Fred and I sat at a cocktail bar on the Champs Elysées in Paris talking with Napoléon. He had agreed to a four hundred thousand dollar fee to come back from hiding and talk to us about his one hundred days. Our funding was sponsored by anonymous Wall Street backers.
“Mr. Napoléon, thank you for being here. It’s a pleasure seeing you again after we dumped our history books.”
“The pleasure is mine,” Napoléon said. “It’s pretty boring up there in St. Héléna. This comeback gave me the opportunity to frolic with Robert Branson on one of his Virgin Islands. As you know from history, I adore virgins. But I loved Josephine.”
Virgin and Josephine
“We do remember that, your highness”, Fred said. “We also remember you were beaten by the Russians in 1812 and sent to St. Elba. You know we still have problems with the Russians. Our opposition party says they meddled in our recent elections. What’s your view?”
“Meddling in someone else’s business has been Russia’s prime sport during the centuries. Nothing new. Remember Raspoutin? It surprised me that your opposition party kept their doors wide open for them to walk in and take all those pictures and listening in.”
“What would you have done?” I asked.
“I can’t speak for your opposition party but we solved these issues by marrying a Russian princess. Or for your opposition leader having a liaison with a Russian prince. She could have prevented all that. I heard Mr. Putin was available. He has a load of testosterone. Didn’t she give him half of your uranium? That’s a nice dowry.”
“But the opposition party is accusing the other party that it was their good relations with the Russians that made them lose the elections, ” Fred explained.
“I was also told that the losing party had fireworks planned accompanied by Tchaikowsky’s 1812 overture. That’s a major Russian piece of music and composed after they beat me. Mr. Putin may have put a stop to the music because he didn’t want to publicize his laison with the leader of the opposition party. Maybe that’s why they blame the other party now.”
“You know there’s much talk about the first one hundred days in American politics,” Fred said.
“So I’ve heard. My one hundred days coming from St. Elba seem to have gone viral once more. But as usual the American media gets it backwards. My one hundred days came at the end of my illustrious career.”
“Why do you think that 200 hundred years later this is still so important?” Fred asked.
“Because I didn’t achieve anything in those days. You remember I had my Waterloo.”
“But here in the US they want politicians to achieve everything in their first one hundred days. All the media are making that their sole news story,” I said.
“It only shows that in two hundred years you guys have learned nothing,” Napoléon said. “My final one hundred days were only meant to firm up a legacy to be remembered. As you see, I’m still remembered.”
“But here they want a list of major achievements,” Fred tried to clarify.
“Oh, I had achievements all right. I first beat the Austrians, the Prussians, the Russians. Then Wellington got me because I suffered from hemorrhoids in my saddle.”
“So what do you think of our first one hundred days?” I asked.
“The concept has been bastardized. Except warfare, you shouldn’t achieve anything serious in those days. What would you have to show for in the next one hundred days? And the next? All you have to do is sit quiet and blame your opponents for making your country look bad.”
“You think we look bad?” Fred asked.
“You sure do. Everybody in the world wants Obama back. He talked but did nothing, that’s good politics.”
“But when the monarchy took over, they banned you to St. Helena,” I recalled. “And nobody wanted you back.”
“I went there on sick leave,” Napoléon explained. “Then my premiums went through the roof, so I couldn’t pay for them anymore. Otherwise, I would’ve been back again. To fix Napoléoncare.”
“Couldn’t you use your Veterans Care? As the Commander in Chief?” Fred asked.
“I would have to ride a horse for forty kilometers before reaching a hospital or doctor. I couldn’t because of my hemorrhoids. And they couldn’t come to me because they were too busy taking care of the dying and the burying. After two hundred years, you still have the same problem in the US.”
“It seems hard to get things done in one hundred days,” Fred philosophized.
“You said it,” Napoléon agreed. “The previous reign in France gave me a mess! Think of my achievements in the fifteen-some years of my reign! Catholic religion reinstated; monks were no longer suppressed; people got their land back; I reinstated law and order, created the Napoleonic laws and established a Constitution; I modernized education and got rid of common core; I revitalized the sluggish economy and improved agriculture; I sanitized taxation, and rebuilt the military! I made France great again. Vive la France!”
