Thursday, June 29, 2017

Notes For June 29th, 2017

This Day In Literary History

On June 29th, 1900, the famous French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint Exupéry was born in Lyon, France.

He was born into an old aristocratic family, but his father, the Viscount Jean de Saint-Exupéry, was an insurance broker who died when Antoine was four.

The young Saint Exupéry was a below average student and failed his prep school final exams. Nonetheless, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture.

In 1921, he joined the military and was assigned to the 2nd Regiment of Chasseurs (calvary) before being sent to Strasbourg to train as a pilot. He received his pilot's license the following year, along with an offer of transfer to the Air Force.

Due to the strenuous objections of his fiancée, Saint Exupéry declined the transfer and moved to Paris, where he took an office job. Over the next few years, the couple broke off their engagement and Saint Exupéry worked at a series of menial jobs.

In 1926, he became a pilot again - and not just any pilot. He flew planes for the Aéropostale as one of the first international mail flight pilots in the world - a dangerous job considering how primitive aircraft were in the 1920s.

That same year, Saint Exupéry published his first work - a short story called The Aviator - in Le Navire d'Argent magazine.

In 1929, he published his first book,
Southern Mail. His career as an aviator took off (no pun intended) as well. He became the Latécoère French airline stopover manager at Cape Juby airfield in the Spanish zone of Southern Morocco. He later moved to Argentina and became director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company.

In 1931, Saint Exupéry published his second book, Night Flight, a novel based on his adventures flying for the Aéropostale, which won him the Prix Femina prize and made his name as a writer.

He also married Consuelo Suncin, a Salvadoran writer. It would be a stormy marriage, as Saint Exupéry was always away flying and a notorious womanizer.

After his death, his mistress, Hélène de Vogüé, became his literary executrix and wrote a biography of him under the pseudonym Pierre Chevrier.

On December 30th, 1935, Saint Exupéry and his navigator, André Prévot, crashed in the Sahara desert while en route to Saigon.

They had been attempting to win a 150,000 franc prize by flying from Paris to Saigon faster than any previous aviators. Both men survived the crash, but they didn't know where they were, and had only enough food and drink to sustain them for one day.

They wandered the desert, experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations. By the third day, the men became so dehydrated that they stopped sweating. The next day, they were found by a Bedouin camel rider who saved their lives.

Saint Exupéry wrote a memoir of their experience,
Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939), and his most famous book, a children's novella called The Little Prince (1943) opens with a pilot being marooned in the desert.

The Little Prince is a delightful, clever, surreal, and poetic fairytale about a little boy who is the Prince of B612, a small asteroid out in space.

The Prince works hard caring for his asteroid, which will die if he neglects it. He falls in love with the only rose that grows on the asteroid.

One day, the Prince leaves home to see what the rest of the universe is like. He visits other asteroids, each one the home of an eccentric character.

The King tells his subjects that he can control the stars - but only by telling them to do what they already do anyway. He believes that a citizen's duty is to obey the King - but only if the King's demands are reasonable.

The Conceited Man lives alone, but longs to be admired by everyone. He is literally deaf to anything that isn't a compliment. The Drunkard drinks to forget that he's ashamed of being a drunkard.

The Businessman wants to own the stars, but the Prince tells him that because one cannot care for the stars or be useful to them in some way, he cannot own them. The Prince owns the rose because he cares for it.

The Lamplighter lives on an asteroid that rotates once a minute. Before its rotation sped up, he had time to rest. Now, he has no time to rest, but he refuses to turn his back on his work. The Prince feels sorry for the Lamplighter because he's the only person he's met who cares for something other than himself.

The Geographer spends all of his time making maps, but he never leaves his desk. He won't trust anything that he can't see with his own two eyes, but he refuses to leave his desk to explore the world around him.

The Prince comes to Earth as an ambassador at the King's request, and meets a marooned pilot in the desert, telling him about his home asteroid and the aforementioned characters he's met.

As he travels the desert, he tames a desert fox and meets a railway switchman and a merchant who both comment on the absurdity of human nature. He also meets a sly and deadly snake. The story ends on a sad, surreal, and ambiguous note.

