Monday, November 24, 2014

Review
"The Legend of Mickey Tussler"
by Frank Nappi
 
What elevates “The Legend of Mickey Tussler” by Frank Nappi from the status of good baseball story to excellent work of fiction is the author’s use of baseball as a metaphor for human aspirations and relationships. Mr. Nappi’s story, which takes place after World War II, has its villains and its beloved, vulnerable characters and an assortment of individuals capable to displaying varied degrees of empathy when their individual needs and ambitions are not interfered with. Failure is determined sometimes -- like a broken-bat single or a homerun hooked suddenly foul -- by chance but more often by selfish, powerful people. Epitomized by baseball manager Arthur Murphy, an aspiring person struggles against adversity and endures setbacks but does not give up. He must find like-minded souls (Molly, Mickey Tussler’s mother) to sustain him and, possessing empathy, he looks beyond himself to shield the vulnerable (the Asperger’s Syndrome farm boy Mickey).

The baseball aspect of Mr. Nappi’s story is excellent. The lingo is familiar; the characters are believable; the pennant race is exciting; the author’s knowledge of the game is clear-cut. Readers are rewarded for this reason alone.

However, it is the author’s writing skills that mostly make this book special. Mr. Nappi has done everything I hope to see a talented writer utilize.

Sharp sensory detail that establishes character presence: “Clarence [Mickey’s abusive father] stood leaning against a gray stone mantel, adorned with a yellowing lace doily held in place by an old brass lantern. Next to that was a family portrait in a tarnished frame and a dusty clarinet. Arthur’s eyes hurt, as if something acerbic were in the air. It smelled like cat urine or perhaps it was just mold spores. Either way, he could not stop rubbing his eyes.”

Visual detail interspersed with economical, purposeful dialogue: “‘Baseball?’ he mocked. ‘You want Mickey to play baseball? Now, what in tarnation is a baseball team gonna do with a retard? Huh?’

‘I don’t understand.’

The farmer was scratching his head. His amusement brought forth a smile, foul and yellow.

‘What my husband meant to say, Mr. Murphy, is that Mickey is a little –‘

‘I said exactly what I meant to say, woman,’ Clarence barked, raising his hand in mock attack. ‘Don’t you be correcting me. He’s a retard.’”

Back stories to add dimension to secondary characters: “McGinty [the shortstop] was definitely the best fit for Mickey. His dad had died when Elliot was just eleven years old. Consequently, young Elliot became responsible for looking out for his mom and his younger sister, Emily, who was born with a degenerative hearing condition that had rendered her deaf by age four. The little girl struggled, drifting through life diffidently, unable to keep pace in a world that moved too swiftly and carelessly to allow for her needs.”

Subjective narration that communicates abstractions: “She [Molly] had survived all these years by not focusing on the vast parameters of the world at large but on what was immediately around her. It usually worked. She could lose herself in the mixing of animal feed or the husking of corn. … But occasionally, this vapid existence preyed upon her more tender sensibilities, awakened now and again by glimpses of what could have been, and she cried out in painful protest for the life she really desired but had yet to cultivate.”

Theme: “‘And there’s always another at bat. A chance to redeem yourself. You could be washed-up one day, and a hero the next. Truly. Nobody is tied to their fate.’ … Once again, it appeared, time and events had conspired against him. He was being played with, manipulated by a capricious wind blowing him everywhere. … Murph shrugged his shoulders, as if to suggest that it didn’t really matter. But in the darkest, most remote corner of his soul, hanging restlessly from a single strand of sticky filament like an anxious spider, was the unmitigated, undeniable truth.”

Story, depth of character, social commentary, and writer skill justify this five-star rating.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"God Is My Protector"
Pages 364-366
 
