The Slug in Winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD.  I hate those pseudo-medical names for conditions that should be left to poets and fiction writers.  The sun goes away in the winter and inertia takes over.  It’s not quite depression, but death is much easier to imagine in this state.  It seems that for most of us the symptoms grow worse as we age, which makes sense – we’re already more aware of death because suddenly it’s a lot closer, and then comes Fall with the sun going out and the shriveling and dying of leaves and flowers and all that.  Fall just gilds the gloomy lily , so to speak.  This raises the question – why did lilies become the go-to flower for funerals?  Is it because they smell so strongly?  That would have been useful before the days of quality undertaking.

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” I have loved that line from Dylan Thomas since I first heard it as a kid.  Very heroic sounding.  But now I don’t know if I would have the energy to rage against death like he wanted his father to do, especially if it was this time of the year, when the light is literally dying.

Actually, I credit my blog with rousing me somewhat from my stuporous lethargy.  I couldn’t let the entire month of November pass without an entry.  I might loose one of my four regular readers if I’m not diligent. And now that I’m on a roll, I should mention that an agent is looking at my book, and that I’ve signed up for that writers and editors speed-dating thing, the New York Pitch conference.

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Dog River

If you were an Egyptian general on your way to smite the Hittites you would have led your army up the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean through Lebanon.  This route had a major drawback, however, the Dog River, backed up by a steep rocky ridge that runs straight into the sea.   Great armies had to proceed over the ridge and down to the river in single-file making them incredibly vulnerable.

Tourist and Assyrian king

Around three thousand years ago, some general instituted the tradition of carving a memorial into the rock to mark his successful crossing of the Dog River.  The path across the ridge is lined with dozens of these carvings.  Greeks, Egyptians, Assyrians, Turks, Arabs, French, Brits, even Lebanese all left their marks.


The Dog River is no longer a barrier.  There is a bridge across the river and a tunnel through the rock.  And the armies of the last two countries to visit Lebanon, Syria and Israel, didn’t  come this way.

I love the name of the river and I love its history.  I’m going to use it in my book.  Maybe the two adulterous lovers will meet here.

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Too many facts

The book I’m working on now is set in Lebanon around the years 1990 – 2005.  This period encompasses the civil war, the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Hariri and the 2006 Israeli invasion.  I want to concentrate on my characters, but I’m constantly snagged on some historical detail that requires research.

My heroine flees south Lebanon after her parents and her Irish soldier boyfriend are killed.  The intricacies of the civil war affect her every move, and it was a maddeningly complicated fight.  One example – I have her sheltering in a Druze village at one point.  So I need to know which side the Druze were on at that particular time.  Were they fighting the Christians, or were they allied?  Questions like this pop up constantly.

I’ll be in Lebanon later this week, so I can do a bit of research in my spare time, and renew my sense of the landscape.

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Shall I compare myself to Hemingway?

Effective bragging seems like a necessary skill nowadays for  writers.   I have a friend who recently attended one of those publisher-writer events where you meet ten or so publishers’ representatives over two days and get maybe five minutes with each to pitch your book.  The organizers also prep you for the experience and help you work on your lines.  It apparently isn’t a time for  humility.  Part of the pitch consists of comparing yourself  to famous writers.  You need to come up with lines like  “My novel is cast in the tradition of The Sound and the Fury” or “Ayn Rand and Mickey Spillane have been major influences on my work.”

This speed-dating approach seems to work.  My friend tells me a number of the participants were requested to submit manuscripts.  Two publishers are looking at her novel.  I’m still following that old advice “Get an agent first!”  I’ve been “getting” an agent for about a year now.  And  even after I get one,  there is sure no guarantee they’ll ever find anyone to look at my manuscript.  I think I’m going to try speed-dating myself.  I just have to find the most appropriate famous novelists with whom to compare myself.

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We are the 99 percent – web site gives eloquent voice to the victims of Wall Street

This is  a site put up by some of the people who organized the occupation of Wall Street.  It allows the poor and unemployed to post their photo and a letter describing their plight. It is very effective.

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21st Century Fascism

I’ve volunteered to work in Ohio on a ballot initiative.  We’re trying to overturn a piece of  legislation that pretty much cripples public employee unions.  It’s right out of the Republican play book.   You see it across the country.  And, as expected, Governor Kasich and the boys have also enacted legislation making it harder for young people, minorities and the poor in general to vote.

Republicans are smart enough to know that even with Wall Street backing and a supine Supreme Court there is still a chance that they might loose a half-way fair election, so they are making damned sure that we don’t see any more of those.

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Oh, James Jones, you heartbreaker

Just got an email from Wilkes University, the people who administer the James Jones First Novel Contest.  It was an automated message generated by one of those submissions manager web sites.  It said the status of my submission had changed.  Went to the web site, and it said the new status of my manuscript was “accepted”.  I figured that could be good.  Maybe I made the next cut.   A visit to the Wilkes University site, however, was a let down.  The contest was over, the winners announced, and I wasn’t one of them.

I’m thinking about writing to the contest organizers and asking them what “accepted” means.  Is it the new “rejected”?

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It’s tough to be a woman

One of the two man characters in my new novel is a woman.  She is also a Shia Muslim whose family was massacred during the Lebanese Civil War when she was young.  To save her life, she pretended to be Christian and has lived as such for 20 years.  I’m going to tell her early story from her point of view, close-in third person.  I think I can pull off impersonating a female character, but it’s an intimidating task.  Even though virtually all of the details of her life are alien to me, it’s her femaleness that seems most difficult, despite the fact that I should know something about women, just from association.

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Back in the USA

Vacation’s over and I can think of no better grounding on the reality I’ve come back to  than two Op-Ed pieces in the Washington Post by E.J. Dionne Jr. and Harold Meyerson.  Dionne is reflecting on the irony of America celebrating “Labor Day”  when workers and their unions are generally seen in the media and even by many in the Democratic Party as “obstacles to the economic growth our bold entrepreneurs would let loose if only they were free from labor regulations.”  Dionne very sensibly proposes changing the name of the holiday to “Capital Day”.

Meyerson complements Dionne’s gloomy assessment with some really gloomy statistics, quoting a study showing the median earnings of 25 to 64 year old men declined 28% between 1969 and 2009.  I know that the American labor movement is fighting back against what has become in essence a war against the non-rich by the rich.  I just wish we had a few more allies.

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Missing the Mud – Part Deux, or when is it really boue?

Nostalgie de la boue generally has a sexual connotation, which is one of the reasons the words popped into my head when I thought of the my student days.  Although in my case, I suppose my nostalgie could also be categorized as “Nostalgie de mon jeunesse”.

Watch out for the mud!

Thought provoking French traffic sign

The phrase also popped into my head because I see the word boue every time I drive down the mountain to Carcassonne.  There is a warning sign by the road that says “Boue après Orage”  We finally figured out it must mean that we should watch out for mud on the road after a storm. The sign prompted a number of interesting discussions about nostalgie de la boue and exactly what kinds of sex acts and with whom constitute boue.

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