Lew's AUTHOR BLOG

* list of topics in “about writing”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 12, 2013

These are notes on various writing topics, taken from something I’ve read or based on my own ideas. I find it useful to return to these notes from time to time to refresh the lessons they offer for my writing. They also offer many opportunities for questions and discussion, which I welcome.

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HISTORICAL FICTION 

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* Lew’s comments on THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 11, 2013

The Road - cover

The futility of continuing on for any purpose other than to express love,

but that is enough, and so he does, with no hope of any reward

other than that which he feels in the moment.

***

Is it a fearful look into what McCarthy sees as a possible future?

Is it an allegory for everyone’s approach to what we all know is certain death?

Whatever McCarthy’s purpose, which could well encompass both of the above and more, The Road is an utterly compelling read. The sparse sentences express emotion in so few words yet with such power. The absence of names makes the story universal. 

The only part that did not ring true for me was the ending. Why, among the possible choices, was this ending chosen? … any thoughts on that?

***

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* Lew’s review of … Weimar Germany by Eric D. Weitz

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 10, 2013

the new German woman (1924)

WEIMAR GERMANY by Eric D. Weitz is an excellent overview of major themes

in the Weimar years, connecting some of the dots to the subsequent Nazi takeover

1n 1933. Here are some fascinating (to me at least) items 

that will probably appear in one way or another in my new novel

******

The Threepenny Opera …

was the theatrical sensation of 1928 … the depraved, degenerate exploitative nature of capitalism … everybody lies, everybody cheats … the police are indistinguishable from the criminals … the Nazi’s Volkischer Beobachter called Threepenny Opera a noxious cesspool that the police should simply sweep away

Ideal Marriage …

published in 1926, after which the Dutch physician Theodor Hendrik von Velde conducted a lecture tour of Germany … his book and lectures were wildly successful … especially his explicit descriptions of sexual techniques

the new German woman …

short hair, slender, athletic, erotic … provoked loathing commentary … the notion that women could determine their own lives, might decide not to marry and to have a variety of sex partners, not all of them male, was fundamentally terrifying to traditional Germans, both men and women 

Germans danced as never before …

in hotels and cafes, using radio & phonograph as well as live bands … dances were held in the late afternoon (a startling innovation) and in the evening, when large dance halls were packed 

Catholic and Protestant churches thundered against the sexual revolution …

citing a scandalous number of abortions, rapid increase in venereal disease, premarital sex as the new norm, the “unblemished beginning of marriage” an exception … the social order has weakened and shattered, greatly endangering the protection and dignity of the female sex, and threatening the honor and responsibility that defines the male sex 

the Weimar Republic’s most dangerous antagonists came from the Right …

the army, Protestant & Catholic churches, state bureaucracy, industry, finance, schools & universities … none of them were committed to democracy and Weimar’s “liberal” agenda … these elements of the establishment Right were never coordinated until the Nazis absorbed most of the radical Right (violent, paramilitary, lower-class) in the early 1930s … the establishment elite was then willing to accept the violence and hatreds of the Nazis in order to overthrow the hated Weimar republic … the middle class, longing for order and stability, trusted the elite (including the churches) and formed docilely behind them to collude with Hitler and the Nazis to end Weimar democracy

the Catholic and Protestant churches made the Nazis aceptable …

the language of the radical right (including the Nazis) had many affinities with the anti-Weimar fulminations constantly emanating from the Protestant and Catholic churches … these similarities made the Nazis acceptable in polite society … Hitler’s theme that Germany was engaged in an existential struggle against its Jewish-Marxist enemies sounded much like the rhetoric that churchgoers heard regularly from their pulpits … coming from all sides was the notion of a vast world conspiracy against Germany, all of it the result of the Jew (der Jude)

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* research reading for CHOOSING HITLER … Good Germans by Hal Marienthal

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 30, 2013

Good Germans-cover

***

I have read about 80 pages. It is a poignant, illuminating memoir written as a novel. A powerful description of the early Nazi years (up to 1936) seen mainly through the eyes of a young boy. Marienthal was adopted by a Chicago couple in 1936 and went on to a brilliant academic and film career in the U.S.

There are many insights into what was happening and why; here are two …

… contempt, indignities and malice grew throughout the country, suffocated all hope, distorted everyone’s daily life, stripped away personal identity

… the Nazis had gotten to him … it wasn’t the uniforms or the parades or the trappings of power … what attracted him was the Nazi promise of knowing where one belonged in society … he shared an ethos in common with millions of Germans – he loved conformity, while idiosyncrasy was inimical to his sense of well being

I have put the book aside but will return. For now, it is a few years ahead of my timeline in researching and writing CHOOSING HITLER.

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* research for CHOOSING HITLER … A History of the German National Railway Volume 2, 1933-1945

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 28, 2013

german railway vol 2

***

It is likely that no one else would be as excited about this book as I was. I have long had in mind having the major German character in my novel-in-progress (tentatively titled CHOOSING HITLER) make his career in the German Railway. 

This book provides incredibly relevant detail for that purpose, including … the educational background he would need … the sequence of positions he might hold … the relationship between the German Railway, the Reichswehr, the SS, and Hitler … the role of the Railway in support of Hitler’s wars … and the role in transporting Jews to the ovens. 

What did railway officials and workers know about the ongoing Holocaust? Plenty. 

What did they care about the Jews being taken to murder? Most of them, not at all.

***

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* research reading for CHOOSING HITLER … Justice Imperiled: The Anti-Nazi Lawyer Max Hirschberg in Weimar Germany

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 28, 2013

Justice Imperiled

***

Fascinating detail of the major cases of a Jewish lawyer who fought for justice in Munich during the Weimar years. Max Hirschberg was the premier courtroom lawyer in Munich during the Weimar Republic, representing Munich’s Social Democratic Party in its most important political trials. He also took on numerous cases where the right-leaning criminal justice system had resulted in what he saw as a miscarriage of justice.

Right at the top of Hitler’s list, Hirschberg was arrested by the Nazis in the early morning hours after the Reichstag fire in February 1933. He was held in “protective custody” for over 5 months and then inexplicably released. He fled to Switzerland, then to America, and lived into the 1960s.

The lingering feeling I get from this book is the critical importance to a civilized society of the rule of law, how impossible life must be when this no longer applies, and how much we should appreciate those who fight to maintain it.

I have written about the perversion of the rule of law in my novels A Good Conviction  and Case Closed: … why the FBI failed to solve the 2001 anthrax case.

And of course Hirschberg’s cases raise yet again the question of how educated Germans could have failed to see what they were getting with Hitler, or if they knew, why they were willing to make the bargain.

I am thinking of imagining and writing a dinner conversation between Max Hirschberg and Munich’s Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, in 1930, where these issues and questions will be discussed. Faulhaber had been outspoken against antisemitism in the 1920s, became far less so when the position of the Catholic Church became one of accommodation to Hitler in the 1930s, then again adamant in the Church’s successful campaign against Nazi euthanasia in the early 1940s … while never mentioning the mass murder of Jews of which he surely knew. 

I think Faulhaber’s evolving positions are fertile material for my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled CHOOSING HITLER.

But … my wife tells me it is not possible that the Cardinal would come to dinner at a private home, especially that of a Jew. I’ll have to find another way.

***

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* A personal view of the exhibit “Fascination and Terror” at the Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg … a documentary glorification of the rise of Adolf Hitler … from the “heroic” march in Munich 1923 to “Our Fuhrer would never allow [the gassing of innocent civilians] to happen.”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 15, 2012

photos from Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg

******

My wife and I visited the Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg on June 28, 2012, as part of a research trip related to a novel I am currently working on, a novel that will focus on the reasons why German citizens came to support Hitler and the Nazi programs of unprovoked war and the murder of the Jews.

We walked through the exhibit called “Fascination and Terror” independently, each of us listening to the audio guide and viewing the panels. When we were about two-thirds through the exhibit, my wife asked me if I was receiving the same impression as she was. After a short discussion, we agreed that, to our eyes, the exhibit was very much a documentary glorification of the rise of Adolf Hitler, almost always presented without comment or criticism.

LMW: We were horrified.

Our feeling was amplified by the remaining panels in the exhibit and then by the concluding video, where a German woman says she was told by a friend who worked in a hospital about a patient who had a mental breakdown. She went on (paraphrase) … “He said he was the driver of a truck where Jews were gassed in the back of the truck. He said he couldn’t stand it anymore. But I don’t think this could be true. Our Fuhrer would never allow that to happen.

After leaving the exhibit, I wrote a description of what I had seen and heard that prompted our reaction, trying to remember the specific pictures and audio elements which had created the general overriding impression. I shared that description with several people and eventually my comments found their way to Dr. Hans-Christian Täubrich (the Museum Director), who responded to me by email. After an initial exchange of emails, Dr. Täubrich sent me a copy of the exhibit catalog, which I used to refresh my memory and also to read what we might have missed.

I am very impressed by Dr. Täubrich’s willingness to respond to my comments and by the depth and thoroughness of his responses, and as you will see below I have made several revisions to my initial comments based onDr. Täubrich’s comments and the museum catalog.

LMW: I remain, however, convinced that our initial fundamental impression

– that the exhibit glorifies the rise of Hitler

without adequate commentary and criticism –

is unfortunately valid.

It is my hope that historians and others who have seen the “Fascination and Terror” exhibit will comment on the impression it made on them and give their opinion of the impression received by my wife and myself. I think it would also be useful to make some effort to measure the response of the numerous viewers of the exhibit, particularly young German students, to learn what message they received.

What follows below is the dialogue which ensued between Dr. Täubrich and myself over the past several months.

  • What is marked LMW is a combination of my original comments with revisions and additions made after receiving Dr. Täubrich’s comments and the catalog.
  • Comments labeled HC Täubrich or HCT (in blue) are Dr.Täubrich’s comments 

This dialogue is admittedly very detailed and confusing to follow, but I think it is most honest to present Dr. Täubrich’s comments and my subsequent comments and revisions unabridged.

 

The dialogue …

LMW: My wife and I formed our virtually identical impressions while walking separately through the exhibit, carefully looking at most of the panels, reading most of the text, and listening to most of the audio. Some of the texts are a problem, which I will deal with specifically below. But the omissions are, in our judgment, far more serious.

LMW: It is the absence of interpretive comment that is disturbing. 

Hitler’s objectives and accomplishments are repeatedly presented in what we construed to be a positive light, without in the same panels and audios taking explicit note of the lies, violence and murder which made those accomplishments possible, and the horrendous consequences which resulted for Jews, for Germany and for the world. We were struck by the fact that Hitler is almost never directly criticized in the exhibit texts.

A viewer of the exhibit, particularly one of the young students who made up most of the audience the day we were there, might be left with the conclusion that Hitler’s goals and objectives for Germany were appropriate, and if only he had succeeded, Germany would have been just fine. I don’t say that was the intent of those who designed the exhibit, but that is the impression my wife and I very clearly received. 

LMW: The repeated failure to criticize Hitler leaves the impression

that there was nothing to criticize.

We are thus left with what we regard as a glorification of Hitler’s rise. We feel that this important exhibit thus failed to take advantage of a unique opportunity to convey so much more.

HC Täubrich: To be honest, I can hardly believe that you really kept a close view to our information panels. Your remarks are appalling considering the fact that six high ranking German historians and the then president of the Jewish museums in Europe, Dr. Judith Belinfante, formed the advisory board and that the final version of all texts were approved by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte. I wish that you had found the time to enter my office (directly besides the entrance hall and open to everybody at any time) to make your statements to me at first. 

Generally speaking your opinion is nearly unique.

Despite some criticism every now and then (too few informations about the war or the holocaust) most of the annual 200000 visitors from all over the world seem to understand the concept of our house, to be moved by the exhibit and content with the information they get. No one ever, not even a Neo-Nazi, who consequently should be proud then, has shown such a reaction like this. One look into the visitor’s book would have given you a proof for this. Anyway, let me give a short comment on your critics.

LMW: Our overall impression was that the museum glorifies the rise of Hitler without adequately presenting or commenting on either the means or the consequences of his demonic rule. 

HCT: I think the conclusion that the repeated failure to criticize Hitler must lead to the impression that there was nothing to criticize is simply unrealistic. There is no way to understand the presentation as glorification of Hitler as all visitors who come to this place do have already World War II and Auschwitz in mind: This is the unbeatable and omnipresent interpretative comment.

LMW: The use of the word “fascination” in the title of the exhibit

set a tone for us that was particularly troubling.

HC Täubrich: The word fascination in the exhibition title “Fascination and Terror” is, of course, by no means a glorification of Hitler. It simply states the fact, that – at least until 1940 – a majority of the German people were fascinated of what the Nazis achieved.

LMW: It seems to me that the many German people were terrorized into compliance with Nazi policies rather than being “fascinated” with Hitler. The means by which this terror was implemented by the Nazis are among the most important omissions from the exhibit. 

HCT: In the exhibition it is clearly described (The beginnings of the Dictatorship, catalogue pages 30-37) how the political system of the Weimar republic was put out of order and with additional political instruments (Enabling Act and other laws) the basis for the terror of the Nazis was implemented.

LMW: If your characterization that the majority of Germans were “fascinated” and thus implicitly approved of the means Hitler employed (before 1940) is true, that is a greater condemnation of the German people during the Nazi years than I believe is warranted. Unfortunately, the failure of the exhibit to portray the means by which Hitler enforced his rule does make it seem that the German people accepted those means as appropriate, including persecution and murder of Jewish German citizens.

HCT: Now, this is wrong. Why so impatient? Why can’t you try to see the development from the point of view the Germans had in 1933/34 – not knowing about the idea or even being able to anticipate another World War and the later genocide? THIS is what you have try to imagine to understand or, at least, to explain the wide-spread fascination for the new regime. There was terror, yes, but the slogan “Ab nach Dachau” (you come to Dachau) was also commonly used as a threat for children, who did not want to go to bed. It meant no threat to their parents as long as they, OF COURSE, were no socialists, communists, oppositional intellectuals, homosexuals or whatever that did not belong into a proper “Volksgemeinschaft”. (Nearly) all the others were content with the fulfillment of simple Nazi-promises – bread, work, security through a new army, revision of the Versailles treaty, no more political experiments and so on and so on.

HC Täubrich: They were proud to belong to the “Volksgemeinschaft” and did not care for the price this had, the exclusion of others.

LMW: The idea that most Germans were “proud” of what Hitler was doing and “did not care for the price this had, the exclusion of others” is to us a horrible thought.  Among those “others” who were to be excluded were Jews who were, and had been for many decades, German citizens. Is it true that the majority of Germans “did not care” about or even actively approved the treatment of Jews by the Nazis? With all my anger toward the Germans who murdered many members of my grandparents family, I still think it fair to say that many (maybe even most) Germans were afraid to express whatever reservations they had with Hitler, knowing that such expressions might well mean death for themselves and their families. That aspect of the rise of Hitler is not emphasized by the Center’s exhibits.

HCT: And yes, I think I have to disappoint you concerning the human qualities of many, definitively not all, but of too many Germans in the mid-thirties. I do not mean to judge about any other people. But they did hardly realize that the first victims of anti-Jewish laws already from 1933 on were Germans themselves. Propaganda made them – who now were “Aryans” – believe that those were “only” Jews, whose eviction from universities, chambers, offices or other businesses now simply offered themselves the chance for promising careers and – thinking of the so-called aryanisation – many people unscrupulously filled their pockets.

This was not only a matter of a handful of fanatic Nazis but rested on a broad level of acceptance. It went on via 1938 until 1941 when Germans queued before the pawn shops to acquire cheap pieces from former Jewish households – which had become “German property” because their owners had left the country: by being deported to the East into the gas chambers… Now, grudge and greed are of course by no means special German characteristics; but, together with some other bad manners, they were then given a space to unfold which they do not have in ,normal’ societies.

HC Täubrich: The exhibit has at first to explain, where this fascination came from and how it was fed, for example, during the party rallies in Nuremberg.

LMW: Should the exhibit not also simultaneously present and explain, in the same panels, the corrupt political means, the brutal violence, and the lies Hitler and the Nazis used to gain control before and after 1933? Is that not also an important aspect of the rise of Hitler? Would that not put what is shown in better balance?

HC Täubrich: Otherwise there is no way to understand the later developments. We have to acknowledge the fact that it was not Hitler and a small gang who committed the later mass crimes and genocide, but hundreds of thousands of people who believed the message from “Mein Kampf” and all the other madness.

LMW: The exhibit makes no attempt to distinguish Germans who supported Hitler and the murder of the Jews because they agreed with that policy from those who ‘went along’ because they were terrified not to. In this regard the exhibit misses a great opportunity to allow the young people who come to the exhibit to understand and come to grips with the decisions their grandparents made, often under great duress.

HCT: This is not true. For example presents the room “The ,Führer-Myth’” the personal oath which soldiers as well as all state officials had to swear on Hitler himself (catalogue page 36) since 1934, later causing the loyalty problems you are missing.

LMW: The audio describing Hitler’s failed 1923 putsch in Munich

uses the word “HEROIC” to describe the march into the center of Munich,

a march which every other source I have read describes as

incompetent, almost comical, and certainly treasonous.

HC Täubrich: Wrong. The word “heroic” is on the panel and in the book put in quotation marks, because, this was of course the Nazi point of view. In the audio-guide this is stressed as well.

LMW: Here is what the exhibit book says (p.26) … “In the fall of 1923 Hitler decided that the time was ripe to topple the Reich government. On November 9, in a “heroic” action, he marched into the Munich government district …” The exhibit presents this “Nazi point of view” of the “heroic” 1923 putsch without interpretive comment. That is exactly my point. The putsch was clearly treason. It was also conducted in a thoroughly incompetent manner. These things should have been said, instead of leaving the word “heroic” to stand unchallenged and apparently attributed to the exhibit as well as to the Nazis.

HCT: It is not correct to quote just a part of the text and then complain about omissions. The failing of the putsch and its consequences are clearly described: “They were stopped by the Bavarian State police at the Feldherrnhalle. 15 rabble-rousers, four policemen and one by-stander were killed. The NSDAP was banned throughout the Reich. Later Hitler was to twist this fiasco (!) into a triumph…” This is the short and precise as possible description of an event you easily may write books about. I beg you at his point: Please try yourself to describe any important historic event with a maximum of 550 …

LMW: On p.26 of the exhibit catalog there is a paragraph about the Hitler trial. It says the trial was placed in the wrong jurisdiction, one that was enormously lenient with Hitler. What it does not say is why this happened, and who was responsible. I have read that important Bavarian officials were afraid their own role in the 1923 Nazi putsch attempt would be revealed in a proper trial, and they therefore took pains to assure that Hitler dominated the press throughout the trial, thus allowing them to fade into the background. This is not reported by the exhibit. The exhibit also does not ask why the Reich government in Berlin did not insist on proper jurisdiction for the trial.

HCT: Again you omit already mentioned facts. The description (catalogue page 26) clearly states that the trial was not performed before the Reichsgericht in Leipzig “but rather at the People’s Court in Munich (the birthplace of the movement as mentioned before), where he could reckon with the political sympathy of the judge. It gave Hitler the opportunity to use the trial … as a political platform … and so on.” WHAT exactly are you missing here regarding the demand for utmost brevity of description?

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the 1933 boycott of Jewish stores which began the unprovoked Nazi onslaught against Jewish German citizens

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There is a panel “The Boycott of the Jewish Businesses” in area 3.

LMW: You are correct. I believe the panel you reference is on p.33 of the exhibit catalog. BUT … the boycott is presented as a successful Hitler policy when I have read it was a total failure and was withdrawn after a few days. It was a failure because in 1933 many Christian German citizens did not go along; they continued to shop in Jewish-owned stores. This failure is not mentioned and as in the case of the “heroic” 1923 march, the exhibit presents the boycott as yet another step in Hitler’s glorious rise to total domination, thus leaving the “fascination” message intact and unchallenged.

LMW: There is but PASSING MENTION of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws and NO EMPHASIS on their well-known purpose of disenfranchising German Jewish citizens of all of their civil rights previously guaranteed by the German Constitution

HC Täubrich: Wrong: As the “Nuremberg Laws” are one of the main topics there are three panels describing their structure and consequences (Area 10)

LMW: In the exhibit book, there are 39 pages between the 10 line paragraph on the boycott of the Jewish businesses (p.33) and the section on the Nuremberg Laws (p.72). These pages present a generally positive panorama of the manner in which Hitler built his power: the Fuhrer’s idea of national community … the idea of a superior people who would eradicate their opponents, including Jews … the cleverly constructed Fuhrer myth … Hitler’s absolute authority … Nuremberg as the city of party rallies (4 pages) … the history of the building of the party rally grounds (12 pages) … the party rallies as ritual (12 pages) … the inadequate, indeed pitiful response to Hitler abroad (4 pages) … the filming of “Triumph of the Will” (2 pages).

HCT: Now, this seems to me to be an inadequate judgement. Again you quote only those phrases which – indeed – marked the successful steps to erect and cement the Nazi regime. The fact that they were successful does not mean that they were positive – from our point of view. You omit among others the section describing the price those Germans paid for the erection of the “Volksgemeinschaft, who were excluded (page 35): “Those who fell short of the ,racial’, political and moral norms were excluded from the community or even physically ,eradicated’: political opponents, Jews, Sinti and Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, so-called asocial elements, those with severe mental or physical handicaps.” Other sentences describe the dismantling of the federal structure of the Reich and destruction of all institutions/political parties embodying the former pluralistic-democratic order – how does this fit into a ,generally positive panorama’?? 

LMW: The pages describing forced labor in the later 1930s and during the war (50-53) do express the horror of the work camps … “forced labour camps for Jews, where prisoners were exterminated by work” … “owing to the inhuman conditions the death rate was extremely high” … but again fail to criticize Hitler directly for his role in establishing such camps. Hitler’s name, so prominent elsewhere, is never mentioned in these pages.

HCT: It was not Hitler who established the camps, it was the SS with leading figures like Theodor Eicke, who developed the ,master-camp’ Dachau, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Ernst Kaltenbrunner and many, many others.

LMW: So now, finally, after the mind-numbing 39 pages, we get to the pages (72-75) concerning the Nuremberg Laws. And here we read … “in a perpetual struggle for survival, the weak elements would be eradicated by the strong” … “this body of thought held the Jews to be a parasitic people, seeking to destroy from within the peoples of the greatest value” … “Bolshevism was an instrument of the Jews in their struggle to dominate the world.” … Does the exhibit offer any protest of these vicious Nazi slogans? Does it present moral objections to the legitimacy of a policy of eradicating the weak? Does it mention that Jewish Germans were actually loyal German citizens who had made numerous significant contributions, including army service in WWI? Not a word! … 

LMW: The Nazi condemnations of Jews are left unchallenged,

and thus seem to be endorsed by the exhibit.

Next we read that “the great highlight” of the 1935 “Party Rally of Freedom” was to introduce a “state citizenship law for Jews” and a “Law for the Protection of German Blood.” To justify these new laws, there is mention of “a wave of violent attacks against men and women accused of alleged race-defiling relationships.

HCT: Here you evoke the impression that we mention the racial laws as “the great highlight” of the Party Rally 1935. This is not true: We set the word in quotation marks (The great “highlight” at the end … was the convening of the German Reichstag in Nuremberg.) to underline the bitter reality that the proclamation of racial laws were the central event of this mass meeting. Concerning your valuation of the 39 mind-numbing pages it may be allowed to remind that the main topic of the documentation centre is the history of both the party grounds and the party rallies as one of the main propaganda instruments of the Nazis.

LMW: There is no mention that this violence against Jews did not just happen spontaneously, but was consciously planned and carefully carried out by the Nazis. There is no mention of the fact that German Jews had by 1935 achieved a very high level of assimilation into German life. There is no mention of the significant contribution of Jewish Germans to German cultural, scientific and business advances. There is no mention that the Protocols of the Elders which was used by the Nazis to create fear of Jewish world domination had already been publicly proven to be a total fabrication.

LMW: The impression we took from this blatantly one-sided presentation

was that Hitler moved forward quite logically and correctly

to protect the German nation from the “race-defiling” Jews.

That is surely the message Hitler wanted to convey, but is that the message this exhibit should allow even for one second to be perceived by young Germans in 2012? Should not this message be countered, in the same panels, by the truth? … In our view, the exhibit in this section again fostered the concept of German “fascination” with Hitler, missing the opportunity to present the disgusting nature of Hitler’s lies about the Jews, and not taking up the question of whether the German people believed those lies.

HCT: Again, it is not fair to omit totally the aspects we stressed in our view and to create the aspect that we thus simply transported Hitler’s ideas. The introductory text carefully describes the origins of anti-semitism in Europe as well as in Germany. Just for example, there IS MENTION that this violence against Jews did not just happen spontaneously, but was consciously planned and carefully carried out by the Nazis. Look at the passages on pages 72-77.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the violent 1938 Kristallnacht attacks on German Jewish citizens all over Germany

HC Täubrich: Wrong: It is presented with three big photographs of burnt German synagogues and the text describes the events and the number of victims all over the Reich (Area 15)

LMW: The exhibit catalog has one photograph of a burned out synagogue but I’ll certainly take your word that there were two more photographs in the museum. I must have missed them. The word “Kristallnacht” is not mentioned in the catalog.

HCT: The words “Kristallnacht” or “Reichskristallnacht” stem from the use within Nazi-propaganda, aiming at the belittlement of just some glass being smashed. But: There were thousands of buildings destroyed – synagogues, shops, flats – and several hundred people murdered in that night. It was a bit more than some broken crystal. This is why in Germany one generally speaks of the pogrom night, thus involving the general violence against people.

LMW: Consider this direct quote (p.77) … “The reason for this pogrom during the night of November 9 to 10, 1938 was the assassination by a young Jew of the German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris.” REALLY? One killing, far away in Paris no less, was enough to set loose an immediate Germany-wide coordinated attack on Jews and Jewish property, which the exhibit allows to be called “spontaneous riots” that were then “escalated” by the Nazis. That false impression should have been corrected in the same panel. Rath was shot on November 7 and died on November 9, the night of the supposed countrywide “spontaneous riots,” which were obviously planned in advance by the Nazis.

LMW: It is unfortunately typical of the exhibit

that the Nazi version of Kristallnacht

(“spontaneous riots”) was left unchallenged.

HCT: Of course was the shooting of Rath not the reason in the meaning of “cause”, nobody says this; it was the reason in the sense of “being initiated” by  Goebbels’ orders given to the SA-quarters in that night.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the newspaper and media campaigns against German Jewish citizens in Der Sturmer and other Nazi publications.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: The “Stürmer” and further anti-Semitic material is displayed in a showcase describing “Anti-Semitism in the Daily Life of the Third Reich” (Area 14)

LMW: You are quite correct. The Nazi media campaigns are mentioned. In the catalog there is one paragraph and one photo related to the Nazi propaganda against the Jews (p.75). The issue is proportion, in the catalog as well as in the museum. Why are there 39 pages on the rally grounds and just one paragraph on the unrelenting, untrue and often pornographic campaign against Jews ordered by Hitler (who is not mentioned on page 75), a campaign that set the stage for the systematic murder of 6,000,000 Jews?

HCT: There are 39 pages on the rally grounds as this is the main topic of the documentation centre and its exhibition, which is the key to the understanding of the remnants still lying outside. Streichers unrelenting, untrue and often pornographic campaigns against Jews were NOT ordered by Hitler though certainly welcomed. Streicher published his ,paper’ on his own and to his own profit. Coarse and rude as it was one can doubt whether ,cold’ intellectual functionaries like Heydrich oder officials like Eichmann really took their time to read it. The stage for the systematic murder of 6,000,000 Jews was set up by them, not by Streicher, who was deprived of his power already in 1939 due to his greedy attitude in connection with the ,aryansiation’.

LMW: The exhibit here misses the opportunity to discuss the impact of this propaganda on Christian Germans. Did they believe what they were being told? Were they pleased to see the Jews demeaned? Were they “proud” of the way Hitler was purifying their country? These questions, critical for today’s Germans seeking to understand how their grandparents committed such atrocities, are not raised by the exhibit. Hitler is not criticized for propagating lies about the Jews.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the complicit role

of the hierarchies of the Catholic and Protestant churches

in supporting Hitler’s rise to power.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: It is, though short, but very well described how and with whose’ support Hitler came to power in the chapters “The Seizure of Power” and “The Beginnings of Dictatorship” (Area 1, 3)

LMW: … NOT WRONG! … I have read catalog pages 28, 29 & 30 very carefully. There is not a single mention of the Catholic and Protestant churches. Not a single word! The role of the German churches, in allowing Hitler to seize and exercise power, is, in my mind, an essential element of the Hitler years that needs to be emphasized today. The churches represented, or should have represented, the moral fiber of the German people, and yet church leaders stood by and never objected. Of course there are many examples of priests and nuns and religious Christians risking their lives to save Jewish lives. But where were the institutions, the leaders, the bishops and cardinals … and the pope? It is troubling to me that an exhibit which purports to show the rise of Hitler makes no mention of the complicity of the Catholic and Protestant hierarchies in permitting that rise. The exhibit also fails to mention the extent to which centuries of church-sponsored antisemitism laid the groundwork for hatred of the Jews without which many historians believe Hitler could not have succeeded. This is important for young Germans to understand, and the exhibit has again missed an opportunity to educate them.

HCT: Now, what do you want – the description of the German churches in allowing Hitler to seize and exercise power or mentioning the extent to which centuries of church-sponsored antisemitism laid the groundwork for hatred of the Jews without which many historians believe Hitler could not have succeeded. The last point is declared in the section “Racism and Anti-Semitism” (catalogue page 72), but I admit that the role of several social powers – churches, industry – are not entirely stressed.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the many brave Christian German citizens, including many Catholic and Protestant clergy, who tried to resist Hitler’s madness and were often executed for their actions

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There are three panels describing the three phases of German resistance (“Worker’s resistance”, “The Interims Phase” and “Resistance during the War” (Area 17).

LMW: We missed these panels, but I see pages 84-85 in the exhibit book, so I do not doubt they were also on the exhibit walls. Looking at the pages now, however, they do not seem so impressive. There is a dominating picture of Hitler with a beard takes 1/3 of the space on the two pages … a focus on communists as the major source of resistance … one sentence about a failed assassination attempt in 1939 … a failed military putsch in 1944 which was directed at “ending a now senseless war.” 

Was there no resistance by ordinary Germans because they knew what Hitler was doing was wrong? Was there no opposition by the military because they had been made into murderers of civilians instead of soldiers? Was there no effort by religious leaders to stop the mechanized murder of millions of Jews? If there was no such opposition, the exhibit should have taken note and tried to explain why. If there was such opposition, the exhibit should have shown it and applauded the courage of those who dared to express it, even secretly. That is what deserves to be glorified. Another missed opportunity.

HCT: It is clearly stated in the exhibit as well as in the catalogue (P. 84): “The German resistance was represented by the total political spectrum. It ran the gamut from far left to far right, included the young and the old, women and men, Christians and atheists. Yet it was a tiny minority. According to estimates by the Gestapo only two out of a thousand people were opponents of the German regime. (Text to be continued)” You can’t say it shorter as well as precise like this. In the exhibition the three phases (Worker’s resistance 1933-36, Interims Phase 1936-41 and Resistance during the war 1941-45 are precisely explained; the catalogue here brings only a choice of the first two items.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of Hitler’s unprovoked and brutal attacks on Poland, Belgium, France, England and Russia, including unprecedented attacks on innocent civilians (including Jews and non-Jews) in those countries.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: The war is, though not described in detail, clearly presented, beginning with “NS Foreign Policy 1933-39,” “Blitzkriege’ 1939-1941,” and “The war of annihilation and Genocide” (Area 15/16).

LMW: This is very interesting. Here are some of the words on those pages (p.78 and after) … “the Wehrmacht marched into Austria” … “the German territories of Czechoslavakia were taken over” … “German nationalism appeared in 1938 on the way to fulfillment (of the old dream of) a common Reich for all Germans” … “powerful German units marched into Poland” … “with rapid mobile armoured formations and fighter bombers, the Army advanced” … “the Germans occupied Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium and France in a series of rapid campaign” … “In only three months they ruled over almost all of Western Europe” … “Only Great Britain continued the war against the German Reich” … “Hitler hastened to the aid of his ally Italy” … “the Wehrmacht occupied Yugoslavia and Greece” … and then (p.79) … “Hitler’s popularity with the Germans rose to unparalleled levels.” 

LMW: The exhibit presents Hitler’s military triumphs as if intending

to quicken the heart of any patriotic German!

Germany, under Hitler’s guidance, marched on, conquering everyone. 

LMW: The word “unprovoked” is not to be found. The exhibit presents the Nazi view, without critical interpretive comment, and thus seems to endorse it. But are Germans in 2012 supposed to be proud of what the Nazis accomplished on the battlefield? Is that the bottom line of the exhibit’s “glorification” of Hitler’s conquests?

Are young Germans of today supposed to feel good that “Hitler’s popularity with the Germans rose to unparalleled levels?” We believe young Germans of today know better. We have spoken to some of them. They are very conscious that still, today, the German people are hated. And they know why. They don’t fly the German flag. That’s why a man who was a young boy in 1945 and took no part in Nazi affairs told me he feels guilt every day of his life for what his parents and their Nazi colleagues did. 

None of these issues is raised in an exhibit which states that one of its prime objectives is to present the consequences of Hitler’s rise. These were huge consequences, which are still felt by Germans today. Omission of these consequences is a huge lost opportunity of the exhibit.

HCT: Now, I think this goes a bit too far to assume that we here simply do blow into the trumpets for Hitler’s Blitzkriege to “quicken the heart of any patriotic German”. And it is not enough to stress just “some of the words on those pages”. Your quotation again is short cut and thus falsifying the content of the whole text (pages 78/79). For the first phase of foreign policy it is here clearly stated that it “was bent on war from the very outset. After the Wehrmacht marched into Austria and the Sudeten German territories were taken over, the latter with the approval of England, France and Italy, an old dream of German nationalism appeared in 1938 to be on the way to fulfillment: a common Reich for all Germans. The invasion of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939 (this WAS a provocation!) meant the change to an open policy of expansion.” And for the next phase of the “Blitzkriege” it is clearly stated that the Germans “marched into Poland without a declaration of war on September 1939.”

Concerning the “success” of the following military campaigns until 1940/early 1941 we cannot close our eyes before the fact that they led to the peak of Hitler’s popularity in the German people. You have to mention this because otherwise you fail to explain why the Germans now were bound to fulfill any further military action of Hitler and his gang of loyal generals.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of Hitler’s distortion and corruption of Germany’s once proud army and air forces into performing the tasks of Nazi murder and genocide

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There are two panels describing “The Role of the Wehrmacht” and “The Task Forces” (Area 16).

LMW: You are correct. I missed that panel, and it tells the story well.

LMW: There is but one small panel devoted to the Holocaust … there is NO MENTION of the death camps where millions of Jews (and others) were methodically murdered

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There is one panel devoted to the holocaust and there are two very large photographs showing the massacres of Babi Jar and Libau. A slideshow besides shows some 50 pictures of the deportation of German Jews. The Holocaust panel uses the icon picture for the holocaust, the Auschwitz-Birkenau gate. It restricts to this as – by full intention, the exhibit concentrates on the history of the rally grounds and the purpose of the rallies, the racial laws and the Nuremberg trials. This core story is embedded into a frame narration, describing shortly (!) where the Nazis came from and what the consequences of their message were.

LMW: You are correct that the death camps are mentioned. But this is a good example of what bothered us about the exhibit as a whole. Hitler’s wartime accomplishments are portrayed in the glowing terms quoted above, but the fact that Hitler directly ordered the death camps is not mentioned. Instead, the exhibit states: “Plans for the systematic murder of all European Jews were being hatched … the SS set up three single-purpose extermination camps.” No mention of Hitler.

LMW: Why does the exhibit refrain, again and again,

from directly criticizing Hitler and calling him the monster he was?

HCT: Now this is one of the opinions where you are definitively mistaken. There was no  “monster” named Hitler who did it all on his own and was responsible alone for it. This is the most dangerous attitude to have as it leads to the excuse of the countless people who were loyal to him and his plans throughout all the 12 years. He did NOT directly order the death camps; yes, he spoke of the extinction of the Jewish-bolshevist evil in the world every now and then. But when it came to terms during the war it was Göring (he had received Hitler’s request for a ,general solution’ – whatever this meant – of the Jewish question in 1938) who gave Heydrich in 1941 the order to work out a “final solution”; many, many more orders were developed and given by lower ranks, often in an anticipatory way. No one, for example, of the leading figures took part in the Wannsee conference planning and organizing the extermination of Europe’s 11 million Jews. And – it needed millions of obedient people to turn orders into reality – public servants and  officials for the organisation, policemen for the deportation,, train drivers and railway personal for transport, soldiers for mass shootings etc. etc. THIS is what the exhibition tries to explain: that there was no monster hovering above all, but a bit (more or less) of Hitler, i.e. of his ideas, in many, many Germans of that time.

