They’re After Salman Rushdie Again

Hardliners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Hardliners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Some Things Never Change

You would think that by now that the grand wizards of Iran would have come to terms with the renegade writings of Salman Rushdie……But apparently they have not. Believe it or not, Salman Rushdie is back on the Persian hit list of undesirables. (I’m not certain if he was ever free from those lists.) Obviously, there is one thing that is still true. And that one thing is, that for insulting the status quo of Revolutionary Iran, there are no statue of limitations. In fact, as the situation presently stands, the Fatwa on Rushdie was never taken off, but instead it was increased in recent weeks, possibly due to the changing economic picture in Iran. According to PEN, the bounty has received at increase of approximately $600,000 to the already existing 2.8 million.

Could Elections Actually Change Things?

Recently, Iran made international news by holding national elections that did not go quite go the way that the conservative hardliners wanted. However good this may sound, this is not a new struggle in Iran. Centrists, moderates and progressives have from time to time been able to create change in Iran, through elections and other means. Whether the country’s newly signed nuclear deal with the West will actually help secular Iran remains to be seen, but there is definitely a political divide in Iran between the fundamentalists and those who wish to see Iran modernized. This has been going on for years and it is possible that the agreement with the West could benefit these people.

A Not-So-Nervous American Resident

Currently, Salman Rushdie lives in the U.S., where he is relatively same from Iranian threats. Born into a Muslim family in Bombay, India, Rushdie has never lived in Iran. Today, Rushdie declares himself an atheist, as it was his fourth novel titled Satanic Verses that has fueled the wrath by Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and elsewhere. Rushdie also had the distinct honor of making an Al-Qaeda hit list in 2010. On the positive side, Rushdie has been knighted by the Queen of England, plus he has received numerous literary awards, including membership in the British Royal Society of Literature.

Death Threats

Every February Rushdie receives a not-so-friendly Valentine’s Day card from Revolutionary Guard of Iran, kindly reminding him that he is still on their hit-list. Though the threats have been numerous, the closest anyone has come to killing Rushdie occurred in London, England in 1999, when a bombmaker died, while trying to make a book bomb. The blast was strong enough to also take out two floors of a London hotel, where the bombmaker lived. At present, the current threats seem more rhetorical than real and hopefully the situation will stay that way.

Salman Rushdie in 2014
Salman Rushdie in 2014
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So You Think Writing In Your First Language Is Hard: A Look at ESL Novelists

Homer writing a letter
Homer writing a letter

So You Think Writing In Your First Language Is Hard

If you are tired of struggling with the oddities and peculiarities of trying to make a sentence make sense, then you might want to take a look at some of these noted novelists, who had to learn English, as a second or even a third language, before they could get their story finished. And that says nothing about getting it published.

A group portrait of some of the Beat writers
A group portrait of some of the Beat writers

The Most Influential of the Beats

Of all the beat writers, which includes the likes of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, most literary critics tend to agree that Jack Kerouac had the biggest impact on the American literary scene. Lesser known is that even though Jack was born in Massachusetts, he grew up in a French-speaking household. Jack didn’t even learn English until he was six; and never completely mastered the language into he was well into his teens. Nonetheless, he went on to produce a body of work that is still widely read today.

Most recently (Feb. 2015), a Quebec publishing house by the name of Les Éditions du Boréal, has recently announced that they will publish some of Jack Kerouac’s French writing. The collection, titled La vie est d’hommage, will feature a novella and Kerouac’s first attempt for On the Road, which was penned in his native French. This publishing effort will underscore the little known fact that Kerouac continued to write in his mother tongue, even after having achieved substantial financial and critical success with On the Road and The Dharma Bums.

 

Illustration for Cheer of Home Fires, drawing by Will James
Illustration for Cheer of Home Fires, drawing by Will James

The Strange Life of Will James

And while I am on the subject of French-Canadians, here is a tale of a Quebec man, who eventually ended up as one of America’s most appreciated cowboy writers and artists.

