JOANNA ELM, Author, Journalist, Attorney

July 22, 2017
by joanna
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When A Writer Has “All The Time In The World”

 

When you’re retired, or no longer have, or need the day job that was standing in your way of “writing the novel” you wake up each morning knowing you have “all the time in the world” to get to your laptop or yellow legal pad.

That’s the first mistake you make because of course other things get in the way, and suddenly it’s 6 p.m. And you don’t have all the time in the world because now it’s time for cocktails, and another day has flown by and you didn’t write a single word!

All The Time in The World? Really?

I think it must be a universal truth that the less time you have, the more you fit into it. For example, more than 20 years ago when I wrote my first two (traditionally published) novels, I knew I had to slot in my writing in the few hours before my son came home from school. When I decided to try for a third (book, that is)  I thought it would be a snap since this time around I was a retired empty nester, and so had “all the time in the world” for writing. What I discovered is that you still need to set aside a specific part of the day to write. You cannot assume you’ll just fit it in somewhere along the way.

So, now my routine goes something like this:  Morning Joe (MSNBC-TV,) Tennis, Golf (one day a week instead of tennis) Forage, Write, Cook, Eat, Swim, Write (maybe) or Read- in- Genre.

Not Summer Camp

Tennis, golf and swimming may sound as if I’m slotting writing in between summer camp activities, but that’s not really the case. When I retired I knew I needed organized physical activity to get me out of bed in the morning. Otherwise, I knew I’d run the danger of getting fat, fatter and fattest while lounging around all day in a t-shirt and sweat pants. I’m serious about exercise. I have a Fitbit and blood pressure monitor to prove it!

As for foraging?  Well, these days it’s not enough to one-stop shop at the local supermarket for all your culinary needs, is it? No. Locally-grown veg and fruit are best purchased at the local farm stand; next stop, the fish store for fresh-caught sustainable fish ( especially since our fish store is located just a couple of miles from the second largest commercial fishing station in New York.) You need a butcher who will trim and prepare your chops and steaks for grilling; then Scotto’s Italian store for your fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, artichokes and imported prosciutto, and of course the bakery at Wild by Nature, for artisanal sesame sunflower loaf or tuscan boule (without preservatives.) Being within a couple of miles of all these fabulous stores and stands on the East End of Long Island makes it impossible not to take advantage — especially when you love cooking at home!

Switch Off

Multitasking on ipad, laptop and TV

I find it’s best to open my laptop or pick up my yellow legal pad without checking emails or texts, or the Twitter feed, or the Goodreads site, or any cable TV news channel. I’m now set in a routine where I am revising and/or rewriting a chapter a day in Part Two, more commonly known as that “middle” part of the novel that gets you from your very exciting- page-turning- opening to your stunningly -exciting- heart-palpitating climax and resolution.

Of course, some days it’s impossible to focus solely on one’s novel.  For example, when Sean Spicer resigns from his job in the Trump White House (on TV) and you rented The Zookeeper’s Wife for only 24 hours (on Ipad,) and you still have your weekly blog to schedule for publication (laptop.) Thank goodness, yesterday’s chapter was a mere 1,090 words long and I was done with it before all the madness in the White House started up again.

Writing Routines in Retirement

Last week, I wrote about the writing routines of my fellow writers from the Algonkian novel workshop who are still either working in day jobs or who have other responsibilities that take priority. This week, I share my routine along with those of  fellow retired writers, Greg Renz and Paula Zimlicki. Greg is a retired fire captain working on his first novel, The Thin Red Line. Paula Zimlicki worked as a medical writer and editor, and had completed a first draft of her novel, In The Summer of Defiance, before joining the writers’ workshop in St. Augustine earlier this year.

 

Greg Renz: “My day starts between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. I read one of my books on creative writing or whatever novel I’m into. When my wife gets up, usually around 6:30 or 7:00, we drink coffee, read our two newspapers, and talk while catching up on the latest tragic news stories.

Naps allowed

At 8:00, if the weather is good, I head out to our deck in the woods and do 30 minutes of yoga followed by 15 minutes of Tai Chi. At 9:00 it’s off to my writing room where I begin by meditating for 15 minutes. Total silence except for chirping birds outside  my window. Every morning, I put on Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park at a a barely audible level. The poetry and music of their songs puts me in the mood and alerts my right brain that it’s time to create. For me, the morning hours are the most productive. I usually start by editing the last two pages from the day before, so that I get in the flow of the story. Some days the boys in the basement refuse to send anything up and other days they flood me with ideas (Stephen King’s metaphor).

