Monday, January 6, 2020

PARADISE GARDENS Audiobook more radio play w/Nicole Greevy's voices. Codes here

New! Audiobook on Audible. It's a collaboration with wonderful actress Nicole Greevy, brilliant at all the voices. More like radio play than reading. 

Here is audible link with a description.

ABOUT Paradise Gardens
about Paradise Gardens. This is the second of my books, finally published in a completely edited and illustrated version by Pelekinesis Press. It was inspired by the Reagan years and grew  to become a dystopian look at late capitalism in an environmentally devastated Earth. In 2250's the last corporations flee underground to Paradise Gardens. The transition to a feudal corporate futureworld is complete. The novel takes place in 2250s and 3011s underground. I thought this Orwellian but not a few people have said it's closer to Huxley, except it's our world..

This book was read in clubs, Dixon Place and Darinka in the 1980s and in the Pelekinesis version 2017. It was run as a serial in an unedited online version in 2014. I have been grateful to Pelekinesis for toiling with me to get this book in the best form possible and to have me illustrate this world. If you want to read, the New Edition is the best experience. The audiobook is perhaps more entertaining but no art.  Thanks for your interest. Some illustrations on FB. 

BLURB from Dixon Place 2017 UNIMAGINABLE WORLDS in Lounge, 7:30 to 8:30. Free admission.

Imagine the unimaginable. You are living in an authoritarian business paradise but don't know it. Or you know real life is nothing like what is presented to people. You are part of the resistance but need your cover. Yet you are in love. That is the situation between Janet McCarthy, claims adjustor at Rudimental Life Co,, and Michael Thorpe, proprietor of a Greenwich Village store specializing in ethnic artifacts. When is romance key to human survival? For answers to this dilemma, in the tradition of Philip K. Dick's paranoid fiction, come visit Paradise Gardens.

“From the infinitely imaginative mind of Susan Weinstein, PARADISE GARDENS spins a fabulous web. Clever, funny, serious, and prescient, this novel takes us on a breathtaking journey. Lovers of Aldous Huxley’s and Margaret Atwood’s dystopias are in for a satisfying treat.”
—Sonia Taitz, award-winning author of The Watchmaker’s Daughter and Great With Child.

"One of the most disturbing yet oddly funny science fiction/dystopian sagas I've ever read. When corporations have wrung every drop out of nature and mankind has no other option but to build entire communities underground, how do you spin it to make it seem like a dream destination? You call it PARADISE GARDENS of course and you sell it like everything else. When we have no natural water, no natural food, and even the wind and the sunlight has been poisoned you will still have hucksters selling whatever is left for top of the line prices. A thought provoking story well conceived and brilliantly executed."

--Patrick King, author of the Shane Cullaine detective series

Here are some codes for free, if you want to try out the audiobook. .









Tuesday, December 3, 2019

About Pendulum swings in Government, from THE FOUNDING FORTUNES

About Pendulum swings in government from THE FOUNDING FORTUNES by Tom Shachtman, St. Martin's Press 1/2020

"There comes a moment in every pendulum's arc when it slows to a halt before reversing direction and heading toward the apogee. In the spring of 1794, events signaling such a change in direction included Hamilton's resignation; his acknowledgment that the country no longer needed to keep the debt intact to stay united; Gallatin's persuading of the Federalist-controlled House to withhold funding for certain operations until it received adequate assurances on their financial impact; and his instituting of regular Ways and Means Committee oversight of executive branch financial actions. The old direction toward the benefit of the already wealthy was replaced by a new one whose aim was voiced in a toast given at a young men's Republican Society in New York:"Less respect to the consuming speculator, who wallows in luxury, than to the productive mechanic, who struggles with indigence."

Alfred Gallatin and Hamilton bust 

Today 1/20 is pub date for Tom Shachtman's Founding Fortunes from St.Martin's Press.
Here is article in Daily Beast!

For more info on this page, go to:


LUXURY and other Problems with democracy; John Adams and Madison cautioned the Framers before the constitutional convention...
“In his opus (A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States) Adams addressed head-on a subject to which he framers only alluded, Adams insisting that it was inherent in a democracy and had to be guarded against: “A free people are the most addicted to luxury of any.” It was part and parcel of the promise of America, where people who had very little always had the possibility of gaining more:
‘In a country like America, where the means and opportunities for luxury are so easy and so plenty, it would be madness not to expect (luxury), be prepared for it, and provide against the dangers of it in the constitution....Luxury, to certain degrees of excess, is an evil....The evil lies in human nature; and that must be restrained by a mixed form of government, which is the best in the world to manage luxury.’
The prevention of luxury’s overinfluence was a prime reason for what Adams called the “tripleheaded balance,” the apportioning of governing powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches in such a manner that each branch acted as a check on the worst urges of the others, and in the legislature, the balancing of a house that drew its members from the poorer ranks of society with a senate that drew its members from those who possessed much more property and education. “If we will not adopt that,” Adams warned, “we must suffer the punishment of our termity.”
Madison identified and even more basic problem.
“If the multiplicity and mutability of (state) laws prove a want of wisdom, their injustice betrays a defect still more alarming; more alarming not merely because it is a greater evil in itself, but because it brings more into question the fundamental principle of republican Government, that the majority who rule in such governments, are the safest Guardians both of public Good and of private rights.
(Society would always be composed of groups holding opposite views., “creditors or debtors-rich or poor-husbandmen, merchants or manufacturers-members of different religious sects-followers of different political leaders-inhabitants of different districts-owners of different kinds of property. In a democracy the only way to prevent domination of one group was to configure a government to encompass all.”)

