Friday, December 19, 2008

Winning the 'Lottery'


"My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded."

So begins this debut novel I've just read that's best described as wonderfully quirky. It's called Lottery by Patricia Wood and it unfurls in a town by the sea in Washington State with a quick jaunt on vacation to Hawaii with his friend Keith and, oh, his grandmother's ashes.

As the title suggests, the plot revolves around the protagonist--who's slow but innocently smart--winning twelve million dollars in the state lottery. Of course, once the press reports the winner, out of the woodwork come a flood of letters pleading for help. There's also his avaricious family to contend with, including two brothers, their grasping wives and a mother who's abandoned him. Brought up by his hardy grandmother who's knowledgeable in seafaring and has home-schooled Perry, he's able to hold down a job at Holstead's and is remarkably skilled at coming up with new business ideas which flourish, much to the delight of his boss, Gary.

When his Grandmother dies, the fun begins pre his winning the Lottery when his family--whom he refers to as his brother-cousins--swoop down and make him sign the house she's left to Perry over to them. Matters escalate after the Lottery win, though Perry has Keith and his boss looking out for him as best they can.

An enjoyable, compelling first novel and a wonderful stocking filler.

And here's a Christmas/Holiday bonus--an interview with the author.


DMN: You decided to make Perry, a young man with learning disabilities, your protagonist which was intriguing. What inspired you to do this?

PW: I have taught for many years and my PhD work was in disability and diversity and my brother in law had severe Down syndrome. I saw how people who are perceived as different are marginalized by our society. I purposely didn’t label Perry- yes he has cognitive challenges- yes he is slow and yes there are many things he doesn’t understand. He sees the world differently and I felt that would make an interesting and challenging character. Both one who was limited in terms of understanding yet astute in his observations.

DMN: His personality is well developed as the book advances and we do care very much about him, especially when we see how callous his family behave. Have you had experience working with people with learning disabilities or did you base the character primarily on research?

PW: While as I said before I do have experiences in these areas, essentially Perry came straight out of my imagination. In my work I did see students living with aunts and uncles, with grandparents, with friends and while generally people think it’s exaggerated for fiction’s sake, it really is how it happens to many children- especially to young adults who have special needs but who are able for one reason or another to live on their own. If you want to see how society still treats these people -- go to Good Will Industries and watch what happens to them when they get off work. There are still many unkind people in this world and it isn’t just confined to the school playground.

DMN: Much of the novel takes place around the world of sailing and it is clear the protagonist is extremely proficient in that world. I know you own a yacht. Have you always been interested in sailing?

PW: When you talk about me owning a yacht it sounds quite luxurious but I assure you the reality is far more pedestrian! I have lived by the sea most of my life and love it- and my husband has always been an avid sailor. Our 48-foot ketch ORION is quite ordinary by sailboat standards. We do most of the work ourselves. It’s our home and we live aboard which is a life style decision. It?s small and quite energy efficient. There’s something freeing about an unconventional living space that enhances creativity- ORION is where we live. She is our home. It was a natural extension of that to have Perry a sailor as well. It is an endeavor that rewards feel rather than intelligence. To be able to sense and feel the way the wind blows is unique and does not depend on ‘smartness.’

DMN: Perry's mother is a very unsympathetic character even though we do not get to know her in the book. Did you deliberately choose to have her absent and, if so, why?

PW: This is a little known reality in the world of special needs children- having both a mother and father is a luxury. Mothers and fathers - through divorce and poverty do abandon even normally abled children. Many of my students lived with their grandparents. I’m of the generation where we often have our children’s children AND have to take care of our own parents. I know those who reject this scenario and leave- It happens all the time. Oftentimes we chose not to see it.

With respect to the characterization, since my narrator is both unreliable AND cognitively challenged he sees many things in black and white- those people who he doesn’t have much to do with are sketchily drawn because Perry doesn’t do much conjecturing about what they’re really like or their motivations. I had to be true to this. I also wanted to give the book the feeling of a parable where good and evil are more distinct and there are fewer shades of gray.

DMN: I read you have gone to book signings by sea as well as land. Do you set up your signing schedule so you can sail from Hawaii?

PW: No not at all lol! It’s very difficult to make long passages like that. My home stays moored at the dock unless we do a short day or weekend sail. But I have done book clubs aboard boats and that has been great fun. Book clubs to me are a huge bonus. I enjoy interacting with readers and discussing aspects of my novel.
When groups contact me I can usually be present by speaker phone and sometimes ichat or SKYPE.

DMN: Do you write every day?

PW: Yes. I may not write on my current work in progress but I do write every day. I have several novels at various points in the editing process and tend to write a horribly disjointed first draft to get my ideas down and then spend copious amounts of time revising and rewriting.

DMN: What's coming next?
PW: A coming of age story about impossible dreams with an unusual narrator that’s set in the 1980’s.

Thanks Patricia, and good luck.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Getting a grip

Yesterday we learned 500,000 people lost their jobs in November. And that the December figure will also be enormous. There's even talk that the unemployment figure will be over 3,000,000 by June 09.

Not good. There's going to be a lot of hardship.

But, on the other hand, the economy needs to realign--reinvent itself, even.

Isn't over-consumption also a blight?

WHY do we need to change our cars every two years, or buy the latest kitchen and electronic gadgets?

Maybe we need to let GM, Chrysler and Ford go bankrupt.

They've been arrogant, employed armies of lawyers to sue in state courts when states like California wanted to reduce emissions and clean our air. They fought the EPA.
They made the ridiculous Hummer for ridiculous customers.

WHY can't we get our washing machines and TVs repaired like they did in prior generations?

I burst out laughing the other day when I heard an airhead mother complain on the telly that her family have to cut back--they'd have to buy cheaper groceries and clothing and stop going to Borders and Barnes and Noble.
Hey, cancel your cable bill and throw away the cell phone plans--it's becoming more apparent they cause cancer of the brain anyway. Let your kids read. Encourage them to play outside instead of becoming obese couch potatoes.

WHY can't we use cash more often than we use credit cards and stop lining the pockets of MasterCard and Visa?

WHAT'S wrong with saving some of our money so we don't saddle the next generation and the next with our wanton debt?

Aren't we supposed to go green?
Going green involves sacrifice and true responsibility.
It means less Mercedes, Landrovers and Rangerovers and more compact cars. Europeans get it.
Is anyone really impressed by large or expensive cars nowadays?
I don't believe so.
Well, maybe the gullible or noveau riche.

'Let's get a grip' should be the motto.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Introducing Kerrouet House

My good friends Niall and Poul have opened their culinary school at Kerrouet House in Brittany, France.

Check out their link Kerrouet House on my General Blogs sidebar to see what's going on and how you can have a great vacation in rural France while at the same time learning to cook gourmet.

The first part's in French. Just scroll down to get the English parts.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Back in the USA

I returned to the United States last week and find myself trying to start a new project this morning. It is something I have mulled for the past two weeks yet it is difficult to begin because so much of my head is still back in Ireland. I see the churchyard and fringe of sturdy beech trees in front of which my father lies sleeping. I see the flagstone path up to his grave which I helped to lay in conjunction with my youngest brother Dermot and brother-in-law Michael and my nephews. I see my mother sitting alone in the living room saying her novenas, praying for me, for Dad, fore all of us. I see Siobhan hugging Max, the lovable puppy she fell in love with at first glance despite her insisting my nephew had to have a dog that wouldn't shed. I see Floss, the Springer Spaniel puppy my brotehr Dermot's children had to get when they knew their cousin had a new puppy. I see the enclosures my father built for the puppies just before his death. I see my sister Deirdre at work in the broadband I helped set up for her. I see my brother Seamus wait fro the letter telling him he can come up for the epidural to Belfast for the epidural that hopefully will take away the pain in his back. I see Dermot gazing at our Dad's photograph on his bedside table before tuirning off his light.

Time will let us all move on, but he will be with us and we will never forget him.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Tomorrow is an exciting day, an opportunity for the citizens of the United States to renounce the horrid mistakes and deliberate cruel calculations of the past eight years, to overcome racism as much as we can, to move forward in the full spirit of the Founding Fathers, to kick start our sick economy, to look after the less privileged and sick among us, to behave with a conscience, act with full respect for international laws and our obligations under fair treaties and restore our leadership and trust abroad.

Let us hope we do it.

I wish for a newly organized House and Senate with filibuster proof majorities, or one where honest and conscientious moderate Republicans need have no fear to vote with the new party in power to move this country quickly forward. It is necessary to relax the power of wisely inserted checks and balances among the branches of government for a very short period when we have been driven to edge of a dark and unpredictable abyss. Four years will be enough time to do this necessary work.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


At home with my family during this difficult time, I have been watching the American election campaign from a distance. My parents have Sky and I am obliged to watch the Fox News.

Until now, I had heard and read about how bigoted Fox News is. We have a local Fox station in the States, but it is not prejudiced and covers local issues. They are not considered one of the major networks.

