Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Marvelous Garden of Words--Blogging for Patry Francis

If you don't know Patry Francis, go immediately to her blog, simply wait, and experience some of the liveliest and most elegant prose on the Internet. Then come back here and order The Liar's Diary, her first novel, which has just come out in paperback. When The Liar's Diary was published in hardback last year, Patry and her many friends set up "Liar's Parties" across the nation to promote the book. Last fall, we learned that Patry had been diagnosed with a particularly aggreressive form of cancer. After two surgeries and continuing therapy, her prognosis looks good. But she's in no condition to do a book promotion.

Karen Dionne of Backspace Writers' Conference came up with the idea of bloggers promoting the book on their sites. And if anybody deserves our support, it's Patry. To give you an idea of what kind of person she is, take a look at her blog. Instead of focusing on herself, she tells us stories about her interaction with others--the seemingly obnoxious woman who gave a lesson to Patry and to all of us, the wonderful tale of her baby grandson Hank breaking the tension of an oncologist's waiting room. Or just the view of the city of Boston from her Massachusetts General Hospital waiting room. She portrayed that wintry urban skyline as The Marvelous Garden.

When I first discovered Patry's blog more than two years ago, it was called The Marvelous Garden. I've always thought of that as an apt title for her range of writing, though I understand why she's gone back to her original title, simply wait. (She changed long before she was diagnosed with cancer.)

The Liar's Diary has memorable characters, suspense, and what one writer called one of the most unreliable narrators in fiction. After reading it a year ago, I still think of Jeanne and Ali, and Jeannes's troubled son Jamie.

The Amazon.com link to her book is here. For Amazon.com uk, click here.
Amazon.com Canada has it here. And if you're looking for the Liar's Diary (Tagebuch einer Lügnerin) auf deutsch, hier.

One more thing about Patry: She sent me an encouraging comment on my Dickens Challenge project from her hospital room! That's the kind of person she is.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Point For Hillary

I've personally expressed support for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. And I still believe he's the candidate who can recreate the optimism and enthusiasm about our country that's been missing for so long. But I'm troubled about the latest tiff over the civil rights movement. Senator Hillary Clinton reminded us that without the support of President Lyndon Johnson, the great civil rights bills of 1964 and 1965 would never have made it through Congress. She's right. Johnson, who had been Senate Majority Leader before becoming vice president, knew which arms to twist and what promises to make in order to get the bills through Congress.

Johnson's skill at manipulating Congress does not detract one whit from the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., James Forman, Ralph Abernathy, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, or any of the other courageous black men and women of the civil rights movement. Senator Clinton was saying that without strong presidential leadership, progressive legislation is not likely to get through Congress. And she's right.

I still support Obama. But it's troubling that people in his campaign have made this unwarranted attack on what is simply a true statement.

Chapter 6 will be in by tomorrow, honest!

I got stuck on Chapter 6--wanted to use the opening of my favorite poem, "Thomas the Rhymer," for the introduction. I had already given Helena the grass-green skirt and the half-Scottish ancestry. But then I decided it was too much--I've got too many references from the New Testament to the medieval Free Spirit movement to the Democratic conventions of 1948 and 1968 (the '48 convention is referenced in Chapter 6.). The Rhymer overlay wasn't necessary, even if there is some parallel between Timothy and Thomas and Helena and the Queen of Fair Elfland.

I've reworked the story without referencing Thomas, but I had to head for work before I could get the post in.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Iowa Caucuses--A personal retrospective

It's finally caucus time, and the state that I once called home can recede from the center of national attention. I thought I'd recycle a post from last year which explains the origins of the first-in-the-nation caucuses, and reflects on the 1976 Democratic caucuses, in which I played a small part. My precinct caucus voted me to be a delegate to the county convention, and from there I won a seat at the district and state conventions. It's there--at the congressional district and state conventions--that the actual delegates to the national convention are selected. So the caucuses are really something of a straw poll. Iowa's actual delegation to the national convention may not reflect the results of the caucuses, as every delegate has the right to change his or her mind, and candidates who receive fewer than fifteen per cent of the vote at cannot go on to the next level. But the news media have made the caucuses the first test of a presidential race. What goes on later, in a state which has a very small delegation at the convention, doesn't much matter to the media.

Until 1972, caucuses were held in March or April, and Iowa had virtually no influence on presidential nominations. But that year two things happened: Harold Hughes, the popular ex-governor and senator, was considering a run for the presidency, and the complicated McGovern Commission rules for selecting delegates went into effect. Iowa Democrats decided to hold their caucuses early that year to allow more time to work through the McGovern Commission rules, and to give Hughes a boost in his run for the White House.

Alas, Hughes bowed out of the race, saying he knew he could never push the button to fire our nuclear missles, even if the Soviets launched first. He endorsed Edmund Muskie, who won the caususes. George McGovern managed a strong showing. It was not until four years later that the Iowa caucuses became the media spectacle they are today. I was living in Iowa City that year, and was working the precincts for Representative Morris K. (Mo) Udall of Arizona. He was one of about a dozen Democratic candidates in the Bicentennial Year. A bumper sticker that year, taking off on a McDonald's Big Mac commercial, read something like:
shappshriverudallwallace...on a sesame seed bun!"

Udall had the problem of telling too many jokes. He was a serious candidate, and his message of conservation was right for the time, but people didn't take him seriously because he couln't stop telling jokes. Instead, Iowans--even very liberal Iowans who had campaigned for Gene McCarthy in '68 and George McGovern in '72--seemed to be backing a conservative former one-term Georgia governor who had been a supporter of the Vietnam War.

I saw Jimmy Carter at a forum at the Iowa Memorial Union. I had a work-study job driving the campus bus (Cambus), and we drivers were in an adjacent room, signing up for shifts. While waiting for our names to be called, some of us looked in on the candidate. I thought he was boring. Of course, after seeing the trailer for the movie "Rocky," I said that the last thing this country needed or wanted was another fight film. My finger was not exactly on the national pulse of that decade.

But I also remember walking around campus that winter, and seeing the chartered Greyhound buses parked by the Fieldhouse. The "H" in CHARTER had been taped over. Scores, perhaps hundreds of Georgians had left their subtropical world for the snows of Iowa. They did what the students for McCarthy had done in 1968: knock on doors and make personal contact with the voters. Even then, Carter was unable to win the caucuses. He came in second, to "Uncommitted." In the Iowa caucuses, you can beat somebody with nobody. And Carter's spin doctors (I'm not sure they used that term then, but there were people who did the same thing) convinced the news media that coming in second to Uncommitted was indeed a great victory. He went on to win the New Hampshire primary. In spite of the "Anybody but Carter" movement in the West, where Frank Church and Jerry Brown beat the Georgian in several primaries, Carter's people held onto their lead and swept the 1976 convention.

Carter beat Gerald Ford in a very close election that year. Ford might very well have won, had it not been for Ronald Reagan, whose attacks on Ford during the Republican primaries weakened the president.

It was a bizarre campaign, with dozens of candidates, from Ronald Reagan and George Wallace on the right to Mo Udall and Fred Harris on the left. I had friends who wouldn't vote for Udall because he was a Mormon, and supported Harris, a populist from Oklahoma. (Harris was a born-again radical; in 1968 he was a Johnson/Humphrey man.) Since then, the Iowa caucuses have been more important in winnowing out the weaker candidates or persuading the eventual winners to shake up their campaigns. But in 1976 the Iowa caucuses really did make a president.