On The New York Subway

My father – he’s feeling excellent now, post-surgery; the implant is working well – sent me these photos that were supposedly taken on the New York City Subway. They’re obviously making the rounds. Some appear to be from other mass transit sources, but most do appear to be from New York.

I have no idea who owns them, and reproduce them here only for a laugh. (We all no doubt sure could use one given ugly events of late in my birth city.) As you scroll down (click on them to make them larger), smile and enjoy:

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Marriage And Writing

The other day, Kate Colby shared another great post – this one on how being married has assisted and improved her writing:

Before marrying Daniel, I was a “writer” with big dreams and little action. Now, I am a writer (no quotation marks necessary) with big dreams, big actions, and big plans. Can I give him 100% credit for my success? No. I think I deserve I good chunk of it. However, I can say, having him in my life has been a huge help and momentum builder.

Naturally, everyone has different experiences in that regard. I have certainly been much encouraged in my novel-writing by my wife. She reads what I write closely, critiques it, and keeps me generally grounded.

* * *

Yet my chosen subject matter has also proven at times problematic precisely because I’m married. An example from a June post:

….the iPad packed away, the two of us reclining in the shade (good grief, the sun here is hot!) on loungers [next to] …. the pool, my wife asked me, “Did you get a lot [of writing] done today?”

Lowering a paperback I was reading, I replied, “I did. I woke up this morning thinking, ‘God, how could I have forgotten to include that!?’ I definitely wouldn’t have been happy if I didn’t.”

From behind her sunglasses, deadpan “Englishly” my [English] wife smiled and needled me, “Okay, so, what was her name?”

She’s convinced I’m writing a version of a mid-late 20s autobiography (long before I ever knew her) re-packaged as fiction, names changed, and carefully altered here and there in time and place. I admit there is a degree of truth in her charge. I’ve never pretended to assert the tales and characters are conjured up out of thin air.

Yes, there is a great deal of me in “James.” Yes, there is lots of reality in the women and their families. (Unsurprisingly an especial point of amusing interest to Mrs. Nello now.) And “James’s” family – including “Uncle Bill” – and his friends, and the fictionalized Long Island university he attends, all came from somewhere.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a couple on a date.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a couple on a date.

As my wife has read the novels, she has relished playing “detective” – looking to “unmask” characters and life references she thinks she recognizes. However, I’ve also cautioned Mrs. Nello repeatedly that doing that is not nearly as straightforward as she may think. The books are not a journal or a diary.

* * *

That said, we know novelists do rummage through their own lives and experiences to some extent. We know Scott Fitzgerald did. Certainly Hemingway. Jane Austen wrote about what she knew. Alan Paton admitted one of his main characters was outright based on himself decades earlier – and he didn’t like the character! My real-life novelist uncle has sourced much from his own life.

A novel utterly detached from the real world is simply fantasy. But utilizing memories for source material doesn’t necessarily mean it happened precisely as written either of course. Well, okay, not much of the time anyway. ;-)

All kidding aside, reality gives fiction, well, reality. For example, in my own personal code, I have fictionally woven into the books a couple of sharp “slaps” at people I despise. Yes, that’s a bit nasty of me, I know; but only I know who they are.

Free Stock Photo:	3D illustration of a person being crushed in a vice.

Free Stock Photo: 3D illustration of a person being crushed in a vice.

More importantly, like Paton, I’ll admit as well that there are times I don’t like my “James” all that much. I suspect I’ll feel the same about him as I write the third book too. But I’ll leave it to others to attempt to probe what it might mean regarding the psyche when an author writes critically about a fictional “oneself”:

Now Mark blasted him. “You what? You told her you wanted to kiss her? What are you, twelve? ‘Gee, now it’s my turn! Yeh, I get to kiss Valérie!’ This isn’t goddamn ‘Spin the Bottle.’”

“I had too much to drink,” James stressed. “A brandy too much at dinner. My mouth got out ahead of my brain.”

“Oh, that’s so f-ing original,” Mark replied scathingly.

Composing these tales has led me much better to appreciate that what we see in most novels is probably indeed just the tip of the iceberg. Much more has likely gone on beneath those words we devour than we as readers ever fully realize. When it comes to my books, that is certainly the case.

It’s all so layered and complicated. Maybe I should’ve written about elves. Or space princesses. ;-)

Hope you’re having a good Sunday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Our English Pre-Christmas Miracle

One of CNN’s “Top 12″ places to spend Christmas, is just up the road from us:

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CNN opens its explanation about Bath this way:

There are few cities in the world where you can celebrate the birth of Jesus and the birth of Jane Austen with the same amount of fanfare, but Bath happens to be one of them.

