ADVICE FOR YOUNG WRITERS.

Met a young lady recently who endeavors to be a writer. With a nod to the late great Danilo Kish, I had a bit of advice for her… 

  1. Find tragedy in fortune and fortune in the tragic.
  2. Lead your readers to great thoughts, then gleefully shove them off the cliff to that thought.
  3. Believe in ultimate truths and them question them.
  4. Get really cool glasses and search for the perfect chair.
  5. Be a benevolent tyrant of syntax.
  6. Be fearless. Fearlessness for the writer comes only from living in truth. Caution, it is not a natural human quality, but you are a writer so no one ever accused you of being human!
  7. Language is malleable and infinite with possibility, just as clay is to the sculptor. You are a sculptor.
  8. Your literary sculptures are a communal compromise between the words you choose and how your audience interprets your words.
  9. Seek to eliminate any interpretation of your words, even though you will almost always fail in that endeavor.
  10. Failure makes you a better writer.
  11. Writing is community.
  12. I don’t eat fish, they swim in their toilet and it is very rude to watch someone eat you, which is why I don’t associate with cannibals.
  13. Writing is music and rhythm. You must discover  whether you write like Beethoven, Coltrane or Zeppelin.
  14. Find your own voice.
  15. Writer’s block is for the unimaginative and those with nothing to say.
  16. No writer was ever respected for adhering strictly to the rules, though a fair number did get published.
  17. Identify with humanity instead of politics, reason over religion, truth over law and compassion over justice.
  18. My feet hurt. I’m glad to be seated. Sit down when you write, it’s better for your feet.
  19. Write constantly.
  20. Always be an editor instead of a censor.
  21. Writing is rebellion. If your family supports your writing you are left with little choice; you’ll have to shave your head and get the tattoo.
  22. There is no writing without pain. half the trick to being a really good writer is in surviving life’s pain long enough to write about it..
  23. Prefer places in which you are a minority.  The perspectives are richer, the humility far more valuable and the music is surprisingly easy to dance to!
  24. I generally suck at all the things I have an expert opinion on, which is why I became a writer.
  25. You may leave home without money, water or a passport, but never leave home without at least two good pens and something to write on.
  26. If you are 11 years old or younger, start looking for a literary agent now, so that you may find one by the time you are forty.
  27. No one writes well before they are 40, but everyone writes well if they wish to.
  28. Wine is an elixir to honesty. Too much wine confuses bitterness with honesty. I prefer beer.
  29. Never let anyone tell you that you should speak with just one voice, it is rude to all the other voices in your head!
  30. Every word has been written ten billion times before. Every word you write is a new and undiscovered country.
  31. Never wear a hat when you write. I don’t know why, just don’t do it.
  32. Die upon every page, for your life as a writer depends upon it.
  33. Don’t take anything too seriously. Seriousness is a lie. Comedy and humor are the writer’s best tools for deconstructing the world.
  34. Taste colors. Feel the texture of sound. Measure the tempo of the human heart in love, in fear, at death. Breathe in the scent of every emotion. Swim in the cool deep current of truth. Grasp the sunset and measure its weight in your hands. Ruminate over the absurdity of forever.
  35. Always write through the character’s eyes rather than your own.
  36. As a writer you are never alone, worlds and characters and conversations fill the air around you.
  37. Words have power. You are powerless without your words. You are your words.
  38. Cherish solitude and loneliness, which are imperative to the act of writing well.
  39. You are a character in everyone else’s novel. Realize that every word you write is not for you, but they definitely reveal everything about you.
  40. Everyday truths are self evident. Great truths are massaged from random thoughts, but ultimate truths are your Holy Grail
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In a producer’s Hollywood office 10 years ago… “Okay, so Sal, I got an idea for a blockbuster movie. First, a madman takes control of America’s nukes, while Nazis slowly take power, and the people fighting them are called terrorists. Then, see, not one, not two, but three biblical-size storms slam into America. We’re talkin’ freakin’ sharks in the streets of Houston! And then, and then, get this, and then the whole entire friggin’ West coast catches fire! Whaddya think, Sal?” “Ahhh, yer outta yer gourd, Max, No one would ever believe it!”

Defending the Defenders

A desperate warning. Hearing a lot of Liberals, the bend-over-backwards appeasers, like Thom Hartmann and WCPT‘s Ben Joravsky distancing themselves from Antifa in the fight against this unprecedented scourge and resurgence of fascism assailing our nation. This is a mistake and only makes us weaker and under greater threat from the forces of destruction. The fascists will not be pacified nor appeased by your compromising nature, just as their predecessors and architects in Germany in the 1930s and 40s were not appeased nor pacified by signs, slogans and diplomacy. Meet them on every front! the fascists believe this is their time, and a President tacitly supports them, while courting them quietly. They have their sights set on the country and power and are closer than ever to having it. Fight them every way and everywhere you find them. The country, your families and your life is at stake. Do not take these people lightly. They are dangerous and they are the enemy of the American people.