After lunch, I take care of any chores or business, then a nice nap, followed by a walk in our quiet, wooded neighborhood. Sometimes ideas come out of the blue during these walks, and if I don’t write them down they are lost forever. I always carry a small notebook for this. After the walk, it’s time for wine while I read over what I wrote in the morning. That ends my writing day, except for waking in the middle of the night on occasion to observe a scene playing out in my head.

Started Writing After Retirement

I’m in awe of people who are able to write while holding down a full-time job or profession. I didn’t start writing seriously until I retired, and following four years’ of creative writing classes at the University of Wisconsin. My mentor at the UW informed me that if I was to be a serious writer, I needed to have set work hours. So at 9:00 a.m. every morning, I turn off the news, put away the paper, and head to my office where I will work until at least noon, sometimes longer, if the words are coming. Some days can be a real struggle, but I found if I stick to this schedule, the scenes will come.
My routine resulted in a massive 176,000 word first draft. I’m sure I’d still be slogging through that first draft if I didn’t stick to a routine. I’ve also needed to diligently stick to my routine in order to trim the manuscript to 113,000 words.

Easier in Retirement

Paula Zimlicki

Paula Zimlicki: ” I wrote the first draft of my novel while working fulltime. It took me five years of writing nights, weekends and on lunch breaks.  Because I made my living as a medical writer and editor, the last thing my brain wanted to do when I came off my day job was work on my novel. What kept me going was a strong commitment to achieving a goal I had since I learned to read. I just decided to do it. I had to retire prematurely because of a hearing and vestibular disorder, and I find it easier now to work on my revised draft. However, I’m a night owl and my brain awakes at night. When my characters are really in my brain, I cannot sleep even when I desperately want to do so.

Office Away From Home

I love working at my local Barnes & Noble in River Oaks, Houston  because of the atmosphere and the café crew. When I need a break, I can get a bunch of magazines and peruse the books. I come here at least four days a week, late morning or early afternoon, and stay for at least four hours, but often staying up to six hours.

My favorite spot is to the right of the divide in the B&N cafe (pictured.) The café crew knows me. They know my order and start fixing it before I even get to the counter. Venti iced tea, black, unsweetened, don’t cut the tea with water. Multigrain bagel toasted with two cream cheese.  And, on those writing days when words just will not come, I sometimes succumb to ordering a s’mores cookie!

Bookstores Are Special

I have always loved bookstores. When I was little, if I got separated from my parents at the mall, they knew where to find me: a bookstore! That was back in the days of many bookstores, independent and chains. I miss those days with endless variety of bookstores.

Harley

I have a helper when I work from my home office. His name is Harley, and he is a mixed breed but mostly Maine Coon. He loves to sit up on my desk and watch me. I also do art from this desk and his favorite thing is to play with the pencils. Speaking of art, when the writing muse is just not flowing, I turn to art. I find that using a different part of my brain helps with the writing. Inevitably, I will get a thought about something to write and then I turn back to the computer. Harley loves to sit on the keyboard!

I hate exercise, other than yoga. But, like my desire to write a novel, my desire to lose weight is strong. I’ve started using the treadmill in the gym in our building, and listening to music at the same time. My main challenge to exercising is that it takes time away from writing.

 

July 15, 2017
by joanna
0 comments

How To Stick To A Writing Routine When You’re NOT A Famous Author

Literary gossip has it that William Faulkner chopped off the bottom of his study door and had all his meals passed to him under the door when he was writing;  poet and playwright, Edna Vincent Millay wrote in a cottage on her property, and hung a white flag out of the window to get her husband’s attention whenever she needed something.

Robert Olen Butler (pictured below), Pulitzer-prize winning author, and a participating mentor in the Algonkian novel workshop which I attended earlier this year has described a daily routine that also has him retreating to a cottage on his property in Florida, and staying there till he writes his quota of, at least, 400 “polished” words.

Writing Routines

Robert Olen Butler

It is much more difficult to establish anything resembling a writing routine when you are not a famous author. Family and friends may be dismissive when you make excuses for not attending family functions or parties, or when you shirk household chores because you’re in the middle of your first draft. Their disbelief is usually accompanied by an eye roll. More difficult still is finding the time to write when you are holding down a day job, or caring for a young family, or for older parents.