       Hannah Adams heard them burst open her front door. Upstairs in her curtained bed, scrunched in the fetal position, she implored her merciful Protector.
       Foremost in her entreaties was her infant daughter, Ann, asleep in Joseph’s handcrafted crib.
       She had pleaded for her husband’s and her older children’s safety; they had left the house; it was Ann now who needed her Lord’s protection!
       Her anguished husband had departed minutes ago, breaking his pledge to remain beside her.
       “Joseph, if you stay, they will kill you!” she had declared. “Go! Safeguard the children! I’m feverish, too weak. Hide in Reverend Cooke's hayloft. Go!”
       “I’ll not leave you!”
       “They’ll see I’m helpless. They’ll spare me. The Lord is with us.”
       She had watched him redirect his eyes, seen him move peculiarly his head.
       She had pressed her advantage. “You must pray for me, Joseph. Let us do what we can for ourselves and pray for the Lord’s intercession!”
       Turning his back, he had hidden his anguish.
       Watching him, she had felt a nascent resentment.
       “No time, Joseph. Do not delay! Leave! Now!”
       He had stood at the doorway, staring, a full thirty seconds. Making a choking sound, he had closed the door behind him. Listening to his footsteps on the stairway, she had beseeched again the All-Mighty Creator.
       Now her brutalizers, despoilers -- murderers? -- were ascending the stairs.
       She heard on the landing preparatory footfalls.
       The door, thrust open, slammed against the wall.
       Three soldiers rushed into the room. Heads swiveling, they inspected.
       One approached.
       Using his steel blade, he parted the curtains. He pressed the point of his bayonet against her left breast.
       “I have children!” she cried. “God is my protector! He will punish you!” She gripped the blade.
       “Damn you!”
       He glared.
       “We will not hurt the woman,” she heard a second soldier declare. “But she must leave the house. Immediately. For we shall burn it.” The soldier positioned himself at the opposite side of the bed. “Is that not the way of it, private?” he said, authoritatively.
       Muttering an oath, the first soldier stepped back.
       Hannah raised herself to a sitting position. She extricated her legs from her twisted bed sheets, placed her feet on the bare floor. Adrenaline enabled her to rise, enabled her to correct a sudden wobble. Reaching, she grasped and pulled to her chest the top blanket. Across the room, a bit dizzy, dropping the blanket, she gathered up her wailing child.
       Leaving the front door, she sank to a sitting position. Having secured every ounce of her ebbing strength, her infant clasped underneath her chest, grunting, she began the fifty-foot crawl to the door of the family corn-house.
       Reaching it, turning her body, she saw that soldiers had entered neighbor Jason Russell’s house. He, his wife, and their daughters, having had the sense to leave hours ago, were safe! Was Joseph safe? Were her children? He had sent them off to the Reverend Cooke! Had they been taken? She thought not. She was far less confident about him.
       She strained to hear the sounds of her house’s immolation. Why were they pillaging, burning, murdering?
       She heard the raised voice of her nine-year-old son Joel! Joel had returned!
       She prayed. She begged. She offered herself in his stead.
       Sensing change, she looked through the corn-house doorway. The last of the soldiers had moved beyond her house. Townspeople were following them.
       There, peering out the doorway of her house was Joel! Her impetuous Joel!
       Two men carrying buckets, heeding the gesturing boy, were hurrying to the door.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Teaching -- Common Core Backlash
 
In a previous posting I stated that if I were teaching today, I would leave the profession.  One of my reasons is the imposition of Common Core upon public schools.
 
I have read that Common Core is a compilation of national standards designed by “education experts” -- the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, and Student Achievement Partners: all non-governmental groups paid for by the Gates Foundation -- to generate high student achievement in math and language arts.   It is part of President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program, which provides financial assistance to states willing to accept specific requirements such as annual standardized testing to be used to measure teacher effectiveness, the closure of failing public schools, and the expansion of charter schools.  43 states currently have signed on to Race to the Top and Common Core, including my home state Oregon. 
 
Advocates of Common Core declare that elementary and secondary school students will be required to develop a deeper knowledge of math, reading, and written expression, to think more critically, and to apply their enhanced knowledge and skills to real world problems.  This year every state that has accepted Common Core will subject its public school students to as much as 10 hours of rigorous testing to determine how many of them meet the Core standards. 
 
Critics of Race to the Top and Common Core are spokespeople of a growing public backlash.  Teachers' unions and educators state that standardized tests are an inaccurate way to measure teacher effectiveness.  Too many factors inside and outside the school are beyond an individual teacher’s ability to address.  This reality has been ignored.  High-stakes testing, which invite teaching to the test, is by its nature unreliable.  Such education reforms -- pushed by corporate foundations headed most notably by Bill Gates, the Walton family, and the Board family – are agenda-driven, critics say, and unproven.  Political motivation wafts.  ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council] has been ghostwriting bills and passing them out to astroturf organizations around the country to put forward legislation that undermines teachers' unions and helps in this effort to restructure education based on test scores,” Jesse Hagopian, a teacher and union activist in Seattle, Washington, has declared (Blaskey and Horn 1).   
 
As many as 70 percent of Oregon students taking this year’s rigorous Common Core-based tests (for the first time) are expected to fail.  One critic, University of Oregon education professor Jerry Rosiek, whose third-grade daughter is in the Eugene School District, states that standardized tests exacerbate a culture of teaching to the test.  “The tests detract from the quality of education she’s getting.  They require resources and time, and they narrow the curriculum” (Woolington A10).  Moreover, the Eugene school district hasn’t been provided enough time for its instructors to teach the more rigorous curriculum.  Rosiek believes students shouldn’t have to struggle for hours taking a test for which they are not prepared and which will cause them unnecessary anxiety.  The primary beneficiary of high-stakes, mandatory standardized tests, Rosiek maintains, is publishing companies that sell books to prepare students for the tests.  These tests also allow politicians to divert public attention away from the real causes of poor student academic achievement: poverty, the destruction of the core family, and the underfunding of public education.
 
