TSA, the Kubotan, and Me

Views From the Muse

by Taffy Cannon

“It will be a miracle if they don’t want to take a look at something,” I told my adult daughter as we slipped into our shoes after passing personal TSA screening at the St. Louis Airport.

It was high noon on Sunday and we were headed home after ninety-six jam-packed hours in the small Southern Illinois town where my brother had just passed away after a lengthy and complicated illness. Somehow we had managed to complete everything that needed to be done—including eating corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day at the improbably-named Covered in Chocolate restaurant and riding out a thunderstorm the previous night that cut power to half the county, including our hotel.

After a skycap checked four large suitcases full of memorabilia and the final gleanings of a life finished too soon, we’d proceeded toward our gate with a motley collection of mismatched…

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The Research Iceberg

Get It Write

by Taffy Cannon

IThe old adage to write what you know is only useful if what you know happens to be interesting, or if your style is so origi­nal and provocative that you could make hedge clipper instructions scintillating.  And if you write fiction, you’re making it up anyway, aren’t you?

Well, yes.  But sooner or later, your fiction is going to lead you into areas that you don’t know much about.  Medieval carpentry, say, or dung beetles.  Research is required.

Most likely this will be a subject that you have a strong personal interest in, so you’ll plunge headlong into that research.  You’ll bury yourself in the library, spend hours online, talk to specialists in the field, hunt down obscure references, visit laboratories, conduct experi­ments.  Each step is likely to suggest more avenues to explore, and before long, you’ll discover that you know a staggering amount about the…

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The Case of the Exploding Whoopie Cushion

Get It Write

by Taffy Cannon, with apologies to Erle Stanley Gardner

Della Street nibbled on a pen labeled “Walker Novelties” and jotted an occasional note.  Beside her, Junior Walker slumped in his seat.  On trial for murdering his father, he claimed to know nothing about the explosive-filled whoopie cushion that had killed Senior Walker.

On the stand now was Senior’s blue-haired veteran secretary, Leticia Larue, dressed in severe black and dabbing at her eyes with a lace hankie.

“You heard Junior threaten Senior?” District Attorney Hamilton Burger asked.

“He said he’d blow him to the Great Joke Shop in the Sky.”

“No further questions.”

Perry Mason approached the witness, leaned forward and adjusted his lapel.  Suddenly water squirted from his carnation into Leticia’s beady gray eye.

She leapt up, screaming.  “You’re all alike, overgrown little boys!  I did it!  Forty-seven years of plastic vomit in my typewriter, rubber tarantulas in the powder…

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Is That a Jackass Writing Your Book?

Get It Write

by Taffy Cannon

We’re all familiar with Very Famous Writers whose books are actually written by others. James Patterson’s franchise pumps out a new book approximately every fifteen minutes, for instance, with a co-author generally credited in smaller type on the bottom of the glossy, embossed cover.

Patterson’s writers work from his outlines and at his pleasure, and millions of readers don’t seem to mind at all. Some of his cowriters spin off into solo careers and others, like my seventh grade boyfriend, already have highly respected literary reputations that don’t always translate into a living wage.

Yes, my seventh grade boyfriend. You can’t make this stuff up.

The idea of farming out the writing of popular fiction is nothing new. Those of us who grew up on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were shocked as adults to learn that Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon were pseudonyms. Those…

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Listening for Structure

Get It Write


By Taffy Cannon

When I first started listening to audio books, I had no particular plan beyond enjoying some of my favorite authors in a new format.

I knew I couldn’t realistically listen to unabridged audio books, because the only place I played these tapes was in my car, and my driving at that point was mostly limited to short trips, car pools, and errands around town.  It could take months to finish an unabridged book at that rate.

And yes, I was aware of the wails from purists who insisted that abridgement destroyed the experience by robbing the audio narrative of … well, of much of its narrative.

But at first that didn’t make much difference, and as time passed, I was seeing less and less on the audio shelves of the library that I hadn’t read before.  Increasingly I found myself listening to books I had already…

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Do Comfort Reads Need to be Comfortable?

Get It Write

by Taffy Cannon

Most folks have a pretty clear idea of what constitutes a “comfort read.”  It’s written matter that you turn to in times of stress, or when you need a break that requires little cogitation, or when you are perfectly happy but flat out not interested in being challenged on any level.

This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s simple writing.  For some folks, Moby Dick is a comfort read, and plenty of others like to curl up with a cup of tea and Jane Austen.  Engineers go back to Tom Clancy. And there are nearly as many people who fall into the receiving arms of science fiction or fantasy as there are those whose comfort springs straight from romance.

What’s comfortable for you is as individual as your DNA.

But it is comfortable. That’s why you choose it. You’re either already familiar with the book or pretty certain to…

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Remembering Bill Cannon, 1957-2012

 Bill Cannon was a lot of very interesting people.

