Make the Right Choice

Every moment of every day, we have to make a choice.  Each of us will choose what we will allow into our lives.  This decision affects what we do and what we say.  There are many influences vying for our attention.  Some of them are good, and some of them are bad.  Yet in the end, the responsibility for how we act and what we say falls to each individual.  Such were my thoughts as I read Angie Thomas’s book, The Hate U Give.

One of the points about the book that was extremely disturbing was the reference to Black Jesus.  Besides the obvious fact that Jesus was a Jew, I found this to be heartbreaking.  Too many times in history deities were created in mans’ image because that made them easier to control.  This also allowed the person creating his/her ideal deity off the hook from following what God/Jesus actually said and did.  Jesus’s message never had anything to do with skin color.  He also didn’t blend doctrines from made-man religions, such as the characters in the book do, to come up with Chrislam.  Even more chilling was when Ms. Thomas blasphemously compared spray-painted signs reading “black-owned business” to the blood of the Lamb as a means by which the stores wouldn’t be burned during a riot.

Also disconcerting were the broad, sweeping generalizations Ms. Thomas made regarding white people.  Through her story, we learn this is the very thing she scorns when it comes from white people.  Yet the duplicity was overwhelming.  Throughout the book, the protagonist, Starr, made gross assumptions about white people and police officers as if she could not only read their minds, but knew for a fact what they thought and believed.  In her mind, that made it true.  The sad fact was that Starr’s behavior and opinions were learned.  The cycle of hatred was instilled in her life because of prejudiced statements she heard her father, Maverick, repeat.

Ms. Thomas would also have the reader believe that doing wrong is noble as long as it is for the right reason.  The character Khalil lost his mother to drugs; he saw it destroy her life.  This, however, was not enough to keep Khalil from selling drugs to other people in his own community.  He had a job but walked away from it to sell drugs.  Per Khalil, the money was for food and utilities.  It was also for Jordan sneakers and gold chains.  This reminded me that we are our brother’s keeper all the time.  Not just after the fact.  If the whole community could pull together to collect money for Khalil’s funeral, why couldn’t they pull together to buy food and pay for utilities?

The profanity in the book was appalling.  Maybe that’s the way some people talk, but for a teenager, I found it to be inexcusable.  It’s used so casually, and it doesn’t add anything to the story.  Neither does the promiscuity portrayed, especially among the teenagers.  I suspect Ms. Thomas would like for you to believe that everyone is doing it, so that makes it okay, but I disagree on both points.

The book promoted lawlessness and compared police officers who want to make a difference to slave owners.  It endorsed disrespect for any authority figure of a different race and condoned violence and chaos as an acceptable response to disappointment and as outlet for anger.  It failed to address the problems within the community which are taking more lives than police officers, it denounced anyone who told the truth, and it threw morals and ethics to the wind.  In short, the lessons to be learned are that different laws should apply to different people based on race and whatever feels good for you to do is what you should do regardless of the harm it may cause.

Diversity is good.  I prefer to think of it as our individual uniqueness because what makes us unique goes far beyond skin color.  When these differences are used to point the finger and lay blame, then they are being used for the wrong reasons.  Instead of breathing life, this book spews death.  It perpetuates hatred over love.  It causes division instead of generating unity.  It aims all this negativity at teenagers who are, despite their own beliefs, still children.  I suspect this is done because teens are already a volatile mix of thoughts and emotions.  They rarely take the time to research what they hear and see to determine whether or not it’s true.  And without guidance, they may believe this one-sided story is true.

There are many more errors in The Hate U Give.  I took six pages of notes, initially intending to refute all of them.  Instead, I decided to break the cycle and speak peace.

Oracle Night by Paul Auster

If you’ve never read Paul Auster, be warned that his work is always a little surreal.  His novels read like a mixture of fantasy, mystery, and a ghost story.  Pay attention to the details because some of them will weave their way deeply into the story and some are loose threads.  The random encounters are rarely random, and even if a character seems like he hasn’t changed and/or made any kind of journey, you as the reader certainly will.

