MEMORIES OF OSCARS PAST
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MEMORIES OF OSCARS PAST

Once upon a time, long long ago in a land without cable TV, streaming services or the Internet, watching the annual Academy Awards show was an incredible treat. The broadcast aired on a weeknight and after much cajoling and fervent promises that were soon broken, my mother would allow us to stay up until the Best Picture award was announced or the clock struck midnight whichever came first. My sister and I were ecstatic even though many of the nominees were considered too “adult” for our tender eyes and ears to experience. We consumed mounds of popcorn and Tab, salivated over the fashions sported by celebrities, and cheered for our favorites. Admittedly even then the acceptance speeches were dreadful—tedious for anyone especially a child to hear. They were BORING but not infuriating.

I no longer watch the Oscars or the Emmys for that matter. Possibly the sheer number of “award” shows has stripped the sheen from that once special spectacle. Think about it: we now have the Sag, People’s Choice, Grammy, Golden Globe, Country Music Hall and Lord knows how many others to choose from. Fashion winners and losers are amply displayed on the internet accompanied by snide or sycophantic commentary.  If the show conflicts with your schedule—DVR it to suit your convenience. No big deal!

Most of all, award shows have morphed into an endless round of one-sided political commentary by cue-card reading fools who must believe that their views actually influence listeners. THEY DON’T.

Ratings have declined sharply for Awards Shows according to Variety. That doesn’t surprise me, but I still feel a pang of nostalgia for simpler times when a family munched popcorn and cheered for their favorites without vile comments about our elected officials polluting the airways. Times were simpler then. Sometimes simple is better.

SEX, MURDER, SHOPPING (NYT, 4/13)
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SEX, MURDER, SHOPPING (NYT, 4/13)

Let me be clear: I would LOVE to have my novels reviewed by Janet Maslin, chief book critic of the NYTimes. Even a lukewarm mention translates into visibility, sales and prestige. Even an acknowledgement by the Grey Lady that an author exists is indeed a priceless piece of advertising.

Witness today’s review of MAESTRA, described as “ …a pornographic, shopathon, travelogue thriller …” replete with licentious billionaires, art scams, scheming strumpets, and murder. The sexual component is apparently crude enough to render “50 Shades” almost chaste.

Ms. Maslin’s critique is hardly complimentary. In fact, she suggests that even the heroine’s jaded gymnastics grow stale and dare we say it, boring.

Still, I seriously considered plunking down the $13.95 needed to pre-order the e-book. After all, who knows what I might learn? The novel’s author is a British historian, which argues for at least some sheen of respectability. When I read that like many series, this is only book one, and that it has already been optioned by Hollywood, I decided to wait. Sometimes the film version skips the clunky dialogue and gets to the good parts straight away!

BANK ON IT
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BANK ON IT!

I spent a pleasant weekend in New York, celebrating a minor dog show triumph (another point for Lord Byron), and seeing the sights. Imagine my chagrin when while attempting a minor purchase at Saks, my Bank Card was “declined.” Forget the humiliation I encountered: the icily polite clerk with narrowed eyes and a tight lipped smile who nodded with faux empathy when I proclaimed that “there must be a mistake.” They’ve heard that song sung by many credit-challenged patrons in the past.

Fast forward to my dealings with BancAmerica. Forget the 22 MINUTE wait on my cell phone because “our representatives are busy assisting other customers. Your call is important to us.” REALLY? When an assistor finally answered, she informed me “Oh. You’re a premium member. I can’t help you. Let me switch you to the premium line.”
(Omit the volcanic eruption from yours truly).
After another 10 MINUTES on the cellphone, a pleasant lady responded and quickly diagnosed my problem.
Assistor: Oh. You’re in New York.”
Me—“And …”
Assistor: “You didn’t tell us you were going to New York.”
Incredulity and a protracted discussion on coordinating my travel plans with the BANK ensued.
Assistor: What are you doing in New York?”
Me: Unprintable outrage.
Assistor: When will you be back in Massachusetts? The exact date.”
Me: Long, mostly polite diatribe about the unacceptable intrusion into my private life and my refusal to comply with their absurd requirements in order to use MY MONEY.
Assistor: We’re only trying to protect you. Our policy is for your own good.

For years, citizens complained about the depredations of the IRS. Hey. Compared with BANKS, the Treasury Department is a rank amateur.

Face Time
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                                                FACE TIME

 

Like many of you, each morning I watch the national news shows eager to assess those being interviewed. More often than not people who should know better perform dismally in the spotlight. Some are quite unforgettable—not in a good way. Until now, hedge fund huckster Martin Shkreli had my vote for insolence beyond the call of duty and against his own best interests. He shrugged off raising the price of a life-saving drug by 800% while displaying a patented sneer that was truly a work of art. Subsequent actions by the SEC and a command appearance before a Senate Sub-committee were probable by-products of that tour de force.