The Little Prince has become - and still is - an all time classic work of children's literature that's beloved by readers of all ages.

In the 1940s and 50s, Disney considered making an animated feature film adaptation, but the plans fell through. In 1974, there was a live action, musical feature film adaptation released by Paramount - the last movie musical written and composed by the team of Lerner and Lowe.

The film starred Steven Warner as the Prince, Richard Kiley as the pilot, Gene Wilder as the Fox, and Bob Fosse (who choreographed his own dance routine) as the Snake.

At the time of its release, the movie was roundly panned by critics and a bomb at the box office, but it has since become a cult classic highly sought after by film lovers. It's now available on DVD.

In 1943, after living in America for just over two years, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, then 43 years old, returned to Europe and enlisted to fly in the Free French Forces and fight with the Allies in the Mediterranean.

A year later, after publishing his next book,
Letter To A Hostage, Saint Exupéry took off from an airbase in Corsica and was never seen again. His plane was thought to have crashed.

In 1998, a French fisherman found a silver identity bracelet bearing the names of Saint Exupéry, his wife Consuelo, and his publishers, Reynal Hitchcock. The bracelet was fastened to a piece of cloth, most likely from Saint Exupéry's uniform.

Two years later, a diver found the remains of a P-38 Lightning war plane off the coast of Marseille. In 2003, some of the remains were recovered, and investigators from the French Underwater Archaeological Department confirmed that the aircraft was Saint Exupéry's missing plane.

Quote Of The Day

"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiring for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." - Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Antoine de Saint Exupéry's classic novella, The Little Prince. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Notes For June 28th, 2017

This Day In Literary History

On June 28th, 1888, the legendary Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson left San Francisco and set sail for the South Seas.

Stevenson was searching for a new home with a healthier climate, as he was suffering from tuberculosis. He and his family would settle on a Samoan island, where Stevenson would spend the last six years of his life.

No stranger to such voyages, Stevenson was an avid traveler and adventurer. He began his writing career authoring travelogues. His first, An Inland Voyage (1878), was an account of his 1876 canoeing trip through France and Belgium.

He followed it with Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), a memoir of his twelve-day, 120-mile solo hike through the Cévennes Mountains in France.

Though he would write several more travelogues, Stevenson made his name as a writer of fiction, first with his short story collections, then with his adventure novels.

His most famous adventure novel was the classic Treasure Island (1883). Set in mid-18th century England, it told the story of Jim Hawkins, a young boy from a seaside village who works at his parents' inn.

One of the lodgers at the inn is Billy Bones, a rum guzzling ex-pirate whom Jim comes to like. Bones is hiding out from his former crew mates, but one of them, a sailor called Black Dog, tracks him down.

They come to blows and Black Dog flees. Another man, a blind fellow named Pew, arrives with a message for Bones - a pirate's summons that causes the rum-soaked Bones to have a stroke and die.

Jim and his mother then open Bones' sea chest, hoping to find enough money to cover the rent that Bones owed them. Later, they discover something unexpected in the chest - a map.

It's a detailed map of an island where Bones' former commander Captain Flint buried his treasure. Soon, Jim finds himself on a ship bound for the island, where he runs afoul of other pirates, including the legendary Long John Silver.

Robert Louis Stevenson later wrote another seafaring adventure, Kidnapped (1886), set amidst the intrigues of the Jacobite movement in 18th century Scotland. David Balfour, an orphaned young man, arrives to stay with his Uncle Ebenezer.

David's stingy, money hungry uncle, scheming to steal his inheritance, sells the boy to Captain Hoseason of the brig Covenant, who forces him to work as cabin boy. Hoseason plans to resell David to another slavemaster.

Other classic Stevenson novels include The Black Arrow (1883), an adventure novel set during the Wars of the Roses - the English civil wars that took place in the 15th century - and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).

In this celebrated horror tale, Dr. Henry Jekyll, a respected doctor and scientist, invents a miracle drug to eliminate the evil side of the human psyche.

Unfortunately, instead of eliminating Jekyll's evil side, the drug causes it to emerge as a separate personality - that of Edward Hyde, a depraved, murderous psychopath who terrorizes London.