I turned to my Algonkian circle of author friends to find out what routines they have been able to establish. Readers of this website may recall I introduced these friends after we met at the novel workshop in St. Augustine, Florida. So, while Dorothy Parker had her Algonquin Round Table of witty, smart author friends, we have an Algonkian Circle (re-named the Gonks by group member, Doug Spak.)  They have provided me with input in the past as to how the workshop helped them with their works-in-progress (WIPs.) We also contribute to a weekly email round-robin reporting on our literary progress. Here are their writing routines:

Sometimes Life Gets In the Way

Chris’s cottage will be converted into a writing retreat

Chris Capstraw  (has been working on her first novel, Unforgiven, for a couple of years) : “My writing schedule varies depending on whether my teenaged daughters are at school or on summer break. During school months, I  wake up at 6:45, which is enough time to get myself together, then drive them to school by 8:00.  I walk the dog until about 9:00. I don’t go back home to write.  Home means distractions such as laundry – I hate doing laundry – and  I have not yet converted the cottage into a Butler-like hideaway.  Anyway, the cottage is within walking distance to the house and distractions.  So many distractions.

 Background Noise

Chris’s view from The Lodge

The idea is to FOCUS.  Get in the zone, and don’t leave it until nothing more comes out of your brain.   During the day, I must be out of the house in order to focus.  After I walk the dog along the Carmel Beach, I stop at either the quaint Carmel Coffee house, the Lodge or Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach.  I always order a one- shot cappuccino. The coffee house is way cool since I can overhear plenty of tourists from overseas converse in their native languages.  Of course, it feels as if I’ve mind traveled from out of the fog into somewhere bright and sexy.  I require, not solitude, but background noise for mental stimulation to get the writing to flow.

No Guilt

When the girls are on summer vacation, I can’t commit to any time schedule.  Sometimes, while the girls sleep in, I wake up early and sneak out to keep to my routine.   If life gets in the way and I can’t write in the morning, I will write between 10 pm and midnight. I also feel no guilt letting the novel sit without my attention.  Getting away from something always gives my brain room to clear out and start fresh with better ideas. I sharpen my writing skills when time allows.”

Balancing Act

Writing at his camper in the woods of Northern Wisconsin

Doug Spak  (has completed six chapters of a second draft of his first novel, Bad Road Down) : “My biggest challenge is balancing the demands of my business with my writing schedule. It can be frustrating. I’ve never been busier than I am right now, the “feast or famine” reality of anybody who does freelance work. Some days I will commit to working on a chapter and follow through. I will begin other mornings with a similar commitment but get drawn into work projects and produce nothing for my novel.

I have a writing refuge. A good friend owns a 150-year-old building in a small town 15 minutes away from our condo. He charges me a measly $100 for a small office that I have come to cherish for its solitude. The adjoining office houses a small recording studio owned by a guy who has been in the music business for 50 years. He’s an amazing musician and we’ve begun to collaborate on songs with lyrics I’ve written.
I would love to have the kind of schedule (and self-discipline) to write a certain number of words every day.  Sometimes I chastise myself for my lack of discipline and output. Perhaps my biggest challenge is to ease up on this self-flagellation. I wrote a 85,000 manuscript in 30 days during NANOWRIMO (National novel writing month.)  It’s the second time I completed a NANOWRIMO manuscript.  I’m not sure exactly why I am able to discipline myself during that discrete period of time.

Two Chapters A Week

Doug Spak

My routine is constantly evolving. I rise every morning at 4:30 or so and spend 30 minutes in meditation, followed by 15 minutes or so of reading. I then move into writing, but what I write will change every day. I’ve been trying to complete at least two chapters of my second draft each week. I also use the time to develop submissions to writing contests. At a minimum, I spend an hour writing “morning pages” which can stimulate something for my novel.

As someone who writes to pay the mortgage, I will say that some mornings I devote my time to writing (blogs, ad copy, website copy) to earn a paycheck. I’m fortunate to have steady work, but it does cut into the time and energy it takes to work on a novel.
I have an absolutely lovely, French writing desk, but in the morning, I tend to sit on a comfy chair, put my feet on an ottoman and write long-hand on a yellow legal pad. I love the process of writing long-hand. I always use a black PaperMate Flair medium tip pen. I always have a black Moleskin notebook with me for jotting ideas or dialogue. I’m also a member of a writer’s group; we meet every other Wednesday. It’s a device to stay accountable in terms of my novel.”

