Sheryl Sorrentino's Blog

October 15, 2016

I won't post my latest blog here, as it will probably cause my account to be "flagged". If you're interested: http://sherylsorrentino.yolasite.com/...
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Published on October 15, 2016 04:01 • 20 views

July 16, 2016

The People vs. GreedThe People vs. Greed by Joseph W. Cotchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The People vs. Greed is a difficult read, both in the sense that it will turn your stomach, and in the sense that it is a well-researched, “lawyerly” tome that is laden with facts and hard evidence. Like a crime scene photo in a criminal trial, it is ugly to look at but impossible (and immoral) to turn away from. This book contains few, if any, “fluffy” vignettes that so typify today’s nonfiction. Rather than being “dumbed-down” to maximize sales to undereducated/oversaturated readers, Mr. Cotchett lays out all the cold, hard facts in an intelligent and unapologetic manner.

Joseph W. Cotchett, a California “Super Lawyer” (see http://www.cpmlegal.com/attorneys-Jos...), pulls no punches exposing the systemic greed, corruption and theft that affect our daily lives, from our “bought” electorate to our tainted food supply. Other chapters cover health care fraud, Wall Street thuggery, the theft and misappropriation of our tax dollars, climate change/denial, Big Pharma, Big Oil, defense (mis)spending, the erosion of our privacy, and the lawyers who make all of the above possible. It is all rather dispiriting and overwhelming. And yet, if you care at all about the current state—and more importantly the future—of our nation and world, you must read this, cover to cover. Just as attorneys have to suffer through mandatory continuing education each year to keep our law licenses, readers should think of this book as mandatory continuing education for U.S. citizenship and global residency. In fact, The People vs. Greed should be required reading in every high school civics class (if there is such a thing) and citizenship application. It should be mailed to every registered voter in those awful voter information packets and handed out at every City Hall, DMV and other government office throughout the country. According to the author’s acknowledgments, all royalties from The People vs. Greed are donated to various nonprofit groups. So you can and should purchase this book with a noble conscience.

If I could add my own subjective observations/suggestions for improvement for a second edition (and yes, go off on a bit of a tangent), they would be these:

• Include the vaccine debate in the chapter on Big Pharma greed. This merits a book unto itself, but many respectable studies have questioned the efficacy of vaccines and documented the increased potential for serious side effects from our rigorous early-childhood vaccination schedule. The United States has the highest number of mandated vaccines for children under five in the world (36, double the Western world average of 18), the highest autism rate in the world (1 in 150 children, 10 times or more the rate of some other Western countries), but only places 34th in the world for childhood mortality in children under five. (See http://www.rescuepost.com/files/gr-au....) Big Pharma’s influence on the CDC is now indisputable, as revealed by the documentary Vaxxed. Whether you believe that there is a connection between the childhood MMR vaccine and autism, whether you happily accept the CDC’s “fast tracking” of the Gardasil “vaccine” for Merck’s benefit, the fact remains that vaccinations are huge business and are given quite the “free pass” in this country, unlike in the rest of the developed world (see, e.g., http://healthimpactnews.com/2011/stud...). A National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (“Vaccine Court”) was set up in 1986 to grant immunity—no pun intended—to vaccine manufacturers in favor of a government reimbursement program for families whose children had serious side effects from vaccines. It has since awarded nearly $2 billion on 2,398 claims. Although this seems like an astounding figure, I am sure it is far less than jury verdicts would have been if class-action litigators like Mr. Cotchett had been allowed to pursue vaccine manufacturers directly on behalf of injured children. The CDC—a supposedly independent watchdog agency—accepts millions of dollars in gifts and funding from the pharmaceutical industry, and the former CDC director (Julie Gerberding) is now the head of Merck’s vaccine unit, among other high-profile, revolving-door conflicts of interest between Big Pharma and the public agencies tasked with regulating them (see http://articles.mercola.com/sites/art...).
• Address the for-profit prison-industrial complex and the attendant racism that makes America the #1 jailer in the world per capita. According to Wikipedia, in October 2013, “the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world, at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_....) It is no coincidence that most of our human “prison inventory” consists of black and brown bodies. Read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. This is U.S. greed and racism at its ugliest.
• Now that we have all this awful information, offer suggestions as to what your average citizen can do. Vote? I vote in all major elections and many minor ones; I take the time to read the confounding and often thick voter booklets, Google the major issues, etc. But what good does any of that do if the people we vote for are greedy, dishonest, and in the pockets of our real leaders, corporate America? No wonder so many of us feel powerless and disgruntled. Even those politicians who start out somewhat well-intentioned are quickly spoiled like fruit left to rot in a bowl. Are term limits the answer? Perhaps. More regulation of big business? Perhaps. Frankly, I’d like to see our elected “leaders” doing the jobs we pay them to do and enforcing the laws we already have. Beyond that, we need a major overhaul of our political system to remove money from politics (let’s not hold our collective breath) and implement legal and financial restraints on big business to protect citizens from runaway Capitalism. I, like many of my fellow citizens, am at an utter loss as to what power we individually wield to avert the total and inevitable collapse of our nation—if not our planet—when we are up against these untouchable, unstoppable, and largely invisible forces.

