An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Dear Hillary:

I want to begin by saying a simple thank you.

Given how difficult the last few days have been for me (and all of your 50 million plus supporters), I can’t begin to comprehend the magnitude of your own disappointment. You worked your entire life to get to this moment, and you deserved to be the one who finally cracked that massive glass ceiling. I hope it gives you some comfort to know that the majority of Americans agree: you currently lead in the popular vote by nearly half a million, and that total is expected to grow by at least another million before all the votes have been counted. The sadly outdated Electoral College has stolen your victory and, perhaps appropriately enough, has set our country on a path to return to the stone age, as my oldest daughter, Carrie, aptly put it last night. After all the progress our beloved country has made over the past 50 years, the men of our nation, and yes, sadly, plenty of women as well, have decided that ugly path is the one we should take. To what end, I have no idea, but I fear they shall all soon discover that a return to the Andy Griffith and Leave It To Beaver 1950s they recall so fondly is in fact not all that wonderful for the majority of Americans. Like Trump himself, those were television shows not based on any actual reality. The world has moved on, and so too must the country which the rest of the free world looks toward as its ultimate shining example.

I am writing this letter to you today because I want you to know how very much you have meant to me over the years. I was raised by my grandmother and her mother, so I know about strong, independent women. My grandmother lived to be 95, and as the last few months of this campaign wound down, I found myself wishing so badly that she were here to sit beside me, to hug and shake our heads and cry as we bask in your magnificent accomplishments. I will never forget that scene on the final night of the Democratic convention when you accepted the nomination. It still brings tears to my eyes as I write this. You are such an inspiration! Your accomplishments as a public servant are second to none, as is your ability to persevere amid the torrid of hatred spewed at you from every angle. No matter how hard they smash you down, you refuse to “stay throwed,” as one speaker from the convention so clearly noted.

Whereas most in your position would have given up long ago, you didn’t quit and I know that you will continue to keep fighting still—for our children, our mothers and grandmothers, minorities, the disabled. Everyone who dares to be “different” because it means being themselves. You are our hero, and please don’t ever forget that. As we prepare to watch the republicans grab total control of our beloved nation, we need you more than ever. Be our voice. Guide us through the next four years with your wisdom and courage. And always remember, we love you from the bottom of our hearts.

Per Julia’s request, her signature has been added to this letter.

With warm and heartfelt sincerity from us both,
Connie Kirchberg
Julia Simpson Uttutia

 

 

 

 

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Elvis & Nixon: A Movie Review

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Let me begin by saying I didn’t expect much from this movie, especially since it is being pushed as a comedy. There was another movie made years ago on the topic, and if memory serves me correctly, it wasn’t very good. So, when I went to see the new film yesterday, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. This is a lighthearted, feel good film from Amazon that does an amazing job of getting into both Nixon’s and Presley’s characters. In fact, I have to give a shout out to Michael Shannon: his is the best portrayal of Elvis I have seen in any film to date—short of Elvis himself of course, ha ha.

Shannon captured Elvis’s personality and charisma in a way that made me believe he was Elvis in the movie—not something easily accomplished when dealing with an Elvis fan of 50 years. And interestingly enough, it didn’t matter a bit to me that Shannon looks nothing like Elvis. I will be curious to hear whether other fans have a similar take, so if you’re reading this, please let me know via the comment section of this post.

As for Nixon, I did a tremendous amount of research on him for my book, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream (conveniently rereleased by my publisher back in November and currently available on Amazon, hint hint), and judging from all of that, I would say Kevin Spacey also did a fantastic job of playing Nixon. This was especially noticeable during the meeting with Elvis, when Nixon went from a grumpy old man irritated by Elvis taking up his time to fully enjoying his visit with the King. Having read so many books on Nixon including his own massive autobiography, I could totally envision him acting exactly that way.

As Shannon said during an interview on ABC, no documentation exists of the actual face-to-face meeting between the King and Nixon, so no one knows what happened behind closed doors until the photo shoot that happened at the end. Being quite familiar with both of their life stories, however, I found the script to be very believable. Elvis acted like Elvis and Nixon the same. Elvis’s amazing charisma could and probably did totally blow Nixon away. In the film, the two wind up chatting like a couple of old friends on the couch in the Oval Office, eating M&Ms and drinking Dr. Peppers.

