Saturday, November 27, 2010

Author Bumping - James A. Michener

Everybody is somebody’s “Cookie”

I continue my strange tales of bumping into well known authors. As you might recall...I've bounced off Robert B. Parker's belly and spent time with Stephen King. I seem to find myself in the right place at the right time.

It was 1992 and I was involved in bringing an innovative program to a college in southwest Florida. The Academy of Senior Professionals offered an opportunity for retired folks to come together with outstanding senior citizens, and to interact in a learning environment with other retirees and also college students.  One of our early resident scholars was James A. Michener. His reputation as a writer was legend, but at the time I knew little about him personally.

Michener was a novelist, who perhaps more than any other single author, made foreign environments accessible to Americans through his fiction. He wrote sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and blending historical facts into the stories. He was known for the meticulous research behind his work. As a child, whenever I heard his name spoken, I thought of the lyrics from that old song… “Far away places with strange sounding names.”

His major books include Tales of the South Pacific (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948), Hawaii, The Drifters, Centennial, Chesapeake, Caribbean, Caravans, Alaska, Texas, and Poland. Michener's  first book, Tales of the South Pacific was published when he was forty. The story was taken from his notes and impressions during World War II, when, as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, he was assigned to the South Pacific Ocean as a naval historian. The book became the basis for the Broadway and film musical South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

His novels sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide. Hawaii (published in 1959) was based on his extensive research. Nearly all of his subsequent novels were based on detailed historical, cultural, and even geological research. Centennial, was made into a popular twelve-part television miniseries of the same name and aired on NBC from October 1978 through February 1979. The story documented several generations of families in the West.

One of the college project directors approached me. “I know you’re working on a novel about Florida. James Michener’s holding a small workshop for a select group. I can get you in… if you’d like,” she said. When I caught my breath, I thanked her and offered to do her laundry for the next five years.

Michener and I soon became friends. My epic Florida based novel had a long way to go, but he liked the premise. The one big piece of advice I took away from his classes was “never stop the story to do research.” Get the story told, then go back and do your homework. Story is all important. If you let yourself get off track chasing down facts, you may not return to the point of your tale.

I soon discovered we shared a common love for Poland. Michener was once hired by a television company to travel to a foreign country to shoot a documentary. He was offered to go anywhere in the world and decided to make his first trip to Poland. He made several trips back to Poland and conducted an extensive study of that country’s history and culture. He began writing the book, Poland in 1979 and it was published in 1983. He had a genuine love for the country. Poland received very favorable reviews and was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

The book, written in an episodic format, tells the story of three families and the many generations of each family throughout the history of the country. The three families (Buk, Bukowski, and Lubonski) are fictional as are the other characters in the book. The plot, however, takes place throughout the history of Poland and contains many historic people. The events are largely real events in which the fictional characters interact. The saga spans over seven hundred years. The scope of the story boggles the mind.

The year before we met, I had backpacked through Poland looking for my roots. My grandparents came from Poland. I chose to travel alone staying at monasteries and sleeping in the back of churches. Michener was intrigued, as my experiences were out a bit out of the ordinary and didn’t parallel his.

This great and gentle man was pleased to be able to share his feelings about the country and people. We discussed Solidarity and the folks I met as I journeyed alone through the land of my ancestors.  Michener eagerly picked my memories, comparing his experiences with mine.  There is a wonderful line he wrote for one of his characters in Poland: “A Pole is a man born with a sword in his right hand, a brick in his left. When the battle is over, he starts to rebuild.” I found that to be so true of the people I encountered, from the elderly monks who were once soldiers fighting Nazis to the college professors who were quietly re-establishing their country as the communist regime crumbled around them.

Like Michener's other works, he included an acknowledgments section at the beginning of the book; however due to the political turmoil in Poland at the time, he decided not to include the names of the people he traveled with for fear of persecutions against them. He wrote: "Normally, as I have done in my other novels, I would list their names, their impressive occupations, their achievements in research and scholarship, but I cannot ascertain whether in the present climate this would hurt or help them."  He was a kind and considerate man.

One day he invited me to his condominium for tea. He asked if I would bring my pictures from my backpacking adventure. As we sat in his study with maps of Poland spread over his cluttered desk, he gently lifted each of my photos and studied the faces in the snapshots.

His wife slipped quietly into the room. She was a lovely Japanese-American lady by the name of Mari Yoriko Sabusawa. Michener’s novel Sayonara is quasi-autobiographical. Sayonara was made into a film of the same name in 1957 starring Marlon Brando. Set during the early 1950s, Sayonara tells the story of a soldier stationed in Japan, who falls in love with a Japanese woman. The novel follows their cross-cultural romance and illuminates the racism of the post-WWII time period. I admit to being a bit star-struck at that point… I was in the presence of the “lovers” from Sayonara.

Mrs. James Michener bent down and kissed the top of his head. “Do you need anything, Cookie?” she asked him.

