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I have thoughts. Sometimes I share them. Here's where. Enjoy! --Frank S Joseph, Author
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Lavaca

Dear Friend of Frank,

 

My old buddy Michael Hollman asked a throwaway question today: " A number of years ago," Mike said, "you told us you had a natural gas well in the Permian basin. How is that doing?"

 

"Not exactly," I replied, and with that the floodgates opened.

 

The well in question was a dud, a shallow gas well hardly worth maintaining. The developer capped it after a few years. We made pennies.

 

gaswell.jpg


Me and the gas well. (c) www.samjosephphotography.com

 

By "we", I mean me and about 30 relatives, descendants of my maternal great-grandfather Sam Baum, who with a cousin bought some 1,200 acres of land mostly in Lavaca County, Texas. This was in the 'teens, during a rush of enthusiasm for investing in Texas oil and gas property.
 
Our land was not in the Permian, unfortunately. It was in Nowhere, Texas, at the center of a triangle 120 miles on a side linking Houston, Austin and San Antonio. You could fly into any of those cities, rent a car and drive; it'd take the same amount of time to reach Nowhere, Texas.
 
The years went along with little or no activity. Sam Baum eventually died, leaving the land in trust for his heirs. The years went along some more, what income the trust received being mostly from grazing rights. In the '50s, all but the mineral rights were sold off. That land now is a weekend-getaway hunting resort for Houston oilmen.
 
The mineral rights were all we wanted. Under Texas law, they have peculiar power, often trumping land rights of occupants.
 
The years go along some more and now it's the '90s. A wildcatter, one Auburn Dennis, negotiates a deal with my beloved late cousin Sheldon Baum, then designated manager of the Baum Trust. It's a way-too-generous deal, as I am later to discover, but no matter: Mr. Dennis strikes oil, lots of it, enough that there's plenty of money for him and millions of dollars for the Baum heirs ... among whom my mom Marjorie-Lee Baum has the largest share; by a quirk of fate, "Marj" was an only child and her cousins weren't.

 

At the time, my mom was on her way to dying from an incurable, untreatable movement disorder. Her care was costing hundreds of thousands. It would have impoverished her, leaving nothing for me and my sister Judy -- but for that Lavaca County oil money. The oil in effect paid for the last years of Marjorie-Lee Baum Joseph's life.
 
Then Mom died, the wells dried up, and so did the money.
 
More years pass. The trust is reorganized into an LLC because it can only live 100 years under, I think, Missouri law (the Baums are centered in Kansas City). My cousin Suzie is made manager. Then radio silence for several years. One fine night I discover why. Suzie calls from Chicago to say she's been going through a Divorce from Hell, has been neglecting the Baum LLC, and might I be interested in becoming a manager in her stead?

I am recently retired, have some background in oil and gas, and find myself itching for such a project. I accept. So do my cousins Barbara and Steve, but somehow I'm designated lead manager. And that's how this city boy finds himself in Nowhere, Texas, for a couple of fascinating days.
 
Son Sam is tagging along, having sweet-talked me by saying 'Dad, you're going to need a photographer.' We book a room in the Best Western in Hallettsville, the county seat, connect with our "landman" Jim Fenner, and off we go to the oil patch.

 

We tour that pathetic little gas well. We survey the rolling, empty landscape that encompasses our mineral rights. We meet up with Auburn Dennis in the Tastee Freez where every Lavaca oil deal gets done. And at night we return to the Best Western, where cars of oilfield workers jam the lot because someone somewhere is making oil money ... just not us.

 

(A parenthetical note about Hallettsville TX, seat of Lavaca County. Although the population was only 2,510 in the 2010 census, Hallettsville boasts a courthouse whose five-story-high clock tower is visible for miles around. And the surrounding lands, which I have mean-spiritedly described as Nowhere, are rolling and verdant, wooded with low deciduous trees and washed with streams. The land is alive with wild game; we saw feral pigs among other fauna. So while Lavaca isn't amenable to farming or grazing, nor all that amenable to mineral exploration, it's great for hunting and fishing.)
 
Auburn Dennis could be in the movies. Good-looking in a wavy-haired well-fed way, fast-talking, Jesus-loving, Mr. Dennis is slippery as Jell-O nailed to the wall. He regales us with seismic soundings that look like colorful squiggles to us but harbor mysteries of great wealth to him. But over the months to come, I am to discover that whatever Auburn Dennis has just finished saying is inoperative. No deal is made.
 
Instead, a Houston company called Square Mile Development comes seemingly out of nowhere and does a nice quick deal, negotiated by Yours Truly on (boasting here) far better terms than the one dear Sheldon negotiated in the '90s.
 
(Square Mile didn't actually come "out of nowhere." They were corralled by Jim Fenner because that's what Texas "landmen" do. Think real estate agents, except that landmen represent the customer [developer], not the seller [we rights-holders].)
 
Baum LLC has a happy association with Square Mile for a few years. Square Mile buys some options, does some exploratory drilling, we make some money (though a fraction of what we collected in the '90s). Then they throw in the towel and ever since ... radio silence. Oil prices collapse. Because we aren't in the Permian, or anywhere else good, our land isn't amenable to "fracking." Drilling must be done the old-fashioned way, straight down. That's a lot costlier than "fracking," meaning unprofitable at the depression-level where oil prices have languished until recently.
 
Now crude is playing footsie around $100 a barrel, but no one -- not Square Mile, not Auburn Dennis, not no one -- has come knocking. I call Jim Fenner once in a blue moon but he has no joy to share. We bide our time. We made our money. Maybe we will again one fine day.

 

Frank S Joseph Author
www.frankjoseph.com / frank@frankjoseph.com

 

P.S. Still available: FREE copies of the 2006 Mid Atlantic Highlands edition of To Love Mercy, the first novel of the Chicago Trilogy. Just send a request to frank@frankjoseph.com.

