Dear Author...

I have, more than once, written to an author of a book(s) I have read. There have been those who have not answered or sent a standard reply, but for those who do respond, I find it very,very gratifying. I thought it might be interesting to write a blog including these correspondences. I will post them, not necessarily in the order they were written. 

Gail Godwin is an author who I admire and I've read several of her books:  Queen of the Underworld 2007Evenings at Five 2004and my favorite to date,The Good Husband, 1995. 

I look forward to reading more.

Unfortunately, I can not find a copy of the letter I sent to Gail Godwin, perhaps I didn't even make a copy since it was in 1995, pre-computer days for me. Here's the response, sent on her cream colored personal stationery, from P.O.Box 946, Woodstock, NY 12498.

March 3, 1995
Dear Sherril Smoger-Kessous,
Thank you so much for writing such a nice letter to me about The Good Husband . It means a lot to me to hear why readers have liked my books. I'm glad you liked Francis. So did I.
Gail Godwin

The next is a letter I wrote to the author, Ann Lamott. Ms. Lamott did not respond, but I don't hold it against her.

   Dear Ann Lamott,
 I was looking for an email address in order to write you, but found instead a snail mail address, so I will take the time to  write an actual letter.

 I only recently became aware of you. If I'm not mistaken, it was from a forwarded email I'd received which contained a quote from your book, Grace (Eventually), Thoughts on Faith. I loved the quote. You were at a panel discussion with two other Christian writers and speakers,one an evangelical, the other a Catholic.The subject of Abortion came up and this was the quote than won me over... “I announced that I needed to speak out on behalf of the many women present, including myself, who had had abortions, and the women whose daughters might need one in the not-too-distant future–people who must know that teenage girls will have abortions, whether in clinics or dirty back rooms. Women whose lives had been righted and redeemed by Roe v. Wade…I actually feel, and said that it was not a morally ambiguous issue for me at all….Then I said that a woman’s right to choose was nobody else’s goddamn business…Plus, I was–I am–so confused about why we still have to argue with patriarchal sentimentality about minuscule zygotes, when real, live, already born women, many of them desperately poor, get such short shrift from the government now in power [the symposium was during the Bush administration]. …But as a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women are a crucial part of that. It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society.”

Having won me over as a fan,I purchased another of your books, Plan B: Thoughts on Faith, to read later and I went to the library and took out Grace Eventually, unabridged on CD. I found the overall book quite compelling, making this Jewish girl (well, 56 year old woman), think anew about Jesus and Christianity. 

But it was this one line in the book that made me pull over, stop the car and play it over and then over again, long enough to write it down word for word. This was the line: 
"I woke up from a nap years ago to find my son gazing at me. He took my face into his hands and peering at me like an old Jewish relative he said, I love that little face". 
I don't know if my son, who is now 22 years old, had done the exact same thing or that I just wish he had, but when I heard this line, I was (am) filled with "nachas" and memory and love. I just wanted to thank you for that.

Sincerely Yours,
   Sherril Smoger-Kessous

                             Ann Lamott

I am almost always listening to a book in my car. I get several unabridged CDs from the library at once, so as to not be caught without something to listen to while I'm driving, which used to be a lot at my old job. Perhaps my favorite Audio-Book of all time was The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (which by the way is coming out as an Ang Lee movie in November, which worries me because it is rare that the movie can approach the greatness of a great book). This letter and the response I received from the author was, in my opinion, extraordinary. I made several copies of his and my letter to be sure I would never lose them. So, first, the email I sent to Yann Martel.

Wednesday, June 9,2003 America Online: Smogey69, Sent to Publicity Manager, http://www.canongate.net/, Canongate Books, Edinburgh EH1 1TE

My question for Yann Martel, in reference to his novel, The Life Of Pi, is the following. Among the many aspects of the book that were so pleasurable and fascinating was the notion of an Indian boy, brought up to be a Hindu, would consider and actually does find and follow the wisdom of three of the "great" world religions: Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. After Pi met the Christian Priest, The Brahmin Priest and the Muslim Imam, I kept wondering and thinking about if and when he would meet the Jewish Rabbi. I would have thought that Kabbala would have also been included in his journey. So, in conclusion, my question is, why did you not have Pi meet a Rabbi and why not include Judaism in the mix?

In Grateful Appreciation of The Life Of Pi,

Sherril Smoger-Kessous
Parsippany, New Jersey

Pru, Martel's emissary, I suppose, sent me a response that he received my email and would forward it to Yann Martel, but that it might take some time for Mr. Martel to respond, as he is quite busy. 

To which, I wrote back..

  Thank you so much for your prompt reply. I understand that Yann Martel would be very busy and if he does find the time to reply, I will feel quite gratified. 

Here is Yann Martel's response.