Imagine if the U.S. declared a war and then discovered there was no money for the Army and there was such debt, they had to shut down money sources? 
Excerpt, Chapter 7, The Founding Fortunes by Tom Shachtman. (1/20/20 St. Martin's Press-Macmillan)
"We can no more support the Army without cash, than the Israelites could make bricks without straw, Nathaniel Greene wrote to Washington....and he accompanied the observation with a letter to Congress urging a redoubling of efforts to supply the army and resigning as quartermaster general. The states' response to renewed appeals for help was meager.
That the army was nonetheless supplied during this critical period prior to the French sending larger forces to assist the United States is overlooked by many history books. The heroes were not well-known leaders; they were the dozens and dozens of quartermasters and commisssaries who, when government money and credit were exhausted, spent their own money, and then their own credit, and then the credit of their friends and relatives, to obtain supplies:
"My Credit is nearly sunk with the people here from my not being able to comply with my promises to them,"one such quartermaster wrote. "They now declare they will not part with their property in future to the public without the Money (cash) laid down to them." Estimates of how deeply these government agents wehnt into debt on the country's behalf range from one to five million dollars. Most were never repaid.
Three factors exacerbated the supply problem. Two were beyond Congress' power to control: the British naval blockade and the Hession Fly infestation that devestated grain crops. The third was provided by Congress itself, in an attempt to stem depreciation.In late summer 1779, the members had become frightened upon learning the amount of the country's debt, the sum total of all thos omitted Continentals, had reached 160 million. This should not have been news to them, but they acted as though it was, on September 3 ordering the shut down of the of the printing presses once the total reached $200 million.

THE FOUNDING FORTUNES: How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America's Revolution by Tom Shachtman (St. Martin's, January 2020)

SO, the Wealthy not only made our Revolution winnable but passed a Constitution to benefit the poor--even at their expense! WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE?

 In 2020, "Tax the Rich" may seem to some people a fair approach to balancing the distribution of our nation's wealth. But as Tom Shachtman shows in THE FOUNDING FORTUNES (St. Martin's Press (January 2020), the United States owes its existence to the wealthy who financed our revolution and, in the 30 years following the achievement of political independence, guided the new nation to economic independence--often at great personal cost.

Our origin story rightfully celebrates such poor and working-class heroes as Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and the brave ragtag farmers of the Continental Army who stood up to the redcoats. We also know about the roles played by that wealthy Virginia planter George Washington and by Boston’s John Hancock but our story often overlooks the other wealthy who contributed a great deal to the birth of our country, some profiting at the same time, others  losing their shirts. Among them were S. Carolina Plantation owner Henry Laurens, who came late to the Revolution, privateer magnate Elias Hasket Derby, international traders Robert Morris, William Bingham, Jeremiah Wadsworth, and the immigrant Stephen Girard. There were fortunes to be made in the Republic's early years. Even Abigail Adams became a skilled currency speculator.

THE FOUNDING FORTUNES looks into the lives of the men, and some women, who practiced an “economic patriotism,” which often entailed giving up profits to support the very long war with Great Britain and then the new government. Some eventually lost everything – Robert Morris ended his life as a bankrupt, and Laurens was not far behind, while others, such as Morris’s junior partner Bingham, made fortunes that lasted into the 20th century.

Why were these economic patriots able to rise above concern with "the bottom line," when others of their merchant class could not?  Shachtman argues that the economic patriots had a sense of the long term, and that "Freedom for all" meant extending to all classes the opportunity to climb the ladder of success. As Kirkus Reviews puts it, the book’s “provocative argument [is] that wealthy men built America and did a good job.”  They constructed a Constitution that balanced the rights of property owners with the need for democratic representation. They also avoided the tyranny of kings by having power shared between the Executive, Congressional, and Judicial branches.
In our era, lawmakers face some of the same problems as the primarily wealthy men of the new republic did – tariffs, taxes on the wealthy, the level of the national debt, the census as it affects finances, the ratio of imports to internally-manufactured goods, and other hot-button economic issues. 

