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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The High Springs Herald


The death of an institution is often as painful as the loss of a person.

"I'm gutted," I told Ronald Dupont, Jr., publisher and editor of The North Florida Herald, after learning of the newspaper's recent demise.

The Herald, previously known as The High Springs Herald, had printed a weekly edition since 1952. I learned the last edition had rolled off the presses four weeks ago. It had a print circulation of 3,300 (roughly the size of High Springs, Florida) and its Web site receives an average of 2,000 unique daily visitors. The paper's coverage are included the towns of High Springs, Alachua, Newberry, Fort White and Jonesville in Alachua, Columbia and Gilchrist counties.

"The Herald meant a lot to many of us," I told Dupont. Long before Dupont had purchased The Herald, I had interned at the paper, when it was under the helm of publisher Bob Sharkey. Two years ago, Dupont had invited me to revisit the paper and regale his staff with tales of my tenure at The Herald. It was on my "One Day" list of things to do; I thought I would wait until I had collected all of my journalistic experiences into a book and hit High Springs with copies. I still plan to write the book, but I'll have to cross the visit off my list.

Dupont cited the recession as the reason for the closure, noting in the past two years paid advertisers had reduced the size and frequency of their ads or gone out of business. I suspect, from a gander at the paper's Web site, local politics may also have played a role.

It's not the first time The High Springs Herald has folded. Charles Hesser published its first incarnation in 1928 but like now, an economic downturn, in that case the Great Depression, forced the paper's closure in 1933.

In 1941, three weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, A.E. Wilson revived The High Springs Herald but it did not survive the decade. Then, in 1952, Elbridge Cann began publishing The High Springs Herald, which had been continuously published until last month.

Cann retired in 1960, turning the reins over to Laron Cain and Bob Sharkey. After Cain had a heart attack, my old boss Bob Sharkey and his wife Jill took over the paper. From 1975 through 1979, two editions were printed: The High Springs Herald and The Alachua Herald, and my articles appeared in both.

In 1991, the Sharkeys sold The Herald to Campus Communications Inc., the parent company of The Independent Florida Alligator (the student newspaper of my alma matter, the University of Florida). Dupont purchased The Herald in January 2009.

This January, I plan to blog about some of my experiences at The Herald. Until then, I shall mourn the loss of a piece of my personal history.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's Sunday...Do You Know Where Your Newspaper Is?


"Shhh!"  I'm about to reveal a little known tidbit about myself: my secret avocation as a practical joker. When the local newspaper interviewed me after my book Randoms had been named a finalist for the NIE award, I rushed out and bought a dozen copies of the paper to clip the article and mail to friends. (I know, it's a sad commentary I have only a dozen friends, or at least a dozen who can read). After retiring my scissors, I was left with 12 thick copies of the Sunday edition. Being a nice guy, I left one on my neighbor's doormat. She took it inside. This seemed an efficient way to get rid of the excess newspapers, so I left another on her doormat. She took it in. Later, she went out to the store; another Sunday edition was waiting when she returned.

For the next three days, whenever I saw she had taken in the newspaper, I left a replacement on her mat. She couldn't imagine where all these newspapers were coming from. When I had run out of all dozen editions, we happened to meet outside and we chatted, as neighbors do.

"I"m so mad," I said. "I'm canceling my newspaper subscription! I'm paying for home delivery but it never arrives! I must have called the newspaper a dozen times. Those liars swear they keep delivering it and that one of my neighbors must be stealing it. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? What kind of lowlife neighbor would steal someone's newspaper off his doorstep?"

She turned red as a beet and slunk away, trying to figure out how to dispose of the evidence without me noticing a dozen Sunday editions in her trash.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lost in Translation?


The Amazon product description for my eStorybook "The Leprechaun" reads: "A drunken Irishman stumbles across a man he believes to be a leprechaun, who shows him the true treasure he already has but doesn't appreciate. A short story for all ages by Keith B. Darrell. 4,041 words."

Unless you happen to stumble across an obscure site called Leprechaun Books.

