The Electronic Write Stuff

 

         Writing News for the Sunshine State & the Solar System

                    North Florida Writers * July 2006

 

In this issue:

 

NFW to Meet at Webb Westconnett Library at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 8

Sanity and Decency in Political Writing from Mencken to Today -- Howard Denson

Letter:  Rowling's Weight

Reynolds to Interpret "The Dream of Publishing Your Book"

Quote from a Writer's Quill -- Hilaire Belloc

Writers Born in July --  Georges Sand, Henry David Thoreau, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, and many others

Calendar of Events

 

NFW TO MEET AT WEBB WESTCONNETT LIBRARY AT 1 P.M. SATURDAY, JULY 8

 

"Critiques only" will take place at the July 8 monthly meeting of the North Florida Writers.  The meeting will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 8, at the Webb Westconnet Library (6887 103rd St. not far from the Blanding Boulevard intersection.

 

In August, novelist Nate Tolar will speak about "Writing for Readers."  His books include Searching for Ellie and Shadrack.

 

SANITY AND DECENCY IN POLITICAL WRITING FROM MENCKEN TO TODAY

 

By HOWARD DENSON

 

I want to discuss political writing, but I want to be sure that this piece doesn't become a vehicle for partisanship.  Actually, that shouldn't be hard since, as a fire-breathing centrist, I admire both the late Barry Goldwater and Harry S. Truman, both straight-talkers.

 

For years, I could pass an ideal weekend with multiple glasses of iced tea and the latest collections of political columns by William F. Buckley, Jr. on the right and Gore Vidal on the left.

 

Even though they detested each other, each had (and has) an exciting writing style and imagery.  Vidal, for example, said that Goldwater needed to be pulled kicking and screaming into the 20th Century (a wonderful line and image).

 

One of the great political writers of the 20th Century was Mr. Politically Incorrect H. L. Mencken, who was brimming with prejudices (the title of a series of collected essays), but also filled with common sense and a love for the language. 

 

In the spirit of Ambrose Bierce, Mencken's quotations include, "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone may be looking" and "Nature abhors a moron." 

 

More pointedly, he observed that, when you hear a public figure say something, ask yourself if he could say the opposite and still retain his position. 

                                                                           Frequently, that standard alerts us to disregard many pronouncements since the speakers are often both self-serving and working for some organization.

 

 A truly excellent columnist, such as George Will, will often take a position that you don't expect.  A mediocre columnist (you pick one) will regurgitate what he or she gets from talking points produced by either the Republican or the Democratic party.

                                                                           Sufferers of old-codgeritis automatically want to say that things are getting worse and going to hell in a hand-cart.  Unfortunately, America was founded on the marble pillars of the Federalist Papers and Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and the mud and muck of self-serving, vindictive, and paranoid journalists.

                    

We can't elevate a Jefferson or Hamilton and ignore that their lackeys were equally at fault.  When in power, each side claimed that criticism was "seditious."  They argued that sedition could even be defined as making the administration look bad.  People who were seditious were traitors (let's track that term).

 

 In retrospect, the Federalists worried about the Democratic-Republicans being traitors to the cause by encouraging for a New World version of a French Revolution.  Meanwhile, the Jeffersonians fretted that the traitorous team led by Adams and Hamilton were trying to sell out the country to set up a monarchy or perhaps to ease America back under the British crown.

 

   These were afraid-of-the-dark fears of a nation in its infancy, but the hallmark of much political writing is this:  Those supposedly with vision often lack confidence in the country itself.  Will Rogers, by contrast, did trust the American political process.  When the partisans of Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt were going at each other hot and heavy in 1932, Rogers pointed out that the U. S. was bigger than both Hoover and Roosevelt.

 

 After the Flower Children Age, the liberals were despairing anything from Amerika (and still pointlessly claiming that Alger Hiss was innocent).  In the 1950s till today, the conservatives also despaired.  James Burnham wrote about The Decline of the West.  Whittaker Chambers, with great melancholy in Witness, wrote about being on the weaker side against the political inevitability of the communist movement.  In Cold Friday, published after his death, Chambers was more optimistic about the weakening of Communism.