Yann Martel, 6/11/2003, pru@cannongate.co.uk (Pru Rowlandson)

Dear Pru,
Please forward the following reply to Sherril Smoger-Kessous

Dear Sherril,

I didn't have Pi convert to Judaism for three reasons, two practical and one theological. First, there is no synagogue in Pondicherry. The closest synagogue (and I'm not even sure it functions as much more than a museum) is in Kochin, clear across from Tamil Nadu in Kerala. It would have stretched the bounds of credibility to have a Jewish community in Pondicherry. Second, to have Pi practice more than three religions would have become unwieldy. I felt if he also became a Jew, why not a Buddhist too? And then what about a Sikh? A Baha'i? A Jain? Where would I have stopped? I wanted to make a point, not to be encyclopedic. I figured that with Hinduism, I roughly covered Buddhism, since the latter has had a lasting influence on the former. The same with Judaism. Christianity being a very successful breakaway Jewish sect. I decided with Pi being a Christian, I covered the Holy Land corner of divinity.
Lastly and most importantly and deeply, you can't be an orthodox Jew and a Christian. You can't be waiting for the Messiah on Saturday and celebrating him on Sunday week after week. The two are incompatible. I know there are Messianic Jews, but as far as I can understand these are Jews who are abandoning traditional Judaism for Christianity. I don't think Orthodox Jews would recognize themselves in Messianic Jews. Perhaps quite the contrary.

But I missed getting in a Jewish angle. I'm well aware of the seminal importance of Jewish thought. So, not to miss out completely, if you remember, what does Pi study when he gets to the University of Toronto? I have a practicing Hindu, Christian and Muslim study Jewish mysticism, in this case, the Kabbalist, Issac Luria.

Which also explains the name of the ship that sinks the Tsimtsum, which comes straight out of Luria's cosmogony. 

So you see, I did include you, Sherril.


Yann Martel

Now, I must say that I did not agree with all of his explanations, however, this is besides the point. The point is that the author took my letter seriously enough to respond with a well thought out and serious reply. What more could a curious reader ask for? 

Pat Conroy is an author that I fell in love with when I read The Prince of Tides, a book that literally took me weeks to get over after finishing it. It was the classic feeling of having had a best friend visiting and when she left, it left me feeling bereft, which is what I felt when I finished reading The Prince of Tides. I don't recall if I wrote Pat Conroy a letter back in 1987 when I read his novel. If I did, I do not have a copy of it. But I do have a copy of an email I sent him on November 25, 2010. That was after I finished listening to his latest book, In My Reading Life, which is a book in which he makes references to other books, more specifically other authors, that have inspired and instructed him as a writer. I absolutely love when an author references a book in  his novel, or in this case memoir of sorts, especially if it is one that I have read, and even more so, a Book Club book. Here's a wonderful excerpt from My Reading Life...  "I take it as an article of faith that the novels I've loved will live inside me forever. Let me call on the spirit of Anna Karenina as she steps out onto the train tracks of Moscow in the last minute of her glorious and implacable life. Let me beckon Madame Bovary to issue me a cursory note of warning whenever I get suicidal or despairing as I live out a life too sad by half. If I close my eyes I can conjure up a whole country of the dead who will live for all time because writers turned them into living flesh and blood. There is Jay Gatsby floating face downward in his swimming pool or Tom Robinson's bullet riddled body cut down in his Alabama prison yard in To Kill a Mockingbird".  What really excites me is that two of the three references, Madam Bovary and The Great Gatsby were not only Book Club books, but ones that I chose and were discussed at my home, including foods inspired by the times of the books. 

So, this is the comment I wrote on Conroy's Community Guest Book Page. It is written on his web-site that Conroy is often moved and inspired by the comments of his readers but his writing schedule does not allow the time to respond personally. 

I am a Southern "Wannabe". Born and bred in the North (NJ), I have been enamored with all things Southern ever since reading Gone With The Wind in High School.There are so many Southern writers I love but I have read more of Pat Conroy's works than any others. The Prince of Tides remains for me a favorite book of all time, with Beach Music close behind.I read South of Broad and at present, the audio edition of My Reading Life is playing in my car. I am charmed and tortured by yours books. Like you, Pat, language feeds my soul. I only wish that I too, in my early life had met someone like Gene Norris, your beloved English teacher who forever positively changed your life and helped give you the strength and love of language, to become the writer you are today. In My Reading Life, someone told you that it is always best for the writer of a book NOT to be its reader, yet you are the reader of this audio book. Why so? 

In addition to the Conroy books mentioned in the email, I did not read, but saw the movies of The Water is Wide (movie called Conrack, starring Jon Voight. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association) and The Great Santini, starring Robert Duvall. The Great Santini and his following novel, The Citadel (did not read or see the movie) was autobiographical and demonstrated the violence and abusiveness of his father who was a career military officer. Conroy is quoted as saying that this father's biggest mistake was allowing a novelist to grow up in his home. Upon his father's insistence, Conroy attended the Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. I read, "writing The Great Santini took it's toll and not only did Conroy get divorced, but so did his parents, his mother presenting a copy of the book to the judge as evidence in divorce proceedings against his father". 

And now to a young new writer, Kathryn Stockett, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, where she places her first novel (also made into a very good movie), The Help. It is somewhat autobiographical and extremely readable and I found this address:
to which I wrote the following.

