"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Atlanta Music Teacher Launches Novel And Major Motion Picture Franchise With Hollywood Film Producer

Atlanta resident Dr. Warren Woodruff has inked a multi-level development/production deal for his Dr. Fuddle LLC's project, Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton, with film producer/literary manager Dr. Ken Atchity. Woodruff is a long-time music instructor whose passion for classical music led to the conception of the story, which follows the adventures of five youths led by the mystical Dr. Fuddle into the land of Orphea to retrieve the Gold Baton from the dark musician Jedermann using it for cacophony and chaos, and restore its rightful function of bringing harmony to the universe. The franchise will include a series of novels, picture books, live action films, an interactive website, music, an educational TV series, and a line of elementary books, merchandising, toys with unique patented scientific technology "making sound visible," in addition to the book itself.

In cooperation with Atchity Productions in Los Angeles, Dr. Fuddle will soon go before the cameras as a major live action/CGI motion picture in the tradition of The Chronicles of Narnia and Oz the Great and Powerful, based on Dr. Woodruff's screenplay Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton. Atchity Production films include Joe Somebody, Life or Something Like It, The Kennedy Detail, The Lost Valentine and Hysteria, with others in development. Dr. Woodruff's first novel is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon.com and in hard and soft copies through www.drfuddle.com. A consortium of Atlanta financiers provided the initial seed money, and have hired a renowned international film financing broker to close the financing for the first major motion picture. The project was brought to Atchity by Atlanta's Mardeene Mitchell, who has worked with Woodruff on the original development of the project. She introduced them at her Write the World in Atlanta conference in June of 2010.

"My goal is to inspire a new generation to the wonders of classical music through an exciting fantasy adventure ALL young people can relate to," says Woodruff, who received his Ph.D. in Musicology/Piano from the University of Miami School of Music. "The story has elements of The Wizard of Oz," Atchity states, "Harry Potter and C.S. Lewis' Narnia. But its foundation in the myth and history of music makes it truly original and inspiring."

Dr. Fuddle and the Golden Baton, by Warren L. Woodruff

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Reposted from /PRNewswire/ 


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Kenneth John Atchity, Ph.D. is brilliant. His new novel, The Messiah Matrix, is a compelling story that may challenge readers to view religion differently.

Ken Atchity, a Classical scholar, accomplished author and Hollywood producer, does not disappoint his readers. The Messiah Matrix is a creative, thought-provoking, action-packed, historically laced, and masterfully detailed page-turner. (Watch out for paper cuts!–You’ll be turning the pages quickly. It’s that good!)

Searching for truth and the origin of Christianity, The Messiah Matrix draws the reader into a world of corruption, murder, romance, and rich history, set in beautiful Italy. Relying on extensive research, this story explores a controversial idea: The story of Jesus Christ may be different from the original story explained by the Bible and other sources.

Within the first two pages, I was hooked. The murder of the monsignor, the confession of one stranger, the diving expedition that uncovered a hidden and valuable artifact–every event spun part of the mystery into a web that wasn’t easy to unravel and exercised my brain muscles; it’s a cerebral experience, not just great entertainment. The writing transports the reader into a fictional drama with international flavor, and artfully educates.

Father Ryan, a young Jesuit priest, is obsessed with finding out why the monsignor was murdered and battles personal doubts about his own religious faith, questioning the troubling inconsistencies in Catholic doctrine. Fate brings him together with Emily, a beautiful and vivacious archaeologist who is also linked to the deceased monsignor. She too is searching for the truth behind the story of Jesus and wants to present her findings when the time is right.

The sexual energy grows between the characters of Ryan and Emily and while fighting his attraction for Emily, the reader senses Father Ryan’s torment and confusion. All the while, the reader is immersed in Roman history and the ancient story of Augustus, sometimes told in a flash back style, through Emily’s character sharing stories told to her by the late Monsignor.

The two travel together and slowly connect the unconnected to explain the origin of Jesus. Their revelations are not welcomed by the Catholic Church in Rome and put them in great danger. After a daring escape from the caves of Cumae, they are able to reveal the truth about the true “Christian Savior” and the reader may be surprised by the story’s ending.

The author includes a table at the back of the book that gives a clear comparison between his researched facts and the events of Jesus’ life highlighted in the Bible. Atchity does not preach or push his views on the reader. He factually establishes documented and historically reliable information that gives the reader freedom to decide for himself what he believes to be true.

Only Ken Atchity, who has expert knowledge of Christian history and classical training, can pull off scholarly work that reads like a fascinating, dramatic adventure, meant for the silver screen.