More and more parents across the country are choosing to have their children opt out of taking the Core tests.  States allow parents to do this on religious grounds or to protect their learning disabled children.  Eugene parent Heather Kliever has stated that opting out is the only effective way to challenge the tests because district leaders and school board members, she believes, have not looked critically at the tests.  Her eleven-year-old sixth grade son Alden qualified for the state’s Talented and Gifted programs.  He will be opting out of the Common Core tests.  He has his own views on the matter.  Many of his peers will try to avoid going to school on the day of the tests.  He doesn’t understand the point of them.  His teachers give him frequent quizzes or exams to evaluate what he knows.  “Regular tests are fine.  But just having tests on a computer that takes multiple hours and days, I think it’s a waste of money” (Woolington A10).
 
Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and Research Professor of Education at New York University, agrees.  Frankly, the idea of subjecting third graders to an eight-hour exam is repugnant, as is the prospect of a 10-hour exam for high school students, as is the absurd [projected] idea of testing children in kindergarten, first, and second grades. All of these tests will be accompanied by test prep and interim exams and periodic exams. This is testing run amok, and the biggest beneficiary will be the testing industry, certainly not students.
 
“Students don't become smarter or wiser or more creative because of testing. Instead, all this testing will deduct as much as a month of instruction for testing and preparation for testing. In addition, states will spend tens of millions, hundreds of millions, or even more, to buy the technology and bandwidth necessary for the Common Core testing … The money spent for Common Core testing means there will be less money to reduce class sizes, to hire arts teachers, to repair crumbling buildings, to hire school nurses, to keep libraries open and staffed, and to meet other basic needs.  States are cutting the budget for schools at the same time that the Common Core is diverting huge sums for new technology, new textbooks, new professional development, and other requirements to prepare for the Common Core.”
 
The sooner Common Core testing dies, “the sooner schools and teachers will be freed of the Giant Federal Accountability Plan hatched in secret and foisted upon our nation's schools. And when it does die, teachers will have more time to do their job and to use their professional judgment to do what is best for each student” (Ravitch 1).
 
Meanwhile, many veteran teachers, like I would, will leave the profession.
 
Sources cited:
 
Blaskey, Sarah and Horn, Steven.  “The Other ALECs’ K12 Education Agenda Exposed.”  Truthout.  July 25, 2012.   Web.  November 8, 2014.
 
Ravitch, Diane.  “Good Riddance to Common Core Testing.”  The Blog: Huff Post Education.  July 3, 2014.  Web.  November 8, 2014  
 
Woolington, Josephine.  “Core Meltdown.” The Register-Guard.  October 26, 2014: A1.  Print.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh, Earl Percy -- "Contumacious Arrogance"
 
 
At the Great Bridge in Cambridge rebel forces, mostly from villages north and south of Boston, waited.  Hugh, Earl Percy, having that morning encountered the removal of the bridge’s planks, recognized that they had set a trap.  He would pretend to enter it.  He would send his flanker units through Cambridge ahead of the column as if to clear its way to the bridge.  The column would turn left onto a country lane and then onto a secondary road.  It would turn left again onto the Cambridge-Charlestown road northeast of Cambridge and march toward Charlestown.  The flanker companies would reverse direction, reach the Charlestown road, and hurry toward the rear of the retreating column.
 
Percy executed his feint; his flanker companies drew fire; his column reached the Cambridge-Charlestown road.  "This sudden change of direction, and the brilliant use of an obscure and unexpected road, took the New England men by surprise. It broke the circle of fire around Percy's brigade” (Fischer 259).   Staring down the empty road toward the distant bridge, an aide to Lieutenant Frederick MacKenzie, Percy’s Adjutant-General, exclaimed, “We threw them!”
 
Several miles out of Cambridge the column ascended Prospect Hill, the last location where militia units were assembled.  "Percy advanced his cannon to the front of his column, and cleared the hill with a few well-placed rounds. It was the last of his ammunition for the artillery” (Fischer 260).  The exhausted column resumed its march.  It reached the safety of Breeds and Bunker Hills, outside Charlestown, in near darkness.  Gage’s men were ferried across the Charles River to Boston.  Safe in their barracks, they had considerable cause to reflect on their misuse and survival and to give credit and place blame where they believed it to be due.  As must have Hugh, Earl Percy.  From “Crossing the River”:
 
