Saturday, July 4, 2015

Nostalgia, the Season Finale

One of my other quibbles about the current era is that childhood is disappearing. Kids don’t just get up on a summertime morning and get on their bikes to round up their friends and play ball, or go fishing, or to the movies. Everything is sponsored and supervised, chaperoned and “for the kid’s own good,” and development, which to me guarantees that it won’t do any good and will cause no development. My other nephew Kevin was on a travelling basketball team before he was even a teenager. Kids spend the summer practicing the violin or competing in swim meets, being tutored for the SATS, or working in a soup kitchen so it will look good on their transcript when they apply for college.



It seems there is something good about kids being removed from the world of adults for long periods of their adolescence. Let them figure it out for themselves. And let them critique us while they do so. Huckleberry Finn escapes from the “sivilizin” influence of Aunt Polly, and Holden Caulfield wanders Manhattan during the Christmas Season alone, his encounters with adults, teachers, nuns, and the mothers of classmates all comically absurd or tragic. He is only safe and happy with his little sister.

Let Ryan spend the hours I did on the playground, alone with my dreams except for the ghostly apparitions that defended me as I drove to the rim. What dreams do kids get now, except ones that are manufactured for them?

And what kind of world are we leaving them? Baby Boomers, what have we wrought? All that idealism, and sex and drugs and rock and roll, came to this? Dancing with the Stars? Survivor? The Biggest Loser? Obsessions with the Kardashians, and with Bruce Jenner as a woman? Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have gone on for ten years, with nothing to show for it and no one screaming about it because it is not their sons and daughters who are dying there, but the urban poor who have no better alternative than to sign up and take their chances? We are less concerned with feeding the poor than ever, and there are going to be a lot more poor as time goes on.

It’s not just the entertainment industry that has gone south. We were shocked by Watergate, at least a little, but now there are scandals worse than that in the news daily. The government continues to facilitate the sinful financial shenanigans of the rich. And a credulous country stands by—The S and L scandal, Enron, the subprime mortgage debacle. And the government keeps telling us that if it weren’t for the War on Terror we would all be blown to bits. And so they take more and more of our freedom away in the name of freedom. How do you argue against something like that? It is like George W Bush defending his service in the Texas Air National Guard by pointing out that the North Vietnamese never attacked Houston.

Everyone seems to be a fanatic, or has become fanatical in their opposition of those they would consider fanatical. Conspiracy theorists all—the vaccine naysayers, the ones who insist President Obama is not a citizen, those who state flatly that AIDS was created by white scientists in order to infect blacks. Then there is David Koresh, and Scientology, Timothy McVeigh, our unwillingness to restrict gun sales and ownership. And finally there are those whackos who put their faith in charlatans, those who spend all their time and money on doctrines that tell them how to succeed without spending any time and money on succeeding. It works, if you are the one selling the book.


I can’t help but think that everything now is bread and circuses. Distractions to divert us from what really matters. We even have gladiatorial combat, in the form of mixed martial arts, where serious and even fatal injury is almost a surety. Boxing is bad enough (although I am a fan) but letting guys and girls fight with what are basically their bare hands while using use their feet and elbows, and allowing them to “choke each other out” is so beyond the pale that I am disgusted.

And how about these gripes: Arguing about illegal aliens while our children are among the most poorly educated in the first world. Ignoring the fact that we incarcerate more of our population than any other democracy in the world. That we have the highest percentage of the obese and the highest infant mortality rate in the first world, and yet go on and on about how we are the best country on earth, as if being founded on democratic principles was a guarantee that you will remain a democracy, and that the above problems can all be ignored since we all still have the vote.

Yes, there are those who still cry out for social justice. But not as many and not as loudly as in days gone past. And more and more we are not marching to free others but to make sure that we get ours. In a culture of victimization, we are suing and whining about what we deserve. I swear that it is as if everyone feels that every time life proves to be not fair, it means that somebody needs to compensate you for that.

I was too young to have to fight in Viet Nam. So I don’t speak from a place of piety and righteousness. I sometimes smile sadly at myself when I make my meager contributions to the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, The Food Bank. But at least I recognize the value of sacrifice.

And what of the idea that this generation feels that it is owed a living. I don’t know if that is true. My niece and nephews compete for unpaid internships. All that education and they have less opportunity than we did. Will we reach the point where an education is no longer a guarantee of a middle class lifestyle? I think we will. When Ryan is 52 like me, I am afraid he will still be renting, or just going out on his own, having lived with my brother until my brother and his wife have moved on from this world. I hope not, but if he does, at least he will be entertained.

