Monthly Archives: April 2011

21st Century Racism

Led by Donald Trump, the Republican Party got what they wanted: President Obama’s full birth certificate. But you know what? I haven’t heard anyone apologize for their wild accusations or for questioning the president’s honesty. In fact, Big-Mouth-Trump put an interesting spin on this ridiculous sideshow. This is not an exact quote, but basically, this is what he said:  “Now that we’ve put this to rest, we can get on with the business of solving the country’s problems.” Really, Donald?

But here’s the problem: in a recent poll, Road Runner asked its subscribers this
question: “With the birth certificate now released, are you confident about
Obama’s birthplace?” Guess what? 49% of the people who voted said, “No.” Can
you believe that half of the people surveyed still don’t believe him? What does
President Obama have to do, provide a video of his mother giving birth to him
in a Hawaiian hospital? Has any other president in recent history gone through
such birthplace scrutiny?

Here’s the heart of the matter. President Obama lives under a microscope not because his birthplace is in question, not because he’s the president, and not because there are any reasons to question his integrity. His father was a Kenyan
Muslim, and he is an African-American, and the sad truth is that as much as we
hate to admit it, many Americans still live in the dark ages. This is clearly
an issue of racism. If he were white, the subject of his birthplace wouldn’t
even be an issue. He was and is targeted because he’s black.

Since he’s taken office, an undertone of racism has followed him around like a dark cloud. People are taking potshots at him constantly. And many of these attacks have nothing to do with his performance as president. It’s sad that in this day and age, racism still exists in America. Haven’t we evolved from segregation and white-only bathrooms? Should whites force African-Americans to ride the back of the bus again, just like they did a few decades ago?

This is a sad commentary on an insidious attitude that infects our society. Isn’t it
time for Americans to cross the great divide and promote equality?

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Editing Neverending

So, I got a call from my main contact at Amazon Encore the other day, and he told me he had good news. I’m thinking, “Did my first novel, They Never Die Quietly, hit the NY Times Bestseller list? Did we get an offer for a movie deal? Was there a sudden surge in sales?” Nope.

He said that they really have high hopes for the success of my second novel, Resuscitation, and they believe it has great commercial potential. He referred to it as my “break-out” novel, which basically means I go from obscurity to recognition. So far, I’m totally engaged.

Then I hear one of the most dreaded words in the English language (at least for authors): “However.” Doesn’t this word pretty much negate everything that was said previously? So, he explained that every book by every author, no matter what their status or popularity, goes through an extensive editorial process. I find it hard to believe that this is the case with Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Dan Brown, but who am I to question his claim? He told me that he wanted my book to reach its full potential, and that the only way to accomplish this is to perform a comprehensive edit. To be clear, I’m not talking about a copy edit, which is basically an edit for punctuation, sentence structure, grammar, etc. The kind of edit he’s referring to is a thorough—and I mean thorough—content edit.

This is a process by which an editor uses the MS Word “Review” feature to track, mark up, and comment on any and all issues with the manuscript, particularly to do with believability, plot structure, character development, continuity, pace, narrative, dialogue, or anything else that weakens the story. I knew that this process wouldn’t be easy, but figured that I could get it done in a week or so.

It’s worthy to note that the editor my Amazon contact referred me to worked for a major publisher in New York for ten years, but is now working freelance. So, needless to say, she knows what she’s doing. Well, when I began the edit—paying close attention to all her notations and comments—at first it moved along quite well. But as I delved deeper into the story, when the plot and characters developed with more complexities, when the subplots started to take shape, her comments and suggestions became more comprehensive.

The scariest thing about going through an edit like this is understanding that many changes require that more than one scene needs attention. There is a thread of consistency that weaves its way from beginning to end and maintains continuity. When you change one thing, it might now contradict something elsewhere in the book, or impact another area. So, with each significant change, an author literally has to review the entire manuscript to be sure that if on page 55 you change a character’s relationship with her mother from combative to pleasant, you have to maintain the same relationship throughout the book. Multiply this by a dozen significant changes.

Well, I must say that the editor I’m working with has a keen eye and a remarkable ability to find even the most obscure issues. This woman doesn’t miss anything. Although I’m working my butt off to get this edit completed and pulling out my hair along the way, I know in my heart that the finished product will be a much better book and a more compelling read. But I have to tell you, for those who think that writing fiction is an easy job, it’s less glamorous than you might think. It isn’t all cocktail parties and book signings. Much of what a novelist does takes place in the trenches.

FOOTNOTE: Just in case you’re wondering if my first novel went through such a comprehensive edit, the answer is no. Why? Let’s just say that it’s a long, long story. It did go through an editorial process, but not to the extent of my second novel.

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Love My New Toy

Well, after eight years of loyal service, our Mitsubishi, rear-projection TV succumbed to technical issues that made it impractical to repair. Given the fact that buying a new TV is an expensive proposition, most people would be bummed. But for a few years now, I’ve had the itch to buy a newfangled TV with all the technical advancements, so it didn’t exactly piss me off when the TV died. My wife, the practical one in this partnership, tries her best to keep me on a short leash because I’ve been known to spend money like a drunken sailor. Over the years, she has taught me to be more practical. But still, turn me loose in a store like Fry’s Electronics (the ultimate toy store for men), and stay out of my way as I head for the check-out with a shopping cart full of electronic gizmos.