It is a controversial subject and some Catholics may be startled or surprised by what the author’s research revealed. I know I was. Brought up by strict Catholic parents and taught by the Jesuits at Boston College, I am a traditional believer; Yet during the reading of The Messiah Matrix, I had moments of doubt: “Could it be that what I had learned as a child wasn’t true?” Atchity’s fact-finding is that compelling!

At times, the book made me scratch my head in confusion and at other parts, curiosity kept me turning the pages. The Messiah Matrix is for anyone who loves thrillers, romance, and intrigue, and this writer highly recommends it.

Reposted from Author Lu Carvalho

Dennis Palumbo Quoted in LA Review of Books Essay

Suicidal Thoughts: The Creative Lives and Tragic Deaths of a Prince and a Pauper by Nancy Spiller

WHEN THE 63-year-old comic genius Robin Williams hanged himself this past August in the bedroom of his waterfront Tiburon home, the score of demons he was battling was said to include Parkinson’s disease, ongoing alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and fears of career failure. The Oscar-winning actor may also have been suffering from an undiagnosed case of Lewy body dementia, a surprisingly common condition involving mental impairment, personality changes, and possible hallucinations. After a lifetime devoted to making the world laugh, his suicide and sufferings came as a shock to his devastated fans, including me, a former entertainment reporter who had covered him at the start of his career.

Kitty-corner to Williams on the cultural grid was a writing and teaching colleague, 59-year-old novelist Les Plesko, who leapt to his death from his apartment building roof in Venice, CA, one September morning in 2013. Some of us who knew of his past sufferings and the troubles he faced that autumn weren’t questioning why he killed himself as much as what kept him going for so long. Now, a year after his death, the gentle natured, Hungarian born, American raised writer’s semi-autobiographical novel No Stopping Train (Soft Skull, 2014) has been posthumously published to the critical acclaim he’d dreamed of. It received a coveted starred review in the Library Journal as “a masterwork in language and imagery […] a powerful meditation on his country's history and the expansiveness of humanity,” declaring “serious readers of literary fiction will rejoice.”

Despite their differences, both Williams, the prince who seemed to have it all, and Plesko, the pauper who scrabbled hard for all too little, were artists undeniably devoted to their calling. And their deaths raised questions in my mind about the prevalence of suicide amongst such highly creative people. Is there a link between suicide and creativity? Or is that simply a myth, if an increasingly popular one?


“The conventional thinking is that creative people have more psychological problems than the rest of the population,” says Dennis Palumbo, a former screenwriter (including the film My Favorite Year, and episodes of television’s Welcome Back Kotter) turned author and licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues. “What they have is more access to their feelings.” Those in other lines of work like lawyers or bricklayers, who don’t have to dig within themselves for their raw material, can suppress their emotions, including “the more intolerable ones.”

Globally, suicide is on the rise. According to a 2013 Newsweek cover story it took more lives worldwide than “war, murder and natural disasters combined.” We’re apparently killing ourselves at a greater rate now than we’re killing each other. Whatever that high watermark for humanity implies of our times, authors are said to commit suicide, and suffer the mental illness that can lead to it, at twice the rate of the general population. E.L. Doctorow joked to The Paris Review “writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” Or was he joking? The long list of self-murdering writers includes Virginia Woolf, who suffered mentally while capturing those torments on the page, to Ernest Hemingway, whose family has had five suicides over four generations, to Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, to Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, Richard Brautigan, Hunter S. Thompson, Spalding Gray, and David Foster Wallace.

Writing about Williams’s death in The New Yorker, Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, noted the “force of will” most people lack to follow through on the suicide impulse. This led me to wonder if an artist’s ability to act on self-destructive urges might be connected to the force of will required to commit to their creative pursuits in the first place.

“Creative people are more proactive,” says Palumbo, who also contributes to the Psychology Today website. “They put themselves out there, suffer the slings and arrows more than non-creatives. They have a greater sensitivity to their environment.” Because they are more in touch with their feelings, “they’re more likely to act on them.” A bricklayer might have the same feelings but find release through drinking, or rely on religious restrictions or family ties to keep them from acting on the urge to kill themselves. “Creatives are the iconoclasts,” Palumbo says. “They’re not religious and they’re likely to be estranged from their families.”

I met Williams twice, first when I was a beginning journalist and he was still unknown, a brilliant, improvisational comic at San Francisco’s Holy City Zoo in the mid 1970s. The charming, self-effacing performer was just one of the gang I was interviewing then, even though his unrelenting, lightning wit put him on par with Jonathan Winters. Our second encounter was for Rolling Stone in the fall of 1978, as he launched into the TV stratosphere with the hit series Mork & Mindy. I spent a giddy day wandering the streets of Manhattan accompanied by his multitude of comic characters. The Williams I encountered had no on/off switch — he was always hilarious, endearing, and sweetly childlike, whether making his croissant do a crab dance across the breakfast plate or hailing a cab as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I never thought of him as crazy, but a huge, driven talent whose youthful zeal and wild imaginings were certain to carry him far. Despite inhabiting an ever-changing array of characters moment by moment, I don’t believe he could have been anyone but himself.