I have been stunned by the blatant anti-Obama and Democratic Party rhetoric that is occurring at this station. And deliberate mis-information and skewed polls are being fed the audience, more so now that Obama is beginning to surge in the polls. Moreover there is NO attempt at journalistic or editorial impartiality--Geraldine Ferraro is their only token democrat of any repute and she tries her best to give the Democratic opinion against the snide comments of anchors.

Shame on Fox News. I am disgusted to the cusp of anger. A day of reckoning is due from the regulators they so hate.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An update

Due to the death of my beloved father James Francis, I have not been maintaining this blog.

Posting will resume at some future point.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Who'll be President Round 1

Last night's debate was meant to be about foreign policy, which no one wanted to hear about because this time it really is "the economy, stupid."

I mean, without a healthy economy, we won't need to discuss foreign policy issues, right?


On balance, I'd say McCain came off a hair's breath better than Obama in that he did look more presidential than I'd thought he would. (Our expectations are that Obama does already look and behave presidential at all times, so that's why McCain gets the edge here.)

Rudeness award also goes to McCain who failed to make eye contact with Obama, nor did he exercise common courtesy in using his first name even on one occasion.

McCain failed to brand Obama as a greenhorn, his failure helped in part by the fact he could not pronounce the name of the Iranian and Pakistani presidents.

Obama failed to get his rebuttals across during the remaining moments of the 'five minute' open floor because he was behaving too gentlemanly. In a crucial debate, get your point across Mate or the people won't know. McCain was very effective in this strategy and Obama needs to become more assertive here.

Next up is Biden v Palin. That will be most interesting. Can't wait.

Monday, September 22, 2008

(Marginally less) Scarey days II

So, the meltdown has been avoided or, er, postponed.

For once both parties--well, the sensible House and Senate members of each party--have decided this is about America and not partisan politics and will work together on the bail-out.

I want the Democrats (and the sensible Republicans on the Sunday Morning shows yesterday) to stick to their guns and insist:

1. No golden parachutes for the Wall Street "captains" whose greed and ignorance got us here, and reform to establish proper and moral methods of compensation for these people. Fear of interfering with free market forces be damned. We've been down that road and it didn't work.

2. Relief for the hundreds of thousands of people facing foreclosure of their homes.

3. Strict governmental oversight.

It doesn't matter that a deal doesn't get down within two or three days as Treasury Secretary Paulson wants/insists. The days of this administration TELLING people what they need and want are over.

Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi came across as people determined to get these three demands into any bill. He is knowledgeable in finance and we can wait a couple of weeks to get the bill drafted properly. Congress can stray another week. They'll still have five weeks left to get what they need to say to their individual districts before the elections.

Oh, and with the above three provisions contained in a bill, the bill will be clean.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is your doggie chattel?

Saw an interesting segment on the telly the other night about people divorcing and their animals.

Apparently some married couples and co-habitees, not content to cause huge anguish (and damage) to their kids by raucously playing out the sad demise of their relationship, now are using their family pets as opportunities to inflict distress on the former 'beloved other half'. Some of them take off with the dog and cat and refuse to give the other partner visiting rights.

It's happening so regularly that people (including some judges) involved in sorting out the mess are beginning to wonder if the law that dogs and cats are chattel shouldn't change. By chattel, I mean possessions. Currently, the law is that dogs and cats are 'things' and the party who bought the dog or cat is the legal owner in law, regardless of whether or not the other partner cared or loved it.

The reasoning behind this sea change is that dogs and cats are really regarded as family members nowadays and should be treated in the same way as children when it comes to divorce/separation.

I agree a change is needed. The law's an ass here. (No pun intended.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Scarey Days

Looks like Wall Street folks are beginning to experience some of Main Streets pain as they pack the contents of their desks into boxes and head out the door for the last time. I've always been suspicious of the greed on Wall Street, but now I'm hopping mad these guys have the keys of our economy in their hands.

Too many dodgy investments have been dreamed up by these so-called top-tier College financial analysts who 'earn' huge bonuses for creating them and getting the representatives of pension funds and Main Street commercial banks to persuade their clients (ergo 'us') to buy them. Even worse the CEOs' of these investment banks DO NOT understand the full extent of the risks their subordinates are exposing their institutions to, and the government's failed to ensure adequate control and regulation. And McCain and Palin are campaigning for even less regulation.

Are the chickens coming home to roost: First Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being put under conservatorship (read Bankruptcy protection). Now Lehman Bros and Merrill Lynch--though technically the latter's a stay of execution; next AIG; after that WaMu? What's coming down the pipeline? What are we not being told? Are we heading toward another Great Depression? Huge financial institutions are failing and the public seems indifferent. Or are we going to wake up one morning to a massive run on the commercial banks?

Who needs to go to the movies and watch a horror movie to be scared?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Twisted Agendas

They say if you wait long enough something you need comes. Well, boy is that true in this case.

I've been dissatisfied with the titles of my new novel. Each title I came up with was interesting but just didn't enthuse.

And yesterday, I went with Larry and friends to Longwood Gardens--the estate outside Philly that Pierre DuPont saved in 1909 from logging interests when the Quaker family who'd possessed it for 200 years decided to sell it--and it came to me while watching the fireworks and colorful fountain display in the evening. It may or may not have been my mulling of the twisted plans of loggers to ruthlessly cut down the magnificent 200 year old Tulip, Oak, American beech and Ginko trees.

TWISTED AGENDAS is its final name. Because that's really what it's about--the agenda of Derry's overbearing father, the agendas of Piper's dysfunctional parents, the agenda of old Mrs. Hartley against Julia and Derry, the agenda of the MI5 detectives.

So now I can rest. The title's found. And any prospective agent and publisher will hopefully love it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

UK's Legend Press cover for A Son Called Gabriel

I rather like the cover that's been designed for the Trade Paperback version which releases in the UK in October.

I'm very excited about Tom Chalmers publishing the novel and thank Lucy who's busy securing PR for the book.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

On writing

I've just finished yet another rewrite of my novel whose working title has changed to Sparrows expelling Peregrines. It took longer than usual because I'm not good in the fierce heat and my family were here, though I did work early mornings. (My sister was impressed, and it take a lot to do that.) What's amazing is the word count fell from 106,000 to 85,000 words and I realized during the process just how difficult it is to cut stuff that's really good but doesn't need to be in the novel. Of course, I've saved all the really good bits for a future work.

I've also just completed the dreaded synopsis and am quite pleased with it. Most writers despise writing synposis, but I don't really have a problem with it as it was part of my 'O' level English course at high school to write precis.

I think the synopsis should be written as if one is writing copy for the book jacket. Only the most important plot details should be mentioned.

I've noticed some literary agents ask writers to send in a 1 to 7 page synposis as well as the first three chapters or so when querying them about one's work. Quite frankly, I am not interested in doing that because a short, on-point description of three paragraphs and a sample should be enough for a good agent to decide if they'd like to read the entire work or not.

As a result, there's a bunch of literary agents out there I won't query or who won't look at my work (I'm agent-hunting currently), but there you have it.

Another advantage to writing the synopsis is that one is forced to think about what type of novel one has written. This is invaluable as it then allows a writer to streamline the agent search.

My synopsis made me to realize I am really a writer of mainstream literary fiction that's offbeat and has dark and comic elements. Thus, I only query agents who like that kind of work.

So far, no requests for a 7 page synposis, tomes in themselves.

Anyway, here's my synopsis:

Exasperated by his domineering, highly successful father who's even handpicked his fiancee, Derry Connolly, a likable conventional young Irishman, breaks away and sets out for London to change while attending a language school. Change begins right on the ferry crossing when he meets Piper who’s really Philomena Harris, an independent young American studying at the LSE whose relationship with her mother is almost non-existent. Piper's enthralled with the “romance” of the IRA and falling in love with her Californian boyfriend, but not the sex.

After inviting Derry to stay at her home, Derry discovers a sawed-off shotgun in a closet and fears Piper may not be who she says is—even more so when he learns she had to escape the police during a visit to Westminster parliament. With alacrity, he moves in with Julia who’s an upstanding British immigration officer. She’s also involved with a married woman with two kids and despised by an elderly widow who writes to the Queen Mother and desperately wants possession of Julia’s home for her son. As a result, Derry unwittingly becomes her target, too. A bomb explosion leads the British secret police first to Piper and then Derry, who’s arrested and accused of being an IRA terrorist. While under interrogation, Derry's astonished to see a woman whom he's attracted to chatting to one of the female detectives, and Julia lies to his father as to why he's been arrested, a lie he appears to accept.

