Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to Write a Novel - The writer’s best friend by Jim DeFelice

Jim DeFelice is the author of 14 New York Times best-sellers, including the recently published Code Name: Johnny Walker and American Sniper. He owns two chainsaws and a sharp axe.

Browsing around the web, I see lots of lists from writers I know about their favorite writing tools – laptop, pen, iMac, pocket notebook, that sort of thing. I’m always impressed: It’s amazing how eloquent people can be when extolling the virtues of a retractable 2B lead pencil. I love passion in writing.

But not once in any of these lists have I seen the most important writer’s tool mentioned. I’m talking about the chainsaw, of course, a tool no writer should be without.

I don’t mean this metaphorically. I’m talking about an honest, two-cycle, pull-to-start, chop your torso in two chainsaw. The louder the better.

I’m partial to the Echo professional series, but finding the proper chainsaw is like finding your writing voice – you have to work it a bit before you settle down.

Actually, I have two chainsaws, a 20-inch bruiser for the big trees, and a remarkably versatile 14-inch model that is the Shakespeare of saws, able to chop up everything from sonnets to Durham Wood.

I find the ideas flow like oil on the guide bar when I’m cutting; give me a nice study maple to chop up, and I’ll have six new plot twists in no time. Some writers burn incense for inspiration; the scent of spent gas and fresh sawdust does much more for me.

In fact, chainsaws are so important to my work I’ve started bringing them to New York for editorial meetings. There’s nothing like a rapidly rotating blade to keep an editorial discussion on track. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I have yet to lose an argument with an editor while carrying one of my saws. And just last week, the 14-incher helped me demonstrate what I thought of the job the copy editor had done on my last book.

As a side benefit, finding a seat in the subway has become a heck of lot easier.

Computers and pencils, notebooks and dictionaries, pens and erasers – they all have their place. In my office, that’s between the gas can and the chain sharpener.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ted Bundy and Me: One Degree of Separation

 Patty here

The isolation of the dimly lit parking lot behind my Seattle apartment building had always seemed bleak and foreboding. It loomed at the bottom of a hill bordering a marshy area of Portage Bay, too far from the street for anyone to hear a call for help late at night when I usually arrived home from work.

Janice Ott
It was around midnight that July night in 1974 when I parked in an open slot at water’s edge and scanned the area with more caution than usual. One of my coworkers hadn’t shown up for work that day and no one, including her family, knew what had happened to her.

I didn’t know Janice Ott well. She was a relatively new employee, a juvenile probation caseworker at the King County Juvenile Court in Seattle. She was 23 years old, five-one and a hundred pounds. She had long blond hair and an effervescent smile. I worked in detention on the opposite side of the court system, but we both encountered some pretty tough kids. Many of the employees, including me, had received death threats at one time or another, threats from people who were more than capable of doing the job. Janice’s disappearance left many of us wondering if one of the juvenile offenders had killed her.

As I got out of the car all I could hear was water lapping the shore and a breeze agitating the cattails. I hurried across the parking lot and opened the basement door. Before me, masked in shadows, was a long, windowless hallway with another door at the far end. Every step I took hiked the needling tension on the nape of my neck. As I opened the second door, I heard the first slam shut. Somebody was following me.

I ran. Up the stairs. Kept running until I was inside my apartment. My back pressed against the locked door as my heart slammed against my ribs. It wasn’t until my pulse slowed and my mind cleared that I realized I hadn’t heard footsteps behind me, only the door slamming. That’s when I realized it was not a killer stalking me but the wind sucking the first door closed. I felt like a complete wuss.

Composite sketch of "Ted"
In the days that followed, we learned the details of Janice’s disappearance. It had been a warm, sunny Sunday. No Seattleite stays inside on those rare days, including Janice. Her husband was out of town, so she rode her bicycle to Lake Sammamish State Park to sunbathe on the beach and enjoy the day with about 40,000 other people. I’d made that same trip myself on numerous occasions. A clean-cut man named “Ted,” described by witnesses as good-looking, approached several young women that day. He had a cast on his arm and was asking for help loading a sailboat onto his car. Witnesses say at least one person turned him down, one got to Bundy’s brown Volkswagen Beetle and saw there was no sailboat and fled. He approached Janice at around 12:30 that the afternoon. A witness said she looked annoyed but agreed to help him. Later that day, he took Denise Naslund from the same park using the same pretext. 