And Les Plesko could not have been anything other than the literary zealot he was, a dedicated, focused, and most serious writer. While his prose was beautiful, I found the disturbing stuff of his writing sometimes hard to read. Nonetheless I admired his art and his total devotion to it. His existence remained perpetually underfunded. He lived in a tiny, spare apartment, getting around by bicycle in car-centric Los Angeles, and sporting a sufficiently disheveled appearance to be mistaken for a homeless person. Satisfied with an existence that seemed more Eastern European than Westside Los Angeles, he devoted decades to his writing, producing four novels, as well as teaching an enormous and faithful cadre of students at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.


“A book is a suicide postponed,” observed Emil Cioran, the Romanian philosopher. The misanthropic author of On the Heights of Despair, The Trouble With Being Born, and A Short History of Decay had contemplated suicide for much of his life. He’d also lived in Paris since 1937, including during its Nazi occupation in World War II. Yet he died of natural causes in Paris at the age of 84. Could living in the City of Light while writing dark thoughts be an antidote to early check out? Or perhaps writing about life’s purposelessness gave Cioran sufficient purpose to keep his own going. The balance Cioran found allowed him to live out his life, despite his lengthy arguments against it.

My own most serious contemplation of suicide as a teen didn’t go as far as considering an actual plan. I remember driving my car, a 1962 Pontiac Tempest inherited from two older siblings who’d already flown the coop, to a phone booth on the boulevard of our one boulevard town. It was raining and cold. I dropped a coin in the slot and dialed the number I’d gotten somewhere for a suicide hotline.

I was crying. “I need help,” I said.

They put me on hold.

After a few minutes, I got back in my car to drive for hours on the Northern California freeways, sobbing, my windshield wipers beating rhythmically, until my tank of gas gave out. Somewhere deep down inside, in that moment, I knew it was a great joke that had been played on me. And for that, I am grateful.

But there would be other challenges. I nearly lost my mind in my 20s working on a book about Jonestown. Trying to understand that mass suicide of people, most of whom came from my home region, the San Francisco Bay Area, just as I was struggling to begin my own adult life, nearly devoured me.

Then there was the day in early 2006 when I decided my home of 20 years was trying to kill me with its demands for constant repair and maintenance. Even its pleasures were isolating me from the larger world. I sold it and moved, finally able to finish my novel. If it takes a certain force of will to create art and another measure of it to commit suicide, perhaps the struggle, the precarious balancing between a productive life and the option of a tragic end, can help keep some artists alive. My ambition to be a writer pulled me through the darkest days.

Les Plesko was born into a far bleaker situation — Hungary in 1954. He was two when his mother and stepfather escaped the Hungarian Revolution for America, abandoning the boy to the care of his maternal grandparents. By age seven he was reunited with his family in postwar, booming California, a place that must have seemed like a helium-filled carnival balloon compared to the grim cinder blocks of Soviet existence. By the time he learned to speak English, everything in the culture of the 1960s and 1970s was being questioned. He dropped out of college, fell into a string of the oddest of odd jobs (flagman for crop dusters! Country & Western D.J.!), took up heavy drinking and serious drugs. After a long slumming spell, he found writing in the legendary workshop of Kate Braverman, which is where I met him in the early 1990s. It was there he got clean and sober and for some 20 years continued to produce his singular literary efforts. He was the workshop’s star, the first to publish a novel, the autobiographical The Last Bongo Sunset, (Simon & Schuster, 1995). It was praised for its dark lyricism and “spare and controlled” style, but it sold poorly, as such critically acclaimed works often do.

He kept his day job as an editor of technical books and took up a career teaching through UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program and private workshops. On a trip back to Hungary he discovered that his biological father, whom he’d never known, had been a well-known actor who killed himself leaping from a building. Was this dramatic foreshadowing, something known on a cellular level, or romantic inspiration? Plesko published two more novels with a small, independent press in Venice, while seeking for some 15 years a more legitimate house to publish what he considered his magnum opus, the Hungarian novel No Stopping Train.