Such was my experience as I read Oracle Night.  I could tell you the jacket flap details, but it would be much more fun to tell you it’s about a writer who writes a story about a man reading the work of a long dead writer who wrote about a man who has the ability to predict the future.  If it sounds crazy, that’s because it’s a Paul Auster novel.

Still, don’t allow that to deter you from reading about writer Sidney Orr and his mysterious blue notebook purchased from M.R. Chang’s Paper Palace or about Sidney’s wife, Grace, and the nature of their relationship versus hers with fellow writer John Trause.  Factor in Jacob, John’s drug addict son, and Nick Bowen who manages to lock himself into Ed Victory’s underground bunker (The Bureau of Historical Preservation), and Lemuel Flagg, a British lieutenant blinded in World War I who has the gift of prophecy, and you’re in the multi-layered world of Paul Auster.

Some of my thoughts as I read Oracle Night included:

Every writer’s nightmare and every writer’s dream:  to write words that actually come true or at least predict the future.

What are these worlds that writers create?

Do we live in the present with the future inside us?

Are we creating futures as we write?

Is the pen truly mightier than the sword?

Such are the questions Auster’s work provokes every time I read it.  I can also recommend Travels in the Scriptorium, The Book of Illusions, Augie Wren’s Christmas Story, and Man in the Dark.  If you need a point of reference, readers of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind will probably enjoy Auster’s novels as long as they keep in mind that he will take it to the next level of wonderfully bizarre.

Room Service

Photo by Richard Averill Smith (1935)

Funny how a tidbit of fact checking can lead to some interesting reading and a blog post.  I simply needed to make sure the hotel I wanted to feature in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was indeed open for business in 1935.  I had a pretty good idea that the Waldorf=Astoria had been built and would be available for John’s best friend, Claude Willoughby, and his wife, Patsy, to spend the first night of their honeymoon in the lap of luxury.  Still, I’ve been burned before on assuming facts for my novel, so I conducted a little research to make sure the hotel wasn’t closed for remodeling or some other detail that would prevent me from mentioning it in my book.

As soon as the fact was confirmed, I could have stopped.  After all, I simply needed to say where Claude and Patsy spent their first night and that it was a gift from Claude’s grandparents.  But it’s the Waldorf=Astoria, and the opulence drew me in.  I won’t waste your time with overwhelming amounts of useless history.  Rather, I’ll skip right to the interesting facts and secrets.

For instance, did you know how the “=” came to be the official symbol in the title Waldorf=Astoria?

The roots of this New York institution go back to 1893, when millionaire William Waldorf Astor opened the 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the former site of his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street.  A private bathroom in every guest chamber and electricity throughout were two on a long list of Waldorf firsts.

Four years later, the Waldorf was joined by the 17-story Astoria Hotel, erected on an adjacent site by Waldorf’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV.  The corridor connecting the two buildings became an enduring symbol of the combined Waldorf and Astoria hotels, represented by the quirky “=” the Waldorf=Astoria uses instead of a hyphen in its official logo.  In 1929 the original Waldorf=Astoria was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.

The new hotel cost $42 million and was the largest and tallest hotel at the time, having 1,852 rooms and 42 stories.

And here’s some other interesting information regarding the Waldorf=Astoria per luxury suite specialists, “The Jackies,” better known as Jackie Collens and Jackie Carter.

The most requested suite is the Presidential suite.  When a president stays there, bulletproof glass is installed.

There’s an underground railroad that runs from Grand Central Terminal to the fourth floor of our basement.  When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the sitting president, that’s how they would bring him in because many people didn’t know he was in a wheelchair.

Old Waldorf=Astoria Hotel

The largest suite is 33A:  The Cole Porter.  It’s a five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath configuration suite that’s about 4,300 square feet, which typically rents out on a monthly basis.  Prices start at $150,000.  Porter lived there for 25 years and wrote a number of famous songs [in the room]; one of his biggest was “You’re the Top” from Kiss Me Kate.  His piano is still in the suite, one more reason the room is so popular.

After Porter’s death in 1964, Frank Sinatra took over the lease, and he and his wife Barbara lived there until 1988.  Rumor states that they etched their initials into the bathroom door but the door was apparently removed during renovations, and its whereabouts are unknown.

