The Account (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #29)

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And during those drifting years, when the peaks were low and the valleys were deep, my futility found a particular nadir during my stint on Capitol Hill, where I briefly worked for a United States Senator. I believed in government in those days, and in politicians, and in myself and other young people, and—well, you’ve heard this story before. Young idealist goes to Washington, loses ideals. Ho hum.

This is not that story.

Not exactly, anyway. I could say that this story raises some deep issues about personal identity, origins, and longing for the unattainable, the unrecoverable. I could say it’s about the permanent absence we all hold within us, from the moment we leave the womb to the walk across the high school gym floor to receive our diploma…

I could say that, but we don’t need to be that pompous about it. This is a story about fitting in and not fitting in. That’s it.

(Eh, who am I kidding? I wish it was only that. The truth is that’s it’s a story about more than that. The truth is something much worse.) Continue reading

International Feedback on The Race!

Yesterday I posted a quick little request that summarized my thoughts on the U.S. elections. And of course, I wrote a book about a politician, based on some personal experience I had ghostwriting the autobiography of one of our nation’s gems. The politician in my book, a former governor recovering from a sex scandal, exemplifies everything bizarre about our system.

What is it about democracy that produces such creatures? Is there something about the process itself that turns people into these aliens? Is it an American phenomenon or is it true of democracies everywhere?

Well, I’m happy to report that at least some of the ideas in The Race translate rather well. Here’s a report from a reader in India.

Some highlights:

I admire the governor’s character-someone who is more than determined to fight and make a comeback no matter what people think of him. Even after being humiliated by his Italian mistress, his sons and his wife he still goes strong with this character, smile and determination to fight against a stronger opponent.

Yes! There is something admirable about the governor. Something sympathetic. A pathetic creature. But dogged. He exists.

The story has its own pace and takes you by surprise on every shameless and unplanned statement the governor has to prove himself.

Thank you! I know this will sound a little self-serving, but it took me by surprise as well. I vividly remember the day when I thought, “Wait, we’re ending every chapter with someone telling him how much they hate him…well, all right then! Let’s get it on!

The story showcases a lot of American humour which clearly shows how people from different parts of the country think and behave differently in a particular situation.

Glad you liked it! It’s Wisconsin, for sure. But it’s also Anywhere, America.

All in all a hilarious piece of work…

Wow!

…with two different characters who come together to shape up the life of the governor in words and in turn realise how sensitive and greedy can human nature be at times.

Readers, could I ask for a better review? It’s so generous!

A great political comedy wrapped with insight on changing human nature.

Thank you!

You can check out The Race at Amazon.com and elsewhere. Paperbacks still less than 5 bucks, e-book versions still less than three. And of course, free books available to all reviewers. Aha, you say: I don’t review books for some fancy news organization or million-hit blog. Discrimination in action! No, dear reader, you’ve misunderstood. Any review counts – even on your own blog, even at Goodreads, even a plain customer review at Amazon. It all works for me!

My thanks to Janak Mistry for the wonderful book review (which I lost in the shuffle for a while – sorry for the delay, Janak!). And check out Janak’s writings about Tibet, we all need more Tibet in our lives.

Onward and upward!

Goodreads Giveaway: Politicians Are Human Beings. Maybe.

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Hello everyone! Some of you may recall the last time I did a Goodreads Giveaway, where I shipped off five free copies of The Promotion. I think it’s fairly common to recap these things, with a mathematical analysis of how many people requested the book, how many reviews it led to, what the impact was on sales, and finally some conclusions about lessons learned. Far be it from me to prevent information from reaching you, my loyal readers! So with apologies for the delay, here’s the list of conclusions I reached from the first Goodreads Giveaway:

Continue reading

Writers Laughing: George Orwell

Okay, the degree of difficulty is off the charts for this one. This is a man who agonized over politics and the English language. Who loved England and democracy but spent his life fighting against oppression and tyranny and the dangers of lazy thinking.

Laughing? George Orwell was shot in the throat while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Come on, Jacke. You really think you can find a picture of him laughing?

Well, here we go:

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Laughing! Right? Okay, maybe it’s no Ray Bradbury…his life was harder, and…

Wait…you don’t believe me? You think that’s just a smile? What are you accusing me of, reader? You think I’m trying to sneak one past you?

