Lee writes a review on Amazon

I know, can you believe I’ve never written a review on Amazon before?  I wasn’t going to, but my friend asked nicely in her “you will do it!” sort of way.  My friend Bailey designed the cover and packaging Hyde by Vince Churchill from Dark Region Press.  How could I resist erotic noir? (I believe that’s how she pitched — if not, I’m confiscating that term, trademark pending.)  Not only that I got a wonderfully inscribed copy, since you all know by now I collect books, signed books, books that require you to wear gloves to touch and books that shall not be touched.

Here is my review which let’s be honest is the cheater’s way of writing a blog post.  So sue me, its not like you pay to read my drivel and be amused by my outstanding (in my own delusional mind anyway) wit.

 

Redefining Erotic Noir, Emphasing The Noir

Up front, lets recognize that a. this book is not for everyone and b. it is more of a novella than novel. That being said, I could not put it down. Everyone who read or wants to read “50 Shades of Its not really like that” should invest the time to read this. Churchill takes the tired premises of exploring boundaries and twisted (according to some pundits who prefer to keep their proclivities closeted) tastes and repackages them in a neat, digestible treat. It is like have an exceptional, experiment 5-star meal after finally acknowledging that In ‘n Out Burger is THE BEST. Your view-point changes, your tastebuds are challenged and your mind expands. Are you ever really the same after that?

I don’t want to spoil anything, as it is quick rollercoaster ride that I read in 3 sittings. Nevertheless the first twist was predictable, leaving me to wonder if… Nevermind, that was the Double McGuffin. Very little was really predictable. The main character was well fleshed out, believable and interesting. My only complaint was that it was a bit shorter than I liked, with several places where motivations and consequences could have been mined for gold. Gold Jerry! I blame the over zealous editor.

An cheers on the cover and packaging. Everything suited and accentuated the moods that built throughout the read.

Joe Bob gives it 4 stars. Sadly there was no aardvark fu. Check it out. Or be tied up and have it read to you. hmm….

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As the Garbage Can Turns, a Drama in Several Scenes

Opening Scene:  

A middle-aged man in frayed purple robe stumbles toward his much-needed coffee.  He is tired from a long night, needing caffeine to push his energy level towards acceptable.  He has a horrid case of bed hair and  a  hard time looking above the floor.

Its near 6am and the sunlight is just starting to invade the dark house.  A noise catches his attention as he emerges from the long hall.  He detours from the coffee to see which truck is stopping to pick up from the cans he put out 6 hours before.  But he sees no truck.  Confused, he reroutes to the coffee.  Something is wrong, but he’s not sure what.

As he pours his coffee, a message from the sponsor, Peet’s Coffee, is displayed subtly.  He looks over his coffee.  It is dark, black and rich.  The camera studies it, making sure the audience knows it is from Peet’s.  It is not Folgers.  Taking the first sip, a smile can almost be seen taking shape on his face.  Almost.  On the second sip, there is a spark of intelligence in his eyes.  He walks back to the front window to look out at the street.  An white obelisk can be seen taking shape where the coffee pot had been.

Looking through the sheers that pretend to obscure the view of passer bys, the obvious hits his waking brain cells. “My Garbage Cans are not there.  THEY ARE GONE!”

End  Scene 1

Scene 2:

Our hero stands on his doorstep, in wonder.  A typical SUV, white, approaches.  The soccer mom driving it shields her kids from the fright on the stoop.  It appears that she is pushing down the gas pedal to avoid some unseen demon chasing her down the street. He takes another sip of his coffee.  To his right he sees his neighbors cans.  The neighbor always puts them on his property, not that it is a big deal.  Maybe they are his.  The sun is just starting to warm the day.  He walks across the dry grass to the cans he sees.  They aren’t cans; they are really large containers that he calls cans. When he was a child they were cans and difficult to take to the street.  These have wheels.  If they had been wheeled in the 70’s he would have never complained about taking the cans out and in.  Or in and out, but that topic is for another day he thinks.

