Thanks to all for the kind comments about Fire in the North: The Minnesota Uprising and the Sioux War in Dakota Territory. The book was officially released in late September and is now wending its way out into what hopefully will be a reasonably broad and welcoming readership. I do hope that those who seek it out will enjoy the read. I received a little teasing that the book was released at about the same time PBS concluded their “Great American Read” series which identified America’s favorite novels. (No, Fire in the North did not make the list. Of course, it isn’t a novel either, but still ,,,)
The top ten according to the PBS survey were:
- To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
- Outlanders Diana Galbaldon
- Harry Potter J.K. Rowling
- Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
- The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien
- Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
- Charlotte’s Web E.B. White
- Little Women Louisa May Alcott
- The Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis
- Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
Interesting that seven out of the ten authors are women. To Kill a Mockingbird is indeed an extraordinary book. The movie is a rarity also, in that is one of the few books brought to the screen that does justice to the novel. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch: a most-deserved Academy Award. My school teacher daughter uses To Kill a Mockingbird in her sophomore English classes. PBS made a good choice, I think. The book has marvelous life lessons and has made an impact on the nation’s moral compass.
I mentioned in last month’s blog that I will soon need to come to a decision point on what comes next in terms of writing. I suspect it will turn out to be the closing book of an In the Shadows of Victory trilogy. But, there are some other possibilities. Years ago, before I set it aside to finish work on Battlefields of Nebraska, I had begun putting together some stuff on America’s vice-presidents. My special interest at the time was on the first several to hold that office. Don’t know why, exactly. They are for sure some of the least known public officials in our nation’s history. For example, does the name Richard Mentor Johnson strike a familiar note with you? He was Martin Van Buren’s vice-president (1837-1841). His campaign slogan was “Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.” I know, I know, pretty catchy stuff. (He was a militia colonel during the War of 1812 and was credited by some with killing the Shawnee chief Tecumseh during the Battle of the Thames.) Much later, vice president Thomas Marshall’s most noted statement (indeed, almost the only thing he was noted for) was his pronouncement that “What this country needs is a good five cent cigar.” Really profound.
All that sort of begs the question of what would be the best title for a book like that. The working title years ago was “A Heartbeat Away: the Stories of America’s Vice Presidents.” But … that was when I was thinking about a comprehensive book that would include all of our vice presidents. That is still an option but so is a more detailed focus on just the first dozen or so. Somehow, the words “Forgotten, Unwanted, “Unemployed, Unknown” come to mind.
In the early years after I began writing, I played around with a couple of projects that were way off the beaten track from what I eventually came to focus on. The first was a book aimed at small children titled “Don’t Hug a Bug, Doug.” The idea was, using each letter of the alphabet, to do a short rhyme about an animal whose name begins with that letter. The bottom of page would then include a short paragraph with interesting facts about the animal that the reader could relay to the child.
The letter ‘M’ for example:
Don’t tease a mouse
He’ll sneak back and eat your cheese.
He’ll take it right from the table
And he might not even say please.
Talking points for reader: A mouse is a rodent. Groups of more than one mouse are called mice. Mice are found throughout the world. Mice live indoors or outdoors in a variety of places including fields and woods. The mouse we see most often is a common house mouse. Baby mice have as many as five to ten brothers and sisters.
The letter ‘N’ for example:
Don’t confuse a narwhal,
He’ll be glad you gave him a break.
Some people think he’s a unicorn
So please don’t make that mistake.
Talking points for reader: A narwhal is a type of whale. The narwhal lives in the far northern regions of the earth almost always near floating ice. The narwhal only has two teeth. On a male narwhal one of the teeth continues to grow until it becomes a tusk up to ten feet long. Long ago, the tusk caused some sailors to think narwhals were unicorns. Narwhals often stay together in groups – called pods – of up to 12 animals.
