Elvis & Nixon: A Movie Review

elvis and nixon

Let me begin by saying I didn’t expect much from this movie, especially since it is being pushed as a comedy. There was another movie made years ago on the topic, and if memory serves me correctly, it wasn’t very good. So, when I went to see the new film yesterday, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. This is a lighthearted, feel good film from Amazon that does an amazing job of getting into both Nixon’s and Presley’s characters. In fact, I have to give a shout out to Michael Shannon: his is the best portrayal of Elvis I have seen in any film to date—short of Elvis himself of course, ha ha.

Shannon captured Elvis’s personality and charisma in a way that made me believe he was Elvis in the movie—not something easily accomplished when dealing with an Elvis fan of 50 years. And interestingly enough, it didn’t matter a bit to me that Shannon looks nothing like Elvis. I will be curious to hear whether other fans have a similar take, so if you’re reading this, please let me know via the comment section of this post.

As for Nixon, I did a tremendous amount of research on him for my book, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream (conveniently rereleased by my publisher back in November and currently available on Amazon, hint hint), and judging from all of that, I would say Kevin Spacey also did a fantastic job of playing Nixon. This was especially noticeable during the meeting with Elvis, when Nixon went from a grumpy old man irritated by Elvis taking up his time to fully enjoying his visit with the King. Having read so many books on Nixon including his own massive autobiography, I could totally envision him acting exactly that way.

As Shannon said during an interview on ABC, no documentation exists of the actual face-to-face meeting between the King and Nixon, so no one knows what happened behind closed doors until the photo shoot that happened at the end. Being quite familiar with both of their life stories, however, I found the script to be very believable. Elvis acted like Elvis and Nixon the same. Elvis’s amazing charisma could and probably did totally blow Nixon away. In the film, the two wind up chatting like a couple of old friends on the couch in the Oval Office, eating M&Ms and drinking Dr. Peppers.

There are some really funny scenes in this film, but I don’t think any of them are meant to make fun of Elvis in a mean spirited way, and that in itself is a real step forward for the mainstream media. Elvis was not your average, run of the mill celebrity. He lived life in the fast lane for the most part, but he was also a deeply spiritual, well-read, thoughtful individual who loved his country. Yes, it seems pretty crazy that he wanted a narcotics badge so he could become an undercover agent–but his thinking behind it, that he could infiltrate the Counterculture’s drug scene and help stop it–was certainly well meaning albeit pretty unlikely. Chances are Elvis knew that himself, but he had decided he wanted to meet the president of the United States and run it by him, just in case. As with most things Elvis, when all was said and done, it was mission accomplished.





With Prince’s passing, the world mourns the loss of another icon


You didn’t have to be a fan of Prince’s music to realize the height of his stardom: His amazing career spanned five decades. During that time, he released over a hundred singles and forty-plus albums, while also penning numerous songs for other artists. Prince won seven Grammy awards and has sold over a hundred million records worldwide. Not a bad legacy.

As is always the case when someone famous dies, there will be countless speculations over the coming weeks and months as to exactly how he died, a media-crazed fascination that I have never found relevant in any way. Prince was found dead in an elevator in his home. Maybe he had a heart attack. Maybe he overdosed on painkillers. Maybe it was just plain natural causes. Who knows? And really, what difference does it make? As with Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, the cause of death should have zero impact on Prince’s legacy. All that matters is the amazing music he left behind.

I can still vividly recall the day Elvis died. I won’t bore our readers with the details, but suffice it to say I was devastated. A man whom I greatly admired and had so strongly influenced my life with his music and humble beginnings was gone, just like that. As with most of Elvis’s fans, I became disgusted by the media circus that followed. The world had lost one of its most beloved icons, and all the press wanted to talk about was how he had died. Prescription drug overdose, do you believe it? As if the fact he had been taking too many pills somehow erased all the accomplishments of his storied career.

Sadly, the media responded in similar fashion when Michael Jackson died. Hopefully Prince will escape similar treatment, but I doubt it. The media loves nothing more than trying to tear down our heroes, as if doing so somehow makes they themselves seem more relevant.