Although by all rational inference we seem doomed as a nation and a species, we are fortunate to have a few rogue rabble-rousers like Joseph Cotchett to afford a glimmer of hope. Although Mr. Cotchett paints a bleak picture of the good old U.S. of A., he (and many other trial lawyers, I am sure) have dedicated their lives and careers to righting wrongs and plugging for the underdog. Yes, there is still faint hope that David can ultimately triumph against the Goliath of our American oligarchy. It has happened before and can happen again if “We the People” unite and make our voices heard. Politicians too often rouse our fear and hatred, in order to divide and manipulate us. The People vs. Greed exposes the bigger picture at play—the rampant greed and corruption throughout our government and major industries. We have essentially exonerated our leaders from all accountability, like neglectful parents unleashing their teenagers on their communities with a fat trust fund, unlimited cocaine, a hot rod with a full tank, and no curfew.

There is much in this book we can agree on. Let’s put our collective differences aside, gain control over our electorate, and band together for the greater good of our country. Thank you, Mr. Cotchett, for this informative, important, and timely work.




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Published on July 16, 2016 11:16 • 73 views • Tags: capitalism, corruption, greed

August 8, 2015

Almost everything I have read lately has been tepid or uninspiring. I am tired of reading so-so books. I want to be wowed, hooked—kidnapped, as it were. I want to long for the book when I can’t be with it and devouring it each and every moment I can. Lately, reading has felt like a chore, my foot-high pile yet another list to be gotten through.

Is it me, or is there too much to read that isn’t truly deserving of our time? I suppose, like dating, you have to kiss a number of frogs before stumbling upon Prince-or-Princess Charming, but selecting an outstanding book shouldn’t be as difficult as finding one’s soul mate.

So far this year, the only truly remarkable books I’ve read were The Light Between Oceans (by M. L. Steadman), Little Big Little Lies (by Liane Moriarty), So Much for That (by Lionel Shriver), and The Goldfinch by Donna Tart. Besides those, I read or attempted to read twenty more books in the first seven months of 2015, fourteen of which I found to be lukewarm or just okay and the other six of which I deemed un-finishable. Four hits out of 24 tries. One-sixth, or 16.7%. These are not good odds.

These stats make me wonder about my own books. I don’t want anyone who reads my novels to feel gypped or put-out. Although I accept that not everyone will love my stories or my writing, my greatest pleasure as an author is actually “hooking” someone. I try to be thoughtful about matching prospective readers with one of my five offerings, and would never even mention my books to someone who didn’t appear interested and potentially a good “fit.”

I realize that reading is a highly subjective experience, and we don't all love the same things. Genre classifications attempt to solve this problem by divvying-up reading material by category of subject matter to better help authors target readers who might enjoy their work, and help readers identify material they will like and know exactly what they are getting. But genre isn’t always that clear-cut—and it shouldn’t be. Some of the greatest works defy genre.

So how can I make sure the books I shelve as “to read” will float my boat? Given that so many books can be gotten for free or in E-format, the issue isn’t one of money so much as the scarcity of one’s time. I try to be discerning about the blurbs and read between the lines. I check out a few reviews; see whether any of my friends liked it. I read a sample if available, just as I would read the first few pages in a book store. Despite all this “vetting,” I still spent more than 80% of my precious reading time this year feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

It seems that, for now, choosing books is a hit-or-miss proposition left to the whims of the marketing machine. With the glut of new books being released each month, someone ought to invent a free “app” to home in on the one-in-six books I might actually love.
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Published on August 08, 2015 07:03 • 162 views • Tags: new-books-finding-great-books

July 25, 2015

I’ve become hooked on the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. What a coup for Piper Kerman (author of the book by the same name)! I wish one of my books would get turned into a TV series. But seriously, unless someone you know is in prison, who even thinks about inmates or correctional institutions? The disenfranchised are tidily tucked away from view; we have no idea what goes on in such places, nor do we care. For raising our “corrections consciousness,” I give props to Orange is the New Black.

