Buzzword Books - unusual, intriguing, intelligent, perceptive

Here, you'll find musings from our authors and staff. We don't promise daily updates. Just posts worth your time.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Buddha's Four Noble Truths reconsidered

Gina Stoner, author of 'Talks With Al' has here condensed a talk given in a Zen group by the late Sexton Bourke in 2001. She explains that the talk so impressed her that she wished to share it more widely. She was careful to tell us that her condensation is a paraphrase that borrows nothing of the original talk except its essential argument.


The Four Noble truths are considered to be the bedrock of Buddhism, yet are merely an expression of something that words cannot define. They are not truth but expressions of the truth.

The first is the noble truth of dukkha or suffering. It states that life is suffering. Do you agree with this? Certainly, much of life is unpleasant and things seem so arranged that good and bad generally alternate, with just enough comfort around to stop us cutting our throats.

However dukkha is Pali word - a word from a language and culture that no longer exists. And so the original meaning could be obscure. Fortunately Buddha spoke a lot about dukkha. In fact he equated it with attachment, reaction to things - the process of getting caught, obsessed, intrigued with outward objects. And, once, he broadly defined dukkha as 'impermanence'.

So, in this context, dukkha is everything around us. Because everything we see is impermanent. Everything is subject to entropy. Even life or 'negative entropy' finally succumbs. Reality as we know it is subjective, dependent, conditional. It is a flux with no finality. An alphabet soup continually stirred.

The second noble truth states the origin of this dukkha, how it comes about. The standard explanation is the cause of dukkha, or suffering, is desire. An unwanted moral element enters in here. But if we take suffering as 'impermanence' then this interpretation does not stand. The second noble truth then becomes: 'impermanence is not absolute'. Unfortunately our egos are invested in 'impermanence' even though our hearts seek an absolute value. In this sense, ego is dukkha - impermanent.

So what then would the absolute be? It would be something that does not change. Not in the sense of a dead thing because this something would be intensely alive, creative, profound. And it would also transcend time - or, one could say, would have no beginning or end. A limitless thing - able to be sensed, perhaps, but impossible to define.

So we come to the third noble truth which is usually presented as the extinction of desire. Once again we are back in value judgements.

But, if we agree that the conditioned world is not absolute and that the ego is the cause of its arising, what, then, is the third noble truth?

Surely that suffering is ended by experiencing the absolute.

For some, this means manufacturing a kind of blankness. This is the blind alley that many Buddhists teachers warn against. The absolute is not a negation but the most lively affirmation possible. But even Zen, in this context, is merely a finger pointing to the moon.

The fourth noble truth refers to method - the eightfold noble path. This provides practical ways to approach the third - the experience of the absolute. It sets down precise codes of conduct irrelevant to the conversation here.

To restate:

1. Life is impermanence.
2. Impermanence is not absolute.
3. The angst of impermanence is ended by experiencing the absolute.

The advantage of this definition is that value judgements are negated. There is no longer a moral issue in the conventional sense. Simply an invocation to truly practise your spiritual tradition.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Pushing stones up-hill - the myth of Sisyphus

Among the books in the late Joy Lonsdale's library was Albert Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus - which is, among other things, a polemic on the rationality of suicide. And inserted into this book was a note in Joy's handwriting that is possibly her own work. Appended here for your interest:

This King of Corinth earned the enmity of Zeus by informing and angry father that the King of the Gods had carried off his daughter, Aegina - who was to become great-grandmother to Achilles.

Zeus decided that Sisyphus must die, but did not wish to honour him by sending Hermes to conduct him to Tartarus (region of Hell). He sent a lesser messenger Thanatos, whose name meant 'death'.

However, Sisyphus, a man of infinite resource and courage, succeeded in binding Thanatos in chains and returned calmly to take his place among the living.

After some time, Thanatos was released and sent again to Sisyphus. This time, however, Sisyphus made another plan. He instructed his wife to omit any funeral rites and to offer none of the special gifts to Persephone which were supposed to placate that goddess of the underworld and ease the passage of the one who had died.

Persephone, thus, has no knowledge of Sisyphus's death and, when confronted by him, was persuaded that he had been conducted to Tartarus by mistake. She ordered him to be freed.

So Sisyphus again escaped Tartarus and resumed his life.

Now Zeus was determined that there should be no third escape. Sisyphus was taken again to Tartarus under strong guard and his impiety was blazoned forth for all to know. Once in Tartarus he was condemned to a unique punishment - to roll a huge rock up a hill. Just when the summit was reached, the rock rolled back and he was forced to resume his task at the bottom of the hill. And this went on through eternity.

In another legend, Sisyphus appears as the father of Odysseus. Indeed, the great voyager displayed the same kind of cunning and resourcefulness but never bent them to impious deed.


Here ends Joy's presumed rant on Sisyphus, the most crafty prince of the heroic ages. Where she found the information, we'll never know. We note that in Lempriere's Classical Dictionary of 1919, Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, is cited as the one who imposed the rock-rolling punishment. And the institution of the Pythian games is attributed to Sisyphus.

So where does all that leave you? Between a rock and a hard place?  You can read Joy's erudite books on Buzzword.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Writing fiction - art or business?

This from Buzzword Books Commissioning Editor, Dan Mills:


Start strong

How you begin is all important. Your title is your shop-front pitch. And your first paragraph is what is in the window. So you'll begin with dialogue or action and preferably both, constructed in the most interesting way you can conceive. Leave your deadly flashbacks, narrative, back story for much later. In fact, leave these things out if you can. Do it on the top story. Drama. Progression. Directness. Simplicity. Let it march. As for endings. They are the pinion of you whole story. Know exactly where you are going so that everything leads to that point.

 

Character relevance, not flatulence

And, of course, your characters will be what? Stereotypes? Caricatures. (two-dimensional). Or fully rounded complex studies (three-dimensional). Will you be Dickens or Flaubert? Both methods have their place, depending on the story. Of course, you will avoid long descriptions of your characters that bog down the action.
  You need to be an impressionist - to know what to highlight and what to leave out. You will learn this by observing people. Constantly watching, looking. There are even techniques that can help here. Spend an hour looking at nothing but people's shoes. You'll find it's a revelation. Once you've decided by the shoes what kind of person is wearing them, look up to see if you are right. The same can be done with hairstyles, jewellery and watches, colours of jackets and so on.


