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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Favorite Authors: James A. Michener

James Albert Michener  February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which were sweeping family sagas, covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating historical facts into the stories. Michener was known for the meticulous research behind his work.
Michener's major books include Tales of the South Pacific (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948), Hawaii, The Drifters, Centennial, The Source, and Poland. His nonfiction works include the 1968 Iberia about his travels in Spain and Portugal, his 1992 memoir, and Sports in America.

Of all my favorite authors in this series I started reading Michener first. I didn't finish that first book until fifteen years later. It was his book The Source. Everybody bought this book in 1962 when it first came out. It is still in print to this day!
For those not familiar with this book, it is the craziest book ever written. It starts off with archaeologists in Israel starting a dig on a small mound between Acre and the Sea of Galilee. For the first hundred pages or so you learn how archaeologist work, what a Kibbutz is, are introduced to a host of characters, a summary of the book of Deuteronomy and a number of artifacts they discover. Then it changes, starting with the oldest artifact Michener writes a short story set in the time period of the artifact weaving a tale about a family changing from living in a cave as hunter gatherers to building a house and growing crops. The wealth of information concerning the historical significance of this major shift in human history is mind boggling even for a twelve year old who at that time wanted to grow up and be an archaeologist. Years later when teaching World History The Bee Eater, was of all the stories from this book that fascinated my students the most, and I was effortlessly able to explain what a huge change for humans transitioning from tribal wanderers to civilization.
I read about on-third of the book and got bogged down in the short story set in Byzantine times. Squabbles between Christians over Christ being flesh and not spirit as well as nitpicking Jewish Rabbis beginning the Talmud made me put the book away for many years.
I picked it up again in college to discover many more fascinating stories. I have spoken to many people from my parents generation and mine about the book and it is almost universal that they say, "I started the book, but didn't finish it." I'm not the only one who bogged down on the short story The Law.
In-between the short stories the archaeologists discuss the artifacts, which in almost all cases I found distracting, with the exception of Cullinane's comparison of two Crusader kings. Saint Louis and Frederick The German. Louis is held up in history as a great king even though he never won a battle and saw army after army slaughtered. History remembers him for his strong faith. America even has a city named for him.. Frederick on the other hand after landing in Acre negotiated a peace that lasted for a hundred years and upon leaving with his army was jeered and had pig guts dumped on him. Does that kind of remind you of the hatred directed at Kennedy for negotiating a peace with Russia on the missile crisis and SALT treaty compared to the adulation of George W. Bush for starting two meaningless and stupid wars that have taken a heavy toll in lives and wealth. But just listen to the howls, wailing and gnashing of teeth because Obama negotiated with Syria on WMD's and now with Iran.
Sorry to go on at length on this book, but in my opinion it is the one book everyone in the world should read to understand world history and apply it to what's happening today. Skip the one story on the law, unless you're really into Jewish Talmudic scholarship.

While the kids were little and as a teacher I had lots of reading time after teaching summer school. I read the complete Harold Robbins one summer so the next summer I thought I'd read everything by Michener. It took me all summer just to finish one of his books. When computers came out and I started writing short stories and novels my goal of reading the total tome of Michener bogged down.
I did like Alaska, Poland, Texas, Chesapeake, The Drifters, but some of his later books felt like he'd run out of story ideas. Michener started writing at age forty and published for fifty years. Quite an accomplishment.
One tidbit I read in an interview. His first book after he was discharged from the Marines after WWII was Tales of the South Pacific. He walked through a small muddy village in New Guinea that was named Bali Hai, he thought the name was beautiful and put it his book. The book was turned into the
Broadway musical South Pacific with Bali Hai one of the most memorable of songs.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fan Plan Preparation now available

Book 2 in the Fan Plan series is now at Amazon.com as an e-book for the amazingly low price of 0.99. If you have Amazon prime it can be borrowed for free. I actually get more royalties from KDP and the prime borrowers than from buyers.