On September 7, 1974, two months after her disappearance, the skeletal remains of Janice, Denise and another victim were found in a wooded area approximately two miles from Lake Sammamish. After that a more potent fear replaced the first, because a serial killer was hunting young women who looked a lot like me in places I had often visited. For a long time after that, every man driving a VW Beetle was suspect. Every set of footsteps, echoing behind me late at night seemed sinister. I became less inclined to help strangers or even engage with them in conversation.

Ted Bundy
Before he was executed in Florida on January 24, 1989, Bundy confessed to murdering at least 30 woman, including Janice, but hinted there might have been many more. He confirmed in gory detail how he had killed her and boasted that he kept her alive long enough to watch Denise die, although he later recanted that claim. I oppose the death penalty, but if anybody deserved to die it was arrogant, unrepentant Ted Bundy.

All these years after Janice’s murder, I still think about her, can still envision her walking down the hallway of the court with a bounce in her step and a sweet smile on her face. And I still wonder if Ted Bundy had approached me on the beach that day with a cast on his arm and a disarming smile, asking me to help him load a boat onto his car, would I have gone with him? I’d like to think I would have been the one who said no, but I can’t be sure and that will haunt me for the rest of my days.

On Monday, May 31st, I was again reminded of the tragedy of Janice’s death when Elliot Rodger, another disturbed young man, went on a rampage, murdering several young people near Santa Barbara, California. I thought of the obvious victims of this mass murder, those who died, those devastated family members and close friends left to wonder how this could have happened and why nobody had the power to stop it from happening. But there will be others, as well, those who knew the victims, perhaps not well, but well enough to forever be haunted by the events of that horrible day, those left to wonder how it was that they walked away alive.

As a writer, I also think about these events in relation to the characters I create. What wounds from my character's past make up the fears and expectations of the fictional present? As Sidley Lumet once said: “All good work requires self-revelation.” If true, I have more than enough material to fill several more books.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Shane Conlan: Skinny Legs and All

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

It was Pro Day at Penn State 27 years ago and I was on the practice field as the seniors went through agility drills.  On the sidelines, NFL scouts watched and scribbled notes on scraps of paper.  (There were no cell phones, iPads, or laptops).

Penn State had a terrific group of graduating seniors.  Just months earlier, the team had won the national championship with its upset of heavily favored Miami, 14-10, in the Fiesta Bowl.

One player had every scout's eye.  Shane Conlan.  He was a consensus All-American linebacker who had been MVP of that Fiesta Bowl game with eight tackles and two interceptions of Vinny Testaverde.

I knew Shane a bit through his friendship with two players who were friends. Tim Johnson, from Florida, the All American defensive tackle who would go on to a 10 year NFL career before becoming a minister, and D.J. Dozier, the running back who would join the select few who played both NFL football and Major League Baseball.

Anyway, I'm standing next to Ray Wietecha, the college scout of the Green Bay Packers, which had just finished an abysmal year and were drafting fourth.  (NFL aficionados will remember Wietecha as a center for the New York Giants in the 1950's and 60's  An old-school, tough-as-nails guy).  In this photo, he looks like he's still playing at age 45. 
I remember looking at Wietecha's gnarled hands -- broken fingers going this way and that -- as he took notes.

"Number 31's really good," I said, referring to Conlan.

"Skinny legs," Wietecha replied.

"Fast.  Great anticipation.  Great ball sense."

"Skinny legs," Wietecha repeated.

In the NFL draft, with that fourth pick in the first round, the Packers took Brent Fullwood, a running back from Auburn.  He played four years, and if you don't know his name, well, he was just okay.  The Buffalo Bills took Conlan with the eighth pick.  He becomes NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, is named All-Pro three times, plays in three Pro Bowls, and selected to the Bills' All-Time 50th Anniversary team.