  

Cathy Baker just finished reading her FREE copy and here's what she said:

 

"I finished your book last night. What's impressive is that you've written an adult novel told in large part from the POV of two kids. How did you pull that off, I have to wonder.
 
"The book leapt out of my hands when Steve and Sass, after their picaresque journey through the night, and finding themselves among squabbling adults, decide in unison to bolt back outside. The scene at Lake Michigan as the sun rises was just magnificent. The suggestion that these two young boys might find a way to meet again, at a ball game, gave me a real sense of hope, even though I know things really didn't change much or quickly for these kids in late forties Chicago.
 
"Also--Riverview [Amusement Park]. As a little kid I went to Excelsior Amusement Park, Excelsior, MN, and you might as well have been describing the same place. Also as a little kid I went to the Minnesota state fair with my twin sister and best friend and somehow. after listening to the barker outside the freak show, my friend's father permitted us to go inside. Even as an 8-year-old I realized he shouldn't have let us. The shame of staring at the 'freaks' must be part of the attraction. I don't really remember what I saw. ... We wish we hadn't gone inside. The creepy [barker in the novel], and the way he bullied Steve into betting away his remaining cash, was superbly told. Bravo, Frank! Also, the little boy in the dunk tank--super, super creepy. Bravo again.

"Can't wait to read book number two and to read in final book three."

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Yo Voté (Provisionalmente)

I recently voted in the Maryland primary election ... provisionally.

Yo-Vote-sticker-cropped.gif
(c) Maryland Elections Board

I'd planned to vote by mail or dropbox but I misplaced the ballot and Primary Day was upon me. So I strolled over to our local elementary school planning to cast my ballot the old-fashioned way.

Unh-unh.

'Hmm,' an election official said. 'Looks like you ordered a mail-in ballot.'

You know that? I thought. I didn't say it though, just nodded. 'OK then,' said the guy, 'you're going to have to vote a provisional ballot.'

And the fun began.

It was a first for me and seems it was for them too. The election judge, a kindly fellow in a straw fedora, had to look up the rule. The main thing is not to vote twice. If you find that missing ballot, he said, throw it out.

I couldn't help cracking wise. 'I know all about vote fraud,' I said. 'I'm from Chicago.'

Another election official looked up and smiled. "Vote early and often,"  she said, quoting the old joke most every Chicagoan knows.

They sent me to another guy who produced a bunch of paperwork. Name, address, drivers license number, Social Security last 4, etc. Then he handed me a State of Maryland info sheet, from which I quote the applicable provision:

The precinct register shows that you already received a mail-in ballot ... or have already voted. If you have not already voted, your provisional ballot will be counted. Voting or trying to vote more than once is against the law and if you do this, you will be referred to law enforcement agencies for further investigation. (Emphasis added.)

At last he handed me a ballot. It was the standard primary ballot plus special folding instructions, a special envelope, a special place to drop it. I even got a special voting kiosk, for bad boys I guess.

The return place was not an ordinary ballot box but this cool sack with a slot in the top. When I slipped in my ballot, the slot snapped shut such that it could not be removed except by whoever counts provisional ballots.

ballot-box-question-mark.jpg
(c) iStock

Which doesn't happen in Maryland until the second Wednesday following the primary. At that time, my provisional ballot will be inspected individually to see if I told the truth. If approved, it will be counted and added to the official tally regardless of who the apparent winners and losers are.

Big if? Probably not but I can't help feeling a tad paranoid. I said I was from Chicago, didn't I?

The school gym where all this took place normally is bustling on Election Day. But at 7:45 a.m. on this particular election morning, it was a desert. More election workers than voters. I'd forgotten to wear a mask but I didn't need one. I was yards from my nearest fellow voter.

I wasn't surprised. Word was this would be a low-turnout primary.

Which was all the more reason to vote. Assuming my vote is counted, it will carry more weight than if many people voted. Suppose lightning strikes and some race ends in a dead tie. I'll walk around boasting my late-counted vote decided that contest. Now that's power.

Final observation: If you ever vote provisionally, make sure to budget extra time. I was inside that gym more than a half-hour. At the end, when they pointed to the table with the Yo Voté stickers, I couldn't resist asking for one saying Yo Voté (Provisonalmente).

Frank S Joseph Author
www.frankjoseph.com

P.S. Jeffrey Slavin, mayor of our little Washington DC suburb, was sitting outside when I emerged. Coming in, Jeffrey jokingly greeted me by shouting 'Famous author approaching!' So coming out, I asked if the Town could do something when To Do Justice is published (forthcoming from TouchPoint Press). A book presentation may emerge from that conversation.I'll try to video it just for You, Dear Reader.

P.P.S. Did you request your FREE copy of To Love Mercy yet (by sending me an email at frank@frankjoseph.com)? Wendy Tucker did and here's what she said:

It is 3:42am in West Hollywood, CA & I have spent the last 2+ hours completely captivated by To Love Mercy. Such a cliche to say/write, 'I couldn't put it down'; but cliches often are based on truth. Which is the case...I could not. And I also could not wait to thank you. What sheer pleasure I'm having.
 
It is a wonderful book, I can hear the voices of the people. Their choices of words, even the cadence. Mercy Hospital compared to [Michael] Reese. The bus transfers with the punched holes. Drexel and 47th. The Piccadilly Theatre—God, did that hit home! ... Thanks for providing great insomnia!

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Conchita the Mystery Woman

Dear Friend of Frank,


For some years, my wife has been receiving text messages to someone whom
I'll call "Conchita." My wife's name is not Conchita.

