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Politics, Anyone?

“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.”

Justice Louis Brandeis, United States Supreme Court

(Writing for the minority in his dissent in Olmstead v. United States, concerning whether wiretapping of private telephone calls violated a defendant’s rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.)

Brandeis’ words, so eloquent and succinct, capture my own attitude. That, ironically, our freedoms are under attack more by leaders of our own government acting “for our own good” than they are by dictators or terrorists.

Maybe this has always been the case, but it feels particularly apropos now in this era of heightened security. So many of the freedoms we once took for granted have been carelessly tossed to the wind in the name of safety. We used to have the freedom to board an airplane without being frisked like a common criminal. We used to have the freedom to go to a concert without having our bags pawed through. We used to enjoy the freedom to express criticism of our own government, without fear that our words will be misconstrued or twisted and used against us. Ironically, these scenarios are reminiscent of totalitarian societies, the very evils we seek to avoid.

Some would argue that the curtailment of freedom is a necessary sacrifice in this “new world,” this “unprecedented age” of terrorism. I disagree for two reasons. First, because there has rarely been a time in our nation’s history when we weren’t at odds with some force or another that threatened our democracy and used terrorism to do so. Evil is nothing new. Think of the Nazis, the Fascists, the Communists, etc. Through all of these challenges, the United States emerged strong and virtuous, without ever succumbing to the notion that we needed to limit our freedoms in order to persevere.

Second, in the face of forces that threaten our way of life, it is more important than ever for us to embrace our freedoms and democracy than to do the opposite. Marginalizing the People only serves to bring us all under the net of totalitarianism.

Safety versus liberty—a constant tug of war. There will always be a difference of opinion among citizens on where to draw the line and how much government intrusion we are willing to tolerate. We will have this debate for generations to come. My hope is that the pendulum will soon swing back to the side of liberty.

 

Shameless Self Promotion

“Don’t forget to subscribe!”

“Like me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram”

“Leave a comment on my YouTube channel”

“Share with your friends and family”

and seriously . . . “Don’t forget to subscribe!”

These are comments we hear or read on a near-daily basis. It seems like everyone is screaming “Like me! Notice me! Accept me!” Are we losers unless we have hundreds of Facebook “friends,” Twitter followers and YouTube channel subscribers? Are we irrelevant unless everything we do is seen and validated by others? When did this happen? Actually, It’s always been.

Life is a popularity contest. As much as we like to think this type of nonsense ends when we graduate from high school, the truth is that it continues throughout our lives . . . with office politics, online one-upmanship, even politics on the playground—sadly, I’m talking about the parents here, not the kids.  With the advent of digital technology, validation seekers have been forced to comply with unspoken rules in order to be viewed as popular, well-liked or successful.  That is, be widely watched and known on social media sites.

I liken the world wide web to a giant public bathroom wall. There are millions of names and telephone numbers on it, but they may as well be invisible because they all blend together. Only the name that is much larger than the rest, or in bold lettering, will get noticed. Likewise, on the internet the websites or blogs that constantly scream for attention are the ones that get viewed.  Still, It’s funny to see people going to such aggressive lengths to get noticed.

Writers and authors are ingratiated to self-promotion as much as people in any other field–maybe even more so.  In order to be noticed, you must promote yourself and your work on social media and writer’s websites.  I have a real problem with this.  By nature, I’m a shrinking violet.  My mother always taught me it was bad manners to brag about yourself.  As a result, it is very hard for me to say and write glowing things about myself and my work.  I feel embarrassed like a . . . shameless self-promoter. I marvel at how others are able to promote themselves so easily and effectively on social media.  This is something I need to work hard on.  My plan is to try and grow an audience on Twitter and Facebook by casually and frequently mentioning my writing, my blog and when any new works will be released.  It will be difficult, but necessary.

 

Self-Publishing?

