Dollars To Donuts
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DOLLARS TO DONUTS
Yesterday I received a disquieting message from American Express-you know, the pulse-quickening, heart-wrenching kind that warns of fraudulent credit card charges. My chat with an account representative revealed that 2 charges ($100. & $50.) respectively with the name SVC CORP had appeared within one hour of each other. She did some research and revealed that a criminal with exceedingly low taste had charged those amounts at DUNKIN DONUTS!! DUNKIN’ DONUTS!! I quickly assured her that I neither drink their noxious brew nor frequent their establishments. Starbucks, no problem, but really I consider myself a coffee connoisseur (Some say snob), and although I have a sweet tooth, it does not extend to buying $150. worth of donuts!!
I have to commend Amex. Their rep was courteous and dilligent. She then scanned my account and said. “There are a awful lot of charges at NEIMAN MARCUS.
No problem, I said, with a secret smile. Some things are just worth the price.

Literary Lament
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LITERARY LAMENT
A recent opinion piece in BOOKENDS, posed this question:Is self-loathing an occupational hazard for writers? I love George Orwell’s observation that for writers, “self-loathing and self-love are locked in a tight pro-creative embrace.”
In all candor, many of us in all professions suffer from periodic bouts of despair, wondering if we are good enough, personable enough or just plain tough enough to survive and flourish in our chosen field. For writers (actors,comedians, & even politicians),
our merits are too often weighed publicly and cruelly in the theater of the absurd, aka the Internet.Unfortunately any troll with a computer and a grievance can savage our work. Third parties can inflict the unkindest cut of all by simply ignoring or dismissing us. Oscar Wilde, who knew a thing or two about trauma, famously said. “All men kill the things they love..” Writers in particular often labor in splendid isolation, mired in our daunting sales figures,paltry advances and the perceived successes of less talented peers.
Reality check–it is far easier to give up, and “kill the things we love” by abandoning the struggle than to persevere and create a novel to be proud of.
By allowing self-loathing to triumph, writers squander the most precious gifts of all–talent and creativity. After each rebuff, I force myself back into the battlefield, girded for victory.Sometimes I sense the triumph of optimism over reality. Other times, I savor the sweet sweet scent of success.

CUCKOLDING JOYCE
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The NY Times posed an intriguing question in the Sunday edition:
If ULYSSES were published today, would it cause a whimper or a bang? Recall those days some eight decades ago when the US Postal authorities seized and burned the work. Copies were hidden behind newsstands and whispered about at chic parties. Naturally ULYSSES was banned in Boston and Joyce was renounced by churches in Ireland and elsewhere.Obscenity became obsession.
When the US SUPREME COURT tackled the issue the furor subsided a bit. Since few people agreed about or knew what “contemporary community standards” meant, the discretion of local communities broadened.
Fast forward to 2015. With the rise of the Internet, Amazon, Youtube etc. the “contemporary community standard” is now a
UNIVERSAL one. Frankly “50 Shades” and its descendants, render Molly Blume’s fantasies and her husband’s self-gratification rather tame or dare I say it, ho-hum.
I forced myself to plow through the endless stream of consciousness just to see if I could survive. Frankly I have always thought that DH Lawrence was far more naughty because he was easier to understand.
Bottom line: James Joyce would probably be feted by the New Yorker or the Times but his master work (ULYSSES) would excite little interest and even less passion. After viewing Season 3 of Orange is the New Black, I can truthfully say that Joyce seems almost GENTILE: in his portrayal of naughty acts.

Picture Books
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PICTURE BOOKS
Is the author’s picture on her book jacket worth more than 1000 words? An interesting piece in Sunday’s NYTimes (6/7), suggests that women writers may be taken more seriously if they look “Stern, severe,strict”–in other words as the title suggests “How to Pose like A Man.” The author posits that male writers receive more reviews from reputable sources than females (a verifiable fact) and that their demeanor might account for some of the disparity.
FIDDLESTICKS! I suspect that part of the problem has to do with genre and sub-genres. Female writers are far more likely to write romances, a category frequently deplored by SERIOUS reviewers even though it attracts the largest number of readers. Even among mystery writers, “Cozies” are essentially a female preserve and less likely to command the attention of publications such as the NYTImes. (Tell that to Agatha Christie with her 500 million books sold!!} Take a gander at book covers, an essential sales tool for attracting new readers. SERIOUS covers, which may indeed be “stern, severe, and strict” are commonly seen on thrillers, police procedurals, adventure novels and literary fiction. Papa Hemingway would never countenance a “sissy cover” on his tomes, and as for James Joyce or Norman Mailer–enough said.

