his best friend Cappy take matters into their own hands.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich is literary fiction disguised as a crime novel, a searing portrait of the decimation of one family which represents the unjust degradations committed against a nation.

Walking through the kitchen door, I heard a splintering crash.  And then a keen, low, anguished cry.  My mother was backed up to the sink, trembling, breathing heavily.  My father was standing a few feet before her with his hands out, vainly groping in the air the shape of her, as if to hold her without holding her.  Between them on the floor lay a smashed and oozing casserole.

I looked at my parents and understood exactly what had happened.  My father had come in — surely Mom had heard the car, and hadn’t Pearl barked?  His footsteps, too, were heavy.  . . . Maybe he’d been too quiet this time.  Maybe he’d gone into the kitchen, just as he always used to, and then he’d put his arms around my mother as she stood with her back turned.  In our old life, she would have kept working at the stove or sink while he peered over her shoulder and talked to her.  The’d stand there together in a little tableau of homecoming.  Eventually, he’d call me in to help him set the table.  He’d change his clothes quickly while she and I put the finishing touches on the meal and then we would sit down together.  We were not churchgoers.  This was our ritual.  Our breaking bread, our communion.  And it all began with that trusting moment where my father walked up behind my mother and she smiled at his approach without turning.  But now they stood staring at each other helplessly over the broken dish.

Against this setting of sexual violence, Louise Erdrich’s main character Joe and his barely teen-aged friends are grappling with their own surging hormones and yearning for their own sexual experiences.  She contrasts the sacred round house with the Catholic church, dreams with reality, legends with the law, and the crime with justice system.  If the crime occurred on Native land, the suspect cannot be prosecuted because tribal courts may not prosecute non-Natives.  If it occurred on state land, state laws are in effect.  But Joe’s mother, the victim, cannot say where the acts occurred — only that they were somewhere in the vicinity of the round house.  As Maria Russo stated in the New York Times review of The Round House, “Law is meant to put out society’s brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind.”  ttp://

NYT imageNew York Times Illustration by Jon Han

The Round House was one of those books that kept popping up on recommended lists and I ignored it until the Carnegie Center’s Brown Bag Book Group chose it as a fall selection.  I’m very glad I read it.  As with all great literature, it opened a new world to my eyes; the closest I’ve been to North Dakota is probably Arizona or New Mexico but I haven’t any knowledge of Native American reservations or the Tribal Law and Order Act.  Nor was I aware, as Erdrich tells the reader in the afterword to her novel, that a recent Amnesty International report found “1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape); 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted.”

The National Book Awards website features a blog appreciation of The Round House which you can read here: house cover

Ultimately, this is one of my favorite types of books to read and would be an excellent choice for a book club.  The prose holds a myriad of chewy topics, characters ranging from humorous to villainous, young to ancient and a plot that keeps you anxiously turning the pages.  For our purposes at daeandwrite, it also includes lots of wonderful food options, often even playing a role in the plot, which seems appropriate for a book whose protagonist is a teenage boy.

I took some apple slices and put them on my tongue.  I looked at Cappy.  We ate another jam sandwich each and just stood there watching in mesmerized hunger until (Grandma) started lifting out the fry breads.  Then we each took a plate and stood beside her.  She took the hot fry breads out of the bubbling lard with tongs and put the lumpy golden rounds on our plates.  We said thank you.  She wanted and peppered the meat.  She dumped in a can of tomatoes, a can of beans.  We kept standing there, our plates out.  She heaped spoons of the crumbled meat mix on top of the fry breads.  On the table, there was a block of commodity cheese.  The cheese was frozen so it was easy to grate on top of the meat.  We were so hungry we sat down right at the table.  Zack and Angus were outside, through her sliding doors, in the courtyard.  She made their Indian tacos now like ours, called them in, and they sat on the couch and ate.


The passage above provides plenty of fodder, excuse the pun, but if you want more options there are plenty more.  Banana bread, chili with hamburger meat, tomato paste, Rotel and cumin, bannock (flat bread), Juneberry jam.  As the weather has intermittently turned colder here, I’d go with the fry bread, chili and juneberry jam over vanilla ice cream.

Fry Bread

1 pkg. dry yeast

3 cups warm water

1 tbsp. salt

1 tbsp. sugar

6 cups flour

2 tbsp. oil

1/2 cup cornmeal

Dissolve yeast in warm water then add salt and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes covered with a towel.  Add flour and oil to liquid mixture.  Mix and put on floured bread board and knead until mixture is smooth.  Put dough in a greased bowl, cover with towel and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from bowl and put on bread board, knead in the 1/2 cornmeal.  Make dough into 2 balls rolling each into 12 inch circles 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into 2 inch squares and drop into hot cooking oil.  (Works best with cast iron skillet.)  Fry 5 to 6 pieces at a time for only a few moments.  Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with white powdered sugar.

