“I’m Thankful For…” (That Yearly Thanksgiving Post)


Photo: My collection

So most every year around this time, I like to post about things I’m grateful for. It’s essential to say this isn’t a comprehensive list. It’s just a taste of all the good things in my life.

I’m Thankful For…

My vision. As many of you know, I now see mostly with my left eye. However, the right eye has a tiny tunnel of vision (thanks to my excellent surgeon Dr. David R.). Because the last two surgeries played havoc with my eye muscles, it’s taking awhile for my eyes to become “straight” again–to work in unison. But it’s happening, and every week I can do more on the computer without getting a blinding headache.

My readers. I cannot express how grateful I am to each and every one of you. I was a slow writer before all this health stuff started, and it’s been a little scary to find myself so far behind. Yet virtually every communication I’ve received from you has been positive, supportive, and kindhearted. Thank you so much for sticking with me. There will be a book and a short story from me soon, I promise.

2016-06-05 12.50.57

Photo: My collection

Cornwall. It was everything I dreamed of, and more. I can’t wait to return, hopefully in 2018. We’ll see how things go.

Game of Thrones. Yes, I know. Aren’t I silly? But my mom and I had so much fun watching the series together, one episode a week, all year long. There’s nothing like bonding over beheadings.


Photo: HBO

My friends. You know who you are. I am so richly blessed in friendship. Some of you I’ve known since childhood. Some I made as an author, some I met on Facebook, and some are from my own neighborhood. If I need to talk, there’s always someone I can turn to, by phone, email, text, or in person. It doesn’t get any better than that.


Photo: JacksonGalaxy.com

Jackson Galaxy and My Cat from Hell. I should have started watching this years ago. It’s a joy to see my three cats much happier and getting along.


Photo: HBO

Westworld. Yeah, baby. Anthony Hopkins. Evan Rachel Wood. Ed Harris. Thandie Newton. I can’t think of anything else to say. That should be enough.

James McAvoy. Soon to be appearing in the movie Split. Can’t wait to see it.


Photo: 😉

And once again, I‘m thankful for everyone who touches my author-life, from my readers to my editor to my expert readers to my cover artist to my formatter to (deep breath) anyone who plays any role at all!

I wish every one of you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

Westworld: Another Man in Black Theory


Photo: HBO

Hello! For those readers who don’t follow me on Facebook, a quick update: The first half of Divorce Can Be Deadly has been edited and critiqued by my experts. I am working feverishly on the second half, so it can receive the same scrutiny. It won’t be much longer, and that’s why I declined to write a blog post about Westworld 1.4 (“Dissonance Theory”) or 1.5 (“Contrapasso”). But I have the bare bones of yet ANOTHER Man in Black (MiB) theory that I want to share. As usual, my speculation is loaded with spoilers, so please don’t continue if you haven’t caught up.

Now. We all remember this guy, right?


Photo: MGM Home Entertainment

Yul Brenner’s performance in the original film Westworld (1973) is arguably the best part of a fondly remembered sci-fi romp. I tuned into HBO’s Westworld expecting a similar gunslinger, and I got him in Ed Harris. One look at Harris in costume, complete with black hat and black horse, and you just know you’re looking at a formidable villain.

Or are you?

Let’s review his appearance on the scene. He taunts Teddy (who we originally believed to be a human visitor) and shoots him. Then he grabs a screaming, pleading Dolores by the hair and drags her into the barn, presumably to have his way with her. He says something like, “You think I paid all this money because I want it easy? I want you to fight.” We never see what happens, but we assume Dolores is raped and killed (in the sense that hosts can be killed), and the MiB is a sadist who visits Westworld to exercise his cruelest instincts.

Later, we see a bit more of what happened inside the barn. The MiB takes out his enormous hunting knife (which I originally took as a bit of Freudian symbolism) and says something like, “We’re going all the way back to the beginning.”

Until now, I’ve assumed Dolores’s father triggered her growing self-awareness with the phrase (voice command?) “The violent delights have violent ends.” But what if the MiB did it? And could the knife somehow be involved?


Photo: HBO

Recalling Maeve’s flashback to a prior incarnation, we see her cornered by the MiB. He pulls the knife as he advances. Again, the obvious assumption is, he’s going to rape and kill her. But does that fit into what we’ve learned about him?


