On Barry Levinson’s PATERNO…

Sometimes I don’t realize what a movie or a story is MISSING until after I’ve read a good critique of it. That was the case with Paterno, Barry Levinson’s movie about the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

paterno002The movie was pretty tightly focused on the last couple weeks of Joe Paterno’s coaching tenure at Penn State: his 409th career win as a Division I coach, and then, less than two weeks later, his firing.

The main criticism of the movie seemed to be that it “didn’t draw any conclusions.” 

But my problem with it was that it left the big question unanswered: how did someone like Sandusky get away with what he did for over two decades before he was finally formally charged? It was a lot more nuanced than just Joe Paterno “looking the other way.”

Sandusky was the founder of a children’s charity which helped disadvantaged and troubled boys. That was where he found his victims. How was it possible that he was affiliated with that charity for over two decades without someone NOTICING that something was “off”?

The uneasy answer is that most of the people who knew him professionally– including licensed psychologists, childcare professionals, and law enforcement officials– didn’t know exactly what they were seeing when they looked at Jerry Sandusky. He was considered not just a noble person, but a hero of sorts as a protector and advocate of the very children he was abusing in private. The idea that he was doing what he did was shockingly at odds with his image.

That is part of the way that child molesters work.

A friend of mine whose parents live in Lock Haven PA told me that after Sandusky left Penn State but a few years before he was formally charged, he was a volunteer coach at a local high school up there. One afternoon, another coach caught him in a compromising position with a teen boy in the gym. Sandusky jumped up and stammered that he was showing the boy “wrestling moves.” No charges were filed, but Sandusky was let go as a volunteer.

My friend said that when the story hit the local paper, residents were outraged, but not in the way you’d think now.

“How dare someone try to besmirch the character of this fine upstanding gentleman who has done so much to help children in this community” was the tone of the outrage.

It seems to me, therefore, that as a writer, if someone REALLY wanted to tell this story, they’d take the following tack: show Sandusky as he appeared to almost everyone around him before there was any hint of this. 

33E2823100000578-3575517-image-m-45_1462503827937Show the seemingly benign, “goofy and childlike” (the words of a former player) children’s advocate as he appeared to his players, family, church members, the college community, and the people at his charity.

Make him look like the saint everyone thought he was, and then proceed from there.

The audience has to be sympathetic to Sandusky and manipulated into dismissing anything that looks the slightest bit unseemly.

Just like most of the people around him were for almost 30 years.

“My publisher, falsely so called…”

thoreauThis is one of my favorites of Henry David Thoreau’s journal entries for many reasons: it’s darkly funny, first of all. I think most writers can relate to the mixed feelings of pride and frustration he must have felt at having “a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.” If anyone doubts that Thoreau never found the audience he wished for his work, those doubts should be dispelled by this passage.

Another thing I keep in mind: if I ever luck into a first edition of A Week On The Concord and Merrimack Rivers, there is a 70.6% chance that it is one of the ones he had on his shelves in his Concord room.

This journal entry was written almost 164 years ago to the date I’m writing this blog post: October 28, 1853.

Rain in the night and this morning, preparing for winter.

For a year or two past, my publisher, falsely so called, has been writing from time to time to ask what disposition should be made of the copies of “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” still on hand, and at last suggesting that he had use for the room they occupied in his cellar. So I had them all sent to me here, and they have arrived to-day by express, filling the man’s wagon, — 706 copies out of an edition of 1000 which I bought of Munroe four years ago and have been ever since paying for, and have not quite paid for yet. The wares are sent to me at last, and I have an opportunity to examine my purchase. They are something more substantial than fame, as my back knows, which has borne them up two flights of stairs to a place similar to that to which they trace their origin. Of the remaining two hundred and ninety and odd, seventy-five were given away, the rest sold. I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself. Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor? My works are piled up on one side of my chamber half as high as my head, my opera omnia [complete works]. This is authorship; these are the work of my brain. There was just one piece of good luck in the venture. The unbound were tied up by the printer four years ago in stout paper wrappers, and inscribed, —

H.D. Thoreau’s
Concord River
50 cops.

