Gettysburg Address in 2020

May 23, 2020 by

Yesterday, I read the Gettysburg Address to myself here at home in the middle of 2020. Some days I wonder if these words still have much application to a large percentage of America’s elected “leaders,” and even to the people themselves.

Donald Claxton, the grammatic artist, ponders the value
of the Gettysburg Address in 2020.

Other days, I see many being equally aroused by another famous document, one that begins with, “We the people.” And then I wonder how close we are to repeating the events that caused the solemnity of the document attached. How people are coming to believe that Orwell might have been 36 years early, but right in the end.

And as orders to stay home, confusing announcements from government organizations (CDC for one) vary by the hour, one branch of government, (even branches within the branches are divided,) we all witness the angst among the citizens of these quite un-United States demanding government at all levels has done enough for now.

Or there are those who are frustrated with EOs by governors that many feel are preposterous Constitutional overreaches–limits on church attendance, restrictions on guns were big in several states, when 36 million Americans are now jobless, have few prospects for employment because even places such as Victoria’s Secret and Bed and Bath Works are closing their doors for good. Even JC Penny has joined ranks with Sears and filed for BK protection. Now HERTZ says it doesn’t have the money for to pay the leases on its cars from them sitting idle the past two months and they, too, have filed for BK.

My soul and my heart-of-hearts aches and wonders, will America once again enjoy a “new birth of Freedom?” The outcome of coronavirus is going to reshape the essence of America, no matter how you shake it. Facebook, I believe it is, has announced the past few days that they are permanently going to have a significant part of their workforce work from home from now on. That changes the demands for office space in big cities, creating a glut of office space with no one to rent, so then it’s harder to hold onto a big building, and things trickle down from there. Since fewer people are coming to work, the café isn’t serving as many for breakfast and lunch. The shoe shiner doesn’t have as many feet to engage. Hot dog stands get more expensive because tax revenues are down so cities up their taxes to stay in balance. Dems in Congress keep after a $15 dollar minimum wage, which causes the prices for consumers to go up, thereby reducing the impact of a mandatory wage hike to zero, which in turn causes more businesses to employ fewer people, and things roll further down hill from there.

Meanwhile “progressives,” I honestly don’t know how such a misnomer can be applied to idiots like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who thinks that the government should pay everyone $2,000 a month. In the past three months, the government has increased the federal debt by at least $6 TRILLION. The Morbidly Corrupt Nancy Pelosi rammed a bill she wrote with a cabal of lobbyists and partisans through the House recently and it’s going no where. But in it, the word cannabis is included three times as much as the word jobs, when there are now 36 million people out of work due to the virus shutdown.

But I was wondering about a “New birth of Freedom,” as Lincoln spoke in such a short speech–he was known for long ones–the official photographer didn’t even have time to get setup and the president was finishing. Or shall America fall upon the ash heap of Democracies that once were the beacons of freedom with their bicameral legislative bodies and the will of the people, but were eventually bludgeoned to death by dictators, Communism, or Socialism, where there is no longer a will of the people in any way shape or form, and “redistribution of wealth works well for everyone” except those in power, for they must have more than the rest … the logic for justification never makes sense. And just think, under that system, to express thoughts such as these openly, for discussion, would lead to penalty of death…..

I am an optimist deep inside. But after 30 years of dealing with politics on the inside at various levels, I’ve seen how sausage is made. I believe there is still good in America and that we have a fighting chance. But what some don’t realize yet, Freedom isn’t Free. Not even in a democracy like ours….

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First Love by Ivan Turgenev

Oct 24, 2019 by

First Love by Ivan Turgenev. I enjoyed this book. First Love is my 10th Russian/behind the Iron Curtain novel to read since December, beginning with War and Peace.

A great final quote from First Love is this one, a summary about living, and an expansion on the American phrase, “Youth is wasted on the wrong kind.”