In the last months of his life, he suffered the end of a major romance, shrinking income prospects, deteriorating health, and the continued rejection of his great work. He’d also begun drinking again. When I last saw Les, a few weeks before his final day, he told me the entire stock of his third book, Who I Was, was locked in the garage of his now bankrupt publisher. I didn’t know what to say. The publishing world had been in a depressing state of collapse for years — but I was happily about to publish my second book with the small, independent press, Counterpoint. I suggested he consider contacting their edgier imprint, Soft Skull, which I felt matched the style of his work. I don’t know that he ever sought them out. Ironically, it was Soft Skull that ultimately bought No Stopping Train, thanks to efforts spearheaded by another Braverman workshop alum, Janet Fitch (author of the Oprah pick White Oleander and Paint It Black) and Counterpoint/Soft Skull editor Dan Smetanka.


Regardless of the scope of its success, demanding creative work done so fully and for so long by the likes of Plesko and Williams requires an extreme and extremely draining sensitivity on the artist’s part. This hyper-awareness of both the miraculous and miserable in human existence can prove life threatening. “Creatives are swimming in their feelings all the time,” Palumbo says. “They’re much more impacted by their interior life than non-creatives. Everything they do is attached to feeling. They’re on the surface and in their face everyday.” 

Did leading life so strongly with their hearts, as Plesko and Williams did, inevitably lead to their heart-breaking ends? In a few television interviews posted on YouTube from his last years, Williams speaks so tenderly, at times, you wonder if he might begin to cry. Is that because of an overbearing awareness of the sadness in the world? Or simply his own personal sadness? Said to have suffered from depression for much of his life, he also entertained thousands of American troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, becoming the Bob Hope of his generation. His long-term marriage ended in divorce in 2008, and in early 2014 the sitcom that was to be his return to television was cancelled. By summer, Williams’s humor could no longer keep him aloft.

He had been out of rehab for a month before he took his life. “Deeply, deeply depressed people don’t have the energy to commit suicide,” Palumbo says. “They can’t get off the couch. It’s when they’re moving out of the lower rungs, the deepest well of depression, that they begin to formulate a suicide plan. They realize ‘I’ll probably be feeling like this the rest of my life’ and they don’t want to.’” It may not be that suicidal people want to die, he adds, as much as they want their “psychic pain to end.”

Psychic pain cuts both ways, as I’ve been suggesting, both enabling and debilitating, and it was certainly part of the writing package for Les Plesko. In a piece written for his students titled “The Writing Life,” he promises:

Writing will break you and mend you. It will tear up your heart, but the heart heals and grows stronger. You will shatter yourself as you now know yourself, and you will welcome the shattering. […] Writing will infect your life until it is your life, and there will be no turning back. You will learn what bravery is. You will be utterly and irrevocably transformed.

These are the lessons we learned from Kate Braverman, who preached a literary faith. But few of her students believed as deeply as Plesko did. Excavating his own pain, while mapping humanity’s transgressive corners, combined with the continued rejection of his work, may ultimately have lost him in the dark.

“In the end one needs more courage to live than to kill oneself,” Camus asserts in The Myth of Sisyphus. The late William Styron arrived at a similar conclusion in his 1989 Vanity Fair article and subsequent bestselling book of the same title, Darkness Visible.

At 60, Styron wrestled with a debilitating depression that left him yearning for death. His salvation came with a seven-week mental hospital stay. Ushered away from everything familiar, he landed in a quiet place in which to focus on getting well. Few people, let alone most writers, have access to such luxuries, especially today. The author of Sophie’s Choice lived another 20 years, dying at age 81 from pneumonia.

If Styron had managed to kill himself, we inevitably would have sifted through his life for causes. People would point to his months of debilitating depression before the act and the dramatic foreshadowing of his three novels in which major characters commit suicide. This is a natural, necessary response by the living — an effort to restore order. But Styron’s great gift was to return from the abyss, as Dante wrote, “to see the stars again,” and report on his terrible visions. “Darkness Visible,” the original article, remains available online. It is a powerful journey through one man’s madness and eloquent testament to the hope awaiting those who can survive their own. Those who make it back alive, he wrote, have almost “always been restored to the capacity for serenity and joy, and this may be indemnity enough for having endured the despair beyond despair.”

Styron’s doctor preferred treating his depression with drugs, but Styron knew they weren’t working. He felt his hospital treatment ultimately saved him, but mental hospital stays were stigmatized then and remain so now — see the shaming of Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes. Robin Williams received treatment in a rehab facility for substance abuse, something so common as to be acceptable. Would Williams have benefitted more from mental health hospitalization? We’ll never know, but we might at least consider the damage done by our ongoing evasions of serious psychiatric concerns.

“We accept the disease model of substance abuse,” Palumbo says. “Depression is still considered a weakness. We’re more likely to say we’re suffering from alcohol or drug abuse, rather than panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. People are still afraid of mental illness.”