So Munroe had only to cross out “River” and write “Mass.” and deliver them to the expressman at once. I can see now what I write for, the result of my labors.

Nevertheless, in spite of this result, sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I take up my pen to-night to record what thought or experience I may have had, with as much satisfaction as ever. Indeed, I believe that this result is more inspiring and better for me than if a thousand had bought my wares. It affects my privacy less and leaves me freer.


Cover“A Basket of a Delicate Weave:” Thoreau and Walden

I’ve published my Goddard College MFA long critical paper about Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as a Kindle short, entitled A Basket of a Delicate Weave: Thoreau and Walden. It’s available for download now from the Amazon Kindle store for 99 cents.

The image that many have of Henry David Thoreau, based largely on Walden, is that he was a nature-loving misanthrope who built his cabin in the woods to escape a society with which he felt at odds, who eschewed contact with his fellow man, and who wanted nothing but to be left alone in the woods. While Walden is, on its surface, a record of that sojourn, it is, as Thoreau scholar Walter Harding wrote, “a book that impels its reader to action.”

In this paper, I argue that Walden is, in many ways, a book about action: not just an account of Thoreau’s own action against a society he felt at odds with, but a call for his neighbors to wake up and do something themselves.

A Basket of a Delicate Weave will give students and  lovers of Thoreau’s work new insights into the book, its author, and its still-relevant message.

Click here to download the book from the Kindle Store.

New e-book: “Roughly Six Hundred Words”

CoverHere’s a sample piece from my new ebook, Roughly Six Hundred Words, which is a collection of seven unpublished newspaper columns from 2013 and which you can get FREE as a PDF between now and October 16. (The collection will be published by Amazon Kindle on the 16th.)

A couple years ago, after reading a book called The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication, I got the idea that I’d self-syndicate a newspaper column. I’d e-submit a 600-or-so-word general interest column article weekly to a list of newspapers in the US, and, hopefully, get enough bites to sustain me as a writer while I worked on my fiction.

For a lot of different reasons, the idea didn’t work, and after writing and submitting fewer than ten articles to my list, I gave up on it.

But I recently rediscovered the pieces, and thought that they were too good to just gather dust on the cloud (now there’s a figure of speech that would have been meaningless ten years ago!).

I always felt like these pieces deserved readers, and now, with Roughly Six Hundred Words, they get a second chance.

A sample column from the book is below.

If you want to order the PDF ebook from my e-store at Selz.com, click here.

After October 16, “Roughly Six Hundred Words” will be priced at 99 cents, but the first weekend that this PDF ebook is available, I am pricing it as a FREE pay-what-you-want item. If you want to read it free, then just enter $0.00 as the price when you check out. If you want to pay more, it’s up to you. 


Being Vermonted

What does it mean to be “Vermonted”?

IMG_20171012_114409Right now, the trees here are “being Vermonted:” ablaze, as Garrison Keillor once said, with colors so bright that Crayola doesn’t make them for fear kids would color outside the lines.

When I first moved to Vermont, though, I discovered another definition of “being Vermonted.”

A couple years ago, my old Plymouth Reliant needed major repairs to pass inspection. I didn’t know any local mechanics, so I settled on a local Chrysler dealer. A dealer would know the car and get parts quickly and cheaply, right?

“I’m going to Pennsylvania for a week,” I said, “and I’d like to pick it up when I get back.”

O.K., they replied.

I rented a car and drove to Pennsylvania for a week. When I came back to Vermont, my inspection not only wasn’t done; it hadn’t even been started. It was another week of their excuses and my prodding before I had  my car.

When I told a friend about this, she said, “Congratulations! You’ve just been Vermonted.”

I’d never heard the term, but somehow, I knew exactly what she meant.

Vermont is a lot different than Flatland (any state south of Vermont). In Flatland, there’s a level of stress and anxiety that many people accept as a given. To me, the quintessential Flatland attitude was reflected in a road sign I once saw at the entrance to the Washington DC beltway:

BE PREPARED FOR SUDDEN AGGRAVATION!

