This Day In Literary History
On August 31st, 1908, the legendary American writer William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California. His parents were Armenian immigrants who had been living in Turkey. When Saroyan was three years old, his father died suddenly.
Unable to care for her children, Saroyan's mother placed him and his brother and sister in an orphanage. The family would be reunited five years later when Saroyan's mother found steady work at a cannery.
As a boy, William Saroyan developed a passion for reading and learning, educating himself when he wasn't at school. He went to a technical school intending to become a professional typist.
When he was fifteen, his mother showed him some of his late father's writings and Saroyan was impressed. He determined to become a writer himself. He would support himself by doing odd jobs while mastering the craft of writing.
In 1934, at the age of 26, William Saroyan burst onto the literary scene when his classic short story, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, was published by Story magazine. It would later be published in book form as the title story of a collection.
Its protagonist being a starving writer trying to improve his lot in life, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze established the main theme of Saroyan's works - optimism amidst troubled times. It also introduced readers to his style of dazzling, zesty, and impressionistic prose:
Through the air on the flying trapeze, his mind hummed. Amusing it was, astoundingly funny. A trapeze to God, or to nothing, a flying trapeze to some sort of eternity; he prayed for strength to make the flight with grace.
In 1942, following the United States' entry into World War II, William Saroyan enlisted in the Army. He was first stationed in Astoria, Queens. Preferring to avoid the company of his fellow soldiers, Saroyan spent his free time at Manhattan's Lombardy Hotel.
He was later transferred to London as part of a film unit; when his novel The Adventures of Wesley Jackson caught the Army's attention, Saroyan narrowly avoided a court martial for advocating pacifism.
After the war ended, Saroyan continued his writing career. He wrote prolifically, worked fast, and rarely revised his manuscripts. Unfortunately, he drank and gambled away most of his earnings. His body of works included not only short stories and novels, but plays and non-fiction works as well.
As a playwright, William Saroyan was most famous for his classic play, The Time of Your Life (1939). Set in a seedy waterfront bar in San Francisco, its main character is Joe, a wealthy man who gave up working in order to hold court at his favorite bar.
There, he helps out his fellow bar patrons and encourages their eccentricities. The play won Saroyan the Pulitzer Prize, but he refused it in protest over what he saw as the crass commercialization of the award. He later accepted the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.
The Time of Your Life was adapted as a feature film in 1948, starring James Cagney as Joe. The film proved to be a critical and commercial failure, as the stifling Hollywood Production Code was still in effect.
Saroyan's play had to be sanitized as per Production Code requirements, and when preview audiences reacted negatively to the play's ending, producers filmed an alternate ending - common fates suffered by written works adapted for the screen during the Code era.
Believe it or not, Saroyan's classic novel The Human Comedy (1943) actually started out as an original screenplay for MGM, but studio head Louis B. Mayer balked at the length of Saroyan's script, which ran well over two hours.
The author refused to make significant cuts, so he was fired from the project, and another screenwriter was brought in to write the script. Meanwhile, Saroyan wrote a novelization of his original screenplay.
He wrote the novel, which was published before the film was released, to serve as a counterpoint to the drastically altered script for the movie, which he absolutely hated.
The Human Comedy was a morale boosting story centered on a then timely topic: the American home front during World War II. Its main character, Homer Macauley, is a fatherless 14-year-old boy whose older brother is away fighting in the war.
Feeling that he must now be the man of the family, Homer takes an evening job as a telegram delivery boy, which often requires him to deliver news to families that their sons have died in the war.
During the day, he tries to live as normal a life as possible. He goes to school, to the movies, and to church on Sundays. He gets by with the help of his close-knit family (which includes his little brother and their harpist mother) and his own instinctive sense of right and wrong.
Homer remains honest and hopeful as he comes of age amidst the ominous specter of war and the uncertainty and hardships of the home front. His name and experiences are allegorical references to the poet Homer and his legendary epic work, The Odyssey.
After the war ended, William Saroyan resumed his prolific writing career. He continued producing quality short stories, novels, and plays, but then the Cold War began and anticommunist hysteria swept across the American landscape.
Saroyan's works and their themes of universal brotherhood and benevolence fell out of favor in this new climate of distrust, paranoia, and persecution. By 1958, he had left the country and settled in France, taking an apartment in Paris.
In the 1960s, Saroyan finally beat his addictions to alcohol and gambling, which had cost him not only his marriage, but most of his money as well.
Freed from these addictions, he was able to get his writing career back on track. By the 1970s, he had earned more than enough money to get himself out of debt.
William Saroyan died of prostate cancer in 1981. He was 72 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"He neither walks with the multitude nor cheers with them. The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops." - William Saroyan
Today's video features William Saroyan reading from his 1936 short story collection Inhale and Exhale. Saroyan based his classic poem The Armenian and the Armenian on this passage. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 30th, 1944, the famous American writer, journalist, and humorist Molly Ivins was born. She was born Mary Tyler Ivins in Monterey, California, but grew up in Houston, Texas.
Molly's father, Jim Ivins, was an oil company executive, and the family lived in Houston's affluent River Oaks community. Growing up under the thumb of a father known as General Jim because of his ferocious strictness, she developed a strong rebellious nature.
While in high school, Molly cultivated her interest in journalism and became an editor of the student newspaper. In 1963, while studying at Smith College, a liberal arts college for women, she became involved with Hank Holland, a family friend and student at Yale.
In Hank, Molly found a soul mate. She referred to him as "the love of my life." Sadly, he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1964. Unable to find anyone who could replace Hank in her heart, she never married.
Molly would spend her junior year studying political science in Paris. After returning to the U.S. in 1967, she earned a Master's degree in journalism at Columbia University.
After earning her Master's degree, Molly moved to Minnesota, where she took a job as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. Her editor assigned her to cover "militant blacks, angry Indians, radical students, uppity women and a motley assortment of other misfits and troublemakers."
By 1970, Molly had quit her job and returned to Houston, where she became a co-editor and political reporter for the Texas Observer. She covered the Texas state legislature from a liberal, populist perspective, employing the sparkling, scathing wit that would make her famous.
Her snappy, witty style of writing caught the eye of national publications. Soon, she was writing op-ed pieces and feature stories for The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In 1976, fearing that its writing style was becoming too stale, The New York Times hired Molly Ivins away from the Texas Observer. During her five year tenure, Molly established herself as one of the paper's finest writers.
When legendary rock singer Elvis Presley died in 1977, it was Molly Ivins who wrote his obituary for The New York Times. Ultimately, her colorful writing style would prove to be too colorful for her editor.
In 1980, when she covered a "community chicken-killing festival" in New Mexico, she referred to the event as a "gang pluck." Her irate editor, Abe Rosenthal, accused her of using a double entendre to arouse "dirty thoughts" in her readers' minds. Molly quipped, "Damn if I could fool you, Mr. Rosenthal!"
The following year, she left the The New York Times after accepting an offer from the Dallas Times Herald to write a column which she would have full creative control of. She would remain with the paper for ten years.
While she wrote her column for the Dallas Times Herald, Molly Ivins' fame would grow, as she also wrote freelance pieces for national publications and became a popular speaker on the lecture circuit.
In 1991, Molly published her first book, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?. A compilation of some of her best pieces from the Dallas Times Herald in which she covered the redneck politics of Texas with her scathing wit and pointed criticism, the book spent 22 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.
Rival newspaper The Fort Worth Star-Telegram made Molly an offer to write a column for them, and she accepted. Her column would be syndicated, appearing in nearly 400 newspapers across the country. She wrote for the The Fort Worth Star-Telegram from 1992-2001, after which, she became an independent journalist.
When George W. Bush became President in the controversial 2000 election, Molly went after him with a vengeance. She gave him the famous nickname Shrub and wrote three scathing books about him and the spectacular failure of his presidency.
Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (2000), The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President (2001) and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America (2003) delighted liberals and outraged conservatives.
Molly's disdain for George W. Bush is best summed up in this classic quote: "Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention."
Molly Ivins would write nearly a dozen books and win numerous awards for journalism. She died in 2007 at the age of 62, after a long battle with breast cancer.
Quote Of The Day
"Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful." - Molly Ivins
Today's video features Molly Ivins speaking at Tulane University in 2004. Enjoy!