On a trip home to Manhattan following some unorthodox therapy for her sexual apathy from a German neighbor, Piper’s NYPD dad has a meltdown because he can’t accept Piper’s mother is getting married again. At the wedding, anxious that her new life be filled with good luck from the get-go, her mother informs Piper she’s working to forgive her for a past transgression. Fueled by champagne and irritation, Piper confronts her before she leaves on honeymoon and learns the reason her mother withdrew from her. Discovering Julia's lie and learning about his son’s legal predicament, his father arrives in London to demand Derry return home and a confrontation between the two occurs on that September day when the world’s view of terrorism changed forever.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dara Torres

Congratulations to Olympic champion Dara Torres who, in my opinion, represents the best of what contemporary America represents. In a very generous act, she approached an umpire before her semifinal heat and asked her to delay the race because one of her competitor's swimsuit had ripped and she needed to change. And what an exemplary show of sportsmanship when she lost in the final by 100th of a second--it was amazing to watch the 41 yar old cross her lane and congratulate the German winner.

This is what America is about--not the absurd and possessed people leading this country today, nor the greedy Wall Street investment banker s or "Captains of Industry" send this country down the tubes.

While I congratulate Michael Phelps--himself, an all-round balanced guy it appears--I say, put Dara on the Wheaties box for kids to admire and give her speaking engagements.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Long time, no post

Well, it's summer and people go on vacation or just burn out on blogging, right.

I have to be honest and say I've not missed updating this blog. It take a lot of work and it's time that should be spent writing novels or whatever.

I've had a super summer this far. My sister Siobhan, brother-in-law Michael and nephews David and Ryan were out from Ireland and Larry and I had a ball with them. Much traveling was done, of course.

Finding our car too small, a Toyota Sienna was rented from Enterprise--must say the staff were extremely efficient and friendly, and we went to DC where we visited the White House and had a two hour tour of Capitol Hill courtesy of our local Congressman Patrick Murphy. An interesting vote was being held and we watched fascinated as the chamber filled with representatives.

A special thanks to Rachel, his intern, and wishing you good luck on her stint at Cambridge Uni.

Feeling the need for some roller coaster action (well, everyone that is except Siobhan, Larry and David), all of us including L&L set out to spend a day at Six Flags Great Adventure and much fun was had by all. I must say the park is not as efficiently run as the Disney and Universal Studio Parks and the fast food was a huge rip-off.
L&L are looking forward to some much-deserved downtime (this year has been a bit of an annus horribilis for them) and will leave soon for a one week vacation where they'll share a house somewhere in rural Tuscany with some friends. Much fun was had by my nephews at their swimming pool--Irish weather does not permit poolside life, unfortunately--and, sitting poolside one evening with L&L, I realized how truly special it is to have become true friends with such unpretentious, caring and open women. Here's to that Irish trip, girls.

Our penultimate outing was to the Bronx Zoo, which was of interest to me because it's one of the most important zoos in the world and does much important research. It did not disappoint, though we did not get to see all the exhibits especially the African one. Larry, who grew up in the Bronx, was a little disappointed as he remembered it being less commercial than it is now. However, the animals live in pretty natural habitats and seemed happy--ergo I was happy.

More anon...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Feeding homeless doggies

Here's a very easy way to help feed hungry, homeless doggies.

Mimi, a kid from Oregon, was upset by the number of dogs affected by hurricanes and mortgage foreclosures, etc and has set up a website that's sponsored by a company that donates 20 pieces of kibble to animal shelters for everyone who plays the Bow-Wow trivia game on her site. Initially, it covered her native Oregon but has now expanded.
Since April, over 3 million pieces have been donated. That's a lot of full tummies.

Clicking Free Kibble and playing is a way to feel good about helping feed unlucky animals even if you're not a dog (or cat) owner.

They'll make sure Augusten Burroughs keeps his hands of it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday at the Y

Pennsylvania is horrid when its muggy. I don't think I'll ever get used to this no matter how long I live here. Years ago, I thought high summer in London was bad but it was a breeze in comparison.

And this morning at the Y, they'd decided to conserve energy by keeping the air-con off and the windows can't be opened. All around the gym people were moving from station to station with a sheen on their skins and sweat beads on their foreheads--some were even sweating within minutes of beginning their routines. Even Hornet was having breathing problems and seemed too tired to bother to straighten her head band which was rakishly lopsided and the scrupulously applied mascara was running in ghoulish fashion. (She's since sold her bright yellow Hummer undoubtedly on account of the gas usage--to my surprise, she's eaten the whole hog and gone 'Prius.')

I was actually nervous some of the older dears might faint, or worse, expire. There's a policy at the Y that foul language will NOT be tolerated. Much subversion occurred today...even from the muttering snippets I heard from the old dearies.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Getting closer

I'm going to walk the hallowed halls of The White House...again. Just been informed by our local Congressman. I promise not to bag the Lincoln Bedroom.

First time I went there was eight years ago during the Clinton Administration and it was very interesting, though I was amazed at how small the house actually is. It was during Easter and the staff were putting out wooden eggs for the kids to find next day.

My youngest sister Siobhan, her hubby Michael and children, David--no longer a kid as he's now at University--and Ryan, arrive soon and we have been accepted and given the date of the visit. Since 9/11, one has to apply via one's Congressional rep to visit the White House and then information like SSN and Passport Numbers have to be provided. Makes perfect sense.

So we'll spend a weekend in DC.

Also planned is a trip to the Bronx Zoo, the largest in the world. What did ya expect? This is New York.

One can ride over the lion exhibit in a cable car the grounds are so huge.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tis the season

We've got four blueberry shrubs in our orchard and, as it's now the harvesting season, it's now a constant battle between me and the birds as to who gets to the ripening crop first each morning.

Last year the birds won hands down.

So far this season I'm winning. And the noise the songbirds (especially the aggressive wrens) make as they watch beady-eyed from the peach and pear trees. It's as if they know what I'm doing and are irritated. Sometimes, their protests are so loud, I feel as if I'm in Hitchcock's The Birds.

And what a bounty. We've got three different varieties and the shrubs are so heavy with clusters of fruit that their sinewy branches dip toward the ground. I've already collected four pints of blue berries that look as if they have been dipped in the finest of talcum powder or kissed by the morning mist.

Blueberries are a singularly American delicacy--and choc-a-bloc with vitamin C. They are delicious to eat off right off the branch or can be made into jams, pies or,my favorite, cobbler and served with vanilla ice-cream.

Off I go a-picking.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tooth gloom

So this week was a little trying.

I'd been having some pain in the upper right side of my jaw every time I chewed and couldn't figure out what the hell was going on.

On Tuesday, it was so excruciating, I couldn't wait for Wednesday morning to come. Yeah, that bad. First thing I call my dentist. An appointment is made. Problem solved.

Fifteen minutes later, dentist's office calls back and says he's had to go home.

Doesn't want to see me, huh?"

"He's very ill."

So they arrange for me to go to a specialist and have an examination. I get there and first thing I'm asked to do--screw that I'm in pain--is fill out a bunch of forms.

All about payment of account and limiting liability. What a load of bullshit! Pain was so bad now I'd have bartered a first born. This is the good old USA. Roll on Obama and hopefully reform.

After forms were signed, I'm X-rayed and then told I have an infection that won't ever clear up (teeth infections don't as the white blood cells can't get up there to do their job) and the choice is a root canal at $1500.00 or extraction. No price on that because they only do root canals.

"A root canal is preferable because you'll still have your tooth." Subtext. We get the $1500."

"Do something. I'll have the root canal with a strawberry topping."

"Very wise. Just one thing. I can't guarantee complete success because the back molars have four roots. Sometimes the pain returns and extraction is the next option."

"Let me get my mind around this. You are a specialist, yes?"


And you charge $1500.00"


"And you can't say it'll be a success?"


"I want a second opinion. I'll see my dentist tomorrow as they said he'll likely be in then."

"That's fine."

Next morning, there is no pain and I'm chomping breakfast like a horse in a field of fresh grass. Amazing how $1500.00 and no guarantee of success focuses the mind.

I go to my dentist. Yes, it's an infection. And the pain goes away often, but it will return at some point and sometimes with a vengeance."

"Can you do the root canal?"


"There's no guarantee of success, you know? Not with back molars."

"Oh, just pull the damned thing. Enough already."

And then the huge injection looms. I close my eyes and think of the Queen. (Joke.)

So I'm now almost recovered. And pain free. Did mourn the loss of my tooth, though.
He was a faithful little bugger, loved a good juicy steak and a thick hamburger. Now he's gone. Into the medical waste bin. Next, off to the landfill with a bunch of other stranger's teeth. Nothing in common with them. And no more steak.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Happy Cows

I don't often comment on commercials, but one that's really made me laugh out loud is the latest California Cheese Board commercial.

It features two Fresians sitting in the barn discussing what they're going to do after they get up. In the background we hear a rooster crow.
"Shall we get an early start on the alfalfa field in the back?" one of the cows says.
The other cow is still not keen to rise yet and looks annoyed at the rooster.
The rooster struts into the barn and crows.
The relaxed cow says to her mate it's too early to get up yet. "Hit the snooze button."

Immediately we see the rooster shoot out the barn door and crash into the mail box. He picks himself up with as much dignity as he can and walks away.
The two cows go back to dozing as the slogan states.