 

Most American political writers ignored him, and U.S. bureaucrats ignored assessments from such foreign commentators as Andrei Amalrik, who wrote in 1970 Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?, and France's Emmanuel Todd, author of The Final Fall:  An Essay on the Decomposition of the Soviet Sphere.  The military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower warned the country needed a supposedly robust communist bloc; therefore, it was vigorous and healthy.

 

 In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was calling the soundness of Communism into question.  He had a natural optimism so his diagnosis of the health of Communism may have gotten lost in his general cheerfulness.

 

    Despite Reagan's optimism, we still have the despair, the anger, and the lack of faith in the American political system.  They are just too valuable to jettison.

                                                                           Jacksonville's greatest daily newspaper once a week runs columns side by side of Molly Ivins and Ann Coulter.  Ivins can be fun to read since she has followed the sport of Texas politics for decades.  Her writing style, as apparently required by the Lone Star Press and Cattle Association, is a mixture of fact, opinion, and manure.  It takes some gettin' used to, podner.

 

 Frau Coulter, however, is a different matter.  She is like the three-year-old who has learned the powerful impact of shouting vulgarities rhyming with truck and spit at a church social.  Like Madame Lefarge bellowing "guilty," she thinks she unleashes a heavy, sharp blade whenever she shouts "traitor"!

 

 Her writing, alas, lacks ideas, imagery, poetry, the unexpected -- all of those things that make you wonder what a truly good writer, and thinker, will say next.

 

 Instead of pairing Ivins with Frau Coulter, I argue that our local newspaper should replace Madame Lefarge with Calvin Thomas.  I have read his usually pedestrian columns for ages and disagreed with 90 percent of his positions.  He flagellated Bill Clinton, especially for his peccadilloes, but he also lambasted Newt Gingrich for some similar tabloid behavior.

                                                                           Sometimes columnists have melt-downs.  Mencken, for example, covered the Truman and Dewey conventions in the summer of 1948 but suffered a terrible stroke in late November (he referred to the stroke as "the day I died").  He lingered on until 1956 and experienced the greatest curse for a writer:  He was unable to read or write.

                                                                           A Pulitzer Prize winner in 1941, Westbrook Pegler had one of the most dramatic melt-downs.  During the 1940s and 1950s, he was carrying on feuds with Heywood Broun (who referred to him as "the light heavyweight champion of the upperdog") and against Quentin Reynolds, claiming that he "had peeled him of his mangy hide and nailed it to the barn door with the yellow streak glaring for the world to see."  Reynolds sued for libel for more scurrilous accusations and won $1 in compensatory damages and $175,000 in punitive damages.  Pegler deteriorated even more in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Finally only about four newspapers (including one in Jacksonville) were carrying his column. 

                                                                           But, after the assassination of President Kennedy, Pegler was writing about the First Lady not changing her clothing on the trip back to Washington, but continuing to wear her dress that was covered with "its rich Hibernian gore."

                                                                           During World War II, Senator Truman chaired a committee looking into the integrity of war-time contractors.  His committee's reports received unanimous support from its members from the two parties, since they looked for plain "facts," not "Democratic facts" and "Republican facts."

                                                                           Obviously, we won't have such a philosophy today among our political columnists (or politicians).  Till we do, give me some ideas, some imagery, a surprise or two, and -- oh, big item -- some sanity and a smidgen of decency.©

                                                                          

LETTERS:  ROWLING'S WEIGHT

 

                                                                           Last month, this newsletter ran a supposedly humorous piece about "The Grandma Moses Hoax."  During one part, a psychiatrist hears a patient say that J. K. Rowling has 200 million pounds or dollars.  The patient says, "This time, I opened [the 16th money-requesting letter to Rowling] with 'Dear Fat Limey Cow, I'm guessing you don't know how to write letters either.  To prove that you do, send me $20 million."

 

 Responded a reader (an ex-pat from the U.K. now residing on the West Coast):    

 "I must take issue over the 'fat limey cow' -- she's not fat, she's thin, so damn her.  I did like the first Harry Potter (only one I read), and I think I'm right in saying this:  She's surpassed the Queen for being the richest woman in the world as as result of the Potters, and anybody who's richer than the Queen ON HER OWN MERIT rather than having been born into all that loot can't be all bad . . . just thin."

 

f course, the reader is correct.  The patient in the "Grandma Moses Hoax" piece was what politically and socially sensitive professionals call a looney.