Sunday, June 20, 2010 
Can you either provide me with an email address for the author, herself or forward on the message and questions I have for her. Thank you so much.
Sherril Smoger-Kessous
I am still reading your book (actually reading it in it's audio rendition) and I love every word you have written. I read somewhere that as a white woman, you were somewhat hesitant to presume to take on black women's voices. My question for you is how did you get, what seems to me, such precision in these voices? Did  you study black English (Ebonics)? Listening to your story is like being in the theater watching a play about the black women working in white women's homes, with the added attraction of learning what was behind the scenes for these black women. I grew up in New Jersey and we also had "maids", though both then and now, I have a hard time using that word (saying "the help" is not much easier). The shame of it is that even today, I hear white people talk about the "shvartzes" (you can guess my "religious persuasion"), perhaps lowering their voices, and I want to cringe. On the one hand we've come a long way in race relations, on the other not nearly as long as we must.
I would love to hear back from you, if it's possible. I know you must receive many letters from readers, so I will understand if you don't get back to me. If not, I hope I will find the answer to my question about how you derived the black voices in your book through some online investigation.
Yours in Reading,

Sherril Smoger-Kessous
New Jersey

The Reply:

From:    Susan Ramer
Date:      Monday, June 21, 2010 11:33 AM
To:          Sherril
Subject:  RE: Kathryn Stockett - Help

Dear Ms. Smoger-Kessus,

Thank you very much for your nice note to Kathryn Stockett.  I am her literary agent and I am happy to pass it along to her.  Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming response she has had from readers, Kathryn is unable to respond to each letter personally at this time.  However, your letter will be forwarded to her and I assure you she will read it.  In the meantime she has asked me to convey her deep appreciation for your support and enthusiasm.

Susan Ramer

As it happened, my book club decided to read The Help in November, 2010, so I bought the book on Kindle and read it again. I can't say that I enjoyed one over the other (audio book vs book book). The advantage of a well read audio book is that every time I get into my car, is like entering a theater for one and experiencing  a dramatic and memorable piece of acting. I can  say that The Help joins the short list of all time favorite books.     

                         Kathyrn Stockett

My Book Club for Liberal Thinkers is currently reading The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevaleir. I had listened to it several years ago and I believe in this case, I enjoyed the audio book version better than the book book one. I believe Chevalier is a very good author, not a great one, although I really did love 2 of  her books, Falling Angels and Burning Bright. She has written 6 books and I have read all 6 of them (5 audio books and 1 both audio book and book book). They are all historical novels and she seems to do her homework before writing them. I found her web-page and there, sent her an email. 

From:  Sherril
Date:       Tuesday, June 16, 2009 12:02 AM
To:          hello@tchevaleir.com
Subject:   Driven to Write

Dear Tracy,
I find the Internet a source of great enjoyment and frustration. Why enjoyment is obvious. It opens up worlds upon worlds that would otherwise be unreachable. Frustration because even though I have to get up early tomorrow morning for corneal transplant surgery (yikes!) and ought to be in bed by now, I am instead here typing an email to an author, via a most circuitous route, being on facebook and about to respond to a message, wanting to mention the book, The Virgin Blue, but,  unable to recall the exact name, thus did a search, thereby coming across  your website and, WHEW, here I am!
I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your books and your writing.I seemed to have approached your work in reverse order and am only now reading The Virgin Blue, after having previously read all of your other books. In case you're interested, my favorite was Falling Angels. I hope it does not diminish my appreciation of your writing if I tell you that I have actually listened to the books (with the exception of Girl With a Pearl  Earring, which I read with my eyes). I always have a book on my bedside table and another one in the CD player of my car. I think because your books are historical fiction and many of the characters are British and French, the accents are so lovely to listen to and the stories lend themselves so well to a theatrical reading, that I have chosen them as audio-books. In any case my ears hear the language as well as my eyes read it.
I look forward to Remarkable Creatures, or whatever your current work turns out to be named. .
From a Grateful Reader,
Sherril Smoger-Kessous
New Jersey

Response from Tracy's associate.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009 10:09 AM

Dear Sherril,
Thank you for your email and my apologies for not getting back to you sooner!  Tracy and I have both been insanely busy these past few months and have a considerable amount of catching up to do with correspondence!
Tracy has read your email and is glad to hear you have enjoyed her books.  We both hope that the corneal transplant surgery went well and that you’ve had a speedy recovery!
Following the recent publication of Remarkable Creatures, Tracy is already busy researching and writing her next novel and regrets she doesn’t have time to respond more personally to correspondence.                                                                              
Yours sincerely,
Alexandria Lawrence (for Tracy Chevalier)

                          Tracy Chevalier

In 2007 my book club read Dalia Sofer's book, The Septembers of Shiraz. I believe I corresponded with her on Amazon.com or B&N.com on an author's page, though I don't seem to find such a page on either site at this time. Anyway, fortunately, I emailed the correspondence to my book club members; so, first my message to the group, followed by my correspondence to Sofer and finally, her response to me.

You know, she actually helped me identify what was behind Isaac's wondering about who would say kaddish for him after he dies.  She hit the nail on the head for me.  Here is the correspondence......