"Great cheese comes from happy cows
Happy cows come from California."

Very funny. It's on You Tube, I think.

Monday, June 02, 2008

With Family

View of whinbush-pocked hills near my late grandparents old farm

Had a wonderful time in Ireland catching up with nephews and nieces and brothers and sisters.

My youngest brother Dermot and I and his kids Dierbhle (my Goddaughter), Jermaid (Irish For Dermot), Fergal and Callum (fraternal twins) and their cousin Ryan went up to a place called Rock Ess in the mountains. It's a wonderful waterfall with a deep swimming hole where my father and his siblings used to play as kids.

Photo of me at Rock Ess with niece and nephews
--see primroses on bottom right hand side

How wonderful it was to see (and smell) the primroses sprouting near the moss-covered rocks and hear the kids running noisily around. It was also great to chat and catch up with my brother.

My other brother Seamus lives in his house near my parents (as does my sister Siobhan)--I joke about it being a compound a la Kennedy's in Hyannisport. I stayed with Seamus and we had good evenings of wine and chat. He's having trouble with his back--had an accident as a kid that left him with a bad limp--and his discs are runbbing together badly. He's due to have some kind of injection in a few weeks--so slow is the National health Service--which we're hoping will alleviate it greatly.

Siobhan and her hubby Micheal had Larry , Mum, Dad and I in for a good old-fashioned Sunday lunch on the Sunday. It was mega yummy--roast beef, Yorkshire Puds, roast potatoes and all the trimmings.

And my sister Deirdre and hubby Micheal (a lot of Micheal's) had us over after my parent's 50th Anniversary for drinks--lots of vino, chat and laughter. It was a hoot. Deirdre didn't want the night to end, but we managed to drag our butts home at two in the morning.

All in all it was a wonderful week seeing my parents very happy, and it sure made me appreciate the importance of family and unreserved love.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hectic is good

Been a little hectic here as Larry and I were away for a week in Ireland for a family affair. Wonderful to catch up on parents, siblings and nephews and nieces.

Novel is now DONE. I spent many late nights prior to my departure working on it. It was horrible to have to read and rewrite until two in the morning, one of those times wehn I don't like writing. But, of course, once the finished product is in one's hands, it becomes a horse of a different color.

Novel has been read and enjoyed by Jeanne, a member of my writing group. That was an anxious time as Jeanne knows what's bad and what's good and lets me know--which is what I want. Will make changes she suggests and get it off to my agent in NYC.

More anon

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Writing blues

I finished the first draft of the novel last week, took a few days off to celebrate and now have started the rewriting.

This is the time when a lot of authors become uneasy, nervous or downright despondent.

They read what they've written and say to themselves, 'This sucks' or words to that effect.

Well, I'm no exception.

I've been going over a large chunk I gave to my writers group a couple of months ago and I HATE it. In fact, I wanted to burn the whole thing, jump on it, dance on it, shred it, eat it.

So, I grabbed a published novel--not my own, but rather one that garnered critical acclaim--and read a few pages throughout the book.

"Hey, this is good, but it's pretty much the same language as I use," I said to myself. "Maybe I'm being to hard on myself."

And so I go on. As Hemingway said, "The first draft of anything is shit'.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Here we go again

Small minded parents are ganging on on their former pin-up girl Miley Cyrus aka Hannah Montana.

The fifteen year old heroine of the eight-year-olds to tweens had the temerity to pose in a more grown-up setting for Vanity Fair. She was photographed by Annie Liebowitz, yeah, she of asking the Queen to remove her tiara as it would look different--and I've seen the photo and it's not porn. Neither is it slutty or titillating.

She's fifteen and becoming a woman. She's got to make the transition or risk being seen as Shirley Temple for the rest of her life or...dare I say it... be written off as a child star.

Give her a break.

Unfortunately, given that she'd predicted to be a billionaire by 2010, her business people and Disney who produce Hannah Montana are back-pedaling in an attempt to save her image and their INVESTMENT. They've got to her parents (who were on set during the photo shoot.) They're trying to deny it and say Vanity Fair took advantage. This despite the fact she posed in a much odder position with Daddy Cyrus. I appeal to them not to risk being hypocritical or forgo their thirst for dollars, admit they liked the photos, that they are artistic and just tell the small-minded they need to get a bloody life.

We'll see. This is America. Almighty dollar rules.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Out, out foul Netscape

It all happened yesterday.

I've been using a Mac for two years now but was terrified to migrate my email from Netscape to Firebird's Thunderbird, a free e-mail application for Mac Users. The Netscape version I've been using is a fossil because I've been terrified to move to updated versions for the same reason--because when I updated to Netscape 7.1 on my PC system, it didn't transfer my email and I had to start over again. The old stuff is still floating in Cyber space. I was terrified because I thought I'd lose all my emails and contact addresses. Maybe a good thing!!

So yesterday, I tried to send an email and the Netscape system kept asking me for my 'out' mail password. And when I punched in my usual password, it wouldn't recognize it. To make things even more aggravating, I was getting emails.

So over an hour later, my interet provider was confounded and couldn't fathom what the problem was.

It's your Mac," she said as a cop-out. "We can't do anything more. Sorry."

Lazy, uninterested bitch!!

With nothing left to do, I installed Thunderbird, waited with crossed fingers and toes as it stated on the screen "migrating files" or something like that. Twenty minutes later, a brand new email layout appeared AND all my old emails were there.

Hooray. So I promptly got rid of the last reminder of my PC days by deleting Netscape. I am now a proud and utter fan of Mac and Firebird and Thunderbird.

Netscape R.I.P

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Snippets from Manhattan yesterday

Walking along Third Avenue, two women yakking behind me.

"Well, that was great. We'll have to meet for lunch again soon."
"Yeah, I really enjoyed it. We must."
"What are you doing round August?"

At the Citibank main office on Lexington, I come across a pilot strike.
There were about 100 American Airlines pilots dressed in crisp uniforms and carrying placards and slotting schedules. Apparently, they want more money and shares.

Then further down the street, a picket. I come across some men standing beside a huge (twelve) foot rubber rat. It was a local maintenance union on strike outside their building.
Who would want a rat as a mascot? Hardly endearing or guaranteed to elicit New Yorkers sympathy, I'd say.

A sign of the times--the homeless are beginning to be very visible. At the Port Authority where I board the bus home, there was a man sleeping on the tile floor nearby. As I watched, I couldn't help but wonder what happened in his life that he's now on the streets in the wealthiest city in the world. Unfortunate thing is there's going to be a lot of homeless if the economy keeps gooing south.

And finally, a glimmer the recession may not last as long as some fear. All around the city, there are new highrises going up--and, if the advertising is to be believed--over seventy percent of the new luxury apartments in some of them are already sold.

An eerie sight now presents as one is leaving NYC via the Lincoln Tunnel. As the bus snakes around the ramp leading to I78, one is treated to magnificent views of Manhattan including two shimmering highrises that have been recently erected in mid-town. They resemble small versions of the twin towers and one's thoughts are immediately taken back to that terrible day. I wonder if the architect designed that deliberately or if the building were designed and approved years before 9/11.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Inundated Pennsylvania

Help!! Help!!

We are being inundated with ads for Hilary and Barack here in Pennsylvania.
And people who've never put out campaign posters--the ones you stick into the ground--are doing it in legions. Well, maybe not legions, but you get the idea.

It's exciting to be a pivotal state--or is that commonwealth?--but really this is quite ridiculous.

I'm expecting to see Hillary or Obama walking along my road any day, or even that they pop into the 'Y' (Hilary in leotards!) for a quick spin on the elliptical between appearances.

Have to admit I like Barack's logo. It's very fresh, very hip, very 'change'. Hope it's not a fad, though.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Busy, busy...

I'm currently very busy with the final chapters of the new novel--was going to post this yesterday and then realized it was April Fool's Day--and it's coming in at about 83,000 words. My writer's group have reviewed most of it and have given excellent feedback. Now comes another edit.

Having difficulty coming up with a title as its set in London and NYC--working title is now Big Smoke, Big Apple:A Transatlantic Tale

I want to get it to my agent by the third week of April so he and members of his team can read it and, hopefully, they'll like it as is and it'll go on submission.

Also, working hard at the gym--summer's round the corner after all.

My sister Siobhan and her hubby and kids--well David is not a kid any longer since he's gone off to university--are coming out for a visit in July so that'll be fun. (Do wish David had have gone to the LSE though--I was so excited when he got accepted to do accountancy, which i think sounds boring but then he thinks the same about law--'cos I'd have a place to stay when I visit London.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Set them free

This morning on NPR, I listened to some old plummy-accented fart who was once a lady-in-waiting to the Queen give instructions on how women should curtsy to any member of the Royal family. Apparently, the segment was due to the impending visit of the French President and same old fart was in a state of high anticipation as to whether the new President's wife would curtsy or not and, if she did, how it would be effected.

I stopped listening to the mechanics of the maneuver when she got to 'Ladies should place their legs apart...chin up...

