Thursday, September 29, 2016

What in the Hell Is Going On?

I try to keep this blog relatively free of politics even though I'm an extremely political person. The number of times a day I click to get the latest stats from Nate Silver's forecast models is nothing short of insanity; to me that is a sane response to what has become an insane situation.

The less said on Trump supporters the better. Let's accept that there are a number of Americans who are racist, sexist, jingoist trolls with a third-grade reading level. Sadly, this is the American way. That is what the voting booth is for. To deny these trolls their racist agenda. I wish I could be fair about this, but I can't. I understand their fears and frustrations. Manufacturing jobs are basically done in the U.S. It is Clinton's job to bring back some facsimile of production if she wants a second term. Indeed, if someone doesn't pour money into the rust belt and bring back well-paid union-wage manufacturing jobs, then the political spectrum will polarize even further. What is inexcusable is the racism. The sexism. The jingoism. THAT is not acceptable. Nope. And think about how you want people to buy American and your racist, sexist, jingoist ass shops in WalMart, where probably 80% of the merchandise was made abroad. But I digress.

So, that brings us to the Republicans. I have no respect for the Republican Party, and, amazingly, even less than I did during the Nixon and Reagan years, AND THAT'S SAYING SOMETHING. But they aren't or haven't been stupid. They have a different world view. They believe that if you are poor, you deserve your fate. You should wallow in your poverty, you lazy SOBs because you were too dumb and lazy (there's that word again) to pull yourself up by your bootstraps like I did. Uh, yeah, my father gave me $14 million to start a real estate company (hi, Donald) and my father's construction company benefitted massively from government contracts (hi, Paul). So? End of discussion. Oops, digressing again.

And aside from the Freedom Caucus and the occasional loony tune, the core of the old Republican Party is now largely silent. With the exception of Mitch O'Connell (dear god, what rock did that man crawl out from under?), most mainstream Repubs will be voting for Hillary. I bet Lindsey Graham is voting for her, and I want to go out for a drink with that man. He's hilarious and the first Republican I've ever wanted to out for a drink with. And, yes, I know he's a war hawk, but he's not INSANE, which I have my doubts about many of them. Ugh. Digressing. Sigh.

Why, you ask. Because I honestly believe that this has become the only way for the sane wing of the GOP to take down the Tea Party once and for all. To neuter it. This is amazingly Machiavellian and there is a part of me that thinks, nah, they can't be that smart, but it's the only avenue that makes sense. The Tea Party has actively worked to stymie their agenda for eight years. It's why John Boehner is teeing off every day on the links and why Paul Ryan takes tequila shots every morning before going to work. They are willing to hold their noses and deal with Hillary because she is, at least, sane. She will compromise. She will reach across the aisle. You know, like, govern.

At this point they need to completely undercut the Freedom Caucus so that the GOP can return the party to what is has stood for decades. The party of moneyed wealth (not impoverished former cotton mill workers) and dog whistle politics (not this in-your-face endorsement of white supremacist lingo). They are sitting back and crossing their fingers that she wins. Because it will be the ONLY way to retrieve their party from the angry white mob. And it will be the ONLY way to survive as a party. Right now it's not a party. It's a collection of angry people who by and large are uneducated and who don't see a way out of their relative poverty (because, hello, you're uneducated), and who are seriously thinking about joining their local chapter of the KKK if they haven't already. Their representative of this rage is a liar and a cheat running for president under the Republican mantle. They can't even deny it anymore. He denies saying something that he said on national television not one hour earlier--ONE HOUR--and brags about not paying any taxes. On national television. And in his world that's a measure of how great he is. For those of us who pay our taxes? This doesn't go over very well. Because we can't have our foundations pay our debts. Because we can't use a political campaign to pay our children inflated salaries. Because we pay our taxes to fund America. Yes, Donald, that's what taxes does. They fund America. Crap. Digressing again.

So, yes, the sane Republicans are voting for Clinton and when she wins, they will begin to rebuild their party. Sadly.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline



In my opinion, this is the most overhyped book of the summer. Basically, Ms. Cline uses the backdrop of the Manson murders to frame a coming-of-age story. This is an interesting premise if not potentially fascinating, except you can't have a coming-of-age novel if your character never comes of age. That is only one of the problems with this book.