So, after reading Consumer Reports, doing some on-line research, and shopping a few stores, we couldn’t beat a deal at Costco. Not only did we pay less for this particular TV than we might have elsewhere, but through a special offer, Costco extended the factory warranty from one year to three years. Our new TV, a Sony, 55” 3-D, with all the bells and whistles, has an awesome picture. The clarity and resolution are amazing. It’s so crisp and detailed that I don’t even mind watching vivid commercials. I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but for now, I’m flying high.

The new Sony—like all new TVs—has HDMI technology. If you don’t know what that is, basically, it connects your receiver to your TV, and your DVR to your receiver with just two cables. So, if you have a DVR, DVD, CD player, or any other components, you can reduce the number of cables behind your entertainment center by over 50%. Instead of looking like someone spilled a bowl of cable spaghetti behind your TV, it is much neater and more organized.

Think the story is over? Guess again. Our current receiver, a Denon, works perfectly fine. However, it doesn’t have HDMI technology. So, I looked at my wife with puppy-dog eyes and suggested that we shop around for a new receiver. She was reluctant, but being the sweetheart that she is, she agreed to “look.” Again, we did our homework and searched for the best deal, and as luck would have it, we found a new Denon receiver that was a return in an open box. I wasn’t completely comfortable buying this. However, we paid less than half the retail price, and if we do have a problem, it has a full factory warranty.

After busting our butts schlepping the TV, receiver, and a new stand from the car to the apartment, we then spend hours trying to hook up everything and make it work. After two agonizing days of plugging this cable here and that cable there, experiencing problems with every component, I gave up and called an expert. This guy came to our apartment and spent two hours properly hooking up the system. The dude was fantastic! It cost us a few bucks but it was well worth the investment.

So now, if I can just convince my wife that we need a Playstation 3, life would be beautiful! Did I mention that we still have to buy 3-D glasses at $150 each? I sure hope the royalty checks keep coming.

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American Idol Fan No More

Whether you’re a fan or not, if you read the newspaper, watch the news, listen to the radio, or connect to the Internet, you likely heard the buzz about Pia Toscano being voted off American Idol. I’ve been watching the show for years, and have seen some pretty whacky decisions by the voters, but none has matched the absurdity of this stunning event. I know that it may sound ridiculous for me to feel so strongly about a reality show. With what’s going on in the world, there are far more important issues to be concerned about. But when you watch Idol week after week, it’s easy to feel an attachment to the contestants. Besides, it also serves as an escape from all the tragedies and injustices in the world. 

I, like every other fan, don’t always agree with the way America votes. After all, music, like any art form is highly subjective. However, that Pia Toscano could possibly rank dead last among a group of nine singers seems statistically impossible. This gal could stand toe-to-toe with Celine Dion and give her a run for the money. When a squeaky-voiced guy like Paul MacDonald, singing like Rod Stewart on helium, didn’t even rank in the bottom three, something is terribly wrong. Are you kidding me? 

Now there are a growing number of people participating in a movement called Vote For The Worst (VFTW). Their goal, without reason or logic, is to vote for the worst Idol contestant thereby distorting the results and virtually making them invalid. If I remember correctly, Howard Stern started this movement a few years ago, and if you know anything about Stern, you can understand why he would promote such an outlandish idea. 

But even if the skewed voting stacked the deck and produced undeserved votes for Paul MacDonald, which kept him off the bottom three, how does that reduce the number of legitimate votes for Pia or any other contestant? There has to be more to the story. 

I am angry and disappointed that Pia was unjustly voted off Idol. But there’s a brighter picture. The world is buzzing over this decision, and buzz gets attention. I will bet my favorite pair of argyle socks that this beautiful, talented young woman ends up with a big fat recording contract even more lucrative than what she would have received as the Idol winner. In fact, she’s likely already received an avalanche of calls. If I was a record producer, I’d sign her without a second thought. Considering the number of fans supporting her, I guarantee that her first album will go platinum. I’d buy it in a New-York minute. The cream always rises to the top. You haven’t heard the last from Pia Toscano.

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Sometimes the Truth Hurts

There is an interesting phenomenon that takes place when a wannabe author gets published and creates a little buzz. People come out of the woodwork asking for advice on just about every topic associated with writing. Some want creative advice, others are looking for technical instruction, some want to learn how to get an agent, many want to know the “secret” to getting published, but the most popular request is asking an author to read an aspiring writer’s work and offering objective feedback. 

I’m sure there are lots of authors who consider this a nuisance because free time is a rare commodity for a writer. But, as busy as I am, I try to find time to help a fellow writer in any way I can.  If sales numbers and recognition measure an author’s success, I am nowhere near successful. However, this is not my first ride on the turnip wagon, so I believe I am somewhat qualified to offer reliable feedback based on my credentials. Not that I’m the quintessential authority on the literary value of anyone’s work, but my opinion is based on years of experience with the written word. 