Men, apparently, must bow in a way that the chin almost touches the chest.

The only thing she did say that made sense was her aside that the Americans no longer curtsy to members of the Royal family.


Why the hell should anyone, even the Brits, curtsy? Isn't it enough that they and the person being introduced shake hands.

I watched Barbara Walters' program on ABC the other night about the Royal family, a so-called reality type show of them at play and work, and the only mildly funny bit was a scene showing the Queen at Windsor Castle leaning over the stair banister in her evening gown to try and see how her husband was dealing with a crisis in getting the head of some African nation into the dining room before she made her appearance.

I have no dislike for any members of the Royal family.They were born into the institution of the Monarchy and they effect their duties no matter how irrelevant in a modern democracy with aplomb and dedication. But that does not mean one can despise the Monarchy and demand its abolishment. It really is time this family was relieved of its arcane duties. The Queen performs no purpose that can't be executed by elected representatives. That way Harry and William can also serve in the British Army in any position they so desire, and I'm convinced they'd be relieved because they are smart and I feel see how silly the whole warped and bloated institution has become. The very fact they speak with 'normal' accents--a deliberate decision on their part--and not with the contorted enunciation of The Queen or Prince Charles might support my conclusion here as they are trying to fit in as much as they're allowed..

Quaint just doesn't cut it anymore.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Spitzer conundrum

So Eliot Spitzer is now a part of New York history.

A very spirited debate took place the other night between myself, Lynne of L&L and our neighbors Scott and Jessica.

The issue turned on whether the governor's wife should have stood by his side and been humiliated when he first appeared in public to state he'd done wrong and then to resign the NY governorship.

Lynne and Jessica were adamant that she shouldn't have done it, that she was there in
a private capacity and was being forced by people behind the scene to be there. They freely admitted they were acting from a woman's point of view.

My position was she is a smart, strong woman. She attended law school, practiced as an attorney and made a decision to leave her employment to stay at home and raise their daughters. Thus, she is the one who most probably made the decision to be at his side when he made his speeches of humiliation. There is no doubt she looked extremely pained.

Also, in the professional way she handled herself as the first lady of New York State, she probably decided to act continue to act professionally to the bitter end and appear with him as the spouse of the governor.

There is no right or wrong answer in these situations. What occurs in private between Spitzer and his wife is their business, but I imagine the people of New York probably appreciated she stood there at that moment and regard her very highly as a result.

Another question is Spitzer's conduct. Again, I feel this is a private matter although, given that he prosecuted Wall Street corruption and prostitution during his time as the NY Attorney General and had a 'take no prisoners' mentality, it would have been difficult to overcome the charges of hypocrisy and continue to govern.

It all boils down to the difference in viewpoints between the sexes at the end of the day, I think. While some men are utterly faithful in their relationships, I really do believe that this is not the norm as our society insists. It should not be that surprising to learn that many men get bored with their wives sexually after a period of years and start looking around (and probably vice versa, though I can't speak for women here). I think society should stop having these ridiculous expectations that people stop being attracted sexually to other people once they get married and that their marital sex lives are blissful from that moment onward. It only keeps sex therapists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists and morning show hosts in jobs to try and 'advise' what people have to do to spice and enrich their sex lives when they get bored. Once you are bored, you are bored and nothing will change that. Sure changing position and dressing up might work for a week or two, but let's get real.

Love and sex are not synonymous. They can co-exist, certainly do at the beginning of relationships, but then they diverge as the years pass. One can love a partner and not want to have sex with them. There is no crime or negative judgment to be meted out by society when a spouse admits he or she has become bored sexually but still loves the partner and wants to stay in the relationship. It is adult behavior for the spouses to negotiate these situations and not do (as society expects us to do) which is running to shrinks for a fix and they then advise solutions based on the premise that monogamy is the norm and it is immoral to have sex outside the marriage.

My opinion is no one partner can satisfy his or partner sexually for life. People grow and change and their needs grow and change, including sexual needs. It's as simple as that. A minority of people are happy to be monogamous, but not all. And it's time we accepted that. It's time to accept that it's normal to get bored having sex with the same partner for years and to want to have sex and have sex with others outside relationships. It's time to stop buying into fictions created by societal and religious institutions for the sake of convenience and exertion of authority. The fact that children may or may not be involved cannot be used to support or maintain a status quo regarding human sexuality that is clearly failing. The existence of children and responsibility for meeting their needs must be factored into any conduct decided and agreed by the spouses.

Maybe then, we'll not have this constant parade of people in the media who have to make humiliating speeches when they've been discovered behaving humanely. And that would also resolve the spirited discussions about whether a spouse should or should not be present when humiliating speeches have to be made.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Our special tonight is...

We were out with L&L the other night to see The Other Boleyn Girl--Hollywood and Phillipa Gregory's version of the Henry VIII saga.

Critics dished it, but it wasn't that bad. Granted it lapses into the bodice ripping genre on more than a few occasions but I found it enjoyable. And if Gregory is to be believed, the reason Henry split from Rome is due solely to the strategic planning of Anne in her mission to get rid of Catherine and become Queen.

Afterwards we decided to go for dinner so popped into the local PF Chang's only to be told the wait was two hours. It's a pretty good Chinese restaurant, the food's cooked to order so there's would have been that additional wait after we ordered, but it's not good enough to merit that sort of wait. The reason for such a long wait is because PF Chang's is new to the area.

Off we went to Ooka, our local Japanese restaurant where everyone except Larry ordered Tempura--L&L not liking fish, they ordered chicken while I ordered different kinds of fish.

Towards the end of the meal, Lynne held up something that looked like a bit of sausage skin and said, "What is this? I keep getting it in and it's chewy and disgusting."
We all looked at it intently. "Looks like shrimp shell," Lee said.

"No, it's not," Lynne said. "I had Tempura here before and I can't remember this in it. It's very different."

"Maybe it's something vegetable," Larry said. (a piece of Carrot, broccoli and eggplant done Tempura style had also come with it.)

All of a sudden the penny dropped. When the food had arrived at the table, it was beautifully presented in the shape of a pyramid with a huge onion ring keeping it bound together. The entire arrangement was resting on a base of paper doilies.

"Lynne," I said, "You're not supposed to eat the doilie. That's only for presentation."

"What do you mean?"

We poked about her plate and showed her the last small piece of the three doiles they'd covered her plate with to make it look pretty. Lynne hadn't noticed them because the plate was also white.

At first, when we told the Japanese waitress, she went very pale.

"You sick?" she asked.

"No, we're just showing you what she ate."

Suddenly, she realized we weren't complaining and her face broke into a huge smile. "Very funny," she said. He, he, he, he. "Very funny. You want desert now?"

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Clinton Obama ticket, anyone?

Congratulation to Senator McCain. The Republicians have selected and he's now got the blessing of Mr. Bush, which may not be such a good thing given his terrible ratings and the fact we're now in recession according to Warren Buffett. I think only idiots and those politically motivated to deny it still continue to bleat that we're on a slow down, that we are not in recession.

A quick drive through any town in the United States where the huge number of 'To Let' signs in empty stores is a true indicator of the reality. Unbelievable that the surplus we had when President Clinton left office is now replaced with a massive deficit and the dollar is trading at One Euro fifty-one cents. Less anyone forget, when the Euro was 'born', it was regarded as aa weak currency and it traded at about one dollar.

The democratic races last night were terribly exciting and Hillary Clinton to her credit did pull an upset, exactly what she said she was going to do. I am glad as I feel the Democrats really are discussing the real bread-and-butter issues that the next Presidential election will be about. The longer she and Obama campaign, the better for our democracy.

It looks like Pennsylvania will be the deciding state, which is also very exciting. Certainly it is the only large state with a huge number of delegates that's left. Already, Obama and Clinton have opened campaign offices in the major towns, including Bucks County where I live.

It looks like Senator Obama will come under a lot more media scrutiny now and will have to state his policies and positions with absolute clarity now. Taht is a good thing. In the past weeks, I've heard a lot more about Clinton's positions and am still pretty unclear about Obama's.

The best option would be for Obama and Clinton to run on the same ticket, but that will require senior democrats to get them in the same room and thrash out who will be on top. I suspect that's going to happen either before or after the Pennsylvania primary. It has to because Clinton is now unable to mathematically catch up and surpass the number of delegates Obama has in the bag. And Obama's argument that the super-delegates must vote according to how the people of their state voted (and thus secure him the necessary number of delegates to secure the nomination) does not hold water because there is no requirement for them to do so. Their duty is to vote for teh candidate they feel can win the general election. Moreover, Clinton has a very strong argument that she has won the IMPORTANT MAJOR states and Obama's wins are in small states--in other words, size does matter.

Of course there's always the matter of Florida. Always Florida. Does the Democratic National Committee reverse itself and allow their vote to be counted in the delegate count? If so, Clinton gets a lot of delegates. I'm sure her campaign's trying to twist arms here.