One of the strangest literary stories of the twentieth century concerns the western Cowboy writer, Will James. Over his lifetime James wrote over twenty books detailing the ranch hand’s life that he had known in such places as Montana, Nevada and also California, where he had briefly worked as a Hollywood stunt rider. Will James was also a gifted artist, evident by the numerous drawings and paintings that were included in his literary efforts. Nobody knew of Will James’ early life until he passed away in 1942 of severe alcoholism. Then a search for next of kin produced a brother living in Canada under a different name.

Will James was born Joseph-Ernest-Nephtali Dufault on June 6, 1892, at St. Nazaire de Acton in Quebec, Canada. Then as a teenager, he left the province of Quebec for the wilds of Saskatchewan, where he learned how to be a cowhand. Eventually Joseph went south-of-the-border (possibly to escape rustling charges), changed his name and became a Montana cowboy. After years of working on various ranches, a man now called Will James began to write down his working experiences. Amazingly, he was also able to illustrate his text with captivating drawings and paintings, like the one seen above. One of his stories, Smoky the Cowhorse received a Newbery award and was also made into a movie. Even today, his books are still available and read by many.

Khaled Hosseini with the two main actors in The Kite Runner.
Khaled Hosseini with the two main actors in The Kite Runner.

Out of Afghanistan

“I write exclusively in English now. I could likely feign my way through a short story—a very short story—in Farsi. But generally, I lack a narrative voice in Farsi, and a sense of rhythm and cadence in my head, because it has been decades since I wrote fiction in Farsi. English has become very comfortable for me.” Khaled Hosseini

So begins the story of Khaled Hosseni, whose first novel The Kite Runner, recently became a bestseller and a popular Hollywood movie. He was born in Kabul in 1965, but left with his family in 1980 to escape the Russian War in Afghanistan. His family relocated to Southern California, as Khaled also graduated from high school and college in the U.S. The Kite Runner was published in 2003.

Joseph Conrad learned to speak fluently in Polish and French, before tackling English.
Joseph Conrad learned to speak fluently in Polish and French, before tackling English.

Joseph Conrad

Conrad, who is probably best known for the novel Heart of Darkness, did not learn the English language until he was in his twenties. Polish was his native tongue, but he was also completely fluent in French, before he started writing short stories in English. Although he always spoke English with a heavy accent, his prose was clear. Born in the Ukraine, Joseph went to sea as a merchant marine when he has still a teen. At age 36 Joseph retired from a seaman’s life and began writing.

Other Writers

The list of other authors, who write in English, despite the fact that it is not their native tongue include, Gary Shteyngart (Russian), Salman Rushdie (Hindu), Nadeem Aslam (Pakistani), Francesca Marciano (Italian), Andrei Cordrescu (Romanian) and Yiyun Li (Mandarin Chinese). And then there is the Irishman, Samuel Beckett, who wrote in French despite the fact that his mother tongue was English.

Is Baseball the Quintessential Writer’s Sport?

Thanks to an extended season, the major league baseball schedule often runs through the Halloween holiday.
Nowadays, baseball uniforms make for an appropriate and seasonal Halloween costume. Thanks to an extended season, the major league baseball schedule often runs through the Halloween holiday. This year game four will be played on October 31 at Citi Field in New York City. The game will feature the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals.

It’s October Again

It’s October again. So, when all is said and done, there is no denying it, it is a great month for sports fans. Pro hockey and basketball are just getting going, while football players have been involved in professional competition for over a month now. But the climax comes when the National and American League winners meet after a lengthy post season of elimination games. In the final meeting at the World Series, tens of thousands will attend each game, while millions more will watch the popular  sporting event on TV.

The Humble Beginnings of Baseball

Most likely baseball began in settings similar to this prairie cornfield depicted in the popular baseball movie, Field of Dreams. The game was initiated in the 19th century and for years and years the sport attracted small crowds. As the sport became more popular, industrial and urban businesses often hosted teams and thus built playing fields and of course stands where spectators could come watch the game.

The actual field of dreams from the movie is a very non-descript midwestern cornfield.