President Herbert Hoover was here from 1932­–1964, and President Dwight Eisenhower stayed from 1967–1969.  He and his wife lived in suite 700R because his wife had a fear of heights.  To accommodate them, we had the elevator specially designed to open on the 7th floor.  General Douglas MacArthur lived with us from 1952–1964, which is when he passed away.  His wife continued to live here until her death in 2000.

The Elizabeth Taylor has the largest and most exquisite bathtub which can easily accommodate three people.  The pillows in the master bedroom of the Royal Suite were created to resemble the Duchess of Windsor’s pugs.  Douglas MacArthur’s master bathroom was designed with a constellation on the ceiling.

The hotel was the first to use red velvet ropes (outside the Palm Room restaurant) as a way to create order among the people crowding the entrance.  Access was granted only with a reservation, another first; the fact that it created a sense of stature and separation was secondary.  They also created rooftop happy hours.

The history-filled hotel is a magnet for guests with sticky fingers, and the items that disappear the most are teakettles, silverware, teapots, plates, and ashtrays.  Once, a candelabrum was taken.

Oscar Tschirky, who is known globally as Oscar of the Waldorf, is credited with creating the Waldorf salad.  It originally contained sliced apples, raisins, celery, cherries, and walnuts, and was lightly covered in a sugared mayonnaise dressing.  Today truffle oil has been added to the mix.