After Robert Louis Stevenson and his family arrived in Samoa, they settled on the island of Upolu, where they lived on a 400-acre parcel of land in the village of Vailima. Stevenson took the native name Tusitala, which meant teller of tales in Samoan.

The Samoans came to love him and often turned to him for advice. He became active in local politics, and, believing that the European rulers of the Samoan Islands were incompetent, blasted them publicly in a nonfiction book called A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa (1892).

The book caused such an uproar that Stevenson feared he might be deported. He wasn't. The scandal blew over and he remained in Samoa until he died from his tuberculosis in 1894 at the age of 44.

Of the European leaders whom he had blasted for their mismanagement of Samoa, Stevenson would famously quip, "I used to think meanly of the plumber; but how he shines beside the politician!"

Quote Of The Day

"Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure novel, Treasure Island (1883). Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Notes For June 27th, 2017

This Day In Literary History

On June 27th, 1953, the famous American writer Alice McDermott was born in Brooklyn, New York. She was born into an Irish Catholic family, which would influence her writing.

Alice attended Catholic schools until college, where she studied at SUNY (State University of New York) Oswego and the University of New Hampshire.

In 1982, Alice burst onto the literary scene with her novel, A Bigamist's Daughter. It told the story of Elizabeth, a young woman who works as an editor for a sleazy vanity press whose bland office she compares to an unlicensed electrolysis salon.

Tupper Daniels, a handsome young writer, shows up with the manuscript for his first novel, which is about a bigamist. Tupper has a problem - he doesn't know how to end his novel, so he seeks Elizabeth's advice.

As Elizabeth helps Tupper work on his novel, she falls in love with him. The novel's subject matter forces Elizabeth to recall the painful memories of her own father - a mysterious man who may have been a bigamist with two families.

Alice's second novel, That Night (1987), was a haunting period piece set in early 1960s Long Island and based on an incident from the author's childhood. The novel is narrated by 10-year-old Alice.

Sheryl, the nice teenage girl next door, is in love with Rick, a handsome hoodlum who belongs to a street gang. Rick's father is a doctor, his mother a schizophrenic.

Though her parents hate Rick, Sheryl sees the good in him. She also sees him as a kindred spirit who, like her, suffers at the hands of the soul-crushing suburbia they live in.

After Sheryl's father dies and she becomes pregnant, her mother sends her away and orders Rick to never see or contact her again. This provokes the troubled, lovesick boy to violence.

That Night was a finalist for three major awards - the National Book Award, the PEN / Faulkner Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. Her next novel would again be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

At Weddings and Wakes (1992), set in early 1960s Brooklyn, was a melancholic, impressionistic tale that starkly and beautifully captured the poetry of one Irish Catholic family's pain and joy. Mostly pain.

Momma Towne is a widowed stepmother who lives with her three unmarried stepdaughters in a small, gloomy apartment. May is a kindly ex-nun, Veronica is a solitary, alcoholic spinster, and Agnes is a busy career woman.

A fourth stepdaughter, Lucy, lives on Long Island with her husband and children. Twice a week, Lucy and the children visit Momma, to whom Lucy complains about her unhappy marriage and her unfulfilled dreams.

During these visits, Lucy's children Margaret, Bobby, and Maryanne learn from their aunts and grandmother the often painful history of the family, which has been smothered by Catholicism and marinated in alcohol.

Alice's first award winning book, Charming Billy, was published in 1998. In this novel, the Irish Catholic family of Billy Lynch, a storyteller, dreamer, and hopeless alcoholic, gathers for his funeral.

Forty years earlier, Billy had been madly in love with an Irish girl named Eva, who went back to Ireland and tragically died of pneumonia before she could return to him. He married another woman and began drinking to forget Eva. He ultimately drank himself to death.

One of the mourners at Billy's funeral is Dennis, Billy's cousin and best friend. Dennis is accompanied by his unnamed daughter, who narrates the story. During the funeral, Dennis makes a shocking confession to his daughter: "Eva never died. It was a lie. Just between the two of us, Eva lived."