There are some really funny scenes in this film, but I don’t think any of them are meant to make fun of Elvis in a mean spirited way, and that in itself is a real step forward for the mainstream media. Elvis was not your average, run of the mill celebrity. He lived life in the fast lane for the most part, but he was also a deeply spiritual, well-read, thoughtful individual who loved his country. Yes, it seems pretty crazy that he wanted a narcotics badge so he could become an undercover agent–but his thinking behind it, that he could infiltrate the Counterculture’s drug scene and help stop it–was certainly well meaning albeit pretty unlikely. Chances are Elvis knew that himself, but he had decided he wanted to meet the president of the United States and run it by him, just in case. As with most things Elvis, when all was said and done, it was mission accomplished.

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With Prince’s passing, the world mourns the loss of another icon

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You didn’t have to be a fan of Prince’s music to realize the height of his stardom: His amazing career spanned five decades. During that time, he released over a hundred singles and forty-plus albums, while also penning numerous songs for other artists. Prince won seven Grammy awards and has sold over a hundred million records worldwide. Not a bad legacy.

As is always the case when someone famous dies, there will be countless speculations over the coming weeks and months as to exactly how he died, a media-crazed fascination that I have never found relevant in any way. Prince was found dead in an elevator in his home. Maybe he had a heart attack. Maybe he overdosed on painkillers. Maybe it was just plain natural causes. Who knows? And really, what difference does it make? As with Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, the cause of death should have zero impact on Prince’s legacy. All that matters is the amazing music he left behind.

I can still vividly recall the day Elvis died. I won’t bore our readers with the details, but suffice it to say I was devastated. A man whom I greatly admired and had so strongly influenced my life with his music and humble beginnings was gone, just like that. As with most of Elvis’s fans, I became disgusted by the media circus that followed. The world had lost one of its most beloved icons, and all the press wanted to talk about was how he had died. Prescription drug overdose, do you believe it? As if the fact he had been taking too many pills somehow erased all the accomplishments of his storied career.

Sadly, the media responded in similar fashion when Michael Jackson died. Hopefully Prince will escape similar treatment, but I doubt it. The media loves nothing more than trying to tear down our heroes, as if doing so somehow makes they themselves seem more relevant.

On a happier note, I was thinking this morning about how different a world it is today than when Elvis died in 1977. Back then, grieving fans talked to each other on the phone or got together face-to-face, or—imagine this—exchanged hand written letters via the postal service! Today there is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and dozens of other social media outlets where distraught Prince fans can instantly connect with others, be they up the street or across the world. It’s good to know these outlets, which far too often provide an anonymous forum for social bullying, can also do some good in the world. Be sad and grieve, Prince fans, and be grateful you can do it together, with love.

A Man Lost in Time: Byron Scott and his dog beating “joke”

I enjoy time travel plots. When done well, they can be some of the best sci-fi stories out there. (12 Monkeys, currently airing on the Syfy network, is an excellent example.) Unfortunately, Lakers coach Byron Scott is not cast in the fictitious role of a man dropped decades into the past. He is a real person currently in charge of coaching and mentoring young men who happen to play basketball for a living. Following the Lakers’ awful loss to the lowly New York Knicks last night, Scott, responding to a reporter who asked what he did to take out his frustrations, laughingly responded: “I go home and beat my dog.”

So much for the sports world having learned anything from the Michael Vick fiasco.

Scott follow up his thoughtless remark by adding: “I’m just joking. Some people out there—animal activists—who might be thinking, ‘he beats his dog?’ I don’t even have a dog.” As if that clarification somehow made his initial remark okay. Get a clue, Byron. It isn’t only “activists” who find your “joke” offensive, it is a multitude of animal lovers who share their lives with canine companions, friends we consider as much a part of our family as any human member. I am left wondering if Scott would also find it funny to say he goes home and beats his kid. How do you think that remark would have gone over in the press? Or how about his girlfriend or wife? Is that idea hilarious to him as well? Nearly as disturbing to me as Scott’s comment is how the room full of reporters responded. How, you ask? They laughed. Ha ha ha, very funny, the idea of some poor loving creature getting beaten in order so that his “owner” could feel better about himself. Well, who wouldn’t find that funny? Only animal “activists” apparently.

 Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Lakers fan. The past four years haven’t been easy for the team or its worldwide fan base. Since winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, the team has been awful. Scott was brought in as coach this past summer mainly because of his background as a winner playing for championships with the Lakers during the Showtime era, and his early mentoring relationship with Kobe. It was hoped that this pedigree would be passed on to the current roster, giving young players motivation for becoming better. Alas, this idea has not panned out in the world of reality. Scott and his tough love stance seems too old school for today’s players to relate to.  Hopefully they find his sense of humor passé as well.

I wrote this post early this morning, right after I read about Scott’s comments. I came back to it this afternoon, waiting to see if the media had responded. So far, nothing has been made of it, so likely Scott will get a pass. And that’s too bad. The Lakers are a storied franchise, a highly respected organization within the NBA and the entire world of professional sports. A simple written reprimand from the Buss family, specifically Jeanie, would go a long way toward letting the public know that there really isn’t anything funny about beating a helpless dog.

The Lakers lost season: a prospective on losing

ImageAs a Lakers fan, this has been the worst season I can remember in a very long time. The back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010 seem as if they were decades ago. It’s a year that, much like last season, has been defined by major injuries to key players. I could go into detail about all the trials and tribulations, but those have been, and continue to be, hammered on by beat writers covering the Lakers. The bottom line is, this year’s team is little more than a D-League group. For those non-NBA fans reading this post, the D-League stands for Developmental League and it’s comprised of players who either didn’t make it in the NBA or have been sent there by their respective teams to get playing time because they aren’t good enough to see minutes in an actual NBA game.

As such, the players on this year’s Lakers simply don’t have the talent to compete with the league’s top level talents like Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Truth be told, they don’t have the talent to compete with most non-All Stars of the league either. These Lakers are role players who, in a normal season, would play 15 – 20 minutes a game tops. Instead, they are forced to play 35 to 40-plus minutes because all the players who were expected to be starters are sidelined with lengthy injuries. The results, of course, speak for themselves: 18 wins, 34 losses. Sadly, there are still 30 games left to play. Records are falling every game, and not in a good way.

I expect many fans have stopped watching the team this year, but I’m not among them. I’ll keep watching for the rest of the season because A) they are my team and I’m not a fair weather fan, and B) losing is a part of life. No team can win it all every year. Many teams have never won an NBA title, or even come close. That doesn’t mean the players on those teams aren’t trying their best (with the possible exception of Andrew Bynum, good luck Pacers, lol). It can’t be easy to go out each season and lose more games than you win, but that’s often the reality of professional sports.

It’s also the reality of life. Just because we aren’t at the top of our chosen fields doesn’t mean we aren’t contributing to said fields. As a writer, I’ve accomplished only a fraction of what I’d hoped to at this point in my life: two non-fiction books sold via the conventional route. I had expected my resume to include at least three novels by now, but it hasn’t happened. Does that mean I’m a failure? Some will answer yes, but I’m not among them. There are tons of good writers out there who haven’t sold any books. That doesn’t make them failures. Like professional sports, writing is a tough business. It takes talent and a good amount of luck to hit it big. Maybe it turns out I’m more of a D-League player. So what? Those guys are full of passion and love for the game, even though they aren’t getting paid millions of dollars to suit up. I don’t need a six figure advance to write a good book; I just have to write stories that people enjoy reading.

Does stupid sell?

As dylanmcpreviously noted, both Julia and I have newly completed manuscripts we are attempting to market the old fashioned way, that being the agent and conventional publisher route. We have saleable books in every respect of the word. Well written, with interesting characters and plots that tie in with popular culture. Julia’s in a form of ghost hunting story with light humor. Mine is a kid shooter book that explores what these horrendous deeds do to the people who are often forgotten after the fact: the friends and family members of the victims. It honestly amazes me that neither of us has received more than a mere blink of interest from agents, which once again begs the age old question: what do today’s agents want?