I was eager to hear the new editor-in-chief of COSMOPOLITAN magazine this morning on voting patterns of young women. MISTAKE! Joanna Coles out sneered Shkreli (credit the British accent), used unnecessarily vulgar language, and managed to achieve something that Vladimir Putin failed to do: annoy the usually unflappable Charlie Rose. This thoroughly unpleasant woman did her employer and herself a disservice. Her message—young women are seeking something new—was obscured by her bad behavior and repellent personality.

There are lessons to be learned from those who can relate to an audience and like it or not, authors must master public appearances. Some are naturally gifted in this area but there is still hope for those who are introverts. Consider the following:

  1. Show your audience and moderator courtesy by listening to the question and answering it succinctly.
  2. Don’t babble, bloviate, or bore your listeners.
  3. Even if you are a curmudgeon, learn to FAKE IT. Be your self but be your BEST self.
  4. Humor, particularly self-deprecating humor is always a crowd pleaser.
  5. Remember that every appearance is an opportunity—for good or bad. Prospective readers or current fans will be influenced by your public persona.

Finally: with social media and the INTERNET things last forever. Use your time in the spotlight to advance your own interests.

Beware The Green-Eyed Verb
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                                                BEWARE THE GREEN-EYED VERB

Many people are beset by jealousy but writers, individuals who labor in splendid isolation without adequate recognition or compensation, are especially vulnerable to the slings and arrows of envy. Writing is a cruel mistress, the true La Belle Dame sans Merci, who frequently beguiles one with promises then casts him aside. The New York Times Book Review (1/31/16) notes the temptation to react to another’s good fortune—fawning reviews, sizable advances, burgeoning sales–by exercising the power of the green-eyed verb to savage competitors. We may all occasionally scratch our heads when some mediocre or poorly written novel scales the heights, but obsessing over the success of another is counterproductive. Far better to analyze why and profit from it.

Awards can indeed be popularity contests that are totally unrelated to content. Reviews may be subjective and sales reports can be manipulated. Taken together however they suggest a strategy that the savvy student of the game takes into account. Why bemoan your fate when you may have the power to change it?

Aligning oneself with supportive writing communities also helps. Sisters-in-Crime is one example of an organization that educates and encourages its members while focusing on skill building. It celebrates the success of crime writers and strives to share the wealth with all members. There are many other groups with a similar mission that can stimulate professional growth and combat writers’ angst.

If all else fails, the next time you peruse the NYTIMES best seller list keep one thing in mind: perhaps the writer in question is actually BETTER than you.

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.

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.

Critical Mass
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What is it about women and criticism that raises the room temperature? Formerly, some managers gave female employees a pat on the head rather than an honest critique fearing that women might weep if comments were too frank. That paternalism has now been replaced by a more legitimate fear: cries of sexism!
Author Tara Mohr cites a persuasive study (NYTimes, 9/28/14), which found that women employees did receive more negative feedback than men, and 76% of it cited flaws in their personality or appearance (only 2% of males received negative comments about personal traits). The usual suspects—“abrasive,” “judgemental,” and “strident” figured prominently in the study. Incidentally, the managers studied were both male and female. No surprise— I’ve been there, heard that.
What to do? Instead of gnashing our molars, the author offers several observations that make sense to me. Remember that great line from Julius Caesar about the fault lying in ourselves and not our stars? If the duplicitous Cassius figured it out, why can’t we?
Women who mainline praise like heroin addicts must find a cure, toughen up and make a choice. Important work requires courage and the hide of a rhino, particularly when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune find their mark. (Enough about Hillary Clinton’s hair, please. What about the men without any?)
Don’t expect plaudits every time at bat. Be courageous and true to yourself. For heaven’s sake, shed the “Good Little Girl” image. It usually means you aren’t making tough calls or are incredibly sneaky and manipulative. Most of all learn to counsel the women and men that you lead in frank but positive ways. Then and only then will we achieve Critical Mass.

Discretion Before Profit
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I’m not a complainer–not really. But MUST advertisers fill the airways with pitches for erectile dysfunction (trendily repackaged as ED), female sanitary products, catheters, canes and the like? And must these canny purveyors of merchandise always do so at DINNER time? I’ve learned to accept ads for funerals (final expenses, if you please), even though they typically suggest that the inconsiderate sod (usually a husband) saddled his poor family with disposing of him when the GOVERNMENT should pay. I mourn the demise of propriety and mystique–too much candor may be damaging to my health.

Everything’s Material
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Did you ever meet someone and wonder if he/she was a potential killer? This morning found me in a Salon, minding my own business, trying to improve myself, and contemplating the homicidal impulses of another patron. She was a mystery fan, this odd stranger, so naturally I flogged my novels to her, despite the fact that the state of her hair (& her conversation) seemed a bit off. The clues added up the more we spoke: no car, no job, compulsive smoker.When she described a bad hair day at a Newbury St. Salon, and said she wanted to attack the stylist & kill her, I glanced at her oversize purse with some alarm. Most of us have experienced an occasional blip in the path to beauty, but homicidal thoughts do seem like an over-reaction. When she finally left, everyone in the place sighed and rolled their eyes. Probably not dangerous but certainly medicated or should be. Not to worry. For a writer EVERYTHING is material. This person’s aberrant behavior will show up in my next novel.