From before the revolution and through the presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, THE FOUNDING FORTUNES shows how nation-building and the economy took shape, stumbled, was righted, and began the foundations of a world-class economic power. In an intriguing critique, the book contends that our history has overlooked the extensive contributions of the Jefferson-Madison years, and Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, because of the current popular appeal of Jefferson’s long-term rival, Alexander Hamilton.  

Also examined are the economics of the slave trade as brought to the colonies by the British and the role of slavery in the economic calculus of the Revolution. Though castigated by every president as an evil that needed eradicating, slavery was nevertheless tolerated in an awful compromise that ensured the adoption of the Constitution. 

Today, as the United States re-examines the nation's direction and how to deal with the accelerating gap that separates billionaires from the vast majority of citizens, THE FOUNDING FORTUNES provides new insight. Our country’s creators, among the wealthiest men of their time, worked to establish the economic and political structures of a new nation. While fine-tuning a society dedicated to protecting their property, they also provided economic opportunities for people at all levels of income. The wealthy and the non-wealthy united in common cause.  Has that value, so esteemed by our forefathers, gone completely out of style?  Or is it a clarion call for America’s future in the 21st century?  THE FOUNDING FORTUNES is both provocative and wise.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

POKRASS' Flash fiction, magic of loved and lost, humans and creatures.

THE DOG SEATED NEXT TO ME by Meg Pokrass (Pelekinesis, September 15, 2019.)

Pokrass' flash fiction has the magic of loved and lost, humans and creatures.

Imagine Flannery O'Connor would enjoy the dark wit of Meg Pokrass' THE DOG SEATED NEXT TO ME (Pelekinesis, September 2019). Here the usual mysteries; love, youth, age, the games people play with themselves and others, the texture of time and our bodies, are given strange life. Pokrass often writes about us as creatures. The wilds we are and inhabit may refer to "familiars." Canine, avian, insect qualities are guides of sorts for the women relating stories. One shelters under her lover's wing. Another disappoints her husband when she falls for a blue tongued squink instead of the idea of a new baby.  Some samples below.

The Rescue

He told her how his parakeet died, all at once, in the middle of a regular day. A bird holocaust. She could see, behind his words, such gorgeous, frantic color that she held his hand. There were so many stories he'd never tell her about other departures. He was busy trying to make her laugh, reaching for a joke, and it would work! She'd laugh her fluttery heart out, hand it to him from the tip of her tree.


There was a large cockroach living in my heart, clinking its tender little legs, plotting escape. People's hearts are heavy with bugs they won't admit. Mine remembered everything--the early days of my marriage, dreams of growing old while holding fingers. Driving to Monterey, after his affair, I told my husband about the cockroach. "Smart, but not very optimistic," I said.

There's something about driving to a beautiful place, not looking directly at each other, watching the highway. He said, "I understand. There's a cockroach inside me too."

That night, I felt the tiniest part of me scurrying out, eager to be seen. His sudden disclosure had made my head spin. Under the motel sign, I heard two hearts chirping. We made love for the first time in years, the angels trying to bring us back to each other--as if we recognized a friend in the dark.

For those asking 'What is flash fiction?'  Wikipedia defines as  ..."a fictional work of extreme brevity that still offers character and plot development." Microfiction is an old form employed not just in English by Chekhov, H.P. Lovecraft, Hemingway, Cortazar, Vonnegut, P.K. Dick, Bertolt Brecht and Franz Kafka.

There are many writers in Spanish, including Oscar Esquivas and Argentina's Ana Maria Shua. In the Arab speaking world, there is Nobel Prize winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz. Oddly, only two women, Shua and Lydia Davis were mentioned, though I believe Flannery O'Connor wrote microfiction.  Peter Cherches' minimalist stories in Condensed Book (1986) are clever enigmatic fun.  

Take a look at THE DOG SEATED NEXT TO ME (Pelekinesis)


Saturday, October 26, 2019

Quiet Enjoyment by Richard Curtis, NY Real Estate dramedy to November 3rd!

Quiet Enjoyment by Richard Curtis
Directed by Marcus Gualberto
October 18 to November 3rd, Playroom Theater

If real estate is God in New York, it rules few neighborhoods as ostentatiously as the Upper East Side, the zipcode of landed wealth; bejeweled wives, hipster mistresses, and much real Chanel. Perhaps less fashionable these days than Downtown's arty tech money but for durable property value--no contest.

In Quiet Enjoyment Richard Curtis takes on a ritual of this God, a "closing" on a 5 million dollar penthouse, which goes farcically wrong. Directed with sly humor by Marcus Gualberto, the transfer of a co-op between husband and wife becomes a contest of "Karma", also the name of the husband's mistress with a mission to disrupt.. As played by Megan Simard, Karma's a cosmic goldigger, whose sexual power, divinely derived from Kundalini yoga, makes real sparks.

