History of Literature #67 – Pascal’s Wager and an American Election

LOGO-COVERS

Jacke digs into his origins in rural Wisconsin and offers some thoughts on race, literature, and the recent election. Also featured: René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, and Simone de Beauvoir.

Play

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:23:39 — 57.7MB) | Embed

Show Notes: 

We have a special episode coming up – listener feedback! Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Piano Between” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

The Trailer (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #31)

trailer

It started with the rain. Tammy Wynette refused to perform on the uncovered stage, the foot traffic slowed to a trickle, and my boss Jerry couldn’t stop grumbling about the replacement band.

“The Cheese Boys?” he muttered, as the sounds from Turtle Tap’s house band echoed through an empty grandstand. “This is the best those college idiots can do?”

All week Jerry had been irritated by Riverfest!’s new management, who reminded him of the college graduates who used to boss him around at the factory before his escape to the freedom of owning his own business. A popcorn wagon, an industrial laundry, and now and then the odd miscellaneous hustle. We operated in what you might call the gray economy: not exactly illicit, but not exactly well documented, either. Did we pay all our taxes? That wasn’t a question Jerry asked. He knew he paid enough.

For years we had taken in cash from the fairgoers, our white money bucket filling throughout the day with hard-earned dollars from hard-working people looking to have a good time at the fair.

This year Thurl Albrecht, the chief college idiot, had installed a new system to “address issues of uncaptured revenue.” In order to make sure that the carnies and concessionaires weren’t skimping on the percentage they paid to Riverfest! Inc., fairgoers were now required to buy tickets at an official Riverfest! booth, which they then exchanged for rides and games and food.

Jerry had taken this personally.

I don’t think it bothered him that he was viewed as a cheater, because he knew he sort of was—he even took a kind of grifter’s pride in it.

But the new system—these red tickets—had messed with his relationship to cash, and that was unacceptable.

Something would need to change. 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!

Review of The Race: “Absolutely Fascinating”

People! It’s another great day here at the Jacke Blog. We’ve had a few of those lately – I have truly been fortunate to receive such positive reviews and feedback. I’m simply overwhelmed by it all.  Thank you, readers!

All right. Enough, enough. The good news for those of you who enjoy the more miserable Jacke, is that I have to force myself to announce my worst post of the year. That’s right. Number one is around the corner (or should I say just over the cliff’s edge?).

Also the best. I’m counting those down too as part of the Blogiversary celebration. Number one is on the way!

I do notice that my countdown of the worst blog posts of the year are much more popular than my links to the best. Ha ha! Misery loves company. And Jacke. Especially when he’s flaming out with his attempt to write pen reviews. Or stirring up the Haiku mafia.

But today’s not miserable, because I received a very flattering review of my book The Race from the excellent Jennifer Sahmoun over at her site A Line From a Book. If you haven’t checked her out, you should head over there soon.

I’ve talked before about all my failure, my years of zero audience, my ups and downs, all the agony and doom. I won’t rehearse that little speech again. But I do want to frame my gratitude: it is such a wonderful feeling to have connected with a reviewer like Jennifer. Storytelling is magic!

And The Race is a story about failure! The failure of a human, the failure of a politician, the failure of the system that creates people like him, and the failure of an observer who cannot help and cannot stop watching. Jennifer gets at this in her review. Let’s take a look:

I found this book absolutely fascinating. There was no crime to investigate, no thrills, no action scenes, no romantic scenes just a compelling story that is a journey through what motivates a man to do what he does.

Amazing! I love this. The power of story!

The story is told by a lawyer who is asked by a disgraced politician to help him organize his biography. Then the politician decides he wants to run for office again. He has no support from the media, no support from his party and especially no support from his family. Why? Because while serving as the governor of the state of Wisconsin he had an affair and disappeared for a few days to be with his mistress.

Concise summaries are hard to pull off. This really nails it. A side note: I think it’s especially difficult for an author to summarize his or her own work. We should all adopt the exchange that my wife and I worked out long ago: I update her resume, and she updates mine. It’s a much easier task when someone has some built-in distance. Back to the review!