On a happier note, I was thinking this morning about how different a world it is today than when Elvis died in 1977. Back then, grieving fans talked to each other on the phone or got together face-to-face, or—imagine this—exchanged hand written letters via the postal service! Today there is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and dozens of other social media outlets where distraught Prince fans can instantly connect with others, be they up the street or across the world. It’s good to know these outlets, which far too often provide an anonymous forum for social bullying, can also do some good in the world. Be sad and grieve, Prince fans, and be grateful you can do it together, with love.

Writing with emotion

Whether emotion is a plus or minus in our writing is always debatable, at least in fiction. As writers, we want our readers to feel what our characters are feeling: love, hated, anger, joy, sadness. But it’s a touchy business. Too much emotion and our characters seem more like caricatures. The hateful villain with no good qualities, the selfless hero who never thinks of himself, or the ditsy heroine who never thinks, period. None of these stereotypes make for good characters. No villain can be all bad, no hero all good. It’s our job as writers not to force the issue, to allow our characters to develop as the story progresses so that readers will find them believable.

In non-fiction, on the other hand, the less emotion the better, unless you are writing a memoir or autobiography. Our job as non-fiction authors is to present readers with a set of facts regarding our subject matter. We aren’t there to make conclusions, to judge the subject(s) in a positive or negative manner. This is the approach I used in both Hoop Lore and Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream. It wasn’t always easy, as I feel passionately about both Elvis and the NBA, but I do believe both books are better because I used a neutral approach. In the Elvis/Nixon title especially, I felt it was important to allow readers to reach their own conclusions as to whether either or both deserve the reputations they carved out in American history.

Additional note to my readers:

Given my stance on emotion in writing, I am opting to create a spin-off blog here on WordPress that will consist of personal musings on whatever topic I feel like writing about on any given day. Some of it will be vaguely writing related, though I will continue to use this space on Grassroots Writers Guild for the majority of those posts. As you can see by our sidebar, we have grown tremendously over the past year. There has to be a line drawn, and I am doing so today. I will be posting a link to my new site on the sidebar of all my pages for those of you who want a more personal look into my life, not just as a writer but as an animal lover, an Elvis fan, an NBA nut, and a gardening addict.


Since I have yet to launch my new site, I am going to use a bit of space here to post a photo of Java, our beloved boxer who crossed over the Rainbow Bridge on Monday. Goodbye, my sweet, sweet girl. Say hi to Annie for me when you get there. I hope you two girls have a wonderful time together running and jumping and barking and playing. I love you both from the bottom of my heart.

Writers and immortality

When non-writers ask us why we write, our first response is usually something along the lines of “Because we have to.” And I think that’s true. Most of us have stories and characters floating around in our heads 24-7. Either we plop down in front of the keyboard and let them have their way, or we walk around in a daze talking to ourselves. (I’ve often wished for an on-off switch, like Data in Star Trek TNG, so I could give myself some much needed peace now and then.)

Our ultimate goal differs slightly from the why. We may write because we feel compelled to, but at the end of the day, we’d like to collect a paycheck for our efforts, to actually make a living from our writing the way doctors and lawyers and other professional people do. That’s easier said than done of course, especially in this economy. Employers in all fields are making do with fewer employees, so why would it be any different for publishers?

So yes, the current situation is gloomy at best, but that doesn’t mean we should give up, quit writing just because our books may never be sold to Knoph Doubleday and get read by the masses. Regardless of whether you sell fifty copies of your book or fifty-thousand, the point is you are leaving a little part of yourself behind. Something that proves to the rest of the world you were here. I like to call it the immortality factor.

Those of us who are parents have passed on proof of our physical existence, but unless our children become rich, famous, or both, we are merely a footnote to their actuality. If we have done our job as parents, our kids grow into productive adults with goals of their own. We can lay no claim to their accomplishments, we must produce our own success.

My oldest daughter, Carrie, and her husband, Mike, recently took a trip to the South. With my being the life-long Elvis fan I am, they stopped at Graceland to see what all the hoopla is about. While there, Carrie texted me that one of my paintings of Elvis I had done years ago for an art contest in Memphis was hanging on display. (I could tell she was excited because she used an exclamation point in her text.) She later reported that Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream was also among the books on display.