He walks over to the neighbor’s containers.  He looks at them while he sips his coffee.  Coffee is like a cigarette in many ways.  A hard habit to break.  Something to keep his hand busy.  Back to the purpose at hand.   The address scrawled on the front is similar to his, but not his.  These are not the cans he is looking for.  Looking down the street he sees lots of cans, but there does not seem to be any duplicates in front of the houses he sees.  There is no sidewalk, so he wanders back across the lawn to the doorstep and walks back in.  Looking perplexed, he closes the door.

End Scene 2

Scene 3:

He stands  in the foyer.  Looking in the mirror he realizes he looks like shit.  Setting down his coffee, he tightens his robe, thankful he’s not on a Megan’s Law website.  Picking up his coffee he calls down the hall.

“The Garbage Cans are gone.”

“What?”

“Gone. Stolen. Adios.”

“Did you take them out last night?”

“You saw me  do it.”

“oh.”  Pause   “Are they in the driveway?”

“No. And not within 50 yards of the house.  Nothing in front of the church either.”

“You should call the police on the non-911 number.”

He shrugs.  It wasn’t a suggestion.  Time for more coffee he thinks and wanders back to the coffee pot.

End Scene 3

Scene 4:

He sits in front of a computer.  The city police department website is up.  The camera shows how ridiculous it is.  It has lists of reasons why and why not to call 911.  But there is not a “non-emergency” number to call.  Except for community service.  “Do garbage cans that wander away fall under community service,” he wonders.

A screen appears above his head to the right, like thought balloon in a comic strip or book.  Little Nemo and King Morpheus appear for 2 seconds and blink out.

Music plays, with a very short violent cut in:

I can walk down the street, there’s no one there
Though the pavements are one huge crowd. 
I can drive down the road; my eyes don’t see, 
Though my mind wants to cry out loud, 
Though my mind wants to cry out loud. 
Dance floor is like the sea, 
Ceiling is the sky. 
You’re the sun and as you shine on me,
I feel free, I feel free, I feel free.

On the screen a large burly brown refuse container dances down the street with a lithe blue recycling container .  They match the beat and the brown container twirls the blue one then stops and does a Michael Jackson Lean/point in time with the first “cries out loud.”   He continues.

The blue container stops locking and popping in time to opens to the sky and her spread her arms to the suns warmth with the last few lines.

The cans wander down the road, bopping to the rhythm, getting smaller and fading into the distance.

From off stage to the left comes a voice.  “This is ridiculous.  Cartoon garbage cans dancing throws off the noir vibe that is going on. Stupid.”

From the right comes another, more nervous voice. “It’s what the kids want these days. It’s his Wilfred moment. It’s Burroughs. Wait till we bring in the Steely Dan and the bugs in the scene 6.”

“He can dream about being Burroughs all he wants.  This is more Pat the Bunny than Naked Lunch.  Maybe we should shoot for Goodnight Moon.”

There is laughter from both directions

“We both know Noir was a pipedream anyway.”

“Yeah.”

Our hero  looks up quizzically as the makeshift thought balloon fades away and the voices go back to their hidey holes.

He looks at the website, realizing he’s reporting a theft.  Amazingly enough he found the right page.  Under items stolen, garbage cans are on option.  There are so many fields to fill in.  Clearly some bureaucrat realized that all this information was needed, but no one thought through the user experience.  Each can needed to be described and valued.  $5k seemed like a realistic number.  And the timeline of the event?  separately for each can?  He had no idea exactly when this horrid event happened.  No wonder there was no number to call. No one in the PD wanted to write down or input this information.

He sips his coffee and ponders a new fact.  Not only does this on-line report require his driver’s license, it requires it twice. On separate screens.  Really? it couldn’t auto populate since it already was input?  No wonder people have such low opinion of many government workers.  If industry turned out crap like this, they’d be ridiculed openly.  Wait.  Never mind.

Yelling down the hall semi sarcastically, “Police Report filed.”

“Thank you.”

Fade to blue, like the recycle bin.

End Scene 3

Scene 4

Black fades to gray.  A shape is in the left side of the screen.  It slowly resolves to our hero, though not completely.  If HD is 1080 this is 272 pixels.

Ethereally:   “You are the third caller in the queue.”

Fade out.

Fade in.  The shape has moved left.

“You are the <pause> second <pause> caller in the queue.”

Fade out.

Fade in.  The shape appears to be sitting. He might be drinking coffee.

“You are the <pause> first <pause> caller in the queue.”

