Thursday, November 24, 2016

Annual Thanksgiving Letter to My Readers 2016

Thanksgiving Letter 2016

Greetings to my readers wherever you may be—here in the USA or across the pond in Europe, Asia, or perhaps even in Africa, Antarctica, and Australia.

Thanksgiving is an American tradition begun 400 years ago in 1621 when the Pilgrims from Europe arrived (by boat) on the shores of the New World and enjoyed a feast alongside Native American Indians to give thanks to God for a good or harvest, or, I should think, for still being alive, unlike so many others who perished shortly after they arrived at Plymouth and Jamestown.

The tradition continues today, though I can't say I have ever eaten with full-blooded Indians. Most people don't. It's not an Indian-Caucasian thing like it was 400 years ago. I may have eaten with individuals who, unknowing to me, “identified” as Wampanoag Indians or would have been accepted by them, but not with legitimate Indians. Most of them left before I got here.

Suppose I wanted to eat with Indians in honor of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving—where would I find any unless I lived near an Indian Reservation? And do today's Indians celebrate Thanksgiving? Not sure. I've never been on an Indian Reservation and I think the closest ones are a thousand miles away.

We give thanks every year now because so many pitfalls threaten us all the time. We’re lucky we make it around for another year. Some don't.

Nowadays the tradition is to eat Thanksgiving dinner with your own family, unless you hate them. In that case, you would eat with your friends, if you have any. And if you don't, you would eat alone. It still counts.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of my older relatives, my parents and grandparents, and my aunts.

But most of my older relatives are no longer here, so I would be eating with invisible ghosts. In that case, it might be a good idea to spend Thanksgiving evening with a spirit medium that would hold a séance to contact their spirits, and by that method, I would find out what they've been up to lately, with the medium acting as the go-between. But my relatives didn't believe in spirit mediums, so I'm sure that wouldn't work.

I will simply rely on my memories. Remembrance of people past must be an activity indulged in regularly, lest you would completely forget those memories which need to be conjured up to the front of the mind every so often.

What are my Thanksgiving memories, one part of me now asks the other.

Mom baking turkey in the oven for hours and hours. Waiting for what seemed like forever for that turkey to get done so we could finally eat. How long was it, I ask Memory. Six hours? Eight? At the very least.

The moment it was pronounced "done" and pulled out of the oven was something akin to the moment you are released from jail. Not that I've ever been in jail, but it must be like that. Or it was like driving in a car to a faraway destination and finally stopping to eat because we were starving to death (figure of speech). The end of a long journey, either geographical or psychological.

The stuffing was the best part. We liked that better than the turkey meat! And then later removing the leftover turkey out of the fridge every 15 minutes to make another sandwich.

When I was a kid I would climb up on top of my grandma’s garage with a bucket to fill with cherries from the tree branches we could only reach from up there.

She made a ton of pies, and then set them out in the kitchen with towels on top of them. Of course, we would lift up the edge of the towel to see what kind of pies were underneath. Cherry pie, I'm sure. But there must have been one or two pumpkin and apple pies as well.

My grandma was the kind of person who kept goose liver in her fridge. And sliced baloney. I ate at least a thousand sliced baloney sandwiches during my childhood. And in her fridge was lard. That's what they used to cook with in those days. And buttermilk. Do they even sell buttermilk anymore?

Now that I'm mostly away from relatives, sometimes I go out to eat on Thanksgiving. Without exception, it has always been a mistake.

Every time I go out for meals on Thanksgiving it turns out wrong and I regret it for a long time. It's as if God is saying, Stay home and cook it yourself. I’m not supposed to eat out on Thanksgiving. Worst meal I ever had in my life was on Thanksgiving at a popular local restaurant. It’s a warning. Stay home and cook your turkey yourself.

What am I thankful for, I ask myself. I’m still here. I’m healthy, mostly. Could be better, could be a lot worse. I’m not homeless. I can afford to buy food. I’ve written and published several books with many more on the way! We’ve lost some family members lately but I’m thankful the rest are still here.

Thanksgiving is a day of prayer as well. What do I pray for? Health. The health of others I know. Anything else isn't so crucial. Success. Money. Power. Some of that would be nice as well. Meeting the right people. As I keep telling myself, I never meet the people I really want to meet. As a writer, I pray I’ll have the time to write all the books I want to write.

My recommendation, if you are American or live somewhere across the world, is to give thanks for what you have, not complain about what you don't have. Think of someone less fortunate than you. It won't be hard.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Sovietesque 93% District of Columbia Victory

Though Hillary Clinton lost the general presidential election of 2016 to Donald Trump, she won the District of Columbia with a Sovietesque 93% of the vote to Trump's paltry 4%.