Reader, we have a good thing going! Don’t you trust me?

Fine, fine. I’ll give you my evidence. That picture above is taken from THIS picture: Continue reading

“Self-Deception Is Human”: Book Review of The Race (at Radical Science Fiction)

“This was a great little piece of political fiction…Wilson shows his writing chops – immersing us in a political world that doesn’t feel jargony, over-the-top, or formulaic.” – Nic Eaton, Radical Science Fiction

I was both pleased and intrigued when Nic over at Radical Science Fiction graciously offered to review my book The Race. Because although The Race is not science fiction, I’d like to think it shares a common set of themes with works in that genre.

Setting aside the horse race of an election, or the debates about this or that issue, what happens to the people involved? What’s universal about politics and politicians? What does a political campaign do to the people around it? What do a campaign and the politicians we elect (or not) say about our society? Or democracy? Or us?

Questions like these are why shows like Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica are so compelling. It’s not the space aliens or special effects (cool as they may be). It’s the investigation into the human condition.

This isn’t a new idea of course. I only point it out to show why it was unsurprising that Nic, a fan of that genre, zoomed straight to the heart of what I was trying to get at.

Here’s the title of the review: Continue reading

Who’s Cheating America? The Smoke-Filled Room

Cheaters – they’re everywhere! Politicians promise us up and down they’re going to put an end to cheating. Work Hard and Play By the Rules, Americans! Isn’t that the motto? Do that and you’ll be fine.

Except… when the politicians are themselves the cheaters. And the story of their cheating has a twist you could not make up. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the McDonnells:

“I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment, for which I take full responsibility,” [former Virginia Governor Robert] McDonnell said in a statement in the Washington Post.

Wait, “legal gifts and loans”? What’s wrong with that?

“However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship. I never promised — and Mr. Williams and his company never received — any government benefit of any kind from me or my administration,” McDonnell said.

Personal generosity and friendship? Who was cheated here? Maybe this former governor was himself the cheatee! He supplied some friendship to his fellow man… a little warmth, a little bonhomie… and in return he gets hit with the wrong end of the scandal stick. What did he take in return?

According to the indictment, the McDonnells met Williams — identified in the document as JW — in 2009, when McDonnell allegedly began using Williams’ private jet during his gubernatorial campaign.

A private jet? Well, maybe he was just headed out to see constituents…

At the time, Robert owned a 50 percent stake in MoBo Real Estate Partners, owners of vacation rental homes in Virginia Beach, Va., which weren’t earning enough money to keep up with the mortgages, the indictment said.

Uh-oh. Sounds like someone had some incentive to cheat. But still! Traveling to visit constituents is justifiable!

After hearing about the McDonnells’ financial woes, Williams allegedly offered to buy Maureen an Oscar de la Renta dress for Robert’s inauguration, and gave the couple two loans — $50,000 to cover the Virginia Beach debts and another $15,000 for their daughter’s upcoming wedding, the indictment said.

Oh boy. A dress? A wedding? Personal loans? This is not sounding good.

Except… wait! This is all for family! That justifies it, right?

Virginia’s first couple and their family purportedly took vacations and luxury golf outings on Williams’ dime. … In 2012, Williams allegedly loaned the McDonnells another $50,000 to cover expenses at MoBo Properties, and in May that same year he loaned McDonnell another $20,000. Maureen also convinced Williams to purchase Robert a Rolex watch with the words ”71st Governor of Virginia” engraved on the back, which she gave him for Christmas in 2011, the indictment said.

Oh, geez. A watch? Luxury golf? Okay. But as far as quid pro quo goes, this isn’t the worst thing I’ve heard. No cash in the freezer. No strippers in Vegas. The quid isn’t so bad, really. Kind of cute. Almost harmless! Rolex makes nice watches! Golf is a healthy activity! Daughters have beautiful weddings?

What is the quo? [Grimaces and closes eyes.]

Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted Tuesday for illegally accepting more than $135,000 in donations, luxury gifts and vacation getaways in exchange for touting a donor’s tobacco-based health supplement.

A tobacco-based health supplement? What is this, The Onion?