Fade out.

A very long pause.

Fade in.  The shape appears to be a huge blog.

“Hi! This Cathy how may I help you?”

Fade to black

Slow fade in.  Our hero is putting the telephone back in its dock.

“Well that was easy.  They are delivering new cans tomorrow.”

“Wow.”

Fade to black.

End Scene 4

Scene 5

A silver car approaches our hero’s house.  It pulls into the driveway.  It stops.  The audience can hear the emergency brake being set.  The door opens and our hero emerges.  He’s dressed in casual, but very stylish business attire. It is clear it has been a long day by the wrinkles in his shirt.

He looks out and the camera pans right.    There centered in front of the house in the street is the blue recycling bin.

He stands there astonished.  Only one?  He would have understood two or none. But one?  Why?

In his mind’s eye, or in this case the ridiculous thought balloon screen,  he sees a giant green dumpster.  The dumpster taps on a large box.  His brown refuse bin emerges from the box wrapped in chains, his lid covered in black plastic.  The opening beneath the lid appears to have been shot through with nails.  As it steps out…

From the left, offstage: “And no fucking Tarantino either!”

Roll Credits:

Special thanks to:

Concord California Police Department
Concord Disposal
Nameless Neighbors
Cream
Film Students Everywhere

(Song Credit: I Feel Free by Cream. Written by BRUCE, JACK/BROWN, PETER CONSTANTINE/LANGMAID, BEN/WOOLFSON, NICK)

Of Art, Ice and Fire and Untimely Deaths

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It is no secret I am a huge George R. R. Martin fan.  A Song of Ice and Fire with its  layers of hidden mysteries, plots twists and characters is one of my favorite obsessions; first the book, then the TV show. I am often called on to answer questions for my father and engage in deep analysis with some of my coworkers.  One area that I’m also a fan of is the comic book.

I must admit, however, I’ve not read the comics of  “A Song and Ice and Fire.” In my earlier days, back when Berkeley was the center of the comics universe (other than DC & Marvel offices of course) I worked in one of the premier stores in the country.  I was the old comics buyer and, I’ve been told, I might have been pretty good.  So I have a ton of comic cred, but I really stopped buying them somewhere around 97 or 98.  Having kids also played into that.  Needless to say I have approximately 20,000 comics.  I also have a nice collection of original art. Even though I’ve sold several items over the years, I still have several nice pieces.  These are a few of them:

Ken Macklin's Contractors (1987)

Ken Macklin’s Contractors (1987)

From Fish Police #8

Ted McKeever’s Fish Tale From Fish Police #8

I’ve always loved great art and these two are wonderful.  Ken Macklin never really seemed to get the fame I thought he was due.  This page found its way into my collection over 25 years ago and it is one I won’t part with.  His ability with shading, composition and making animals interesting, without being cloyingly cute are things I’ve always loved.  He’s an artist you might have missed, but shouldn’t have.

Ted McKeever, on the other hand, brings the deranged to life. I loved the work he did on Eddy Current.  Who would not love the exploits of an escaped mental patient?  This page is from a short in the Fish Police.  You’ll notice Inspector Gill stuck in a bar between two headless men.   I have a special place in my heart for Steve Moncuse’s  The Fish Police.  I might have been sitting there late one Saturday might drinking and watching SCTV when one of us yelled, “Holy Mackerel!!! It’s the Fish Police!!”  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. Steve never parted with his originals in those days, so I settled for one of the guest artists.

I may need to pick up the run of Game of Thrones comics.  I’m also a huge Daniel Abraham fan, so I feel bad that I haven’t read these.   While I’ve not read them, I do keep abreast of the covers. Michael Miller does a fabulous job with the covers and postes them regularly on his FaceBook page – Art of Ice and Fire.  You might recognize the background of my blog as one of his covers.  His work captures the look and feel  of Martin’s imagination in fantastic detail.  Needless to say, I think he is great.