Skinny Legs and All

This was brought to mind today by (1) the announcement that Conlan will be inducted into the College Hall of Fame and (2) an excellent story about how the skinny kid from a tiny town in western New York state made it big-time.  The story, "Hall of Famer Shane Conlan, Wanted by Nobody but Tom Bradley in 1982, a Recruiting Story of a Bygone Era," is by Dave Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot.

It tells the story of how then young Penn State assistant coach Tom (Scrap) Bradley, who would become one of college football's best recruiters, drove through a snowstorm to watch Conlan play BASKETBALL.  Football season was long over.  There was no video in those days, just some grainy 8 mm film, and precious little of that for Conlan's high school in Frewsberg, a school with just 94 seniors.

Conlan was 6-3, 175 pounds.  Even in those days, that was far too skinny to play big-time college linebacker.  Did I say big-time?  Not only did Conlan lack any Division 1 scholarship offers, no small colleges expressed interest, either.
But Bradley liked what he saw on the basketball court.  Even though Conlan only scored three points that night, his aggressiveness and fluid athleticism were easy to see.  (Bradley's mentor, the great Joe Paterno, often scouted high school football players by watching them play basketball.  Both men thought the sport showed overall athleticism in a way football -- particularly on film -- did not).  Still, Conlan was not an easy sell at the coaches' meeting just a few days before signing date:

"No one on the staff really wants him," Bradley said.  "Back then, I don't have much of a track record. I knew what I saw. But I started thinking: Maybe I don't know what I'm looking at.  Finally, Joe pounds the table and says, 'You want him? You take him. But you gotta coach him. And you'd better be right.'"
So Penn State gave Conlan his one and only football scholarship offer.

"I owe Tom everything," Conlan told reporter Jones.  "If he hadn't given me a shot, if he hadn't convinced Joe [Paterno] that I was the right kid for them, who knows what would have become of me?"

Lots of lessons here.  How important is it to have someone who believes in you.  And to have a mentor.  And to make the most of your talents with the gifts you have.

Skinny legs and All.

(A final word about that 1987 NFL Draft.  The University of Miami provided three of the first nine players taken, an incredible number.  Testaverde was the first player of the first round, running back Alonzo Highsmith went third and defensive tackle Jerome Brown ninth.  For Penn State, besides Conlan going eighth, running back Dozier was chosen fourteenth.  Overall, Miami had eight players chosen and Penn State thirteen).

Paul Levine

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Final Step

From Jacqueline

May 21st, 2014

Today I took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America in Oakland, CA.  I was one among 1206 immigrants from 112 countries across the globe. Peter, the man to my right was a software engineer with Google; he was originally from Russia. The lady to my left was from the Philippines.  And the two Canadians behind me really belted out The Star Spangled Banner when the time came – they could have been leading the singing. It was a ceremony that seemed to veer between moments that moved me to tears, to whole speeches of abject tedium. Sorry, but listening to instructions on how to register my change of status with Social Security while I’m still wiping away the tears that fell during the film featuring hopeful faces of immigrants coming through Ellis Island, was a bit weird.  But it was a glorious day.  In fact, it felt like a wedding day, and in some ways, I suppose it was. I didn’t get a ring, but I plighted my troth to the USA after a long engagement.

You’ve followed me along through this process, so you know a bit about what has come to pass.  Every step towards citizenship is pretty serious.  Immigration officials aren’t generally known for their comedic repartee.  Keeping a straight face and fighting the urge to quip is the order of the day (I’m a bit of a quipper).  But clearly things change when you’re “in.”  I arrived at Oakland’s Paramount Theater for the ceremony with my husband and my best American pal, Kas.  They were directed up to the balcony where friends and family were to be seated, while I joined the line of would-be citizens.  Even though I was “accepted” following my interview on April 18th, I would not be anointed – so to speak – until I'd attended the ceremony. 

At every step of the way we immigrants were greeted by smiling officials from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service who said, “Congratulations!”