             In the hearts and minds of his officers, arthritic Lieutenant Colonel Hugh, Earl Percy, exhibiting extraordinary wisdom and courage, deserved full credit for the army’s deliverance.
     To the exhausted soldiers in the darkness of Charlestown Square Percy was but one more horse-hauled Merry-Andrew who had placed everybody at death’s door. That night, secure in their barracks, jack-coves of every type would praise themselves for their survival. Some would thank Lord God the Protector. A few, not the least intelligent, would credit Lady Luck.
     Percy’s criticism -- analytical, evidential -- was inwardly directed.
     It vexed him that he, less condescending, less biased than his peers in his judgment of the English commoner, had, like his peers, disdained the militia.
     Their shared hubris had come within a hair’s width of costing General Gage a third of his garrison!
     Beginning with Colonel Smith’s retreat the provincials had fought independently from behind stone walls, trees, and boulders. They had fired their weapons from the windows and doorways of countless houses. Using their numerical strength on Menotomy’s broad plain, they had just about overwhelmed him. When he had turned his army away from their strength at the Great Bridge, outlying militiamen at Prospect Hill had conducted a gallant assault. Because they had demonstrated provocatively their willingness to fight without protective cover, he had had to presume their willingness to attack him similarly here.
     How narrowly he had evaded disaster! He had used the last of his cannon balls to fight his way beyond Prospect Hill. Prior to his departure from Boston he had issued but twenty-four cartridges per soldier. He had eschewed taking the ammunition wagon. His unconscionable bias had imperiled all.
     Had the provincials massed their companies along the Charlestown road instead of at the Great Bridge, they would have vanquished him. That they had not done so he attributed to diffused leadership. He doubted that any one rebel officer had had the authority to enforce such a decision. That failing would be rectified.
     How blatantly shortsighted had been his appraisal. In one day he had been taught a lesson that officialdom in London and officers of general rank might never comprehend. The King’s policy, which Parliament had enacted and he had opposed, had abjectly failed. He and all loyal countrymen could not rectify its disastrous consequence if they did not first quell their leadership’s contumacious arrogance.
     The clattering of hooves on the Square’s cobblestone ended Percy’s introspection. Having prefatorily saluted, the courier offered the sealed envelope. Percy hastily read General Gage’s message.
 
     “My Lord, Gen. Pigot will pass over with a reinforcement and fresh ammunition.            The boats which carry him may return with the grenadiers and light infantry who must be most fatigued, and the wounded. I propose sending over Capt. Montresor immediately with intrenching tools to throw up a sort of redoubt on the hill, and to leave 200 men and guns on it, and if it's advisable during the course of the night, to bring your Lordship's men over. The fresh brigade may carry on the works. Fresh ammunition has been ordered long ago.”
 
           The message raised the gate. A torrent of needs issued forth. He wanted to sit for awhile in a comfortable chair. He wanted delivered to his hands his favorite wine. He wanted hot food prepared by his Boston chef. He wanted to luxuriate in a warm tub. He wanted to rest his exhausted body between freshly laundered sheets (Titus 388-389).
 
Percy’s regiment fought June 17, 1775, in the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Recognizing the stupidity of General Gage subordinate William Howe’s planned frontal assault on the rebel fortifications on Breeds Hill, Percy refused to participate.  He would write to a friend that his brigade had “almost entirely been cut to pieces.”  In October General Gage was recalled to London.  Much to Percy’s dismay, General Howe replaced him.
 
On March 5, 1776, despite his expressed opposition, Percy was given the command of two thousand four hundred men to attack rebel cannon that George Washington had positioned on Dorchester Heights hours earlier in the dark of night.  Unbeknownst to the British, the cannon had been transported by sleds to Boston from Fort Ticonderoga, New York.  Informed tardily of their arrival, General Howe had not immediately acted, believing that one night’s fortification by the enemy could do little to forestall his assault the following day.  “When morning light revealed the strength and extent of their defenses, a British army engineer expressed his astonishment.  Such works, in his opinion, could not have been built by less than 15,000 or 20,000 men.”  Howe’s reaction had been to “attack at once before the defenses became impregnable and Boston, in consequence, too exposed to hold” (Smith 651).  The soldiers assigned to carry the works, anticipating a second Breed’s Hill, were loaded into boats at dusk, but a violent storm that evening prevented them from being rowed across the river.  The next day, taking the advice of his senior officers, General Howe canceled the attack order, deciding instead to leave the city.
 
Promoted thereafter a division commander, Percy participated in Washington’s expulsion from New York City in July 1776.  On November 16, 1776, Percy directed the capture of Fort Washington, at the northern tip of Manhattan Island.  Weeks later, serving under General Henry Clinton, Percy took part in the uncontested occupation of Newport, Rhode Island.  He remained in Newport for five months.
 
The antipathy that Howe and Percy felt for each other climaxed over a dispute about how much hay Howe’s horses in New Jersey were to be allotted.  Howe’s logistics major and Percy disagreed about the necessary amount.  Taking the major’s estimation, Howe reprimanded Percy.  (The major’s estimate would prove to be incorrect)  Percy was furious that Howe had chosen to accept the judgment of a mere major, not that of a higher ranking officer, a peer, and the heir to a dukedom.  Percy requested leave to sail to England.  Howe granted it.  Having inherited his mother’s barony in December and thereafter elevated to the House of Lords, he never returned.
 
An exceptionally generous person, Percy had been esteemed by his regiment.  Unlike most officers of his time, he had opposed corporal punishment.  He had involved himself directly in the provisioning and victualing of his men.  He had sent home at his own expense the widows of his soldiers killed at Breed’s Hill.  Later, he had provided them financial assistance.  Succeeding his father in 1786 as the Duke of Northumberland, he earned notoriety for his generosity as a landlord.  Twice each week he invited his tenants and local tradespeople to his social gatherings at Alnwick Castle, his place of residence.  When corn prices fell in 1815, he reduced his tenants’ rent by 25 percent. 
 