 

These texts are relatively innocuous, advertising goods or services seemingly
aimed at a young to middle-aged woman. But anything that comes uninvited to
a cellphone is not innocuous; in my view, it is an invasion of privacy. And like I
said, my wife's name is not "Conchita."

 

 

question-mark-face.jpg

(c) imgFlip.com

 

This week I discovered who "Conchita" is.

 

She is a Black woman around 40 years of age. She lives 35 miles from me in
another Maryland suburb of Washington DC. I know her likely street address,
email address, telephone numbers, names of people close to her, high school,
and what she looked like some 12 years ago. I know her first, last and middle
name. I know her nickname.

 

I learned all this due to alerts from IDNotify, a free identity-theft service included
with my TurboTax subscription. This week IDNotify sent me seven alerts of
hacks involving me, my wife and our son. These include accurate instances of
our cell and landline numbers, email addresses current and former (including
two I haven't used in 30-40 years), and of course street addresses. Our names
are spelled correctly.

 

There was misinformation too. Some was amusing -- conflating my

information with my son's. Some was mere misinformation (swapping

2" for "1" in our ZIP code).

 

I was upset, natch, but also curious -- about "Conchita," whose name first
caused alarm but has turned into a running joke between my wife and me..
it was a simple step to fill in the blanks. All I did was go to Whitepages.com and
Facebook.

 

At Whitepages, I discovered names of persons close to "Conchita" and two
phone numbers. At Facebook, it was easy to find her account given what I
already knew about her. There, I found her nickname, name of high school and
smiling graduation photo, plus 15 more shots of her and others apparently
close to her. All the photos are youthful. Seems "Conchita" stopped posting in
2010.

 

A nosy person could use this information for good or ill. No, make that 'sorta
good' ... 'maybe not so good' ... 'maybe not good at all' ... and 'evil.'

 

In the 'sorta good' category, i would include direct marketing. Full disclosure:
I'm retired now but for many years I made a nice living as a direct marketer. I
marketed our own publications successfully and, as a consultant, won awards
for my work, not to mention a satisfied clientele.

 

Direct marketing, or "DM", is not spam. DM goes to someone or something with
whom you have an existing business relationship. Spam is uninvited. DM is
legal in the U.S. though sharply restricted in many other countries. Spam
violates the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, though just try finding anyone who got
punished under CAN-SPAM.

 

At its ethical best, DM brings goods and services to your attention that you
might actually need or want. And if not, it's easy enough to hit "delete" or dump
it in the spam folder (or toss the envelope into the trash unopened).

 

Spam has little upside. It's the very definition of "junk" mail -- unwanted,
unrequested, unwelcome, often selling unsavory drek like penis enhancers. Not
to mention those messages from Mrs. Harmony Njoku in Lagos who prays for
your good health and requests your bank account number so she can rush your
unclaimed $7 million bequest.

 

And it gets darker.

 

.evil cellphone

(c) Boriana Giamova, FineArtAmerica.com

 

Those emails from somewhere (Russia?), the ones demanding ransom or
they'll blow up your computer? That threaten to broadcast your porn-browsing
habits to the world, that contain enough personal information to convince you
they mean business? What, you haven't received those? I have, like once
every few months.

 

At first they were terrifying. I'd read stories about computers frozen and
ransoms paid. I reported such attacks dutifully to the FBI. The FBI never
responded.

 

Then I started backing up to the Microsoft cloud and figured I could ignore
them. Nothing happened. I don't think it ever will, because Microsoft's
reputation depends on its security. But then, I am a trusting sort.
Now let's go to the really dark side.

 

Suppose I've been studying QAnon and decided that "Conchita" is a child-sex-

peddling communist antifa antichrist. First thing, I go on Facebook and "dox"

her--I tell the world what an evil person she is, then publish all that personal

information I've found. But I don't stop there. I tell my peeps to assemble in
front of Conchita's home on Saturday night bearing torches. Then do the same
thing to those persons listed as being close to her.

 

Or suppose, eviller still, I make another stop at MyLife.com. There, for a small
fee, I can get just about everything there is to know on "Conchita" -- criminal
record, lawsuits, something called "reputation score" ... aw, let's just quote from
MyLife's website:

 

"... liens, judgements, income, property records, social media, work & education
history, photos, personal reviews, and complete contact details. MyLife
Reputation Profiles show up in over 300 million online searches every month."

 

I didn't go to MyLife. I didn't follow up on close associates. I didn't contact
"Conchita" and don't intend to. Best I can figure, she got hacked too, which is
how her name was linked to my wife's cell. "Conchita" probably goes through
life blissfully unaware of any of this, while my wife keeps getting texts.

 

What to do?


I dunno. This isn't a personal advice column. You could go dark, unlisting
phone numbers, cancelling email accounts, shutting off the gas and moving to
an unheated cabin in the woods, but even that might not work. You'd still have
a Social Security number, still have a driver's license. No credit cards, OK, but
you'd still either use an ATM or stuff cash in that lumpy mattress.

 

You could practice privacy hygiene. Change passwords, restrict who sees your
cell number, stuff you know to do but maybe don't. Face it: Ordering online can
be great, banking online ditto, surfing the Web for goodies too. Streaming? Oh
yeah.

 

Just remember one: This stuff isn't free. You're paying a big price. Your

personal information is being bought and sold every second, legally. You're
getting creepily targeted Facebook ads because Facebook knows you inside
and out -- literally. Facebook is the most sophisticated data collection and
analysis machine ever known to humankind.

 

Sgt-Esterhaus.jpg

(c) ImgFlip

 

This isn't about Facebook though, no more than it is about Amazon, Google,

Mrs. Njoku with her $7 million or ... "Conchita". It's about you and me. Keep
your wits about you as you make your way in the world. In the immortal words
of Hill Street Blues' Sgt. Esterhaus, "Let's be careful out there."

