Monday, April 28, 2008

New panel explores widespread ramifications of recently-revealed Holocaust memoir hoax

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Susie Davidson

New panel explores widespread ramifications of recently-revealed Holocaust memoir hoax

In February, 2008, Misha Defonseca confessed that her bestselling autobiography, “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years,” published in 1997, was a hoax. Publisher Jane Daniel appears in a new speaking tour addressing the hoax, along with genealogist Sharon Sergeant, who compiled the evidence that led to Defonseca’s confession; oral historian and Holocaust author Susie Davidson (“I Refused to Die”); and Holocaust child survivor Rosian Zerner.

The panel will explore the following areas:
° What are the consequences when an impostor usurps Holocaust history and places real survivors in question?
° In the light of other recent fake memoirs, how can publishers be sure that what they publish is true?
° What effect does a fake Holocaust testimonial have on deniers of the Holocaust?
° How did Misha Defonseca sustain the hoax for ten years and how was it exposed?

An open discussion period will follow the presentation.

Full information follows.

For booking information, contact Susie Davidson at or 617-566-7557.

New panel explores widespread ramifications of recently-revealed Holocaust memoir hoax

In recognition of Yom HaShoah, I would like to bring to your attention a new program being offered in the Boston area. As you may be aware, recently a Massachusetts woman, Misha Defonseca, confessed that her internationally-bestselling autobiography, “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years,” was actually a hoax.

This new program, called “Deception and its Aftermath,” presents four women affected by the challenges that stem from this revelation, who discuss protecting the truth of the Holocaust from those who would usurp it.

Misha Defonseca began telling her fabricated story in 1989 when she spoke at a local synagogue on Yom HaShoah. Defonseca recounted that, as a seven-year-old child living in occupied Belgium, she set off on foot across the European theatre of war in search of her parents, who had been arrested by the Nazis. Twice during her travels, she said, she was befriended by wolves. It was all a lie. The truth is that she spent the war years at home with her Catholic family.

Nevertheless, for years Defonseca was warmly embraced by the local Jewish community. Those who were deceived by her story booked appearances for her, attended her speeches in schools and universities, and donated money. Such prominent figures as Elie Wiesel, the late Leonard Zakim, and Rabbi Albert Axelrod, then Chaplain of Brandeis University, contributed liner notes for her book.

The aftermath of her confession personally and profoundly impacts thousands in the Boston area who heard her speak and offered their support. Beyond that, this revelation affects those who gather stories of Holocaust survivors and Holocaust survivors themselves. There remain innumerable questions as to how such a monumental fraud could have occurred.

The panelists include:

Jane Daniel of Mt Ivy Press, the publisher whose original American edition of “Misha” was the basis of an international bestseller and a French feature film. Daniel herself painstakingly fact-checked the story line by line and employed other researchers, but in the end was also taken in. Defonseca sued Daniel, her U.S. publisher, in 1998, winning a $22 million judgment and the return of all rights to the story based on the finding that Mt Ivy had failed to sufficiently promote her book. Daniel has filed a lawsuit to overturn the judgment and posted chapters of her upcoming book on a blog.

Sharon Sergeant, the forensic genealogist who put together the team of researchers, who included real “hidden children” Holocaust survivors, that amassed the indisputable evidence leading to Defonseca’s confession. Sergeant’s work was made more challenging by the fact that Belgium has privacy laws that seal vital records for 100 years. As a member of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council Board of Directors, Sergeant advocates for open records to prevent fraud; in this instance, she employed a methodology that can be used by anyone doing historical research on their own family.

Susie Davidson, journalist for the Jewish Advocate and weeklies, poet, and author of "I Refused to Die: Stories of Boston-Area Holocaust Survivors and Soldiers who Liberated the Concentration Camps of World War II" and "Jewish Life in Postwar Germany." She speaks about and teaches courses on the Holocaust and global genocide with Dachau liberator Chan Rogers, and organizes genocide awareness events with the local Armenian and Rwandan communities. Davidson is a co-coordinator of the Boston chapter of COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and a board member of the Boston-based activist umbrella organization Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow.

Rosian Zerner, who survived the Holocaust in the Kovno Ghetto, Lithuania, and in hiding. She is the former Vice President of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust, where she also served on the Advisory Board and as elected Secretary. She is the contact person for the Greater Boston Child Survivor group, where she serves as representative on the WFJCS Governing Board and as Liaison to “Generations After,” a group for descendants of survivors. She is the Jewish Community Relations Council representative from the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston, where she serves on the Executive Committee. She is on the Holocaust survivors' Advisory Board (Hakalah) at the Jewish Family and Children's Service, is a docent for the New England Holocaust Memorial, and is on the Yom Hashoah Planning Committee and the Board of American Friends of Mogen Dovid Adom. Zerner has been the keynote speaker at the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration at Faneuil Hall, speaks at universities, synagogues, senior centers, clubs and organizations, and is an advocate on behalf of survivors.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

April Know Your Neighbor

Novelist, book promoter and intrepid blogger Kathleen Valentine will be featured
at the April Know Your Neighbor at the Sawyer Free Library
in Gloucester on April 28, 2008.
Her novel The Old Mermaid's Tale has received praise both for its
literary quality and its preservation of a unique time in American history,
the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway to international commerce in 1959.
Read reviews and purchase the book on Amazon or visit the book's web site.
More recently her blog, Parlez-Moi Blog was instrumental in the exposé of the
Misha Defonseca literary hoax, widely acknowledged as the biggest literary
Holocaust hoax in history.
Valentine will talk about the writing of her novel and short stories and how she is
using the internet to promote them including the online video. She will also read from
her forthcoming novel, Each Angel Burns and talk about how she and two other bloggers
uncovered the Misha Defonseca hoax.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Behind the hoax...

Daily News Tribune
Posted Apr 25, 2008 @ 01:03 AM


Misha Defonseca's Holocaust story captured literary audiences and those for silver screen until one woman asked: "What's wrong with this picture?"

A combination of meticulous research and access to public records allowed genealogist Sharon Sergeant to expose the Belgian woman's 20-year hoax.

At a seminar at Bentley College tomorrow, the Waltham resident will talk about the sleuthing skills she used to uncover the truth behind the 1997 autobiography "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust."

