Making Room For The New


It’s an urge I get once in a while – to replace some of my rattier things, something I don’t do often until I’m threadbare. New bed coverings, new area carpets, getting rid of old things from my marriage, too.

And here’s another thing:

I’m getting rid of my inventory of books written by yours truly to make room for the anticipated influx of new.

The prices are bargain basement. In away I hate to do it, but it’s time to try to increase my readership. You can go to my website – this is the only place you’ll find these prices – here, where you’ll find more about the books, including some great book trailers, then click over to the “STORE” page to make these unbelievable purchases.

I know you’ll enjoy what you find there.

The Era That Transformed The World


Some two years ago, I friend challenged me on Goodreads to write a novel about the ‘sixties. Is there something to write about from that era? You bet there is. My challenge, then was to decide how to encapsulate that era of rebellion, rock’n’roll, war and massive social change into a half dozen characters’ lives.


Before you ask, I was there, at least on the periphery. David Crosby said, “If you remember the ‘sixties, you weren’t there.” I was there, and I do remember most of it. Most of it, you say? Yeah. It was the sixties, after all. Okay??!?

My idea in writing this book was that no one, escaped the effects of the ‘sixties, even those of us who lived relatively conventional lives. And so I built this novel around some half dozen characters living rather ‘fifties-esque lifestyles, working conventional careers and jobs. And that’s the rub. Conventionality wasn’t very satisfying, and it led to changes we all seem to accept now, to one degree or another.


Once I set about writing this novel, shades of memory and history took over. I remarked to group of writers in Vermont two years ago that it was a period piece (and it is). One of the faculty there, Clint McCown, on hearing my depiction,  said, “The ‘sixties a period piece. Sadly, I guess it is.”

And so this take on the sixties is partially done. As with sculpture, there are fine bits to be chipped away, added on, to make the story as real as the era that inspired it. It’s already in the hands of a beta reader.


Meanwhile, as always, I move on.


Visit my website here. Within it you’ll find more on books and events that matter to me — and possibly to you. And there’s a gridleyfires Facebook page, too, if you can find it


Dreams of a Better World

Most Blessed of the Patriarchs – Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination, by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf



I’ve been fascinated for years by Jefferson, and have read most of what’s out there on this sometimes eccentric man. But this book takes a new tack. Rather than focus on his politics, his accomplishments in government as well as other areas of life, the authors let us in on the man’s psychology, the ways in which the vagaries of life drove him in one direction versus another.

Above all, Jefferson was a people person. Even late in life, he’d never turn away anyone showing up at Monticello to meet the great man. He lost his wife early in their marriage, and raised his daughters in proper fashion while attending to his responsibilities as a U.S. representative to France. He disliked politics; even so, he served admirably as Secretary of State, Vice President, and finally President, after a harrowing, revolutionary campaign. Slavery stood among his complexities; he maintained slaves at Monticello, but he worked continuously to end slavery, believing that institution would be a fatal blight on the new nation. Ever the idealist revolutionary, he dreamed of the U.S. as an ongoing citadel of freedom and equality in a world of the dominant and dominated.


The writing here is sometimes hard to follow; at others it’s as lean and taut as the best fiction, both testifying to the authors’ love for Jefferson. I found the book fascinating and Jefferson’s inner life as portrayed here inspiring. It’s a must read for those fascinated with the Jeffersonian era and the life of Thomas Jefferson.


My rating: 16 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Within it you’ll find more on books and events that matter to me — and possibly to you. And there’s a gridleyfires Facebook page, too, if you can find it.

Dylan and the Nobel

So Bob Dylan has won the Nobel for literature in 2016. I’m not sure what I think about that.


Not that I disparage Dylan’s work over the past half-century; he’s certainly set trends and erased boundaries within the music world during that time. During the ‘sixties, he wrote and performed songs in the topical, bluesy folk style that had a profound on the American civil rights movement and the greening of youth worldwide. He later moved into movie scores and toward mainstream pop music, trifled with a new form of gospel  music, and has recently recorded a CD of popular standards. The effect of all this? Beyond a demonstrated personal awareness of the sensibilities of these musical forms and genres, many of his pieces have entered the American musical canon. Much the same as Hemingway’s early work changed the way we thought about fiction, Dylan’s work has done something similar for popular music.

My concern isn’t his talent in the field of popular music (you may contest my constant use of the term popular music to describe his work, but many of his songs have gained such broad appeal that it’s hard not to place it under that heading); it’s the limitations inherent in the popular song in a literary sense. Sure, he uses poetic tools: imagery, wordplay, rhythmic patterns. But the popular song, in any of  its multifold blendings of genre, places equal weight on its musicality alongside its literary worth.

This then is my concern; virtually all songwriters, with few exception, must contend with the marketability of those songs; meaning they must attract listeners in the 3-4 minutes the music industry insists on limiting them to.

That Dylan’s lyrics are now recognized for their literary worth by the Nobel judges is as daring as if his lyrics represented a step forward in poetic evolution. Dylan certainly deserves some sort of similar recognition, but the Nobel, which does generally recognize lifetime achievement, may not have been the best device to recognize his half century of work.

Still the power of his work is undeniable, as the following song attests: “I Shall Be Released,” recorded at The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz, made into a movie by Marty Scorcese.