There are many other pieces of history and fun secrets about the Waldorf=Astoria, too many to include, so I’ll leave you with this article, Dear Waldorf, Mummy Stole Your Teapot Back in 1935. So Sorry.  The amnesty program wasn’t so much an effort to recoup stolen items as it was an attempt to generate attention on social media.  I’d say it worked.

~~~~~

“Waldorf=Astoria Hotel – New York City.” Waldorf=Astoria Hotel – New York City, http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/WaldorfAstoria.html. Accessed 7 May 2017.

Strauss, Alix. “The Secrets of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.” CNT. Condé Nast Traveler, 05 Oct. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017.

Tabloid City by Pete Hamill

tabloid-cityI enjoy sharing reviews for books, movies, and music in the section of my blog by the same title. Every now and then, I mention one that didn’t quite hit the mark in my opinion because I also enjoy generating discussion on the material especially if a follower disagrees with my review.

Such is the case with Pete Hamill’s novel, Tabloid City. I would never discourage anyone from reading this book because I allow people to come to their own conclusions but mostly because I’m hoping he or she will point out what I missed. Until then, I believe this novel would appeal solely to people who lived or are living in New York and/or are currently employed or retired journalists. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into those categories.

It’s not that I find New York and journalism boring, but the way both subjects were presented in Tabloid City did nothing to pique my interest regarding them. It’s not unusual for me to grab my phone while reading to Google something for reference even if it’s a subject with which I am familiar. Many of my favorite authors spur this kind of self-education in me, and I love it.

Let me also say that I adored Forever, North River, and Snow in August also by Pete Hamill, and that one mediocre book will not keep me from reading his other works. Still, I’m not sure what the author was thinking when he wrote this jargon-filled tale. I know he writes his passions into his works (New York and journalism), and while I can bestow an A for effort here, I cannot go much beyond a D- for the result.

tabloid-city-2Tabloid City is incredibly disjointed. It’s a scattering of stories that read like newspaper clippings replete with jagged backstory and each character’s knowledge of New York, other characters, events, etc. I kept searching for continuity in this laundry list of stories, something to tie them together or make me care for the characters. Slow going defines the novel until about page 104. The thin thread of a tale about a Muslim terrorist and his police officer father and another about the demise of newspapers and libraries saved the book; otherwise I’m left feeling that this was the framework for a better story handed off too soon.

Let me end on a positive note and encourage you to read the other three books by Pete Hamill I mentioned above. Also, I haven’t read the Sam Briscoe mystery/thriller trilogy written by Pete Hamill, but fans of the books will be happy to see Sam reappear in Tabloid City.

Brothers by Yu Hua

brothers-by-yu-huaWhat I loved about Brothers by Yu Hua is that within the pages of one book I found a story that made me laugh and cry over and over. The tale is both horrifyingly dark and twisted, but with seamless transition, Yu Hua writes some of the best comic scenes I’ve ever read. Life in America for the past eight years has made it possible to understand the absurdities about which Yu Hua writes, and for this reason, they are believable.

The story of Baldy Li, one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in fiction, and his brother, Song Gang, opens right before Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Scenes in which neighbors are unified in a common cause or belief and turned into enemies the very next day are chillingly similar to what is happening in the world today. When Yu Hua writes about Li Lan’s, Baldy Li’s, and Song Gang’s grief over the death of Song Fanping, I thought my heart would rip in two so great was their anguish.

The two definitions of stupidity (knowing the truth, seeing the truth, but still believing the lies, and doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result) often came to mind while I read Brothers. I’m watching the premise of the story take place right in front of my eyes as the youth of America believe they can make certain political systems work in their generation even though overwhelming evidence of failure exists in other countries. I have to wonder if they’ve forgotten the past or are purposely not being taught. In either case, we’ll all be doomed for it.

The story is engaging based on the time period and cultural differences. Yet the prose is so simple that I have to wonder if this is due to the translation from Chinese to English or if the author chose to keep his words plain. In either case, his writing style works. Another thing I noticed while reading this translation was the repetitive nature of the writing. I’ve only encountered this in one other translation, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and I wonder if this is a style particular to Asian writers. I find it lends emphasis to details and storylines.

Yu Hua broke the rules of writing brilliantly by not following plotting formulas. Two ways in which he did this was by the introduction of a new character and storylines in the last one third of the book. Not surprisingly, the pacing of the novel was not interrupted, and as a reader I wasn’t jarred out of the book. Obviously, Yu Hua writes for intelligent readers, and in this way, it reminded me of Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo with its large cast of characters, interwoven storylines, and backstory. In both cases, readers willing to stay with the book to the end will absolutely not be disappointed.