"I'll be speaking about how we solved the case, how we cut through all the smoke screens and all the inconsistencies in the story and how we came up with records that would identify who she was," Sergeant said. "One of the key facts are the records in Massachusetts where she's lived since 1985."

Through public records, Sergeant learned that Misha Defonseca was born Monique Josephine Ernestine De Wael in Belgium in 1937.

Defonseca, 71, owns a home in Dudley but Sergeant is unsure of her exact whereabouts. Sergeant said Defonseca married Maurice Defonseca in the 1970s. The couple moved to Millis in 1985.

"Sometime in the late 1980s, Misha started telling her story about being a Holocaust victim in local Massachusetts synagogues," Sergeant said.

Sergeant said eventually the story grew and Defonseca was offered speaking engagements in local colleges. In 1997, she published her memoir, a book that was translated into 18 languages.

The book is an autobiographical tale of a young Jewish girl whose parents were arrested and deported by the Nazis in 1941. The 6-year old girl was then taken in by a Belgian family who offered protection and a new identity. Sergeant said that was a lie.

"The family she first identified as her foster family was her real family," Sergeant said. "She was born a Catholic in Belgium with Catholic parents."

Her parents, Robert and Josephine De Wael, had actually been members of the Belgian resistance during the war and were executed.

The book goes on to describe the young girl's journey to find her real family. She wanders across Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia, across the across the Adriatic Sea, through the Alps and back to Belgium. During her journey, she said she was sheltered by a pack of wolves and witnessed the horrors of World War II.

The book was eventually picked up by a different publisher in France released as "Surviving with Wolves." The story is also the basis of a French film of the same name.

Sergeant said the new version had fewer photographs than the original American version.

In 2001, Defonseca won a $33 million judgment against the original U.S. publisher of the book, Mount Ivy Press, Sergeant said.

"She claimed the U.S. publisher had cheated her and had not promoted her book properly. ... Mount Ivy was destroyed by this. They were a tiny independent publisher," Sergeant said. "The story that was told in the original U.S. book was key to finding out who she really was."

The real purpose of the lawsuit, she said, was to kill the U.S. version because it had too much information.

In December 2007, Sergeant said she read an online blog by the U.S. publisher, Jane Daniel of Mount Ivy Press. Sergeant said Daniel was still struggling to understand why Defonseca turned against her after Daniel made it possible for her to publish her story.

"Jane Daniel was desperate to find out the real story because she had been destroyed by these lawsuits," Sergeant said. "I read Jane Daniel's story and I said, 'I think this can be solved."'

During that time, Sergeant said she had been in touch with national and international experts on forensic genealogy while working on different cases.

"I consulted with some people that I thought would be helpful. In fact by February, we had the documentation to prove who she really was," she said.

"The very first thing that helped us acquire the documents that were critical in the expose was the U.S. publication. It had a lot of photographs."

Sergeant said the photographs from the original story along with information gathered from Defonseca's friends and relatives provided her with enough information to determine inconsistencies in her story.

"We had that as a guide because those photographs were stripped from the modified version," Sergeant said. "We looked at the difference between the original U.S. version and the subsequent foreign version. We focused on that and literally said, 'What's wrong with this picture?"'

Sergeant said a physical resemblance allowed her to determine Defonseca's "foster grandparents" were her real grandparents.

Sergeant also found Defonseca was not born in 1934, but 1937. Two months ago, Sergeant started releasing Defonseca's birth certificate and school records to different publications in Belgium.

"There were several people in Europe who were questioning her story publicly and who were being attacked for questioning her story," Sergeant said. "By that time we had figured out who she really was. Once we did that, that information went to the Belgian press. Misha lived here in Dudley. She was asked to comment on this info. Her initial response was she was hurt anyone would question her."

Sergeant said she continued to leak information through the Belgian press, eventually leading to Defonseca's admission that the memoir was a fantasy.

"Finally at the end of Feb. 29 she confessed that she was actually Monique De Wael and that she wasn't Jewish and she wasn't a hidden child," Sergeant said.

"This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving," Defonseca said in a statement given by her lawyers to the Associated Press in February.

Daniel from Mount Ivy Press filed suit in state court on April 9 to overturn Defonseca's original $33 million judgment, Sergeant said.

Sergeant is hoping to spread a message to preserve public records to prevent fraud in the future.

"In Belgium the vital records, birth, marriage and death are sealed. That means they are not open for inspection for 100 years," she said. "That allowed Defonseca to keep secret who she really was. For people who were skeptical, they couldn't check on a lot of things because the records were not available to them."

The Massachusetts Genealogical Council's seminar will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the Lacava Conference Center. Sergeant is scheduled to speak at 12:30 p.m.

Jeff Gilbride can be reached at 781-398-8005 or at

Question of Motive

Misha Defonseca's motive to lie about her past is unclear but Sharon Sergeant says it may have been for attention.

"From the best we can tell, when she first started this it was for attention," she said.

From 1989 to 1992 Maurice Defonseca, her husband, was an international executive with a French computer company, Sergeant said.

"The French computer company Phillips was headquartered in Paris. During the time period she was telling the story, Maurice wasn't around much."

In 1992 Maurice became unemployed and by 1994, the couple was experiencing financial hardship, Sergeant said.

"She started soliciting money for her cause again while working on the publication of her book. This escalated," Sergeant said. "By 2001 when the trial against her original publisher (Jane Daniel) was happening, they claimed they were penniless and claimed they were taken in by a family in Milford."

Sergeant said she has never met Defonseca in person but said she has heard firsthand accounts describing her personality.

"Everybody that knew her personally as well as the woman that took her in Milford for 2 1/2 years said she was a compelling person," Sergeant said. "She clearly has some kind of acting ability to pull off what she did."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Now, Mad Wag!

What with thy quips and thy quiddities? What plague have I to do with this buff jerkin?

That’s about the only line of Shakespeare that I know other than the ones everyone knows. I don’t even know what play it comes from but I’ve remembered it since high school. Anyway, Happy Birthday, fair Will! If you were alive you’d be 392 years old.