A Field of Dreams

If you want to rate the many movies that revolve around the world of baseball, both professional and amateur, a handful of films come to mind. These include Bull Durham, Bang the Drum Slowly, A League of Their Own, Damn Yankees and The Bad News Bears. Another baseball movie that continually receives high ratings is Field of Dreams. This is also the quintessential story that equates baseball with the writing profession, for in this story, one of the major characters is a man by the name of Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones). Although Mr. Mann does not write about baseball, he agrees to attend a baseball game, after he is approached by the main character, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner). This starts a liaison between the two characters that lasts for most of the movie.

James Earl Jones and Kevin Costner attend a baseball game in Field of Dreams

Stage To Big Screen

Though Damn Yankees was a successful and popular Broadway play, the story was also developed into a popular and entertaining movie. The original story revolves around a timeless Faustian tale, where an avid Washington Senators fan makes a deal with the devil, so that his team can beat those “Damn Yankees” and win the American League pennant.

Not many baseball stories make it on to the NYC stage, but this popular tale about the Yankees ran for several years on the popular Manhattan venue. The subsequent movie followed closely to the stage production, including many of the same musical numbers. Reportedly, a new version of Damn Yankees is in the works, starring Jim Carrey and Jake Gyllenhaal.

 

Locker room scene from Damn Yankees

Writing and Baseball

Nowadays, there are a large number of sports and athletic contests that either produce a host of enthusiastic participants and/or bring in many spectators to witness the event. Strangely enough, none of these gatherings seems to summon forth the storytelling instinct better than baseball. Why is that? Certainly, there are more action-packed sports, but a good story does not succeed on fast action alone. It needs a good setting, strong characters and perhaps most important of all, conflict. And then somehow that conflict must be resolved before the tale ends.

Perhaps it is the structure of baseball that attracts the writers. Everywhere you turn, the game is measured. A baseball game consists of nine innings, where each team gets a turn to bat. Three outs ends one teams turn to come to the plate, hit the ball and perhaps score runs. Each batter gets three strikes before he strikes out and four bad pitches before he might move to first base. All of this is fine and dandy, but I guess the real essence in the contest, turns on how small incidents can determine the final outcome, where one team is victorious over the other. Just a dropped ball, a stolen base or a timely double play can change victory into defeat or vice versa. And that, my friends, is also the essence of many a good story.

No More Yogi-isms

Yogi Berra, as remembered by Dave Granland

The Passing of a Verbal Yogi

Yogi Berra passed away this week. He lived to the grand old age of 90 until he succumbed a thing eventually takes us all. It’s called death. Though Yogi was a great player and manager, he also wrote books (nine by my count). Nonetheless, even though Yogi played in ten World Series (most ever), made the Baseball Hall of Fame and managed teams from both the National and American League that made it to the World Series, he will still be most remembered for his one liners. Now that’s testimony to the power of the spoken word. How many contemporary writers can claim to have had as much to say (and remembered) on the American psyche as Yogi Berra……Damn few.

Some Yogi-isms To Always Cherish

  1. If I didn’t make it baseball, I wouldn’t have made it workin’. I didn’t like to work.
  2. We made too many wrong mistakes.
  3. All pitchers are liars or crybabies.
  4. Little league baseball is a good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.
  5. You can observe a lot by watching.
  6. The future ain’t what it used to be.
  7. You can’t hit and think at the same time.
  8. It’s deja vu all over again.
  9. When you come to a fork in the road take it.
  10. I didn’t really say everything that I said.

And last but not least: “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise they won’t go to yours.”

Short Tribute

And as far as Yogi Berra’s funeral went, I haven’t read any press accounts, but I can only imagine that it was very well attended. And though we haven’t heard too much from the man lately (last book, You Can Observe a Lot By Watching, published in 2009) , nobody has captured the true essence of baseball as Yogi did with his catchy one-liners….that is…..back in the heyday before we had designated hitters and World Series games that are in competition with Halloween. Baseball just ain’t what it used to be.

Yogi Berra understood the true essence of baseball.
Yogi Berra understood the true essence of baseball.