 

Frank S Joseph Author
www.frankjoseph.com

 

P.S. My novel To Do Justice is to scheduled come out in October from
TouchPoint Press. Proofs are on the way. "Justice" is the final novel in the
"Chicago Trilogy" that began with To Love Mercy. TouchPoint is to publish the
entire trilogy, including republishing "Mercy". Dear Reader, you will be first to
know. There might even be special deals if I can swing something with
TouchPoint.

 

P.P.S. Sorry you haven't heard from me in a while. Sheer laziness. I'll try to be
a more conscientious correspondent.

 

P.P.P.S. There are still FREE copies available of To Love Mercy (the first
edition from Mid Atlantic Highlands in 2006). Drop a line to
frank@frankjoseph.com for your own. It really is free, no strings attached. All I
ask is to post a review if you like it.

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Thoughts on Amazon

Amazon bookstore in Bethesda MD.

Dear Friend of Frank,


Amazon is closing its bookstores. Every single one.

 

Failed experiment.

 

Doesn't happen often.

 

Maybe they were just too different. Maybe they were just too Amazon.

 

I don't know whether you've ever visited an Amazon bookstore but I have. The one in downtown Bethesda MD is within walking distance (a long walk). I've also been at the one in midtown Manhattan. The Manhattan one is bigger but otherwise they're pretty much the same.

 

Odd.

 

They're not much like ordinary bookstores. Hot-off-the-press bestsellers are up front but similarities end there. On the shelves you'll find … Amazon bestsellers. During the Trump years, for example, 1984 by George Orwell was an Amazon bestseller even though it was first published in 1949.

 

And books are shelved along Amazon lines: 'if you liked this then you'll like that'. For example, other dystopian science fiction classics would be shelved near 1984, with a helpful sign along the lines of 'if you liked 1984 then you'll like X'.

 

Amazon bookstores shelve lots of Amazon stuff too. Kindle readers in every flavor. Book paraphernalia, reading paraphernalia, etc. Not an awful lot of books, however. And definitely missing are cozy chairs in which to plop down and page through a discovery. The staff, while young, eager and smiling, don't really seem to be book people. I'd be disinclined to ask one for recommendations. Compared to a corner bookshop, Amazon bookstores feel cold and sterile to me. They aren't places for browsing.

 

The public seems to see it that way too. I never see many shoppers in my local Amazon bookstore. And in any case, Jeff Bezos has pulled the plug, which I take to mean I'm probably correct.

 

It's still surprising though. Amazon rarely missteps.

 

I'm not a disinterested party. While I don't currently own Amazon stock, I've done so in the past. Having been in the direct-marketing business myself as a publisher and consultant, I understood the brilliance of Amazon's gobble-'em-all-up strategy. I put moral and ethical reservations aside, held my nose and invested. Made out like a bandit.

 

Say what you like about Jeff Bezos, he did the world a great service by buying The Washington Post. The Post was in a lot of trouble when Bezos and his millions came along. To Bezos' credit, he opened his checkbook while keeping his nose out of their business. The paper started coming back almost immediately, and today it is one of our three great national newspapers. (I include the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which – as an ex-newspaperman – I view as the best-edited newspaper in America.)

 

But while Bezos has admirably kept strict hands-off regarding Post editorial policy, he doesn't hesitate to stick his nose elsewhere. Another of his retail endeavors, Whole Foods, is getting a real Big Brother vibe. Read this New York Times story [https://www.nytimes.com/.../whole-foods-amazon-automation...] about the latest experiment at Whole Foods.

 

And such things are the mere tip of a corporate iceberg. Take Amazon Web Services, the data processing subsidiary. Created as an in-house service bureau, AWS has burgeoned into perhaps the biggest and most profitable arm of the Amazon octopus. Amazon is so big, and does so many things (outer space anyone?), that it's really hard for ordinary mortals to grasp what Amazon actually is.

 

So: break it up?

 

OK by me.

 

Moves are afoot in Congress to do so. As I understand it, breakup could be difficult under current antitrust law. The Sherman Act, the fundamental antitrust law, was enacted in 1890. The other pillars of antitrust, the Sherman and Robinson-Patman Acts, are similarly old (1914 and 1936 respectively). Back then our economy was coal and steel. Now it's bits and bytes.

 

There's precedent for breaking up industrial giants. Think about Ma Bell. The government broke mighty AT&T into pieces with names like Bell South, Bell Atlantic, etc., giant companies in their own right but way smaller than the parent. That parent, AT&T, survives today. So do those others, and one, Bell Atlantic (now Verizon), may itself have become as large as Ma Bell once was.

 

Something like this might happen with a broken-up Amazon, I'm guessing. Jeff Bezos built an empire based on integration, each piece enmeshed with the others, but each piece could do fine on its own. I wouldn't be surprised if one or the other of these pieces – Amazon Web Services? – grew as big as present-day Amazon by and bye.

 

With the Bells though, "by and bye" took generations to happen. It might take generations with Amazon too. In the meantime, the octopus would be shorn of its tentacles. Cozy independent bookstores might get a new lease on life. Even flailing Barnes & Noble might stumble off the ropes.

 

Bring it on, I say. Let the chips fall where they may. However things shake out, Jeff Bezos still will be sitting pretty as – depending which day you look (watch out, Elon Musk!) – the world's richest man.

 

Frank S Joseph Author
https://frankjoseph.com / frank@frankjoseph.com

 

P.S. Publication of the Chicago Trilogy is on course. I renew my offer of a free copy of the previous (2006) edition of To Love Mercy, the first Trilogy novel. All I ask is that you post a review if you like it. Send your request for a free book to frank@frankjoseph.com.