Some people argue that a ticket with a woman and a black man on it is not a winning formula--that America is not ready. I think it's time to see.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Coming to a mall or town near you???

Heard a fascinating discussion on NPR the other day on the way home from the 'Y.'

Apparently, over in England, many town councils and shopkeepers are installing a 'mosquito' device that emits a high-pitched sound that only people under twenty can hear. The annoying buzz sound quickly scatters groups of loitering teenagers who find it irritating and uncomfortable and thus move away to another spot in town where they can socialize or whatever it is teenagers do these days.

There are now calls to have it banned. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole business--especially since babies (the next generation of teenagers) can hear it as well and may become immune to its sound.

Living now in the US, I've become very aware of the concept of individual freedom--something that admittedly is being eroded currently--so my gut-feel is it isn't right and should be banned. England does seem to have changed through the years because they have CCTVs everywhere, a carryover from the years of IRA campaigns on the mainland that got extended until it got out of control, I'd imagine--which wouldn't be tolerated over here. On the other hand, teenagers can be a pesky lot (pun absolutely intended). They gather in my local town center and shop-owners complain as well.

Maybe the solution is to provide things for kids to do and for parents to act like parents and exert control of their charges in the waning years of their offspring's adolescence.

Anyway, there are calls to ban the Mosquito and I'm sure court challenges will ensue.

Friday, February 22, 2008

American Zeitgeist

Watching and trying to interpret the American Zeitgeist as we wend our way to the Presidential election is hugely exciting. I was here during the election of Bill Clinton and can remember the sense of unrestrained optimism that eddied around the dinner tables and parlors of my friends. No British or Irish election had ever generated such a sense of expectation times squared, no make that tripled.

It must be acknowledged Bill Clinton did deliver and I have often wondered why Ronald Regan is lauded still by many as the president who swept America to a new prosperity. They forget the heartless policies behind this trickle down economic "success" and forget conveniently that Bill Clinton left this country with a surplus when his time finished. The current administration, conservative it proudly heralds, has spent more than any Democratic administration in memory. Why is this not being shouted from the roof tops? Why are conservative Republicans with a small 'c' not being more vociferous and still leery of Democrats as being the party of 'Big Government?' I can't understand.

But back to the current primaries. It's certain now that John McCain will be the Republican nominee and Huckabee (and Chuck Norris) are now only in the running in order to secure their name on the ticket as Vice President.

I could not vote for him because he is 'out to pasture' on the war, but one thing I truly admire about McCain is his stance on earmarks--favorite wish lists that senators try to slip into legislation no matter how unrelated to their project; in other words pork barrel politics. McCain is right to want to end their use and, to be fair to him, he has not sought any while Clinton and Obama have made use of the practice. Clinton and Obama are silent about that. This must be noted. (It will be interesting to see how the 'affair' with a lobbyist that's been reported by The New York Times plays out, because there's no smoke without fire.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's race is of a very different color. I find myself swinging back and forth, torn between Obama's call for change and Clinton's cry that she has the experience. My gut feel is that an amalgam of the two would be superb. But that we can't have.

Who to choose?
Zeitgeist suggests that Barack Obama has a decided edge and this is conformed by the fact that ex-pats eligible to vote in the primaries have also given him the edge. Americans are angry with the current administration and are clamoring for real change. They don't want talk. They want it to occur. He's a visionary leader--in other words he presents what he believes America wants like say Roosevelt and 'The New Deal', seeking consensus among the competing interests, leaving it for the 'managers' to implement the policies and hold them utterly accountable. Hillary, on the other hand, managers from the 'top down' and gets involved in every aspect. I don't think that works because we've tried that and it didn't work.

Can Obama deliver? This is the elephant in the room. His handling of the nuclear power issue in his own back yard would not seem to suggest he can wield the sort of change Americans are seeking. his bill got diluted and he accepted it; worrying when one considers it was on an issue of health and safety.

Given this, is the question of experience then not more important than the change the direction of this country. Is it experience that is necessary to navigate the ship of state through the shark-infested waters in order to achieve some achievable change.

I don't know the answer. The reservations I have are: Hillary Clinton is NOT talking about change in the way Barack Obama is talking about it and she is not talking about reigning in corporate greed; And Barack Obama, contrary to what he says, may not be able to get sensible Republicans to work with him as is vitally needed for the good of this country in order to achieve the change the country wants desperately. He didn't seem to pass the challenge in Illinois and that worries me. Washington is a meaner, tougher game, one where he could easily be sidelined for four years.

I am also annoyed at her juvenile attempt to accuse Obama of plagiarism because he borrows from the speeches of others. Come on!!! All politicians do that. It is unfitting for a woman of Clinton's caliber and education to resort to such silliness, and the fact she is angering the voters here suggests she is insulting their intelligence. It highlights that she is threatened by his oratory and suggests her campaign is in crisis.

Drop it and move on to discuss your vision, Hilary. Let the people do their job and decide which is the better of the two.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Disraeli Avenue

Here's an email I received from British novelist Caroline Smailes, author of In Search of Adam, which is published by The Friday Project and I reviewed in this blog when it released last year because I liked it a lot. (TFP is the same publisher who will publish A Son Called Gabriel in the UK.)

She has now written a novella entitled Disraeli Avenue that deals with the background characters of her debut novel and it's published and downloadable for FREE on the net from today. However, she wants to assist a charity for sexually abused kids--her work deals with this theme--and asks that you consider making a donation if you decide to download the work.

Here's her email:

I'm taking a moment to tell you about my new project, a novella - Disraeli Avenue.

Disraeli Avenue has been developed from my debut novel In Search of Adam. This novella provides the reader with an unusual insight into both the incidental and essential characters from the novel, giving a deeper understanding of the part that each plays in the book. Readers new to Disraeli Avenue may find the snapshots of individual lives lived on an average street moving, and compelling. Readers familiar with In Search of Adam may find pleasure in learning more about those involved in Jude Williams' life and will find a redemption of sorts in the final entry from Bill Williams where he reflects on the death of his wife and daughter.

This download is provided entirely free, but we would ask that you consider making a donation to One in Four.

One in Four offers a voice to and support for people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence. Research has consistently shown that one in four children will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Society has thus far been unwilling to face up to the deep rooted nature of this problem or the sheer scale of the long term damage it leaves in its wake. Their determined aim is to change this. One in Four UK is a Registered Charity (Charity Number 1081726).

I may add that all of the contributions to the development of the novel (the writing, editing, typesetting, design, cover design, proofing) have all been contributed free of charge. All contributors are acknowledged within the work.

I’m trying to make a difference, to give something back.

All details can be found at The Friday Project

Friday, February 15, 2008

Approaching the finishing post

This week has been a productive week, both from a writing and strategy perspective with regard to my new novel.

The finishing post of the new novel now entitled Tangles in the City is in sight and I'm very excited. Hopefully that will occur in the next few weeks. What was once thought to be a rewrite when it was taken by The Friday Project has become an entirely new novel that will spawn three or more sequels and I have enjoyed most of the time spent writing it. Some characters that were minor, existing only to move the plot forward, have taken on their own lives and the book is richer, I feel, as a result.

The novel, set now in 2001, spans two cities, namely London and New York City.

Some last minute research is ongoing. I needed to speak to someone in the UK's Special Branch (MI5) as one of the plot points revolves around an arrest of a character suspected of terrorist affiliation. That hasn't happened as yet, but I've now made contact with a TV director over there who writes about police and organized crime and that has been very helpful. There are also a couple of excellent books I've ordered from my local library dealing with the issue.

And, as it will go on submission to houses in the United States, I chatted to my agent in NYC this week and he wants to read it as soon as possible and give me his take. I've promised him a copy sometime in March, so that will be my incentive to get it done.

So all systems go.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Blue or Brown

Recently I learned something really interesting about people with blue eyes. Extensive research has been done and it turns out that all people with blue eyes can trace their ancestry back to one person--that's ONE person--who lived 8000 t0 10,000 years ago near the Black sea.

Because it's caused by a mutation and is recessive, it turns out that there are less and less people being born with blue eyes, at least in the US. In the United States, the number of people with blue eyes has dropped from one in two to one in six because the brown eyed gene is dominant.

Europe is where 95% of people with blue eyes are born and Europeans are a great anomaly because, on all other continents, everyone has darker skin and brown eyes. Once, all humans were born with brown eyes. Indeed Europe is a great mystery in this respect because of our African ancestry, though the theory is that our skin changed due to the harsher weather and need to absorb Vitamin D, easier with fair skin.

Another theory states that the European differences have resulted from inter-breading with Neanderthals--though there is no evidence of large scale breeding taking place between homosapiens and them.

Not sure where that puts me and others with hazel eyes, though.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday Ahoy

I think this is one of the most exciting primaries I've ever witnessed, at least on the Democratic side. I can't wait, simply can't wait, until tomorrow night to see the results coming in. However, I am not euphoric because, let's face it, we've been down this road before when President Clinton came to power and everyone was euphoric and the earth didn't move. Lots of good things happened and we were euphoric but the earth did not move.