Her foil is not the betrayed wife Juliana (Jamie Lee Kearns) being compensated by the property at zero cost,but legal associate, Meredith Cudlip (Samantha Mercado Tudda). Mercado Tudda's Cudlup, is the aspiring soul of this proceeding. Earnestly, compulsively she enacts the sacred ritual of much legal paper. With hilarious self-control, she invests the signing with a solemnity for the legal system and her own future. Her martial arts maneuvers, stunningly choreographed by Ruth Guimera, are akin to a palace guard in a Samurai movie.

Jaime Lee Kearn's Juliana, entitled and neglected, succeeds as a poignant straight woman, unappreciated for the value she's added to her husband's life. As beneficiary, she might seem ridiculous as the "wronged" wife--but she realilistically fears eviction!  Kris Paredes as Dana, Juliana's sister and lawyer, appears all about sisterly protection.  Paredes plays her as both vulnerable and a force to be reckoned with.

The women in Curtis' dramedy seem defensive with good cause. Their male antagonists, Peter (Mark A. Daly) and Bimsky (Mario Claudio) wear male privilege like a second skin. Peter, the moneyed white male with mysterious and perhaps disastrous business in the Cayman Islands, is played with madcap befuddlement by Daly. Bimsky, an outrageous "natural" man, a substitute for Peter's lawyer,
is marvelously played with a sense of truth and embarassment as he revels in his physical ailments and appetites.

The deux a machina in this cauldron is Paula Gates, who plays both Tammy, Peter's Assistant, and Martha, Meredith's boss, head of the lawfirm. Without her, the play could not go on or end. And she's played as a kind of comic anti-goddess, a relief in the churning activity. Quiet Enjoyment may be a legal right of a lease holder, but there's no guarantees...


 Mark Daly, Jaime Lee Karns
 Megan Simard
 Samantha Mercado Tudda, Mario Claudio, Simard
 Simard, Claudio, Kris Paredes

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Don the Con: A Kid's book of Trumpian Humor for Adults! Very fun. See video on Kickstarter page

I have never before posted about a Kickstarter book but this one is so fun. By award winning children's book author Roseanne Greenfield and wonderful illustrator David Juarez, this is both original and very familiar!  Perfect for 2020 and the adult child in your life!  

Don the ConA Kid’s book of Trumpian Humor for Adults!
 “With facts, our boy was not too picky.
War is peace…let’s not get sticky!”

Dive into a ‘swamp’ of tantrums, misdeeds and muddled understandings as a schoolyard bully embarks on a steep learning curve that takes him all the way through high school—only to discover what most learn in kindergarten! This wickedly-witty parody sings with lilting rhyme and is illustrated with satirical spice!  Woven into the text are current political mainstays: immigration, border walls, climate change, Russian collusion, fake information and more!  “He was soon loaded down with pounds of bling. These Russian kids are the genuine thing!”’

This is a call to endure the last year of Trump’s tantrums with the best armor we have at our disposal:  humor, wit, and a democratic ending!  Visit us at: 

to help publish this 26-page soft cover picture book that delivers THE BEST LAUGH OF 2020 that will carry us through to next November!

About the author     
Roseanne Greenfield is an award-winning author of 16 children's books that celebrate diversity and multiculturalism. Roseanne’s awards include New York Public Library’s 100 Best Books List, Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best, USA Today’s Best Holiday Book for Kids, California Reading Association Honor (Eureka!) Book, Best Latino-Themed Picture Book and more.  Roseanne teaches and has given author talks and writing workshops in numerous cities in the US and abroad.  You can see more of Roseanne’s books at 

About the illustrator     
David Juarez is a storyboard artist, concept illustrator, and educator who enjoys sharing the joy of artistic expression in his community and beyond. He has studied at Pasadena's Art Center and in England.  A seasoned visual storyteller, he has lent his talents to the advertising and entertainment industries, helping craft the stories for striking campaigns and enthralling narratives.  David is a strong believer in "Doing what you can, where you can" to help those in need.  He sees this project as a great opportunity to address today's important issues through art and comedy.  You can reach out to David via his website.

For more info:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

GARDEN PRAYERS: Winter, Artist T.M. Givens paints life's rebirth in Botanic Garden

T.M. Givens, like his favorite poet Rilke, enjoys experiencing nature directly and making art from his impressions. Rilke's query; how do humans reconcile existence--beauty, suffering, life and death was answered in lyrical poems that begin in nature. Below, he  deals with the end of summer. (The last part reverberated with me, a city-dweller.)

Day In Autumn--Rainer Maria Rilke

After the summer's yield, Lord it is time
to let your shadow lengthen on the sundial
and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.

As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness
Direct on them two days of winter light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.

Whoever's homeless now, will build no shelter
who lives alone will live infinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along the city's avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.

I paint in my spare time and was fortunate this summer to be able to retreat into nature. Losing myself in existence without people can be more than peaceful, even transcendent.