Yes, we had selfishness and shallowness in the mid 70s. In some ways, it was the bitter end of the 60s and to postwar prosperity. The return of Ronnie Raygun (Reagan) in 1980. Stagflation. Inanity on TV. But the news was the news, and it was separate from, and expected to be separate from, entertainment. Now I don’t see the difference.

OK, that’s it. It’s not that I think today’s youth are any less intelligent or compassionate or self-sacrificing than past generations were. But they need to be less distracted by what doesn’t matter, and more aware of what does.

© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, July 3, 2015

Spanish Tortilla (Potato Omelet)

Harold took a picture of the dinner I gave him the other night, and when I asked him why he did that he said it was for his lawyer. Luckily, he was kidding. (Neither of us really wants to go through all that again, and besides, we still like each other.) No, he was taking the picture for the recipe database he keeps on his computer called "Kate and Harold's Recipes."

I wish I could hook you up with the entire database. Someday, maybe, when he installs a server in the house and I get a bit more technically sophisticated. (Hey, it could happen, even at my time of life.) Failing that, I'm going to give you my recipe for Spanish Tortilla right here, having had one or two requests for it. It's a great recipe for when you have nothing in the house to eat except eggs, onions, and potatoes. And olive oil and salt. Maybe a little pepper. It always takes half an hour longer to cook than you think it will.

Spanish Tortilla:

Heat in your trusty cast iron frying pan

Two tablespoons of olive oil

add

A big onion, sliced thin

Cook until soft, about twenty minutes, reducing the heat as they cook. Put the onions in a bowl.

Add to the pan and heat,

Three more tablespoons of olive oil

Put in the hot oil

Two big potatoes, or six little bitty ones, peeled and sliced thin. If the potatoes are small and the skins are tender you can leave the skins on. Cook, turning, until brown. Drain on paper towels.

Add to the onions,

Six large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste

Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and ground black pepper to taste. Add to the egg mixture.

Heat the pan. When hot, put the egg mixture in and reduce the heat. Shake the pan from time to time but otherwise do not disturb the omelet. When it's cooked on the bottom—browned a little bit—put the pan under the broiler to cook the top. Cut in wedges and serve. Mighty tasty.

Kate Gallison

Monday, June 29, 2015

Who’s Brian Williams? And Why Should I Care?

I sit slack-mouthed in front of the TV as the host of this News program discusses the “scandal,” the fall-from-grace of Brian Williams, the NBC News Anchor Numero Uno. I now know the name, the face and the story. How could I not, with its being shoved in my face daily by the silly, allegedly News People? Then his Internet Fan Club President, a serious-miened middle-aged woman (from the Mid-West, I presume, because aren’t they all?) says she’s grateful to the Network for re-instating Brian as a News Anchor because she’s missed him. Am I getting a sneak-peak into an Alternate Universe? Is this unstaged, real NEWS?


I accept on the evidence before my eyes that Williams is, indeed, loved by his Network executives and his fans like Mrs.-What’s-Her-Name. Apparently, his great sin was inventing stories of derring-do starring himself while covering the Iraq War. He put himself aboard a helicopter that came under fire at the front. Fact is, never happened. He misremembered, he says, being “in a bad place” then. He’s right about Iraq being a bad place, more so for those with their boots on the ground, rifle in hand, than for Williams.

His fellow journalists brand him with a Scarlet Letter and propose to wash his mouth out with soap, professionally. His fans just want him back on the air brightening up their lives. Old news clips flash on TV of Walter Cronkite, in fatigues and flack jacket, reporting the Vietnam War. Walter Cronkite, the Paragon. I recollect him (who doesn’t?) reporting JFK’s death in Dallas. But I mostly remember him as host of the Sunday night News Program, “You Are There.” In particular, as he reported from the scene at the Sack of Troy. Walter was no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’m, in describing the wily stratagem of Ulysses and his band of good-ol’-Greek-boys. No way did Walter imply, even hint, that he was aboard the Trojan Horse when it rolled into history.

Frankly, I’d be the last one to throw stones at Brian Williams for gilding the lily. When I was a cop in the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the mid-1970s, at end-of-tour we’d all end up in the B & G Bar, couple doors down from the Precinct Station House. And after we liquored up, we’d begin to rewrite freshly-made history. What happened on patrol that night; who did what to whom; how we saved the citizens of NYC from the Barbarians at the Gate—all was recalled, enhanced and fleshed-out, recast as befit good storytelling. The product became the Official Version forever after. Brian would have fit right in, felt to home at the B & G. Except our Bar is long gone, like any reliable memory of what really happened so long ago.