Roof Garden Inspiration

View from Noreene’s Fifth Avenue home

Noreene Storrie (working on her first novel, The Wrong Turn): ” I get up between 5:30 and 6:30 AM and sit at my desk where I face towards the trees of Central Park’s eastern border. The trees center me and give me information about seasons which is further confirmed by the roof garden of (billionaire)Ronald Perelman’s townhouse (pictured next to tall building on left.)  I think I get more pleasure from his garden than he does since I get to look at it every day.

I cheat with coffee since I use a machine and capsules. I have a double Nespresso capsule blend that I prepare and add a touch of half and half. I have an hour to an hour and a half until I make coffee and warm a gluten-free muffin for my husband. This is how I keep him in bed and out of my writing area. I have no word count or number of pages as my daily target. I write until its breakfast time. My husband then goes to his office.

Noreene relaxing in Cayman

Weekends Too

After breakfast, I switch to “work.” I am a property manager and contend with having the air conditioners serviced or the windows cleaned so I can see out. I also organize events here and in Cayman. If I’m really on a writing roll, I will delay what I really don’t want to do and permit words to flow. Weekends, I aim for the equivalent of two full half days.  Then I garden. I have made sacrifices for my writing, for even if I’m not at the keyboard, I’m thinking about my writing. It is rare for me to go out for lunch. I have cut back on correspondence with non-writers. I miss the last act of all operas so I can get up early in the morning. I swear when I am published, I am going to get a sign that says “Writer at Work” and  dedicate more set hours to words. I also intend to rework my other novel and set it in Cayman, and declare my trips there as tax deductions.”

Simple Routine

Lunka Dinwiddie

Lunka Dinwiddie (working on first thriller, Torn ): “My writing routine is quite simple and has gotten better with discipline over time.  I have pictures of my favorite writers from the Harlem Renaissance decorating my walls (pictured below.) It brings a sense of energy to the room. I also have a picture of Billie Holiday. Her story gives me much inspiration. I’ve had to overcome very intense hardships through the years and like Billie, my heart bleeds into my art. I have a white board (pictured below) that I use frequently when sketching out my characters, or even small aspects of my characters that become important to my story. Below the white board, I pin pictures of all of my characters. It is important that I see these folks everyday as I write them. It makes them real people to me, which in turn lends itself to making these folks real to my readers. I spend several hours researching faces when plotting out a novel until I find the images to accurately resemble what is in my head. My desk faces the window which provides me an awesome view.

Best Writing Time

My best writing time is in the early hours of the morning. Often, I will get started around 5 AM and if having a good writing day, which happens on the weekends generally, I can write all day, until dinner time. I take breaks only to eat. During the week, I will write on days where my job has not completely exhausted me, which is normally about two days in the work week. On these days I have to fully disconnect myself from my job to jump into the world of my novel. I have to completely disconnect from the world.
I find motivation through music, I listen to a lot of different genres. I also find inspiration through intriguing film with strong character development. I study these films and how the intricacies of each character are displayed non verbally. It helps me with writing engaging character development, without telling, but showing.  I often go into my characters’ minds and do things they would do, or listen to music they would listen to, or recall a memory that helps me bring a particular emotion to the page. It’s an organic process.

Curtailed Social Life

 I work at my day job from home. After going to the gym.  I’ll work  9-5, then take care of everyday responsibilities. I jot down little thoughts for my book during the day, and during my breaks, such as lunch, I’ll do my research. I’m a single mother of two. My daughter is in college and my son lives full time with his father, but comes to visit. I am not dating until I finish the novel. I have cut my social life down drastically to maintain the laser focus required to bring the novel to completion. I am 40 but feel like I’m 28. I try to keep myself fit, and take care of myself, so I look how I feel.  My entire focus is to do whatever it takes to escape the 9-5 day job, and transition into the realm of a full-time writer. Once I am able to do that, I will have complete freedom to invest all of my energy into the many, many novels in my head awaiting to come out.”