The truth is only true change will come when responsible Republicans and Democrats work together for the benefit of American society, when we stop seeing people we disagree with us as foes and un-American.

Regardless of who wins between Clinton or Obama or whether no front runner emerges until Pennsylvania, etc , I feel strongly we're all winners because this is what happens when democracy is working. We're hearing real bread and butter issues being discussed, real visions as to how universal (or near enough) health care can be implemented, how the economy can be improved and, most clearly from Obama, how the excesses of large corporations must be reigned in and corporate welfare terminated.

From John McCain, all I'm hearing is the tired old rhetoric that America is under threat and we're going to be annihilated by the Islam extremists and we must stay in Iraq because our vital interests are involved. Hey, a Democratic administration owill be as capable of looking after our security as a Republican one so stop this tired 'trying to scare us witless' nonsense.

Mitt Romney--still horrified by his financing his bid for the presidency and parading he's a true conservative.

Mike Huckabee--the chap needs to leave when he can still do so with a bit of grace.

Really did enjoy seeing Maria Shriver wiggle out of Arnold's grip to endorse Obama. Republican Governor and Democratic California First Lady. Great to see.
Not that sure the country is as swayed by a Kennedy endorsement as they were in say, seventies or eighties. People have moved on and become a lot more knowledgeable, a lot more sophisticated. Era's over, I think.
Oprah on the other hand--will be interesting


Friday, February 01, 2008

A page a day

I heard John Grisham on the telly the other day. he was being interviewed about his new novel, The Appeal, his first return to the legal thriller genre in four years.

One of the questions he was asked from an unpublished writer was "Any advice for a writer?"

He looked deadpan at the camera and said "Write a page a day." That's 365 pages in a year and a book. One book a year. It's the only way someone will get published. Writing a page a day.

Many people want to write but they feel overwhelmed. They begin a novel but eventually lose momentum and it languishes and then gets forgotten about. So Mr. Grisham gave excellent advice.

He was also asked if he starts a book and just lets things flow. He doesn't. He spends ages writing a detailed outline, knowing where every chapter begins and ends, and only begins when that's done.

That works for some writers. Myself, I don't write an outline. I've done it, but deviated from it so much that I'm not at all convinced it's the only strategy. I do character portraits so I know my characters very deeply before I begin, but that's about it. I allow them to breathe and talk as I write, let them take me to places they want to go in the story. But always I bear in mind that they cannot be allowed to control the story. Only I can do that, and they must be subordinate to the needs of the plot.

And I realize that subconsciously I have an outline in my head. I know where I want to begin and where I want it to end, but in between is open season so to speak.

Grisham's interview made me think about his books. I like them. He is a plot master, though I would not consider him a tremendous writer. I don't think that's his objective though. His goal is to tell excellent stories and he uses the prose that gets that done. Ergo, he is successful and I'm not just talking commercially.

When I compare his style to say McEwan, it is clear McEwan is a master of language. Some of his descriptions in Atonement are literally breathtaking, evoke a joyful "Yes, I've seen moss and colors like that on an old fountain and it does look like that" or "Wow, that's perfect." And yet, I have picked up Atonement twice now and cannot seem to get through it. I don't know if it's because the life of an upper-class English family no longer interests me or the plot is slow and, at times, a little unbelievable.

Either way, when you pick up a Grisham, you know you're going to finish it. So in conclusion, I guess the two writers have different objectives which they meet and are thus successful in their own distinct ways.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Liar's Diary paperback release

Recently I reviewed Patry Francis's great debut novel "The Liar's Diary."

Today it releases in paperback and, as Patry is battling a serious health-related matter (which she blogs about in a candid manner on her blog), all her friends and colleagues are blogging today in support.

Lots of luck with your book and thinking of you at this difficult time, Patry.

Here's the Review

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bit of a downer

So our close friends L&L and ourselves decided to get together yesterday and go see a film followed by supper at the new PF Chang's that's just opened near us.

What to see, we mulled. What to see.

I suggested There will be Blood. First, because Daniel Day-Lewis is a first rate actor, second because it's been nominated for eight Oscars, and third because there's been buzz that it's a brilliant film.

Everyone agreed on my choice.

Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview is magnificent (as usual), but I'm afraid one actor does not a brilliant film make. Director Paul Thomas Anderson's film is one great amorphous chasm of darkness. The plot, what there is of it, is basically dirt-poor, ambitious early twentieth Century American strikes gold (in this case oil) in California, becomes a tycoon, and retains his ruthless, competitive nature right to the last scene of the movie. We've had so many of these Hollywood stories I can't believe they think the public's going to hail it cutting edge cinema because of the cat-wailing musical scores and effects, which include an oil derrick burning and the deaths of a couple of oil miners and the murder of a man who claims to be Plainview's half-brother. (I will say Day-Lewis is nothing other than spell-binding when he realizes the man is not who he says he is--the tiniest facial expression speaks volumes and it is this scene which will probably win him the Oscar.)

A few twists are thrown in--the fact that Plainview's son is not his son, but rather an orphan whom he picked off the street and called his son because the presence of a fresh-faced child would help him cheat the farmers of their land, and a preacher who's nothing but a cliche--does nothing but highlight the lack of a riveting plot.

At two hours and thirty minutes, the film is bloated and could have done with the services of a good editor. The last scene is gratuitous. And there is much repetition in case we're such a dumb audience we won't pick up some 'vital' point and we are required to suspend reality. For example, the son has an accident and loses his hearing and we are then expected to believe he loses his ability to speak immediately.

By the time the movie ended, we were ready for PF Chang's and a few glasses of wine. Thankfully, the meal was wonderful and the overall somber spirits sitting through this film had invoked were rapidly dispelled.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

German 'green' ingenuity

Today, the 462 foot cargo ship MS Beluga left the port city of Bremen on its way to Venezuela. After it arrived in the open sea, it unwound a giant sky sail (a kite, really) measuring 462 square meters from its bow that can fly 600 feet above the vessel and power the ship.

If the experiment works, the ship will cut its carbon emissions by 20% for the entire voyage. It should be noted that there are about 100,000 ships carrying 95% of the world's cargo from country to country and the cargo companies use the dirtiest fuel (diesel)to power their fleets.

The kite device is the brain child of 34-year-old Stephan Wrage and the experiment has been financed in large part by the German government. Computers manage the mechanics of flying the kite. Reduction of greenhouse gases and saving our planet is the catalyst energizing the trial.

The cargo industry is very conservative (with a small 'c', probably a large one too) but they are watching with interest. Already orders for the kite are coming in. If it works, a giant kite measuring 5000 sq meters will be devised for the huge tankers and emissions could be reduced by 30 or 40%

Friday, January 18, 2008

About cloning

In the same week the USDA says that meat and dairy products from cloned animals will one day be available on our supermarket shelves because there's no difference in the animal and it's clone, we learn Stemagen Corp--a privately funded company in California--has managed to clone a human.

It was fascinating watching the interview of the scientist Dr. Samuel Wood who'd used his own skin cells as the "building blocks" of the process. He said he felt amazing and strange peering at the three cells of what would become a copy of him before he destroyed them.

I understand the whole argument that cloning should be allowed because it will advance the search for cures to disease, etc.

But I will take this a step farther. What is the real problem or dilemma in bringing a child into the world using this method? Why is it automatically unacceptable to do do? Why the knee jerk clamor for laws to prevent cloning? One expects organized religion such as the Catholic church, etc to jerk it's knee, but what about intellectuals and those who do not take the bible literally? Even Wood whom I imagine is intellectual in all aspects of his life felt duty bound to state he didn't ever wish to clone a human--whether that's really his position or not, it felt like morality creeping into the realm of science.

Isn't it intellectual bunk in today's sophisticated world to conclude we can't do this because it's a sin, against God (who's never ruled on it to my knowledge), that its immoral, that it's arrogance to create a carbon copy of oneself. The child would have the same genes as its father OR mother--maybe that's what's making people squeamish:that the genes of one sex is no longer required to produce a child--but that's all. Because it would be born in a different time period and exposed to different socio-economic situations and stimuli (the nurture side of the equation), it would NOT be the same as its parent.

In my opinion, this will happen and in time it will be no more controversial than surrogacy as is increasingly happening with couples who want a child but can't conceive for one reason or other. People throughout the world should have the right to have children whether through sexual intercourse or cutting edge methods that advances in our technology allow. Why not use other pieces of our to DNA to create another human being? We use sperm and egg. The child would be a human being no matter.

In my opinion, we should be concentrating NOT on drafting laws to ban cloning--it's going to happen somewhere in the world--but rather on drafting good laws to protect how it will be conducted and to protect the rights of children born from cloning, if necessary. (For example, one good law would be that the USDA seal of approval can't be put on them making them eligible for consumption.)

