Archive for May, 2014

FIRESTORM AT PESHTIGO by DENISE GESS AND WILLIAM LUTZ

I don’t often reread books, yet I hold onto every book I’ve read. I sometimes wander into my study and study the spines of the volumes that make of my many stacks and recall fragments of the stories they contain.   One book I decided to revisit is Firestorm at Peshtigo, the true story of an unprecedented tragic event.

Peshtigo, Wisconsin, north of Green Bay, and 262 miles from Chicago experienced the worst fire in American history. The fire burned and grew slowly for some time, but reached its full destructive force on October 8, 1871, the same time that Chicago was experiencing its famous conflagration.

The Chicago fire cost approximately 300 lives. Peshtigo’s death toll, from the town and surrounding countryside, will never fully be known. Estimates reach 2500. The population of Peshtigo was 2000, only 200 survived. Many victims simply disappeared, reduced to a pile of ashes and the ashes dispersed by the wind. People seeking refuge in clearings either suffocated in the oxygen-deprived atmosphere or simply burst into flame from the unbelievable heat.

The cause of the fire was multifaceted. The weather had been extremely dry. Farmers were in the process of clearing land using the most common method at that time, fire. The winds in the area were known to be treacherous. Twenty-four thousand square miles burned.

The book will captivate and hold your interest and cause you to wonder at the pain and suffering of the victims and survivors.

May 31, 2014 at 1:55 am Leave a comment

OUR TERMINAL CAT

 

From the moment we take our first breath we are terminal, that’s reality.   It is what we do between that first breath and the last that is important.  Life is a crapshoot.  I was reading the obituaries one morning, you do that as you age, when on the same page I found one for a four year old boy and one for a 103 year old woman.  If that doesn’t make one stop to ponder this gift we call life, nothing will.

 

Back to the subject of this article.  As I sit here writing I can hear the coughing and wheezing of our asthmatic cat, Sally.  I’ve never been a cat person.  I’m a dog person and love the companionship and love a canine returns.  I find cats to be aloof and wanting only your service.  You fulfill their needs and then you get that look, ‘You can leave now’.  But as with all generalities, there are the exceptions that prove you wrong.

My family has a history of owning cats, primarily due to my daughter, Lynn.  That history began with a pure white kitten name Stimpy.  He was found standing next to his dead mother, a recent victim of a run in with a car.  So young, he needed to be fed with a bottle.  The woman who found him, my wife’s coworker, discovered she was allergic to cats so we adopted him.

Perhaps due to his early association with humans, he was extremely sociable, wanting to be where the action was.  Our neighbor swore that Stimpy was unaware he was a feline and chose to be human.  As with most of our cats, Stimpy developed health issues, three years of injections for diabetes and finally succumbed to a mouth tumor.

Then there was Zosia, Polish for Sophie, the name of my beloved aunt, Auntie Zosia.  This mature cat walked up to my wife and Lynn while they stood in a schoolyard.  After many attempts to locate the owner with no results, she stayed but not for long.  Zosia developed a lung tumor and went downhill fast.  A prolonged stay with the veterinarian was little help.  I took Lynn with me to bring Zosia home and was presented with a bill for $450.  With a shaky hand I made out the check.  Lynn could tell I was more than surprised.  Sensing my shock, she looked up at me, she was about eight or nine at the time, and said, “Would you rather she died?”  Lynn could always, and still does, tell it like it is.  Zosia died, then our dog, Whitey, died and we were left pet less.

After a while, Lynn decided that condition needed to be remedied and one Sunday afternoon she and my wife visited the local SPCA.  There Lynn found ‘The Kitten’ and named her Lucy.  Due to a bureaucratic detail, Lucy could not come home until Monday.  Monday afternoon I took Lynn to pick up Lucy, but Lucy had been adopted.  There was supposed to be a hold on the kitten, but she was gone.  Lynn lost it there at the SPCA.  I suggested a look at the remaining kittens and, with a tearful Lynn, went to have a look.  That’s when Sally came into our life.

Lynn chose the names based on Charlie Brown characters and Lucy was gone and could not be replaced, hence Sally.  That was 14 years ago.  Sally is a grey tabby with a white-tipped tail.  Late last year she began losing weight; asthma has plagued her for years.  A trip to the vet diagnosed renal failure with the prognosis of not making it to the New Year, but Sally proved the vet wrong and continues to hang in there.  Due to her kidney problems she now resembles a holocaust survivor, skin covering bones, but is active and constantly hungry.

Whenever I sit in my recliner she will jump into my lap and look up with her big green eyes thanking me for the care and love.

I still don’t consider myself a ‘cat person’ but I’ve become a ‘Sally person’.  I’ll miss her when she’s gone, but I don’t think she’ll be going anywhere soon.

Then there’s Sammy. . .

 

Here’s Sally

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May 29, 2014 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

THE NOVEL by JAMES A. MICHENER

 

Just finished reading The Novel by James A. Michener.  I’ve read many of his works, my favorite is The Source, a book dealing with the excavation of a well in the Middle East and detailing the life of the people surrounding the well from ancient times to the present.