 Waiting For End of School Year

Mandi Bean

Mandi Bean (a teacher, working on her second novel, The Retreat):  “It’s been a tumultuous start of the summer for me, so I haven’t established any kind of writing routine (which is depressing). However, I plan to start ASAP. My goal is to start the morning with a two-mile walk along the boardwalk and follow it with some breakfast. I typically do my best writing in the evening. Since I don’t have central air,  I’ll wait until the house cools down and then set myself up with a beverage, and type while music plays in the background.

The end of the school year is frazzling to say the least. This year was even worse because my grandma passed away less than a week after school let out. She had Alzheimer’s, so we knew it was coming, but I was woefully unprepared (despite thinking otherwise). I wrote and read her eulogy and have been cleaning out her house as well as helping my mom, so I haven’t settled into any kind of routine as of yet.

Routine For First Novel

When I was writing my first novel (Her Beautiful Monster), I did most of my writing in the evening. I had music playing constantly (with lyrics for added inspiration) and something to drink (usually wine, but if I was on a diet, it’d be Coke Zero). Sometimes I’d have a cigarette; in Stephen King’s novel, Misery, the main character is a novelist who quit smoking years ago, but always smokes one cigarette when he finishes a manuscript. I thought there was something romantic and artistically tortured about that whole idea, so I incorporated it … sort of.  I worked for a couple of hours at a time, reading over whatever I previously wrote, then fleshing out two or three new scenes before calling it quits.
Next Week: A Writing Routine When You Have All The Time in the World (That’s Three of Us.)
Photo Credits: Bigstockphoto.com; Kate Spak (camper in the woods)

 

 

July 8, 2017
by joanna
4 Comments

Writing The Ultimate Page -Turning Thriller

 Of the following, please check which one applies to you: a) I want to write  a page-turner that will keep my readers up all night; b) I want to read the hottest “serial-killer” thriller of the Summer;  c) Both of the above.  Whichever option you chose, The Fourth Monkey by J.D.Barker is a MUST read for you.

 

Ultimate Thriller

The novel is a gripping, gritty, fast-paced thriller about a serial killer, dubbed “4MK” (the Four Monkey killer), who has terrorized the city of Chicago for more than five years. His seven victims, all young women, are tortured in a unique M.O. (based on Confucius’s wise monkeys) where the killer cuts off one ear (hear no evil), then gouges out the eyes (see no evil), then the tongue (speak no evil) — before killing the victim (do no evil.) The body parts are delivered to the victims’ relatives in signature white boxes tied with black string. Since the first killing, he has been pursued unsuccessfully by homicide detective, Sam Porter. The thriller opens with an accident in which the serial killer, on his way to mail the ear of his latest, eighth victim, apparently deliberately steps out in front of a city transit bus and dies.

 Page-Turner Kept Me Up All Night

I first heard about the novel on Goodreads, the social media site for book lovers. The book cover flashed up on My Page  touting itself as “Se7en meets Hannibal Lecter.” I don’t normally pay that much attention to books which Goodreads tries to foist on me (I have my own long list of “to-read books.”)  However, since there is a “serial killer” backstory in the novel I am currently writing, I had to check this one out. This is what happened:

It kept me up all night. Literally. I started reading while watching The Rachel Maddow Show. Went to bed at midnight.  Had to get up. Had to continue reading. I finished just after 5 a.m. as dawn was breaking, and had to cancel my morning tennis game. I wasn’t exactly ready for bed (too much flitting around in my mind), but I wasn’t in any fit shape to play tennis, either.  There was worse to come:

Stopped Work On My Thriller

I couldn’t go back to the first draft of my own WIP. It’s been several days now since I finished reading, and yes, I know, any old excuse for procrastinating! But, honestly, when you read an author who has totally hit it out of the ballpark, you are bound to seriously question your own attempt at producing a page-turner. More to the point you feel the need to analyze and dissect the book all over again to answer the questions preying on your mind: How did he do it?  How did J.D. Barker make me stay up all night, reading?

Why I Turned the Pages

The author, of course, adheres to all the conventions of the genre: a string of unsolved bizarre, revolting murders; a new victim; a race against time to find the killer as well as the latest victim who is hanging onto life by the proverbial thread; and a likeable, but flawed protagonist who doggedly pursues the killer overcoming increasing obstacles –until a happy or semi-happy resolution is reached whereby the victim is rescued and/or the killer’s motives are revealed and/or the brilliantly, evil killer is captured.