 

A longer version of the piece contains this exchange:

                                                                           PATIENT: "This time, I opened it with 'Dear Fat Limey Cow, [blah blah]. . .send me 20 million pounds."

 

 DR. FOXWHISTLE:  "200 million pounds -- that's a wonderful weight for a woman.  Too bad, the skinny little thing is married."

 

  Latest articles are saying that Rowling is worth $1 billion (yes, indeed, a splendid weight when converted to pounds).

 

REYNOLDS TO INTERPRET "THE DREAM OF PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK"

 

 

G. W. (Bill) Reynolds will speak Saturday, July 8, at the July meeting of POW (Promoting Outstanding Writers).  The meeting will be from 11 a.m. till 2 p.m. at the American Cafe on San Jose Boulevard.

 

 His topic will be "The Dream of Publishing Your Work."  The talk may be useful to the person who is exploring the local publishing options.  Reynolds' company is High Pitched Hum Publishing.

 

 For further information, contact POW President Caryn Day-Suarez (caryn@pow100.com; phone 904.268.6229 or 1.866.517.0769).

 

QUOTE FROM A WRITER'S QUILL

 

When I am dead,

I hope it may be said,

"His sins were scarlet,

but his books were read."

                                                                           --Hilaire Belloc

 

WRITERS BORN IN JULY

 

 

 1--George Sand (1804), James M. Cain (1892), Jean Stafford (1915); 2--Hermann Hesse (1877); 3--Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860), Franz Kafka (1883), M.F.K. Fisher (1908), and Tom Stoppard (1937); 4--Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804), Ann Landers (1918), and Abigail Van Buren (1918);

 

 

  6--Karl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam (1859); 7--Robert Heinlein (1907); 9--Joseph Cowen (1831), Barbara Cartland (1901) and Oliver Sachs (1933);

 

 

10--Robert Chambers (1802), Marcel Proust (1871), and Alice Munro (1931); 11--Thomas Bowdler (1754), E. B. White (1899), and Harold Bloom (1930); 12--Edward Benlowes (1602), Henry David Thoreau (1817), and Pablo Neruda (1904); 13--Wole Soyinka (1934); 14--Irving Stone (1903), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904), Woody Guthrie (1912), and Natalie Ginzburg (1916);

 

 

  15--Robert Conquest (1917) and Iris Murdoch (1919); 16--Anita Brookner (1928); 17--Richard Carew (1555), William John Courthope (1842), Jakob Christoph Heer (1859), Samuel Joseph Agnon (1888), Erle Stanley Gardner (1889) and James Purdy (1923); 18--William Makepeace Thackeray (1811), S. I. Hayakawa (1906), and Margaret Laurence (1926); 19--Heinrich Christian Boie (1744), Herman Bahr (1863), E. P. Snow (1905), Joseph Hansen (1923), Dom Moraess (1938), and Jayne Anne Phillips (1952);

 

   

20--Connie McCarthy (1933); 21--Al-Bukhari (810), Frances Parkinson Keyes (1885), Hart Crane (1899), Ernest Hemingway (1899), A. D. Hope (1907), John Gardner (1933), Tess Gallagher (1943), and Buchi Emescheta (1944); 22--Stephen Vincent Benét (1898) and Tom Robbins (1936); 23--Raymond Chandler (1888); 24--John D. MacDonald (1916);

 

                                                                           25--David Belasco (1853); 26--George Bernard Shaw (1856), Carl Jung (1875), Aldous Huxley (1894), and Robert Graves (1895); 27--Thomas Campbell (1777), Giosue Carducci (1835), Hilaire Belloc (1870), Joseph Mitchell (1908) and Bharati Mukherjee (1940); 28--Beatrix Potter (1866), Malcolm Lowry (1909), John Ashbery (1927), and William T. Vollmann (1959); 29--Booth Tarkington (1869), Don Marquis (1878), and Stanley Kunitz (1905);

                                                                           30--Emily BrontĂ« (1818), Oliver Optic (William Taylor Adam) (1822), Gaston Calmette (1858), Jean Jacques Bernard (1888), William Gass (1924), and Alexander Trocchi (1925); 31--Elizabeth Wurtzel (1967).

 

CALENDAR OF EVENTS

 

     Meetings of NFW are held at 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month.  Check the website at www.northfloridawriters.org for meeting locations.

