BLACK FRIDAY IN PARIS
I studied in Paris, have friends there, traveled throughout the country and visited the city many times with my wife and kids. France is a dear friend and I speak its language. When I am there I feel as much at home as in Holland or the USA. I am deeply saddened by the loss of beautiful life, the agony of the people who lost their loved ones, the wounded who are suffering in hospitals, and the depression everyone must feel.
What happened today meant Black Friday for Paris. As 9/11 changed the face of America and the western world, so does this additional heinous murder of Parisian innocents by Islamic fascists.
As this is now an author page, I will not enter into the political aspects of Western leadership and forcefulness to suppress this outrageous religious overkill. The absence of American strength to name a spade a spade has been obvious for the last six years. Now the beast has grown exponentially and it will be so much harder to contain and destroy it.
Untamed religious fanatics are a phenomenon of history. It is cultural, political, and power-based. It professes exerting the will of religious leaders over the flock of faithful believers, and suppression of the infidels. In the West we are coming slowly out of it, but we fought many wars over it. The current Middle Eastern turmoil is not new. For more than 1000 years Islamic and Western Religions have been battling for hegemony. Our societies are diametrically opposed: ours is individualistic, propagating personal freedom, theirs is socially inward, emphasizing submission to the prophet and a strictly controlled family behavior. I have witnessed Islam in my travels and experienced its deep features of belief and close nit family life, which are commendable, but got always struck by its reactionary posture. It’s what destroyed the Ottoman empire, the last caliphate. Its initial supremacy in science, medicine and art was overpowered by the Western renaissance, industrial revolution and scientific inventions.
And now the fanatics want it back their way. Several Middle Eastern nations like Egypt and Jordan that have evolved to a more rational outlook are opposed, but Iran sees an opportunity to put oil on the fire. Their Shiite schism with Sunni Islam is an internal battle for hegemony. It plays out in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. What we must avoid is that we become the battleground of their frictions and shared hatred of Western freedom and society. Paris has already become a battle ground. Throngs of Syrian refugees in Germany and other European countries will only fuel the rifts in the future. The USA with its open border policy will be next. Unless it becomes unanimously serious in preventing this from happening. Today and not tomorrow.
It may already be too late. America will have its own Black Friday shortly if we don’t put the silly politics behind us and take action, finally. And American advertisers better stop using Black Friday as a commercial incentive. The pitch has now acquired a bitter connotation with today’s Black Friday in Paris.
ON THE “LUCKY WRITER.”
What would we “writers” do if someone had not invented the pen, electricity, computer, the printing machine, manufacturing paper and ink? Would we write with a feather like our forefathers, on papyrus, maybe an old typewriter, under a kerosene lamp? Writers can’t make anything. They only make things up!
Just imagine if some nuclear bomb destroyed all we have, including the inventors who made things and the people who know how to make them. All of a sudden, everything would stop, none of my books would be sold, read or reviewed and give me glory. And nobody would know how to make things again.
We would have to go back to school and start all over again, in the hope some inventor would see “the light” once more!
Every time I launch my computer, I think of the people who make it possible for me to do what I do. I cannot make anything, not build a house, repair my car, heater, airco, or stove. Forty percent of our electricity comes from coal. Who takes it out of the mines? Not me. And people (” liberals” all) around me even loathe coal. Wait till the lights go out, then they scream, especially those who loathe coal.
Writing consultants (yes, there are a lot of “them consultants” and I wonder if they ever crafted a book) say “write till you can drop your “day job”.” If all those ambitious writers would do that, who would make the things we need? I live near Washington D.C. and see these throngs of government workers crawl every morning over 395 North or creep over I 66 East (I used to be among them. Had to make a living, you know!), and when they finally get there they sit down at their computer and stare. Thanks to the coal miners they get electricity.