At the same time, [Williams’s company] was allegedly seeking ways to legitimize two of its tobacco-based products — CigRx, a smoking cessation supplement, and Anatabloc, which claimed to reduce inflammation in the body.

Yes, that’s right. Health supplements. Made out of tobacco. Let’s get the research rolling on that! And then we’ll drink crude-oil milkshakes and wear workout gear made from bacon fat and smog.

The quid is run-of-the-mill. The quo gives the governor a spot in our Cheater Hall of Fame.

Previous in our Who’s Cheating America? series:

Thoughts on France’s Menage a Trois

PHOTOGRAPHS: FROM LEFT, BY MARC AUSSET- LACROIX/WIREIMAGE, ANTOINE ANTONIOL/GETTY IMAGES, FRANÇOIS DURAND/GETTY IMAGES. (courtesy vanityfair.com

I’ve done some thinking about love triangles and politics. In fact, I’ve set a book in that world.

The Race takes place in Wisconsin. One of its recurring themes is the loneliness and solitude of strivers trapped in out-of-the-way places. Although they live – and thrive – in a flyover state, both the Governor and his wife have national aspirations. The Governor has a transatlantic affair. His wife goes to the national media to get her side of the story out. The center does not hold.

It’s a story that appeals to me, for the sex and intrigue but also the struggle to overcome  provincial origins. I was told once that living in the Midwest means learning to live within limits. These people did not learn.

What happened in France – recounted by Evgenia Peretz in a fascinating Vanity Fair article from December 2012 – is different. These were sophisticated people, living in a sophisticated city, living sophisticated lives.

And yet… things are recognizably the same.

Politics, like parenting and death, is a great leveler of differences. You could travel across time, continents, political systems and find the same basic elements: power, ambition, and human frailty. It seems that no matter what the particular landscape is, the political roads are all alike.

And they all lead to disaster.

Free Fiction Weekend: The Race by Jacke Wilson

His wife once called him “a fifth-rate husband, a shoddy human being, and a washed-up Judas.”  Now he’s running again. And he needs her support. 

Readers! A free excerpt of The Race: A Novella by Jacke Wilson is below.

Want to read the whole thing? Like free stuff? I also have some free review copies available.  I’m happy to give them out! That’s what they’re for! If you would like one sent to you, contact me or just let me know in the comments section.

(By the way, I’m also looking for advance readers for the next manuscript. If you’re interested in insane lawyers hiring insane candidates at insane law firms, this might be the one for you. Let me know!)

And now… the main event! Enjoy!

The Race: A Novella

Chapter One

Throughout the campaign, reporters asked me why the Governor was running. Not if I thought he’d win or what he’d do once elected, but why. Why’s he running? Why? Why? Why’s he doing this to us? Why’s he doing this to himself?

I never knew how to answer. He was a career politician, one of those creatures who need validation by an electorate the way athletes need competition or businessmen need to make money. An egomaniac, a narcissist, a damaged personality looking to fill some kind of hole – all of that was obvious, and true. Only it was not enough for them. Not this time.

I’d usually mumble something or other I’d heard the Governor say – that he wanted to help others, that he believed he was the best person to represent the good people of Wisconsin. But it was no good: they knew I was not a true believer. I’d been on the scene for weeks, not years. I was not a chief of staff or a whispering guru or a speechwriter or a handler or a political advisor of any kind. I wasn’t even a member of his party. Not a relative, not a friend. I was just there.

“Is this another one of your strays?” my wife asked when I told her I was taking a few months off to help write the autobiography of a man nobody loved. “Governor Olson? The ‘gone snowmobiling’ guy?”

“That’s the one.”

She sighed. “Another stray.”

“It’s a paying job,” I said.

She knew, even then, that I would become more deeply involved than the project required. She knew it would happen even though she had no idea that the Governor was planning to run again. None of us did.

Why?

I suppose what follows is my attempt to answer the question:

Why did he run?

And another of my own:

Why do we care?

#

Even before I received the materials I had been tracking the Governor’s career. I was in D.C. and he was in Wisconsin, but it was impossible for me to ignore his ascent. My parents were excited about it, for one thing. My dad had taught him in high school. There was not much else in our town to be excited about. Anyone who broke out of the parochial limits of our area gained the notice, the respect, and the appreciation of everyone in the community. A golfer from a nearby town turned pro and stayed on the Masters leaderboard until late Sunday afternoon: Yes! We’re still here! We exist! Our town produced a tug-of-war team that competed in the World Championships in Ireland: Yes! We can no longer be ignored – we just finished third in the entire world! We count!