Refine

Writing is rewriting. And sentences should have balance, weight. Don't dribble a sentence to its conclusion. End it well. Perhaps on an emphatic word. Or a short one at least. Listen to the lilt of the syllables. A good ear is the writer's best friend. And, for God's sake, speak your dialogue aloud. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes. And break it up. Don't be dreary. You're not writing a menu. Light and shade. Remember always that you're writing prose.
  Metrical phrasing is death. You're not Milton. It's not blank verse. If you want to be a poet, be honest about it. 'Kill your darlings,' is very good advice for the commercial fiction trade. If you try to slip in sonorous sentences, you'll simply confuse and annoy your audience. It may be appreciated at your writer's club. But showing off is bad business in the cash-and-carry fiction market.
  And once it's written, put your second hat on. Edit, edit, edit. Chop out everything you can. Until it's lean, spare, effective.
  Well, that's enough for one article. Get it? Got it? Good.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sex, Timelines and the Murder-Mystery novel

Peta Fox, author of the brilliant Jen Madden series of mysteries, extrapolates on her methods of work,approach to humour, sex, satire and salaciousness.


Hi! When you write a murder-mystery series, you'd better know what you're doing. And where you're coming from. And who your central detective is.

The Detective


Jen Madden is my amateur sleuth. She's a raunchy, foxy, super-cynical reformed optimist who is happy to go to bed with both sexes and relishes beautiful, and dominant women. Jen is no pushover. She has a quip for every putdown, an off-centre angle for every situation. She's a walking time and sex bomb. And she knows it. Is Jen Madden Peta Fox? Well, not exactly. I don't have her bravery. I'm not as sassy. But I have her mindset loud and clear. Jen is who I'd love to be - without the terror, drama, mad situations. But then, you can't have everything.

The Plot and Timeline


Here, you really get into deep water. A well-constructed mystery depends on the interaction of at least ten characters. And you have to know where each is, what they know, what they are doing and have just done, who they have seen, what their motivations are. All at once. Otherwise nothing holds together. It takes a while to get this right. In fact, there's only one way to get it right. Forget rundowns for each character. That's too loose. The only way to do it properly... Okay - the only way I can do it properly - is to get a huge sheet of paper and draw vertical columns down it - one column for each character - and that gives you a great advantage - a visible timeline.

When something happens to character 1 involving character 6, then you can look across the columns and see what each knows and how they reacted. And how that affected character 12 the next morning. And what character 3 has to do when they learn about what happened between 1 and 6 the previous night.

Do you see what's happening here. On your huge sheet listing the actions and knowledge and emotional state of all the characters, you also have a timeline. You can position the action vertically to show exactly what is going on right across your cast.

In other words, you're using a spreadsheet like Excel. But don't imagine for a moment that Microsoft's baby can help you, even if you have the widest monitor going. You really need to do this on you great big sheet, rock-and-rolling the entries using pencil and rubber. That way, you're in full control and can instantly refer back and forward. There's no scrolling or jumping from spread to spread. You can't do it that way because you need to see the WHOLE thing at once - even if it's a linked series of sheets that stretches the length of the hall.

Because you are going to end up with at least fifteen very large sheets with vertical columns. And these need to be spread along the floor before you can see the complete panorama of what is always a vastly complicated plotline. Want to write a mystery novel. Dur! It take work!

Character


So you have a funky detective and a fully worked out mystery plotline. You're already two strikes ahead. But there's a lot more to it than that. A novel, even a genre novel, has to entertain. And if you are a boring as batshit writer, you'll fall on your face no matter how well you've conceived your detective and your plot. You need to surprise, shock, delight, intrigue, engage. And all of that comes out of the interplay of characters. And if those characters are two dimensional - off the rack stock stereotypes - you're not only a bad scribe, you're bone lazy.

Sense of Fun


There is another secret to this one. You have to enjoy your book. If you don't enjoy it, how the hell do you expect anyone else to?

Okay, so there are a few pointers to writing a professional murder-mystery. Yes, I know. The murder should appear in the first chapter to grab interest. There should be red herrings everywhere. Yada yada. You can read all that stuff in the always boring tomes on how to write. We're not talking about the bare bones here. We're on about the guts of the process.

Think I'm full of shit?  Then read a Jen Madden mystery. The series is on Buzzword. You can get a book for less than you'd pay for a cup of coffee.

Final advice - don't write.


Oh yes - one more piece of sage advice. If you can possibly avoid writing, do so. Writing is an obsession and an obsession is a disease. And there is no pot of gold down the track, so don't waste your life trying to become famous or rich in this area because you won't. Find some practical craft or skill that will leave you with something real when you've finished. Like pottery, woodwork, welding, home brewing - anything but typing drivel onto a screen.  And that's the best advice I know about writing. 


Go in peace.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

AWARENESS AND THE BIG TOE


Gina Stoner, author of Talks With Al, has studied esoteric systems much of her life. We asked her to share more of her insights with our blog community. Here is the result:

The human is a creature always distracted. Even when we are studying, we are never present to the act. Concentration is not awareness, merely a slightly more intentional form of identification.

Try this experiment. As you read these words, try to be aware of your left foot. Whatever you do, be sure to never forget that you have a left foot.

Simply to say in your head 'left foot' or to clench the toes will not do. And if your foot is shoeless and sockless, touching the foot won't do either. The sense of touch is a sense like hearing. It is not awareness.

So this is not a mental exercise. You are asked to become aware of your foot existentially. Either be aware of the skin of the foot - the actual skin sensation - or become mindful of the foot by sensing it from inside. What is needed here is not a wilful gritting of the teeth. It is much more like relaxation. Something we are not used to at all.

And, if you try, you will soon see that what is suggested is far less simple than the description.

Because no one has ever taught us to be aware of ourselves intrinsically. Our parents and teachers know nothing about it. There are no courses at technical college dealing with self-sensing. We have been taught to live in our heads - to think our lives. And what little attention we have for self-awareness is sucked away by our ever-dominant, random, reactive thoughts. We either think - or experience. In other words, to experience is not mental. It is an awareness involving the whole of ourselves.