Thanks to the gas and oil drillers they get heat or airco. Thanks to the tax payers, including the companies that make things, they get their paycheck. And thanks to all those hardworking “makers” I can spend my day writing without worry that my light goes out or my heater or airco stops (well, they do when some drug-infested driver runs into a light pole or thunder strikes, but who cares? You buy a generator that runs on gas! From the people who invented and know how to make a generator. Can you???). Not so long ago there was an outage in my area due to a huge storm, and the only place where you could find electricity was in a generator-driven Panera or Starbucks. How quickly did all those writers know! Everyone plugged, connected and reconnected, using multiple connectors, happily drinking tea or coffee. Ain’t we writers lucky?
Tea and coffee are planted and harvested. I have seen how that goes. It takes years before a plant gets the leaves or beans ripe for plucking. Then it goes through simple or sophisticated processing machines depending where it is done. Thousands and thousands of people are involved, so that I can have my Lipton or Starbucks.
What if that suddenly stopped tomorrow? How would I get my inspiration, my adrenaline?
Does anyone realize how blessed we writers are? I have been in the middle of countries without electricity where they only have kerosene lamps when dark falls.
How are you going to write? That’s why in such countries people TALK about things; they have fabulous STORYTELLERS, with countless listeners enjoying their stories.
Those listeners are their audience. All those smart writing consultants always say “target your audience.” But who and where are they? Those storytellers attract them at the kerosene-lit market place. Since nobody can’t do anything else (except making babies) they come to the storyteller, an entertainer, someone who can inspire through speech. Nowadays we must find our audience through good writing, giving speeches and through the internet (hey! who invented that? You still remember?), assuming everything we don’t know how to make, runs.
So, I am not complaining. To the contrary, I am immensely grateful to all those people who invent, make things, make things happen, and keep things running so that I can write undisturbed. And so should you!
THE TENACIOUS POET IN PARIS
You think today’s poet’s hardship, suffering and publishing ordeal is any different from 100 years ago? Maarten Maarten’s short story (from The Women’s Victory and Other Stories–1906, London Archibald Constable & Co Ltd) about “A Drop of Blood” proves it was just the same. This is how the story starts:
He was very poor. Shade of the man, with the ass’s ears, how poor he was! Yet everything he touched, with that wonderful touch of his, turned to gold. Only it was not the kind of gold you buy bread for.
It was of the kind in which the sun pays his tribute to the Almighty. We all pay our tribute: the sun pays in gold and the nightingale in notes. And the potentates of the earth pay in blood–their brothers’; and the poets pay in blood–their own.
He had married Celestine Michelet because he worshipped the very ground she trod on. So he came to the conclusion that they might as well tread it together. He was too poor himself to notice how poor she was.
His name is Anastase; an impossible name, Maarten Maartens writes. Anastase and Celestine, a beautiful girl he married at the age of 19, live in Paris, in a cheaply rented
“dingy barrack, close to the Grand’rue de Passy. Their street still stands; it is broad, banal, a cul-de sac. Children Play and shriek in it. Thank God for that…From the little stucco balcony you could catch a glimpse, by craning, of a dozen trees of the Bois de Boulogne, at La Muette, and on your other side the glittering needles of the Trocadero soared, gaunt, into the sky. Said Anastase, “Nature to the left of me, Paris to the right of me, God overhead.”
(A left click on the pictures will enlarge most except those taken from internet sources, then click the back space at the top left and you are back in the blog).
Anastase works in a bookshop, selling paper and pens, and for the rest reads books from its library section, and buys copybooks to scribble his verses in the evening. His wages are a hundred francs a month which was not much one hundred years ago. The bookstore owner says:
“You should compose songs such as I sang in my youthful days, about springtide, and kisses, and pretty women…Or Mon premier Crime, it’s torn to tatters. Write a book like that and you will have to sweep out shops no more…It’s twenty-seven years since I began this library. If you look down the lists and find that poetry hasn’t been asked for twice during all that period, will you sit down, like a good boy, to-night and try to write a story?”
“I am not a novelist,” replied Anastase.
“Bonheur qui passe!
Amour qui lasse!
Rien ne nous reste que notre douleur.
Mais dan la vie,
Qui pleure prie
Tout ce qui prie a des larmes au Coeur.”