 

                                                                           Sat., July 8, 2 p.m.

                                                                           Sat., Aug. 12, 2 p.m. Nate Tolar, Speaker

                                                                           Sat., Sept. 9, 2 p.m.

 

     You may receive feedback from specific individuals by mailing the manuscript and return postage to the above address.

    

     Past speakers have included novelists Jack Hunter, David Poyer, Page Edwards, Ruth Coe Chambers, William Kerr, Tom Lashley; poets, William Slaughter, Mary Baron, Mary Sue Koeppel,

Dorothy Fletcher, George Gilpatrick; columnists Vic Smith, Tom Ivines, and Robert Blade; editors Buford Brinlee and Nan Ramey; agent Debbie Fine; magazine editor Sara Summers; medical writers Elizabeth Tate and Michael Pranzatelli; oral historian Robert Gentry; plus many others.

 

"WE ASPIRE TO CREATE WITH WORDS."

 

The Write Staff

 

Richard Levine, President (richieL@gct.net)

Carrol Wolverton, Vice President (carrolwolve@hotmail.com)

Kathy Marsh, Secretary (kmarsh@fdn.com)

Howard Denson, Treasurer and newsletter editor (hdenson@fccj.edu)

Joel Young, Public Relations (joshua7786@aol.com)

Doris Cass, Hospitality (ostie46@aol.com)

 

Presidents Emeritus

 

Frank Green, Dan Murphy, Howard Denson, Nate Tolar, Joyce Davidson (Davent2005@comcast.net), Margaret Gloag (haggisgal@juno.com), Richard Levine, Bob Alexander, Jo Ann Harter, Carrol Wolverton

 

Newsletter address

The Write Stuff

FCCJ North, Box 21

4501 Capper Rd.

Jacksonville, FL 32218

 

Homepage address

 

http://www.northfloridawriters.org

 

Homepage editor

 

Richard Levine

 

Submissions to the newsletter should generally be about writing or publishing.  We pay in copies to the contributors, with modest compensation for postage and copying.  We pay $5-10 for submissions accepted.

 

MEMBERSHIP IN THE NFW

 

     If you are writing a story or poem, you will need some expert feedback €‘€‘ the sort that you will receive at a meeting of the North Florida Writers.

     You won't profit from automatic praise that a close friend or relative might give or jealous criticism from others who may feel threatened by your writing.

     The NFW specializes in CONSTRUCTIVE feedback that will enable your manuscript to stand on its own two feet and demand that it be accepted by an editor or agent.  Hence, you need the

NFW.

     The North Florida Writers is a writer's best friend because we help members to rid manuscripts of defects and to identify when a work is exciting and captivating.

     Membership is $15 for students, $25 for individuals, and $40 for a family.  (Make out checks to WRITERS.)

     Is your membership current?  To find out, check the mailing label. If it says "0106" next to your last name, your membership expired in January 2006.  You do not have to pay back dues to activate your members, so, if you last paid in 1998 or 2002, don't worry about the months you were inactive.

     Won't you join today?

     The following is an application. Mail your check to WRITERS, Box 21, FCCJ North, 4501 Capper Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32218.

 

Name___________________________________________

 

St. address____________________________________

 

Apt. No. ______________________________________

 

City ________________State _____ Zip __________

 

E€‘mail address(es) ___________________________________

                      

HOW DOES CRITIQUING WORK?

 

When you attend a meeting of the North Florida Writers, you eventually discover that NO ONE has ever died while his or her manuscript was being read and critiqued.  You may be ready to

face the ordeal yourself. . .or, reading this, you may wonder what exactly takes place during a critiquing.

 

First, you pitch your manuscript into a stack with others' works€‘in€‘progress.  Then one of the NFW members hands out each piece to volunteer readers, taking care NOT to give you back your

own manuscript to read.

 

Second, as the reading begins, each author is instructed NOT to identify himself or herself and especially NOT to explain or defend the work.  The writer may never have heard the piece read aloud by another's voice, so the writer needs to focus on the sound of his or her sentences.

 

Third, at the finish of each selection, the NFW members try to offer constructive advice about how to make the story better.

If a section was confusing or boring, that information may be helpful to the author.

 

The NFW will listen to 10 pages (double€‘spaced) of prose (usually a short story or a chapter).

 

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