ONB pulls no punches in shedding light on the day-to-day lives of women in a minimum-security federal facility. Found guilty of mostly nonviolent offenses like drug dealing, theft or credit card fraud, these female inmates are humanized with equal doses of soap-opera intrigue, same-sex hanky-panky, and poignant interpersonal moments. But should we really feel empathy for these fictional characters? Shouldn’t we want the real psychopaths and sociopaths among us to be warehoused somewhere far away so we never have to cross paths with them? Even those guilty of lesser crimes—like fraud or embezzlement—need to be kept from our midst so they do not cause us financial harm. If such miscreants are being treated harshly behind bars, well, that’s part of their punishment, right?

Law-abiding citizens become justifiably offended when we learn that prisoners, especially the “lifers” who have committed murder or other heinous crimes, are given TV, cooking and other recreational privileges. After all, prison isn’t supposed to be a taxpayer-funded, lifetime resort. But that’s only one side of the story. And because prisons’ operations—and in particular, the living conditions behind prison walls—is not typically revealed to the public eye, no other side ever gets told.

According to Wikipedia and other sources, the United States has the largest prison population in the world, ahead of both Russia and South Africa (http://www.businessinsurance.org/pris...).* We also have the second-highest per-capita incarceration rate, behind Seychelles (a 115-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean that is part of the African Union). Given that the U.S. holds these shameful distinctions, isn’t it time we take a closer look at the law-enforcement policies (notably “three strikes” and the “war on drugs”) that brought us here? These policies have reduced or eliminated judges’ sentencing discretion and lengthened the average prison stay, with the unintended (or perhaps intended) consequence of making the U.S. the world leader in incarcerating its citizens and earning the prison industry a profitable slice of our Capitalist pie.

In season three of ONB, the fictional Litchfield Prison, on the verge of closure, is taken over by a private corporation. This isn't as far-fetched a proposition as you might think. Prisons have indeed become big business—see https://smartasset.com/insights/the-e... http://www.businessinsurance.org/pris.... As these two articles reveal, the trend is clearly toward prison privatization, and two major companies (Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group) have a neat little monopoly on this burgeoning “industry.” The U.S. prison–industrial complex has supported the rapid expansion of our inmate population due not only to the political influence of these private prison companies but also the myriad businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies (e.g., construction companies; surveillance technology vendors; prison food services; medical facilities providers; and corporations that contract for prison labor). It would therefore be naïve to assume that profit plays no role in determining the fate of minor offenders—i.e., whether or not they are sent away to prison, and for how long.

We all know (or should know) that the criminal justice system is far from color blind. We should be doubly offended when our incarceration system is being privatized and profit-driven. When the goal of prisons is not public safety or—heaven forbid—rehabilitation, but rather increasing the number of warm bodies needed to sustain a growth industry, the matter becomes one of human conscience; we cannot and should not turn a blind eye.

I believe that, as a society, we have an obligation to consider the “spiritual correctness” of the public policies we implement. The incarceration of criminals should have as its primary goals public safety and—whenever possible—rehabilitation and reintegration back into society. The desire for retribution and vengeance, while understandable as human emotions, are far less defensible from a spiritual standpoint. But by far the most loathsome policy objective is to make money off crime and punishment. A profit motive should have no place in the business of housing criminal offenders.

Ordinary Americans should feel ashamed and alarmed that our criminal justice system has earned us the honor of world incarceration leader, while at the same time making prison a growth industry. Orange is the New Black invites viewers to give a crap about society’s cast-offs. Someday, that loser behind the plexiglass might be your son, daughter, sister, brother, niece, nephew or friend. It could even be you.


*According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons and county jails at year-end 2011—nearly 1% the adult U.S. resident population, not counting the 4,814,200 adults on probation or on parole or the 70,792 juveniles in juvenile detention. In total, 6,977,700 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2011 – about 2.9% of adults in the U.S. resident population.
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Published on July 25, 2015 13:10 • 190 views

June 21, 2015

What is it about having a pedicure that is so darned special? For a pittance ($20 or so), I can sit in a relaxing massage chair with my feet in deliciously warm water while someone else (alas, always a petite Asian lady) rubs and scrubs, pampers and paints. At the end, my tootsies look mahvelous and I feel like a new woman.