Two years after his return to England, Parliament permitted Percy to divorce his wife, Lady Anne Crichton-Stuart, on grounds of adultery.  On May 23 of the same year, 1779, he married Frances Julia Burrell, with whom he parented six daughters and three sons.  Despite his family connections, he never succeeded in politics.  Initially, he supported Prime Minister William Pitt, but, complaining that he had not been properly rewarded for his services in America, he sided eventually with the opposition.  In May 1801, he became a knight of the Order of the Garter.  Suffering during his final years from frequent and excessive gout, he died July 10, 1817.  He was buried in the Northumberland vault within Westminster Abbey.
 
How might have the course of the Revolutionary War been changed had Percy, not William Howe, been General Thomas Gage’s replacement?
 
Works Cited:
 
Fischer, David Hackett.  Paul Revere’s Ride.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.  Print.
 
Smith, Page.  A New Age Now Begins.  Vol. One.  New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1976.  Print.
 
Titus, Harold.  Crossing the River.  BookLocker.com, Inc., 2011.  Print.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Interview
 
Ognian Georgiev, a sports journalist and sports editor of the “Bulgaria Today” daily newspaper, posted this interview of me October 25 on his web page: http://ogigeorgiev.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/harold-titus-crossing-the-river-took-me-17-years/.  Thank you, Ognian, for your consideration.
 
 
Harold Titus published his book Crossing the River three years ago. The history novel received very positive feedback (av. 4.4 stars from 10 Amazon reviews). We are very happy that the author was kind to tell us something more about his writings.
 
What is your book Crossing the River about?
 Crossing the River is about the singular experiences of both famous historical figures and ordinary people engaged April 19, 1775, in frightful combat. It is about why British Commanding General Thomas Gage was compelled to send an army of 700 redcoats out of Boston to Concord to seize and destroy illegally stored gunpowder, cannon, and military supplies and why the colony’s rebellious Provincial Congress wanted to confront him. It is about major and minor mistakes made by both sides, bloodshed at Lexington, courage, stupidity, honor, callousness, fear, rage, empathy, selfishness, and senseless slaughter. It is a portrayal of all aspects of human nature. It is a detailed, accurate depiction of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the fierce combat that occurred during the British army’s harrowing retreat to Charlestown, told through the viewpoints of its participants. It is a story about crossing the river, about not being able to turn back, about individual beings choosing to risk all to attempt to obtain great reward.
 
How did you decide to write the story?
 I am a retired eighth grade English and American history teacher. I love historical fiction. I was provided by my school district the early retirement opportunity to write student reading material about major historical events. I knew enough about the details of the Battles of Lexington and Concord to recognize certain elements that eighth grade readers would find fascinating. I wrote a 100 plus page manuscript that was too much summary, not enough character development, too little subjective narration, and inadequate dialogue. I decided to expand the novel to make better use of information I had obtained about participants in the battles. I wanted to do serious writing. I wanted to employ the techniques used by excellent writers of fiction, skills I had observed as a literature teacher. I wanted to challenge myself. 17 years later I submitted a 413 page manuscript for publication.
 
What was your biggest challenge during the write up process?
 Narrating action and writing dialogue are easier for me to accomplish than are communicating feelings and expressing abstract thoughts. It took me many revisions to produce the following:
 
In his study one hour each afternoon, recalling past friendships, recreating personal and professional accomplishments, Thomas Gage warded off his anxieties. Intermittently, he indulged in flight of fancy: Tom Gage, suave, virile lothario; Thomas Gage, vanquishing general/enlightened prime minister. Revitalized, he returned to his duties primed to vanquish each new outrage directed upon his competency. Once or twice every fourteen days or so his methodology of self-renewal failed him. This afternoon his apprehensions and resentments had not receded.
 
The biggest challenge, however, was the enormous, time-consuming task of turning ordinary writing into lucid, articulate expression.
 
Tell us something about your main character? Is it close to someone from your real life?
The novel has many characters. The major events of April 19, 1775, are the aggregate of their varied experiences. I enjoyed creating especially these three individuals: Lexington militiaman Simon Winsett attempts to assist a redcoat deserter while trying to resolve his neighbors’ and his family’s ill regard of him; Acton school master James Hayworth seeks to avenge the death of his dear friend and neighbor, minuteman commander Isaac Davis, and Redcoat corporal John Howe spies for General Gage and seeks to rise above his station. None of these characters resembles anybody I know personally but all possess character traits that readers easily recognize.
 