First of all, the character doesn't move emotionally. She starts out as a confused, clueless teenager who obsesses about the mosquito bites on her legs and ends with her being a forty-something confused, clueless middle-age woman obsessing on her varicose veins. On her legs. Horrible things happen and yet she doesn't move one emotional inch. This seems to be a theme these days in literary fiction. Nothing much happens, but a lot of flowery prose makes you think something has happened. I have read several books like this in the last year, where I feel like Dorothy petitioning the Great Oz, only to find him unmasked by a curious little terrier and then being told to ignore that man behind the curtain pulling the levers. It's a lot of smoke and no fire.

Anyway, I know I will get heat for this, but this book could only have been written by a millennial, and I'll tell you why. There is an obsessive sense of self. This is the generation that defines itself by the selfie, after all. I was thirteen or fourteen years old when the Manson killings occurred, so you'd think I should be able to relate to the protagonist of this book, and yet I'm stymied by her. The book doesn't read like a fourteen year old. It reads like a twenty-seven year old trying to write like a fourteen year old, but with a much older viewpoint that made me question, is this a fourteen-year-old girl? At several point the narrative slips and it begins to sound like as it were told by the older self in flashbacks, which actually works, but then we are yanked back into her "present" again.

There is an appalling lack of fact checking that several commenters have noted. Oi, the credit cards are just one example. If you're going to set a novel in an era that is acknowledged as a monumental cultural shifting of values, then at least get the details right. It's not like there aren't hundreds of thousands of people--like me--who were the age of this protagonist and can spot the errors without even trying. This is just pure sloppiness and takes us out of the story.

Okay, let's get on to the writing. Wow, this is difficult to parse, because there are brilliant sentences that are followed by sentences with descriptors that literally make no sense whatsoever. There are least three of these on every page, and the editor in me was dying to take out a red pen and slash through these modifiers. I opened a page at random, and there is an embarrassment of riches. "The copse of trees that had always vaguely attended by evil." What does this mean? Evil isn't vague. And evil doesn't attend anything. Another page: "Come here," she said, and I sat down on the itchy pile." What does this mean, itchy pile? Is the carpet itchy against her legs? These sentences sound pretty, but ultimately they are hollow because none of these descriptors make sense. Also there is a tick through out that should have been weeded out, and that is the sentence fragment. I use this every now and then, and I appreciate it as a device. But it can be overused and it IS overused in this novel. I'd say at least 20% of the narrative are sentence fragments. And in many cases for no reason (hee!). It's like she'd used up her subject/verb allotment for the day.

Essentially, I felt that the written language in this book needed a firm hand to cultivate this author's truly wonderful facility with language. But pages of lush language do not make a book. I would have liked to see a LOT less manipulation of adjectives and adverbs that are merely window dressing and a lot more attention paid to character development. No one took her by the hand and said, "But what does this mean and why is she doing this?"

And then there is the ending. Why does this ending remind me of Gone Girl, which is another book that lacks a moral center. I suppose had Evie spoken up and exposed these murderous cretins for the evil bastards they were, then this would have actually had her grow up; however, belonging or being "seen" was more important than having a moral core. The fact that Evie did not speak of these atrocities at the hands of her "friends" might be more "literary," but as a reader we are left with a sour taste in our mouths. I didn't understand this stunted allegiance to Suzanne post-murder, or even less so the bizarre envy expressed by the protagonist as Suzanne enjoys her fame as one of the "girls," and a sense that Suzanne robbed Evie of being one of the "girls."

If this girl/woman can't speak for a murdered child, then why should we care about her? I don't feel sorry for her. I hated her by the end of the book. Her silence was beyond odious. It was craven, and no amount of fancy writing can absolve the book of this fact. If you don't care for the protagonist, then I think the writer has lost the reader. You don't have to like a protagonist, but you have to relate to their moral dilemma, and there is NO moral dilemma in this book. There is nothing learned. If the murder of four people doesn't move a protagonist in some direction to jolt her out of herself, then what would? This book reads like an emotional selfie. All image, no heart.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Interview with David Alan Binder

Hey, I'm interviewed today by David Alan Binder. Check out his blog. I say somethings about writing, publishing, how the market has changed, and what I have learned over the course of twenty years doing this. Check it out!

Thursday, June 9, 2016


A good friend of mine wrote a brilliant post about the issue of piracy: Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement Is Killing Me. As writers, it threatens all of us, from the best-selling author to the no-name author like me. It affects ALL of us. Even before my books were published, there were pirated copies available on the Internet. I suppose they took arcs apart and scanned them, who knows, but it's across the board obviously. Complaining to Google could be a full-time job in itself.