LMW: There is also no mention of what Germans knew or did not know

about the death camps, a topic of vital importance

to Germany’s current generation struggling to make judgments

about the actions of their parents and grandparents.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the horrendous beating Germany’s armed forces ultimately took at the hands of the Allied forces, including the total destruction of the German air force and the bombing of many German cities

HC Täubrich: Wrong: One panel describes “The result of the war”, three enlarged photographs show the ruins of Stalingrad and Berlin and, impossible not see this, the flattened medieval town of Nuremberg (Area 18).

LMW: I saw the photos, although why Stalingrad is shown as a price paid by Germany is not clear.

HCT: Stalingrad is a metaphor for the first massive defeat of the Germans as well as for the beginning of the end and the many high prices the Germans then still had to pay for their loyalty to the often dilettantish strategies of Hitler and his gang of loyal generals.   

LMW: But look at the language. The paragraph on the catalog page headed “The Result of the War” (p.83) says … “the Soviet Union was to be overrun in a lightning campaign” … “huge initial successes” … “German forces were not sufficient to complete Hitler’s programme of conquest” … “the allied invasion of Normandy opened a third front against the German Reich” … “Despite all Adolf Hitler continued the battle” … “all told the total loss of human life in this war is estimated at more than 50 million.” And not a word about Hitler’s personal responsibility for the Nazi program of mass murder, for the incompetent direction of the military, for the deaths of 50 million people. Despite all Adolf Hitler continued the battle.” The exhibit thus seems to present Adolf Hitler as a true German hero.

HCT: Honestly, I do fail to understand why – after the conclusion that “the total loss of human life in this war is estimated at more than 50 million” should mean to present Adolf Hitler as a true German hero. And once more: Hitler certainly was an incompetent leader of the military, but was surrounded and helped by a sheer mass of incompetent, but loyal military leaders himself.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the help provided after the war (Marshall Plan, etc) which allowed Germany to become the proud, successful and democratic country it is today.

HC Täubrich: Correct: The exhibit ends with the Nuremberg trials and a short outlook on the later use of the former Nazi party rally grounds. This is the story of the “Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds”. Museums cannot in each place tell the whole story, they have to be understood as a network. If you are interested in the country’s post-war history you may visit the “House of the history of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.”

LMW: What Hitler brought to Germany was destruction and the hatred of the German people which continues (unfairly as regards current Germans) to this day. The exhibit might have emphasized these consequences of Hitler’s rise.

LMW: At the end of the exhibit, there is a video showing interviews with Germans who lived through the Nazi years. One woman says (paraphrase), “We had no idea what was happening to the Jews. We thought they were being taken away to Israel, where it would be nice for them since they would all be together. They would have everything they needed, all the doctors, tailors, etc. But I guess if there were only Jews, some of them would have to be street cleaners.” 

Another woman says she was told by a friend who worked in a hospital about a patient who had a mental breakdown. She said (paraphrase) … “He said he was the driver of a truck where Jews were gassed in the back of the truck. He said he couldn’t stand it anymore. I don’t think this could be true. Our Fuhrer would never allow that to happen.”  The exhibit presents these statements with no commentary, leaving the impression that what the ladies say is true: we knew nothing … we were not complicit. I find that very hard to take.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: These statements are at the end of a one and a half hours walk through the history of Nazi horror which is, at least, one of the commentaries. The witnesses’ statements are necessary to get an impression of how the people felt and thought in those days. And there are, of course, remarks of a commentator in this concluding film.

LMW: It is terrifying to us that the exhibit’s portrayal

of the rise of Hitler and the consequences of Nazi rule

would end with an uncontested statement that

“Our Fuhrer would never allow [the gassing of innocent civilians] to happen.”

HC Täubrich: Dear Sir, going through these remarks I am shattered and disappointed; not about the fact that seem you hardly to have noticed these crucial points, but that you concluded from your not-seeing that this might have been done by intent. Do you really think, that the citizens of a city like Nuremberg – which is once and for all brandmarked in the rest of the world firstly as “City of the Nazi Party Rallies”, the infamous “Nuremberg Laws” and finally the “Nuremberg Trials” after all would be able to open an institution glorifying Hitler?

LMW: I drew no conclusion as to intent. What I have tried to describe is the impression the “Fascination and Terror” exhibit made on my wife and I as we went through it. It does seem unbelievable to us that Nuremberg, of all places, would organize an exhibit that does far more to glorify Hitler’s rise to power and his military victories than to expose the brutal means and ultimate consequences of his madness. When these repeated omissions were followed by an uncontested statement denying that the German people even knew what Hitler was doing – “Our Fuhrer would never allow that”- the exhibit itself became terrifying to us.

HCT: This seems to be a bit short-sighted to me, short-sighted against/before the facts. The brutal means and ultimate consequences you mention – they are well known. As mentioned before: Everybody who comes here to the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds knows about the effects and consequences of World War II and the genocides. What we have to do is to understand how and why people behaved like the way they did – on whatever side they stood. 

The Germans committed a substantial break of civilization – not only with the erection of the gas chambers, but already years before by declaring members of the ,German race’ more worthy than other human beings, even of their own nationality. This is clearly emphasized throughout the exhibition “Fascination and Terror”. Its message is: Without the understanding of the fascination which the power and its nourishment for grudge and greed had for many people we will not be able to understand the signs of any other human catastrophe lying before us – and which will certainly not be caused by another “monster”.

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Posted in * A FLOOD OF EVIL ... Lew's novel-in-progress, ** NAZI CENTER - Nuremberg | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

* CHOOSING HITLER … a new working title, possible cover, and extract from the draft Prologue

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 4, 2012

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an extract from the Prologue of CHOOSING HITLER

“But the Nazi bastard didn’t die,” Abraham Weintraub said, his vehemence undiminished after more than four decades. “Of course it was the Polish woman. If she hadn’t suddenly appeared as a witness, Becker would’ve been sentenced to death … like he deserved … like Goering and Rosenberg and Streicher and the others.”

“Anna Gorski’s entire family was murdered by the Nazis,” Marissa said. “She was the only one who survived. It’s just incredible that she decided to testify in Nuremberg. Her reasons, and Becker’s story, must shed light on some very important questions.”

***

Dear Herr Becker,

I am a professor of history at Brandeis University, specializing in Holocaust studies. Despite the many books written on this subject, there is an aspect of the Hitler years to which I believe more attention could usefully be given. Specifically, I would like to explore why Germans supported Hitler at various stages in his career and what these supporters felt when they realized what Hitler was doing to the Jews .

The reason I come to you is that my father was the U.S. attorney in charge of prosecuting your case at Nuremberg. The surprising testimony of Anna Gorski at your trial suggests that your personal experience and feelings may provide very useful insight into both of the above questions.

I would like to come to Munich and meet with you as soon as possible. Please let me know if you are open to such a meeting.

Yours very truly,

Marissa Whitten

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Posted in * A FLOOD OF EVIL ... Lew's novel-in-progress | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

* an enthusiastic new review of “The Heretic” on Goodreads … “History, action, and love all abound in this book.”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 6, 2012

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The Heretic and Hereje (Spanish edition published in 2012)

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Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz and Faye Kellerman praise The Heretic

Elie Wiesel: The Heretic is deeply absorbing … it helps Jews and Christians better understand their complex and often painful relationship.

Alan M. Dershowitz: The historical novel that is both true to the past and relevant to the present is rare indeed. The Heretic humanizes the tragic history of religious persecution.

Faye Kellerman: The Heretic is a sweeping historical tale of love, honor, justice, religion, and morality, meticulously researched and wonderfully exciting. (author Faye Kellerman has written two historical novels as well as her hugely popular detective series)

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A new review of The Heretic was just posted on Goodreads by Fergie …

The Heretic is a wonderfully written novel about the Spanish Inquisition and the impact it had on the Jewish population in the 15th century. In Lewis Weinstein’s able hands, the history of Jewish culture trying to survive the Anti-Semitic acts of that era survive. In fact, Weinstein describes with great deft, the roots of Anti-Semitic views in Europe.

I read this book in one day, finding it difficult to put down. History, action, and love all abound in this book. Also present is the notion of ignorance and the discrimination that extends from it.

The Catholic Church’s sins are outlined historically and accurately in the book. To understand history is to make an effort not to repeat it. Had the world taken greater note of the issues described so well by Mr. Weinstein, perhaps the world, and most notably, the Jewish population, may not have been forced to suffer through the Holocaust.

  • Students of history should read this book.
  • People of the Catholic and Jewish faiths should read this book.
  • It may sound like an over-reaching statement, but I believe that all humanity would be well-served reading this book.

Once you read the foreword, you’ll be compellingly hooked.

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from the Foreword to The Heretic by Msgr. Tom Hartman

 The Heretic, a book by Lewis Weinstein, was where I turned in order to understand the Inquisition.  I knew the outline of Christian atrocities but Lew’s book taught me about the painful positions many good people were put into in order to survive.  It’s not a pretty picture.  Their lives were all scarred in one way or another.  But The Heretic reminds us of a history that we should not forget.

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read … The Heretic: PROLOGUE

 

“No. Don’t go out there,” she pleads.

“You stay inside,” he orders.

She shouts to her son. “Run! Get your father. Hurry!” She follows her father-in-law to the door, horrified by what she fears will happen.

The old man reaches the street just as the first of them come around the corner. He walks straight at them — they shrink back — the crowd has not yet gained the courage to attack one who is not afraid. They shout.

“Jewish pig!”

“Christ killer!”

“Devil worshipper!”

He raises his hands, and surprisingly, the crowd quiets.

“Why do you call me Jew?” he says softly. “I’m baptized just as you.”

“Liar! We know what you converso Jews do. You don’t work on Saturday, and you don’t eat pork. You just pretend to be Christian.”

“That’s not true. I gave up the Jewish religion long ago. I wet my head in your baptismal water and I’ve been a good Christian ever since.”

He smiles, laughs almost, knowing they are not convinced, that nothing he says will ever change their minds. But he is not afraid. He stands taller. He is eerily calm.

“You say I’m a Jew. Why? I don’t pray to the God of Israel. I go to church and take the sacraments. My son is not circumcised.”

He turns away. They follow. He spins to face them. It is time, after so many years. Time to be a Jew.

“Is this what you want?” he thunders.

Deliberately, he places his high crowned hat on his head. He tugs under his cloak and removes a long white scarf, the Jewish prayer shawl, the tallit. He holds it solemnly in front of him, aged eyes straining to see faded words. He prays silently, in Hebrew: Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by Thy commandments, and has commanded us to wrap ourselves in tallit.

He raises and twists the tallit. The pure white fabric unfolds, soars majestically and lands gently on his shoulders. He lifts it to cover his head. His face is hidden. He closes his eyes tightly. He is in another place.

He prays, she thinks, for the years he has lost, and perhaps also for the years ahead, though not for him: O God of Israel Who desires repentance, allow me to repent for the foolishness of my baptism. O God of Israel Who forgives, forgive me for willfully discarding Your commandments. O God of Israel Who redeems His people, accept me, and allow me once again to walk in Your ways.

He raises his voice, knowing the effect the strange sounding Hebrew words will have.

Hear O Israel … the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

          The crowd gasps. Swords are raised.

“Jesus of Nazareth is not God!” he shouts. “There is only one God, and He is the God of Israel!”

The first sword explodes against the side of his head, knocking his hat to the ground. A second shining blade slices into his shoulder. Bloodied, he does not fall. He says the Hebrew words slowly, powerfully.

Blessed is the Name of His glorious Kingdom for all eternity

          The bloody sword flashes again, and he smiles, the last act of his life.

Now they all find courage. They know how to stomp on a dead man. Clubs and stones obliterate his features. Stabs to his chest. His tunic dark red.

She hears the horses a split second before the mob looks up. Her husband runs into the square, six armed men behind him. The mob retreats, its anger spent. He wraps the body of his father in his cloak, cradles the corpse gently in his arms, walks slowly into the house.

The young boy bends to retrieve his grandfather’s bloody tallit from where it has fallen.

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More Praise for The Heretic

from secular sources …

Rick Steves’ Spain:To get the feel of Spain past and present, check out these three books: For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway); Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes); and The Heretic (Lewis Weinstein)

Professor Jane S. Gerber:I couldn’t put the book down and was thoroughly absorbed in the character development and plot line. The Heretic is the best book I have encountered using Sephardic history as the backdrop.  (Professor Gerber is the Director of the Institute for Sephardic Studies at the CUNY Graduate School and the author of The Jews of Spain.)

Midwest Book Review:a superbly written debut novel of political intrigue … Weinstein is a master storyteller … The Heretic leaves the reader looking eagerly toward his next literary effort.

Renaissance Magazine: vivid and descriptive, breathtaking detail.

from Catholic sources …

Monsignor Thomas Hartman:  a compelling read … the book is historically accurate.

John Cardinal O’Connor:  “The Spanish Inquisition of which you write in The Heretic was just one tragic event out of many in the Jewish-Catholic encounter.  (Cardinal O’Connor was the Archbishop of New York)

Bishop John J. Snyder:  an absorbing and challenging story … an important epic. (Bishop Snyder is the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine and a member of the U.S. Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.)

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher: My predecessor, Fr. Edward Flannery, used to say that we Christians have torn out of our history books all the pages the Jews remember.  The Heretic may help redress that serious imbalance in historical memory between our two ancient peoples.  (Dr. Fisher is Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

from Jewish sources …

The Jewish Press: a breathtaking tour de force … historically accurate and unusually entertaining … an exciting page turner.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency: compelling and gripping depiction

Hadassah Magazine: a captivating first novel.

The Jerusalem Post: Weinstein portrays his characters as real people living in a very frightening period … exciting, interesting and very readable epic.

San Diego Jewish Times: a mesmerizing novel about all those things that make us humane and caring human beings

Detroit Jewish News: literary brilliance, exciting action, romance, cinematic action on paper

Jewish Week: a stirring novel, much period detail … much to say about family, faith and Jewish identity.

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* the Jeffrey MacDonald case and Lew’s novel “A Good Conviction”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 2, 2012

Jeffrey MacDonald in prison 1983 … he’s still there

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  • A new book by Errol Morris re-opens the Jeffrey MacDonald case … A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald
  • DID Jeffrey MacDonald, an Army doctor and Green Beret stationed at Fort Bragg, stab and bludgeon his family to death early on the morning of Feb. 17, 1970?

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LMW NOTE …

I have long believed that MacDonald was wrongly convicted by prosecutors who may have had an agenda to protect the “military brats” who were the likely killers. Evidence was ignored and some was lost, perhaps purposely.

The MacDonald case was part of what stimulated me to write my novel, A Good Conviction, which tells the story of a young man convicted of a murder he did not commit by a prosecutor who had come to know he was innocent. … (read about  A Good Conviction on amazon.com)

In the real world, the issue of wrongful conviction, including hiding and fabrication of evidence, is a cancer on the American justice system.

For a complete and convincing review of the travesty of the MacDonald case, I recommend … Fatal Justice: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders  by Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bost (Apr 17, 1997)

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  • “A Wilderness of Error,” which will be released Tuesday by Penguin Press, is a reinvestigation of a case that many thought they knew, written by an obsessive who never leaves well enough alone. With his book Mr. Morris is reopening a lurid, deep wound that preoccupied much of the nation for years after the crime took place.

“A Wilderness of Error” may not exonerate MacDonald,

but it makes a forceful argument that

his conviction was riddled with shortcomings.

  • The case will be the subject of a new hearing on Sept. 17 in United States District Court in Wilmington, N.C., after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last spring that the lower court had failed to consider the entire body of evidence.

“I believe he is innocent.

I don’t see any evidence to suggest that he is guilty,” said Mr. Morris.

  • “One thing we do know is that evidence was lost, some of it went uncollected, and some of it was contaminated.

One of the reasons we can’t prove he is innocent

is that so much of the evidence is unavailable to us.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/books/errol-morris-takes-on-macdonald-murder-case.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=arts&pagewanted=print

Posted in * A GOOD CONVICTION | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* Lew’s review (ongoing) of “Backing Hitler” by Robert Gellately … It is getting harder for me to reconcile the horrors of the totalitarian state graphically described by Gellately with his contention that “a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany.”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 12, 2012

In his introduction, Gellately sets the premise that Hitler was well received in 1933 by most Germans who applauded his goals of “restoring the grandeur of the Reich” and “cleaning out undesirable aliens.” He argues that this widespread support for Hitler did not waver substantially until more than a decade later when it was obvious that the war Hitler had sought was clearly lost.

He states that the Nazi regime, while selectively brutal with its chosen enemies, did not create a universal terror for most Germans, and that most Germans supported brutality against people for whom they had little sympathy. He further asserts that a vast array of material regarding the concentration camps was published in the media of the day, and that the German people knew very well what was going on. He does not, at least in the introduction, deal with what the German people knew about the death camps of the 1940s and the mass murder of the Jews.

The most shocking quote so far is from a well-spoken middle class German woman who, looking back, says, “We had wonderful years.” The footnote sources this quote to a book by Alison Owings called Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich.

Now we’ll see what proofs Gellately assembles regarding these premises, which have enormous potential significance to my novel-in-progress.

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Lew’s comments on Gellately’s Chapter 1 … “Turning Away From Weimar.”

Gellately’s conclusion is that a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany. This is especially damning in light of the evidence Gellately presents. Consider the following, all of which took place during 1933, all of which Germans knew, and despite which they supported Hitler …

… “In less than six months (after Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933) the Nazis undermined the parliamentary system and had begun the destruction of justice by suspending civil and legal rights.”

… the Nazis won more than 80-90% of the vote, after eliminating all opposition parties.

… German police were increasingly empowered to act without restraint, but those who were “good Germans” knew they had nothing to fear.

… the Nazis trashed their opponents without restraint.

… “dead bodies were found in the surrounding forests, and no one dared to know anything about them.”

… “news published about the stream of people sent to concentration camps provided an obvious lesson to any potential opponents”

… “inequality before the law was an essential feature of justice under Hitler’s dictatorship.”

… new laws expanding the meaning of treason and setting up a People’s Court to mete out justice to offenders.”

… Germans accepted that their country would have a secret police.

… “the paramilitary SA, millions-strong, indulged in vigilante acts of violence that totally ignored the law.”

… Jews were systematically turned into outsiders with their legal emancipation reversed.

… Jews were driven from the professions, and “it appears beyond doubt that their expulsion was popular,” at least in part because it created employment opportunities for Christian Germans.

… doctors’ organizations were brought under Nazi control and Jews barred … “there was virtually no opposition to what happened.”

To me, there seems to be a huge disconnect between what the German people knew about Hitler’s approach and their wholehearted support of their new Fuhrer.

What kind of people, understanding what Hitler and his thugs did to those they classified enemies, and how easily and without appeal it was possible to become one of those enemies, and how Hitler had totally co-opted the police, the courts, the press, and the Catholic Church, would still support such a brutal leader?

I guess we must conclude (a) they didn’t care about the people Hitler was persecuting and (b) they didn’t think it would happen to them.

Also, to be fair, 1933 was also almost a decade before the mechanized mass murder of the Jews at Auschwitz and elsewhere, so support of Hitler in 1933, awful as his policies were even then, does not yet mean support for the death camps of the 1940s. Gellately’s views on whether the German people also supported the Holocaust are, I expect, dealt with in subsequent chapters.

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Lew’s comments on Gellately’s Chapter 2 – Police Justice

It is getting harder for me to reconcile the horrors of the totalitarian state graphically described by Gellately with his contention that “a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany.” For one thing, as the net of repressive and arbitrary police procedures grew ever tighter, how is it possible to know if the German people continued to support Hitler or were terrified not to support him?

A review of “Backing Hitler” by Professor Conan Fischer, cites a prior book by Gellately, “The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945” as demonstrating conclusively “that the much feared and allegedly omnipresent Gestapo in fact relied on widespread public support to function effectively. Denunciations of fellow citizens and relatives by members of the public initiated many Gestapo investigations, even though the whistleblowers understood that those denounced could suffer torture, be consigned to an uncertain fate in a concentration camp, or be executed without due legal process.”

To me this statement, and Gellately’s identical contention in “Backing Hitler,” flies in the face of common sense. In a world where the police can detain anyone in “protective custody” for “public criticism of the government or the Nazi Party, even if the remarks were made in private,” how could any denunciation of one citizen by another be construed as an expression of support for the regime, when it is far more likely to be a desperate effort to prevent one’s own denunciation for failing to denounce a fellow-citizen’s “crime?”

In a chapter where Nazi police are described as adopting a “preventive role, by which they meant arbitrarily arresting people who the police thought might commit a crime,” how is it possible to believe that any German citizen felt secure? How could any German be thought to support such a regime, no matter how much they publicly insisted they did?

These questions lead to other questions …

… Are those Germans who quite appropriately feared for their lives excused from culpability for the actions of a nightmarish government they outwardly professed to support?

… Who had the power and moral authority to combat such a regime from within or from without?

… Who could have acted but didn’t?

… And why does Gellately continue to insist that “a huge majority of Germans supported Hitler’s policies and thought Hitler was good for Germany?”

I’ll keep reading and looking for evidence that has not yet been provided … all the while trying to figure out how I will present these questions and choices in my new novel.

****** MORE TO COME ******

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* Lew’s review of Eric Kandel’s “In Search of Memory”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 7, 2012

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I’m taking a course at Oxford this summer on “The Brain and the Senses.” So this is a little extra homework. The idea of memory, where thoughts come from, etc., is fascinating to me. And, many years ago, before I was there, Eric Kandel had his laboratory at the Public Health Research Institute, of which I was later CEO. Unfortunately for me, we have never met.

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I HAVE NOW COMPLETED BOTH THE COURSE AND KANDEL’S BOOK.

BOTH WERE TERRIFIC!

The course, offered by Oxford tutor Gillie McNeill, combined descriptions of sensory processes with an explanation of the underlying molecular activity that integrates the incoming perceptions and what’s already in memory to create a coherent narrative. We started by eating a cracker and considering what was involved in our individual perceptions of that event … taste, smell, sight, feel, sound, and memory of crackers and herbs previously ingested. Quite a bit for one bite in the first few minutes of the course.

for more about the Oxford Experience, see our travel blog at …

 http://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/another-fabulous-experience-at-the-oxford-experience-2012/

Kandel’s book offers enchanting glimpses of his life story, the history of brain psychology and science, and a description of the experiments (of Kandel and others) which are moving our understanding of the brain forward at an incredible pace while also revealing just how little we still know.

Kandel’s decision, early in his career, to begin his life’s work with the study of a single cell, set the stage for the way he approached his work. He decided to study the giant marine snail Aplysia as his first means to understand how information was brought into a cell and transferred out to another cell. Learn how that happens, multiply by tens of billions, and you have a working human brain.

These quotes may communicate the excitement of Kandel’s journey (which by the way led to a Nobel Prize) …

  • “the realization that the workings of the brain – the ability not only to perceive but to think, learn, and store information – may occur through chemical as well as electrical signals expanded the appeal of brain science from anatomists and electro-physiologists to biochemists.”
  • “I was testing the idea that the cellular mechanisms underlying learning and memory are likely to have been conserved through evolution and therefore to be found in simple animals.”
  • “We pointed out the importance of discovering what actually goes on at the level of the synapse (the place where signals are passed from one cell to another) when behavior is modified by learning.”

This last quote is almost a synopsis of what the course at the Oxford Experience was about. It turns out that there is considerable growth and change in the brain connections and that this goes on all the time.

Your brain has changed since you started reading this review.

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* Lew’s Review … All Our Yesterdays by Robert Parker

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 14, 2012

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This is really an extraordinary book. I expected a typical non-memorable crime/thriller story, of which I read many. Instead, here is a brilliantly constructed multi-generational exploration of the very interesting lives of some very flawed people. And does Parker ever make me care about these people!

There was something unusual and very powerful about the structure of the story. It reached what seemed to me could have been the conclusion of a shorter novel about half-way through, at a point when many novels are struggling with that fearsome middle-of-the-book trough. (Since I was reading the book on kindle, I didn’t know how far along I was and thought the story was about to end. When I checked, I learned I was at 48%.) But exactly here Parker gathers up a new burst of writing energy and the story takes off again, with one revelation after another, until the final resolution many worthwhile reading hours away.

Parker’s use of time is also worthy of note, especially for me since he does so successfully what I am struggling to achieve in my own novel-in-progress. You start in the present in Boston, with two people who seem to love each other but are not clear if they can be together. Some cataclysmic event has thrown them into relationship disarray. Then you jump back 70 years, and a young man in Dublin is an IRA terrorist fighting British domination in Ireland. The story emerges in a series of flashbacks, and in the very skillful and emotional revelation of the impact of these past events on the original two lovers, getting ever closer to the present. To say more would reveal too much.

Parker has of course been enormously successful, although I have read only 1-2 of his subsequent crime stories, which I do not remember. Another Goodreads reviewer said Parker never again reached the level of excellence of this early novel that did not have much commercial success. If that is true, what a shame that he was not encouraged to reach harder for the literary excellence that was clearly within his potential.

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* Lew’s Review … Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 14, 2012

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I am taking a one week course at Oxford (July 2012) … The Brain and the Senses. This is one of the books to read in advance.

It is a fascinating journey through what is currently known (2010) about the way the brain receives information from the outside world, and how this information is categorized, stored and retrieved. There are many examples at an individual level to illustrate some of the experimental results. The graphics are brilliant.

The book is necessarily stronger on the receipt of information than it is on storage and retrieval. I have many margin notes asking the same question about memory, especially about how a memory is retrieved or, as the book argues, re-constructed. How is it done? How? How? This is the stuff of future research and understanding.

I think much of what we think we know on this subject is still in the nature of conjecture, based on research utilizing brain scans to show what part of the brain lights up when various stimuli and tasks are presented. The research field is new and rapidly evolving. In one of my previous lives, as CEO of a biomedical research institute, I learned a little about the objectives and practice of cutting-edge scientific research: everything we think we know is only tentative … everything will eventually be disproved or at least significantly enhanced by new and better research … sometimes proving something is not true is as important as an experiment which confirms your hypothesis … better to have a working hypothesis than no hypothesis at all.

Funny, but my friend who has studied and taught history for over 50 years tells me the same is true of what we think we know of historical events and patterns. What really happened? It depends very much on what facts you are looking at and how those facts were assembled. Are they really facts? It should be humbling to understand the degree of uncertainty about our past as well as our future. Let alone the present, whatever that is.

Two fascinating thoughts (chosen from many possibilities) are particularly related to my experience as a novelist and my current novel-in-progress …

… the process of retrieving memory of things which have actually happened is essentially the same as the process of imagining the future (and thus evaluating prospects and plans) or the process of inventing people and events which never existed (i.e., creating fiction).

… the killing of Jews by the Nazis required a distinct transformation in the behavior of individuals performing such acts which allowed them to carry out horrific acts of violence without being assailed by normal feelings of fear and disgust … afterward, they fell into a state that precluded normal reflection and self-awareness and thus prevented them from acknowledging the awfulness of what they had done (and would do again tomorrow).

In her concluding paragraph, Rita Carter says, “the findings outlined in this book give only the sketchiest impression of the landscape of the mind … yet I believe (it) is already clear (that) there is no ghost in this place (the mind) …what we are discovering is a biological system of awe-inspiring complexity … the world within our heads is more marvelous than anything we can dream up.”

These are the kinds of thoughts stimulated by “Mapping the Mind.” I recommend the book even if your scientific understanding is limited. It will make you think outside your normal box. It will make you more aware of what incredible potentials lie within all of us.

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* the Nazi mass murder of the Jews of Tykocin, a former shtetl in Poland

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 5, 2012

one of 3 mass graves near the former shtetl of Tykocin

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2,500 Jews comprised 50% of the population of the Polish village Tykocin on August 25, 1941. Until that day they were a vibrant shtetl community full of the joy and learning of Polish Jewry. Two days later they were gone.

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mass graves of Jews murdered in a forest near Tykocin

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The Nazis first had Polish Christians dig large pits in a quiet forest about 3 miles from Tykocin.

A week later, all Jews were ordered to appear at 6:00 am in the old market square roughly half way between the synagogue and the Catholic church. German lorries arrived and heavily armed men sealed off the square. Jewish women and children were loaded onto the lorries and driven off to their burial pits. The Jewish men were formed into columns and marched after them.

The Jewish women and children were lined up in small groups at the edge of the pits and shot. Their bodies fell into the pits.

The Jewish men were held overnight and then marched into the forest the next day. They too were lined up along the pits and shot. Their bodies were dumped on top of the women and children murdered the previous day.

This incident, as described in a publication honoring those who died, raises many questions which are relevant for my novel-in-progress.

  • The Christian Poles of Tykocin obviously saw the Jews leave, and they certainly knew they did not return. Yet our guide insisted they did not know what happened to them. How can that be true?
  • “And if they did know,” the guide said, “so what? What could they have done?” I disagree with that characterization of impotence.There were many opportunities, other than committing suicide by confronting the Nazis, to protest the mass murder of the Jews.
  • Did the parish priest, for example, report the incident to his superiors, and if so, what did they do?
  • Did the Christian citizens of Tykocin report the incident to former Polish government authorities or resistance groups?

Either of these notifications might in turn have triggered a broader international public awareness

of what the Nazis were doing. They might have helped to mobilize international opinion and action

at a time when most of Poland’s 3 million Jews were still alive?

  • After the war, the mass graves were found, by whom and how I don’t (yet) know, but it seems likely that some of the Christians still living in Tykocin were the ones who identified the grave sites in the midst of dense woods 3 miles from town. Which means they very likely knew what was there.
  • The synagogue has been restored by Jewish sources including the Lauder Foundation. and is now a moving museum. The town bakery makes excellent challah bread. 
  • But other than the synagogue and a single marker at the old Jewish cemetery for those who were buried from 1522 until the day in 1941 when the mass execution took place, there are no memorials to Jews in Tykocin. 
  • The Christian Poles act as if the Jews were never there.

On the day of our visit, not a single Jew was living in Tykocin. Many Jews, however, visit every day. Within the two hours we were in Tykocin, there were four different tour groups with at least 30 Jewish young people in each group. Several groups prayed and sang in the synagogue.

  • What do the Christian Poles now living in the homes of the executed Jews think of all this? 
  • Do they ever reflect on the Jews who were their neighbors for over 400 years? 
  • Are these Jews ever mentioned by the priest in the large church just a few meters from where the Jews were collected for annihilation?

The synagogue at Tykocin is beautiful. Photos of it and the shtetl homes near it can be seen at our travel blog … 

http://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-polish-shtetl-of-tycosin-synagogue-homes-mass-grave-of-jews/

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* Courtroom 600 … the site of the 1945-46 Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 1, 2012

Courtroom 600 in Nuremberg is one of the major focal points of my novel-in-progress. We have seen many of the movies that were set there. I have read the transcripts and several book length accounts of the trial of the major Nazi war criminals in 1945-46.

But actually being there … sensing the presence of prosecutor Jackson, Judge Biddle, and defendants Goring, Streicher, Shacht, Speer and the others … that was a whole different experience. I could even feel the presence of my fictional defendant Berthold Becker, sitting in the defendant’s dock, expecting a death sentence.

Nuremberg Courtroom 600 – now & then

Nuremberg defendants … story in Süddeutsche Zeitung (South German newspaper) … headline “The judgment in Nuremberg”

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* my novel-in-progress receives invaluable assistance from 3 Munich historians & archivists

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 1, 2012

Dr. Andreas Heusler, Dr. Christian Hartmann (& family), Dr. Guido Treffler

I come asking uncomfortable questions, all of which are crucial to my novel-in-progress dealing with the Nazi years in Germany and Poland …

  • Why did so many Germans support Hitler?
  • What did Cardinal Faulhaber think when he retreated from his early positions opposing Hitler’s antisemitic programs?
  • Did the German population realize what was happening at the death camps?

These questions have no easy answers, and real evidence to support any answer may be difficult or impossible to obtain, and, to say the least, controversial. Yet each of these professional historians and archivists were generous with their time, their opinions, and their reference to sources previously not known to me. I truly appreciate their interest in my work, and hope to call on each for further asssitance as my novel-in-progress moves along.

Dr. Andreas Heusler works at the Munich State Archives, where he is a leading expert on the Nazi years. He is also the author of a major article on the history of Jews in Munich contained in a publication of the new Munich Jewish Center.

Dr. Christian Hartmann works at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Contemporary History), currently as leader of a project to produce a new annotated edition of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. In addition to providing historical perspectives, he, along with his wife and daughter, provided Pat and me with a wonderful Bavarian dinner at his home.

Dr. Guido Treffler works in the archive section of the Archdiocese of Munich, where he has responsibility for the archival records of Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, the Archbishop of Munich from 1921 to 1948, who was perhaps the dominant Catholic figure in Germany during the entire span of the Nazi years.

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* today we followed the 2.5 km route of Hitler’s march through central Munich in the failed 1923 beer hall putsch

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 26, 2012

Hitler in 1923

In 1923, in Munich, Adolf Hitler led a putsch (coup d’etat) attempt to take over both the Bavarian state government and the national Reich government of Germany.

Shortly after noon on November 9, 1923, about 2,000 rag tag troops set off from the now demolished Burgerbraukeller beer hall. They marched to the Ludwigsbrucke bridge, where they overcame a small police force and continued toward the center of the city.

They reached the Marienplatz, where the City Hall was festooned with swastikas, and where they were cheered by a mostly supportive and raucus crowd.

Turning right at the City Hall, they headed toward the Odeonplatz, which they never reached. At the Feldherrnhalle, they were met by a large force of police and Army troops. A short but fierce firefight ensued, and 30 seconds later the putsch was over.

Hitler escaped that day, but was soon captured and brought to trial on charges of treason. Most Germans, who had viewed the putsch as an incompetent, almost comic, event, thought that Hitler and his Nazi movement were finished.

Pictured below are (1) the gate into the center of Munich, (2) City Hall in Marienplatz, (3) the view of the edge of the Feldherrnalle the marchers would have seen as they came down Residenzstarsse, and (4) the view the police and Army troops would have had looking toward Residenzstrasse.

Here’s what it might have looked like on November 9, 1923 as Hitler and the Nazis emerged from Residenzstrasse and faced the government troops, just before shots were fired.

The events of the 1923 putsch will be portrayed through the eyes of my characters in my as yet untitled novel-in-progress.

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* Sophie Scholl, almost 70 years after she was executed, is still a major presence at the University of Munich

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 24, 2012

Sophie Scholl on the day she died … and her bust with a live white rose at the University of Munich

Sophie Scholl, along with others calling themselves The White Rose, learned what the Nazis were doing to Jews and other civilians in Russia and to tried to induce Germans to passively resist the Nazis. She and the rest of the White Rose group were arrested for distributing leaflets at the University of Munich on February 18, 1943. Four days later, they were found guilty of treason and condemned to death. They were beheaded a few hours later. Sophie was 21 years old. Her last words were …

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

On the day we visited the campus, a group was rehearsing for a night of readings and music in honor of the White Rose students.

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* scouting out settings at the University of Munich

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 24, 2012

I have in mind that my fictional character Berthold Becker will study at the University of Munich, so we set out to see the main buildings of the university, hoping that some would look the same as they did in 1930. I had written to the university, and we were fortunate to have two guides, former students who were knowledgeable and also interested in my project. Pat and I met Simone and Viviane at 11:00 am Saturday at the fountain in front of the main building.

The first thing I learned was that Berthold would not be able to study engineering at this campus, since those courses are not and were not offered here. I believe it was Simone who suggested that perhaps philosophy would be a better choice for the kind of character I am trying to create. See how easy it is to change majors?

As we walked around, we identified many campus and classroom locations that fit scenes I already had in mind, and also several that suggested new ways to develop my characters.

And then, we had the great pleasure of a Bavarian lunch at our first Munich beer garden.

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* Research Report: Day One in Munich … German guilt, defying Hitler, Catholic opportunities lost, Jews who will not go away

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 23, 2012

I had a remarkable telephone conversation with a German who has spent his entire life trying to come to grips with the fact that his parents were Nazis, his mother enamored with Hitler and his father a soldier on the Russian front. He was 10 years old when the war ended, and more years passed before he began to learn enough to ask questions which his parents would never answer. His entire life since has been devoted to learning the truth of the Nazi atrocities and living with “an overwhelming guilt over what we Germans did to the Jewish people.” This despite his obvious personal innocence.

Soon after this conversation, I read a memoir by Sebastian Haffner. Titled “Defying Hitler,” it was written in 1939 just after the author, then in his early 30s, had left Germany. Haffner powerfully presents what he characterizes as a nationwide nervous breakdown that paralyzed German opposition to Hitler. His own “defiance” was mainly in his mind, where he struggled to maintain a sense of personal morality.

Almost the precise age of my primary character in my new novel-in-progress, Haffner’s internal struggles offer rich pathways into the mind of my fictional Berthold Becker, although their lives were very different. Haffner was a passive Nazi. Becker was active (or will be when I write it), performing deeds evil enough to qualify him for trial at Nuremberg. What did he think as he committed those horrific acts? Did he, like Haffner, struggle to defend a personal, internal morality even as he was an important participant in the Nazi flood of mechanized, methodical death? That’s what I hope to be able to write.

Next came a conversation with Dr. Andreas Heusler, a highly regarded historian who directs the Jewish section of the Munich City Archives. Among many other topics, we discussed German guilt, which Dr. Heusler indicated was still pervasive but not often spoken of.