How are such numbers even possible in an open Democratic society? Josef Stalin wasn't running on the Democrat ticket in a communist society. It was Hillary Clinton, wife of former president Bill Clinton. 93% in a free and fair election raises ugly questions about just what is going on in DC.

Let's compare Hillary's votes to Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev.

2016 US Presidential Election (District of Columbia)

  • Hillary Clinton = 93%
  • Donald Trump 4%
1937 Soviet Union Legislative Election
  • Communist Party (Josef Stalin) = 99%
1970 Soviet Union Legislative Election
  • Communist Party (Leonid Brezhnev) = 99%
Hillary's total for the District of Columbia is in spitting distance of Stalin and Brezhnev's 99% but Hillary did it the hard way. There were other viable candidates running in the election, and she didn't even win!

Donald Trump received the lowest percentage of votes in the District of Columbia in modern times, and probably ever. Hillary Clinton's 93% is greater than Barack Obama's winning percentages in 2008 and 2012.

Hillary's lopsided victory tells us the District of Columbia equals the Democrat Party to almost the same extent that the old Soviet Union equaled the Community Party.

The District has been trending further and further to the Democrat Party for decades. It hardly matters if the next Republican candidate is Donald Trump or anyone else. No Republican can expect to receive as much as 10% of the DC vote, and the Democrat can count on at least 90%.

Voter fraud? DC doesn't need fraud to give its 3 electoral votes to the Democrat candidate. The entire culture of the city is at fault. The residents tie their own personal finances to big government. Many of them hold big-paying jobs in the federal government, salaries undreamed of for the same work in other parts of the country.

For federal workers in DC, the Democrat Party equals high-paying jobs for less work than the salary would indicate. Perhaps the surprise is that a Republican could win so much as 4% of the vote. The Republican philosophy of small government and efficiency is anathema to those federal workers in DC.

When Donald Trump said he wanted to "Drain the swamp," he was primarily pointing the finger at the District of Columbia.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review: The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death by [Poe, Edgar Allan]

Prospero’s Party

This is a short story but somehow it seems like a novel, since Poe packed so much into just a few words.

A plague is devastating the country and half the population is dead. So how does Prince Prospero respond? He gathers 1,000 of his friends and secludes them in his abbey, which he believes will protect them all from the Red Death. His friends willingly go there, accepting Prospero as their guardian.

But Prospero has no intention of waiting fearfully for the Red Death to run its course. Instead, he throws a masquerade ball, ignoring the death and destruction beyond his walls. A party atmosphere rules the abbey. The reason for the party, apparently, is to celebrate their continued existence, while those outside are dead. By exalting in life, they might survive the devastation, so goes Prospero’s thinking. For now, they have triumphed over the Red Death. The revelers seem to have no existence outside of Prospero. He leads and they follow. Prospero controls all aspects of the party. It is his will that prevails.

The abbey contains 7 rooms, all of a different color. The furthest room is black with scarlet drapes and inside it is an ebony clock that sounds loudly on each hour, causing the dancers to momentarily stop, as they are reminded of a power greater than Prospero, the one they have chosen to follow.

Amid the revelry, a ghastly figure appears. Someone has dressed himself up in a costume to resemble the Red Death! The corpse-like figure is daubed in blood and burial attire. But Prospero isn’t amused. The point of secluding himself and his friends in the abbey is to separate themselves from the Red Death, and this unknown partier is suggesting that Prospero has failed, and the separation is a fantasy. The masked man is mocking the proceedings, not to mention mocking the Prince and his attempt to avoid the plague, and he orders his revelers to seize him and then hang him to death in the morning.

But no one touches him, because the role of the revelers is to follow, and the job of seizing the stranger belongs to Prospero, the leader. They refuse Prospero’s offer to switch their roles.

Prospero and his crowd have strength in numbers. But the solitary masked figure has strength through his singleness and his isolation and alienation from the crowd.

The stranger passes within a yard of Prospero, violating his “personal space” in a threatening way. In a moment of cowardice, Prospero doesn’t touch him, behaving for a moment like one of the crowd--one of the followers rather than the leader. But he recovers and, with his dagger drawn, pursues the stranger through all the rooms of the abbey until they both arrive in the furthest room--black with red drapes and the ebony clock. But as Prospero attempts to stab the masked figure, it turns to him, and Prospero falls dead.

