Friday, November 30, 2007

Book by William F. Buckley, Jr., featuring ‘Notes and Asides’ a journey into politics past and present

Love him or hate him, William F. Buckley has led a charmed, interesting and productive life. His book, Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription, Notes and Asides from National Review, plunges the reader into the author’s experiences by way of letters, commentary and memos related to his work at the iconic conservative magazine Buckley founded in 1955.

Reading the book is akin to surfing a Web site sans links. Some of the letters from readers are reproduced in typography that looks like a typewriter font. The text arrangement is punchy, with ample spacing. I felt at times as though I were rummaging a desk in someone else’s office. Buckley offers the reader a front row seat on exchanges with the likes of Art Buchwald, the late presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, Evelyn Waugh and many other individuals from different backgrounds. In addition the NR founder and long-time editor also known for his enduring TV show ‘Firing Line’ argues points of grammar with staff members, creates fanciful explanations for once erring when he quoted Shakespeare, and counsels students who wrote admiring messages to him. For writers, the dialog about prepositions, commas and style points will amuse and in some cases, inform.

The book is often laugh-out-loud funny. There is a letter from Charlton Heston wherein he pretends to be God. In one letter written in 1986, Lee Wasserman of Cleveland, Ohio, asks why is [Libyan dictator, Mohammar] Qaddafi … “only a colonel?” Buckley replied, “Maybe because Colonel Qaddafi shot all the generals?”

A reader comes away realizing that much of what Americans complain about today is almost identical to what we complained about 50 years ago. It may come as a surprise to many that complaints have endured, such as the federal government overstepping its bounds, conflicts and antipathy between liberals and conservatives, national defense, errors in media reportage, and the high price of oil. Considering National Review cranked up printing presses before color television sets and microwave ovens, I came to the conclusion our complaints will probably endure for another half century at least.

Even Buckley’s critics must acknowledge his wit and intellect. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about politics, history and literature, for a no-holds-barred look at a man who has become an American institution, beloved by true conservatives, admired by libertarians, and feisty enough to still draw criticism (and on occasion, figurative blood) from liberals. It's worth the price of the book alone to read the letter of praise from none other than Dan Rather. Until I read that, I thought I'd seen it all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vanity Fair takes creative nonfiction to a whole new level

I picked up the November issue of Vanity Fair a few weeks ago, and the content reflects why this is one of my favorite magazines. The cover shot of the late president John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie stopped me in my tracks in the bookstore. It’s a remarkable photograph by Richard Avedon, perfectly capturing the crinkles around Kennedy’s eyes when he smiled, and evoking instant recall of Camelot, something we Americans aren’t likely to experience again anytime soon.

The cover feature includes excerpts from the journals of the late Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. We get a fly-on-the-wall view of the president’s inner circle and the president’s state of mind. One entry dated January 10, 1963, recounts Kennedy’s comments about the “candor of wives.” The president noted that if a wife said something in Washington, D. C., everyone assumed she was saying what her husband really thought. “Last night,” Kennedy said, “I suddenly heard Jackie telling [Andre] Malraux that she thought [German chancellor Konrad] Adenauer was ‘un peu gaga.’ I am sure this has already been reported to Paris as my opinion.”

The VF content is drawn from exclusive images by Avedon and text by Shannon Thomas Perich, part of the new book The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family. Images in the VF feature are mesmerizing. I think only the late president Ronald Reagan came anywhere close to evoking the spell JFK could cast, and no one has really topped him.

There’s a bonus in the magazine, in the form of an article about Lou Pearlman who fled his Orlando mansion in January, accused of embezzling more than $300 million. “Pearlman’s passion for boy bands was also a passion for boys,” writes Bryan Burrough.Pearlman founded the Backstreet Boys and 'NSync, among other bands. Burrough’s article reads like a mini-novel, keeping the reader flipping the page and regretting there has to be an end. Fascinating piece by a very talented writer. (Sidenote: why does stuff like this always happen in Florida?)

There’s so much good work published now. Vanity Fair, despite annoying me with political posturing at times, never fails to impress me with the quality of their content. I might add that most publications in the marketplace often annoy me with political posturing, and the worst of those is Time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday after Thanksgiving: Cash registers go ‘ding’ at malls; keys go tap tap in the freelance word factory

The first day back after any holiday always hurts. Like when you get one of those little paper slash cuts as you lick an envelope. You get the wince and the ouch. It hurts whether you had a good holiday or a bad holiday.