So are you aware of your foot now? No. Because you were almost immediately distracted by these words on a screen.

Begin again.

Your Left Foot

Yes, your left foot. Take a moment to explore it.

The foot has a sensitive sole, five toes, a heel, an instep. And it's attached to an ankle. Can you be aware of each in turn?

Start with the sole. Visualise yourself stepping onto gravel. The gravel is rough, sharp. And the sole needs to know this and protect itself by walking as gingerly as possible.

Visualisation is not thinking or representing things to yourself with words. It is a more intelligent process because it does not require sub-vocalisation - the definition of everything we do. So there is a chance that you now have a vague impression of the sole of your left foot. Can you sense the fabric of sock against the skin? The pressure of the shoe?

Now, the toes. Begin with the big one. Can you be aware of it as a separate unit? The nail area, the first joint. The top of the toe. The tip. The sides. The underside. Then the whole toe?

The big toe should be more accessible in this process than the smaller ones. Don't rush it. If you wish to know your toe, as if from inside, it is not a matter of a moment's effort. It is a slow, intentional study. It could be a minute or ten before you are really in touch with your big toe.

Then try the next toe the same way. Now it will be harder.

You see that relating to your foot in a significant way is a more rigorous study than you thought.

You have, of course, stopped reading this to practise what is suggested? No? Too impatient? Or is your precious self far too important to spend time on something so useless?

But in this study, the seemingly least important things are the most vital, significant of all.

Your foot, remember?

But you didn't. You read the last paragraph oblivious to the task. Because we have never learnt to split our attention - to do one thing while attending to another.

P.D. Ouspensky represented this act as a two headed arrow.

<-----------I am aware of my toe while -------> at the same time being aware of what is necessary in outer life.

Are you ready for the next step? Of course not because you have barely attempted the first.

But life doesn't wait for us to catch up. Having failed the first test, you are now presented with something harder. That's how things are.

Stand in front of another person. There will be a conversation - probably social. Don't try this when the interaction is important.

You stand there and they stand there facing you - and you talk.

When they ask you a question such as, 'How are you today?' you respond.
    'Not too bad,' you say. Or whatever you say. But, at the same time, can you be aware of the skin of your face in the same way that you tried with the foot?
    <---------the skin of your face.
    ----------> your response, to the other person.
    Why try this?
    Because, perhaps for the first time in your life, you will then have a new impression of yourself and your world.
    Instead of just reactively talking to another person it will be...
<---------------YOU in front of -----------> ANOTHER.
    Once again simple and fiendishly difficult, because how long will you be able to sustain it?
    If these exercises interest you, there are many more.
    Of course, if they don't, then forget you read this immediately. Because this line of enquiry is not for you.
    Meanwhile....
    Do you still have a foot?

Talks With Al is available on Buzzword. You can also contact Gina to discuss such matters here.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Gilbert & Sullivan Operas—art at the level of immortality




Author Clint Smith is a Gilbert and Sullivan tragic. He tells us he has seen all the Operas several times over the years and even acted in a few. And that they never lose their freshness. Here is his appreciation:


The G&S phenomenon is well documented indeed. Every remaining artifact and anecdote has been mined by books, reviews, miniseries, films and documentaries. Every quip, musical reference, faded photograph, cartoon, playbill, costume sketch, has been lovingly reproduced, repeated, recounted, annotated. 

So there is little more to say. Except to point out that it is now almost 139 years since Trial By Jury was first staged in 1875 and 143 since Thespis (1871).

Any comic opera that survives more than a century is not only notable but also exceptional. And the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are certainly that—derivative at times, weak in patches, but generally so perfectly constructed that the grand edifice appears unmarked by time. And the enthusiasm of everyone who appears in such productions or attends them is equally timeless.

After the triumph of one masterpiece, The Gondoliers, an unusually benign Gilbert wrote to Sullivan: "I must thank you for the magnificent work you have put into this piece. It gives one the chance of shining right through the twentieth century with a reflected light." Sullivan replied: "Don't talk of reflected light. In such a perfect book as The Gondoliers you shine with an individual brilliance which no other writer can hope to attain." Both were right. But neither man could have envisaged that the gracious old operas, like majestic galleons depicted by Turner, would sail not only through the twentieth century with their lilt and brilliance undimmed but into the next—the age of Higgs bosons, Mars rovers, quantum entanglement and stem cells.

This is more remarkable when you consider that, when Thespis was produced, the orchestra wore top hats and the cast rehearsed with handwritten manuscripts because the typewriter had not been invented. And that the whole production was lighted by a central T shaped arrangement of gas jets that illuminated the piece so poorly that anyone not centre-stage vanished into gloom.

Before Gilbert met Sullivan, he was a very successful playwright. His plays are now long forgotten except by G&S researchers. As for Sullivan, that darling of Royalty, he hoped to restore the reputation of British music with serious works such as his oratorios The Prodigal Son and The Light of the World—ponderous attempts now as neglected as Gilbert's plays.

Compared to the sublime composers of Austria and Germany, Sullivan's serious music is mundane. And in his comic operas, his sense of fun and parody of the 'greats' is easily dismissed by those with cultural pretensions. If tunefulness and adroitness is not 'serious' mediocre intellects would not dare not call it 'great'. Consequently, as a composer, he has long listed with the lightweights.

But time is the ultimate art critic and the ageless popularity of the music increasingly affirms its worth. So, as the operas dance through the centuries, the opinion of Sullivan had to be revised. British music has few significant composers. And in that company, Sullivan is a giant. Strangely, this man, who detested being shackled to light opera, yet could toss off the evergreen score of Trial By Jury in a couple of days, consistently failed to see where his supremacy lay. Yet his audience knew it at once. And posterity has proved it right.

As for Gilbert, his translation of his lugubrious Bab Ballads into masterful topsyturveydom, together with his brilliance as a producer/stage manager—unique in his era—and, not least, his admirable good taste, provide virtues enough to secure his position among the exalted. But this was just part of his accomplishment. He did something even more remarkable—wrote satire that is universal. So his operas do not date! And this has thrust him among the immortals with equal thunder, fanfare and acclaim.