Now the crowd attacks the masked figure, no longer fearful of him, despite the death of Prospero. Their leader is dead and they are no longer tied to him as followers. They are free to take action according to the will of the group. They seize the figure but discover no body with which they could hang in vengeance for the murder of Prospero. They are in the presence of a fatal disease, not a flesh-and-blood human like themselves. Prospero had been fooled, and so had they.

One by one, they drop and die, just like Prospero. Their fate was tied to his when they accepted his invitation to enter the abbey. The final death is marked when the clock stops ticking. Perhaps if they hadn’t blindly followed Prospero, some of them might have survived. It was Prospero’s masquerade ball that allowed the Red Death to enter with what they thought was a disguise. But the Red Death was “hiding” his true nature in open sight.

The first person narrator can only be the Red Death, as he clearly survives the calamity that kills all the others. Just as he had boasted of his prowess in the opening sentences (“The ‘Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.”), now in the final sentence he is triumphant: “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

Prospero’s attempt to run away to his enclosed abbey had failed. And his 1,000 friends had failed by blindly following him.

The Masque of the Red Death ranks 12th in the book The Greatest 19th Century American Short Stories.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Fall of the House of Usher Named Greatest 19th Century American Short Story

The Greatest 19th Century American Short Stories by [Leary, Stephen]Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” has been named the Greatest 19th Century American Short Story.

The story was first published in the September 1839 issue of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. The magazine was published in Philadelphia and Poe was the editor and a contributor in late 1839.
Usher is the most anthologized American short story ever, appearing in many literary anthologies since the early twentieth century.

The story placed Number 1 in a new book The Greatest 19th Century American Short Stories by Stephen Leary, who used a point system to rank the top fifty stories.

"I awarded each story points every time it appeared in an important anthology, literary database, or website," he said.  “Poe’s Usher tallied the most points of any story by any author. I think it is beyond dispute that it is the best American story from that century.”

Placing high were other stories by Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Washington Irving, among others.

“The other ‘best stories’ collections rely on the opinion of one person. I realized it doesn’t matter who the editor is, readers will always disagree. So how do you turn a subjective opinion into an objective fact? With statistics on scholarship that has built up over the course of a century.”

My Amazon AUTHOR Page is HERE.

My New Book: The Greatest 19th Century American Short Stories

This is a collection of the 50 greatest American short stories of the 19th Century. Who says they are the greatest? It’s a matter of consensus.

The Greatest 19th Century American Short Stories by [Leary, Stephen]Many short story collections are published with a single editor choosing a list of stories s/he thinks are the best. For example, the famous American writer John Updike edited a collection called The Best American Short Stories of the Century. The “Century” in that title refers to the 20th Century.

Who knew more about American literature than Updike? Yet I found myself disappointed by some of his selections—puzzled why he chose particular stories by famous authors rather than others. When Updike chose a list of “best” short stories, that was his own personal opinion—and not many opinions were better-informed than his. Yet, I found myself constantly second-guessing his choices. No matter who the editor is, readers will disagree. Every editor will compile a different list.

One person’s subjective opinion—no matter who holds it—is nothing more than that. My goal with this collection was to eschew a subjective opinion and establish an objective fact. I wanted a collection of the greatest 19th Century American short stories that wasn’t the result of nothing more than my own personal opinion, but a consensus of scholars and lovers of literature throughout the years. That is what you have in your hands. This is that consensus, not the opinion of just me or any other individual.

The advantage of judging the worth of older stories such as these is that so much time has passed since they were first published. The scholarly dust has settled substantially, at least on those authors and their stories that have always been considered worthy of inclusion in anthologies and literary criticism. A consensus has been reached on many stories considered the finest produced during the 19th Century.

The list is fluid and, with time, a few of the titles on the list of top 50 books could change, depending on a future shift in consensus. But after a century, I think scholars and the public have spoken, and we know with a good deal of certainty which stories are considered the greatest from the 19th Century.

In the book, I name the greatest American short story of the 19th Century, based on the research.

NOTE: The book includes links to all 50 stories at Amazon's Kindle bookstore. I didn't include the full-text of the stories because they are public domain and I had no idea publishing public domain content was such a big issue. Apparently Amazon and all the others are not publishing public domain content, due to a glut already in the marketplace.

My Amazon AUTHOR Page is HERE.

Book Review: The Empty Land By Louis L'Amour

The Wild West in the 1860s. And it was getting pretty wild in Confusion, the brand new town that sprouted up real quick when some promising gold mines were discovered nearby and everybody wanted a piece of the action. Confusion was somewhere between Ely, Nevada and Delta, Utah. Still open country today, long after L’Amour (1908-1988) wrote The Empty Land in 1969.
The three miners who founded the town were good men. “We want a church and school. We want law and order.”