It’s sort of amazing that after all these years Shakespeare continues to be the most frequently produced playwrite in the world. But, when you think about it, the basis of his plays are all those universal themes that could be as relevant today as they were then and before then. Love, jealousy, power, passion, lust, greed, envy, desire --- Shakespeare didn’t shy away from anything and, in so doing, he gave the literary world a database of what comprises story. Story in its essence.

I was not particularly fond of Shakespeare when I was younger. In college I took a number of drama classes and for one project I directed a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream but I am quite certain that I contributed nothing original or even interesting to that project. But in recent years, largely thanks to my friendship with Clare Higgins, I’ve begun to appreciate the Bard more. Clare, who lives across the hall from me, is a Shakespearian scholar. She wrote a play called Queer Bent for the Tudor Gent, a send-up of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy but entirely composed in Shakespearian verse (and fully annotated). Her play was produced in New York and in Sydney, Australia and I have seen the video tape of the production. It is just great and so clever. And his words are as timely today as they were back then.

Since then Clare and I have watched a few of the recent movies made from Shakespeare’s plays. Most notable in my mind is The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock. When I read about it I thought it an odd choice to play the infamous moneylender but I have never seen an actor more fully inhabit a role. I guess you can do that with good material.

As I read more of McKee’s Story I am more than ever convinced that story is everything --- in books, in plays, in songs, and in life. Story doesn’t have to be a big thing but it has to be a true thing. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy fights duel over girl, boy kills himself because he thinks girl is dead, girl wakes up and finds him dead and follows suit. That’s quite a story. “Oh happy dagger! This is thy sheath! There rust and let me die!” Whew.

And so, good Will, you are remembered and remembered and remembered. And rightly so:

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked elipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Thanks for reading...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Twas Brillig…

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves,
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe. – Lewis Carrol

I have no idea what that means --- nobody does --- but this was the sort of weekend that makes you feel that way. It was a warm, golden, breezy, luscious weekend with a particularly high high tide and the scent of salt water everywhere in the air. The church bells rang clearer on Sunday morning and the sounds of the ships coming and going from the harbor and the trains coming and going up the hill were all richer, brighter, more seductive. It is Spring and this is as welcome a Spring as I can ever remember.

It was a weekend to clean out the winter’s accumulation of junk in the car, put the top down and cruise the back shore, check on all the lighthouses to see how they fared through the winter, meet one friend for breakfast and another for dinner, and spend time on the beach soaking up much missed sunshine. It was a weekend for gathering in Connie’s living room with other knitters and to sit and chat and knit and share stories of how we have survived another New England winter. The birds filled the feeders on her porch and, on the horizon, the twin lighthouses of Thacher Island stood sentinel as they have for hundreds of years, calmly blinking into the blue of the day.

At high tide Good Harbor Beach was underwater all the way to the bridge. Kites were fluttering in the serene blue of the sky, dogs were splashing kids in the creek, and those who had snuggled back into the dunes and lost track of time found themselves in need of wading through a foot of cold water to get up on the bridge that would take them across the creek to where their cars were parked. These Spring tides are especially beautiful because the air is still crystal clear with the remains of winter chill and the light refracts back and forth from beach sand to granite rocks to swirling waters and makes odd rainbows and patterns of shimmering reflection bouncing off of every surface including faces of friends and neighbors.

And the flowers are coming into bloom. Everywhere are daffodils and jonquils and little purple volunteers of unknown parentage. The two white magnolias in front of the West End Theater are in full, glorious bloom and that magnificent, huge, gorgeous pink magnolia on Rogers Street in front of the bank is about to explode. There are few sights in the world more gorgeous than that tree when it explodes with every shade of pink imaginable.

I didn’t accomplish a lot this weekend unless you count chatting with friends, sharing meals, reading on the beach, and reveling in the joy of a Cape Ann Spring as accomplishment. Which I do. I am still reading Story which is a book so rich in ideas that you can only read a few pages before taking a break to think and digest them. I took one of his suggestions and bought a pack of index cards and started filling them with the story points that will eventually form the scenes.

I downloaded some software I need to learn and printed out the manuals and that’s as far as I got. It was too beautiful. It was just too beautiful outside to stay inside.

So it is now Spring in Gloucester. There are a lot of cold, rainy days ahead but the snows are behind us now and we have summer to look forward to. In less than a month the art association will open and life will become intoxicating. All mimsy are the borogoves and… well, you know the rest.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Recently a friend gave me a copy of Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. I own a lot of books about writing. In fact I probably own nearly as many books about writing as I do books of writing. There’s something wrong there but I expect many writers can say the same thing. However, this book is so excellent that it’s tempting to say it is the only book an aspiring writer needs. I don’t actually think that is true – writers need constant inspiration and plenty of reassurance from other writers, too. But this is an excellent source of information for a writer at any level --- particularly fiction writers.

The basis of the entire book is that it is our job as writers to tell a story and to tell it well. The second part of that is where a lot of us fail. One of the observations that McKee makes is that many writers talk about being “blocked” --- they can’t write because they are blocked. What McKee says is that writers get blocked because they just don’t have anything to say at that point in time. I understand this all too well. I like to think that, as a writer, I always have something to say but I also know that is not true. I sit down with the intention of writing and nothing happens. Nothing happens because my mind is in other places, I am thinking about other things, there is other stuff I should be doing and that takes precedence over the holy act of writing (thank you, Harlan Ellison). The solution for that, of course, is fresh input, fresh perspectives, new experiences --- and I have to take responsibility for bringing those into my life.

Story is the legacy of humankind. Every day of our life we are surrounded by stories. Every song on the radio tells a little story, every article in a newspaper or magazine or on the news, television, movies, chatting with friends --- all these things bring stories into our lives and every single one of them gives us an opportunity to make a new story of our own.

A good story takes a piece of life and explores its essence, its underlying challenges and lessons, an examination of its values, and it presents it to the reader in such a way that it gives a believable and identifiable perspective that the reader can accept and experience in a way that gives a fresh perspective. There is no such thing as a new story. But each old story can be retold with fresh eyes and details and values that make it seem as alive and vibrant and relevant as it was the first time it was told. The standard story boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl back has been told thousands of times and yet people never seem to tire of it. Because it is real and it is us and it is universal.