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 29th, 1833, Britain's Parliament passed the Mills and Factory Act, the first of many reforms enacted to improve the "health and morals" of child laborers - the most exploited members of the working class.
The Mills and Factory Act made it illegal for children under nine years old to work, limited the work week of children aged 9-12 to a maximum of 48 hours and limited the work week for teenagers to a maximum of 68 hours.
The Act also included minimum provisions for facilitating the education of child laborers and for protecting their health and safety. Although woefully inadequate by today's standards, the law was revolutionary for its time.
Why would Parliament, then notorious for its extreme reluctance to regulate British businesses in any way, pass the Mills and Factory Act, which for the first time ever granted national government inspectors unprecedented, unlimited access to factories?
And why, over the years, were more regulatory acts passed by Parliament - acts that were increasingly stricter, leading to the total outlawing of most forms of child labor?
It was all due to the efforts of England's greatest writers, whose works brought the horrific nature of unregulated child labor to national attention, sparking national outrage and demands for reform.
In 1789, the legendary poet William Blake published his classic poem The Chimney Sweeper, in which a child laborer tells of his unhappy plight:
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue,
Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep.
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep...
Blake died in 1827 - six years before the Mills and Factory Act was passed. He spent his last years living in rooms off the Strand, near the alleyways where a child laborer named Charles Dickens walked en route to the job he detested.
Another great English writer who brought the horrors of child labor to national attention was Frances Trollope, whose classic novel, The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, The Factory Boy was published in 1840.
To ensure the accuracy of her novel, Trollope thoroughly researched child labor, combing through contemporary documents and reading the testimony of the victims of unregulated child labor. Most influential was a memoir written by a man named Robert Blincoe.
Blincoe became a workhouse orphan at the age of four. When he was seven, he and eighty other workhouse children, both boys and girls, were taken to work in a horrific textile mill in Nottingham. He would later testify before a Parliamentary committee investigating child labor abuses:
I have seen the time when two weights have each been screwed to my ears. Then three or four of us have been hung on a beam over the machinery, hanging by our hands. Mind, we were apprentices without a mother or father to take care of us. Then we used to stand up, in a skip, without our shirts, and be beat with straps. Then they used to tie up a 28-pound weight to hang down our backs.
Of course, the English writer who contributed the most to reforming child labor was the aforementioned Charles Dickens, who exposed the horrors of child labor in classic novels such as Oliver Twist (1837) and David Copperfield (1850).
As a child laborer himself, he saw these horrors firsthand. Dickens, a child prodigy, had lived a comfortable upper middle class life. Like many others in a similar position, he had felt a sense of superiority and entitlement.
Then, when he was twelve, his father went broke and was sent to debtor's prison. Charles was forced to work to pay off his father's debts. Angrily bemoaning his situation at first, he soon developed a deep compassion for the poor and oppressed of all ages.
The passage of the Mills and Factory Act in 1833 and subsequent reforms to end the suffering caused by unregulated child labor is proof that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
The Mills and Factory Act was passed not because of a violent revolution at the workplace, but because England's greatest writers had the courage to speak out against the suffering of child laborers and use the power of their words to bring about change.
Quote Of The Day
"In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice." - Charles Dickens
Today's video features a complete reading of Charles Dickens' classic novel, David Copperfield. Enjoy!
Monday, August 28, 2017
Sarah Corbett Morgan
My review of Curtis Dawkins’, The Graybar Hotel, is live at The Internet Review of Books. "Who would imagine that a murderer serving life without parole would have an MFA in writing and create masterful short stories?"
Cezarija E. Abartis
"Cinderella and Her Mother" is up at matchbook. I'm pleased it found a good home.
Friday, August 25, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 25th, 1949, the famous English writer Martin Amis was born. He was born in Oxford, England, the son of famous writer Sir Kingsley Amis.
As a boy, Martin Amis attended 14 different schools, as his father gave lectures at colleges and universities all over the United Kingdom and the United States, taking the family with him.
Martin Amis was twelve years old when his parents divorced. He only read comic books until his stepmother, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, introduced him to the novels of Jane Austen, whom he credited as his earliest influence.
As a teenager, Martin became a hippie and hung out at bars with the mod crowd. He later graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with a Congratulatory First in English, which he described as "the sort where you are called in for a viva and the examiners tell you how much they enjoyed reading your papers."
In 1973, Martin Amis' first novel, The Rachel Papers, was published. The semi-autobiographical comic novel told the story of Charles Highway, a bright, bookish, 19-year-old wannabe intellectual making the transition from adolescence to manhood.
Nasty yet moral, calculating yet able to love, Charles falls for the lovely Rachel, executes a carefully planned seduction of her, then abandons her even though she may be pregnant with his child. The absurdly conceited Charles doesn't realize how much he has in common with his father, whom he detests.
The Rachel Papers, which was adapted as a feature film in 1989, won Martin Amis the Somerset Maugham Award - the same award his father had won for his 1954 novel, Lucky Jim. Unfortunately, Sir Kingsley Amis showed no interest in his son's work and often derided it.
Martin's next novel, Dead Babies (1975), a black comedy, has been described as a cross between the works of P.G. Wodehouse and the Marquis de Sade. It's set in a bleak future where excess has become the norm, as the characters engage in orgies of sex and drugs. Dead Babies was adapted as a feature film in 2000, released in the United States under the title Mood Swingers.
Some of Martin Amis' best known and most respected novels were written in the 1980s and 90s, including Money (1984), London Fields (1989), Time's Arrow (1991), and The Information (1995).
In Time's Arrow, which was nominated for a Booker Prize, the novel is the autobiography of its main character, an ex-Nazi doctor accused of torturing Jews during the Holocaust. Amis employs an unusual narrative technique: time runs backward during the entire novel, to the point that the characters even speak backward.
In addition to his novels, Martin Amis also wrote short story collections and nonfiction. Some of his most memorable nonfiction books include The Moronic Inferno And Other Visits To America (1986) - a collection of satirical essays about all things American, from fashion to the religious right.
Koba The Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (2002) is about the horrors of Stalinism. His most recent nonfiction book, The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom (2008) offers scathing attacks on both Islamic extremism and the Bush administration's response to it.
Martin Amis' latest novel, The Zone Of Interest, was published in August of 2014. Set in the Auschwitz concentration camp, circa 1942, it tells the story of Angelus Thomsen, a Nazi officer who falls in love with Hannah Doll, the wife of the commandant, Paul Doll.
The affair awakens the humanity of Thomsen, who becomes appalled by the inhumanity of Auschwitz. His love for Hannah helps her find sanity in an insane existence as the wife of the deluded, psychopathic commandant.
When her husband discovers the affair, Hannah's hate for Paul escalates, and she uses the affair to taunt him in private and embarrass him in public. So he plots to have her killed by blackmailing Szmul Zacharias, a Jewish Sonderkommando.
The novel features alternating first-person narration by Thomsen, Paul Doll, and Szmul Zacharias. Critics called it the best novel Amis has written since London Fields (1989).
Quote Of The Day
"The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone." - Martin Amis
Today's video features Martin Amis discussing his latest novel at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 24, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 24th, 1847, the legendary English writer Charlotte Bronte submitted the manuscript for her classic novel Jane Eyre to Smith, Elder, and Co. - the publisher who would finally accept it. The novel had been rejected by five previous publishers.
Jane Eyre would become an instant hit - a huge critical and commercial success during its time - and later be rightfully recognized as one of the all-time greatest works of English literature. But why was it rejected so many times before finally being published?
In Victorian England, female writers were looked down on. In fact, Charlotte Bronte had been advised by famous poets (and staunch conservatives) William Wordsworth and Robert Southey that writing was no profession for a woman.
Undaunted, Bronte submitted Jane Eyre under the pseudonym Currer Bell, as it was common for female writers to use male sounding pseudonyms.
The publishers who rejected Jane Eyre knew that it had been written by a woman, but that didn't bother them. What they found infuriating were the feminist themes in the novel.
Narrated by its title character, the story follows Jane from the age of ten through womanhood. As a young orphan girl, following her kind uncle's death, Jane escapes from her cruel aunt and cousins when she is enrolled at Lockwood School.
Unfortunately, the school is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, a nasty, hypocritical Christian clergyman who is both self-righteous and dishonest. Life at Lockwood is grim for Jane and the other students.