BUT The Fourth Monkey is so much more than the sum of the parts of its genre. For starters, the serial killer appears to have committed suicide in the opening chapters. Why? There may be a clue in the diary which he was also carrying when he walked into the bus, and which is handed to detective Porter. The diary, additionally, is a delicious device by which the author purports to “look into the mind of a serial killer.”

There is a “social justice” aspect to his killings since his victims are related to big-time wrongdoers whose bad deeds have so far gone unpunished. This serial killer apparently believes it’s a bigger punishment for wrongdoers to know their children have been tortured and killed because of their sins than being tortured and killed themselves.  But the wife and children of the man to whom the last box was addressed appear to be unharmed and intact — after the ear is found. So, there is an initial mystery over the identity of the new victim.

Pushing the Stakes Higher in a Thriller

Photo Credit: Dayna Jung Photography

Barker (pictured)  adds to the high stakes of identifying the  latest victim and finding her location before she dies of thirst and/or starvation by introducing the nail-biting possibility of the victim being attacked and eaten by rats. This is the fate that befalls one of the serial killer’s previous victims who is found in a horrifying maze of underground tunnels beneath the city. Naturally, there is a didn’t-see-it-coming, super-horrifying mid-point twist that is as good as Gillian Flynn’s in Gone Girl, if not better.

It is the brilliant interweaving of the various strands of the thriller that makes it unputdownable. Barker, a 47-year old former self-published author, moves from 1) the police investigation and search for the victim to 2) the victim and her horrendous struggle to stay alive to 3) the diary revealing the disturbed and disturbing childhood of the serial killer (who could of course be an unreliable narrator, or be playing mind games with the cops) to 4) the unravelling of recent personal tragic events in Porter’s life.  And, he breaks off from each strand exactly at the point where the reader is “dying”  to know more.

Beginnings Of A Page-Turner

It goes without saying that Barker nailed it in his opening chapters. In a  recent post,  I wrote about a Writers Boot Camp for which I signed up and which focused on the first ten pages of the participants’ manuscripts. As Paula Munier, a literary agent, author and instructor at the boot camp emphasized, the first ten pages of a novel are make-or-break for an author. That goes whether a reader is looking through hardcovers on a Barnes and Noble shelf, or using the Look Inside feature for an Amazon Kindle purchase. In The Fourth Monkey, the author does everything right in his first ten pages.

We know immediately that something huge has happened. We learn that protagonist, homicide detective Sam Porter is being summoned back to work –although he is supposedly on some kind of leave– because of the apparent suicide of a serial killer he has been pursuing and who appears to have struck one last time.

We meet the likeable protagonist, 52-year old Sam Porter (who hates his pinging iPhone, hates “cheap electronics” from China, and owns an old nineteen-inch tube TV because it still works), and we want to know more about Porter and the personal tragedy that has led to his unwanted leave. We’re also introduced to the evil mind of the antagonist by references to his M.O. and his previous killings. He is a smart and a worthy adversary, staying one step ahead of the cops throughout the book. And, like the best antagonists of the genre, he appears to possess a human dimension that blows us away at the very end.

Eluding capture, he performs an act of vengeance on Porter’s behalf . Naturally, it comes with a small quid pro quo. On the last page of the book, he asks Porter to find his mother  –a character we’ve been fascinated and repelled by in the serial killer’s diary.

If the oft-repeated dictum “the first page sells the book, the last page sells the next book,” is correct, then, so far as I’m concerned, Barker already has a hit on his hands with the sequel due out next year.

 

Photo Credits:  bigstockphoto.com, Dayna Jung Photography

 

 

 

 

July 1, 2017
by joanna
7 Comments

Happy Birthday, America

It’s Squib Saturday. Time to share the most interesting, most outrageous, or most entertaining tidbits of information gleaned from all the stuff I’ve read –or seen — or done.  This week: A Love Letter to My Adopted Country

On August 31, I will celebrate another anniversary as an American citizen — my 16th. A year ago, I wrote about the anniversary in joyous terms. The last year has severely tested my profound love for this country.

The man who sits in the Oval Office has spent the last five months lobbing metaphorical cannonballs at the judiciary, the Press, and citizens who happen to disagree with him. And, yet, I can sit here today and affirm that I am happy that 16 years ago I made the decision to become an American citizen.