The couple gets a daughter, named Lina, and she is underfed because of the couple’s poverty. But Anastase shall write poetry because he is not a novelist; he insists.
“I am a poet, a poet only, a poet by the grace of God. It is not arrogance to say that, for the gift is God’s, not mine. Celestine, do not desert me. Let us have a little patience! Let us wait for the answer from Pinard. This time perhaps, he will take the ‘Chants de Bataille.’ He ought to take them; they are beautiful.”
And a little bit later when they are arguing about the scarce money, how to feed the baby and make ends meet, and Celestine tries to make him write prose, he exclaims: “I am a poet. I cannot help it. I speak in verse.”
Anastase writing and Celestine looking on
Anastase has sent his new manuscript of poetry entitled “Estrelle” to a renowned publisher, the Revue, and waits day by day for the postman to bring a favorable response, but nothing comes. Celestine spurs him to write romances; are those writers not millionaires? Anastase considers them rascals, but the delay in hearing something positive gnaws at his nerves day and night. Then finally the answer comes: the publisher writes he accepts ‘Estrelle’ but on a condition:
“Up to the last few pages you run on without a flaw, but there, at the end, comes your fatal mistake. Virtue triumphs, and your heroine is good, and prude, as a charity-schoolgirl. That for our public, is a little too–how shall I say?–unfresh. Consider–you whose literary taste is manifest–how much more ‘seizing’ would be the finale, if you sent down Estrelle to her husband, guilty and smiling, as he! Besides, a woman, to repent in literature, must first have actually sinned…Will you have the story back to alter it, or will you leave the matter to me?…
The publisher has his limits: “the popular taste.” He offers Anastase 250 francs, which is more than twice his monthly salary, earned in one evening writing, if he rewrites the end. But Anastase does not want to prostitute his “child.”
Then their daughter Lina falls ill of undernourishment and might well die if she does not get better food. Anastase sits in front of his manuscript, which the publisher has returned. He can’t change it and hands it to Celestine.
“Take it,” he said, in a whisper. “Send it. But to-night. And tell him to do it. One life for another. It is just.”
She took the papers in her hand, without a word, and, holding them tightly clenched against her breast, she went away into the inner room. To the child.
She had carried the lamp in yonder. They had only one. And he remained sitting by the table, with his face sunk forward upon both hands. In the dark.
So Anastase felt forced to heed the popular taste, but did not have the courage nor the spirit to do it himself, and sent Celestine on her mission to the mailbox. It reminds me of a Writers Digest Conference where we were discussing whether writers should write for the market. I had asked Jeff Klein, a well-known literary agent in New York, who presided over the work group, and he said “No! You write what you must write and write the best book (or poetry, I presume) you can.” It was not really a true answer. I am afraid, nothing has changed since Anastase saw the light in the dark. Literary agents must live from your royalty and find a publisher who wants to buy your book or poems, publishers must recoup the cost of printing in the hope to make some money, and “the audience” – well they, whoever they are, have nothing to lose and only buy what they want to read and when–at a discount. If it’s you, lucky you!!!
The Writing Game
So now you have written a BOOK! That’s how all author consultants, advisers, promoters and websites start. A HUGE INDUSTRY! Some are deft predators out to get money from the thin pockets of innocent writers. It’s an industry full of CROOKS and a few genuine operators.
Many books of all literary genres for sale in a bookshop
I am among those 12 million. Who will find me? That’s the question. Going on the street carrying a board on your back displaying your book? Loading your trunk with copies and stand at a farmers market, yelling “Hey! Buy my book?” Have friends advertising for you?
Please buy my book!
One wonders why everybody wants to write and why some get so desperate.
Dreaming Romance Author and another with Writers Blog
But then, what about American Idol? Everybody wants to sing, too, and only a few get noticed. The law of the jungle.
A lot of bad quacking instead of good writing!
So-called Wise People in the industry say, it’s all perseverance, not just talent. Talent is only 10% of the game. Sounds much the same percentage of writing being 10% of “getting read.”