Since I am sort of a TV addict, I’m going to use a current television series to tie into the title of this post. The show is Hostages, currently airing on CBS. The show has an interesting premise at first glance: a doctor who was scheduled to operate on the president is forced to pledge she will kill said president in order to save herself and her family, all of whom are being held hostage by a rouge FBI agent. The problem is, this show is being stretched over a series of 15 episodes when it should have been, at best, a 90 minute made-for-TV film. Each week something more ridiculous happens to keep said hostages from escaping the clutches of the evil FBI guy. Last week’s gem gave viewers (the few who are left) the reason why this seemingly competent, decorated FBI agent has gone ballistic. For those unfamiliar with the show, which probably includes most of you reading this, the explanation was that his wife is dying of cancer but her cancer is curable if she gets a bone marrow transplant. Alas, there is only one match in the entire world: her estranged father, who—Are you ready?—just happens to be the president. To quote the infamous Forest Gump, stupid is as stupid does. So, after that “shocking” revelation, the doctor becomes sympathetic to her hostage holder and begs him to give her some time to find another suitable bone marrow donor.

So now for the question on all of your minds: why in the world am I still watching this loony show? Pure curiosity. I want to see how many more stupid plot twists (a generous description, I realize) this group of writers (again, a generous description) were capable of coming up with. I can’t help but wonder how much longer it will be before FBI man and Killer Doc wind up in bed together. That, in turn, could lead to a plot to kill Doc’s husband, who, for the most part, is the only sane character in the entire show. Even the actors, including the handsome and talented Dylan McDermott, seem anxious for this thing to just end.

And finally, to answer my own question, yes, I guess stupid does sell, as long as you know how to wrap it in a fancy package and top it off with a pretty red bow.

As writers, we need to get a life

There was a time in my life, say from the late 1980s to mid-90s, when I spent every free second I had working on my writing. It never came before my family, but there were some close calls mixed in. I felt I had to write at least 7-8 hours a day, including weekends, if I were to have a chance to reach my ultimate goal of being a published author. In retrospect, that slightly obsessed attitude probably contributed to the publication of Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream in late 1999. The book wasn’t a national bestseller, but it was published by a respectable house and sold out its print run. By the time Hoop Lore hit the market in 2007, I had come to the realization that being published wasn’t nearly as rewarding of an experience as I had expected. Now, if my books had sold tens of thousands of copies, it’s likely I wouldn’t be writing this post today—but the fact is, most authors who sell a book don’t become rich or famous. In fact, their lives go on pretty much the same as before.

That’s an important thing to keep in mind for writers of all ages, published or not. Writing isn’t glamorous, and most of the time it isn’t even fun. We are writers, so we have to write. Speaking of which, I am about to begin sending out queries for a new fiction manuscript. My expectations are realistic: it’s unlikely I will find an agent who wants to take on my book. The publishing world is changing so rapidly, agents are even less likely than they were five years ago to take on new clients. They only accept books they are absolutely certain will sell and sell very well. And really, who can blame them? They make a living from commission. No commission, no income. So I am stating upfront that I will have no hard feelings toward any agent who rejects my work. The last part of that sentence is key, by the way: when an agent says no thanks, he or she is declining to represent our work, not us. It isn’t personal. I know it’s hard to look at it that way, but we must.

And that brings me to the point of this post. Writers must have a life away from writing. We must have outside interests, friends, and hobbies. My circle of friends is small but supportive and caring. (Yours should be the same, or they aren’t worthy of your friendship; don’t waste time with negative people, it will drain your creativity.)  I spend the majority of my mornings outside taking care of my gardens, which in itself feels like a full time job in Fresno. Last but certainly not least, I have an abundance of animal companions who never fail to brighten my day. We recently lost our beloved boxer, Kook, who finally succumbed to heart disease at the age of 12. We adopted him when he was two, and he quickly became our “Director of Enthusiasm” with his upbeat, funny personality and his obvious love for life.  (I will be writing a full post about him soon, so if you are a fellow animal lover, stayed tuned and have plenty of Kleenex handy.)

Your outside interests might be completely different than mine. What matters is that you have interests other than writing, and that you engage in them every single day. Chances are doing so will enhance rather than distract from your ability to become published.