A touch of immortality. A little piece of myself left behind. Something for my kids to feel proud of. Isn’t that really what our efforts are all about?

Elvis is in the building


Warning: the following post is intended for dog lovers only

It’s been nearly three years since we lost the best dog we ever had, a lovely lab boxer mix named Annie. Annie was Katie’s dog; the two grew up together. When Katie moved out to begin her grown up life at USC in the fall of 2002, Annie and I became inseparable. We adopted each other as we adjusted to life without Katie. When my vet diagnosed Annie with bone cancer in August 2007, I was devastated. I stopped my life as it were to care for her 24-7. She lived a couple of months, and I don’t regret one minute of our last days together. When the time came that her life had deteriorated to such a point she couldn’t stay with me anymore (she could no longer keep food down), I made the dreaded call to Doctor Brewer, who came out later that day and helped Annie over the Rainbow Bridge.

Some six months later, when I had our boxers in for their check-ups, Doctor Brewer noted I hadn’t filled Annie’s spot on the Kirchberg roster yet. I said I didn’t think I ever could. She gave me a hug and said, “You’ll know when it’s time.” We had similar exchanges over the next couple of years.

Doctor Brewer was right, of course. About three months ago, I realized it was time and began my search for the potential new member, scouring websites of local and national shelters and rescue groups. I printed out dozens of possibilities, but the pup I wound up with was one I met face-to-face at one of Petsmart’s weekend adoptions. I had pretty much decided I was going to get a small dog. By small, I was thinking 15 to 20 pounds. I’m in my 50s now, and while I love our boxers more than words can say, I’m just not physically able to handle another dog that size. 

But dog people know when a match is right. Such was the case for me and Elvis. The minute I saw this cute little basset hound dachshund mix, I knew he was the one. And that was before I learned his name was Elvis. He walked great on a lease, sat on command, and dished out numerous kisses. Still, at a year old and 35 pounds (what if he gets bigger still?), he didn’t fit my criteria. I left without taking him home.

Little Elvis

The next day I remarked to Julia that I’d come across a hound dog named Elvis, but that he was too big. She responded, “You didn’t adopt a dog named Elvis? Are you insane?” Another friend responded with a similar message, albeit a bit more subtle. (Katie, incidentally, just thought I was insane period. Another dog, Mom? Really?) Okay, so the writing was on the wall. I called the lady who runs the rescue (Barbara Henry, For The Sake of Dogs) a few days later and told her I wanted to adopt Elvis. We brought him home Saturday.

I know Katie has my best interests at heart. She knows how important my writing is and sees another dog as another commitment. She’s right. But it’s a commitment I’m willing to make. Dogs always give back way more than they take. They are truly best friends for life. And there are so very many who have been abandoned at shelters or left to fend for themselves on the streets. So many who need homes. Someone to love and care for them. So I do what I can. In this case, it’s filling Annie’s spot. If I listen very closely, I can hear her barking her approval from over that Rainbow Bridge. Sweet dreams my dear, until we meet again.

Free Elvis novel download for Elvis Week

Hello my fellow Elvis fans! In honor of Elvis Week, I am offering the dowloadable version of my Elvis novel, Face the Music, absolutely free through August 22. Please pass the word along to all your Elvis friends. There’s no catch, it’s my gift to you in honor of Elvis’s memory. I haven’t had a chance to get to Memphis since the 10th Anniversary, which seems ages ago. Hopefully I will make it back there someday before I am too old and feeble to make the journey.

To get your free download, which is available in PDF format only, email me at cak007@msn.com and put “Face the Music” in your email header. I will get your copy (via PDF attachment) out as soon as possible. If you enjoy the read, please leave a comment on the Face the Music or Elvis page. Happy reading!

P.S. If you are unsure of how to read an e-book, take a look at our “Reading downloaded books is easy” page via the link to the right.