 First I had to hand over my green card.  “You’re an American now,” said the woman checking me in.  “You don’t need this any more.” I felt lost letting that little card go – it had exited and entered the USA with me many times; we were travel buddies.  When I first came to America, I had terrible recurring dreams where I was in UK and had lost my green card.  I invariably woke up crying due to the lingering thought that I couldn’t get back into the US again.  I remember visiting my parents a few years ago, when my Dad was still alive – I mislaid my passport folder with the green card inside, and I had a complete meltdown.  It was my nightmare come true. I was turning over clothes, pulling things out of my suitcase, and generally getting into a state.  My Dad – who was a very laid back, methodical soul – came into my room and helped me look for it, and when we found the green card (yes, in the suitcase), he held me while I wept with relief. 

My Dad adored America – he would have been so proud of me today. He was thrilled when my brother became an American citizen about eight years ago.   I think it made Dad feel as if he were one step closer to being a cowboy – or to be more accurate, to having those wide open spaces around him.  And that’s probably where it all started, this business of becoming an American. Call it early conditioning – the fact that my father loved westerns, either in print or on the screen. He had books upon books on American history, American culture, and he could go toe-to-toe with anyone when it came to native American tribal history.

Then there was my mum and her stories of “Yanks” in wartime London.  I loved the images of confidence, of swagger, of generosity and a sense that everything was bigger in America.  Of course, that put off a lot of people (“Over paid, over-sexed and over here,” as the saying went).  I think I’ve told this story before on Naked Authors, but I will tell it again, because I love it. 

My mother turned seventeen in the summer of 1944, and on her birthday – a Saturday – she and a couple of friends were in Hyde Park, London, enjoying a sunny day.  Along came three young US Airmen, their caps tilted, their eyes on the girls.  And of course the chat-up began.  My mum’s friends told the boys that it was her birthday, so they asked her what she’d received in the way of gifts. My mum laughed – it was wartime in a city that had been relentlessly bombed for four years by that time, and along with rationing meant that she was lucky anyone remembered to say “Happy Birthday” let alone buy a gift.  The guys were shocked – and arranged to meet the girls in a couple of hours.  My mother and her friends thought they’d never see them again, but at the allotted time and place, there they were – arms filled with flowers, chocolates and nylon stockings, gifts for my 17-year-old mother.  The airmen couldn’t stay – they had to get back to camp – so they waved and went on their way. My mother said she watched them running along the path, leaping on and off park benches, arms outstretched, one of them yelling, “Look at me, I’m a B29.”   She offered her chocolates around in the air-raid shelter that night, but no one would accept (even though they really wanted one) because they were American chocolates and of course, there was the suggestion that you had to be “that sort of girl” to get a box of chocolates. So my mother – who was a bit cheeky, let it be said – sat there and ate every single chocolate in the box while giving a bite-by-bite description of each mouthful. 

 I think I can safely say that every immigrant in that theater came to America drawn by a story – perhaps that you can be anybody you want to be, in the USA, if you’re prepared to work for it.  I came here borne aloft by stories of America.  I’d entered the US many times as a visitor, but always knew in my heart that one day I would be here to stay .  I was drawn by the mythology of America – but once here I had to work hard to make my hopes become dreams that came true.  And I am not just waxing lyrical.

America is not a perfect place and never will be – thank the Lord.  But it suits me very well indeed.  I think I’ll stay.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.  And remember.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How to Write a Novel: Research

Guest blogger D.J. Niko is the pseudonym for Daphne Nikolopoulos, a journalist, author, editor, and self-proclaimed modern nomad who has spent the better part of two decades traveling the world. As a former travel writer and zealous adventurer, she has visited remote spots on six continents, many of which have inspired her novels, including the award-winning The Tenth Saint and its sequel, The Riddle of Solomon. Her next two novels will be released in 2015. Daphne was born and raised in Athens, Greece, and now resides in Florida with her family.  