Bannock recipe, if you want to try it:

Juneberry jam can be ordered here:


The Round House is set in 1988 so you could go with the hits of that year.  Faith by George Michael was the top song that year, believe it or not.  Egad.

Joe’s uncle Whitey loves The Rolling Stones and that’s never a bad choice.  I’d go with Some Girls, Emotional Rescue or Tattoo You, all released in the early 80s.

    I’m not even going to try to name any appropriate movie actors other than for Linden Lark and for Father Travis.

Linden Lark:  Matt Damon

Father Travis:  Brad Pitt

Happy Reading!

Life After Life, by Jill McCorkle


     Author Jill McCorkle spent the weekend in Lexington, speaking to the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference and shepherding a group of 16 budding authors through a two-day workshop in how to “find the story.”  I was lucky enough to be among that small group; to sit with, talk with, learn from and laugh with the kind, gently Southern and very talented writer.  She shared with us how she found the story she wrote in Life After Life, a sweetly hopeful and melancholy tale of lives entwined in an assisted care facility.

    Life After Life takes the reader into the Pine Haven retirement center in Fulton, North Carolina:  a refuge for some of the residents and staff and a prison for others.  Rachel Silverman, a transplanted Yankee, stirs many a pot as does retired lawyer Stanley Stone.  Toby and Sadie comfort Abby, the child of a painful marriage, who likes to escape to visit the residents of Pine Haven.  Joanna, an employee of Pine Haven, gathers the stories of the residents in a central point.  Joanna’s mission having been given to her to “make their exits as gentle and loving as possible.”  She does, and thereafter collects the stories of their exits in her journal.

   Ms. McCorkle talked of visiting her own mother in a location similar to that of Pine Haven.  Of the hard truth that so much in such places is simply not nice, but staying in that facility willfully until some glimpse of humor displayed itself.  She mines the truth of the situation for gentle humor throughout Life After Life as well.  But in each life, a little rain must fall and as each residents’  story becomes known, the reader sees the tragedy as well as the comedy.

    One of my favorite characters was the character of Stanley Stone, who is suffering from dementia-turette’s syndrome and plays Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ vinyl recording of Whipped Cream “nonstop.”  He has the unfortunate tendency to walk into a room and make the most obscene outbursts.

Whipped-Cream-and-other-Delights-Herb-Alpert“You aren’t queer, are you, son?”  Stanley asked.  “Been a long time since I’ve heard of you getting a piece.”

    During her talk on Friday, Ms. McCorkle read a passage from what she called “Toby’s rant,” that is a good illustration of what the New York Times book review referred to as the “simple, often luminous moments this side of the great divide.”

“I am a human, a woman; I was an English teacher and a bit of an amateur writer myself, but I’ll tell you things went so far off course I just didn’t even know where I was anymore.  I think it was the beginning of the end, too.  What once was generous compassion for high school students with all their angst and crap going on turned into pure agitation and fury.  I didn’t get frustrated by who I am; I got frustrated by what they were reading and wanting to write about.  I said, you’re too smart for all this shit.  Dwarves and wizards and gnomes and vampires — big blue aliens with tails like monkeys.  I said what I wouldn’t give for a good old-fashioned story about somebody losing his or her virginity or getting an abortion — Grandma died and for the first time I knew I was mortal or what about the one where the boy doesn’t want to kill a deer, but Granddaddy makes him so he can be a man.  I was wanting to write something myself and it was dying to get out of my head but couldn’t’ find the door it was all so plugged up with that malarkey.”

    Life After Life offers multiple lives, voices and topics for discussion:  senior care, adultery, dementia, creativity, artistry and of course, aging.  And like Jill McCorkle, you will leave Pine Hurst with a dose of gentle humor to leaven the sorrow.

MENU  hot diggity

    Pine Hurst employee C.J. runs a hot dog stand.  The stand features special like a German Shepherd with onions and sauerkraut.  I can’t stand hot dogs though, blame Upton Sinclair, so I would serve:

Sweet Tea/Bourbon Cocktail

Muddle one sugar cube with 2 oz lemon juice in low ball glass

Add two ounces of tea and two ounces of bourbon

Shake with ice cubes and serve

North Carolina Barbecue 

Baked Potatoes

Sweet Potato Pie — my good friend Denise Smith shared this yummy recipe with me.