I think that Sarah's blog is so well written that I can't add anything to her central point. But what I do want to point out is that not only are authors losing $$$, they are also losing clout. Your sales are not just about the dollars. It's also about generating clout in the marketplace. It's about getting that contract renewed for additional books. It's about getting speaking gigs to further your presence in the book buying market. It's about publishers being interested in you and wanting to further your career because it makes them money for them. In short, piracy is the gift that keeps on taking. Not only do you lose sales, but you also lose market share in an extremely competitive sphere.

I honestly do not think that the publishers are quite aware of how pervasive this practice is. Seriously? The Austen pastiche I published is available for free on some torrenting sites! It affects everyone who has ever put a finger to a keyboard.

I have no solution to this. I just know that I have been impacted by it and so has every writer I know. Once books became digital objects, then the writing cows were out of that frigging barn and scampering across the fields. You might as well close THAT barn door.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

More Hitting Head Against Brick Wall

So, if there are any writers in the crowd, this article will confirm what you already know: the title says it all. Income for U.S. authors now has fallen below the poverty line. News? HAHAHAHAHAHA! The usual culprits are trotted out, the number one villain of course being amazon, who has single-handedly destroyed the book market. I understand that indies are sort of making a comeback, but that's basically a drop in the bucket compared to all the stores that went under in response to amazon's predatory pricing.

Some juicy quotes include:

Analysing responses from 1,674 authors in its first survey since 2009, the US organisation found that the median income from writing for an American author in 2014 was $8,000, down 24% from $10,500 six years ago. The majority (56%) of writers, it said, earned less from all of their writing-related activities than the $11,670 judged in 2014 to have been the minimum income needed by a one-person household in the US.


Earnings for full-time authors dropped 30% between 2009 and 2014, from $25,000 to $17,500, while the median income of part-time writers fell 38% over the period, from $7,250 to $4,500. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to the survey said their sole income came from writing.

Another interesting tidbit is that even if you are forced to self-publish (like I was):

Thirty-three percent of author reported self-publishing at least one book. Educational authors with traditional publishers, meanwhile, had the highest writing-related income in 2014, at $17,750, followed by traditionally published trade authors, at $10,250; self-published respondents earned $4,500. The biggest decline in income over the period was for traditionally published trade authors, at 28%; earnings for self-published authors were down 25%.

with the depressing conclusion that:

The rise of indie authors and their fan bases may be taking sales away from traditional publishers,” said Rasenberger. “Self-publishing may be a good way forward for many authors, but by and large indie authors are not making much money yet.

There you have it. That sound you hear is my head hitting the brick.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dear Hillary Letter No. 1

Dear Hillary: I have listened to a number of debates between you and Mr. Saunders, and I think we all know your positions on most things. Your criticism of Bernie is falling on deaf ears because you are so determined to get out your policy points that you're letting him get away with murder. Instead of hammering home your position, start using your debate time to ask him questions that the moderators are ignoring. He is increasingly sounding like he alone will make these changes. That he ignores the fact that all these promises he makes, unversal health care, free colleges, etc., that nine of this is possible in the current political climate. That the hard fought battle over the current health care model, which is still being undermined by the GOP, is nothing compared to the fight that would ensue in a bill for single payer health care system. How he keeps making promises he can't keep, only fanning the flames of an electorate that is sick and tired of being told they can have the moon.

Book Review: Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

I have three historical periods and the writers of that era that I'm somewhat obsessed with. One is the explosion of writers (mostly gay men) who wrote in the aftermath of WWII. This includes Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams, only to name a few. The second is the mostly British expat community in Kenya in the 1920s and 30s, Isak Dinesen the obvious draw there. And the third is the ex-pat community of writers in Paris in the 1920s, of whom Fitzgerald and Hemingway loom the largest.

So I'm writing this review with something of a caveat because I know the personal history of Hemingway extremely well (it's a little embarrassing how many biographies I own of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and their circle) and mentally I could be filling in gaps. Another reader might feel that parts of this book feel thin or there isn't enough, but all readers bring their own history to the page--we can't help that. Thus, I felt it only fair to start this review with that warning.

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood presents the POV of the four Hemingway wives as their marriages to him begin to disintegrate. All four POVs--from Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pffeiffer, Martha Gellhorn to Mary Welsh--have a distinct voice. If you're interested in the history of this period, this is not that book, but its character study of each woman is excellent. The greatest strength of this book is a seamless back and forth between the ending of their marriages and all the unfortunate emotional history leading to the end of their marriages. This back and forth is exceptionally hard to do without giving a reader mental whiplash, and I think that Ms. Wood does an admirable job of weaving in various episodes. The language is lush and descriptive, and on nearly every page there was a sentence that I would read and say to myself, wow I wish I'd written that.