Mika and Joe

Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Where else in the world could two cable news anchors and journalists (Mika Brzezinski  and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe ) appear on national TV for three hours every weekday morning and criticize the policies of the party in power and the inane doings of the man in the Oval Office, — and continue to do so? This week, the revelation that Trump had commissioned and hung fake Time Magazine covers of himself in his country clubs prompted Mika (pictured with Joe) to call out Trump as a liar who is “destroying the country.”

Approximately, thirty minutes later, Trump tweeted that “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift.” Hence, the ultimate retribution against the duo by the leader of the free world was a demeaning, misogynistic, apparently non-factual, and stupid double-tweet from @realDonaldTrump which spoke volumes about the tweeter and his narcissistic, juvenile bullying tactics, and brought down almost universal condemnation on his head including from FOX News journalists and commenters, Shepard Smith and Howard Kurtz.

In some other parts of the world, Mika and Joe, and all those news anchors and journalists would have found themselves dead, or imprisoned and serving sentences of hard labor.

Even the Rich Don’t Want Tax Cuts

Where else in the world can voters find such access to their elected (Republican) representatives as to make their outrage clear on the proposal that 22 million people are at risk of losing their health insurance so that the rich can get their tax cuts? Constituents have been sounding off in town hall meetings for weeks and protesting in wheelchairs outside senators’ offices in Washington D.C. Enough Republican lawmakers got the message to say they won’t vote for such a health care bill.  Know what? Even the rich (look at Warren Buffet) don’t want those tax cuts.  And, know what else? Last I heard, an increasing number of Republican senators were considering the idea of deleting the tax cuts idea altogether. That’s democracy in action.

Great Land

As the judge who swore me in as an American citizen told us:

“America is not a perfect country. But it is a great land.”

Definitely, it has been a great land for me. I will never argue with that. It is a land that gave me the opportunities to lead a life I could only dream about back in London in the Sixties.  Donald Trump is not going to take away the same kind of opportunities from millions of other immigrants who are teeming to get into this country because there are enough decent, clear-thinking individuals to tweet, and write editorials, attend town hall meetings and protest to make our democratic institutions work they way they were intended to work.

Polish Princesses

In the interest of full disclosure: I am an avid fan of Mika and Morning Joe. Mika, because she is a “Polish Princess ” like I am, and because she and Joe Scarborough are engaged to be married as a result of an office romance. More than 30 years ago, I embarked on an office romance with my “Philadelphia Joe” which led to our enduring marriage of more than 30 years.  Which brings me to my conclusion of:

Ye Gods!

I have something in common with Trump. Namely, myself and my husband on a fake cover of a top selling magazine (Circulation of STAR in 1987: 3.5 million weekly.) More than 30 years ago, the editors of STAR Magazine –where my husband and I worked and met– put together the (pictured) cover as a gift to the both of us on our wedding day. The saucy, clever lines were theirs (you know who you are, Phil.) It’s something the editors of the STAR did for their employees to commemorate important days in the lives of those employees.

The photo, by the way, was not our original wedding photo. It was, in fact, our heads imposed on the 1986 wedding photo of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew of the British Royal Family (you can look it up!)

It was all a bit of fun. Maybe that’s all Trump intended his fake Time Magazine cover to be. However, ours was a “real” fake cover — and STAR Magazine has not in the past 30 years asked us to take down the cover from my office wall.

Happy July 4th everyone !

 

Photo Credits: Bigstockphoto.com; Jonathan Ernst/Reuters; Huffington Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 24, 2017
by joanna
0 comments

Guns & Baseball — and Clean Ovens

It’s Squib Saturday, and it’s been a while since I’ve shared the most interesting, most outrageous, or most entertaining tidbits of information gleaned from all the stuff I’ve read –or seen — or done.  So, this week: A round-up of those tidbits from the last couple of weeks.

 

 

The Most Ridiculous Idea Ever!

 

Within hours of the shootings of Republican lawmakers at a Alexandria, Va. baseball field a couple of weeks ago, I read this article by Jonathan Martin, in the New York Times, titled Their Own Targeted, Republicans Want Looser Gun Laws, Not Stricter Ones.  The article went something like this: Even the Republican congressmen who were shot at will not consider tightening gun regulations. In fact, they are arguing that had the gun laws been less restrictive they could have carried firearms to the baseball practice that morning to protect themselves.