1 1/2 cup sweet potatoes

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 stick butter, at room temperature

1 egg

1 unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350.  Boil sweet potatoes in large Dutch oven until knife inserted goes through with complete ease.  Peel sweet potatoes as soon as they are cool enough to handle.  Beat in electric mixer until smooth.  Add next 3 ingredients and mix well.  Pour into pie shell and make the top of the mixture as smooth as possible.  Cover with glaze and bake for one hour and ten mites or until pie shell is golden brown.


1 egg

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Beat all ingredients together in electric mixer.  Pour over top of pie.


   Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass!  Whipped Cream.  Actually that album is one of my favorite childhood memories.  I think my mom played it non-stop as well.  Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba . . .


This would be one heck of a tale to tell via film.  But I’ll do my best with a few of my favorite characters:

Stanley Stone:  Clint Eastwood

Rachel Silverman:  Barbra Streisand(!)

Toby:  Dame Judy Dench

Sadie:  Sally Field

Kendra:  Julie Bowen

   Thanks again to Jill McCorkle and happy reading!

mccorkle life

Dear John


Dear John:

Those piercing blue eyes of yours.  That confident, but low-key grin.  The dazzling intellect as not only a trial lawyer but a novelist. Yes, you are a catch.

But John:  what’s with the level of dissing going on in The Litigators?  The bad guy law firm, filled with uptight maniacs; the hot, talented, deadly litigator lady whose only concern is monetary; the “good guy” law firm filled with alcoholics and sleazy grumps?  AND a dog named “AC,” short for ambulance chaser?  Is that really necessary?

ambulance chaser


Or course, the story is good.  The focus on the overwrought panting that comes with a new Multi-District Litigation over a “bad drug” before the scientific work is done.  That’s on target, and I know some of those guys you are writing about and you are downright accurate on the legion of private jet plaintiff’s attorneys more impressed with their stuff than with their client’s stuff.  And unfortunately, alcoholism is a persistent and growing problem in the professional field of law.  The American Bar Association’s statistics offer that as many as 20 percent, one in five lawyers in the U.S., suffer from some form of alcohol abuse or dependence. It’s definitely worth mentioning and focusing some attention on.  

The writing is engaging.  Actually, kudos.  Because I thought The Litigators had more character development than any of your legal novels in recent years.  And as the Washington Post said, all without any character who could possibly be played by Tom Cruise.

Although, I think Tom could play Wally Figg if he wanted to.  (Have you seen Tropic Thunder?)

The Litigators is good.  Lots of legal vocab, behind-the-scenes insighty stuff.  But John, where’s the love?  I need the love.  Show me the love.  And I’ll come back to you again.


Pamela Dae



In honor of The Litigators’ setting, Chicago, and one of its’ main characters, I would serve Pizza with Fig & Prosciutto


  • Cornmeal
  • 1 1-pound package purchased pizza dough
  • 2 cups (generous) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 6 small fresh figs, cut into 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar, divided
  • 8 thin slices prosciutto (from two 3-ounce packages)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 cups arugula


Preheat oven to 450°F. Sprinkle large rimless baking sheet generously with cornmeal. Roll out dough on floured work surface to 12×10-inch rectangle; transfer to prepared sheet. Sprinkle Gorgonzola over dough. Sprinkle with pepper. Place figs in medium bowl; drizzle 1 tablespoon vinegar over. Set aside.

Bake pizza until crust is golden brown on bottom, 15 to 20 minutes. Immediately drape prosciutto slices over, covering pizza completely. Arrange fig slices atop prosciutto. Bake until figs are just heated through, about 1 minute. Transfer pizza to cutting board. Whisk remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar and oil in large bowl; add arugula. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Mound salad atop pizza. Cut into pieces and serve.

And you couldn’t have a book club discussion about this book without having at least one Pearl Harbor each.

  • 1 1/2 oz. Vodka
  • 3/4 oz. Midori
  • Top with Pineapple Juice

Pour over ice in a tall glass.  Here’s a video demonstration of making a Pearl Harbor, which is essentially pouring the ingredients over ice, but if you have five minutes:


Lawyers in Love, Jackson Browne

Lawyers, Guns & Money, Warren Zevon

Legal Man, Johnny Cash

I Fought the Law, The Clash

This Side of the Law, Johnny Cash

Chicago, Frank Sinatra


Oscar Finley — Brian Dennehy

Wally Figg — Donel Logue

David Zinc — Luke Wilson

Jerry Alisandros — Don Johnson

Nadine Gibson – Cameron Diaz

Happy Reading!



The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

the dog stars

   Nightly news just not providing enough despair for you?  Need more Ebola/bird flu/AIDS/mysterious illness fear?  How about Putin, ISIS, Al-Kaeda?  What about global warming and the melting of the polar ice cap and the extinction of animals or the prevalence of killer bees?  Just not scary enough to put you to bed with really great nightmares?  I have a solution:  Peter Heller’s post-apocalyptic love song to a lost planet,  The Dog Stars.