Hemingway was something of a serial husband. He always had a woman waiting in the wings before he disposed of the previous wife, so these stories all overlap. I think the weakest "wife" in the book is Ms. Wood's portrayal of Martha Gellhorn, but then she would, IMO, be the hardest to mentally coral. A war correspondent in her own right, Martha Gellhorn was the only one of his wives who didn't have a somewhat synchophantic relationship with her husband. And, naturally, she's the only one who left him.

By and large the book seems historically factual to a point. The section where the most liberties have been taken are with Martha Gellhorn (wife no. 3). Based on the several biographies of hers that I've read, an extended scene that takes place at the end of their marriage never occurred, but other than that, it reads as historically accurate to me. But the history here isn't the point.

What is the point is the evocative language, the deft handling of four distinct voices, and the masterful weaving in and out of their respective histories. This was a wonderful read.

If you're interested in a more historical and in-depth treatment of Hemingway's wives, I highly recommend Bernice Kert's The Hemingway Women. This is a superb history on the various women who loomed large in Hemingway's life. I can't recommend this book more highly.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Open Letter to

I am an extremely political person. I try to keep politics off this blog because given the state of politics in this country and the obstructionist mentality of the GOP and the hijacking of the GOP by racists, homophobes, and sexists, there really doesn't seem any point on commenting about them. When you have major candidate in this race--who is THE front runner--waffling on the support of a white supremacist, then these truths are self-evident, as they say.

I'm curious what the fate of the GOP will be after this election. I doubt it will survive intact, because this election has exposed "the base" to be unrelentingly racist at the expense of the traditional bean counters. I imagine this election will split the party in two. Because, hello, the genie is out of the bottle. The Tea Party isn't about small government. It's about hating anyone who isn't white. End of story. Will the Eisenhower model emerge or the racist contingent? Clearly there isn't room for both.

However, something interesting has been happening on the Democratic side. is a fairly left site that I read for political and entertainment value. It's an echo chamber more or less, and I freely admit that. But not so much anymore. It has become the Hillary bashing site. The number of articles that paint Hillary Clinton as nearly as horrendous a political choice as either Trump, Cruz, or Rubio are growing in direct proportion to her seemingly inevitable win of the Democratic nominee for president. The Super Tuesday election has brought the knives out. Wow, it's getting uglier and uglier by the day. The number of photos of her appearing smug, angry, arrogant, and insert a modifier in here of your choice that is highly unflattering are increasing. You get the "picture."

And yet, when Hillary Clinton was a senator she and Bernie Saunders voted in unison on issues 83% of the time. Okay, let's repeat that; 83% of the time. And yet as she begins to sew up the nomination, you'd think that she was basically Ted Cruz's older sister.

The progressive left has begun to paint her as a war monger. I don't see her as a war monger. I can see a rational argument being made for toppling bat-shit insane dictators like Khadafi, where there is a hope that one can now have democratic elections in a country that has suffered under the rule of the type of man who had no compunction in blowing up airplanes, who had a long history of terrorist acts and who was, by all accounts, INSANE. Hillary is being pilloried for voting for the war and yet Bernie Saunders voted for U.S. troops in Afghanistan--the country where no invading country has won a war in something like 400 years. So there's that. 

Speaking of pictures. The really distasteful part of this whole campaign against Hillary is that at its heart it's beginning to feel misogynistic. Have you noticed how much the press shows close-ups of her face, All the lines, the puffiness, the general hallmarks of an older woman. It's becoming on par with the sort of ridiculous photographs they show of Trump. 

Salon, stop it. In your zeal to champion Bernie Saunders you're losing my respect. Again, I like Bernie, too. But there is never any discussion of how someone like Saunders, who is so much more left than probably 90% of his colleagues in the Senate, is actually going to govern when even a majority of his own party cannot support his platform. When you have a sitting President, who in another era I would consider a moderate Republican, is basically inert because of an obstructionist Congress, how is someone as progressive as Bernie Saunders going to govern? How? How does Bernie plan to implement all these pie-in-the-sky programs. The current president can't even get bridges fixed and the roads paved. How is Bernie going to PAY FOR ALL OF THIS?????