My Thanksgiving ended up Turkey Perfect. As soon as I closed the laptop last Wednesday, I managed to ditch every single work-related thought. I’d spent several weeks trying to get ahead so I could have 4 days off with family, friends and critters. By the time I started cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I had reached a sort of Nirvana populated by bowls, mixing cups and wire whisks. When I chopped fresh apple for breakfast muffins, the scent alone took me miles away from end of month billings, articles due and the hundreds of emails I never seem to catch up on. I cooked, we built fires (outside), we watched football and movies and took walks. When Sunday evening rolled around, I was already wincing.

Naturally, Monday morning got off to a rollicking start and I am already trying to set schedules so I can have even more time off at Christmas.

The freelance writing business is a stressful, labor intensive and sometimes lonely endeavor. And the best method I’ve found for coping is taking time off. The navel gazing my hound is doing in the photo above makes a great case for downtime. Creativity recharges, energy increases, and bliss comes from losing yourself in work. On the other hand, all that good stuff happens only after the initial paper slash feeling wears off as you stand there on Monday, wondering how you’re going to get it all done. When you dive in, that’s when the good stuff starts and the keys go to tapping. (Photo by Becky Day)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poem for the football season and Happy Thanksgiving

“Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” by James Wright is one of my favorite poems, especially this time of year. These lines are stuck in my head:
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.
Wright’s poetry is remarkable. Read the whole poem and other info about Wright at the Academy of American Poets site.

I’ll keep his lines in mind as we gather to watch the Carolina-Clemson war on Saturday. Family, food, football and a balmy Florida sky make a perfect Thanksgiving for our crew. I’ll return to Creative Writer US after the holiday, unless something special breaks.

I hope you and yours have a lovely, safe holiday.

**I took the photo above Sunday. Two kayakers were heading out of the creek to the river. We took a thermos of coffee down to Mandarin Park to watch the boats come in.**

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NYT news desk reportedly suggests omitting dates from stories—big bad move

Charles Kaiser at Radar Online says the New York Times news desk has (reportedly) proposed omitting dates stories were filed.

Kaiser says there’s a suggestion “circulating." Kaiser quotes a NYT memo stating, "We'll still call them datelines, but they will now give only the name of the place, with no date."

Apparently, staffers want stories to retain that fresh feel. Maybe they could come up with an expiration date, like the ‘use by’ date on my milk.

It really feels silly to even talk about why this is a bad idea. Accountability. Duh, once. Wire services may abandon you. Duh, going twice.

