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Happy Maybe Birthday Mr. Shakespeare!


shakespeareShakespeare fans around the globe are preparing to celebrate the bard’s 450th birthday today. We love to party as much as the next person, but the real story is that no one knows for sure when his birthday was. He died 450 years ago today, April 23, 1616, and it is presumed he was born on the same date 52 years prior.


But what matters the date of a birthday for one whose creative contributions to the world are so timeless?


“This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

It must be Wednesday...

Lilith - Adam's first wife and literature's first female bad guy?


“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!”
Early Scottish prayer


The strange mysterious girl in white dress with shoes in hand isFear of the dark is an ancient emotion that still runs deep in all of us. When we can’t determine what is beyond our five senses, we start to imagine all sorts of horrid things that might drag us off  into the night.


To make ourselves feel better, we often use talismans and charms to ward off evil and avoid bad luck. It might be noted that rabbits have never been especially fond of that practice.


Talismans are imbued with magical powers we could never understand and certainly don’t want to question. Combined with prayers, spells and various other devices, we push back on the occult world as best we can. Humans are ill-prepared to deal with powerful supernatural beings without some sort of help.


The ancient Hebrews knew that and used a talisman for protection from a demon named Lilith, notorious for stealing the life from newborn children.


According to Hebrew legend, Lilith was Adam’s headstrong first wife who wanted to be his equal and refused to lie under him. Adam wanted things his way, she wanted things her way, and she finally left Eden of her own free will. Interestingly, her voluntary departure enabled her to retain her immortality unlike Adam and Eve. She eventually found a more zesty and appealing, if considerably less sophisticated, husband from the underworld and starting spawning babies by the hundreds.


amuletAdam whined and complained to God that he wasn’t, you know, getting “serviced” regularly and God told Lilith to knock off the adultery stuff and go home or he’d take her demon offspring away. By now Lilith was feeling pretty full of herself, literally, and told God what he could do with his garden and the guy in it. God didn’t have a big sense of humor and acted on his word. Lilith then retaliated by taking the lives of newborn human babies.


God sent three angels to “put the muscle” on her and she finally agreed to spare human children if they had the Hebrew amulet or a sign nearby that warned her off. The Hebrews, no strangers to family squabbles, lost no time in making lots of amulets. One such amulet still exists and is currently on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


The legend of Lilith has roots and connections as far back as Babylonia and even Sumer, one of the earliest civilizations located in what is now southern Iraq. Descriptions of Lilith can be found in legends throughout the Middle East, Mexico, Greece, India, Europe, Asia and even among the Native Americans of North America. Despite all that her story was left out of the canonical Bible except for a brief reference in Isaiah.


One possible reason for the omission might be that her legend also credits her with arousing grown men in their dreams and causing them to have nocturnal emissions. Supposedly, monks of the Middle Ages would sleep with their hands on their genitals to protect themselves from Lilith. Sure, we believe that.


Source: http://ricktownley.com/2014/04/22/things-that-go-bump-in-the-night

Easter 2014

“But from this earth, this grave, this dust, My God shall raise me up, I trust.”

Walter Raleigh



Photo source: http://instagram.com/nois7

Brain Candy!

And the prize goes to…

Congratulations to Donna Tartt, winner of this year’s Pulitzer for fiction. Ms. Tartt is the author of The Goldfinch, a 700-plus page epic about a boy who loses his mother at age 13 in a bomb explosion and weaves his way to adulthood while clinging to a mysterious painting that reminds him of her.


The book has already received lavish praise and reviews from critics and was on various bestseller lists throughout the year. This is Tartt’s third book and took her eleven years to write.


In January of this year, crowds of visitors to the Frick Museum in New York braved the cold to stand in line for an exhibit of paintings by Dutch masters. The museum anticipated that the main attraction would be Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” the subject of a book and movie in 2003 starring Scarlett Johansson.


However, the lines formed to see The Goldfinch, a painting by Carel Fabritius, dating to 1654, that was the centerpiece of Tartt’s book.

An Uninvited Visitor



A week had passed and there was still no sign of Edward. Joanne refocused her thoughts on the mirror over her bathroom sink and plucked out another grey hair. At this rate, she thought, she could end up bald. Just then, a deep toned female voice came from somewhere behind her.