The Savoy Operas now grace Grand Opera Theatres—whenever they are seriously short of funds—remain the staple of school musical productions and continue to be enthusiastically produced by amateur and semi-professional groups worldwide.
Gilbert and Sullivan did far more than revive British comic opera (which had languished since The Beggars Opera—150 years before them). They created a body of work, so sparkling, witty and endearing that it will breeze through the twenty-first century and probably the twenty-second.
If that is not evidence of epic artistic achievement, what is?

You can find Clinton Smith's thrillers on Buzzword.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Justice, morality, evolution and their relation to the inner and outer worlds



We asked John Alexandra, author of Journey Beyond God, to expound a little more on his particular world view. We suggested the theme of Justice. But as this essay shows, in the esoteric area, some subjects cannot be separated. For this particular student of the occult, all roads lead to Rome.


They say there is no justice in this world. Is this true?

 Certainly, as Ecclesiastics proclaims, 'the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong nor riches to men of understanding'.
Can we quibble with this?


JUSTICE AND THE OUTER WORLD
Around us we see the most appalling miscarriages of justice. We see children butchered and raped, murderers pardoned, brutal dictators exulted, crooked officials given immunity, terrorists congratulated, and the general population exploited like cattle by governments, criminals and corporations.

We see those who get ahead doing 'whatever it takes' to make their way—trampling over people who still preserve some residual conscience, decency or shame. 


They say that the good die first. They also tend to come last. Winners are often expedient, deceptive, ruthless users. The few decent people who manage to breathe the rarefied air of material success mostly arrive uncharacteristically through some stroke of luck or ability.

So, if you wish to get ahead, as they say in New York, "Never give a sucker an even break."

WHY IS HUMANITY VENAL?
Obviously humans are flawed—have the ability to cock things up. As someone once remarked: "We foul our nests wherever we go."

Animals and plants don't have this latitude. They function as perfect machines—doing exactly as they should. There is no malice in the puma's ferocity. It kills to eat as it must. A tree is never adulterous. A sparrow never exhibits spite. 



Yet into this perfectly ordered world blunders the human primate—the bane of all life forms and foe of biodiversity—spreading like a cancer on the skin of the planet, plundering, polluting, despoiling all it sees.



IS THE HUMAN MADNESS REALLY PART OF NATURE?

We have to admit it is. Humanity—this sore that considers itself the centre of the universe—has such a rampant ego that it considers itself  not merely one of nature's components but a phenomenon. Yet it is definitely part of nature, if not quite like other life forms. As a theologian might explain it – it has free will.

Friday, 26 July 2013

HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT



Martin Jensen, despite his tendency to smugness and intolerance, is the universal man. And his formidable knowledge is augmented by his partner, the fetching Dr Jensen. Their passion is effective living. Jensen's first humorous sally, How to Exercise has already been downloaded by a horde of eager eBook buffs. And his second, How to Get What you Want is now published on Buzzword.

This new book covers everything - from japes that fascinate infants to the intrigue of the Sporting Fly Swat.

It explains how to see without your specs, how to change traffic lights to green, how to dislodge rusted in screws, how to amaze small children by moving both eyes independently and even how to laugh at death.

     It even instructs on manners, sentence construction and has strategies for everything from drying between the toes to bamboozling pretentious art critics.

     What is unexpected about these sugared pills is all are practical. Beneath the humour lurks sense. And even readers intent on diversion emerge not only happier but also wiser.

     But to indulge our literary leanings, we want to include one section that deals with English expression:



How to disguise your ignorance   

We assume, that like most people, you have only a rudimentary understanding of the language and betray this to your betters whenever you speak or write.

     So we now list some of the most typical gaffes you should avoid. Then at the next garden party or when penning your CV, you will not appear so laughably crass.

     Infer and Imply. I imply something. You infer what I am saying from that implication.

     Less and fewer. Less money. Fewer coins. Less of a crowd. Fewer people. Less refers to quantity. Fewer to number.

     Unique. A thing can't be more, rather or totally unique. You can't qualify an absolute. It is either unique or not. So 'absolutely amazing', 'completely exceptional' and other bastard constructions show your ignorance.

     Never say neither. Neither is confined to the construction 'neither... nor. Similar to either... or. The word is either. To use neither is the deadest of giveaways. It confirms that you are bog Irish, illiterate, thick, and were dragged up in a hovel with nine runny-nosed siblings.

     It's adaptation, not 'adaption'.

     It's all right, not 'alright'. We refer to spelling here.

     Avoid bureaucratic language such as 'give consideration to'. Use consider. Say transport, not 'transportation'. Enough, not 'sufficient'. Begin, not 'commence' or 'initiate'. Use, not utilise. Now, not 'at this point of time'. Often, not 'frequently'. First, not initial. End, not 'conclude'. The longer word is the fear or weasel word and suggests you're afraid to say clearly what you mean.

     Simple words were good enough for Shakespeare. Hence, proactive, prestigious, hospitalisation and their ilk are to be avoided like the plague. So are clichés like the one just written. And please do not trot out 'devoutly to be wished', 'when the tumult and the shouting dies' or other such creaking borrowings. They descend like hammer blows on discriminating hearers.

     Now analyse that previous sentence. Can it be improved? As Gertrude Stein explained to Scott Fitzgerald, a sentence must not 'leak'. In other words, must not dribble off. Thus the previous sentence should read: 'They descend on discriminating hearers like hammer blows'. This is better but not ideal because the sentence was constructed to prove a point and, to provide an even finer euphonic balance should have been recast as: 'They descend like hammer blows on discriminating ears.'

     We do hope you are finding this hard-won advice germane. (Eliminate the 'do'. Remove all useless words.)

     In The King's English, (first edition 1906) the incomparable Fowler Brothers gave this still relevant advice:

     Any one who wishes to be a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, vigorous and lucid.

     This general principle may be translated into practical rules in the domain of vocabulary as follows: 

     Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.

     Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.

     Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.

     Prefer the short word to the long.

     Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.



So much for Jensen on English. In case you think the book is hard going, here's another section:



How to invest

There are certain practical rules you violate at your peril. These are:

     Always sell too soon.

     Despite what every scammer tells you, no one knows what the market will do next. So avoid optimism, systems and plans.

     And, as the majority is usually wrong, only put faith in negative hunches.

     Remember that, when you finally hear the rumour, it's either designed to mislead you or it's too late to act on it. In other words, don't hop on the bandwagon. Because, by the time it heaves into view, the market manipulators have already taken their profits and you've been set up for the slippery slide.

     And remember that when interest rates rise, asset prices fall.

     As for the gnomes of Zurich, they would never diversify their assets. That, according to the experts is the way of the poor and uninformed. The experts place their funds in one sure bet and wait for it to make a killing. A risky stratagem for most. But, if you know what you're doing, far more lucrative than conventional hedging.

     Dr Jensen has invested some of her money in a Braille library that also sells kitchen-ware. Recently one of her blind subscribers mistook a nutmeg grater for a novel. When she brought it back, she complained about it bitterly - said that it had no plot and was the most violent thing she'd ever read.



Still too serious for you?  Try this:



How not to wreck a good relationship

Dr Jensen has importuned me not to include this theme in case my instinctive aversion to marriage should offend the conventionally moral. So I have promised not to comment and merely to include sayings from many lands concerning the triumph or hope over experience:

     No love so hot but marriage cools it.

     Advise none to marry or to go to war.

     Every woman should marry but no man. 

     A young man should not marry yet. An old man not at all.

     Marriage - a remedy too strong for the disease.

     Losing a wife can be hard. Often impossible.

     Marriage - an expensive way to keep warm at night.

     Monogamy, like bigamy, is having one wife too many.

     Man is incomplete till married. Then he is finished.

     You don't know what real happiness is until you get married. But then it's too late.

     'You're lucky if your wife is an angel because mine's still alive.'

     Well, enough on the ultimate tragedy.

     Except to say that marriage ignores the biological fact that monogamy is deviant behaviour. This is well expressed by a cautionary verse that should be poker-worked into each vestry door and tattooed on the forehead of every celebrant:

     Higgamus hoggamus. Woman monogamous.

     Hoggamus higgamus. Men are polygamous.

     My favourite saying on the subject is this:

     Marriage is like aviation. One is never lost. Only temporarily unsure of one's position.

     And, of course, if you don't know what to do, ask a woman and do the opposite.

    

And for light relief:



How to move both eyes independently.

Small children are astonished by this skill. If they think you are eccentric now, imagine how they will revere you when you blithely perform the impossible!

     Method: First cross your eyes. Now, keeping one eye crossed, move the other out to the side, as if trying to look at your ear on that side, if you have one. Then return it to the crossed position to match the other eye.      Yes, it can be done!

     Try it now in front of someone who respects you. The moment they grimace with disgust and say, 'Yuk!' you know you have succeeded. Now practise with the opposite eye to augment your ability. Remember that all worthwhile skills require application and that versatility is the essence of theatre. And that who dares, wins. And that every silver lining has a cloud.

     Truly, to meet infants on their level of fatuity is a talent that will never cease to bring you, and the other small minds you encounter, simple and abiding joy.



How to Get What you Want, now published on Buzzword, will set you back a mere 99 cents.

    

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Glider pilot's soaring review

Colarado's Durago Herald has just published a very positive review by Leslie Doran on Jim Richards' memoir, The Road to Narromine - now listed on Buzzword Books. Here it is:

 

In a fascinating book, Durango resident Jim Richards has fashioned a narrative that is part memoir and part autobiography. Richards has been blessed with a life full of travel and adventure and along the way has had more than his share of excitement. The Road to Narromine is his story.


Richards opens the book in 1997 with a riveting, life-threatening account of an abrupt landing while soaring near Narromine, Australia. Richards captures readers’ interest with his near-death experience and then folds back and forth in time and place to share with readers his lifelong love of all things flight-related. He includes some fast land-related experiences, and about the only transportation method omitted is travel by water.

Richards’ passion for all aspects of soaring and flight leaps off the pages and is contagious. Readers will learn a lot about flying gliders, or sailplanes as they are known by professionals. In fact, Richards’ descriptions of all flying apparatus from his first sailplane flight to a ride in a T-38 jet are so detailed, especially about how each operates, that readers might feel they actually could fly each machine.

For instance, his FUST checklist that pilots run through before takeoff and landing includes flaps, undercarriage, speed and trim and explanations of each and their importance.

Richards was born in London just before the start of World War II, and some of his first memories are of the piercing sound of air-raid sirens that preceded the Nazi bombing runs on Britain.

When he was older, his father took him to a rural airfield to see the return of the “Dam Busters” who flew over Germany and blew up many dams, crippling the German war effort.

The huge planes flying overhead made another lasting impression. After the war, Richards and his parents emigrated to Canada, and at the tender age of 12, he got his first actual plane ride. The experience did nothing to excite his father, but Richards was hooked by the thrill.

Richards’ professional career started in radio as a teenager in Canada. To get to his first major job as an on-air talent, he flew again. This time, it was off to ZBM Radio in Bermuda. To feed his growing desire to fly, Richards pitched the idea of a documentary to his boss to do a series about the planes flying out of Kindley Air Force Base. He got the go-ahead from the military, and his fascination grew with each airborne experience.

Richards saw that a career in visual media was a better idea amid growing technology, and he started working as a cameraman and director of commercial advertising. This was a career choice that would take him to New York and ultimately Australia, where he finally would experience sailplanes and be hooked for life.

One of the most interesting and gripping portions of his professional experience was his use of a helicopter to get amazing shots for a commercial that took place near Ross River, Australia. The chapter “Dust II” details the origin and execution of an innovative and exciting commercial for Toyota. The unique rock formations at Ross River provided a spectacular backdrop for Richards’ vision.

At the time, technology had not developed far enough to help him get the camera shots he wanted, so Richards ended up splayed on a makeshift sling placed under the helicopter between its skids. This allowed Richards to get the smooth, close flying angles that practically put the viewer in the pilot’s seat. This was a highly dangerous and illegal action, but the resulting footage was priceless.