It was with great pleasure that I received GARDEN PRAYERS: Winter by T. M. Givens. (Pelekinesis). This book's drawings form an extraordinary meditation of winter, moving toward Spring (which is the next volume). The earlier ones, with color edging out of  white space, seem to be life asserting itself. In the later ones, color dominates the white space. Maybe winter receding?

In his intro Terry Givens said  "After many long hours of wandering, I realized that not only did I enjoy this but over time I found some inner peace."

This kindred soul is an artist from Claremont California. His subtle beautiful drawings were done in the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which exhibited his work in a changing exhibition in 2018 entitled "Terry Givens 100 Garden Views."

For those curious about my ramblings, in NYC, I like St. Luke's Garden, the West River, in summer I love Long Beach Island, N.J. 


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

COLD WARRIORS, how writers' words were weaponized in war for "spheres of influence"

The Cold War was first an earsplitting siren, my first grade teacher urging us to crawl under our worktables and cover our heads. Hiding from "Nukes" was only a drill but real to me. Our teacher standing tall was very brave, as she waited--for what? The end of the world, wasn't a concept but many of us had seen mushroom clouds on TV, unsure what the images meant. We learned the BOMB brought peace, that our government protected us. But it was scary, threatening, a weird weapon in some global Western--bad guys behave or else?   Ideas are powerful after the unthinkable.

COLD WARRIORS: Writers Who Waged The Literary Cold War by Duncan White (Aug. 27, 2019, Custom House/William Morrow) is an  exciting read of huge scope, showing how literature was weaponized by both sides in an ideological conflict (western capitalist vs.eastern communist). Establishing "spheres of influence" meant survival for competing systems of government.

The information battlefield: "Operatives inflated ten-foot balloons, armed them with their payloads, waited for favorable winds, and launched them into Poland..These were not explosives or incendiary weapons; they were books. At the height of the Cold War, the CIA made copies of George Orwell's Animal Farm rain down from the Communist sky....This was one campaign and there were front organizations that produced tens of millions  of books, leaflets, pamphlets, posters and hundreds of thousands of balloons flying them in."

COLD WARRIORS begins in Spain in the 1930s,when a fateful bullet through Orwell's neck might have changed the course of the world. That fraction of an inch was the difference between him being another promising novelist fallen in the fight against Franco or a writer who fulfilled his potential. The book moves from Spain to Moscow's "show trials," and New York, where Mary McCarthy, found herself isolated for her lack of symathy for the Russian "experiment." Later, she will report on Vietnam's endgame. The circular plot follows five major writers (American, British, Russian)-George Orwell, Stephen Spender, Mary McCarthy, Graham Greene and Andrei Sinyavsky--through time and geography. The book ends in 1991 with Greene, Solzhenitsyn and  LeCarre in Moscow (1986-1991).

Writers suffered severe consequences for their words. In the West, depending on your politics, a writer, like Richard Wright, who fled to France, could find his voice silenced--his work unpublished. Yet Orwell's voice was amplified in global editions. And politics made strange literary bedfellows: "the dynamics of the Cold War made the U.S. government the champion of difficult elitest art--that of James Joyce, Jackson Pollock, and William Faulkner--in large part because it was banned in Moscow.. Unknown to many of these artists, these organizations that published challenging literature were U.S. backed. Modernist writers must have felt it as validation instead of collaboration."

In the Soviet Union,  a writer, such as Pasternak, embraced by the official writers union, celebrated by his countrymen, made a good living, and traveled abroad. But if he spirited a controversial work (Dr. Zhivago) to publication abroad, he became invisible. No longer able to support himself, new publications pulped, he was hounded by surveillance, and often banished to a Siberian work camp. The poet Anna Akhmatova was applauded by thousands in public readings and then abruptly banned when a poem offended Lenin. Deprived of a living and her son, who was sent to Siberia, survival became an act of will. But Isaac Babel, shot in the head, purged in an anti-semitic paroxysm, had no such option. Uniquely, Solzhineitzyn weaponized the publication of his books. As an international figure, he became untouchable--until forced into exile..

One side's loss was thought to enlarge the reach of the other. And, among the literary giants in this book--Solzhenitsyn, John le Carre, Richard Wright, Ernest Hemingway, Boris Pasternak, Gioconda Belli Arthur Koestler, Vaclav Havel, Anna Akhmatova, Isaac Babel Howard Fast, Lillian Hellman, Mikhail Sholokhov--some had serious effects on outcomes of conflicts; such as the surrogate war in Vietnam, Poland's Velvet Revolution, the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua.

I especially enjoyed the sections in COLD WARRIORS about spies and writers. Driven by patriotism, ideology, personal experience or demons, these men and women were also often attracted to the dark glamor of the secret life. Philby, who became a master double agent, lived the life. Graham Greene and LeCarre, who acted as spies, were fundamentally writers. Philby in Cordoba, Cambridge, Vienna and London (1934-1942), Greene (1941-44) in Freetown, St. Albans and London, and Castro's female agent in Washington's inner circle, give a fascinating look at lives lived in fiction and fact. When reality became muddled, the consequences were irrevocable.