I have often said here and elsewhere that the virtue of the novel is because it tells the truth unencumbered by the facts. That’s true of every well-told story --- it tells the truth. The facts may shift and change and be refined and re-polished and reinvented to suit the story but the truth at the core remains true. Our mission, as storytellers, is to retell these stories well and truly with fresh perspective and no small amount of craft. Without craft you might as well go do something else because writing without craft is dead writing.

Possibly my favorite passage in the book (so far, I have a long way to go in it) says:

Life on its own, without art to shape it, leaves you in confusion and chaos, but aesthetic emotion harmonizes what you know with what you feel to give you a heightened awareness and a sureness of your place in reality. In short, a story well-told gives you the very thing you cannot get from life: meaningful emotional experience. In life, experiences become meaningful with reflection in time. In art, they are meaningful now, at the instant they happen.

That’s pretty inspiring stuff and charges all who would write with a great and noble purpose. Buy this book. Read this book. Learn your craft.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Unjust Enrichment & the Politics of Personal Destruction

On Tuesday an article appeared in National Law Journal about the suit filed by Jane Daniel and Mt. Ivy Press seeking to overturn the judgment against her. This has been such a long and difficult legal battle that it astonishes me that she can continue to fight but this time she is fighting for her home and has the advantage of knowing that the entire ordeal she has been through was all based on fraud.

Imagine that! Ten years of lawyers and court and being slimed all over the news. Ten years of seeing your entire family devastated by the egregious and unwarranted claims against you. Ten years in which she saw both of her parents die never knowing what was going to happen to their daughter. Both her father and her daughter were drawn into the battle when the lawyers on Defonseca-Lee’s side went after them claiming they were hiding funds --- you know those mysterious funds that Daniel is supposed to have swindled. And all of it --- all the misery and lies and pain and slander was all based on lies. All based on Defonseca’s allegation that she was Jewish and a victim of the Holocaust when she was actually a little Catholic girl attending school in Belgium and living with her grandfather. All lies. All lies.

In the article Lee’s attorney Frank Frisoli continued his character assassination of Daniel --- something he has honed and perfected for years --- reiterating his allegations that she defrauded Defonseca and Lee and engaged in fraudulent business practices. Daniel’s attorney, Gloucester’s Joseph M. Orlando countered by saying once the judgment is vacated all the accounts will be available for examination. The court can peruse them at will and make their own determination.

One of the bizarre aspects of this case is that during the course of the trial no accountant was called in to do a thorough examination of the books. All the testimony about fraud was supplied by Defonseca and we have seen how reliable her word is. Lee, who started the legal firestorm, by suing Mt. Ivy because her name wasn’t going to be on the cover of the book, claims she has never received any funds from the judgment. All these claims and counterclaims about money need to be examined and, as Justice Brandies always said, held up to the light for disinfecting.

In law there is a term “unjust enrichment”. It is an interesting term. What it means is that you cannot profit from unjust acts --- this most certainly includes fraud. Defonseca’s acts of fraud seem endless at the moment. She lied about her history to concoct her entire Holocaust-survivor story. She was speaking at synagogues and telling that fraudulent story when Daniel met her but now Defonseca claims that she never wanted to write the book --- that Jane made her do it. Defonseca represented herself in court in the beginning and, as such, acted as an officer of the court. Because her entire argument was based on fraud she not only committed perjury right from the beginning but, as an officer of the court, also committed fraud on the court (as alleged in the complaint). Consequently, any money that Lee received as a result of the judgments ought to qualify as unjust enrichment --- money obtained as the result of lies, fraud, and perjury. Though she may not have been directly at fault, she still cannot profit from the judgment for money other than what may have been owed to her for services. Any money Defonseca received goes well beyond unjust enrichment.

We can only hope that the court will take note of that this time around and ask to see the books --- all the books, Daniel’s, Mt. Ivy’s, Defonseca’s, Lee’s, etc. If money cannot be accounted for then that needs to be addressed. If Defonseca and Lee profited because of Defonseca’s fraud and perjury that also needs to be addressed.

There is also the issue of all the funds Defonseca garnered from people who wanted to support the poor Holocaust-survivor that she claimed to be. Whether it was for speaker’s fees or just support from well-meaning individual, Defonseca obtained them by presenting herself as a Holocaust survivor and using that as a means of garnering sympathy. I can well understand that the people who were victims of her fraudulent behavior now feel embarrassed and want nothing to do with the entire situation figuring the money is gone and they were duped. We can only hope that some people within that community and the Jewish community at large will have the courage to come forth and say that this is wrong. Defonseca cannot get away with what she got away with. It is unacceptable and amends need to be made.

One of the worst thing about the type of character assassination that people like Frisloi engage in is that it intimidates good and righteous people who might want to speak up and help right a wrong but are fearful of doing because they don’t want to be the next victim of the slime machine. It was President Clinton, I believe, who coined the term “politics of personal destruction”. These days everyone with a television or who reads a newspaper has seen how that works. Character assassination has become accepted and it scares the b’jesus out of good people. People like Frisoli know that.

So another legal battle begins. Will the dark forces of fraud, perjury and character assassination prevail and preserve the unjust enrichment that has been obtained? Or will the courts decide that some sunlight --- and a good accountant --- are what this case needs?

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Remembering Mary Ann

Every year on April 15 I find myself mired in a strange conflict of emotions. This is the day that my mother died and, the God’s honest truth is, I don’t know what I feel. I miss her. I guess you can’t NOT miss your mother. But, in addition to missing the archetypal mother and all that goes along with that, I miss her, too.

Our relationship was rocky and uneven. I was her first child and not the child she wanted. She wanted a girly-girl who liked dresses and ribbons in her hair and dolls and tea parties. She wanted a darling little girl with a sunny disposition and loads of charm. Actually, what she wanted was Shirley Temple. Instead she got a dreamy, introverted, quiet kid who had no interest whatsoever in clothes or hair or having her nails painted. She got a daughter who would rather play Army soldiers with her brothers or read a book --- endless books --- and who wrote stories, some of which upset her. Later on she bore my sister Anne and she finally got her girly-girl. The truth was she never quite knew what to make of me. My childhood was one long series of adventures in failing to fulfill her expectations. It wasn’t fun.