Richards’ book is well-written, with humor and exciting adventures played out across many continents and through a time when commercials had to be creative and painstakingly crafted without the benefit of computer modeling.

This is a great story, especially for readers interested in aircraft and flying or soaring. The mechanics Richards employed creating commercials for public consumption also is fascinating reading. The Road To Narromine is a perfect summertime read.

Leslie Doran is a Durango freelance reviewer.


Check out The Road to Narromine now. Just $3.99.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Militant Religion - Insight or Ego?

In the Esoteric section of the Buzzword site are several books dealing with, or based on, the teaching of G. I Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff pointed out that there is a tendency for everything to slowly become its own opposite. For instance the so-called religion of love of the Christians became warped and institutionalised into an Inquisition that burned innocents at the stake. The profoundly subtle teaching of the Buddha was eventually obscured by a towering edifice of arguments of increasingly ludicrous sophistry. You may draw your own conclusions about Hinduism and suttee, Islam and suicide bombers (suicide is, we believe, forbidden by the Prophet) and other aberrations caused by narrow, self-serving interpretations of the various traditional faiths. A great faith that has been distorted for gain, or to enslave followers, (consider the almost diabolical 'sin' emphasis of the Catholic Church) is troubling to ordinary people because it cloaks its deviation. To be specific, it justifies violence with morality. 

One of our readers and correspondents, Keith Petersen - a Gurdjieff student,  a former Major in the Engineering Corps and now a Corporate Lawyer sent us this letter recently. We thought it might interest you.

The genius of the Work, as brought to us by Mr Gurdjieff, is that one may be of any religion, or none. Excluding, of course, those purportedly religious paths, such as militant Islam, that are premised on exclusivity, intolerance, and violence toward non-believers. Such paths are, of course, not religion, but merely forms of organised crime, and to call them 'religious' is to do violence to the term itself.



At the same time, the Work requires that one should be respectful of genuine belief, and not to be a militant atheist. The latter because first, atheism, being unprovable, is a kind of superstition on a par with primitive forms of religious belief, secondly, because, with its alleged foundation as a response to 'the problem of evil' , atheism represents a form of childish petulance in the face of mechanical forces, and finally, because, to judge by the behaviour observed in its adherents, it effectively elevates ego to god-like status.



Ordinary people, and those who pass for 'thinkers' are only now coming to the conclusion, obvious to any person possessing 'being-Reason',  that the essential world-conflict is not between religions, but between those people and groups with a religious attitude, in the true sense, and those whose life and outlook is based on ego, which, at its extreme justifies any action, however criminal.



I say 'conflict', but it is not a conflict to be resolved by force, but rather by persuasion, chiefly persuasion by example. In that regard, the media loves to report terrorism and crime, but the media is not interested in the no less real number of ex-terrorists, ex-criminals, who have 'repented', and who now seek to atone, and to deter others from following their former path. Such people exist.



'Religion' is thus less a matter of cosmological belief than an attitude which is characterised by humility, openness, and an ability to put oneself in the shoes of another, and, as has been said so often, to treat another as one would wish to be treated, and not as one would not wish to be treated. Compared to that, as Rabbi Hillel said, regarding the Torah, 'The rest is commentary.' That is the 'religion' which is the foundation of the paths.



Whether from the aspect of behaviour or belief, it is important to remember Mr Gurdjieff's observation, quoted in Views, that:



'At a certain level, there are no religions, there is only religion.'



Yes.



From the various paths to the summit, the views are different. From the summit itself, the view is everywhere the same.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

From tyro to published

Author Todd Charlton now has three books on our companion site, bookbooster.com - Death Lust, Dust and Chaos and Everyone Else is Collecting Feathers. They are all good meaty reads. We asked the industrious Todd to write a post for the blog. Here it is:

I took John D MacDonald's advice in the introduction to Stephen King's Night Shift. Don't tell people you want to be a writer.

Write.

As with anyone, my early attempts were terrible. I wrote a fantasy novel called The Keeper Of The Godsword about the ultimate power and how it was coveted by all. What else is fantasy about? Although I liked the themes, it was pretty bad. Personally though, I kind of like it.

I wrote about 20 short stories and was nearly published in a sci-fi mag with a story called Penumbra, but I guess it just wasn't good enough.

Funnily enough one of my early stories, Proportions, was awarded a Highly Commended by a group called WRITERS WORLD in Queensland. It was about someone who loses his house and all his possessions. The twist at the end was that he was playing a game of Monopoly. That was in 1991 after I took a correspondence course.

I toiled on and off for years but I had no real experiences on which to draw inspiration.
 Then I visited Nepal.

Out of that came Dust and Chaos, my first published work on Bookbooster. It was a simple enough novella, but I learned to write simple sentences that drive the story instead of trying to be smart with complicated drivel.

My second work to see some light, Death Lust, is a zombie novella which comes from my own experience and attitudes. 

Write what you know.

My novel, Everyone Else Is Collecting Feathers, has ruffled a few. It is my attempt at an honest, ballsy little ditty about wasted lives. It began in 1995 as a truly horrible screenplay, but after years of polishing and hard work, it too was published.

The key to success is work. And more work.

I can't call myself successful yet because I haven't paid for anything with the proceeds of my labours. But I write for myself, not financial gain.

I've always loved the works of Stephen King but could never hope to imitate him. It was only when I read authors like Richard Laymon that I said to myself; I can do that....

Jack Ketchum is also a big influence. His stories based on real life terrors, written in deceptively simple prose is the thing I strive to emulate.

Right now I'm about to embark on a non-fiction book about American movie.

Todd Charlton.

You can find all Todd's novels on bookbooster.com for $2.99

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Ad Game. A former 'Mad Man' tells it like it was

Thriller writer Clinton Smith spent much of his life dreaming up ad campaigns for multinational agencies. He lived through the great days and even remembers some of them. A sample:

 

One morning, when I passed the office of John X, a clever and savvy copywriter, I found him standing on top of his desk.
   Standing on his desk looking down at his chair.
  In those days, all kinds of things happened in agencies. People rode Harleys through the corridors or punched their fists through the partitions. They tripped people up with their remote controlled model cars, hung newbies out the windows by their ankles, rooted each other on car bonnets in the carpark, filled rooms full of black balloons...
   So to notice someone standing on his desk was comparatively normal.
   I don't think I asked him directly what ailed him but I was curious.
   Then someone filled me in.
   The guy was working on proposition for a cigarette campaign. I'll try to unpack that for you.