I know the book was written as a criticism on political systems and to show all the evil and craziness that stems from them. I found my interest focused on the relationships of the characters enduring life under the various political systems and how their relationships were further affected by their personalities which dictated how they reacted to circumstances and each other.  I came to the conclusion that all one can probably do in such a situation is be kind, work hard, and do no harm.

Despite the depth of the tale Brothers presented, as I said there were some hilarious moments including a chicken search party, Yanker Brand underwear, and actual blind men drawing blind conclusions. But again, that’s part of Yu Hua’s ability to make a reader laugh while getting his point across. The best line though was probably Yanker Yu explaining politics to Popsicle Wang when he said, “…comfortable circumstances breed freethinking, which is why the rich love politics.” I laughed aloud as I shuddered thinking how stirred up the politicians are keeping the world.

A Soldier’s Story – Omar N. Bradley

a-soldiers-storyA Soldier’s Story by General Omar N. Bradley is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.  My friend and fellow writer, William Alford, loaned Bradley’s autobiography to me as a source of research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.  My research required a closer look at World War II, such as those provided by doctors and nurses (And If I Perish, Heroes From the Attic), but I still read Bradley’s account of the war, and I am extremely glad I did so.

He prefaces his autobiography with the inscription, “To those soldiers who must often have wondered WHY they were going where they did.  Perhaps this will help answer their questions.”

I believe Bradley answered these questions truthfully and without the ego that might have come from a lesser man achieving such rank and accomplishing what Bradley did.  As for the tough issue regarding loss of life, he explained how every move made by troops was analyzed and not conducted until the loss was the lowest number possible.  The decision to go ahead, shouldered by Bradley and other men like him, was not taken lightly, and it is not one I would ever want to have.

There are many who would argue that the war was unnecessary, but I concur with General Bradley:  the evil that swept through Europe wasn’t going to go away on its own.  Even with the combined forces of the Allies, the battles were not easily fought or won.  Perhaps unavoidable would be the better word choice in regards to World War II.

Bradley was against actions such as taking a site simply for the prestige of location.  Yet when other commanders’ egos swelled, he remained cordial with them even while strongly disagreeing with their decisions and/or actions.  He went so far as to put his career on the line to get the truth out to the American public regarding one such instance.

Further testimony to Bradley’s humility and strength of character are his accounts of his friend, General Patton.  Bradley spoke frankly about the times Patton overstepped his bounds, yet he never criticized in a way that tore Patton down.  When Patton was placed under Bradley’s authority, the two men worked together quite well and held each other in high regard.

Bradley includes comments from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that are chilling predictions come true.  Considering that the conversation took place in 1945 and wasn’t published until 1951, when Churchill says, “There may come a day when we shall walk into a cabinet room, break the glass over a switch, dial to the nation to be bombed, and push a button to declare war,” I can’t help but wonder if this technology was in place long before we were aware.  More unsettling are Churchill’s words, “But we shall never sit by and permit a minority to force its will upon a helpless majority anywhere,” which speak to the current world situation.

The book concludes with the end of the war in Europe, an occasion that was no doubt worthy of celebration, but I was left with a feeling of melancholy that I could only attribute to the realization that the type of patriotism displayed during World War II no longer exists.  Still, I believe that Bradley’s explanations successfully bridged the gap between those in command and those in the field.  I highly recommend A Soldier’s Story as a worthy read.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

mary-shelleys-frankensteinI recently read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a requirement for my classic literature book club. It was my first time reading the book, and I looked forward to it. As I approached the story, I knew better than to compare it to the Boris Karloff version of the movie by the same title. I’ve only viewed portions of the movie, and from what I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss anything.

Of course, there was the Kenneth Branagh version of Frankenstein that I watched years ago. I recall the movie seemed classier, and it had Mary Shelley’s name in the title, so perhaps it was more closely linked to her original tale. Prior to reading the novel, my only other experience with Frankenstein was during my senior English class in high school. The teacher mentioned that Mary Shelley wrote the story as part of a competition with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and friend, Lord Byron, to write a ghost story. From Mary Shelley’s efforts, the novel was born.

With all this build up, I launched expectantly into Shelley’s biography at the beginning of the book. She had an unfortunate life full of tragedy and was a husband stealing adulteress. I kept in mind that the last fact should have no bearing on her writing. I did, however, tuck away her comment that people often asked her how a young woman could have written such a tale. I didn’t find it difficult to believe that a young woman wrote the book; the novel gushed on and on with a relentless amount of filler. In tone and passion, it matched the sappiest of poorly written romance novels. Truly, Mary Shelley had written a horror novel.