 

P.P.S. And if you haven't already done so, I invite you to join my e-mail list. You'll receive these occasional posts quicker, and there may be the occasional goody too. You can opt off any time, of course, no harm no foul, and I promise never to share your email or other personal information without your express permission.

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Notes from Lockdown

Philip D. Harvey, 1938-2021

Dear Friend of Frank,

 

On Sunday I put on a necktie. It felt great.

 

Pre-covid, I didn't particularly enjoy suiting up. Mostly I didn't have to; I was in business for myself from my late 30s on so I could come to work dressed however I pleased. Then we sold our company in 2005 and I kinda-sorta retired. Then covid hit. Whatever shred of reason existed to suit up, vanished. The sweats came out. You know the rest.

 

But last Sunday was a memorial for my fellow writer Phil Harvey, who died last month. His death was utterly unexpected and sent shock waves through our writers' group. We writers have been together 20-25 years; Phil and I have been group members the entire time.

 

I could have participated via Zoom but that would turn it into a spectator event. Not what I had in mind. Phil's stories sometimes soared, especially when writing about the outdoors, which he did lyrically. His terse, penetrating critique helped make me a better writer. Despite covid, despite omicron, I wanted to honor Phil's memory with my presence. I wanted to put on a tie.

 

The event was held at the Cato Institute in downtown Washington DC. It was an uber-typical Washington event -- classy hors d'oeuvres, top-shelf liquor, waiters in livery. I was enjoying all this while feeling a disconnect. We were here to honor a dead guy, after all, not celebrate some policy victory.

 

Why Cato, the libertarian think-tank? Phil was a Cato supporter and staunch libertarian. Libertarians tend to be lumped with conservatives but that's not exactly right. Their core belief is in personal freedom: Let people do whatever they please, as long as it doesn't harm others.

 

Acting on those beliefs, Phil created Adam & Eve, a mail-order sexual-aids business that empowers people to live whatever sex lives they wish in the privacy of their homes.

 

Adam & Eve made Phil rich. Then, libertarian that he was, he spent much of that fortune spreading birth control and family planning in the Third World. Women, especially impoverished women, should be the ones who decide whether or not to become mothers, Phil believed; and he should be the one to help them do so.

 

Adam & Eve also got Phil into a huge pile of trouble. The Reagan Administration, charging obscenity, came down on Adam & Eve with both feet. Phil didn't take it lying down. Unlike most people, he had the will -- and the resources -- to fight back, especially when the matter in question was the First Amendment right of free speech. Phil and his lawyers went to the Supreme Court and won against a super-powerful opponent. The story is set forth in his book The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam & Eve.

 

I'd known little of this impressive back-story though. Phil was a modest guy.

 

Four of my writing buddies also attended. Aside from paying respects to Harriet Lesser, Phil's widow and an artist of reputation, we writers stuck together. I wasn't there to mingle. I love these writer people. They've become family. Losing Phil was like losing a cousin.

 

As mentioned, our group has been together going on 25 years. That's remarkable until you consider how much we get from participating. We get the truth. This group is that rare place where we can count on it.

 

We meet to critique -- read one another's work, offer constructive comments, try to help each other deal with the strengths and flaws. You have to be careful how you do that. Truth hurts, they say, and critique can hurt bad -- real bad. You're picking apart someone's baby, y'know? In a successful critique group, participants learn how to speak truth so it helps, not harms.

 

(Doesn't always work. Snark can emerge. I've been snarky myself, I'm ashamed to admit. But snark is the dark side of support. It's what comes out when you try to shower pearls and the other guy thinks you're throwing rocks.)

 

But I'm digressing. This is about covid and how it has affected my life, our lives. It's about what used to be little things -- neckties, suiting up, being among people dear to you and strangers in nice clothes rather than staring at a screen. About washing down a tasty tartlet with a fine Bordeaux. About spottng a great free parking space  in downtown Washington, then walking two blocks in freezing cold to a haven of warmth and light, manners and grace, reverence for principle (albeit principle to which one doesn't necessarily subscribe) ... while offering tribute to a guy, Phil Harvey, who deserved it.

 

Frank S Joseph Author

 

P.S. More covid thoughts to come. It's time, methinks. I invite you to share yours too. Email me at frank@frankjoseph.com.

 

P.P.S. Radio silence from TouchPoint Press. I'm not worried. They have other authors in the queue. When I next hear from them, the subject probably will be covers. Stand by.

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Are Editors Evil? Part II

       [In Part I, I chewed on this question
       without resolving it. In Part II ...
       ... some answers.]
 
Dear Friend of Frank,

   I've held many editor jobs in my working life, starting with proofreader when I was in high school and my buddies were bagging groceries. (I bagged groceries too. I lasted one day, at the end of which I knew shoulder pain I'd never imagined.)

   At 27, I was Night City Editor in the Chicago bureau of The Associated Press, a grand title for a young pup. During the Watergate years I was an editor at The Washington Post, one of a long string of folks massaging the Pulitzer-bound copy of Woodward & Bernstein. Then I left Big Journalism to become editor-in-chief of a newsletter publishing company; then held that same title with a newsletter company I co-founded; and finally held the title in my own publishing company. (I was chief cook and bottle washer too.)
   
   All along, I'd rather have been a reporter/writer.
   
   I was a reporter, a damn good one if I say so myself. Damn good writer too. Trouble was, I was also no slouch as an editor. I kept getting offered the title, always with more money and more authority. Hard to turn down.

   When I finally jumped ship, leaving The Mighty Washington Post for a newsletter publisher with six employees and offices above a furniture store, it was due to a) more money – lots more money, b) great title, editor-in-chief, c) boss authority, d) a company devoted to kick-ass journalism, and e) the clincher: I'd still be a reporter-writer.