Posts: 12
Registered: 09-18-2007 
Sherril Wrote:
I found it interesting that though the Amin family was far from being religious Jews, they were in fact quite secular and very much assimilated into the Iranian society, much like many American Jews in the United States. Still, in chapter 20, when Isaac is sitting in his drab, dank cell, staring at his hands and feet, he wonders to himself, should he die there in the prison, what will become of his body? He worries that it may well be thrown into a mass grave, rather than be cared for according to the rites of the Jewish tradition. And, what resonated most for me was when he wondered if anyone would say Kaddish for him? As a secular, yet "cultural" Jew, I think I understand this. But I would like to hear from you what you were thinking when you wrote it. 

Dalia Sofer's Response:

I think faith can be religious, but it can also be something less tangible--faith in goodness, in the future. Prior to his imprisonment, Isaac held this latter kind of faith. Later, in prison, his faith in goodness is shaken and he tries to replace it with religious faith, because to be left with nothing at all--with a complete void--is terrifying.

The idea of being thrown into a mass grave is also terrifying--as it accentuates the futility and arbitrariness of existence. Isaac therefore finds comfort in the prospect of his family mourning him, of someone remembering him and saying Kaddish for him. 

Imagining that he will be mourned helps assuage his terror, because it indicates that his existence actually mattered.

    Dalia Sofer

I used to think of reading Adriana Trigiani as my "guilty pleasure", but not anymore. I am currently reading The Shoemaker's Wife (audio-book) and I don't know if she is getting  more literate, or I just missed that part of her writing before, but she has joined the ranks of one of my favorite authors. I have read almost every one of her books including all of  the Big Stone Gap series, Brava Valentine and my favorite, Lucia, Lucia, among others. I  enjoy her style, her great sense of place, her readability and mostly that she is a "Donna Italiana", albeit an American Italian Woman. Anyway, I had a correspondence with her, which I recently found had and subsequently lost.  I have searched through miles of emails and Microsoft Office Word files, but to no avail. Should I ever come upon it,  I will add it on here. Meanwhile, some pictures.

And last, but hardly least an author that I became aware of at least 10 years ago in the Lake Hiawatha Library, while looking for an audio book that I hadn't already "read". It's a relatively small library with a limited selection,  so I was doing some serious searching. The year was 2007.  I am not sure what made me select one by James Lee Burke, but I did and I became an involved fan, involved in mutual correspondences and somewhat active  on the James Lee Burke.com Message Board.  Here's how it began.

To:         pamela@jamesleeburke.com
Sent:      November 25, 2007 9:15 PM
Subject: James Lee Burke Contact Page Submission

Comment_Question: I am happy to have found the James Lee Burke web site, Pamala. This email is meant for Mr. Burke and I ask that you please share it with him. If you can answer my question regarding Alifair, I'd appreciate it.

Dear Mr. Burke,

  Every time I listen to one of your novels on CD in my car, I find myself writing a letter to you in my mind. So,here I am finally putting it down on paper, well, virtual paper, as it were. I would assume I am not a typical reader of yours, but then again, I just may be.I have not read any other mystery or crime novels, nor have I read any other writers who serialize their main characters, as you do Dave Robicheaux and Billy Bob Holland. I can not bear to watch movies with sadism and will only read about it in non-fiction books, such as those about the Holocaust or the Killing Fields in Cambodia. And yet, I am drawn to your books. I am trying to make an analogy, like you might, but am coming up blank.  I am drawn to your books like ....... well, like a moth to fire, but that's more a cliche than a good simile, yes?

I liken my fascination and appreciation of you to what I experienced years ago when I regularly listened to Bob Edwards' conversations with Red Barber every Friday morning on NPR's Morning Edition. I have no interest in baseball whatsoever, but that didn't stop me from becoming a huge fan of "Captain Bob" and "Red's" weekly discussions. I inevitably called my father, who was a huge baseball fan and of course knew all about Red Barber, after the program to tell him what I'd learned about his favorite game. When Red Barber died, I felt like I was in mourning, though I'd never actually heard him announce a game.

And so it is with you and your books. I read them (well, listen to them being read to me by Will Patton, who I've grown to love as much as I do you and your writing; in fact if I ever met you and you didn't sound just like Mr. Patton, I think I'd be very disappointed) because I love how you describe Montana and Louisiana  and I love your use of language. There was many a time that I almost swerved off the road trying to write down a word  that I just had to remember. And, I really do love the stories you tell,sometimes in spite of myself. I do find I have to fast forward parts describing in depressing detail man's brutal inhumanity to man (or worse, woman). I think to myself how I wish you could eliminate those parts, but I guess they serve a function.  I wish you could just skip to when Robicheaux or Billy Bob bemoan and philosophize about the dregs of society, rather than describe them in sometimes agonizing detail.

These are the books I have read to date: In the Moon of Red PoniesLAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDSBitterroot, and now, of course, The Tin Roof Blowdown.  In your other books, I don't remember Robicheaux having a daughter. Perhaps I have just missed the books where she plays a part. I would love to have some background on Alifair. I get the sense that you find yourself in her, especially where her writing is concerned.
I just wish to thank you as a reader.  It amazes me that your books can be at once so literate and so grimy. Thank you Mr. Burke. I wish you many more years of good writing.

