Saturday, February 28, 2009

40th Anniversary of Don Pendleton's The Executioner: Mack Bolan Series, Part Two

In Part Two of the Birth of Don Pendleton's Executioner Series, we are looking at the underlying theme of the Mack Bolan books. Don Pendleton considered his Executioner Series of Action/Adventure novels to be a study in the metaphysics of violence. You may want to read Part One first.

In the 1970s Don Pendleton had this to say:

The Metaphysical Theme of the Executioner Books

Some people may say that these books are not examples of metaphysical thought, but they are. Metaphysics grapples with the nature of reality and the Executioner books undertake an examination of the essentially violent nature of nature.

In the first appearance in the series, Bolan was already aware that he lived in a violent universe. In Book One, War Against the Mafia, page 166, –a quotation in Bolan’s journal, his diary–“Life is a competition, and I am a competitor. I have the tools and the skills, and I must accept the responsibilities. I will fight the battle, spill the blood, smear myself with it, and stand at the bar of judgment to be crushed and chewed and ingested by those I serve. It is the way of the world. It is the ultimate disposition.”

Does that sound like Bolan the metaphysician? Not really. It’s Bolan the killer, the Executioner. His metaphysics are an out-picturing of the universal ethic as this character vaguely understands it.

You know the first spark of life to move across this planet was a violent entity, predatory, perpetuating itself through a predacious assault upon its environment. Bolan reflects this when he says: I am alive tonight because of violence loose upon the earth. Each breath I take is paid for by crushed and digested once-living things. Violence is the way of the world because competition is the way of life-perpetuation. Without violence there can be no competition, and without competition there can be no life. Something dies for every instant that something else lives.

Now Bolan, in that, was not referring to human violence per se, but as violence as an essential element of the reality of life. He’s recognized this–and it is a metaphysical idea. But this understanding doesn’t result in a cynical attitude toward life for Bolan as it has done for many others. Quite the opposite. Bolan views the violence of nature as a tool of the universe, a very useful and constructive tool when applied through human consciousness toward the attainment of noble goals. But he takes the Friedrich Nietzsche concept in Book One Front Piece–“You say that a good cause will even sanctify war! I tell you, it is the good war that sanctifies every cause!”

Now, obviously, Bolan has a good cause. Just the same, he isn’t using this shield of good to justify his actions. The cause is already well established. Most people will agree that organized crime is an evil that the world can do without. The problem has been that no one seems strongly enough motivated to put their hands where their conscience is. Bolan is saying, in effect: Now look, I offer up my life to oppose this crime against humanity. In this Nietzsche-ian idea, Bolan says let my blood and my dedication serve as an example to all good people who are sitting by and tolerating these injustices, let my impossible war sanctify this good cause. Not justify it, but sanctify it.

So, no, Bolan is no cynic. In Book Five, Continental Contract he says, “It isn’t enough to simply believe in something. To be truly alive you have to be ready to die for something. Harder still, there are times when you have to be willing to kill for something. I am both ready to die and willing to kill.”

Now the key phrase to that chain of thought is: to be truly alive. Is this metaphysics of a killer? Well, I think so. Another man said it this way once: If you will truly live, then you must be born again. Well, Bolan is reborn. He is reborn with every beat of his heart and he came to this understanding in Book Four, Miami Massacre via the prose of the girl who befriended him and actually died for him. She wrote him: “The world dies ‘twixt every heartbeat, and is born again in each new perception of the mind. For each of us, the order of life is to perceive and parish and perceive again, and who can say which is which–for every human experience builds a new world in its own image–and death itself is but an unusual perception. Live large that you may experience large and thus, hopefully, die large.”

In the original edition of Book One, War Against the Mafia, we also carried two quotations in its Front Piece that have been dropped from the newer editions. These were by Thomas Carlyle–“The courage we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently, but to live manfully.”–and from Elbert Hubbard, “God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas, but for scars.”

I don’t know why these were dropped in the later editions unless some editor thought I was over taxing the page or the mind of the reader, because these two quotations give more of the philosophical overview of the character than the one remaining.

I relay on these little front pieces to set the tone for the book that’s going to follow. In a sense these are the theme pieces and usually this theme is no where else stated in such precise language, although it is certainly present in every movement of the story from the first page to the last.

So, as for the metaphysics of an Executioner, Bolan’s own reading of himself is hung out there in that first book for all to see, who wish to see: “I am not their judge. I am their judgement. I am their executioner.”

This is a rather concise statement of a rather broad metaphysical idea. It is karmic law in action with Bolan as the instrument of that law. He evades “judge not that ye be judged,” “vengeance is mine saith the Lord”–and so forth, by a simple elevation of the law. He, himself, is the violent judgment of a violent universe, the tool of the balancing forces of nature, the cataclysmic answer to the cancer cells of human destiny. Sure, Mack Bolan’s character is his fate and that is a strong metaphysical idea.

As I mentioned in Part One:
Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan, The Executioner, theme is "Live Large" and recently the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume II (H-O) gives derivation credit for "live large" to Don Pendleton and his Executioner Series.

Part One

Part Three

Part Four
© Copyright Don Pendleton, Linda Pendleton.

40th Anniversary of Don Pendleton's The Executioner: Mack Bolan Series, Part One

The Birth of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner: Mack Bolan Series of Novels 40 Years Ago,

Part One

In March of 1969, the first paperback novel of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Series was published. Soon after, the second book, and those to follow, became a publishing phenomenon with the success of the continuing fast-hitting adventures of Mack Bolan’s fight to destroy the Mafia. The books were published worldwide in many languages. Don Pendleton is acknowledged as the "father of the modern Action/Adventure novel." His Mack Bolan, The Executioner, theme is "Live Large" and recently the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume II (H-O) gives derivation credit for "live large" to Don Pendleton and his Executioner Series.