   (I may have been kidding myself on this point. It was a small company, albeit an extremely successful one. There were two reporters plus myself, challenged to fill eight pages a week with kick-ass stories. I'd have had to be a reporter regardless.)

   Once I adapted to the limitations, however -– an audience in the thousands vs. an audience of the entire world; working in a niche, petroleum marketing, about which I knew nothing (I could barely spell 'gasoline' at first) -– I thrived. Niches can be cozy.

The Present Moment

   I've dwelt on the journalism model because I've spent so much of my working life there. Now I'm in the literary world and it's different. There are no runny-nosed cub reporters. Authors, it's assumed, know what they're doing. Editors really are there to elicit the best.
  
   Which brings me to TouchPoint Press, which is to bring out my "Chicago Trilogy" next year. We've finished editing two of the three Trilogy novels, To Do Justice (#3) and To Love Mercy (#1). So far I've never met nor spoken to my editor.
It's been great.

   Remember my friend Richard from Part I? Richard argued that editors are out to crush your spirit and your dreams. My TouchPoint editor, Mallory Matthews, is not a Richard nightmare. She is an author's dream.

   She edits with a light touch: if it ain't broke, she doesn't fix it. But there's nothing so good it can't be made better. If she spots something problematic, she doesn't make the change, she proposes it. If I don't understand, she explains. If I don't agree, we discuss. Sometimes it's substantive. More often it's small stuff, down to the comma level. Commas are important. We both think so.

 

[image]
 
   Eventually we resolve. Sometimes she prevails, sometimes I do, but nobody "wins" because it isn't a contest of wills. The relationship is entirely via email but that matters not. We're working with the same goal: to make the good better.

   It could easily have been otherwise.

   Put yourself in my position: A new author with an unknown-quantity publisher. Assignment to an editor I've never met, never talked to, whose qualifications I don't know, nor even where she's located.* Yet she has all the power. I'm scared.

          *The Norfolk VA area as it happens

   But we start out on just the right foot. She likes my novels. A lot. Hey, I'm cooked. Stick a fork in me.

  It could easily have been otherwise. My friend Richard isn't wrong, you know. Some editors are hounds from hell. One of my National Journal editors was a very sadist. He took grim pleasure in humiliating me, to a point that I found myself fantasizing about murdering him.

   But I confess it: I have been such an editor myself.

   OK, I was young. I'd had drill-sergeant role models of my own. I was under the usual pressures to keep the work moving. And over time I'd had some bozos writing for me, four of whom I fired.

   So I emulated my drill-sergeant role models. I came down on copy with my elbows. I chastised. I made fun of. I embarrassed and shamed.

   Shame on me.

   The drill-sergeant model may be OK with hatchling journalists, I've come to see, but not with professionals. They've paid dues of their own. They have egos too. They deserve respect.

   Besides, it works better.

Frank S Joseph
Author, the Chicago Trilogy [forthcoming from TouchPoint Press]
www.frankjoseph.com
 
P.S. To Love Mercy, the first novel of the Chicago Trilogy, was published previously by Mid Atlantic Highlands (2006). I'd like to share this five-star review of the 2006 edition just posted on Goodreads by Jennifer Rupp, who writes sexy Highland romances under the pen name Jennifer Trethewey.

 

                                       -0-0-0-

 
  Jennifer Rupp rated a book 5 stars. "It was amazing!"

  To Love Mercy
    by Frank S. Joseph

 

  In a time when even having a discussion about race can erupt into controversy,

  this gentle but forthright story reminds us that we are not born with prejudice,

  we learn it.

 

  From chapter one, the reader is plunged into the deep end of Chicago during

  an era many readers won't remember, but will picture clearly because of the

  author's skill and because, ultimately, we are not all that different as people.

  Like the Old and the New Testament, moments of love and beauty temper the

  ugliness and fear of the real world. We may never achieve the equality and

  freedom the tenets of our constitution profess, but we can do more than hope.

  We can strive to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.

 

  I received a signed copy of To Love Mercy from the author, Frank S. Joseph. I

  wanted to share the story, but I loved the book so much, I wanted to keep it for

  myself. So, I bought another copy to give to a friend and I recommend To Love

  Mercy to you. Read it with love.

 

    -- Jennifer Rupp a/k/a Jennifer Trethewey, Author

 

                                       -0-0-0-


P.P.S. Would you like to write a review too? I still have a limited number of copies of the 2006 edition on hand. Drop me a request at frank@frankjoseph.com. Be sure to include your postal mailing address.

 

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Our mailing address is:
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Are Editors Evil? Part I

Dear Friend of Frank,
 
   "If my experience is any guide," writes my pal Richard, "editors are there to kill you."

   And he's just warming up.

   Referring to my TouchPoint Press editor, Richard goes on:

   "Warning: Like all editors, she will be ruthless and uncaring and imperious, with no imagination or sympathy or kindness, with blinkered vision and a hard heart. Given half a chance, she will kill the best things you write. Kill them and be oblivious to what she is doing. Your heartfelt pleas will avail you nothing. She will be deaf and dumb and stupid. She will slash and burn. Wear a hazmat suit in her presence and carry a flame-thrower."
 
 

Sylvester Stallone, doing his thing.


   Well.

   Richard doesn't know my TouchPoint editor, not even her name. He has never met her, never spoken nor emailed nor texted nor communicated with her in any fashion. He's just having fun here.

   It's serious fun though. Richard knows whereof he speaks. During an illustrious career, he wrote editorials for the Chicago Sun-Times, Des Moines Register and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, much of the time from Washington DC bureaus. His copy went through many hands.