A Right not a Weapon

Never before in American history were the worst and most vile elements of our society protected with false claims that the First Amendment of the constitution was designed specifically for their hideous speech. It was not. Talk hosts and blustering politicians would have us believe that the First Amendment is designed to protect the basest, most intentionally and abusively  divisive speech. Telling a Nazi he is unwelcome, shouting down the white-supremacist’s antagonism of other races, religions and genders violates their freedom of expression we are told. That was not the intention of the First amendment.  It does not impinge upon civil and civilized freedoms to have guidelines and rules and expectations requiring people comport themselves with the values a society agrees upon for a functioning and respectful community.

There are always rules of conduct, particularly for acts and actions that a society deems derogatory, improper, overtly divisive and destructive. While admittedly that is a bit vague, to obtuse and intransigent minds, the reality is that societies and communities should, and indeed, must aggressively battle the forces of divisive and dangerous protagonists to civil society.

From the Nazis perspective then, urinating in public curtails the rights of the public urinate-or. No one would sanction discourse about the merits of Dr. Mengele’s data from experiments on Jewish children at Auschwitz. Highway billboards advertising explicit pornography might violate the self expression of the pornographer, yet no where in America is it allowed. Those who now champion the Nazis and White-supremacists, and those who refuse to unequivocally condemn them in the strongest terms, apart from spitting on the graves of millions, including hundreds of thousands of American veterans, of all those who opposed and fell victim to Hitler’s Nazi army are the forces of chaos whose defense of division and hate seek profit and power from that chaos.

Opposing them are millions of regular Americans. They represent the reality of a diverse America, united from shore to shore, all sharing its blessing and fully cognoscente of its shortcomings, while animated to the patriotic duty of correcting those shortcomings and the protection of its universal blessings. It is a perversion and a sickness that anyone, particularly someone assuming the mantle of a national leader, should ever equate those who stand against fascism, racism and hate with those who promote and proliferate in hate and antagonism.

Nazis and White supremacists are free to believe as they wish, in their own home and in their head, but the danger endemic to their sickness is as equally brutal, perverse and dangerous as someone yelling fire in a crowded theater. While no one with an ounce of civility, intelligence and reason would dare defend yelling fire in a  theater as a first amendment right neither should a civil, healthy, diverse and respectful society tolerate filth parading in the streets with messages that openly and gleefully promote its destruction.

The First amendment describes rights for civilized men and women in a civilized society. It is not a tool for a regression to a past unrealistic from that which America is now. It is not a weapon for those intent on unnecessarily and destructively acting and working for its destruction.

Literature as Future history and the Power of Fiction.

In 1999 I began work on my very first novel. It took me four years to complete; a 93,000 word epic about 6 friends coming of age in a small French town I’d fallen in love with many years before. I edited the book now and again, but overall it seemed far too intimate to do anything with. I printed a copy and put it on a shelf. “A Perfect Place,” takes place years from now, the world at war with America. a virulent nationalist fervor, led by a particular demagogue and championed by a criminal sweeps through town, observed by a dying university professor who believes all human history can be described and predicted using the template of the French Revolution. Dusting off the novel late last night I was stunned at how closely I described what is happening to our nation, and what may lay ahead. In this excerpt two of the characters are faced with going off to war:

He was waiting for Antonio and David. Rather he was waiting for Antonio and having doubts whether David would actually show after the other day. The note they left at his door went unanswered, but David had always been a little flighty in Bastien’s opinion, so anything was likely to happen. Bastien, however, was not placing too many hopes on David showing.

Antonio arrived first, climbing up through the skylight, waving when he saw Bastien. He scooted onto the ledge beside Bastien, and asked where David was. Bastien only shrugged, watching the curious characters in the alley below. Antonio looked as well, the bottoms of his feet tingling as they dangled so high above the ground.

“What’s the show today?”

“Josephine Baker.”

“Oo-la-la. Even I would tune out for her.”

“Why, like to borrow one her dresses?” Bastien grinned. Antonio was suddenly flustered, searching for something to say. Bastien patted his leg before Antonio could get the words out. “Good comeback. I’m only just kidding.”

“Are you always going to torture me with that?”

“You kissed me, Goddamnit.”

“Once.”

“And you said you loved me!”

“I, uh…” Antonio stammered.

Bastien could see that his friend was hurt and embarrassed. He threw an arm around Antonio’s shoulders. “I love you too, man.”

“You do?”

“Sure, for all the years we’ve been friends. You’re my best friend in the whole world, man. Even if you are a queer bird.”