The stunned narrator then takes the reader along on her quest to find the truth and learn how her father could have told such a lie to a man he considered his best friend - a lie that drove Billy Lynch to despair, to drink, and ultimately, to his death.

Charming Billy won Alice McDermott the American Book Award and the National Book Award. Her 2006 novel, After This, takes place from the late 1940s through the 1970s.

After World War II ends, Mary, a 30-year-old spinster, finds herself swept up in a whirlwind romance with John Keane, her true love, whom she marries. The happy couple starts a family that will include four children.

Mary and John see themselves and their children as a good, traditional Irish Catholic family, but as the years pass, the winds of change steer the children away from tradition and faith.

Their eldest son Jacob is killed in Vietnam. Their younger son Michael, racked with guilt over the way he'd treated Jacob, seeks escape through drugs and casual sex. Their eldest daughter Anne quits college and runs off to London with her lover, and teenage Clare becomes pregnant.

Alice McDermott's most recent novel, Someone, published in 2013, told the story of Marie Commeford, a bespectacled Irish Catholic woman from Brooklyn whose poor vision becomes a metaphor for her inability to see what's right in front of her eyes.

Marie's vulnerability and the aches and pains she faces in life makes the reader identify with her. Alice McDermott's prose is dazzling as ever in this nonlinear narrative.

Someone was a contender for the 2013 National Book Award.

Quote Of The Day

"I suppose I've never set out to write a novel in which nothing happens... only to write a novel about the lives of certain characters. That nothing 'happens' in their lives is beside the point to me; I'm still interested in how they live, and think, and speak, and make some sense of their own experience. Incident (in novels and in life) is momentary, and temporary, but the memory of an incident, the story told about it, the meaning it takes on or loses over time, is lifelong and fluid, and that's what interests me and what I hope will prove interesting to readers. We're deluged with stories of things that have happened, events, circumstances, actions, etc. We need some stories that reveal how we think and feel and hope and dream." - Alice McDermott

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Alice McDermott discussing and reading from her most recent novel, Someone, at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC. Enjoy!

Monday, June 26, 2017

IWW Members' Publishing Successes

Jeannette de Beauvoir

This is a double yahoo, since I completely forgot the first one (things have been a little hectic): my hard-to-fit-into-a-genre novel Our Lady of the Dunes came out in February from Homeport Press, a small publisher focusing on authors from Cape Cod; and yesterday we launched a new mystery series with the first novel, Death of a Bear.

The series will involve mysteries that take place during Provincetown’s different theme weeks. The first chapter of Death of a Bear is available as a free download. If you’d like to read it, contact me off-list. We plan to publish two mysteries in the series every year, which is ambitious and I’m already exhausted just thinking about it!

Theresa A. Cancro

One haiku of mine appears in the June 2017 issue of Stardust Haiku Journal. Scroll to page 3.

Cezarija E. Abartis

Thanks to G.K. Adams, who read this in another workshop, Zoetrope, in April 2015. That was before I joined IWW, and it seems so long ago. "The Legend of Nice Women" has come out in the print TAMPA REVIEW. It's also available on the Project Muse database.

You may want to let friends know that they can find your work through most college and university libraries - and in many public libraries as well.

Deepa Kandaswamy

My latest published on Mint on Sunday. Was away on assignment and hence posting it now.

Lynne Hinkey

My review of "The Last Detective" by Brian Cohen is now up at the Underground Book Reviews site.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Notes For June 23rd, 2017

This Day In Literary History

On June 23rd, 1398 (c), the legendary German inventor Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany. As a young boy, he learned to read. This was a rare skill in the 15th century, as books were a luxury for the rich.

At that time, books had to be written by hand, (usually by monks, scholars, or scribes) a slow and expensive process. Fortunately for Gutenberg, he was born into a patrician (aristocratic) merchant family.

After he learned to read, he became an avid reader and spent hours in the library. The few libraries that existed then did not loan out their books. The books had to be read in the library and were chained to the wall to prevent theft.

Whenever Gutenberg's father ordered a book, it would take from several months to a year for the handwritten manuscript to be completed. Gutenberg hated to wait and dreamed of a more efficient means of producing books than writing them out by hand.