When a typhus epidemic exposes Brocklehurst's neglect and dishonesty, new people are brought in to supervise him and share his duties as inspector and treasurer.
Although the cruel Brocklehurst is not removed from his position due to his family's wealth and prominence, the conditions at Lockwood School improve considerably.
The novel then jumps ahead eight years, and we find Jane Eyre, having taught at Lockwood for a couple of years, taking a better job as governess to Adele, the spoiled little daughter of Edward Rochester, owner of Thornfield Manor.
Though Jane is twenty years younger, Rochester finds himself taken with her. Happy at first with her new job, Jane is soon troubled by mysterious occurrences, including strange laughter echoing through the hallways, a fire, and an attack on a guest.
When Jane, who had been keeping her feelings a secret for months, finally proclaims her love for Rochester, he proposes to her. Later, after a month of courtship, Jane finds herself stalked by a strange and savage-looking woman.
Rochester blames a drunken servant for the strange happenings, but at their wedding, Jane learns the truth. A man named Mason and a lawyer interrupt the ceremony and reveal that Edward Rochester is already married.
Rochester's wife, Bertha, is a violently insane madwoman whom he keeps confined in the attic. He hadn't known that madness ran rampant in Bertha's family when he married her. The wedding is canceled and Jane is heartbroken.
Rochester asks her to move with him to the South of France where they will live as husband and wife, but she cannot bring herself to live with him in sin. So she leaves him, fleeing Thornfield Manor in the middle of the night.
When her money runs out, Jane reluctantly turns to begging. One night, freezing and starving, she goes to a house to beg for help. The clergyman who lives there, St. John Eyre Rivers, turns out to be a cousin of Jane's.
Rivers is a fanatical Calvinist clergyman. While he is charitable, honest, and forgiving, he's also proud, cold, and controlling. When he asks her to marry him and go with him to India, where he plans to do missionary work, Jane refuses, knowing that they really don't love each other.
Rivers continues to pressure her and she finally agrees to marry him, but then she thinks she hears the voice of Edward Rochester calling her name. The next morning, she decides to go to Thornfield Manor to check on Rochester before she leaves with Rivers for India.
On her way to Thornfield, Jane learns from an innkeeper that Rochester's mad wife Bertha set the whole manor on fire, then committed suicide. Rochester saved the lives of all his servants, but lost a hand and was blinded in the process.
When Jane is reunited with him, he fears that she won't want a blind cripple and she fears that he won't want to marry again. But after they reveal their feelings to each other, Rochester proposes and Jane accepts without hesitation.
After Jane gives birth to their first child, Rochester eventually regains sight in one eye and is finally able to see his son.
Charlotte Bronte's intelligent, determined heroine left a bad taste in the mouths of prospective publishers. They found the strong feminist themes objectionable.
The fact that most of the male characters are depicted as self-righteous, dishonest, cold, and controlling yet weak at heart, didn't help either. Even Jane's true love Edward Rochester is weak until he commits his act of heroism near the end of the novel.
After Jane Eyre was published under the androgynous pseudonym Currer Bell, early reviews of the novel were scathing.
Some critics blasted the author for daring "to trample upon customs established by our forefathers, and long destined to shed glory upon our domestic circles." Still, the novel became an overnight sensation with readers.
In her preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre, (which the author dedicated to legendary English novelist and satirist William Makepeace Thackeray, who wept openly while reading it) Charlotte Bronte reminds "the timorous or carping few" of "certain simple truths":
Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns...
The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it inconvenient to make external show pass for sterling worth - to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines.
It may hate him who dares to scrutinize and expose - to raise the gilding, and show base metal under it - to penetrate the sepulcher, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted to him.
Quote Of The Day
"I'm just going to write because I cannot help it." - Charlotte Bronte
Today's video features a clip from the famous 1944 feature film adaptation of Jane Eyre, starring Joan Fontaine as Jane and Orson Welles as Edward Rochester. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 23rd, 1305, the legendary Scottish knight Sir William Wallace was executed by order of England's King Edward I. This important historical event would inspire the writing of two classic poems and the making of an acclaimed feature film.
The story of Sir William Wallace's execution actually begins nearly twenty years earlier in 1286, with the death of Scotland's monarch, King Alexander III. For years, he had ruled over a peaceful and prosperous Scotland.
Then, in 1286, Alexander was killed when his horse threw him off. His successor to the throne was his little granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway. Sadly, the young girl died on her voyage home, leaving Scotland without a ruler.
The Scottish lords set up an interim government of "Guardians" to rule until a new king could be crowned. This new government was sharply divided; some of the guardians wanted independence from England, while others remained loyal to the British crown.
The conflict threatened to plunge Scotland into civil war. England's King Edward I intervened to prevent that, acting as an arbiter to settle disputes between the feuding Guardians.
As the search for a new King of Scotland continued, King Edward demanded that all contenders to the throne recognize him as Lord Paramount of Scotland. This left a bad taste in many Scots' mouths.
In 1292, a great feudal court in Berwick-upon-Tweed chose John Balliol to be the new King of Scotland, as he was a descendant of the former king, David I.
Meanwhile, King Edward continued to antagonize the Guardians of Scotland by continually reversing the rulings of their court.
The new King John Balliol was then summoned to appear at the English court as a common plaintiff, which most Scots considered the height of disrespect. Balliol was a weakling and his people referred to him as Toom Tabard - Empty Coat.
He pledged his loyalty to King Edward, sparking off a revolution. King Edward had his armies storm Berwick-upon-Tweed. They sacked the town, leaving a path of wanton destruction in their wake.
In July of 1296, three months after the Scots were defeated in the Battle of Dunbar, temporarily squelching the flames of revolution, King John Balliol was forced to abdicate, even though he had pledged loyalty to the British crown.
Nearly a year later, Sir William Wallace, a Scottish nobleman, assassinated William De Heselrig, England's brutal High Sheriff of Lanark.
Legend has it that De Heselrig sought to arrest Wallace at his home, but finding only Wallace's wife there, he arrested her and had her put to death.
After killing De Heselrig, Sir William Wallace teamed up with fellow Scottish noble William the Hardy, Lord of Douglas. Together, they led many armed insurrections against British soldiers on Scottish soil.
In September of 1297, along with fellow revolutionary Andrew Moray, Wallace led their army to victory in the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where they routed a much larger British force.
After the battle, Wallace and Moray were made Guardians of Scotland. Two months later, Wallace led a successful large scale raid on Northern England. For this, he was knighted.
On April 1st, 1298, a horde of English soldiers invaded Edinburgh, looting and pillaging the land as they searched for William Wallace and his men. Wallace found them and attacked, and the Battle of Falkirk was on.
Unfortunately for Wallace, this battle proved to be a disaster - an embarrassing, catastrophic defeat that cost the Scots a lot of men.
Wallace escaped from the battlefield, but his reputation as a military leader would be irreparably tarnished. By September, he resigned as a Guardian of Scotland.
William Wallace continued to do his part for Scottish independence, mostly in a non-military capacity. He visited France's King Philip IV to ask for assistance in fighting the British.
For several years, Wallace avoided capture by the English, but then in August of 1305, he was caught by John De Menteith, a Scottish knight loyal to the British crown.
Wallace was turned over to a regiment of English soldiers near Glasgow, then transported to London, where he would stand trial for treason at Westminster Hall.
Sir William Wallace, defiant to the last, defended his actions by saying, "I could not be a traitor to [King] Edward, for I was never his subject." Nevertheless, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.
It was a gruesome execution. After Wallace's conviction, he was taken away, stripped naked, dragged through London by a horse, and hanged to the point of near death. Then, still alive, he was castrated, disemboweled, and beheaded.
Finally, his body was quartered - ripped apart into four pieces. In a final act of humiliation, his severed head was dipped in tar and mounted on a pike atop London Bridge.
Wallace's horrific fate and his earlier heroics made him one of Scotland's greatest folk heroes. The story of his life would inspire two classic poems written by two legendary Scottish poets.
In 1477, the poet Blind Harry, aka Henry the Minstrel, wrote The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace - The Acts and Deeds of the Illustrious and Valiant Champion Sir William Wallace.