The Theatre Royal, which Austen mentions in “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” is home to a musical celebration accompanied by mince pies and mulled wine in honor of the literary doyenne….

Indeed. Just yesterday we decided to have a wander around downtown on Monday or Tuesday. Clearly we’re in a good general Christmas location this year. ;-)

If you’re curious, here is the link to the Bath “Jane Austen Centre” site.

* * *

We also had something of a Christmas moment last night. We decided to splash out and buy a real tree for the first time in years. We needed some new Christmas decorations too: some are packed away here, but most are in America.

So last night we went shopping. At a B&Q, we bought the decorations (many on discount because it’s so close to Christmas now) and a tree (there were still a few nice live ones). We were feeling really good.

Then we abruptly discovered getting a live tree stand was going to be quite a challenge 5 days before Christmas.

Had we stumbled on “The Great English Live Christmas Tree Stand Shortage?”

It sure seemed so. B&Q still had live trees, but no stands at all. “It’s the end of the season for us,” the cashier said. “I think we sold the last one earlier today.” She recommended Tesco. First, we tried three nearer places, and struck out at all those too. Finally, even Tesco failed us.

By now, it was approaching 8pm. There was nowhere else in the immediate vicinity. We figured ordering via Amazon would be the last resort.

On the drive home, though, Mrs. Nello noted, “We had a live tree stand years ago. We must have it. Where is it?”

“I know. I’m thinking,” I mumbled, as we drove, our tree in the back of our small SUV, but with nothing to put it in yet. “Give me a sec. We had real trees when we first got married. Godmanchester. Then in London. Never Christchurch. Remember when I threw the dead tree out the Juliette balcony window after Christmas in Enfield one year after it dropped its needles early? We were so annoyed, we went to fake trees after that.”

“Oh, yeh,” she agreed.

“That must’ve been around 2003 or 4,” I continued. “The fake tree is in America. The live tree stand didn’t go to the Catskills. I didn’t give it away to anyone. It must be upstairs in an attic box. I didn’t throw it out. I never throw stuff like that out.”

“Don’t look at me,” she replied. “Christmas storage has always been your department.”

When we got home, I plunged into a small bedroom we use for storage. At the edge of a floor to ceiling pile of moving boxes full of “unnecessary” items, I found an unopened loft box that was taped shut. It hadn’t been touched in years.

I opened it, and found a few more lights, decorations, garlands and …. there it was! First go. First box. There it sat, looking up at me: our live tree stand, unused for over a decade!

I felt like I’d hit the lottery. I rushed to the top of the staircase and shouted down to Mrs. Nello, “Got it! I found it! It took me ten seconds!”

“A Christmas miracle!” my wife laughed and yelled up to me.

Have a good Saturday. Andy Williams goes on later, and the LIVE tree gets decorated. :-)

“Viewed You Today”

As you may recall, I signed up for About.me a few weeks ago. Based on my initial impressions, I like it. It strikes me as a kinda Linked-in that’s more entertaining, artistic, and driven by “people” and “interests” – including, but not overwhelmingly, career interests. I certainly see where it could prove useful in a networking sense.

In just these first couple of weeks, I’ve had something around 4,000 visits to “view me.” I suppose that’s flattering. But I have no idea yet what those “views” really mean.

I have also spotted certain careers and “interests” predominating among those who are stopping by to “view” me, “add” me to a list, or even to “compliment” me. There are lots of IT, marketing, and other business professionals. Some have extraordinary educations and skills sets. For instance, one who “viewed me” the other day was a Turkish graduate of MIT, and she also plays classical piano. (Good grief. When I discovered that, talk about suddenly feeling yourself inadequate!)

There are journalists. There are entertainers. There are regular international travelers. There are quite a few academics and students. Some people don’t display “amazing” bios, but seem merely friendly and interested in following others as on other social media. All appear to be something of a cross-section of our world; it’s astonishing how diverse the site is. And thankfully, so far, weirdoes and – insofar as I can tell – sp@mmers mercifully seem at a minimum.

A screen capture from within my About.me yesterday.

A screen capture from within my About.me yesterday.

Now something of a downer. I’m also seeing quite a few authors – certainly enough to have caught my attention – have a book cover as their photograph. Meaning literally they have a cover of their latest novel as “their picture.”

My gut reaction: that’s misunderstanding the site. Why? Even as an author myself, my take is the site’s used as a platform to present oneself as a unique individual. It’s about getting to know each other as people. Ultimately, it is about building relationships - business and otherwise.