At the height of the Executioner success many publishers and writers attempted to ride on the coattails of Don's success. Some succeeded. Others did not. In many of those books, what appeared to be missing were the elements that Don had so skillfully crafted with his presentation of his fictional hero.

Don wrote the first novel in the series, War Against the Mafia out of his desire to express his discomfort with the reaction of many Americans to our soldiers who were dying for our country in the jungles of Vietnam and those coming home to outrageous verbal and physical abuse. So Mack Bolan became Don's symbolic statement. He also became every soldier's voice. Don created a heroic character in Bolan, a true hero who was dedicated to justice. The enemy that Bolan had to fight was no longer on the battlefields of Vietnam but right here on American soil, and that enemy was the Mafia.

Within his Bolan stories are strong values with an underlying theme of a higher morality that Bolan follows. More than once Don said about the Executioner novels, "My biggest job throughout writing the series was to keep faith with Bolan–that what he is doing is right. I wanted an enemy beyond redemption–an enemy that all civilized procedures had failed to put down. The Mafia was ready-made. They embodied all the evils of mankind."

In 1980, Don franchised his Executioner characters to Harlequin's Gold Eagle Imprint after writing Executioner thirty-eight, Satan's Sabbath. Gold Eagle's program has resulted in close to 600 Executioner Mack Bolan books published since with several spin-off series: Able Team, Phoenix Force, Stony Man, and Super Bolan. Don was Consulting Editor with the Harlequin program until his death but did not write any of the Harlequin books, which have all been written by a team of writers. Mack Bolan’s fight then became terrorists.

In an effort to explain his Mack Bolan Executioner character and his own style of writing “heroic” fiction, Don Pendleton had this to say:

In the first Executioner novel, War Against the Mafia, the hero, Mack Bolan is quickly established as a superb combat soldier dedicated to a lonely “one man war” against the Mafia. This is a war of attrition...” the same as in ‘Nam.” Bolan uses a variety of heavy military weaponry in a relentless assault against “this new enemy” wherever he may discover their presence. Characterization of the character is to present this very violent figure as a highly motivated, heroic, and sympathetic man.

The books are narrated as the closest thing to docudrama, with an authoritative third-person objective viewpoint occasionally shifting into stream of consciousness via Bolan and other characters. The emphasis is to explain the action as an approving, historical account in a stirring presentation, and to dimension as much as possible the violent activities of the hero.

Styling of the Mack Bolan stories requires a structure for carrying fast-paced hard-hitting action sequences. The writing is punchy, declarative, stirringly graphic. The reach is toward the reader’s belly, designed to evoke visceral response and rousing empathy. This is “heroic” fiction.

Premising the Bolan stories are the ideas that a good offense is the best defense, and that human violence can have positive social values–that, indeed, the goals of mankind can sometimes best be dignified through violent confrontation. The first novel, War Against the Mafia, employed a quote from Nietzsche on the theme page: “You say that a good cause will even sanctify war! I tell you, it is the good war that sanctifies every cause!” These are frankly and consciously violent books because they intend to illustrate the violent themes of mankind.

The Mack Bolan books are prototypical Action/Adventure. A good “action-adventure” book is forever in a hurry, breathless, bursting with movement and activity. I try to keep my hero clean. I try to give him all the higher human attributes. I try to depict his war as a crusade–a very highly motivated crusade, with high ideals, very strong human overtones. I show this man in almost continuous conflict with himself. I show that his course through life is no bed of roses. I’m not exhorting anyone to emulate this man by his example. Certainly there is nothing in the Mack Bolan adventures which exhort anyone, young, old, male or female, to follow in his footsteps. This guy lives a pretty grim life. He’s no James Bond, with all the gourmet foods and the luxury living. He does have an occasional fling at romance but he doesn’t even have the time to appreciate that. The guy has a pretty rough life.

Of course, the character of Mack Bolan is built around this idea–that this is a man who has submerged his own life into his mission. He has sacrificed everything that he holds dear, all his own ambitions. After all he is a man with dreams, and all these things he’s forgone in order to fling himself into this holy war.

I believe, in the deeper theme values, my Executioner books reflect my values–and that something very, very important is taking place here on this obscure little planet. I do feel that life has tremendous meaning. I feel most sincerely that the good life is the challenged life and not the easy one. I think that in their deeper theme values my Executioner books reflect this philosophy. The books are not sheer blood and guts. Sure, there is plenty of that in there, deliberately so.

I do believe that I have managed to utilize highly, highly dramatic situations, perhaps bordering on the melodramatic to bring out the deeper values that are inherent in all human life. I’m very strongly aware that many young and impressionable readers read my books and I feel a sense of responsibility there. I work very hard to see that my hero is a truly three dimensional person with very high purpose. I try to present the things he does in the context of tremendous meaning.

I will never apologize to anyone for my Executioner books. I feel they are a testament to the human spirit of mankind and I find it personally gratifying that the books have evoked such a wide response in the American reader. And it has been a wide response, not just in the numbers of books sold but in the cross section of American society who happen to be reading the books. The readers are professional people, white collar workers, blue collar people, military people, men, women, children from age twelve to age ninety four. The books are more than simple escape literature. The books do actually involve the reader in a rather high cause–the perpetration of human excellence, high human values, and besides that, they are just entertaining, that’s all.