In this classic nine volume epic poem in tribute to the Scottish hero, Blind Harry tells of Wallace's assassination of William De Heselrig in retribution for the alleged murder of his wife:
"And thought'st thou, traitor," fierce the hero cried,
"When by thy murd'ring steel she cruel died;
When thy fell hand her precious blood did spill,
Wallace though absent, would be absent still?"
Furious he spoke, and rising on the foe,
Full on his head discharg'd the pond'rous blow;
Down sinks the felon headlong to the ground,
The guilty soul flew trembling through the wound...
In 1793, Robert Burns, considered Scotland's greatest poet, wrote Scots Wha Hae, (Scots, Who Have) his classic patriotic ode to his country's heroes:
Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!
Now's the day, and now's the hour:
See the front o battle lour, [look menacingly],
See approach proud Edward's power --
Chains and slaverie!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave? --
Let him turn, and flee!
Wha for Scotland's King and Law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or Freeman fa',
Let him follow me!
By Oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow! --
Let us do or die!
Burns originally published the poem anonymously, as publicly advocating for Scottish independence was an imprisonable offense at the time.
In 1995, the highly acclaimed feature film Braveheart was released, starring Mel Gibson (who also directed) as Sir William Wallace. The screenplay was based on Blind Harry's classic epic poem, and the movie won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director (Gibson).
Quote Of The Day
“Suspicion is a heavy armor and with its weight it impedes more than it protects.” - Robert Burns
Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for Braveheart, the classic 1995 feature film about Sir William Wallace. Enjoy!
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 22nd, 1893, the legendary American writer Dorothy Parker was born. She was born Dorothy Rothschild in Long Branch, New Jersey.
Her mother, Eliza Marston, was Scottish; her German Jewish father, Jacob Henry Rothschild, was not related to the wealthy Rothschild banking family.
Dorothy would famously quip, "My God, no, dear! We'd never even heard of those Rothschilds." Born two months premature, she would quip that her birth was the first time she was early for anything.
A month before Dorothy's fifth birthday, her mother died. She hated her father because he was physically abusive, and when he later married a woman named Eleanor Lewis, Dorothy referred to her as "the housekeeper."
As a little girl, Dorothy attended the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic elementary school along with her sister Helen - despite the fact that both girls were the daughters of a Jewish father and Protestant mother.
Dorothy would be expelled from the school for referring to the Immaculate Conception as "spontaneous combustion." She later attended a finishing school for young ladies in Morristown, New Jersey.
In 1913, when Dorothy was twenty years old, her father died. She supported herself by playing piano at a dancing school and took up writing poetry in her spare time.
Best known as a poet, Dorothy began her career as a magazine writer in 1914 when Vogue hired her as an editorial assistant after one of her poems appeared in its sister magazine, Vanity Fair.
In 1917, Dorothy married her first husband, Edwin Pond Parker, and she would use her first married name, Dorothy Parker, as her professional name. She divorced Edwin in 1928.
After working at Vogue for two years, Dorothy was transferred to Vanity Fair to work as a staff writer. By 1918, she had become the magazine's guest drama critic, filling in for the vacationing P.G. Wodehouse.
It was in this capacity that Dorothy Parker began developing the rapacious wit that would make her famous. Her reviews were often brutal. She offered this advice to potential audiences of one particular musical comedy: "If you don't knit, bring a book."
She reviewed a production of Leo Tolstoy's Redemption by saying, "I went into the Plymouth Theater a comparatively young woman, and I staggered out of it three hours later, twenty years older."
Infuriated by Dorothy's scathing reviews of their plays, the wealthy, powerful producers flexed their considerable muscle to get her fired. Her friends and fellow Vanity Fair writers, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood, resigned in protest.
Together, they formed the Algonquin Round Table, a famous group of New York City writers, actors, critics, and wits. Another founding member of the group was Harold Ross, who would found the New Yorker magazine in 1925.
Ross named Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley as members of the magazine's board of editors, which made his investors happy. Over the next fifteen years, Dorothy would reach her peak of productivity and success.
Her first poetry collection, Enough Rope, was published in 1926. It sold nearly 50,000 copies and received great reviews. The Nation newsmagazine described her poetry as "caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity."
Within the next four years, she would publish over 300 poems in the New Yorker and many other national magazines. In addition to her poetry, she also wrote humorous pieces, essays, columns, and book reviews for the New Yorker. She also served as the magazine's drama critic for over five years.
Then she tired of drama - and of the drama her reviews created - and resigned as drama critic. She continued writing book reviews - under the byline Constant Reader - until 1933.
Dorothy Parker's writing talent and sparkling wit was noticed by Hollywood, and she became a screenwriter. Her husband at the time, Alan Campbell, was an actor and aspiring screenwriter.
In 1937, she co-wrote the hit film, A Star Is Born and earned an Academy Award nomination. Her political activism would eventually derail her Hollywood career.
She served as a correspondent for the communist magazine New Masses, reporting on the Spanish Civil War. In 1936, before her success with A Star Is Born, she founded the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.
During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, Dorothy protested the government's relentless and mostly illegal persecution of suspected communists and communist sympathizers.
She never joined the Communist Party, but she did declare herself a sympathizer. The FBI deemed her a subversive and compiled a dossier on her that would reach 1,000 pages in length.
Dorothy Parker was never charged with a crime, but her former Hollywood studio bosses blacklisted her for years. In 1957, she moved back to New York City and served as a book reviewer for Esquire magazine for the next five years.
Dorothy died of a heart attack in June of 1967 at the age of 73. She left her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. After his assassination, it was passed on to the NAACP.
In 1988, the NAACP interred Dorothy's ashes in a memorial garden outside its Baltimore headquarters. The plaque in the garden reads as follows:
Here lies the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested, 'Excuse my dust'. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. Dedicated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. October 28, 1988
Four years later, to celebrate Dorothy's 99th birthday, the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative postage stamp.
Quote Of The Day
"Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat." - Dorothy Parker
Today's video features Dorothy Parker reading her classic poem, Inscription for the Ceiling of a Bedroom. Enjoy!
Monday, August 21, 2017
So I've published what I hope is my first short story collection on Amazon. It's called "Razor-Sharp: 13 Short Stories" and is available as an ebook on Amazon India and Amazon USA.
It's on Goodreads too. If anyone else is considering publication on Amazon, I'd be happy to walk you through it! It's really very easy once you've got your manuscript ready.
A huge shout out to everyone who has taken the trouble to read, critique or even congratulate on a past success - it really, really makes a difference. Thanks to each and every one of you.
Steven K. Smith
A piece I subbed to the fiction list a couple of years ago has made it to the Short Humour site. Thanks to Wayne Scheer particularly for this. He's the one that suggested the venue.
Originally, the piece was over 800 words, and Short-Humour's limit was 500, so I didn't think I'd be able to cut it down that far at the time. I kept working at it, though, and finally made it under 500 words for a version that I thought still hung together.
I submitted it Wednesday evening and Thursday had an email saying they'd taken it. I appreciate everyone's crits on this. You all helped me improve this.
A short story of mine, "Distant Cousin," has been accepted for publication in the Autumn Equinox issue of Mused.
Theresa A. Cancro
My haibun, "crackin' jack," has been published today on The Other Bunny.
Friday, August 18, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 18th, 1958, Lolita, the classic novel by the legendary Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov, was published for the first time in the United States. It proved to be one of the most celebrated and controversial novels of all time.
It told the tale of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged European man who becomes obsessed with Lolita, a sexually precocious 12-year-old American girl, leading him down a path of degradation, depravity, despair, paranoia, and ultimately, murder.
Lolita is also a not so subtle, scathing satire of America as seen through the eyes of Europeans, with Humbert serving as a metaphor for intelligent, cultured, old world Europe's strange attraction to young, vulgar, vapid, nasty, and not very bright America, personified by Lolita.
Nabokov had completed the novel in 1953, but was unable to find an American publisher. One publisher told Nabokov that he should burn every copy of the manuscript. Another suggested that the story wouldn't be so objectionable if Lolita were a boy.
Nabokov tried to get Lolita published in Europe, but one British publisher was so shocked by the novel that he tore up his copy of the manuscript. Finally, in 1955, Nabokov found a publisher - Olympia Press.
Based in Paris, Olympia was known as a publisher of both controversial, challenging works of literature (such as William Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer) and pornographic novels.
