Western Union

Western Union

My computer crashed, but I have wonderful neighbors who are IT wonders. The little gadget is now up and working. Progress on all fronts with the book. Speaking engagements are lining up and books should be done by the end of the month.
Pictured is a telegram for Helen from an admirer, before she shipped off to Europe in 1932. The story appears in the book.

Promising Start

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It’s Sunday, it’s raining, and my husband is watching golf. I have given myself credit for remaining conscious with so many reasons to go back to bed.

But I’m excited. The book talk on the radio yesterday came off smoothly.

Two days ago I spoke with the radio announcer on the phone filling her in a bit on the story.  Either she was in a hurry to get back on the air or simply wasn’t impressed. That was okay.  I am accustomed to impatience when I start to blather.  After all, I taught school for decades.

However, despite her indifference, I decided to bring along some photos of my protagonists, Helen and Chum.  Before we went on the air I shared them with the disc jockey.  It was awesome.  She lit up like a Christmas Tree.  “I had no idea,” came out of her mouth.  “I love this era, it was so glamorous,” she added.  I simply replied “I know.”  And the interview began.

All someone has to say is “tell me about your book,” and I am off to the races.  She grew as animated as I felt, and brought up the photos a couple of times during the interview for listeners to understand. I think that it was a promising start to my book promotion. Not that everyone will like River of January  mind you, but just a chance to explain the story, and how it evolved gave me heart.

My publisher, Yvonne Rousseau at Point Rider Publishing saw what I saw from the beginning. She has championed the book more than once when I was ready to abort the mission. Yvonne has proven very proficient at hand-holding when necessary. And her daughter, Brook Rousseau, the artist behind the cover design, has been nearly mystic in capturing the story in a bold image. I think many books will sell simply because of her exquisite design. A big thanks to Yvonne and Brooke–a true team of pros.

I suppose this promising start to River’s launch is exciting enough to keep my eyes open on this wet, gray day. In spite of listening to soft-spoken analysts murmuring boring commentary from the Cadillac World Golf Championship.

Idle Observations

Unsettling as it seems Americans have a bad habit of becoming what they fear.  Let me clarify what I mean by that statement. Sad to say, examples from the past abound.

Immediately after World War One, in 1919 to be specific, the US entered its first Red Scare.  The 1917 Russian Revolution had begun to gel as a communist-led government.  Lenin announced the Soviet aim of world conquest, resolving to export Soviet Communism world-wide, and the impact on America was harsh. Criticism of the US government was considered treasonous and a new law, The Sedition Act made this clear violation of the First Amendment a law.  The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act in two separate decisions. Non-conformists and dissidents were quickly rounded up and prosecuted by the Justice Department in an episode known as the Palmer Raids. Native born radicals were locked up, Socialist Eugene Debs for one. And foreign born radicals were deported, including anarchist Emma Goldman.  The courts, the government, and public opinion merged to reject what they feared– an all-powerful, closed Communist system.  

A similar series of misadventures followed the end of World War Two. The truly scary actions of Joseph Stalin: keeping his Red Army in East Germany and Eastern Europe, sealing off the Autobahn into West Berlin, and disavowing the free Polish government in favor of a Communist regime in Warsaw.

In America Congress reacted. The national legislature formed HUAC, the House Un-American Activity Committee, then The Defense Act of 1947 passed, which formed the NSA and the CIA. And finally the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, which limited visas to people with no Communist baggage. Again the irony of the US exerting unconstitutional suppression, silencing critics, and maligning those who resisted, are hard to believe. America became what it feared–closed, intolerant, and suspicious. Fear of infiltration by Communism became a broad pretext to deny many Americans their civil protections. Remember Lloyd Bridges? “Seahunt?” The father of acting brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges?  He was blacklisted in Hollywood for a long time, with no proof of cavorting with Communists. And he wasn’t the only one.

So, that brings me to today.  The idea for this blog came out of a quick pic crossing the AOL home page.  It showed Senator Mitch McConnell stepping on stage to speak at a conservative gathering of some sort. In his hands he holds a rifle, and on his face a proud, defiant grin. And that image has haunted me all day. Finally that little bulb flickered in my mind of what the photo resembled, and I am not happy. It’s happening again.