Photo: HBO

We’ve spent a lot of time with William. Many viewers, including me, think William’s story only seems to be running concurrently with, say, Elsie’s realization that the self-destroying host carried a secret transmitter. Due to various clues, we think William’s story is a flashback to thirty years ago, just before the mysterious “critical failure.” William clearly has a thing for Dolores, and he’s discovered a knack for excelling in Westworld. Perhaps when the MiB mentioned “All the way back to the beginning,” this is what he meant.

William is a kind, decent, fair-minded person. Of course, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t transformed himself into a reprehensible beast over the intervening thirty years. But another guest recognized him and tried to thank him because his foundation “literally saved” the guest’s sister. So in the real world, at least, the MiB does good things.

In Westworld 1.5, the MiB tells Teddy he once cut open an early host model and found a mechanical marvel within. He then says something like, “What would I find if I cut you open?” I can’t help but think the knife is more than a knife, but not the way Freud meant. Even Dr. Ford, who seems to harbor some antipathy for the MiB, examined it with some interest, as seen below.


Photo: HBO

So if the MiB was once William, and he’s been coming to the park for thirty years, and now he doesn’t plan to leave (as he said in WW 1.1), what’s his endgame? In my previous blog post, I floated the idea of consciousness-transfer: he wants to put his essence into Westworld and live forever, either in one host body or many. Now I wonder, despite his all-black costume that hearkens to Yul Brenner’s… are his motives more aligned with his real-life role as a philanthropist? Perhaps he’s dying, and has no wish to live as Dr. Ford described in 1.1, clinging to life through technology. And perhaps he’s returned to Westworld with the hope of a grand selfless act: the freeing of its self-aware hosts?

I can’t wait for next Sunday night. And now… back to those rewrites.

Westworld 1.3: The Stray


Photo: HBO

Well, it seems all my theories from last week are wrong. Unless he’s a persuasive liar (and he may be), Dr. Ford doesn’t want to create life, and I doubt Dolores means anything to him. However, I found an excellent theory about the Man in Black, and why Dolores might mean something to him. You can check it out over at Beyond Westworld.

Now here are my thoughts about the third episode, “The Stray.” As usual, this post is loaded with spoilers and intended only for those who have already watched.

I’ve always liked the expression “ghost in the machine.” When I was a teenager, the Police put out an album by that name. When I asked what it meant, someone defined it for me just as the Urban Dictionary does:

When software or hardware is made to complete a specific function, but a small percentage of the tasks completed have an unexpected result which cannot be explained.
“I launched the game a million times through that shortcut, but this time it didn’t launch for some reason… must be a ghost in the machine.”
Of course, if you dig deeper, you’ll find the term dates back to 1949, when Gilbert Ryle used it to describe mind-body duality. If the human body is a machine, and you believe humans have souls, then what truly separates us from AI is a ghost, so to speak, rattling around inside our hardware.

Last night’s episode of Westworld reminded me of that expression. Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) takes Bernard into his lab, giving viewers more hints about the park in the process. Bernard is concerned about an apparent glitch among some of the hosts. One went on a rampage, carrying on a strange conversation with a nonexistent person called “Arnold” the whole time. The name means nothing to Bernard, but Dr. Ford has an answer.
According to Dr. Ford (who may or may not be a reliable narrator), he created Westworld with the help of a partner named Arnold. Dr. Ford was the realist who understood the hosts were only machines, and always would be; Arnold was the dreamer who wanted to create consciousness, not just the illusion of consciousness.
Arnold believed imbuing AI with consciousness would require 4 factors. To illustrate the notion, Dr. Ford draws a pyramid split into 4 parts. At the bottom, MEMORY; above that, IMPROVISATION; above that, SELF-INTEREST; above that … blank. Bernard asks what belongs at the top. Dr. Ford says Arnold never found out. He died in the park, and while his death was called an accident, Dr. Ford’s words and demeanor imply it was murder. The obvious conclusion is, he got too chummy with an unstable host and paid the price.

But what if Arnold wasn’t murdered? Suppose he committed suicide, of a sort? What if Arnold decided Westworld needed an upload of human consciousness–his consciousness–to provide the pyramid’s apex? The “ghost in the machine?”

