Dark Memories from Detroit: The Black Legion

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A history that will hold you from first word until the last and make you shake your head.

It’s difficult to sum up this book with enough superlatives. Who but a top journalist could put together such a finely woven fabric of life and weave uncountable personalities, events and moments together – and in doing so — bash one out of the park like Hank Greenberg? Tom Stanton’s new book will be published later this spring. The title is,  Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, And the Secret Society That Shocked Depression-Era Detroit

I could not put it down, read it over two days. And therein met Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings, Joe Louis, Detroit Lions, politicians beyond count, and a story that extends like a web  over the Midwest and into dark basements of an anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-black secret organization. Players the author ties into this true tale include a huge cast: Henry Ford and his security chief Harry Bennett, J. Edgar Hoover, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ronald Reagan, Ernie Harwell, Babe Ruth, Dizzy and Paul Dean, and eventually a legendary Michigan State Police officer, Detective Captain Ira Marmon, the first Troop retiree and a man who set a standard for all those to follow in the pursuit of truth and justice. (My friend Greg Hubers will love the information on Captain Marmon.)

Amazing and frightening to think that lots of those nefarious  forces operating in this period of 1933-1938 are STILL  among us, many of them still just as hidden as the Black Legion was back then. Many of them surfaced in the Presidential elections that resulted in President Obama in the White House and many of them are undercurrents in the present presidential campaign. Evil never gets eradicated; it only gets pushed underground or aside for a while.

If you love Detroit, Michigan, Michigan history, our sports team and largely unknown tales of history, you will be carried away by this story. Written as cleanly as a new shave with a straight razor, and thick with information and side notes that will captivate you and remind us all of the old saw of everyone being separated by only a few degrees. Finally, given how this turns out, one must wonder how many of these creeps were our own kin, and how they hid their involvement in such reprehensible actions from us and all around them. Sad and scary. Kind of like Nazis who went to ground and were never prosecuted, much less identified.

This is well worth your buckos and your time.  Could make a great film or  TV series. $26 hardbound from Lyons Press (An Imprint of Rowman & Litchfield). Buy it, read it, talk about it, encourage others to read it. I did and I am and will continue doing so.

Over.

Delp Scores Again

Mike Delp's newest offering. Buy it, enjoy it!
Mike Delp’s newest offering. Buy it, enjoy it!

Late yesterday recieved my copy of Michael Delp’s New poetry collection: Lying in the River’s Dark Bed: The Confluence of the Deadman and the Mad Angler. (Wayne State University Press.)

Delp knows of what he writeth about. His blood is river water.

Here’s an example:

DEADMAN AS WRITER
Deadman treats words like road kill,
runs them down, stops,
rolls backward and forward,
over and over.
After he flattens thousands of words,
he thinks he's invented a new language.
He writes a book,
says,
"Here, read this,
it will kill you.

Deadman, The Mad Angler, Brown Dog,  Jason Snowblood, Limpy Allerdyce… these are the denizens of my world.

Delp is one of our very best writers.  Ever. You’ll love his work and though it won’t make you better at catching trout, it will surely give you gnu things to think about while you are gnot catching, or  whilst changing flies, or whilst moving along the banks to find gnu water.  $15.99 in paper. Buy it, treasure it.