When I sat down to write my first novel, I honestly had no thoughts of publishing it.  I know that it often takes authors (most of whom are seasoned writers with far more talent than me) years or even decades to secure their first book deal.  I wasn’t delusional enough to believe that any publishing company would take a gamble on an unknown, newbie author.

One of my Christmas gifts last year was an audio course entitled “How to Publish Your Book” by Jane Friedman, the former editor of Writer’s Digest.   For days, I drove around in my car listening to Jane’s advice for wannabe authors.  I realize I’m a bit of a cynic, but after listening to the CDs, I became more depressed than ever about my already-slim chances for publication.

The thought of spending weeks crafting, revising and sending dozens of query letters to traditional publishers only to have them wind up in the waste basket was anathema to me.  I simply didn’t have the stomach for that level of rejection.

So I wrote with the vague notion that, when I finished, I would bind the manuscript, put it away in a drawer, and maybe someday show my grandchildren that I had actually written a book.

It wasn’t until I ventured onto iBooks on my Mac that I realized one could actually self-publish digitally.  (I know—clueless, right?)  I was thrilled to learn that such a thing was possible!  At that point, I was approximately three-fourths of the way through my novel.  When I finished, I published it as an e-book on the Kindle Direct Publishing platform—a process that I found to be incredibly easy and user-friendly.  I simply downloaded and printed a free booklet entitled “Building Your Book for Kindle for Mac.”  This 21-page document takes you through the process step-by-step.

The next thing you know, my e-book was on the shelf along with millions of others—from Stephen King to J.K. Rowling to Homer.  What excellent company to be in!  This means that my book has the exact same opportunity to be purchased and read as the works of any of those other talented authors.  I know what you’re thinking:  Sure, the e-book is on Kindle, but it’s buried under millions of other titles—nobody even knows it’s there!  Well, that’s where book promotion comes in, which is a blog post for another day.

When I say I self-published, I mean that in the truest sense of the word.  While I did hire a professional editor to review my manuscript, I alone formatted the e-book, designed the book cover, obtained a graphic artist from the Fiverr website to render it, obtained ISBNs and copyrighted the book.  Prior to this, I knew nothing about publishing, so the experience has been quite an education.

Sadly, I’ve sensed a whiff of attitude surrounding self-publication from folks in the traditional publishing world and in online writing forums.  In her audio course, Jane Friedman cautions: “there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing.  Most traditional media outlets will not review or consider self-published books for editorial coverage . . . you will battle against a number of preconceived notions about the quality of your work.”  Uh oh.

However, when I reflected on my true goals, I realized that I wasn’t writing to make money, or for fame, or to gain anyone’s approval, or even as a new career path.  At the end of the day, all I’d really like is for at least a few people to read my stories and enjoy them.  That’s all.

So far, it appears to be working.  I haven’t earned much in royalties from my first e-book, but I did get over 100 downloads and 63 of those people signed up for my newsletter.  That tells me they’re interested in reading more of my work.  Onward!

Sources:

www.thegreatcourses.com

https://janefriedman.com

Genre

More than anything else, I think my stories are character studies.  As I attempt to compare my own writing to what I see published digitally, I’ve come to the conclusion that mine doesn’t comfortably fit into the more popular genres.

I ‘ve never been a fan of fluffy romance novels.  Although I adore a good love story, for me, there needs to be something else equally important going on--like a war, for example, as in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.  Contemporary romance novelists seem to find it necessary that the heroine have some type of fabulous, successful career, preferably in a creative field like fashion design, advertising, or magazine publishing.  And her past is always filled with passionate former lovers, ex-husbands and stepchildren.  I get it--readers want to read about characters with complex, interesting lives, not banal, ordinary ones.  Maybe I’m different, but I’d just as soon read about a waitress or an insurance salesman, provided they are involved in a compelling storyline.

I’ve learned that, in the world of e-books, science fiction is an immensely popular category, with niche markets specializing in vampires, wizards or mythical creatures.  It must be tremendous fun to compose this type of fiction because one can be wildly creative without having to worry about maintaining plausibility—you can make your own rules.  I would love to test the waters in that genre myself, though I’m not sure how successful I’d be.  As they say, “write what you know!”