Leave your dateline intact, NYT. You should never leave the presses (or the screen) without it. Duh for the final time.

~~~Related link: Visit Kaiser’s blog at Radar Online.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Women's magazines buck trends, sizzle

A writeup in Time magazine (Nov. 12) suggests women’s magazines are bucking industry trends by thriving. Ad revenues in one division of the Hearst Corp.—the division that publishes O and Cosmopolitan along with 17 other titles—increased to $2.5 billion from $841 million over a ten year period. Freelancers can take heart because this field, dominated by glossies, tends to pay more than creative, literary or news oriented publications.

Readers basically are bombarded with information in these content-laden (and ad-heavy) periodicals. I know because I have two daughters. I contribute to the well-being of these magazines by having more subscriptions than we can possibly read. I am at least two weeks behind on both Time Magazine and months behind on National Geographic. But our femme mags are dogeared within days of trotting into the home. We often hit high points with the information onslaught. Recently my husband received a cucumber facial, courtesy of our younger daughter. I am holding onto the photo of my man with his face covered in perfectly symmetrical cucumber slices. This photo is a powerful weapon. He won’t admit it, but his face really did look more youthful when the veggies came off.

Read women’s magazines and you will know what to cook for every meal, even if all your guests are from Morocco. You will be inspired to go on any number of special diets guaranteed to remove tummy flab. You will not be inspired to remain on those diets. You will learn things you never knew about sex, even if you have a long time mate and have reasonable levels of creativity. You will also read mountains of spiritually moving stories penned by women who have overcome every conceivable obstacle, including having 14 kids stuck in a 1500 sq. ft. Fargo home when the snow is higher than the barn and you can stand in front of the mirror and watch your eyes take on the sheen Jack Nicholson displayed so well in The Shining.

A managing director at a New York brokerage firm told Time everybody thinks the Internet is…where things are happening, but women’s magazines aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Unless that is, you’re the mother of daughters and all of you want to know what’s hot in colors for the upcoming season. Lots of attention from these quarters, and from 74 million readers of Hearst Corp.’s glossy content as well.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Daily Kos creator Markos Moulitsas gets mainstream gig at Newsweek for presidential election coverage

Two sources—the Huffington Post and—say Newsweek has tapped enterprising liberal Markos Moulitsas to help cover the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Moulitsas founded Daily Kos and parlayed the blog to a Technorati rank of 11 and a Google page rank that any dedicated blogger can envy—a 7. The blog is a great place for reading progressive political content.

My first impulse is to congratulate Moulitsas—he’s a blogging success story. He actually makes money for this. Amazing—that’s a feat sort of like being able to skate on crushed ice.

Some conservatives have reportedly taken a dim view of the Kos penning progressive content for the iconic American news magazine. Personally, I think he’ll be a great addition to the commentary. I don’t agree with everything at Daily Kos, but the site provides interesting, well-written content. Moulitsas is tapped into the heart and soul of his political party. That makes him a credible source for that party’s politics, and it must be pointed out he can be critical of his own as well.

I’ve said it before and because this is a good talking point for my own beliefs—the United States doesn’t need a Fairness Doctrine. The marketplace takes care of that. Moulitsas successfully built a platform most authors would love to have. In the same tradition as Rush Limbaugh and his Republican principles, Moulitsas brings his party's news and platforms to Americans interested in progressive party politics and current affairs.

I’m glad to see a mainstream magazine cover all aspects of our political persuasions. And I’m glad to see a blogger who worked hard and who worked with passion achieve some sort of recognition and compensation.

For me, one of the greatest hours on TV is Hannity and Colmes. Snappy Sean and droll Alan nip at each other's politics and entertain us in the process.

Meanwhile, readers are curious to see who'll balance Kos in Newsweek.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writing a place as a poem

Several months ago, I offered to pen a dedication poem for a park in my neighborhood, the Billard Commemorative Park and Veteran’s Memorial developed by the Mandarin Community Club. Mandarin reminds me a lot of my hometown in South Carolina, so this place spoke to me in a very personal way. The Billard property was a family homestead for many years, but the home itself was deemed unsalvageable.

I rode by the property several times—enough to probably make neighbors in the oak tree lined community think I was casing somebody’s home. One of the first impressions I had of Mandarin is an adjective. Sturdy. The community is family oriented, yet there is diversity in abundance. When I first moved here, I wrote about taking my cleaning to a fellow from Bulgaria (his wife had a CD of lively wedding music playing) and then ordering a sandwich from a gentlemen from India who owns a deli here. I’ve covered stories for freelance clients about refugees from dozens of countries who come to the U.S. legally to escape persecution. My life is enriched immeasurably by living here.

The community manifests universal hopes—regardless of our country of origin, we all want safety, education and health for our children. We want a community that we feel part of. The community has anchored Northeast Florida residents for many years. And with my poem I hoped to put the listener in touch with what that means. The place became the poem.

It wasn’t hard to love Mandarin. It was very hard to express that in a poem that wouldn’t be trashed by academics. I hope I succeeded. I’ll know tomorrow, after reading it during the dedication.

The public is invited to the Billard Park and Veterans Memorial dedication ceremony Wednesday, November 14, at 4 p.m. at the park located at 11641 Brady Road in Jacksonville.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Hearing master poets a sheer pleasure at Jacksonville’s Southeast Library

Sunset over the St. John's River.

Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of reading poetry with some of Jacksonville’s finest writers. The library’s Southeast Branch organized the “Meet the Poets” event, with Michael Platzer coordinating for the library. A driving force behind the event was Florida poet Bonny Barry Sanders (Touching Shadows, 2005) who helped assemble the poets and publicize the event.

We had great attendance. Part of the reason I think involved the sheer number of participating poets, 9 in all, each of us with a different voice and different approach to style. The whole evening was pleasurable, but some phrases and poems stuck in my mind. Sanders had a poem about wood smoke, comparing it to the scent of cinnamon. Dr. Charles Feldstein had a line where he juxtaposed the cage and the canary motif. Jean Shepherd in one of her poems likened walking into a rain forest to walking into a fig. Dorothy Fletcher (Zen Fishing and Other Southern Pleasures, 2005) took a unique approach. All the poems she read started with the letter, “L”, including one poem about a beauty queen descending on Florida from the Midwest. Michele Leavitt read a wonderfully constructed sonnet. And those are just the parts that come to the forefront of my brain—all the poets presented interesting work.

I read poems from my new collection Notes from a Florida Village, including an aubade I wrote for my husband.

As I sat there listening, I thought how this same scene might have played out in ancient times, only instead of sitting at a table with a mic, and sipping mini-bottles of water, our ancient bards would’ve been grouped around a fire, with drums thumping an undertone as the stories were told. Last night was like a gathering of the tribes. It was amazing to witness the talent in that room. The whole audience stayed; no one left early.

That tells you the poets were doing something right. And kudos to Michael Platzer for utilizing talent close to home as a poetry resource.