Olympia's first 5,000 copy press run of Lolita sold out across Europe. There were no real reviews of the book, but in late 1955, in an interview with the London Times, the famous English writer Graham Greene called Lolita one of the best novels of the year.
Greene's comments provoked the outraged editor of the conservative London Sunday Express to publicly condemn Lolita, calling it "the filthiest book I have ever read" and "sheer unrestrained pornography."
The newspaper kept stoking the flames of outrage, and Britain's Home Office panicked, ordering Customs officers to seize all copies of Lolita that came into the United Kingdom.
France followed suit; the French Minister of the Interior instituted a ban on the novel that would last for two years. In 1958, United States officials were nervous about Lolita, but the novel was published without incident by G.P. Putnam's Sons.
It became a bestseller - the first book since Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind to sell 100,000 copies in the first three weeks of publication. Today, it's rightfully considered to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
It was later named the fourth greatest English language novel of the 20th century by Modern Library. Vladimir Nabokov originally wrote it in English and later translated it himself into Russian.
Written in a dazzling, lyrical prose style, Lolita is a novel-within-a-novel. It begins with a lengthy forward explaining that the book you're about to read was written by Humbert Humbert while in his jail cell awaiting trial for murder.
Humbert, who died of coronary thrombosis upon completing the manuscript, begins his autobiography by relating the tale of his 1920s childhood romance with an angelic girl named Annabel Leigh, which was tragically cut short when she died of typhus.
Their love for each other and his loss of her would affect Humbert for the rest of his life. Later, just before the outbreak of World War II, Humbert leaves Paris for New York after his first relationship with a woman goes sour.
After the war, he moves to New England to begin a writing career. He rents a room from grotesque widow Charlotte Haze after meeting and becoming smitten with her precocious 12-year-old daughter Dolores, known by her nickname, Lolita.
The tragically deluded Humbert sees in her his beloved Annabel Leigh, despite the fact that the corrupt, nasty Lolita is really the polar opposite of Annabel. The obsessed Humbert will do anything to be near Lolita.
He even marries her mother, Charlotte, though he can't stand her. The marriage ends in dramatic fashion when Charlotte reads Humbert's secret diary, freaks out, flees the house in shock, and is struck and killed by a car.
Later, when Humbert tries to have his way with Lolita, she ends up seducing him and reveals that she lost her virginity to a boy she met at summer camp. Then they hit the road in Charlotte's car.
Humbert and Lolita drive across the country, going from state to state and motel to motel, where the older man bribes the young girl for sexual favors. He's frustrated by the fact that Lolita doesn't return his affection or share his interests.
The deluded Humbert is blind to the fact that his beloved Lolita is really a manipulative sociopath who is exploiting him even more than he's exploiting her. Then she falls ill and is hospitalized.
After she recovers, while Humbert is away, Lolita checks out with a man claiming to be her uncle, who pays her hospital bill. Humbert begins a frantic (and funny) search for her, trying to make sense of humorous clues left behind by Lolita and her "uncle."
He finally gives up the search and has a chaotic, two-year affair with Rita, an alcoholic 30-year-old woman who reminds him of Lolita. Years later, Humbert receives a letter from Lolita, who is now married, pregnant, and in need of money.
Armed with a loaded gun, he tracks her down, intending to kill her husband. Lolita reveals that her husband is not the man she ran off with. That man was Clare Quilty, a demented playwright, pervert, and amateur pornographer.
She had acted in Quilty's play The Hunted Enchanters while a member of her school's drama club. He seduced her, and she became his lover for a time. Humbert gives Lolita the money she asked for, along with her rightful inheritance. Then he leaves to track down Clare Quilty and take his revenge.
Lolita was adapted an acclaimed feature film in 1962, directed by the legendary English filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and starring James Mason as Humbert Humbert, Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze, Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty, and 14-year-old newcomer Sue Lyon as Lolita.
The screenplay was written by Vladimir Nabokov himself. Although the novel had to be sanitized as per Production Code requirements, the movie remains a naughty delight that wonderfully captures both the comedy and tragedy of Nabokov's novel.
In 1997, director Adrian Lyne filmed Lolita. Despite the sincere performance of Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert, the movie is a boring, plodding, depressing mess, with dreadful performances by 17-year-old Dominique Swain as Lolita and a horribly miscast Melanie Griffith as Charlotte Haze.
Frank Langella, also horribly miscast, plays Clare Quilty as a bestial psychopath instead of the delightfully perverse playwright portrayed with comic malice and verve by the great Peter Sellers in the 1962 original. The remake fails because it robs the novel of its comedy.
Vladimir Nabokov would later name Lolita as his favorite novel. It still remains a classic work of literature.
Quote Of The Day
"Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name." - Vladimir Nabokov
Today's video features a documentary on Vladimir Nabokov and the writing of his classic novel, Lolita. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 17, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 17th, 1926, the famous French playwright and actor Jean Poiret was born. He was born Jean Poiré in Paris, France.
Poiret first became famous in 1951, when he starred in the radio series Malheir aux Barbus, created by Pierre Dac and Francis Blanche.
A year later, while working in a stage show at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre, Poiret met legendary French actor Michel Serrault. They co-starred in a sketch called Jerry Scott, Vedette International. They would later co-star in a production of Poiret's most famous play.
By 1961, Poiret had become a member of the French cinematic society Pathé and wrote and recorded La Vache à Mille Francs, a parody of the song La Valse à Mille Temps by Jacques Brel.
Twelve years later, in 1973, Poiret married actress Caroline Cellier. She bore him one child. That same year, Jean Poiret wrote the play that made him world famous - a comedy called La Cages Aux Folles. (The Birdcage)
In the stage production, Poiret played the lead role of Renato Baldi, a middle-aged gay man who manages the Saint-Tropez nightclub where his partner, Albin Mougeotte, (Michel Serrault) performs in drag as Zaza Napoli.
Renato has a son, Laurent, from an early heterosexual relationship. He and Albin raised him. When Laurent returns from college, he announces his wedding plans and brings his fiancée's arch conservative, homophobic parents home to meet his father.
He never told them that Dad was gay, and now he fears that they won't let him marry their daughter when they find out. So, Renato and Albin redecorate their garish apartment and try to pass themselves off as husband and wife, with Albin in drag as Laurent's mother!
La Cage Aux Folles became a huge hit. In 1978, a feature film adaptation was made. In the role of Renato, Jean Poiret was replaced by Italian actor Ugo Tognazzi, but Michel Serrault resumed his co-lead role as Albin.
For its U.S. release, the movie was retitled Birds Of A Feather and dubbed into English by the original cast - a rarity for foreign films released in the United States.
The highly acclaimed feature film was followed by two mediocre sequels, La Cage Aux Folles II (1980), and La Cage Aux Folles 3: The Wedding (1985).
The original La Cage Aux Folles would later be adapted as a Tony Award winning Broadway musical and remade as a film in 1996 - The Birdcage - which starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in the lead roles.
In his amazing career, Jean Poiret acted in dozens of movies over a 40-year period. In 1992, he directed his first film - Le Zèbre (The Zebra).
Le Zèbre was an adaptation of a novel by Alexandre Jardin that starred Poiret's wife, Caroline Cellier. Unfortunately, three months before the film's premiere, Poiret died of a heart attack. He was 65 years old.
Quote Of The Day
“To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance.” - Jean Genet
Today's video features a complete 2003 live performance of La Cage Aux Folles. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 16th, 1920, the legendary American writer Charles Bukowski was born. He was born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany. His father was an American serviceman, his mother a German woman. They married a month before he was born.
In 1923, just before little Heinrich's third birthday, the economic collapse in Germany compelled his family to emigrate to America. They settled in Los Angeles, where his mother changed his name to Henry Charles Bukowski.
As a young boy, Charles Bukowski grew up with an abusive father who would beat him savagely for the smallest offense. Due to the Great Depression, the elder Bukowski was frequently unemployed, a source of great shame that fueled his psychotic rage.
Charles' mother, who was not only beaten by her husband but cheated on as well, did nothing to stop her husband's abuse of their son - or herself. So it continued.
When he was a young teenager, Charles' shy and introverted nature grew worse, thanks to a case of severe acne that left his face covered with boils. Around this time, his two greatest passions were awakened - his passion for literature and his passion for alcohol.