Beyond that, I don’t know how to evaluate the books. I doubt very much that any writer can really give a purely objective evaluation of his work. The only sort of gauge I have is in the way I feel when I write those final words, The End. If I have a good feeling when I put those words down, then I feel I have accomplished my objective. I’ve said what I’ve started out to say and told the story I started out to tell, and if I finish the book feeling good then I have to assume that the reader will finish the book feeling the same way–and that’s really my primary goal.

I want to entertain and along with the entertainment, I do want to include something that does dignify the work a bit. That doesn’t mean that the time spent reading the book is lost time-completely frittered away–but that along with the entertainment there has been a few moments of perhaps introspection on the part of the reader, perhaps a little bit of understanding of the world about him.

I don’t suppose the books will ever go down in the big registry of great literary masterpieces, as certainly, they’re not that. I could only hope that Mack Bolan will take his place along with such American fictional heroes as Mike Hammer, Travis McGee, Perry Mason, Matt Helm, and of course James Bond, who is not an American hero but an Englishman, but nevertheless, in the same genre. And I hope it can be said that Mack Bolan is his own man–his own type–and he does stand apart from the other heroes, perhaps no better than they are but unique in his own right, and aside from the hope that the books will have continuing acceptance, that they will continue to sell, this is about the most I could ask for.

Don Pendleton, left, with Artist Gil Cohen. Gil did Executioner covers for a number of years.
Photo Copyright 1985 by Linda Pendleton.

Part Four

© Copyright Don Pendleton, Linda Pendleton.

All Rights Reserved. 

Sedona, Arizona

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"We Will Rebuild, We Will Recover..." President Obama

“The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere. But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.” ~President Obama

His speech was excellent and many, about 75-80-85%, are agreeing with me on that according to the polls I’m seeing, and in come cases 10% of those polled did not watch or hear it. Sounds pretty good that people are giving our President a chance to do things to change the difficult situation he inherited.

I am as optimistic now as I have been for the last months since we elected him our President. He is so refreshing…so intelligent…so open….

I believe a hopeful and optimistic attitude held by the majority of citizens will do wonders to shift the energy into a positive place and ensure decent outcomes for our country.
Bethea, an eighth-grade girl from South Carolina who, in a letter to lawmakers, asked for help for her school said, "We are not quitters."

How come a young girl knows that we are not quitters, but some adults in this country do not know that?


Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Winning Screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, and Milk Movie

Sunday night at the Academy Award show a most moving and powerful acceptance speech was given by thirty-four year old screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay Milk, based on the life of openly gay San Francisco politician, Harvey Milk. On November 27, 1978, Supervisor Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned and wanted his job back.

At the time, California Senator, Dianne Feinstein was President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and was in City Hall as the shootings occurred. A short while later, at a press conference originally scheduled by Mayor Moscone to announce White's successor, Feinstein announced the assassinations to a stunned public, stating: "As president of the board of supervisors, it's my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed…and the suspect is Supervisor Dan White.”

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, I just discovered, has co-produced and written several episodes of my favorite TV program, HBO’s Big Love. Tom Hanks is one of the Executive Producers of Big Love.

Director Gus Van Sant directed Milk., starring Sean Penn., who won the Oscar last night for Best Actor. A couple of Van Sant's other works include Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester, both excellent films. He happens to be openly gay.

Here is a video of Dustin Lance Black’s powerful acceptance speech.

The second and third videos below is an interview with Cleve Jones, AIDS activist, and co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and in 1987 created the AIDS Memorial Quilt. He worked as a student intern in Milk’s office while attending college.

Part One of Cleve Jones Interview

Part Two of Cleve Jones Interview

I want to see this movie. I remember the Milk, Moscone shootings of thirty years ago, I know the HIV-AIDS work of Cleve Jones, and I’ve seen the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and my husband, Don Pendleton and I, watched a candle-light San Francisco Gay Parade in about 1985 from a San Francisco hotel window. Now in 2009, 25 to 30 years later, it is time for tolerance, equality for all, including marriage if so desired, not only in California but everywhere in this country. We need to make up for wasted time—it is a time for change. We should insist on it. As Oscar winner Sean Penn said in his acceptance speech, "We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What is a Hero Today?

My friend and fellow-writer, Jon Guenther posted a Blog today about “A Resurgence of American Heroes” and within his comments he quoted and linked to an article, “Joseph Campbell's Definition of Heroes: Does Traditional Hero Still Exist?.” I found myself disagreeing with the author of that article on Joseph Campbell, as Jon did. I love Joseph Campbell but I almost felt as if the author missed the point of Campbell’s intense study of mythology and the impact of inspirational myth on cultures down through the ages.

I no longer have Campbell’s classic book, Hero with a Thousand Faces, first published 1949, in my library, but I do have Power of Myth, from the Bill Moyers ' PBS interviews with Campbell. Campbell said, “Even in popular novels, the main character is a hero or heroine who has found or done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

When my late husband, Don Pendleton conceived his fictional character, Mack Bolan, forty years ago, he not only put Bolan into a situation of “giving” his life to something LARGER than himself but also to a courageous battle for justice for others. But the writing of the Executioner: Mack Bolan Series went even beyond that with a spiritual, metaphysical element.

Campbell had this to say about the two types of deeds of a hero. “One is the physical deed, in which the hero performs a courageous act in battle or saves a life. The other kind is the spiritual deed, in which the hero learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then comes back with a message.” This can be something as simple as taking a journey inward, inside ourselves, emotionally and spiritually, and discovering a strong connection to the Divine, which may result in a new understanding of life, a new purpose, a passion, such as to serve all of humanity in some way, large or small, or to bring positive change.

Most of us grew up with Superman, a fantasy hero, but I believe what has happened in recent years is a “false hero worship.” And that is as a result of the media and the impact celebrity now has on society. Now, youth too often look up to sports figures, singers, and other popular figures who really lack any qualities that should qualify them for heroes.