Friday Thinking in Softening Air

This is how one mind works, how life is lived in the low, slow Friday lane,  Dies veneris, vendredi, biernes, venerde, Unmarked in the unsighted world. It is said that once it  was said there was a woman so bloody good looking that she was difficult to look at.  Then kilt in an avalanche. One is tempted to affect cause with effect. The behavior of actors on a Shoot in Tahiti was declared detestable. Just yesterday, The Pope tried to trump Trump over walls: The result a push on this world’s scorecard as in Vegastawk. The Woolfs, Leonard and Virginia, are alleged to have never consummated their marriage, a result of some sort of undefined vaginal block said to be similar to that of their countrywoman Queen Elizabeth I. There are no known public or medical records or forensics to declare in any direction. There was a girl 17, jumped from 14 stories, landedon soft and porous cement with predictable result.  Her bloodstains remained for years for thosewho knew where to look for them, like afficianados of stigmata on the bodies of Womandragoras or octogenarian seamstresses from Jackson Heights. Wrote the late Robt Phelps: A lifetime of indignation goeth before a hemorrhage. Who would argue? Tourists jitney and flitney around Tahiti in surplus Jeeps from the Vietnam War, the bloods stains long sunk into the quick-pores of pitted metal. Some, I hear,  long to oogle beautiful French legs.My late editor, Joe Fox of the Five-Fox-Day used to sing “Loot, loot, loot.” Now I ask you, Can legs be loot? Oh, that girl who tried to fly? She had flax-yellow hair and a Bible in her hand. Some  no doubt would claim this to be a political statement, but it’s not. It’s objective, yet so very subjective. What if it had been a Quran in her hand, or a guidebook on sexual positions for drive-in movie dates in the backseat of ’59 Buick Electras?  Is objectivity bruised by facts chosen? Perhaps. All these blood symbols, must be politrix in the air. As Cypriot Greeks tell it, There ain’t no sparks in last year’s ashes. Be advised: If a stone falls on an egg, alas for the egg. If an egg falls on a stone, alas for the egg. Therefore, be the stone and not the egg (Or be certain you have a good lawyer.) I am dreaming of a grand cru Bordeaux with steaming Polenta ucelli —maize pudding with little birds the way my Mississippi mama made it when we lived in  the hills outside Firenze.  Better have tofu for dinner . To blunt the cannibalism in my genes. Over.

Of Maps and Stories

To ask for a map is to say, “Tell me a story.”

Let me be quick to add that if you are of the G.P.S. generation and under twenty, the chances probably are that you have little or no clue to the joys, mysteries, or stories inherent in and on a map. This is a great loss or your inner life because maps, like books, open mind-doors and let us visit places we may not be able to get to physically, time-wise,  or financially. 

And what is a book? At its most basic, it’s a story.

Human beings live on stories. We crave them, make decisions and create dreams and plan based on them. And we use stories to tell ourselves our own stories of who we are.

As a once upon-a-time-navigator of the Cold War and Vietnam era, I found  my way around the world at 500 mph with minimal and marginal equipment, and thus have a particular affinity for maps and stories.  Let me add that trained on minimal equipment, that is, nothing tied to the ground because we assumed that if the Cold War ever turned hot we would not have things on the ground to support us. We even carried heat and light shields for all of our windows so that we couldn’t get blinded by nuclear flashes, and to minimize the amount of radiation seeping in as we passed through hot zones. This was business as usual.

Every time we flew, either for training or in combat support, I prepared a  navigation plan including a route or path and a destination — an outline of a story if you will, for us to go from A to X via Y there and en route to accomplish our mission tasks.

But as someone once observed, “Plans are obsolete as soon as the first shot is fired.” Absolutely true, and it’s also true  for writing fiction. You can have an idea of what you want to go and where you want to go, but the characters and situation can assumed a force of reality and push you in other directions. It’s no different than flying across the Atlantic and running into a huge wall of thunderstorms far over our heads (up to 60,000 feet – too damn  high for us to fly over, and therefore requiring me to use my radar to pick our way through all sorts of airborne violence, turn right, now turn left, more left, back to the right and so forth until we popped out, and then and only then I had to take some moments to try to retrace what the hell I had done and where we had ended up. When you are a thousand miles from land, your final determination of position can be literally critical.

As an aside, we did our utmost to avoid such meteorological monsters in peacetime missions, but if we were out over the Gulf of Tonkin and got jumped by a MiG, it was my job to guide us quickly into  the worst shit I could find, which fortunately I only had to do a couple of times. If you have a MiG on your nose and you are closing at 1200-1300 mph, there’s not much time to figure out what to do other than run for cover. We had no guns, no missiles, just an aircraft filled with JP$ jet fuel, which would make a pretty spectacular airborne fireball. But I digress.