I became a fan of Mike’s when he did the comic interpretation of  The Hedge Knight.  What? You haven’t read The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword or The Mystery Knight?  You don’t know Dunk and Egg?  These are Westeros stories that are set about 80 years before A Game of Thrones.  Not only do they provide clues to mysteries and questions we have about Westerosi history, they are great stories on their own.  Mike drew the art for the comic versions of the first two.  Here’s some art from The Hedge Knight.

to slay a dragon

to slay a dragon

DSC01928

Tourney from the Hedge Knight

In both of those double page pieces, Mike uses composition to make the pieces really sing.  The dragon flowing out of the cowl is very reminiscent of pieces Neal Adams drew in his Ben Casey strip.  And who doesn’t want to be compared to Neal Adams?   The tournament piece highlights the speed and clash of steel that happens.  Mike takes the approach of book-ending the violence with the knights’ prelude to contact and the blood lust of the cheering crowd.  This composition helps to make these pages stand out.

I really like the cover of Dunk sitting melancholy on his horse, echoing Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer.  Growing up, Frazetta was the premier fantasy artist.  Seeing Mike’s homage the first time made me happy on multiple levels; both nostalgic and present.  As a side note, can I get a show of hands for those of you that have a copy of Molly Hatchet’s Flirting with Disaster and just had the “a ha” moment?

DSC01930 (2) rot

Dunk

I have really liked the covers Mike has done for the comic. Clearly you know I like the one I use as a background on this blog, as well as the other ones above. He does such a great job of conveying both grand fantasy and nuanced detail.  It has been fun watching a very good artist continue to grow and be come a great artist.  In the cover below, look at how much work went into the Hound’s chain mail. Combining that with the well crafted rage in the Mountain’s expression is fantastic.

Sandor-in-A-Game-Of-Thrones-Comic-sandor-clegane-31372205-500-750

Check out the detail on the Hound’s chain mail!

Michael’s latest piece is stunning.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that he has a dynamite colorist adding drama to the finished piece.  In his latest cover, the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister is bearing down on several unfortunate Northmen.  I thought the detail on the Hound’s chain mail was exquisite. Then I saw Jaime’s armor and his horse’s plating.  Especially exquisite is the details on the coward at the bottom of the cover.  I think he really got that guy’s goatee and nose right!  What really got me is that the character, though unnamed, is Me!.  Seriously.  I had joked with Mike previously about drawing me into a crowd shot.  If I estimate correctly, my face will peek out between the “G” “H” and “R” on the cover.  If only I could use those superimposed letters to hide from certain doom at the hands of the greatest warrior in Westeros.

recognize the guy in the bottom left?

recognize the guy in the bottom left?

Look at me prepare to die in the mud like the sniveling coward I am.  Maybe I can be resurrected and be a blue lipped warlock in A Clash of Kings.

It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Pizza.

My last thoughts of Chicago were of the oppressive heat.  The sun seemed hotter and thus the shade sweeter than home; the humidity was cruel and ever-present. I loved the city, but hated the humidity.  As a coffee fiend of minor renowned, the weather disrupted my joyful drinking on the walk back from that particular den if inequity.  Instead, I needed to leave enough time in my busy schedule to take my fix onsite, cutting my expected number of trips in half.  The coffee shops (one mediocre, one fantastic), much like my hotel, understood the importance of heavy hand on the thermostat.  I often imagined the patrons lingering extra hours, without buying more dark elixir, to delay the unpleasant task of re-entering the warm sticky air just a bit longer.  There was free WiFi after all.

In packing for Chicago I thought about the weather and decided on shorts and t-shirts.  Clearly these were fine for our time at the World Science Fiction Convention, but if it was that hot and humid I would need to change my shirt often.  And who wears shorts to nice restaurants?  Surely, not I.   So, I packed lots of shorts and t-shirts.  A great deal of effort went into picking those shirts.  As I am not a wall flower, my attire is often chosen to elicit a response, generally a smile or laugh.  It’s harder to do than one thinks.  My friend Chataya says it’s all about the shoes.  Of course she’s right, but no one notices my shoes.  Everyone notices hers.  It’s the plan and, in my opinion, a very good one.  A few times my shirts got noticed, so my plan was not completely flawed.

It is so hot outside in Chicago that the hotel has decided to keep the internal temperature just slightly warmer than the North Pole in winter.  Inside I’m freezing and outside I’m dehydrating like beef jerky, just much slower because the humidity makes sure that my skin is wet and slimy like a salamander, and you know how tough it is to dry one of those.  I’m thinking it is easier to survive a Chicago winter than enjoy a Chicago summer.  I’d like to see the Wicked Witch of the West avoid melting there.