My personal reading and writing preference is general fiction, especially novels that center on ordinary people thrust into unique or provocative situations.  A great example is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.  Here, the protagonist must deal with the fallout when her teenage son becomes a Columbine-style mass murderer.  After reading the synopsis, I knew I had to buy this book because--what must that be like?

Another example is A Map of the World, by Jane Hamilton, which tells the story of a dairy farmer’s wife who, through unintentional negligence, allows a neighbor’s child that was in her care to drown.  She is later falsely accused of child abuse by a vengeful student and is pulled into the nightmarish judicial system.  In Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts, a pregnant teenager is left homeless when her cruel boyfriend abandons her at a Wal-mart, so she takes up residence inside the store.  I also loved She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb’s tale about a lonely, obese, young woman who attempts suicide.  These are some of my favorite fiction books because they focus on compelling ‘what-if’ situations that could potentially happen to any of us.

One of my favorite authors is Terry McMillan—I’ve read just about everything she’s ever written.  To me, she’s not a typical romance novelist.  What I love most about her books is how she’ll have a character begin to opine on a subject and follow through a stream-of-consciousness narrative.  In the beginning of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, as Stella packs for a Jamaican vacation, she riffs for several pages about subjects as seemingly mundane as gardening, public education and grades of gasoline.  Incredibly, these riffs are the most enjoyable parts of her books, in my opinion.  Talented storytellers can make a trip to the dentist sound interesting—it must be a gift.

Some of my other favorite authors are John Grisham, Ernest Hemingway and Michael Crichton.  I won’t be so arrogant as to say that I have been influenced by these great writers, since I could never hope to emulate their unique voices.  I have noticed that the minimalist quality of Hemingway’s writing doesn’t seem to be appreciated in today’s market.  I love that style, however.  Whether the general fiction genre can equal the popularity of some of its subsets in the e-book market (like romance and science fiction), remains to be seen.  I only know that it continues to be my favorite.

Keeping It Real

Whew! . . . One more thing to cross off the Bucket List.  Writing my first novel has truly been a gratifying experience.  I am not someone who has written consistently throughout my life.  I know some author friends have been steadfast about keeping journals or have been regular story writers for the sheer joy of it.  I wish I could say that was me.  Instead, I have had sporadic interludes of literary frenzy, where the creative juices have flowed long enough for me to get some decent storylines down on paper or on my hard drive.  One of those periods was when I was living in Los Angeles in the late 1990s.  I completed two screenplays and one short story.  Other than submitting my short story to two magazines (both rejected it), I did nothing to sell or publish my literary endeavors.

Fast forward to to 2016.  After moving back East to Boston, getting married, raising a family, etc. etc.  I finally knuckled down and finished the novel I had always dreamed of writing.  Irish Catholic was developed around two or three key scenes that had been bouncing around in my brain for years.  When I made the decision to “just write it down,” I was able to revise, work through, and perfect these scenes and string them together into a novel.  It took a whole year for me to write — usually at night when everyone else was asleep — often staying up until two, three or four o’clock in the morning.  Irish Catholic was a labor of love and I enjoyed writing every word of it.  Whether readers will enjoy reading any words of it remains to be seen.  Regardless, the match has been lit.  I will continue to write, whether anybody reads my stuff or not.  (Hopefully, they will!)  I have several new projects in the works.  My next novel, tentatively titled Take Me Out to the Ball Game, is a crime drama that I plan to publish later this year.  A sample of it is available on this website, if anyone cares to peruse it.  I have several other projects in varying stages of completion that, with luck, will become published works as well.

There is hope.  The first one is always the toughest.  My advice to any aspiring authors out there is to just write it down, then revise, revise, revise.  Now, getting published — or self-publishing — is another matter entirely.  Lots of fun stories there, as my writer friends reading this well know.  But that’s a blog post for another day.