One of the things I loved about this book were the facts, fairly unknown in the U.S. On the end of the Vietnam War: "In the spring of 1968, polls showed that after the Tet Offensive, opposition to the war was widespread in the United States. On April 1, the bombing stopped. The previous night McCarthy listened on Voice of America as Johnson announced the end of aerial bombardment of North Vietnam and that he would not be standing for relection in 1968. Domestic dissent had worn down the Johnson administration. In October 1967, one hundred thousand protestors had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, and roughly thirty thousand of these marched on the Pentagon."

Many people today have no idea of this history, because much of our media focussed instead on drugs and sex of the 1960s counter culture--the first generation to work with the entire population to stop an unpopular war. Those marches were a coalition of groups with a common cause, including the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and other Veterans Groups. Young and old, housewives, feminists, retirees,  Republicans and Democrats, politicians and clergy.. Colleges were closed as students throughout the nation knocked on doors with info about the March; including a copy of the U.S. Constitution about a citizen's right to end an unjust war. I was a witness to what national unity can accomplish.

But the focus of COLD WARRIORS is on the writers. They shaped an era of warring ideology which changed the borders of a post war world. Ironically, the era ended as a "zero sum game," defined as  a mathematical  proposition "where each participant's gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of other participants."

Today it might be useful for young writers in the U.S. to consider how literature can regain its impact on our culture. We could of course blame our short attention spans on internet immersion or actually look at the kind of censorship we take for granted--a kind of economic censorship. Years ago as now, truly controversial novels, books about our political ideas and what they lead to, would not likely be published in the U.S. If they are critical of capitalistic or even "neo-liberal" values, they would be deemed "uncommercial." Those works are okay, often lauded if about another country.  Our home-grown Dreisers and Dos Passos don't get published.

We are getting closer to having no choice but to get serious. Rapid climate change gives us no choice. Personally, I am a fan of  university and genuine small publishers. My own, Pelekinesis, published new editions of my political novels, The Anarchist's Girlfriend and Paradise Gardens.  I recently released a pdf of PG (a cautionary tale set when the environment is uninhabitable and unbridled capitalism has led to feudalism) a few places so perhaps my words might "gain utility."


Friday, August 23, 2019

Ta-Nehisi Coates' THE WATER DANCER--mythic "coming of age" in slavery has unexpected light

I read that Ta-Nehisi Coates was once a student of both Tony Morrison and E.L. Doctorow. These two as influences make sense in Coates' THE WATER DANCER, a novel that weaves African spiritual tradition with the cultural annhilation that was the slave economy in Virginia and the rest of the South. The darkness of this infamy has an unexpected light in this mythic "coming of age" novel, a kind of awe for the mystery of life.

THE WATER DANCER is a lyrical first-hand narrative of  plantation life in Virginia in the 1800s, when slave families were destroyed on whim or the business interests of owners.  As loved ones were sold down "Natchez Way" in Texas and other destinations west, those born to the "task" suffered husbands, wives, children disappearing often with no warning or forwarding address. The threat was enough to quell outer rebellion, while those so bereaved took comfort where it could be found--knowing it was transient..

The narrator, Hiriam Walker cannot remember the face of his disappeared mother but knows she told him that his father was the "Massa." She seemed not to like him but young Hiriam is proud his father is the master of the plantation. And, while working in the fields he's recognized by his father, who flips him a rough totemic coin. He'd heard of Hiriam's clever tricks, based on his ability to remember anything he's seen or read (a skill he must conceal).

When Hiriam learns he is to move from the ramshackle slave street to the big house, he's thrilled,  seeing it as his first step to his aspirations. He hears but doesn't believe the warning of  the woman who raised him, that the house people were not his real family. Hiriam's values are split between the estate he sees as his destiny and the warm loving slave society that nurtures him. He gets an upper room with books, a tutor and is mesmerized by learning. But his comfort remains in the subterranean slave life, literally under the house.

Hiram's shockeed, when his education is suddenly aborted right before his long desired first astronomy lesson. But his education is more than sufficient for his task, serving as man servant to his white and legitimate half brother. To Hiriam's chagrin, the destined master of the estate is a childish doofus with little respect for his class, "the Quality"  of Virginia. Hiriam must save him from his rash impulses and profound ignorance. He is determined to uphold the behavioral standards of the "Quality" as opposed to the low whites, who do their bidding and bully slaves.

The ability Hiriam was born with is no match for the other's born privilege. Yet  he's got access to books  so life under this "task"is bearable. But as time moves on, and many slaves are sold to compensate for the increasingly poor tobacco crops, Hiriam knows his father could also sell him away like his mother. Though he realizes he's valued for his intelligence and judgment, his mother is a faceless trauma he cannot resolve.