The Drive to Succeed

I used to consider myself a very driven person, the type who maps out goals and does whatever it takes to reach them. Back in the late 80s when I first started writing on a serious basis, meaning I actually believed I could write a book and sell it, I became pretty consumed. I read and read and read. Books on writing, books on editing, books on marketing. Competitive titles within my chosen genre and outside of it. Often times, I was reading three or four books at the same time. In between those efforts, I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. I was determined to make it as a writer.

Although my determination hasn’t wavered over the years, it has mellowed. I reached my initial goal of selling a book with the 1999 Nixon-Presley title, and followed that up with Hoop Lore in 2007. What I haven’t done is sell a novel or reach the point where I can make a steady living as a writer. Maybe someday I will, but if not, I don’t plan to spend the rest of my life bemoaning my so-called failures.  

Everyone has goals. Whether those goals are obtainable or not depends largely on how hard we’re willing to work to achieve them. Or more to the point, whether we’re willing to make achieving them the most important thing in our lives. Elvis made music the most important thing in his life and the lifestyle surrounding that thing killed him at 42. Kobe Bryant makes basketball the most important thing is his life. Kobe seems too obsessed with being and staying the best NBA player in the world to get swallowed up by the fast-paced lifestyle that surrounds him the way Elvis did, but I often find myself wondering whether number 24 ever has time for anything but thinking, breathing, and playing basketball.

Say an angel drops out of the sky and offers me the chance for a do-over in which I become a bestselling author. Do I jump at the chance? Sure, until said angel adds that the do-over entails erasing everyone and everything else that has made me who I am today. “You’ll have to concentrate 100% on your writing,” the angel explains. “You won’t have time to get married or raise a family. There’ll be none of those needy, furry, four-legged creatures running all around the house saturating your carpets with hair and your heart with love. You won’t spend sunny mornings puttering around in the garden. You’ll never get addicted to Elvis Presley or the NBA, and you certainly won’t waste your evenings watching old TV shows on DVD.

Say what? No Jody? No Katie or Carrie? No Jose or Michael? No Dr. Kookiehead??? (Please see my Photo Flap page for more information.) Not get hooked on Elvis? No NBA? And what was that about gardening? (“No need,” says the angel, “you live in a condo.”) A condo! No. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. (“Yep. A condo with no TV.”) What? Surely this angel is out of its mind. No basketball? No Mary Tyler Moore and Chuckles the Clown? No J.R. and Dallas? No Star Trek? No Battlestar Galactica? And, oh my God, no re-watching every single episode of LOST four or five more times? Seriously?

“Time’s a wasting,” says the angel, tugging on its wing. “Ten seconds and counting.”

I need only one. “Thanks,” I say, nursing a twinge of regret, “but on second thought, I’m pretty happy with how things turned out the first time around.”

LOST Finale: Final Take

I waited a week before re-watching the LOST finale to see if my first impressions changed, only to find that my original conclusion—the show was all about the characters—is even more obvious the second time through. I had a tear or two in my eyes throughout that first viewing, mostly during the final few scenes. Last night, I was in tears for most of the final hour, and many spots during the first. All of the characters I had grown to love and care about over the past six seasons, each of whom was indeed “lost” when they arrived on the island, found their way to redemption. Jack saved the island, ensuring that life would go on and in the process finally accepted that death is a part of life; Kate proved to herself that she could be a better mother than her mother was; Sayid accepted he was a decent person worthy of forgiveness despite his past transgressions; Sun and Jin proved true love never dies; Sawyer learned how to trust; Hurley became the caretaker he was always meant to be; Locke’s faith was rewarded when he believed enough to let go; Ben learned he still has things to learn.

Fans will continue to debate the overall message of LOST for years to come, and none of the conclusions that evolve from those discussions will be proven right or wrong. We all take away from the show what it gave to us on an individual basis. There is no absolute interpretation—and therein lies the point. As in real life, LOST was about life, death, and everything that happens to us in between.  