And now… a governor with national aspirations. From a town not far from ours.

Still, I was astonished to receive the box. Why me? I had an MFA, which made me a writer, purportedly, and a law degree, which meant I could call myself a lawyer – but I was not a politician or a journalist, let alone a biographer. Had someone given him my name? Maybe he thought he needed someone unconventional?

The package contained two manuscript boxes, six or seven hundred pages of material. There was no cover letter. I thought it might be a prank or a mistake.

He called later that day.

“It’s my autobiography,” he said. “I need some help with the organization. I’m a busy man. When can you start?”

“I’m busy too,” I said.

“I’ll pay you,” he said, brushing off my reluctance. “You’ll enjoy it. I’ve had a fascinating life.”

He assumed I would agree – but then again, he could. He had earned that much at least. His rise had been conventional, but his flameout had been extraordinary. He could have appeared on any talk show he wanted. Any reporter in the country would have taken his call. Even minor scandals have a way of giving you that power.

And his had been spectacular. A sitting governor, an incipient national campaign. Getting traction in the primaries. Not likely to win, but a press favorite. A good chance at being on the Presidential ticket. And then: a disappearance. His staff is cagey. He’s in bed with a cold. Then they say he’s “up north snowmobiling.” The catch phrase takes off: Saturday Night Live bases a skit on it. Rumors abound: rehab, depression, marital problems. Someone says they saw him at an airport. Finally the staff admits they aren’t sure where he is. The governor! Of the state! Is gone!

That was the story for a few wondrous days. The truth when it emerged was just as surprising. He’d gone off, leaving everyone behind: his wife, his four kids, his campaign, the state he was in charge of – all to go and visit his mistress in Italy.

That, of course, was the first big why.

True love? That’s what he claimed in public.

It’s never that simple.

I read enough in the pages he’d sent me to see that there was a more complicated answer.

I took the job to find out what it was.

#

He wanted me to meet him at the Big Boy on Highway 14, near I-90. It was a restaurant I did not know still existed. Not just their Janesville location, but the entire Big Boy franchise. Who still ate there? How did they keep going? But there it was, still chugging away. I sat down on a bench in the lobby and watched Wisconsinites come and go.

After a few minutes a boy came in – he was maybe four or five – ahead of whoever had brought him.

“There he is!” he shouted, and came running toward me.

I stood up, my mind making all kinds of leaps. This boy must be a grandson, the son of one of the Governor’s older boys – the Governor must have brought his whole family. A woman followed the boy through the door – presumably the Governor’s daughter-in-law. And they must all be excited to meet me. The grownups must have told the little boy that they were on their way to meet someone important, a writer who was going to be helping Grampa with an important project.

My mind put all this together in a second, and it changed everything. I stood up, flattered, determined to live up to their expectations. I was a writer, in their eyes if no one else’s, significant enough to make this little guy thrilled to meet me.

I bent over, ready to give him a high five. The boy ran past me and flung his arms around a statue.

“Oh, Big Boy!” he cried, “I knew you’d still be here!”

And Big Boy, the chubby, wavy-haired, smiling lad with the red suspenders and tablecloth overalls and big cherub cheeks and blank eyes, stood in place, absorbing the hug. He was, indeed, still there.

I straightened up and smiled at the mother, who frowned at me with a certain amount of suspicion, perhaps justifiable. Then I wandered into the restaurant.

The Governor was already there, eating a piece of pie.

He had ordered one for me too, but when I didn’t turn up in time he went ahead and ate both. “Sorry about that,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s too good. Too, too good!”

If he was embarrassed – some would say that a failure to control his impulses was not anything he should be laughing about – he did not let it show.

It was strange to see him in reduced circumstances, not quite unrecognized by the people here, but overlooked. He did not look like anyone there. He was wearing a sportcoat and tie, and he still had the shine of a politician: hair blow dried and tamed by product, big white teeth, a bronzy glow to his skin. I could see why the press had viewed him as nationally viable: he was conventionally, if blandly, handsome. If he’d become President he’d have been one of the thinner ones, and one of the more distinguished-looking: a fresh, youthful look, with smooth grooves of worry lines. It was a versatile face: wise and caring, rugged in times of war, sleek and inoffensive in times of peace. For some reason he made me think of a ten-dollar bill: reliable but easily forgotten.