If you haven't read book one, it's only 0.99 and available on Prime as well.
Book 3 is in the works and hopefully will be out before Christmas.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years in respective

Everyone is chiming in on the fifty years since the death of a president by an assassin's bullet. No reason I shouldn't put my two cent worth in.
  • I was ten on a day everyone alive would have burned into their memories and now fifty times the news media has abetted bringing back those painful days.
  • I was fifteen when I first saw the parade route for the motorcade and immediately realized no one in their right mind would leave the freeway for a short trip around Dealy Plaza and then get back on the freeway. It was intended as a kill zone. Did anyone question the man in charge of planning this route, arrest him and execute him? Of course not. This was a random act by a deranged man. Give me a break.
  • Freshman year in college we had a track meet in Dallas and the coach pointed out Dealy Plaza as we whisked by it. I got all of a fraction of a second to take a look. The year I lived in Fort Worth and the summer I spent in Canton while Dad was in hospice and I flew in and out of Dallas a number of times I never felt like revisiting the site.
Growing up in the 50's, 60's and being a college student, getting married (twice) in the 70's I lived through perhaps the most tumultuous decades in American history. I was born he year Ike was sworn in so I've lived under a lot of presidents. I've seen the deification of Kennedy and now the feet of clay. Here's my perspective both personal and researched. I'm about to piss everyone off.
  1. Kennedy's most lasting legacy was dying. (I'll wait until all the booing stops)
  2. He was in office for 1000 days and he was no Roosevelt with a super majority in congress. He didn't have time to accomplish much.
  3. Bay of Pigs he inherited from Eisenhower and was a learning experience. Missile Crisis, thank God Nixon lost the election or cockroaches would be the only ones living on the planet.
  4. He did launch the space race and peace corps.
  5. Civil Rights act, voting rights act,  food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, HUD were on the democratic platform, but stalled in congress.
  6. Johnson was able to pass the Civil Rights, voting rights act, and the war on poverty after his election in 1964 with a comfortable majority in congress due to sympathy from the voters after the assassination.
Everything Johnson was able to accomplish in 1965-66 for the minorities and the social safety net is really Kennedy's legacy. He died for it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Favorite Authors: William Manchester

William Raymond Manchester (April 1, 1922 – June 1, 2004) was an American author, biographer, and historian. He was the author of 18 books which been translated into over 20 languages. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal and the Abraham Lincoln Literary Award. (No Picture available)

I've covered my favorite fiction writers so far. Asimov wrote non-fiction, Ellison wrote essays, McCullough used research for the setting of Rome to make it come alive, but Manchester is straight non-fiction. He is so easy to read on very different subjects. A true historian's historian. Not without much criticism, but that's to be expected with all writers fiction or not.
1973, the ten year anniversary of Kennedy's assassination. The summer before my sophomore year in college I pulled out a dusty copy of Death of a President. I was ten on that unforgettable day and remembered Mom and Dad reading the book when it came out. In the evenings in my parent's basement I read this book revisiting the horror of a dreadful week. It was an eye opener on the pettiness of politics, the squabble between Connelly and Johnson over who would be riding in the car. The book made everyone human. The timetable blow by blow was riveting. My roommate when I got back to Wayland was from Booker, Tx and we roomed together our freshman year on the road for the track team, he was a pole vaulter. We got along on just about everything, but when I mentioned reading this book I encountered a side to him I hadn't seen, a look of pure hate at just the mention of Kennedy ten years after his death. I see that look today at the mere mention of Obama by people I know who are reasonable and rational on just about everything else. The Kool-Aid of hate keeps getting passed around.
Other books I've found fascinating by Manchester:
Goodbye Darkness: an autobiography where Manchester revisited the islands in the Pacific twenty years after he fought on them during WWII.
American Caesar: Biography of Douglas MacArthur. The movie starring Gregory Peck relied heavily on this book. Dad and I discussed it at length after we both read it. He still believed some of the scuttlebutt that was said about him.
The Glory and the Dream: If there is any one book everyone should be reading today as we're going through a Great Recession it's the first half of this book when he covers the Great Depression. He covers both political parties, their ideas, what they stood for, and how it all played out. He also makes observations. Concerning the assassination of Huey P. Long of Louisiana, who was perceived as a threat to Roosevelt's re-election in 1936 he says that this was one death that influenced history more than any election in history, or something to that effect. In response to the constant Republican refusal to admit there was hunger in America from 1930 to 1934. He relates that in 1942 when men who were children during this time reported for duty to fight, 1/4 were unfit due to rickets or bowed legs (calcium deficiency) and poor eyesight (vitamin A deficiency) from malnutrition as children. He says if Hoover had been elected in 1932 and his policies continued the U.S. might not have been able to field an army in WWII.
WWII and the 50's are interesting. In the Sixties he covers civil rights and Vietnam ending the book with the resignation of Richard Nixon after a pretty good recap of Watergate.
The Arms of Krupp: Manchester covers the rise of Krupp works from the 1600's to post WWII. The majority of the book deals with Frederick Krupp developing the first breach loaded steel cannon and unleashing them on the French at the battle of the Sudan in the Franco-Prussian War. Gustov marrying Frederick's daughter Bertha, changing his name to Krupp instead of hers to his. Krupp Werks being in an ideal location in a valley with rich iron ore deposits on one mountain and coal on the other. One piece of information I found interesting. Krupp developed the firing mechanism for artillery shells holding its international patent. England and France couldn't develop one equal to it so they purchased the right to use the Krupp mechanism based on a few cents for every shell fired. After WWI the English arm's manufacturer didn't know how many shells were fired over the course of the war and they settled on paying a certain amount for every German killed during the war. Gustov Krupp who was an early Nazi supporter took the money and used it to develop the Tiger Tank and ME 109 fighter plane.
After the war Krupp began setting up steel mills in third world countries and I find it interesting that the elevator in my wife's office building has a manufactured by Krupp prominently displayed.
There are many more of his books I'd love to read, when checking up on him through Wikipedia I discovered he wrote a novel, maybe that will be next on the list, but A World Lit By Fire about the Middle Ages and Renaissance sounds fascinating too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Favorite Authors: Anne McCaffrey

