A Work in Progress

Here’s a draft version of something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

“Symphony no. 8”

When we talk about the “Mighty Nine”
We could be talking about almost anything.
Maybe it’s baseball, the ’27 Yankees.
Maybe the Supreme Court, or a video game.
There aren’t many music classes
Left in the schools these days.

Suppose you do encounter Beethoven, though.
Suppose you listen to each and every symphony
And hear them all more than once.
Which would you then say
Moved you the most?
The “Eroica”? The Fifth? The Mighty Ninth?

For me it would be a different choice,
A work not played as often as the others.
A fiery work, but somehow also cold and isolated.
I’m referring to the glittering, self-contained Eighth:
A work that pierces ice-blue skies
To no applause on earth.

—Thomas Pletcher

Sneak Preview: 2017 TV Season

Big Changes Are in Store for Your Favorite Shows!

Writeside.com has learned that the Trump Administration has negotiated major changes with America’s TV networks and cable companies—plus streaming providers Netflix, Hulu and Amazon—to “bring prime time TV programs into closer accord with America’s values.”

Virtually every prime time program will reflect these changes. Here, for example, are some of the changes planned for the well-regarded FX series “The Americans.”

"The Americans"
“The Americans” title card © FX.
  • Rather than being set in the early 1980s during the Cold War, the upcoming fifth season will take place in present-day America.
  • Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple living in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., will come out of hiding and join their neighbor Stan Beeman at the FBI.
  • Paige Jennings, who had intended to follow in her parents’ footsteps, becomes an intern at the Trump White House.
  • Elizabeth and Philip join Stan in combating un-American bureaucrats at the CIA, who are alleging that America’s close ally Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Certain members of Congress who prove susceptible to these claims also become FBI targets.
  • Vladimir Putin will make a cameo guest appearance mid-season.
  • John McCain, who had been spearheading efforts to prove Russian interference in the election, is poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive isotope. Elizabeth and Philip are seen hovering near his hospital bed.
  • At a news conference in the season’s final episode, President Trump makes his own cameo guest appearance. He is asked if Russia is responsible for the McCain poisoning. “That’s ridiculous,” the President replies. “Besides, I like senators who haven’t been poisoned with polonium-210.”

President Trump has announced that he will serve as executive producer for “The Americans” next year, along with “The Apprentice.” The President also referred to some “fabulous” changes in store next year for “PBS News Hour.”

“We’re going to bring back that fantastic two-woman anchor team,” the President said, alluding to the duo of Judy Woodruff and the late Gwen Ifill. The program’s new 2017 anchors will be Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Palin.

Jump for Trump

What follows is an excerpt from my recently completed NaNoWriMo novel draft, The Divide. The story takes place in the days immediately before and after the 2016 presidential election, and the national zeitgeist certainly seeps into the plot. However, the story is not about the election per se. It portrays a number of different people on both sides of the widening national divide, and the ways their lives are affected by change and growing instability.

Here, without further ado, is chapter 15 (of 37 chapters in the first draft). The book’s chapters are numbered rather than titled but if you’re a fan of heavily underscored irony, you could call this one “Jump for Trump.”

—Thomas Pletcher

Continue reading “Jump for Trump”

The Post-truth Era

If you had any doubts about what’s ahead in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, an alarming story in today’s papers—archaic media which attempt to purvey “facts”—should provide some clues as to what’s coming.

So should the Oxford English Dictionary’s international word of the year: post-truth.

The post-truth item in question: a persistent story on social media claiming that Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, was harboring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton.

Unbelievably ignorant. Photo: Sathi Soma, via Associated Press
Unbelievably ignorant. Photo: Sathi Soma, via Associated Press

Believing the Hillary Clinton-led pedophile pizza story to be true, an incredibly ill-informed young man drove six hours from North Carolina to D. C. with his rifle to conduct a “self-investigation.” He managed to get off a shot before he was arrested.

As scary (and to me, unbelievable) as this story is, here’s something even scarier: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s choice for national security adviser, has been promoting the supposed Hillary Clinton-pedophilia connection on Twitter. His son and advisor, Mike Flynn Jr., continues to do so, even claiming that Edgar Welch, the deluded North Carolina man who drove to Washington to “investigate,” was a plant to discredit fake news websites. As though fake news sites needed discrediting.

I don’t want to live in a post-truth world. If you don’t either, then join me in standing up for the facts whenever and wherever you can.