In 1411, there was an uprising against the patricians in Mainz, so the Gutenberg family moved to Eltville am Rhein, where Johannes took up the goldsmithing trade, as his father was a goldsmith who worked with the ecclesiastic mint.

Gutenberg became a skilled metalworker, and his skills would help him create his greatest invention - the mechanical printing press. By 1440, he began experimenting with the elements that would form his mechanical printing process.

Using his skills as a metalworker, Gutenberg designed a movable typeface, with separate metal type for each letter to be printed. He also developed oil-based inks of various colors that would hold up better on the page than the traditional water-based inks.

Last, but certainly not least, he built printing presses based on the designs of the olive, wine, and cheese presses of the time. By 1450, Gutenberg's print shop was in business. One of the first items to be printed there was a German poem.

The successful operation of the press and the quality of the printed material attracted attention, and Gutenberg was able to convince Johann Fust, a wealthy and powerful moneylender, to give him an 800-guilder loan to expand and maintain the business.

He took on Fust's son-in-law, Peter Schoffer, as an apprentice. In 1452, Gutenberg borrowed another 800 guilders from Fust. His print shop was a success and he printed thousands of indulgences for the Church.

Indulgences were certificates absolving the bearers of their sins and guaranteeing them a way out of Hell after their deaths. Indulgences were sold to rich parishioners - the only ones who could afford them.

This made the Church a tremendous amount of money. The printing of indulgences earned Gutenberg a tidy profit as well, which he put back into the business and used to repay his loans. He then embarked on his greatest printing project.

Gutenberg determined to print the most important book of the time - the Bible. He designed and tested beautiful layouts that combined color and black inks. Expenses for the Bible project started piling up, and he borrowed more money from Johann Fust.

Soon he was in debt for over 2,000 guilders. The Bible project took about three years to complete, and around 200 copies of the Bible were printed. During this time, a dispute arose between Gutenberg and Fust.

Fust accused Gutenberg of misusing the money he lent him and demanded all of it back. He filed suit at the archbishop's court. The court ruled in Fust's favor, giving him ownership of Gutenberg's print shop and half the bibles that had been printed.

Unfortunately, Fust also gained control of the Gutenberg name. Though effectively bankrupt, Gutenberg did run a small print shop in Bamberg and participated in another Bible printing project in 1459.

None of the materials he printed bore the Gutenberg name because Fust owned it. So it's uncertain exactly what Gutenberg printed in his little Bamberg shop. It's been speculated that he may have printed 300 copies of the 744-page Catholicon Dictionary there.

Johannes Gutenberg died in 1468 at approximately 70 years of age. By 1500, there were more than a thousand print shops in Europe. Gutenberg's dream of distributing information to the masses had come true.

In 1971, Project Gutenberg was launched by University of Illinois student Michael Hart, taking the inventor's dream into the digital age. The idea of Project Gutenberg was to digitize public domain texts into searchable ASCII files.

The files could then be stored on the university's Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer - one of fifteen nodes on a network that would serve as the precursor to the Internet. The first text to be digitized was the Declaration of Independence.

Project Gutenberg has since digitized over 30,000 public domain texts (novels, poetry, plays, nonfiction, etc.) in various languages. With the advent of telecommunication, Project Gutenberg e-texts were distributed on bulletin boards and the Internet.

E-books continue to evolve, and electronic reading devices like the Amazon Kindle have made them more popular than ever, but it was Johannes Gutenberg who gave the world its first means of mass-producing books.

Quote Of The Day

"The most important human being whoever lived, if you want to leave out religious figures, would be Johannes Gutenberg... that's when the liberation of human thought happened, because people could read the thoughts of people across the world, and have thoughts of their own, and publish them and spread information around." - Tom Clancy

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a documentary on Johannes Gutenberg, hosted and narrated by Stephen Fry. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Notes For June 22nd, 2017

This Day In Literary History

On June 22nd, 1964, the famous American writer Dan Brown was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. Brown's father was a teacher, and he grew up on the campus of Philips Exeter Academy, where his father taught.

Brown was an avid reader, but didn't care for most modern fiction, preferring to read the classics or nonfiction. After graduating college, Brown went to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make it as a singer and songwriter.