So, exactly how would that have worked? At the time the first shots were fired, Steve Scalise , the House majority whip who was the most seriously injured, was on second base.  Where would he have put his firearm when he came out to bat? Where could he have concealed it on his person? Where would the lawmaker and/or aide who was at bat put his firearm? What about the pitcher, or the guys in the outfield? I suppose they could have left them on the bench in the dugout where their fellow team members would be armed to the teeth also. But  further consider this: Among the first interviews, which I watched on MSNBC’s Morning Joe after the shootings, one of the witnesses said that when Scalise’s security detail responded with firepower, those in the dugout turned and yelled: “Are you friendly (fire)?” Imagine, if they had all been armed, shot first, and asked questions later.

As a wise pundit observed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, if twenty dead children aged between 6-7 years old can’t bring about a change in laws on gun possession, nothing will. At least, lawmakers like Scalise ( whose pro-gun stance has earned him an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association) appear to accept the possibility that, if they Vote for the Gun, They Might Very Well Die By The Gun.

Most Illuminating — on Coal

It takes a brilliant mind to coherently present the facts on why coal is a dying industry, and why Trump, despite his campaign promise, can never bring back all the coal mining jobs that have disappeared over the decades.  But that’s what John Oliver did in his Last Week Tonight show recently.  Oliver did the same brilliant analysis on why marijuana should be legalized, and on all the nonsense surrounding Brexit. The ability to make difficult and controversial subjects comprehensible is what distinguishes brilliant journalists from the run-of-the-mill hacks. To make those difficult subjects comprehensible –and risible– is doubly brilliant. So, I always figured that Brit-born Oliver had trained as a journalist somewhere in my native country, England.  Turns out not to be so. But he did attend Cambridge University, one of the two top universities in Britain, before making comedic commentary his forte. If you watch nothing else this week, watch this excerpt on youtube.

Meanest Health Care Plan Ever!

Not a single Republican lawmaker (House or Senate) has argued against the assertion that one intended effect of the health insurance plan coming up for a vote in the Senate is to reduce taxes on investment income and high earnings for the better-off among us. If passed, the new health insurance legislation would almost certainly reduce taxes for my husband and myself.

Is that good news for us? Yes. Who doesn’t hate writing those quarterly checks to the United States Treasury?

BUT, the reality for my husband and I is also this: We have not gone without any of the goods and services we needed because of the increased tax payments we’ve made since Obamacare went into effect.   In other words, we lead a pretty comfortable life in spite of the increased taxes that went into effect in 2010 so that millions of U.S. citizens, previously uninsured, could get health insurance under expanded Medicaid coverage.  A recent estimate showed that the new health care plan would reduce taxes on really high earners with incomes of more than $1 million by an average of $54,000 a year. Come on guys! Did you really miss that $54k over the last few years?  The current POTUS is right on this one thing: the proposed health insurance legislation is just plainly MEAN.

Most Interesting Google Discovery

When I decided earlier this week to roast some skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, I dreaded the inevitable result of a grease-spattered, smoky oven which would continue to smoke the next couple of times I roasted or baked. Naturally, when faced with an issue of this magnitude, I Googled.

I expected some obvious, simple solution like “cover chicken with foil,” but that wasn’t the case. Instead, I got entries with lines like “I’m not going to sacrifice great roasted chicken for a clean oven,”  with subsequent advice on how to clean a heavily grease-spattered oven with a mixture of “this” and “that.” I could not believe that Google had failed me in this simple quest.

So, I called Jane, my go-to expert, fabulous cook and Florida neighbor.  She suggested broiling, and placing the chicken breasts at mid-level in the oven after seasoning simply with salt and pepper. “But keep an eye on them,” she warned. I sensed trouble whatever I did in the oven.

In the end, I took the chicken breasts outside, and precisely followed the instructions for gas-grilling in my copy of The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue. They turned out perfect and delicious.  I was so excited, and so eager to dig in and try them, I forgot to take photos. So, (pictured) here are the bratwurst with peppers and onions which I grilled (perfectly) for dinner the following evening.

Best Car Commercial This Week

The one that makes me want to get into the back seat of a Lincoln.

 

Photo Credits: Bigstockphoto.com