Bukowski preferred to be alone. He read avidly. He also began writing short stories. His best friend, William "Baldy" Mullinax, introduced him to booze. Of his first experience with intoxication, he wrote, "This [alcohol] is going to help me for a long time."
After high school, Bukowski enrolled in Los Angeles City College, where he studied art, journalism and literature. He dropped out two years later, deciding to move to New York City and become a writer.
In July of 1944, the nearly 24-year-old Bukowski, who had been living in Philadelphia, found himself arrested by FBI agents and charged with suspicion of draft evasion.
Held for over two weeks in Moyamensing Prison, he was then released and taken to be inducted into the military. He failed the psychological exam, was classified 4F, (unfit for military service) and let go.
That same year, Bukowski's first published short story, Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip, appeared in Story magazine. Soon, more of his stories appeared in other literary magazines.
Unfortunately, he racked up far more rejection slips than sales. Discouraged, he quit writing for nearly a decade. He would refer to this period of time as his "ten year drunk."
He took up the life of a drifter and moved from place to place, doing odd jobs and staying at cheap rooming houses. He drank and brawled from bar to bar. He loved to go to the track and play the ponies.
In the early 1950s, Bukowski took a job as a letter carrier for the Postal Service, which would last almost three years. By 1955, he found himself hospitalized, suffering from a severe, nearly fatal bleeding ulcer.
After he was released, while he recovered at home, he decided to give writing another try. He began writing poetry, and within his verse, he found the muse. He continued to write poetry prolifically, and throughout his career, he would author over 1,000 poems.
As he made his rounds drinking from bar to bar, Bukowski would read his poetry to his fellow patrons, dazzling both barflies and bartenders who couldn't believe that a disheveled, boisterous drunk could write such incredible verse.
He became the poet laureate of the lower class, "the Bard of Booze and Broads" who found sublimity on skid row. Soon, his poems began appearing in literary magazines. This time, his rejection slips were few and far between.
By 1960, Bukowski's first poetry collection, Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, was published. At the time, he had taken another position with the Postal Service, working as a letter filing clerk. The job would last for nine years.
In 1962, he found out that Jane Cooney Baker, (a widowed alcoholic eleven years his senior) the first woman he ever loved - perhaps the greatest love of his life - had died. So, he immortalized her in a series of poems and short stories. He met poet Frances Smith, who became his live-in girlfriend. In 1964, they had a daughter, Marina.
Three years later, in 1967, Charles Bukowski began writing a column for Open City, an underground newspaper based in Los Angeles. Titled Notes of a Dirty Old Man, the column was so popular that it got picked up by the Los Angeles Free Press and the NOLA Express (an underground newspaper based on New Orleans) after Open City folded in 1969.
That year, publisher John Martin of the Black Sparrow Press, now known as Black Sparrow Books, impressed with his poetry collections, offered to provide the financial support for Bukowski to write full time, in exchange for which he would become the author's exclusive publisher.
A lifelong supporter of the independent small press, Bukowski accepted the offer, quit his job at the Postal Service,, and began work on his first novel. Post Office (1971), an autobiographical novel based on his later years, was the first to feature his alter ego, alcoholic writer Henry Chinaski.
Although Bukowski's publisher, John Martin, worried that he wouldn't be able to make the transition from poetry to prose, the novel proved to be a breakout work that made its author's name as a writer.
Bukowski would write more memorable novels, including Factotum (1975), which found Henry Chinaski drifting through the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, circa 1944. His most famous novel, Ham on Rye (1982), told the story of Henry Chinaski's unhappy childhood and adolescence as he grows up to become a misanthropic antihero.
Some scholars believe the title is a parody of The Catcher in the Rye, the title of J.D. Salinger's classic novel. Others believe that Ham on Rye refers to some literary critics' negative appraisal of Bukowski, whom they derided as the literary equivalent of a ham actor. Thus, the title refers to a ham writer fueled by rye whiskey.
Bukowski earned extra money by performing live readings of his poetry and prose. His first was a poetry reading performed in 1962 on radio station KPFK in Los Angeles.
When he performed at coffee houses and clubs, he always engaged in banter with his audience, which could be quite combative at times, as he usually performed in various states of intoxication.
In 1970, Bukowski gave a reading at Bellevue Community College in Washington State, which was taped by two students using the college's primitive black and white video cameras. Eighteen years later, the recording, thought long lost, was found.
It would be released on video as Bukowski at Bellevue in 1995, and later on DVD. The rough, grainy, stark black and white video perfectly captured the writer in all his gritty glory.
A 1979 reading given by Bukowski in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, would be released on DVD in 2010 as There's Gonna be a God Damn Riot in Here!
Bukowski's last public reading was given in 1980 at the Sweetwater, a punk rock club in Redondo Beach, California. It would be released on audio CD as Hostage and on DVD as The Last Straw.
In 1987, Charles Bukowski wrote the screenplay for a feature film based on his Henry Chinaski novels. Directed by the great French filmmaker Barbet Schroeder, Barfly starred Mickey Rourke as writer and skid row alcoholic Henry Chinaski.
Chinaski spends his days writing poetry and prose and his nights drinking and brawling at the local bar. He loathes the bartender, Eddie (Frank Stallone), especially after he finds out that Eddie slept with his girlfriend, Wanda (Faye Dunaway).
When Henry's writings begin appearing in literary magazines, they catch the eye of publisher Tully Sorenson (Alice Krige) who seeks Henry out, hoping to become his exclusive publisher.
She pays him a $500 advance and takes him to her home, where they have an affair. He rejoices in his literary success, but ultimately grows disenchanted with Tully's high society lifestyle.
Henry returns to his sleazy neighborhood, his blue collar bar, his bar buddies, and his ex-girlfriend, Wanda. Tully won't give him up without a fight, and actually gets into a fight with Wanda.
The film ends with Tully recognizing that Henry needs to be who he really is and wishing him luck. In the last scene, Henry, who has earned Eddie's respect, fights the bartender in the parking lot one last time, to win Wanda from him once and for all.
Bukowski would base his 1989 novel Hollywood on his experiences making the movie Barfly. He was also the subject of several acclaimed documentaries, including The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1983), directed by Barbet Schroeder, and Bukowski: Born Into This (2003), directed by John Dullaghan.
Charles Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994 at the age of 73. He left behind an impressive body of work that included over 30 poetry collections, six novels, nearly a dozen short story collections including his classic Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983), and several works of nonfiction.
Quote Of The Day
"My beerdrunk soul is sadder than all the dead Christmas trees of the world." - Charles Bukowski
Today's video features a rare recording of Charles Bukowski performing a live reading at San Francisco's City Lights Poets Theater in 1973. Enjoy!
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 15th, 1885, the famous American writer Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, Wisconsin. When she was twelve years old, her family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin. She graduated from high school there, then briefly attended Lawrence University.
After leaving university, Edna began a career in journalism, working as a reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal. In 1911, her first novel, Dawn O'Hara, was published.
Edna's novels featured strong female protagonists. One of her most popular characters, who appeared in several novels, was Emma McChesney, an intelligent, stylish divorced single mother who becomes a hugely successful businesswoman.
She was quite a controversial character for the time - the early 1900s. Her author's novels also dealt with racial or sexual discrimination, which were very controversial issues back then.
In 1924, Edna Ferber published the novel that won her a Pulitzer Prize for Literature. So Big told the story of Selina Peake De Jong, a schoolteacher in farm country, and her son Dirk, nicknamed So Big.
While teaching school, Selina lives on the Pool family farm. She forms a bond with the family's young son, Roelf, who wants to be an artist, not a farmer. She encourages him to pursue his dream, and he runs off to France.
Meanwhile, Selina marries a Dutch farmer named Purvus, and they have a son, Dirk. After Purvus dies of illness, Selina takes over their farm and makes it successful to provide for Dirk's future.
Dirk grows up to become a talented architect, but finds that he's more interested in making money than in his artistic talent. So, he switches gears and becomes a stockbroker. He makes a lot of money.
Dirk's fiancee, a famous artist named Dallas O'Mara, tries in vain to convince him that there are more important things in life than money. Meanwhile, Roelf Pool, now a famous sculptor, returns to town and visits Selina, who had encouraged him to pursue his dream.