Williams’s 23-year-old daughter, Zelda, recently tweeted: “Mental health IS as important as physical health,” and “Let’s help stop the misconception & support those who need our help. Healing the whole starts with healing minds.”

Like so many economically marginalized Americans, Les Plesko may not have been able to afford such help, even if he’d wanted it. The social safety net is thinner now than ever. All too many in Plesko’s situation, particularly at his age, find themselves facing homelessness, cut off from proper medical and mental health care.

Whatever the true circumstances and ultimate reasons leading to their tragic ends, Plesko and Williams found themselves unable endure Styron’s “despair beyond despair.” Their greatest courage may have been that they lived as long as they did and created as much as they could despite their personal torments. At the end of Fitch’s second novel, Paint It Black, an intense examination of suicide, the main character Josie, who has lost her lover to it, concludes finally "who can judge another man's suffering?"

David Foster Wallace, who ended his life in 2008 at the age of 46, compared the potential suicide  of the “so-called ‘psychotically depressed’” to someone standing on the ledge of a burning high-rise. They may choose to jump rather than wait for death from the oncoming flames.

“Nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump,” he wrote. “Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

The unfortunate reality for some artists is that those flames may have escaped from creativity’s controlled burn.


Nancy Spiller is the Los Angeles–based author of Entertaining Disasters: A Novel (with recipes) and Compromise Cake: Lessons Learned From My Mother's Recipe Box.

Reposted from LA Review of Books

Ken and Fred Atchity of Atchity Brothers Entertainment will produce the feature film, Andrew Jackson—Battle For New Orleans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                          
Jan. 9, 2015

Jacques Berry
Office of the Lieutenant Governor                                

Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne announced plans for a major motion picture about the Battle of New Orleans. Ken and Fred Atchity of Atchity Brothers Entertainment will produce the feature film, Andrew Jackson—Battle For New Orleans, based on military historian Ron Drez’s latest book, The War of 1812: Conflict And Deception. The project is endorsed by the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial Commission.

“We have commemorated the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial all week and it’s exciting to end the week announcing a feature film to ensure the Battle’s story lives on,” Lt. Governor Dardenne said. “This film will remind the country that America’s success as a nation was solidified 200 years ago in Chalmette.”

Andrew Jackson arrived in New Orleans December 1814 to discover a local force in place with fewer than 1,000 soldiers. In two weeks he put together an army to face the grand British force. Jackson assembled a ragtag group of soldiers including pirates, free men of color, American Indians and visiting militia from other states. The battle ended with a U.S. victory on Jan. 8, 1815.

“Jackson’s unpredictable victory is made for film because everyone enjoys rooting for the underdog,” producer Ken Atchity said. “His leadership bringing together folks from every race, nationality and walk of life to create a force to defeat the vastly superior British Army and solidify our position as Americans is an important story to tell.”

The Battle of New Orleans was an important subject in pop culture during the mid-20th century. Films such as The Buccaneer focusing on pirate Jean Laffite and his contribution to the Battle in 1938 and the film’s remake in 1958 starring Yul Brynner were huge successes. In addition, Johnny Horton’s 1959 song The Battle of New Orleans topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks.

“It would be great to see the Battle of New Orleans back in the pop culture spotlight,” Lt. Governor Dardenne said. “The story is interesting enough to capture the attention of any generation.”

The Atchity brothers are expected to announce actors and directors for the Battle of New Orleans film soon.

For more information about the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial Commission, visit BattleOfNewOrleans2015.com or the commission’s Facebook page. Use #BONO2015 on social media.

Dennis Palumbo Discusses and Signs Phantom Limb: A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery Saturday, January 10th, at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena

Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Mysteries: This FREE mini-workshop demonstrates that the key to writing a good whodunnit or crime thriller is an understanding of how the characters' distinct wants and needs collide with each other. When done right, a good plot reveals character, and good characters make the plot compelling.  Whether you’re writing the coziest of British-style mystery or the edgiest of hard-boiled thriller, this informative, entertaining workshop is for you. 
Saturday, January 10th, at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena.

The workshop starts at 3 PM, followed by Q & A  and book signing
About Phantom Limb: Psychologist and Pittsburgh Police Department consultant Daniel Rinaldi has a new patient. Lisa Harland, a local girl, once made a splash in the dubious side of Hollywood before hitting rock bottom. Back home, she married one of the city's richest and most ruthless tycoons. Upon exiting his practice, she's kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Summoned to the Harland estate, Danny is forced, through a bizarre sequence of events, to be the bag man on the ransom delivery. This draws him into a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a brilliant, lethal adversary. Phantom Limb, fourth in the acclaimed series of Daniel Rinaldi thrillers, will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

Those wishing to get books signed will be asked to purchase at least one copy of the author's most recent title from Vroman's. For each purchased copy of the newest title, customers may bring up to three copies from home to be signed. This policy applies to all Vroman's Bookstore events unless otherwise noted. Save your Vroman's receipt; it will be checked when you enter the signing line.   