Anne Inez McCaffrey (1 April 1926 – 21 November 2011) was an American-born Irish writer, best known for the Dragon Riders of Pern science fiction series. Early in McCaffrey's 46-year career as a writer, she became the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award. Her 1978 novel The White Dragon became one of the first science-fiction books to appear on the New York Times Best Seller List.
In 2005 the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named McCaffrey its 22nd Grand Master, an annual award to living writers of fantasy and science fiction. She was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame on 17 June 2006.

If you haven't read the Dragon Riders of Pern, stop right now go to Amazon.com or another book store on the web and download the first book Dragon Flight or get the whole trilogy with Dragon Quest and The White Dragon. The money, time and energy you spend reading them will be well worth it. You'll also then need to read the Harper Hall Trilogy that runs concurrent with the Dragon Riders, who are the aristocrats, while the harper books deal with the common people who don't ride dragons, but own fire lizards.
I remember when I gave my sister, who was in high school at the time, Dragon Song, after she finished the book she said, "I want a fire lizard."
Known mostly for her Dragon books, she also wrote hard science books like the Ship Who Sang in a series of books known as the Brain and Brawn Ship Series, where space ships have human brains partnered up with a pilot. Another series of books The Crystal Universe where all interstellar communication is done from crystals found only on one planet. Killishandra Lee is the singer who cuts the crystal and these are fascinating books. Notice McCaffery infuses her stories with singers something most writers omit.
In the 35 years since we've been married I've found one of the few writers I can read to my wife that she enjoys is Anne McCaffrey. Over those years we've shared the Dragon books, Crystal books, some of her Brain and Brawn Ship books. This lady's stories anyone will love if they take a couple of minutes to start reading her.
I'm currently reading the first in her Acorna series and enjoying it like all the books I've read by her.
After I saw the movie Dragon Heart and saw how realistic the CG animation was able to make a dragon I thought Hollywood needs to start filming her Dragon Riders books. I call for an international outcry that these books be turned into movies just like Tolkien's Hobbits and Lewis' Narnia Chronicles.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

My Favorite Authors: Colleen McCullough

Colleen McCullough was born in Australia. A neurophysicist, she established the department of neurophysiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, then worked as a researcher and teacher at Yale Medical School for ten years. She is the author of the record-breaking international bestseller The Thorn Birds as well as eleven other novels, and lives on Norfolk Island in the Pacific with her husband.