I asked Dr. Heusler whether there had been opportunities to stop Hitler, with particular focus on the capitulation of the Catholic Church before and after the 1933 Concordat. Dr. Heusler ‘s response was telling. He stated that Cardinal Faulhaber, archbishop of Munich during the entire period of Nazi ascendency and through the war years, was an “untouchable” figure who could have spoken out with personal impunity. Faulhaber, who had spoken forcefully against Hitler’s brutal anti-semitism in the 1920s,  later offered no criticism of even the worst Nazi atrocities against Jews.

The reasons for Cardinal Faulhaber’s reticence are, I believe, crucial to an understanding of why the attitudes of the fictional Berthold Becker, along with those of millions of actual Germans, developed as they did. I hope to pursue this line further next week in a meeting tentatively scheduled with a historian attached to the Munich archdiocese. As Pat often says, “Good luck.”

To conclude an exhausting two days, from Collioure to Barcelona and then to Munich – too many planes , trains and automobiles – Pat and I went to Friday night services at the new synagogue in Munich, escorted by our fascinating guide Chaim Frank.

Think about that. The predecessor Munich synagogue was destroyed by Hitler in 1938. All the Jews of Munich were later assembled and taken to death camps. And yet here, in 2012, almost 100 Jews prayed and celebrated the Bat Torah of a new generation of Jewish women. This in Munich, from whence Hitler originated his madness.

“We are a remarkable people,” I said to Chaim. “We simply will not go away.”

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* Hereje noted in Princeton Alumni Weekly

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 20, 2012

Hereje is the Spanish translation of The Heretic, a novel by Lew Weinstein first published in English in 2000. It was published in Spanish in 2012.

The Heretic (Hereje)

By Lew Weinstein ’62
Posted on May 31, 2012

(Algaida) The Heretic, set in 15th century Spain, follows a Jewish family facing persecution from the Catholic Church in the years leading up to the Spanish Inquisition. As the main character, Gabriel, decides not to renounce his religion and continues to embrace his Jewish faith in secret, his family has to contend with a series of threats and dangers. Weinstein is the author of four novels.

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* praise for The Heretic … Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz, John Cardinal O’Connor, Faye Kellerman, Rick Steves, Bishop John J. Snyder, Hadassah Magazine … many others

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 13, 2012

Elie Wiesel: As a story, The Heretic is deeply absorbing – but also helps Jews and Christians better understand their complex and often painful relationship.

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Alan M. Dershowitz: The historical novel that is both true to the past and relevant to the present is rare indeed. The Heretic helps us to understand why the Pope is correct in insisting that the Catholic Church do much more to seektschuva – forgiveness and redemption – for its monumental sins and crimes against the Jewish people.  The Heretic humanizes the tragic history of religious persecution.

Faye Kellerman: The Heretic is a sweeping historical tale of love, honor, justice, religion and morality, meticulously researched and wonderfully exciting.

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Rick Steves’ Spain 2007: To get the feel of Spain past and present, check out a few of these books: The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Death in the Afternoon (Ernest Hemingway); Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes); The Heretic (Lewis Weinstein); and Tales of the Alhambra (Washington Irving).

Monsignor Thomas Hartman: I found The Heretic a compelling read.  I felt the emotion.  I kept wishing it would turn out differently, but of course I knew it wouldn’t.  Unfortunately, the book is historically accurate.  The Church has treated Jews horribly over the years, and we were wrong.  It is important for Catholics to know what was done and the impact it has had, even in this century, if we are to continue Pope John Paul’s initiatives to build a different path to the future. (Father Tom Hartman is the co-host of The God Squad, and the Director of Radio and Television for the Diocese of Rockville Center.)

Hadassah Magazine: The Heretic is a captivating first novel. For anyone who wants to know why Jews have long memories regarding tragedies of the past, this well-researched narrative is valuable reading for Jew and non-Jew.  But as much as The Heretic is a story of horror and destruction, it contains, as all Jewish stories must, the kernel of perpetual hope and rebirth. 

David A. Harris:  This book should come with a warning label: don’t start reading it unless you’re prepared to put everything else aside until you finish.  The Heretic is powerful, riveting, and inspiring.  It should be a must read Catholics and Jews.  (Mr. Harris is Executive Director of The American Jewish Committee.)

Midwest Book Review: The Heretic is a superbly written debut novel of political intrigue that adds a definitively human touch to the terrible ills of religious persecution. Weinstein is a master storyteller, and The Heretic leaves the reader looking eagerly toward his next literary effort.

The Jewish Press: The Heretic is a breathtaking tour de force that is both historically accurate and unusually entertaining. Weinstein’s book has captured the spice and flavor of 15th century Spain. It is a truly exciting page turner.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency: The Heretic is a compelling and gripping depiction of the hatred wreaked by religious fanaticism directed at both Jews and “conversos” in 15th century Spain.  The lives, loves and tragedies of the characters, fictional and historical, come alive, inviting the reader to see, feel and share their emotions.  The Heretic is a must read for both Jews and Christians as we engage in dialogue to explore the depths of devastation and destruction unleashed by religious fanaticism, yesterday and today.

John Cardinal O’Connor:  “The Spanish Inquisition of which you write in The Heretic was just one tragic event out of many in the Jewish-Catholic encounter.  As we freely admit the sins of many of our Catholic brothers and sisters over the centuries, we can move on, hopefully liberated by the truth and reminded by it to challenge hatred and intolerance in our present time. (Cardinal O’Connor was the Archbishop of New York.  He wrote these comments shortly before his death.)

The Jerusalem Post: Weinstein portrays his characters as real people living in a very frightening period, bringing to life the fanaticism of the period, highlighting for both Jews and Christians alike the dangers of intolerance.  He has written an exciting, interesting and very readable epic.

Bishop John J. Snyder:  I found The Heretic an absorbing and challenging story.  From one perspective it was not easy reading since it presents us with a part of the Church’s history that we would rather not face.  However, it brings home to us the reality of our sinfulness and the discrimination and violence that is part of our story.  We can and must seek forgiveness for the past but even more importantly we are challenged not to follow that path in the years to come. My gratitude to you for sharing this important epic with me. (Bishop Snyder is the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine and a member of the U.S.Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.)

Professor Jane S. Gerber: I couldn’t put the book down and was thoroughly absorbed in the character development and plot line. The Heretic is the best book I have encountered using Sephardic history as the backdrop.  (Professor Gerber is Professor of History and Director, Institute for Sephardic Studies at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, and the author of The Jews of Spain.)

Lorraine Gordon:  When I finished reading your wonderful novel, I wished I had another one just like it.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Heretic.  As a matter of fact, it has the same appeal as Noah’s books have for me … well-drawn characters, interesting history, and an absorbing story.”  (Ms. Gordon is the wife of author Noah Gordon.)

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher: My predecessor, Fr. Edward Flannery, used to say that we Christians have torn out of our history books all the pages the Jews remember.  The Heretic may help redress that serious imbalance in historical memory between our two ancient peoples.  If so, you will have done a mitzvah for the Church, and for future generations of Catholics and Jews.  (Dr. Fisher is Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

Rabbi Leon Klenicki:  I want to tell you how much I appreciate The Heretic.  Its historical view, the vividness of portraying characters and situations, surrounded me immediately and made me feel in situ.  I will recommend The Hereticto my Christian friends.  (Rabbi Klenicki was, until recently, the director of the Department of Jewish-Christian Relations of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.)

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman:  The Heretic is an electrifying work.  (Rabbi Rackman is the Chancellor of Bar-Ilan University.)

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Historical Novel Review: Steeped in late medieval culture, immerses the reader in a world of religious intolerance and cross-cultural cooperation. Characters, both fictional and historical, are vital living beings, well motivated, true-to-life and, more importantly, true to the period. The narrative is compelling, sweeping the reader along on a well-paced journey, while the setting comes alive with the sights, sounds and smells of medieval Spain. The history of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Christians is incorporated in a believable way so that readers become acquainted with the historical background behind the rise of the Inquisition.

Curled Up With A Good Book: Weinstein sets his dramatic novel in the bloody upheaval of the Spanish Inquisition. The great Dominican purges of 1391 and 1412 have created a large number of conversos, those willing to relinquish their faith and embrace Christianity rather than be burned at the stake as heretics. Weinstein reveals the ugly face of intolerance, fanatics demanding blood sacrifice in one of the most brutal periods of history, Jews and conversos scattering before the sword of Christianity, one great religion pitted against another. God watches His children destroyed in His name.

Jewish Week: a stirring novel, much period detail, with fictional as well as actual events and historical figures. Much to say about family, faith and Jewish identity.

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First Things, The Journal of Religious and Public Life: reflects the conflicted motives that led churchmen to cooperate with the royal effort to “purify” the Spanish nation … vividly dramatizing the sins which John Paul II has asked Christians to candidly acknowledge

Sephardic Image: a compelling historical novel (set against) a backdrop of political and religious upheaval. Intriguing portraits of real historical figures, enthralling fictional treatment of a pivotal point in history. A historical novel with a message about the future (and) special relevance for our time.

Midstream: The Heretic revives a world of the past. It’s historical reimagining sings. It will captivate you.

Renaissance Magazine: an affirmation of faith, inspirational, vivid and descriptive, breathtaking detail.

San Diego Jewish Times: a mesmerizing novel about all those things that make us humane and caring human beings

Detroit Jewish News: literary brilliance, exciting action, romance, cinematic action on paper

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* Why do you think so many Germans supported Hitler? One answer (of sorts) in a Collioure creperie.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 13, 2012

Nazis were among those who won legislative seats in 1932 elections

Now that I’m embarked on research for my new novel, I get into conversations I would never have had before. Pat and I had crepes this week at one of our favorite Collioure restaurants. The middle-aged couple sitting next to us spoke French and perhaps a little German, but as we each received “l’addition,” we were addressed in English. The couple turned out to be Swiss. When the conversation touched on retirement, I said I was busy in mine, writing novels. Which led to my current project and my new conversation-grabbing question.

“So why do you think so many Germans supported Hitler?” I asked.

There are so many ways to answer that question. First of all, what time frame are we talking about?

  • In 1923, the people who supported Hitler were mainly frustrated war veterans, unemployed, super-patriots, Jew-haters … looking to overthrow what Hitler repeatedly called the “Jew Communist Republic” in Berlin. Of course, the 1923 Munich putsch failed, and Hitler was sent to prison. But after he got out (his sentence was absurdly lenient) his supporters actually increased.
  • A second major time frame was the late 1920s to 1933, at the end of which Hitler actually achieved power. Who supported Hitler then? Who gave him the 25% of the vote that he manipulated into the Chancellorship and the ultimate power? Who allowed that political manipulation to succeed? Why?
  • Then there’s after 1933, as Hitler transformed Germany, built a war machine, improved the economy, and made Jews persecuted non-citizens. Who supported those actions? Why?
  • And finally, the Holocaust. Box cars heading east. No Jews returning. Who supported that? Why?

My new Swiss friend chose to talk about the early 1930s. “Hitler had a minority of the vote, a minority of legislative seats,” he said. “But he was able to block everything the government wanted to do. It was bad times, the Depression. Nothing was getting done. Finally, the majority made a deal with Hitler. He became Chancellor, with the Interior and Justice Ministries under Nazi control. Then, with that power, he made the other political parties illegal and took total control, using brute force as a political weapon.”

But that, it seems to me, begs the question. You can’t change 25% into total control without the compliance of the 75%. Who were those 75% and why did they go along? I didn’t get to ask that question before we left the table, and I have not yet read enough to suggest an answer. Perhaps next week in Munich and Nuremberg I will get other perspectives.

There is no simple answer. At different points in time, Hitler’s supporters came from different segments of the German population, and each had different reasons for playing their part in enabling Hitler to accomplish his clearly stated objectives.

What did those Germans think Hitler would do if he got power? He had been telling everyone who would listen for more than a decade, including endlessly repeating that Germany could never be great until all the Jews were eliminated.

In 1933, did the 75% believe him? Did they care?

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* research for a new novel

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 10, 2012

Defendants in the beer hall putsch trial

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I’m busy trying to arrange appointments for our trip to Munich later this month. My goal is to talk with today’s Germans about how and why so many of their ancestors came to support Hitler and his program of exterminating the Jews.

In particular, I hope to speak with one or more Church leaders about the role of the Catholic Church in Hitler’s rise.

This is all research for my new novel, the first section of which takes place in Munich in 1923.

******

Posted in * A FLOOD OF EVIL ... Lew's novel-in-progress | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

* a short review of Hawk Channel Chase by Tom Corcoran

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 8, 2012

I really like Corcoran’s Key West stories. Part of it is I live just a few blocks from Alex Rutledge’s fictional home, so I recognize just about every street, restaurant and landmark.

The story line is confusing. I’m not sure I had it all figured out even at the end. Matter of fact, I’m not sure Corcoran actually explained it all. Many characters and multiple plot lines are woven together in non-stop action.  Only the fact that it’s all from Rutledge’s perspective keeps the lack of coherent transitions from being a major problem. The reader just lives with Rutledge’s life as it comes at him.

Usually confusion bothers me, but this time it didn’t matter. I kept reminding myself there was no examination at the end of the book and let myself enjoy a series of great rides – by boat, motorcycle and Cannondale. The characters are interesting, there is Corcoran’s excellent sense of humor, and the flavor of a place I love. There are some serious aspects to the plot, if you want to worry about them, but they don’t get in the way of the fun.

Oh, and the most memorable quote has to do with a vibrator.

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* a moving thank you from the girls at the Keys Center Academy

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 28, 2012

For the past two years, I have organized and taught a fiction writing workshop at the Keys Center Academy (KCA) in Key West. Last week, they held an appreciation breakfast for all of the adult volunteers who contribute to their unique learning environment.

KCA is a program of the Key West High School for girls “at risk” for a variety of reasons. There are no issues, however, with their intellectual capabilities, and every one who came to my workshop produced the beginnings of a solid first scene, and one produced what I thought was a publishable story.

students, teachers and volunteers at KCA

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* bring Lew to your book club … in person or via SKYPE

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 28, 2012

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If your book club wants to read one of my novels, I will be happy to appear to discuss the book with you. If I can’t make it in person, we can do it by SKYPE. (I’ve done several book clubs via SKYPE and it has worked out well each time.)
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Just click “leave a comment” below or email me at authorlewweinstein@gmail.com   and we can set a date.

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* A Good Conviction

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 28, 2012

read the prologue … 

NEWS FROM THE REAL WORLD OF PROSECUTORs hiding evidence TO GET FALSE CONVICTIONS

reviews of A Good Conviction

5/26/12 … 

3/15/12 … 

* 12/19/11 … Texas man exonerated after 25 years … judge rules prosecutor had withheld significant evidence

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* The Pope’s Conspiracy

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 28, 2012

Florence’s Duomo … the scene of the Pope’s crime

purchase the THE POPE’S CONSPIRACY

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* The Heretic … read the Prologue

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 28, 2012

“No. Don’t go out there,” she pleads.   “You stay inside,” he orders.  She shouts to her son. “Run! Get your father. Hurry!”

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* Case Closed

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 28, 2012

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* see a YouTube video introducing CASE CLOSED

purchase ..* CASE CLOSED

follow the real anthrax case

at Lew’s CASE CLOSED BLOG  

http://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/

… over 250,000 clicks so far … every aspect of the FBI’s unsupported case against Dr. Bruce Ivins has been demolished on this site. 

read the opening scene  … 

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* All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

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* 5/27/12 … The Heretic “puckishly” makes the list

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

Well, not really. My friend Sherril Rhoades was doing the article and I suggested mine. So I guess The Heretic received an honorable mention.

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* Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

Tolstoy is regarded as one of the finest writers of all time, so who am I to say that I found Anna Karenina a less than satisfying read. True, there are some magnificent scenes, such as Vronsky’s horse race, but there are also many incredibly dull and interminable passages. Actually, it’s one long slow soap opera, but that does explain its success as an Oprah selection. I don’t like soap operas and I stopped reading after 400 pages.

* opening sentence … “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Great start, from which we know that this is going to be a story about more than one unhappy family.

* who are the major characters? … Tolstoy starts with the Oblonskys, Prince Stepan and Princess Darya (Dolly), who are not the main characters, although Stepan was, for me, the most interesting. If you didn’t know differently, you might think that Stepan and Dolly are the major characters. When other characters are introduced, it’s still not clear who the major characters will be. I suspect this is not a technique which would work in 2007.

* Karenin is a beautifully developed supporting character, pathetically unable to act in furtherance of his own wishes, motivated only to avoid being embarrassed before his professional and social associates. However, his moments of introspection make us care about him.

* settings. Tolstoy’s descriptions of places are remarkable.

* character development. The interior monologues are always enjoyable and often quite revealing.

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* character development … Daniel Silva on Gabriel Allon

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

Writers tend to be solitary creatures. We toil alone for months on end, then, once a year, we emerge from our dens to publish a book. It can be a daunting experience, especially for someone like me, who is not gregarious and outgoing by nature. But there is one aspect of promotion I truly love: meeting my readers and answering their questions. During each stop on my book tour, I reserve the bulk of my time for a lively conversation with the audience. I learn much from these encounters-indeed, some of the comments are so insightful they take my breath away. There is one question I am asked each night without fail, and it remains my favorite: “How in the world did you ever think of Gabriel Allon?” The answer is complicated. In one sense, he was the result of a long, character-construction process. In another, he was a bolt from the blue. I’ll try to explain.

In 1999, after publishing The Marching Season, the second book in the Michael Osbourne series, I decided it was time for a change. We were nearing the end of the Clinton administration, and the president was about to embark on a last-ditch effort to bring peace to the Middle East. I had the broad outlines of a story in mind: a retired Israeli assassin is summoned from retirement to track down a Palestinian terrorist bent on destroying the Oslo peace process. I thought long and hard before giving the Israeli a name. I wanted it to be biblical, like my own, and to be heavy with symbolism. I finally decided to name him after the archangel Gabriel. As for his family name, I chose something short and simple: Allon, which means “oak tree” in Hebrew. I liked the image it conveyed. Gabriel Allon: God’s angel of vengeance, solid as an oak.

Gabriel’s professional résumé-the operations he had carried out-came quickly. But what about his other side? What did he like to do in his spare time? What was his cover? I knew I wanted something distinct. Something memorable. Something that would, in many respects, be the dominant attribute of his character. I spent many frustrating days mulling over and rejecting possibilities. Then, while walking along one of Georgetown’s famous redbrick sidewalks, my wife, Jamie, reminded me that we had a dinner date that evening at the home of David Bull, a man regarded as one of the finest art restorers in the world. I stopped dead in my tracks and raised my hands toward the heavens. Gabriel Allon was complete. He was going to be an art restorer, and a very good one at that.

Over my objections, the book was entitled The Kill Artist and it would go on to become a New York Times bestseller. It was not, however, supposed to be the first book in a long-running series. But once again, fate intervened. In 2000, after moving to G.P. Putnam & Sons, my new publishers asked me what I was working on. When I mumbled something about having whittled it down to two or three options, they offered their first piece of advice. They really didn’t care what it was about, they just wanted one thing: Gabriel Allon.

I then spent the next several minutes listing all the reasons why Gabriel, now regarded as one of the most compelling and successful continuing characters in the mystery-thriller genre, should never appear in a second book. I had conceived him as a “one off” character, meaning he would be featured in one story and then ride into the sunset. I also thought he was too melancholy and withdrawn to build a series around, and, at nearly fifty years of age, perhaps a bit too old as well. My biggest concern, however, had to do with his nationality and religion. I thought there was far too much opposition to Israel in the world-and far too much raw anti-Semitism-for an Israeli continuing character ever to be successful in the long term.

My new publishers thought otherwise, and told me so. Because Gabriel lived in Europe and could pass as German or Italian, they believed he came across as more “international” than Israeli. But what they really liked was Gabriel’s other job: art restoration. They found the two opposing sides of his character-destroyer and healer-fascinating. What’s more, they believed he would stand alone on the literary landscape. There were lots of CIA officers running around saving the world, they argued, but no former Israeli assassins who spent their spare time restoring Bellini altarpieces.

The more they talked, the more I could see their point. I told them I had an idea for a story involving Nazi art looting during the Second World War and the scandalous activities of Swiss banks. “Write it with Gabriel Allon,” they said, “and we promise it will be your biggest-selling book yet.” Eventually, the book would be called The English Assassin, and, just as Putnam predicted, it sold twice as many copies as its predecessor. Oddly enough, when it came time to write the next book, I still wasn’t convinced it should be another Gabriel novel. Though it seems difficult to imagine now, I actually conceived the plot of The Confessor without him in mind. Fortunately, my editor, Neil Nyren, saved me from myself. The book landed at #5 on the New York Times bestseller list and received some of the warmest reviews of my career. After that, a series was truly born.

I am often asked whether it is necessary to read the novels in sequence. The answer is no, but it probably doesn’t hurt, either. For the record, the order of publication is The Kill Artist, The English Assassin, The Confessor, A Death in Vienna, Prince of Fire, The Messenger, The Secret Servant, and Moscow Rules, my first #1 New York Times bestseller. The Defector pits Gabriel in a final, dramatic confrontation with the Russian oligarch and arms dealer Ivan Kharkov, and I have been told it far surpasses anything that has come before it in the series. And to think that, if I’d had my way, only one Gabriel Allon book would have been written. I remain convinced, however, that had I set out in the beginning to create him as a continuing character, I would surely have failed. I have always believed in the power of serendipity. Art, like life, rarely goes according to plan. Gabriel Allon is proof of that.

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* Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

Eye of the Needle is clearly one of the best suspense novels of the 20th century. I recently re-read it, and enjoyed it even more the second time.

Follett utilizes what he calls a “ping-pong” structure, alternating between the characters, switching focus abruptly at the end of scenes, and leaving the reader in suspense for many pages before resuming the thread.

This structure was, according to an essay by Follett appended to the end of my copy, developed in the author’s original story outline and then rigidly adhered to, and it worked splendidly, forcing him to consider the impact of each character’s actions on the other, and offering ample latitude for enriched attention to character, landscape and emotion.

Eye of the Needle is also a historical novel, and as a writer of historical fiction myself, I am particularly impressed with Follett’s ability to write a suspenseful story despite the fact that we know D-day succeeded, and thus that Faber failed.

Follett draws the distinction between fact and fiction with a one page historical preface about the D-Day deception. He ends the preface … “That much is history. What follows is fiction. Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.” We’re immediately intrigued.

Follett brilliantly, and necessarily, transfers his fictional tension away from whether Faber will succeed … to how he will be foiled. In the process, he creates a superb heroine who rises to larger-than-life status in the greatest two days of her life.

In this regard, Eye of the Needle is much like Frederick Forsythe’s Day of the Jackal, where we know that De Gaulle was not murdered by a sniper but are carried into exquisite tension anyway, again over how the also enormously competent Jackal will be stopped.

Follett’s two main characters are complex and well developed.

Faber of course is the villain. But he is also patriotic (to Germany), quite competent, and even capable of feelings, which he must repress in order to carry out his mission. He is a wonderful lover, which he could not be if he were truly devoid of  feeling. This complex character must be admired even as we hate and fear him. A remarkable achievement.

Lucy starts out as a dominated young woman, who chooses to escape to her father-in-law’s island rather than live among people. But in her virtual solitude, she develops an unexpected resolve, and when faced with the ultimate challenge, she rises to it. Is what she does believable? Maybe not, although in wartime people do extraordinary things. In any case, it doesn’t matter since Follett portrays this larger-than-life character in a way that fully engages the reader’s emotions as we root for her to succeed against the far stronger and better trained Faber. The final scenes and epilogue drew tears from this romantic reader, but then I’m always a sucker for melodrama.

Godliman (What a name! I’d love to know where Follett got it.) is the enabler of the story, providing the narrative links that show lead Faber to Lucy. But how much better to provide these through an interesting character than through narrative prose. Godliman’s growth from passive professor to razor-sharp spycatcher is done a little quickly. We can believe it, but we would like to know more about him. Perhaps as the third character, he doesn’t warrant more attention.

Follett uses several writing techniques that I found quite instructive.

At least once in the story, the omniscient narrator speaks in his own voice, providing a foreshadowing that sets the stage while piquing the reader’s interest. The narrator interjects “Faber … Godliman … two-thirds of a triangle that one day would be crucially completed by … David and Lucy.”

 Follett  has Faber ask himself questions about what he should do … should he bury the five dead men? …what should he do with the boat? … should he jump on a passing train? This technique allows the exploration of options within the context of the story instead of more clumsily by the narrator.

There is also a short flashback scene where Faber dreams about his first arrival in London. We first think it’s a true dream, but soon learn it is not. This allows us to learn both how Faber actually arrived in London and also how terrified he is about being discovered.

There’s much more in this great suspense story, but I think this review has gone on long enough.

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* Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

I had been working my way through Anne Perry’s William Monk series and had not read one of her Charlotte & Thomas Pitt novels for quite a while. However, I was reading Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, and Maass, who is Perry’s agent, refers to “Silence in Hanover Close” as her “breakout” novel, attributing her increased sales from that point forward to the enlarged premise of this story … not just crime, but a crime that may also be treason.

The murder of an important employee of the British Foreign Office, and the disappearance of documents which might be relevant to important negotiations with the Germans about dividing up Africa (this in the late 1800s), certainly provides the higher stakes. Perry takes this possibility and develops an exciting detective story.

The unorthodox work of Charlotte and Emily, while Thomas is “otherwise detained,” was a pleasure to savor, and of course there are all the period details that make reading Perry’s work so much fun.

There’s also a major surprise at the end, one that I did not intuit, which brings together all of the unexplained threads that had me properly puzzled. If I have any criticism of the book, it’s that the ending comes about a little too quickly. But it’s a good one.

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* The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

It’s been many years since I read Asimov’s Foundation (Foundation Novels), or any science fiction at all. Now, from my new perspective as a novelist myself, I see what I’ve been missing.

It’s absolutely fascinating to watch Asimov create a world that never was, and even more so when he addresses the challenge of creating R. Daneel Olivaw, a quite believable and even sympathetic character who happens to be a robot.

He starts by introducing another robot, R. Sammy, who is far less “human” than R. Daneel. Then he shows in several scenes how robots are despised and feared by humans on Earth. Then Detective Elijah Baley makes it clear he does not want to partner with R. Daneel, but has no choice.

Only after all that is R. Daneel himself introduced.

R. Daneel soon shows he is no ordinary robot by taking the initiative to quell a disturbance in a shoe store, an achievement Baley reluctantly admits to himself was impressive. When Baley takes R. Daneel home, his wife Jesse is attracted to the “man” she does not know is a robot.

The shoe store incident and Jesse’s reaction demonstrate that R. Daneel is close enough to human to fool other humans. R. Daneel then discloses to Baley that he is the first prototype of an advanced robot, more closely human, developed for the express purpose of interacting with humans to learn more about how humans think.

As the story progresses, the reader, along with Detective Baley, finds it increasingly easy to accept R. Daneel on his terms, within his limitations, and even to feel emotions for this constructed machine. A remarkable writing accomplishment by Asimov.

Written in 1953, and projecting 1000 years into the future, Asimov’s description of New York City is fascinating, not so much for the technology, where his imagination has not approached even what we already know has come to pass, but in the evolving relationships between people, and more importantly, between people and their government. Here, one fears, Asimov’s insights are too frighteningly accurate.

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*** LEW’S REVIEWS (links)

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

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My take on books that I’ve read and for the most part enjoyed.  Please feel free to comment, whether you agree or have a different view.

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* Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

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* Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

Elizabeth George is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read all of her Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers novels, and marveled at the way a native Californian has been able to capture the nuances of life and police procedure in the UK. I was very excited when I found “Write Away” and was able to learn how she did it.

“Write Away” describes how George goes about the daily task of getting words on paper, and also a variety of techniques that she has found useful. But, for me, the most valuable aspects of the book were her observations about creating character and settings.

Stating that analysis of character is the highest human entertainment, George admonishes authors not to bring a character to a book unless he or she is fully alive before the book begins. Create an analysis of each character, including biographical facts and a full psychological profile. Know each character well enough to understand how he or she will react in the situations which the novel will then pose. Only then can you begin to write your story.

George tells us to reveal characters slowly, allowing the character to effect events and be effected. Show flaws, mistakes, lapses of judgment, and weaknesses. Characters, she says, are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, and confusion, not in their joy and security. Obvious, perhaps, but so easy to forget when you’re writing.

George’s approach to setting is just as rigorous as her approach to character. Her goal is that each separate location should create an atmosphere and trigger a mood, but cautions that descriptions of place should be part of the narrative and should never interrupt the flow of the story. She visits each place that she will represent, camera and tape recorder in hand, seeing the land, sky, climate, sounds and scents, seeking to feel the emotions evoked by the setting. She works quite hard to describe settings which stimulate the reader’s senses and imagination.

Posted in *** about writing, *** Lew's reviews - general reading | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

* techniques

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

“technique” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

·     Perry has Charlotte, in her persona as Elizabeth Baranaby, sit quietly listening to conversation and asking herselp a series of questions. This helps the reader keep straight what is known and yet unknown about a complicated plot. Similar to what I did when Detective Watson complied a list of unanswered questions in A Good Conviction.

“technique” in The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

·     John Steinbeck … say dialogue aloud as you write it. only then will it have the sound of speech.  ·     Tennessee Williams … when I write, everything is visual, as brilliantly as if it were on a lit stage. And I talk out the lines as I write.  ·     Samuel Johnson … read over your composition and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.  ·     D.H. Lawrence … they say DHL used to write second drafts and never look at the first  ·     Bernard Malamud … first drafts are for learning what your novel is about. revision is one of the true pleasures of writing.  ·     James Baldwin … painters have often taught writers to see  ·     Francois Mauriac … some writers are greatly preoccupied with technique … they seem to think that a good novel ought to follow certain rules imposed from outside … the great novelist doesn’t depend on anyone but himself … a borrowed style is a bad style  ·     Mark Twain … the difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug  ·     Truman Capote … a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation  ·     William Styron … I used to spend a lot of time worrying over word order … then I got more and more interested in people … and story  ·     E.M. Forster … very few of us have the power of observing a variety of life and describing it dispassionately. Tolstoy was one who could.

“technique” in Helpless by Barbara Gowdy

Gowdy writes as if she’s on a sinking boat and needs to throw out all the dead weight. The only words that survive are the ones that matter: no extraneous evidence of her research, no long-winded descriptions, no self-indulgent frills of characterization. And the result is a page turner that finds tension … from a review by Chelsea Cain, NYT, 4-29-07

“technique” in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

·     exaggeration … “tidal waves were continually washing away cities … earthquakes arrived every week … towers fell upon good men and women all the time”  ·     irony … “only the widely read could be said to know they were unhappy.’  ·     irony … “many people would never have fallen in love if they had not heard about it.”  ·     irony … Brother Juniper’s book was declared heretical, and “was ordered to be burned in the square, with its author.” So much for proving that God has a plan.

“technique” in The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

·   use of metaphor reveals a writer’s grasp of life  ·   novels go happiest when you discover something you didn’t know, perhaps a metaphor that startles you even as you are setting it down, a truth that used to elude you.

“technique” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

·     Yank: “Money and I have been strangers all my life.”  effective metaphor, likely to be remembered, and setting the story line of what will happen now that he has money (even though this story line is never effectively developed).  ·     “Somewhat like Byron, he awoke the next morning and found himself famous.” The simile only works if the reader understands the reference, which is not likely.

“technique” in The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

·     important characters introduced late in the story … Varo Borja (46); the girl with green eyes (98, 135, 177); man with a scar (173); Victor Fargas (142). This seems to work ok, except for the unresolved plot issues,  although when reading, it seemed disconcerting to me.  ·     explaining technical matters … the Ceniza brothers tell Corso how a book can be forged. I like the way this was done. It went on just long enough but not too long.

* “technique” in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Character introduction … After beginning with Stiva and Dolly, many other characters, including the major characters, are introduced later: Levin (p.16), Kitty (p.28), Vronsky (p.39,56), and Anna (p.58). If you don’t know differently, you initially think that Stepan and Dolly are the major characters. When other characters are introduced, it’s still not clear who the major characters will be.

I suspect this is not a technique which would work today.

TOLSTOY RIDICULES THE RUSSIAN BUREAUCRACY BY SIMPLY DESCRIBING HOW IT WORKS, WITH NO EDITORIAL COMMENT. HE TRUSTS THE READER TO GET IT.

“technique” in the Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

·   most readers are quick readers, who will stumble and fall on too-complicated prose  ·   the essence of good writing is that it sets an intense mood, then alters that mood, enlarges it, conducts it over to another mood. Every sentence is careful not to poke through the tissue of the mood  ·   finding one’s own manner is elusive. Have I found my manner? my voice? ·   manner comes down to a set of decisions on what word is valuable in every sentence you write. ·   another element of manner is consistency. Toni Morrison can write beautifully for pages, then move along in a pedestrian mode ·   find your own distinctive insights  ·   Henry James had an extraordinary sense of that unforeseen vibration in the almost wholly unexpected. He created a fictional world out of such insight. ·   You must push your writing to find such insight, by constantly asking questions … what would the character do? … why? … the events must be true to the character  ·   Hemingway could not write a good long complex sentence, so he developed a style of short declarative sentences. which seemed to work out pretty well  ·   some writers always write in their own inimitable style (Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway) while others (including Mailer) go along in a variety of modes. Matisse always painted in a recognizable mode, Picasso tried a hundred modes before he was done  ·   describe what you see as it impinges on the sum of your passions and intellectual attainments. ·   write as if everything depends on saying what you feel as clearly as you can  ·   do not be afraid to go with the insight provided in an unexpected and happy turn of phrase  ·   use your own crucial experiences as a source for your writing, not directly perhaps, where they may be too special, too intense or too concentrated, but rather by projecting your imagination through the crystal of your experience  ·   if you tell yourself that you are going to write tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You owe it to your unconscious to keep your promise.

“technique” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

·   Talking Head Avoidance Device (THAD) – those elements of a scene that illustrate character or illuminate state of mind in ways other than he said/she said; present the reader a visual element in what would otherwise be only dialogue. Can be anything. Draw from character analysis.  · manipulate language to alter the mood  ·  every sentence in a paragraph should be an amplification of the sentence preceding it, or should address a prevailing topic in some way (???)  ·   paragraphs must be cohesive, and linked together to create a seamless narrative  ·   I develop my outline and write my novels in the order they’ll be read  ·   Note every opportunity for causal relationships to be developed  ·   Write the running plot outline – stream of consciousness  ·   By having as much information as possible before writing the scene, can concentrate on the writing

“technique” in What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

·   jargon … “two sticks short” … this jargon is never directly explained, but indirectly we learn that it is four inches or 30 lines.

“technique” in The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates

·  In dramatic literature, the tauter the scene, the more emotionally effective  ·  if the scene is protracted or repetitive, and the (reader) gets ahead of the (story), there’s a slackening of attention; but if the story is too short and underdeveloped, the dramatic experience will be thin, slight, sketchy, forgettable  ·  the goal of the writer is to fully realize his material, to discover the ideal balance between fluidity of narration and background exposition, description, an amplification  ·  the story’s theme is the bobbin upon which the narrative, or plot, is skillfully wound. Without the bobbin (the thematic center), the thread would fly loose  ·  longer fiction (must) involve the reader emotionally  ·  trying always to write beautifully, brilliantly, with originality, can be paralyzing

* metaphor and simile defined

metaphor  1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare). 2.One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol

simile … A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as, as in “How like the winter hath my absence been” or “So are you to my thoughts as food to life” (Shakespeare).