© 2015 Robert Knightly

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How to Write about Sex & Respect Yourself in the Morning

Welcome, Alice Orr

Human beings are whole beings. They are born, grow, learn to use their bodies and minds, often have sex, procreate, create symphonies and novels, slow down in time and eventually leave the home planet…

Few topics breed as much controversy as sex. Some like it cold. Some like it hot. It's as different for each person as individual appreciation of the stars and moon…

Alice Orr has a long and distinguished history with Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. Award-winning author, literary agent, editor, lecturer - she is highly regarded by many writing institutions. She has been one of the strongest guiding lights in the development of Mystery Writers of America, New York Chapter, for many years. I am honored that she shares her expertise in so many areas of the publishing world with our very talented team at CWC today!

I recommend her book
NO MORE REJECTIONS - 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript That Sells - to both new and experienced writers.

Thelma J. Straw




A glib title for a serious subject. Serious because it affects the quality of your storytelling. Badly written love scenes turn the reader off when they should turn the reader on. Specifically they turn the reader off to the rest of your story no matter how well it’s told.

Badly written love scenes are often written solely to titillate the reader. They don't deepen our understanding of your characters or advance your story in any real way. They aren’t about authentic real life because they don't reflect the complexity of human sexuality.

Worst of all badly written love scenes turn off editors and agents who’ve already suffered through reading too many of them. Though they seldom read them to the end. Those authors cared too much about tweaking the libido and not enough about touching the heart and that sent them to the rejection pile.

Notice I refer to love scenes not sex scenes. When these scenes work they’re about love in its many facets not just sex in its single facet.

I'm obviously not talking about writing pornography – a perfectly legitimate genre if you choose it but not my choice here. Not because I’m going all moral on you but because I’m going all market on you.

The readers of novels are mostly female. Romance. Fantasy. Literary. Even Mystery. All read mostly by women. Fifty Shades of Grey not withstanding – most women readers aren’t captured – hooked in storytelling terms – by slam-bam sex-only lust-making devoid of love.

The sales potential of pornography also has its limits though erotica is now finding a mass market. Nonetheless mainstream fiction – both commercial and literary – has broader potential for book sales over the broad expanse of a career. Note how few pornography titles become bestsellers – Fifty Shades of Grey not withstanding.

I don't mean you should write lukewarm love scenes. You should write hot love scenes. Love scenes are hot when they’re passionate. Passion isn’t only a physical turn-on. Passion resonates throughout your characters’ lives far beyond the bedroom.

It's okay to be honest about the turn-on. In fact it’s essential. Well-written love scenes turn readers on sexually. They also turn you on when you write them. If they don't you should probably rewrite because you’ve probably failed to create true passion between your characters.

If you fail to communicate passion to yourself how can you communicate it to your readers? And if you fail to communicate with your readers how can you respect yourself in the morning?



My current novel is A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 13th novel and if you don’t like passionate love scenes you should avoid Chapter 26.

Alice Orr

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nostalgia IV

Youth music is always going to be about being young and in love and in lust. This can lead to some great music, but some pretty banal stuff too. After all, being in love is one of the most self-absorbed and inner looking states there is. And teenagers are already pretty self-absorbed to begin with. So you can get some pretty treacle-y and annoying stuff, like all those old fifties songs about your earth angel who met some early and tragic fate and for whom you will pine away forever. In my day, we had a sense of humor about some of this. Weird Al Yankovic sang about losing his girl and “being stranded all alone in the gas station of love, where I have to use the self service pumps.” He also opined about a lost love that he would “rather dive into a swimming pool filled with double-edged razor blades than spend another minute with you.”


And then there is lust. Meatloaf captured it with humor and pinpoint accuracy in “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights,” and Aerosmith talked with tongue firmly in cheek about it in “Big Ten Inch Record.” By comparison, two of the more popular songs about young love and lust today, by Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, are entitled “Shake it Off” and “Grenade.” Swift apparently had a bad boyfriend, and she tells us she is going to “shake it off” approximately 47 times (I lost count). She uses another five or six words that rhyme with off to round out the lyrics and call it a song. Bruno Mars, in “Grenade,” tells his girl, thrillingly and with such poetry, that he would “catch a grenade for you, step in front of a train for you”, and then finds a number of words that rhyme with grenade and also calls it a day. Beyonce, another huge star, tells us she is crazy in love in one song (“Crazy in Love,” of course), and then switches things up for another in which she announces she is drunk in love (you guessed it, “Drunk in Love”): “I’ve been drinking, I’ve been thinking, I get filthy when that liquor get into me.” Kind of what you would have if the Beatles weren’t kidding when they sang “why don’t we do it in the road.”