Writers can experience this same sort of emotional jinking when characters take control of the story and push this way, then that way until finally you wrest back control and have a moment to wonder, “Where the hell am I?’

When we operated over polar regions we used to unslave our compasses and point them at an imaginary point in the sky, thus creating a false reference point, and based on that we created a map a grid map all blank, all white and planned our missions onto the great white paper. Sometimes the paper would be 6-7 feet long and this planning done, we could head up over the ice in this false and artificial mode, hoping to hell that the compass wouldn’t precess or malfunction and in doing so put us into Soviet Territory to be captured or splashed.  Normal flight could be very up-tight in this situation, and usually they were. As a navigator I had to be able to create paths across real places, which we could all recognize, and create paths out and back to safety over great featureless expanses of white paper.

Authors can be involved in similar situations. And stories can be a little bit like this– depending on what the writer is doing and how he or she is telling the story.

Think about James Joyce, who once said in a letter to poet Ezra Pound, “In Ulysses, I have recorded simultaneously what a man says, sees, thinks, and what such seeing, thinking, saying does, to what Freudians all call the subconscious.” The subconscious is of course, unknown and unmapped and not much different than that blank polar grid map I had to construct and use. Point is that all humans find ourselves in the unknown and uncharted sometimes. As a navigator I was trained to takes us into such situations and to bring us out, no matter what happened.

Writers do the same thing, though writers do not and cannot get the same kind of training that navigators must have. In reality, GPS and other things have pretty much eliminated the need for human navigators now because most of what we did can now be done by computers and programs.

But you can’t install in a human being a black box that will create imagination. We are born with this, or not. Most of us have some semblance of creativity, though on the edges there are probably some with none. We can exercise our ability to imagine and create, and critique it, and practice it, but if we lack the essential element needed, no amount of classes or study will install it. Just won’t.

            When this happens, it makes more sense to stop trying to make something beyond your capability and enjoy the work of others who can. In other words, turn to the stories which will be maps for you to journey elsewhere and to see some facet of existence in ways you could not do on your own. To repeat, maps are stories, and conversely, stories are maps.

When my father was dying in 1976 and in the hospital, and he sat up one evening on the side of his hospital bed and grumbled, “The Virgin Mary and all that stuff. How do you know?”

Of all the people to ask. Sheesh I was clueless, but I could think pretty quick and I said, “You know how you love to drive all over the country and see new places you’ve never seen before, just because you want to? Well that other stuff is a sort of roadmap too. You trust the maps you use for your road-trips. I guess you’ll have to depend on the roadmap you have for this trip.

His answer was an ambiguous grunt and he lay back and died that night. He was 55.

So we follow a map on the assumption it will take us to where we want to go. With a story we trust the map of that device to take us to a place or places the writer chooses to take us.

And that’s enough for today. Over

Winter’s Drudge in the Wording Life

Six  degrees F this morning, wind blowing some, less than a foot of snow on the ground, winter keeps eroding toward spring. Copies of BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY came in the mail this week. Meanwhile I’m on to other pursuits. There is little opportunity to sit on  one’s laurels in this business, mainly from internal drive that keeps telling one to keep going, keep moving, you can rest later.  Ironically you have to sit on your buttocks to no sit on your laurels. Go figure.

Given the weirdness of our current presidential nominating campains (spelling intended) and how much mud and merde gets slung around publicly I think back to other times and places. Freedom of Speech has been an issue in most societies in history, and continues to be in many current parts of the world. Consider one fervent Puritan John Stubbs who objected vehemently to Queen Elizabeth’s possible marriage to the Duke of Anjou. Stubbs published, THE DISCOVERY OF A GAPING GUILT WHEREUNTO ENGLAND IS LIKE TO BE SWALLOWED BY ANOTHER FRENCH MARRIAGE, IF THE LORD FORBID NOT THE BANNS, BY LETTING HER MAJESTY SEE THE SIN AND PUNISHMENT THEREOF.  Titles tended to be Looooong in those days.)  Predictably, what Queen Elizabeth saw was this jamoke preaching to her. (Note to wannabe political critics, Do not make accusations of your queen — lessen you got a lot of distance twixt you and her.] She ordered cut off the right hands of Mr Stubbs’s , his publisher, and his printer. The printer was pardoned, the other two weren’t.  Oh well.