Oh youth! youth! you go your way heedless, uncaring – as if you owned all the treasures of the world; even grief elates you., even sorrow wits well upon your brow. …Perhaps the whole secret of your enchantment lies not, indeed, in your power to do whatever you may will, but in your power to do think that their is nothing you will not do; it is this that you scatter to the winds – gifts which you could never have used to any other purpose. Each of us feels most deeply convinced that he has been too prodigal of his gifts – that he has a right to cry “Oh, what could I not have done, if only I had not wasted my time.”

This is not a very long book. It may be read in one day, but you’ll not want to speed through its pages. There’s too much there you’ll want to think about and absorb.

This is not my first Turgenev book, I read Fathers and Sons not too long ago. This one, however, was recommended to me strongly by a young former Russian ballerina whom I met while sitting at the bar for dinner at the Eighth Avenue Tick Tock restaurant in New York City, Sept. 23, 2019.

Anastasia

Anastasia, the former Russian ballerina who insisted I read Turgenev’s novel First Love, a beautiful story about life in mid nineteenth century Russia.

Anastasia, who could speak very little English, was impressed with how many Russian novels I’ve read in the past 10 months. Ten of them now, one for each month. When she saw my reading list she was highly impressed but quickly typed out in Google translate that First Love is simply a beautiful book that I must read. I ordered it from Amazon between translations in our conversation.

Anastasia was so right, I hope you enjoy it, too,

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The New York Pitch Conference–One Week Later

Oct 1, 2019 by

The New York Pitch Conference–One Week Later

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New York Pitch Conference–Fall 2019

Sep 26, 2019 by

New York Pitch Conference–Fall 2019

From Sept 19-22, last Thursday to Sunday now, I took part in the New York Pitch Conference, the creation of mastermind Michael Neff. As luck would have it, too, I found myself in Group B, with many fellow writers–most of them focusing on sci-fi and fantasy–and all of us under the tutorship of the sometimes critical, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes hysterical, but always knowledgable, caring, and in particular, focused on what is going to sell in the publishing industry and what will not.

The conference itself was well organized, with three groups separated into three rooms. One group was led by Paula Munier and focused on writing mysteries. Susan Breen led Group A and focused on memoir and women’s fiction.

We only gathered together once to hear a presentation from the funny and strategic thinker, Amy Collins. She presented a plan, Becoming a Successful Author, that is eye-opening about the demands on every author in this modern market of publishing. And we were thinking getting an agent was difficult.

Acquisition editors from some of the major publishing houses were brought in beginning on the 20th after Michael Neff guided each of us in sharpening our pitches on the 19th. The sharpening continued after each pitch based on the feedback received from each editor. By the time we were pitching on Sunday, our pitches were well-honed. Based on interests of the editors, some received requests for more, others did not. We all returned home with the need to do more revising. (That is nothing to be upset about. Revising is about 99 percent of writing a book. It is not at all like they portray in the movies where one sits down at a typewriter or computer and you see them starting and then finishing and it’s ready for publication.)

The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club Pitch

“Kirk Egerton is resentful when he sneaks from his house in the middle of an Upper Michigan blizzard because five of his friends are missing. They all live on an air force base where bombers are armed with nuclear weapons and sit on alert ready for the call to attack the Soviet Union in December 1977, whether it is snowing or not. But while Kirk knows the others should be at the tree house they built during the summer months that year, no one knows a Russian spy has captured the five when they found his hut while trying to get home in the storm.”

The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club Pitch Improvements

We made some important decisions about my present project. It’s something of a square peg. The industry prefers round holes. But at the suggestion of Brendan Deneen, we are now using the comp of the movie The Goonies to pitch my book.

But that’s not all.

I’m now saying the book is “a mixture of the movie The Goonies and a modern-day Tom Sawyer living in an atmosphere of the 1970s.”

At Brendan’s suggestion and with the reinforcement of the responses that followed from others, I’m now also including some of the “cool stuff” that happens in the meat of the book.

“To build the fort one of the guys overcame what he thought were the threat of killer bees. Another swears he sees Bigfoot when he steps away from their camp the first night they spend the night out in the woods. As four trained Scouts, they fail to notice until it’s too late that they’ve sat down in poison ivy. Rather than risking treatment at the base hospital, one of them persuades the rest that using skunk oil will relieve the itch. This leads to them building a trap and….