Sherril Smoger-Kessous
Parsippany, New Jersey

PS  I wrote a kind of tribute to New Orleans back in 2005 about the last time I was there, which was in 2001. If you ever have the chance, I'd love for you to take a look at it. My heart bleeds for the city, it's people and those of us who love it.  http://photosfollowingmyfootsteps.blogspot.com/2006/07/my-trip-to-new-orleansrevisited.html

Burke's response

From:    "Pamela Burke" pamala@jamesleeburke.com
Sent:      November 27, 2007 5:51 AM
Subject: FW: James Lee Burke Contact Page Submissions

Thanks for your thoughtful and eloquent letter. I appreciate your words very much and hope you keep on enjoying the books and short stories. Have you tried "Jesus Out to Sea"? I think you might like it.

Alafair first appears in the second book of the series, "Heaven's Prisoners".

Have a fine holiday season. 


My next message to James Lee Burke. 

From:  Sherril
To:   Pamala Burke
Sent:  November 27, 2007 1:11 AM
Subject: Re: Fw: James Lee Burke Contact Page Submission


Thank you so much for responding to my email. I will look forward to reading Jesus Out to Sea.

All the best to you and your family.


Jim's response.

From:    "Pamela Burke" pamala@jamesleeburke.com
To:        smogey69@optonline.net
Sent:      November 27, 2007 5:51 AM
Subject: FW: James Lee Burke Contact Page Submissions

Same to you. Best for the holidays.


My next email.

From:  Sherril
Sent: August 24, 2010 11:32 PM
To:  Pamala Burke
Sugject:  Re: James Lee Burke Contact Page Submission

Dear Pearl and Jim,

I am hopeful that this email will reach you. I wrote previously in November of 2007 and here it is almost three years later and once again, I feel compelled to write.

Jim, you had written that you hoped I would read Jesus Out to Sea, and I did so about a year ago. I enjoyed it immensely, but it is to the  Dave Robicheaux novels that I remain attached. It is through them that you, Mr. Burke, have insinuated yourself into my life.

 I am exceedingly attracted to and enamored of all things Southern, despite being a complete "Yankee", born and bred in New Jersey. I have been to my favorite city of New Orleans and more recently to the beautiful city of Savannah, but I would love to know better the lifestyle along the Bayou Tesche, the smell of the camellias, the sounds and sights of the South that you describe so eloquently, as to make the reader's five senses come alive.

I love listening to your books on CDs because  it allows me to experience your writing through the expert voice and theatricality of Will Patton and occasionally Tom Stechschulte.  But, as a writer, I wonder how you feel having your books read as audio books as opposed to book books? The books I have read visually are Jesus Out to Sea and Swan Lake, which I purchased. You continue to be the only author I read who writes crime and detective stories, as well as serialized novels. In general, they don't interest me, but what do I know, maybe there are others out there who are also as literate and talented as you.

My Book Club is now reading The Hamlet by William Faulkner. I wish I could say I love reading this obscure Faulkner book, but I would be lying. His run-on sentences and densely written descriptions are difficult reading and in the end, I don't care much about the characters or the plot, if one could say there is a plot. But what I have enjoyed is finding myself making the comparison of Faulkner's writing to your writing. There have even been some descriptive words that I could have sworn I remembered reading in The Glass Rainbow. I see the similarities in both you and Faulkner when it comes to your sensibilities regarding the unfair disparity between the desperately poor and disenfranchised and the rich and powerful, who so often make their claim to what isn't theirs and keep that stake for decades. Have you been influenced by William Faulkner? Reading Faulkner and then reading Burke, one sees how much and yet how little has changed in the South (and the North, East and West for that matter). 

Forgive me for chattering on so in this email. There are so many aspects of your novels and your writing that I think about as I read them, that I could "chat" with you  for hours. But before I close, allow me to express two more things. One is that I have written twice, one email and one snail mail to the folks at *CBS' Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. I wrote them to ask that they feature you, James Lee Burke, on one of their Sunday Morning programs. I did not receive a response. In my research, I did find that you were featured in October of1977Now, more than a decade later, I think it's time  for them to revisit you. Don't you agree?  If you have any influence over this, please encourage CBS to do so.

Finally, I just saw the Broadway Musical, Memphis.  I know Memphis is not your "beat", but  still, watching it brought you to my mind. If you ever get to the NYC area, PLEASE go see this show. I absolutely loved it and I think you would too. And, if you ever are in the area, please let me know if you have a book signing or some other public event. It would be my great honor and pleasure to have the opportunity to meet you in person.

Wishing you and your wife well.

Sherril Smoger-Kessous
New Jersey

And finally, Burke's reply, the last of my correspondences....FOR NOW!

