Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Lit of Flawed Democracy

These are days when millions of people in America and around the world question the recent election. Is democracy flawed in the United States? There are several books of note that have dealt with this very question over the years.

I.F. Stone (no relation to Sly Stone)had a famous weekly in the Dick Cavett  era, and also wrote an informed but opinionated history of the most famous Greek philosopher, Socrates. The Trial of Socrates. Most people know Socrates had to drink hemlock as his death sentence, but not many know why.

Socrates thought that allowing the common people to vote in a democracy was a bad idea. The undereducated could be easily swayed by a popular demagogue making promises of wealth and glory with little or no substance to back up the claim. Disaster would result.  A history of the Peloponnesian War would later bear out his argument.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon is probably the most famous tale of outside interference in a US election. Communist Chinese have brainwashed American soldiers captured during the Korean War and transferred to a secret "re-education" center in Manchuria. One of the Army officers is the son of a wealthy politician running for president, and he is the main target, brutally conditioned by torture and hypnosis to become a sleeper agent and assassin. The book has been in print for over fifty years, and made into two tremendously popular motion pictures. My favorite is the 1962 film starring Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva, and Academy Award winner Angela Lansbury.

Recntly, I have seen posts encouraging people to read It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, which recently sold out online. An article in the Washington Post referred to both the Lewis novel and the more recent National Book Award winner by Philip Roth, The Plot Against America, a dark tale of pro-Nazi Americans led by national hero Charles Lindbergh who win the 1940 election and send America into a Fascist spiral. The article, by Carlos Lozada, June 9, 2016, gets into Trump-bashing more than I care to share here in this blog. I'm not into political statements; I'm writing about books and flawed democracy. Obviously, I am not the first or last to do so.

One of my favorite books ever is Burr by Gore Vidal. In this well-researched historical novel, Vidal examines the character of our Founding Fathers, and takes a close look at the Electoral College, where Aaron Burr tied Thomas Jefferson in electoral votes. Vidal also wrote another historical novel about rigged elections, 1876. Both should be popular reading these days.

Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing.net recently posted about another excellent book on outside interference, The Twentieth of January.

If you have other books to recommend, please do so. Try to avoid blatant attacks on the current president, no matter how strong the temptation. Remember what Frank Zappa said: Politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Guest Author Louis K. Lowy
In the interview below, the highlighted words are hyperlinks. You can click on them and go to the website represented, either an author site or book or even, thanks to Louis, a YouTube video of him and the band Hemlock performing in the 1980's. Find the online book review in one of the links.

Q & A with Louis K. Lowy

 When I first met you, you had written some short stories with very real characters and dialogue. Now you have three full novels published. Tell us about the development of your work.
First off, thank you for giving me the opportunity to be on your site, Neil. It’s an honor to be included. Regarding how I transitioned from short stories to novels, it was more a natural progression than a conscious effort. My short stories started out around 6-8 pages and gradually increased to forty-eight pages, which is venturing toward novella territory. When I started my first novel, Die Laughing, it was intended to be a short story, but as wrote it, I kept finding new avenues to explore. About fifty pages into it, I made the decision that it was going to be a novel. Of course, I had no idea how I was going to do that, but I kept plugging away.

 You have the official Book Launch for To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine coming up Saturday January 28 5p.m. at Books & Books in Coral Gables. You must be very excited. How do you set something like that up?
Yes, indeed. I’m very excited! As to how you set it up, welcome to the business of writing. Basically, it boils down to contacting Books & Books, speaking with the person in charge of events and working out the details; contacting the caterer and working out the details; contacting the publisher and making arrangements to have the books; sending out notices via word of mouth and social media; figuring out what you’re going to present and then practicing it. There are numerous details in-between, but that’s the basic steps. It’s sometimes uncomfortable and time consuming work, but in the end it’s wonderful to see friends and book lovers gathered to hear your work. I also love the question and answers, I never know what’s going to pop up—or for that matter how I’m going to answer. One other thing, let me throw a special shout out to John Dufresne, he’s graciously agreed to do my introduction.

Do you have an agent? How did you find your first publisher?
I don’t have an agent. I found my publisher—IFWG Publishing—the old-fashion way. Hard work. First, and most importantly, before sending out my manuscript (or any of my work, for that matter) I made sure it was as perfect as I could make it. That includes edits and typos. When I felt confident the manuscript was ready, I researched publishers and how to contact them. There are great online resources these days. I also researched how to write a query letter and put one together. I sent it to many publishers and was fortunate to find that IFWG was interested in work. They’re great to deal with. Word of advice, you’re going to get a lot of rejections. I won’t lie, they sting, but the key is persistence. Remember, it’s not the amount of no’s you may receive, it’s only that one yes that counts.

 I see some very active social media campaigns promoting your work, on your website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads, for example. Do you do all that yourself?
Mostly, but not all of it. This is my third novel and I’ve made some wonderful acquaintances along the way in person and online. They’ve been generous in supporting me, reposting, retweeting my notices. I would be negligent if I didn’t mention how supportive the South Florida writing community is. My creative writing alma mater, FIU, has been particularly encouraging, that includes the staff, fellow grads, and the instructors.