“Where is he?” demanded the detached voice.


She jumped and smeared eyeliner down her cheek making her look like Alice Cooper.


“Where is he?” the voice insisted, louder this time.


Jo couldn’t see anyone in the mirror behind her and let out a low shriek while spinning around to see who might be there out of sight. The voice spoke again, seemingly from nowhere and she shrieked even louder while looking side to side in panic. Then all of a sudden she saw a woman with thick auburn hair and a long black dress standing in the bathroom doorway. At that point, Jo lost it completely and slumped to the floor in a faint, her head barely missing the edge of the tub on the way down.


The woman walked to the sink and stood over Jo’s unconscious figure, looked down and shook her head in disgust. “Pathetic,” she said. She picked up the hair brush from the counter and felt the bristles, then ran it through her soft, smooth mane. There was still no image in the mirror.


Excerpt from Stepping Out of Timeavailable in print and for Kindle on Amazon.com

Source: http://ricktownley.com/2014/04/09/an-uninvited-visitor

What they ate, where they ate it and what they wore (on their feet)


The current trend in literary scholarship these days seems to be detailing what characters ate, where they ate it and what they were wearing at the time. A new book by graphic designer Dinah Fried (is that a real name or a pun?) entitled Fictitious Dishes offers up photographs of food dishes supposedly eaten by famous characters in literature. She includes the gruel from Oliver Twist (why?) , clam chowder from Moby Dick, and of course tea from Alice in Wonderland. The book consists of fifty pictures that started as a class project while the author was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design.


tvshowIf food isn’t your thing, you might be interested to hear J.K. Rowling discusses the “myth and power of shoes” as a possible topic when she is guest editor for Women’s Hour, a BBC Radio 4 program. Rowling has a point, shoes are prevalent in literature in stories ranging from Cinderella’s glass slipper to Dorothy’s iconic red shoes in The Wizard of Oz. More recently, the television seriesSex and the City often featured shoes and led to the now famous quote by Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) that “You can take me out of Manhattan, but you can’t take me out of my shoes!”


mapLast but not least, if you find yourself craving to know where Sherlock Holmes lived in London, you can visit the website Placing Literature. The site is a collaboration of scholars, readers, authors and a software developer and is funded by the Arts Council of New Haven, CT. The home page (http://www.placingliterature.com/home) lets you start with a map that lets you zero in on world locations or you can do specific searches for authors or cities. A search for J.K. Rowlings turned up no results, but offered to let us enter the data ourselves. There is no information given about screening or vetting data points, but there is a way to report errors.

Source: http://books2day.com/2014/04/16/judge-takes-another-bite-from-apple

A literary prize, sort of, for self-published authors.


The moving finger writes … and then enters their work into the Guardian's new monthly literary prizeThe Guardian Newspaper in the UK is establishing the first ever literary prize for self-published authors. Another sign that self-publishing is still growing strong, the paper is working with publisher Legend Times to attract independent authors, ostensibly to find new talent to publish.


Recent statistics show that, at least in the UK, one in five books published last year were by an independent author. The paper reports it has a team of twenty readers who will pore through manuscripts each month to find just one prize winner.The prize itself, from the description, seems to amount pretty much to a pat on the back and a “Jolly well done!”  from the promoters. There is no cash prize, but the winner will get mentioned in the newspaper along with an excerpt of the work. 


The unspoken part of this is that The Guardian has started a new book section on self-published authors. This is a good way to gather info to report on. You can bet that Legend Times will also troll through the submissions looking for new talent, but they emphatically state that no promises of publication are part of the prize.


There is undoubtedly good in all this for everyone involved, but most "starving writers" tend to prefer cash over publicity. If you are an indie author and want to submit, here is a link to the rules and instructions: Terms and Conditions for entries to the competition.

Source: http://books2day.com

I think, therefore I am...a reader.

Doctor Zhivago worked for the CIA?


Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do or...spy.