The Rest is History
By D.J. Niko

Researching historical fiction and thrillers with historical themes is a little like going down the rabbit hole: you have to enter another world and come out, sweating and panting, on the other side before you can actually get it.
When you research and write about the ancient world, that’s especially true. I deal with time periods as far back as the sixteenth century BCE, when information wasn’t exactly plentiful and the recording of facts was sketchy at best. Think about it: historical documentation as we know it wasn’t a thing back then. The ancient Egyptians carved their conquests onto temple walls, the Israelites had an oral history that got passed down over thousands of years, the Greeks (before the days of Herodotus) painted pottery and inscribed ostraca, and on it goes. A few blanks to fill in? You can say that again!
A lot of people ask me, why the ancient world? Why not pick something more accessible, like, say, World War II or 1960s London? What can I say? Doing things the hard way is one of my more charming qualities. Ahem.
So how do I get my material? For starters, I hang out with a lot of archaeologists. Archaeology is one of the most important tools in understanding antiquity, because it provides hard proof of how people lived and died, when cities flourished and were destroyed, worship practices, and so on. The scientists working in the field are a wealth of information and, in most cases, fairly outspoken (and opinionated!) about their research. They are more than happy to give a novelist an earful.
In researching my first book, The Tenth Saint, I traveled to Ethiopia and spent time with historians at Aksum and monks at Lalibela, trying to understand the mindset of the people during the early centuries of the Common Era, when Christianity first infiltrated the Abyssinian Empire. I went down into the tombs of Aksum, walked through the catacombs beneath the rock churches of Lalibela, attended traditional ceremonies whose practices had not changed since ancient times, hiked to cave churches in the hinterlands (and I mean hinterlands), and studied the stele inscriptions of the nation’s early kings. Of course, I also sampled all the Ethiopian food, beer, coffee, and tej (honey wine) I could get my hands on. Hey, it’s the least I could do for my readers.
For the next book in the series, The Riddle of Solomon, I added another layer of inquiry to the standard archaeological research. The story is set largely in Israel and involves an antagonist who believes he is the Jewish messiah for whom the world has waited. This guy is ruthless in amassing the relics that will prove his legitimacy; chief among them are the plans for building the third temple in Jerusalem, meaning the original temple plans by King Solomon.
So, to research messianism, Judaic oral tradition, and the spiritual significance of King Solomon’s story, I consulted a couple of rabbis. They were very gracious to embrace a Greek Orthodox girl and, over several meetings, walk her through the fine points of Judaism. It was illuminating, to say the least, and I think the book is better for it.
For me, there is no substitute for experiencing a place firsthand and interviewing the experts in person. But life does not always allow for this. My other means of research include university library archives, books written by ancient writers (for my current project, I am reading Plutarch, Herodotus, and Pausanias), museums, and, of course, the Internet. And this happens throughout the writing process, not just in the front end.
Because I’m all about recycling and reusing, I use this information in other ways. In recent years, I’ve been repackaging the research and lecturing about it to private groups and continuing education students at academic institutions. It’s just another vehicle to get my name out there, sell books, and share some of this fascinating knowledge in a more direct way.
As I state in my Twitter profile, I have become an antiquities geek thanks to all this research (I’m really fun at cocktail parties), but if the work seems more authentic because of it, I’ll take the ridicule.
I will leave you with this fun quote by Homer: “I did not lie! I just created fiction with my mouth!”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to Write a Novel : Dialog and Dialects

We are still talking about the use of dialogue in a novel. As with everything else in the novel that you’re writing, you get to make all the choices. It doesn't matter what other people think. If you want a character to drop the F-bomb every three sentences like a Martin Scorsese film, it's your call. If you want everyone to talk like they're on the set of Mr. Rogers, you can do that too. Your characters should all speak differently. Obviously some would be educated, some illiterate, some Penn State grads. 

This week let's talk about something a little different: Writing in dialects. Whether it is someone trying to sound like they're from the American South or giving a character a foreign accent, these choices can define a character almost more than anything else. But they can also distract the reader from the story.

Let's check in with some of my blog mates to get their take on how they handle dialect or accents:

From Jackie:

Jackie (on left)
I have had a fair bit of experience with dialect and accents with my series, and have approached it in different ways. In the period of time in which my books are set, the accent could change from village to village, so having that sense in the books has been important with regard to establishing a sense of place. In the Maisie Dobbs series one of the characters in particular has a Cockney accent (and that is not necessarily a “London” accent, as there is also rhyming slang to deal with). I used spelling and punctuation to emphasize the accent in the first three books, then afterwards I toned it down a bit - I realized that a little dab was enough to get the point across, plus committed series readers had a sense of the character/s by that time, and new readers who came in at book 4 or 5 or whatever often went back to the beginning and started over with the first book in the series. In my new book THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF LIES (a standalone non series, non-mystery) to be published in July, I have employed a couple of different methods, including description - this is an example:

“Look you bloody fool. Look and remember. She’s right beautiful.”  He pronounced the word “boodiful” in his rounded Sussex brogue.