To combat the cold, Lambchop wore pants one day.  She was cozy and comfy in hotel.  When we took a walk for lunch, her comfy was roasted on a spit.  Thus ended the experiment of “pants in the daytime.”  While we often wear shorts at home, neither of us have 10 pairs and we were in the Windy City for 8 days.  I hope no one noticed me recycling my shorts.  I’m paranoid about things like that.  Look at my fun t-shirt people, not my sad, ready for the laundry basket shorts.  And yes, at least twice I wore shorts to restaurants that implored, “Please, Lee – dress a bit nicer.”

To offset the heat and humidity, there were a few cool moments.  Our friend John Picacio won the Chesley Award for Best Product Illustration (the 2012 Song of Ice and Fire Calendar) and then proceeded to call us and several of our friends out in his acceptance speech.  I’ve never been thanked like that before.  It gave me chills.  Of course karma was looking out for him and he won the Hugo for the Best Professional Artist 2 days later.  I’m thinking at this rate its time he puts the EGOT on his goal sheet.

There are a few times of when I wear my fanboy hat for a few moments before I revert back to the suave, cool dude I am.  I try to keep the fawning to a minimum, but I am a bit out of practice. If I fawned too much, I apologize in arrears.  At a party I finally got to meet Melinda Snodgrass, who is as nice as nice can be.  I also had short conversations with Ian Tregellis and Stephen Leigh, writers whose work on Wild Cards I’ve always loved.

One of my favorite moments in Chicago, was one many people missed. There was some serious bonding as  Adz, Allythia, Arantius, (what’s with all these A’s?) Fragile Bird, Lambchop, Jeebus and I had a quiet night of cocktails and pizza.  Friendships were built and I can’t wait to hang out with them again.  What is interesting is that only Lambchop and I are from the US.  Australia, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg were all represented.  Sadly, there were no hobbits, but I do think I saw some trolls across the room.

Perhaps I have the wrong attitude toward the humidity.  It doesn’t seem to bother the natives, though I saw far too many working women going back and forth from their offices in flip-flops.   Have we come so far from the tennis shoes as an accessory in the 80’s that flip-flops can survive in the office?  No, they were not Gucci, at least I don’t think so.  The trick might be to embrace the humidity and treat it like a sauna; think of it as the soothing schvitz integral to rejuvenation and part of a cleansing.  I do feel invigorated after my trip.  As my friends return to their homes, many of them falling from the high of comradely, booze and unbridled joy, I have different feelings.  I don’t have that emotional drop several of them are describing in social media.  I find myself smiling and ready to enjoy life in the best place on earth.

You didn’t know that fall in the bay area is the best weather in the calendar year or that the crush has started in Napa?  Add in Football and the smile that waits for me at home and life is pretty good.   Suddenly, oppression is the last thing on my mind.

A Song of Geekery, Prose and Art

I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise to most of my 30 readers, but I’m a bit of a geek.  I know you probably aren’t surprised because if you are visiting my little vanity project here  you are probably a good friend of mine.  (Your visits are always appreciated.)  For those of you that don’t already know (I think that’s 3 of you), I worked in a comic shop in college.  More specifically the non-comic company center of the universe in the mid to early 80’s.  That explains the 15,000 or so comics and cache of original art I have. And my banner here.  About 15 years ago I added a new category to my myriad geekery – A Song of Ice and Fire.  You probably know it better by “A Game of Thrones.”

In 1983 one of my best friends handed me a copy of  Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin and said it was the best vampire novel.period.  He was right.  Thanks Carl.  Thus began my love of the collected works of Mr. Martin.  His next novel was the Armageddon Rag, a rock and roll horror story.  I’ve never understood why it was not more popular.  It was, in my opinion, the perfect book for the time, with Reaganomics changing our culture, the Rolling Stone generation had hit a crossroads that I felt and saw. Add some horror and kick ass Victor Moscoso cover (on the Limited Edition) and you have the perfect book.  Try to see the words in the negative space in the picture.  Its one of the great features of the cover. Oh yes, I love my horror and my 60’s Rock Posters.  You already know our home is teeming with vintage Fillmore Posters.