ISBN-13: 9781464202544
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Poisoned Pen Press, 9/2014


Warrior king: A funerary mask from the shaft graves at Mycenae, circa 16th century B.C. Credit Universal History Archive/Getty Images

“Homer has become a kind of scripture for me, an ancient book, full of urgent imperatives and ancient meanings, most of them half discerned, to be puzzled over. It is a source of wisdom.” So begins the third chapter of Adam Nicolson’s highly accessible new book, “Why Homer Matters,” in which he compares his relationship with epic poetry to a form of possession, a “colonization of the mind by an imaginative presence from the past.” The world needs more Adam Nicolsons, unabashedly passionate evangelists for the power of ancient poetry to connect us with our collective past, illuminate our personal struggles and interrogate our understanding of human history.

For centuries, the study of Greek literature has been seen as the province of career academics. But Nicolson’s amateurism (in the best, etymological, sense of the word: from the Latin amare, “to love”) and globe-trotting passion for his subject is contagious, intimating that it is impossible to comprehend Homer’s poems from an armchair or behind a desk. If you’ve never read the “Iliad” or the “Odyssey,” or your copies have been collecting dust since college, Nicolson’s book is likely to inspire you to visit or revisit their pages.

According to Nicolson, a British baron who has written books on subjects that span the making of the King James Bible, the challenges and joys of farming, nautical voyages, and long walks through France, “you don’t acquire Homer; Homer acquires you.” Nicolson describes how he set out on a personal odyssey from the coast of Scotland to the gates of Hades in search of the origins of Greek poetry and Western consciousness. In all of this, he is most at home as a writer when describing landscapes, as in his depiction of Homeric Hades by way of the estuary at Huelva in southwestern Spain: “Flakes of white quartzite shine through the water between ribs of rock that veer from red to tangerine to ocher and rust to flame-­colored, flesh-colored, sick and livid.”

As Nicolson relates, Homer, the blind bard of Chios who supposedly composed the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” may never have existed. Or, if he did, he most likely wasn’t the sole author of the epic poems for which he became famous. Instead, he may have culled, arranged and interpolated these foundational myths from within a living, oral tradition reaching back — through the Greek Dark Ages — to a primitive, preliterate era of Bronze Age wars and warriors sprawled across the Eurasian plains. “The poems,” Nicolson writes, “were composed by a man standing at the top of a human pyramid. He could not have stood there without the pyramid beneath him, and the pyramid consisted not only of the earlier poets in the tradition but of their audiences too.”

This is the central idea behind Nicolson’s book, which traces the origins of the story of the Trojan War and its aftermath — by way of the Minoan ruins of Knossos, the great library of Alexandria, and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens — to a period 1,000 or more years earlier than the one suggested by what he defines as the reigning orthodoxy. Nicolson contends that the epic poems reflect “the violence and sense of strangeness of about 1800 B.C. recollected in the tranquillity of about 1300 B.C.,” though not captured in writing until roughly 700 B.C. And so he believes that whoever wrote the poems down belonged to “a culture emerging from a dark age, looking to a future but also looking back to a past, filled with nostalgia for the years of integrity, simplicity, nobility and straightforwardness.”
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story

It is difficult to assess Nicolson’s theory, which is based on a conjecture that the “Iliad” describes a pre-palatial warrior culture that seems to align well with the “world of the gold-encrusted kings buried in the shaft graves at Mycenae,” now dated to the 17th and 16th centuries B.C. But as a thought exercise, it is often gripping and, at times, electrifying.

According to Nicolson, “Epic, which was invented after memory and before history, occupies a third space in the human desire to connect the present to the past: It is the attempt to extend the qualities of memory over the reach of time.” The purpose of epic “is to make the distant past as immediate to us as our own lives, to make the great stories of long ago beautiful and painful now.”

The Romanian scholar of comparative religion Mircea Eliade called this basic human impulse — to connect our quotidian existence, through ritual and myth, with the lives and struggles of the great heroes of the past — the “eternal return.” In the telling and retelling of the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” we imbue our insignificant lives with meaning, transporting ourselves to a mythical time, while bringing the heroic age into our own. Throughout the book, Nicolson describes moments when his own life has been elevated or illuminated by the epics — such as his sailing across the Celtic Sea with the “Odyssey” fastened to his compass binnacle, tied open to the story of the sirens — but also moments when harrowing experiences, including being raped at knife point in the Syrian desert, have revealed to him something powerful within the poems.