Later, when I was the only one of her eight children who decided to lead a somewhat Bohemian life, things changed between us. For years she disapproved of my singleness, my moving around the country, my series of boyfriends. She always liked the men in my life and was more disappointed than I was when things “didn’t work out”. When I moved to Texas she made her first trip away from home, took her first airplane ride, and came to visit me in Houston. In Galveston she saw the Gulf of Mexico for the first time. Later, when I moved to Marblehead she came there and saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

I’m glad that we had a few adventures together because she was actually a good travelling companion. She liked people and would talk to anyone --- a thing that almost got us in to trouble a couple of times. Men loved my mother. She was tall and statuesque and had dark hair and eyes and a low, rather sultry voice. In New Orleans she walked into a coffee shop and announced that we were strangers from out of town and lost and three men followed her out to the car to give us directions --- it was New Orleans so we got three different sets of directions. In Chattanooga she struck up a conversation with a tall, lanky fellow in a restaurant and I had one hell of a time getting rid of him when we were trying to leave. I thought he was going to follow us back to Pennsylvania. And in the Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she began chatting with a bagpiper in Highland dress who offered to meet her at our hotel after his shift was over and show her the nightlife in Halifax. That one scared her a little and she suggested we leave town. I told her to just stay in our room and not talk to strangers. Later that evening when I heard the mournful, dreamy notes of his bagpipe floating down on the evening breeze I wondered how I would explain all this to my father if I woke up the next morning and found her gone.

So I am happy to have those kinds of memories to cherish when the aspects of my character that have suffered because of early issues with her start causing problems in my life. I try to remind myself that she did the best she could and we had good times together later in life.

I’ve come to the conclusion that what makes family different than other relationships is that they’re always there. Even when they’re half a continent away and you haven’t talked to them in years and years and, oh, yeah, they’re also dead. But still she’s there. She’s there when I make a wilted lettuce salad or a BLT or a pitcher of iced tea --- things she and I shared a love for. She’s here a lot lately as I watch these old movies filled with movie stars she was dazzled by --- William Holden and Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable and James Stewart. And lately, as I am aging, she’s been showing up in the mirror when I glance at myself unthinking. She’ll always be there.

So, Mom, I hope you are fine wherever you are. She was a good Catholic who loved the Church and so I’m sure she is wherever good Catholics go. You drove me crazy and I miss you. Love you, Mom.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Walk on the Dark Side

As I am working on this screenplay and trying to educate myself about the “language”, so to speak, of noir I am noticing something rather interesting --- noir has a lot in common with goth. I’ve always been attracted to the gothic genre. I like its darkness and the faint edge of madness and hysteria that is integral to the gothic tradition. When I was writing The Old Mermaid’s Tale I was aware that, while it does not qualify as gothic in the traditional sense, it has elements of that world. No crumbling castles and crazy relatives locked in the basement or attic (actually, there is one scene in a crumbling castle) but there is the darkness of the Canal Street world and the Old Mermaid Inn that is at the core of the story. And there are no shortage of dark, mysterious and marginally insane characters. I love that world and I was particularly pleased when I came across an interview on NPR between the undisputed queen of contemporary goth, Anne Rice, and Donna Tartt, author of one of my favorite books, The Secret History. Their discussion convinced me that there is a new genre of gothic that doesn’t require the presence of supernatural beings as long as the natural beings are sufficient dark and there is that unmistakable pall of other-worldliness.

When I started work on Each Angel Burns, I carried those ideas along with me and, especially toward the end of the book, there is enough darkness, and departure from the natural world as we know it to satisfy any lover of the Brontës or Hawthorne. Not that I can compare my talent to theirs but I learned my lessons from masters.

Now I am bumbling my way through the world of noir as I work on the screenplay for My Last Romance. I have been watching lots of noir movies (I just saw Sunset Boulevard --- wow!) and have been garnering some good advice from writers I respect. Gregory Gibson, who just published a fairly dark book Hubert's Freaks (seedy 1950s Times Square, freak shows, and Diane Arbus --- what's not to like!) , tells me to read James M. Cain. And Peter Anastas just suggested I get a copy of the screenplay to Chinatown. Good suggestions both.

But as I delve deeper and deeper into this noir world I am seeing some delicious similarities to the world of the gothic --- darkness, issues of redemption, the black side of human nature, and always the atmosphere. In movies it is different. You can utilize light and shadows and lots of cigarette smoke. In novels you have to paint the world with your words. I find both prospects intriguing and wonderful.

I’ve written a lot about my annoyance with the contemporary genre of sad, depressing memoirs of childhood abuse and misery --- MCM --- Miserable Childhood Memoirs. I cannot understand the appeal they hold for so many people. There is an element of voyeurism in them that revolts me and a sort of twisted glee in wallowing in horrible details. However, the noir and gothic genres tantalize me and I think I am beginning to understand it a little better. In the MCM books we are removed from the darkness and the ugliness --- we are viewing it from an adult perspective where we can wallow in what Eric Berne referred to “Ain’t-It-Awful-ness”. In noir and gothic the darkness and the ugliness is there but it is not about a child someone once was, it is about us. It is about the part of ourselves that still lurk beneath the surface waiting for that one right trigger. It is a confrontation with self. We are not standing on the outside looking sympathetically and compassionately on, we are trapped on the inside and forced to question our own morality and vulnerability. Not a thing everyone can be comfortable with.

So, I am working away at the script and hoping I’ll get something good out of it but one thing I know for sure. I have already gotten some very good things out of this process.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Complaint Filed In Middlesex Superior Court Against Misha Defonseca et. al.

This was posted this morning on Jane Daniel's Blog:
Yesterday a complaint was filed in Middlesex Superior Court on behalf of Jane Daniel and Mount Ivy press against Monique DeWael, a/k/a Misha Defonseca, Vera Lee, and Edwards, Angell, Palmer and Dodge. The complaint was filed by attorneys Joseph M. Orlando and Brian M. McCormick.

In part, the Complaint reads:


6. In 1994, the plaintiff, Daniel, was working as a publisher/editor at Mt Ivy Press, LP, a small publishing company, founded by the plaintiff, the previous year.