I suspect Mary Shelley’s overinflated belief in her ability to write was influenced by her sphere of acquaintances. Her parents were prominent writers and philosophers (her mother died shortly after Mary’s birth but left behind quite a legacy), her husband and friend (Lord Byron) were well-known writers, so why not give it a whirl herself? I must admit that Frankenstein is the only work by Mary Shelley I’ve read, but based on what I encountered, I am not motivated in the least to seek out her other writings. Feminists everywhere are probably damning me right now.

Led around by the nose is the phrase that kept coming to mind as I read the book. Mary Shelley obviously had a point she wanted to make, but she didn’t allow her readers to arrive at this point on his or her own. Victor Frankenstein was meant to be disliked and the monster pitied. I believe her intent was to make us wonder who the real monster was.

I kept hoping that Mary Shelley would raise the Creator vs. Creation issue because I would have enjoyed arguing that subject as I read. After all, Victor Frankenstein as the imperfect Creator would have made for a wonderful debate. Instead, we’re given a pathetic, weak man who repeatedly saves his own life over those he claims to love. I still don’t know why he suddenly rejected his own creation. We’re expected to suspend belief and simply accept that he did.

As for the suspension of belief, prepare to do so over and over and over again. The most unforgiveable place I found this to be true was in the mary-shelleys-frankenstein-2creation of the monster. Mary Shelley didn’t do her research as far as I’m concerned. She didn’t provide any method of preservation or refrigeration for the body parts and briefly mentions decay. Still, we’re expected to believe that Frankenstein built a human in a rented room in the middle of town. She glosses over the part where the creature is brought to life by having Frankenstein refuse to tell Captain Walton how he did it to prevent the sailor from making the same mistake. As a writer, I know that’s a major faux pas. Perhaps it was more acceptable when Mary Shelley wrote.

It’s a toss-up who fluctuated more in character: Victor Frankenstein or The Monster. Frankenstein’s resolve wavered every time he decided he was going to deal with his creation, and right on cue someone he loved would die by the monster’s hands because Victor’s spinelessness reasserted itself yet again. It was dangerous to be loved by this man, and I do not buy into the belief that he was helpless to stop the monster’s rampage.

The monster was intelligent enough to grab clothes upon fleeing Frankenstein’s rooms, learn language and reading in about a year, quote Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” but couldn’t discern his own feelings or come up with better plans for inserting himself into society. From the last two incidents, we’re supposed to believe the monster was a victim.

And when, exactly, did Frankenstein’s creation become a monster? In my opinion, it was when he refused to extend the grace he sought from humanity. In his unjustifiable rage, he lashed out not only toward those whose company he sought, but he hurt innocent bystanders as well (ex: burning the cottage punished the owner when the creature was rejected by De Lacy, Felix, Agatha, and Safie.) I could not find him pitiable, and it was not his right to act accordingly.

I could continue with issues such as why the monster possessed supernatural strength, how the scenes were predictable, the presence of too many coincidences, and how the character arcs read more like character cliffs. Since I haven’t read what the feminists believe Mary Shelley’s intent was for her novel, I’ll not enter that debate.

Instead, I’ll sum it up with the question of what makes a classic. If shock value for the era in which a novel was written qualifies, then a certain book in fifty shades is destined to become a classic in about one hundred years. Or does a book become a classic by the fact that it was written by an anonymous author who turns out to be the opposite sex from what we expected? All this did for me was present Mary Shelley starring in the role of Victor Frankenstein. (If you’re going to write an opposite sex character, try to make them masculine or feminine as is required of said character.) Don’t forget popularity and sales; they lend high regard for a book in the opinion of many people these days.

I’m not sorry that I read Frankenstein because now I can say I know for myself, but I cannot recommend the book as either well-written or worthy of being called a classic.

Night on the Town

night-on-the-town-2The Alexander cocktail features in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, during the winter of 1927 when John and his two best friends, Claude and Sam, sneak away for a night on the town. Prohibition limits their choice of establishments where they might procure a decent drink, but the young men are looking for a little wild entertainment. Where they end up provides more than they bargained for in quite a few ways. I’ll leave you with that little teaser (I have to save something for the publication of my novel), and provide you with the recipes I found and my experience with the drink.

I don’t keep ingredients on hand for cocktails, so I ventured out with my best friend, Emily, to find a bartender who could make the drink for us. It took us three tries at different restaurants before we found one that had the ingredients to make an Alexander. The drink is old-fashioned, and only one bartender knew what we were talking about.

When you mention an Alexander, the drink that most often comes to mind is the brandy version with white crème de cacao.   Even if you don’t order a Brandy Alexander, this is probably what you will receive.

Brandy Alexander

¾ oz. brandy

¾ oz. white crème de cacao

¾ oz. heavy cream

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