Vermonters reject that stress level. Vermont has a reputation of being a little slower, a little more deliberate, and a lot of that has to do with the seasons. You can’t force many of the things that come with seasonal change, nor can you resist them. You do what needs done when the seasons dictate. When winter approaches, you put snow tires on the car. When the sap flows, it’s time for maple sugaring. When the leaves start to change, you welcome tourists.

That’s the Vermont attitude. Roll with the changes.

Some Vermonters, though, use this “roll with it” attitude as an excuse for negligence or irresponsibility. It’s not that delays and problems don’t happen; it’s that they pretend that they can blame those delays and problems on Vermont.

An example: a couple days ago, I took my usual 15-mile commute down an unpaved back road. It’s a lovely drive, but about halfway to work, I got stuck behind a road grader. The dumptruck had dumped loose rock and dirt on the roadbed, and it had to be smoothed down.

On my way to work, with no other route available, I was now driving 15 miles per hour.

Fortunately, from experience, I knew that I need to allot time for these things. In cases where there’s only one way to travel, I figure in a minute per two miles traveled for road work, tieups, accidents, and those times that you get stuck in a line of traffic behind a leafpeeper who needs to drive 32 in a 50 mph zone so they can keep an eye opened for moose.

Having allotted that extra time, I knew I’d make it to work early, and I did.

If I was the kind of Vermonter who “Vermonted,” I wouldn’t have allotted the time, and, when I showed up late for work, blamed the grader for getting in my way, and not myself for planning poorly.

Sometimes being Vermonted manifests itself in other ways. When I lived in Stowe, I had another vehicle that needed an inspection, and a coworker suggested a “mechanic” whose “garage” was on a back road about five miles out of town.

“Düde,” he said, “I took my Wagoneer there. I knew it needed some work to pass. I pulled it into his garage, got out. He walked around it once, got in the front seat, scraped the old sticker off the windshield with a paint scraper, stuck a new one on, and said ‘Thirty-five bucks.’

“I paid him, and as I started the engine, a state cop pulled into his driveway. The mechanic knocked on the window and said, ‘If he asks you any questions, tell him you had it here overnight!’”

Now THAT’S being Vermonted!

Get into THAT space…

Garrison Keillor ~ …I don’t have a great eye for detail. I leave blanks in all of my stories. I leave out all detail, which leaves the reader to fill in something better…

Interviewer ~ (But) the (Lake) Wobegon pieces are marvelously full of detail about what’s in a barbershop, what is here, what is there, what are in the store windows. No?

Keillor ~ No. The Lake Wobegon stories are remarkably empty of detail. They are like twenty-minute haiku, they are absolutely formal and without detail. This is what permits people who grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, or Honolulu, Hawaii, or people who grew up in Staten Island for God’s sake, to imagine that I’m talking about their hometown. (from PARIS REVIEW # 136, Fall 1995)

 * * * *

“I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you.” ~ Orson Welles

 * * * *

One of my favorite of many lines from MAD MEN concerned detail and mental imagery, and how writing and art can either facilitate or stifle imagination.

1185999_10201453464353954_311877177_nIn this particular episode of MAD MEN, Don Draper (the lead creative man at a fictitious ad agency, in case you never saw the show) and his creative team are trying to sell an ad concept to a Hawaiian resort, and the client is uneasy about the design they’ve come up with: a picture of footsteps mysteriously walking into the surf.

Don’s reply is something like (not exact quote): Look, anyone can buy time or space for an ad that a person will see once and forget about. The key is to get inside their heads.

“You get into THAT space,” he concludes, “and your ad can run all day.”

That is one of my goals with writing: to spur a reader’s imagination… to create places and characters that live in someone’s imagination. A book speaks to you and only you; no one sees the universe created by words on a page in quite the same way. Say “school” or “public swimming pool” or “movie theater lobby” to ten different people and each of those ten people will come up with THEIR OWN mental image of a school or a pool or theater which connects with them. The reader then OWNS the work and is making it live and breathe and grow with their imaginative powers, which equal or surpass that of the writer. The writer, after all, is only providing prompts; the work LIVES with the readers.

