R. J. Nello

🇺🇸-born, 🇬🇧-based, novelist.📖 Writing, travel, culture and more. Always holding "auditions" – so be careful or you may end up a character in “1797”…and perhaps an evil one.🎭 (And why do I suspect some of you might like that latter in particular?)😂

Not A Kids’ Game

July 23, 2018
R. J. Nello

Most who write fiction were at some point in their lives probably struck by lightning. There was no overarching plan: they merely found they were hit with some (what they consider a great) idea, and eventually they just ran with it. As I’ve previously discussed here (somewhat humorously), I was one of those:

Okay, you really wanna know? One morning, I was listening to that “1973” song of Blunt’s on my iPhone for about the 247th time and I thought, ‘He’s too young to remember that year. Hell, even I don’t!’ Ah, but how about circa “1993?” Bingo! My brain shifted forward into a fictionalized historical memoir type thing….

I was also one of those who had toiled in academia. For over a decade, I tore apart others’ works. They were mostly research books, history/non-fiction, but, still, they were others’ works.

However, some were also fiction.

Since I starting writing novels in 2012-2013, I have discovered it is decidedly another experience to be the one who is actually doing the creating. The one aspect of my writing about which I am now uncompromising is this one: NOBODY lectures me as to what characters to write and how they should be presented. I am the writer. I DECIDE.

[Photos by me, 2018.]

On the other hand, I do believe that children’s books – what are given to impressionable pre-teens – are somewhat different. They do require standards and critiques beyond what an adult book might reasonably warrant. That youthful, still innocent, audience is not capable yet of understanding wider life contexts.

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When “The Future” Is Over

July 20, 2018
R. J. Nello

The troubled current relationship between the US and Russia resonates its in own way with many Americans of my generation, known as “Generation X.” We are the ones born from 1964 until about 1980. Our grandparents fought in World War II; and our parents were raised with the Cold War.

It saddens us. We had experienced for a few years something that was radically different: what we had thought was “reconciliation”:

Many Russians in our age group experienced much the same – but from of course their own perspectives. If you are interested, you should read Anastasia Edel’s February 2018, New York Review of Books article. It’s a fascinating recounting of where we were then and how we are here now.

In the 1990s, back in New York, I knew several “Anastasias.” For a time, post-1991, it was an almost surreal US-Russia relationship. Russians (and other former Soviets), America’s former Cold War adversaries/ enemy, people most of us had never met in person and had been “demons” for our entire lives, were now newly free to travel post-communism, and even free to attend university in the US.

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“One of my favorite Psalms…”

July 19, 2018
R. J. Nello

It’s no secret. Those of us born as Christians today often appear on a daily basis to be on the whole much less observant in comparison to our ancestors. Yet even if you are a Christian in name only (and rarely to never go inside a church), I’ve found as a writer familiarity with the Bible is nonetheless definitely useful.

It is often sloppily described as “a book,” when it is more accurately characterized as a library compiled from over a millennia of writings. “Bible” is the English translation of the Greek plural “biblía” – “books” – which stems from the name of the ancient Lebanese port of Byblos, which exported papyrus. As a writer, you need not believe a word of the supernatural in it. What is more vital is that it contains the roots of so many of our metaphors and cultural references; and although certainly not academic “history” as we now understand it, the Bible is also, in numerous ways, “historical.”

[Photo by me of The New Jerusalem Bible’s introduction to the Book of Esther.]

The Book of Esther is an example. That above is the New Jerusalem Bible’s introduction to it. (That is the version of the Roman Catholic Bible used here in England and Wales.) Indeed whenever I see someone else pop up on social media or in general media declaring that “strong women” were largely absent from literature until only recently, I have thought: “Have you read the Book of Esther?”

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July 17, 2018
R. J. Nello

British and European schools are starting their summer holidays this week or next. Most American schools finished several weeks ago, to resume in late August or in early September. So with (northern hemisphere) summertime now fully upon us, are you looking for backyard, poolside, or beach reading?

Well, of course I have, uh, suggestions…

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Tuned Balloon

July 13, 2018
R. J. Nello

Yesterday, I wished you a happy weekend, I know, but as we know new developments… sometimes develop. I’d felt there were a couple of slightly irritating issues with my previous blog template – particularly the lack of a date stamp on the individual posts themselves (which I had not realized when I had changed it from the previous one) that could be confusing to visitors.