A Word About Today


This is as deep as I’ll ever get into politics here. And my post today isn’t an effort to endorse anyone for any public office, either overtly or implicitly. What it is, though, is a historical perspective on modern times, our opportunities, our challenges. For appropriate background, let me cite portions of a rather long passage from Plato’s perspective some 2000 years ago. This partial essay comes from Classical Wisdom Weekly, a piece entitled Plato and the Disaster of Democracy:

In book VIII of The Republic, Plato begins to describe several stages of government that are intolerable, yet unavoidable. Plato predicts a society with an enormous socioeconomic gap, where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others. In this instance, the people will long for freedom and liberty. They will use it as a battle cry against their oppressors, sparking a revolution.

From this revolution, blood will be spilled and many will die. During this time of violent transition, the people will rally behind one man, or a few men, whom they believe to be their savior…

…During the course of his writings Plato differentiates between necessary desires and unnecessary desires. Necessary desires are desires we can not over come, such as our desire for shelter and sustenance. Unnecessary desires are desires that we are able to overcome, yet refuse to. These desires include luxuries and lavish possessions. These types of desires are a result of a rapid influx of liberty into the population. Once we have tasted freedom we become drunk off it. Plato predicts that the people will demand freedom at every turn, fighting any form of authority and demanding more liberty. We become obsessed with our freedom and become willing to sacrifice necessary things like social order and structure to attain it.

At this point, the newly appointed leaders become very nervous. It was so easy to depose their predecessors, so why not them? These democratic leaders will realize that they are only easily supported when there is a war that the people can rally behind. And so the democratic leaders will unnecessarily become involved in violent affairs, creating wars to distract the people. To ensure their power, the leaders will create laws to bolster their position…

Plato continues in his discussion by explaining that the these leaders will eventually become unpopular, an unavoidable result. Those who once supported this ruling class begin to rebel against the would be tyrant. At this point the citizens will try to get rid of whatever man is currently in office, either by exile or impeachment. If this is not possible, the ruler will inevitably strike down any political opposition he may have.

Hated by the people, these leaders will request the presence of a body guard. And now he is a tyrant, the leader has no choice if he wishes to rule. Elected by the people, yet now he is protected from them. Plato predicts that this tyrant will appeal to the lowest form of citizen.

Clearly, Plato understood the complexities of social life in all its manifestations through the ages, even our unique form of democracy in the U.S., put into practice via a representative form we call republic. And the stages of Plato’s scenario can and will be interpreted in several ways, according to the differing belief systems of the people.

But we can avoid allowing our unique social experiment to degenerate into the form of government that Plato depicts above. How?


Government, representing the people as an entity, and the private sector of business and society, must cooperate toward the goal of providing the necessaries of life to its citizens. Whether this is done by creating work through the Puritan ethic of accumulation by hard labor, or by other means, is irrelevant. And all citizens must be educated to a point that they can collectively avoid Plato’s pitfalls and sustain a society that exists for all.

If we can’t do these two things, then we will degenerate as a society and be no better than the world societies we now endeavor to change for the better through trade practices, social arm-twisting and war. This is a pivotal time for the U.S. and the world. Choices must be made, and the persons we choose aren’t as important as what we demand from them as representatives of us, the people.


Nobel Prizes

Michael Seidel, writer

Love the Nobel Prize for Physics this year. You’ve probably heard but I’m a pedantic beast so I’ll tell you that three Brits, working in the US, won the Nobel Prize for their work in exotic matter.

David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane, and J. Michael Kosterlitz are the three awardees. Being a science fiction fan, I love such work that pushes our thinking into new directions and recognizes new potential.

Over in Medicine, Yoshinori Ohsumi won for his work on cells that eat themselves in a process called autophagy. I pay less attention to medicine than physics, so my reaction was…whhaaat?

These discoveries and the explanations behind them unroll reams of imagination and story ideas. I swear my brain began overheating. I’ll never understand this stuff but it’s cool to think about theoretical applications and situations, and how you can take off into new directions. So many ideas and…

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No Salt In The Wound Here


My last post here criticized a writer, a university president,emeritus, for writing a novel that he hoped would be emblematic of a life project of his. Even though the book was a first novel, with many of the common rookie flaws and strategies, it did show writing talent.

Having just re-read what I wrote, I want to put a bandage on that wound. I had called his book didactic, but for the most part it was the story of a family, almost biblical in its tromp through that family’s history, complete with all the banality of modern family life. The part that moved see to call the book didactic seems in retrospect almost an afterthought with much less impact on the novel’s true essence than I had first thought.

My point here is that the novel is changing. Always has been. Movies have had a great impact on the novel; I was taught to write in a way that would have a cinematic effect on the reader (Camera on? Okay, shoot that narrative with a wide angle lens, then keep the film rolling; it’s a close up! Close up! This is an intimate scene!) And since the public’s interest in literary fiction has been sadly flagging for decades, now writers with literary chops are using the structure and language of genre fiction in their work. Non-fiction is being blended into fictionalized accounts. (Yes, even I. My next book to be published is a fictionalized biography of a uniquely interesting combatant in World War II.) It’s not been uncommon for writers to use the novel as a philosophical device. I’ve even read recently a fictionalized autobiography. And I’ve reviewed one interesting first novel to be used to articulate business practices.

So where do I draw the line? What do I consider too much in stretching the novel’s raison d’être? Too much dogma is wrong, I think, whether that dogma is a philosophical, religious, scientific one, or any manner of one-sided posturing. When a novel preaches, its purpose is blown. The novel should always provoke, and it can count instruction among its virtues. But the reader must always be in charge. Truth, after all, is often a subtle thing, buried in opposing viewpoints and situations. And the novel is at its best when it’s successful at becoming a roadway sign that helps the reader navigate the many arduous paths to truth.


Visit my website here. Within it you’ll find more on books and events that matter to me — and possibly to you. And there’s a gridleyfires Facebook page, too, if you can find it.