The proposition

This particular agency had a department that developed selling propositions. It's job was to assemble the bare bones of a selling statement or six, research the hell out of them, then present the winner to the creative department.
   For instance, the winning proposition, authenticated by scores of well-compensated housewives selected from all three socio-economic groups (they love that kind of language) might be 'OMO has more effective bleaching agents'. The creative department would then translate this into 'OMO has blue beads of bleach'. Of course, that wouldn't be the entire
execution, or even the slogan, but it might just kick off a TV campaign.
   So this guy was working on a coffin-nail brand. (We were allowed to in those days.) And the proposition they'd given him was: 'The man who smokes Brand X is taller than anyone else in the room.'
   As my fellow creative could recognise insanity when he saw it, he knew that the Proposition Department had vanished up it's collective arse. So, after standing on his desk for a couple of days, he told them to shove their notion up there as well - and went on to a distinguished career in several less constipated agencies.

Famous in our own lunchtimes

Those were the practically free lunch days because expense accounts were claimable. So you'd wipe yourself out with the most expensive lunch and not look in on the office after that - because, by then, you were staggering drunk.
   Of course you'd drive home (no breath tests) at considerable speed, barely able to discern the steering wheel, let alone the traffic around you. We lost several Account Executives to fatal car accidents. One moment someone was there - young, fit and full of life and hope. The next day he didn't come in and you learned that he'd gone under the back of a semi-trailer, or rolled his Merc on a business junta in Malaysia.

Write yourself a trip!

And, on the weekend off, we took a meandering trip around the Amalfi Coast.
     I remember that trip. The director - a wild man - and the client (who came along for the fun) decided that we had to go to Positano. So we assembled ready to roll. I packed an overnight bag containing two pairs of underpants, two handkerchiefs, toothbrush et al. The client turned up with nothing - just a toothbrush stuck in his top pocket. As for the director - fazed from a night with some girl he'd found (He said he'd drunk her pretty) - he had what he stood up in.
   The client said to him, 'Aren't you taking your toothbrush?'
   The director said, 'F*%-knell! You can buy a toothbrush anywhere!'

Tooling around Europe

Another shoot involved driving and filming a new Renault model in Paris, the South of France and Monaco. The first day was fraught. We were working with a skeleton crew and I had to collect the car from the Renault factory, and drive it to the Arch de Triumph where the male and female talent were to hop in and circle the damned thing, looking cool.
    Simple enough if you've ever driven a left hand drive car on the wrong side of the road in a traffic-jammed foreign city. I hadn't. And bending the car wasn't an option. We only had the one prototype. As it happened, luck was with me. But the whole shoot could have gone up the spout right there.

Mountain Climbing in NZ

Then there was the aftershave shoot in New Zealand. We wanted to film hang-gliders taking off from mountains in the Aspirings and soaring above the snow-clad peaks. All good. Except when you are suddenly choppered up 3,300 metres and have to lug heavy camera cases to the peak through deep snow, it's not easy to breathe.
   But did those two hang-glider fliers get lucky! For days, they were flown to the top of the mountain, took off, flew like birds then landed in the valley, followed by the ever attentive chopper. It waited for the glider to be repacked and strapped to the skids, then flew them up to the top again for another go. All day for days. There was no way those two young guys could ever have afforded such a gig themselves. To use a contemporary expression, they were stoked! And, by the way, you don't shut down a chopper when you perch it on the top of a mountain. Because if you can't get it started again, it's cactus. So all day, for days, that chopper, when not actually flying, sat on a peak and chugged.

The industry and the agony!

There were tragic moments, too.
   For instance, they say never work with children or animals. But what if you're doing a cat commercial and need pussy to bound across the floor and lick his pretty owner's ears?
   Well it can be quite simple if you put enough fish-paste in her ears.
   But on the other hand, you could be there all day doing take 85 of a five shot commercial.
   Once my TV producer, a hard-bitten woman, and I took the afternoon off to see a movie. We went to Truffaut's 'Day For Night' - a wonderful exposition of what it takes to make a film. At one stage in that masterpiece, they have the street is all blocked off. They have great banks of floods and reflectors, spots on scaffolds, trucks everywhere - gaffer trucks, catering, grip, generator - the whole catastrophe. They have a camera on a crane, dollys on tracks and fifty anxious crew. And, in the middle of it all, they're trying to get a cat to drink its milk.
   And the cat will not drink its milk!
   Despite the enormous forces assembled, despite endless patient coaxing, nothing anyone can do can make the damned cat drink its milk.
   My agency producer and I sat in that darkened, almost empty theatre and sobbed. And why did we case-hardened ad types sit there bawling? Because, in one seminal scene, Truffaut had crystallised the anguish we had lived so often, had captured the nobility and tragedy of the process.
   Looking back, it was the best of times and worst. And only a fool would want to live it again.
   In fact, you can't.
   The Internet has cut the meat out of the media buy. Audiences are becoming so dispersed that simple access to them is gone.
   God knows how agencies cut it now. And he's welcome to the information.

You'll find five of Clint's thrillers on Buzzword.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

HOW MANY FRENCH SOLDIERS DOES IT TAKE TO DEFEND PARIS?

We recently published Ray Johnstone's All Fall Down - a remarkable account of two young boys growing up in occupied France. This thoughtful, well-researched work, perceptively conceived, brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the period.  We asked Ray to contribute to the blog - which he has done in typically thorough fashion. So! How many French soldiers does it take?