So where have all the heroes gone?

The heroes of today are people like many during 9-11 or Katrina, who set their own lives aside to save others—or the guy down the street who pulls someone from a burning car or home—or someone who gives a kidney to save a stranger—or anyone we know who may do some courageous act at a time when needed. Heroes are ordinary people, probably flawed and not perfect in all their personality traits, but people who are able to go beyond to do something that makes a difference in the world.

Even those who inspire with words:

“We should always be at war with injustice. Always.” ~Maya Angelou
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” ~Mark Twain
“We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” ~Will Rogers.

I do agree with Jon that with the several years of corruption, war, and now the failing economy, we do have a need to look up to someone with heroic qualities, and even a fictional hero that will entertain us and take us to an imaginary place and restore our hope. But hey, I am optimistic that better times are ahead.

Joseph Campbell also said we need to get in touch with our “real self.” He stated, “The world is full of people who have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for.” And his famous words, “Follow your bliss.”

I’m sure Jon Guenther will come up with a great idea for a new series of books, and with a believable hero. I intended to comment directly on his Blog but I wrote too much for that, so here it is.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)


Friday, February 20, 2009

In-N-Out Burgers Over the Years and Years

Photos from In-N-Out Burger

It all began in Southern California in 1948 with one drive-thru hamburger stand where customers could order through a two-way speaker instead of with car hops that were popular at that time. From the original In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, over sixty years ago, there are now more than 200 stores, and have spread to Northern California, parts of Nevada and Arizona, and it is still the best hamburger, fresh french fries, and shakes to be found.

And I have been eating them for ehh gads…since the opening of that first In-N-Out. In those days our family, Daddy, Mama, Nancy and I, and often Paisano, our dog, would go to In-N-Out about every other Sunday or so, on the Sundays we were having a pot roast (our usual Sunday dinner). Sometimes we would top it off with an ice cream cone from Frosty Freeze. Paisano really liked his cone.

This family owned business was started by Harry and Esther Snyder. Three years later a second store was opened. Their two sons, Guy and Richard learned the family business early on. When Mr. Snyder died in 1976, there were 18 stores.

From their website: Following Mr. Snyder’s death, son “Rich took over as President at the age of 24, and with Guy's help, established a commissary at the Baldwin Park Headquarters. This new facility allowed In-N-Out to have total quality control over all In-N-Out ingredients. In addition, they created the In-N-Out "University", where new managers are trained and the In-N-Out formula for success is consistently reinforced.” The company has also been known to pay their employees a very nice starting pay.

While Richard was President, In-N-Out grew from those 18 locations in 1976 to 93 locations at the time of his death in 1993 in a plane crash, along with four other passengers on approach to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA. At that time, Guy Snyder became Chairman of the Board and CEO and soon a store was opened out of the Southern California area in Las Vegas, NV, and continued expansion throughout California, Nevada and Arizona. While Guy was Chairman of the Board, In-N-Out grew from 93 locations to 140 at the time of his death in 1999. Co-founder, Esther Snyder continued as President until her death in 2006. At that time, Vice President Mark Taylor (an extended family member) took over. Guy Snyder’s daughter Lynsi, only grandchild of founders Mr. & Mrs. Synder, is owner and heiress.

Their family business philosophy has always been, “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.” And they have succeeded . Quality is as fine today as it was 60 years ago and as it always has been.

A book is coming out in April about the company by journalist and business writer, Stacy Perman: In-N-Out: A Behind the Counter Look at the Fast Food Chain that Breaks All the Rules. It should be an interesting book on the success of a family-owned business, done without franchising, going public, or changing its menu, and continuing to serve fresh product.

I almost always order the cheeseburger with grilled onions, and fries. Our family always laughs at the times when we’ve been away from In-N-Out and after retuning, the first stop after landing at the airport is In-N-Out. One of our extended family rode his bicycle 135 miles over the mountains from Carson City, Nevada to Auburn, CA for the opening of the Auburn In-N-Out to be first in line for his hamburger. That’s how crazy some of us are for these hamburgers.

And I have a store four miles from me now.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama and Their Qualities

Since I came to know more about Obama prior to the election I could not help but identify and compare him with Abraham Lincoln. I wasn’t sure why I felt that but I did and even began to wonder about Obama being the reincarnation of our 16th President. Then I also became aware of Obama’s admiration for Lincoln, an admiration that many share, including my own that goes back to when I was young and in elementary school. In this video, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Presidential historian and Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the book on Abraham Lincoln and his administration, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln mentions the kind of serenity and calm that Lincoln had, and that seems to be a trait of Barack Obama’s. I refer to it as the Zen quality of Obama that I resonate with—a coolness, a calmness, a centeredness—to see, observe—to listen. Lincoln had that, and I also like the humor and wit employed by both men.

Lincoln understood the importance of his leadership and I think our new President understands the importance and historic impact of his position in today’s world.

Abraham Lincoln has again been noted as our greatest President by 65 historians. He assumed the Presidency at a time unlike any other in the history of our country, and was able to keep our country as one. Obama faces many challenges but I believe in the long term he will be a positive force, wise leader, for making this a better country.

There is also an interesting interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin by on the above book page link, recorded a few days before the Inauguration.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln and William H. Johnson, Citizen

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, February 12, 1809. We have begun a year long celebration of our 16th President, the man who saved the Union. On Bill Moyers Journal, Bill interviewed historian Eric Foner, editor of the book, Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World.
Until seeing this program the other night, I had not heard the story about William Johnson, Lincoln’s valet—a Black man who had gone with President Lincoln to Washington from Springfield, Illinois and became President Lincoln's part-time valet and barber, and messenger of the Treasury Department.