   So has mine. I was a reporter,  writer and, yes, editor at many news organizations including The Associated Press, the Washington Post and my own publishing companies. I'm retired now, writing novels, and once again I am working with an editor at TouchPoint, which will issue my "Chicago Trilogy" novels sometime next year. I've been thinking a lot about the editing process, thoughts I'd like to share.

Is Richard Right?

   Resolved: Editors are sons-of-bitches, out to do you dirt. Let's start there.
 

      Richard's editor, hard at work.
 
   The obvious answer ought to be no. Why would they? Assuming you are the writer/reporter/author, isn't the editor's interest the same as yours: to help your copy sing?

   The actual answer is no/yes/maybe/it depends.

   Editors can be lots of things: facilitators, polishers, killers; acquirers, rejecters; spell-checkers and grammarians; cops; bosses with bosses of their own; human beings.


   That last is where the fun starts.

   Because in this relationship, that only-human editor has all the power, at least at the outset. And you know how humans can be when you give them unlimited power.

   Consider the roles. Assume you're the writer/reporter/author. The editor's job is to improve your work. That's problematic right there because your work already is ... perfect. I mean, it is, right?

   Now assume you are the editor. You have these piss-ant writers tugging at your skirts. One or two know what they're doing but the rest are bozos. You are under pressure yourself – to keep things moving, to send good stuff up the line – and you've been doing this long enough to know that your judgment is better than the average writer, your experience deeper, and probably you're a better writer too. Not to mention smarter.

   You see the problem.

   Two problems actually.
 

·       The writer's problem is humility. Everything can be improved. This is something writers learn over the years ... or don't. Looking at you, Richard.
·       The editor's problem is humanity. Being a drill sergeant may work in the military, where it's all yessir and nossir, and it can be satisfying to persons with ego issues. But it doesn't work so well in creative workplaces, where other egos may be fragile too and work products often are viewed the way a mother views her newborn.

   After all, this relationship really is – or ought to be – about improving things. That's the editor's role. He* is there to put his judgment, experience, talent and brains to work helping the good to become better.

   *For simplicity's sake, I'll use "he" going forward instead of "he/she/they."

What Editors Do

   There are a lot of ways to help the good become better.

   At the base level, there's copy editing and proofreading. Proofreaders check spelling and grammar; copy editors do that and more. A good copy editor sends a clumsy locution back to the author or rewrites it himself; catches 'missed leads,' e.g. where the story starts in the wrong place, and advises (or imposes) improvement; identifies potential legal liabilities such as libel; and sometimes kills stories outright.

   Moving up, there are boss editors. In a journalistic setting they have titles like foreign editor, national editor, city editor. They make assignments, generate story ideas, deploy manpower, hire and fire, deal with emergencies (there are always emergencies), go to bat for their people or discipline them. They're drill sergeants, coaches, cheerleaders, mentors, confessors. They can even friends.

   Above them are big-boss editors with titles like managing editor, executive editor, or just plain Editor with a capital E. They set policy and direction. They may hire and fire. The buck stops with them.

   There are other sorts of editors. Acquisitions editors acquire stories and books and cultivate writers. Celebrity editors do god-knows-what but they do it awfully well, viz. the New Yorker under Tina Brown and now David Remnick.

   And the lines aren't always clear. Book editor Maxwell Perkins, legend has it, discovered Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Thomas Wolfe, then may have rewritten Wolfe's work. The celebrated minimalist author Raymond Carver didn't start out all that minimalist-y, the story goes; his editor Gordon Lish allegedly invented and imposed the style that made Carver famous.

   Next: How it's gone for me.

Frank S. Joseph, author, the Chicago Trilogy

P.S. I have a new website! Visit www.frankjoseph.com for the latest news on forthcoming publication of the entire Trilogy from TouchPoint Press.

P.P.S. And don't forget to use my new email address going forward. It's frank@frankjoseph.com.


 

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MacKenzie

Dear Friend of Frank,

 

   News comes that MacKenzie Scott, ex of Jeff Bezos, can't give her money away fast enough. Despite dropping $2.74 billion the other day, she keeps getting richer.

 

   What a problem to have.

 

   No need to remind you that Ms. Scott's former husband is the genius behind, and principal proprietor of, Amazon.com. He is also the world's richest man with a fortune estimated at $177 billion, mostly in Amazon stock.

 

   Amazon's market value is $1.7 trillion. That's trillion with a T.

 

   In 2019, Ms. Scott walked away from the marriage with 4% of Amazon's stock, trading at some $2,000 a share at the end of that year. Amazon's stock is trading at $3,403.49 as I write these words, so do the math.

 

   But back to Ms. Scott who, with a net worth of $57 billion her ownself, is the third wealthiest woman in the world. She has pledged to give it away "until the safe is empty." I'd say she's not trying hard enough.

 

   She is trying hard though. This latest tranche went to places that maybe never saw a handout of any sort, let alone googobs in the $10-million-and-up range. Places like the College of the Desert, a community college in Palm Desert CA with about 12,500 students, mostly part-time. I had to look that one up.

 

   I also had to look up William Rainey Harper College and Kennedy-King College, both of which turn out to be in or near my hometown of Chicago.

 

   Yet all is not peaches and cream for MacKenzie Bezos. She caught flak from one Maribel Morey, founding executive director of the Miami Institute for the Social Sciences. "MacKenzie Scott is a private citizen but she is playing a public role," Ms. Morey was quoted in today's New York Times, which is where I get most of the facts for this rant (Wikipedia too plus good old Doctor Google). "Much as a judge has to explain their [sic] logic, or a senator has to answer to their constituents [sic, sic], a philanthropist owes it to the public to explain how and why they [sic! sic! sic!] came to their [uh, you know] decisions."

 

   Well, now.