On that site, the wee folk appear to have toyed with the description: "A inebriated Irishman stumbles opposite a male he believes to be a leprechaun, who shows him a loyal value he already has though doesn’t appreciate. A reduced story for all ages by Keith B. Darrell. 4,041 words."

"Reduced" story? If that isn't the leprechaun's pot calling the kettle black...


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Domino Theory


Something to ponder as you gather with your families for your Thanksgiving feast:

In the November 28th issue of Time magazine, Dheepthi Namasivayam writes: “With debt ballooning and investors in panic, policymakers may need to make tougher choices than ever before in allocating tax receipts. Will they fund health care benefits for old ladies, buy more tanks or hire more teachers?

This started me thinking. In 1971, the Soviet Union proposed a conference of the five nuclear powers (the USSR, the USA, France, Great Britain, and China) to discuss nuclear disarmament. In 1973, the UN adopted a resolution to reduce military budgets. The two superpowers, the Soviets and the Americans, signed a number of treaties (like the SALT and START treaties) to reduce the number of weapons in the world.

We are in the midst of an unparalleled worldwide economic crisis. Greece and Italy may default. The Euro may collapse. The United States has lost its Triple A credit rating and is mired in a depression. China’s housing bubble is cresting. The global economy is more interlinked and interdependent than at any time in history – which means we can expect to see a domino effect when large nations’ economies fall. No country is safe. And no single country can ride to our rescue this time. We are all in the same boat… and it is sinking fast.

Maybe it’s time we (the citizens of the world) all started cooperating with each other to solve this mutual problem. Do we (all nations) need health care for our citizens? The answer is yes. Do we (all nations) need teachers to educate our younger citizens? The answer is yes. Do we (all nations) need to buy more tanks and weapons of mass destruction? What if, instead of spending our scarce resources (money) on funding newer and better ways to kill each other, we cut or eliminated our military spending for the next five years? We keep the weapons we have (which could blow up the planet 100 times over) but simply stop buying new ones; bring home the troops; close bases in lands where we’re not at war; and end those wars we’re in. And when I say “we”, I don’t just mean the United States… I mean every nation on Earth.

What I’m proposing is the radical idea that we place a five-year moratorium on trying to kill each other, and use the trillions of dollars in savings to restore the global economy. Every nation could divert its military budget to rebuilding infrastructure, educating its populace for the 21st century, and waging wars on diseases like cancer and diabetes instead of on other humans.

Whether we, the citizens of the world, tumble as individual nations like dominos off the precipice or collectively cooperate toward a common goal of global peace and a return to fiscal stability, if not prosperity, through mutual, multilateral reduction or moratorium on military spending is a decision we must make now. Across the would, beginning with the Arab Spring and continuing with the Occupy movement, citizens are demanding their governments stop behaving like bickering children and assume responsibility for the citizens they govern. With the world economy teetering on the brink of collapse, let us all stare into the abyss and ask – and answer –  the question: “Will we fund health care for the sick and elderly, hire more teachers, or buy more tanks?”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Junior High Was Never Like This


When I was in eighth grade, I wore bell-bottoms, like most boys then. If I had come to school in high heels wearing makeup and earrings, I would have been teased and probably beaten up – not just that day, but likely every day throughout the school year. But I wouldn’t have been shot in the back of the head by one of my classmates. Larry King wasn’t as fortunate to have grown up when I did.

Larry was an eighth-grader attending an Oxnard, California junior high school at a time when guns, rather than pencil cases, are de rigueur for students. Larry, 15, made no secret of the fact he was gay, openly gay, even flamboyantly so. Again, when I was in eighth grade we had strict school dress codes that forbid boys from wearing short pants (in Florida, no less!) so we would wear two sets of clothes each day: our dress clothes for school, and our casual clothes (jeans and sneakers) for after school. Society and the media placed less emphasis on sex and sexuality among adolescents back then and homosexuality was a closeted issue, so if we had gay classmates, we never knew they existed. We certainly couldn’t judge by their apparel back then. I believe schools should have liberal dress codes – not too restrictive, but short of “anything goes”. There’s a point at which fashion can become distracting in the classroom, and boys dressing in high heels wearing makeup and earrings constitute a distraction – but that should not be a capital offense.

