Wednesday, April 29, 2009

They Were the Texans of Their Day

Not too long ago we had quite a debate at one of the social networks I belong to, and someone later posted to never get into a debate with the professional writers. He called us "trained professionals."

However I must confess, I took most of my formal writing classes in high school. By the time I got to college I took the obligatory college English, but English was not my major.

What college did was keep you on your toes when it came to writing prose. Regardless if you were taking courses in history or basket weaving, least once every semester we had to deal with term papers and the dreaded essay exam. And believe me, even if you did all your research and knew the subject matter at hand well enough to get an "A", they would still ding the hell out of you if your spelling, sentence structure and grammar was not up to task. Term papers I could deal with. There was plenty of time for me to edit them as best I could before I turned them in. But the essay exam??? Yikes!!

Whenever a professor told us to bring blue books for an exam we all knew we were in deep, deep doo-doo. Those were little notebooks, about 12 pages or so, filled with lined notebook paper and a blue cover, and they were used solely for essay exams. Essay exams were really intimidating, even for those of us who enjoyed writing. You had to write off the cuff, you no time for editing, spelling and grammar counted, and you had to compete all it within the alloted time.

I can't quite remember the course now, I think it may have been music history. Then came finals with the dreaded essay exam. One of the questions was about the Baroque period. All semester long the professor had talked about these Baroque composers doing whatever it was they were doing bigger and better than anyone else had ever done before. As I recall I didn't have time to get into a lot of detail with my answer, so I simply summed it up with the phrase, "they were the Texans of their day," and went on to the next question.

I passed.


Monday, April 13, 2009

The Demise of Prime Time Television

I had a friend over for Easter dinner last night. Like me she grew up in the days of good prime time television, (she is a real Bonanza fan), and we had quite a discussion about the state of prime time network television today. She told me that the networks plan on doing even more reality TV, as if we weren't getting enough of it already. She said it's because of all the writer's and actor's strikes in recent years. Apparently this is the network executives way of getting even. So it's not just the western that's dead on TV, it's the demise of good police and doctor shows too. And then there's the variety shows. They've been gone just as long as the western.

As a writer and a storyteller this is particularly troubling. Storytelling may be a dying art, and it is probably the oldest art form there is. It goes all the way back to the cavemen telling stories around the campfire. And it is the sharing of stories that helps bond us as people.

I remember when I was a kid growing up our family would gather around the TV at night and enjoy good television based on good storytelling. Our Sunday nights were not complete without Bonanza. We watched comedies like McHale's Navy too, and Dad was a die hard Combat! fan. We would talk about the characters and the plot lines, and we would look forward to the next episode. It helped to bond us as a family.

American Idol may be entertaining, but it's not the same as The Carol Burnett Show. And while Hell's Kitchen hasn't killed my passion for cooking, it makes me appreciate the fact I no longer work in food service. But I can only take so much reality TV. I really miss the days when I could turn on the TV after a long day and just be entertained by good stories.

Thank goodness for Netflix. I can rent DVDs of the older, and better, days of prime time television. I'm currently enjoying The Wild Wild West and Hawaii Five-O. They're sooo much better than all that reality TV crap!

And the network executives can't figure out why their ratings keep dropping.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Historical Revisionism

This morning while going through my e-mail I found a message from the moderator on one of the groups in a ning network I belong to announcing that a member has been banned for promoting her own agenda. That's a shame. I did not see the post in question as it must have already been removed, but as someone who moderates another group in that same ning network I would agree that members should only post material relevant to the group in the group topics, and save other topics for blogs.

A few e-mails down I get to another e-mail from the aforementioned group member who has started up her own ning network about historical revisionism. Good for her. It seems to me it all worked out for the best.

Now regardless of your political affiliation, the one thing we do not want to see happen is someone revising our history to fit their own political agenda, and there has been far too much of that going on in recent years. Historical revisionism one of the main factors that motivated me to write my historical novels for children, as well as my WWII era cookbook, in the first place. I work hard to make them as historically accurate as possible, even though they may be "politically incorrect" by some people's perceptions. Sorry folks, but our history is not "politically correct," it never has been "politically correct," and I'm not going to write my books to make them "politically correct." The same thing when I perform my living history personas "The Tombstone Storyteller" and "The WWII Housewife." I tell the real story as best I can.

I do feel for today's parents. They must be having a heck of a time dealing with the "Americans Are Rotten Evil People" mentality that I hear some of the public schools are touting these days. That never happened when I was a kid in the public schools. We were all taught to be patriotic, to honor our flag, and to respect our president. No wonder more and more parents are pulling their kids out of the public schools and home schooling them instead.

I know this makes me "politically incorrect," but I love my country, and I happen to think the American people are good people. We may not be perfect and we certainly have made our fair share of mistakes, but we strive to do the right thing. And that's what makes America great.


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Author Myth

It's funny how things work out in life. Yesterday I'm on the phone with a lady from my insurance company. Someone rear-ended my SUV a few weeks ago. No one was hurt and the damage to my vehicle was very minor, and we're trying to get the claim settled so we can get it into the body shop to get the bumper repaired. She wants to schedule me for Monday, and I'm having to explain to her that I can't do it on Monday as I am starting a new job on Monday.

"What?" she replies. "I thought you were an author. You mean you have to work another job?"

Ah yes, The Author Myth. Everyone thinks we authors are all very rich. And while I'd love to be J. R. Rowling or Danielle Steel, the reality is that most authors are regular working folk. Sure, we may have a certain degree of fame because from time to time we do interviews with the media. But very few us us are raking in millions of dollars in royalty checks.

I think that myth probably got started by TV shows like Columbo, which had at least one episode about a rich author living in a huge mansion. Then there was Murder She Wrote. As I recall Jessica lived in a modest New England home, but she was living off her book royalties and doing well enough to go out and solve murders better than the cops could. TV programs like this really help perpetuate the "Author Myth."

From time to time I get emails from total strangers who tell me they have great ideas for a book. They of course have no money, but they want me to help them write their book, and since they can't pay my they offer split their book profits with me because they know they're going to get rich. Then when I have to explain to them that getting a major publisher to buy their manuscript is nearly impossible, and if they opt for partnership publishing they'll be lucky if they earn a few thousand dollars a year off their royalties, they are never heard from again.

The insurance lady went on to tell me she had read my books, and apparently she enjoyed them.

"So I guess writing books must be a real labor of love for you then, right?"

Yep. It sure is. Still, I want to be J.R. Rowling.

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