What pains me, what absolutely ruins my day is when I have to tell a writer that their work just doesn’t measure up, nor does it have commercial potential in its current condition. It’s not an easy task to pull the rug out from someone who’s spent countless hours trying to craft the next New York Times bestseller. Even for a master novelist, it takes a great deal of time before they can enjoy the privilege of writing “The End.” 

I, of course, try to be as gentle and encouraging as I can. Some up and coming writers have raw talent from a creative standpoint, but just need to learn the technical tricks of the trade and apply them to their work. No one can teach a writer how to be creative. It’s a God-given gift. It’s just like being a painter. If you have the ability to paint beautiful pictures, you can improve your techniques with training. But if you don’t have a way with the brush, you’re never going to have it. Creativity cannot be taught. 

I can’t even begin to tell you how painful it is to burst someone’s bubble and shatter his or her dreams. In spite of this, I will continue to offer as much advice and assistance as I can. Because once in a while, I find a diamond in the rough, and nothing is more satisfying than watching a writer blossom from promise to full potential.

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If Only

I pretty much watch 60 minutes every Sunday—unless it’s an interview with Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen or some other “star” that isn’t worth my time. A couple of weeks ago I saw a story about a Staten Island woman, Elissa Montanti, founder of a non-profit organization called Global Medical Relief Fund. This woman is unbelievable. Without any relief training and very little money—she is her own fund raiser—she started a charity that works with children around the world who have lost a limb or their eyesight. 

In almost all the cases, the children were caught in the crossfire of a war, many injured from a roadside bomb. Until Ms. Montanti came along, few, if any of these children received any treatment or rehabilitation. Montanti has changed all that. Since starting her charity, she has helped over 100 children worldwide receive desperately needed medical care by twisting arms and literally begging the medical community for help. Children missing a limb received a prosthetic replacement and for the first time since their injury felt whole again. 

One such child, a nine-year-old boy from Iraq named Wa’ad, was playing with his friends when he kicked what he thought was an empty soda can. It turned out to be a bomb. Wa’ad lost part of one arm at the elbow and a leg at the knee. He also lost vision in his right eye and the explosion left him with disfiguring scars on his face. Through a network of doctors that Montanti recruited, Wa’ad was fitted with a prosthetic leg, a cosmetic eye, but most amazingly, through a series of painstaking procedures, a gifted plastic surgeon dramatically improved Wa’ad’s facial appearance. As a result of Montanti’s tireless efforts and networking with doctors and hospitals, all the medical treatments were performed at no charge. It costs Montanti about $50,000 a year to operate her charity, and every penny is donated. 

I must admit that I could not hold back the tears as I watched Wa’ad’s transformation from a tattered and torn young boy to one that could now smile and live a fairly normal life. 

After the program ended, I couldn’t help but wonder where selfless people like Elissa Montanti come from. What motivates people to help other people in need with virtually no compensation and rarely any recognition for their extraordinary efforts? I understand how movie stars and sports figures and billionaires are motivated to share a sliver of their wealth with the less fortunate. And I don’t mean to minimize their generosity, but in most cases their physical contribution comes down to them signing a check and then going on with their busy lives. They usually don’t get their fingernails dirty. 

But people like Montanti who dedicate their entire lives to helping other people are part of a very small yet very elite group. Can you even begin to imagine what the world would be like if there were a lot more people like Elissa Montanti. We really have the power to change the world. But how many people are willing to give up their cushy lives for a life of thankless service? I contribute to several worthwhile charities, but that’s all I do. Maybe it’s time for me to take a long hard look in the mirror and find out if I like what I see.

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The Life of a Novelist

A workmate of mine who I haven’t seen in years (when I worked a traditional job), contacted me the other day because he’s writing a novel and is looking for some direction. He asked me a bunch of questions that I did my best to answer, questions about grammar, editing, literary agents, and getting published. As I typed away, I realized that not one of his questions concerned marketing or promotion. This led me to believe that many aspiring writers—through no fault of their own—have no idea what the life of a novelist is like. 

There was a time many years ago when a novelist did three things: They wrote. They read. They participated in book signings. But in this day and age, an age of e-books, the Internet, and self-publishing, writers spend more time marketing themselves than actually writing. Unless you’re a well-known author with an established following like Stephen King, Michael Connelly, or Patricia Cornwell, promoting yourself may actually be more important than what you’re promoting. In other words, the sizzle is more important than the steak. Buzz is everything and buzz sells books. 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned a great deal about the complicated world of writing. Although I have a long, long way to go before I could even begin to think of myself as a successful writer, each and every day I must manage my blog/web site and frequently add new posts. I have to maintain a presence at many of the popular writers’ blogs. And perhaps most important, I must be visible on Facebook and Twitter and  network as much as I can. I have to promote my book(s) and myself every-single-day. 

To be honest, I’m not really fond of marketing and promoting myself. I wish that all that was necessary to become a successful writer was to write. But that is not the way of the world; at least not in the year 2011. So, even though it pains me and gobbles up more of my day than it should, the new world of writing holds me hostage. 

By the way, have you heard about my second novel, Resuscitation? It’s a must read for all thriller lovers. It’s available later this year. Oops! Did I just self-promote?

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