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* reflections on writing

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

“reflections on writing” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

·   write what you want to write, not what you think is going to sell   ·    write to your passion  ·   write what interests you

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“reflections on writing” by Norman Mailer in The Spooky Art

·     high morals and thorough duplicity, loyalty and deceit, passion and ice-cold detachment … these are the characteristics of a writer  ·     I learned to write by writing  ·    The Naked and the Dead was the work of an amateur, sloppily written, NM took chances  ·     after 3 years of living with the book (Deer Park), I could admit that the style was wrong, and I had been strangling my novel in a poetic prose that was too self-consciously attractive and formal.   ·    working on my 3rd novel, I felt I was finally learning to write   ·    write only what interests you, not what you think will be a best seller  ·     best selling novelists work on big canvases – 40-50 characters and 50-100 years. Most good writers today tend to work on smaller canvases.  ·    best-seller readers want to read and read and read – they do not want to ponder   ·    an editor has to bring in books that will make money. publishing houses are getting depressed about the future of good fiction. when a serious novel by an unknown gets published today, it’s usually because some young editor has made an issue of it … which means some agent made an issue of it to the editor.  ·   how much of history is conspiracy, planned, rational, and how much is simple fuckups?  ·     you put your book out, if you can afford to take the time, only when it is ready   ·     a man lays his character on the line when he writes a novel. anything in him which is lazy, or meretricious (attracting attention in a vulgar manner), or unthought-out, complacent, fearful, overambitious, or terrified by the ultimate logic of his exploration will be revealed in his book. No novelist can escape his own character.  ·    Mailer talking with Gore Vidal: one could not make one’s living writing good novels anymore.  ·    Tolstoy evaded the depths that Dostoyevsky opened, whereas Dostoyevsky, lacking Tolstoy’s majestic sense of the proportion of things, fled proportion and explored hysteria.  ·   for every great writer, there are a hundred who could have been equally great but lacked the courage.  ·     we write novels out of two cardinal impulses – one is to understand ourselves better, the other is to present what we know about others.  ·     there is always fear in trying to write a good book, where the unique element of risk is to your ego  ·     if you’re trying for something interesting or difficult, then you cannot predict what the results of your work will be.  ·    we are all navigating through life. Good novels have a quality that other forms of communication do not offer.  ·     Joyce Carol Oates is willing to dare terrible humiliation.  ·    if there is no afterworld … then existence is indeed absurd.  ·     under the Nazis, an evil of true murderousness took over an ordinary people – the most decent, hardworking and clean people in the world and led them into despicable and extraordinary acts … suggesting that the unconscious is truly a place of hideous ambushes and horrors. Evil has dimensions. Evil is mysterious. It is not, as Hannah Arendt would say, banal  (Drearily commonplace and often predictable; trite).  ·     it is arrogant to assume that we can determine our own moral value. The novel is the best form for developing our moral sensitivity … our depth of understanding rather than our rush to judgment.  ·     morality, when subtle, brings proportion to human affairs. Tolstoy is a great writer – maybe he is our greatest novelist – because no other can match his sense of human proportion. We feel awe supported by compassion when we read Tolstoy. We are in the rare presence of moral evaluations that are severe yet ultimately tender.  ·     Picasso kept changing the nature of his attack on reality. I find it most interesting in my writing to keep making a new attack on the nature of reality.  ·     you cannot have a great democracy without great writers. If great novels disappear, as they are in danger of doing, we will be that much further away from a free society. Novels that reinvigorate our view of the subtlety of moral judgments are essential to a democracy. (If citizens read them ·     a novel at its best is the most moral of art forms, exploring the interstices of human behavior, the terrible complexities of moral experience and its dark sibling, moral ambiguity. There are no answers. There are only questions.  ·    the novelist may be better equipped to deal with the possibilities of a mysterious and difficult situation than anyone else, since he is always trying to discover what the nature of reality might be, asking ‘how and what is the nature of this little reality before me?’ … asking all the impertinent questions we often avoid in our real lives … dealing with life as something not eternal and immutable, but rather half-worked, seeing the world which was always before us in a manner different from the way we had seen it the day before.  ·  in the Russia of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, it was taken for granted that you could learn more about life by reading their novels than you could from your own personal experience.  ·     writers aren’t taken seriously anymore, because we haven’t written the novels that should have been written, works which could have helped to define America.  ·     I have always felt that The Old Man and the Sea was one of Hemingway’s failures. The old Cuban was never tempted to cut the fish loose, so Hemingway never had to find a reason for the fisherman to say ‘I’ll hold on.’ Not enough of a character had been created to answer such a question.

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“reflections on writing” by Joyce Carol Oates in The Faith of a Writer

·   And yet the only exciting life is the imaginary one (Virginia Wolfe, diary)  ·   Art springs from the depths of the human imagination – idiosyncratic, mysterious   ·   Ecstatic bouts of inspiration  ·   The writer has probably based his prose style upon significant predecessors  ·    Inspiration taken from a predecessor is usually accidental   ·   If you hope to be a writer, you must read  ·   The writer reads, and asks: why this title? Why this opening scene? This opening sentence? This language? This pacing? This detail, or lack of detail?  ·    Is this story significant enough to have warranted the effort to write it? To read it? Is it original? Convincing? Am I changed in any way by reading it? Have I learned from it?

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* scenes

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

missing “scenes” in Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

·     Some of the most interesting scenes in Scaramouche are the ones that aren’t there.   ·     Sabatini often skips the scene you expect to see. None of the duels, except that with the Marquis, are portrayed. Thus Sabatini avoids what would be repetition and holds the reader’s anticipation of a dueling scene until the last and most important.   ·     Andre-Louis’s entrance into Paris in the midst of chaotic street fighting is also not shown. How did he get past the guards? Did anyone question him? Likewise, the leaving of Paris, first by the Marquis, then by Andre-Louis with Aline and Mme. de Plougastel, become past events, never shown “live.” … Why?   ·     One also looks in vain for a real love scene between Andre-Louis and Aline where either’s emotions are shown rather than merely stated or even hinted at.

“scenes” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

·     Ch 3 begins with a long transitional narrative (over 2 pages) telling what has happened in the few months since Ch 2 ended. This is lazy. It would have been more effective to work whatever was essential into the ensuing action.   ·     O’Hara’s abrupt transitions to new immediate action work much better. “They were in Boston.” “The New York opening was an ordeal and a delight.” “The house was at the edge of the village of East Hammond …”

“scenes” in The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

·     exposition … long, detailed descriptions and lists of old books, which the reader can’t possibly read and absorb. what is the purpose?  ·     transitions … the reader is suddenly transported from Fargas’ home in Portugal to Paris, with no transition. The details of this change of scene are presented later (187-88). Does this work? It’s a technique similar to what Tolstoy does repeatedly in Anna Karenina.

“scenes” in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

sequence of scenes in Ch 22-29 (the horse race)  ·  Vronsky sees Anna at Peterhof. She tells him she is pregnant. ·  Vronsky leaves, returns to Petersburg and prepares for the race. ·  He sees Karenin arrive at the racetrack but avoids looking at Anna, who is also there. ·  The race is run. Vronsky breaks the horse’s back. The horse is shot. ·  Tolstoy then makes an abrupt return to earlier that day. Karenin is in his office, thinking of Anna and Vronsky. A doctor tells him he is not well, needs to relax. ·  He drives to Peterhof to see Anna. They speak past each other. She invites him to come back for dinner, even though Vronsky is also coming. ·  Karenin and Anna go separately to the racetrack. ·  Karenin watches Anna as she watches Vronsky. ·   the race progresses (again, we already know what has happened) ·  After the race, Anna knows Vronsky has fallen but not if he is alive or dead. Karenin three times takes her arm and insists on taking her back to Peterhof. ·  In the carriage, he says, “I am obliged to tell you that your behavior has been unbecoming today.” ·  Anna tells Karenin that she loves Vronsky. “I am his mistress. I can’t bear you. You can do what you like to me.” ·  Karenin says he expects a strict observance of the “external forms of propriety.” He will decide what measures to take and will “communicate them to you.” ·  At Peterhof, Anna learns that Vronsky is unhurt. “So he will be here tonight. What a good thing I told him (Karenin) everything. Thank God everything’s over with him (Karenin).” ·  The next scene does not pick up with Vronsky coming to Peterhof, but switches abruptly to Kitty in Moscow.

“scenes” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

·   Every scene MUST advance the plot, advance a subplot, develop character, or address theme. If not, toss it!  ·   Every scene MUST contain some degree of conflict  ·     Dramatic narration – omniscient narrator gives us the facts of what occurred. No dialogue. ·     Summary narration – quick, economical, not fully explored  ·    Fully rendered scene – allow the reader to be a witness to the activities of the characters or an eavesdropper on their conversations  ·     in PD James, A Taste for Death, two characters appear for only one scene, passing on valuable information. This adds verisimilitude, as opposed to simply reporting the information. ·     partial scene interrupting dramatic narration  ·     Every scene must have conflict.  Begin at the low point, let the tension rise to a climax, then provide a resolution which propels the entire novel forward.  ·    not every scene must be formed identically. ·   Alternative scene formulation: motion picture, sound vs sight, present-past-present, plunging in  ·   motion picture: set the scene, move to a narration of action, hit the dialogue  ·    sound vs sight: begin with dialogue (not explained first), back off to set the scene, then return to dialogue  ·    present-past-present: start the scene in real time, stop the scene and go back to previous action to bring the reader up to date (summarizing that action instead of a fully rendered scene), then return to real time  ·     plunging in. start with a character in thought or action and go with it.

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* historical fiction … Blending Fiction and History: What Works? What Doesn’t? by Paula Fleming

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

I was inspired to write this month’s column when trying to read an execrable novel of historical fiction. The history had to do with the Irish rebellion of 1916 and the events leading up to it. The fiction mostly concerned the development of two repressed Irish Catholics’s sex lives. The history was well researched and well interpreted. The fiction, however, was not well executed.

Upon giving up about halfway through the book, I did some thinking about blending history and fiction. After all, such blends are a major part of the fantasy/science fiction field, even constitution their own subgenres, historical fantasy and alternate history. Romance and mystery, and SF/F crossovers with these genres, often use historical settings as well. I asked myself: what approaches make such blends riveting, and what approaches turn out clunkers?

Most, if not all, of the following points apply to any blending of history and fiction, regardless of which subgenre it comes under.

Setting

Most SF and fantasy has a setting other than the here and now, so we’re used to communicating unusual environments to our readers. Using historical settings involves two further considerations.

How familiar is the reader with the historical era? If you’re writing for an American audience, then it’s reasonable to assume that your readers have a basic grasp of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the 1930s Dust Bowl, and the Constitutional Convention of 1787. However, even broadly educated readers may not be familiar with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, the widespread famine in the 1930s Soviet Union, and the Belgian declaration of independence from Austria in 1789.

The less familiar your readers are with your setting, the more “explaining” you’ll have to work into your story. A few readers will be experts on your setting, but don’t worry about them. They will understand that most people aren’t familiar with these people, events, customs, and locations, and they will be patient as the story brings them up to speed. On the other hand, don’t be in too big a hurry to explain everything. SF/Fantasy readers are notably willing to wade deeply into a story without understanding a lot about the world, as long as it’s a good story and as long as how the world works is revealed eventually. We SF/fantasy fans are also willing to learn about people, places, and events we’d never heard of before, so don’t shy away from “obscure” (obscure to most of your readers — not, obviously, obscure to the folks involved) history.

How much detail should you provide? Lots. It’s as if you were setting your story on another planet, except that, ironically, you probably have to provide more detail. When reading about another planet, the readers only need to know enough about the world to understand the story. In historical fiction, however, the readers are seeking the special joy that comes from participating, albeit vicariously, in real events in real places with real people. It’s fun to walk down a medieval London street in a Church processional or to give a speech in the Roman senate. Why is it so much fun? Because we’re getting a chance, in effect, to time travel. So don’t stint on the description — it’s at least half the fun.

Plot

You have some choices here, but whatever you do, your story must involve the characters as key players. If they’re mere bystanders to events, even exciting events, then we readers won’t be exciting. Just as in every other story, our protagonists must have opportunities to make decisions, take actions, and reach epiphanies (or fail to do so).

One choice is to choose an interesting era but involve your characters in a made-up “event” that never made the history books for some reason. Such an “event” must dovetail with whatever is in the history books. Pat Murphy’s Nadya, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep are examples of this approach. Outside of SF/fantasy, Bernard Cornwell works well with this approach in his Napoleonic and American Civil War series. In his books, his protagonists usually do play key roles in major historical events, typically on very crowded canvases where their intrusion isn’t noticeable. He sometimes assigns them a role played by other, real people (with apologies to the historical personages in the back of the book) and sometimes makes them the cause of an event that historians can’t explain (e.g., Robert E. Lee’s strategy being found by the North wrapped up with some cigars in a field).

Another choice is to change history and go forward from there. The catalyst for change can be outside intervention. For instance, in Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South, South African racist whites travel back in time with advanced technology to create a Southern U.S. in which they can live. In his WWII series, aliens attack Earth just as the war is turning against the Axis powers. Alternatively, the story can assume that an event that went one way simply went another, as in Steven Barnes’s Lion’s Blood, in which Socrates fled Athens and survived, setting off a chain of events that led to America being colonized by Islamic Africans.

Yet another choice is to use an historical era as a guideline but depart freely from it. For example, Katherine Kurtz’s Camber of Culdi series takes place in a thinly disguised medieval England, where Catholic ritual and magic are one and the same but the types of political intrigue and warfare feel very familiar. Likewise, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart series happens in a world that is clearly medieval-to-Renaissance Europe, Middle East, and Africa — complete with Jews, Romany, and invading Germanic tribes — but where the dominant European religion is polytheistic, the gods intervene, and some magic works.

Dialog

Good rules of dialog still apply. We never want to write dialog the way people really talk — it’s nearly incomprehensible. When we convey dialect, we should use a light touch to keep the text readable and so as not to parody our characters. In historical work, the dialog shouldn’t be too historical — a few thees and thous go a long way. Likewise, just as with any other kind of story, we don’t use dialog to infodump. Characters carry on conversations. They do not speak essays at each other to edify the reader, nor do they tell each other things they already know. “Hey Bob, the Romans have been dominating us for decades.” Bob: “Yeah, but a lot of men have joined the legions and done well.” Gaah!

Point of View

Handling point of view (POV) in historical work can be challenging. The character of the period does not notice the same things we would notice. Deirdre the medieval mage will not think, “No one in the crowded inn had bathed for a month, and the place reeked of body odor.” Unless mages have different bathing habits than other people, Deirdre smells just like them, and people have always smelled that way to her. We wouldn’t think, “We entered the crowded nightclub, and everyone was wearing clothes. There was fabric everywhere.”

At the same time, it’s exactly those indigenous details, the ones that create the historic period, that our readers want (see “Setting” above). So what to do? If Deirdre has just come in from outside, her nose will get used to the smell of lots of bodies in the same way that her eyes will adjust to the dim light. She would remark that. She won’t think about bathing habits, because that’s just a given, but she might feel a sense of comfort from the smell of people. She might, for example, remember sharing a bed with her four sisters growing up and how close and safe their bodies smelled around her.

Research

Plenty has been written elsewhere about researching historical settings. I’ll just say this: if you want to write fiction but find yourself writing a history book instead, stop and reevaluate your approach.

Resources

Here are some further resources on blending history and fiction.

Paula L. Fleming’s science fiction and fantasy have appeared in a variety of publications, including gothic.net; Tales of the Unanticipated #20, #22, and #24; Meisha Merlin’s Such a Pretty Face anthology; and Lone Wolf Publishing’s Extremes 3: Terror on the High Seas anthology. A graduate of the Clarion Workshop, Paula maintains a speculative fiction market listing (updated quarterly). By day, she’s a human resources generalist at the Wedge Community Co-op. To help her, she has three big dogs, two cats, and one husband.

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* historical fiction … Reading and Writing Historical Fiction by Sue Peabody

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

First published in The Iowa Journal of Literary Studies (1989):29-39.

Return to Sue Peabody’s hompage.

When I was hired as a temporary library employee a few years ago, my supervisor asked me during the job orientation, “Do you know the difference between fiction and non-fiction?” I stammered, tongue-tied for a few moments, until I realized that she was asking a simple yes-or-no question, not demanding an air-tight philosophical definition. I finally responded, “Yes, I do,” but I was left with the lingering suspicion that I had lied.

This paper is a tentative exploration into the genre that spans the liminal territory between fiction and non-fiction, the historical novel. For the purposes of library classification, the historical novel is shelved with other fiction. But its placement is ambiguous. Many commentators observe that the general public is more likely to learn about the past from historical fiction than from “straight” history (e.g., Tebbel; Aiken). Some writers, such as Gore Vidal, will go so far as to say that their fiction is “fact.” Finally, recent techniques of literary criticism have made some readers, beginning with Roland Barthes and Hayden White, question the boundaries that separate history from fiction. History’s status as an independent genre seems to be threatened by modern notions of relativism. Historical fiction, with its ambiguous relationships to both history and fiction, might be a good starting place for an analysis of the claims of both kinds of writing.

For the purposes of this essay, I have limited my analysis to what might be called “high brow” historical fiction of the 1980s. By “high brow,” I mean historical fiction written for a predominantly college educated readership. In this essay I will not attempt to deal with the sub-genre of historical romances. This Is not because I think that problems raised by this form are uninteresting. Indeed, a study of the reading and writing of the so-called “bodice-rippers” and their uses of history, could prove fascinating. Rather, I have decided to omit this more popular literary form because of the relative difficulty of obtaining statements from authors and readers about their respective processes.

To analyze the creation and reception of the contemporary historical novel, I have studied statements by readers and authors of historical fiction — in interviews, reviews, letters and essays — about the processes of reading and writing.’ I have paid attention to what reviewers feel are the successes and failures of individual works, for these statements show us their criteria of judgement. I have listened carefully to their overt discussions of the differences between history and fiction, and I have queried authors about what they feel those differences are. The conversation between readers and writers shows that there are three overlapping areas of concern. One of these is the contrast between what might be called the historian’s efforts to illuminate and the novelist’s proclivity to conceal. Another issue is the supposed ability of the successful historical novel to “make the past come alive.” Finally, there is the relationship between these issues and the question of narrative point of view.

Although I might start with any of these, let me begin with the issue of illumination versus concealment. I begin with the assumption that the historian’s objective is to shed light on the past “as it really was.” Historians may disagree profoundly with one another about what actually happened, and why things happened that way, but they generally agree that their purpose is to find out, and reveal to others, as nearly as possible, the “truth” about the past (e.g., Veyne, 11). A typical historical narrative tells its readers what was the case and why it was the case. A historical account does not attempt to hide things from its readers. The notion of suspense does not enter into the reading or writing of an historical work.

This is a marked difference from the conventions of contemporary historical fiction. Novels such as Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose and Toni Morrison’s Beloved create an atmosphere of suspense that compels the reader to follow the narrative to the conclusion, where a secret is revealed. The Name of the Rose is a detective mystery set in the Middle Ages. The question “whodunnit?” is what propels the reader through all 502 pages. The secret in Beloved concerns the title character and her relationship to the other characters in the book. The convention of secrets is so strong in this book that two reviewers, Rosellen Brown and Margaret Atwood, refused to give a complete description of the plot so that they would not spoil it for their readers.

The suspense present in these two novels is not immediately apparent in Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, where the ending, Lincoln’s assassination, is presumed to be known in advance by the reader. A subtler sense of secrets, however, is in operation here. Vidal hides little jokes, to delight the knowing reader, such as the fictitious character “William de Touche Clancy” who appears in Vidal’s other novels. One reviewer who spotted Clancy observed:

(Vidal] insists that the character is fictional, [but] those who know him will point to the similarities in all but promiscuity, syphilis and homosexuality to one of Vidal’s deadly enemies. (Edwards)

We are still left to wonder, “Who is Vidal’s enemy?” Part of the pleasure of reading is unlocking this personnage à clef. John Vernon plants a similar secret in his novel, La Salle, to be discovered by readers who are “in the know.” Toward the end of the book is a play-within-the-novel written by the character La Salle for his colonists to perform. Vernon writes that:

On page 151 of the novel, the first two lines of La Salle’s play are taken from Emily Dickinson’s poem #870…. And the name of the minstrel ill the play, Eliym, is an anagram of Emily. These are the little jokes that novelists play. (Letter)

The librarian of Umberto Eco’s labyrinthine library is Jorge of Burgos (after Borges, the contemporary novelist who has described a similar library in his fiction). One reviewer also spotted a paraphrase of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Proposition 6.54 of the Tractatus in The Name of the Rose. In the novel, the quotation is attributed to “a mystic from Germany.” Discovering these little jokes is one of the sophisticated reader’s pleasures in fiction.

A pleasure that is perhaps unique to the reading of historical fiction (as opposed to purely imaginary fiction) is the reader’s ability to identify the author’s sources. My friend, Beth Nachison, an avid reader of historical fiction, told me that this is one of the qualities she

enjoys:

When I’m reading a historical novel in a period that 1 know something about, it’s always a treat if I can read something and say, “Aha! I know where they got that!2

Historical fiction, unlike history, is not constrained to cite its sources with footnotes in the text. Thus the reader experiences the pleasure of discovery when she finds something familiar.3 A fiction writer who borrows too heavily from source material, however, may be castigated for being unable to “digest his material, to integrate it into his book” (Hoffman). One reviewer found this to be such a problem with Vidal’s Lincoln that he could no longer call it a novel.4

Thus, on several levels, the writer of historical fiction may hide things from the reader, whose pleasure is partly derived from discovering them for himself. This discovery makes the reader feel intelligent, “in the know.” Historians, by contrast, “illuminate” the past and their readers learn from the text. The explanatory aspect of history is part of the historian’s method of illumination. Historians recount certain facts and events in their writings and offer explanations of these events. The expectation that a text will explain the past is so prevalent among historians that they sometimes look for historical arguments in works of fiction. One reviewer (a biographer) wrote that Toni Morrison’s Beloved “means to prove that Afro-Americans are the result of a cruel determinism” (Crouch). The passage he cites as an example reads more like a character’s internal stream of consciousness than any kind of “proof.” Another reviewer of Lincoln, a historian, refers twice to Vidal’s “argument”:

The book Lincoln does not make a case for that cosmopolitanism of the old South, but it does clearly argue that an old order was swept away by the Civil War. (Edwards 38)

The delivery of (the Gettysburg address) is one of the brightest, hardest gems of the book and Mr. Vidal vigorously supports his argument that the text was a little different from the common form now regurgitated. (Edwards 40)

Again, Vidal does not set out to “argue” anything. The novel depicts the old South being swept away and shows that the text of the Gettysburg address differs from its present version. Another historian totally misunderstands the literary device in which the story is told from the various characters’ points of view and attributes those characters’ statements to Vidal himself (Current; see also Vidal’s response). I shall return to this question of point of view later.

Fiction writers operate under the dictum, “show, don’t tell.” The need to explain an event in the story is seen as a failure of the novelist’s art. For example, a friend’s novel-in-progress concerns a detective in 1902 who is sent to a small town in Iowa to collect evidence against a saloon operating in violation of the state prohibition laws. In the end, a mob of townspeople chases the detective into the prairie in the dead of winter where he nearly dies of exposure. I asked my friend, Scott Hewitt, if he would need to explain in the novel why the townspeople attempted to lynch the detective. He responded:

It should be obvious. The explanation is the events leading up to that. There’s no narrator’s voice in this story. There are only the voices of the people. The explanation is what happens before that that leads up to that…. A fiction writer

dramatizes it happening. I’m not explaining because all the events are right there in living color explaining why, that is, how something happened, and why it happened. (Interview)

Both the historian’s misunderstanding, above, and Hewitt’s account of the lack of explanation in fiction raise the question of narrative point of view. Before I take up this topic, I want to discuss another one of Hewitt’s remarks: that fiction places the events “right there in living color.”

* * * * *

… [The pleasure of historical fiction is] not so much to see where [history and fiction] melt, but to try to make the past “live again” to use a trite phrase. To take all these dead facts — the kings and battles and details of shipping cargoes — and to put people into them; wind their springs and let them walk around (Nachison).

This book [Lincoln] illumines what I had thought a familiar chapter of history, recaptures and fleshes out a remarkable man and his contradictions. (Whitehead)

Eco has set into motion — fantastical though that motion may be — a piece of an old tapestry. (Birkerts)

Readers of historical fiction bring several criteria of judgment to the reading of a historical novel. Foremost among these is that the historical novels should provide accurate, convincing portraits of the people of the past; in short, it should “make the past live.”5 Reviewers fill their assessments with words and phrases like “recreates,” “sets into motion , and “fleshes out.” What is this quality of “bringing to life” and how does the historical novel do it?

In the Rhetoric, Aristotle urges orators to make use of metaphor because of its capacity to render a scene “before our eyes.” He says that metaphor makes the hearer “see things”: “By ‘making them see things’ I mean using expressions that represent things in a state of activity.” According to Aristotle, metaphor has the ability to give “metaphorical life to lifeless things: all such passages are distinguished by the effect of the activity that they convey” (Rhetoric 1410:10-13; 1411:24-26).

But the most important function of the metaphor, Aristotle says, is to help get across new ideas to one’s listeners:

We all naturally find it agreeable to get hold of new ideas easily: words express ideas, and therefore those words are the most agreeable to us that enable us to get hold of new ideas. Now strange words simply puzzle us; ordinary words convey only what we know already; it is from the metaphor that we can best get hold of something fresh. (Rhetoric 1410: 10-13; emphasis added)

Metaphor, suggests Aristotle, is an effective way to make the strange familiar, to help us learn new ideas easily. There is a striking similarity between Aristotle’s discussion of metaphor and readers’ and writers’ expectations of the historical novel. For example, Vernon remarks in his letter about La Salle:

I wanted to show what the pictures we see in textbooks of early explorers (with their clean faces, elaborate costume, shining weapons, neat flags, natives in rows — all idealized and antiseptic) don’t show — the lice, the fatigue, the continual closeness of death, the dysentery, the cold, the discomfort, the loss of orientation, the dirt, the grease for a meal three times a day, the annoyance, the boredom, the hunger, the fear, etc.

At least one motive for writers of fiction, then, is to give a convincing portrait of the people, ideas, and circumstances of living in the past.

This corresponds to another reason for reading historical fiction. Besides the pleasure of discovery discussed above, some readers find that the historical novel satisfies the desire to learn something about the past. Beth Nachison told me that she sometimes reads a novel about an unfamiliar historical period to get acquainted with the important characters and issues before she turns to the academic historical writings. Similarly, reviewers often mention the capacity of historical fiction to instruct readers about the past.6

The historical novel acts, in some ways, as a metaphor for the past. Through the novel, the past is portrayed as a visual scene, a drama, which the reader can understand. The past is animated in a way that conventional history is (apparently) unable to do. Richard N. Current, reviewing Vidal’s Lincoln (rather unfavorably) suggests why this may be true:

Though aiming at objectivity or authenticity, a historian or biographer sometimes misses because distracted by thoughts of literary effectiveness…. [T]here may be a temptation to emulate the novelist to the extent of presenting occasional scenes in lifelike detail. For each detail, perhaps no more than a single source can be found, and to depend on that one source is to violate the historiographical requirement of two or more independent witnesses. This requirement accounts for much of the dry-as-dust quality that the work of academic historians is presumed to have: they are constrained to write what amounts to the lowest common denominator of the widest variety of sources. (87)

This passage links together several important notions: “literary effectiveness” has the potential to undermine objectivity or authenticity; the novelist presents scenes in “lifelike detail”; the historian operates under a constraining requirement of confirmation of sources; and finally, this requirement creates the “dry-as-dust” quality of academic historical writings.

This passage is especially interesting because it highlights two important differences between history and fiction: the use of “historical detail” and the question of point of view. I will address the notion of “historical detail” first.

Hewitt, in the course of writing his novel, has run into the problem of the authenticity of historical details:

Those kinds of details create a sense of background “texture” which, in fact, very much inform the plots, and themes, and characters. You can’t have a really real character in 1902 unless that character is really aware of what someone would be aware of in 1902: everything from what kind of shoes you wear to how you do your crops in the summer. (Interview)

At other times he stresses that he would like to ignore the background “texture” (at least in his first draft) and concentrate on “doing the job of fiction,” but to do so would be to threaten the believability of his novel. The background texture is intimately caught up in the themes, setting, and characterizations of his novel. Hewitt, unlike Vidal, has some leeway in that all his characters are imaginary and thus not tied to specific documents of the past, but he worries that the wrong details will undermine the atmosphere of authenticity that his novel strives to produce. This dilemma has caused him to think about alternatives to the historical novel:

I’ve thought about making it a contemporary novel because at times the problem of historical detail has been such a large one that I’ve thought, “Well, maybe I should just make it now.” But that wouldn’t work because I like the idea of this town being really isolated — these people are really out there on their own…. There are no telephones there. There’s no electricity; there’s hardly anything. It’s a bunch of farmhouses scattered around in the same general area. (27)

The background details of turn-of-the-century rural society are necessary for Hewitt’s themes of isolation. The stark, empty landscape of the Iowa winter is a metaphor for the still emptiness of mind that his main character seeks. The themes of emptiness and purity recur in the symbolic details Hewitt has selected for his narrative.

One of the ways that historical fiction connects the present to the past is through theme. One reviewer objects to the themes of Beloved that , at may be clearly recognized as prevalent concerns in our own present culture:

The book’s beginning clanks out its themes. . . There is the theme of black women facing the harsh world alone. Later on in the novel, Morrison stages the obligatory moment of transcendent female solidarity. Then there is the sexual exploitation theme. (Crouch 42)

In The Name of the Rose many readers recognize familiar issues of the present in Eco’s rendition of the past.

In the fate of the monastery and library, the 20th century reader may see reflected his own apprehensions as to the future of his world and his culture, and, in the failure of Brother William’s chain of reasoning, his own inability to order history. (Hartley 39)

… [i]ts title, The Name of the Rose, states one of its central themes, the troubling relation of names and things, language and reality…. Throughout the novel the fourteenth and twentieth centuries are not so distant mirrors of one another. (Ahern)

Through this notion of theme, then, the historical novel posits the similarities between the past and the present.

The metaphor joins together two otherwise dissimilar things by virtue of their shared attributes. According to Aristotle:

The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; and it is a sign of true genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars. (Poetics 1459:5-8)

Paradoxically, John Vernon asserts that his novel also attempts to make experience “come alive” not. by rendering it familiar, but by making it strange:

I wanted to do what all fiction should do: to renew our acquaintance with experience by de-domesticating it, by making it strange again. History seems the perfect field in which to do this: it too must be cleansed of stereotypes and made strange again, it we are ever to succeed in re-imagining it again. (Letter)

His statement is ambiguous; it implies that fiction should render not only the past strange but the reader’s present as well. According to Merle Rubin, this is also an effect of Eco’s novel. The narrative strategy of The Name of the Rose makes its readers aware of the newness of scientific thinking:

For many of us, heirs to the Enlightenment, the process by which we formulate and test hypotheses seems “only natural.” It is anything but. By setting his story at a time when other forms of thought prevailed, Eco re-creates a sense of the difficulty and challenge of the method we take for granted.

Hence, this metaphorical quality of the historical novel has the capacity both to render the past familiar and to make the present seem strange. Its “animation” derives, in part, from its ability to reveal the apparent similarities between the past and the present.

A striking similarity between the novels I read for this essay is that each is written from the point of view of one or more characters within the story. The convention of telling a story from a point of view other than the author’s is not new or surprising in fiction. In academic historical writing, however, this convention is unheard of. Indeed, if one were to try to write a work of history from a point of view that differed substantially from the author’s, it would no longer be called “history,” but fiction. One can imagine the furor that such an attempt would raise within the discipline.7

This is not to say that authorial voice of a historical text is somehow “authentic,” or devoid of convention. In fact, the relative uniformity of syntax and style of historical writings (when compared to fiction) suggests that the historical narrative voice is an artificial construction designed for different purposes than fictive narrative voices. Certain conventions of historical narrative restrict the historian’s point of view. For example, it must appear impartial and objective (avoiding frequent use of the first person). A fiction writer has more freedom: she can choose to tell the story through an omniscient third-person narrator (similar to the historian’s), through a single character from the story, or through several characters (as in the epistolary form of La Salle).

Hewitt suggests that the ideal of fiction is for the narrative to erase the sense of an author entirely. He recalls Annie Dillard’s work, Living by Fiction:

where she talks about … some of the greatest works of literature, in which ideas have completely disappeared into objects; where there’s a certain tension in things that is so perfect that you can’t figure out “what the author is trying to say” because the author isn’t there. The author has completely disappeared. This idea of ideas completely disappearing into objects means that there are no explanations, there is only exactly what you see in the story. And in the great works those ideas, those explanations, are embodied in those objects. In other words, the writer has picked his symbols, picked his objects, because they’re the best possible ones to suggest those explanations. (Interview)

For Hewitt, in an ideal piece of fiction things seem to speak for themselves. Things that speak for themselves require no explanations, no author.

Perhaps point of view is the most important difference between history and historical fiction. A work of history must be written from a point of view that represents the actual author’s. The author’s voice tells the reader what happened and why it happened. Without this association between the actual historian and the narrative perspective of the text, the historian could not be held responsible for her argument. Her argument constitutes her identity as a historian in the academic community. Without it, she ceases to exist for the discipline. In historical fiction, the writer may tell the story from the point of view of real or imaginary characters, thus appealing to the reader’s imagination. When this is done well, the past appears to “live” and the present is made strange. Historical novels function structurally as a metaphor, joining the past with the present, and the reader with the author, emphasizing their mutual similarities and differences. Perhaps professional history also functions metaphorically, but its disciplinary conventions and rhetorical structures seem to weaken the vividness and immediacy that we find in the best historical fiction.

NOTES

1. The interviews and reviews focused primarily on six works: Gore Vidal’s Lincoln; Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose; Toni Morrison ‘s Beloved; John Vernon’s La Salle; Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings; and Scott Hewitt’s novel-in-progress, February, 1902. Certain publications have been especially useful for my purposes. The reviews published in the New York Review of Books, The Nation, The New Republic, Encounter, The New York Times Book Review, and the Christian Science Monitor tend to be lengthy, in-depth discussions of most of the novels in question.

2. Beth has read over two hundred historical novels and is currently writing one of her own. She was extremely helpful to me as I researched this paper.

3. Something similar occurs in a work of history when the author refers to other literature in the field by its subject, but without citing it directly in a footnote. A reader who is familiar with the literature may feel satisfied to recognize a reference that would pass over a less initiated reader’s head. But if this goes too far, it can be considered plagiarism. The historical novelist, by contrast, is expected to borrow from the historical record without citing her sources.

4. “A novel it isn’t, if by a novel one means a work of the imagination, a piece of fiction, a fable, a story, an invention” (Hoffman).

5. These views are so pervasive that a single novel can be judged by different readers both to have and lack these qualities. For example, compare: “Vidal makes famous names — Seward, Chase and his ever-scheming daughter, Kate, McClennan and Grant, Sumner — come believably alive” (Michaud 1146) and “. . . the father and daughter who appear in [Lincoln] are not nearly as engrossing as the real items. By the same token the spidery, conniving Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, is a pale copy of the original” (Hoffman 744).

6. See, for example, Blue 32, Turner667, Birkerts 38, Brown 419, and Bloom 3.

7. The hostile reaction of some historians to Vidal’s novel seems to derive in part front Vidal’s assertion in the afterward that, “All of the principal characters really existed, and they said and did pretty much what I have them saying and doing . . .” (Qtd. in Current 79). Had Vidal stuck with his subtitle, “A Novel,” it is doubtful that he would have raised such a ruckus with the historians but his statement here encourages historians to judge him by the narrower rhetorical standards of their own field.

WORKS CITED

Ahern, John. Rev. of The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. Commonweal 110 (1983): 597.

Aiken, Joan. “Interpreting the Past: Reflections of an Historical Novelist.” Encounter 64 (May 1985): 37-43.

Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. Ingram Bywater. The Rhetoric and the Poetics of Aristotle. New York: Modern Library, 1984.

Aristotle. Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. The Rhetoric and the Poetics of Aristotle. New York: Modern Library, 1984.

Atwood, Margaret. Rev. of Beloved, by Toni Morrison. The New York Times Book Review 92 (13 Sept. 1987): 1, 49-50.

Birkerts, Sven. Rev. of The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. The New Republic 189 (5 Sept. 1983): 38.

Bloom, Harold. Rev. of Ancient Evenings, by Norman Mailer. New York Review of Books 28 April 1983: 3.

Blue, Adrianne. Rev. of Lincoln, by Gore Vidal. The New Statesman 108 (28 Sept. 1984): 32.

Brown, Rosellen. Rev. of Beloved, by Toni Morrison. The Nation 245: 418-2 1.

Crouch, Stanley. Rev. of Beloved, by Toni Morrison. The New Republic 197 (19 Oct. 1987): 42.

Current, Richard N. “Fiction as History: A Review Essay.” Journal of Southern History 52 (1986); 77-90.

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. Trans. William Weaver. New York: Harcourt, 1983.

Edwards, Owen Dudley. Rev. of Lincoln, by Gore Vidal. Encounter 64.1 (Jan. 1985): 36-40.

Hartley, Anthony. Rev. of The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. Encounter 62 (March 1984): 39.

Hewitt, Scott. February, 1902. Unpublished.

Hewitt, Scott. Personal interview. 20 March 1988.

Hoffman, Nicholas Von. Rev. of Lincoln, by Gore Vidal. The Nation 238 (1984): 744.

Mailer, Norman. Ancient Evenings. Boston: Little, 1983.

Michaud, Charles. Rev. of Lincoln, by Gore Vidal. Library Journal 109 (1984): 1146.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Knopf, 1987.

Nachison, Beth. Personal interview. 22 March 1988.

Rubin, Merle. Rev. of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Christian Science Monitor 2 Dec. 1983: B6.

Tebbel, John. Fact and Fiction: Problems of the Historical Novelist. Lansing: Historical Society of Michigan, 1962.

Turner Edith. Rev. of The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. Commonweal 110 (1983): 667.

Vernon, John. La Salle. New York: Viking, 1986.

Vernon, John. Letter to the author. 18 March 1988.

Veyne, Paul. Writing History. Trans. Mina Moore Rinvolucri. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1984.

Vidal, Gore. Lincoln: A Novel. New York: Random House, 1984.

Vidal, Gore. National Press Club Luncheon broadcast on National Public Radio. 16 March 1988.

Vidal, Gore. Response to Richard Current. The New York Review of Books 28 April 1988: 56-58.