Has your background as a musician helped you with the literary arts? Tell us about your music and bands. Do you still play professionally?
Playing music has definitely influenced how I write. I tend to think about the rhythmic structure of words and sentences, which is a throwback to my music. I unconsciously throw in bands and music in nearly all of my stories—certainly in all of my novels. I also think of playing music and writing in similar same terms. Both take discipline, constant listening (or reading), and practice.
Regarding bands—the most well-known was a group called Hemlock. We were signed to Warner Brothers Records and had a minor dance hit called “Disco Break.” This is super-embarrassing, but here’s a YouTube link of us playing it on a local TV show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKoYsKjmdV0 I played in original bands after Hemlock and loved the creative process. In most of the groups I was the go-to guy for lyrics, which helped later on with my writing.
I don’t play professionally anymore because I love writing too much. I do have to admit, though, that writing is like being in a one man band. You make all of the decisions about timing, structure, pacing, feel, and length. When it works, it’s very satisfying creative wise.

What are you working on now?
I’ve recently completed a fantasy novel about a gambler on the brink of death who gets a chance to save his soul, and a late Victorian era horror story. I’m current working on my sixth novel - a crime story that takes place in Florida, circa mid-sixties.

What sells best for you, print books or eBooks? Do you have to format your own eBooks?
Hmm, I don’t know. It’s probably a combination of the two. I’ll have to look at my publisher statements closer.
As far as formatting eBooks, I don’t do anything involving the actual process of publishing, including formatting. The publisher handles that. I do get a say on the interior look and the cover, which I’m always happy about.

In addition to their support, the beautiful thing about the Creative Writing program is that it saved me time. Through their classes I was given the opportunity to learn the craft of writing, and to avoid a lot of trial and error. Not all of it, of course, but more than if I had worked on it without any guidance and instruction.

Who are some of your favorite authors and books?
Charles Dickens – Great Expectations, James Joyce - Dubliners, Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice, Stephen King – Carrie, etc., Ray Bradbury – R is for Rocket, Stan Lee – his Marvel comics body of work, William Gibson – Neuromancer, Louise Penny – Bury Your Dead, J.R.R. Tolkien – Hobbit, etc., Haruki Murakami – Norwegian Wood, Ernest Hemingway – To Have and to Have Not, and the one I’m currently reading, J.D. Salinger – Nine.

What is your schedule like this year?
Busy! Between my writing schedule, preparing for my book launch of To Dream, keeping up with my writing groups and sending out queries for my other novels, days zip by.

Do libraries carry your books? Where do they get them? (Direct from the publisher or through Ingram, for example)
Some libraries do carry them. Sometimes I’ll make the acquaintance of librarians and they’ll get the book through me, other times they’ll order them through the publisher, I suppose, but possible Ingram, too.

It’s my most ambitious piece to date. Four key storylines are going on in different centuries and different planets, but they all intertwine and affect each other. As to the actual plot, I’ll quote from IFWG Publishing: “Guilt ridden over the death of her 17-year-old son, Jay, scientist Niyati Bopari heads a team that creates a Humachine (human machine) for mega-corporation Ameri-Inc. Niyati dubs the Humachine J-1 and creates it in Jay’s image. She secretly infuses it with Jay’s DNA. J-1 is the most sophisticated robot ever created and its purpose is to replace human labor. Before J-1 and his blueprints can be transported to Ameri-Inc. headquarters a rogue Ameri-Inc. agent attempts to steal them. 
“Anatomy of a Humachine is a science fiction epic spanning two centuries and crossing two planets. Book I: To Dream centers on J-1, an artificial intelligence struggling to find his humanity; the grieving scientist who created him; the ruthless head of the corporation who owns him; and the iron-willed leader of a rebel force seeking revenge for the death of her family and the destruction of her planet.”

Do you write every day?
This is my writing schedule: Monday through Friday, minimum three hours a day (though I rarely go over three hours). I’m strict about it and only break it if I have no choice.

Who are some local writers and artists you’d like to see featured at Miami Writers and Books?
There are so many amazing local writers, including, but not limited to, Mike Creeden, Jan Becker, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Corey Ginsberg, Fabienne Sylvia Josaphat-Merritt, Nina Romano, M.J. Fievre, Rita Fidler Dorn, Cathleen Chambless, Laura McDermott, and, of course, John Dufresne, Lynne Barrett, Julie Marie-Wade, Campbell McGrath, and Denise Duhamel.

What else would you like to say to readers interested in your work?
Check out my website, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m easy to find and love to hear from anyone interested in reading and writing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The gentleman in the photo is my friend Sam Hazelrig. Sam figures in Miami literary history in several ways. One, as one of the co-heroes in Ron Oliver's book, Mock Two. Mock Two is a novel written about fighter pilots like Sam and Ron and the wild life they led during the VietNam war and back here as bachelors in 1960's era Coconut Grove. The Grove at that time, just imagine. That's where 
Fred Neil and friends played music, where Spanky MacFarlane met them and got together a group called Spanky and Our Gang. Sam continued his legendary life, and figured as a central character in my story, "Ladies Man" in the collection Believable Lies. His life story lives on in the hearts of friends and family from California to Florida, Tampa and Miami, Alabama to Washington, and we share this with his lovely widow, Gabrielle Ayala, a modern-day Delta Lady if there ever was one.