I have also described a way of speaking in the same way that I might paint a picture of a place, using metaphor - for example, I used that method in AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE, for example, when I wanted to convey a sense of the speech pattern of Romany gypsies.

From Patty:

Use dialects sparingly in your writing. I’m saying this mostly as a reader who gets irritated when the story
comes to a crashing halt while I puzzle out what the characters are saying. It may be authentic. It may be the way people talk in that neck of the woods, but by now you should have learned from James O. Born that the way people talk in reality is not the way dialogue should be written. Real speech is often boring with a lot of pauses and ahs and other time-wasters. Boring writing is not what you want for your dear readers. It will make them grumpy and may cause them to throw your book across the room. After that, they will likely not buy the next one.

Unless your target audience readily understands a specific regional dialect, i.e., a Southern drawl, capture instead the cadence and flow of how a character speaks. If your character’s first language is not English, perhaps leave out words like “the” and mix up verb tenses. Also be careful of using too many foreign phrases unless you can find a tricky way to translate them. Otherwise, your readers will feel left out and possibly angry. So, how do you do this? Listen to people talking at work, on the bus, in a restaurant, at a baseball game, and everywhere else. Bonne chance et amusez-vous! "Good luck and have fun to you, too!"

From me:

In Jim's Mind
Having grown up in Florida when it was still considered part of the South and gone to graduate school in Mississippi, I am particularly sensitive to poor attempts to emulate a southern accent. In truth, there is no one southern accent. Each region has its own nuances that are readily identifiable to other Southerners. I would rarely mistake someone from Tennessee with someone from North Florida. Yet most writers tend to think of a southern accent as being the same everywhere.

From another perspective, I have a difficult time telling the different New York accents apart. One way I avoid offending New Yorkers is I don't try to use a dialect when they speak in my novels.

A valuable aspect of using a dialect or foreign accent is to play on the stereotypes people hold about others. For instance, a cheap and easy way to make a character seem smug is to have them use several French phrases when they are speaking or put on a fake accent. Can you tell me Madonna doesn't sound ridiculous when she tries to sound like a British person. Frankly, the fact that she lives in England now should be a grounds for them to break off diplomatic relations with the US.

Good luck with this one.

Our quote this week is:

I know Patty used it last week, but I had it ready to go for weeks.  My attorney will be contacting her.

Next week:  Who knows?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Billionaire Beanie Baby Bum Should Go Straight to Jail

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

For Ty Warner, apparently $1.7 billion isn't enough.

The creator of the Beanie Baby hid more than $100 million in secret Swiss bank accounts, failed to report at least another $24 million in income, and evaded more than $5.5 million in federal taxes. And for this, Chicago Federal District Judge Charles Kocoras sentenced Warner, 69, to two years PROBATION plus 500 hours of community service!

The judge said that Warner's charitable contributions "trumped" his crimes.

Oh, brother!

Here's a shot of a grim Warner the day he pleaded guilty, but I'll bet he's smiling today.
In its brief appealing the sentence, the government points out that:
1. Warner vastly overstated his charitable giving by calculating the $140 million RETAIL price of Beanie Babies he gave away, which actually cost him less than $36 million to produce. The toys were given away over a 14 year period and amounted to less than 2% of Warner's net worth.  Of course, he also took a charitable deduction for them.
2. Warner has never revealed where $90 million of the stashed loot came from.
3. "A defendant's acts of charity cannot 'trump' his criminal conduct."
Federal sentencing guidelines called for about four years in prison, yet  the government only sought one year.  Still, the judge rejected even that. (For the record, Judge Kokoras, 76, has served 34 years on the federal bench, since being appointed by President Carter.  I'm beginning to re-think lifetime appointments).

 "Society will be best served by allowing him to continue to do his good works," the judge said.  