Michener, who died in 1997 at the age of 90, published The Novel in 1991, but it was far from being his last book.  The work, divided into four parts The Writer, The Editor, The Critic and The Reader explores the publishing world of a different era.  The world of publishing has changed a great deal since Michener wrote this book and continues to rapidly change with self-publishing and social media becoming important tools for today’s authors.  In Michener’s story, the editor plays a significant role in the life of the author and the progression of his career.  Having never been published by a major house, yet, I don’t know if that portrayal holds true today.

The section of this novel which I found most interesting was that of the critic, Karl Streibert.  He finds the work of the main author in the book, Lucas Yoder, shallow and not worth reading.  The funny thing is that the work of Lucas Yoder reminds me of Michener’s.  The critic judges Yoder’s work as to accessible, fit only for the common reader, and is of the opinion that writers should write for the reading elite, intellectuals who demand the highest quality and deepest thought.

This lofty insight reminds me of a comment I once read in Poet & Writers where the poetry of Billie Collins was considered mediocre because it was too accessible.  I happen to find Collins’ poetry extremely enjoyable.  I wonder what that says about me.

A difference in values is what makes life interesting, and at times argumentative.  I strongly suggest reading James A. Michener’s The Novel.

May 26, 2014 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

MOTHER NATURE BRINGS CONFLICT AND WORRIES

It was late Thursday afternoon May, 22 when the skies darkened and all hell broke loose.  I knew we were in for a good one, for the thunder were not individual claps but a constant roar.  The roar was soon followed by wind, rain, and unusual for around here, hail.  I took a few pictures to record the event.

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More upsetting though, as a writer, is that we are all at the mercy of the weather, and the misfortunes of life.  With floods, tornadoes and the like becoming more and more common while our entire life’s work, all those words sprung from our brain that we hold so precious, are also at the mercy of the weather, and more.

I recall that some time ago Toni Morrison’s house caught fire.  Her original manuscripts, her precious work lost.  Have any of you writers thought about what you would do if disaster came knocking at your door?

May 23, 2014 at 7:16 pm 1 comment

THE STRUGGLE TO GET IT WRITE: A NEW SERIES

 

Is that a clever use of the homophone, or what?

 

In this new series, I hope to engage writers who follow my blog or anyone else who has an interest in the art of writing, about questions and problems I’m having about my writing and observations I have made in my reading of work by successful writers.

Recently, I’ve run into some new kind of block.  It’s not writer’s block; to be honest I don’t know what the hell kind of block it is.  Leave it to me to be on the forefront of a new problem for writers.  But I’m having a real problem getting my butt to sit down and write.  Story ideas, no problem there.  I’m constantly taking notes on what my bizarre brain produces, but that’s about as far as it gets.

I’ll discuss some specific problems and some writing insights in the pieces that follow, and if any of you out there can lend advice, I’m all ears.

May 22, 2014 at 7:26 pm 1 comment

A NEW GENRE

While reading the May, 19 issue of Time over breakfast this morning, I came across an article which proved quite exciting for me.  The article discussed  movies released or soon to be  such as Godzilla, Into the Storm and Snowpiercer.

In discussing these movies, a new genre was mentioned, at least new to me, cli-fi.  This is a story of science fiction or fantasy dealing with a climate or environmental factor.

My novel, The Beast Awaits, which I sure you are all getting sick of hearing about, is about stem cell research gone bad leading to global warming.  Is that a fit or what?

I plan to start working on a new query letter and will share it with you soon to see what you think.

 

May 19, 2014 at 6:56 pm 2 comments

THE WORDS THEY ARE A CHANGIN’

We writers deal with words, and lately I’ve noticed a trend which was brought to the forefront of my brain by an advertisement I recently saw in a Philadelphia newspaper.  More on that later.  The trend of which I speak is to substitute a word for another word that has been working just fine.

Here we go with my observations.

You rarely these days buy a used car.  More and more cars these days, especially the high-end types are ‘preowned’.  It makes it sound as if someone was kind enough to break-in the car for you.  It wasn’t really used, just owned.  Now it’s ready for you.  In my writing there will never be a preowned car, only those of the used variety.

Another word that has made it into daily use ad nauseam is hydrate.  What is wrong in taking a drink when you are thirsty?

In my mind, if you need to be hydrated you must be dehydrated.  To remedy dehydration once involved needles finding veins attached to tubes attached to hanging bags of fluid.  The characters in my writing, when thirsty, will take a drink.

Finally, what really got me going on this subject was the ad I mentioned earlier telling of the procedures offered by an Aesthetic Physician.  I guess the term ‘plastic surgeon’ is not fancy enough, which is a field, at times, already boarders on the absurd.  Granted, the discipline is essential in many instances helping those with battle injuries or victims of accidents lead more fulfilling lives, people with disfiguring injuries that need reconstruction.  But this is a branch of medicine which increasingly plays off our vanity.  To grow old is a sign of weakness, a disease to be cured by the Aesthetic Physician.  To my knowledge, there is only one method to truly prevent aging and I’m sure you know what it is.  The characters in my writing will never go close to an Aesthetic Physician.

Or maybe they will, to change their identity after a deed of mayhem or horror.

 

 

 

May 14, 2014 at 7:32 pm Leave a comment

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