 

 

 

Using Kickstarter

Spacewalk on Gemini flight, from NASA
Spacewalk on Gemini flight, from NASA….For some taking the plunge into self publishing, the first step may be a bit  like spacewalking

Taking The Plunge

It’s a constantly changing and strange world for those who have not yet broken into traditional publishing and are now considering a try at doing it themselves. Roughly speaking, authors have been self-publishing e-books for over 10 years now with the bulk of online activity coming within the last five. For the most part, Amazon has been the main place to post your e-book, but other venues such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and Sony have been around almost as long. Following is a quick survey of some things that you might encounter if you decide to self-publish.

Content

Not only do you have to have content that is of a high quality, but also your written material must be in demand by those who are willing to purchase and read an e-book. This might sound like a no-brainer to many writers, but keep in mind that there is a lot of well-written, highly-conceived material that receives little attention by readers. In other words, to draw the interest of readers you have to hit the right chord that will make that person purchase your e-book. This is just as true for the short story priced at 99 cents, as it is for the full-sized novel that runs in the ten dollar range.

The Writer Glut

As time goes on, literary sales to owners of electronic reading devices may become more difficult as the numbers of authors attempting to self-publish increases and the number of e-book  readers levels off. This is just a matter of  numerical reality and common sense. Nowadays, when I put I put up a new title on Smashwords, it is off the charts (relegated to page 5 or greater) in a few hours. Back when Smashwords was just starting out, a newly published e-book would stay visible (in the first several pages of listings) for a few days.

Reversing The Trend

However, all is not lost for the newbie writer, for there are several ways to beat the odds and gain a loyal following. Let’s assume for a minute that you have already found a small niche with a couple of written pieces that readers respond to in a positive way, which hopefully includes an occasional purchase or two. From here the next step will be to bring more people into your readership base.

The best way to do this is to self-publish more work, while at the same time, letting everybody know about your newest release. Currently, blogging and participating in other forms of social media, such as Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc., are the best methods to get the word out……. And hopefully along the way, something that you wrote goes viral and you become the latest internet sensation…….BUT DON’T COUNT ON IT……for slow and steady seems to be the rule of the day.

Going The Kickstarter Route

So far I have been working on the assumption that you are doing everything, like editing, proofreading, cover design and formatting, on your own. If you aren’t, good thinking because bringing talented personnel to help out with these tasks can be a big boost to the way your final product appears to the prospective buyer. It can also be a big drain on your bank account.

This is where funding sites like Kickstarter can be an essential aid to the newbie self-publisher, because by the time your first publication is ready to go live, you will be more of a publisher than a writer. However, the plus side to all of this, is that going through a public crowd sourcing site, like Kickstarter will force you to plan ahead and seek good graphic designers, formatters, proofreaders and whoever may be required to get your little literary effort looking ship-shape. And then again another big advantage, is that once your project goes live, your potential readership will grow from the ranks of those who choose to support your project. And that my friends is a win-win situation.

contrary to popular belief, self-publishing is seldom an easy ride,
Contrary to popular belief, self-publishing is seldom an easy ride.

 

 

Why We Read (and write) Horror

“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”  by Stephen King

The Joker from the Dark Knight
The Joker from the Dark Knight

Those Terrifying Flying Monkeys

I have a confession to make…….I could not watch The Wizard of Oz all the way through until I was 14 years old. It was always the flying monkeys that would send me running away from the TV set and into another room, where I would bide my time reading a book or some such activity until the movie ended. Even my younger brothers were able to sit through the whole movie before I was able to. Why I was so terrified of these fictional animals I do not know, I just know that there was something very primal in them that frightened the Dickens out of me.

In fact, we all seem to have a few basic fears that storytellers from past ages to the present have tried to exploit. And as Stephen King expressed in the opening quote, their motive may not always be financial, for there is also the innate need to develop an effective way to prepare ourselves for any misfortune or disaster, which are bound to come our way from time to time.