Free speech items remind me of jokes from the days of the Cold War and the USSR: A frightened man  goes to the KGB at Lubyanka in Moscow and tells one of the officers there,  “My talking parrot has disappeared.”

The KGB man says,  “That’s not the kind of case we handle. Go to the criminal police.”

But the visitor replies, “Excuse me, of course I know that I must go to them. I am just here just to tell you officially that I disagree with the parrot.”

CYA applies in many places many times.

I am working on a book that involves Shakespeare and Hitler and World War II and I have spent the greater part of year just to get to the point where I know enough to write and think my way through a plot. No, not Grady Service and Not Lute Bapcat. Something entirely diff, but more like Berkut than anything else I’ve done. If it gets written. Thought it might be interesting to see the research (at least eh publications part of it that has gone in to this. I number each reference and then use that ref number from the bibliography to make notes from the texts. Other writers have their own methods. Here’s the list as it stands today:

 

# 1   Ivor Brown. How Shakespeare Spent the Day (1963)

#2   David Crystal & Ben Crystal. Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary & Language Companion (2002)\

#3   Peter Cunningham. Extracts From The Accounts of the Revels At Court in the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I (1842)

#4   Rev. N.J.Halpin. Oberon’s Vision in the Midsummer Night’s Dream Illustrated By A Comparison with Lylie’s Endymion. (1843)

#5   Colin McGinn. Shakespeare’s Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind  the Plays (2006)

#6   Marchette Chute. Shakespeare of London: A Unique Account of Shakespeare’s Life and Times (1949)

#7   S. Schoenbaum. Shakespeare’s Lives (1991)

#8   Henry Watson Fowler & Francis George Fowler. The King’s English. (2012)

#9   John Payne Collier. Memoirs of Principal Actors in the Plays of Shakespeare. (1846)

#10 Wm Shakespeare. K.Henry IV: With the Humours of Sir John Falstaff. A Tragi-Comedy Wtitten by Mr. W. Shakespeare (1723 ed.)

#11 Sir Walter Scott. Sir Scott. The Antiquery, Vol 1 (Yr Unk)

#12 Tina Packer. Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s  Plays (2015)

#13 Rodney Symington. The Nazi Appropriation of Shakespeare: Cultural Politics in the Thrid Reich (2005)

#14 Raphael Holinshed. The Historie of England From the Time That I Was First Habited Untill the Time That it Was Last Conquered, Bookes 1-IV (2012)

#15 Dr. Peter D. Matthews & Maria Bussano. Shakespeare Exhumed: The Bussano Chronicles (2013)

#16 Chris Laoutaris. Shakespeare and the Countess. (2014)

#17 Barry Singer. Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill (2012)

#18 Georgina Palfy Sr. The Shakespeare Book. (2015)

#19 Eugene F. Shewmaker. Shakespeare’s Language. (1996)

#20 Wm Shakespeare. The Winter’s Tale (2012 ed)

#22 Anrea Mays. The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio (2015)

#23 Eileen M. Bowit. Harrow Past (2000)

#24 Timothy W. Rybacxk. Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life (2008)

#25 Christopher Tyerman. A History of Harrow School (2000)

#26 F.E.Halliday. A Shakespeare Companion. (1952/1964)

#27 The Holy Bible. King James Version (2010)

#28 Terry Crowdy. SOE Agent: Churchill’s Secret Warrior. (2008)

#29 Nick van der Bijl, BEM. No.10 Inter-Allied Commando, 2942-1945. (2006)