Brandon McInerney was a 14-year-old classmate of Larry’s. He didn’t like homosexuals in general, and he didn’t like Larry in particular. Brandon did like Nazis, however. Police found Nazi-inspired drawings and artifacts at his house. I don’t like Nazis and I don’t like Neo-Nazis. As Americans, we fought a war against the Nazis, because everything they stood for was the antithesis of what America stands for and believes in. The idea of Neo-Nazis living in the United States is repugnant to me. They are un-American. If you truly believe in and support the Nazi ideology, than you should pack your bags and get the hell out of America. You don’t belong here and we don’t want you here.

Brandon came to school with a gun because we live in a society where 14-year-olds have access to guns. When I was 14, the world was a different place. We had pellet guns and BB pistols and slingshots, but not handguns that fired real bullets. None of us could get our hands on a real gun; hell, we were lucky if we could get our hands on a copy of Playboy!

Brandon calmly sat behind Larry during their computer lab in school, pulled out his gun, and fired two bullets into the back of the 15-year-old’s head. When boys teased Larry, he would tease them back by flirting with them. One student said Larry had flirted with Brandon the day before Brandon shot him. Larry died two days later. Brandon pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree murder. I’m not a California lawyer, but the facts of the case sure sound like premeditated murder to me. But anyway, the plea means Brandon will serve 15 years in prison for murder.

Brandon was initially charged as an adult. There was no dispute during the trial that Brandon fired the fatal shots. The trial ended in a hung jury. Several jurors said Brandon should never have been tried as an adult. I disagree. He should have been tried as an adult, convicted, and sentenced to death for premeditated murder. The jurors, and many members of the public, argue a 14-year-old is too young to be put to death. I say, why not? A 14-year-old executed a 15-year-old with no compunction. Why should he be spared the same fate he dished out?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Authors Occupy Wall Street


Several weeks ago, I added my name to the growing list of authors expressing support for the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The full list of authors can be found at http://occupywriters.com/.

On Tuesday, at the behest of NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, police launched a military-style surprise raid on the protesters in Zucotti Park. Police prevented reporters from entering the site to report on the removal and how it was handled, a clear violation of the First Amendment. Even news helicopters were banned from the airspace above the park. NY police also ordered doormen to keep residents inside their homes so they could not watch the raid from the street. House arrest of US citizens? This was not ordered for "public safety" but rather to avoid public scrutiny of the raid and the tactics.

Didn't work, though. An MSNBC stringer was at the park and captured footage of the raid on her cell phone.

Occupy Wall Street had a court order allowing protesters to return. Bloomberg refused, saying he hadn't seen it. Millions of other people had seen it, however; the court order was published on The New York Times website. Guess Mikie doesn't read the Times. After all, that's the millionaire mayor's competition. He owns Bloomberg News -- even if he still hasn't grasped all the annoying little details of that troublesome First Amendment thing.

Yesterday, an 84-year-old woman was pepper sprayed by police as they raided an Occupy Seattle protest site.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, during an appearance on a BBC radio show, confirmed a suspicion that a series of raids on protest sites may have been part of a coordinated effort by the federal government. “I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation," Quan said.

Journalist Rick Ellis claims a Department of Justice source told him the Occupy raids were "coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI, and other federal police agencies."

If the federal government is conspiring to suppress the First Amendment rights of citizens to assembly peaceably, then we need to be concerned.

The First Amendment also prohibits the government from impinging on the right of Freedom of Speech. The protesters will be heard; if not in Zucotti Park, then elsewhere, but they -- and their message -- will return. You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Politically Incorrect


No sooner had I posted the previous post than I came across the same topics being discussed on Tess Gerritsen's blog, Novel Rocket .

I have had readers confuse my characters' words and philosophies with my own. If I have a character who is a misogynist or a racist, that does not mean that these characters represent my views. As an author, I must write in many different voices, and rarely (at least in my fiction) are any of those voices my own.