In November 1863, Lincoln wrote a note explaining that Johnson would travel with him to Gettysburg for the dedication of the soldiers' cemetery. Mary Lincoln did not accompany the President because their son Tad was ill with smallpox. Following the dedication, Lincoln wrote to Edward Everett who had been a speaker at the dedication, “Our sick boy, for whom you kindly enquired, we hope is past the worst." After delivery of his now famous speech, Lincoln also felt ill and on the return train trip to Washington "lay in a relaxed position with a wet towel across his head," placed there by Johnson.

Upon arrival at the White House, the president was put to bed and his doctor was called, who remarked, "Mr. Lincoln's case is not fully developed yet." With his humor which came forward so often, Lincoln said, "Now let the office-seekers come, for at last I have something I can give all of them." But it is believed he may have given small pox to his valet, or, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume he may have contacted it when Lincoln did? Johnson died. Lincoln requested that he be buried in what is now called Arlington National Cemetery, and paid for his burial and tombstone, and even took care of a bank loan he had signed for Johnson. The tombstone says, William H. Johnson, Citizen.

It was events such as that which showed the humor, the determination, and compassion of the man who is considered to be our greatest President.

Excerpt from the PBS program:
BILL MOYERS: Until I read your book, I had never heard the story of Lincoln and William Johnson. William Johnson was his valet.


BILL MOYERS: One of the few people who accompanied him from Springfield to Washington when he became president. One of the few, perhaps the only person to actually read a draft of the Gettysburg Address before it was delivered. I didn't know this, that on the way back from Gettysburg, they both came down with small pox.

Lincoln's case was not very serious. But Johnson's was. He became quite ill. During his dying, Lincoln took care of him. When he died [1864], Lincoln ordered that he be buried in Arlington Cemetery. And then he had the inscription on his tombstone read: "William Johnson, citizen."

ERIC FONER: Right. And, you know, that is a wonderful story. Johnson is a black man, of course. And, you know, to say "citizen" meant something more than in a way that one might understand today because it was only a few years before, in 1857, that the Dred Scott decision had ruled, that Chief Justice Taney had said, "No black person can be a citizen of the United States." Only white people can be citizens. So to put "citizen" on this black man's gravestone is a kind of an affirmation of something. It's not just an empty phrase. It's an affirmation that, no, black people can also be citizens.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Johnny Cash and Gang

While looking for the Carter Family, Johnny Cash song for my last blog about Bill Moyers, I came across this gospel song they always did. I’d not heard it for a long time, athough I have the full collection of Johnny Cash music. While listening to this one, it is hard to sit still, and not clap...! Great song, great performance.... The whole gang is on this one. Enjoy!


Bill Moyers on the Economic Crisis and the Working Man...and Washington

Bill Moyers comments on his recent show...

BILL MOYERS: I had a history professor at the University of Texas - Robert Cotter - who believed the most remarkable quality of Abraham Lincoln was his empathy for people he didn't personally know. The working man. The soldier in battle. His widow and orphans.

Ordinary folks caught in the undertow of events. We could use that kind of empathy today. As Washington obsessed all week over the fate of one nominee to the cabinet, and as we watched hearings about the failure of watchdog agencies going to sleep on the job, we heard almost nothing of the people across the country suffocating in the wreckage of their lives. Some of us born in the Depression still remember the song made famous by the Carter Family singers, called the "Worried Man Blues".

"I went across that river and I lay down to sleep. When I woke up there were shackles on my feet."

The day my father was fired from his job at Manly's Appliance Store, he came walking home as if he had shackles on his feet. I still remember the look on his face. He wasn't yet 50, but had suddenly turned old, the way a lot of people look today who are losing their jobs. Their stomachs are knotted with fear as the life they had come to expect is fading fast. Not because of their own failures but because our political and financial elites rigged the economy for their own advantage.
John F. Kennedy famously said, "Life is unfair," and so it is. But it wouldn't feel as unfair if the shackles wound up instead on the well-heeled feet of Wall Street and Washington's elect. That's the change we need, the change we can really believe in. "

Worried Man Blues, Johnny Cash, Mother Maybelle Carter, June Carter, Helen and Anita.

President Obama and his Openness

Tonight I saw our new President Obama displaying leadership, openness, and passion in his long press conference. I saw in him and in his intelligent answers to the media questions a directness and openness that I don’t believe we’ve ever had before with our previous Presidents. It was refreshing and promising.

I liked this that he said:

“Now, despite all of this, the plan's not perfect. No plan is. I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hoped, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis, as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans.

“Now, my administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing little or nothing at all will result in even greater deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence.

“Those are deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe, and I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work.”

~ Linda

Novel Writing, Character Flow

After completing my latest nonfiction ebook , How Thin the Veil! 150 Years of Spiritualism and the gift ebooks that go along with it, most in celebration of Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday this month, I began a new novel. I had intended to do some writing today but did not. Sunday evening is one night that I watch certain programs, my favorite being “Big Love” on HBO. The acting is tremendous on that show. Although the story line is unique, and may not seem to be approved of by many, you really learn immediately to overlook that with the incredible acting, not just by one or two of the characters but by every one on that show. My other favorite is “Brothers and Sisters.” And of course it is hard to let a Sunday night go by without watching what is happening on Wisteria Lane with those Housewives.

So tonight thanks to my DVR I was able to see the Grammy Awards and the three programs.