There are nail places on practically every block in most major cities, so evidently it’s a profitable business with seemingly endless demand. Apparently, I am not alone in my love for this simple, inexpensive indulgence. Like most women, I have my favorite spot, and the pedicurists there don’t speak much English. Though I thank them afterward and tip well, isn’t there something disconcerting about paying a stranger with whom I can barely communicate to squat on a short stool cleaning my hooves while I read a book or check email during an otherwise hectic workday? Isn’t it one of those debasing jobs that should be outlawed?

Be that as it may, this is my long-overdue tribute to the hard-working, detail-oriented ladies who make me feel great for a brief while. Sure, there are snarky ones who hate their jobs and talk trash about customers in a foreign tongue (avoid those shops!). But my gals at Sassy Nails are anything but—always friendly, always giving off good vibes and always doing a fine job no matter how busy the salon on any given day.

Indeed, there is something restorative about having one’s hard-working, underappreciated appendages tended to by a fellow human—something very nearly sanctified about it. According to the Holman Bible Dictionary (http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries), “in the ancient world with unpaved roads, feet easily became dirty and had to be washed often. From earliest times, hosts offered to wash their guests' feet (Genesis 18:4 ), and this was usually done by the lowest servant (John 13:3-14 ).” Nevertheless, according to another Bible-study website (http://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-was...), “we need continual cleansing from the effects of living in the flesh in a sin-cursed world” (so true!). Several Bible passages make it a high honor to “anoint” another's feet (Deuteronomy 33:24; Luke 7:46; John 12:3).

While I don’t elevate my pedi to divine proportions, and I typically don’t quote from the Bible, I’m nevertheless thankful for freshly-scrubbed feet sporting ten perfectly-painted talons (this month, attention-grabbing neon-orange!). It serves as one small but significant reminder of all the blessings I enjoy in my mostly stressful life.
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Published on June 21, 2015 05:49 • 112 views • Tags: pedicures, toenails

June 4, 2015

Stop & Frisk is now available for download on all electronic devices through Smashwords. To celebrate this milestone following a torturous, months'-long conversion of my manuscript to their exacting formatting standards, I am offering fans a free copy. Go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view... now through Sunday 6/7 and enter coupon code SG49E (not case-sensitive) at checkout. And don't forget to post a review! Happy reading!
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Published on June 04, 2015 05:11 • 113 views

January 4, 2015

Reading a novel can—and should—be sensual, intimate, and engaging. Through the written word, readers spend time with fictional characters and take in their struggles, desires, and conflicts. A good story with convincing characters will draw readers into another dimension—a fictional getaway that resonates so viscerally, readers want to visit again and again. This phenomenon is very much like falling in love, and can be almost as compelling, which is why good writers strive to give readers that same wonderful experience. Just as people “lose themselves” in love, readers, too, want to experience a state of emotional exigency and abandon. Isn’t that precisely why one chooses a particular work of fiction?

It is now well-recognized that “falling in love” has both mental and chemical components. Scientists have identified several “feel good” chemicals associated with being “swept away” in love: oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. You want those same “happy chemicals” to kick into overdrive when readers crack open your novel. We also know that pheromones are crucial in order for a love bond to occur. Readers likewise need visual, aural, and olfactory stimulus to put them “in the mood” to forget, even for a brief time, that they are sufferers of the human condition. You want your readers to look forward to experiencing your fictional characters as if reuniting with a cherished love one.

How do you accomplish this? First and foremost, engage readers’ senses: Feed them chocolate-dipped strawberries; put on soft background jazz and give them a whiff of heady cologne—whatever is appropriate to your story and setting. Then make it easy for readers to relate to and empathize with your characters. Not only must you invite readers inside their lovely fictional world; once over the threshold, your protagonist and other characters must continually court and woo readers by sharing their inner workings and gradually revealing what they are about.