Update: Mike Flynn Jr. has apparently been dismissed from the Trump transition team. As of this writing, his father remains on board.

Love from Afar

There is a fantastic modern (composed in 2000) work at the Metropolitan Opera right now: “L’Amour de Loin” (“Love from Afar”) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. It is only the second time that an opera composed by a woman has appeared at the Met, and the first time in more than 100 years.

This production, featuring Eric Owens, Susanna Phillips and Tamara Mumford, and conducted by Susanna Malkki, has been well-reviewed. Saariaho’s music is like no one else’s—atmospheric, luminous, at times almost otherworldly. It suits this opera splendidly.

"Love from Afar" DVD
A fabulous performance on DVD.

If you can’t make this Met production, you can still enjoy Saariaho’s dazzling opera. A terrific performance with the Finnish National Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and featuring Gerald Finley, Dawn Upshaw and Monica Groop is available on a Deutsche Grammophon DVD.

Before the Election

Before the 2016 presidential election, there was widespread anxiety about the choice between two highly unpopular candidates. The poem below reflects this, although at the time it was written most people—including me—didn’t expect the worst would happen. But the poem’s last line indicates I might have had an inkling.

—Thomas Pletcher

“A Villanelle for Election Day”

When the world begins to disintegrate
And the country begins to fall apart
Just breathe in deep and steer your own thoughts straight.

Every campaign lie is defined by hate
And every campaign is a lie at heart
When the world begins to disintegrate.

If fear expands and gathers too much weight
And you fear carnage is about to start
Just breathe in deep and steer your own thoughts straight.

Some will tell you it’s really fucking great
And it’s time to upset the apple cart
When the world begins to disintegrate

The darker it grows, the more it grows late
And you know compassion won’t play a part
Just breathe in deep and steer your own thoughts straight.

Perhaps the end is really up to fate
Perhaps it’s finally time to grow smart
When the world begins to disintegrate
Just breathe in deep and steer your own thoughts straight.

To Canada.

Ulysses Sails Through NaNoWriMo

As a writer with a technology background, I find apps designed for writing of more than ordinary interest. I’ve tried a huge number of them and have quite a few still installed. For the 2016 edition of NaNoWriMo, however, I basically chose one app and stuck with it most of the way through: Ulysses.

Most of my writing is done on a MacBook Pro, although I also use Linux from time to time (Ubuntu on a Dell XPS 13). The Mac has a huge number of writing apps available, more than any other platform. Scrivener and Ulysses are probably the best known and most widely used.

For NaNoWriMo, I found Ulysses to be virtually ideal. The chapter summaries (in the middle column) keep you oriented as you work through your plot development. Progress toward your daily word count is graphically shown in the upper right hand corner, which is quite motivating. The application is streamlined and powerful, but not overly complicated. It can be configured in any number of ways to suit your preferences (full-screen mode is especially nice).

Ulysses screenshot
Note the graphical word count widget in the upper right corner—when the circle completes and turns green, you’ve reached your daily target.

Linux, unfortunately, lacks the Mac’s variety of writing programs. Still, there are options. For two or three days last November, I used FocusWriter, a nicely designed and versatile open source program available across platforms. It too offers a nice full-screen mode and a daily word count progress indicator, albeit text-based.

Ultimately, though, I felt most comfortable and productive during NaNoWriMo while using Ulysses.

NaNoWriMo 2016

I’ve recently completed my first NaNoWriMo, winding up with a 50,000-plus-word draft of a novel I’ve tentatively titled The Divide. I found it a worthwhile endeavor in a number of different ways.

First, there is the event’s quantity-over-quality vibe that is designed to overcome writer’s block—it works. In fact, I found incorporating the production of 1,667 words into my daily routine much easier than I would have imagined. So much easier, in fact, that at the end of 30 days I found I had mild withdrawal symptoms.

Second, if you successfully complete NaNoWriMo you wind up with a large chunk of text that you can rework as you see fit. Of course, your rapidly produced November draft is bound to be somewhat uneven (although I think the relaxation fostered by the event actually produces some worthwhile results).

Reworking your rough draft is what the “Now What?” months of January and February are for, apparently. NaNoWriMo says it supports the revision and publishing process “with the added aim of helping you fulfill your novel’s potential: from first draft to final.”

If any of you have gone through the “Now What” process I’d love to hear from you, either via a comment or an email (write to tpletcher [at] writeside.com).