From:    "Pamela Burke" pamala@jamesleeburke.com
To:        smogey69@optonline.net
Sent:      August 25, 2010 11:32 PM
Subject: FW: James Lee Burke Contact Page Submissions

from JLB:

Thanks for your nice letter, Miss Sherril. I appreciate all your good words and thoughts. Regarding William Faulkner, he is probably America's greatest writer and in my opinion up there with Chaucer and Milton and Shakespeare. I don't think I was influenced stylistically by him, but as you say, my work contains themes that are similar to his, primarily because the southern story ultimately involves the issues you describe and they find their way into any southern writer's work.

I hope you keep enjoying the books.

Best Wishes,


Since these letters of 2010 I have gone on to read several more of Burke's books, from the most current:  CREOLE BELLE, July 2012 , RAIN GODSIN THE ELECTRIC MIST (movie)PEGASUS DESCENDINGCrusader's CrossWhite Doves at MorningSunset LimitedCimarron Rose,  In the Electric Mist with Confederate DeadA Stained White Radiance and Heaven's Prisoners (movie).

Feast of Fools is a book I've yet to read.  I'll be sorry after I've read them all. But I have several more to go.  Happy Reading.

September 29, 2009
Letter to CBS New: Sunday Morning With Charles Osgood:

To Whom It May Concern:

I would like to suggest that you have the writer, James Lee Burke on CBS's Sunday Morning. Watching the interview with T.C. Boyle, for the second time,I was reminded that I have never seen James Lee Burke on this program.I do not know if you have, in your thirty years, interviewed the author, but if you have or have not,I think it's time to do so now, before it's too late (he will be 73 this December). I am not a crime or a mystery reader and I have not read any other author who writes serialized books, but James Lee Burke has become an exception. I came upon him randomly, while looking for an audio-book to listen to in my car and since that first book,"In The Moon Of Red Ponies", I have  "read" at least 10 more, both of the Dave Robicheaux and the Billy Bob Holland series. I also read, Burke's book of short stories, "Jesus Out to Sea", upon his personal recommendation. Though I am put off by the violence, I endure it in order to enjoy his eloquent use of language, gorgeous geographical descriptions, great story telling and his thorough insight into human nature, all of which makes the violence go down a little easier.

I am a faithful viewer of Sunday Morning and it has been the subject of many a blog that I have written. I look forward to an interview with Mr.James Lee Burke featured on CBS Sunday Morning, hopefully in the near future. 
Thank You,
Sherril Smoger-Kessous
New Jersey

If you are reading this, I urge you to read James Lee Burke's books. It doesn't really matter in what order they are read, except that it's fun to find when the characters are first introduced and to witness the development of the characters and the relationships between them. Also, Robicheaux has several wives through the years, and it can be confusing keeping them straight. As for Alifair, she is based on his real adopted daughter, who after Law School, went on to write crime/mystery novels of her own.  What you will get from reading James Lee Burke's books is an experience of lyrical writing which includes a wonderful sense of place and description which bring you in and keep you there. If you happen to also like a good crime novel with some mystery, well, Burke's your man. 

This post, Dear Author, has turned out to be a lot longer than I expected and it's taken a lot longer than my average post to write.  I hope it will be as interesting to read as it was to write.



Time Time Time Is On Whose Side?

The years come and go and it is more than a platitude to say that the older you get the faster they go. What can I say? I am 60 and though my birthday was almost 10 months ago, that number is still nothing more than an incomprehensible joke. Ha Ha, I'm 60.....ha, ha fooled you...I'm really 25, err, I mean 35, no, wait, 45.... OK, I'll stop. But the damn un-explainable, unbelievable truth is, I am a 60 year old woman and I guess I won't get my head around that number until I turn 70 and think back to the good old days when I was 60!. Did I mention how very fast the time has gone?

There are a multitude of songs about time, suggesting that time as a concept and a reality is on the minds of many. That fact, at least, is comforting.

     ♫ Time, Time, Time is On My Side...Yes, It Is ♫
     ♫ Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? ♫
     ♫ Time After Time ♫
     ♫ Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) ♫
     ♫ Summer Time and The Living's Easy ♫
     ♫ The Fist Time Ever I Saw Your Face ♫
     ♫ As Time Goes By ♫
     ♫ The Times They Are A'changin' ♫
     ♫ I Had the Time of My Life ♫
     ♫ A Time to be Born, A Time to die, A Time to Plant, A Time to Reap, A Time to Kill,
        A Time to Heal , A Time to Laugh, A Time to Weep.. Turn! Turn! Turn! ♫ 

Time has a way of hurting then healing as time goes by, which brings to mind the many expressions there are using the word Time.
 Time as an idiom. .
     ~ Time is of the essence.~
     ~ No Time like the present ~
     ~ Time flies ~
     ~ Racing against Time ~
     ~ Time is money ~
     ~ Time heals all wounds ~
     ~ Only Time will tell ~
     ~ Time out ~
     ~ Killing Time ~
     ~ Too much Time on my hands ~
     ~ In the nick of Time
     ~ Out of Time ~
     ~ Hard Times ~
     ~ Race against Time ~
     ~ A stitch in Time saves nine ~
     ~ Time Is Up! ~