This post is to show that Miami Writers and Books has a far reach, and will include folks near and far, like James Jones, who taught briefly at Florida International University, Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, Peter Matthiessen, whose Killing Mister Watson tells the history of the Ten Thousand Islands, Ted Smallwood's store, and how Alligator Alley got built. More to follow.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Checking out the morning news, I came across the story "Playwright Who Inspired 'Moonlight' Comes Home To South Florida High School" at WSVN.com/News. I read with great interest how Tarell Alvin McCraney grew up in Liberty City and attended the New World School of the Arts, the SoFla school mentioned in the article. I also read that his play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue had been made into the award-winning film Moonlight by another talented man from Liberty City, director Barry Jenkins. The film was shot in Miami, as you can see from the official trailer on YouTube.

What I didn't read there I found by a little research. McCraney also taught until just recently at the University of Miami. He is now the department chairman of Drama at Yale University, where he won his graduate degree.He also had a Writing Residency at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, and has won Whiting Awards and GLAAD Media Award For Outstanding New York Theater: Broadway and Off-Broadway, as mentioned in his interview for The Guardian .In 2013, he was awarded a MacArthur "genius" Grant.His books include The Brother/Sister Plays , Choir Boy and American Trade.

In his numerous interviews, for The Guardian, NBC News, the New York Times, the LA Times and others, (look at his Google links here), he talks about growing up poor and black and gay with an addictive parent in Liberty City. He also talks about the responsibility of art to show us the world as it really is and to help us learn to see, to change and to grow.

I am amazed, the more I learn about this talented young man. All the best to Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Now that I have a domain name, I'm looking to build a website to connect to this blog. All the ads you see for free and easy website building, you'd think it would be free and easy, but it's not. But first I need to work on design. And project focus.

Like: Who are the Miami writers and what are their books, articles, movies, web videos, etc.?

My plan is to have a list of writers I know or know of or would like to know or wish I had known.

List: John Dufresne, Les Standiford, Lynne Barrett, Mike Creeden, Louis K. Lowy, Nina Romano, Leonard Nash, Gonzalo Barr, Denise Duhamel, Campbell McGrath, James W. Hall, Cindy Chinelly,
Neil Plakcy, Preston Allen, the late Barbara Parker. This is a partial list with a FIU connection.

Now I will add hyperlinks to each of their individual websites. Click on each name to go there.

That took about half an hour. What I want is to have photographs of each, and hyperlinks from there. And interviews. I need to get the email addresses of everyone, establish a format of interviews, (I prefer written questions and answers as more accurate---after all, we're all writers), and then establish a link to places where someone can actually purchase or read the author's work. Not every reader will be able to go to Books&Books, for example, though most will want to do so. Or they will not know that John Dufresne has written the scripts for the online video series, Lucky Jay Or that Les Standiford's book The Man Who Invented Christmas is being made into a movie. Or that Louis K. Lowy will have his book launch for his third novel To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine January 28 at Books&Books in Coral Gables. That's the info I want to get out to the world.

Here's my info: Neil Crabtree

By linking to Amazon Author Page, you can see I have a lot of work to do. It looks awful. But you can also my two books for sale, Believable Lies and The Barricades of Heaven .

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Miami has a great literary tradition.There are well-established Creative Writing programs at Florida International University, and at the University of Miami, and Miami Dade College actively hosts Miami Book Fair in conjunction with Books&Books owner Mitchell Kaplan. The Miami Book Fair is probably the largest book fair in the South, and draws visitors (and writers) from around the world. Books&Books is the number one independent bookstore in America, and has recently expanded into the Caribbean islands as well.

I want this blog to be a central site for local news about writers, their works, their projects, and how to get their books to read. The other day I was startled walking through Barnes&Noble to see how few books by local authors are offered, and found none as featured products, though I know several Miami area writers have new releases. These books are available. This blog will help you find them. I'll also post Author Events, Book Fair news, educational opportunities, promotions, and all the lit news that fits.

I myself am a writer, and have experience with eBooks and with self-publishing of a novel and a short story collection. The self-pub industry is huge, treacherous, and worth a few posts on my experiences with Amazon and with Smashwords, the two largest distributors of self-published work. I currently have an inactive blog and a Facebook page, both titled Smashwords Books Reviewed, where I encourage the self-pub writers to make their own reviews. If you have any experience reading self-published authors, you'll know why I stopped after a very short time. There are more self-published writers out there than there are readers.Re-writing and editing are not their strong suits. The few good writers get lost in the huge pile of not-very-good writers, and buying reviews to move up the Amazon sale chart is standard practice. I stopped writing all together for several years after my self-pub experience. But now I'm back, with a new perspective. And my next book will sold to a brick and mortar publisher, even if I have to re-write 100 times.

Welcome. Send me your news. Let's have some fun.