The Homeric epics are long, contradictory, repetitive, composite works, riddled with anachronisms, archaic vocabulary, metric filler and exceedingly graphic brutality. Over the millenniums, Nicolson asserts, they have been cleaned, scrubbed and sanitized by generations of translators, editors, librarians and scholars, in order to protect readers from the dangers of the atavistic world lurking just below the surface of the words. He writes that everyone from the editors at the Ptolemaic library in Alexandria to the great 18th-century poet Alexander Pope wished to civilize or tame the poems, “wanted to make Homer proper, to pasteurize him and transform him into something acceptable for a well-­governed city.” Part of Nicolson’s objective is to follow the poems back to the vengeful, frighteningly violent time and culture from which they came, and to restore some of their rawness.

For Nicolson, the commonly held belief that the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” were products of the late eighth century B.C., a period of Greek resurgence and prosperity, cannot account for the heterogeneity of the poems and all they contain. He prefers the view that, instead of being the creation of a single man, let alone of a single time, “Homer reeks of long use.” Try thinking of Homer as a “plural noun,” he suggests, made up of “the frozen and preserved words of an entire culture.” Seen through this lens, the ancient poems appear as a bridge between the present and an otherwise inaccessible past, a rare window into a moment of cultural convergence around 2000 B.C., when East met West, North met South, and Greek consciousness was forged in the crucible of conflict between a savage warrior culture from the flat grasslands of Eurasia and the wealthy, sophisticated residents of cities in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Homer,” Nicolson writes, “in a miracle of transmission from one end of human civilization to the other, continues to be as alive as anything that has ever lived.” Reading “Why Homer Matters” makes one yearn for a time, almost lost to us now, when many others shared Nicolson’s ­enthusiasm.


by Adam Nicolson

Illustrated. 297 pp. A John Macrae Book/Henry Holt & Company. $30.

Bryan Doerries is a stage director and a translator. His first book, “The Theater of War: What Ancient Tragedies Can Teach Us Today,” will be published next fall.

A version of this review appears in print on December 28, 2014, on page BR17 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Songs of the Sirens.

Reposted from The New York Times Sunday Book Review

Buckhead resident’s play adapted into books, movies

Tim Wilkerson Photography

In his quest to get children all over the world interested in classical music, Warren Woodruff, Ph.D., can become the next J.K. Rowling.

The Buckhead resident had his 1998 play, “The Magic Piano,” adapted into a 2012 book, “Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton,” and a screenplay for a feature film that will be one of at least three movies in a franchise. The first screenplay, which he wrote, was completed in July 2013 and he is halfway through the second.

Woodruff, who works as a pianist, teacher and author with a studio in Roswell, came up with the idea of the characters in “Dr. Fuddle” when he wrote the play for a summer camp as a way to introduce children to classical music.

After meeting writing coach Mardeene Mitchell in 2009, she introduced him to Ken Atchity, Ph.D., a writing coach and producer who owns Story Merchant, a Los Angeles-based company that produced the movies “Joe Somebody,” “Life or Something Like it” and “Hysteria,” the following year at Mitchell’s Write the World in Atlanta conference.

“He pitched me his book,” Atchity said. “I told him, ‘That’s the worst pitch I’ve ever heard but the best story I’ve heard in a long time.’ He blushed deep red and we became friends immediately.”

Woodruff signed a multi-level development deal with the company for an undisclosed amount in 2010. It includes the books — novels and picture and education books — movies, merchandise and toys. Achity and Woodruff are now working with Del Mar Enterprises, a global film broker, to fund the movie project.

The book and movie are about the mystical Dr. Fuddle leading five middle-schoolers into the land of Orphea to bring back the Gold Baton from evil forces using it in malicious ways, and to restore its rightful function of bringing harmony to the universe.

Atchity said his company gets about 10,000 pitches for movies or books each year and it chooses an average of four to five, with one film produced by the company. So being selected by Atchity was huge for Woodruff.

“It was euphoria, the happiest day of my life,” he said. “This has been a vision of mine for many years. It’s because I have been a music teacher for 28 years and I have personally witnessed over and over and over the transformative power of music and what it can do for a child, giving them self-esteem and a challenge, something to work on.”

Woodruff came up with the idea of Dr. Benjamin Eraspus Fuddle, aka B.E. Fuddle, from music professors who mentored him at three colleges. Most of Dr. Fuddle’s personality comes from Ellen Hermann, a professor at Tennessee Temple University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in piano performance. She studied with a student of famous Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. The rest of Dr. Fuddle’s character comes from Earl Miller, who Woodruff studied under while getting a master’s degree in piano performance at the University of Tennessee, and Ivan Davis, who he was mentored by while getting his doctorate in musicology with a concentration in piano from the University of Miami.