Dallas falls in love with Roelf, who, like her, values art more than money. When Dirk finds out, he decides not to stand in the way of Dallas' happiness. She and Roelf run off together, and a heartbroken Dirk is left alone in his luxury apartment to contemplate all that his pursuit of money has brought him.
So Big was adapted as a feature film in 1932 and again in 1953. The 1953 version featured a different ending, as the original ending, with Dirk allowing his fiancee to run off with another man, was considered immoral under the stifling Production Code.
In 1926, Edna Furber published another classic novel, Show Boat. The story takes place on a "show boat" - one of many floating live theaters that traveled the Mississippi River in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The novel opens in the Reconstruction era South, moves on to New York City in the Roaring Twenties, and comes full circle, returning to the mighty Mississippi River. Show Boat would be adapted as a popular Broadway musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.
Edna's 1941 novel Saratoga Trunk and her 1958 novel Giant would also be adapted as Broadway musicals and feature films. Other novels would be adapted as acclaimed feature films.
Giant (1952) was a controversial epic novel set around the oil boom of the 1920s. It told the story a Texas cattleman who marries a wise and fiercely independent society woman. It was controversial because it accurately depicted the racist persecution and exploitation of Mexicans by white Texans.
Edna's 1958 novel Ice Palace would be adapted as a feature film in 1960. The film adaptation of Edna's tale of the fish cannery business in postwar Alaska featured Japanese American actor George Takei in a small role several years before he became famous as Lieutenant Sulu on the classic 1966-69 American TV series Star Trek.
Throughout her remarkable literary career, Edna Ferber wrote over two dozen novels. She died in 1968 at the age of 82.
Quote Of The Day
"Life can't defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death." - Edna Ferber
Today's video features a complete reading of Edna Ferber's classic short story, The Woman Who Tried To Be Good. Enjoy!
Monday, August 14, 2017
Might as well brag. Have two short short stories coming out this fall. Members of the fiction list might remember my short-short, “Milk.” It will be in Forge. My short-short "The Lost Boy," also subbed on fiction, will be in Two Hawks Quarterly.
Forge actually pays, fifty dollars top. Two Hawks is also a quality competitive market. You can look both of these up on the Internet. I don't know when my stories will appear, but I will post links when they do. My thanks to folks on the fiction list for their helpful and encouraging crits.
My review of The Castaway's War, appears in the Internet Review of Books today. It's a remarkable story. Please check out the review.
Theresa A. Cancro
Six of my haiku are up on the poetry site Leaves of Ink today (8/10/17).
Judith Kelly Quaempts
My poem, "Sixty-Six Years," has been accepted for an anthology to be published in The Poeming Pigeon in December this year. Pleased cuz its about my late parents and also because the late Alice Folkart who was a wonderful poet herself, advised me when I sent the first draft to her.
Friday, August 11, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 11th, 1921, the legendary African-American writer Alex Haley was born in Ithaca, New York. The oldest of four children, his father was a professor of agriculture at Cornell University - a position he had to overcome formidable obstacles of racism to obtain.
When he was fifteen, Alex Haley enrolled at Alcorn State University, a college for black students in Mississippi. Two years later, he dropped out and returned home. Concerned by his lack of discipline and progress in life, his father encouraged him to join the military.
So, in 1939, a few months before his 18th birthday, Alex joined the Coast Guard. It would prove to be a 20-year enlistment. After the Pearl Harbor attack in December of 1941 brought the U.S. into World War II, Alex Haley saw action in the Pacific.
Actually, for sailors during the war, life consisted of sporadic bursts of action amidst long periods of downtime. Haley once quipped that the greatest enemy he and his shipmates ever battled was boredom, not the Japanese.
To alleviate his boredom, Haley taught himself to write short fiction. His writing skills caught the attention of his fellow sailors, who often paid him to write love letters to their girlfriends back home.
After the war ended, Haley petitioned the Coast Guard to transfer him to its journalism division. By the time he retired from active duty in 1959, he had become both a Chief Petty Officer and the first Chief Journalist in the Coast Guard - a position created exclusively for him.
After returning to civilian life, Alex Haley began his writing career, first as a journalist. In that capacity, he conducted the very first interview for Playboy magazine, which appeared in the September 1962 issue.
His subject was jazz legend Miles Davis. Throughout the 1960s, Haley conducted some of Playboy's most memorable interviews; among his subjects were Martin Luther King, Jr., Melvin Belli, (Jack Ruby's defense attorney) Jim Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Carson, and Muhammad Ali.
Haley's two most famous interviews were of controversial, radical figures on both sides of the civil rights issue: black militant civil rights activist Malcolm X and George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party.
When Rockwell spoke to Haley on the phone, he refused the interview until Haley assured him that he wasn't Jewish. When the two men met in person, Rockwell was shocked to find that Haley was black.
Nevertheless, he agreed to do the interview. While Haley remained calm and professional during the interview, a nervous Rockwell kept a gun on the table within reach.
In February of 1965, six months after he'd been interviewed by Alex Haley, Malcolm X was assassinated. The two men had first met in 1960, when Haley had written an article on the Nation of Islam for Reader's Digest.
Over a period of nearly two years, Haley had conducted some 50 interviews with Malcolm X. Some of the material was published as a memoir in the July 1965 issue of Playboy. Later that year, Haley reworked all of the material and published it in book form as The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Alex Haley continued his career as a journalist and became a senior editor for Reader's Digest. Later, he began work on his first novel - a 700+ page historical epic based on the lives of his own ancestors.
Published in 1976, Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a classic work of literature. The novel opens in 1767, with a young African man named Kunta Kinte being kidnapped from his home in Gambia by slave traders.
Kinte is brought to America and sold to a plantation owner, Master Lord Calvert, who renames him Toby. The novel provides a heartbreaking and gut wrenching expose of the horrors of slavery and shows how it shaped the lives of generations of African-Americans - and continues to do so.
Roots won Alex Haley a Pulitzer Prize. It would be adapted as a highly acclaimed TV miniseries in 1977 that would prove controversial, as it was the first network TV program to show uncensored nudity and graphic violence.
The network censors allowed these elements because they were included in the name of historical accuracy - not for exploitation or titillation. The novel would cause controversy as well.
In 1978, novelist and folklorist Harold Courlander sued Alex Haley for plagiarism. He claimed that a 100-word segment that appeared three times in Roots had been lifted verbatim from his novel, The African (1967).
As the case went to trial, Haley denied plagiarizing Courlander's novel, but he soon settled out-of-court with Courlander for $650,000 and issued an apology, stating that the plagiarism was not intentional.
He claimed that someone had given him the text without crediting it as an excerpt from Courlander's novel. The plagiarism case would be used as ammunition by conservative critics who had claimed that the novel was historically inaccurate.
Undeterred by controversy, Haley later began work on his second novel, Queen: The Story of an American Family. Queen was based on the life of Haley's grandmother - the illegitimate daughter of a plantation owner and one of his slaves.
The novel chronicled the plight of such children, who, rejected by their fathers who refused to recognize them, were doomed to lives of slavery and suffering. Before he could finish his novel, Alex Haley died of a heart attack in 1992 at the age of 70.
His novel was completed by writer David Stevens, based on Haley's 700-page outline and boxes of research notes. It was published in 1993. That same year, the novel would be adapted as a TV minseries called Alex Haley's Queen, featuring Halle Berry in the title role.
Quote Of The Day
"I look at my books the way parents look at their children. The fact that one becomes more successful than the others doesn't make me love the less successful ones any less." - Alex Haley
Today's video features a rare recording of Alex Haley speaking at UCLA in 1968. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 10, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 10th, 1637, an Englishman named Edward King drowned at sea. His tragic death would inspire his college friend, the legendary English poet and polemicist John Milton, to compose a poem of elegy in his memory.
The poem, Lycidas, published three months after King's death, would prove to be one of the earliest and most famous poems in the elegiac tradition.
Some three centuries later, Milton's poem would inspire a legendary American novelist. It gave him the title of his first novel and influenced his writing.
The novelist was Thomas Wolfe, and the title of his classic first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, comes from the following passage in Milton's Lycidas:
. . . Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurld,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny'd,
Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
The angel in Lycidas was St. Michael. The angel in Thomas Wolfe's novel was based on a statue his father had bought for his tombstone shop:
No one knew how fond he was of the angel. Publicly he called it his White Elephant. He cursed it and said he had been a fool to order it. For six years it had stood on the porch, weathering, in all the wind and the rain. It was now brown and fly-specked.