#30 Eugene Liptak. Office of Strategic Services, 1942-1945: The World War II Origins of the CIA. (2009)

#31 Sinclair McKay, Intro. The British Spy Manual: TOP SECRET: The Authentic Special Operations Executive (SOE) Guide for WW II, Vols I-II (2014)

#32 Denis Rigdon. How to Be A Spy: The World War II SOE Training Manual (2001/2004)

#33 Foreign Affairs Office. Instructions for British Servicement in Germany 1944. .(1944)

#34 U.S. Army. Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, 1942 (1942)

#35  U.S. Army. Instructions for American Servicemen in France, 1944 (1944)

#36 William Rosen. The Third Horseman: A Story of Weather, War and the Famine History Forgot (2014)

#37 J. Payne Collier, Intro. Rob’t Armin: Nest of Nissie: Simply of Themselves Without  xxx (1608/1842)

#38 Colin McGinn. Shakespeare’s Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays (2006)

#39 S. Schoenbaum. Shakespeare’s Lives. (1991)

#40 James Shapiro. The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. (2015)

#41 A.L.Rowse. Wm Shakespeare: A Biography. (1963)

#42 Paul Edmundson, Stanley Wells. The Shakespearean Circle: An Alternative Biography. (2015)

#43 Bill Bryson. Shakespeare: The World As Stage.(2007)

#44 David and Ben Crystal. Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary (2015)

#45 John Colville. The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955. (1985)

#46 Gretchen Rubin. Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill (2003)

#47 Paul Johnson. Churchill. (2009)

#48 Charles Clement Walker. John Heminge and Henry Condell Friends and Fellow Actors of Shakespeare and What the World Owes. (1896/2015)

#49 John Kelley. Never Surrender. (2015)

#50 Kenneth Tynan. He That Plays The King: A View of the Theater. (1950)

#51 Walter Raleigh. Johnson on Shakespeare: Essays and Notes Selected, and Set Forth (1756/1908)

#52 N/A

#53 R.S. Churchill. Winston S. Churchill’s Youth, 1874-1900. (1966)

#54 Wm.Shakespeare. The Winter’s Tale. (1990 ed)

#55 Wm Shakespeare. Troillus and Cressida. (1982 ed)

#56  Wm. Shakespeare.Titus Andronicus  (1965 ed)

#57 Wm. Shakespeare Timon of Athens. (1909 ed)

#58 Kenneth Tynan. Profiles, “Tom Stoppard” (1989)

#59   N/A

#60 Penelope Lively. Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir. (2013)

#61 Eric Rasmussen. The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio (2013)

#62 Wm Manchester & Paul Reid. The Last Lion (2013)

#63 Wm Manchester. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill 1874 Visions of Glory 1932. (1983)

#64 Wm H. Gass. Finding A Farm. (1996)

#65 Phillip DePoy. The Tao and the Bard. (2013)

#66 Maria Konnikova. Master-Mind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes. (2013)

#67 Garry Wills. Making Make-Believe Real (2014)

#68 Wm Shakespeare. Henry IV, Part 2

#69. Daniel Swift. Shakespeare’s Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age.

#70 Maggie Secara. A Compendium of Common Knowldege, 1558-1603. Elizabethan Commonplaces for Writers, Actors & Re-Enactors.(1990)

#71 Piero Boitani. The Gospel According To Shakespeare. (2013)

#72 Stephen Greenblatt. Will in the World. How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. (2004)

#73 A.L. Rowse. My View of Shakespeare: The Shakespeare Revolution. (1996)

#74 Herman Golub. Me and Shakespeare: Adventures With the Bard. (2002)

#75 A.D.Nuttall. Shakespeare The Thinker. (2007)

#76 Ted Hughes. Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (1992)

#77. Michael Wood. In Search of Shakespeare. (2003)

#78 Brenda James & William D. Rubinstein. The Truth Will Out: Unmasking The Real Shakespeare. (2006)

#79 Edward Berry. Shakespeare and the Hunt: A Cultural and Social Study. (2001)

#80 Peter Ackroyd. Shakespeare: The Biography.(2005)

#81 Harold Bloom. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.1998)

#82 Francis Bacon. Bacon’s Essay. And the Wisdom of the Ancients: With a Biographical Notge by A. Spiers Prefaxce by B. Montagu, and Notes by Different Writers. (Essays from 1500s and 1600s, this collection, 1900)

#83 James Shapiro. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 (2005)

#84 Bertram Fields. Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare (2005)

And much more, of course, eternally more, the search never ending.