“That’s impressive,” Fred said. “Did you copy that from the Trump Administration?”
“You got your timeline wrong. The Trump Administration copied it from me.”
“How did you do all that?” I asked
“Executive orders, my friend. If they weren’t executed, I executed the non-executors.”
“I wish we had that system here,” Fred said. “Too many chefs in the kitchen and half of them don’t even know how to cook a simple omelet without breaking eggs.”
“Do you think America needs a border wall?” I asked.
“I solved that differently. I conquered my neighbors left and right and made them my soldiers. That’s how I got rid of them.”
“What’s your advice to America now?”
“Ask your Democrats to hire me. They need a leader. At four hundred thousand dollars a consultation I’m cheap.”
Fred and I sat at a bar drinking beer overhearing other guys drinking beer.
“I bet that that Mary The Pan wins the French elections,” one said.
“How so?” asked his buddy.
“’Cause she’s blond. Trump’s blond too.”
“But Hillary’s blond, and she lost,” his buddy said.
“I bet she wore a wig when she did,” the other guy said.
“No, that’s Maxine Waters, she does.”
“You mean if she put on a blond wig she’d become President?”
“She’d bleach it, then impeach it,” the other guy said.
“Noticed Putin’s hair’s blond?”
“I hear he’s auditioned for Fox News.”
“No kidding! Fox’s women are all blond; the men are bald or black-haired.”
“That’s racist,” a blond fellow butted in.
“Why? They all paint it, black or white,” someone else said.
“So to become President, you must be blond or paint your hair?” his friend asked.
“If you look at the primaries, only the blond ones made it.”
“But the former POTUS hair was black,” another guy said.
“Yeah, but he was black,” his neighbor pointed out.
“That’s racist,” the blond fellow repeated.
“You must be a liberal,” his neighbor said. “Only liberals call everything racist.”
“And you must be a white supremacist,” the blond fellow sneered, his voice rising.
“And you must keep your mouth shut,” his neighbor shouted, hammering his empty stein on the counter.
“Hey, guys, cool it, let’s have another blond!” Fred said.
Fresh blonds came along.
“I’ll have a black stout,” I asked the bald bartender.
“You must be a racist!” the blond fellow gibed.
“I knew you’d say that Blondie,” I said. “Go paint your hair somewhere else!”
“I stay right here,” the blond fellow said. “Free speech.”
“Free speech your ass!” Fred said. “You guys get always rude when you lose an argument.”
A blonde waitress behind the counter joined us arguing men.
“Gentlemen prefer blondes,” she said, handing me my black stout, staring down the blond loudmouth. “But for that, you must be a gentleman first.”
The blond fellow blushed and shut up.
“Hi, Amy,” one guy greeted her, glad that the ruckus abated. “We got an issue here.”
“Yeah, who wins the French elections?” Fred’s neighbor asked her. “I bet it’s Mary.”
“We just had elections, didn’t we?” Amy said.
“I mean that Mary The Pan in Paris.”
“Isn’t she a boxer?” Ami asked, holding up her arm and flexing her biceps.
“She wants to be French President, and she’s blonde like you,” Fred clarified.
“Like Hillary?” Amy said. “Then she must win.”
“But she’s extreme rightwing,” Fred’s neighbor said.
“I never eat wings,” Ami said, “left or right. Bad for your hormones.”
“Fred,” I said, “now she’s talking! I’m getting hungry.”
“I got nice spicy wings for you; just a minute,” Amy offered.
“But what about my hormones?”
“You’ve got white hair,” Amy said. “You won’t know the difference.”
“Right,” the blond fellow came back. “With that hair, you must be rightwing.”
Fred and I looked at each other.
“We’ll offer you another blond, Blondie,” Fred growled. “If you stop yammering. You guys lost.”
“Right-o,” Blondie cheered. “Blond trumps.”
Does anyone still remember Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? When I started my career a few centuries ago, I shared my office with a younger Fred, a guy in light brown shoes and a suit of an undisclosed color who used to tap dance in the office in his “free” time. Since we had a vinyl floor it sounded pretty good.
Looking out the windows, we saw birds sitting in rows on the telephone wire. “Hey Frank,” Fred said, “looks they’re tapping too!” “I’ll be damned,” I said. “They really do.”