In Los Angeles, Brown joined the National Academy of Songwriters and met Blythe Newlon, the Academy's Director of Artist Development. They fell in love. Later, when they moved back to New Hampshire, they married.

Brown worked as a teacher while he pursued his singing career. He released his first album,
Dan Brown, in 1993. It was followed by Angels & Demons in 1994. He would later use that title as the title for his second novel.

His musical career floundering, Dan decided to try his hand at becoming a novelist after reading Sidney Sheldon's suspense thriller The Doomsday Conspiracy while on vacation in Tahiti. He thought he could write a better novel.

He began work on his first novel and co-wrote a humor book with his wife -
187 Men To Avoid: A Guide For The Romantically Frustrated Woman - under the pseudonym Danielle Brown.

Dan Brown's first novel, a techno thriller called
Digital Fortress, was published in 1998. With Digital Fortress, Brown first began exploring his fascination with cryptography.

In the novel, NSA (National Security Agency) cryptographer Susan Fletcher is called upon to stop Digital Fortress - encryption code software that the NSA's code-breaking supercomputer TRANSLTR is incapable of cracking.

If Digital Fortress spreads through the Internet, it could cripple the NSA. The novel addresses civil rights issues in the Internet age, such as government agencies hacking into citizens' private data (i.e. messages in e-mail accounts) and reading it.

In Dan Brown's second novel, Angels & Demons (2000), Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is called upon to help in the investigation of a bizarre murder.

A respected nuclear physicist has been found murdered, with one eye removed and an ambigram of the word
Illuminati branded on his chest. Langdon is an expert on the Illuminati - a secret brotherhood of scientists founded during the Renaissance dedicated to advancing science and challenging the authority of the Church.

At the time of the murder, the Pope has died and a papal enclave has convened at the Vatican to elect the new pontiff. The Preferiti - the cardinals who are candidates to become the new Pope - turn up missing. They are being murdered, one by one, in the same way as the nuclear physicist.

Langdon discovers that the fabled Illuminati still exists and is planning to blow up Vatican City with an antimatter bomb as retribution for the massacre of their predecessors, which was carried out by the Church centuries ago.

Angels & Demons
was a bestseller - a huge critical and commercial success for Dan Brown. He followed it with the sci-fi suspense thriller Deception Point (2001).

It told the story of Rachel Sexton, an NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) intelligence analyst and part of a team of experts whose mission is to authenticate findings made by NASA deep within the Arctic's Milne Ice Shelf.

The findings are fossils of insects contained within a meteor, which NASA claims may constitute proof of extraterrestrial life. What the team doesn't know is that their activities are being secretly monitored by a Delta Force unit.

Rachel suspects that the meteor may be a fraud. But who would want to discredit NASA? Could it be her own father, ruthless conservative Senator Sedgewick Sexton, a presidential candidate running on a platform of reducing government spending?

He wants to scrap NASA and turn space exploration over to the private sector. His opponent, the incumbent President, is a huge supporter of NASA. Is the Delta Force unit in on the hoax or have they been ordered to assassinate the team of experts to hide the truth?

In 2003, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code - a prequel to Angels & Demons - that proved to be a runaway bestseller, selling over sixty million copies and causing a huge controversy.

The Da Vinci Code, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is called upon to assist in the investigation of another bizarre and brutal murder - one that took place in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Jacques Sauniere, the museum's curator, was found murdered, with a strange cipher near his body. Teaming up with Sauniere's granddaughter Sophie, Langdon follows a bizarre trail of anagrams, ciphers, number puzzles, and other brainteasers as he tries to solve the murder.

The trail eventually leads the pair to mysterious clues hidden within the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, a cryptex invented by Da Vinci, and the Holy Grail - proof that the foundation of Christianity was a fairy tale invented and propagated by the Church.

Jesus Christ actually escaped crucifixion and fled to France with his pregnant wife, Mary Magadelene, where she bore the child, whose descendants became royalty.

Mary Magdalene was the real rock upon which Jesus built his church, not Peter, which infuriated the fiercely misogynistic disciple. Years later, the Church tried to exterminate all of Jesus and Mary Magdalene's descendants to conceal the truth.