Photo: HBO

After all, when Dolores overcame her programming (which had prevented her from firing a gun) and “killed” her host attacker, it was a male voice in her head that said, “Kill him.” A voice I didn’t recognize. (Though if it did belong to the Man in Black or some other character, I’m sure other fans on the web will write about it soon, if they haven’t already.)
But if I’m right, perhaps that’s why the stray host spared Hughes by mysteriously bashing his own head in? To silence a similar murderous voice?
I look forward to learning more next week! Back to those revisions on Divorce Can Be Deadly. I’m making progress, I swear!

Westworld 1.1 and 1.2


Photo: HBO

I’m enjoying Westworld so far! Of course, you probably guessed that I would give anything starring Anthony Hopkins a look. But it didn’t take long for me to fall under Westworld’s spell. As I do with Game of Thrones, I want to discuss the specifics of BOTH episodes, so if you haven’t seen them, my standard admonition applies: beware. This post is loaded with spoilers and unfounded speculation.

Question 1: Where is the story set?

The future, clearly. Westworld appears to be an interactive hologram, a massive version of Star Trek’s holodeck, and it’s populated by AI embodied not in plastic and circuits, like Yul Brenner in the 1973 movie, but in artificial flesh and blood. Westworld’s creator, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), says, “We can cure any disease, keep even the weakest of us alive, and one fine day, perhaps we can even resurrect the dead, call forth Lazarus from his cave. Do you know what that means? That means we’re done. This is as good as we’re going to get.”

But beyond the artificial environs of Westworld itself, where are the principals? If it’s a building, well, sub-level B has at least 83 floors. If it overlooks a peaceful vista (as seen during a conversation between Theresa, the head of security, and Lee, the head writer), that vast landscape contains no cities or signs of human life.

My guess? Earth is no longer habitable. The main action takes place on a space station. Westworld may be generated inside the station, or it might be placed slightly out of phase, occupying the station yet separated.


Photo: HBO

Question 2: What happened during that critical failure thirty years ago?

In episode two, newcomer William is greeted in a steely welcome center with numerous escalators and AI hosts. In episode one, way down on sub-level B, Dr. Bernard Lowe and his security escort pass through what looks like the remnants of a smaller welcome center. There is a ruined fountain with a globe that says Delos (the name of the company). So it appears that the critical failure went all the way to the welcome center.

We also know that Westworld’s mysterious Man in Black (a deliciously evil Ed Harris) has been coming to the park for thirty years. Which brings us to another question.

Question 3: Who is the Man in Black?

He’s a sadist. He seems to particularly enjoy harming women. He knows the world so well, he understands every character’s backstory and seems almost frustrated by their limited memories. When a park technician notes that he’s “killed” a lot of hosts, the reply is something like, “Give that gentleman whatever he wants.”

So the easy answer is, he’s Westworld’s best customer. But why does the show refer to him as the Man in Black? Why is he listed in the credits that way?

I suspect it’s because the Man in Black is someone very important. Theresa observes in 1.1 that Westworld is one thing to the guests, another to the shareholders, and another to the creative braintrust. I think the Man in Black might be someone high in the company, perhaps the chairman of the board.

In episode 2, he says he’s never going back to the real world. What’s his end game? That brings me to the final question.


Photo: HBO

Question 4: What do the major players want?

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is almost certainly heading toward revolution. But is it a coincidence that she is the oldest host, never decommissioned after thirty years of service, or that her name is quite similar to the company name, Delos? Probably not. We’ve seen that Dr. Ford still meets with his second oldest host, the decommissioned Wild Bill. Does Delores represent something for Dr. Ford—a recreation of a lost love, etc.?

Perhaps. I think Dr. Ford’s primary desire is to create life that possesses completely free will. His software update, the “reveries” that supposedly comprise a mistake, are perhaps a deliberate attempt to hasten this final progression.

What about Dr. Bernard Lowe? We know he’s been having secret conversations with Delores. We know he carries a photograph of a young boy, and that he lives alone. I think perhaps the child is dead, and Dr. Lowe’s desire is to resurrect him.

And the Man in Black? Can it really be that all he wants is a permanent vacation in Westworld?

I look forward to finding out. If you subscribe to HBO and want to watch episode 2 early, head to HBO GO. As for me, I’ll get back to writing. Happy weekend!


Photo: HBO