For example, a market research specialist doesn’t usually represent her/himself with a photograph of the cover of a recent research report. It’s far more likely to be a Hi-Res photograph of her/himself climbing a mountain, or snorkeling, or gardening, or standing on the Great Wall of China. He/she aims to make him/herself “memorable” and – above all – “human” to you, thus leading you to want to know more about them.

Hence the site’s name?: “About.me?”

As an author, it seems fine to note one’s book titles and why you write. A writer’s works and motivations are part of what being a writer is. In that regard, they are no different from anyone else in terms of explaining their occupation, career aspirations, and listing former employers on their CV.

But to me you must never lose sight of the fact that it’s supposed to be about you as “a person.” It’s not first and foremost about your novel(s). Social media – to me, anyway – is about sharing yourself.

Too many authors appear to think “building relationships” and “interacting” on social media is about pushing their book(s). That, to me, is exactly backwards. On social media, your works flow from you as the person who created them.

If upon discovering you someone wants to read your book(s), he/she certainly will. However the “bells and whistles” approach we often see employed by authors on social media is close to “sp@mmer-like” and, frankly, just annoying. It has never led me once – not ever, not anywhere, not anytime – to want to buy a book.

But, then again, maybe I’m the one who has it all wrong? Well, even if I do, I don’t care. Just my take.

Have a good FRIDAY…. wherever you are in the world. :-)

Oh, I just thought of this. I’ve never played piano. However, I think I may have to pull out my old guitar from the closet, practice a bit, and add that to my About.me bio. Hey, don’t laugh: as a teenager, I used to play lots of Beatles’ songs fairly well. ;-)

To The Ski Slopes… And, More Importantly, After

We’re having some necessary electrical work done. The power’s switched off in the house (here in Wiltshire); I’m “tethered” to my phone for some internet. Nothing to do now but wait as the electrician – a nice guy – gets on with things.

Earlier, I was having a look around at some of my “web presence,” and noticed my Gravatar:

My Gravatar.

My Gravatar.

I know lots of people use Gravatar. However, there’s a tendency we all have, I think, to spread ourselves out “too much” over the net. I know there are sites I’ve long ago “abandoned,” but I’ve probably still got something up there, someplace. (A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue I got an automated email from Classmates.com that someone “remembered me.” I didn’t know “Classmates” even still existed? And how many of you had a My Space page you’d forgotten about?)

Anyway, here’s a bit of insider info about my Gravatar. The background photo is of a ski slope in La Clusaz, France. I took that picture about a decade ago.

Mrs. Nello has always been an excellent skier; she’s done it from childhood. I learned in my early thirties, when, I suppose, we all become a bit more physically risk-averse. I can do it, but I never fell in love with skiing the way she has.

Too often, I just fell. Come to think of it, I’ve fallen down in some of the most gorgeous ski resorts in the world. In western Canada. In Italy. In France. Uh, and in the Catskills too. ;-)

I never really hurt more than my pride, thankfully.

We’re going back to La Clusaz for a short stay in January. I always wanted to glide down a slope rather like David Niven in The Pink Panther, but I never managed it. Trying to do so is made all the tougher by so many around you whooshing by and taking it all so seriously that you’d think they were looking to World Cup qualify or something.

Regardless, as there was for Mr. Niven, for me there absolutely needs to be a brandy at the end. Or maybe just forget the skiing entirely, enjoy the views, work on “Book Number 3,” and have a brandy? The latter sounds like a great idea!

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Rule #1 For Any Author

I just discovered, by email notification, that a blogger I follow on WordPress has apparently read my first novel, Passports. The blogger evidently devoted a post to it. Understand that (as of this writing) I have no idea what that blogger thinks of the book because I have not read the post.

And I probably will not read it. Why not? When I saw the notification, I instantly thought of my uncle, who has told me he studiously avoids reading reviews of his novels.

It’s a quandary. Think about it. It’s inappropriate, and even tacky, for an author to bask in a positive review’s sunshine, and perhaps even to “like” it.

On the other hand, if a reviewer doesn’t like a book, well, what’s to do? Do a Chris De Burgh? Probably not.

Back in 2009, the Irish singer fired off a scathing retort to The Irish Times, berating a concert reviewer. In it, De Burgh launched some real zingers. He was furious at the reviewer’s negative take on a recent Dublin show:

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That strikes me as almost never the way to deal with even vicious criticism. Almost no one even days later would have really remembered that review, but they will long remember it courtesy of De Burgh’s angry response. One would’ve thought someone like De Burgh would’ve known that.