But let’s tiptoe back a little farther in history to 1910 and Jacob Abraham Grohusko’s book, Jack’s Manual on The Vintage & Production, Care & Handling of Wines, Liquors, etc., which is supposedly the oldest reference to a drink called The Alexander. It sounds lovely and like it might have a bit of kick with the rye whisky.

Alexander Cocktail

75% rye whisky

25% Benedictine

1 piece of ice

Twist of orange peel. Stir and serve.

And let us not forget the 1916 mention in Hugo Ensslin’s book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks, which provides this version of The Alexander.

Alexander Cocktail

⅓ El Bart gin

⅓ white crème de cacao

⅓ sweet cream

Shake well in a mixing glass with cracked ice, strain, and serve.

So which drink would John, Claude, and Sam have imbibed during their night on the town? For recipes, I’m following the lead of Gary Regan in his 2011 article, Behind the Drink: The Brandy Alexander, but I’m putting the gin back in the drink as it was originally created.

The Alexander

The lovely Gretchen

The lovely Gretchen

2 oz. gin

1 oz. dark crème de cacao

1 oz. heavy cream

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Emily and I requested Tanqueray gin, and the lovely bartender, Gretchen, was kind enough to procure heavy cream from the kitchen to make our drink. The restaurant where we dined makes a Brandy Alexander with gelato, but we were striving for authenticity. In our opinion, the drink was delicious. Not too cloying, the flavor of each ingredient blended well, but they also remained well defined. The gin made for a light, crisp drink despite the cream. For the sake of research, we tried the brandy version.

Brandy Alexander

2 oz. Cognac or other fine aged brandy

1 oz. dark crème de cacao

1 oz. heavy cream

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

The Brandy Alexander was also a delicious cocktail but with a titch more warmth to it. The flavor was richer which we attributed to the brandy. Again, the three ingredients complimented each other without losing their identity and becoming something else entirely.

Traditionally, the drink was served in a cocktail glass, sometimes called a champagne glass, and if you aren’t familiar with it, it’s the saucer style glass on a stem. Today, if you find a restaurant or bar that can make a Brandy Alexander, or the gin version, you’ll receive the cocktail in a martini glass.

For an interesting tidbit, Barry Popik, historian, states the cocktail was invented at Rector’s in New York. According to Mr. Popik, Troy Alexander, the bartender, created the white drink to celebrate Phoebe Snow, the fictional character used in advertising for Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. The snowy beverage was used to emphasize the fact that the railroad powered its locomotives with anthracite, a clean-burning variety of coal, and was backed up by images of Phoebe Snow in a snow-white dress. The Brandy Alexander was originally known as Alexander #2.

Cheers!

Who is in Your Details?

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

Today’s post counts as two entries in The Weight of Words and one for Research Road. It also stresses the importance of thoroughly editing and researching your work as well as finding a good editor. We’ve all made mistakes. I have received tactful comments from followers pointing out errors I’ve made. It’s easy to correct a blog post even after the fact, but what about my novel? I don’t live in fear of discovering an error post publication…oh, wait—I do.

I can’t tell you how many times my mother has said, “What difference does it make if you’re not 100% accurate? The common reader won’t know if you’re right or wrong.” To which I explained that I would know. Then there is the historian or well-read person who may read my novel and nail me for incorrectly portrayed facts. I’m not talking about the creative license we employ when placing our fictional characters in real periods of history or an entire reimagining of historical events such as the Germans winning World War II. I’m talking about modern words and phrases ending up in the mouths of characters from an earlier century and inaccurately portrayed artifacts, architecture, places, etc. due to lazy research.

A book I finished recently had two such errors. The first was the spelling of the word carcase/carcass. About thirty years ago, I read Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel Have His Carcase. It was part of a trio of Sayers’s books gifted to people who made a donation to the local PBS station. The announcer kept mispronouncing carcase the way one would say car case. How embarrassing. Years went by before I stumbled across the spelling carcass, which, by the way, is the only spelling Word recognizes as correct. I assumed it was another instance of American English vs. British English. What I discovered after reading several definitions for both spelling variations, is that carcase is the older, often consider archaic, of the two spellings although both are acceptable. Why is this important? The author of the aforementioned book used the word in the diary of a Carthusian monk from 1535, but she spelled it carcass. As soon as my eyes fell across the word, I was jolted out of the story to ponder whether the mistake was mine or hers. True, most people would have let it go, but for historical accuracy, well, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Small sidebar: When I checked writing forums for the correct spelling of carcase/carcass, Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel, Have His Carcase, was referenced at least once on every site as the example for the spelling carcase.

I was much less forgiving toward the second mistake. Another character, also from 1535, mentioned seeing a nine-branched menorah used in the second temple of Israel. Did you catch that? Talk about being shocked right out of the story. All my research on the subject verified what I already knew to be true: menorahs used in the temple of Israel have seven branches. The most reliable source of this information is the Bible. I don’t doubt that the candelabra people see the most and the one with which they are familiar is the nine-branched version known as a chanukkiah used in celebration of Chanukkah. The terms are used interchangeably and incorrectly. However, the two items are absolutely not the same thing.

