Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Primer on Electoral College

The Electoral College is an integral element of our governing system. The purpose is to give people who live in all the states some influence on the executive leadership of the country. After the recent election, many are questioning the wisdom of Article II, Section 1. The Electoral College is immensely important not only to who wins, but how presidential campaigns are run. Eliminate the Electoral College and the interior will never see another candidate in their state and heartland primaries will be meaningless.
Inhabitants of the hinterlands often feel dismissed by urbanites living along one of the two coasts. Unfortunately for our country, the hue and cry to do away with the Electoral College confirms their worst suspicions.  Abolishing the Electoral College will disenfranchise every American who lives in fly-over country.
Here is a good primer on the Elector College.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Do readers judge a book by its title?

Everyone knows the old axiom that people judge a book by its cover, but do they also judge books by their title? I don’t know. I suspect a great title can get readers to look further, a horrible title stops further inspection, and a mediocre title doesn't influence sales one way or the other.

The Barnes and Noble Book Blog posted an article “12 Books With The Most Irresistible Titles.” Good Titles, but I always liked Lonesome Dove because it sounded intriguing.

The Great Rehearsal might be the worst title I've encountered for a great book. Carl Van Doren wrote one of the top three history books on the Constitutional Convention. (In this amateur historian's humble opinion.)The book was published in 1948, when the United Nations was just starting up and Van Doren thought the 1787 Constitutional Convention was a rehearsal for writing the UN charter. This was a poor title that must have dampened sales of a fine history book.  Ironic, since the book never mentions current events except in a slapped together preface.

I've never agonized over my own titles, except for Tempest at Dawn, my own book on the Constitutional Convention. Since this was a novelization of the convention, I needed a title that didn't sound like a history book. I also liked the idea that the title reflected the turmoil in the infant country at the time of the convention.

I still like the title. Perhaps I should have agonized more over my other titles. The Steve Dancy titles: The Shopkeeper, Leadville, Murder at Thumb Butte, The Return, Jenny's Revenge, and Crossing the Animas are pedestrian. I like The Shout Mouth Society because it connotes secret society intrigue, which properly reflects the plot of this contemporary novel. Principled Action is a lousy title and may have affected sales of this nonfiction book about the founding period.

Authors may not be the best at selecting titles, but I’m not sure focus-group driven editors are better. My title for my computer technology book was Dinosaurs and Whippersnappers, but Wiley insisted on The Digital Organization. I still prefer my title.

book covers book titles
Honest stories filled with dishonest characters.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Alexander Hamilton Fixed a Broken Nation

Due to the groundbreaking play, Alexander Hamilton has vaulted skyward to become an icon of popular cultural. It couldn’t happen to a better man. Hamilton was my favorite character when writing Tempest at Dawn. At the time of the Constitutional Convention he was only thirty years of age, yet he had already proved his physical courage and mental agility.
When writing my novel, I used the following excerpt to illustrate the economic conditions faced by the infant nation. Most of the states had not paid off the war bonds that financed the Revolution, foreclosures were rampant, inflation raged, there was no common money, and production, especially for ships and foodstuffs, had declined to the point of alarm. These were the dire circumstances inherited by Alexander Hamilton when he became our first Secretary of the Treasury. In a tour de force, he righted the country’s finances and economy by the end of Washington’s first term.

When Baldwin emerged from behind the building, he failed to notice his friends on the other side of the road, so he walked into the tavern. He spent only a few minutes inside and emerged with a wooden bowl and an oversized spoon. Looking around, he finally spotted Sherman and Hamilton on the log across the way.

As he took a seat next to Sherman, Baldwin asked, “What’s this?”

Hamilton leaned forward to look around Sherman. “Squirrel, I think.”

“God, I hate traveling.”

“Throw it away, and I’ll give you a pear.”

Baldwin dipped his spoon deep into the concoction and let the goo plop back into the bowl. “This looks like pig swill.” He ceremoniously turned the bowl over, and they all watched the pottage spill onto the ground in bumpy chunks.

“My money says that blob will still be there on my return trip,” Hamilton said.