Martin quickly became one of my favorite writers.  I devoured everything he wrote or contributed to.  Have you read the wild card series?  George and several others take comic concepts — super heroes, mutants and aliens — and place them in our history to create shared world series of mosaic novels, short stories and novellas.  It’s required reading if you love comics.  Or music.  Spoiler Alert – in this world Frank Zappa is a general and The Lizard King (Mr. Mojo Risin’) is a villain.  Great stuff. But in 1996, it all changed.

The internet was still developing and information flowed differently.  I got my book and literary information by going to Barnes and Noble once a week or so.  I saw on the new releases table A Game of Thrones, the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire.   Not only was different from anything George had written, but it was one of the singular best pieces of fiction I’d ever read.  Thus began my love of all things Westeros.  You thought Lost (the TV show) was complex and full of mysteries? Nope.  The slowly exposed back story, puzzles hidden in the background, and unreliable narrators make these books a serious investment in thoughts and emotion; a cost that pays off in spades.

I’ve been a huge fan from day one.  It was several years later when it dawned on me that level of detail (nothing in ASOIAF is insignificant) was a fertile field of information, perfect for an internet forum.  And there it was –  Westeros.Org.  If you haven’t been there, you should go.  It’s a wonderful community (minus a few trolls, as with anywhere in cyberspace).  Elio and Linda have set up, grown and maintained an important resource for years.  With the increased interest from the wonderful HBO adaptation, it’s even more needed and appreciated.  I have benefited greatly from the discussions and friendships that have grown from being part of  that on-line community.   The Brotherhood without Banners (you’ll see them in Season 3 of Game of Thrones) is the George RR Martin fan club and has a home there.

Yes, I’m a bit of a zealot.  But it’s rational — who doesn’t want to share something they love?  I was able to make Lambchop a convert several years ago.  It took a while, but I finally got my brother to get on board and he reads far less than we do.  Even my father watches the HBO version and then calls on Tuesdays with questions.  Even though we are heavily invested in all things Westeros, Lambchop was hesitant when I insisted we go to the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno last year.   Afterwards, after making friends and being knighted by George (we and several others are now Awful Awful Knights) we were thrilled to be going again this year.

Last year we met John Picacio, a gifted artist.  His work is well represented in my book collection — He’s done the cover for several Dan Simmons novels, another of my favorite authors.  John did the art work for the 2012 ASOIAF calendar.  He debuted the art at the convention and we were blown away.  Needless to say we were thrilled to find out he was producing limited edition prints of the images.  And who doesn’t want to support people they genuinely like?  I know I do.  Of course I had to get some. I did and off to the framer they went.  Lambchop was excited to have these prominently displayed in our house.

Several years ago, through Westeros.org I had met Mike Miller.  He had done the comic art work for The Hedge Knight.  The Hedge Knight was the first of a planned seven novellas that help solve several of the mysteries in ASOIAF by slowly revealing history.  Being the comic geek I am, I was thrilled to be able get several nice pages from him, including an alternate cover, which I consider to be the iconic image of that series.  Through Facebook (isn’t social media wonderful?) I have kept abreast of Mike’s work and was able to acquire the cover to one of the issues.

Yesterday was a red-letter geek day.  We had gotten a call from the frame shop where the 5 prints from John were being framed.  We had spent some serious time pondering how best to frame and display this spectacular artwork. When we got to the framers, they purposefully took their time bringing the pieces out.  Lambchop was clearly touched by what a great job they did and how it all looked.  But they brought out the Jon Snow piece last.  It was stunning and she teared up in happiness. There really isn’t  much that compares to seeing someone you love in the throes of unbridled joy.  Tyrion found a home a top the book-case next to the Wall by Martina Pilcerova, who also does some wonderful work.

After our framing adventure, we went by FedEx where they were holding a package for me.  Being a consultant, I can’t really have packages delivered where I work; I think it is bad form.  I wasn’t sure what it was, but I had a sense.  I was hoping it was the piece from Mike.  Indeed it was.   Lambchop hadn’t seen the original and seeing the color version next to the pencil and ink it was clear these needed to be framed together.  I guess I’m going back to the framer.   I might need to buy a bigger house if only for the wall space.