Because of the invasion of Iraq, most people know the answer to this question, but before I respond to it for those who don’t, let’s go back a few steps to 1914.
    It is now almost a century since an assassination in the Balkans triggered World War I. For convoluted reasons understood by very few these days, within weeks mankind was enmeshed in a worldwide conflict that resulted in destruction and death on an unprecedented scale. Four terrible years later, the Armistice was signed and the cliché that this had been the ‘the war to end wars’ was introduced into the language. But within a few short years the League of Nations failed and the political and diplomatic manoevering in Europe’s capitals once again became difficult to follow. Eventually appeasement was abondoned and brinkmanship became a thing of the past as most countries prepared for another war.
    But in France, large sections of the population tried to ignore these developments. The overwhelming majority was hoping against hope to avoid repeating the nightmare of the Great War which killed over one and a half million French citizens. The carnage, it is said, touched every family in France.
    The promise of peace finally proved to be a lie when Parisians noticed telltale smoke plumes rising over public buildings as beaurocrats burned their sensitive documents. Then the government abondoned Paris for Bordeaux.
    When the blitzkrieg came it was so fast that there were almost no pitched battles. The French army resisted  for a while, then it faltered, crumbled and was finally routed. A few weeks later the Fuhrer went on a triumphant tour of Paris and the long, dark days of occupation began.


The War Memorial

Even the tiniest hamlet in France has its monument aux morts or war memorial, with a list of names of those who died in each World War. The same applies to Australia where every city, town and village has a monument with a Role of Honour to commemorate Australian deaths in the two conflicts. But in France the World War Two list is always much shorter because the war itself was short. The French army capitulated in little more than six weeks and those who died as martyrs of the resistance - or in deportation - always outnumber those killed in action - and often by a considerable margin.
    The idea for ‘All Fall Down’ first came to me when I stumbled across a nondescript grave near my home in Gascony. It marks the spot where a young boy was shot by the departing Germans just a few months before the war ended. I felt confounded that such barbarity could have taken place in this idyllic part of France little over sixty years ago.
    As an Australian I am aware of the widespread feeling that France took the soft option by capitulating so quickly in the wake of the blitzkrieg. But the longer I live in France, the more I realise how terrible the years of occupation were. So I decided to start researching and writing a novel for English speaking readers in an effort to try and put the record straight.
    Although my book is a work of fiction, everything (well almost) is based on actual events. Several of the incidents were described to me by older French people I have met - some are taken from descriptions I have found in resistance museums and on war memorials - and others are from books, magazine and newspaper reports I have rooted out. The result (I hope) is a graphic, crude and violent novel, without a jot of romanticism.
    The twin themes of the story are, I suppose, collaboration and resistance. These are complicated issues, and there were many shades of both. For those of us - like me - who have never lived in an occupied country, they can be especially difficult ideas to unravel. Active resistance was certainly a long time coming, and during those bleak and frightening years, the primary objective of millions of French citizens was to simply keep their heads down and to get on with their lives. But through some of the fictionalized events described, I hope I have been able to provide an insight into how complex and dangerous living through the dark years of Nazi occupation was for the people of France.



A Finished Book?

Ten years later I felt that ‘All Fall Down’ was finished.
    But it wasn’t. 
    J.K. Rowlings is quoted as saying that she became rather depressed when her first Harry Potter book was rejected by so many publishers. Twelve, apparently. Well,  All Fall Down has been rejected or ignored by a few more than that. My estimate is that a thousand publishers and/or agents responded to my submissions with a deafening silence.
    But luckily one day when I had long given up the idea of getting my book published, I stumbled across the Buzzword Books website and read Dan Mills’s no holds barred blog. It pulls no punches on the subjects of writing (and rewriting and rewriting) and the almost negligible possibilities of ever finding a publisher - let alone ever making any money out of writing. It is probably best summed up with the line: 'All of us are doomed to obscurity,' but I decided to give it another try (taking my submission total to one thousand and one).
    Fortunately for me, something clicked, and an email followed suggesting that I, wait for it, yes, rewrite the manuscript (with certain changes) for further consideration by Buzzword.
    So it was back to the starting point with many revisions and several more drafts. But the lapse in time allowed me to see all kinds of problems in the original manuscript I had not noticed before. During this rewriting, I saw things with new eyes and I was able (sometimes with considerable pain) to jettison many overwritten passages, lots of turgid stuff and long slabs of unnecessary, self indulgent writing.
    Then (wow! out of the blue) Buzzword Books eventually deemed it ready for publication.


In war, there are no winners

But what about the question of French soldiers defending the French capital? Well, the answer, as most Americans and other Anglo Saxons know points back to Paris under Nazi occupation: no one knows because it’s never been done before.
    Jokes like this abound in the United States and most English speaking countries because of the widespread impression that France gave up too early and too eagerly when the Germans attacked in 1940 - and because France refused to support the allied invasion of Iraq in 2003.
    But, as George Orwell pointed out, the quickest way to end a war is to lose it.
    In war there are no winners, and to illustrate this, in All Fall Down, good does not triumph over evil. The price for treachery is seldom exacted, and brutality is meted out equally on both sides in the struggle for Liberation.
    Although my sympathies are categorically and wholeheartedly with the French, it is folly to believe that evil attaches itself exclusively to one side in any conflict.
    So without belabouring the point, I hope the unrelenting anti-war theme, as well as the idea that prejudice is universal, come through loud and clear.


The Triumph of Evil

The subtitle I chose for All Fall Down is The Triumph of Evil. This is because I do not believe that much has changed since the end of the First World War.
    Although in the West living conditions and wealth have improved dramatically for many over the last hundred years, to this day, much of the third world still lives in poverty or on the cusp of starvation. Racial and gender equality remain a dream for most, and crimes against women, gays and other minorities often go unpunished. Almost all countries have governments that are, in some way, manipulative, corrupt, suppressive or undemocratic - and the electorates in many have lost confidence in the political process. Class, tribal and ethnic conflicts are endemic. Religious intolerance is rife. Terrorist acts are universal. The taking, torture and execution of hostages is commonplace and from China to the United States the death penalty is either tolerated or condoned. In some countries it is even popular.
    So now, still in the ascendancy nearly one hundred years since the war that was fought to end all wars, it seems that evil has triumphed.

RJ Mezin April 2013
ray@johnstonesinfrance.com


Read more about All Fall Down here. Just $3.95