If an author is writing about murderers, rapists, and drug dealers, it would be unrealistic not to expect to hear curse words within their dialogue. If the protagonist is a prostitute, there may be graphic references to sex or more colloquial phrases used to describe certain body parts or sexual acts. If a character is a racist, especially if the story is set in a racist environment, readers may expect some racial epithets coming from the mouths of certain characters. But keep in mind, you, as the reader, are hearing only the words of the fictional characters, not the views of the author.

Just as an actor may bear no resemblance to the role he plays, an author may bear no resemblance to the characters he writes. Yet you, as a reader, may still find some stories offensive. I have written stories dealing with domestic abuse, torture, bestiality, drug addiction, war, politics, religion, totalitarianism, assassination, homosexuality, gay prostitution, insurance companies, drunkenness, death, the Holocaust, murder, egotism, loneliness, dementia, aging, and racism, to name a few. Often my stories are raw. I don't sugar-coat and I avoid euphemisms. My characters don't say "gosh" and "darn". I write for grownups, not children. Those easily offended by mere words or concepts, should not read my books. I won't mind; I’m only irked by the hypocrites who complains about my use of “bad words” or “blasphemous ideas” but rave about HBO’s “True Blood” or “Deadwood” - there is more sexual deviancy and foul language in one night of viewing HBO than in my entire body of published work.

For those interested in the topic, there’s an ongoing discussion on political correctness in the Kindleboards Forum.

The other thing that irks me is the Ten Percenters. These are the folks who read the 10 percent preview on Amazon, or only read midway through a story or novel, and proceed to render a judgment based on a partial reading. One cannot evaluate a work until it has been read in its entirety, and placed within its overall context. For example, if you watched only the first two-thirds of the Bruce Willis movie “The Sixth Sense” and wrote a review based on that partial viewing, without having seen the ending which places everything else in the film in context, you would have missed the whole point of the story.

So, don’t confuse the author with his characters, and read a story or novel through completely and judge it in its proper context.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

From the Mailbag


I learned a long time ago not to publish email addresses on web pages because there are nasty spammers out there who use things called "scrappers" to collect email addresses off sites to add to their mailing lists. Yet, my clever readers have figured out they can email me through the Amber Book Company website. (Hmm, since the email link is listed in every book and ebook, maybe they're not that clever, after all). Nonetheless, on occasion I receive emailed questions that I feel deserve a wider audience, so from time-to-time I'll peruse the mail sack and post a few here.

Q: I read your posts on Dark Shadows and I was a fan of the series too. Would you ever consider writing a Dark Shadows story or book?

A: I might consider it but it will never happen. Dark Shadows is a licensed property and legally I can't market a Dark Shadows story or book without authorization of the rights holder. I don't write "fan fiction", although I did come up with a premise for a Dark Shadows tale but that's as far as I can go.

I enjoy creating my own characters and universe and working with them, so I hope to create a generation of ardent "Halos & Horns" fans who are as enthusiastic about my fantasy series as I was about Dark Shadows.

Q: Are you an ax-murderer? You must be a depraved person to have created a character like Nathaniel Thornhill in "Paved With Good Intentions".

A: Readers must learn to distinguish an author from his characters. It's fiction; they aren't real people. A fictional character is not a portrayal of the author. If I write about a cannibal, it does not mean I am writing from personal experience of dining on passersby. If I write about a rapist, or a sadist, or a murderer, it does not mean I am one. I do a great deal of research to make my characters appear realistic, but they are not real and they are not self-portraits. It reminds me of soap opera actors who complain fans would accost them at restaurants and lambast them with a harangue about "their" despicable behavior toward another character on the show, not realizing the TV show was make-believe and its characters actors.

Having said that, I do believe Nathaniel Thornhill is the most evil character I've written; and that's saying a lot, considering he is a mortal who appears in a book filled with vampires and demons from Hell. Most of my villains have some redeeming quality that humanizes them, but Thornhill was pure evil.

Q: Do you worry about offending readers?

A: No. I don't set out to offend anyone, but everyone has some topic or concept they find offensive. If a writer censors himself in a futile effort to be nonoffensive, he will produce only pablum.

Pablum is defined as "worthless or oversimplified ideas" and "a soft form of cereal for infants". I write for grownups.

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Keep sending those emails! I'll need more material for another blog soon.