    In daeandwrite’s normal posts, there are quotes from the novelists themselves and references to what other media outlets have said about the work.  In this one, I am not going to do that.  The Dog Stars was one of those books that kept popping up on my Amazon recommended reading list, and Goodreads recommendations, and on the shelf at the Morris Book Shop, but I avoided it, sensing that post-apolyptic was not my particular genre.  However, when novelist Will Lavender recommended it during a workshop, calling it a beautifully written book, I thought I would finally take the hint and read The Dog Stars.  Dogs I love.  Stars too.  How bad could it be?


   Heller, a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal and National Geographic Adventure, has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in both fiction and poetry.  I find these facts from his author bio in the book particularly interesting, because I’m fairly sure the publications listed do follow the AP Style Book and use punctuation.  Like periods.  Commas.  Quotation marks.  Heller gives a nod to punctuation occasionally, but it is as bleak as the world in which Hig, the narrator and protagonist of The Dog Stars, finds himself.

Nothing.  Nothing the whole way.  Roads empty.  Blessedly.  Usually are.  Had there been wanderers it would have fucked up everything, delayed our hunt.  Then I would have swooped, cut the engine, played the tape.  I have four songs on the CD rigged to the amp and the speakers:  they are titled

Turn Back North or Die

Turn Back South or Die

Turn Back East or Die

Turn Back West or Die

The words are easy to remember:  just the title over and over.  Followed by the exhortative:  We know you are here.  You will become dog food like many before you.

Bangley made me add that.

   There are passages of beautiful prose, descriptions of nature, fishing, hunting that sing with rapture and glory.  And there is death.  The flu that wiped out most of humanity, followed by “the blood” sickness that took most of the rest, then murder, destruction, self-protection, or looting.

The canopies of cottonwoods still shaded the river parks, some of the oldest and biggest fighting the drought just half dead, still clothed with leaves on one side.  And fire.  Not a corner of the city untouched.  As if it had been fire not flu that had swept death through the town.  The care, every one it seemed, scorched.  Where they were parked in the side streets in their rows, in mall parking lots, out on the highways, where they lay in such a chaos, such absence of patters some giant might have thrown them like pick up sticks.  Whole neighborhoods were burned to the ground.  Others looked as if torched just to melting and left to cool the way a pastry chef glazes a brûlée.  . . . And if there were skeletal trees there were human bones.  I saw them.  Not true skeletons as the connective tissue was gone, but the bones of the dead were everywhere gathered into heaps by some predator and scattered by scavengers.

     My book club members, with perhaps one or two exceptions, would not like this book.  It is so bleak, so realistically depressing.  And yet, such a critical warning bell of what we are wreaking on our own habitat.  The flu that kills The Dog Stars’ humanity is engineered.  The global warming that we mostly ignore has destroyed all the fish and many different mammals.  There are no elephants anymore in The Dog Stars.  No trout.  And very little humanity.  Read it advisedly.


   Heller thoughtfully provides a couple of lovely menus for a book club sprinkled through the despair of the novel.  The first is a meal Hig cooks for himself and his “partner,” Bangley, over an outdoor fire.

New potatoes fried in oil


Dandelion salad with basil

And near the end, Hig enjoys a meal of fresh, creek-cooled milk and shepherd’s pie with butter.  “Well salted.  Ground beef.”

The beverages Hig and Bangley drink are water with an occasional treat of a Coke or a Dr. Pepper from an overturned tractor trailer.

MUSICdog stars

   Heller also gives a full round-up of music from “before,” and Hig’s “after” listening.


“Whiskeytown to Topley to Sinead.  We loved the Dixie Chicks, who wouldn’t.  Amazing Rhythm Aces.  Open Road, Sweet Sunny South, Reel Time Travelers, the scrappy fine bluegrass and old timer groups . . . Brad Lee Folk singing Hard Times.”

Those memories are too much for Hig after, so after he listens to blues.  “I can salve with Lightning and Cotton, BB and Clapton and Stevie Ray.  I can blast Son Seals singing Dear Son until the coyotes in the creek raise up a sympathetic sky ripping interpretation of the harmonica solo.  Piercing howls and yelps.  Sounds like it’s killing them and also like they love it.  Which when you get right down to it is the blues.”


Hig:   Aaron Eckhart

Bangley:  Robert Duvall.  Definitely.

Pops:  Tommy Lee Jones

Cima:  Olivia Wilde

   I won’t end with Happy Reading, because this really isn’t.  But it is a warning bell.

lassie  Lassie, my favorite dog star