But it came from Carrara in Italy, and it held a stone lily delicately in one hand. The other hand was lifted in benediction, it was poised clumsily upon the ball of one phthisic foot, and its stupid white face wore the look of some soft stone idiocy.
The real angel statue was placed on the grave of a minister's wife in Asheville - Wolfe's North Carolina hometown. In the novel, the angel statue is bought by the town madam and placed on the grave of a young prostitute.
Many people in Asheville were appalled and infuriated by Look Homeward, Angel, and not just because the novel's content was a shocker for readers in 1929 - the year it was published.
Wolfe's characters were thinly veiled portraits of his friends, neighbors, and other townspeople. A review of the novel in a local newspaper declared that "Wolfe's First Is Novel of Revolt: Former Asheville Writer Turns in Fury upon North Carolina and the South."
Wolfe's sister Mabel recalled how the people of Asheville reacted: "They were denouncing him from the roofs and the corners and the housetops." In a letter to Mabel, Wolfe complained:
Apparently you can rob banks, be a crooked lawyer, swill corn whiskey, commit adultery with your neighbor's wife - and be considered a fine, lovable, misunderstood fellow; but if you try to make something true and beautiful you are "viciously insane" and your "big overgrown body" ought to be dragged through the streets by a lynching mob.
Finishing the letter, Thomas Wolfe summed up his fate this way: "Now I feel as if I have been exiled... It is like death... If then, I am dead to people who once knew me and cared for me, there is nothing more to say or do - I must go on into a new world and a new life, with love and sorrow for what I have lost."
Quote Of The Day
"This is the artist then; life's hungry man, the glutton of eternity, beauty's miser, glory's slave." - Thomas Wolfe
Today's video features a complete reading of John Milton's classic poem, Lycidas. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 9th, 1949, the legendary American mystery writer Jonathan Kellerman was born in New York City. When he was nine years old, he began writing short stories. That same year, his family moved across the country to Los Angeles.
Kellerman had always been an avid reader; his fascination with creative writing led him to write prolifically from grade school through his college years. By the time he was doing his graduate work, he had written eight unpublished novels.
In college, Jonathan Kellerman studied psychology and determined to become a child psychologist. He did his post-graduate work at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, then opened a private practice. He also serves as a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine.
He published his first scientific paper at the age of 22 and did his post graduate work designing and implementing psychotherapy for children with cancer. His program was the first ever to provide comprehensive emotional care to pediatric cancer patients and their families.
In his private practice, Kellerman strongly denounced the use of behavior modifying drugs like Ritalin on schoolchildren back when those medications were considered breakthrough drugs. He also opposed the use of antidepressants and other mood enhancing drugs on kids.
When he married his wife Faye, she was a dental hygienist who had just gotten her DDS from dental school. She bore him four children. Their eldest child, Jesse Kellerman, is also a writer.
Faye Kellerman never did practice dentistry. Instead, she became a bestselling mystery writer like her husband. The Kellermans are the only married couple to hit the New York Times bestseller list at the same time for two separate novels.
Jonathan Kellerman would base his most famous character on himself. This hugely popular character would serve as the main character and narrator of over two dozen mystery novels.
Dr. Alex Delaware, a brilliant child psychologist, made his debut in Kellerman's classic first novel, When the Bough Breaks, which was published in 1985.
In his first outing, Dr. Delaware is a man who seemingly has it all; a successful practice, a loving girlfriend, a gorgeous home in Southern California, a luxury car, and a passion for playing and collecting guitars.
Then, he took on a tough, troubling case: treating a group of children who had been repeatedly molested at their day care center by the husband of the woman who ran the place. Delaware's treatment of his young patients proves successful.
Then one day, their molester breaks into Delaware's office and commits suicide. Shattered by the case and burned out, Delaware decides to retire. Only in his thirties, he already has more than enough money to retire comfortably.
So, Delaware retires and takes up the life of a beach bum. His girlfriend Robin tries in vain to help him deal with his depression. Then, eccentric LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturgis shows up to ask for his help in solving a vicious double murder.
Tough, burly, and slovenly, Sturgis is also highly intelligent, relentlessly dedicated, and the first openly gay homicide detective to serve in the Los Angeles Police Department - a position complicated by the virulent homophobia that runs rampant in the department.
The detective's latest case has him stumped. A prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Morton Hander, has been found brutally murdered, along with his lover - a former patient. Sturgis' only lead lies with Melody Quinn, a psychologically troubled little girl who may have witnessed the murders.
Milo asks Alex Delaware to become a police consultant and try to get Melody to talk about what she might have seen. Reluctant at first, Delaware agrees to examine the girl. As he and Sturgis plunge into the case, Delaware is shocked when he discovers a link to the case that nearly destroyed him.
The trail of the bizarre case leads Delaware to some of the richest, most powerful families in America - and a horrific, murderous conspiracy to prostitute mentally and physically handicapped children to depraved psychopaths whose wealth and position places them above the law.
When the Bough Breaks won Jonathan Kellerman the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. So far, he has written over 30 Alex Delaware novels, with the doctor using his psychological expertise to help his best friend Detective Milo Sturgis solve bizarre and brutal crimes.
Kellerman's background as a psychologist gives his stories a strong sense of authenticity, despite the bizarre and horrific nature of the crimes Alex Delaware is tasked with helping to solve.
In Time Bomb (1990), a young woman opens fire on the grounds of an elementary school that two rival politicians are visiting because of some recent incidents of racist vandalism that occurred there. She is killed by the bodyguard of one of the politicians.
Refusing to believe that his daughter would hurt children, the girl's father asks Alex Delaware to conduct a psychological autopsy. The doctor concludes that the shooter wasn't targeting the children - she wanted to kill one of the politicians.
The intended victim is a known right wing extremist. Delaware and Detective Sturgis soon uncover a murderous neo-Nazi conspiracy to acquire political power and use it to create a Fourth Reich in America.
In Survival of the Fittest (1997), Dr. Delaware is asked to help solve the mysterious murder of a diplomat's daughter. The mildly retarded teenage girl was murdered in a deliberately gentle way to insure that she wouldn't suffer.
Soon, other children with disabilities are murdered in a similar way. Dr. Delaware's investigation leads him to Meta, a group of people with very high IQ's, a very strong belief in eugenics, and a psychopathic serial killer among their members.
In The Murder Book (2002), Dr. Delaware receives a mysterious package in the mail, sent by an anonymous person. It's a photo album labeled The Murder Book. It contains an elaborately assembled collection of what appear to be gruesome crime scene photos of murder victims.
Delaware turns The Murder Book over to Detective Sturgis, who is shocked when he recognizes one of the victims - a young woman who had been tortured, murdered, and dumped near the freeway.
That was the very first homicide case Sturgis ever worked - a crime he was unable to solve. Soon, Dr. Delaware finds himself confronting evil beyond even his psychologist's understanding of the human mind.
In addition to his Alex Delaware novels, Jonathan Kellerman has written other novels, (including two in collaboration with his wife, Faye Kellerman) children's books, and nonfiction books on subjects such as child psychology and vintage guitars.
His most recent Alex Delaware novel, Heartbreak Hotel, was published on February 14th. In it, Alex meets the most unusual patient he's ever encountered - Thalia Mars, a charming, witty, and very wealthy woman nearing her 100th birthday.
Thalia doesn't want therapy from the child psychologist - she wants answers to some troubling questions. Questions about the effects of guilt, criminal behavior patterns, and other aspects of abnormal psychology.
Alex agrees to meet with Thalia at the luxury hotel where she lives, only to find her dead in her bedroom. The EMT on the scene suspects homicide by asphyxiation. Alex and Milo Sturgis have another murder to investigate.
As the body count continues, Alex uncovers Thalia's surprising past as a Depression era gangster's moll, scheming developers, and a twisted psychopath determined to claim what he believes is his rightful inheritance...
Quote Of The Day
"That's what's so great about my job. I get paid to do what got me in trouble in grade school - space out and play with my imaginary friends. In terms of Isaac, when the time's right." - Jonathan Kellerman
Today's video features Jonathan Kellerman and his wife Faye being interviewed before a live audience. Enjoy!