“I didn’t say I was queer.”

“Well, someone who kisses other boys might want to start asking some questions, don’t you think?”

“Just confused.”

“Well, you’ll figure it out, right. Not important though, right now we have bigger things to worry about.”

Of course he was talking about the war. They were quiet for a moment, that new worry creeping into their thoughts. Antonio sighed, looked out across the hazy jumble of rooftops and power lines, catching only a glimpse of the greenish-brown river beyond.

“Ever wonder about dying?” he asked.

“Only about dying here.”

“Here or anywhere?”

“Anywhere but here.”

“Hmm.”

“Don’t think about it. It will just make you sick.”

“How is that possible? Maybe we will be killed or crippled, come back as hopeless as these others.” Antonio motioned to a table of veterans throwing catcalls at Bastien’s blushing Sister.

“Maybe you’ll get cancer tomorrow.”

“Maybe.”

“You could get hit by lightening, or drown in the river. Do you worry about those things too?”

“I worry about things you cannot even imagine, my friend.”

“Do you worry that I will throw you from this roof, if you don’t shut up?”

“I am now,” he grinned.

“Look there’s a rat,” Bastien pointed out the furry creature scurrying through the tables. An elderly man and wife saw it and smiled at one another. Both boys could see the holo-tech modules in their ears.

“I bet the holo-tech program will make that old couple there think that it’s an adorable poodle.”

“Disgusting. I’d rather have a rat.”

“A rat?”

“They know how to fight, how to survive. With a rat you know he is out for himself. Nobody will mess with him unless he wants a real fight. That’s who you get behind, protect his ass. In the war, I intend to be a rat.”

“I’ll be behind you, Little rat,” Antonio nudged with his shoulder.

Bastien looked at him for a long moment, judging him in a way that almost made him want to retreat for it. Instead, he rose to meet it, felt himself becoming a man.

“I know you will. And yes, I do think about dying.”

Antonio thought to say something, to ask him, but the effort just seemed too small. It was enough that Bastien was thinking about death that made Antonio not feel so alone any longer.

“And David?” Antonio asked.

Bastien could only shake his head.

“I went by his flat earlier,” he said. “The note was gone.”

“Maybe he saw it?”

“I spoke with his crazy mother. Well, spoke at her while she stared at me like I was speaking English or something.”

“Will we be the three Musketeers?”

“He will not come with us,” Bastien said recalling their last time at the chateau.

“I had that impression, too.”

“David is on another road, perhaps more deadly than ours, and certainly more dangerous for the soul.”

Antonio nodded in reluctant agreement, looked admiringly at his friend. Bastien pretended not to notice, looked off across the town. He tried to imagine the two of them at war, wondered what it would be like for each of them, but could not quite form proper thoughts. The war was too real now to ponder, to imagine themselves in the news images from the frontlines, or to think that they could soon end up like those wretched souls in the Hotel des Invalides, or upon that hill at St-Cirq Lapopie. It came to them as this undefined monolithic thing, something which could neither be understood or reckoned with, only faced as confidently as their untested hearts could manage.

Miss Nikki: Cancer Queen of Comedy

What’s that old line? Don’t be and example, set an example. That’s really true for a very special woman, who some are theorizing simply had enough of Donald Trump and fled the planet. I know, that’s an odd way to remember someone, but you might not have known anyone like Miss Nikki.

This amazing lady took her final bow over the weekend. Miss Nikki, comedian extraordinaire won her battle against cancer. I say won, because, while cancer invaded her body it never broke her spirit. In fact, she laughed in the face of her disease until the very end. Night after night she took the fight to the stage, both for her and as an example of strength and defiance in the face of a disease that touches us all. The mortality rate for concern averages at 171 per 100,ooo men and women. That rate is much higher for women than it is for men, at about 145 per 100,000. A third of the estimated 1,7 million people diagnosed each year will succumb to one form or another of the disease.

We will all face cancer at many points in our lives, whether for ourselves or a loved one. How we come to that long and uncertain war is individual to us all. It is akin to pondering how we might  come to combat in a war between nations. Miss Nikki picked up the banner and led the way as an example of pride and power and endurance. And while the body may fail us, the spirit fights on.

Most of I had the sublime pleasure on a number of occasions to laugh and joke along with her. Night after night Miss Nikki would climb on stage and give a giant finger to cancer in her legendary stand up performances. There are a lot of comics who strive to be something else on stage, but with Nikki you knew it was real, which is what makes stand up such a unique form or art. So long, friend. The laughs, the tears, the spirit echoes for eternity…

Incidentally, don’t Google Image search “Miss Nikki.” That IS NOT the Miss Nikki that comes up! Here is a bit of the real Miss Nikki…