How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
 It took me 17 years, spaced around other activities of my life. Crossing the River is lengthy. Writing isn’t easy. I discovered I couldn’t just “turn it on.” There were moments when my brain was working and words and phrases came to me cooperatively but more often they did not. About two hours a day at my computer was about the time I allotted myself because I knew staying at the task longer would be counterproductive. I learned not to spend much time the next day editing what I had just written but, instead, to come back to it weeks, if not months, later. Reading what I’d written with fresh eyes was a humbling, necessary experience. Like most anything people do, the longer you do something, the more you improve. I believe I am a better writer now than I was five years ago, certainly better than I was ten years ago, and definitely better than when I started.
 
Do you have another published book?
 No.
 
Who are you?
 I was born in New York State, moved to Tennessee when I was seven, and moved with my parents and sister to Southern California when I was nine. I graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in history. I taught one year in the Los Angeles City School District, was drafted into the army in 1958, moved afterward to Contra Costa County in Northern California, and taught eighth grade English 29 years, drama 6 years, and American history 6 years in suburban Orinda. I coached many of the school’s sports teams. During my teenage and middle adult years I enjoyed playing golf. I live with my wife in Florence, Oregon. For ten years I was a political activist. I am an avid fan of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers and UCLA men’s basketball.
 
What are your writing habits?
I am a planner. I follow a skeletal outline of scenes that lead in a specific direction. Crossing the River adheres to a chronological time-line: spying activity, preparations for the British expedition to Concord to destroy rebel munitions, rebel preparations to resist it, the actual events of the expedition as experienced by specific individuals (mostly real and some imagined), the immediate aftermath, again experiences of specific people. Within each scene I allowed myself to free-lance, while staying true to the accuracy of the main events.
 
In portraying an actual historical person, I limit myself to what I discern in the person’s writing or what is written about the person by contemporaries and by respected historians. (Paul Revere wrote quite a bit about his April 18-19, 1775, experiences) Imaginary characters must contribute to the overall accuracy of my portrayal of day’s historical events.
 
I usually do minor editing of every two chapters that I complete before proceeding to write new chapters. I try to sharpen the phrasing, add sensory detail, and eliminate awkward sentences, knowing well that much editing (see my answer to question #5) will remain, especially after I have completed the novel’s first draft. I believe that a well-written novel is the result of layers upon layers of revised writing.
 
Are you satisfied by the sales of the book and do you plan another one?
 I am more disappointed about reader lack of interest in the Revolutionary War than I am about sparse sales. I understand how difficult it is for an unknown novelist to inform the general public of the existence of his work. Many people don’t read books, period. Those who do usually focus on popular genres: mystery, romance, fantasy. Readers of American historical fiction seem to prefer the Civil War period and the era of World War II. Thus, my frustration.
I am writing a novel about the Algonquian natives at and near Roanoke Island from 1584 to 1586 when Englishmen first attempted to found an English colony in North America.
 
What are you doing to promote by the best possible way your book?
I have been a member of goodreads.com since the fall of 2011. I participate in group discussions, post blog entries, and write book reviews. I am a member of several other author/reader internet organizations but, because my free time is limited, I rarely participate in their discussions.
 
I maintain a blog site that features excerpts from Crossing the River, articles I have written about actual participants in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, articles about the struggles Queen Elizabeth had with internal and external enemies, explanations by historians of the disappearance of the last Roanoke colony, interviews I’ve conducted of debut American historical novelists, interviews done of me, book reviews I have done, and experiences I have had teaching school. The blog site address is http://authorharoldtitus.blogspot.com.
 
You’ve been in the army before the Vietnam War. Did you participate in the War and are you considering writing something on that theme?
 I spent two years in the army stationed all that while at Fort Ord, California. Our country was not at war. I was primarily a file clerk and messenger assigned to the classification and assignment office of the installation’s administration unit. My knowledge of military life and combat derives mostly from what I have read. There will be combat in my Roanoke novel, but it will be much different from what most readers are accustomed to reading. The novel, however, will feature the motives for war universal in any time period.
 
As a fan of basketball do you think that the generation of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal is possible to be compared with the times of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird?
 Basketball players are bigger and stronger today, but basketball skills remain the same. Teamwork remains essential. There is a good reason why the San Antonio Spurs, not the Miami Heat, won the NBA championship this past year. The players you mention all played on teams that won championships not only because of their individual talents but because complimentary players on those teams did the basic essentials. Size and strength of players today would probably be the determining reason for an excellent NBA team today defeating an excellent team 20 years past.
 
Ask yourself a question (And don’t forget to answer!)
 Question: What aspect of writing do you enjoy seeing in other writers’ works that you try to emulate?
I want to see crisp dialogue with a minimum of “he said” intrusions and sensory detail that gives the reader a sense of presence and an awareness of characters’ emotions. I told my students that when they had to identify who was speaking, “Have the character do something. Then have him speak. Have both in the same paragraph. And please don’t generalize his action or tell the reader what he is feeling. Show what our eyes see, not what our mind interprets!”
 