Yes I read the Thorn Birds and enjoyed it, drooled over Rachel Ward in the mini-series, but that's not why this great lady influenced my writing. Without her Optimus: Praetorian Guard wouldn't have been written.
I stumbled upon her book The First Man in Rome in Don's Paper Back Exchange. You take in a sack full of used books and walk out with a handful of other used books for less than a buck. It wasn't far from where we lived at the time and it kept Mom, Dad, wifey and me in hog heaven reading wise.
Looking over the book I noticed a large appendix in the back so I read it before starting on page 1. I recommend this for all of her books in this series. It is the best primer on Roman culture I've ever read, and I've read a lot about Rome. She has a diagram of what a toga looks like flat to get it to drape the right way. A list of Latin curse words, names of places in that time like Lundinium for London. It's worth buying the book for just the appendix.
There are seven books in this series: The First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune's Favorites, Caesar's Women, Caesar, The October Horse and Anthony and Cleopatra.
Book one is about the rise of Marius in the time of the Divine Julius's grandfather. Marius is the first man to totally dominate Rome politically and become The First Man in Rome. In other words he ran the Republic. The Grass Crown is about the rise of Sulla and the civil war between Marius and Sulla. Fortune's Favorites deals with the young Julius Caesar as a child and what a mine field it was to survive the animosity of Sulla. Caesar's Women is about Caesar working up the Cursus Honorum, the political ladder to become a senator and then Consul by the time you're thirty and his fight with Cato. It is amazing how much this book mirrors our current political squabbles. Caesar is a fascinating account of the time Caesar was in Gaul and all the fighting to subdue the area. This book is a much better read than Caesar's Gallic Wars, while staying true historically. The October Horse is about Caesar's death. I haven't read Anthony and Cleopatra yet, but it's on my list.
I've seen the BBC's I Claudius and HBO's Rome. There is a hunger concerning this time period. A network could create a daily soap opera using these books that would have much better viewership than the tired and worn ones my wife and daughter watch because it would be different and exciting.

A side note about the Grass Crown, The Roman Republic was against any form of kingship, such as gold of silver crowns. Their crowns or coronas were made out of plants. Laurel leaves for victors in the games, Oak leaves for someone who saved a comrades life in battle and the victorious general after a battle would be given a grass crown from the field of battle stained with the blood of the dead. This was the highest crown they could give. It made the general Imperator, the word that has become Emperor. Think of Jesus on the cross. The crown of thorns was a way of ridiculing him, but it was still a grass crown and he conquered death by rising from the grave.

So much of what I learned about Rome from these books was used to flesh out my story. It was in a Sunday School class we were studying the book of Acts where Peter had his vision about unclean food and was sent to convert Cornelius of the Italian Cohort. From reading these books I knew that Cornelius was a very common last name in Italy because Cornelius Sulla picked up lots of clients during his war with Marius and all his clients took on his family name of Cornelius. I also knew that the Italian Cohort was made up of Italian Allies of Rome, the Sabines, Samnites, Greeks from Neapolis (Naples) and all of them would return to Italy after their tour of duty. I was planning on writing a book about one of the Apostle Paul's guards while he was awaiting trial in Rome because Christian tradition holds that his guards had to be replaced every two or three weeks because he converted them. What clicked in my mind was a connection between my guard and how close the Empire came to having a Christian Emperor in the first century. I needed a way for my protagonist to have an in with Domitian's family. From this I created Lucius Cornelius Judeaus, the son of the Cornelius mentioned in Acts who then marries his sister to Optimus. Truly without reading these books my first  novel would still be nothing but research.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Favorite Authors: Harlan Ellsion

Harlan Jay Ellison (born May 27, 1934) is an American writer. His principal genre is speculative fiction.
His published works include over 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, teleplays, essays, a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media. He was editor and anthologist for two ground-breaking science fiction anthologies, Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions Ellison has won numerous awards including multiple Hugos, Nebulas and Edgars.