 

   A judge is an elected or appointed public servant, accountable to his or her constituents. Same for a senator. MacKenzie Scott is a successful novelist, ex-wife of the world's richest (and baldest) man, and stone babe. According to common courtesy, not to mention the Iron Law of Beauty, she doesn't need to explain herself at all.

 

MacKenzie Scott, stone babe (r.), and Baldy (l.). Source: Kubilive.com.

 

   No. What MacKenzie Scott is, is John Beresford Tipton, "The Millionaire."

Remember "The Millionaire"? Wonderful show. Ran on CBS from 1955 to 1960. Every week the fabulously wealthy Tipton would give away a million smackeroos ($9.66 million in 2020 dollars) to some totally unsuspecting but immensely telegenic and deserving individual or individuals.

 

 

Poster for "The Millionaire." Source: IMDB.com.

 

   You saw how the money affected their lives (spoiler: usually heartwarmingly) but you never saw Tipton. Heard his voice, saw his arm hand the $1 million check to his executive secretary to deliver, that was it. Like the College of the Desert, which I daresay never saw MacKenzie Scott coming.

 

   It is true that MacKenzie Scott hasn't been going by the book. Unlike Bill and Melinda Gates, The Times notes, she doesn't have her own foundation, saving her the bother of a big staff and a lot of stuff to fill out. She simply writes a blog post on Medium giving a hint as to why she's doing what she's doing, then does it.

 

   This time she gave lots and lots of money to obscure two-year colleges like That of the Desert, as well as bigger pops ($40 million) to more recognizable but ill-endowed higher-eds such as the University of Illinois-Chicago. Last year she gave $800 million to a bunch of HBCUs and other cash-starved higher-eds serving Black, Latino, Native American and other minority communities. But she also gives to food pantries and Jazz at the Lincoln Center. I mean, sheesh. What's not to like?

 

   Rock on, MacKenzie.

 

   I'm left wondering about Maribel Morey, the grammar-challenged individual quoted above. I think she's jealous. I certainly am. What about you?

 

Frank S. Joseph, Author, The "Chicago Trilogy"

http://www.frankjoseph.com

 

P.S. Publication of the "Chicago Trilogy" proceeds apace. Just this morning, TouchPoint Press notified me that my editor will be one "Mallory" and that I'll be hearing from her shortly. Onward!



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Bugs

Dear Friend of Frank,

   I was out walking this morning when a 17-year locust dropped down my back—where I couldn't reach it, natch.

   Dive-bombed right into the collar of my T-shirt and quickly found a nice warm home.

   I jumped around in a St. Vitus Dance that moved a fellow walker to ask whether I was OK. I was not.

   I did the shimmy and the shake, the twist and the shout. Thought I'd worked it on out when I felt it wriggling again (climbing actually, that's what they do).

   Thought about taking off my shirt. Then thought what if I were a woman and wanted to take off my shirt.

   I was freaking out by the time I got home. I did take off my shirt then. Carol assured me I was bug-free but I itched as if the cursed thing were still there. Only her patented back-scratch was equal to the moment.

   Yes, I live in the Land of the Locust*, though I could hardly tell it until this morning. Despite daily scare stories interspersed with tasty locust recipes, unusually cool weather has kept the locusts from behaving like … well … locusts.

 

   *OK, not locusts but cicadas, as readers didn't hesitate to point out.

   But now it's hot, typical late-May Washington-hot. I expect the song of the locust to be heard throughout the land soon.

   It likely will be my last locust rodeo. I'm of an age when another 17-year wait isn't a sure thing.

   How inconvenient.

   The pandemic is passing. I'm seeing friends for lunch again—inside the restaurant, thank you, not freezing my buns under some weak outdoor heater. I'm in fine health. I've rejoined the gym and am working with a trainer to get back in shape. (He was impressed with my ability to hold a plank 30 seconds. When I said I could go lots longer, he responded, "How old did you say you were?") Our son gets married in July in Taos NM and we get to fly on an actual airplane. We'll be there 3½ weeks, celebrating. And I'm about to fulfill a dream, publication of my Chicago Trilogy.

   You'd think at least I could look forward to more locusts.

   Maybe this morning, that little guy was not a pest after all. Maybe he (She? It? They/them?) was sent to show me the upside to growing old. No more locusts down my back.

   Yup, that's it. An angel from locust heaven. This would explain the downward trajectory.

 

Frank S. Joseph, Author, The "Chicago Trillogy"

http://www.frankjoseph.com 

 

P.S. The contract with TouchPoint Press has been signed. Next comes introductions, working with their editor, getting covers designed and other necessities of production, discussing publishing and marketing strategies. Stay tuned.


Copyright © 2021 Frank Joseph, Author, All rights reserved.


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Some COVID Good News

Dear Friend of Frank,

 

   I've found a publisher at last.

 

   TouchPoint Press will publish all three novels of my "Chicago trilogy"­—To Do Justice, To Walk Humbly and To Love Mercy. I just now signed the contract.

 

   To Love Mercy already was published. Thousands read and loved it, as evidenced by 28 Amazon reviews averaging five stars. But you read it right: TouchPoint plans to republish it!

 

   Props and kudos to my literary agent, Latoya C. Smith of LCS Literary Services, for making this happen. Love and kisses to everyone who's helped me along this thorny path, most especially the stalwarts of the Holey Roaders writers' group who've been unmatched critics and friends for going on two decades. And there isn't enough love and kisses in the world with which to thank Carol, Sam and Shawn, my beloved family.

 

   I'll be telling you more in the weeks and months to come. Today is just for sharing some great news.

 

Frank S Joseph, Author

http://www.frankjoseph.com

 

Copyright © 2021 Frank Joseph, Author, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

Frank S Joseph, Author

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