Whiteland, Phillip. Rev. of Lincoln, by Gore Vidal. Listener 112 (27 Sept. 1984): 31.

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* process … an interview with Elizabeth George … Demystifying the writing process

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

http://www.elizabethgeorgeonline.com/interviews_articles.htm

Elizabeth George is fascinated by the dark side of human nature. In her psychological mysteries, she examines the landscape of the human heart and its many motivations for murder. Her lengthy tomes are full of suspense, peopled with fascinating characters, and are all about not only whodunit but, more importantly, why?

All 14 of the Detective Lynley mysteries in George’s bestselling series are set in England, a country she fell in love with when she visited there as a teenager. Indeed, readers are often surprised to learn that George is an American, so richly detailed are her settings in the English countryside, so attuned is her ear to regional accents, and so clear is her understanding of contemporary British society.

George’s longtime fans have come to know and love her recurring cast of crime-solving characters. Handsome and aristocratic Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his rough-around-the-edges working-class assistant Barbara Havers first made their appearance in A Great Deliverance in 1988. The book begins with the discovery of the body of a decapitated farmer and his daughter sitting nearby with an ax at her side, saying, “I did it. And I’m not sorry,” while a horrified clergyman looks on.

It was a far cry from the first mystery George tried to publish. “Too old-fashioned. Detectives no longer take all the suspects into the library and reveal the truth to them,” is what she heard from one editor who rejected her work. She took the advice to heart—and took her writing in a new direction, creating intricate plots, complex characters, a gritty reality and landscapes as visual as a Constable painting.

George killed off a much-loved character in a recent novel, With No One as Witness. The heinous act raised an angry outcry from readers. “I think readers were unprepared for the depth of their emotion,” George said. “People were devastated by the death of that character, just as the characters in the book were devastated.”

In her latest novel, What Came Before He Shot Her, she examines the events leading up to the horrific crime in her previous book, although, as is often the case in an Elizabeth George novel, things in the end are not really what they seem.

The themes vary, but the constant in each book is the enormous amount of meticulous research that goes into it. George travels often to England where, with camera and tape recorder in hand, she searches out settings and landscapes for her novels.

Back home, she goes through an incredibly detailed process of writing, a process that she shares in amazing detail in her nonfiction book Write Away.

I talked with George about mysteries and the writing process when she stopped in Milwaukee on a recent book tour.

You approach writing in a very organized, methodical way. Can you talk a little about the process of writing?

I developed a complicated process to demystify writing. I do think everybody needs to develop a process that works for them that will demystify or “deterrify” the process.

If I were to begin a novel thinking that somehow I was going to have to create on a blank computer screen a 600-page rough draft, it would be very frightening, and I’d probably never be able to do it. So I created a structured, step-by-step approach to writing that appeals to my organizational side, the left side of my brain, and as I apply myself to each step in that structured approach, I do it in such a way that it triggers the right side, the creative side, of my brain.

For example, when I’m creating my characters, I do it in a present tense, right brain, stream-of-consciousness fashion, throwing onto the page everything that pops into my mind until I feel I am heading in the right direction with that character. It’s very much a physical feeling.

When it comes to writing, I never listen to my mind; I always listen to my body. I’ve learned to trust that feeling right in my solar plexus.

You talk a great deal about the craft of writing. What do you mean?

It’s important for beginning writers to learn the craft, the basics, of writing. You can’t teach somebody to be a creative artist, to have talent or passion, but you can teach somebody craft. Whether they can apply it in an artistic fashion, well, that’s in the hands of the gods. But they can certainly learn what the craft of writing is.

How do you begin to write a mystery? How much do you know from the start?

When I begin a mystery, I know the killer, the victim and the motive. From that, I develop what I call an expanded story idea. It answers all the questions of who, what, when, where and why.

Then I develop a generic list of characters of everyone who is in any way involved in the story—for example: the killer; victim; detective; suspect one, the milkman; suspect two, the postman; etc. First, I give them generic titles, then I name the characters, and then I create them.

Only one character is created to do something specific —and that is the killer. I have no idea what the rest of the characters in the book are going to do until I actually start creating them. As I create them, they begin revealing to me who they are, how they fit into the story, and they give me an idea of what the theme is going to be and what the subplots will be, as well.

You are an American writing about England. How can you do it so well and in such detail?

First of all, I never write about a place I haven’t been to. I make sure that if there is any description in my novels, I have actually been there and walked in that place.

Somebody asked me recently how I managed to describe the early morning run that one character, Elena, takes in For the Sake of Elena just before she is murdered.

She said, “I’ve been in Cambridge, and I just could not believe how you managed to capture the nuance of that run.”

And I told her that I got up at that same hour of the morning, and I walked Elena’s run all the way to the point where she is murdered, and I noted all the sensory details along the way. So it’s not like I’m looking at a map at home in the U.S., just trying to imagine what might be on that route. I can’t do it that way. I always go to every single location that’s been described in any of my books.

I’ve never been able to describe things by just cooking them up out of my imagination. I have great respect for people who can do that, but it just does not work for me. I have to see the world and notice the telling details of that world, and then carry on from there.

When did you begin writing?

I have always felt compelled to write. When I began reading the Little Golden Books as a 7-year-old, I knew that I wanted to write one, too. I wrote tiny stories like that in the beginning. Now, writing is a really important part of my mental health regimen. It keeps me centered psychologically, and it’s a good way for me to fight depression.

Is writing a real discipline for you, like a job?

Yes, but it is never a chore for me. Writing is something I do because I really love doing it. When I’m working on a novel, I keep a regular schedule, just as if it were a job. I get up early in the morning and do my writing for the day as soon as I’ve worked out. I write five pages a day, five days a week, when I’m working on the rough draft of a novel, regardless of where I am. If I am skiing with my husband for a week, I take my computer with me. I get up early and do my writing and then do my skiing afterwards.

Where do you write?

I write wherever I happen to be. When I’m on a book tour, I’ve got my computer with me and I write in whatever hotel room I happen to be in … or I write on the airplane … or I write in the lounge as I’m waiting for the airplane. When I am at home, I work in my study.

What advice do you have for beginners?

Sometimes it is all about dismissing the committee in your head that might be telling you that you’re no good, that you don’t have any ideas, that you’re not creative. They might be your parents, your high school teachers, the person who wouldn’t go to the prom with you. You have to remember that they are part of the past, and that they don’t determine your future. And writing has to be important to you. It comes down to what I call “suit up and show up.” … A lot of writing is simply showing up and doing the work day after day.

You’ve said that you don’t suffer from writer’s block. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because I do so much preliminary work. I always have a stack of resource material to look at to get me out of a situation that might be dicey. I have my character analyses to remind myself who these people are, what is going on with them and the things that trigger them. I have my running plot outline that shows me essentially what the next scene is going to be. I have my step outline that shows me the causal relationships between the scenes.

So when I’m actually sitting in front of the computer, doing the rough draft, I know where the scene is going, I know who is in it, I know what point I’m trying to make, I know where I’m heading … and that allows me to experience the beauty of manipulating language in writing, which is what I really love to do.

That’s not to say that I haven’t had difficult days writing, because I have—days where I might spend eight hours and be stumped, but [mystery writer] Sue Grafton once said to me something that was very helpful. I was having trouble doing something, and she said to me, “If you know the question, you know the answer.”

And then I once heard Jeff Parker [crime-fiction writer T. Jefferson Parker] speak at a conference, and he said, “If your story stalls out on you, you’ve played your hand too soon.” And those two things have been very liberating for me. So I haven’t experienced that really scary blocking of creativity.

Why do you keep a journal while you’re writing a book?

It was something that I started doing when I read John Steinbeck’s book Journal of a Novel. He wrote that journal while he was writing East of Eden. … What I discovered is that it is yet another tool to demystify the whole process—because I write what’s going on, not only in my life but also in my writing life—my worries, my fears, my anxieties, my concerns, my triumphs, whatever. I document them on a daily basis.

Then, when I’m doing the next book, I begin by reading a day in the journal of the last book, and then I write in the new journal, and that allows me to see that I’ve been through it all before, I got through it, it was OK … and I’ll get through this as well, so it’s a great tool.

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writing notes … beginnings

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

* “beginning” in Old Man by William Faulkner

  • Faulkner takes 4-5 pages to introduce two convicts who are never named; only then does the story begin …
  • “It was this second convict who, toward the end of April, began to read aloud to the others from the daily newspapers”

* “beginning” in Executive Power by Vince Flynn

  • Here’s how Flynn did it, scene by scene:
  • SCENE 1. special op craft filled with Navy SEALS approaches an island in the Philippines, heavily armed, mission unstated; foreboding hook at end of scene: the mission has been fatally compromised by someone from their own country.
  • SCENE 2. Mitch Rapp is enjoying the last day of his honeymoon; he is high-up CIA, they were married in the White House; he leads teams of commandos on secret and dangerous missions; he has scars; no hook at end.
  • SCENE 3. back to the SEALS;  mission explained: recue hostage US family; many details as they leave the support boat, rubber launch to the island, deploy; then they are attacked with major force; call in backup and evacuate; lose two men.
  • SCENE 4. another boat in Monte Carlo; the assassin named David gos to meet his Arab sponsor, five hours early; insists that the man be awakened.
  • SCENE 5. CIA HQ; Dr. Irene Kennedy, Director of CIA and Rabb’s direct boss, is furious that leaks have compromised the mission and caused two deaths; she knows who leaked, and is planning to make this information public; hook: Rabb is the only man in DC who can do the job.
  • It works for a thriller; can it work for a historical novel?

* “beginning” in Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

  • the prologue is set in 1832, whereas Chapter One is set in 1752-53.
  • In the prologue an old plantation slave from Carolina (which is where we later learn slaves captured in the settlement were to be taken) talks of a Liverpool ship and his white father (later we know this is Paris) who was a doctor on the ship. I totally forgot about this prologue until I reached the epilogue. So … was it necessary? helpful? distracting?
  • there is, in effect, a second beginning: Book Two on page 397, begins in 1765, a gap of 12 years. This creates a need for extensive flashbacks, which are inserted at different places in the second story. This works very effectively to create suspense and a desire to know what happened in the intervening years.

“beginnings” in Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Follett starts with a one page historical preface about the D-Day deception. He ends the preface … “That much is history. What follows is fiction. Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.”
  • the first chapter begins with Faber. The first clue to his identity as a spy is … “Faber watched such things – he was considerably more observant than the average railway clerk.”
  • in the first chapter, Faber kills his landlady, packs his transmitter, and moves on. We now know he is a German spy.

“beginnings” in Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • first lines … “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony. His very paternity was obscure …”
  • a great opening, characterizing Andre-Louis and raising a question not answered until the very end of the book.

“beginnings” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • first line … “Police station, sir!” takes you right into the story.
  • the first hook (p2) is the opening of a 3 year old burglary case. why? why now?
  • the old case involves “the delicate question of a woman’s reputation, a distinguished victim from a powerful family, and treason”
  • this case was first introduced as a burglary; soon we find out (p3) that it’s a murder as well … the reader’s interest is heightened.

“beginnings” in The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • Joan Didion … What’s so hard about the first sentence is that you’re stuck with it.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez … One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph. In the first paragraph, you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone.
  • Philip Roth … I often have to write a hundred pages or so before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. That then becomes the first paragraph of the book. Underline all the sentences, phrases, words that are alive. write them on one piece of paper. There’s your first page. the “aliveness” sets the tone.

“beginnings” in The Day Of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

  • opening sentence It is cold at 6:40 in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.” the precise time convinces the reader of the reality of what’s taking place. By not naming him, the reader wants to know who is being executed. And, since the reason is not given, why … from Stein on Writing

“beginnings” in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • first sentence … “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below” … specificity provides verisimilitude.
  • the fact that the “finest bridge” collapsed suggests something out of the ordinary, some unseen hand. (Stein)

“beginnings” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • O’Hara’s first two chapters (50 pages) are a nice setup … Interesting characters are introduced, the primary event takes place (the production of Yank Lucas’ play), and a whole range of expectations of interesting story line are established.
  • There has been no mention of what the “instrument” is.
  • first paragraph … “Yank Lucas fell asleep late one night and left the gas burning on the kitchen range. … when the water boiled over … extinguished the flame … the odor of gas … Jiggs knocked on the door.”
  • NOTE: I read The Instrument because Sol Stein quoted this first line in his Stein on Writing. Would that Mr. Stein had commented on the rest of the book.

“beginnings” in The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • opening scene. man hanging … is it suicide or murder?
  • the connection to Dumas Three Musketeers is very well done.
  • opening line. “The flash projected the outline of the hanged man onto the wall.” … a powerful visual image

“beginnings” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)
  • primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel
  • you can begin at the beginning, before the beginning, or after the beginning (permits non-linear narrative … back stories)
  • In A Great Deliverance, the novel starts with a priest on a train, going to London, reacting to some important (but not revealed) event that we will later learn was the primary event of the story
  • Opening scene either possesses or promises excitement, intrigue, conflict, foreshadows problems; establishes atmosphere, place, some characters (not necessarily the main characters)
  • must hook the reader (first task is to keep the reader reading)
  • Follett – Key to Rebecca – opening scene introduces but does not identify character, shows aspects of the character’s behavior that are intriguing, mysterious
  • can use the opening to establish place by specific memorable details – atmosphere, mood, tone
  • the opening can be used to illuminate theme or plot or place
  • or to illustrate the agendas of characters

* “beginnings” in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • opening sentence … “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
  • From which we know that this is going to be a story about unhappy families (more than one).
  • opening scene … Tolstoy starts (p.1) with the Oblonskys, Prince Stepan (Stiva) and Princess Darya (Dolly), who are not the main characters.
  • Q: Are there successful examples in more modern novels of this use of secondary characters to begin the story?

* “beginnings” in What Makes Sammy Run – Budd Schulberg (1941)

  • first paragraph. “The first time I saw him, he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick.  Sammy Glick. Used to run copy for me. Always ran. Always looked thirsty.”
  • Brilliant. Tells a lot about Glick and also about Manheim.
  • first chapter. 28 pages. Sets the stage beautifully. Gets right into the story. Conflicts established. Sets reader’s desire to know more. Great beginning.

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* A Good Conviction – Prologue

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

A Good Conviction … PROLOGUE

 Sing Sing Correctional Facility 

Disjointed memories haunt me, as they do every night, shattering my once great expectations and leaving me to share a cold clammy cell listening to a guy named Spider jerk off.

The darkness emits a rumbling undercurrent of sounds, pierced randomly by eerie howls. Inmates yell obscenities to one another, or worse, to no one.

Doors clang, footsteps echo and fade away, angry music blares in short bursts. Odors of urine, decaying food, stale smoke, and sweaty unwashed bodies assault the air. Mice and roaches scurry.

The longer I’m here, the harder it is to imagine being anywhere else.

Giving in and allowing myself to cry would be suicidal. Others would observe my fear, and act on it. Predatory others. “Hey, white boy, they gonna’ love you’ ass in here.”

How long before I lose my mind? And will that be better or worse? Is it already happening? Every day, the person who was Joshua Blake recedes further from reality. Is this process irreversible? Will there be a point when I can never again be who I was?

There’s a sudden movement close to me and I cringe. I’m going to be hurt. Relief. It’s just my cellmate, stirring in the bunk below me. The fact that his presence is actually comforting shows how much my life has changed.

Spider rolls out of his bunk and slides into view. In the dim light, I make out hairy legs, dark crotch, gray prison shirt. He settles his muscled bulk onto the toilet. More sounds and smells. When he’s done, I roll off the upper bunk, take his place, feel his sweat. I remember what it used to be like in a bathroom with a door and a seat on the toilet.

I climb up, careful not to step on Spider’s arm, crawl under my thin blanket, shiver in the chill. Spider’s bulk shifts in the bunk below me. He settles into a slow steady rhythm which pulses my bunk as well as his. Spider is once again masturbating.

I strain for diversion.

A familiar burr grinds at the edges of my mind. I force myself to focus, visualizing each distinct moment of my arrest and trial.

I see a look in a man’s eye. I grab for it, but once again it slips away, and  I’m sinking, gasping, a deep eternal coldness filling my body.

Spider finishes with a grunt and a sudden lurch just as I slide into my personal bottomless lake of despair.

Deep in the murky water, the man’s face reappears, staring at me intently, a puzzled expression in his eyes.

And – finally – I know the face.

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* prosecutors who withheld evidence in the Senator Stevens case receive “pathetic” 15 days and 45 days suspension

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2012

Senator Stevens … a victim of prosecutor misconduct (withholding of evidence) … similar to the misconduct of the prosecutor in Lew Weinstein’s novel “A Good Conviction”

as reported in the NYT (5/26/12) …

  • The legal team that defended Senator Ted Stevens in his corruption trial has harshly criticized as “laughable” and “pathetic” the punishment that the Justice Department handed out to two prosecutors found to have engaged in reckless professional misconduct in the case.
  • “No reasonable person could conclude that a mere suspension of 40 and 15 days for two of the prosecutors is sufficient punishment for the wrongdoing found in the report,” the Stevens legal team said in a written statement after the report was released Thursday.
  • Mr. Stevens, a Republican, was convicted in 2008 of seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure documents.

The judge in the case dismissed the conviction in April 2009 after the Justice Department admitted misconduct.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/26/us/politics/penalties-for-stevens-prosecutors-called-pathetic.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=print

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Lew’s COMMENT …

Misconduct by prosecutors is a cancer on the American justice system.  Far more often than we would like to admit prosecutors either withhold evidence that tends to prove the defendant’s innocence or actually make up evidence to prove guilt (think jailhouse snitch). In most cases, even when a conviction is overturned due to prosecutor misconduct, the prosecutor is not charged or disciplined in any way. What prosecutor wants to prosecute a colleague?

In the Stevens case, an investigation was made, misconduct was proven, the guilty verdict was overturned, and the penalties given to the prosecutors were utterly ludicrous.

I wrote about this problem in a novel called “A Good Conviction,” where a young man is convicted of a murder he did not commit by a prosecutor who knew he was innocent. If you want to understand what it feels like to be in prison for a crime you did not commit, read “A Good Conviction.”

read the PROLOGUE of “A Good Conviction” here …  

 * A Good Conviction – Prologue

see what readers think at  … 

* praise for A Good Conviction

purchase  in paper or kindle at …

* A GOOD CONVICTION

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* 12/19/11 … Texas man exonerated after 25 years … judge rules prosecutor had withheld significant evidence

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2012

  • A Texas man wrongfully convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife is scheduled to be officially exonerated on Monday.
  • lawyers for the man, Michael Morton … are expected to file a request for a special hearing to determine whether the prosecutor broke state laws or ethics rules by withholding evidence that could have led to Mr. Morton’s acquittal 25 years ago.
  • The prosecutor (in Mr. Morton’s case), Ken Anderson, a noted expert on Texas criminal law, is now a state district judge.
  • The filing by Mr. Morton’s lawyer, John Raley, and attorneys from the Innocence Project …will ask the court to determine that there is probable cause to believe that Mr. Anderson withheld reports that the judge in the 1987 trial had ordered him to turn over.
  • In August (2011), however, a different judge ordered the record unsealed, and Mr. Morton’s lawyers discovered that Mr. Anderson had provided only a fraction of the available evidence.
  • Missing from the file was the transcript of a telephone conversation between a sheriff’s deputy and Mr. Morton’s mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a “monster” — who was not his father — attack and kill his mother.
  • Also missing were police reports from Mr. Morton’s neighbors, who said they had seen a man in a green van repeatedly park near their home and walk into the woods behind their house.
  • And there were even reports, also never turned over, that Mrs. Morton’s credit card had been used and a check with her forged signature cashed after her death.
  • If the court of inquiry ends with a finding that Mr. Anderson committed serious acts of misconduct by concealing material evidence, it could lead to disciplinary action by the state bar association and possibly even a criminal prosecution.
  • Experts, however, are skeptical that Judge Anderson could face serious punishment or disbarment, even if the court were to decide that he had committed malfeasance.
  • While withholding material evidence intentionally can get a lawyer disbarred, Ms. Klein said, “It’s extremely unlikely.”

read the entire article at … http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/us/texas-man-seeks-inquiry-after-exoneration-in-murder.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

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* a great day at the Key West Author Book Fair

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 28, 2012

Today was the 3rd annual Key West Authors’ Book Fair, sponsored by Sheri Lohr of Sea Story Press. 15-20 Key West authors had an opportunity to meet each other as well as sell their books.

Pat bought Steve Turtell’s book of poems Heroes and Householders and is enthralled. Steve has a terrific ability to produce a last sentence in his short, beautiful poems that is both gentle and powerful.

I met  Jonathan Woods and bought his Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem, which promises to be an extraordinary read.

And, I sold multiple copies of each of my 4 novels. Not a bad way to spend a delightful Saturday afternoon.

******

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* excerpts from a review of “The Pope’s Conspiracy” by Shirrel Rhoades

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 22, 2012

“The Pope’s Conspiracy is a literary time machine putting you in Renaissance Florence at one of the most spectacular periods in human history.”

great characters … a historical thriller … exciting twists and turns

Lew Weinstein is a serious-minded writer, political analyst, and historian. He’s an accomplished novelist, coming to the avocation late in life (if 55 can be called late these days).

His four published volumes have a common theme that he doesn’t mind acknowledging.

“My novels tell the stories of injustices perpetrated by people in power – the Catholic Church, prosecutors who abuse their power, and the FBI,” Lew says.

His latest – “The Pope’s Conspiracy” – is a historical thriller that takes place over the first six months of 1478, mostly in Florence, Italy. Based on historical events, “The Pope’s Conspiracy” brings the Renaissance alive. The story focuses on a young Jewish printer and his wife who become caught up in the political machinations of the Vatican. It is an adventure in the style of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.”  

You will enjoy Weinstein’s attention to historical detail, from the workings of the Gutenberg printing press to a tour of Florence’s palazzi and piazzas. This verisimilitude serves as a literary time machine putting you (in your mind’s eye) in Renaissance Florence at “one of the most spectacular periods in human history.”

“I spent a good deal of time in Florence, virtually haunting the Palazzo Medici for several days,” he says. “I spent time with Masaccio’s frescoes, the Baptistry doors, and of course the Duomo. I attended mass in the Duomo, sat where Lorenzo was in my story, looked around to ‘see’ the assassins leap to the attack when the host was raised. Beyond that, I read everything I could find.”

“The Pope’s Conspiracy” is a sequel to “The Heretic,” which was published in 2000. However, either novel can stand alone, reading one not dependent on the other. Nonetheless, they form great companion novels and when I finished this epic, I was delighted to go back and read the other.

Like with the discovery of any great literary characters, I’m looking forward to a third installment of this brave Jewish couple’s exploits in a hostile Christian world. “There is a third book which is largely outlined,” Lew admits. “Maybe someday…”

But for now, Lew tells me he’s working on a novel set in 20th century Germany and Poland. “I intend to explore the process by which a decent likable German boy with no anti-Jewish feelings could be transformed into a Nazi killer.” 

******

Shirrel Rhoades is a syndicated columnist, book publisher, and former fiction editor for The Saturday Evening Post. He has held senior positions with Reader’s Digest Books, Scholastic, and Harper’s. He lives in Key West.

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* excerpts from Mike’s Goodreads review of “The Pope’s Conspiracy”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 8, 2012

The Pope’s Conspiracy is a great read which tightly binds the intrigue of a thriller with the lightness of a narrative history.

There is as much edginess and uncertainty as the historical template will allow, and the characters are extremely well depicted, both real and fictitious. Fans of historical fiction should read it as the thrilling introduction to a very interesting period in time; fans of Renaissance history should read it as the accurate walking tour of Europe’s most important city of the day that it serves as; and those who fit into neither category should read it because historical fiction, Florence and its history and The Pope’s Conspiracy have a huge amount to offer everybody.

The book is set in 1478 in Florence, which was at that time approaching the zenith of its powers as an unrivaled artistic, scientific and financial centre. Rarely can an city on earth have laid a claim to have been so important in the development of the modern world.

Into this world of political chess and creative mastery come the characters of Benjamin and Esther Catalan, whose story began with Lew Weinstein’s previous book, The Heretic. I will give nothing away of the story if I write that, as heroes of fiction should be, the couple are immediately likable, faults and all, and that this leads the reader to hope that they avoid the perils of European Jewry of that age, which surround them from the very first page. That, for reasons which will become clear further down this page, is where I will stop with the historical background.

The story slips by at a great rate and before one knows it, the last page is in sight and this reader was left hungry to find a copy of The Heretic and find out more fully how Benjamin and Esther came to be in Florence.

The story itself is captivating – clearly very thoroughly researched, balanced, and with a development and definition of character that sticks closely to known historical fact as much as possible while leaving room for enough to be changed to suit the direction of the plot without ruining the realism.

There was also enough information on the every day lives of Jews five hundred years ago to open my interests in a new subject altogether, and the book certainly has a wealth to offer in that respect.

Purchase   ** THE POPE’S CONSPIRACY   at amazon … paper or kindle

******

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* Becky’s review of “A Good Conviction” (on Goodreads)

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 8, 2012

Wow this is an incredible book! 

I feel this book should definitely

be made into a movie.

I am thoroughly enjoying this author and his writing style. This novel really makes a person wonder how many innocent people are in prison. I am about half way through it and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mystery books & legal books

Finished this book a few days ago. I must admit that I have always supported the death penalty. Although after reading this novel(although the main character was NOT sentenced to death)my opinion has altered.

To read and understand how an innocent person can be convicted & sentenced to life in prison is harrowing. It could happen to any of us. 

******

purchase  * A GOOD CONVICTION  in paper or kindle

******

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* Lew discusses his novels and publishing experience at the Key West Library Cafe Con Libros author series

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 30, 2012

photos by Pat Lenny

As part of the Key West Library Cafe Con Libros author series, Lew spoke to a full house of 56 readers. He spoke mainly about his two historical novels, The Heretic (2000) and The Pope’s Conspiracy (just published), and also mentioned briefly A Good Conviction (2006) and Case Closed (2009).

In addition to discussing his novels, Lew also described the process of publishing as he has experienced it, including …

  • self-publishing before there was print-on-demand (POD)
  • POD as it is today,
  • working with two traditional publishers – The University of Wisconsin Press (published a trade paper edition of The Heretic) and Algaida Editores in Seville, Spain (published Hereje, a Spanish translation of The Heretic)


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* The Pope’s Conspiracy … read Chapter 1

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 27, 2012

The Pope’s Conspiracy by Lewis M. Weinstein

Chapter 1 … on the Mediterranean

The Abu Sa’d had passed Sardinia and was well into the channel between the islands of Corsica and Elba when the captain’s worst fears were realized. On the horizon ahead of them, one after another, the sails of five mighty Spanish warships appeared. The Spanish did not press closer. Instead, maintaining their distance, they retreated before the Moorish ships, drawing them into the narrowing channel. Each mile they sailed further constricted the ability of the Abu Sa’d to maneuver. After fifty miles or so of this strange dance, the Spaniards ceased their northward course and arrayed themselves directly across the path of the Abu Sa’d and its accompanying ships.

“Our caravel is a faster and more maneuverable ship than the square-rigged warships King Fernando has sent against us,” the captain explained to Benjamin Catalán, his passenger and the reason for the threatening presence of the Spanish ships.

“We could try to sail through them or around them, or we could turn and run southward. But our rowing galleys and the slower trading ship would have little chance to escape a serious attack from five Spanish warships.” His smile was more nervous than confident. “I do have a plan,” he said. “My orders have already been communicated to the crew.”

Benjamin hurried to the small cabin which had been constructed for his family under the deck at the stern of the ship. “We’re going to be attacked in the next few minutes,” he said to his wife Esther.

It had been a long journey fraught with peril … racing out of Seville on horseback; pausing just long enough on the plains for Esther to deliver the baby; almost caught by  the troops of King Fernando of Spain; saved by the Moorish troops of King Hasan of Granada; slipping past Fernando’s warship in the harbor of Malaga; surviving a winter storm in the Mediterranean; stopping at Oran and several other port towns along the North African coast. Now, tantalizingly close to their destination, they were facing a one-sided battle at sea.

“You and the children must stay off the deck,” Benjamin urged.  He bent to kiss his seven year old son Judah and the five week old infant Isaac. There was no question of Esther’s courage or her resourcefulness when in danger. She had proven that many times. But as they hugged, they both knew it might be for the last time.

Returning to the stern castle, Benjamin removed his sword from its scabbard and gazed at the sea ahead. He noticed a slight gap between the three ships on the western end of the Spanish line, nearest Corsica, and the other two ships to the east, nearer Elba. Rather than sail toward that gap, however, the captain had directed his fleet at the most westerly ship. The four galleys led the way, rowing fiercely, followed by the Abu Sa’d, with the large trading ship lumbering behind. All five Spanish warships immediately adjusted course to a more westerly direction.

When the distance had narrowed enough for Benjamin to make out the faces of the Spanish soldiers, the captain raised a signal flag and the Moorish fleet immediately disbursed. The Abu Sa’d tacked sharply back in an easterly direction. The trading ship turned slowly to the west on a wide arc to the south. The four war galleys continued to row straight ahead toward the Spanish warships. The galleys increased their stroke and leaped to a pace Benjamin had not imagined possible.

The three most westerly Spanish warships fired their cannon and a hail of small stones flew at the galleys. Arrows flew from cross-bows on both the Spanish ships and the Moorish galleys. Several soldiers in the galleys were hit and fell overboard. Slaves were also hit, but chained to their rowing positions, they fell forward.

The entangled oars of the dead slaves broke the rhythm of the remaining rowers and the galleys lost speed. By then, however, they had reached their objective. The sound of crunching wood reached the Abu Sa’d as the galleys rammed into the warships. Using their impaled rams as bridges, soldiers from the galleys clambered upward onto the Spanish ships. The first to make the climb were cut down by swords slashing above them, but those who followed gained the decks and began a murderous hand-to-hand fighting.

It seemed to Benjamin that the Moorish warriors were seriously outnumbered. He was right, and the attack soon became a suicide mission. Men are dying, Benjamin thought with a moan, so I and my family can reach Italy. He closed his eyes, grieving for the soldiers and slaves whose lot it had become to sacrifice their lives on his behalf.

Directly ahead of the Abu Sa’d as it now sailed to the northeast were the other two Spanish warships, both of which fired their cannons. Stones raked the deck of the Abu Sa’d. Two soldiers were ripped to pieces; several others were severely bloodied. The Abu Sa’d steered a path splitting the distance between the two warships, forcing the square-rigged ships to adjust sails and rudder to try to narrow the space between them. But as soon as they did so, the more agile caravel veered sharply to starboard and sought to pass to the east of both warships.

It didn’t work. The Spanish warships smoothly re-adjusted course eastward and successfully closed off the opening along the coast. With no more room to maneuver, the Abu Sa’d was trapped. The Spanish cannon were in perfect position to rake the caravel. Surprisingly, however, no more cannons were fired. The Spanish ships closed on either side of the Abu Sa’d. Hundreds of soldiers crowded near the rails, preparing to board the caravel.

“Give us Benjamin Catalán and his family and we’ll let your ship go,” came a voice across the diminishing distance.

“If you want Señor Catalán,” shouted the captain of the Abu Sa’d, “you’ll have to come get him.”

Soldiers on the Abu Sa’d cheered defiantly and prepared to defend their ship and valued passenger. One of the Spanish warships drew up on the starboard side of the Abu Sa’d. Fierce war shrieks accompanied the clang of swords as the first Spanish soldiers clambered aboard. Positioned amidst the defending Moors along the freeboard wall, Benjamin swung his sword and found a target. A Spanish soldier fell into the sea. Several other men on both sides soon lost their lives. But even in the chaos of battle, not a single Spanish soldier attacked Benjamin Catalán. Orders had clearly been given to take him alive.

The second Spanish ship was almost in place on the other side of the Abu Sa’d. Once boarded from both sides, their defense would be hopeless. Benjamin turned to the captain, expecting to see the dejected look of one who had tried mightily but failed. Instead, he saw an ear-to-ear grin.

Benjamin followed the captain’s gaze over the stern of the Abu Sa’d. Closing fast behind them were seven warships, every one of them larger than any of the Spanish ships. The Spanish soldiers who had already boarded the Abu Sa’d leaped back to their own ship, which hurriedly turned and sailed westward. Cannonballs flew several hundred yards across the water, passing the Abu Sa’d and slamming into the sides of the retreating Spanish ships. A huge roar from the seamen of the Abu Sa’d accompanied each volley.

“I didn’t know they had such powerful guns,” the captain gasped. “And they’re firing iron cannonballs, not rocks and stones.”

“Who are they?” Benjamin asked.

“The ships behind us are from the fleet of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.”

“What are they doing here?” Benjamin asked.

“My best guess is that like you, they’re on their way to Florence to see Lorenzo Il Magnifico.

The Turkish fleet pursued the retreating Spanish ships, blasted them again and again. The towering mainmasts on both of the fleeing ships came crashing down, crushing the bodies of both living and dead. Shots raked across the decks, killing anyone who was foolish enough to remain standing. Finally, white flags were waved. The Turks boarded, took the few living sailors and soldiers prisoner, threw the dead unceremoniously into the sea, and dispatched their own crews to repair and then sail what would become the newest additions to the Sultan’s navy.

Farther to the west, the other three Spanish ships had disengaged from the Moorish galleys and set sail westward to what Benjamin imagined would be an extremely unpleasant encounter with King Fernando. The damaged galleys picked up whatever survivors they could find in the sea and rowed slowly toward the Abu Sa’d and its Turkish escort.


Posted in * THE POPE'S CONSPIRACY | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* The Pope’s Conspiracy … a brief description

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 25, 2012

in this exciting sequel to The Heretic …

  • It is 1478 at the very peak of the Italian Renaissance in Florence.
  • Benjamin and Esther Catalán are young Jews who have escaped the claws of the Spanish Inquisition and are brought to Florence under the patronage and protection of Lorenzo de Medici, the wealthiest and most powerful man in Europe.
  • Their promising future is threatened, however, by a plot to murder Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano, a conspiracy organized by Pope Sixtus IV in Rome.
  • As the fast-paced plot moves forward, Benjamin and Esther’s often heroic struggle to build their new lives is set against the evolving progress of the Pope’s plan.
  • Esther Catalán, a woman unlike any other ever seen in Florence, shows blazing intelligence and engaging style as she sets the Catalán Press on a path to print previously unpublished works of Plato and the Jewish Talmud. Her friendship with Lucrezia de Medici, mother of Lorenzo and Giuliano, offers a unique look into the lives of one of the most famous families in history.
  • Benjamin Catalán surprises Lorenzo with his boldness and political acumen. He develops a close friendship with Giuliano, involving football, hawking and hunting with a cheetah.
  • Both Benjamin and Esther become integral participants in the cultured and opulent Medici inner circle even as they seek to re-make their Jewish life in an environment that resembles the anti-Jewish furor they experienced in Spain.
  • Directed from the Vatican, the net around Lorenzo and Giuliano tightens. Rumors of a possible attack are reported by Medici spies.
  • Benjamin joins with the Medici family to try to thwart the conspiracy.
  • Lorenzo refuses to believe the Holy Father is brazen enough to attempt murder almost to the day the would-be assassins arrive in Florence.

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* Coming Apart by Charles Murray

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 25, 2012

******

  • “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart.’” —David Brooks, The New York Times
  • “Mr. Murray’s sobering portrait is of a nation where millions of people are losing touch with the founding virtues that have long lent American lives purpose, direction and happiness.” —W. Bradford Wilcox, The Wall Street Journal

It’s always daunting to disagree with such eminent authorities, but I see “Coming Apart” as little more than right wing political screed dressed up in the trappings of the author’s “alleged” research findings. 

It seems to me that Charles Murray decided first on the point of view he wanted to espouse, i.e., that the declining lower middle class is the cause of its own problems due to their failure to maintain what he calls the “founder virtues” (especially industriousness and marriage). Answers clearly in mind, he then selectively dug out data and prepared analyses to support his pre-ordained conclusions.

In my view, Murray didn’t do much of a job with either the data or the analysis, and his conclusions therefore remain little more than an expansion of his original biased speculation.

Murray’s “facts” are concocted according to rules which do not come close to conforming to the kind of rigorous investigative procedure practiced by researchers who really want to learn something. Mostly derived from census data, Murray excludes any categories which would complicate his conclusions (like blacks, mixed-marriages, scholarship students), and groups the rest of America’s humanity into two over-simplified constructs he calls “Belmont” (the elite ones sort of like him) and “Fishtown” (some imaginary lower middle class group that none of the elite know much about). Finally, Murray camouflages this highly selective witches brew with a patina of mostly obvious observations which, while often true, do nothing to buttress his conclusions.

Of course Murray, and the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank of which he is a part, have a serious right wing agenda, and it is within this context that “Coming Apart” must be viewed. It is a political document – nothing more – which should not be accepted as sociological or demographic or any other kind of disciplined analysis. It is intended to blame the poor for their problems, and even more importantly, excuse the wealthy from any responsibility towards the less fortunate among us.