But, some of them survived, and a secret brotherhood (whose membership included Leonardo Da Vinci) pledged to protect them and the proof of the "con of Man."

Blending thrilling, intriguing suspense fiction with historical facts and theories, The Da Vinci Code proved to be hugely popular and hugely controversial.

The Vatican denounced the novel as anti-Catholic. The Christian Right called it blasphemous, and both factions published numerous non-fiction books dedicated to debunking the historical facts and theories Dan Brown based his novel on.

After a movie adaptation was released in 2006 (directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon) and became hugely successful itself, some disgruntled writers filed suit to get a piece of the pie.

First, Lewis Purdue sued Dan Brown, claiming that Brown plagiarized his novels
The Da Vinci Legacy (1983) and Daughter Of God (2000).

Then, writers Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh filed suit, claiming that Brown based
The Da Vinci Code on theories put forth in their famous 1982 nonfiction book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dan Brown won both lawsuits, as the plagiarism claims were ruled to be baseless.

A feature film version of Angels & Demons was released in May of 2009. A few months later, The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's third novel in his Robert Langdon series, was released.

In it, Langdon agrees to give a lecture in Washington, DC, at the request of his mentor, Peter Solomon. When he arrives in Washington, Langdon finds Solomon's severed hand mounted on a wooden base.

The victim's fingers are pointing up at a fresco on the ceiling, a painting that depicts George Washington dressed in celestial robes and ascending to heaven.

As he investigates his friend's murder, Langdon uncovers clues that lead him toward a fabled source of wisdom known as the Ancient Mysteries - and toward Mal'akh, a tattooed, musclebound madman who believes that the secrets of the Ancient Mysteries will enable him to rule the world...

Dan Brown is one of our finest modern suspense novelists. His most recent novel, Inferno, was published in 2013. The fourth book in the Robert Langdon series, it opens with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with no memory of the past few days.

Sienna Brooks, a doctor caring for him, tells him that he stumbled into the emergency room after a bullet grazed his head. The female assassin who tried to kill him then invades the hospital to finish the job. Robert and Sienna are forced to flee.

When Robert finds a curious object - a medieval bone cylinder containing a hi-tech projector that displays a modified version of Botticelli's Map of Hell and the words "The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death" - he plunges into yet another deadly mystery.

As he and Sienna are hunted by everyone from assassins to soldiers, Robert Langdon follows a trail of clues that lead him to a brilliant and demented billionaire and Dante fanatic who's come up with a solution to the world's overpopulation problem - sterilizing one-third of humanity with a virus...

Dan Brown's fifth Robert Langdon novel, Origin, is scheduled for release in October.

Quote Of The Day

"Writing an informative yet compact thriller is a lot like making maple sugar candy. You have to tap hundreds of trees, boil vats and vats of raw sap, evaporate the water, and keep boiling until you've distilled a tiny nugget that encapsulates the essence. " - Dan Brown

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Dan Brown on Google+ Hangout discussing his most recent novel, Inferno. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Notes For June 21st, 2017

This Day In Literary History

On June 21st, 1956, the legendary American playwright Arthur Miller defied the United States Congress, refusing to inform on his friends and colleagues whom a Congressional committee had suspected of being communists.

At the time of his Congressional hearing, Miller, born in Harlem, New York, in 1915, had established himself as one of America's greatest playwrights. An outspoken liberal who openly supported leftist causes, he was long suspected of being a communist.

No evidence exists to prove that he belonged to the American Communist Party; some biographers have speculated that he may have joined under a pseudonym, but that's pure conjecture.

A Red Scare had swept through the American landscape of the 1950s - the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union - infesting the country with fear and paranoia.

The House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), founded by Congress in 1938, was tasked with weeding out suspected communists and communist sympathizers. The committee became notorious for its dubious methods.

To extract confessions from suspected communists, the HUAC, under the direction of Joseph McCarthy, the notorious Republican senator from Wisconsin, would resort to coercion, deception, and false testimony by so-called witnesses.