Keep the detail at a minimum and trust the reader to fill those details in.

This, by the way, points to a reason why (not to get ahead of myself, because no one’s made the offer yet, but career planning is EVERYTHING) I will not take my characters or my story and sell them for movie or TV adaptation.

Take the following place description from my novel MEETING DENNIS WILSON:

“A two-floor tall lobby in an old school, with stairs on either side of the lobby, a bathroom under each staircase, and a mural of ‘great learners and thinkers’ on the walls above the stairs.”

That’s not really a description or a word picture so much as it is a PROMPT. Each reader will take that prompt and fill in different details– color, light, texture, smell, sound– and make it their own.

But… show them a picture of the lobby, one that visually depicts “exactly how the lobby looks”, and you’ve done the most important work for them. You’ve taken away their capability to see the setting in their own way.

You’ve stifled their imagination, in other words.

I think that this is ESPECIALLY true with characters. When a literary work is co-opted for TV or film, the image of an actor or actress– or, maybe, the actor’s interpretation of that character’s persona– is imposed on the audience, and any readers who see the movie before they read the book will come into the book with an image of what the character looks and sounds and acts like based not on their imaginative powers (which are a projection of the reader’s experiences, etc) but on someone else’s idea of what the character “should” look and act like.

And again, the character is taken away from the reader’s imagination.

I have some great ideas for screenplays which I may work up eventually, but as for the the characters in my written fiction, they are print only and shall remain so.

I’d rather have them play in my readers’ theaters of the imagination than in a movie theater.

As Don Draper said: you get in that space, and your work can run all day.

Why proofreading is important…

One of the projects I’m working on a little bit at a time is an expanded book version of my articles about Vermont’s soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg, and part of that book will include the text of an 1864 Vermont soldier’s memoir entitled The Second Brigade.

I’m about 2/3 through the slow process of formatting that manuscript; my source for the text is a New York City Public Library scan of the original 1864 book: JPG files which I ran through an online text conversion (OCR) program.

Here is a scan of the first page of chapter one:

second brigade

When I ran this page through the photo-to-text conversion program, here’s what I got:

Each valley, each sequestered glen,
Mustered its little horde of men,
That met as torrents from the height
In highland dales their streams unite,
[BLANK LINE]
Tivilorethnt’fon,tirt.irlinotnsfrong,
Till at the rendezvous they stood
By hundreds. prompt for blowszdtr.CoTT.

Amazingly, I have seen many, many online documents like this, and in fact have also bought several Kindle edition e-books, where the text was apparently converted from a JPG scan using an OCR program and NOT edited or proofread.

But, you know, as blowszdtr.CoTT said, Tivilorethnt’fon,tirt.irlinotnsfrong.

Quaker Valley Timeline: A Chronology of my published fiction

My fiction, with its epicenter in the fictitious town of Quaker Valley, PA (“Like Gettysburg,” says one of the characters, “except nothing happened here”), features a core group of characters in a continuous timeline spanning from their childhood in the 1960s to the present day. 

These works include several novels and novellas, collected and scattered short stories, a volume of satirical book reviews, and, as an ongoing project, Facebook character pages through which the characters interact with readers and each other.

As the author, I have an overarching perspective on the entire timeline, and, of course, new ideas come to me all the time, but as a reader, you should know that these stories are not being published in “timeline order.” 

If you want to start reading them at the beginning of the timeline, here’s a chronology, with the earliest works in the storyline at the top of the list.

Titles of published works link to info pages with reviews, excerpts, ordering information, and so on, and so on, and scooby dooby doo…


cover-frontMeeting Margo (novella)  and Margo Moves In (novella)

Meeting Margo is available as a standalone e-book for Kindle. I combined it with a second prequel novella, Margo Moves In, for the print edition (available September 2017) and for a PDF ebook edition that I am selling via Selz.com. 