(What? You can't give money from prison?)

"The public humiliation the defendant has suffered is manifest," the judge continued. "Only he knows the private torment he has suffered."  

(Oh, Boo Hoo!)

 Friends, if you or I cheated the government out of $5.5 million, we'd be doing heavy time. But a billionaire? Well, his humiliation is enough.
Judges have great discretion in sentencing defendants and may "downward depart" from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, if based on good reasons. In this case, Judge Kocoras pointed out that the "omitted income" (nice innocent sounding phrase) was but a small fraction of Warner's total income.  And, of course, Warner has now paid his back taxes, penalties and a $53 million fine.

(This is called buying your way out of trouble).

Citing Warner's contributions to charity, the judge called him a "very unique individual" because of his "services and kindness to mankind."

(I'm on the verge of tossing my cookies here).

The issue on appeal is whether the judge's "downward departure" was "reasonable."

Hell, no, it wasn't. Do you disagree?

You can read the government's appeal brief here. Warner's lawyers have yet to file their papers, and their client, who owns resorts in Santa Barbara, Mexico, and Hawaii, among other places, plus several luxury hotels, continues to enjoy his freedom.

Paul Levine

Monday, May 12, 2014

Beta Readers: That Scary Next Step

Patty here

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve recently finished my latest novel. I’ve read through it, tested the timeline and fixed all the copy editing errors I could find. The next step, at least for me, is to pry the manuscript from my trembling hands and give it to a couple of “beta readers.”

Beta readers Scooter and Riley

As you scholarly types already know, beta is the second letter of the Greek alphabet. Definitions of beta include: (1) “a measure of the risk potential of a stock or an investment portfolio [or book] expressed as a ratio of the stock’s or portfolio’s [or book’s] volatility to the volatility of the market [or other book’s] as a whole.” (2) “A nearly complete prototype of a product [or published novel].” (3) A dear friend who is both brilliant and slightly masochistic who will read your manuscript and expose overwriting, plot holes and cheesy metaphors without worrying about hurting your feelings because he/she knows that’s exactly what you need at this moment.

While waiting for the beta reader’s critique, I am reading the manuscript again and thinking: OMG! I should have waited before sending this steaming heap of crap!!!!

Of course, real writers don’t wait; they immediately begin the next book. I, of course, have spent my time researching why limes are so bloody expensive these days. Forty-nine cents each at Trader Joes, more in other parts of the country! The permanent residents of Margaritaville wonder why.

Blame it on Mexican drug cartels. The state of Michoacán, which is one of the world’s largest producers of limes and avocados, has been controlled by drug cartels for years. Sinaloa, as well. As the U.S. consumption of cocaine declines and marijuana becomes legal in more states, the cartels are expanding their criminal enterprises…to limes? According to an article in The New Yorker titled "The Hunt for El Chapo"
“…the price of limes in U.S grocery stores has doubled in the past few years because cartels are taxing Mexico’s citrus farmers.”
Perhaps this lime issue will end up as fodder for my next novel. One never knows. Does that mean I'm writing?

Cheers and Happy Monday!

Friday, May 09, 2014

When A Book Makes a Difference

from Jacqueline

I’ve set about reading a few classics lately.  Not Dickens, or Austen, or Hemingway or Ftizgerald – though I like to go back to them.  Instead I’ve been picking up novels I enjoyed when I was younger, some of them you might never have even heard of.  And I’ve not wanted an ebook or even a brand new paperback; instead I’ve gone to the used book websites looking for old copies. Not first editions, but instead the books with slightly battered bindings and foxing on the pages.  I’ve wanted to read the book as it was when it was first published – minus the moldy bits, that is.    But that’s not all. I’ve been looking for books that had an impact beyond the bestseller list, beyond whatever it was that made the book a classic. I’m looking for books that changed something in the world – and that’s a tall order.

Over the past few days I’ve read a book you may be familiar with:  The Citadel by A. J. Cronin, first published in 1937.  

First of all, let’s look at the author, if you’ve never come across the book.  Archibald Joseph Cronin was a Scottish physician and novelist, though we know which one came first, and where he acquired the passion for his stories.  