“For initiation one walks alone at night through a cemetery, that is a former Indian burial ground. Another climbs the base water tower at 10 p.m. and play Reveille after Taps. For the final initiation, they all climb into a cave behind the tall rock face in the Little Laughing White Fish Falls lagoon and the entry collapses.”

The Closing Questions

“At the end, Kirk must rescue the others from the top of the rock face, known as the Devil’s Ledge, by climbing the face of the rock. The spy intends to force the five off the top and let them plunge to their deaths. Kirk engages the spy with a combat knife when the Russian has a pistol. Is he able to rescue the others and keep them from getting killed? How have the events of the year affected Kirk and shaped him for this one moment that will matter the rest of his life?”

I ask some good closing questions. They are designed to get an agent to ask for more, not to give away the whole story.

What I Learned

I’ve been to a number of writing conferences and spent three years in the Southern Methodist University Writer’s Path Program. There is some variance in how to do a few things, but the rules for how to pitch, what New York editors and agents are looking for, those things are pretty much set in stone. There is some fluctuation, but not much. There are so many queries sent to agents each week, their screeners, and the agents themselves are looking for the slightest anything they can find to say no to passing on your book.

Neff said he’s even seen screeners even highlighting lines of queries in email in boxes and randomly highlighting them and then hitting delete just so they could get to a manageable number of queries to read in a week. Not fair, no, but there is nothing can be done about it, and one will never know if that brought a pass or if they read your pitch and did not like it.

The proverbial “they” say there is a difference between a writer who got published and one who did not. The one who got published ignored the umpteen rejections and kept querying.

One of my mentors once told me that until I got into the 130-rejections range I really had not tried to query anyway. I’m almost half way there and I have to tell you, my pitch has changed considerably, my book has been revised about five times since then, and the writing is much stronger.

The New York Pitch Conference

I recommend this conference to well-seasoned writers who have a book that’s in its fourth or fifth draft. If you take a first draft or second draft to pitch, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. While your idea may be exciting to the editors and coaches you’ll work with, your book will not be ready for the scrutiny that will follow and in a couple of years their passions will likely have moved on to something else. Writing a book takes time. A novel does. Remember the Ernest Hemingway quote, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

I shared my first draft of Voodoo Hill with my family and a few friends. I’m embarrassed now that I did. I wish I could sneak into their homes and get them all back and burn them, but most likely they’ve all thrown them out already anyhow. That is what should have happened to that copy. The next year when I made a 10-CD audio recording of the next draft, ugh, I shudder to the think about it.

This latest draft I feel is pretty sound, but I felt the same way about the others and I know they weren’t ready for human consumption either.

Go slow. Be deliberate. Let your words simmer. Finish a revision and then put the book away and forget about it for a month or two. Maybe even six months. Then come back to it. The words will still be there. So will the publishing industry. And the trends will change. Maybe square holes will be the thing soon. I sure as hell hope so….

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Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” Video’s 13s and 7s

Jun 17, 2019 by

Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” Video’s 13s and 7s

Monday morning. It’s release day of Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” video with her in it and it is loaded with easter eggs of her favorite number 13 and the number of her album Lover, lucky number seven.

So here we go.  Right off.

13 elements and dice that add up to 13.

In the second screen with the 13 elements, the cat, the rollers, the lipstick, the red dice, (the ones in the container mostly equal six) but the ones in front total to 13.) So there’s two 13s right there.

Then Taylor complains about the time being 7 a.m. (reference to 7th album) and looks at her watch where the one is a 13.

Then she’s headed out to the pool in here bling sun glasses. And yes, across the top they have sparkles across them. And just how many stars or what ever are there?

Why 13 of course.

How many else should there be?

Let’s skip forward to the part where TS comes walking down Main Street of her trailer city. She’s walking with the guy, pumps and all and she’s got blue hair and that Mr. T starter kit necklace with that big bold 13 in gold.

Now of course the protestors how many might there be? I’ll answer such a rhetorical question on my own. Somewhere between the number 12 and 14.