Cover with text 5x8What’s With Her? (short story collection)

This collection “spans the timeline.” The following six stories in What’s With Her? come at the beginning of the timeline (late 1960s into early 1970s). Stories marked with an asterisk (*) were later revised and incorporated into the novel You Don’t Think She Is :

“What’s With Her?” *
“Stupid Sissy Softball”
“A Note From The Author’s Wife”
“Six-Fifty Seven” *
“Flip!” *
“Planet of the Brians” *


You Don’t Think She Is (novel)

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINALIncludes the Kindle short story “My First, My Last, My Only Cigarette”

 

 

 

 


Meeting Dennis Wilson (novel)

All seven books - bestPublished as both seven serialized books and an omnibus edition. This incorporates two Kindle short stories:  “Peaches” (five chapters that were later revised for book five) and “Semi-Sexting” (from book three).


cover jpg“Communicate” – short story

 

 

 

 

 


Switch – novel (coming 2018)


Cover copy - Out of sight“Out Of Sight” – Kindle short story

 

 

 

 

 


Interviews with a Porn Star  and Colloquium: Further Interviews with a Porn Star

INterviews coverFront cover v 5

Both of these are excerpts from a work-in-progress, that work being…

 

 

 

 

 


Rebecca: An Oral History of a Former Porn Star – novel (coming 2019)


Cover with text 5x8The following stories from What’s With Her?

“Standard Time”
“Anytime You Want”
“Haheheh”

 

 


An online-only novel entitled xo bri xoxo me xoxoxo love you christy


Several stories published on Literotica and other websites. I’ll leave it to you to find these!


Some “short story in email” writing appears on the blog e‑pistolary


Cover front finalEva Kelly’s  Book Of Book Reviews (children’s book reviews written in the voice of Christy’s five-year-old granddaughter)

 

 

 


FACEBOOK CHARACTER PAGES

13063411_10208438862064531_1449040591310986542_oFinally, as stated above, I’m continuing the storyline literally up to the present day by writing through the main characters on their Facebook character pages. For more information on these character pages, check out the Facebook page Welcome To Quaker Valley, PA, where I post frequent updates in the characters’ voices.

This page was created and last updated on May 26, 2017 and will be updated and revised as new works are published.

Anyone wanna buy a shit mug?

OK, word people. Realizing that it COULD be just me, but… you tell me.
One of the things about having multiple fictional characters on Facebook is that I get to see a LOT of peoples’ posts that I wouldn’t see otherwise, and in my character Maura‘s news feed today, there was a reposted ad with a picture of this mug, and as a writer, someone who works with words and takes them seriously, the word choice on the mug made me think, and since I was logged into “her” account, I wrote it in her words, as the married mom of two kids (one six and one two).
Maura - shit mug
Again, though: you tell me. Is it just ME (and her) or is there something really telling and weird and wrong about the word usage discussed in this post?

Volumes of work

10395855_10204537157324351_8209789528467254207_nFrom a Facebook post, November 7, 2014:

This afternoon I sat at a table in the Dickinson College library and worked on a couple things, but mainly, I read and tried to puzzle through the novel I’m working on right now. I’ve tried several different approaches and none of them has worked yet…
…and as I sat there, I became aware of the energy in the stacks around me, and I started to count.
There were 9 rows of shelving just in the small section where I was sitting.

 

Each row of shelving had two sides of shelves.

Each side had six sections of shelves.

Each of those sections was seven shelves tall. In some of the sections, there were books on all seven shelves, while in others, there were only six full shelves.

Each of those shelves had about 30 books on it.

So…

9 rows x 2 sides x 6 units x 6 shelves x 30 books…

…meant that there were approximately 19,440 books in the small section where I was sitting (again, a conservative estimate, since some of the shelving units had seven full shelves).

And this is just a small section of a three-story library.

I wrote my novel MEETING DENNIS WILSON, basically, in about 18 months.
I started the new novel, SWITCH, about 3 months ago and I’ve agonized over the first 80-some pages for the past month.

So let’s say that some of these writers were much more efficient than me and wrote their books fast, while others agonized worse than I did. 18 months per book is a conservative estimate, right?

Think of the writing hours that those 19,440 volumes represent.

Strangely, after I wrote about this in my journal, I sat down and got to work, and I found that the revisions to SWITCH came easily.

It’s all about perspective, folks.