On This Day – March 21st

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Today is the day in television history we all have to thank for the widespread use of ‘cliffhangers’. This day in 1980 was the final episode of Season 3 for CBS’s critically acclaimed show, “Dallas”. The episode, entitled “A House Divided” featured the ending scene of someone shooting J.R., the show’s leading man for those that never watched it. This launched the 8 month “Who Shot J.R.?” media and fan frenzy leading up to the season premiere in November, which was delayed by a Screen Actor’s Guild strike. The season 4 episode, “Who Done it”, reached an estimated 83 Million viewers, catapulting “Dallas” to more notoriety worldwide.

It also sealed the fate of TV viewers to this day to suffer through the agony of cliffhangers. Sometimes writers now do not even wait until the end of the season to give us a big cliffhanger, instead insisting on dishing smaller ones out week after week to keep us pining away for our favorite on screen characters. This device certainly has appeal as ratings are what determines which shows get made and which get cut every season.

I think if I was a plotter writer instead of a pantser, I would do this with short stories and release each segment several weeks apart in order to drive readers into a frothing frenzy. That would be fun. Although I don’t want to end up like George R.R. Martin, with people clamoring me to finish a series as badly. Will be big dollar signs for him when he does.

Our lives could be a cliffhanger in the vein of these television shows. Each day leaving us wanting the next, barreling towards our goals and inevitable conclusions. So my Gentle Readers, go out and chase your own cliffhangers in life, always hungry for the next episode in the show that is you. Until next time. Live well, write well, be well.

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On This Day – March 20th

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On this day in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published to immediate success. Harriet Beecher Stowe (pictured above by Alanson Fisher’s work in the National Gallery) wrote this compelling picture of slavery after the death of her son, Samuel Charles Stowe. Though she and her husband had been quite vocal against slavery, even supporting the Underground Railroad, it was this loss that motivated Harriet to speak out in such a way. She is quoted as stating, “Having experienced losing someone so close to me, I can sympathize with all the poor, powerless slaves at the unjust auctions. You will always be in my heart Samuel Charles Stowe.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin began as a serial published in the National Era. From her home, Stowe would host groups of friends and students to discuss the book as it progressed. The initial printing of 5,000 by John P. Jewett sold out almost immediately. The work would go on to sell 300,000 copies in less than half a year. It became the book the North Abolitionists praised, and the Southern Slave Owners despised.

Stowe, a champion for abolition, would continue to fight long after the Civil War. This time for women’s rights, especially when it pertained to marriage property rights. At the time a married woman owned no property or had any wealth, all fortunes belonging to her husband.

Stowe, a woman of some privilege and upbringing, was a voice for change over much of her adult life in a time where women were not accorded as much opportunity and standing. I think this shows that no matter how small we think our voice may be, it can have an impact on society. Maybe the next thing you write will be this century’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. What cause would you champion if you could?

Until next time my Gentle Readers. Live well, write well, be well.

On This Day – March 19th

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Today my Gentle Readers, we learn a lesson from the great French playwright and novelist, Honoré de Balzac. It was on this day in 1842 that Balzac’s play Les Ressources de Quinola opened to an empty house due to a failed publicity stunt. It seems that in his genius, Balzac told people opening night was sold out in order to create buzz about the performance. Due to this, all of his fans stayed home.

I can only imagine the shame and embarrassment Balzac must have felt when the curtain went up on what should have been a momentous night for him. Although, from what I have read of his many failed business ventures, maybe he was used to that kind of thing. Can any of you imagine what it must have been like to go through this? Thinking you had a perfect marketing ploy for it to completely blow up in your face?

I think this is how a lot of us feel when we stake out on a creative adventure. I know this feeling that I would “open to an empty house” is part of why I took so long to begin sharing my work with the world. While a few of my endeavors have fallen flat, there has been some very positive reviews of my work as well. Finding strength in the constructive criticism seems to be the hardest part of fighting off doubt.

I vote we take a page out of Balzac’s book my Gentle Readers and go for it all. Don’t let the naysayers or past failures stop you from trying new things or chasing your dreams. Because, in the end, what are we left with but our memories and experiences? Until next time. Live well, write well, be well.

 

On This Day – March 18th

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The man above my Gentle Readers, for those who don’t recognize him, is Irving Berlin. A prolific composer who came to the United States from Imperial Russia at the age of five. Berlin was not even 20 years old when he sold the publishing rights to his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy” for 33 cents in 1907. His success, however, would begin with the song he copyrighted today in 1911.

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” would become one of the highest selling piece of sheet music in history, topping 1.5 million copies in the first 18 months of printing. It’s simple,yet catchy, tune was easy for amateurs to master, increasing its popularity. For those unfamiliar with the tune, CLICK HERE to hear it played by Wayne King and his Orchestra.

Irving Berlin’s early success would lead to a career writing songs and musical scores for stage and screen. By the time of his death at at 101 in 1989, Berlin is attributed with over 1500 songs. In his career he gave us “White Christmas”, “God Bless America”, and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. All three staples of American musical culture.

According to a couple of inflation calculators I found on the internet, Berlin’s 33 cents he received for his first song in 1907 would be roughly worth a whopping $8.46 cents today. If he had taken this pittance and given up, the American Music scene would be much different than it is today.