Another tool in the committee's arsenal was guilt by association - if a defendant's relatives and / or friends were communists, then the defendant must be as well, or he wouldn't associate with them.

Worst of all, when no evidence existed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the HUAC's mostly false and slanderous accusations of communism, the committee simply manufactured it.

In those days, being convicted of communism meant not only jail time, but also the blacklisting of the defendant from his trade, the loss of his civil rights, and public ostracism.

During the infamous Hollywood Blacklist, actors, directors, writers, and producers convicted of being communists or communist sympathizers could not find work after their release from jail.

The Hollywood studios refused to hire convicted or even suspected communists or communist sympathizers, for fear of governmental interference in the movie business.

Blacklisted actors and directors would have to work in small independent productions or make movies in foreign countries. Blacklisted writers would have to use fronts - impostors pretending to be them - to sell their works in Hollywood.

Three years before he found himself brought before the HUAC, Arthur Miller had written a play inspired by what happened to his close friend, legendary filmmaker Elia Kazan.

Brought before the HUAC and accused of being a communist, Kazan, wishing to avoid the Hollywood Blacklist, informed on several of his friends, including legendary playwright Lillian Hellman and actor John Garfield.

Kazan avoided the Blacklist, but his reputation would take a huge hit. He was rightfully considered a rat willing to ruin the lives of others for the sake of his own self interest. Miller didn't speak to him for ten years.

In his classic play The Crucible (1953), Arthur Miller presented a scathing satirical indictment of the HUAC, likening its hearings to the infamous 17th century Salem witch hunts.

In those trials, innocent lives were also destroyed by false accusations, (of witchcraft) national hysteria, and pompous, self-righteous judges more interested in extracting confessions than in uncovering the truth and delivering justice.

The Crucible became a huge hit on Broadway and would go on to become Miller's most frequently produced play. It infuriated the HUAC to no end.

So, in 1956, when Miller applied for a renewal of his passport, the HUAC took advantage of the routine request to haul him in for questioning, as it was against the law to issue passports to known or suspected communists.

Having nothing to hide, Miller told the committee that he would gladly provide testimony about his own political beliefs and activities, so long as he was not asked to inform on others.

The chairman agreed and promised that he would not have to inform on others. Miller kept his end of the deal and gave the HUAC a detailed account of his own political activities.

The committee then reneged on the chairman's promise and ordered Miller to give them the names of all of his friends and colleagues who shared in his political beliefs and activities.

He refused to comply, so he was charged with contempt of Congress. His case later came to trial, and in May of 1957, a judge found him guilty.

Miller was fined $500, sentenced to thirty days in jail, blacklisted, and of course, denied a renewal of his passport. Fortunately, his conviction was overturned on appeal.

The Court of Appeals found that he had been deliberately deceived by the HUAC chairman and tricked into incriminating himself, which was a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Arthur Miller's experience with the HUAC would haunt him for the rest of his life. This is why, in the 1970s, he took a personal interest in the famous Barbara Gibbons murder case.

The victim's son, Peter Reilly, was convicted of her murder based on what most people believed was a coerced confession. There was little, if any, actual evidence to prove his guilt.

Miller, believing that Reilly was innocent and had been railroaded by the Connecticut State Police and the state Attorney General who had prosecuted the case, used his celebrity to draw attention to Reilly's plight.

The case reminded Miller of his own railroading by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, which would become the House Committee on Internal Security in 1969 and finally be abolished in 1975.

In December of 1954, by a vote of 67-22, Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the Senate for his unethical and illegal conduct. Though he would continue to perform his general duties as a Senator for the next two and a half years, his political career was ruined.

McCarthy was shunned by almost all his fellow Senators. Whenever he gave a speech on the Senate floor, the other Senators would immediately leave the floor rather than listen to him.

Haunted by his fate, McCarthy became a pale shadow of his domineering former self. He drank himself to death, dying in May of 1957 at the age of 48.

Quote Of The Day

"I know that my works are a credit to this nation and I dare say they will endure longer than the McCarran Act." - Arthur Miller

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a three-part interview with Arthur Miller, where he discusses his classic play The Crucible and his ordeal at the hands of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Enjoy!

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