Going through my divorce and devouring as many books as Gwen Shultz recommended I discovered Harlan Ellison. It was a collision of perfect timing. I was hungry to read, deeply depressed with plenty of time on my hands and Harlan Ellison was having a Renaissance.
In reading Asimov's anthology of the Hugo winners I read Ellison's story Repent Harlequin, Said the Tic Toc Man. It was interesting, but as with a lot of the winning stories I wasn't impressed.
Gwen recommended Death Bird Stories. This book has a warning to not read it in one sitting as the stories are too disturbing. The first story blows you out of the water. Whimper of Whipped Dogs. Using the media circus about the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York where numerous people watched and did nothing, now called bystander syndrome, Ellison weaves a tale of a vaporous inner city god calling people to worship. It is mind blowing to anyone, but for someone coming out of a year of seminary and horribly depressed a surprising thing happened. It lifted my spirits. The next stories in the book gave words to the feelings I was experiencing but couldn't describe. I subsequently discovered Ellison was on his third or fourth wife. If anyone would know what that feels like he would. I know it sounds weird but reading very depressing stories lifted my depression. I wouldn't recommend this as general therapy as it could deepen another person's depression.
  I read everything I could find of his over a summer. All of his books were being reissued at that time but you could only find them at a bookstore across from UNM. Since we lived near there that wasn't a problem. A side note my novel Human Sacrifices is influenced by Whimper of Whipped Dogs. Stephen King writing a forward to one of Harlan's books said that reading Ellison made you write like Ellison.
Dad was an ex-Marine so we kind of avoided the "Hippie" and "Anti-war" thing. Besides at my school the hippies wanted the money spent on athletics diverted to classroom instruction and were against JROTC. I ran track and cross-country and was enrolled in AFJROTC. I turned 18 the last year of the Vietnam Draft. My birthday was 76 in the lottery. I received notice that they were drafting that year to 75, but if anything happened they would draft up to 100. My freshman year of college I was under the sword of Damocles. It made me look at options. I concluded if I was called up I would go.
I said that in preamble because in 1977 I read Ellison's The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat. Compilations of essays published in The Los Angeles Free Press (Freep) critiquing television. Ellison critiqued everything. Mostly diatribes against the Vietnam War, support of Civil Rights and vey much anti-Nixon and Agnew. These books were finally being republished after Vice President Spiro Agnew ordered the first publisher to burn them. The publisher even gave Ellison the publishing rights back and no one would touch the books until after Watergate. My political views didn't change that much, but I realized how much the general public and I was deceived by the government and horror of horrors, maybe the hippies were right.
When I started teaching 7th and 8th graders in English I discovered very quickly that you CAN'T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF THEM FOR A SECOND! Fortunately I have an excellent memory and instead of reading to the students I started telling them stories. (when most of your students can't read past 3rd grade the biggest problem is not word recognition it is visualization. Being read to helps them see the action of the story that reading it themselves doesn't) The trick is to find stories that interest boys, girls not so much as all books written at this level are purposely designed for them. Just try to publish a Youth book with a male protagonist and brain yourself on the brick wall. J.K. Rowling nearly died on this brick wall, but look what happened when the boys in England started reading about Harry Potter.
Back to my point. One of my favorite short stories by Ellison is Along The Scenic Route. Its about a married couple on a Sunday drive that gets bullied by another driver and they enter a legally sanctioned highway duel with machine guns and lasers. For years I would run into former students working as waitresses, fast food restaurants, student teaching, fellow teachers. They all told me that the one thing they remember from my class was that story.
I could write even more about his television impact: Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever, Next Generation: Far Point, Outer Limits: Demon With a Glass Hand, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Memos From Purgatory, The New Twilight Zone: Shatterday
The cult classic movie A Boy and His Dog.
Nuff said.

Monday, November 04, 2013

My favorite authors, Isaac Asimov

I'm working on the second book of my Fan Plan series and won't be starting from scratch on  novel for Nanowrimo. Thought instead I'd say a few words about my favorite authors instead.

Isaac Asimov born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov; c. January 2, 1920 – April 6, 1992) was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. His books have been published in nine out of ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.

The first book by Asimov I read was one of his history books: The Greeks: A Glorious Adventure. I was in 6th grade and loved history books, still do. He wrote a number of easy to understand histories. Two on Rome, Britain, the Near East, The Old Testament and New Testament.
I wasn't aware of him as a science fiction writer until 9th grade. A friend of mine shared his copy of Nine Tomorrows, and I've been a big fan of sci-fi ever since. After I finished the Lord of the Rings that summer I started reading The Foundation Trilogy I followed that with I Robot and unfortunately graduated from high school. In college I had too much other reading to do so I put sci-fi aside.
Returning from graduate school, going through a long and painful divorce and no job I had time on my hands and was used to reading around 500 or more pages of theology a day. There was a little book store across from a park by my parent's house named Trespasser's William run by a wonderful lady named Gwen Shultz. I would sit with her and talk sci-fi though most of her books were children's. We both loved Asimov, who that's ever read sci-fi doesn't?
I joined the Science Fiction book club and bought a number of his anthologies, the subsequent Foundation books, but it was his compilation books that opened and even wider range of sci-fi for me. He edited the Hugo Awards books, Before the Golden Years a compilation of stories from his childhood that made him the writer he was, and a few others. I also got a subscription to Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine where he had a monthly column on hard science.
His book Beginnings and others were a compilation of those articles. He was just an amazing writer and the world was truly blessed with his works.