VONNEGUT and “Buddhist​ catnaps”

I have been a fan of the famous writer, Kurt Vonnegut, for decades.

…He satirized the stylish popularity of Eastern meditation, saying we had the same thing in the West—reading short stories, which also lowered your heart rate and freed your mind from other concerns. He said short stories were “Buddhist catnaps.” [from KURT VONNEGUT LETTERS, edited by Dan Wakefield]

LEITER WRITING TIPS #23–I HATE THE RUSSIAN MOB

[Suggestions, observations, and advice, writing as Ben Leiter]

A thank-you note to Dennis Lehane for his book Moonlight Mile.

Mr. Lehane, please excuse my previous ignorance of the quality of your work. The dialogue and plot were as rich as Gone Girl. Of course, I fell in love with your protagonist which you had already planned for every reader to do.

I think I know how you did it: the protagonist is flawed; he is constantly in trouble; he tries to do right by his wife, and he is wicked in love with his little daughter.

So, after I bonded with your hero, and then the Boston Russian mob threatened his family — you had my undivided attention. Great plot twists and turns.

A thriller, through and through.

Maybe my contempt for the Russian mob and other mobs stems from my previous career?

 

LEITER WRITING TIPS #30–AMY TAN

[Suggestions, observations, and advice, writing as Ben Leiter]

I’ve always liked Amy Tan ever since I stumbled on her Joy Luck Club years ago.
Amy said, about her writing, “In real life, I had hundreds of moments of self-doubt. I deleted hundreds of pages from my computer’s memory.”
“As a beginning writer, I was still trying to figure out what qualified as a proper short story versus a prose poem, an anecdote, a character piece, a novella. I actually thought there were agreed-upon answers to questions like these: What is voice? What is story? How should characters develop?”
“ . . . the prose I like is such that everything is there for a reason — every word, every image, every bit of dialogue is needed . . . ”
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“FIRE THE STAFF”

[An excerpt from my memoir “CITY MANAGEMENT SNAPSHOTS: ON THE RUN” by Ben Leiter — pen name — available at Amazon/kindle]

One day in the medium-sized western city, I received a visit from the new mayor. He wanted to chat. According to the mayor, we had staff who “weren’t with the program.”

He said he knew I hadn’t hired them; but, the longer they stayed, the more I would be identified with them.

Curious, I asked, “Who is the problem, Mayor?”

He urged me to find a way to get rid of the police chief, the city clerk, the city attorney, the city planner, and the city engineer.

Ironically, these were the best performers in the organization. They did their jobs well and exhibited a professional sense of public service.

I was totally furious and calm at the same time. I had NEVER before been confronted with such a wrongful, outrageous suggestion from an elected official.

Considering the circumstances and my feelings at the moment, I gave one of the most diplomatic responses of my professional life. I asked him why he felt that way and then further responded by saying, “Uh-huh,” and “I see.”

That was the end of that conversation. No heads rolled on my watch in that city.

Of course, he easily figured out that he could best remove the targeted staff by removing me, and so he started working on that human resources strategy.

I was impressed that, mentally, I had spent no time weighing what to do. There was no hesitation regarding his silly demands. The mayor’s neighbor described him as, “Waking up in the morning, and it’s a different world every day.”

Initially, I didn’t understand what that meant. However, continued inconsistent interactions on his part made it clear.

Maybe I had the right stuff after all?

Years later, a successor to my City Manager job in that same city resigned with a settlement in excess of seven hundred thousand dollars.

THE WRITING CHALLENGE

There is an open, never-ending challenge to writing. But, I think you are best advised to keep your day job.

 One of the best books on writing is Stephen King’s book — ON WRITING. He presents practical, clear-eyed, harsh advice in his usual inimitable style. Delightful read.

Kurt Vonnegut said something to the effect that if you really really want to upset your parents, then tell them you want to go into the arts.

Ex-priest critique of my book

 

This is a critique of my political-religious thriller, BETRAYAL OF FATHER GARZA, by an ex-priest and a person I know and respect. His perspective:

Subject: pure fiction

The whole thesis of your “betrayal” is that if the more than 400
“Christian” denominations “discovered” the teachings of Jesus Christ they
would all unite as one church. I regard this thesis as an incredible
dream. Why? The major denominations all have two things in common
and neither of the two things is Christian. First, they all are willing
and, sometimes, eager to get money. They use lots of excuses for the
use of the money– a bigger church, a TV network, professional musicians
for their “worship romp and stomp”, publications that show
support for certain political strains, executive salaries for their leaders,
etc. The multiplicity of denominations means that many more
buildings and leaders. To get all this money they have to “adjust”
their message to suit the wants of the rich.

The second factor is the quest for power. You hit the nail on the head
when you singled out Constantine as the guy who wrecked the Christian message. Ever since that day the leadership of the Catholic Church has
stood hand in hand with the political leaders. For several centuries
the Church was the political leader. It is no accident that whenever a
preacher said something the king or duke or local bishop didn’t like
there was heresy trial. After Luther the leaders of the “split offs”
copied the success story of the Catholics. They had to justify a lot of
unsavory practices that the political leaders wanted. So they
“evangelized” the Indians in South America (Catholic), they
internationalized banking (Catholic, Calvinists), they sanctioned
slavery of any people of color and any people who were debtors. The list
of grievances goes on and on. The point is that if these similarities
in their human rights violations did not bring them together, a call to
live Christ’s message would not. St. Francis of Assisi preached the
message. So did Vincent DePaul. Each was responsible for a movement
within the Catholic Church that was outstandingly good, but it never
took over. The current Pope, Francis, tries to deal with the dichotomy
in the Catholic Church and he is admired for it. But most of the rank
and file won’t change.

For your next book have a fictional leader of a truly good movement and
the fate he or she faces because of stepping on sensitive toes. Take
some simple things like a priest pastor who tries to remove the statues
from his church. And then the Pastor prohibits worship of Mary (no May
festival, no rosary).

CHECK OUT LIBBY; new at the party

Feel like I’m always late to the party; or don’t get invited; or don’t care: I’m talking about technology. But this time, I knew something about tech that my daughter didn’t.

LIBBY.

Available as an app through the Stockton public library. If you have a library card, you can borrow audio books for free for up to 21 days; no fines or late fees. It just electronically disappears.

What’s good—the free audio books go to your hard drive on your iPhone (I now have an iPhone, having turned in my 10 yo flip phone), or computer, or Ipad. No need to use those internet “minutes” or stay connected.

Right now, I have on my audio LIBBY bookshelf:
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry ( by Neil DeGrasse Tyson)
A Man Called Ove (by Fredrik Backman–I thought it would be by a guy named “Ove”?)
The Late Show ( by Michael Connelly)

What also works well for me, is they have 5-minute audio samples– lets me listen to various literary styles/techniques/tones to keep the boys in the basement sharp (that’s a literary reference to the “writing subconscious”).

Tyson let me down though, last night. I was using him to put me to sleep at 3 a.m. Instead, my head filled up with photons, and electrons, and leptons which interfered with my neurons.

Write On!