To have readers connect with your characters’ unique circumstances, you must place readers front-and-center inside their “emotional brain”—the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus—where your characters “speak” in a natural, genuine, and emotional voice. Make them vulnerable. Don’t fall victim to confusing point-of-view shifts, or dishonest, condescending, or unbelievable narrative. Nobody wants to waste time on a phony or—worse yet—a liar. Give your characters endearing flaws (nobody likes a "Polly-perfect"), but make their forgivable little idiosyncrasies and “blind spots” understandable to your target audience. One sure-fire way of doing this is to give glimpses into a less-than-ideal childhood. Even the most hardened criminal can garner sympathy by relaying the traumatic boyhood experience of witnessing his crazy, obese grandma stepping on his beloved puppy’s head.

But don’t forget to make readers laugh, no matter how sad or dark your plot. At the end of the day, people read fiction for entertainment, so there must be moments of levity and wit. Isn’t this how an otherwise “so-so” suitor gets his foot in the front door? Once “hooked,” readers will think about your characters in between sittings and will yearn to get back with them.

Of course, there are the practical things to consider. As with any new “love object,” your book must be accessible and physically attractive. In marketing terms, this means it must be readily available and “look good,” i.e., have an appealing cover and be free of typos, grammatical errors, or formatting glitches—the literary equivalent of zits, clothing stains, and bad breath. No matter how many other wonderful qualities your book might have, readers' eyes will be relentlessly drawn to these avoidable flaws. So take the time to “primp” and check the mirror before your grand debut. Engage beta readers, designers, and editors. Budget as much as you can to make the best possible impression, and you will avoid these sure-fire turnoffs.

Many people believe there is a spiritual component to love—something transcendent and inspirational. An exceptional work of fiction will also have this quality. If possible, weave in a higher message of human altruism, connectedness, or faith. Not only will readers lose themselves in your words; they will feel elevated, enlightened, and inspired. Your prose can literally take readers to a higher vibrational frequency, and if this happens, they will come away richer for the experience. A profoundly stirring work can haunt readers for days, weeks, or even years.

But as is true of love, timing (and a little luck) is everything. Have you ever found you couldn’t “get into” a book everyone is raving over? Have you ever picked up that same book a month or a year later and discovered it is one of the best things you’ve ever read? Sometimes, readers are simply too busy, too distracted, or too tired take in what you have to offer—they are, in short, not open. In literature as in love, what floats one person’s boat might completely turn off another at any given moment. If your book flops, don’t take it personally. Just get back in the game, put yourself “out there,” and keep trying to achieve that all-important “love connection” (even if it never happens).

Book publishing is a numbers game, and successful writers know they must kiss a few frogs and hang in there until the proverbial check arrives. By identifying and recognizing the attributes of falling in love and incorporating them into your craft, you can ramp up your novel’s allure and increase your odds of standing out from the crowd.


Sheryl Sorrentino is a multicultural women's fiction author whose two latest works are Stage Daughter (available at http://stagedaughter.com) and The Floater (http://thefloater.biz).
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Published on January 04, 2015 08:17 • 173 views • Tags: falling-in-love, fiction-writing, love-chemicals, publishing

September 21, 2014

Most young people no longer install land lines when they get their first apartment. They often live in short-term housing; their finances are tight; and they grew up relying on mobile devices and simply don't know any better. But many older folks, too, are getting rid of home phones they've had for years. I say, please don’t!

Don’t get me wrong: Cell phones are a fantastic invention. They have earned a prominent foothold in our day-to-day lives and changed the fabric of how we communicate. But cell phones are about as personal as a crowded supermarket, due to both the radio-based technology and the surroundings in which they are often [over]used. Unless I have something quick and urgent to tell you (as in, “can you pick me up some socks while you’re at Target?”), I’d prefer not to share the intimacies of life while you’re distracted paying for your groceries, trying not to crash your car, or maneuvering down a crowded street.

True, your cell phone lets you call me from just about anywhere, and I can likewise reach you anytime, anyplace. It has enabled friends and family to carve time out of busy days to stay in closer touch than ever before. But because we can now interrupt whatever we are doing in the “outside world,” the result is about as reliable as we should expect—an inferior, unnatural connection that is frequently lost mid-sentence for no reason and without warning.

I want to know I can reach you at home, not "page" you wherever you might happen to be. I want to picture you at your kitchen island sipping coffee from a chipped mug, or in your living room with your feet propped on a cluttered coffee table, or out in your backyard, perhaps pulling some overgrown weeds. There is something intimate about chatting on a land line; it’s private time when secrets can be shared. (Last I checked, cops still need a warrant to tap one.) Talking on a cell is like the difference between a cup of tea at your place vs. meeting up at Starbucks. The former is purposeful, reflective, and intimate—a private engagement, however brief or spontaneous. The latter is public, earsplitting, and chaotic—an open event, however well-planned. And whether you realize it or not, you have to shout to be heard, just as you must raise your voice above the din of a barista's milk frother. (That’s why everyone around you is shooting you those dirty looks.)