These questions are never asked, and I think they are as legitimate as someone asking of Ted Cruz: since many of the people in this country are not religious (and increasingly are not religious), how can Ted Cruz possibly govern when a huge percentage of the electorate is not evangelical?

You have a bias. You like Bernie Saunders. I like him, too. Politically, he's much closer to my viewpoint than Obama. But Hillary and Bernie are VERY CLOSE politically. The first debates were marked by the other saying, "I agree..." So cut this shit out. Champion Bernie. He's a man with a tremendous amount of integrity and smarts. That should be enough. You don't need to stoop to what is becoming a sexist, stealth smear campaign against Hillary. I'm going to say this again. Stop it.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Goodbye Lands End

Dear Lands End:

I have bought clothes from you for forty years. A lot of clothes over time. Gifts for people, clothes for my kids, clothes for me. Get it? A LOT OF CLOTHES. Given your response to pressure from conservative groups and pulling your ad campaign featuring Gloria Steinem, I've decided to stop buying clothes from you. I realize that this is a form of my own financial guerilla terrorism, but this is the only tactic I have at my disposal to let you know that this is not cool. I suppose that you feel you can't win this war of political correctness and by pulling her it is probably the least of all evils. But, you know, Land's End, you siding with the people who are loud but they are not great in number. They are bigoted, they hate equal rights for women. You sell far more clothes for women than you do for men in your company. Think about that. You haven't replaced Ms. Steinem with anyone else who might be an excellent representative for the older women you're trying to court. You didn't consider that the women that she might appeal to (older women like me) would feel totally and justifiably dissed at your decision to pull her ad campaign. You probably feel you've waded into a mine field in this polarized society. Tough. You've just lost a valuable customer.

Claire M. Johnson

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cranky Pants

In an effort to up my reading game, and possibly get some inspiration for my own writing, I have joined a book club. It's filled with a diverse group of intelligent, educated women, and I'm kinda grooving on that aspect of it. This book group has prompted me to start reading outside of book club suggestions. Which brings us to my problem. I have been more disappointed than not lately with the quality of the books I'm reading. These books are filled with a lot of beautiful language, but as a book they don't seem to work.

What do I mean by that? Well, characters follow a reasonable arc that dove-tails into a reasonable plot. Pretty much that's it. Lots of the books I'm reading have main characters doing things that don't make sense in terms of the characterization that has preceded them, and yet the author tells us (in so many words) that this is legitimate. I'm sorry. Writing doesn't work that way. You need to make the trajectory of the tension (which is the engine of ANY book) make sense. You can't just say you need A to happen because if it doesn't, then you don't have the set up for B. A and B need to work hand in hand.

Increasingly an author seems to have a deft hand with language but leaves me frustrated with either the character arc, the plot, or both. Many of these books are award winners and on best seller lists, and I'm basically stumped here. Why, I ask? They are not bad books, but they aren't, IMO, the best books they could be.

Listed below are a couple of books I've read lately that I liked a lot:

My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh. A coming of age story with some substantial triggers for those who are affected by those things. It says some profound things about teenagers and the suburbs and how the veneer in those communities is so thin. Also some interesting insight into the cruelty of teenagers. The author is from the south and there is a bit of gothic sensibility about it. At one point he sort of goes off on the deep end trying to explain the south, and if I had been his editor, I would have yanked him on the ear and said, um, no, you're telling not showing, and believe me, you've shown it so well that you don't need to repeat it here, but he quickly gets back on track. It's a beautiful book about ugly things.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. This is set in Winnipeg, Canada, and is a story of two sisters. Again, there are triggers. One is a perennial fuck-up, and the other is a world famous concert pianist. Toews was raised as a Mennonite and it's a dominant theme in her books. I've read another one of her books and it was almost identical to this one in terms of the protagonist rejecting her Mennonite past: the classic story of the insider who becomes an outsider. Add lots of snow and cold. But the most fascinating aspect of this book is the larger question it raises about art and love. If you love someone, do you love them unconditionally and what does that demand? I liked this book a lot. There are some scenes in a hospital setting that I found ludicrous--unless the Canadian medical system is basically cruel and incompetent, which I strongly doubt--but it's a relatively minor quibble.

I guess what I'm saying here is that there were parts in both these books that had me rolling my eyes, but in neither case did it harm the integrity of the book. These books worked in the grander scheme of things. And it goes without saying that the writing was superb. By that I mean the language, the cadence, the "song" of the prose.

So there are two recommendations from me. Neither of these are easy reads, in that there is suffering and loss in both of them, but they are worth it. Four thumbs up.