7. In the course of the plaintiff's business, the plaintiff, Daniel, met the defendant, Defonseca.

8. When the plaintiff first met the defendant, Defonseca, Defonseca related that:

a. As a Jewish child, age 7, she was living in Belgium, when her parents were arrested by the Nazis in 1941;

b. She was placed in a foster home, and she was given a false identity, Monique DeWael, age four. Such identity was assumed for the purposes of protecting herself from the Nazis;

c. Defonseca was befriended by a man, who she referred to as "grandfather," whose name was Ernest DeWael, who gave her a tiny compass, and showed her a map of Europe;

d. When Ernest DeWael expressed to Defonseca concern that the Nazis would come for her, Defonseca set out on a journey "to the East" in search of her parents;

e. Over the next four years, Defonseca walked three thousand miles across the European theater of war, hiding in forests where twice she was befriended by wolves.

9. Defonseca further related to the plaintiff that she had been telling her story, and soliciting contributions from speaking engagements since approximately 1989-1990, and had been warmly embraced by the Jewish community in the Boston area and elsewhere.

10. Upon hearing the story, as related by the defendant, Defonseca, the plaintiff offered to publish Defonseca's autobiography (hereinafter, "the book").

11. Defonseca engaged a French-speaking writer, defendant, Vera Lee, to ghostwrite Defonseca's story, as Defonseca's command of the English language was weak.

12. Defonseca and Lee signed a collaboration agreement, intended to set forth the respective rights of the parties.

13. Both Defonseca and Lee signed publishing agreements with Mt Ivy Press, LP, in August of 1995.

14. Both publishing agreements contained the following warranty:

A. The Author represents and warrants to the Publisher that, with respect to the Work as submitted by Author, excluding revisions or additions by Publisher (i) the Work is not in the public domain; (ii) the Author and her collaborator are the sole and exclusive owners of the Work and have full power, free of any rights of any nature whatsoever in any one that mightinterfere therewith, to enter into this Agreement and to grant the rights hereby conveyed to the Publisher, (iii) the Work has not heretofore been published in whole or in part; (iv) the Work is original except for material in the public domain and such excerpts from other works as may be included with the written permission of the owners thereof; (v) the Work does not, and if published will not, infringe upon any proprietary right at common law; or any statutory copyright, or trade names, or patent, or trademark rights, or any other right whatsoever, (vi) the Work contains no matter whatsoever that is obscene, libelous, in violation of any right of privacy, or otherwise in contravention of law or the right of any third party; (vii) all statements of fact are true or based upon reasonable belief, except for facts and identities deliberately misstated to preserve confidentiality or for other valid reasons, provided the Author notifies the Publisher thereof (viii) the Work, if biographical or “as told to” the Author, is authentic, and (ix) the Author will not hereafter enter into any agreement or understanding with any person, firm, or corporation that might conflict with the rights herein granted to the Publisher.

15. Defonseca and Lee set to work to draft the manuscript. Over time, disagreements arose between Lee and Defonseca regarding the scheduling of time to work together on the manuscript.

16. During the same time frame, disputes began to arise between Lee, Daniel, and Defonseca, regarding the plaintiff's editorial dissatisfaction with respect to the form, substance, and delayed production time of the manuscript.

17. Defonseca's account of her experience could not be subjected to standard verification and process, due to the absence of certain critical information, including, but not limited to:

a. Defonseca reported that she did not know, and had never been told, her Jewish surname;

b. She had simply been called "Mischke," and never known her parents by any names other than "Gerusha,"(her mother, a Russian Jew), and "Reuven,"(her father, a German Jew);

c. Her parents were emigrees to Belgium;

d. She did not know her place of birth, but represented that she suspected it may have been Poland.

18. In the course of her research, the plaintiff, Daniel, learned that, at times, Jewish children of the Holocaust lost their identities when their parents were taken away.

19. Without the names, date, and place of birth of "Mischke," it was not possible for the plaintiff to check the personal aspects of the story.

20. To ready the manuscript for publication, the plaintiff attempted to undertake fact checking, including verifying historical and descriptive details, researching historical events, studying the flora and fauna of geographical locations and investigating behavior of wolves in the wild, etc.

21. The plaintiff also sent the manuscript to wolf experts, and to Jewish scholars and Holocaust experts for review.

22. Enthusiastic endorsements were returned from several luminaries, including the chaplain of Brandeis University, Rabbi Albert Axelrod, Noble Laureate and renowned Holocaust survivor, Eli Wiesel, Leonard Zakim, director of the New England region of the Anti-Defamation League, and the North American Wolf Foundation.

23. The American book was published in April 1997, under the title, Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years. American edition, was followed shortly thereafter by a French version, published by Editions Lafont, under the title, Surivre avec les loups, (Survival with Wolves), the production of which was under the oversight of Defonseca exclusively. Neither Mt Ivy Press, nor Jane Daniel, had any input with respect to the French edition, other than to make several specific minor corrections request by Lafont. Other foreign editions followed.

24. Two significant changes were made in the Lafont editions, and subsequent editions controlled by Defonseca. Identifying photographs were removed, and the "false identity" of "Mischke" was changed from Monique DeWael, to Monique Valle.

25. In 1997, Lee initiated a suit against plaintiffs Daniel and Mt Ivy Press, and defendant, Defonseca, in Middlesex Superior Court, C.A. No. 98-2456, alleging, among other things, breach of contract.

26. From the inception of the underlying litigation in May 1998, until March 1999, Defonseca represented herself.

27. In the course of her self-representation, defendant, Defonseca, filed a counter-claim against Lee, affirmatively representing, among other things, breach of contract.

28. The counter-claim filed by Defonseca against Lee represented that Defonseca had complied with all of the terms of the collaboration agreement, including that the book was, "based on the author's life experience, accomplishments, and impact upon society."

To read the full text of the complaint, click here.

Press Release to follow.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Here We Go Again (or Don’t Quit Your Day Job)

Over the weekend I was again reminded of what misguided ideas most people have about the writing business. There is a guy who has written a book, so he tells me, about a personal tragedy he went through and how it changed his life. It’s guaranteed to be a bestseller --- he just needs someone to help him edit it and give him some constructive feedback. I don’t know how I got to be the lucky one he contacted.