 Over.

Names, The Nature of Ambiguity, and Other Oddities in the World of Writing

Just got my newest edition of the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS and there is a piece in it about one Jim Grant, now more commonly known to his book fans as Lee Childs, creator of the Jack Reacher series. I’ve not read any of his stuff, but I have certainly seen the covers and I believe, and, perhaps, a movie with the character. Don’t remember the film at all, which means there was no reason to. Or I’m just old. Prolly both.

I’m in the middle wading the river  of two manuscripts at the moment, which grow in burps and slides and stumbles and such, one them the 11the Grady Service Title and the other a piece set in England in WW 2. The first will no doubt find print. The second? We shall see.

Names seems to capture readers’ attention and I am almost always challenged by readers at various group gropes and reading soirees. When I tell them that the vast majority of the names come directly from UP phone books, their eyes glaze over – yet it’s true. Couple of times a year I get emails from readers asking if a character with the name of X is from X because their uncle/grandfather/brother/whatever was of that name and from that place.  What they want to know is if I am writing about their relative and family. I have to tell them nope, came from a phone book from a different town. This always seems to disappoint. Life, English.

Names though, have a special place in the writer’s zoo verba.

Take, for example, one Jim Grant, “who was a technical director at Granada TV in England, and went to a store in Manchester and bought three A4 pads (the tall ones) and a pencil. This was 1994. He was almost 40 and about to lose his job, thanks to corporate restructuring, which he’d spent two years fighting as a union shop steward. He lost and made a plan to make a living as a novelist, using for models Alistair MacLean the Travis McGee series by John MacDonald. He named his protagonist Franklin, but apparently the name didn’t really take hold in his mind. Thus, came a day in a store as he stretched to a high shelf for an item, and his wife remarked, “If writing doesn’t work out, you can always find work as a ‘reacher.’  Bingo! Jack Franklin became Jack Reacher.

But wait, that’s not all! At same time  Mr. Grant was having doubts about his character name, he also had doubts about his own moniker and a family joke got him thinking. Some years earlier he had chanced to meet a Texan who drove a Renault 5, a model marketed in the U.S. as Le Car, and which the Texan referred to as Lee Car. There after the family used to joke about passing “lee salt” or “lee pepper,” etc, and about looking after “lee child,” and another Bingo moment Jack Reacher and Lee Child were “born!”

Such stories seem archetypal, but there are so many like it from many authors that I have no doubt. Back when The Berkut was in production and nearing publication (my second book) my editor at Random House called and in his most patrician voice declared. We have a problem.”

I sort of felt like an astronaut hearing from Houston. “What?” I asked.

“It’s your…NAME.

“Yah, what ABOUT my name?”

“Random House does NOT publish. JOE’S.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. “Fox pick out whatever name you want. I couldn’t care less. Up till then I had published as Joe T. Heywood. That day I became Joseph NMI Heywood and have remained so ever since. Once considered publishing under my Irish grandmother Mary’s maiden name, Hamill, but decided not to. Someday perhaps.

There’s no question that names are important to stories and life itself, and I’ve no doubt that many authors swimming in the Maximo Flatulenti in the sharp-elbow corners of the Big-L Upper Lit-Ra-Chuh  ice sheet give long and deep thought to selecting just the right one. Me, I take what pops into my head, or which my hand finds at random in the phone rag. Sometimes I make up names, but these occasions are fairly rare. I feel sorry for anyone who is not familiar with Russian or Slave names when they are reading THE BERKUT, and THE DOMINO CONSPIRACY, , but I use only legitimate names in those stories, so it is what it is.  