He was smart and clever and quick and funny and creative.  He loved history and war, and from a very tender age made and painted miniatures that grew to populate entire battlefields in a lifelong friend’s basement, where he participated in war games most weekends of his adult life.  He started small, however, on the H-O train table in our basement, adding touches like guillotines and burned-out buildings left behind by some advancing army.  On a slightly larger scale, his fascination with fireworks led to Fourth of July shows that by all rights should have cost him a finger or two.

He apprenticed at carpentry with our maternal grandfather, a gifted German carpenter who moved in when Billy was very young and died when he was hitting puberty. He loved projects and making things and tools, and he always had to have the best.  His beloved Cannon Ranch, a Sears kit house in the Chicago suburbs, was full of things he made or fixed or upgraded or restored, always with enthusiasm and zest.  A lot of those things never quite got finished, even before he got sick, but his intentions were always good and his materials first class.

Our mother died when he was fourteen, which led to a lack of supervision that fed his normal adolescent rebellion and made him a superb hippie.  He took his time getting through college and partied in a Volkswagen bus with one of the wildest Afros ever seen on an Irishman. It didn’t hurt that he was a gifted raconteur and a great bullshitter. He was also exceptionally generous, born with a hole in his pocket.

Then Bill made a decision that changed his entire life.  He went to Marine Corps boot camp.  He got a job as a patrol officer with the Wheaton Police Department and spent eight years as a Marine reservist.  I used to tell him that he’d become a cop as the lazy man’s route to power, and while he never entirely denied that, he genuinely loved being a police officer and helping people.

He was, of course, a troublemaker even as a cop, a union man unable to resist a challenge or knuckle under willingly to an authority he disagreed with, and he was actually appealing a two-day suspension when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 1994.

He was thirty-seven years old.

Bill’s world changed forever when he experienced his first grand mal seizure that September, though none of us realized it at first.  He endured surgery, radiation, emergency surgery for an infection, more radiation, chemotherapy and a host of tangential medical complications and problems. Throughout it all he remained upbeat and positive, determined to return to work at the first opportunity.

That never happened.  He was never given medical clearance to return to patrol.

He continued to have infrequent but massive seizures, and on disability a lot of his home improvement projects ground to a halt.  But he kept tending the yard he’d filled with interesting trees and shrubs and flowers and vegetables. He remained a crackerjack cook, moving through ethnic cuisines as they appealed, and barbecuing on his seven grills. He played war games in his friend’s basement. And he continued to be enormously proud of his three stepchildren, Jason and Kellie and Mitchell.

Eventually, he did get back inside the cop shop, as a civilian booking clerk for the DuPage County Sheriff’s Department, and it revigorated him.  He knew it was a much lower rung on the law enforcement ladder than where he’d been positioned earlier, but once again he was earning a paycheck and keeping bad guys off the streets.  He developed a specialty of finding outstanding warrants in other jurisdictions, and took pride in getting a couple of folks one-way tickets back to Palookaville in the company of marshals.  He worked through aliases and got some other folks deported.

He loved his work.

If it can be said that any aspect of Bill’s illness was fortunate, I think it would be that he started out with a really exceptional brain, one resistant to the damage and trauma thrust upon it by disease and treatment.  Because over time there were more seizures, and each of them further damaged that brain and stole a little bit more of the man he once had been.

He knew this, though he never admitted it, and he resisted all efforts to get him to seek medical re-evaluation, even after a seizure at the jail in January 2008 that lasted over an hour and required paralytics to stop.  That April he drove downstate to his stepson Jason’s wedding, and a month later, at home alone in West Chicago, he suffered the stroke that marked the end of the independence he had struggled so hard to maintain.

Bill fought long and hard, sometimes against all reason and through sheer pigheadedness. Life dealt him a really crummy hand, but he played it with dignity and honor. My heart was broken many times by his illness over the past eighteen years, but perhaps the hardest moment for me was when he acknowledged last November that it was time for what he referred to as “a next step.”  That step was assisted living, where his hall mates all had a good thirty years on him.  But by then the ravages thrust upon his brain and his body by disease and treatment had finally taken control, and he was gone less than three months after he moved in.

He was fifty-four.

My brother was a hippie, a Marine, a cop, a brain tumor survivor, a gardener, a war gamer, a gourmet cook, and a silver-tongued Irishman with a quick temper and a quicker grin.

In his final three years, he was cared for by the family with whom he shared his life for six years, a quarter-century earlier.  Their love and devotion to him was testimony to all the best that he could be, and all that he had been.

The world is a better place because Bill Cannon was in it, and a smaller one because he is gone.

This entry was posted on August 16, 2012. 6 Comments