Then Hiriam meets beautiful Sophia, the consort of his uncle. Though allowed more independence than a field worker, she runs "hot and cold" with him at first, bitterly aware she cannot command the use of her body. Their relationship proves radical, transforming and dangerous. What happens when a slave can no longer live under the task?  For Hiriam, his "fall" from privilege, means degradation and abuse; the loss of everything he loved, all that defined him.

Yet this destruction leads him to the reality underlying the tasked slaves of the South--the existence of the Underground Railroad. Here Hiriam's abiltiies prove invaluable and he grows into his ultimate task. Along the way, he meets the invincable Harriet Tubman and learns the secret of his mother's disappearance and his own startling transcendent powers. And, like a ballad, where the past intersects with the future, THE WATER DANCER travels to the free land--Philadelphia, where slaves could live as free men--if they avoided capture by preying bounty hunters.

I have read the stories of Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978 for works like The Magician of Lublin. What Singer did for his massacred people, forced to flee at the whims of governments, was provide vibrant stories and myths from lost homelands. In a similar vein, Coates' novel celebrates myth, memory and mystery.

From a Virginian tobacco plantation to the secret lore of African kings and the spycraft of the  Underground railroad, this is an enchanting novel. It's full of truth about the human evil of men, strange unexpected deliverance, and the joy of  true companions. Ultimately, THE WATER DANCER explores the coming of age of a biracial boy in a nation becoming indivisible.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

America's terrorist underbelly exposed in Slaughter's THE LAST WIDOW and O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"

In Flannery O'Coonor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find, a criminal called The Misfit, a caricature of a good ol' boy gone bad, and his atavistic cohorts randomly capture a typical southern family. In this darkly satirical story, the criminals' shockingly casual killings are indelibly linked with the family's hypocritical values--illusions about class and virtue, racial prejudice, religious pretensions. This story, like Karin Slaughter's thriller, is about America's underbelly, where mainstream values have gone to seed, as the disaffected revel in demented revenge.

Karin Slaughter's THE LAST WIDOW (August 2019, HarperLuxe) begins in our time, July 7th, 2019 with the odd "random" kidnapping of a scientist from the Centers for Disease Control.  It's but a prologue to a bombing in Atlanta near Emory University; two major hospitals, the FBI headquarters, and CDC. The two actions are no coincidence and only the beginning.

Sara, a medical examiner, and her partner, Will, an investigator for the Georgia Bureau of  Investigation, rush to the scene that resembles our worst terrorist nightmares. What they eventually uncover is a deadly conspiracy, as savagely American as O'Connor's tale. This is literary territory but though Slaughter writes fast-paced bestsellers, THE LAST WIDOW crosses over to explore the origins of  radical right wing conspiracy against mainstream American life.

Dreiser's An American Tragedy traces evil action back to America's hyper valued ambition,  business success, high social status and prejudices against dreaded poverty and career failure. Like Dreiser, who was influenced by evolution, Slaughter's novel brought to mind the concept of the primitive "reptilian" part of our human brain, These are big themes in a page turner with believably noble characters amid monsters that unfortunately aren't too hard to believe.

In THE LAST WIDOW racism and xenophobia masquerade as patriotism. "Traditional" family values mask abuse of women and children. Through her protagonists' race to halt the death of thousands,  commercially cherished values; marriage,loyalty, fairness translate into their opposites. This is both a thriller and a novel of ideas in a high stakes situation, where nothing can be taken for what it seems.

I loved how Slaughter's lovers were both flawed and aware of their shortcomings. I found dyslexic Will, once an orphan on the streets, now an intrepid fighter for the helpless and Sara, born with a silver spoon, a doctor who saves lives and tracks criminals who take them--actually touching. The couple's differing kinds of intelligence, ambiguity about love and shared risk-taking are the heart of the  plot to find the terrorists. Stakes constantly ratchet up and when Sara is also kidnapped, Will becomes a one-man army to save her and America from a virulent home-grown  terrorism.

It was a pleasure to spend time with this couple, willing to put themselves on the line, pay the ultimate price--but not their loved partner! You want both to make it. This was an  "edge of your seat" thriller for me. With more sugar than Dreiser or O'Conner's endings,THE LAST WIDOW neatly ties up. But Slaughter doesn't back down from the hard truths of America's cultural underbelly. And her heroes don't easily recover from trauma. No one is unchanged nor the reality that this terror happens here.


Monday, June 3, 2019

Arthur Miller's rarely performed play, The Archbishop's Ceiling, goes behind a 1970s "iron curtain" to reveal control of information & writers.

The Archbishop's Ceiling by Arthur Miller, presented by Regeneration Theatre, is a play rarely done and this was the first New York production.  I thought I knew Miller's work but never heard of this  play set in the 1970's in an unnamed Eastern European country, where government controls  information and the freedom of writers.  In this behind the "Iron Curtain" drama, Miller, who lived through the McCarthy era, had insights into the clash between governments' need to control information and writers' need for free speech. This reverberates in 2019's chaotic "fake news" environment. Our former Cold War enemy's divide and conquer tactics, that influenced our 2016 elections, is a propaganda model used in the former soviet bloc and now imported abroad. History does repeat itself, though never in the same form.