Now, I do not argue that every aspect of what liberal government seeks to do for its poorer citizens is successful. Some of it is horribly conceived and incompetently executed. Some of it is corrupt. Murray points out these failures, and in this he is correct. But there have also been significant successes (voting rights for minorities, equal rights for women, early education programs in disadvantaged neighborhoods, diversified admissions programs at elite colleges), and the goal to enable all Americans to have a fair chance to engage in “the pursuit of happiness” was and is critically important.

Here’s why: If our country does not figure out how to help those who are now spiraling downward become productive members of our economic and political society, they and their children will continue to be a serious drag on America’s ability to succeed in a competitive world. How will we fare as a country where many of our citizens contribute little and an ever-larger percentage of our resources must be devoted to their support? This is one of those instances where compassion and self-interest are perfectly aligned.

Murray’s analysis, which I see as both wrongheaded and poorly argued, does serve one useful purpose. It gets us talking about political issues which we ought to be addressing, although not perhaps in the way Murray and his group would like.

Let’s see, where do you think contraception, universal healthcare, education and broad electoral rights fit into this discussion?

******

Posted in *** Lew's reviews - general reading | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

* A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 25, 2012

“A Soldier of the Great War is a very different kind of World War I novel …”

A Soldier of the Great War is a very different kind of World War I novel. Sure there is fighting and people die, as Helprin’s novel shows slices of the Italian action in World War I, on the mainland and mountains, on the sea, and in Sicily.

But the primary focus is a lingering portrait of a man named Alessandro Giuliano who reflects back many years later on a life which has been horribly distorted and largely wasted by the experience of war. We meet brave men, loyal comrades, confused leaders, an absence of purpose and integrity, significant corruption, and a total lack of ability to control the outcome.

This is mankind’s repetitive experience of meaningless killing. Helprin presents it in a way you will remember with compassion for Alessandro and a greater understanding and some contempt for many others whose actions were far less meritorious.

This is a book which starts slowly and you might be tempted to quit. I urge you not to.

There are a series of pre-war scenes, establishing the relationship between Alessandro and his father, providing poignant views of what his privileged life might have been if not interrupted by the war. We see early on what an excellent observer Alessandro is and begin to anticipate how his sharp humor and sense of irony will illuminate the dark experiences he is soon to have.

A very sweet aspect of Alessandro’s tale is that he tells most of it to an uneducated but curious young man he finds on the road and hikes with for several days. The relationship between these two men and the patience of the older for the younger add a great deal to the book’s enjoyment, serving as intermezzo between recollections.

Having survived the war and forsaken other career options, Alessandro became a professor of aesthetics, seeking beauty as a contrast to the ugliness he has experienced, permanence as opposed to the always truncated love he has felt for those who died too soon. He is far too cultured a man to imagine him killing other people, but the needs of war, of course, take no cognizance of people’s real talents.

Helprin’s writing technique (in this book and in Refiner’s Fire, which I read a year or so ago, and also recommend) is to present a sequence of what may seem to be unrelated tales in the life of a single character.  Some may find this disconcerting, at least in the beginning, but as you let yourself accept Helprin’s flow, it all seems to work. The transitions, or more often absence of transitions, reflects how it must have been to be wrenched from one life to another.

The war scenes are nothing like Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” or Junger’s “Storm of Steel,” because everything is seen through the eyes of a seeker of beauty who does not succumb to horror even as he is unable to make his many small triumphs amount to more than a shadow of the life he had envisioned; there is always another senseless challenge. I wondered if Alessandro would ever express the frustration he must have felt, but he just kept “soldiering” on, even as the goal if there ever was one kept receding faster than he could approach it.

Helprin’s ability to describe places, things and people is extraordinary, something any writer can learn from. The mountain climbing scenes in particular are marvelously frightening. A mild criticism is that he is so good at description he may do it too often and in too much detail. There were times when I wanted to know what happened to Alessandro and was frustrated by yet another descriptive diversion.

But having said that … the overall impact of the story is so very good, thoughtful, entertaining, enlightening, and of course sad.

Alessandro’s musings about death, finally facing his own while remembering all the others he has seen, are by themselves worth the read. The best evidence, he hopes, of some future after death is contained in the hints of a past before birth. There’s a thought that will stay with you.

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* prosecutors hide evidence to get conviction … again!!! … real life imitates Lew’s novel “A Good Conviction”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 15, 2012

** purchase A GOOD CONVICTION by Lew Weinstein at amazon.com

from the NYT – 3/15/12 … 

  • “The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (by Federal prosecutors) were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness,” wrote Henry F. Schuelke, the investigator assigned to the case.
  • The report “confirms that the prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens was riddled with government corruption involving multiple federal prosecutors and at least one F.B.I. agent,” said Mr. Sullivan in a written statement.
  • they worked together to win at all costs in an attempt to convict a sitting United States senator in an ill-conceived prosecution.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/16/us/politics/report-details-inner-workings-of-troubled-ethics-trial-of-senator-ted-stevens.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1331841685-L/xLH6iKvbRPc2Ykt+C31g

******

LMW COMMENT …

This sort of cheating by prosecutors and police happens far more often than most Americans suspect. It is a cancer on the U.S. judicial system. And it will never be corrected until those prosecutors and cops are themselves prosecuted and held accountable for their actions, which almost never happens except in a few high-profile cases like this one and the Duke case.

If this issue concerns you, you might like my novel A Good Conviction which tells the story of a young man found guilty of a murder he didn’t commit by a prosecutor who knew he didn’t do it and hid the evidence from the defense.

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* at a Bradenton, FL book club … a lively and thoughtful discussion of “The Heretic”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 6, 2012

feedback from the book club …

“He is the most personable and interesting man I have ever met.”

“It was a highlight of all the bookclubs we have had.”

“He is the most charming man who doesn’t try to be charming.”

“I would say he was a HUGE hit.”

I am just overwhelmed by the responses of book club members to my appearance in Bradenton. Thank you Barb, for inviting me and for forwarding these wonderful comments.

******

Pat and I met Barb and Jack Harrison, and their entire clan, on the beach at Collioure two summers ago. Barb induced her book club to read The Heretic, and then asked me to join them at their March 2012 meeting.

What a group of thoughtful readers with outstanding questions. The discussion went on for over two hours …

  • what is true and not true in this historical novel? 
  • how fiction can be “more true” than the actual facts, by adding the inner thoughts and expressions of historical characters … if these are presented in a manner consistent with what is actually known about the characters.
  • how did I integrate my research and writing? how long did it take?
  • the reaction of Catholic leaders to my portrayal of one of the Church’s least proud moments.
  • the publishing history of what is now 4 editions of The Heretic, including Hereje issued in Spain last month
  • stories behind the blurbs of Msgr Tom Hartman and Alan Dershowitz
******

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* a review of The Heretic in the Historical Novels Review

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2012

Spanish edition published Feb 2012

The narrative is compelling, sweeping the reader along on a well-paced journey, while the setting comes alive with the sights, sounds and smells of medieval Spain. 

  • Set in fifteenth century Spain, The Heretic by Lewis Weinstein tells the story of a converso Christian who rediscovers his Jewish roots, with dire consequences.
  • Steeped in late medieval culture, the novel immerses the reader in a world of religious intolerance and cross-cultural cooperation.
  • Mr. Weinstein clearly did a wealth of research and manages to weave most of it in skillfully. 
  • His characters, both fictional and historical, are vital living beings, well motivated, true-to-life and, more importantly, true to the period. 
  • Gabriel Catalan, his wife Pilar, their son Tomas and daughter-in-law Esther, shine through the book, confronting their past and fighting for a future for their family.
  • Set against the turbulent period in Spanish history just prior to the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, the story follows Gabriel’s quest to preserve the great works of Judaism using the newly invented printing press. 
  • He and his family risk their lives to keep their activities hidden from the Church authorities, most notably from the Dominican monk, Friar Ricardo Perez, a protégé of Torquemada.
  • The history of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Christians is incorporated in a believable way so that readers become acquainted with the historical background behind the rise of the Inquisition.

******

This review first appeared in the August 2000 issue of The Historical Novels Review.

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* The Pope’s Conspiracy – a short description

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

It is 1478 at the very peak of the Italian Renaissance. The Pope’s targets for assassination are Lorenzo de Medici, the wealthiest and most powerful man in Europe, and his brother Giuliano.

Benjamin and Esther Catalán are Jews who have escaped the claws of the Spanish Inquisition and have come to Florence under Lorenzo’s patronage to establish one of Italy’s first printing presses. The young couple are also driven by the dream of Benjamin’s martyred parents that they not only survive, but do so as an observant Jewish family.

As the fast-paced plot moves forward, Benjamin and Esther’s often heroic struggle to build their new lives is set against the evolving progress of the Pope’s plan to murder the Medici brothers. Esther Catalán, a woman unlike any other ever seen in Florence, shows blazing intelligence and engaging style as she sets the Catalán Press on a path to print previously unpublished works of Plato and the Jewish Talmud. Benjamin Catalán surprises Lorenzo with his boldness and political acumen and also develops a close friendship with Giuliano. Both Benjamin and Esther become integral participants in the cultured and opulent Medici inner circle.

Directed from the Vatican, the net around Lorenzo and Giuliano tightens. Rumors of a possible attack are reported by Medici spies. Benjamin joins with the Medici brothers to thwart the conspiracy, even as Lorenzo refuses to believe the Holy Father is brazen enough to attempt murder.

Based on actual historical events, The Pope’s Conspiracy is a tensely drawn portrait of political intrigue at the highest levels, and of a talented and ambitious Jewish couple enmeshed in events beyond anything they might have imagined.

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* praise for Case Closed

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

READERS Praise Case Closed  …

  • Case Closed is a fast-paced thriller.
  • The writing is sparse, driven by a plausible plot that allows the reader to think through the crime/mystery along with the protagonist. Despite the troubling reality of the subject matter, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating read.
  • CASE CLOSED is excellent, a great page-turner. I was impressed with how deftly Weinstein moved between fact and fiction.
  • I think (fear?) that this novel tells the real story of the 2001 anthrax attacks.
  • This book serves as an example of one of the great uses of fiction: using the power of imagination to make a point, build a case through the power of story, when the writer can’t access the facts (here the facts are hidden in the backrooms of power).
  • CASE CLOSED opened my mind.
  • Case Closed leaves you with the thought that perhaps someone else could really have been accountable for this horrendous crime.
  • My biggest problem with CASE CLOSED is it is too believable. I would not be at all surprised if Lewis Weinstein’s fictionalized novel about the FBI’s anthrax investigation turned out to be more truth than fiction.
  • If one follows Mr. Weinstein’s blog (http://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/), it becomes clear that the CASE is far from CLOSED.
  • This is not just a good book, but an important one.
  • Weinstein knew there were demons embedded in the FBI’s story, and they haunted him. For weeks he could not rest until he’d put pen to paper. This novel is the result.
  • Case Closed provides a solid background of the 2001 anthrax case which could not have been attained through the news media. It was concise and informative and offered credibility to the events which in my opinion could have very likely occurred.
  • Fiction?? Maybe?? But I don’t think so!! More likely an excellent interpretation of what may have really happened.
  • The FBI’s mishandling of the anthrax attacks investigation is just another example of the way the past administration “managed” events to fit their agenda.
  • Lew is a great investigative writer.
  • The book is compelling, once you start you cannot put it down … and the end is … Well you will have to read it to find out.
  • Case Closed reads fast and well. It could have happened just the way the author said. Full of intrigue mixed in with almost current events. The real people are just behind the fictional ones.
  • The author states loud and clear that this book is fiction … but the investigation of the Anthrax attacks makes one stop and really think about it.
  • Weinstein raises some very interesting and disturbing theories. If it was not meant to make one think about the real situation, the book would still be a great read. It is suspenseful and a real page turner.
  • Please tell me it’s not true!
  • The writer acknowledges that the novel is fiction, but …
  • Responsible Americans who believe in holding our government accountable for its actions should read Case Closed to be more informed of the facts (of the 2001 anthrax attacks and the subsequent FBI investigation), regardless of whether they come to agree with the author’s theory. More investigation is needed.

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* Case Closed … opening scene

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

On July 29, 2008 Dr. Bartram Ingram died at the Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland. Dr. Ingram was a scientist at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick. The cause of death was given as suicide. Reportedly, he had taken a large dose of prescription drugs.

One week later, the US Department of Justice and the FBI, who had not to that point charged Dr. Ingram with any crime, convened a press conference at which the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia announced that Dr. Ingram was, at the time of his death, about to be charged as the sole perpetrator of the anthrax attacks which had caused five deaths and panicked the nation in 2001, seven years before. The implication was that Dr. Ingram had committed suicide rather than face the impending charges.

“Based upon the totality of the evidence we’ve gathered against him,” the U.S. Attorney stated, “we are confident Dr. Ingram was the only person responsible for these attacks. Dr. Ingram prepared the powdered anthrax in his research laboratory at Fort Detrick; he addressed the envelopes and filled them with lethal anthrax; he transported the envelopes to Princeton, NJ where he mailed them.

“The FBI is now conducting the routine steps needed to conclude this investigation. Once this process is complete, which we estimate will be no more than two weeks, we will formally close the case.”

******

“I don’t fucking think so!”

Everyone in the room was startled. None of them had ever heard Lieutenant General Clifford Drysdale, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), use such language.

“Those FBI bastards hounded a Defense Department employee until he committed suicide, if it was suicide. After seven years the FBI hasn’t come close to making a case that could convict the lowest grade criminal, let alone an internationally respected scientist. And they think they can say ‘case closed’ and sweep their incompetent investigation under the rug?”

“I’ve already spoken to Secretary Morgan,” General Drysdale continued. “The Secretary agrees that the Defense Department is taking an unwarranted hit from the FBI, and we don’t know why. At my request, the Secretary has authorized us to find out what really happened.

“You’re the team I’ve selected. You’re authorized to go where you need to go, ask what you need to know. You’ll whatever resources are necessary.

“Jonathan will head the task force, reporting to me at least daily. The FBI took seven years; I’m expecting some serious answers in a lot less time than that.”

******

* purchase CASE CLOSED (paperback & kindle) at amazon

******

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* praise for A Good Conviction

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

READERS’ COMMENTS …
Wow! That’s some story. It’s scary to think how many like Josh are trapped in our legal system. My heart is breaking for this kid.

  • I couldn’t put A Good Conviction down until it was finished – and that was in the wee hours of the morning! Weinstein allows the reader to feel the same anger, scare and frustration that Josh experiences, as we watch him become a victim of a corrupt DA. At the same time that we root for Josh to get justice, we are brought into the world of incarcerated criminals who fill their days with ways to survive. It’s a wild ride, and a story that I highly recommend.
  • What a ride! A scary, yet thoroughly believable, journey through the police and court systems of New York City. Lewis Weinstein captures the tensions and fears of prison life so well, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t done hard time himself. It certainly makes you wonder how many innocent people are behind bars.
  • A Good Conviction is a well written, well paced, and fascinating tale of prosecutorial abuse in the Manhattan DA’s office. Makes one wonder how many other times something like this has occurred and just how high the abuse is actually sanctioned … Judge (ret.) Leslie Crocker Snyder, former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney, first sex crimes prosecutor in the U.S.:
  • This gripping story demonstrates how one’s life can take a 180 degree turn in a moment. Innocent actions can be misinterpreted and unfortunate consequences result. Weinstein is a great story teller and A Good Conviction is a very well crafted story.
  • A Good Conviction is an unusually gripping story of an erroneous conviction and the passionate fight to correct that injustice. Weinstein’s account of what a bad prosecutor does to Joshua Blake provides a frightening and realistic parallel to many of the true life cases we documented in our study … Michael Radelet, one of the authors of In Spite of Innocence, a study of over 400 cases of persons wrongly convicted of crimes carrying the death penalty
  • I am an avid reader of fiction, especially thrillers, and I can tell you that Weinstein holds his own among his peers including Baldacci, Grisham & Patterson. Do yourself a favor and add “A Good Conviction” and “The Heretic” to your reading list and discover this truly talented writer.
  • Having spent countless hours working with detectives, courts, attorneys, and wrongly convicted inmates I was most impressed with how well researched and accurate your narrative was. You really nailed it. In addition, it was a great read. … Dan Slepian, NBC Frontline producer of many crime and legal news shows
  • I am amazed at the research that Weinstein has done for both of his books. A Good Conviction, like The Heretic, is a real page turner with a lot of suspense. However, the book is more than just suspenseful. Weinstein illuminates an issue that is very serious and through a fictional account he sensitizes the reader to the plight of the many people who are incarcerated for crimes that they did not commit. I recommend the book highly and cannot wait for his next book.
  • A Good Conviction is one of the few books that I could not put down and always looked forward to the next chapter! So many books have the tendency to be drawn out in the middle, but this one kept you on the edge throughout and you really did get to know every character. I love a book that when I read it I feel like I am living it and that can only be done by a talented writer. Thank You for the experience!
  • A Good Conviction would be a great book for a reading group/book club. The characters were real and the circumstances of the main character’s life – from a great future to no future were heart wrenching.
  • The characters and their emotions were so vividly portrayed that I still think about them as if I knew them. Lovers of New York City will walk the streets of the city and visualize “A Good Conviction” happening. You will walk past a certain news-stand and wonder if the owner remembers Josh.
  • When you read a book that you don’t want to end….that is a good book. “A Good Conviction” is a good book.
  • Fraught with emotion and spot-on depiction of everyone from the lawyers to the hardened criminals, the reader experiences all the perils of life behind bars. With the surety of a jury handing down a life sentence, Weinstein confidently guides the reader through the complicated maze of our legal system and the politics within to a conclusion that is both uplifting and staggering in its depth.
  • A Good Conviction strikes home like no other book I have read. It could happen to any of us or those we care about. Takes the phrase “no good deed shall go unpunished” to a whole new level.
  • Having spent two years of a twenty year career with the NYPD transporting prisoners to and from Manhattan Central Booking, I read much of Mr. Weinstein’s book holding my breath. During those long 24 months I never got used to the sound of the cell doors sliding closed with a loud CLANG! Even knowing full well I would be leaving, it induced instant claustrophobia. Well, the scenes in A Good Conviction that take part on Riker’s Island brought that sound and more back to me with amazing clarity. If you want a glimpse into the hell that is American prison life, read this book.
  • A Good Conviction is a page turner and I loved every minute of it. The main character is entirely believable and his circumstances are chilling: something that could happen to any one of us. The research behind this book and the author’s familiarity with legal procedures (which are not hard to follow in the book) are evident.
  • I am really into this story! I feel so bad for Josh. I love to read books that I feel close to the characters and that’s how I feel with this one!
  • I love crime novels and this one doesn’t disappoint. The stark contrast in the opening chapters between Joshua Blake’s, until then, seemingly charmed life and the brutal reality of Sing Sing prison is chilling. You can’t help but think ‘What if that were me?’
  • The story is gripping. It keeps you turning the pages with twists and turns to the plot.
  • The characters engage you. Watch them develop – not just Josh as he is forced to face unimaginable challenges just to survive in jail, but those who take up the challenge of trying to prove his innocence. What motivates them? Why does NYPD Lieutenant Kerrigan put himself on the line? What drives Darleen to stand by Josh? And look out for Josh’s defense lawyer – he may not inspire confidence to begin with but develops as a quiet force.
  • I like the style, the way the story moves from Joshua being at Sing Sing to his free days and then to his time at Rikers Island. Makes for interesting reading that way.
  • I absolutely love this book. I read a lot of mysteries by Michael Connelly and James Patterson and Len Deighton. A Good Conviction is right up there. This should definitely be on the NY Times best reads.
  • I abhor ADA Claiborne. You made him into a villain but did it in a way that did not make him a caricature. I cannot think of a character in your book who was not drawn well. The best thing I can say about any book is that I am sorry to see it end. I was sorry to reach the end of your book.
  • Having anxiously awaited this novel after reading The Heretic with our book club in South Jersey, I have been gripped by the A Good Conviction’s reality and intensity. We’d like to think such injustices don’t happen, but recent advances in forensics have proven that many innocents are incarcerated. What’s scary about Josh Blake’s situation is that it strikes you as being entirely plausible.
  • Loved the attention to detail about the story’s New York locations – provided a reality foundation which made the story more startling.
  • Every page of A Good Conviction forces me to confront the very real issue in our society of someone who lives the horror of a wrongful conviction and life in the realities of prison.… Your attention to detail is great — I feel I am in New York with Josh!
  • I liked the court room scene and thought it moved quickly in a compelling manner
  • A Good Conviction just grabs your attention and compels you to read on and on.


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* theme

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

Old Man by William Faulkner

  • “nobody told them for what or for why”
  • this convict does not control his life in any meaningful way; the tragedy is that he clearly could, he has enormous capabilities, but he has no concept that this is possible for him;
  • he is stuck within an almost feudal sense of his place in the world, unchangeable.
  • “things had moved too fast for him”
  • but he will respond to whatever happens (and much does happen), stolidly plowing on, showing great creativity but only to accomplish the task he has been set, not to improve his own lot in life;
  • “he thought quietly, with a sort of bemused amazement, Yes, I reckon I had done forgot how good making money was. Being let to make it” … and later … “Then he would retire himself, he would take a last look at the rolled bundle behind the rafter and blow out the lantern and lie down as he was beside his snoring partner, to lie sweating (on his stomach, he could not bear the touch of anything to his back) in the whining ovenlike darkness filled with the forlorn bellowing of alligators, thinking not, They never gave me time to learn but I had forgot how good it is to work”
  • among the few times in the story where Faulkner leads the reader to think what might have been for this convict, with all his talents and determination, but for one stupid mistake when he was 19 years old.
  • and at the end … “Yonder’s your boat, and here’s the woman. But I never did find that bastard on the cottonhouse.”
  • “All right,” the convict said. “If that’s the rule.” So they gave him ten years more and the Warden gave him the cigar and now he sat, jacknifed backwards into the space between the upper and lower bunks, the unlighted cigar in his hand while the plump convict and the four others listened to him.”

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Andre-Louis begins as a supporter of Privilege, since this is how he was raised.
  • His initial support for Equality and Freedom is borrowed from his murdered friend, but not believed, and initially, his real-life impassioned political oratory is all an act.
  • Later, as an actor, he surprisingly becomes more real, interjecting purposely provocative lines, which he apparently believes, into the play.
  • As a politician, he comes to believe that a new constitution will indeed save France from the tyranny of Privilege, but then comes to see that the tyranny of the resulting anarchy is even worse.
  • Sabatini, a historian before he became a novelist, has thus woven an evolving historical point of view (his own?) into his adventure story, giving it a higher premise than it would otherwise have.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • in her 9th novel in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, Anne Perry achieved her breakout novel. She did this by raising the stakes, so that the action in the story mattered in a larger sense.
  • From this point on in the series, Inspector Pitt is removed from routine homicide cases and assigned instead to cases of special sensitivity and political import (issues such as Irish independence, anti-Semitism, the Church of England’s crisis over Darwin’s theory of evolution) … taken from Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass 
  • the old case involves “the delicate question of a woman’s reputation, a distinguished victim from a powerful family, and treason” …
    • so we know that this case involves a broader scope than just a detective story
    • although, as the story develops, the aspect of treason is never presented in a way that I could feel the future of the Empire was at stake, and in the end, there was no treason at all. It seems to me if you’re going to use treason as a hook, it should turn out to be as important as first implied.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • Does God have a plan?
  • Brother Juniper’s efforts to prove this were burned (and we later learn, so was he). Perhaps Br. Juniper’s massive effort to “prove” God’s plan was in itself evidence of his own doubt that such a plan really existed. Why else burn the proof?
  • Dona Maria reflects the doubt of the theme in her own fears. “God is indifferent.” Then she expresses the hope and reinforces the tension of the plot. “But soon a belief in the great Perhaps …”
  • Dona Maria … “I can do no more. What will be, will be … She had a strange sense of having antagonized God by too much prayer.”  This sets up the conclusion, where others (Dona Clara and the one “who had formerly been an actress”) fill Pepita’s intended role.
  • Manuel “tore open the flesh on his knee,” leading to an infection from which he soon dies. An event, a twist in the plot, which ultimately leads Esteban to the bridge.
  • the Perichole gets small-pox, her “beauty had passed,” and she had “never realized any love save love as passion.”

******

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* technique

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

* metaphor and simile defined

  • metaphor  1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare). 2.One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol
  • simile … A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as, as in “How like the winter hath my absence been” or “So are you to my thoughts as food to life” (Shakespeare).

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Perry has Charlotte, in her persona as Elizabeth Baranaby, sit quietly listening to conversation and asking herself a series of questions. This helps the reader keep straight what is known and yet unknown about a complicated plot.
  • Similar to what I did when Detective Watson complied a list of unanswered questions in A Good Conviction.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • John Steinbeck … say dialogue aloud as you write it. only then will it have the sound of speech.
  • Tennessee Williams … when I write, everything is visual, as brilliantly as if it were on a lit stage. And I talk out the lines as I write.
  • Samuel Johnson … read over your composition and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
  • D.H. Lawrence … they say DHL used to write second drafts and never look at the first
  • Bernard Malamud … first drafts are for learning what your novel is about. revision is one of the true pleasures of writing.
  • James Baldwin … painters have often taught writers to see
  • Francois Mauriac … some writers are greatly preoccupied with technique … they seem to think that a good novel ought to follow certain rules imposed from outside … the great novelist doesn’t depend on anyone but himself … a borrowed style is a bad style
  • Mark Twain … the difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug
  • Truman Capote… a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation
  • William Styron … I used to spend a lot of time worrying over word order … then I got more and more interested in people … and story
  • E.M. Forster … very few of us have the power of observing a variety of life and describing it dispassionately. Tolstoy was one who could.

Helpless by Barbara Gowdy

  • Gowdy writes as if she’s on a sinking boat and needs to throw out all the dead weight. The only words that survive are the ones that matter: no extraneous evidence of her research, no long-winded descriptions, no self-indulgent frills of characterization. And the result is a page turner that finds tension … from a review by Chelsea Cain, NYT, 4-29-07

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  •  exaggeration … “tidal waves were continually washing away cities … earthquakes arrived every week … towers fell upon good men and women all the time”
  • irony … “only the widely read could be said to knowthey were unhappy.’
  • irony … “many people would never have fallen in love if they had not heard about it.”
  • irony … Brother Juniper’s book was declared heretical, and “was ordered to be burned in the square, with its author.” So much for proving that God has a plan.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • use of metaphor reveals a writer’s grasp of life
  • novels go happiest when you discover something you didn’t know, perhaps a metaphor that startles you even as you are setting it down, a truth that used to elude you.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Yank: “Money and I have been strangers all my life.”
    • effective metaphor, likely to be remembered, and setting the story line of what will happen now that he has money (even though this story line is never effectively developed). 
  • “Somewhat like Byron, he awoke the next morning and found himself famous.”
    • The simile only works if the reader understands the reference, which is not likely.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  •  important characters introduced late in the story … Varo Borja (46); the girl with green eyes (98, 135, 177); man with a scar (173); Victor Fargas (142).
    • This seems to work ok, except for the unresolved plot issues, although when reading, it seemed disconcerting to me.  
  • explaining technical matters … the Ceniza brothers tell Corso how a book can be forged.
    • I like the way this was done. It went on just long enough but not too long.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • Character introduction … After beginning with Stiva and Dolly, many other characters, including the major characters, are introduced later: Levin (p.16), Kitty (p.28), Vronsky (p.39,56), and Anna (p.58).
  • If you don’t know differently, you initially think that Stepan and Dolly are the major characters.
  • When other characters are introduced, it’s still not clear who the major characters will be.
    • I suspect this is not a technique which would work today.
  • Tolstoy ridicules the Russian bureaucracy by simply describing how it works, with no editorial comment. He trusts the reader to get it.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • most readers are quick readers, who will stumble and fall on too-complicated prose
  • the essence of good writing is that it sets an intense mood, then alters that mood, enlarges it, conducts it over to another mood. Every sentence is careful not to poke through the tissue of the mood
  • finding one’s own manner is elusive.
  • manner comes down to a set of decisions on what word is valuable in every sentence you write.
  • another element of manner is consistency. Toni Morrison can write beautifully for pages, then move along in a pedestrian mode
  • find your own distinctive insights
  • Henry James had an extraordinary sense of that unforeseen vibration in the almost wholly unexpected. He created a fictional world out of such insight.
  • You must push your writing to find such insight, by constantly asking questions … what would the character do? … why? … the events must be true to the character 
  • Hemingway could not write a good long complex sentence, so he developed a style of short declarative sentences. which seemed to work out pretty well  
  • some writers always write in their own inimitable style (Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway) while others (including Mailer) go along in a variety of modes. Matisse always painted in a recognizable mode, Picasso tried a hundred modes before he was done
  • describe what you see as it impinges on the sum of your passions and intellectual attainments.
  • write as if everything depends on saying what you feel as clearly as you can
  • do not be afraid to go with the insight provided in an unexpected and happy turn of phrase
  • use your own crucial experiences as a source for your writing, not directly perhaps, where they may be too special, too intense or too concentrated, but rather by projecting your imagination through the crystal of your experience
  • if you tell yourself that you are going to write tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You owe it to your unconscious to keep your promise.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Talking Head Avoidance Device (THAD) – those elements of a scene that illustrate character or illuminate state of mind in ways other than he said/she said; present the reader a visual element in what would otherwise be only dialogue. Can be anything. Draw from character analysis.
  • manipulate language to alter the mood
  • every sentence in a paragraph should be an amplification of the sentence preceding it, or should address a prevailing topic in some way
  • paragraphs must be cohesive, and linked together to create a seamless narrative
  • I develop my outline and write my novels in the order they’ll be read
  • Note every opportunity for causal relationships to be developed
  • Write the running plot outline – stream of consciousness
  • By having as much information as possible before writing the scene, can concentrate on the writing

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  •  jargon … “two sticks short” … this jargon is never directly explained, but indirectly we learn that it is four inches or 30 lines.

The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates

  • In dramatic literature, the tauter the scene, the more emotionally effective
  • if the scene is protracted or repetitive, and the (reader) gets ahead of the (story), there’s a slackening of attention;
  • but if the story is too short and underdeveloped, the dramatic experience will be thin, slight, sketchy, forgettable
  • the goal of the writer is to fully realize his material, to discover the ideal balance between fluidity of narration and background exposition, description, an amplification
  • the story’s theme is the bobbin upon which the narrative, or plot, is skillfully wound. Without the bobbin (the thematic center), the thread would fly loose
  • longer fiction (must) involve the reader emotionally
  • trying always to write beautifully, brilliantly, with originality, can be paralyzing

 ******

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* suspense & tension

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • the concluding scenes are full of tension, both political and personal, as Andre-Louis’s life is made clear to him, at age 28, for the very first time. The personal melodrama is fully submerged into the action, and it is the action which reveals it.
  • who shall appear after the duel? is a question Sabatini uses twice.
    • Andre-Louis’s appearance at the Assembly after his first duel is brilliant … “his place was vacant … very few ever expected to see him again … they saw him enter, calm, composed, and bland … M. le President, my excuses for my late arrival … I have been detained by an engagement of a pressing nature. I bring you also the excuses of M. de Chabrillane. He, unfortunately, will be permanently absent from this Assembly in future.”
    • the second instance of who shall appear? transforms a dramatic tension into a comedy of errors. Aline, terrified for Andre-Louis, rushes to the scene of the duel with Mme. de Plougastel, sees the Marquis appear first in his carriage, thinks Andre-Louis is dead, and faints. The Marquis stops to help her. Andre-Louis now drives past, incorrectly interprets Aline’s condition to her concern for the Marquis, and angrily keeps on going.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Pitt’s first meeting with Ballarat ends with a high degree of tension. “He (Pitt) went out with his mind seething.” This tension is immediately relieved. “Then the cold air hit his face …” The next scene introduces Pitt’s children anticipating Christmas eve.
  • Veronica: “We too are taking up our lives again.” Mrs. York: “You are.” Mrs. York’s tone was charged with emotion, but … Charlotte could not define it … a warning of some sort?
    • Something is there. We want to know what it is. We want Charlotte to figure it out so she can help Pitt and he won’t be as furious with her as we expect him to be. The reader wants to know something and will keep hooked until it is revealed.  
  • Mrs. York: “Family responsibilities are something one never grows out of, nor is one able to escape them.” … Charlotte had the sudden, intense feeling that the two women disliked each other, perhaps even more than that … Charlotte believed they were speaking of something quite different, and for all the tension between them and the underlying violence, they understood each other perfectly.”
    • But the reader will not understand until almost the last page in the book.  
  • Pitt and Charlotte are conducting separate investigations of the same crime, but not sharing the information. This creates tension in the reader, who wants them to share.
    • I think Perry relieved this tension too soon, allowing them to share their information when it could have been sustained longer.

 The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • in the first paragraph, it was “unthinkable” that the bridge should break.
    • This suggests a hidden reason. I began to think very early on that the bridge did not fall by accident, that perhaps someone cut the ropes. I was looking for a character in the story to commit this act, which didn’t happen, unless God, having a plan for all of us, is ultimately that character. The narrator never openly states his conclusion on this point (which would be ‘preaching’ in the literal sense), but the ending suggests it.
  • Brother Juniper “knew the answer … there was no element of doubt … he merely wanted to prove it” But we’ve already been told that Br. Juniper did not know everything.
  • by revealing 3 of the people who perished in the bridge disaster, but not the other two, Wilder creates a tension (who dies?) that is not resolved until well into the book.
  • the Abbess “had felt not only the breath of old age against her cheek, but also a graver warning” (the lack of a successor) …
    • foreboding establishes tension … will she accomplish her life’s work? This question is never again addressed until the final pages of the story, when it is resolved. 

 The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Yank describes Jiggs. “To this man Yank Lucas owed his life, and he suspected that the man was not going to let him forget it. He was afraid of the man, his brutishness, his low-grade guile.”
    • This is a potentially useful thread of suspense, which O’Hara does almost nothing with.  ·     potential suspense is relieved too quickly.
  • many suspense threads have been started in the first two chapters.
    • Will Yank fuck Zena, and if he does, will it be for PR purposes or something real? (hackneyed plot line now, but maybe not in 1967)
    • How will Jiggs interfere with Yank’s rising success?
    • Will Walton screw Yank, or vice versa?
    • What conflict will emerge between Walton and Payne? between Yank and Payne?
    • Will Zena dump Payne? Will Peggy (the agent) prove a reliable ally for Yank?
    • And, underlying all else, how will Yank change as he becomes famous and rich? Will he remain the “sweet” person that Peggy says he is?
    • Will Zena turn out to be as described?
  • None of these threads are pursued in any suspenseful way. 
  • Ellis to Yank: “already Barry is kind of afraid of you, and he never was of me.”
    • Good setup, but nothing ever done with it.

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • foreboding … “That was the first time he ever scared me.” The sentence appears before Sammy’s words which provoked it, which follow, in which Sammy tells Manheim he doesn’t want the help which has just been offered, that the route Manheim suggests for him, which is the only way within Manheim’s power to help him, is far from matching Sammy’s ambition. “No thanks.”
  • the hook … “What makes Sammy run?”  bartender: how should I know?  “But I’ve got to know.”
    • Why does Manheim have to know? Is there something in what Sammy does that he wishes he could also do? Is he jealous? Manheim’s statement “I’ve got to know” seems intended to make the reader also want to know, to establish the hook for the rest of the book.
  • “My old lady at a musical show?” This unanswered question suggests a family situation that is going to play a role in the story. The fact that it is unanswered makes the reader want to know something. Keep reading!
  • “The first sure sign of Sammy’s growing up …”   a hint of what’s to come. Keep reading!
  • “but some day …” Sammy has a much more clear idea of his future than does Manheim, who is never revealed to have any driving ambition, at least not to make money, which . Thus ends Chapter 1, with a premonition of what’s to come.
  • “Sammy Glick was teaching me something about the world.” A blatant role reversal, recognized early by Manheim, and suggesting to the reader that Sammy has something to teach all of us about the world. Later Manheim says … “when it came to knowledge of Sammy Glick I was still in the first grade.”

 Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • suspense needs to be created; suspense initiates wants in the reader – the reader wants to know what’s going to happen
  • a writer achieves suspense by making the reader care about something
  • putting a character at risk heightens suspense
  • confrontation creates suspense, either physical, psychological, or emotional
  • suspense is created by a scene in which a momentous discovery (a new piece of information) is made which propels the story forward, perhaps in a new direction
  • characters working against time creates suspense
  • Make partial disclosures creates suspense
  • Suspense is that state of wanting to know what’s going to happen to the characters and how it’s going to happen to them
  • A novel has suspense only when it contains characters the reader cares about
  • Give the character an intention – suspense: will he carry it off?
  • If reader cares about character, will anticipate problems he’s going to face
  • Create suspense by making a promise to the reader at the beginning of a novel
  • Don’t play out your hand too soon!
  • Anticipation in the reader adds to suspense 
  • making long term promises to readers (through foreshadowing, or by placement of dramatic unanswered questions) creates suspense
  • clues are pieces of information which, if correctly interpreted by the reader, lead him to solve the case in advance of or along with the detective
  • red herrings are items planted in the story to deceive the reader
  • readers should have no way of telling whether they are seeing a clue or a red herring
  • the detective cannot ignore what the reader sees as real clues. This puts the reader ahead of the story, knowing more than the detective knows, and destroys the suspense

 ******

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* surprise

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Charlotte asks if Pitt has “any interesting cases.” The expectation is that Pitt will discuss his new case, as it is implied he has done in the past. But instead, he says, “No. An old case that will go nowhere.” Charlotte persists, “Nothing?” Pitt responds, “Nothing.”
  • This is surprising. Why does Pitt pass up the opportunity to discuss his case? Perhaps it suggests that this case is different from the others. We sense that his surprising response will have consequences. And it does. Charlotte eventually drags it out of him, and then she sets off, without telling him, to do her own investigation into his case. Would she have kept this from Pitt if he had not been withholding with her? 
  • It is a huge surprise when Pitt is arrested for the murder of the prostitute. It is even more surprising that Ballarat won’t lift a finger to help him. And it is the most surprising that, while Pitt languishes in prison, Charlotte and Emily solve the case without him.