The Empty Land by [L'Amour, Louis]What would they name the new boomtown? Confusion. Every night fistfights, shootings, tents burned down. Gambling, saloons. Plenty of rough men among a few good ones. Who could enforce some law in a place like this?

Before long, Big Thompson, a rough and tumble claim jumper, killed the town’s first marshal. Thompson wanted a share of the big gold mine owned by the founders of Confusion at a budget price but was refused.

Hick Sutton was hired as the new marshal. He and his boys were expected to kick Big Thompson out of town. But Sutton’s agenda was shaking down the gamblers, not enforcing the law and ridding the town of the crooks. But he was no match for Thompson who ran him out of town.

Some of the miners wanted Matt Coburn, the best gunfighter around, as the new marshal but Felton, one of the founders, was against it. Meanwhile, as the town grew, violence and lawlessness increased. And the bad guys—Big Thompson, the knifeman Peggoty Gorman, and the cold, calculating Harry Meadows--weren’t planning on leaving all that gold nearby. By the 15th day of the life of Confusion, 7 were killed, along with 9 robberies and 2 stagecoach holdups. Felton was finally persuaded to accept Coburn as marshal.

Coburn was a gunfighter with a conscience, not a hired lawbreaker like so many others. “I never hired my gun to anybody but the law,” he said to another gunman who challenged his ethics. But he had no interest in the job of town marshal.

The Wells Fargo man had a $50,000 shipment of gold bullion to deliver to Carson City by stagecoach. He wanted Coburn to ride shotgun. Coburn was initially reluctant to get involved with Confusion. He didn’t want the marshal job, or the stagecoach gig, either. But he relented, wanting to ride with driver Dandy Burke, who had a reputation as a fighter of stage robbers. The coach journeyed from Confusion to Carson City. Everybody knew what was on board as it had been advertised in the local paper. Gold. But the ad also mentioned casually that Matt Coburn would be riding shotgun. The gold was an enticing target for outlaws, but the smart ones wanted no part of Coburn.

Big money meant big risks, and Harry Meadows wasn't reckless. A clueless young gun wanted to join Meadows and attack the stagecoach. Meadows was reluctant, as he considered Coburn too tough and not worth the trouble. But he convinces the impressionable young gun eager to prove himself that he's the man to take down Coburn and earn himself a reputation.

Laurie Shannon is a ranch owner. Madge Healy is a former child entertainer who went from town to town entertaining the miners, dancing and singing songs from their youths.

Will Matt Coburn survive the attempts on his life by Meadows and Big Thompson? And if he does survive, which of the two women--Shannon or Healy--will he choose? And what about Confusion and its three founding miners? Will the town survive or be destroyed like so many others by the rowdy, reckless bad guys who move from town to town with little care for the havoc they wreak?

Before The Empty Land, it had been years since I had picked up a Western, but I’m glad I did. I couldn’t put this one down. L’Amour knew the West, and he spins a great yarn. The first thing I did after finishing the last page was look to see what other of his novels I might buy. That’s the mark of a great storyteller.

My Amazon Book Review Page is HERE.

My Amazon AUTHOR Page is HERE.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Press Release for My Novel: Nightmare in the Washington DC Subway

Press Release for Stephen Leary’s Novel Nightmare in the Washington DC Subway

Oct. 29, 2016

Thousands of passengers travel through the Washington DC Metro system every day, not really expecting anything exciting to transpire on their way to work. But a terrorist attack is always within the realm of possibility.

A new novel by author Stephen Leary explores the vulnerability and inevitability of terror on the mass transit system in the nation’s capital.

Nightmare in the Washington DC Subway is the story of a band of terrorists, on orders from their masters back in the Middle East, who hijack a subway train and proceed to torture and kill the passengers, creating fear and horror throughout Washington DC and the entire United States.

Experienced in the national security industry, Leary crafts a tale combining terror, horror, the supernatural, and politics. “My plan was to write a cautionary novel about an attack on mass transit, which millions of citizens rely on every day,” he said. “I want people to think about what they would do if it happened to them.”

Experts consider mass transit especially vulnerable to terrorism due to factors such as multiple entry points, unsecured travel routes, and the impracticality of searching or inspecting each traveler. Many aspects of the novel are realistic, but Leary weaves ghosts and elements of the supernatural into his narrative. “Any book about terrorism is part horror story,” he said. “But I didn’t want the novel to be entirely true-to-life. I wanted fantasy as well. That’s why I brought in a few ghosts.”