Living In the City Where Stephen King Was Born

For over ten years I lived in the city where Stephen King was born, Portland, Maine. And to be honest, the place is a beautiful city on a series of hills that overlooks a saltwater bay. The port has picturesque lighthouses, ocean-going freighters and popular seafood restaurants that specialize in boiled lobsters. Not by any stretch of the imagination can Portland be considered a dark-spirited place. So where did King get his stories. They must have been internalized.

King’s Memoir Almost Comes Home To Haunt Him

Stephen King’s book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, started out just like any other book on writing. Put rear end in chair and type. But then a demon showed up, a middle-aged man in a SUV. Accident or not, he ran Mr. King over and near killed the famed author. As a result, On Writing differs from other treatises on the same subject, because the details of Mr. King’s horrendous accident and miraculous recovery become part of the story. Even Mr. King could not escape his own stories.

Quotes On Horror

“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of hell.”  by Edgar Allan Poe

“[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” by Clive Barker

“Most of the laugh tracks on television were recorded in the early 1950s. These days, most of the people you hear laughing are dead.”  by Chuck Palahniuk

“It’s a dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?”  by Stephen King

“Demons are like obedient dogs; they come when they are called.”  by Remy de Gourmont

“I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times.” Robert Bloch, Psycho

“The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”  by  Frederic Brown

“There are horrors beyond life’s edge that we do not suspect, and once in a while man’s evil prying calls them within our range.”  H.P. Lovecraft,  The Thing On the Doorstep

“It’s not the books of Stephen King that I read,

I need protection from the things in my head….”  by Jimmy Buffett

“Imagination, of course, can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in.”  by Truman Capote from In Cold Blood

A scene from The Wizard of Oz, where a winged monkey takes an order from one of the witches
A scene from The Wizard of Oz, where a winged monkey takes an order from one of the witches

A Look Back at 2014

 

Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula  Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci
Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula
Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci

Good Riddance to 2014

Though 2014 has not been all that bad a year, I am more than glad to see it banished into the realms of past history. For me, as a writer, this past year has been one of great promises, all of which seem to have gone unfulfilled or turned into dead-end back alleys. All the good contacts and leads, which I had so painstakingly advanced, dissolved into nothing.

Then there was the closing of Yahoo Voices, a site which I had started to contribute to, way back when it was called Associated Content. Finally, as of this year, the site was beginning to produce some real revenue, but as soon as that begin to happen, YV closed it doors and took all articles off the web with just a 30 day warning…….2015 has to be better!

Important Literary Events of 2014

By far the most important literary event of 2014 was the ongoing feud between Amazon and Hachette. Although this dispute was settled last month, just in time for the Christmas sales, the ebook pricing agreement will affect all the large publishers, who wish to sell ebooks on Amazon.com. Another important Amazon action that will affect many self-publishing Indie authors is the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (commonly called KU) by Amazon. This decision will be especially detrimental to authors, who sell a large number of self-published ebooks  in the $2.99 to $7.99 range through Kindle Select. Stay tuned for there is more to come on this new development.

And finally there is the most recent success of The Interview, a recent Sony pictures release that depicts the death of the leader of North Korea. This is a complex story, where Sony originally eighty-sixed the movie after hacking repercussions, but later released the movie in an unique way that has made the dark comedy a smash hit around the globe.

In Passing

For me, the most notable passing has been the death of Maya Angelou, theaward-winning  African American writer, who penned such American favorites as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Also gone are Thomas Berger (author of Little Big Man), Nadine Gordimer (July’s People), Graham Joyce, P.D. James and Ralph Giordano (a holocaust surviver and author).

2014 Success Story

One of the most amazing events of 2014 was the landing of a ESA spacecraft on a moving comet. On November 12, 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft successfully landed on the Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko and immediately started beaming back pictures, such as the one below. Unfortunately, a notably 20th century problem has now disconnected the adventurous, ESA spacecraft from the planet Earth. And that problem is low batteries, which is something many of us experience all the time.

The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko  Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson
The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson

What the Future Might Bring?

image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanders
image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanderers, which was created by Eric Wernquist and Christian Sandquist and features the words and voice of Carl Sagan.

To view The Wanderers go to the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day site, here.