[Screen capture of WordPress.]

I gave up trying to fix it and decided yesterday just to change the template. As you see ironically that previous one was named “Rosalie” – a bit of an unanticipated “inside” joke you may understand, too. This one, though, doesn’t have that date problem, and I think it’s easier to read. So this is the new template:

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“While I like to hope I have changed your world…”

July 11, 2018
R. J. Nello

I noticed on Instagram yesterday another writer yet again announcing a new book release as if it is an upcoming Apollo moon launch. We’re all getting a daily countdown. It was ten days to go… then eight days… six, five, four, yesterday three, and I presume today will be two…

[Apollo Saturn V rocket on display. Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Photo by me, 2014.]

And that’s not the end of it.

It all makes me want to bash my head down on my desk repeatedly.

I do like that author most of the time. I’m mentioning that purely as an example. It is all too common behavior.

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That Handwritten Past

July 7, 2018
R. J. Nello

I hope you’re having a good weekend. Yesterday, I paused at one point to have a look through my first (and only) printer-generated copy of my Conventions manuscript. As I turned pages, I also asked myself: “Why the heck am I keeping this?”

As with my earlier books (I’ve got similar copies of those someplace), I never really considered it “real” until I had used up seemingly half of my printer’s ink supply to print the entire book out on that paper. It also required quite a bit of paper: about 260 pages, fronts and backs. Once it was on that paper, though, I felt, I was almost there.

[The first printed version of Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Photo by me, 2018.]

It is essential, I believe, in finishing a book, to review a printed version, page by page. Most people still do not use e-readers, and I feel a reading experience of a printed book is different from that of an e-book. It’s vital to put yourself in the paper reader’s place as well.

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My 500 To 700

July 5, 2018
R. J. Nello

A writer – I won’t say who – I follow on Twitter tweeted the other day that there is some sort of another #Nanowrimoblahblah this month. I clicked over and had a look. Yes, it seems there is:

I thought that was in November? Having a further poke around I see this is not as “intense” as November; but in any case, I’ll say the same thing here I always say about this sort of thing. If you seriously want to write, my advice is to keep your distance from this type of exercise. For as #Nanowrimo tells us:

Our experiences since 1999 show that 50,000 words is a challenging but achievable goal, even for people with full-time jobs and children. This is about the length of The Great Gatsby.

And I don’t know where to begin with that sort of a misleading commentary offered right off the top. Seeing something like that in the very first FAQ leads me to doubt anything else that they would assert afterwards without my ever clicking another link. I’m immediately seriously underwhelmed.

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The 2018 National Birthday

July 4, 2018
R. J. Nello

Most Americans (I hope) know what today is. 🙂 I thought some lesser known words once offered by the drafter of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 might be interesting reading today. At age seventy-seven, in 1821, five years before his death, Thomas Jefferson wrote this recollection in his autobiography:

[From “Jefferson Himself,” Bernard Mayo, 1942.]

If you read enough of Jefferson’s writings, you notice he had a tendency at times to sensationalize and exaggerate, and sometimes quite a lot. That is not a surprise especially about “1776” if we remember he was of course a “propagandist” for American independence. He wasn’t about considering matters “fairly” as an historian looking back on events should.

Of course Americans did have friends in England opposed to the Government’s “crush the rebellion” policies, including prominent ones in the House of Commons itself. The most well-known today remains Edmund Burke, but noisier – and actually more supportive – was the larger than life Charles James Fox. For example, in 1775 – even before the Americans declared independence – Fox denounced the first minister (today called the “prime minister”) Lord North, terming him:

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“Sea lion, you’re in my house”

July 2, 2018
R. J. Nello

I’m not one to do this sort of thing – in fact, I don’t think I ever have. However, there are those times when you must plant a flag and not just “nod” politely. I feel doing that is especially necessary when you are faced with another writer who drops in to “sea lion” IN YOUR COMMENTS under the pretext of carrying on a “discussion.”

This deserves the bright light of blog day. First, what is “sealioning?” It’s an expression to describe a type of commenting misbehavior, which Wikipedia defines this way:

Sealioning (also spelled sea-lioning and sea lioning) is a type of trolling or harassment which consists of pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions. The harasser who uses this tactic also uses fake civility so as to discredit their target. The term arises from a 2014 edition of the webcomic Wondermark, where a character expresses a dislike of sea lions and a passing sea lion repeatedly asks the character to explain.