Personally I don’t want to “pose like a man.” I want the best, most airbrushed image of me that I can possibly find. After all, I write FICTION and illusion is everything. Take my writing seriously if you will but leave my photo intact!!

Dog Show Rules — Parallels To The Writing World
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DOG SHOW RULES—PARALLELS TO THE WRITING WORLD

I’ve been away from the dog show game for some time. Thus I was struck anew by the parallels between these canine carnivals and the writers’ world. Human behavior can vary greatly but dogs generally find ways to rise above their baser instincts.
Thus, the wise person concedes that every dog is beautiful and every author’s book is memorable.

The following points are axiomatic for AKC (American Kennel Club), participants but they hold value for writers as well.

1. Do Your Paperwork
The American Kennel Club sets very specific rules for competing in dog shows. Bottom line— late or incomplete paperwork disqualifies an entry. Likewise, publishers and agents specify requirements on their websites. It astonishes me when otherwise intelligent beings grouse about being rejected for sending a 150,000 word unsolicited manuscript directly to an agent or editor. Read, digest and follow instructions if you want to compete.

2. Grooming is essential. Always put your best paw (foot) forward. Dogs and their handlers accept this but not every writer agrees. A disheveled show dog will not win despite his/her distinguished pedigree. Too often writers believe that casual attire is synonomous with sloppy. Appointments with prospective editors, agents and peers are business meetings that require one to project a professional image. No self-respecting Sheltie would ever forget that.

3. Show your teeth to authority figures but don’t bite—SMILE.
Judges routinely examine a dog’s mouth to assess his bite and teeth. Bad behavior—even the slightest nip—may disqualify a dog for life. Growling shows bad temperment, a fatal flaw in the breed standard.
Writers have been known to snipe, grouse and snap at readers, reviewers, and publishers who displease them or offer unflattering criticism. THIS NEVER WORKS. Better to adopt the show dog style and grin while thinking about the bones (or bucks) to come. After all, no writer wants a reputation for being “difficult.” Better to suck it in and move on.

4. Refrain from barnyard behavior. Show dogs know that nuzzling, sniffing, challenging or God forbid mounting are strictly forbidden. Potty issues in the ring are embarrassing and unacceptable.
Unfortunately, the alcohol-fueled hilarity at conferences leads some writers to forget that. Fisticuffs, slanging matches or unlikely pairings tend to live in infamy. Remember, other writers are born storytellers who can immortalize your bad behavior. It is their nature.

5. Keep your composure and self-confidence even when you lose.
Show dogs realize that although each match has only three winners, the other competitors are not losers. They hold their heads high and prance out of the ring with their pride intact. Writers who watch others snag awards and honors often lose their confidence. Self-doubt has no place in the show ring or the literary field. Hold you head high and forge ahead. That’s what winners do.

Some authors complain that the publishing industry has gone to the dogs. That’s not such a bad thing is it?

THE MANSION MURDERS: Musings about a tragedy.
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THE MANSION MURDERS: Musings about a tragedy.
Like many other Americans, I have been transfixed (okay, obsessed) by last week’s tragic murders of a family in an affluent section of Washington DC.
The horrific cruelty that ended four lives is something that civilized creatures can neither understand nor endure.I won’t dwell on the details–they are far too painful. I focused instead on the comments sections in the Washington Post. There over 300 readers and counting expressed sentiments ranging from analytical (reasonably sound theories about the crime)to disheartening. The usual procession of race-baiters surfaced (Obviously an act by minorities); rabid gun advocates and naysayers suggested that the father should have carried a gun at all times); and class warriors bemoaned the coverage because the victims were wealthy. Amid these distractions the loss of two loving parents, their hard-working housekeeper and an innocent 10 year old boy can be muted.
May these tortured souls rest in peace & may the miscreants who
took their lives enter the 9th circle for all eternity.