And it’s not just  what I think of as quasi-exotics that seem to throw folks. Last month I got an email from a fellow who didn’t identify where he was from. His note  read as follows: “Enjoy reading your books. Lots of different characters to try to remember. Only one thing I don’t like: Difficult to pronounce names: Zulderveen, Allerdyce, Pyykkonen, Macofome, Pracie, Scaffidi, etc. Makes it even more difficult to keep track of them. Why so many difficult-to-pronounce names? They don’t seem difficult to me or to most Yoopers, so I had a hard time answering the inquiry.

As you may surmise, I am fascinated by names, and to this end I also keep a growing list of the longest names I encounter in my various reading endeavors. A retired reporter friend of me even gave me four pages of names  collected from his career, names that had caught his attention, for various reasons (largely prurient).

Here’s a short list of the long names on my list:

  • Bibhutibhuswan Bannerjee (Indian author);
  • Florentio V Macadandan (from something I read in the Kalamazoo Gazette long ago);
  • Mihaly Csikszent Mihaly (nickname “Six-Card Mihaly);
  • A gent  by the name of Mike Tyson Schwarzenegger Prodelle.
  • A Brazilian plumber with the long handle of Errol Flynn PaixzoCharlingtonglarvionbeechaknavare dos anjos mendona (chacha).
  • There is Te Rangimario Ngarimu, a female hit-woman (assassin) in Niger;
  • And, Kumkum Sangari, author of The POLITICS OF THE POSSIBLE, and finally,
  • Wanorievyston Carl or Marllon Brnadon Bruno Paully Nelly Mell Oliveira Pereera (or as his friends and intimates call him, a.k.a Peteroswickonicovick. Wah, and Whew (not names…yet).

And MY names are weird?  One name I’ve found sort of alluring recently is that of Calliope Wong, a transgender student refused entrance by the very liberal Smith College. My head swims at the possibilities.

I’d characterize all this as food for thought,  knowing full well it’s sure just some Pablum.

As a note on name collecting, I love Olympic years when team rosters are published for many countries, I love sports roundups, obits, and any sort of news or mag item that features a lot of names. Cemeteries are excellently name collection points. Or randomly open a book or magazine and start writing down the names. And of course the phone book (which they still exist: how long till they got the way of rotary phones?

Let me close on a technicality – (technical fishing translates to flinging a size 26 fly on 7X tippet at a target the size of a FOREVER stamp). This technicality concerns ambiguity in writing, ambiguity being defined as uncertainty or inexactness of meaning in language.

As a generality a writer  usually seeks to eliminate ambiguity, that is, we want what we are writing to come through to the reader exactly (or as close to exactly) as we conceive it, with the same result and reaction if triggers in us.  But ambiguity, like all things human, is not so simple or straightforward. There are times when a writer may want something to be ambiguous and there are lots of possible reasons for this.

But let us concentrate  now solely on ambiguity as it can get in the way of understanding. Critic-poet William Empson speaks of Seven types of Ambiguity which can retard or kerfluffle the chemistry between the printed word and the reader. Here’s Mr. Empson’s list:

  • Metaphor, two things said to be alike, but with different properties;
  • Two or more meanings resolved into one, mostly from trying to use two different metaphors simultaneously;
  • Two ideas connected through context but given in one word simultaneously;
  • Two or more meanings that do not agree but combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author. (I might have said in the character, too, but this is Empson’s list, not mine);
  • When the author discovers his idea in the act of writing. (This probably happens to some extent with all of us who make a living with the pen). Here Empson describes a simile that lies halfway between the two statements made by the author;
  • When a statement says nothing and the readers are forced to invent a statement of their own, most likely in conflict with that of the author. (I understand Empson’s point here, but it seems to me you can leave a blank that requires some sort of effort from the reader, perhaps in physical descriptions so that they are putting some sweat equity into the effort and in the process buying in and becoming part of the active process. More on this some other day. Just not that if you look at my main characters you will find almost not detailed descriptions because I want them to look how you want them to in your mind, not see what I see in mine. See, what the character says and does should help you draw him, rather than me providing a word photo. Lots of authors would and do disagree with my approach here); and,
  • Two words that within context are opposites that expose a fundamental division in the author’s mind.]

