The Electronic Write Stuff
Writing News for the
Sunshine State & the Solar System
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
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
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
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
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
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 (email@example.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."
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
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
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 BenĂ©t (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
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,
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
"WE ASPIRE TO CREATE WITH
The Write Staff
Richard Levine, President (richieL@gct.net)
Carrol Wolverton, Vice President
Kathy Marsh, Secretary (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Howard Denson, Treasurer and newsletter editor
Joel Young, Public Relations
Doris Cass, Hospitality (email@example.com)
Frank Green, Dan Murphy, Howard Denson, Nate Tolar, Joyce
Davidson (Davent2005@comcast.net), Margaret Gloag
(firstname.lastname@example.org), Richard Levine, Bob Alexander, Jo Ann Harter, Carrol
The Write Stuff
FCCJ North, Box 21
4501 Capper Rd.
Jacksonville, FL 32218
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
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
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.
Apt. No. ______________________________________
City ________________State _____ Zip __________
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
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
The NFW will listen to 10 pages (double€‘spaced) of prose (usually a
short story or a chapter).
If you think a friend would enjoy THE ELECTRONIC WRITE
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