The CIA is not the first organization that comes to mind if you mention the topic of publishing, but during the late 1950s the CIA printed Russian-language copies of Doctor Zhivago and distributed the books to Soviet citizens as part of a propaganda program. Working from over 130 recently declassified documents, authors Peter Finn and Petra Couvee describe how the CIA regarded the novel as a “literary weapon” in the Cold War. Their new book, The Zhivago Affair, is due out in June 2014.


zhivagoBoris Pasternak believed his novel would never be published because the Soviet authorities regarded it as “an irredeemable assault on the 1917 revolution.” Consequently he went to an Italian publishing scout and the novel was later published widely in the west. The CIA published a hardcover version of the book in the Netherlands, and printed its own paperback version, careful in both cases to avoid any association with the US. It also instructed operatives on how to use the book to engage Soviet citizens on the topic of communism versus democracy and freedom of expression. One internal memo shows that the CIA actively encouraged publishing the novel in as many languages as possible for maximum distribution throughout the free world, which in turn helped earn Pasternak his Nobel Price for Literature in 1958.

Source: http://books2day.com/2014/04/09/dr-zhivago-worked-for-the-cia

Pick one...or two or three...

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Ellen Helms for sharing this.

Gotta love English teachers

Without English teachers there would be no writers (or fewer of them). Not sure if this is real or not, but it went viral on the internet. If real, kudos to the teacher for being clever and keeping cool about the nasty note. We doubt the student's name will ever show up on any future book covers. 


Comedienne Amy Poehler will host this year’s Book Night

April 23rd marks the date for this year’s Book Night, an annual event where over 10,000 community volunteers wander about in cities and towns giving out free books. Over 500,000 paperback books are expected to be handed out this year, featuring both classics and debut titles considered “light reading.” The program is aimed primarily at encouraging non-readers to try books. As the name implies, this program is not limited to the US and it is heavily supported by donations from book lovers along with some major publishers that donate the books.

Source: http://books2day.com

Victim or murderer?

Jennifer Glover Jennifer’s sobs mellowed into crying. She looked at her baby, then at Clausewitz. He had a kind face, she thought. He’s not a threat. She heard him say, “My name is Doctor Clausewitz, I’m here to help your baby. Will you let me help your baby?” She thought he looked like a real doctor. They’re supposed to be older and wiser and have grey hair and they speak softly and they love babies. She looked down, touched the baby’s cheek then looked up again.


“He’s cold…my baby’s very cold…” she stuttered.


Clausewitz spoke just above a whisper. “I know that, let me take you both to the hospital and we’ll make everything better. Will you come with me to the hospital?” Jennifer looked suspiciously at him but slowly nodded assent.


“You promise you’ll take care of my baby?” she asked with a whimper.


“Of course. I’m a doctor. I help babies and people every day. I can help you. Please come with me?”


She suddenly looked startled and looked around the room. “Where’s Brian? Where’s my husband? He was here, he, he….where’s Brian?”


“He’s outside waiting for you. He’s fine. You’ll see him if you come with me,” replied Clausewitz quickly.


“He’s going to be very mad at me.....”



Excerpt from Stepping Out of Time, available at Amazon Books.







Source: http://ricktownley.com/2014/04/01/victim-or-murderer

Publishers remain, but bookstores disappear in America's publishing capital.

The NY Times reported yesterday that the number of bookstores in NY City has declined 30% over the past decade, due largely to the sharp increase in rents. As the city has become more and more the enclave of the rich, small businesses can't survive with the rapid rise in rents for store space.


This is affecting even the big chains like Barnes and Noble, which recently closed it's flagship store at 18th Street. Fifth Avenue, once called "book row," is nearly devoid of bookstores despite the continued presence of some of the biggest publishers in the world. 


The reporter focuses on rising costs but the continuing popularity of e-books is taking it's toll as well. All across America, independent bookstores are resorting to selling non-book items to keep their doors open. It appears we are fast approaching the day when hanging out at a bookstore or shop is quickly coming to an end. Some of us remember record stores with listening booths, but they dried up with the advent of cassette tapes and then CDs and digital downloads. Even video stores, news stands and magazine shops are disappearing from the landscape. 


So the question to ask is, at what cost do we embrace the new digital media technology? Will future generations even know the difference or even care? Should we care today, or are we protesting inevitable change? 


The original NYT article can be found at:


Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/26/business/media/bookstores-forsake-manhattan-as-rents-surge.html