The friendly-looking Predator Promising You the Moon. Write a book in 30days! Only $237! I will promote you for just $14 K!
Go to a bookstore and arrange for a “book signing” hoping that visitors will buy your books with your autograph? I did so recently in Williamsburg in Virginia because my novel Enchanting The Swan starts at the College of William & Mary for the first ten chapters. They wrote an article about it in the Virginia Gazette, even mentioned it on the radio, and I put stickers on W&M boards and had someone announce it on their Law School internal website. I dropped bookmarkers at The Trellis restaurant at the touristic Merchant Square, right at the edge of the W&M campus, with a notice of the book signing the next day. The two main characters have lunch and dinner there from time to time. What more can you do?
The friendly Librarian displaying my dream books
I traveled to Williamsburg in my Jag XK8 (not earned from book writing!), cap down, on October 22, in splendid weather. Still summer, folks! I did a rest stop at a Panera near Fredericksburg to pick up some display boards from my charming publisher and designer, Melanie Stephens of Willow Manor Publishing, one of Some Women I have Known, one of Audrey Hepburn who features in it, and one showing the cover of Enchanting the Swan. I made a second “pit”stop at the Williamsburg Information Center, boasted about my books soon to be signed, and received a sticker “Virginia is for Lovers” in return, which I immediately glued to the back of my Jag. Drivers be better aware of my romantic intentions.
The lovely girl wanting to read Enchanting The Swan: “True, Are you Dutch? ” Oh my, if I had just been a little bit younger…I would have read it for her at her bedside.
It was W&M Home Coming weekend starting October 23 on a beautiful warm day. After a quiet but sleepless night at the Williamsburg Lodge, dreaming of throngs of people standing in line for my books, I settled down at a nicely arranged book signing table at the Barnes and Noble/William and Mary Bookstore. The events manager Beau Carr and his charming assistants Eric and Joanna had done a splendid job. I even got a free coffee!
So as of 10 AM I waited for the throngs of booklovers to come in. The first was John Lindberg, of the W&M Department of Music at Ewell Hall, the unsurpassed percussionist, so-called “retired” but still in full action, who is one of the memorable characters appearing in Enchanting The Swan. I had promised him a free copy but he insisted on buying it. Then a charming lady appeared who wanted to buy a book for a dear friend, who also appears in the novel, but whose name I can’t mention as I would betray her gift. And then nothing. As the hour went by, shoppers smiled at me but went for the William & Mary T-shirts, not my books! Finally some buyers showed up, chatted and purchased a few copies of Some Women and Swan, getting my handsome autograph wishing them a good read. The last visitor was Deb Boykin, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs (Campus Living) and Director of Residence Life, with whom I had a most productive interview during my research at W&M. That was a worthwhile close of my book signing! All in all, a little over 10 books sold (about 3 books an hour, which seems to be the going rate according to knowledgeable sources).
W&M Barnes & Noble Bookstore
After 4 hours I had to pack up to make room for another author. It was award-winning Wilford Kale!
A longtime Williamsburg resident and former Williamsburg bureau chief and senior writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who wrote a magnificent photo book of the History of William & Mary, which I had purchased earlier for my daughter Samantha who studied there. I felt honored to get to know the famous writer. When later in the day I passed by his table, full with W&M and Williamsburg related books, to see how well he was doing, he also complained that everybody went for the W&M T-shirts. Well, if he as an author with much local notoriety did not sell much, I could not feel too sorry for myself.
I left with a last look at the Crim Dell Bridge at W&M. After all Virginia is for Lovers!
Beau Carr of the W&M Bookstore found that I had a respectable showing, despite the surge on W&M clothing! Some did better, others did not. Then I checked back with Judith Briles of the Author University website (http://authoru.org), my favorite, if book signings are a useful marketing tool and the answer was negative. Personally, I believe that seeking your audience through book clubs and speaking engagements increase your book sales more.
All in all, a new adventure. It surely keeps you on your toes!