This keeps going. We get to the sun bathers in front of the trailer, of which TS is one, this time in a yellow swimsuit, an she’s sunning in front of the 13 protestors.

This time, however, she’s sitting in a group of seven, (album “Lover” number) and telling them to cool down.

But

the

most

excellent 13 possibly of all time, and you have to be looking for this one, comes from the symbolic Taylor and Katy Perry make up where Katy is dressed as a hamburger, and Taylor is a bunch of fries.

And how many fries are there?

Yep. There are seven in the front.

There are six in the back.

There are 13 french fries.

Count them yourself.

Taylor Swift’s 13 French Fries

 

 

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Fleabag Season 2–Phoebe Waller-Bridge At Her Best

May 17, 2019 by

Fleabag Season 2–Phoebe Waller-Bridge At Her Best

May 17, 3 p.m. in the afternoon and I’ve already devoured the six-episode season 2 of Fleabag on Amazon Prime and am in awe of the work of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a writer and actor. 

She announces early in episode 1 that this is a love story, leaving one to think that the first episode is a love story, but really, all six episodes become an over-arching love story with little ones sandwiched masterfully in between.

Yes, I know, Phoebe and the show isn’t known for the best language or kid-friendly situations. That’s a given. If you could get past that and get to the heart of the story in Season 1 you saw how Fleabag, Phoebe’s character, was dealing with a surprise trauma she was running from until it was thrown in her face in the last episode as a major reveal.

Season 2 picks up 371 days, 19 hours and 26 minutes  later and Fleabag says she’s changed. Her old self wasn’t getting her anywhere, so she’s decided to make a change. And then we go through six episodes of her trying to do just that.

There is much more heart in Season 2 than one would ever have anticipated. The writing is masterful. The last episode where Andrew Scott talks about love is written from the heart.

The new and guest stars Andrew Scott from Sherlock fame as Jim Moriarty, Fiona Shaw from Killing Eve playing a counselor, and Kristin Scott Thomas, help enliven the series (the English call a season a “series”).  

One often hopes that a second season will be as good as the first. I’ve been disappointed in the second season of Killing Eve. After episode one even, I could tell Phoebe’s role in writing had been cut way way back. As the season has dragged on, it’s become almost a different show than season 1. Night and day to me. It’s still a good show, but the Zing that was there with Phoebe’s writing is NOT there.

With the second season of Fleabag, I have no problem in arguing that Phoebe’s mantra in how she writes with “Panic, panic, and hope,” is more than evident. It was brought to life in every page she produced in the script for these six episodes. The greatest regret I have is that there were only six shows in this season and now I’ve seen them all already.

That’s not to say I won’t see them several times but….

Will there be a Season 3? Sian Clifford, who plays Fleabag’s fictional sister, recently said no. The way Phoebe walks away from camera and waves at the end of the last episode, that kind of seals it, too. Even the way the last episode is laid out, Fleabag S2 ends in a good place. It is wrapped up nicely, shall we say.

But not to worry. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s career is on its way up. She is a masterful writer, she’s young, and funny, and she’s going places. And that’s the best part of everything about her. As a budding but older person writing, I’d do most anything to spend an hour of time listening to Phoebe talk about her theories. She says if she could ask anyone 73 questions, she’d ask Rasputin. So I have two 500-page books at my side in my TBR pile to figure out what the questions and then the answers might be. And I keep going back into my Work in Progress and asking myself, how would Phoebe turn this on its head? That sort of thinking is shaking up my short in a way I could not have anticipated, and hopefully one my future agent, and then future readers would not have either. As you’ll see from the 73 questions, “Panic, panic, and hope.”

Not only that, the beautiful quote she lives by, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect,” by Anais Nin.  Phoebe has cut it to “We write to taste life twice.” When you watch season 2, anyone who has ever been in love, or fallen out of love, or searched for love and not ever felt they’ve found it, well, you’ll feel like you’ve tasted life twice. And that is what makes Phoebe Waller-Bridge one of the best writers out there acting and writing today.

 

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