If someone directly approaches you (with an email, say), you are entitled to respond if you wish. That’s now a personal conversation: a correspondent is seeking you out, either positively or negatively. However, I feel the best way to react to public reviews is with silence, mixed with unseen appreciation people out there think enough of your books to buy them, read them, and discuss them.

First rule for every published author: Once your book is released, it ceases to be “yours.” It now belongs to each and every reader separately, and every one of them approaches your work from his/her own intensely personal perspective. In the end, as with music, how the book is interpreted is out of your control, and you won’t please everyone.

Have good day, wherever you are in the world. Me? Uh, time for more cold medication. Ugh. :-(

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UPDATE: For more on this issue, from (by pure coincidence) today as well:

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Enjoy!

But Don’t Mix Cold Medication With Wine

I’ve come down with a massive cold. Have felt terrible all day. Dosed up heavily. Slept lots.

Finally got around to watching some TV news and reading some news sites – and much out there is (as usual) awful stuff.

I hadn’t done some iPad updates for a few days either. I noticed this one in the queue as I okayed a bunch of them. I also don’t think this was meant to read quite as it does:

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So that’s that. It’s now official. NPR (National Public Radio) *will* cure insomnia.

* * *

All kidding aside, this is actually unsettling. I happened to see this yesterday. It’s from October, courtesy of Pew Research (if you click over, you’ll see there are a few more below Bloomberg I’ve cropped off below):

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Only 53% of Americans have even heard of NPR? True, much of its listenership is rural. Still, I would’ve thought even if one didn’t listen to it, at least it registered somewhere on the media horizon for most of the population.

Yet 64% have heard of “the Daily Show?” If you’re one of the roughly one-third who’d not until now, it’s a half-hour satire nightly TV program. It’s hosted by the guy we all went to high school with who sits in the back of every class and pulls funny faces at the teacher over whatever he deems worth making fun of.

Sounds depressing, but on closer inspection the upside is while so many have heard of “the Daily Show,” only 16% reportedly trust it as a “news source.” Thus we have proof most people are smart enough to discern the difference between actual news and throwing paper airplanes. Perhaps there is hope for the world?

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Looking at the list, note one of the omissions:

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Wait. What? Where’s France 24?

If you don’t get it on cable or satellite, it streams on the internet. It is perhaps the most genteel 24 hour news channel on television. For example, in its “debate” programs, no one yells at each other. And, afterwards, everyone has a glass of wine. ;-)

Sorta a different approach compared to Fox and MSNBC. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Tuesday….

Coinage Of A Distant Land

Last week, my mother told me someone had slipped her this coin in change in one of her northeast Pennyslvania local shops. She was annoyed when she got home and discovered it. She then asked me if I could at least maybe identify it:

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I was stumped. As I don’t like being easily stumped, I resorted to a Google search on coins and the years “1987” and “1407.” After a few clicks around, I found the source country: Morocco.

When I told my Mom that, she laughed. “We get Canadian coins all the time. Morocco? In backwoods Pennsylvania?”

I shrugged and reminded her, “Increasingly global world nowadays, Mother.” :-)

Hope you’re having a good Monday….

Fly, Let’s Fly Away (Unless There’s An Air Traffic Control Computer Breakdown)

Hi everyone. I scribbled this post on Friday evening, at about 7:30 PM, waiting at the gate for my British Airways flight to London Heathrow. As I had no internet access, I could not post it until this morning, UK time.

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An airport service driver met me at my parents’ Pennsylvania house. We had a two hour drive to Newark Airport. The roads around Newark are absurd. I understand now why New Jerseyites have among the highest car insurance rates in the U.S. I feel sorry for them. Lunatics are responsible for the road layouts of the likes of I-78, I-287 and Route 24. No wonder so many people crash into each other.

What might have been a long flight delay – until 2 am Saturday – due to the London area computer breakdown, mercifully became only one hour for my flight. That, as we know, is no big deal in air travel terms.

We all know the drill once we get to an airport. BA staff at check-in were pleasant and helpful. No wait at the bag drop.

“So we’re going?” I laughed to the woman behind the counter as she took my printed boarding pass and passport.

“Oh, yes,” she smiled. “Just about an hour delay.”

I got here so early, I treated myself to a couple of slices of pizza from (I think it was called) Famiglia Market. Pretty good, actually. Schwarzenegger had apparently been there. His photo is displayed prominently behind the counter. “I’ll be back” …. for pizza again, he said.