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Disney and ABC studios for seeing what I know was an incredibly expensive and risky project through to the end. So often good programs appear and then disappear without warning, leaving fans frustrated. As incredible as it seems, LOST never achieved a regular spot in the top 10 or even top 20 shows for much of its run, yet ABC stuck with it, just as they promised they would. I’ve watched an incredible amount of television over the years, but I can say here and now without a doubt that I never enjoyed any program as much as I did LOST. And so, as Elvis would have said, thank you, ABC. Thank you very much.

Writers and Heroes Part II

Even heroes are human. In fact, that’s one of their biggest attributes, at least in my world. Neither of my two personal favorites, Elvis Presley and Kobe Bryant, have ever gazed down at me from a state of perfection. To some that disqualifies them as bona fide heroes. After all, isn’t that the very point of a hero? That he or she is considered perfect in every way, something we all strive to be?

Talk about setting ourselves up for failure. No one is perfect. Superheroes are so named for the fact that they are super heroes, i.e. above and beyond the definition of a hero. Real life heroes have real life flaws. That’s what makes them human.

As much as I love Elvis, he had weaknesses. While the specifics will probably be debated for infinity, he did have a drug problem which, more than likely, contributed to his reluctance to take charge of his career in later years. He also spent lavish amounts of money (on himself and others). But Elvis did everything in extremes; it was part of who he was. Faults that made him human.

In my previous post, Do writers need heroes?, I mentioned how impressed I am with Kobe Bryant’s work ethic. How he goes out and plays every night no matter the injury. Ironically enough, he’s missed the past five games because of a sore tendon above his ankle. I’ll admit I was shocked he opted to sit out the Lakers game against Portland last week, especially since his team hadn’t won in that arena in the past nine tries. But the fact is, Kobe needed to sit out that game. (And guess what? The Lakers blew out the Blazers without him!) After having played in 235 consecutive games, Kobe finally reached a point where his body reminded him that he was human.

Knowing our heroes are human gives us permission to be the same. I haven’t spent as much time on marketing this week as I should have. I’m painting our bathroom, giving it a much-needed spruce up. And giving me some much-needed time away from the computer and the daunting task of trying to draw people to this blog so they will see my and Julia’s work. But it’s okay. I can forgive myself because, like Kobe and Elvis, I’m only human.

The I know something you don’t know disease

When I was a kid in the 60s, my classmates and I often chided each other with that little catch phrase. We then proceeded to brag about what that something was, and how knowing it made us better than those who didn’t. And I suppose that was okay, given we were eight years old at the time. As an adult, however, I don’t find it okay, especially when it originates from other adults.

Let’s face it, we all know someone who purports to know everything about every thing. Those aren’t the people I’m addressing here. They only hurt themselves because when they’re called on to give specifics, it turns out they don’t know all that much after all. The type of people who ruffle my fur, so to speak, are those who are knowledgeable about a certain subject and insist on flaunting the fact in front of others who know nothing about it. They know something you don’t know—and they have no intention of clueing you in because if they know something you don’t it makes them feel superior.

Now really, how ridiculous is that? Why would it make anyone feel good about themselves to know they have a skill they could easily pass on to friends but opt not to just so they can brag about it?

Glance to the right and you will see our new page, “Reading downloaded books is easy!” Obviously if you know how to download a book off the net and read it, you already know it’s easy. But what if you’ve never done it before? Think about the first time you tried to ride a bike. Most of us fell off several times before we learned to balance on two wheels. We weren’t born knowing how to ride, we had to learn.

Six months ago, I knew absolutely nothing about blogs. Now I have one. How did I do it? By scouring You-Tube for videos about blogging, reading through support pages and forums, asking questions. While doing all of that, I came across some helpful people. I also ran into some real jerks. People that berated me for asking such a stupid question, or pointing out that I was in the wrong forum for support on that topic. And it wasn’t just me. I read through numerous comments where those asking the questions were made to feel as if they were total idiots for having asked something that they obviously should have been born knowing the answer to.

Be assured that no one will ever be berated on this blog for asking any questions, be they about me or Julia, our books, our blog, or anything else we might be able to help you with. We value each and every person who visits our site, and thank you very kindly for stopping by. Or, as Elvis would say, thank you, thank you very much.