“I wonder what they’re hearing,” Fred mused. “They’re chatting and seem to be laughing a lot.”
“I bet Security put listening devises on the chests of those pigeons,” I said. “You see how bloated they are? Then after the day’s over they fly back to their head office to be fed, and the guys in Security take those mini-recorders off and start listening to what we said over the telephone.”
“You better be careful when you call your bed friend across the corridor,” said Fred.
“Gee,” I said. “Is that why the Penguin (our Director) was looking that strangely at me the other day?”
“Could well be. You see, the party that’s not in power is doing everything to find dirt on us, and you in particular.”
“Why me? You spend most of the time tap dancing in the office, just like those birds, and get a huge salary for it.”
“Exactly! They don’t care about me. I just shuffle inboxes. But you, you deal with real secret stuff that the other party wants to know about, so they’ll do everything to find out. You have telephone wires near your apartment?”
“I look out on a few. Damn! Now you mention it. Every morning I wake up there’s a bunch of pigeons tapping on those wires. Sometimes they’re even tapping on the window sash.”
“Now you’re talking! I bet Penguin knows everything about you and Irene.”
“Irene feeds them every morning when she gets up. Hell, now I understand. Penguin wanted to sleep with her, that is, he tried, but she said he had ED and it didn’t work. So he’s jealous and sends these birds to spy on us.”
“You sure she doesn’t talk any secrets with you? Did you tell her anything? I saw Penguin shuffling in your drawers the other day. Are you hiding Viagra there?”
“Stupid, I don’t need that stuff. Wonder though what he was looking for. Snuff may be? Cannabis? It’s all gone. I thought the cleaners stole it.”
“Don’t you have an old kid rifle at home you shot birds with?” Fred wondered.
“Good idea. I’m seeing my mom in the country this weekend. I’ll look for it in the attic.”
The following Monday morning, after Irene and I had our fling, I got up and took my pellet gun to shoot at the pigeons out on the telephone wire.
It took a few shots before I finally got one. All my shots must’ve gone over and under and in between, because the only thing the pigeons did was looking aside at what passed by. None of them shifted one foot.
The unlucky pigeon fell on the drive way in front of my apartment house. I stood looking at it from the window when Irene, half-naked, came behind me wanting to know what I was doing. “I’m on a spy mission. That pigeon carries evidence on our intercourse (I used a different word but can’t print that here). “Get away from the window, you crazy!”
I came up with the dead pigeon. “You see what’s in there? A little tape like in voice mail! Let’s try it out on my tape recorder.” We inserted it and heard weird noises. “Sounds like you’re having your cummy,” I said.
“Not my voice. More like Jane’s. I know hers, she sits across from me. I think she’s faking it.”
Then we heard a groan at the end. “That’s Penguin!” Irene said.
“How do you know?”
“He groaned like that when I faked it with him.”
“You said he had ED.”
“We have our ways, you know.”
“Gee, you girls are right for the CIA. Did you know about these pigeons?”
“No. They only told us we’re for the birds if we don’t play along.”
“Did Penguin want to know something or tell you guys any secrets?” I asked.
“He wanted to know if you did it with any of those Russian girls, you know, those that advertise on the internet. I said I couldn’t tell one way or the other.”
“What? You didn’t defend me!”
“He also told me he had secret recordings of them doing it with you.”
“No! That’s pure fabrication!” I protested.
“They all say that.”
“Irene! Shame on you. I’ll take this straight to Penguin!”
“But Frank, you can’t….”
“I publicize this in the office paper,” I told him when I got there.
“That’s treason,” Penguin said, furious.
“What treason? Can I help it when a pigeon flies astray into my apartment?”
The news in the office leaked faster than publication of the paper. I was summoned to the Director General and showed him the evidence. He laughed very hard. He was of the other party. Penguin lied about it to the Director General and was fired. Irene and Jane were transferred back to the CIA. They forbade Irene to sleep with me, but she still does.
Back in my office, Fred asked, “You want to see some new steps? I got them over the weekend.”
Sorry for my absence for a while. I had to finish a Manuscript. While doing that, I was reminded again of an author’s “voice.”