TV Tropes
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TV TROPES

I confess that I watch too much television. When one starts analyzing commercials, it is way past time for an intervention. Consider this before condemning my harmless habit–the airways have been inundated by drug companies pushing pills,medical devices and remedies with all manner of disgusting side-effects. Did you know that Depends now come in fashion colors? Or that catheters are now available lubricated and in handy pocket sized containers? The “over-active bladder” is represented by a friendly animated creature who skips alongside and resembles a bloated red M&M. A British chick dares you to “go commando” after using her brand of toilet tissue, and men old enough to know better tout their enhanced libido after using dubious off the shelf products. Advertisers also update old ailments with trendy names–thus emphysema etc is now COPD, and male performance problems are called ED. So much friendlier than the alternative.
AARP which is seeking to expand its base, airs commercials showing youthful members who track down fraud, frolic in the sea and enjoy the hell out life. No Senior Centers in their universe.
It is difficult to believe that these travesties work but advertisers are a cagy lot (remember Mad Men) who are unlikely to spend money without results. Personally I will never approach my physician armed with a list of potions and pills hawked by drug companies.
I barely listen to the litany of ads bidding for my attention.
After all, I have better things to do.

Camera Vs. The Pen
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THE CAMERA VS THE PEN
I’m always astonished when intelligent, accomplished authors wreak havoc on their TV interviews. Today’s case in point Jon Krakauer (In Thin Air; etc). While flogging his new release MISSOULA, he wasted a prime interview spot on the CBS Morning news by babbling and committing the worst sin of all: he was BORING. Wake up, Jon. No one wants a polemic at 8am. Focus on YOUR book and why it is worth my time and precious dollars.If you are naturally shy, hire a media coach. Surely a man who has sold millions of books can afford this.
Bad enough that the intellectually bereft Dana Perrino shamelessly hawked her new book on THE FIVE. That’s par for the course when any television personality conquers the written word. Here’s a sad commentary on the book-buying public however–her book debuted in the #1 slot in either Amazon or USA TODAY. To her credit, the very scripted good little girl of Fox, explained the thesis of her work far better than the more talented Mr. Krakauer. As Dana explained, she had to force herself to say “hell” rather than spelling the socially acceptable H_E_Double Hockey sticks!!
Somewhere in a universe far, far, away a collection of superior beings is chortling.

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Remembrance of Easters Past
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REMEMBRANCE OF EASTERS PAST

In my youth Easter was a major event, less for its religious significance than for fashion impact. As devout Catholics, my parents insisted that their daughters enroll at parochial schools and participate in all the related rituals. Church attendance, particularly during Holy Week was mandatory—no excuses.

I really didn’t mind because despite a bowed head, genuflection and pious prayers, Easter was my puerile version of New York Fashion Week. In advance of the holiday, my mother, sister and I spent Saturdays scouring department stores for the perfect Easter outfit. To my father’s dismay, every year we required new dresses, coats, lingerie, gloves, shoes, purses and the crowning glory—an eye-popping, mouth dropping Easter bonnet! It was a unique time of female bonding, part of a world where men were denied access. My father’s job was to groan, fork over the cash to pay for our finery, and admire the results.

On Easter morning, we primped and pranced, positive that every eye in the church was glued to us. God forbid that foul weather required umbrellas or rain gear that might spoil our hair or mar our carefully constructed style.

My sister and I strutted up the aisle to the communion rail as proudly as super-models strolling the catwalk. Most of our schoolmates did the same. It was a heady experience, totally divorced from reality and—true be told—devoid of any sentiment except hubris. Despite, or perhaps because of that, Easter still holds a special place in my memories.

THE NAME GAME
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Titles can either attract or repel an audience. Case in point. NBC’s new 10 episode drama (Sunday,April 5), got a nice review from the typically censorious NY Times. It sounds like the type of thriller that would interest me. The title, however, is a turnoff. “American Odyssey”–that reminds me of a dull but worthy offering by PBS, NPR or the like. Rather like a travelogue or an examination of small town sports mania. Why not call it “Odyssey”? That alludes to the heroine’s journey (she’s an American soldier stranded behind the lines in Afghanistan), and hints of intrigue and mayhem. The success of HOMELAND; JUSTIFIED; and naturally “24” show how effectively a name can showcase content.
Authors should consider the importance of a title in naming their own works. For my mysteries, I favor short, snappy titles that hint at the snarky humor and fast pace inside.(Mantrap; Gilt Trip; Intrusion are good examples.)
Some classic novels also illustrate this point: LOLITA; WAR &PEACE; GOOD AS GOLD; and that beloved work PRIDE & PREJUDICE; to name a few. Consumers get a fairly accurate idea of what to expect and that builds brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.