At Security, a British woman immediately ahead of me in the line (queue) left her passport and ticket next to the bins into which you put objects to be screened. I noticed them when I looked down to grab bins for myself. She was immensely relieved I’d seen them and said something before she’d gone through the metal detector.

My good deed.

A people-less moment, at the gates at Newark-Liberty Airport's Terminal B. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A people-less moment, at the gates at Newark-Liberty Airport’s Terminal B. [Photo by me, 2014.]

There is not much to do at the gates at Terminal B at Newark. BA Terminal 7 at JFK has lots more duty free shopping and places to eat. Newark has most of it before Security, which isn’t always convenient.

I did buy a bottle of Gordon’s for my father-in-law, though, and wished the guy at the shop a good night. He replied that he would be working well into the night. “There’s a China flight that goes off at 2 AM,” he groaned.

A Paris-Orly flight is boarding at a nearby gate. A couple of passengers are being summoned for “document checks.” The PA announcer calling out some passenger names is having trouble pronouncing a couple of the French names….

Another Dreamliner flight awaits. I’ll probably sleep the whole way across – after a vodka and Coke. Next stop Heathrow Terminal 5.

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Now it’s Sunday morning in London. I made it. I’m back. :-)

World War II: “What does it say about us?”

If you visit my modest site here regularly, you know I write novels revolving around young Americans abroad in the 1990s – in France in particular. Unsurprisingly, I have many French characters, one of whom is a Second World War veteran. Before heading down that literary path, as an academic I’d studied the war and its impacts on post-war Europe.

So please pardon an extremely serious – even depressing – post. For whenever American WWII involvement is cited non-chalantly in present political debates, I take notice. In this case, a former comedian (who now has a chatter show on HBO) tweeted breezily the other day that the U.S. had won WWII without resorting to torture:

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We’ll leave aside his Cold War reference. We don’t know much that happened “quietly” in “black spots” and out of sight during the Cold War. But his raising it in that manner merely demonstrates he probably has only cursory knowledge about how the West and the Soviet bloc intelligence services went at each other viciously during those years, including resorting to umbrella poisonings, and in involving themselves (and sometimes succeeding) in overthrowing unfriendly governments, and then supporting torturers within the new governments.

Let’s focus instead on asking about “us” during the Second World War, which is a conflict that in U.S. lore today is now the last “good war.” Yes, millions of Americans served honorably. Yes, they helped liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. Yes, they helped end Japanese militarism. Freedom and democracy in Europe and much of the Pacific today owes a great deal to their sacrifices and accomplishments.

However, all of that did not come about without misery and death on what is now an incomprehensible scale. Two thousand years ago the Roman Tacitus famously wrote of his countrymen, “They make a desert, and they call it peace.” It could well be said that, between 1941-1945, America helped do much the same…. to “win” that former comedian’s version of the Second World War. Just a few examples:

  • U.S. soldiers raping Frenchwomen was not nearly as rare as we all might like to think it was.
  • After entering Dachau concentration camp near war’s end, U.S. soldiers herded captured guards together and shot them:
29 April 1945. Dachau, Bavaria, Germany: This picture shows an execution of SS troops in a coalyard in the area of Dachau concentration camp during the liberation of the camp. (Public domain.)

29 April 1945. Dachau, Bavaria, Germany: This picture shows an execution of SS troops in a coalyard in the area of Dachau concentration camp during the liberation of the camp. (Public domain.)

  • There were other occasions U.S. soldiers murdered captured PoWs, as in Sicily in 1943.
  • Following the D-Day battle, U.S. Rangers at Pointe du Hoc reportedly shot dead in cold blood French civilians they believed had fought alongside, or had artillery spotted for, the Germans.
  • In the several months’ long pre-D-Day air campaign that sought to hamper German movement by bombing roads and railways in German-occupied France, it is believed “we” may have also killed some 14,000 French civilians.
  • President Roosevelt oversaw years of carpet-bombings of Germany and Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians – including children.
  • President Truman ordered two atomic bombs dropped on cities full of Japanese non-combatants – including children.

Some of us either want us to think, or actually vaguely believe that, the U.S. fought WWII without engaging in “dirty” behavior – as if it were, say, a John Wayne movie. But the problem is even a “John Wayne” movie isn’t even always a “John Wayne” movie. In The Longest Day, the 1962 blockbuster about D-Day starring Wayne among a “cast of thousands,” note that in a brief scene a soldier behind Omaha Beach guns down a group of surrendering Germans…. at least one of whom clearly has his hands up.