VOICE! That’s what “Literary Agents” look for: a strong, enticing, original, sparkling, superb, surprising “voice” in your writing. As I started writing, I read books and essays about “voice.” It was as mysterious to me as the vague “audience.”
Literary agents point to how the author’s writing comes across – woody, conventional, boring, long-winded or, yes, “surprisingly superb, stunning, unique.” They talk about “tone” and “style” as part of the essential “voice” components. What does “voice” to a reader? It depends on who reads, who critiques, and to a large extent on what the story is about, Some like it hot, some like it cool, some like it dreamy, others like it cruel and hard. Implying you would use different voices for different genres. It’s so easy to say what you must do. It’s so much harder to do what they say.
Very few “voice” professors compare voice to composers, music, and audience. Since I am a musician and like classical music and jazz, I recognize each composer with his different sound or “voice.” Listening to the radio, I immediately recognize Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Gershwin or Glenn Miller. Each singer has a different voice (here we’re talking about the real meaning of “voice”). I recognize Pavarotti, Domingo, Callas, even Caruso (older people like me). Jazz musicians have a different “voice,” such as pianists like Errol Garner, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans. All have different audiences, although some are shared.
Like composers, authors have a beginning, a middle and an end, sometimes torrential. What does this mean for me as a writer? Apart from learning the craft, a writer needs to develop a particular voice to get “read,” as for a composer to get played, or for a player or singer to fill an audience in the concert hall.
Just recently I watched renowned Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., playing a most intricate concert for violin by Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich. Her Stradivarius violin has a very warm voice, her style is remarkably varied, very melodious, powerful, and moving. She got three standing ovations. After the intermission, she sat in my box to listen to – a very different – Brahms’ second symphony and since we could talk Dutch, we chatted about how she learned to play so well. She began playing at 5 years old. At the age of 14 she played Paganini’s First Violin Concerto! There you go: a “miracle kid.” (wunderkind). Do you have to be a miracle kid to write a best seller and to get read?
Two things struck me: with modern composers, it is much more difficult to pinpoint a typical “voice.” Some modern poets I can’t follow because of the remote universe of their words. A writer must also write stories in a manner that people like.
There are writers who use currently available software (prowritingaid.com. grammarly.com, just to name a few) which may help wordiness, grammar, punctuation, or “sticky sentences.” However, while “brainy,” software does not have a “heart.” It does not produce feeling or the tone of your “voice.” That has to come from within. Some authors have it or have it more than others. Some of it can be learned by trial and error, but at some stage, you reach what your voice represents. I tried hard to play like my idols, but I just didn’t have their gift. Do I have to accept the same feat in my efforts to have a voice good enough to get books sold?
I believe you need to write several books before you find your “voice,” a voice “that is not intrusive or flamboyant or pretentious and allows the reader to focus on character and action.” (those are award-winning author Mark Spencer’s words, my editor).
Good, I am not a “miracle kid” jumping off the stage like in American Idol. Writing gives me peace of mind. Like playing on the piano, knowing I’m not sounding like Ahmad Jamal. I love to draw up a story and take it to the finish. Some readers like my stories and a few of them gave me good reviews. I’m just happy to see the finished products sitting on my bookshelves, and on someone else’s. I like to run to a few book signings at B&N, and sell 3 books an hour in 4 long hours. I like to chat with my “audience.” Some people who read my books apparently like my “voice.” They are in my “audience.” Musicians like to chat with their audience, too, to sell their CDs. “Voice.” That’s what it is, composed, heard, or read.
But if you heard me singing in my bathroom, you’d all be running away, screaming.
For your spring reading:
Some Women I Have Known – http://amzn.to/1QIL94B; https://youtu.be/CehtAV55QpU ; Audrey Hepburn and Lady D can’t stop John from falling off the keyboard. But who does?
Enchanting the Swan – http://amzn.to/1LPFw5o ; https://youtu.be/8vHdGKGWQEo ; Pianist Paul loses cellist Fiona and does all to redeem her love.
Coming soon: Francine, The Dazzling Daughter of the Mountain State – Francine, a bright West Virginian MBA graduate, rises to the top of a mining conglomerate, demobilizes the anti-mining lobby, but will she save the company and find love in the meantime?