Baldwin turned the pear a couple times and then took a huge bite. After a noisy chomp, he spoke with a mouth half full. “I’ll not take that bet; forest animals have more dignity.”

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The First Presidential Campaign—George Washington, 1788-89

The following essay was first published in Constituting America.

George Washington won the first presidency under the newly established Constitution. He ran unopposed, professed not to want the job, and remained for the most part at Mount Vernon, yet won unanimously. Many believe he never campaigned, but instead acquiesced to a call to duty from his countrymen. Perhaps it was not so simple.

People think of Washington as a man of honor who won a war through strength of character and perseverance, and as a president who didn’t cling to power. From our perspective in time, he appears etched-in-marble and stiff as a board. Washington was tall, stately, reserved, and preoccupied with his reputation, but he also loved to dance, play cards, socialize over meals, and attend the theater. He was a superb horseman, ran his plantation with a sharp eye for profit, and attended church regularly. Washington was a vibrant, athletic man who wanted most of all to be loved by his countrymen.

Washington was the preeminent politician of his age and maintained good relationships with all the significant people in the country. To say he didn’t campaign for the presidency is to ignore decades of relentless politicking. (When Dwight Eisenhower was told he was not a politician, he replied that no one could become General of the Army without being a politician.) Washington bragged he never ate alone, made sure he was a central figure in all the founding events, collected a cadre of bright and capable people, and understood branding well before Madison Avenue had a clue.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Historical Novels Need a Fictional Title

Coming up with a good book title is difficult. Ideally, you want the title that will grab a buyer’s attention in three or so words. The title is actually only half of a selling partnership. The cover and title work together to entice a purchase. People do judge a book by its cover. The cover entails an image with a few words, and if either appears incongruent, buyers move on to the next offering.

Constitutional convention historical novelMy favorite is Tempest at Dawn. Since the book is a dramatization of the Constitutional Convention, I wanted a title that sounded like a novel, not a nonfiction history book. The cover design put the title in context: a stormy sky over the Pennsylvania State House flying a thirteen star flag. For me, the title evoked a troubled nation at its founding, but some criticized the title as unrelated to the story. I still like it.

In my Western series, I wanted the sub-title prominent to remind readers that there were more Steve Dancy Tales, so I chose simple titles that included: 

The covers are black and white because I wanted a design that indicated that these were a different type of Western: different from books with loud, colorful cover illustrations showing action or looming violence. The series has been very successful, so hopefully this is partly due to the covers and titles because I intend to continue the pattern for the remaining books in the series.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Intrigue of Presidential Elections

Tomorrow, Constituting America will initiate its sixth annual 90 Day Study. You can read previous essays here. Those prior essays address:
  1. The Federalist Papers,
  2. The Constitution,
  3. The amendments,
  4. Classics that influenced the Constitution
  5. Erosion of checks and balances.

Constituting America is co-chaired by Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie.

This year’s study is titled: The Intrigue of Presidential Elections and Their Constitutional Impact, A Study of America's Past 56 Presidential Elections: 1789-2012.

I feel privileged to again be invited to participate with some of the best constitutional scholars in the nation. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Power To The Regulators!

The Founders believed that consolidating executive, legislative, and judicial powers would threaten liberty, so to avoid this tragedy, they built our constitutional framework with checks and balances. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist 47 that “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Whew! Thank goodness we avoided that kind of government.

On second thought, we didn’t. Despite the Founders best efforts, Congress has concentrated executive, legislative, and judicial powers into regulatory agencies. Lazy legislators pass vague laws and then permit regulators to fill in the devilish details. Many of these regulatory agencies employ their own adjudication panels with internal appeal boards that judge the rightness or wrongness of their own actions. (A final appeal may be made to outside courts, but usually not until all of the agency’s protocols have run their course.) Lastly, regulatory agencies execute their own interpretation of laws, with—if White House responses to regulatory scandals are to be believed—no oversight by the top executive.

Surely, this can’t be right. It would violate every precept of the Founders.

Unfortunately, it’s true. In fact, amassing vast powers in regulatory agencies has become so commonplace, few take notice anymore. At least, few took notice until the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau raised this liberty-sapping drift to a brand new level.