I felt no aura, but then I never do. As is often the case when I encounter people like him, I felt like I was supposed to feel some kind of excitement, but I did not. This was a man who’d held power, whose career and life had been blown apart by a sensational scandal, and who even now had a tabloid-cover international celebrity that was only months old. You might think there would be some buzz around him, but I felt none. Maybe I only felt it when others reacted to people in this way. In any case, it wasn’t happening.

And yet, he carried himself as if he had it. He was brimming with self-confidence, and self-esteem. It was like a doctor who acts like a doctor even outside the hospital – on the golf course, say, even though his status at the hospital doesn’t matter there.

The waitress came by and I saw his political side emerge. “That pie was absolutely delicious,” he said, beaming. “So good I wish I could eat another.”

She was bored and tired, but she treated him with affection, smiling just for him, as if he alone among all her customers could make her day.

“Looks like you already had two,” she said, loading the plates onto her tray.

“These must be Wisconsin cherries!”

“You know it, doll,” she said, bustling away.

It was a fascinating exchange. In fact the pie had been filled with a gelatinous cherry-like substance that had probably come from some factory in New Jersey.

“Let’s talk about the book!” he said to me. “You’ve read it?”

I nodded.

“It’s got everything in it. It’s all there,” he said. “It could use some organization. Maybe some rearranging – you can help with that. Some chapters are too long. We could break ‘em in two, you know. People are busy, they like short chapters.”

I nodded again. The book had a lot more trouble than he seemed to realize – it was, in fact, a complete mess.

“A couple times I felt like I said the same thing twice. And there might be a spot or two where it runs out of steam. You can help me fill those in.”

“Sure.”

He nodded more to himself than to me. “It’s got no ending, I know, but guess what?” He put both hands on the edge of the table, leaned forward, and lowered his voice. “My story is not over.”

I didn’t know what he meant. Of course he had many years still ahead of him, and he had a chance to live them with some measure of dignity. I imagined him working as a lawyer, or a lobbyist, in a low-profile, behind-the-scenes way. He had plenty of businessmen friends. He could put his marriage back together, eventually, and serve on boards and blue-ribbon committees assessing budgets or job creation programs. He could move to D.C. or stay in Wisconsin, and work hard. In twenty years he’d be a “whatever happened to…” guy and people would be impressed that he was still around and had not continued to embarrass himself.

But this was not what he had in mind, obviously. His eyes were wide open and dancing. They were blue, as infinite and as thin as the sky, wide but not deep.

“I’m running for Congress,” he said, as a slow grin took over his face. He leaned back in the booth and pounded the table with his palms. “We’ll give this book a heck of a last chapter!”

I mumbled some kind of agreement. I think I also mentioned – incredibly, it seems to me now – that the book probably didn’t need a new ending if he decided to change his mind. Why did I say that? Why do you tell someone to stop downing shots of tequila? Concern for humiliation, poor judgment, maybe physical well-being. It was a human instinct.

But he was determined. “Let’s go see Tina!” he said, dropping money on the table and loping toward the door.

That was all I needed. If you care about my motivation – me, a nobody – then that was it. That was my why. This narrative was rushing forward and I couldn’t turn away.

Tina? The wife who had called him “a fifth-rate husband, a shoddy human being, and a washed-up Judas”? And not only would I get to witness their encounter, I would be driving the car that took him there? I did think we’d get a new ending for his book, but maybe not the one he expected.

On the way out he made sure to swing by the cash register and tell the manager how great the service had been. The waitress appeared, and the governor immediately fished another bill out of his wallet. It was a ten.

“An extra tip,” he said, bestowing it on her. “Never had a better time.”

The woman beamed.

It was in him to be a politician. He had all the skills, and the energy, and the spirit.

And now, headed to see his wife? He would need it.

#

The Race: A Novella by Jacke Wilson is available now at Amazon.com.

Copyright 2013 by Jacke Wilson. All rights reserved.