It was a surreal moment. This was James Michener, Pulitzer Prize winner… and he was “Cookie.” 
I came to realize - Everybody is somebody’s “Cookie.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Moose Walked into a Bar

Pantyhose and Other Nonsense is my topic for today on A Moose Walked into a Bar
Stop by and get your chuckle for the day. Another one of my true stories.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Author Bumping - Stephen King

For those of you who haven’t been following my Author Bumping antics please check out my earlier posts.  Bumping into authors is one of my many peculiar talents.
In October, I began with my tale of bumping into the belly of Robert B. Parker as I made a mad dash to escape a cockney ladies’ loo lurker in London.  I followed up with Bumping into Zombie Authors – The Walking Dead premiere.  In that post I shared a creepy childhood story told to me by writer, director, producer – Frank Darabont. 
Mick Garris was next.  He’s  best known for his adaptations of Stephen King’s stories. Mick and I were chatting when the phone rang. It was Steven Spielberg congratulating Mick on the success of The Stand – which had premiered the night before.  Through some sort of quirk in the atmosphere or some blessed black hole, I find myself in the most wonderful company of writers through no planning and complete accidents. I’m fascinated by my gift of Author Bumping which always occurs in strange ways, and I believe under a full moon.
In the beginning: I was at my first writers’ conference. Excited to finally be pursuing my dream of writing, I had signed up without paying close attention to the names on the speakers/attendees list. I’m a leap and then look person.  The energy of a group of writers, particularly horror writers, can be like downing a six-pack of Red Bull on an empty stomach. My head was spinning with long submerged plots and characters. The encouragement I received from established writers made my knees weak and my fingers ache to be typing. I learned quickly that the energy cast off from gathered writers can be like the heat from the sun. It burns.
Needing a break from the heady vibes that cut like dragon flies from writer to writer, I sought quiet in the “Movie Room.”  One room had been designated as a time-out zone. The movie that played continuously was Blade Runner.
I fumbled in the darkness and took a seat in the small auditorium. It was about ten minutes into the film. A tall someone sat next to me. He apologized and settled in. As Harrison Ford wandered the screen with a perpetually puzzled puss, the chap next to me struck up a conversation. The words weren’t important.  It was the idea that someone would talk during a film. Movies are religious experiences to me. I  enter them and disappear.
 The tall stranger didn’t say much, but he did break the Harrison Ford moment. I’m not a shusher,  I’m a glarer. But in the dark it was hard to throw a “quiet, please” look and have it recognized. He spoke with an accent. Boston? No. Maine. The lights went on and it was Stephen King. He was sweet and chatty and exhausted. He’d stepped into the darkness to collect himself, just as I had.
Later we shared beers in the bar. He was wearing a black t-shirt with fake seagull poop dripping down both shoulders. Childlike, he was  tickled at the t-shirt joke. He suggested I sign up for the London Workshop which was set for that summer.  From there it was a short distance to my sliding into Bob Parker’s belly. My career in Author Bumping had begun.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Kindle Author Interview

Good Morning!
I woke up to discover my interview by David Wisehart was posted on Kindle Author. Please pop over and take a peek!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Right Leg of a Man

A serious scientific study
Long before I hit the road in my valiant effort to explore the minds of men, I noticed a peculiar male tick. Most of my closest friends were men, so I spent more time with guys than gals. Two minutes after a man would settle into his seat, his right leg would take on a life of its own. It would start bouncing and jiggling. Whether he was right-handed or left-handed didn’t seem to matter. His starboard limb would become possessed.
I noticed this phenomena in theaters, classrooms, churches, and waiting rooms. I filed it away in the back of my brain for future study. 
The opportunity to investigate this affliction came as I traveled the country interviewing men about women for my book, The Adventures of a Love Investigator, 527 Naked Men & One Woman
I designed charts that ranked the men according to the usual demographics: age, marital status, sibling rank, religion, occupation. I’d draw a tiny little foot next to the leg-jigglers. Turned out the majority of men suffer from this condition.  Not all, but most. The only profession that seems totally immune is physicians. Now I was onto something. Why don’t doctors leg-jiggle?
More clues:
Men do not leg-jiggle on airplanes perhaps, because they’ve given up control to the pilot. If it were stress and unconcious - that would be the perfect time to let that Right Leg have it's way. But logic must lay just below the surface. Men know that no amount of leg-jiggling will alter the outcome of the flight. Besides... the other guys on plane would see his leg hopping.

Men do not do this if they are coming on to you. Subconsciously they are on their best behavior.

The larger the gathering, the more leg-jiggling a man will perform. By the end of the evening he is exhausted and does not understand why.

If a man is seated at a big table where he thinks he won’t be spotted, his leg-jiggling will double in speed. Most men are completely clueless that their right leg is giving them away. Just peek under a board room table at your next business meeting. I did.
My research revealed:
Our brains are cross-wired: The right half of our brain controls the left side of our body while the left side tells the right side what to do. The left side of our body conveys information to our more emotional right side. (If you have something loving to say… whisper it into a man’s left ear.) The effect is reversed in left-handed people. I think.  Best to try both ears and see which works better.
Subjects in research studies who tapped their fingers on their right hands for one minute became less willing to engage in risky behavior like drinking and driving.  A foot works just as well as a finger, they are interchangeable.  Movement on the right side activates the risk-adverse left hemisphere. So… perhaps… men who are tapping and jiggling their right leg are subconsciously fighting off the urge to do something risky. Like correct what you’re saying, or ask to leave the room?
There is neat sub-text to my study. See if it works in your situation.  Humans have a “left-side cradling bias.”  We hold infants so that their heads nestle in our left elbows.  This allows our emotional right brain to respond to the babies’ facial expression, thus creating better communication and bonding. Now, transfer that scenario to the bedroom. Does your man prefer you on his left or right side? Is he bonding with you or secretly jiggling his right leg?
Left Leggers…I love ‘ya, but you’re on your own.

Monday, November 1, 2010