He first emailed me a few months ago and I told him that I really don’t have time to read manuscripts from people I don’t know. In the last couple of years since starting this blog, publishing a some short stories and putting my own books out in the world I have developed tremendous sympathy for publishers and literary agents. It’s no darn wonder it is so difficult to get their attention. They have no doubt developed their elusiveness purely in self-defense.

What I have learned in the past few years is that a.) people have NO idea how difficult it is to sell books in the digital age, b.) people have NO idea how little money they can expect for their efforts as writers, and c.) people have NO idea how much work their manuscript is going to need before it is even presentable. All most people see are the success stories --- the million dollar book deals and the sale of movie rights. What they don’t realize is that the authors who clean up that ay are fewer than the people who clean up buying mega-bucks tickets.

Today with companies like Xlibris and iUniverse out there eager to sell authors their carefully designed publishing packages it is easier than ever to get into print. If you can come up with the dough for one of their packages, you can see your book in print. You can sell it on Amazon, you can sell it to your friends, it’s really cool. And if all you want to do is write a book about your family history and sell it to interested family members this is a good way to do it. If you have a business or give workshops and want something to sell to clients this is a good way to do it. But without heavy, constant and skillful marketing (and I mean “HEAVY, CONSTANT and SKILLFUL”) that’s about the sales level you can expect.

The cost of selling and producing books is still unbelievable. Bear in mind that retailers --- from Amazon to the bookstore down on your home town’s Main Street --- are going to ask for a 55% discount. That means your $15 trade paperback novel is going to sell to them for $6.75. Out of that $6.75 you have to pay your printer and your distributor and pay shipping costs. If you are working with one of the popular author houses that means you will probably pay them about $5 per book. That leaves you, the author, with a whopping $1.75 per book sold. And since most retailers are reluctant to take more than 3 or 4 books at a time that means you can count on the price of a Happy Meal at McDonald’s for your efforts from each retail source. Yes, over time, if you sell a high enough volume the profit goes up but please see the preceding paragraph about heavy, constant and skillful marketing.

Which brings us to sunny point number three (I swiped that line from one of my favorite movies The Usual Suspects --- authors do that): your writing and how clean it is before it ever sees print. I have read more manuscripts than I want to and I rarely see one that is anywhere near to being marketable. Now, I do not consider myself an authority (not at all, not one little bit --- so don’t send me your manuscript) but I am an avid reader and if I can’t get past the fifth page, I suspect few people will no matter how good your mother told you it was. And the hardest part of all that is that very few people are open to hearing how much work their book needs. Very few. And here too there are two ways of looking at this --- on the one hand, you have to trust your instincts about certain aspects of your own writing but on the other hand, if several people make the same criticism you have to listen to it. This, however, may be hard to understand because most friends and family are not fair judges, not because they don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you the truth but because they know you and accept you for who you are and they are completely oblivious to the quirks and characteristics that come through in your writing that may seem quite bizarre to those who don’t know you.

I believe in peer groups. Find others at your own writing skill and experience level but who do not know you personally. Let them read your work and pay attention to their feedback. That’s only the first step but it is the most important one if you plan to go farther. And don’t quit your day job. And don’t send your manuscript to me. Good luck.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Say, Kid, You’re One Swell Dame

I’ve been hard at work on the screenplay and this is an education. I have a whole new appreciation of movies, theater, and television (well, sort of). This is not easy. One of the first things I realized as I started work on this is that when you don’t have exposition to carry you everything relies on action and dialog. Now, of course, once the visuals are added --- not to mention the skills of actors --- all that changes but writing and trying to give a sense of story is a challenge.

Since much of the backstory is set in the nightclub scene of the late 1940s and 1950s it is important and I really want to capture a bit of that scrumptious film noir mood for those scenes. When I started writing I listened to some CDs by the torch singers of that period. I’ve said this before but I think in a past life I was one of those “swell dames” --- I LOVE that music. “Sentimental Journey” sung by Julie London, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” sung by Eartha Kitt, “But Not for Me” sung by Judy Garland, “La Vie En Rose” --- the ultimate --- sung by Edith Piaf. Such great music by Ella and Lena, and Sarah, and Etta --- I play it over and over while I’m working.

But, though the music set the mood, I soon realized it was the language that was lacking. There was a sort of smart-alecky, slang-loaded back and forth that characterized that period and I needed to learn that. Lucky for me Netflix offers a lot of movies from that period in their “Instant” program. So over the last few days I’ve been spending an awful lot of time watching YouTube snippets from old movies (I discovered you can watch ALL of All About Eve in 18 segments on YouTube) and Netflix Instant movies. It’s been absolutely fascinating.

Both of my parents were movie fans and I remember a lot of the old movies they watched but these old film noir classics are different. I suspect my mother thought they were too racy to watch with the children around. I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by the carryings-on however delicately presented. You can’t tell me that Broderick Crawford spent 9 years living with Judy Holliday and never went into her bedroom. Frankly, I can’t remember when I enjoyed a movie as much as I did Born Yesterday. She is about the swellest dame of all times. And Rita Hayworth was quite the little ho in Gilda. Then there is all the wordplay between Bogart and Bacall in all their films --- that scene about horse racing in The Big Sleep --- man, that was pure sex. Some of the films are not available online so I had to put them in my Netflix queue --- Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity. I’ll see them next weekend. I also watched parts of a couple of Marilyn Monroe movies. A couple of those dresses in Some Like It Hot --- holy cow! This is all great stuff.

Last night I sat down and watched the Brando-Leigh A Streetcar Named Desire. I don’t know how I missed that. I guess maybe I thought I’d watched it --- or maybe I did and was too dumb then to appreciate it. Of course one would be hard pressed to find a better writer to learn dialog from than Tennessee Williams. Some of the scenes in that were so hot it’s a wonder the film never ignited and burned to a crisp.

So, little by little, I’m getting a feel for this very intriguing skill --- sassy behavior, period slang, and always, always the pulsing under-current of sex. One of the lines in My Last Romance that I loved was when Ruby says that she feels sorry for young people today because “everything is acceptable and nothing is fun”. She knew what she was talking about. There’s something to be said for repression and censorship if it yields the throbbing dialog that fills those movies.