So, no writing tonight. I stopped late last night at page 98. I write at night for the most part as my days are too busy. I’m usually still going strong at 1:00 am or later. It seems with the writing of this story I have been getting into a character flow...where the character or characters take over the story and “write” it. As usual, I do not know where my story is going. I have this vague idea of the overall story, but that is about it. After all it is their story to tell, so hopefully it will continue to unfold at an even pace. I hope I can keep up this momentum with the manuscript. I go to bed thinking about it, have even dreamed about it. I usually listen to the radio, Coast to Coast AM, George Noory, which is on until 4:00 am. Often I fall asleep soon after going to bed, but when Coast to Coast goes off at 4, I almost always wake up about 4:10, when the infomercials are on.... special vitamins, herbal products, and there is something so irritating with the voices of the “doctor” and interviewer, and announcer for the 800 numbers. I turn the radio off and then about that time I hear the train whistle blowing.... and then I again think about my characters in my book and what they are doing next.... and sometimes have to talk myself out of getting up and going to the computer for more story telling.

So now instead of writing page 99 and more, late tonight, I decided to write this blog....and then go listen to the radio...and the rain.


Friday, February 6, 2009

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Music Doesn't Fade Away, 50 Years and Still With Us

On Feb. 3,1959, Rock and Roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were killed, along with pilot Roger Peterson, in the crash of a small private airplane near Clear Lake, Iowa as they were headed to the next stop in their singing tour. Richardson was the oldest of the four at 28. Buddy Holly was 22, Richie Valens was 17, and Peterson was 21.

I guess it is a sign of getting old when remembering events so vividly of 50 years ago. But those guys were very popular at the time and it was a tragic event.

Following their deaths, Don McLean wrote a ballad about the loss, American Pie, The Day the Music Died. But MSNBC contributor Michael Ventre said it well in his article yesterday, Sorry, Don McLean, but the music didn’t die. He’s right. The music lives on.

Buddy Holly’s song writing and singing had a big impact on Rock and Roll. Some of the songs of Buddy Holly and the Crickets were co-written by Buddy Holly and his drummer, Jerry Allison although Allison was not always given credit where due. Songs like, That’ll Be the Day, Peggy Sue, Not Fade Away, still sound great today. It’s the Rock-a-Billy sound that is memorable. We can be assured, Buddy Holly has not faded away, nor has the DJ singer, The Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace, or young Ritchie Valens' songs.

Lucky for us, music has a way of staying with us.

For those who want to reminisce you might like reading the interview with Cricket drummer, Jerry Allison.

President Lincoln and His Pet Goats at the White House

Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley is one of the first memoirs by a White House insider, published in 1868. It is considered both a vivid slave narrative and an important source for Abraham Lincoln scholars. The press criticized Keckley for her intimate portrayal of the Lincoln family, especially for publishing numerous letters Mary Lincoln had written to her.

Here is another excerpt I found of interest regarding President Lincoln’s goats in Elizabeth Keckley’s book. I thought Lincoln’s comment about manipulation of the "grand machine" and "bounty-jumpers" and the "outrageous fraud" seemed so timely with what is happening currently in Washington. I think the bailout of banks and companies, fit the bounty-jumpers' tag very well, and yes, it is an outrageous fraud being manipulated by the grand government machine.

Mr. Lincoln was fond of pets. He had two goats that knew the sound of his voice, and when he called them they would come bounding to his side. In the warm bright days, he and Tad would sometimes play in the yard with these goats, for a hour at a time. One Saturday afternoon I went to the White House to dress Mrs. Lincoln. I had nearly completed my task when the President came in. It was a bright day, and walking to the window, he looked down into the yard, smiled, and, turning to me, asked:

"Madam Elizabeth, you are fond of pets, are you not?"

"O Yes, sir," I answered.

"Well, come here and look at my two goats. I believe they are the kindest and best goats in the world. See how they sniff the clear air, and skip and play in the sunshine. Whew! what a jump," he exclaimed as one of the goats made a lofty spring. "Madam Elizabeth, did you ever before see such an active goat?"

Musing a moment, he continued: "He feeds on my bounty, and jumps with joy. Do you think we could call him a bounty-jumper? But I flatter the bounty-jumper. My goat is far above him. I would rather wear his horns and hairy coat through life, than demean myself to the level of the man who plunders the national treasury in the name of patriotism. The man who enlists into the service for a consideration, and deserts the moment he receives his money but to repeat the play, is bad enough; but the men who manipulate the grand machine and who simply make the bounty-jumper their agent in an outrageous fraud are far worse. They are beneath the worms that crawl in the dark hidden places of earth."

His lips curled with haughty scorn, and a cloud was gathering on his brow. Only a moment the shadow rested on his face. Just then both goats looked up at the window and shook their heads as if they would say "How d'ye do, old friend?"

"See, Madam Elizabeth," exclaimed the President in a tone of enthusiasm, "my pets recognize me. How earnestly they look! There they go again; what jolly fun!" and he laughed outright as the goats bounded swiftly to the other side of the yard.

Just then Mrs. Lincoln called out, "Come, Lizabeth; if I get ready to go down this evening I must finish dressing myself, or you must stop staring at those silly goats."

Mrs. Lincoln was not fond of pets, and she could not understand how Mr. Lincoln could take so much delight in his goats.

Mrs. Kackley notes that after President Lincoln’s death Mrs. Lincoln gave away the goats he loved so well.

See my Sunday Blog for another excerpt of Elizabeth Kackley’s book. Also the book is downloadable.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Thirty Years a Slave, Four Years in the White House as a Dressmaker

With my usual interest in Abraham Lincoln, and his upcoming bicentennial birthday celebration, and my recent publication of my newest ebooks, of which Lincoln is a big part, I discovered a book published in 1868, by Elizabeth (Hobbs) Keckley, a Black woman born into slavery in 1818. She suffered various abuses from a very young age.