I never seriously pursued the children’s book notion. I corresponded with a few publishers to see if the concept made sense. One responded saying she liked the idea, but “alphabet books” (her term) were not in vogue at the time. Not too long after that I sold my first article and soon after signed a book contract, so I didn’t do any more with the idea -- notes on the children’s book have been collecting dust for lots of years. If I ever take it up again, I would need to find an illustrator – not an easy or inexpensive task – to draw whimsical pictures that correspond with each caption.
The other thing I played around with (no pun intended – see title) was a short, sort of technical book titled “Slo Pitch Softball: The Art and Science of Slo Pitching.” It was a hoot to put together, but the potential audience would be rather narrow and I never really tested the waters with it. If I ever resurrect it, the work would need to be embellished by having a professional illustrator draw the various schematics (positioning, covering bases, backing up plays, etc.) Those things are done in rough draft but they probably need to be jazzed up quite a bit. I have pretty good photos showing the pitcher’s grips necessary to put various spins on the ball, throw a curve, knuckleball, etc., but the whole piece would need to be checked, brought up to date, and professionally drawn.
The most likely outcome is that the notes on the slo pitch and children’s books will continue to gather dust and I’ll wind up doing another history of some sort.
When the horrific tragedy at the synagogue in Pittsburgh took place, it brought to mind so many recollections of Jewish friends in the military, at various universities, as teammates, and in the local community. Soon after sharing thoughts about it with a neighbor, I received a wonderful note containing humor – much of it from the vaudeville days -- from Jewish comics. There were so many great ones: Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Joey Bishop, Henny Youngman, George Burns, Mel Brooks, and many, many more. I have always enjoyed their humor: it is mostly gentle and self-deprecating with none of the foul language and trash talk that now seem to pass for comedy and too often find their way into everyday conversations. I hope you will indulge me if I close by including some of that material. It does indeed bring back warm memories. Hopefully, it will also prompt a smile – something desperately needed in our country after still more violence and in the aftermath of an especially bitter election. So, for my Jewish friends, with every best wish:
The doctor gave a man six months to live.
The man couldn’t pay his bill so the doctor gave him another six months.
The doctor called Mrs. Cohen saying, “Mrs. Cohen, your check came back.”
Mrs. Cohen answered. “So did my arthritis!”
Doctor: “You’ll live to be 60!”
Patient: “I am 60”
Doctor: “See, what did I tell you?”
Patient: “Doctor, I have a ringing in my ears.”
Doctor: “Don’t answer it.”
I always hold hands with my wife when we go to the store. If I let go, she shops.
My credit card was stolen, but I haven’t reported it. The thief spends less money than my wife did.
A vagrant walks up to a Jewish mother on a street corner and says, “I haven’t eaten for three days.” The Jewish mother replies “Force yourself.”
The Harvard Medical School did a study of why Jewish women like Chinese food. The study revealed that this is due to the fact that Won Ton spelled backwards is Not Now.
There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school.
Why do Jewish mothers make great parole officers?
They never let anyone finish a sentence.
A son called his mother from Florida.
“Mom, how are you?”
“Not too good,” said the mother. “I’ve been very weak.”
The son said, “Why are you so weak?
The mother said, “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days.”
The son said, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 38 days?’
The mother answered, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”
Finally, one of my favorites:
A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he has a part in the school play.
She asks, “What part is it?
The boy says, “I play the role of a Jewish husband.”
The mother says, “Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part.”
Unless something unforeseen happens in the writing world, the next newsletter will probably reach you in January. The plan is to take a blog break over the holidays, so all of us can turn our attention to far more important things. My family has a couple of much anticipated events coming up that will keep us on the road for a few days. I hope also to use the break to begin sorting through the billion or so 35mm slide photos that I took on our family travels over the years. Eventually, I would like to reduce those to a manageable few – keeping mainly family photos and only a few special pix of places and attractions. I have at long last concluded, for example, that a couple of pictures of the Eiffel Tower may be sufficient – as opposed to a slide carrousel full of them. Over time, we will eventually feed the best ones into the Photo Gallery portion of the website.
We hope your holidays are filled with good food, good memories, and good times shared with friends and family. Every best wish,