Here is an example from my novel:
 
Captain Parsons returned. Hands clasped behind his back, he gazed at her. “My soldiers are hungry. They will pay, with coin, what you will provide. They will be kept here in the yard, well regulated. The provisions will be conveyed to them by your servants.”
 
Meliscent snorted.
 
Parsons’ eyebrows arched.
 
Jabbing her elbows against the backrest of her rocker, she scowled. “We are commanded to feed our enemies.” Her hands worked combatively. “You cannot buy good will. I will not accept your coin!”
 
Parsons stiffened. Anger colored his face. “A curious decision. Imprudent. Obstinacy thrown in the face of courtesy. Madam, you invite resentment!”
 
Her eyes castigated him.
 
From his coat pocket Parsons withdrew a shilling. Scowling, he tossed it onto the lap of her frock. A second officer, freckle-faced, exhibiting a swagger, added his own. Two nearby soldiers, observers, now approached. Parsons’ angry eyes taunted her.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Review
"Last Night in Twisted River"
by John Irving
 
I did not care that much for John Irving’s twelfth novel, "Last Night in Twisted River," published in 2009. I considered returning the book to the public library several times but did eventually read all of its 554 pages. It is not that I believe that Mr. Irving is an inferior writer. He definitely is not. Several wonderfully narrated scenes engaged my emotions. Non-essential detail and believability issues about some of the actions of some of the novel’s characters are my chief criticisms.

The novel starts well. Three people quickly emerge as the story’s most important characters. In 1954 Dominic Baciagalupo is a logging and sawmill settlement cook in northern New Hampshire. He is raising his twelve-year-old son Daniel, his wife Rosie having died when Daniel was two. Ketchum is a veteran logger and close friend of Dominic. A fifteen-year-old log roller who answers to the name of “Angel,” who had worked in Dominic’s kitchen, and of whom Ketchum is protective, falls under logs being freed from a river logjam. Swept away underneath the logs by a swift current, he drowns. Ketchum plans to meet Dominic at Dead Woman Dam, where they believe Angel’s body will be found. We discover that the dead woman of the name of the dam was Rosie, she having fallen through cracking ice ten years earlier while “do-si-do” dancing with Dominic and Ketchum, both of whom were drunk. They expect to find Angel’s body where they had found Rosie’s.

Dominic’s dishwasher, Injun Jane, relates to Daniel (“Danny”) the immediate aftermath of Rosie’s disappearance under the ice.

“'But she was gone that fast, Danny … And when we got back to the cookhouse, you were wide awake and screaming … I took it as a sign that you somehow knew your mom was gone. I couldn’t get you to stop crying—you or your father. Ketchum had got hold of a cleaver. He just stood in the kitchen with his left hand on a cutting board, holding the cleaver in his right hand.' Danny wondered why the left hand. Ketchum was right-handed. If you hated yourself, … wouldn’t you want to cut off your good hand?"

We find out that Dominic and Injun Jane, who is a very large woman, are lovers. We know that Jane lives with the local constable, Carl, a vicious bully and woman beater. In the late evening before Dominic and Ketchum are to meet at Dead Woman Dam, Daniel hears noises in his father’s bedroom. He peers inside. He believes he sees a bear astride his father, Jane’s unbraided long hair appearing to be fur. Danny grabs the eight ounce cast iron skillet that is hung inside the bedroom door, the skillet (Danny has been told) used by his father once to kill a bear that had entered the cook’s residence. He strikes Jane on her skull, instantly killing her. Dominic and Danny manage to transport Jane’s body to Carl’s apartment. They hope that, awakening from a drunken stupor and discovering her body, he will think he has killed her and will secretly bury her. Following Ketchum’s advice, Dominic and Danny leave for north Boston to connect with Angel’s relatives, they having discovered where he had lived prior to coming to Twisted River.

This segment of the novel, with all its back stories about Dominic, his mother, his wife Rosie, and Ketchum is excellent. The only quibble I had was the killing of Injun Jane. I very much liked her as a character. Secondly, even though the author strived to make the event credible, I had difficulty accepting that Danny would have mistaken Jane for a bear.

At this point we are 118 pages into the novel. The action of the remaining 436 pages occurs in five different geographic locations. Because Carl learns the truth about Jane’s death and is determined to kill them, Dominic and Danny must periodically relocate. It is 2005 when the novel ends, 51 years after Injun Jane’s death. Three threads are developed during these 436 pages: the evasion of Carl, the reader’s gradual comprehension of the reasons for Ketchum’s guilt, and Danny’s long journey to gain happiness. Dominic works as a cook at most of these locations, we meet a variety of minor characters that the author feels he must develop in detail, and Danny becomes a famous novelist. Much of the novel focuses on Danny’s real and perceived difficulties, which include the raising of a beloved son. Especially difficult for me to accept was that Danny would marry the despicable person that provides him his son. Danny’s story, and especially the novel’s ending (even though it is satisfying), is the least credible thread. Ketchum, driven by guilt and the need to protect Dominic and Danny, remains a central, intriguing character.