Compare these with songs like The Eagles’ “Desperado.” Or Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” which were real love songs written with genuine thought and feeling, so real to me as a teen that for a time they became a kind of standard I compared the adolescent girls around me to. And finally, my all time favorite love song, Bruce Springsteen’s “For You”—

Princess cards she sends me
with her regards
barroom eyes shine vacancy
to see her you gotta look hard
wounded deep in battle
I stand stuffed like some soldier undaunted
to her Cheshire smile, I’ll stand on file
she’s all I ever wanted

This is both a ballad and an epic. I am not really sure what it all means, but we’ve all been wounded deep in the battle of love, and imagined there was someone for whom we would give up everything, someone who truly is all we ever wanted. Springsteen does not allow himself to be restrained by simple rhythms and rhymes, with simple sentiments that cloy. Here is a little more of the same song (and then I will stop):

Crawl into my ambulance
your pulse is getting weak
Reveal yourself all now to me, girl
while you've got the strength to speak
'Cause they're waiting for you at Bellevue
with their oxygen masks
But I could give it all to you now
if only you could ask.

Here is the urgency, the tragedy, of young love. Not the silly, not the trite, and not the merely horny—The Boss manages to do the same kind of thing Shakespeare does with young love in “Romeo and Juliet.” He treats young love with a kind of seriousness that is missing in the glib and cynical stuff that is foisted on us today.

And there are no epics songs today, no anthems, none that express the angst and alienation of being a youth (or even an adult) in a society you feel is full of shit. Where is Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues?” Or Don McLean’s “American Pie?” Springsteen, again, in “Jungleland”, tells us that in his desperate Jersey neighborhood,

The street’s on fire in a real death waltz
between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy
and the poets out here don’t write nothing at all
they just stand back and let it all be….

Now tell me that is not great stuff, or that there is anything equivalent to that in today’s music. And where do you have anything like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” where they boldly announce “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control.” It is as if their music really did come from a counter culture, really spoke for it, and even if it was just some music mogul selling it to us, even if it was “the man” that was selling it to us, he wasn’t selling us crap. I would like to think we would have refused to buy the crap that they put out today.

And what of books in the new millennium, in the second decade of that new millennium? (God, I am getting old). Books are dominated by pap, by sticky feel good syrupy concoctions (“The Five People You Meet in Heaven”) or the same old teenage vampire, werewolf, the sky is falling, the apocalypse is coming, or is already here, type stuff. Last year, Veronica Roth had “Divergent,” “Allegiant”, and “Insurgent” all in the top ten for books sold. Give me a break. They find one thing that works and flog it to death while we all wish that they would come up with something a little more creative and genuine, not so mass-manufactured and trite. And of course the irony is that we are fascinated by the apocalypse in books, but are ignoring it as it actually approaches, as the climate goes haywire and food and water become more scarce and the world more dangerously populated.

In my youth, we had authors that actually had something to say about what it was like to be human, to be an American, to be a man or woman, and who did it with style. Kurt Vonnegut was in the top ten in 73 and 76, and you had others like John Irving, Saul Bellow, Graham Greene, and John Updike in the top ten at various times in the 70s. These were serious authors, and even a genre writer like Stephen King wrote interesting and fairly three-dimensional characters. Now we have teen dystopia (and when was the world of teens ever anything but dystopic?) and Dan Brown, whose admittedly great plots are populated by characters that might be given numbers or letters, so cardboard, generic and unmemorable are they. They are there solely to be moved around a game board by an all-powerful plot, and plotter. If a great author creates characters that become so real they threaten to challenge their author and do what they damn well please, then Brown’s are a submissive and servile bunch of wimps.

OK, so there you have it. The current music manages to be about nothing but desire, and desire in and of itself offers no vision, inspires no poetry. There is no object for that desire, no romance, no vision of a better world, and so it comes off as little more than a kind of techno-musical masturbation. There is no rebellion in it, nothing of the pain of being young, of being in a world you never chose and knowing it is the only one that is ever going to be on offer. The industry panders to a willing audience that doesn’t bother to ask for anything more.

The book industry churns out retreaded and thoughtless crap, or comic books, to teens, who don’t get tired of the same old, same old apocalyptic, supernatural and pulp visions. There is little or nothing for the intelligent adult here, I don’t think, or the teen who wants to be one, nothing that comments intelligently on the human condition. Certainly no “Catcher in the Rye,” no “A Separate Peace,” and no “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Next week, I end my rant by summing up what else bothers me about present day American Culture, and why I think we did it all better when I was young.

© 2015 Mike Welch