She became free in 1855, partly due to her dressmaking skills. She then became a White House Seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln and also Mrs. Lincoln’s confidante over a four year period during the Civil War. What I have read of her memoir is very interesting and Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of the Lincoln’s whose actions I’ve always questioned, had the book withdrawn from publication. (for what period of time, I do not know). Mrs. Keckley tends to show the controversial side of her friend Mary Lincoln, along with obvious understanding of Mary Lincoln’s personality. She seems to think highly of Abraham Lincoln.

Here is an excerpt from Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House By Elizabeth Keckley, Published by Stansil and Lee, 1868.
My long-cherished hope was about to be realized, and I could not rest.

Tuesday morning, at eight o'clock, I crossed the threshold of the White House for the first time. I was shown into a waiting-room, and informed that Mrs. Lincoln was at breakfast. In the waiting-room I found no less than three mantua-makers waiting for an interview with the wife of the new President. It seems that Mrs. Lincoln had told several of her lady friends that she had urgent need for a dress-maker, and that each of these friends had sent her mantua-maker to the White House. Hope fell at once. With so many rivals for the position sought after, I regarded my chances for success as extremely doubtful. I was the last one summoned to Mrs. Lincoln's presence. All the others had a hearing, and were dismissed. I went up-stairs timidly, and entering the room with nervous step, discovered the wife of the President standing by a window, looking out, and engaged in lively conversation with a lady, Mrs. Grimsly, as I afterwards learned.

Mrs. L. came forward, and greeted me warmly. "You have come at last. Mrs. Keckley, who have you worked for in the city?"

"Among others, Mrs. Senator Davis has been one of my best patrons," was my reply.

"Mrs. Davis! So you have worked for her, have you? Of course you gave satisfaction; so far, good. Can you do my work?"

"Yes, Mrs. Lincoln. Will you have much work for me to do?"

"That, Mrs. Keckley, will depend altogether upon your prices. I trust that your terms are reasonable. I cannot afford to be extravagant. We are just from the West, and are poor. If you do not charge too much, I shall be able to give you all my work."

"I do not think there will be any difficulty about charges, Mrs. Lincoln; my terms are reasonable."

"Well, if you will work cheap, you shall have plenty to do. I can't afford to pay big prices, so I frankly tell you so in the beginning."

The terms were satisfactorily arranged, and I measured Mrs. Lincoln, took the dress with me, a bright rose-colored moire-antique, and returned the next day to fit it on her. A number of ladies were in the room, all making preparations for the levee to come off on Friday night. These ladies, I learned, were relatives of Mrs. L.'s,—Mrs. Edwards and Mrs. Kellogg, her own sisters, and Elizabeth Edwards and Julia Baker, her nieces. Mrs. Lincoln this morning was dressed in a cashmere wrapper, quilted down the front; and she wore a simple head-dress. The other ladies wore morning robes.

I was hard at work on the dress, when I was informed that the levee had been postponed from Friday night till Tuesday night. This, of course, gave me more time to complete my task. Mrs. Lincoln sent for me, and suggested some alteration in style, which was made. She also requested that I make a waist of blue watered silk for Mrs. Grimsly, as work on the dress would not require all my time.

Tuesday evening came, and I had taken the last stitches on the dress. I folded it and carried it to the White House, with the waist for Mrs. Grimsly. When I went up-stairs, I found the ladies in a terrible state of excitement. Mrs. Lincoln was protesting that she could not go down, for the reason that she had nothing to wear.

"Mrs. Keckley, you have disappointed me—deceived me. Why do you bring my dress at this late hour?"

"Because I have just finished it, and I thought I should be in time."

"But you are not in time, Mrs. Keckley; you have bitterly disappointed me. I have no time now to dress, and, what is more, I will not dress, and go down-stairs."

"I am sorry if I have disappointed you, Mrs. Lincoln, for I intended to be in time. Will you let me dress you? I can have you ready in a few minutes."

"No, I won't be dressed. I will stay in my room. Mr. Lincoln can go down with the other ladies."

"But there is plenty of time for you to dress, Mary," joined in Mrs. Grimsly and Mrs. Edwards. "Let Mrs. Keckley assist you, and she will soon have you ready."

Thus urged, she consented. I dressed her hair, and arranged the dress on her. It fitted nicely, and she was pleased. Mr. Lincoln came in, threw himself on the sofa, laughed with Willie and little Tad, and then commenced pulling on his gloves, quoting poetry all the while.

"You seem to be in a poetical mood to-night," said his wife.

"Yes, mother, these are poetical times," was his pleasant reply. "I declare, you look charming in that dress. Mrs. Keckley has met with great success." And then he proceeded to compliment the other ladies.

Mrs. Lincoln looked elegant in her rose-colored moire-antique. She wore a pearl necklace, pearl ear-rings, pearl bracelets, and red roses in her hair. Mrs. Baker was dressed in lemon-colored silk; Mrs. Kellogg in a drab silk, ashes of rose; Mrs. Edwards in a brown and black silk; Miss Edwards in crimson, and Mrs. Grimsly in blue watered silk.

Just before starting down-stairs, Mrs. Lincoln's lace handkerchief was the object of search. It had been displaced by Tad, who was mischievous, and hard to restrain. The handkerchief found, all became serene. Mrs. Lincoln took the President's arm, and with smiling face led the train below. I was surprised at her grace and composure. I had heard so much, in current and malicious report, of her low life, of her ignorance and vulgarity, that I expected to see her embarrassed on this occasion. Report, I soon saw, was wrong. Is to queen, accustomed to the usages of royalty all her life, could have comported herself with more calmness and dignity than did the wife of the President. She was confident and self-possessed, and confidence always gives grace.