The author is slow at reaching climatic events. The events are riveting, but the pace of the novel is annoyingly slow. The author uses too much space portraying unimportant characters such as Danny’s eighth grade English teacher (Why do we need to know that he attended strip tease shows?), Danny’s multiple lovers, and the kitchen personnel at the various restaurants where Dominic works. Prior to writing his novel, Mr. Irving interviewed numerous chefs and restaurateurs to learn about the preparation of different kinds of food. We encounter passages like the following.

"Mao’s version of oysters Rockefeller was topped with panko, Japanese bread crumbs, and Ah Go used grapeseed oil and shallots to make the mayonnaise for his crabcakes. (The crab was tossed in the Japanese bread crumbs with some chopped tarragon; the panko didn’t get soggy in the fridge, the way other bread crumbs did.)"

Illustrating a link between Danny’s fictional characters and his life experiences, Mr. Irving, I believe, gives too much information about Danny’s eight novels. Excessive detail to achieve authenticity risks killing a reader’s desire to read.

Mr. Irving did, however, strike the right balance in his use of resource information about logging. He makes believable the atypical characteristics of loggers and sawmill employees, and he relates effectively the dangerous work they perform -- a major accomplishment. This information, providing excellent context, helps us accept Ketchum as an authentic person. Without Ketchum, the novel is not worth reading.  


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Tied Tightly with Hope"
Pages 342-344
 

            Substituting for William Munroe -- a man with a deformed leg could still mix and tally drinks if he could sit awhile -- forty-three year old John Raymond hadn’t worried much about the soldiers returning. Hearing the redcoats were just about done in, being chased by a thousand militiamen, being shot at from every direction, what lobsterback would want to be stopping by for a tankard of ale? Dozens of militiamen would be doing just that, after the redcoats had been sent bleating and bawling back to Menotomy!
     He’d been wrong!
     Who would have predicted that an army straight from Boston, not the regulars leaving Concord, would arrive first?! Who could have imagined its commander making this tavern his headquarters?! Who would have thought these drinks he was mixing would be for the gratification of hordes of cutthroats?!
     It was their look much more than their hard words that frightened him. He knew what they had in store for him once they had had their fill of ale, flip, and hot toddies!
     That wasn’t going to happen! The first chance he had he would bolt out the back door. Get to the birch trees by the creek. He would have to cover a hundred feet of open ground, maybe too far! But then, because they were bone-weary and damn thirsty, and he was just one man, a cripple, having done them a service, they might just say, being he was already gone, “T’hell with the bugger!”
     Reaching the trees would be the first part. He’d have to get well past them. If he didn’t, it would be just his run of luck that some bloody redcoat, done emptying his bladder, would come pushing his way through bramble and discover him!
     Hope. Getting to the trees, finding a hiding place, getting rescued: all of it was wrapped all around and tied tightly with hope!
     When the time is right, you must do it!
     Ten minutes passed.
      Four regulars entered the tap room half-carrying two bloodied soldiers.
     “Lay ‘em down here,” Raymond said, pointing to that part of the room closest to the back exit. “I’ll just go push away these two tables.”
     “Shut yer flamin’ butt hole!” one of the soldiers assisting the two shouted.
     “Piss-mouthed gammer!” a second one snarled. “Y’naught be tellin’ us what t’do!”
     “Get o’r here!” yelled a red-faced lieutenant from the far end of the counter. “You’ll be fixin’ us drinks! Nothing more!”
     Every bloodyback villain was staring at him!
     He pointed toward the front door. “Look! More of your wounded! A major!”
     They turned. Raymond shoved open the back door.
     He was cut down twenty feet short of the trees. No one knew whose ball had been true. The burliest of the three, bothering to walk the distance, speared the writhing bartender with his bayonet.
      
 
     “It's gone through the bone. It’s lodged inside the skin.” The 43rd Regiment surgeon's mate, Mr. Simes, withdrew his bloodstained hands from Jeremy Lister's right arm. “Good time t’remove it, before we get t’ Menotomy.”
     Lister thought about it.
     “You'll be more ‘n’ some weak, but better t‘ave it out.”
     “How much will it hurt?” Feeling faint, the young ensign reached back with his left hand to locate the closest table.
     “Bloody ‘ell fire. Be less after it's out.”
     Finding the table, Lister sat. Staring at his dangling arm, he expelled air. “How deep will y’ave t’cut?”
     Simes shook his head, revealed a gap-toothed mouth. “I'll be getting’ the ball out easy enough. The arm won't be much good t’you though. Learn t’eat left ‘anded.”
     “Could have been worse,” Lister muttered. No, if he hadn’t been so bloody curious about seeing what the river crossing was about, this wouldn’t have happened!
     “I've got others t’tend. Make up yer mind.”
     Lister sighed. Tightening his lips, he nodded.
     Simes looked through the doorway into one of the tavern’s back rooms. “I'll do it on that table,” he said, gesturing.