So, what got me thinking about time? You could say the theater did, because the theater, as well as writing and facebook, have taken up a lot of mental space of late. In 1968, undoubtedly,  a seminal year of my life, my mother took me to the theater to see a play called, Jimmy Shine in which Dustin Hoffman plays the main character, Jimmy Shine. This particular play from this particular year came up in conversation with my friend, Jeanne T., as we sat in the theater waiting for the play, Other Desert Cities, to begin. To our utter amazement, we found that we both had gone to see this rather obscure play, Jimmy Shine. We were  astonished by the coincidence. So I told Jeanne about the silly thing I did in 1968, which was to cut the head of Dustin Hoffman out of the Playbill in order to post it on my wall. In my immature infatuation, e-Bay was not on my teenage radar. Many years later, when organizing my playbills in folders, I could not find a picture of the original 1968 playbill, so I did the next best thing and found what I thought was a fair facsimile and plugged it in accordingly. Lucky for me, Jeanne saves and organizes Playbills like I do, and she promised to send me a copy of the original, which she did, which explains the pictures of the Playbills below.

 Dustin Hoffman on a Time Line:

                                                                  1967 The Graduate

1968 copy of head from original playbill     Replacement of head until Jeanne sent the original.                                      

 2011 HBO's Lucky

Despite the fact that, Hoffman netted his second Drama Award for his performance in the Broadway production of "Jimmy Shine", it was by all other accounts an unremarkable flop.The first time I googled it, this is the link I came up with, Urban Picaresque. Basically it said that 'Murray Schisgal's Jimmy Shine attempts an inner journey. The trouble is that it doesn't go anywhere." I think that sums it up pretty well.  

Turns out that yet another friend of mine  on facebook also actually saw this play (this fact, which I learned only recently, totally blows my mind. I  mean as far as I could tell, despite the drama award Hoffman received,  it was an obscure blip on Hoffman's resume).  Both friends agreed that they could remember little about it other than that Dustin Hoffman was in it and it wasn't very good. One friend  recalled how difficult it was for Hoffman to connect with the audience, even to look out at them. Go figure. 

Jimmy Shine was in December, the end of 1968. So much happened earlier in the year which effected, not only  me, but the rest of the world as well. In 1968 the War in Viet Nam was in full force. Too many of the events of the year were associated with that war. Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose book, Baby And Childcare, published in 1946, to later become the second best selling book after the Bible, became known as much for his politics as his baby rearing books. In January of 1968 Benjamin Spock was indicted and later convicted of conspiracy to encourage violations of the draft law. The charges were the result of actions taken at a protest rally the previous October at the Lincoln Memorial. Though I didn't know it at the time, in the next few years, I would be joining Spock in his anti-war sentiments.

On February 2, 1968, Richard Nixon, a republican from California, entered the New Hampshire primary and declared his presidential candidacy. On election day in November, 1968, I had just turned 16, 5 years shy of the voting age, which was 21. It wasn't until 3 years later, in March of 1971 that Congress passed the 26th Amendment lowering the legal voting age from 21 to 18. Thus, in the year 1968, the American soldiers were fighting and dying in Viet Nam, but they were not allowed to vote for the politicians who would be sending them there, bringing to mind the song "Eve of Destruction" (written by P.F. Sloan in 1966 and most notably sung by Barry McGuire)...

♫ You're old enough to kill but not for votin', You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin' ♫

Though in 1968, my political awareness was just developing, I can still remember the political charge in the air, within our country, at the time. The big surprise was that the sitting President, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, had decided not to run for a second term. Johnson had accomplished some of the best Civil Rights legislation of the past century,and he had the will to fight the war on poverty at home. But the war overseas, in Viet Nam, was the albatross he was forced to wear around his neck. He inherited the war and he ultimately escalated it and this was his downfall. On March, 31,1968, President Lyndon Johnson gave a speech to the nation that I can still remember watching on the TV in  my parent's room and I can pretty much remember the words that he said..."I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President." Even at 16 I found these words shocking and his demeanor made me feel sorry for him. 

With President Johnson out of the race, it opened it up to a virtual Who's Who in the Democratic Political Party. The Democratic Primary Race was headed by Johnson's Vice President, Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, who eventually won the nomination. Running against Humphrey was Eugene McCarthy, of Minnesota, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and finally, my candidate of choice, Robert F. Kennedy (at least in retrospect, I really don't remember who I supported then, but I do remember that my brother, at 12 years of age, supported McCarthy). 

Even before 1968, the country was facing civil disturbance. In 1965 riots broke out for days on end in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. 1n 1967 there were riots in Newark and Detroit. On March 31, 1968, Martin Luther King spoke to a mostly White group of people, crowded into the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. He warned them that "if nothing is done between now and June to raise ghetto hope, that he felt that the coming summer will be even worse than the previous one".  He said that people can take just so much of poor living conditions, unemployment and discrimination. He knew the African-American population was set to explode. It was just 4 days later that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated 

I was 15 in 1968 (turned 16 in October) and as I have said, though aware of the bigotry and poverty, I was still a teenager and only beginning to understand the significance of the problems. Still, I knew even then, that we had lost a great leader who represented a peaceful and non-violent approach to gaining Civil Rights for African-Americans in our country and that trouble was ahead. It felt terribly sad for me. It felt enormously sad for African-Americans and their sadness became anger and by 10 PM the night of King's assassination, the crowds on the streets of Washington, DC turned violent. And thus the rioting in D.C and Chicago and Baltimore began and raged on. 