This levee was a brilliant one, and the only one of the season. I became the regular modiste of Mrs. Lincoln. I made fifteen or sixteen dresses for her during the spring and early part of the summer, when she left Washington; spending the hot weather at Saratoga, Long Branch, and other places. In the mean time I was employed by Mrs. Senator Douglas, one of the loveliest ladies that I ever met, Mrs. Secretary Wells, Mrs. Secretary Stanton, and others. Mrs. Douglas always dressed in deep mourning, with excellent taste, and several of the leading ladies of Washington society were extremely jealous of her superior attractions.

MRS. LINCOLN returned to Washington in November, and again duty called me to the White House. The war was now in progress, and every day brought stirring news from the front —the front, where the Gray opposed the Blue, where flashed the bright sabre in the sunshine, where were heard the angry notes of battle, the deep roar of cannon, and the fearful rattle of musketry; where new graves were being made every day, where brother forgot a mother's early blessing and sought the life-blood of brother, and friend raised the deadly knife against friend.

Oh, the front, with its stirring battle-seer es! Oh, the front, with its ghastly heaps of dead! The life of the nation was at stake; and when the land was full of sorrow, there could not be much gayety at the capital. The days passed quietly with me. I soon learned that some people had an intense desire to penetrate the inner circle of the White House. No President and his family, heretofore occupying this mansion, ever excited so much curiosity as the present incumbents. Mr. Lincoln had grown up in the wilds of the West, and evil report had said much of him and his wife. The polite world was shocked, and the tendency to exaggerate intensified curiosity. As soon as it was known that I was the modiste of Mrs. Lincoln, parties crowded around and affected friendship for me, hoping to induce me to betray the secrets of the domestic circle. One day a woman, I will not call her a lady, drove up to my rooms, gave me an order to make a dress, and insisted on partly paying me in advance. She called on me every day, and was exceedingly kind.

When she came to take her dress away, she cautiously remarked: "Mrs. Keckley, you know Mrs. Lincoln?"


"You are her modiste; are you not!"


"You know her very well; do you not ?"

"I am with her every day or two."

"Don't you think you would have some influence with her?"

"I cannot say. Mrs. Lincoln, I presume, would listen to anything I should suggest, but whether she would be influenced by a suggestion of mine is another question."

"I am sure that you could influence her, Mrs. Keckley. Now listen; I have a proposition to make. I have a great desire to become an inmate of the White House. I have heard so much of Mr. Lincoln's goodness that I should like to be near him; and if I can enter the White House no other way, I am willing to go as a menial. My dear Mrs. Keckley, will you not recommend me to Mrs. Lincoln as a friend of yours out of employment, and ask her to take me as a chambermaid? If you will do this you shall be well rewarded. It may be worth several thousand dollars to you in time."

I looked at the woman in amazement. A bribe, and to betray the confidence of my employer! Turning to her with a glance of scorn, I said: "Madam, you are mistaken in regard to my character. Sooner than betray the trust of a friend, I would throw myself into the Potomac River. I am not so base as that. Pardon me, but there is the door, and I trust that you will never enter my room again."

She sprang to her feet in deep confusion, and passed through the door, murmuring: "Very well; you will live to regret your action today."

"Never, never!” I exclaimed, and closed the door after her with a bang. I afterwards learned that this woman was an actress, and that her object was to enter the White House as a servant, learn its secrets, and then publish a scandal to the world. I do not give her name, for such publicity would wound the sensitive feelings of friends, who would have to share her disgrace, without being responsible for her faults. I simply record the incident to show how I often was approached by unprincipled parties.

It is unnecessary to say that I indignantly refused every bribe offered.

The first public appearance of Mrs. Lincoln that winter was at the reception on New Year's Day. This reception was shortly followed by a brilliant levee. The day after the levee I went to the "White House, and while fitting a dress to Mrs. Lincoln, she said:

"Lizabeth"—she had learned to drop the E— "Lizabeth, I have an idea. These are war times, and we must be as economical as possible. You know the President is expected to give a series of State dinners every winter, and these dinners are very costly; Now I want to avoid this expense; and my idea is, that if I give three large receptions, the state dinners can be scratched from the program. What do you think, Lizabeth?"

"I think that you are right, Mrs. Lincoln."

"I am glad to hear you say so. If I can make Mr. Lincoln take the same view of the case, I shall not fail to put the idea into practice."

Before I left her room that day, Mr. Lincoln came in. She at once stated the case to him.

He pondered the question a few moments before answering. " Mother, I am afraid your plan will not work."

"But it will work, if you will only determine that it shall work."

"It is breaking in on the regular custom," he mildly replied.

"But you forget, father, these are war times, and old customs can be done away with for the once. The idea is economical, you must admit."

"Yes, mother, but we must think of something besides economy."

"I do think of something else. Public receptions are more democratic than stupid State dinners—are more in keeping with the spirit of the institutions of our country, as you would say if called upon to make a stump speech. There are a great many strangers in the city, foreigners and others, whom we can entertain at our receptions, but whom we cannot invite to our dinners."

"I believe you are right, mother. You argue the point well. I think that we shall have to decide on the receptions."

So the day was carried. The question was decided, and arrangements were made for the first reception. It now was January, and cards were issued for February.
I may post more of this as I read more of her book. Lincoln was fond of poetry and her comment about the poetry confirms what I had discovered in many writings about him. And also he apparently was always very gracious and complimentry not only to his wife but to other women.
The book is available electronically.