My thoughts on the subject ranged from disappointment toward the author to wondering if the editor was too young to care about such facts or not interested in verifying them. Several years ago a self-published author gave the advice that you should research your history to the nth degree because your readers will trust that what you have written is true. That advice is what prompted me to research my own novel in minute detail. At one point, I had a fellow author/history buff tracing World War II troop movements to ensure I had placed my protagonist with a unit that had actually ended up in a battle I needed to feature.

Perhaps I sound like a fanatic. Even Andy Weir, author of The Martian, admitted to minor mistakes pointed out by other brilliant scientists, the type of knowledge the common reader wouldn’t possess. There may even be mistakes in my own novel. I sincerely hope someone catches them before it goes to printing. Still, I cannot stress enough that the writing and research of your work in progress begins with you. Beta readers and editors are essential to the process, but there is no excuse for a lazy author.

In closing, I’ll point to the title of this post as my final comment on the importance of using the correct words/phrases and conducting research. You’ve probably heard the devil is in the details and the older, slightly more common phrase, God is in the details. The first means that mistakes are usually made in the small details of a project. Usually it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. The second means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important. Who is guiding your writing efforts?

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories

F. Scott Fitzgerald The Short StoriesAnyone who knows me knows I adore reading. And for those who don’t know me, it won’t take much time spent in my presence, whether in real life or via social media, to discover this. Recently, I’ve been reading the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I assigned this task to myself as part of the research for my new novel. My goal was to gain a better understanding of Fitzgerald through his writing first, and then I would tackle books of literary commentary as well as biographies of the man, the author, and his life.

I’m not sure where to begin with my review of Fitzgerald’s short stories because I must admit it isn’t favorable in the least. I must also confess my amazement that he earned the money he did during the era in which he wrote. This is especially astounding considering how small the payment is among literary journals today. According to the Dollar Times inflation calculator, four thousand dollars for “At Your Age” in 1929 would be like earning $55, 327.48 in 2016. The section notes prior to the story state this was his “top story price.” I interpret that as price per story and not salary for the year. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but either way, Fitzgerald was simply not that good an author.

If you read one short story, you’ve read them all and his novels as well. Beautiful, indifferent debutantes who pick up and drop men like they’re choosing and discarding shoes; rich ambitious fellas, possibly a football hero, who undoubtedly attended/will attend either Princeton, Yale or Harvard; a sprinkling of drunks, some hopeless, some loveable; endless comparisons between the North and the South or America and Europe; and the ambitious pursuit of money, fame, and power over, and over, and over again. The most unforgivable crime Fitzgerald committed in this reader’s eyes was to cannibalize his own short stories for the sake of his novels. Worse was the fact that his agent, editors, and publishers allowed him to get away with this.

Ridiculous and cliché are the two words that came to mind the most as I read Fitzgerald. The scenarios portrayed were outlandish and unbelievable, and I’m not counting “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” when I say this. Why anyone, even fictional, would tolerate the behavior depicted among the characters is beyond me. I tried to keep in mind that attitudes and actions were different in the 20s and 30s, but my opinion of the situation often deteriorated to how stupid can one person be and how much longer before he/she quits putting up with this garbage? Perhaps this was common behavior among the rich and lovesick back then. I honestly couldn’t say.

None of Fitzgerald’s stories were memorable. As I looked back through the book, I tried to recall the storylines and characters by the title alone, but ended up cheating and reading the section notes. The only exception was “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and that was because it had been made into a movie. So, I’m left wondering who decides what makes a piece of literature a classic. The death of the author, the passing of time, the payment received, popularity with the audience at the time of publication, being made into a movie, or some combination thereof? I shudder to think how the last four delineators will make classics of some of the drivel being produced today.

I don’t know what percentage of readers would stand with me in my assessment of Fitzgerald’s writing. Hopefully, I’ll find the commentaries and biographies more interesting. From what I already know about him, I believe if he had consumed less alcohol and been more content to hone his craft than pursue fame and fortune, he would have moved beyond his narrow world, experienced life to a greater degree, and found something new to write about. In the end, I’ll give Fitzgerald credit for leaving writers a good lesson even though he failed to learn it himself.

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