Why a character with so little redeeming features?

I’ve been working on a story entitled “Key West” and sharing drafts with my wife and daughter and a friend. Little did I expect that these three important people in my life would so uniformly tell me that my story “wasn’t my best effort,” as my daughter tried to put it tactfully. It seems that my main character, Eli, is not a very nice person, and the story stays in his head throughout its 3700 words. I have been taught that stories about unpleasant people can be good stories, but that the protagonist must have some redeeming characteristics, something that will make the reader care about him even if he’s not the type of person one would select as a companion. Well, I thought that’s what I’d done in my story, but apparently not.

So now what? Either I need to invent all kinds of additional redeeming characteristics for Eli and work them into the story or have the other main character, Eli’s son, put his father in his place. Or, as my wife has asked, “What’s the point of this story, anyway?” The point was to try to entertain. Instead, in all three readers, I have evoked feelings of anger or disappointment. Why anger? Because the obnoxious main character has a dim view of poor people and those without a college degree, because the well-bred son uses the term “ain’t” when talking to his dad, because Eli tries to push his son into moving towards a more middle-class role in the world. Why disappointment? Because the story doesn’t end with a bang but with a whimper. 

The great thing about having people read your stories who will be honest is that it gives you a chance to do better before releasing the story to the unforgiving public. “Remember what the reader wants,” I need to keep telling myself and then applying my energies to that end.

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Why are dogs …?

Why are dogs?

I’m not looking for the scientific answer, although evolutionary biology is certainly part of the puzzle. I’m thinking, rather, of the emotional answer.

Our ancestors needed close friends of different species. They needed scavengers to pick up and eat their garbage, thus keeping other, more dangerous, carnivores away. They needed fuzzy little companions to pet and to talk to without threat of being answered. They favored the cute ones who wagged their tails. They wanted some extra warm bodies around on those cold nights.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That’s an expression that wasn’t meant to explain why dogs, but it works. We invented dogs because we needed them. On a larger scale, our needs helped to create life.

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When Is Long-Distance Running Like Football?

So when is long-distance running exactly like football? Well, never, except when the weather is terrible.

 I’ve just started running road races this past September, most of them with my daughter. It’s been a brutal winter, yet a scheduled race is almost never postponed because of the weather. Let it be freezing, raining, snowing, hailing, sleeting … whatever. Still, there will be hundreds of people of all ages who appear, ready to run, the elements be damned. Now, if that isn’t just like football, what is?

 It started on Thanksgiving weekend at the Turkey Burn-Off Five Miler, where there was ice to run over. Then it continued in mid-December in Rockville at an 8k race when there was even more snow and ice to avoid … except that one couldn’t avoid it at all, except by running in the street and subjecting oneself to the risk of dismemberment by car. Then, cold and ice continued to flummox me at the New Year’s Day 5k. It warmed up a bit in mid-January for a four-mile race in Silver Spring, when we only had to dodge the incessant rain. That was actually one of my best races. (I will skip the five-mile race in Olney when the only problem was cold.) Then the cold continued for the 12k at Lake Burke on March 2 (one could see parts of the lake frozen), except my daughter tells me it got nice near the end. Sure, but how many big puddles did I have to run through first and how many times did I need to run on slippery mud to avoid those puddles? That was 82 minutes of bliss, I must say.

The corkers, however, were this past weekend. I ran Sunday morning’s 10k at Seneca Lake State Park entirely in the rain — and at my speed, that’s spending almost an hour and ten minutes in the rain, not counting all the time before the race — and with a strong, biting wind in my face for half the race. However, that was nothing like the ten-mile race my daughter ran yesterday afternoon in Frederick, with rain, snow, and hail, the temperature dropping to 34 degrees, the wind picking up in ferocity.

Yes, the runners I encounter seem to thrive with adversity. They’re going to run regardless, and the worse the weather is, the worse all the running conditions are, it seems the happier are the contestants. I just have to bend my mind towards that.

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Music in Life

How does one convey the genius of a world class pianist in a review? It’s not easy, but I’ll try. Umi Garrett’s second album, “Music in Life,” exudes a spiritual freshness that reflects the combination of her deep passion for the piano combined with her uncanny ability to convey that passion. I was particularly enamored of her rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, in which the Adagio Sostenuto sang as movingly as I’ve ever heard it performed, the Allegreto: Minuet sparkled, and the Presto Agitato articulated so beautifully, with so much feeling, that I wanted to cry in response. Ms. Garrett tells us in her program notes that she has “had passion for music throughout [her] whole life” and that she wants her music to mean something, to help people make “strong connections” with each other. She has succeeded in bringing that passion to her listeners, who will be forever grateful to have discovered such a depth of humanity, feeling, and talent.
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Gridlock! A proposed Constitutional amendment.

Although it won’t solve all of our country’s problems, one fix seems obvious.  We need a constitutional amendment to abolish the House of Representatives.  Democracy can be achieved with one legislative body, and we can enlarge the Senate by having at least three senators from each state, so that in every state at least one senator will be elected statewide every two years (for a six-year term).

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Free this week!



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Liberal! Is the name the problem?

A Facebook friend, maybe someone I’ve met once, maybe someone I’ve befriended only because we have a lot of common friends, noticed that it was my birthday recently and left me a FB message: “Happy Birthday to my favorite Lib.”  Does he think I’m a liberal, I wonder, because I’ve posted a message recommending abolishment of the Second Amendment?  Or because I’ve posted proposed legislation requiring every person and company involved in the manufacture, sale, ownership, and use of guns be held liable for all murder and mayhem perpetrated with those guns?  I can see how someone might get the impression that I was a die-hard liberal from those posts.  That someone would be correct.

 But, if I’m one of those liberals, the l-word which is a dirty word these days to so many other Americans, then what does it mean that I did not berate the jury that found George Zimmerman innocent of homicide in the death of Trayvon Martin.  What does it mean that I defend pharmaceutical companies in civil litigation, when any true liberal ought to think that someone suing such defendants must always be in the right or must always be given money regardless?  What does it mean that I’m much more sympathetic to police officers these days and much more appreciative of the risks they take than I was when, as a much younger lawyer, I prosecuted police brutality cases?

 Could it be that labels for people, as convenient as they may be, are ultimately lies?  That truth about people and labeling of people cannot reasonably co-exist?  When it comes to mental illness, for example, could it be that our elaborate names for various diseases shield real knowledge of the people who purportedly bear those diseases?   It’s a question that is never far from my fiction.


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