What we should learn from this genius of music is to never give up. Just because your first attempt is a failure, or not as much of a success as you would like, DON’T GIVE UP. You never know when that big break is going to hit. Until next time my Gentle Readers. Live well, write well, be well.

On This Day – March 17th

Luck of the Irish to you my Gentle Readers. May Saint Patrick’s Day bring you much revelry. It was this day in 461 AD that the man who would become the patron saint of Ireland died in Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland.

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Image from The Famous People.com

The man began life as a son in a Christian family in England with Roman Citizenship. Patrick lived his well to do lifestyle until, at the age of 16, he was captured and taken to Ireland by marauders.There he spent 6 years as a herder, turning to his religious faith to survive his abduction. When he escaped and returned to England, it would be natural for the man to hold a grudge against his Irish captors. This is not the case.

Patrick tells us in his own words, in his book Confessio, that he experienced a dream that told him to return to Ireland. After becoming an ordained bishop, Patrick did just that. He returned to his kidnapper’s homeland to preach the Gospel. He spent 40 poverty stricken years: building churches, teaching, traveling, and converting thousands of Irish. Instead of rage or hatred for those who took 6 years of his life, Patrick sought to better the Irish people. For this he was named their Patron Saint.

The legends of Saint Patrick have grown in the succeeding centuries. There are tales of him baptizing hundreds of people in a day and drove all the snakes from Ireland. Some say he used the three leaf clover, Ireland’s famous shamrock, to teach about the Holy Trinity. I would ask what is the deal with the 4 leaf clovers then. Who is the extra leaf?

Anyway, I think there is a great lesson in Saint Patrick to think about this day as we all don our green attire and drink or eat to excess. That lesson is one of forgiveness. If a young man of 16 in the early 400s can find a way to not only forgive his aggressors, but seek to better them through education, then we should be able to do so much more today. Drink the green beer and wear the leprechaun hat today my Gentle Readers. Also channel the incredible forgiveness of Saint Patrick. Until next time. Live well, write well, be well.

On This Day – March 16th

An icon of American Literature was published on this day in 1850.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter would become required reading over a century later (at least I remember it as such). When he published it however, it was finally the means to financial success for his growing family. Hawthorne had struggled up to this point, even trying his hands at an agricultural coop (which he turned into his novel The Blithedale Romanc, and spending time working in a Customs house in order to support his family.

Hawthorne was born in Salem Massachusetts. The 100 years since the actual witch trials had left a heavy pall across the town, influencing much of Hawthorne’s early years. After he started to see marginal success in 1842, he married Sophia Peabody and moved to Concord, Massachusetts. There he became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Branson Alcott, father of writer Louisa May Alcott.

A few years after the publication of The Scarlet Letter, President Franklin Pierce, a college friend of Hawthorne’s, would make him the American consul to England. His family would live ‘across the pond’ for three years, before returning stateside. He would later leave die in Plymouth, New Hampshire in 1864.

The story told by Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter is sadly all too true in this world today. Adultery doesn’t carry quite the same shame and stigma experienced in this country’s infancy, but it should. If you are not capable of holding onto your promises, then it is best to not get married in the first place. Find where you belong my Gentle Readers, and stay out of someone else’s relationship. It never ends well. Until next time. Live well, write well, be well.

On This Day – March 14th

The last few posts I know I have stuck to one event from the date, mainly because that was the topic that spoke to me. March 14th however has a couple of things that I want to talk about.

The year 1879 brought us one of the greatest minds on earth.
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Albert Einstein. A man so brilliant and dedicated to science that we often call people we think of geniuses as “Einstein”. His research led to nuclear fission, the founding of the Manhattan Project. He condemned its use as a weapon despite his support of the Allies during World War II. Luckily for us all, he was visiting the United States when Hitler came to power. Given that Einstein was Jewish, he wisely stayed in the US instead of returning to his teaching post in Berlin.

This day also saw the release by Putnam of Max Brand’s first western novel, The Untamed, in 1919. Max Brand, a pen name employed by Frederick Faust, is considered the most prolific writer of Westerns to date. Faust was known for applying his keen writing style without geographical, and sometimes historical, accuracy. To his readers it didn’t matter that the locations didn’t exist or the conditions works of fantasy, the story was compelling enough to drag you in and force you to turn the page. It is estimated that upon Faust’s death in 1944, he had penned over 30 million words amongst his more than 500 Western serials and short stories.
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My last entry for today was actually my first pick for this post. I wanted to save it until last to be my closing remarks. Sylvia Beach, was born on this day in 1887, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. When she was 14, her family moved to Paris. Sylvia was in love with the city. She stayed and, in 1919, opened her soon to be famous bookstore Shakespeare and Co. Her store would become a haunt of great literary giants in the 1920s like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Sylvia was a strong advocate of James Joyce. When Joyce’s serial publication of Ulysses was cut short in the Americas, Sylvia published it completely herself in 1922. The book caused great controversy and was banned from US distribution until 1933. If it were not for Sylvia’s tenacious love for the written word, this work may be something that never saw the light of day.
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Thank you Sylvia for your tireless efforts on behalf of readers everywhere. You are an inspiration to speak up against censorship just because it may make a few people uncomfortable. Be brave and tenacious my Gentle Readers. There are always going to be critics. Until next time. Live well, write well, be well.