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Do You Understand Now?

 

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My book, River of January is not, I repeat, not a romance novel. Does it contain a love story? Yes indeed, and a good one too.  However, the two destined to find each other, Chum and Helen, meet later in the book.

The manuscript has made a small circle of rounds, either for review or because someone felt they could help promote the work. And of all the folks who have read it, only two readers complained that the romantic part didn’t come soon enough in the story.  I have to admit that was frustrating to hear, because so much cool stuff transpires before they meet in the book.  Paris, London, Rome, Vienna, dancing, singing, and ocean liners for Helen. Tragedy, endurance, ambition, aviation, air racing, and adventure for Chum.  And all of the action is true and verifiable. What do these readers think?  Is real life no more than a love story?  Is their life no more than a love story?

I understand enough to say that these folks are looking for a marketable formula. They look for the effort to possess the elements that sell in fiction. However my work is creative nonfiction and follows no predictable pattern, just like any persons life. These two people pursued avenues that opened to them, as we all do.  It’s just that their paths included vaudeville stages, the silver screen and the golden age of aviation. Isn’t that enough?  I wrote the book to chronicle two actual lives. If the work sells on that merit, that will be wonderful. My limit is changing the story up to fit a commercial template. To even think of shuffling the events around feels sleazy and unethical.

It was my son, my sage, who reduced the conundrum down to a simple truth. He explained that once I commit the words to paper I lose control of how readers perceive them. And he is right. After the telling, the tale belongs to each individual and their unique interpretations.  And that means letting go of the outcome.

Past As Prelude

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I don’t remember the topic, I think it may have been health care, but a friend loudly complained, “I don’t care about the past, I care about now.”  He was annoyed with me for suggesting there was turmoil with the passage of the Social Security Act under FDR and more with Medicare under LBJ.  I have to admit that stunned me for a moment because I look behind nearly every current event that crosses the news.

As I am writing, Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded approval to deploy troops to the Ukraine.  The demonstrators in Kiev made use of the Olympic media presence to make their move, and that was smart.  But now that the cameras have gone, Putin is laying down some payback for the distraction to his Olympics.  All done in the present tense and understandably awful.

But why?  What is the back story?  Who died and put Russia in command of the Ukraine?

Old story.  It began when a Viking named Rurik founded Kievan Rus back in the day.  And President Putin claims the same authority  for this current invasion in 2014.

I am not trying to write a report for my fifth grade teacher, but the Russians do look at that region as within their sphere of influence. And believe me, I am not an expert on that part of the world–but the impact of Russia’s past claims to the south and west doesn’t require shiny credentials to understand.

After the 1917 Revolution and the First World War, the Ukraine folded into the emerging Soviet Union, it’s boundaries fading from maps for the next seventy years.  During Marshall Stalin’s reign of terror in the 1930’s, nearly the entire middle class of Ukrainian farmers, “Kulaks,” were exterminated and the land collectivized.

Russian nationalism, it’s sense of blood and belonging, includes the southwestern region of the Ukraine. And they mean business. I remember the Ukrainian president who suffered mercury poisoning which left him alive, but quite disfigured. Though the proof is circumstantial, the likely perpetrator was the old Soviet KGB, or the agency’s non-Communist replacement. Putin was an operative at that time.

I offer very little in solutions to this aggressive action on the part of the Russian government. We in the West believe the people of the Ukraine deserve their own national integrity and future. Still the pull of history remains overwhelmingly powerful. All I can offer is an understanding of the roots to this conflict. The connection between the two republics stems from a past that is far more complicated and difficult than a headline.To assume that justice and fair play figures into this struggle for freedom is irrelevant. There has never been any such understanding between the Russians and their cousins.

A Russian scholar would certainly shed more historic light on the topic, and flesh out more details and episodes, especially concerning the Romanov Dynasty. However, this iron-clad dynamic exists between the two countries whether the western press examines the connection or not.

For the record, more remote republics are viewed in the same possessive light as the Ukraine, Chechnya for example.  If the past provides any guidance, which I believe it does, this story is nowhere near over.