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • Were there any significant surprises? No.
  • It was clear in Chapter 1 that Sammy would steal other people’s work and promote himself. That’s what he did until the end of the book.
  • Did Sammy Glick ever do anything out of character? No.
  • The details of what he did, and who he did it to, were of course unknown at the end of Chapter 1, but the path he was to follow was predictable, and there were no deviations from that path.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • two surprises at the same time … “He’s dead,” and that it is the green-eyed girl who tells Corso.
  • However, why this happens as it does is never made clear.

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* setting

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • many outstanding descriptions of places.
  • One of the best, of the villa M. Kercadious’ brother’s villa on the heights of Meudon, is combined with a political statement regarding the excesses of the nobility
    • “Andre-Louis crossed the threshold of that great room, softly carpeted to the foot, dazzling to the eye … immensely lofty … festooned ceiling … overwhelmingly gilded … what was customary in the dwellings of people of birth and wealth … Never, indeed, was there a time in which so much gold was employed decoratively as in this age when coined gold was almost unprocurable, and paper money had been put into circulation to supply the lack … if these people could only have been induced to put the paper on their walls and the gold into their pockets, the finances of the kingdom might soon have been in better case.”

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • “the curtains seemed to be without the usual faded marks which the sun so quickly made in blues, which meant they were not above a season old.”
  • this tells us about the place, the financial circumstances of the owner, and the perception of the viewer, all in one sentence.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • research and know each of the separate locations
  • use settings to create atmosphere, trigger mood
  • Show a character in his setting; the individual setting for each character
  • Setting can be a contrast to the events that occur within it
  • choose your settings so that each is a place that you want to know about
  • Writing about a place should involve all the sensory impressions
  • Rendering a setting requires details to bring it to life
  • Descriptions of place and character should be part of the narrative, accomplished without interrupting the flow
  • consider the concept of landscape, by which I mean the broad vista; not only the setting but also the emotions evoked by the setting
  • Invite the reader to own the landscape
  • Go to the place: see the land, the sky, climate, weather, sounds, scents, wildlife
  • the objective is to stimulate the reader’s senses and imagination

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* scenes

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Some of the most interesting scenes in Scaramouche are the ones that aren’t there … Sabatini often skips the scene you expect to see.
    • None of the duels, except that with the Marquis, are portrayed. Thus Sabatini avoids what would be repetition and holds the reader’s anticipation of a dueling scene until the last and most important.
    • Andre-Louis’s entrance into Paris in the midst of chaotic street fighting is also not shown. How did he get past the guards? Did anyone question him?
    • Likewise, the leaving of Paris, first by the Marquis, then by Andre-Louis with Aline and Mme. de Plougastel, become past events, never shown “live.” … Why?
    • One also looks in vain for a real love scene between Andre-Louis and Aline where either’s emotions are shown rather than merely stated or even hinted at.

Les Miserable by Victor Hugo

  • Robertson Davies … there can be a 90 page digression about something which happens to interest Hugo.
  • When is he ever going to get on with the story?
  • But the story is so good, and Hugo writes so fascinatingly about his odds and ends that you can’t stop.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • pages and pages of narrative scenes. Charming in 1924 when written, perhaps not so much now.
  • Very well written but no immediacy.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Ch 3 begins with a long transitional narrative (over 2 pages) telling what has happened in the few months since Ch 2 ended.
  • This is lazy. It would have been more effective to work whatever was essential into the ensuing action.
  • O’Hara’s abrupt transitions to new immediate action work much better.
    • “They were in Boston.”
    • “The New York opening was an ordeal and a delight.”
    • “The house was at the edge of the village of East Hammond …”

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • exposition … long, detailed descriptions and lists of old books, which the reader can’t possibly read and absorb. what is the purpose?
  • transitions … the reader is suddenly transported from Fargas’ home in Portugal to Paris, with no transition. The details of this change of scene are presented later (187-88). Does this work?
  • It’s a technique similar to what Tolstoy does repeatedly in Anna Karenina.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Every scene MUST advance the plot, advance a subplot, develop character, or address theme. If not, toss it!
  • Every scene MUST contain some degree of conflict
  • Dramatic narration – omniscient narrator gives us the facts of what occurred. No dialogue.
  • Summary narration – quick, economical, not fully explored
  • Fully rendered scene – allow the reader to be a witness to the activities of the characters or an eavesdropper on their conversations
  • in PD James, A Taste for Death, two characters appear for only one scene, passing on valuable information. This adds verisimilitude, as opposed to simply reporting the information.
  • partial scene interrupting dramatic narration
  • Every scene must have conflict.  Begin at the low point, let thetension rise to a climax, then provide a resolution which propels the entire novel forward.
  • not every scene must be formed identically.
  • Alternative scene formulation: motion picture, sound vs sight, present-past-present, plunging in
  • motion picture: set the scene, move to a narration of action, hit the dialogue
  • sound vs sight: begin with dialogue (not explained first), back off to set the scene, then return to dialogue
  • present-past-present: start the scene in real time, stop the scene and go back to previous action to bring the reader up to date (summarizing that action instead of a fully rendered scene), then return to real time
  • plunging in. start with a character in thought or action and go with it.
******

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* POV and voice

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • omniscient narrator, able to show the inner feelings of all the characters
  • at least once the narrator speaks in his own voice … (beginning of Ch 3) … “Faber … Godliman … two-thirds of a triangle that one day would be crucially completed by … David and Lucy”
  • the narrator thus provides a foreshadowing, setting the stage and piquing the reader’s interest.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • an omniscient narrator, who sometimes interjects into the story … “nor can I discover …”

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Perry gets us into the heads of all three of her major characters – Pitt, Charlotte and Emily – and the omniscient narrator POV allows this easily and smoothly.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • the narrator is omniscient, knowing things that were not known at the time
  • this narrator, who is never introduced to us, gains our trust when he says that what the people of Lima have come to believe about Dona Maria is not true, and “all real knowledge”
  • also when he corrects Dona Maria’s impressions of the Perichole … “It was … untrue …”
  • in the conversation (p 24) between Dona Maria and the Perichole, the narrator reveals the inner thoughts of both.
  • the Abbess has “fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of civilization.” The idea is the modern role of women, and the way it is disclosed reveals the perspective of the narrator, and places him in the 20th century.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • O’Hara uses an omniscient narrator.
  • Had he used 1st person (Yank) he would have been forced to write a far more interesting story.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • inconsistent narrator.
  • How can Boris Balkan, the knowledgeable narrator of the Dumas part of the story, continue to function as narrator after the April 1 meeting of the Club Dumas, when the story now switches totally to the other narrative, in which he is not involved and knows nothing?
  • the narractor seems to be a minor character who interacts with Corso, so he is really telling the story from what Corso has told him. Why not have Corso narrate in 1st person? I wonder if Perez-Reverte thought of doing it that way.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • must be clear about point of view in each scene
  • Objective viewpoint ·  writing is journalistic, like a reporter; provides facts, but not thoughts and feelings of characters – tough to carry off well
  • objective narrative can create an aura of intrigue about a character or a situation – precisely because the reader does not know inner thoughts or feelings, but it also minimizes the reader’s intimacy
  • Omniscient viewpoint. · Must be adept to remain truly omniscient and not just slip in and out of different characters points of view
  • the omniscient narrator knows, sees, hears all  ·  the narrator enters into the mind of every character
  • the viewpoint of the narrator is not necessarily that of the author
  • the omniscient narrator is a story teller; the reader sinks into the story; the narrator is not confined to the time or place of the individual scene (like a reporter would be) but can provide history about the characters as well as what’s in their hearts and minds
  • Character viewpoints … Reveal only what the chosen character would see, know, think, feel in each scene in which the character is participating
  • First person … Stay with one narrator throughout the novel … be in that character’s head and none other. Terrific intimacy, authenticity. BUT this one character must be in every scene, which is a challenge to plotting
  • Shifting first person. Multiple first character viewpoints. Each section or alternating chapters told by a different first person narrator. Challenge: each “I” must be utterly distinct
  • Shifting third person. NOTE: no viewpoint shift within a scene
  • can combine first person with shifting third person (that’s what I did in A Good Conviction)
  • too many narrators slows down the pace of a novel
  • the narrator can be reliable or a devilishly clever liar, likable or not

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • The entire story is about Sammy Glick, but everything is told through the eyes of Al Manheim. When something occurs that Schulberg wants the reader to know, but Manheim wasn’t there, he has the person who was there (usually Glick) tell Manheim what happened. These sections are in italic.

Write Away by Elizabeth George (voice)

  • voice is the tone that comes through the narrative when the point-of-view character is on stage
  • voice comes from the character analysis you’ve created; if you’ve designed characters who come to life, highlighting the salient aspects of their personalities allows their voices to emerge
  • a character’s voice comes from his background, education, position in society, personal and family history, prejudices and biases, inclinations and desires, belief system, what he wants for his life, his agenda in an individual scene, his arching purpose, his core need
  • voice: use of language, vocabulary, attitude
  • we’re inside his head, living the scene through him
  • attitude reveals character
  • reader can recognize connections to a character or can recognize that the character is very different (curiosity piqued?)

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • in the 1st person, you gain immediacy but lose insight, because you can’t move into other people’s heads.
  • in the 3rd person, you are God, ready to see into everyone’s mind, enter into every character’s consciousness.
  • 1st person cannot be as free as the separation between author and protagonist offered by the 3rd person.

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* plot

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Executive Power by Vince Flynn

  • Flynn has a number of plots boiling simultaneously, with uncertain outcomes in each. He switches among these actions, leaving every scene with a hook.
  • This is standard fare for a thriller; how will it work for my Heretic sequel?
  • What makes it a more complicated approach in a historical novel is the number of names and other information (beyond plot), which without great care can confuse and discourage the reader.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Follett’s purposeful ping-pong structure alternating between the characters forced him to slow down to show (in his words) “how the protagonists were reacting to each other’s moves,” and to include more enriched attention to “character, landscape and emotion.”
  • It surely worked.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Pitt asks one very short question after another, each one 2-5 words. This not only shows his investigative style, it moves the background process swiftly along.
  • Perry frequently alternates family scenes with investigative scenes, breaking the tension, showing more of what Pitt cares about

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • Ernest Hemingway … I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader. Anything you know, you can eliminate. But … if you omit something because you don’t know it, there’s a hole in your story.
  • James Baldwin … the goal is to write a sentence as “clean as a bone”
  • Georges Simenon … I cut adjectives, adverbs and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You have a beautiful sentence – cut it.
  • Elie Wiesel … I reduce 900 pages to 160 … writing is more like sculpture where you remove … you eliminate in order to make the work visible … there is a difference between a book which is 200 pages from the beginning and a book of 200 pages which began as 800 pages … the pages you remove are really there – only you don’t see them

Old Man by William Faulkner

  • the central action of the story introduced by an innocuous question … “can you fellows paddle a boat?”

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Scaramouche is more driven by plot than by character. It is an exciting adventure story, tracing a vow of revenge from one improbable escapade to another.
  • The pace, usually rapid, is slowed from time to time by philosophical and political ruminations on the changes occurring in France at the time of the 1789 Revolution and its immediate aftermath.
  • This transforms the story, raising its level of importance, since what the characters do impacts these epic historical events.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • having both sisters (Charlotte and Emily) take on different hidden personas was not credible for me.
  • In a “Society” where everybody knows everybody, it seems unlikely that either could get away with it, let alone both.
  • But Perry is such a good story-teller that I allowed a “suspension of belief” and did not allow my incredulity to interfere with the tension that these subterfuges produced.
    • Perry has Charlotte, in her persona as Elizabeth Baranaby, sit quietly listening to conversation and asking herself a series of questions.
  • This listing helps the reader keep straight what is known and yet unknown about a complicated plot.
    • Similar to what I did when Detective Watson complied a list of unanswered questions in A Good Conviction.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • E.L. Doctorow … as the book goes on it becomes inevitable … choices narrow … the thing picks up speed
  • Truman Capote … what I am trying to achieve is a voice sitting by a fireplace telling you a story on a winter’s evening
  • Isak Dinesen … I start with a kind of feeling of the story I will write … then come the characters and they take over, they make the story
  • John Irving … how can you plot a novel if you don’t know the ending first? how can you introduce a character if you don’t know how he ends up?
  • Norman Mailer …generally, I don’t even have a plot … my characters engage in action, and out of that action little bits of plot sometimes adhere to the narrative (I don’t believe him, he’s just shooting off his mouth)
  • John Mortimer … the plot and discipline of the crime novel save it from terrible traps of being sensitive and stream-of-consciousness and all that stuff … life is composed of plots
  • James Thurber … we’ve got all these people (in our story), now what’s going to happen … I don’t know until I start to write and find out … I don’t believe the writer should know too much of where he’s going
  • William Kennedy … if I knew at the beginning how the book was going to end, I would probably never finish … I knew Legs Diamond was going to die at the end of the book, so I killed him on page one

 The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • we never get to know what’s actually in either of Yank’s plays. O’Hara provides scant detail, probably because he never thought it through himself.
  • Yank uses the people in his life to feed the characters in his plays, which could have been very interesting, if we had been allowed to see it happening.
  • BIO NOTE: John O’Hara received high critical acclaim for his short stories, more than 200 of which appeared in The New Yorker. But it was mainly his novels, though mostly of dubious literary merit, that won him the attention of Hollywood. Their focus on ambition, class conflict, money, troubled marriages, and promiscuity was the stuff of film melodrama in mid-20th century America.
  • These plots seem trite and barren today, all surface and no depth.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • plots should not insult reader’s intelligence, no holes, characters who are real
  • create subplots that illustrate the same theme through different situations
  • every scene advances either the plot or one of the subplots (or it doesn’t belong)
  • using a piece of information from the character analysis, twist the story one more time
  • keep aware of what the reader knows or doesn’t know at each point in the story
  • work with your characters to design the plot
  • Plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in
  • the primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel
  • Events must be organized with an emphasis on causality
  • The first event (scene) triggers the event that will immediately follow it
  • High drama results from: direct conflict between characters, discovery, revelation, personal epiphany
  • Plot must have climax, and climax itself must have a climax
  • Post climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters
  • Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)
  • I always know the end in advance
  • subplots arise out of a novel’s theme, mirror the theme
  • you need to end every story you begin
  • theme – the basic truth about which you are writing. ·   you may not know the theme in advance, but it will emerge (???)
  • the writer’s object is to keep the reader reading
  • if a plot is essentially believable, it can sustain a suspension of belief
  • every story needs plot points, critical moments when events change (the plot and send it in a new direction)

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • a novel is most alive when one can trace the disasters which follow victory or the subtle turns that sometimes come from a defeat.
  • to know what you want to say is not the best condition for writing a novel.
  • novels go happiest when you discover something you didn’t know: an insight into one of your more opaque characters, a metaphor that startles you even as you are setting it down, a truth that used to elude you.
  • our love of plot comes from our need to find the chain of cause and effect that so often is missing in our own existence
  • I look to find my book as I go along. Plot comes last.
  • I no longer make up a master plan before I begin a novel. some of my best ideas come because I haven’t fixed my novel’s future in concrete.
  • I want to keep the feeling that I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
  • I prefer a story that develops out of the writing.
  • Characters (who are alive) need to fulfill their own perverse and surprising capabilities.
  • I don’t do my research too far ahead of where I am in the novel.
  • if you get a good novel going, you have a small universe functioning, living in relation to its own scheme of cause and effect.
  • Planning too carefully makes it almost impossible for one of your characters to go through a dramatic shift of heart.
  • the artist seeks to create a spell … a feeling that he knows something deeper than his normal comprehension … a sense of oneness
  • both artists and scientists are trying to penetrate into the substance of things
  • coincidences occur … exciting us with a livid sense that there’s a superstructure about us, and in this superstructure there are the agents of a presence larger than our imagination.
  • stories bring order to the absurdity of reality.
  • In analyzing novels, consider each major character, and describe where he was at the beginning of the story, where he ended up, and how he got there.
  • Jorge Borges has a magical ability to put plots through metamorphoses, thus posing the difficulty of comprehending reality.
  • writing a novel is creating a world, God-like, presumptuous, intoxicating, never comfortable.
******

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* pace

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • even though it’s a short novel (117 pages), the story seems to drag, as long narrative scenes regarding Esteban and Uncle Pio are added.
  • What does this all have to do with the collapse of the bridge, and with Brother Juniper, who has totally disappeared from the story?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • the way Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina communicates immediately that this is not a novel about pace, but will proceed in a leisurely manner to wend its way through the lives and relationships of the many characters.
  • Anna Karenina is widely regarded as the best novel ever written. So I’ve read over 400 pages, with another 400 to go, and I’ve had enough.
  • The story is slow, boring even, with very little happening, and characters that are not gripping.
  • Actually, it’s one long slow soap opera.
  • Tolstoy’s descriptions of places are remarkable. His interior monologues are often revealing, although too frequent and too long for my taste.
  • Bored, I have put Anna Karenina aside to be picked up later NOTE: it’s been four years and I haven’t

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* historical fiction

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Follett starts with a one page historical preface about the D-Day deception. He ends the preface … “That much is history. What follows is fiction. Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.”
  • the high stakes of blowing the deception plan are emphasized several times … Godliman: “If one decent Abwehr agent in Britain gets to know about Fortitude … we could lose the fucking war.”
  • But of course we know that D Day was successful and we didn’t lose the war. Follett creates tension about an event where we know the actual outcome, ie that Faber cannot succeed.
  • this is much like Forsythe in Day of the Jackal (published in the early 1970s, before Eye of the Needle), where we know that De Gaulle was not murdered by a sniper but are carried into great tension anyway.
  • Perhaps the tension is maintained because we don’t know if Faber will fail, or if he will succeed but Hitler doesn’t act on his knowledge.
  • However, we are told repeatedly, by Hitler himself, that he will be guided by Faber’s report.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • The occasional insertion of the narrator’s voice into the story, and the reference to supposed actual documents (Andre-Louis’s Confession, playbills, newspaper articles) add historical credibility to the fictional adventure.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Perry provides the timing of the story by giving the date of the burglary to be re-investigated – “about three years ago – October seventeenth, 1884, to be precise.”
  • “star-glazing” is explained … a burglar’s technique … what this does is add verisimilitude, and give the reader confidence that the author knows the period she is describing.
  • this technique can be overdone, if it appears that the author is just showing off her knowledge.   ·
  • Perry has Emily read real novels published in the time frame of the story. A good way to reinforce that time frame.
  • Perry explains terms that a modern reader could not be expected to know.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • John Irving … I begin by telling the truth, by remembering real people … but the people aren’t quite interesting enough … I exaggerate … soon I’m on my way to a lie
  • Graham Greene … one never knows enough about characters in real life to put them into novels … one must imagine what one does not know, but what is imagined should be consistent enough with what is known so that it is believable to a knowledgeable reader

The Scarlet City & In A Dark Wood Wandering by Hella Haasse

  • This frustrating historical novel, first published in Holland in 1952, opaquely treats the early 16th century: the machinations of papal and imperial forces have divided all of Italy into scheming factions, and mercenary soldiers gather to sack Rome.
  • Haasse ( In a Dark Wood Wandering ) chooses a nonlinear approach: various historical figures alternately narrate a series of complicated events. This structure bleeds the narrative of its intrinsic drama.
  • critical episodes invariably take place offstage, characters enter and exit abruptly, and the single-minded concerns of the individual protagonists overshadow the central action.
  • Those who don’t know much about this thorny patch of history will be thoroughly adrift; on the other hand, anyone familiar with even a snippet of the works of the figures incarnated here will chafe at Haasse’s shallow and simplistic interpretations.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • the specific date (Friday noon, July the 20th, 1714) and number of people who die (5) in the first sentence adds versimmilitude. (Stein)
  • Wilder chooses to have a 20th century narrator for a story set in 1714. Why? What does this accomplish? Does it makes the story seem true?

comments on “historical fiction” by author David Liss, who writes historical fiction

  • Like pretty much everything else in the universe, historical fiction can be divided into two categories.
    • On the one hand are books that use real historical events and people as a springboard for the author’s imagined events and people.
    • On the other hand are novels that limit their scope to characters and events from the archives.
  • I strongly favor books of the first kind and shy away from the second.
  • History — fortunately — tends to make for great history. Reality, however, does not necessarily make for great fiction.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • Ancient Evenings, a book about ancient Egypt, took 11years to write
  • if a novelist can take actual people who are legendary figures and invent episodes for them that are believable, he has done something fine.
  • the trick in doing a historical novel is to digest your research (before writing your fiction based on it)
  • in researching ancient Egypt, I felt I knew things that the average (historian) didn’t – not more about the details, but more about the underlying reasons for what was done
  • both the historian and the novelist are engaged in writing fiction, making an attack on the possible nature of reality
  • there is an inevitable slipperiness to most available facts … when we think we are approaching reality, we are only writing a scenario to comprehend it, a hypothesis that seems correct until new evidence subverts it.
  • Trust the evidence of your senses until they are revealed as inadequate, tricked or betrayed – then refine them
  • history in Mailer’s view seems quite like the process of scientific discovery; I think he’s right.

******

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* endings

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • the ending, which I will not reveal, is, in my view, too quickly rendered, not quite believeable, and has nothing to do with the main theme of the book
  • However … it was also a total surprise which tied together all of the unexplained threads that have puzzled the reader, and in Perry’s sure hand it actually worked quite well.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • the Abbess “had felt not only the breath of old age against her cheek, but also a graver warning” (the lack of a successor) … foreboding establishes tension … will she accomplish her life’s work?
  • This question was never again addressed until the final pages of the story, when it is beautifully resolved.
  • Soon we shall all die, we are told, and memory of us “will have left the earth.”
  • But the “love will have been enough,” and all “impulses of love return to the love that made them,” ie to God.
  • beautiful last sentence … “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Yank has not grown at all, remaining the same totally self-absorbed (but honest) person he was when the story started. There was never any reason to feel any emotion towards him.
  • Yank has used other people and when he had gotten what he could from them, he moved on.
  • So we are left with Yank Lucas, writer of plays, incapable of feeling emotion except in the characters his talent (his “instrument” ?) creates for the stage. Hollow.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • at the end of the book, there are major unresolved issues, which are not even acknowledged by Perez-Reverte.
    • Who is the green-eyed girl?
    • Why does she follow Corso and help him?
    • What happens to Varo Borja, who has committed murders but is not (yet) sought by the police?
  • Is this effective? I find it frustrating. Did I miss something?
  • what seems like two unrelated stories are intertwined and become a single story, then end up to be two separate stories. Perez-Reverte is playing with the reader, which angers me.
  • I came to the end of the book with great anticipation that the threads would be tied up and then felt great disappointment when they were not.
  • At the end of the book, there is an implication that the Ceniza brothers did in fact forge a page, at Corso’s request, thus preventing Varo Borja from achieving his contact with the devil. This page was never shown or mentioned before, or if it was, I missed it. There must have been a better (more clear) way to present this, so perhaps the author wanted it to be unclear, maybe to be thought of long after finishing the book.
  • But he leaves unexplained why Corso would have thought to have the page forged, and for what purpose, at the point in the story when this would have been done?  Another frustrating aspect of the ending to this book.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • I look to find my book as I go along.  Plot comes last.
  • I want my conception of my characters to be deep enough that they will get me to places (which I did not plan) and where I have to live by my wits.
  • If the characters stay alive, and keep developing, the plot will take care of itself.
  • Is there a problem if the reader senses that the author doesn’t know how the plot turns out?

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • I always know the end in advance
  • after the climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters
  • you need to end every story (ie, every sub-plot as well) you begin

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • I expected more. I’m not sure what, but more.
  • It’s hard to imagine Sammy upset with his runaround wife for very long.
  • Upset at younger men nipping at his heels, for sure, but for poking his wife, I don’t think so.
  • He didn’t love her, and he would get over the embarrassment, probably find a way to turn it to advantage.
  • He’s not happy. He’s never going to be happy. But ‘happy’ wasn’t ever his goal. Money and power were his goals.
  • Sammy was never portrayed as introspective enough to understand and be upset at what his life had become, and since he did not ‘grow’ over the course of the book, we never got a sense that his original goals might have changed or even be questioned.
  • We sense the incompleteness of his life, but does he?
  • Perhaps Schulberg was too close to the film industry and some of its major players to go any further than he did in dramatizing the essential emptiness of the success driven life.
  • I never cried for Sammy Glick.
******


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* writing notes … don’t do …

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

  • the “dream” the writer creates for the reader must be continuous; avoid interruptions and distractions which force the reader to stop thinking about the story and start thinking about something else

Les Miserable by Victor Hugo

  • Hugo gives in to the temptation, common in writers of historical fiction (including myself), of “showing off” his research. I studied it, I think it’s interesting, so I’m going to tell you everything I know.
  • This is a serious mistake, certainly for me, but even for Victor Hugo. (see ‘The Year 1817’ p. 119)

Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • the reader is suddenly transported from Fargas’ home in Portugal to Paris, with no transition.
  • The details of this change of scene are presented later (187-88).
  • Does this work?  I don’t think so.
  • It’s a technique similar to what Tolstoy does repeatedly in Anna Karenina.
  • Ah, crticizing Tolstoy – heresy!
    • NOTE: since making these comments four years ago, I have become less critical of suddent transitions, perhaps because I think I have learned to use them
  • long, detailed descriptions and lists of old books, which the reader can’t possibly absorb and likely will not read. What is the purpose?

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

  • avoid anything that distracts from the reader’s experience even momentarily
  • don’t over-characterize a minor character, making the reader think he is more important than he is; select one memorable characteristic that distinguishes this character from the rest of humanity and let it go at that
  • don’t present characters who are either all good or all bad. It’s not believable.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • avoid preaching
  • avoid dealing with too many ideas at once

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • The moment you moralize in your novel, your book is no longer moral.  It has become pious, and piety corrodes morality.
  • Don’t go into your protagonist’s thoughts until you have something to say about his inner life that is more interesting than the reader’s suppositions

******

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* dialogue

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Constable Lowther speaks in a heavy dialect, which is difficult to understand. The only reason this works is that he is a minor character, so you can struggle through.
  • If Pitt spoke that way, it would be a good reason to put the novel down.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • A character’s dialogue illustrates opinions, personality, education, economic background, attitudes, beliefs, superstitions, pathology
  • Wield dialogue as a way of banishing doubt from the reader’s mind
  • Dialogue can foreshadow events that will not take place until well into the story
  • relationships take on life through dialogue
  • natural speech isn’t fluid. Writing like that would be virtually unreadable
  • Dialogue needs to seem natural even when it can’t be
  • syntax reveals character: pedantic speech, casual speech, uneducated speech
  • a character may have a signature word (or expression)
  • each character has a distinctive way of using language
  • dialogue needs to be concise
  • dialogue should never be obviously expository
  • dialogue is not supposed to be the way people talk all the time
  • dialogue can reveal subtext – what the characters are really talking about beneath what they appear to be talking about
  • to offset the direct nature of dialogue with minimal (or no) subtext (St. James and Deborah often speak directly, trusting each other), which would become repetitive and tedious, you need to have other scenes in which the dialogue is rich with subtext (Lynley and Helen rarely speak directly and often speak at cross purposes)
  • a lot is going on, and much of it is not expressed
  • subtext colors the scene. People don’t always say what they really mean. They don’t always state their thoughts and feelings directly. Sometimes they talk around a topic
  • fancy tag lines such as snarl, moan, whine, growl (instead of said, asked, answered, replied) call attention to themselves. EG discourages using them at all. The reader will know if someone is snarling without obvious words to say so
  • Adverbs can add a degree of precision, but draw reader’s attention to how the line is said rather than what is said
  • Junk words. Use them only if they illustrate character. Otherwise delete.
  • Suggest dialect rather than using full dialect. The reader will get it.
  • In a long speech, maintain attention by showing other characters’ reactions, gestures.
  • Interrupt the speech with a moment of thematically related action – sound of voices, wind against the windowpane, song on the radio in car which passes by.
  • Intersperse some physical thing into the stream of dialogue (may reveal character, contain important information, be a metaphor)
  • Indirect dialogue is a summarized form of dialogue, told in narrative style, which alters the pacing of the scene, compresses the dialogue while still allowing the reader to know that it was lengthy.
  • after writing dialogue, evaluate it. Does it add tension? Demonstrate conflict between characters? Reveal some aspect of the character speaking or listening?
  • Would some of the dialogue be more effective as indirect rather than direct?
  • If the dialogue isn’t essential, get rid of it!

******

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* conflict

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • The entire story is a series of obstacles for Andre-Louis to overcome.
  • Every other character exists mainly to create such obstacles.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • “Ballarat disliked Pitt and resented his manner, which he considered insolent.”
  • we know early on (p3) that Pitt’s boss doesn’t like him, and we sense why. This enmity between the two turns out to be of real significance as the story unfolds.
  • Charlotte explains to Radley how she will investigate Pitt’s case. “But will Pitt approve?” … “Thomas won’t have to know.” This is conflict coming big time.
  • However, when Pitt finds out what Charlotte has been doing, he is so appreciative of what she has learned  that he expresses no anger. I found this to be unrealistic.

 The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • between Dona Maria and her daughter Dona Clara, who “barely glanced at the letters.”
  • between the twin brothers Manuel and Esteban over Manuel’s love for the Perichole.
  • between the Perichole and Uncle Pio, as she grows too much a lady to be seen with the man who had everything to do with her success.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • plots must have conflict
  • Events occur as the conflict unfolds
  • Conflict is a form of collision
  • Conflict can be created by resistance against a character’s desires. Resistance can come from within the character himself, from nature
  • Conflict adds tension to the novel
  • The story’s conflicts are reflections of the theme
  • Put your characters into conflict
  • Look for subplots (which provide opportunities for conflict) based on character’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Characters are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, confusion; not their joy and security
  • what does the character do when under stress?
  • conflict is what brings characters to life and makes them real for the reader
  • Put the character to the test by putting him into conflict; he then springs to life, forced to make a decision, to act on that decision
  • create a situation where the characters are bonded together and are unable to escape being in conflict with each other; then “heat” the situation
  • conflict is a character’s will in collision with something else
  • a character’s inner conflict will show that he is real
  • conflict works best when it is rising conflict, builds over time, reveals more facets of character as incidents occur
  • Every scene must have conflict.  Begin at the low point, let the tension rise to a climax, then provide a resolution which propels the entire novel forward.
  • foreshadow future conflict with the present dialogue
  • after writing dialogue, evaluate it. does it add tension? does it demonstrate conflict between characters?

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* character development

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Executive Power by Vince Flynn

  • Characters must be given the opportunity to become the object of our emotions.
  • In Executive Power, Vince Flynn gives Mitch Rabb a terrific triumphal scene (p. 319) to match his outsized, outrageous character.
    • Rabb barges into  a meeting of the National Security Council and first berates, then arrests the Assistant Secty of State whose email had caused the failure of an attempted hostage rescue and the deaths of two commandos.
    • Realistic? Probably not, but who cares.
  • The hero has been heroic, and his triumph in Washington is more important, for this reader, than his previous triumph on the battlefield.

Old Man by William Faulkner

  •  “nobody told them for what or for why”
  • this convict does not control his life in any meaningful way; the tragedy is that he clearly could, he has enormous capabilities, but he has no concept that this is possible for him; he is stuck withn an almost feudal sense of his place in the world, unchangeable.
  • “things had moved too fast for him”
  • but he will respond to whatever happens (and much does happen), stolidly plowing on, showing great creativity but only to accomplish the task he has been set, not to improve his own lot in life;
  • “he thought quietly, with a sort of bemused amazement, Yes, I reckon I had done forgot how good making money was. Being let to make it” … and later … “Then he would retire himself, he would take a last look at the rolled bundle behind the rafter and blow out the lantern and lie down as he was beside his snoring partner, to lie sweating (on his stomach, he could not bear the touch of anything to his back) in the whining ovenlike darkness filled with the forlorn bellowing of alligators, thinking not, They never gave me time to learn but I had forgot how good it is to work”
  • among the few times in the story where Faulkner leads the reader to think what might have been for this convict, with all his talents and determination, but for one stupid mistake when he was 19 years old.
  • and at the end …
  • “Yonder’s your boat, and here’s the woman. But I never did find that bastard on the cottonhouse.”
  • “All right,” the convict said. “If that’s the rule.” So they gave him ten years more and the Warden gave him the cigar and now he sat, jacknifed backwards into the space between the upper and lower bunks, the unlighted cigar in his hand while the plump convict and the four others listened to him.”

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Faber is of course the villain. But he is also patriotic, enormously competent, and capable of feelings, which he must repress in order to carry out his mission. He is an wonderful lover, which he could not be if he were truly without feeling, no matter how much he will not allow himself to express it.
  • This complex character must be admired even as we hate and fear him. A remarkable achievement.
  • Lucy starts out as a dominated young woman, who chooses to escape to her father-in-law’s island rather than live among people. But in her relative solitude, she develops an unexpected resolve, and when facing the ultimate challenge, she rises to it.
  • Is what she does believable? Maybe not, although in wartime people do extraordinary things.
  • In any case, Follett portrays this larger-than-life character in a way that arouses the reader’s emotions as we root for her to succeed against overwhelming odds.
  • The final scenes and epilogue drew tears from this romantic reader, always a sucker for melodrama.
  • Godliman (what a name! I’d like to know where Follett found it) is the enabler of the story, providing the narrative links that eventually lead Faber to Lucy.
  • But how much better to provide these through an interesting character than through narrative prose. Godliman’s growth from nebbish professor to razor-sharp spycatcher is done a little quickly. We can believe it, but we would like to know more about him. Perhaps as #3 character, he doesn’t warrant more attention.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Andre-Louis is clearly a larger-than-life character. We meet him as an obscure attorney representing Privilege, but, enraged by the murder of his friend, he embarks on a succession of spectacular careers.
    • He becomes a political orator, with a message he does not believe.
    • Forced to go underground, he hides in plain sight as the actor Scaramouche in a traveling cast of players.
    • When his own actions destroy that career, he becomes a fencing master, inventing new techniques that later become the standard.
    • Later, he is a member of the National Assembly drafting the constitution for the new republic of France.
  • Through all of his many incarnations, Andre-Louis controls his feelings with an iron determination, and we never really learn what he’s all about. Whatever he is feeling for Aline is never revealed. He is not given to introspection.
  • M. de Kercadiou, Andre-Louis’s godfather to Andre-Louis: “Why can’t you express yourself in a sensible manner that a plain man can understand without having to think about it?”
  • But Andre-Louis always hides his feelings behind a veil of sarcastic humor and his self-imposed rigid Stoicism, of which he is so proud. he says many times that he is not a man of action, but this is not true. He exists almost solely through his actions, not his thoughts, and surely not his feelings.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • the characterization of Inspector Pitt begins on the first page, through the eyes of the sergeant … “He did not meet the sergeant’s conception of a senior officer … downright scruffy … the man let the force down. Still, the sergeant had heard Pitt’s name and spoke with some respect.”
  • Is Perry writing for readers who have read the previous books, or for the reader who has not read any of the Pitt series? She must accommodate both.
  • Pitt feels guilty at taking the case from another man, and uncomfortable with his evasive poking around … we have an immediate (p2) sense that we are dealing with a man of exceptional integrity
  • “Mobray took a deep breath and sighed slowly. “The elder Mrs. York was a remarkable woman …” This begins the characterization of Mrs. York, who turns out to be a lot more sinister than Mobray’s infatuation would suggest.
  • Pitt’s interrogation technique changes from simple questions to complex, and he immediately trips up the Foreign Service officer he is questioning. We are impressed that he is a skillful detective.
  • “Ballarat … was the antithesis of the disheveled Pitt, whose every garment was at odds with another …”
  • Charlotte is first mentioned on p17. Her first words are “Any interesting cases?” If the reader is familiar with the series, this would be in character with earlier stories. If not, it serves to set her character and an important aspect of their relationship in just 3 words.
  • Emily, who will be such a major player in this story, is briefly mentioned, but not truly introduced until p29. The initial characterization of her starts out as a description, from Emily’s perspective, of her recently murdered husband George, but evolves in a few sentences into a self-characterization of her feelings for George, her wisdom, her intolerance for injustice, and her evolution into someone more like Charlotte – opinionated, quick to anger, and a fighter against “all she perceived to be wrong” even if “sometimes hasty.” A perfect setup, in one paragraph, for the role Emily will play.
  • “Jack Radley entered … casually dressed … his tailor was clearly his chief creditor … his smile … those remarkable eyes.” All this from Emily’s POV tells us about Radley and Emily’s feelings for him. Next page: “his eyelashes still shadowed his cheek.” Another reference to his eyes, his individualizing feature.
  • Mrs. York. They are discussing the winter art exhibit at the Royal Academy, and Charlotte says she does not paint very well. “I had not supposed you to enter a work, Miss Barnaby, merely to observe.” Nasty! We don’t like Mrs. York.
  • Pitt’s persistence is shown in his relentless pursuit of leads, even after so many of them turn prove unproductive (at least for now).