Miller's play opens with Adrian and Maya having drinks in an elegant high ceilinged room in a bygone Imperial style. Maya (Kristen Gehling) is flirtatious but chooses her English carefully. They have a sexual history. Adrian (Levi Morger) is a famous American journalist she hasn't seen n years. Why now, she probes, though he's more interested in her relationship with Marcus (John Spano), who has the apartment. Are they just associates, business partners or more? It's a sparring match less about sex than information and the stakes are high.

The Archbishop's Ceiling  precedes the seismic shifts in political, economic and later information dissemination policies that began with Perestroika (1979) and Glasnost (1985).This is in the future  but Adrian, a Vietnam War era journalist (ended 1975) is a catalyst in this play. He remembers Marcus' apartment, as a meeting place for writers and knows that many were compromised afterward. He's also aware that Marcus enjoys privileges that indicate his "influence." with officials.  Is Maya also corrupt, selling out writers to advance herself, a realist working within the system, or simply a poet who likes to help writers?

When Adrian provokes her, suggesting he's writing a book about her and Marcus, Maya questions his purpose. In his work he pleases publishers and audiences, who want what "truth" he's selling. But does his freedom mean he's ignorant of consequences? Adrien's clear, freedom from government control is not negotiable. She says that Adrien doesn't understand anything

This is a multi-layered story but under the direction of Barnaby Edwards, who also produced, it's lucid. The high ceiling of the writers' club has limits; "bugs" that record voices for the authorities to review. Even Adrien with his foreign V.I.P. status, has limits. His words can cost him access or  jeopardize writers. Information is used to censor writers; punished with invisibility; loss of  the ability to write, publish, travel abroad, employment and education for their families, housing, and incarceration. Once the "bugs" are admitted (and also denied), action is deftly choreographed, as Adrian, Maya, Marcus, take others outside to discuss what is really going on.

Adrian, played astutely by Levi Morger, is a nervous mix of seasoned journalist and naive foreigner.  When his friend Sigmund (Michael Meth), a dissident writer, tells Adrian his book has been stolen by the police, he is  shocked police would go so far. Meth's pitch perfect as the "great writer," devestated at the loss; an investment of years of his life. Famous abroad and revered by his countrymen, Sigmund is officially nonexistent. Meth's sincerity and despair are poignant and believable.

His opposite, sophisticated Marcus, is ironically aware that the dissident, also a friend, is a true genius. Though an officially sanctioned writer, Marcus knows he's not in the same class. Spano makes him fascinating, as he switches masks. He's a supporter of writers, yet rep of the authorities. He's also a lover, who brings home from his travels abroad a "prize," a sexy Danish woman (Jessica Carollo), he expects to bed  He is also a "fixer" with an offer for Sigmund to recover his book Will Sigmund take it or Adrian's offer of comfortable American exile?  Prison is another choice.

Maya, in Kristen Gehling's surprising turnabout, shows it little matters how Adrian labels her. She's a patriot, concerned with saving her country's genius. Adrian's post Nam journalist, also wants to rescue Sigmund from government control. Are these two fellow-travellers? Miller's American writer is both a would-be savior and a man aware of his privilege and shortcomings. In The Archbishop's Ceiling Levi Morger's interpretation reveals self-doubt beneath his entitled pragmatism

The play questions characters' and audience assumptions. Can journalistic truth exist when the form requires simplifying complex reality? For instance, Marcus' luxurious life is based on accommodating those in power but he helps writers survive, can Adrien sell that story?  When corruption is commonly accepted, are truth and integrity threats to that order?  As the N.R.A. outspends arms control reforms, despite ongoing massacres in our schools and the testimony of victims. In 2019 we might ask how can truth and integrity have an affect on that order?

Arthur Miller's plays extoll the importance of freedom of speech but recognize the ability of power and greed to corrupt values. These plays respect human persistence, when faced with oppression. They are important, especially in our America, when universal values are routinely violated by the powerful for commercial or political advantage. The "new normal" is a cynical name for getting used to the abuse of power. I an glad there is a revival of interest in Miller's plays. It's great this one has been done now. I also would like to see Remarque's "Full Circle" some time soon.

The cast in Regeneration's production were all excellent. In some ways the hardest role may be Irina, the Danish musician Marcus brings home, thinking his apartment empty. She only speaks German and is at a loss about what is happening. Jessica Carollo's Irina reflected the high emotion in the room. She reacted to discussions, switching her position or expression. With varying difficulty, she managed her boredom and impatience, waiting for her lover's attentions. Loved her acceptance of confusion and conflict she couldn't understand. I feel her pain.