He not only qualified as a physician, but also achieved many other prestigious letters of affiliation after his name – including M.D. (In Britain M.D. is an advanced medical research degree; a medical doctor's designation is M.B., MBBS or MBChB)  Cronin spent many years working as a doctor in mining towns, and became the Medical Inspector of Mines for Great Britain.  He engaged in ground-breaking research pointing to the link between inhalation of dust and pulmonary disease, though he was no desk-job doc – he went down the mines to treat men involved in all manner of accidents and disasters, often putting his life at risk to save the injured.  But he also experienced the other side of the medical coin, quite literally, and held a practice in Harley Street, London – where all the best and highest-paid doctors still like to hang out their shingle.  And this was at a time when a poor person would stand little chance of being admitted to any hospital.  To give you some context, in the year the book was published, my grandmother carried her six-year-old son on her back from hospital to hospital trying to get him admitted because he was suffering from an acute appendicitis.  They hadn’t the money to pay for surgery.  By the time a doctor agreed to see him, the appendix had burst and he almost died due to peritonitis. 

The Citadel is the story of a doctor who begins his career in a Welsh mining village and who, as time goes on, loses his way.  He starts out with such integrity – he’s poor, yet dedicated – but upon moving to London he sees the money other doctors are making, and he realizes how easy it is if you do a deal here and a deal there and keep the patients coming back for this treatment and that medicine.  In a way it’s the story of Icarus flying too high – though Manson doesn’t completely lose his wings.  But here’s the thing – via the novel Cronin advocated a free public health service in order to stop those doctors who "raised guinea-snatching and the bamboozling of patients to an art form.”  (FYI:  A guinea was one pound and one shilling).  He also believed fiercely in a more equitable system, that the poor should enjoy the same medical services as the rich.

For publisher Victor Gollancz the book became the biggest bestseller in his career until that point, yet at the same time Cronin made enemies within the medical profession (the fat cats) and there were those who tried to get the book banned.  In the United States The Citadel won the National Book Award in 1937.  But perhaps the greatest legacy of the book was the impact it had on healthcare in the United Kingdom. It became one of the powerful contributory factors in the establishment of the National Health Service.  The Citadel's message and its success created the tipping point, along with the women’s vote and the fact that the colossal number of civilian casualties in the 1939-45 war changed the way comprehensive health provision was viewed (you couldn't ethically charge people for injuries inflicted by the enemy in a time of war, could you?) - it also helped that a new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, believed that if a country could raise the money to go to war, it could find the money to take care of the people.  Like it or not, The Citadel had tidal wave effect on public opinion.

I remember exactly why I first picked up The Citadel from our local library.  On a rainy Sunday afternoon when I was a kid, when old black and white movies were the only thing on either of the two available TV channels in Britain at the time, I was completely captivated by Robert Donat in the role of the young doctor, Andrew Manson, in the original movie version of The Citadel.  In one scene a baby has apparently been stillborn to an older mother who had dearly wanted a child.  Remembering something obscure in his training, Manson calls for a bowl of water as cold as can be, and another hot to the touch.  Fiercely he immerses the baby first in one bowl and then another, back and forth until at last a cry is heard and the child survives.  It was a harrowing scene as only an actor like Donat could make it. 

 I’m not saying The Citadel is everyone’s cup of tea, but even some 77 years after publication, it has worth and is thought provoking – as an aside, in one scene Andrew Manson, even complains of the many reps from drug companies who are pursuing him to promote their products. Cronin said of his novel, "I have written in The Citadel all I feel about the medical profession … this is not an attack against individuals, but against a system."

Well, good for him.  He made a difference from the moment that book hit the stands.

Now I’m interested in what you have to say – if there was a list of novels that made a real measurable difference in the world, what books do you think should be on the list? I’m thinking of books that changed the way people look at the world, stories that have affected public opinion, that – dare I say it – impacted legislation, or made life easier for people who needed it to be so. 

Take care, and have a good weekend. I’ll be in Cannon Beach, Oregon for a couple of days – I’m honored to be the guest speaker at a conference for nurses and am doing a couple of events in honor of National Nurses Week.  How great is that?