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • Eudora Welty … You can’t start with how people look and speak and behave and come to know how they feel. You must know exactly what’s in their hearts and minds before they ever set visible foot on the stage. You must know all, then not tell it all, or not tell too much all at once; simply the right thing at the right moment.
  • Samuel Butler … the Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor.  ·     Kurt Vonnegut … make your characters want something – right away
  • E.M. Forster … human beings have their great chance in the novel
  • John Gardner … the first thing that makes a reader read a book is the characters
  • Lillian Hellman … I don’t think characters turn out the way you think they are going to turn out
  • Aldous Huxley … fictional characters are much less complex than the people one knows
  • William Kennedy … what moves you forward to the next page is wondering why he or she acted in this particular way … what’s most interesting is not the plot … the character does something new, and then the story begins to percolate
  • Norman Mailer … what’s exciting is the creative act of allowing your characters to grow … to become more complex … then a character becomes a being, and a being is someone whose nature keeps shifting
  • Francois Mauriac … you may start with a real person, but he changes … only the secondary characters (undeveloped, the ones who don’t grow) are taken directly from life
  • William Styron … I try to make all of my characters “round” … it takes a Dickens to make “flat” characters come alive
  • William Trevor … fiction writers remember tiny little details, some of them quite malicious
  • Norman Mailer … one’s ignorance is part of one’s creation. If you’re creating a character whose knowledge of a subject is spotty, then perhaps your own spotty knowledge is a plus (I don’t think so).

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • Dona Maria – characterized both by the derision of Perichole and the theater audience, and her own unawareness of what is happening, and then immediately after by her sad (pathetic) letter to her daughter
  • Pepita – first characterized by her kindness to Dona Maria in the theater
  • Pepita’s letter, read by Dona Maria, is her first attempt to express herself to the Abbess, “her first stumbling misspelled letter in courage.” Pepita tears up the letter, and soon sets out with Dona Maria for the bridge. The Abbess will never know Pepita’s first steps of growth toward the mature personality the Abbess has worked so hard to create.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • in the dialogue … Jiggs to Yank … “I never saw such a miserable, ungrateful bastard in my whole life.”
  • O’Hara has characters ask each other questions.
    • Jiggs to Yank: “are you a writer?”
    • Ellis Walton (the producer) to Yank … “Where is your home town?” (Ellis asks this out of nowhere) … “What do your people do?” … “Have you ever been married?” … “What was your wife like?” … “Why did you happen to marry her, if you don’t mind my asking?” (finally, Ellis realizes that his questions are intrusive … but he keeps on asking) … “And what finally broke it up?”
  • This is a lazy dubious approach to characterization
  • New characters are often introduced first in the conversation of other characters. Yank and Ellis Walton discuss (and begin to characterize) Zena Gollum, David Salmon, and Barry Payne before we meet them.  c
  • haracterization is provided through the eyes of a minor character (only possible with an omniscient narrator) … “The porter sized him up …”
  • Yank’s self awareness: “I’m a genius now, but ten plays from now I may not even be good.”

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perer-Reverte

  • characterization of Lucas Corso … brilliantly presented over a long period of time …  a mercenary of the book world … talking fast … getting his hands dirty … a prodigious memory … canvas bag on shoulder (a recurring image) … steel rimmed glasses … untidy fringe of slightly graying hair … facial expressions of a rabbit (never got this … who knows what a rabbit’s facial expressions are like?)
  • THINGS NOT TOLD IN INITIAL DESCRIPTION: tall or short, lean or heavy, handsome or not.
  • bottomless pockets of his coat … appears fragile yet solid as a concrete block … features are sharp and precise, full of angles … alert eyes … ready to express an innocence – dangerous for anyone who was taken in by it … seemed slower and clumsier than he really was … looked vulnerable and defenseless … later, when you realized what had happened, it was too late to catch him … an oblique, distant laugh, with a hint of insolence … a laugh that lingers in the air after it stops …  attractive to women. … (Corso would) say something casually, as if he had no opinion on the matter, slyly goading you to react … (getting you) to give out more information (than you had intended).
  • NOTE: the adverbs are the key words. Who says don’t use adverbs?
  • thin and hard like an emaciated wolf (ie, he is a hungry hunter)… a well-trained, patient wolf.
  • but then, Corso’s actions are not consistent with character. Corso has been beautifully presented as dangerous both mentally and physically, someone who is not what others see him to be.
  • This is excellent, but I’m not sure the author has then had Corso act in a way consistent with these characteristics. He acts weak and unsure, he is as often manipulated as he is the manipulator.
  • glasses and canvass bag as props. Corso often takes his glasses off. his vision is then limited to vague outlines. He is inseparable from his canvas bag. I found myself wondering what he would do if he were ever disconnected from either, and this does happen, on the bridge in Paris. However, the green-eyed girl retrieves both objects for him before too much damage is done.
  • I think more could have been done with that, given all the build up.
  • As with the resolution of major plot details, Perez-Reverte does not finish what he has started in the way of characterization. Why?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • Karenin … a pathetic character, unable to act in furtherance of his own wishes, but motivated only to avoid being embarrassed by his professional and social associates.
  • Stiva has no money. Tolstoy shows this, when Dolly asks him for money for clothes for the children … “Tell them I’ll pay.” The reader knows he won’t. He is spending his money to buy a necklace for his actress girlfriend.
  • “I haven’t stopped thinking about death,” said Levin. “It’s true that it’s time to die. And that everything is nonsense. … Once you understand that you’ll die today or tomorrow and they’ll be nothing left, everything becomes so insignificant … So you spend your life diverted by hunting or work in order not to think about death.”
  • Q: How does Tolstoy have Levin adjust these depressing thoughts to marry Kitty and have a life? A: he sees Kitty and instantly reverses everything.
  • Characters do this often in this on-going soap opera.
  • from Mailer – The Spooky Art  … Tolstoy is a great writer – maybe he is our greatest novelist – because no other can match his sense of human proportion. Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our lives only when it is severe – when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum is probably a little more good than awful.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Analysis of character is the highest human entertainment
  • Human character is the greatest of puzzles
  • what we take away from a good novel is the memory of character
  • Characters effect events and events effect characters
  • Real people have flaws; no one wants to read about perfect characters
  • Characters who make mistakes, have lapses of judgment, experience weakness, are interesting
  • We want to cheer when the character (finally) comes into her own
  • Characters learn from unfolding events
  • A character is (best) revealed slowly by the writer
  • characters are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, confusion; not their joy and security
  • begin with a name; names can suggest anything to the reader (personality traits, social and ethnic background, geography, attitude)
  • Names influence how a reader will feel about a character
  • Create an analysis of each character, facts, a full psychological profile
  • Do not bring a character to a book unless he or she is alive before the book begins
  • Create your characters in advance; use personality quirks and telling details; know your characters, who they are, how they’ll react
  • constantly ask yourself questions about what each character would do in the situation in which he finds himself
  • become the character’s analyst
    • understand your character’s core need
    • What does the character do when under stress? (generally the flip of the core need)
    • delusions, compulsions, addictions, denial, illnesses, self-harming behavior, manias, phobias
    • what is the character’s attitude toward sex, what is his/her sexual history
    • What does the character want in the novel?
  • As you write, frequently refresh your memory about your characters
  • the behavior of a character is rooted in who that characters is and what has happened in the scene (and before)
  • we all suffer from guilt, fear, worry, doubt
  • a character’s inner conflict will show that he is real
  • rising conflict, built over time, reveals more facets of character as incidents occur
  • at the climax, the character stands before the reader fully revealed
  • a reader can bond with a character if there is something in common
  • Every character has two landscapes: (1) external, (2) internal
    • External landscape: select details which will resonate with the reader
    • Internal landscape: emotions, wants, needs, reflections, speculations, obsessions
  • Allow characters to reflect – reveal what’s in their heads
  • characters in a novel are more interesting if they have lives outside the (action of) the novel, before the novel was written, and after.
  • We admire characters who face and prevail over situations we ourselves have experienced, who unflinchingly examine themselves, learn from their mistakes, meet challenges with courage

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • Glick is characterized mainly through Manheim’s observations, and only rarely by his own words or actions. ·   simile … “he would come back to me panting, like a frantic puppy retrieving a ball.”  ·   “one stupendous talent, his ability to blow his own horn.” So the die is cast for the rise of Sammy Glick.
  • “You know what, Mr. Manheim, these are the first brand-new shoes I ever had.” Whenever Sammy calls him Mr. Manheim, that is a signal that he is making an important statement.
  • Sammy’s obsession with shoes is a continuing motif, which is not explained until Manheim learns about Sammy’s family, and the too big, hand-me-down shoes (from his older brother) he had to wear as a young boy, and which were often a source of humiliation to him.
  • Sammy grew in superficial ways, ie, he became more successful, but his character never changed significantly. Nor did Manheim’s.
  • At the end of the book, both were essentially the same as at the beginning … which is perhaps less interesting than if they had changed
  • Miss Rosalie Goldbaum. A character introduced so Sammy can throw her aside, which the reader knows instantly will happen.
  • Julian Blumberg. Another schlub for Sammy to throw aside? Not quite, because Julian has something Sammy will continue to need, the ability to write.
  • Julian is from a background similar to Sammy’s, and offers a contrasting development, taking a moral position to his own detriment in a way that surely Sammy could never do. Who is happier in the end?
  • Julian Blumberg and Kit Sargent each play their roles in the plot, but neither was allowed to realize the emotional pull that might have been possible. We were never inside their heads so we didn’t have the opportunity to really care about them, although the things that happened to them would have permitted such caring if Schulberg had wanted to go in that direction.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our lives only when it is severe – when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum is probably a little more good than awful.
  • an author needs to ask himself constantly if he is being fair to his characters.
  • we are relatively unfamiliar with the cunning of the strong and the stupid. We tend to know too little of how the world works. those who do real work tend not to write, and writers who explore the minds of such men approach from an intellectual stance that distorts their vision.
  • I should  seek to apply what I know about political power, finance, and management to my portrayal of Lorenzo de Medici. Imagine how he feels about what he does, or does not do.NOTE: I was in the middle of writing The Pope’s Conspiracy.
  • never be satisfied with (the way you are presenting) any of your characters, even when they have come alive for you. unless your characters keep growing through (their response to) the events of the book, your novel can go nowhere that can surprise you.
  • if the character does not grow, there is no place to go but into the plot
  • the creative act of allowing (demanding?) your characters to grow is the real excitement of writing. Your characters become as complex as real people. But what if they don’t grow, and you don’t bring out the beauty you initially perceived.
  • if you get a good novel going, you have a small universe functioning, living in relation to its own scheme of cause and effect. Planning too carefully makes it almost impossible for one of your characters to go through a dramatic shift of heart.
  • don’t go into your protagonist’s thoughts until you have something to say about his inner life that is more interesting than the reader’s suppositions.  
  • protagonists are always moving between choices, while the author monitors those decisions.
  • there are points in the course of fashioning a character where you recognize that you don’t know enough about the person you are trying to create. At such times, I take it for granted that my unconscious knows more than I do.
  • any person studied in depth will prove fascinating.  
  • In analyzing novels, consider a major character, and describe where he was at the beginning of the story, where he ended up, and how he got there.

******

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* beginnings

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Old Man by William Faulkner

  • Faulkner takes 4-5 pages to introduce two convicts who are never named; only then does the story begin …
  • “It was this second convict who, toward the end of April, began to read aloud to the others from the daily newspapers”

Executive Power by Vince Flynn

  • Here’s how Flynn did it, scene by scene:
  • SCENE 1. special op craft filled with Navy SEALS approaches an island in the Philippines, heavily armed, mission unstated; foreboding hook at end of scene: the mission has been fatally compromised by someone from their own country.
  • SCENE 2. Mitch Rapp is enjoying the last day of his honeymoon; he is high-up CIA, they were married in the White House; he leads teams of commandos on secret and dangerous missions; he has scars; no hook at end.
  • SCENE 3. back to the SEALS;  mission explained: recue hostage US family; many details as they leave the support boat, rubber launch to the island, deploy; then they are attacked with major force; call in backup and evacuate; lose two men.
  • SCENE 4. another boat in Monte Carlo; the assassin named David gos to meet his Arab sponsor, five hours early; insists that the man be awakened.
  • SCENE 5. CIA HQ; Dr. Irene Kennedy, Director of CIA and Rabb’s direct boss, is furious that leaks have compromised the mission and caused two deaths; she knows who leaked, and is planning to make this information public; hook: Rabb is the only man in DC who can do the job.
  • It works for a thriller; can it work for a historical novel?

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

  • the prologue is set in 1832, whereas Chapter One is set in 1752-53.
  • In the prologue an old plantation slave from Carolina (which is where we later learn slaves captured in the settlement were to be taken) talks of a Liverpool ship and his white father (later we know this is Paris) who was a doctor on the ship. I totally forgot about this prologue until I reached the epilogue. So … was it necessary? helpful? distracting?
  • there is, in effect, a second beginning: Book Two on page 397, begins in 1765, a gap of 12 years. This creates a need for extensive flashbacks, which are inserted at different places in the second story. This works very effectively to create suspense and a desire to know what happened in the intervening years.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Follett starts with a one page historical preface about the D-Day deception. He ends the preface … “That much is history. What follows is fiction. Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.”
  • the first chapter begins with Faber. The first clue to his identity as a spy is … “Faber watched such things – he was considerably more observant than the average railway clerk.”
  • in the first chapter, Faber kills his landlady, packs his transmitter, and moves on. We now know he is a German spy.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • first lines … “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony. His very paternity was obscure …”
  • a great opening, characterizing Andre-Louis and raising a question not answered until the very end of the book.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • first line … “Police station, sir!” takes you right into the story.
  • the first hook (p2) is the opening of a 3 year old burglary case. why? why now?
  • the old case involves “the delicate question of a woman’s reputation, a distinguished victim from a powerful family, and treason”
  • this case was first introduced as a burglary; soon we find out (p3) that it’s a murder as well … the reader’s interest is heightened.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • Joan Didion … What’s so hard about the first sentence is that you’re stuck with it.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez … One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph. In the first paragraph, you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone.
  • Philip Roth … I often have to write a hundred pages or so before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. That then becomes the first paragraph of the book. Underline all the sentences, phrases, words that are alive. write them on one piece of paper. There’s your first page. the “aliveness” sets the tone.

The Day Of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

  • opening sentence … It is cold at 6:40 in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.”
  • the precise time convinces the reader of the reality of what’s taking place.
  • By not naming him, the reader wants to know who is being executed. And, since the reason is not given, why
  • … from Stein on Writing

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • first sentence … “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below” … specificity provides verisimilitude.
  • the fact that the “finest bridge” collapsed suggests something out of the ordinary, some unseen hand. (Stein)

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • O’Hara’s first two chapters (50 pages) are a nice setup … Interesting characters are introduced, the primary event takes place (the production of Yank Lucas’ play), and a whole range of expectations of interesting story line are established.
  • There has been no mention of what the “instrument” is.
  • first paragraph … “Yank Lucas fell asleep late one night and left the gas burning on the kitchen range. … when the water boiled over … extinguished the flame … the odor of gas … Jiggs knocked on the door.”

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • opening scene. man hanging … is it suicide or murder?
  • the connection to Dumas Three Musketeers is very well done.
  • opening line. “The flash projected the outline of the hanged man onto the wall.” … a powerful visual image

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)
  • primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel
  • you can begin at the beginning, before the beginning, or after the beginning (permits non-linear narrative … back stories)
  • In A Great Deliverance, the novel starts with a priest on a train, going to London, reacting to some important (but not revealed) event that we will later learn was the primary event of the story
  • Opening scene either possesses or promises excitement, intrigue, conflict, foreshadows problems; establishes atmosphere, place, some characters (not necessarily the main characters)
  • must hook the reader (first task is to keep the reader reading)
  • Follett – Key to Rebecca – opening scene introduces but does not identify character, shows aspects of the character’s behavior that are intriguing, mysterious
  • can use the opening to establish place by specific memorable details – atmosphere, mood, tone
  • the opening can be used to illuminate theme or plot or place
  • or to illustrate the agendas of characters

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • opening sentence … “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
  • From which we know that this is going to be a story about unhappy families (more than one).
  • opening scene … Tolstoy starts (p.1) with the Oblonskys, Prince Stepan (Stiva) and Princess Darya (Dolly), who are not the main characters.
  • Q: Are there successful examples in more modern novels of this use of secondary characters to begin the story?

What Makes Sammy Run – Budd Schulberg

  • first paragraph. “The first time I saw him, he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick.  Sammy Glick. Used to run copy for me. Always ran. Always looked thirsty.”
  • Brilliant. Tells a lot about Glick and also about Manheim.
  • first chapter. 28 pages. Sets the stage beautifully. Gets right into the story. Conflicts established. Sets reader’s desire to know more. Great beginning.

******

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* Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

First impression … “Hemingway’s Boat” is a wonderful combination of Hemingway gossip and Hemingway writing.

Unfortunately, this view was not sustained as I continued reading. After about 100 pages, my enthusiasm began to wane.

There is much repetition and a confusing lack of focus. The timeline and cast of characters has become very jumbled. I have the sense the author has lost control of the material and is just pumping out everything he knows. Yet, every once in a while there is a fascinating story.

Almost 200 pages to go. I think some serious editing would have made “Hemingway’s Boat” much more readable and memorable.

100 pages to go. I am so thoroughly bored and confused by the frequent leaping from decade to decade and character to character that I’m not interested enough to do the work to figure out the connections and point of what I confess I’m now only skimming.

Finally finished. Ernest Hemingway is one of our best writers and he lived a fascinating life, full of triumph, failure and tragedy. A biographer, it seems to me, would need to approach a life of Hemingway much as a historical novelist might, with focus and selectivity. But while “Hemingway’s Boat” contains many interesting anecdotes, my conclusion is that the author was simply overwhelmed by the huge amount of material he has obviously studied and absorbed.

Believe me, I know the feeling, having succumbed to it more than once in writing my own historical novels. Fortunately, several of my early readers pointed out to me that it was not necessary, and indeed distracting, to write everything I knew. “Hemingway’s Boat” would have been a far better read had Hendrickson received and taken that same advice.

It’s a real shame this book wasn’t shorter and more focused, in no small part because there are numerous really terrific insights into Hemingway’s love affair with writing … which turns out to be no less compelling and interesting and tragic than those with his wives and friends. For example …

  • p 16 … so much more fear inside Hemingway than he ever let on
  • p 17 … a bookish man in glasses trying to get his work done … finding it harder with each passing year
  • p 35 … his onetime mentor Gertrude Stein had turned on him savagely … EH calls her “that fat old lesbian bitch”
  • p 40 … every chickenshit prick who writes about my stuff writes with a premature delight and hope that I may be slipping.
  • p 77 … Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night … close to a commercial failure … had to terrify Hemingway
  • p 80 … Hemingway conflates and rearranges several women and several events … he emphasizes writing “true” … but what is true? … does he believe that fiction can be truer than true
  • p 82 … in “Snows of Kilimanjaro” he portrays an author still so young and in seeming control … yet able so vividly to foresee his own doom
  • p 112 … when you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place, and you know what’s going to happen next … that’s the time to stop … then leave it alone and let your subconscious mind work on it” … Hemingway’s technique for dealing with the terror of tomorrow’s blank page
  • p 132 … “save your best stuff until you’ve learned how to handle it” … keep something in the tank
  • p 133 … “look, it doesn’t matter that I don’t write for a day or a year or ten years as long as the knowledge that I can write is solid inside me” … trying to convince himself?
  • p 134 … “I’ve got it all and I know what I want it to be but I can’t get it down … I can’t!” … and that’s all he had, so if he didn’t have that, he had nothing.
  • p 156 … one by one, he lost all his friendships, with men and with women
  • p 211 … Stein … “he was so tough because he was really so sensitive and ashamed that he was” … “I doubt if he will ever write again truly about anything” … Stein knows that Hemingway will read what she said … she is taunting him … she is killing him …
  • p 333 … NYT Sunday review … Hemingway on the cover … the most important author living today has brought out a new novel (Across the River) … that’s a very high bar .. and what if you know that what you’ve written really isn’t so good … it’s not true
  • Across the River and into the Trees stands as Hemingway’s statement of defiance in response to the great dehumanizing atrocities of the Second World War. Hemingway’s last full-length novel published in his lifetime, it moved John O’Hara in The New York Times Book Review to call him “the most important author since Shakespeare.”
  • p 345 … in 1925 … The Sun Also Rises … its seeming miraculous, falling-out whole, first draft, which in effect was the final draft … and now he couldn’t do that any more
  • p 459 … in spite of all his illnesses, he kept on writing, or tried to – that’s the heroic part
  • p 464 … the irrational fears returned … he felt incapable of writing one sentence

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* It’s an uncertain time for books and authors … in a confusing battle of corporate giants, “books are in danger of becoming road kill in a larger war”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 13, 2012

******

extracted and paraphrased from … Paper Trail, an article by Ken Auletta in New Yorker 6/25/12 …

A huge fight has been going on between Amazon and the book publishers for years …

  • Amazon was selling books at a loss: while publishers typically sold e-books to Amazon for about fifteen dollars apiece, Amazon was selling many of them for $9.99.
  • Steve Jobs, of Apple, was pressing publishers to agree to a new way of selling books: an arrangement called the agency model. The publishers would set prices, and Apple, acting as their “agent,” would take a thirty-per-cent commission and give them the rest.
  • On January 27, 2010, Jobs announced that five of the six publishing giants—Macmillan, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Penguin—would sell their books through Apple’s iBookstore.
  • By 2012, Amazon’s share of the e-book market had dropped from about ninety per cent to sixty. Apple had about ten per cent of the market, and Barnes & Noble, which had introduced an e-reader called the Nook, had about twenty-five.
  • Under the agency model, however, many consumers paid higher prices, and Amazon made more money, while the publishers made less.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder announced that an antitrust suit had been filed against Apple and the five big publishers for “a conspiracy to raise, fix and stabilize retail prices.”
  • If Barnes & Noble closes, Amazon will have an effective monopoly on all books, electronic and otherwise.

The fight between Amazon and the book publishers could have profound repercussions for publishers, bookstores and authors. Yet to Amazon, this fight is the “undercard.”

The “main event” is a free for all among the 5 U.S. digital giants: Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. In this fight, books are not the major battleground.

Devices (KindleFire, iPad, Nook, Microsoft ???), one-day shopping, collecting credit card information … those are the focus of the fierce competition among the giants, fighting a very large game, for enormous stakes.

John Sargent of Macmillan says, “Books are in danger of being the road kill in that larger war.”

******

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* A Good Conviction … reader comments

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 6, 2009

Readers have posted comments about “A Good Conviction” on amazon.com.

* Reader Comments (on amazon.com) for “A Good Conviction”

in addition, the following comments were received from readers of a pre-publication serialized version of “A Good Conviction”

… I am really into this story! I feel so bad for Josh. I love to read books that I feel close to the characters and that’s how I feel with this one!

… I love crime novels and this one doesn’t disappoint. The stark contrast in the opening chapters between Joshua Blake’s, until then, seemingly charmed life and the brutal reality of Sing Sing prison is chilling. You can’t help but think ‘What if that were me?’

… The story is gripping. It keeps you turning the pages with twists and turns to the plot.

… The characters engage you. Watch them develop – not just Josh as he is forced to face unimaginable challenges just to survive in jail, but those who take up the challenge of trying to prove his innocence. What motivates them? Why does NYPD Lieutenant Kerrigan put himself on the line? What drives Darleen to stand by Josh? And look out for Josh’s defence lawyer – he may not inspire confidence to begin with but develops as a quiet force.

… You’ve got me hooked me now! I started reading the 2nd segment last night, and couldn’t put it down until I was done. Are you going to let that poor guy out of jail, or what? (please, don’t answer that) Please send me the next segment !

… More, more, send me more, please. What a teaser this first segment was.

… Well, you’ve got me hook, line and sinker after Segment 1. So…..would you please send me Segment 2 so I can continue this adventure. Thanks for the opportunity!

… I like the style, the way you change back and forth from Joshua being at Sing Sing to his free days and then to his time at Rikers Island. Makes for interesting reading that way.

… I absolutely love this book. I read a lot of mysteries by Michael Connelly (all he has written so far) and James Patterson and Len Deighton and just finished last week a book by Nicholas Evans called The Divide. This book of yours is right up there. I am intrigued by it and once I begin reading, I remain until I have read the final word of the segments you have sent. This should definitely be on the NY Times best reads. I anxiously await more. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.

… I finished the book a few days ago. I very much enjoyed A Good Conviction. You made Josh and Darlene very sympathetic yet real characters. I liked them. You also did a good job of manipulating the tension level in the book so that I was extremely worried that Darlene would get hurt and was quite pleased when she was rescued by Detective Watson. That alone should indicate how well you reached this reader. I abhor ADA Claiborne. You made him into a villain but did it in a way that did not make him a caricature. I cannot think of a character in your book who was not drawn well. The best thing I can say about any book is that I am sorry to see it end. I was sorry to reach the end of your book.

… I am ready for Segment 3! I read Segment 2 the same day I got it.

… Having anxiously awaited this novel after reading The Heretic with our book club in South Jersey, I have been gripped by the story’s reality and intensity. We’d like to think such injustices don’t happen, but recent advances in forensics have proven that many innocents are incarcerated. The old saw about everybody in jail professing innocence is not so humorous today. What’s scary about Josh Blake’s situation is that as it unfolds it strikes you as being entirely plausible. Loved the attention to detail about the story’s New York locations – provided a reality foundation which made the story more startling. I am thoroughly enjoying this serialized email format – keeps the reader on the edge of his/her seat – or should I say, at the edge of his/her keyboard.

… Every page forces me to confront the very real issue in our society of someone who lives the horror of a wrongful conviction and life in the realities of prison.

… Your attention to detail is great — I feel I am in New York with Josh! Next segment please !

… I liked the court room scene and thought it moved quickly in a compelling manner.

… I am ready for the next segment of A Good Conviction. I read it all in one swoop – I could not stop. I found it thoroughly readable with all the “parts” in the right places. Thank you so much; I look forward to my next read.

… I am really enjoying this book. Please send the next part ASAP.

… I just finished Segment 2 and I’m really looking forward to receiving the next segment. Nothing like being kept in suspense. Poor Joshua Blake, he can’t get a break I just know there has to be a point where this poor guy’s luck, or lack of it, has to change! Please send along the next segment as soon as you can. Thank you very much!

… Just want you to know that my eyes were riveted to each sentence in your book. I can’t get to each segment fast enough; my other emails can wait, the book I was reading can wait, I just want to read your story. It just grabs your attention and compels you to read on and on. Thank you so much – I look forward to reading more.

… Wow! That’s some story. I am ready for segment 3.

… Can you send me #3. It’s really good and so scary that this could actually happen!

… I’m back again in search of Segment 5 this time. I really am enjoying the story and all the suspense that it holds.

… It’s scary to think how many like Josh are trapped in our legal system. I’m ready for Segment 5.

… Quick, send me Segment 2, I’m on the edge of my seat.

… Finished segment 2. I am loving it. The poor kid. I feel like I am watching Law & Order where you recognize so many of the places. Can you forward the next installment??

… Time for segment 6. You do tell a good story.

… The tension is increasing. Send me Segment 8.

… My heart is breaking for this kid, but I’m ready for more.

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* Richard John Neuhaus on The Heretic … vividly dramatizing the sins that John Paul II has asked Christians to candidly acknowledge

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 4, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus wrote in First Things, A Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life

A novel of generations of conversos– Jews who converted to Christianity- during the years leading up to the Spanish Inquisition. The story reflects the conflicted motives that led churchmen to cooperate with the royal effort to “purify” the Spanish nation, vividly dramatizing the sins that John Paul II has asked Christians to candidly acknowledge. The Heretic is a valuable contribution to understanding a tragedy too often debated in the mire of accusation and defensiveness.

Posted at … http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2696

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* Tikkun … The Heretic is an engaging and enlightening novel

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 4, 2009

This multi-generational tale is set in fifteenth-century Spain, in the land that was the heart, and heat, of an inquisition against those who were alleged to be heretics against the Christian faith.

Gabriel Catalan’s Jewish father was forced to convert to Christianity, but Gabriel remains a covertly faithful Jew. He becomes wealthy and influential as an advisor to the throne, and a confidant of Princess Isabel. But he is forced to confront the fanatical friar Ricardo Perez, a Dominican monk determined to rid Spain of Jewish heretics. Friar Perez suspects that Gabriel Catalan is in fact a Jew.

The Heretic is an engaging and enlightening novel set against a uniquely dark age of religious persecution and cruelty.

Posted at … http://www.tikkun.org/archive/backissues/xtik0101/culture/010162.html

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* The Jewish Press … The Heretic is a breathtaking tour de force

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 4, 2009

Aharon ben Anshel reviews the Heretic in the The Jewish Press …

 The Heretic is a history of the early beginnings of the Spanish Inquisition in novelized form – a breathtaking tour de force that is both historically accurate and unusually entertaining, so that one can almost finish the nearly 400 pages in just two or three sittings.

Weinstein’s book has accurately captured the spice and flavor of fifteenth-century Spain and the time of Torquemada, Ferdinand and Isabella.

This success is validated by the foreword written by Msgr. Thomas J. Hartman (of TV’s “The G-d Squad”), who wrote: “The Heretic” was where I turned in order to understand the Inquisition. I knew the outline of Christian atrocities, but Lew’s book taught me about the painful positions many good people were put into in order to survive. It’s not a pretty picture.

The Heretic is a truly exciting page-turner.

Posted at … http://www.jewishpress.com/content.cfm?contentid=15797&sContentid=1

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* Midwest Book Review … The Heretic is a superbly written debut novel

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 4, 2009

Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)

The Heretic is a superbly written debut novel of political intrigue by Lewis Weinstein that adds a definitively human touch to the terrible ills of history and religious persecution. Depicting a family of Jews living in Seville on the eve of the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century, The Heretic is a thoughtful and thought-provoking historical story of the abuse of power and tests of faith that were anything but. The Heretic clear documents Lewis Weinstein as a master storyteller and will leave the reader looking eagerly toward his next literary effort.

 posted at … http://www.amazon.ca/Heretic-Lewis-Weinstein/dp/0967134803

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* Rick Steves recommends The Heretic

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 4, 2009

Spain is overwhelmingly rich in history, art and culture.

Preliminary reading will help you get the most from your trip 

***

Fiction (Spain)

Don Quixote — Miguel de Cervantes

Tales of the Alhambra — Washington Irving

The Sun Also Rises: For Whom the Bell Tolls — Ernest Hemingway

The Heretic — Lewis Weinstein

***

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* Curled Up With a Good Book … a dramatic novel set in the bloody upheaval of the Spanish Inquisition

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 4, 2009

Weinstein sets his dramatic novel in the bloody upheaval of the Spanish Inquisition. The great Dominican purges of 1391 and 1412 have created a large number of conversos, those willing to relinquish their faith and embrace Christianity rather than be burned at the stake as heretics.

After centuries of war with the Moors, Christianity is in its ascendancy, the Church brutal in its treatment of those under suspicion, the finger of doubt enough to send a man to the inquisitor’s torture chambers. Repeatedly the “conversos” are tormented by angry mobs of “old Christians.” The old Christians accuse the reformed Jews of secretly practicing the old religion, flouting the law of the land and the Holy Mother Church.

A successful goldsmith in Seville and a secret follower of the old ways, Gabriel Catalan has been conspiring with others to print copies of important Hebrew texts by means of Gutenberg’s revolutionary printing techniques and in collusion with Moorish royalty. Although the majority of the originals have been destroyed, Catalan is able to print many copies but must invoke the aid of his son, Tomas, to hide the texts from the Christians.

Gabriel aids a local family currently under suspicion as they quietly remove their belongings to a small village, where they will be safe from the daily violence and unprovoked attacks that have become endemic in Seville. Tomas travels with these conversos to their new home and falls in love with the daughter along the way, the whole family intent on seeking a safer life far from Spain, unaware that they are followed from Seville.

Meanwhile, the Catalan family is marked, unable to escape the aggressive principal arm of the Inquisition in Seville, Friar Ricardo Perez. The Inquisitor is the genius behind a trap that is slowly closing on the unsuspecting if careful Gabriel, a trap that will deliver Gabriel to the stake along with his devoted wife, Pilar.

As the principal characters attempt to leave behind a legacy for those who follow, the region is in chaos. The Moors divided, Christian Isabel seizes her opportunity to capture the Spanish throne and marry Ferdinand of Portugal. Their mission is to restore the grandeur of Christianity and subdue the unbelievers by any means necessary, the Inquisition a devastating tool in the success of their enterprise.

Seville in turmoil, suspicion and betrayal everywhere, the infamous Tourquemada joins Perez in pursuit of the Catalan family. Convicted by the messengers of God, the family is tied together and surrounded by burning stakes, yet another pyrrhic victory.

Weinstein reveals the ugly face of intolerance, fanatics demanding blood sacrifice in one of the most brutal periods of history, Jews and conversos scattering before the sword of Christianity. One great religion pitted against another, God watches His children destroyed in His name.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at http://www.curledup.com, this review was posted at … http://www.curledup.com/theretic.htm

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* “character” in Executive Power by Vince Flynn

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 4, 2009

Characters must be given the opportunity to become the object of our emotions. In Executive Power, Vince Flynn gives Mitch Rabb a terrific triumphal scene (p. 319) to match his outsized, outrageous character. Rabb barges into  a meeting of the National Security Council and first berates, then arrests the Assistant Secty of State whose email had caused the failure of an attempted hostage rescue and the deaths of two commandos. Realistic? Probably not, but who cares. The hero has been heroic, and his triumph in Washington is more important, for this reader, than his previous triumph on the battlefield.

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“plot” in Old Man by William Faulkner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 1, 2009

the central action of the story introduced by an innocuous question …

“can you fellows paddle a boat?”

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* “beginning” in Old Man by William Faulkner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 1, 2009

Faulkner takes 4-5 pages to introduce two convicts who are never named; only then does the story begin …

“It was this second convict who, toward the end of April, began to read aloud to the others from the daily newspapers”

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* “beginning” in Executive Power by Vince Flynn

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 1, 2009

I’ve read 32 pages and I’m hooked. Here’s how Flynn did it, scene by scene:

  • SCENE 1. special op craft filled with Navy SEALS approaches an island in the Philippines, heavily armed, mission unstated; foreboding hook at end of scene: the mission has been fatally compromised by someone from their own country.
  • SCENE 2. Mitch Rapp is enjoying the last day of his honeymoon; he is high-up CIA, they were married in the White House; he leads teams of commandos on secret and dangerous missions; he has scars; no hook at end.
  • SCENE 3. back to the SEALS;  mission explained: recue hostage US family; many details as they leave the support boat, rubber launch to the island, deploy; then they are attacked with major force; call in backup and evacuate; lose two men.
  • SCENE 4. another boat in Monte Carlo; the assassin named David gos to meet his Arab sponsor, five hours early; insists that the man be awakened.
  • SCENE 5. CIA HQ; Dr. Irene Kennedy, Director of CIA and Rabb’s direct boss, is furious that leaks have compromised the mission and caused two deaths; she knows who leaked, and is planning to make this information public; hook: Rabb is the only man in DC who can do the job.

It works for a thriller; can it work for a historical novel?

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* “beginning” in Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2009

  • the prologue is set in 1832, whereas Chapter One is set in 1752-53. In the prologue an old plantaton slave from Carolina (which is where we later learn slaves captured in the settlement were to be taken) talks of a Liverpool ship and his white father (later we know this is Paris) who was a doctor on the ship. I totally forgot about this prologue until I reached the epilogue. So … was it necessary? helpful? distracting? 
  • there is, in effect, a second beginning: Book Two on page 397, begins in 1765, a gap of 12 years. This creates a need for extensive flashbacks, which are inserted at different places in the second story. This works very effectively to create suspense and a desire to kniw what happened in the intervening years.

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* “don’t do” in The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2009

  • the “dream” the writer creates for the reader must be continuous; avoid interruptions and distractions which force the reader to stop thinking about the story and start thinking about something else

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* “don’t do” in Les Miserable by Victor Hugo

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2009

  • Hugo gives in to the temptation, common in writers of historical fiction (including myself), of “showing off” his research. I studied it, I think it’s interesting, so I’m going to tell you everything I know. This is a serious mistake, certainly for me, but even for Victor Hugo. (see ‘The Year 1817’ p. 119)

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