On that same night of April 4, 1968, whens King was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy was scheduled to give a campaign speech in the heart of Indianapolis' African-American neighborhood. Despite the potential violence, Kennedy decided to go ahead with it. However, instead of a campaign speech, Kennedy spoke quietly to the crowd, first informing them of King's death and then going on to speak with passion and honesty of what Martin Luther King stood for, peace and non-violent change and he urged them to honor King by following his lead. The audience, though struck with great shock, sorrow and ultimately anger, remained peaceful listening to Kennedy's words. Kennedy's speech given that night is considered to be one of the great public addresses of the modern era. 

I urge you to watch this video.  

                Landmark for Peace Memorial in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Indianapolis, Indiana
                         Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King reach out towards each other and the sky. 


Two months later, in early June, 1968, Robert Kennedy was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to address a crowd of supporters on the night of the California Primary and he too was assassinated. He was shot by a 24 year old man named Sirhan Sirhan. I heard the news that Friday morning and I remember waking my brother to tell him about it. I remember being tied to the TV, much as we had been a short 5 years before when Bobby's brother, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. I felt Bobby's death like it was a personal loss. Before the funeral, Robert Kennedy's coffin was laid out at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. What I remember most, was that a high school friend, Karen Taylor and I took the bus into the city, stood on a line for hours, that circled St. Patrick's many times over  and paid our respects as we paraded past Kennedy's coffin. That in itself, was a seminal moment of my life.

There are still 5 more months before we reach December, 1968, where this blog started. Most of what made the year such a seminal one for me personally, I have already written, though there was a whole hell of a lot more that took place that year. I have obviously done some homework to write this piece, so I will include a few more of the events and people, that I have come across, that made 1968 the critical and  meaningful year it was. 

On July 7, 1968, Abbie Hoffman's "The Yippies are Going to Chicago" was published in The Realist. The yippie movement, formed by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Paul Krassner, all committed activists and demonstrators, is characterized by public displays of disorder ranging from disrupting the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange to the destruction of the Clocks at Grand Central Terminal, the main commuter station for workers in New York City. The Yippie's  were in the center of action six weeks later at the Chicago Democratic National Convention, hosting a "Festival of Life" in contrast to what they term the convention's "Festival of Death."

On July 24, 1968 at the Newport (Rhode Island) Folk Festival singer Arlo Guthrie performed his 20 minute ballad "Alice's Restaurant" to rave reviews. I've been listening to it up until this day during Thanksgiving weekends. 
August 8, 1968 another Who's Who, this time of the Republican Party,  attending their Convention in Miami Beach, where they nominated Richard Milhouse Nixon to be their presidential candidate. The next day Nixon appointed Spiro Agnew of Maryland as his running mate. Nixon had been challenged in his campaign by Nelson Rockefeller of New York, and Ronald Reagan of California. Oh, the things to come.

On August 28, 1968, 2 days after the opening of the  Democratic National Convention in Chicago, by most accounts, Chicago police took action against crowds of demonstrators without provocation. The police beat some marchers unconscious and sent at least 100 to emergency rooms while arresting 175. Mayor Daley tried the next day to explain the police action at a press conference. He famously explained: "The policeman isn't there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder." Twenty-eight years later, when the Democrats next held a convention in Chicago, some police officers still on the force wore t-shirts proclaiming, "We kicked their father's butt in '68 and now it's your turn." Lord help us, Dems and Republicans alike!
On October 11, 1968 Apollo 7 was launched from Florida for an eleven day journey orbiting the Earth 163 times. The following year, another fairly seminal one in my life, 1969, (aka my screen name: smogey69), on July 20, I was in San Antonio, Texas, at the home of  my then best friend, Ilene Kavy, watching Neil Armstrong become the first person to walk upon the moon. Unfortunately, from August 15-18, 1969, I was  visiting my uncle in San Diego,  thus missing a generation's seminal event, Woodstock!  

I feel compelled to include just a few of the many songs that came out in the year 1968 because it was the time that some of the best music of all time was in our ears.

♫ Hey Jude
♫ Sitting of the Dock of the Bay
♫ People Got to Be Free
♫ Mrs. Robinson
♫ Born to Be Wild
♫ Light My Fire
♫ A Beautiful Morning
♫ Revolution
♫ Lady Madonna
♫ Scarborough Fair/Canticle
♫ I Heard It Through the Grappevine

And so we near the end of 1968 and this edition to my blog comes to a close. For me, writing it, was like a roller-coaster ride through what I remember as a year, along with the next one, 1969, that came to represent much of what formed me for the next 44 to come. Where have all those times of my life gone? Why does time have to fly so fast as we move on. And when all is said and done, remind me again ...Time, Time, Time Is On Whose Side?