So, I’m learning. Hey, it’s research. I’ll be at the movies for awhile. If you need me just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Time To Catch My Breath

I don’t mind telling you that I feel like I have been on a roller coaster for 2 months now. It began with the realization in February that I absolutely HAD to get a new computer if I wanted to continue to earn a living with one. This lead to WEEKS of software-loading, password-recovering, file-transferring, email-sorting, and version-adjustments --- endless encounters with my own stupidity and low tolerance for frustration. In the midst of all that the Defonseca Hoax surfaced and that occupied way too much time as well. Then there were a couple of encounters with my own ineptitude at business and --- well --- all in all I’m ready for some R&R.

Throughout much of my adult life I have had a few reliable “refuges”, places I could go to escape reality. Reading was chief among them followed by writing, sewing and knitting. Recently I have been trouble finding the time, and the focus, for those and that is not good. Every time I sat down to read my mind was racing with things I should be taking care of. Every time I tried to write my own stuff I found myself writing about the Defonseca Hoax. I have not done much sewing for months now for the simple reason that I need to go into my sewing room and give it a good reorganization and tidying up and I haven’t found the time to do that. Which brings me to knitting --- thank goodness I had time for that.

All of this makes me think about how crazy life has become and, at least in my case, every single bit of what I went through for the past couple months could be traced back to one thing --- computers and the internet. I had to replace my computer, had it not been for the internet the Defonseca story would have taken months and months to unfold, and my business problems always center around computer snafus. But, of course, that is the wonder of the digital age.

And yet computers have given us such amazing wonders, too. I am stupefied by the awareness that I can do so much more with this new computer than I could with the old one. This one is smaller, thinner, lighter, and MUCH cheaper and it does so much more it is unbelievable. I’ve discovered access to the world in ways I never dreamed of --- better web cams, Google Earth, internet radio stations, all kinds of movies on demand. You could stay glued to this thing 24/7 which is a danger unto itself. I have to make sure I get up and away --- now that the weather is warming up it is good to get out for a walk on a regular basis. I’m beginning to understand those people who live their lives in front of the monitor. I’ve always looked forward to the end of the work day when I could log off and go do other things. I’d check back late in the evening to see if I had any interesting emails but most of my evenings are computer free. That isn’t happening now.

Well, I’m trying to adjust to what is now “normal”. Normal has a bad habit of changing too often for my tastes these days. But there are good things too. I am working on the screenplay for “My Last Romance” (on the computer) and planning the re-design of my professional web site (on the computer) and getting Each Angel Burns ready to publish (on the computer). I need to spend a day in the sewing room and get it tidied up and organized! At least there are no computers in there.

Life just keeps on happening. That’s a good thing. Thank God for friends and prayer and pots of hyacinths blooming in the kitchen window and the current crop of red grapefruit, and, always, ideas of things to write about. And then there are the evenings when I am at the computer and I’ve opened the windows a crack and the fresh sea air is blowing in and I can hear foghorns out on Dogbar Breakwater and ships coming into the harbor and the trains coming and going from the railroad station up the hill. And then the digital age gets put in its place and the salt air and the cries of gulls resume their ascendancy.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Life in the Highlands

It has been a strange few weeks. I am very busy, I have a sinus infection that has resulted in a persistent low grade fever, I have some exciting projects in progress and some annoying business issues --- in other words, just more life. But, busy though it has been here, my brain has been in hyper-drive as usual and that is more good than not.

I’ve recently discovered internet radio. I used to listen to audio books while I worked but these days I am doing stuff that requires focus so I want something that I can kind of listen to but also ignore. For some reason I have fallen in love with the BBC’s Radio Scotland. It’s an interesting international compromise. I have often listened to French or German radio stations but I really have to concentrate too much to get a clue as to what they are talking about. Those are the only languages I have even a little bit of skill at. But Radio Scotland is fascinating because it does take some small effort to understand but not a lot and I LOVE the brogues.

This fascination is somewhat enhanced by the fact that a few years ago I was told that my Great-Great Grandfather James Valentine was from Scotland. I never knew that. There was a family myth about the origins of my father’s grandfather but I never liked it and never wanted to think about it. Suffice it to say it involved criminal activity but, in retrospect, knowing my dearly departed father’s penchant for creating “colorful” stories about his past --- well --- it’s far more understandable.

Anyway, when a distant cousin contacted me and sent information about James Valentine it all made a lot more sense. I’ve never been much interested in genealogy. Well, I think it is interesting but I’ve never been much motivated to find out more about my own family. But one day recently something intriguing caught my attention on Radio Scotland. There was a little news item about an exhibition of photography by James Valentine of Dundee Scotland (left). It caught my attention and I looked him up on the internet. He was born in Dundee in 1815 to John Valentine (my father’s name) who established Valentine Company, Printers and Lithographers in 1825. James became fascinated by Daguerreotypes in the 1840s, became a photographer and opened his own publishing company a few years later. His photographs of Scotland, England and Wales are wonderful (below).

I have no idea if they are ancestors or not. Maybe someday I’ll find the time and the inclination to check it out but, because I did after all inherit my father’s colorful imagination, I can dream. What makes him particularly interesting to me is that my father was an avid amateur photographer and I am a publisher and a great deal of my work involves working with photographs. Have those genes been passed on or is it just a coincidence? Probably the latter but you never know.

Anyway, while listening to Radio Scotland --- my favorite programs are Around Orkney and Shetland Live --- I’ve been thinking about how accessible the world has become. It’s right there, at the click of a button, in front of me while I work. I don’t know why I find Radio Scotland more appealing than, say, Radio Wales or just regular BBC programming. Partly it is the sense of humor that I’ve come to appreciate --- dry, self-mocking, and clever. And partly there is the sense of small town life that is something I so much value. I love the stories about community projects and local scandals and just the day to day life in a small, geographically confined area. One day there was a news item about an unidentified skeleton found in a tent in a remote region of a protected reserve. Several days later the skeleton was in the news again because he had been identified. I was relieved.

So, I have to get to work and I will, no doubt, be listening to Radio Scotland throughout the day. And maybe thinking about my new “invented” grandparent --- does this mean I have to give up Jean Lafitte? Not really --- that was the family that James’s children married in to…

Thanks for reading.