Face it: Not having a home phone says something about you. When the land line goes, you become just a little less trustworthy, a little more flaky. Your home is a symbolically transitory place where you stop off but never roost, sort of like a hotel. A land line is part of what makes where we live home, just like a cozy bed, an overstuffed sofa, or a luxurious bathtub. It tethers us to a particular place by offering a permanent connection to the outside world. Cell phones, on the other hand, enable us to be transient.

Home phones have an air of permanence. They used to sit atop special tables, with thick telephone books stowed beneath. Or they were secured to the wall, perhaps in the kitchen by the all-important fridge. There were often notepads conveniently located nearby, to take crucial messages. Even though most land lines are now cordless, before ditching yours, think of all that rich history you will be throwing away along with it. Have you tossed your cherished family photo albums simply because you can now store your memories in digital format?

Phones also have a venerable history as the family’s hub to the outside world. Because they are generally communal instruments (whereas cell phones are narcissistic ones), children still have to be taught phone manners before being allowed to answer the ringing device. Learning to place and receive calls is weighty business, with an etiquette all its own; the person answering doesn’t know if the call will be for her or someone else. S/he might have to cover the mouthpiece and call a parent or older sibling. Answering the phone is an important rite of passage, a task to be treated with the solemnity of a switchboard operator. No similar care need be taken with one's own high-tech walkie-talkie.

I, for one, like making and receiving calls to numbers that make sense, not those newfangled area codes no one’s heard of, whose only purpose is to provide fresh three-digit combos to an unmanageable quantity of iThingies. Worse yet is the “leftover” area code kept by one who has moved far from home. Not only are those people impermanent; they're enigmatic. Where are they from, with that strange area code? What are they doing here, and how long do they plan on staying? If I get close to one of you, will you return to Chicago or San Diego or wherever you really belong? It may be convenient to keep your old phone number, but it tells me you’re not really here—not yet.

Think about your very first phone number. I’ll bet it’s emblazoned on your brain as clearly as your first day of kindergarten (when you were probably forced to memorize it). If you’re as old as I am, your phone number began with a place name, making the exercise a sweet, sing-song ritual of childhood. Most cell phone numbers are a mishmash of meaningless digits. How’s a four-year-old supposed to remember that? (Oh, I forgot—they don’t have to; they now have cell phones of their own, with the important numbers pre-programmed.)

Relying 100% on your cell phone is like subsisting on fast food. Sure, it’s cheap and convenient. But cooking at home is one of those elemental things that makes you a person of substance—someone I can trust. You like the smell of garlic sautéeing or the sound of the mixer whirring while you bake with your kids. You don’t mind a few dishes piled in the sink afterward. Please don’t disconnect your land line; I want to call you at home while you’re trying to fix dinner.
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Published on September 21, 2014 07:26 • 138 views • Tags: cell-phones, family-history, land-lines

June 9, 2014

This Beautiful LifeThis Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This hidden gem deals with the current vexing topic of kids “sexting,” that is, posting and sending unflattering sexual pictures and videos of themselves over the internet. Fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot receives just such a video from Daisy, a 13-year-old admirer and schoolmate he meets at a party. In an unthinking moment of bravado, disgust, confusion—we are never quite sure which (indeed Jake himself is never 100% sure), he forwards the email to one of his buddies.

The rest is history as the video quickly goes viral: Jake and Daisy become instant pariahs. Jake’s family must deal with his expulsion from school and the legal ramifications of his having disseminated what amounts to child pornography. His ambitious dad, Richard, wants to “handle” the situation as he would any other pesky problem at work—with a cool head and a plan. Meanwhile, Jake's emotionally-stilted mom, Lizzie, grows ever more depressed as she becomes unwittingly addicted to internet porn while fantasizing about her college TA. And in the midst of all this turmoil, they plop adopted kindergartner, Coco, in front of the TV for weeks on end in an effort to shield her from the unseemly goings on around her, but she quietly absorbs all the toxic fallout nonetheless.