Only in this story, his wife does not stand by her husband on stage or anywhere else and neither do his children. People turn away when he walks down the street. And yet he continues until the last moment to be optimistic that the voters will come through for him. Our storyteller is with the candidate through every step of his campaign because he has no manager and no staff.

Yes! The perfect summary continues. And it makes me feel that pull all over again. The Governor is such a pathetic creature. But don’t feel sorry for him, reader. He’s too elliptical for that. His personal will deflect your pity!

I couldn’t help but feel that there is a lot of truth in the author’s portrayal of the candidate that confirms my personal opinion that some of them seem to live in a bit of a fantasy world.

Exactly!

I also found the author’s writing style to be very approachable, like a friend relating a story.

I love this. Just love it. EXACTLY the style I was trying to achieve.

Bottom line, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to everyone. And since it’s a novella and doesn’t require a huge commitment of time, those of you that might not typically pick up a book in this genre should really give it a try. I hope to read more from Jacke Wilson in the near future.

And I would be honored to have you as a reader. Thank you, thank you, thank you!


You can read the review in its natural home at A Line From A Book. Or buy the book at Amazon or other bookstores. My thanks again to Jennifer for really nailing this review. If you’re interested in a free review copy of one of my books, let me know! Onward and upward!

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #21: The Speed Trap

Some advance warning: I’m going to stop this story and start over because it’s the only way I can figure out how to tell it.

So it’s 1980, morning in America, and I’m riding in a car with my grandfather. We are on the way home from the golf course. It’s sunny and we’re in Wisconsin and the car is, I believe, a  1974 Gran Torino. Anyway I’m sure it’s a Ford, because my grandfather bought all his cars from Barney at the Ford Garage, which was just up the road from his house in the small Wisconsin town where he lived.

As we reach the crest of the hill, we see a police car stopped by the side of the highway. He has caught a speeder. Another car—a Ford, no doubt—sits in front of the squad car. The officer of the law is walking toward the driver.

I know what my grandfather is going to say. In fact, I’m about to blurt it out. But I don’t.

Continue reading

A Self-Interview with the Author, Jacke Wilson

Today’s self-interview is with the author and sole proprietor of this blog, Jacke Wilson. Jacke’s novella The Race is available now at Amazon.com.

Q: Thank you for sitting down with me today.

A: It was no trouble at all.

Q: How long have you been writing fiction?

A: As a serious endeavor, approximately 18 years.

Q: Wow that’s a long time. How come no success?

A: Great question. I would give at least three reasons –

Q: I actually don’t think our readers will be interested in any of them.

A: Oh. Um… Do you still want me to answer?

Q: Listen, I’ll ask the questions, Jacke.

A: Right, got it.

Q: Your first book The Race was about politics in America. It uses the phrase “wayward pecker” to describe the body part of a Wisconsin governor who was caught up in a sex scandal and is now running for Congress. Did you ever think about calling the book Wayward Pecker?

A:  Yes.

Q: How about Wayward Peckerhead?

A: No, never.

Q: Governor Peckerhead

A: Is that a question?

Q: You missed a chance with peckerhead. It could have been a tribute to the Richard Pryor routine where he – 

A: I’ll check it out.

Q: How about Members of Congress? Get it? Get it?

A: You’re making me glad I stuck to my original title.

Q: Because you don’t like selling books?

A: Are we almost done?

Q: I said I’ll ask the questions!

A: Sorry.

Q: We’re done.

A: Thanks.

Q: You’re welcome.

Readers, check out Jacke’s book The Race: The Ballad of Governor Peckerhead at Amazon.com. Free samples available. Jacke also has free review copies available for distribution and is seeking beta readers for his work in progress The Promotion: Peckerhead Goes to Biglaw. Contact him at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by visiting this page.

The Race: A Novella

Available Now at Amazon.com

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.