Empson published these thoughts in 1930 (13 years before I was born)  and provided some of the key spade-work in the formation of the New Criticism school, whose emphasize explication, or “close reading,” of “the work itself.” This approach rejects old historicism’s attention to biographical and sociological matters. Instead, the objective determination as to “how a piece works” can be found through close focus and analysis, rather than through extraneous and erudite special knowledge.  This bears on the fact that the art product is not the artist, but something separate and to try to read biography into what you read or see is a slippery slope to oblivion (wherein dwells eternal confusion).

Sometimes in groups I’ll ask how many there  read and relate to the Bible? Always get several hands. I ask, “Do you believe it, get into it, find it compelling? Nods all around. “Do you know the authors? This always draws blank faces. The authors, of course, are long dead (and the thought-to-be-authors may in some cases not even be the de facto authors) but the point is that the work works. Doesn’t matter who wrote it or why, or even it they knew why they were doing it, only that it obviously worked in some way for them and continues to resonates in some way with readers a couple of millennia later. All that matters between author and reader is what’s on paper. All the rest ranks somewhere between irrelevant and idle baloney, between Entertainment Tonight and This Is Your Life, both rubbish.

Back when I was in J-School at Michigan State we all had to take an Advertising course and in that course we were all given access to something called the “Eureka Process,” which taught us how to prepare and plumb our brains for creative ideas. It was one of the most valuable things I learned in school, and it carried into every career and environment I fell into. More recently (last week) I read Maria Konnikova’s MASTERMIND; HOW TO THINK LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES. (Viking, 2013). Granted, it’s a hokey kind of title, but it does get one’s attention, which is its intent.  Konnikova writes the “Literally Psyched” Column for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The book is well worth your time and continued thought.

The process she describes so well is a richer and somewhat deep version of the Eureka process and in my opinion a must-read for all writers, teachers, cops, soldiers, engineers, whatever, anyone involved in analysis of problems and trying to find solutions.  The author uses author Doyle and characters Holmes and Watson to illustrate her points. For me it’s useful not just for my own use in seeking information and finding ways to handle it, but for how my characters can go right or wrong in handling information. Interesting read, well worthy my time.

Enough Saturday morning blarney. Lonnie and sister Mary went to see mom Georgie in Niles yesterday and got to see six Blooeys (bluebirds). (Not to be confused with Bloobs– blueberries.)

Here’s a thought offered by Francis Bacon’s translator back around the time that William Shakespeare was about to check out life and, for a couple of centuries anyone’s attention, too. “ Nullem momentum aut temporis segmentum perire et intercidere passus est.” Which is to say, “He suffered no moment, nor fragment of time to pass away unprofitably.”  The man didn’t waste time and his friends and associates knew this and appreciated it. Bacon Accomplished a squat-load in his life and his ethic on time- used is fine guidon for us to  heel to.

By the way, I was an AWFUL Latin student and once desperately changed an F to a B on my report card and got caught. The old man didn’t kick my ass. Thought I wished he had on that occasion.  Oh well. It took four or five more decades to come to love the language, which one historian described as, “Although modern translations do their best to make it all sound fairly lucid, the original Latin wording is often clear from that, the absence of nouns and differentiated pronouns can make it almost impossible to know who is doing what to whom.   I like knowing that still believe that Romans had a knack for pithiness and continue to believe I am very, very lucky to be able to create and write in the English vernacular.

Over. Go Denver. 50 Superbowls? Wow. I still remember the first one, Green Bay 35, K.C. 10. Sorry Rootie.