Not only is this the story of the Bergamot family’s collective downfall from one careless “click,” it is a scathing indictment of our communal addiction to electronic gizmos that have turned what was once private and unspoken into “content” for on-demand public consumption. We now have personal, portable, 24/7 access to everything and anything the world once considered bizarre and perverse. Today’s kids consume “screen sex” as readily as earlier generations popped Pez. And all the while, parents are at once too focused on their kids and too concerned about “making it” to consider in any meaningful way the injury these infectious glowing devices are causing their children and families—until it is too late.

Author Helen Schulman best sums up this generational sea change through Richard Bergamot's brooding over his son's fall from grace:

“Richard’s father loved him, too. Dad was a family man. He didn’t live so far from the ground. Dad didn’t focus on him, he didn’t coddle him, he didn’t help him with his homework or take his emotional temperature three times a day or do any of the things Richard and Lizzie do now, along with eating and breathing, as a way of life. Dad loved his boys within reason. Dad’s was a reasonable, conditional love, the condition being that Richard kept his nose clean, that he always did his best, that he conducted himself with honor.

“Richard and Lizzie and the girl’s parents, all the other parents at that school—they are both too close to their children and too far away from the ground. They are too accomplished. They have accumulated too much. They expect too much. They demand too much. They even love their kids too much. This love is crippling in its way.”

If you’ve ever had occasion to wonder, as every generation of parents does, “What’s wrong with kids nowadays?” this passage contains much wisdom and insight. My one quibble with the book is the somewhat jarring (and confusing) shift to third person present tense whenever the author narrates from Richard’s point of view. This was obviously a deliberate choice (the other chapters are consistently third person past tense). Are Richard’s perceptions supposed to be more “immediate” than the other family members’? And if so, why?

That nit-pick aside, Helen Schulman delivers a timely, compelling, and emotionally-charged story in a compact 222 pages. Against the backdrop of a simple, fast-paced tale flowing with artistic prose, she asks—subtly yet stubbornly—“What is technology doing to our kids?” Indeed, we might all take a second to ponder what will become of our lives now that a parallel “virtual universe” has overtaken our minds like an unchecked epidemic.




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Published on June 09, 2014 05:29 • 142 views • Tags: kids-and-technology, sexting

April 23, 2014

I haven't blogged for awhile because I've been busy working on my fifth novel, Stop and Frisk. For anyone interested in a sneak preview of my latest story, I would like to share the "pitch" with you. At the rate I am going, this one will not see the light of day until Summer 2015, but hopefully it will be worth the wait!

"Thirty-five year old Paulie Beckwith lost his only remaining family when his brother, Lloyd, (a promising young pharmacist) was senselessly gunned down in his prime. Raised in foster care after their mother’s death and father’s incarceration, Paulie isn’t expecting any answers from police—they still haven’t made an arrest two years after Lloyd’s fatal shooting in an alleged robbery-gone-wrong.

Following a stint of heavy drinking and prolonged unemployment, Paulie lands a bouncer job at Insanidad, a roadside strip joint where Lena, his Colombian ex-girlfriend (and love of his life) works as bartender and manager. Six nights per week, he protects pole dancers, breaks up brawls, and pats down the farm workers and drug dealers who patronize this “gentlemen’s club” in the heart of Modesto, California—a town best known for its meth labs and car thefts.

But Paulie’s a peacekeeper with no peace. Grief-stricken by day, Paulie leads a hardscrabble life on rural land he inherited in the middle of nowhere. When not feuding with his lonely neighbor up the road—a gun-loving retired paralegal who believes she’s being haunted by spirits—he talks to his brother’s ashes in the run-down camper where he dwells. Mistrustful by night, Paulie tries to talk Lena out of marrying Hernán, the slick criminal lawyer nearly 30 years her senior whom he instinctively but unaccountably detests. Paulie yearns to declare himself and stop their wedding, but Lena’s ready to settle down—and tired of being “friends with benefits” to a man who’s mired in sorrow, unwilling to commit, and seemingly content “frisking” his favorite exotic dancer. Only when he receives an unexpected visit from Lloyd’s former boss can Paulie begin to face the truth about his brother and untangle the web of deceit linking two seemingly-unrelated but equally vexing characters in his life."

For the many quirky and colorful tales of dance club life that will give this story its realistic texture, I owe special thanks to my Goodreads buddy Ashley, as well as to my brother-the-bouncer (another “regular guy” who, like Paulie, is trying to cope with loss, longing, and loneliness—while keeping groping male hands at bay).
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Published on April 23, 2014 05:46 • 137 views