Here is how it works, as that cartoon suggested:

Keep that in mind as you read on. This exchange stems from this post of mine last week that included a bit on author Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) and charges of racism hurled at her for some things she wrote in her Little House books. I have screen captured the entire “conversation”:

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Only The Beginnings

June 29, 2018
R. J. Nello

In exchanging comments on aspects of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books with another writer, she got me thinking and I found myself stating this:

The US has most definitely sadly not always been fully for everyone even if they were born in the US and desperately wished to be fully accepted.

America. Where we have been to where we are now. Today, we are so different it is almost impossible to re-picture the United States in the year of George Washington’s winning election as first president: 1789.

[From a parking viewpoint on Route 23, which winds westwards up into the Catskills from the north-south New York State Thruway (I-87). New York State is spread out immediately below. Off in the distance, to the right (on a clearer day than this) you can see to Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Photo by me, 2015.]

In 1789, the original 13 US states, hugging the Atlantic seaboard, held a total human population of about four million, which is fewer than only Connecticut in 2018. (In comparison, Great Britain and Ireland then had about nine million; France about twenty million.) Ethnically the free inhabitants of the country were mostly composed of those from the British Isles and/or their descendants, with some possessing Dutch birth or ancestry, or German, or Scandinavian, or French. There were also a tiny number of Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, and Jews (the first Jews came to the colonies in 1654) mostly in port towns. The largest “city” was Philadelphia, with about 25,000 residents. Nearly a quarter of the population – Africans and their American-born descendants – were enslaved, with most held in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia; some forty percent of Virginia’s population was enslaved; over fifty percent of South Carolina’s was: whites were a minority there.

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“I had arrived at long last”

June 28, 2018
R. J. Nello

I was once a regular letter writer. I was not alone then: posting long, thoughtful, detailed letters by mail was not uncommon before the 1990s. It is amazing when I think on how that was not that long ago either – although if it was before you were born, I guess it is now “history.” (See previous post.😂)

[Excerpt from Frontiers: Atlantic Lives, 1995-1996. On Kindle for iPad. Click to expand.]

Yes, we may still use stamps in 2018. We even use Star Wars ones:

[Photo by me, 2018.]

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And A Century From Now?

June 27, 2018
R. J. Nello

Books are what we as writers leave behind. So it is human to wonder about the longer-term reactions to what we write. We may ask ourselves occasionally: “What might I be thought of a century or so from now?”

Case in point. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of her childhood memories. Some of those recollections are framed in ways we would not usually in our present:

[Screen capture of Outside The Beltway.]

I feel as decades pass a fiction writer gradually shifts from being a writer worth reading for purely reading sake to becoming increasingly a useful historical voice and source for his or her time. I’ve noted previously that’s how I read Ernest Hemingway: not as a toxic male man of our time, but as a man of his time. Similarly the likes of an early-1800s writing Fenimore Cooper – employing memories of his own childhood and with access to older people who remembered those times – fictionalizing the pre-United States in New York and New England in The Last of the Mohicans: that is almost, to us in 2018, another galaxy.

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A Secret Location No More

June 25, 2018
R. J. Nello

Saturday, we went to historic Bletchley Park, about an hour away, just outside of Milton Keynes:

[Photo by me, 2018.]

Its enduring fame rests on what happened there during World War II:

[Photo by me, 2018.]

The intelligence complex was built around, and prominently includes, a small former stately home – Bletchley Park – that the British government bought in the 1930s:

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In The Early Morning Quiet

June 22, 2018
R. J. Nello

“Good, I like that. [Tap, tap, tap.] What a struggle. I think maybe I’ve finally got that…”

“If I might say, sir, I know I am not the novelist, and I wish not to intrude, but I have my deep concerns about your plans, that if such is practicable…”

[Photo by me, 2018.]

“Robert, uh, Mr. Rutherford, will you please stop looking over my shoulder, you’re making me self-conscious. I’ll get back to that other bit later. I don’t know about you and John Adams yet.”

“And I have never been to Amsterdam, as you know. I hope ’tis interesting my stay and that your readers shall be much seized by events…”

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