Not forgotten by Leary is the political element, of which he is particularly critical. Stakeholders such as the local city government, the subway administration, Congress, and even the president take turns blaming others for security inadequacies and taking credit for safety precautions already in place.
“Protection of innocent life is not the number one priority,” Leary asserted. “I make that clear in my book. I’m seeing our leaders implementing only the necessary safety precautions but waiting for a crisis to happen before they get serious. We need to ramp up security before the next crisis, not after.”

Contrasted with the politicians and administrators, the local police come off as performing a tough job in arduous circumstances. “The DC police are the good guys,” he said. “They play a crucial role.”

The attack in Leary’s novel occurs in Washington DC, a prime terror target, but it could happen anyplace in the country, he said. “Every city is a vulnerable and filled with soft target for terrorists wanting to make a political statement to the world.”

The book Nightmare in the Washington DC Subway is available through Amazon kindle or in print format.

Stephen Leary is the author of Failed World Order, The Infinite Cafe, and Queen of the Chess Cult and Other Stories. He can be reached by email: mesmerini AT

Friday, October 28, 2016

Book Review: Pale Fire By Vladimir Nabokov

Pale Fire (Vintage International) by [Nabokov, Vladimir]

My book review of Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire on Amazon:

Pale Fire is a novel in the guise of an academic commentary on a 999-line poem by the same name. The poem was ostensibly written by John Shade and the commentary written by his neighbor and colleague Charles Kinbote after Shade’s death.

But as with most Nabokov novels, things aren’t as simple as that. Kinbote may not be the ex-king of Zembla as he claims but the alter ego of Shade’s insane colleague Professor Botkin. But did either one of them write the commentary, or was it written by John Shade himself and neither colleague ever existed? Or was Shade a fantasy of Kinbote/Botkin? Did Nabokov “tilt” the text in favor of one explanation over the others, or did he leave us to ponder several equally plausible interpretations?

Pale Fire is included on book lists as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. The writing is an example of sustained brilliance and the plot has engendered dozens of academic studies searching for its true meaning and explanation.

This novel, more than any other, alerted me to the idea, as a writer, of multiple interpretations of a narrative—leaving the reader wondering who is who despite surface appearances, what really happened beyond what seems to happen, and which explanation of the text is the best among several alternatives.

My Amazon Book Review Page is HERE.

My Amazon AUTHOR page is HERE.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book Review: More Matter: Essays and Criticism By John Updike

Here is my review of John Updike's book More Matter: Essays and Criticism. On Amazon:

More Matter: Essays and Criticism by [Updike, John]

More Matter is a collection of essays and criticism from the 1990s. The bulk of the text addresses literature, but Updike touches other topics, such as art, movies, and politics.

This doorstop of a book reaches 900 pages with several to spare, but nowhere in this entire tome do I ever feel that Updike is padding his writing, or going through the motions, or falling from his horse Pegasus, losing inspiration and writing mediocre sentences. That just doesn't happen with Updike. Instead, I wonder how he mashed all these wonderful thoughts into fewer than 1,000 pages. One gets the impression he probably left things out, that the book could have been even longer if needed.

What impresses me about Updike is the density of his prose, his unique and imaginative turns of phrase in virtually every paragraph he ever wrote. I've tried writing like Updike myself, but I become exhausted after a few paragraphs. I don’t suppose many writers will ever be accused to mimicking him.

He has something interesting to say about everyone and everything and possesses the knack of uncovering any writer’s weak and strong points. I feel as if he is revealing to me literary secrets no one else has discovered. And I never feel as if he’s wrong, or faking it. No, he hits the bullseye every time.

“I set out to be a magazine writer,” he wrote in the Preface, “a wordsmith...and I like to see my name in what they used to call ‘hard type.’” Updike will be remembered foremostly as a writer of novels, but his large corpus of stories, essays, and poems will remind future readers that he was one of the last of the well-rounded literary men who could and did write brilliantly in so many genres.

He never won the Nobel Prize, despite his consensus ranking as one of the most influential and respected literary men of the 20th century. Someone said his industrious production worked against him. A great writer couldn't possibly produce so much, was the prevailing attitude about it. I am wondering now if a handful of celebrated authors didn't write fewer pages in their entire careers than Updike in this single book.

Picking any page at random, I find Updike expounding in a fascinating manner on a topic I had hardly ever considered. All his essays are like that.

My Amazon book review page is HERE.

My Amazon Author Page is HERE.