After all, once it was strange to think a child's life began inside a test tube. No more.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Here's one of the finest American independent films, a film displaying American humor at its finest, a film unafraid to show pathos without being maudlin, a film that'll leave an indelible impression in the mind for many years.

The film (from Fox Searchlight)begins and ends with a chair. Sixteen year old Juno MacGuff--an intelligent, unorthodox teenager who marches to the beat of her own drum--played by Ellen Page climbs upon her naked boyfriend Michael Cera (whose laidback characterization of an American teenager is pitch perfect )who's sitting on a recliner only to get pregnant. At first, she decides to have an abortion, then changes her mind and begins, with the help of her best friend, to look for prospective adoptive parents amid the local "Penny pages" and finds a couple (the woman played by Jennifer Garner) across from the "Puppies wanted" and other prosaic everyday advertisements. The journey toward delivery is split into four sections delineated by the passing seasons. Allison Janney plays her loving stepmother, a woman whose life revolves around dogs and dog-grooming but who can't have a dog at home because Juno is allergic, and JK Simmons (of Oz fame) is the dad. Janey shows Juno both sympathy and tough love and there is an excellent scene where the two argue for all of one minute and Juno--the moody, bitchy teenager--screams that she can't wait to be able to leave the house. Janey replies calmly that she can't wait either because then she'll be able to get two Weimeramer puppies.

An intriguing relationship with the prospective father--he's a musician like Juno-- begins to develop when Juno arrives at their door unexpected to give him them updates about the fetus's progress and his wife is at work, a relationship that reveals him as a man who's never grown up fully as the plot unfurls. It's a definite and plausible twist on the adult-child dynamic.

And the plot resolves in an unusual and, I must say refreshingly un-Hollywood, way that will propel it to importance in my judgment.

Go see it--it's terrific.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The morning his wife died

Via Scott Pack at The Friday Project (my UK publisher), I was alerted to this blog entry from another Irishman (or of Irish descent living in London) John Lenahan who writes extremely movingly about the death of his wife four years ago and thought I'd link to it. He empowers the piece with the use of imagery incorporating banshees and the shrieks of copulating foxes--a sound that's as otherworldly and eerie in Pennsylvania as it is in Ireland.

Having recently had a friend who died during the Christmas period, I related to what he described, and it brought back memories and sounds of the long night that my paternal grandmother Catherine died when I was an uncomprehending eleven-year-old silently watching from outside the bedroom.

Death is not something a great many Americans feel comfortable talking about, I have discovered, in comparison to Europeans--one sign thereof being their abundant use of euphemisms such as 'passed on' or 'passed' rather than the proper word 'died.' And to be honest, I never fully understood the importance of a funeral until I attended my best friend's in London where, as I sat alternately staring at the glossy coffin and watching the ceremony and listening to the words, it was revealed as in an epiphany. In one surging moment of intensity I comprehended fully. It wasn't about religion. It wasn't about ritual. It was about goodbye, a beautiful goodbye.

Anyway, Mr.Lenahan describes precisely how loved ones truly experience and seldom reveal.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Hampshire and on

I LOVE when the pundits and polls are wrong, as they were in New Hampshire last night--at least on the democratic side. It sure makes for exciting telly.

This year is going to be an exciting one in the US and there's going to be interesting debates and spats because all sorts of normally silent segments of the electorate are fired up--women over 45, voters between 18 and 45, hell-fire zealots, lefties and righties--if the Iowa and New Hampshire initial turn-out results holds. Makes for great politics and strengthens a democracy. Gone is citizen ennui and indifference.

As an independent--my leanings are obviously democratic given my background, but I do not vote the party line out of obligation or urge because I feel the Democratic party, like the Republican Party, needs to clean house as well--my view so far:

Sen. John McCain--a likeable warhorse who's well intended but not in touch.

Mitt Romney--a shiftshaper, opportunist. Too many of his ilk currently in Congress. Don't need another in the White House. Despise he will try to buy the Presidency if he runs out of donors. Founding Fathers would hate that.

Mike Huckabee--a charmer, and pretty smart except when it comes to his denial of evolution--this, unfortunately, raises its head as a criteria to be discussed in the sophisticated US every election cycle--and justice for all, and I don't believe the majority of the country is in the mood to have another four years of the dangerous 'same old-same old' from a Baptist minister-cum-politician.

Sen. Barack Obama--I like the guy, like his common touch, eloquence, fighting spirit and desire to change things. But what exactly does he want to change and what will he do? I'm unsure of what he represents currently.

Sen. Hillary Clinton--Who can't help feeling a soft spot for her after what she's had to endure from the zealots? I feel a strong pull toward her, but again what is it she's representing, exactly? Is she left of center or is she center? If she's center, we've had that before from the Democrats so where would 'change' occur? She's got backbone and I want to see it as rigidly on display as Joan of Arc held her standard on the battlefield.

We got a glimpse of her passion and concern for the country, our country, two days ago when she thought she was going to lose in New Hampshire. In her cracked voice, in her drawn face, in her intense gaze. She spoke from the heart. I want to see that more, and I want to know what she will change. I don't need to know everything at this stage, but I do need to know enough to believe she is the only person I want as my President, a President who will lead this great country back to its proper place in the world, a President who will serve ALL the people.

Sen. John Edwards--youthful and well-intended and I really like his desire to rein in the corrupt influence of big corporations. His doggedness and genuine desire to better the country will keep him in the race, though his ability to raise money will suffer as a result of his performances.

Friday, January 04, 2008

To Florida and back

Needing a little sunshine, we made a quick trip to Florida after Christmas to visit our friends who live near Orlando. We took Jet Blue for the first time and were very pleasantly surprised by the friendly staff and the fact we had leather seats and lots and lots of leg room. Friday was devoted to mimosas and catching up on their sun-washed deck beside the swimming pool. The next day saw us dining in a German restaurant at Heathrow where the hostess was delightful, the red cabbage so-so, and the homemade Wurst (German sausage) horrid.

An excursion to see the schools of West Indian manatee who leave the cold waters of the ocean in January and February for the warm waters of the St. John's river and Blue Spring State Park proved disappointing in that there were no manatee to be seen. However, Rick entertained us on our way to the "Boil"(a natural pool in the crystal
clear waters where scuba divers can submerge into the abyss of a huge underground cave) as he told us stories about how, as a kid, he and his school mates swam here with the manatee as kids and picnicked, etc.

A trip to Universal Studios was great fun in that we were with our friends, but the entertainment provided was extremely boring and therefore a bit of a rip-off in my opinion given the entry price. We've got absolutely no qualms paying whatever the price is when the entertainment is good, but when it's mediocre that's a problem. It cost $102 and change per person for entry into one park--either the Island of Adventure ride park or the studio as we didn't wish to do both--that included a requested upgrade they call 'speed pass' which enables one to skip the long queues snaking toward entry for each feature. (With Speed Pass, they mark off your pass as you enter each of the features, which seemed to mean you can't use speed pass twice for the same ride and must join the long queue, some waits for which were up to seventy (70) minutes). Shrek 4 was mildly entertaining, Men in Black mildly entertaining, Terminator a big yawn, and they need to get rid of the ET ride. (They did get rid of 'Back to the Future' which was a virtual ride and one I found really good the first time I visited the park seven years ago.) At one point I found myself in line to ride an indoor roller-coaster (which I hate) called The Mummy which I'd thought and been assured (by the gang) was to be a pleasant jaunt rather like a ghost train ride. Too late, I couldn't turn back and was sent careening into the darkness. It provided much non-Universal generated entertainment for Larry, Scott and Rick to see my reactions during the ride--though a real roller-coaster enthusiast would find the ride most prosaic if not unmemorable.

Some of the features don't permit one to bring one's backpack and lockers are provided--the first two hours are free and then the costs start to escalate. Lunch consisted of soggy fried food that is apparently trans-fat free--if you're a Brit who likes fish and chips, skip them--at Finnegans, which together with two beers per person brought our bill to over a hundred dollars for four after tip. All in all, I don't know how an average American family would be satisfied with their trip given the prices.

The weather changed yesterday, becoming as inhospitably chilly as Pennsylvania winter weather. before lunch, Rick had the foresight to suggest a return to Blue Spring park and what a great idea it turned out to be. The manatee were in. And there wasn't just ten or twenty or thirty. There were hundreds of them--adults and calves, some with algae permanently imprinted on their backs. They were magnificent. Such docile, beautiful, trusting creatures. No longer is one allowed to swim or pet them. As I watched them feed on the algae and play--turning and rolling over and over in the warm spring water, coming up every now and then to breathe air because they're mammals, quite a few scarred due to the acts of heedless and/or drunk people on speed boats, I felt an immeasurable connection to nature. It's right we're protecting these creatures who have no natural enemies except man. (The greatest number of deaths caused by idiots--think 'new money' types with beer and jet skies or the latest speed boats--disregarding the law as to speed limits while on the ocean in places where the manatee are swimming.)

Check out the baby manatee--one on its back--swimming among the herd.