Atchity said the movie will be made in Georgia or another state that offers filmmakers tax breaks, and the start date for filming has not been set yet.

“The concept itself was a wonderful uplifting story for kids to inspire kids to perfect themselves through classical music, to pursue excellence,” he said. “It was a universally appealing story that could be like ‘[The Chronicles of] Narnia’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ … Everyone loved his [first] script based on his first book. I haven’t heard one negative word from it from anyone in Hollywood. That’s unusual. You usually hear reams of negative words.”

Woodruff, an Indianapolis native who is a distant relative to former Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff, said he wrote the book and screenplay “to change the course of history.”

“The world is so full of such divisiveness and problems and chaos, and music has been able to proven to heal, transform, edify and transform the human spirit,” he said. “I compare this to the Argentinean [music] program, El Sistema, … that has lifted children out of poverty. It has over a million children in youth orchestras. They’ve seen the crime rates plummet where this has been instituted. My goal is to duplicate that through the Hollywood movie franchise to educate children all over the world and create harmony and joy. That’s what music does. It’s done it.

“The joy music has given me as opposed to my friends who work in business deals, it’s indescribable. … I was struck by that lightning at age 10. I just turned 50 and music has been such a powerful influence in my life and it shows there’s hope and it gives people something happy and meaning in their lives. The whole goal is to create social change and inspire. So many things in the world are depressing. You turn on the news and these kids see this negativity in the world. You turn it into something great and noble. Classical music is different. Not putting down other forms of music, but this music is so transforming and inspiring.”

Reposted from Neighbor Newspapers

History and The Lost Generation by Author Jerry Amernic

Jerry Amernic talked to students to find out what they knew about the Holocaust.

Jerry Amernic
Special to the Tribune

Have you ever played Trivial Pursuit with a young person and let them try the History category? It’s incredible what they don’t know, and last month I found out first hand. My latest novel was turned down by a publisher because the editor didn’t believe my thesis that knowledge of the Holocaust would be abysmal one generation from now, so I produced a video.

It was during Holocaust Education Week and a few days before Remembrance Day. We went around asking university students in Toronto some questions.

I asked the first two if they knew when the Holocaust occurred. They looked at each other dumbfounded before one said “1980…” only to have her friend interject with “No it wasn’t the 1980s.” They then concluded it had taken place in the 1940s. As to how many Jews were killed, “a million” sounded about right.

I posed a different question to the next students. Had they ever heard of The Final Solution? No. How about D-Day and the beaches of Normandy? Keep in mind this was just before Remembrance Day.

One shook his head ‘no,’ while the other said something about D-Day being the last day of the war. I asked if they knew who FDR was. Nope. How about Churchill?

“Winston Churchill?” the girl said. She knew the name but had no idea who he was. The guy she was with said he had heard the name from a history class long ago and acknowledged that there was a statue of Churchill at Nathan Phillips Square, but who he was and what he did was a mystery.

The next student told me D-Day fell on Feb. 14 and that “thousands” of Jews had been killed in the Holocaust. Normandy? That was tough. Another one said he had heard of the Holocaust, but couldn’t explain it.

I tried a different approach with the next pair. I asked who the Allies were. Surely they would know this a mere three days before Remembrance Day.

“These aren’t easy questions,” one of them said, laughing. Neither of them had any idea. How about D-Day? A glimmer of recognition and one said it was June 6th, which is correct.

“Do you know what happened on D-Day?” I asked.


“Do you know who was fighting who?”


I tried The Final Solution on three more students. Two of them shook their heads and one said it had something to do with the Holocaust, but that was it.

“Ever heard of Joseph Mengele?” I asked.


Undeterred, I pressed on. A girl told me that the Allies were Germany and Russia before correcting herself with the realization these countries were on opposite sides. Who were the Allies? She didn’t know. I threw in the bit about D-Day and the beaches of Normandy – her friend said Normandy was in London – but neither had the faintest idea what happened that day and it got me thinking.

This was two weeks after a Canadian soldier had been gunned down while standing guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa (see pages 1 and 2), and another soldier had been run over and killed in Quebec.

Remembrance Day ceremonies would be poignant affairs this year. I wondered what a war veteran who had stormed Juno Beach on June 6, 1944 would think about the current generation knowing nothing about D-Day, never mind the Holocaust.

I tried one more student. Could she tell me who the Allies were? No. How about The Final Solution? No.

My novel, The Last Witness, is set in the year 2039 and is about a 100-year-old man who is the last living survivor of the Holocaust. But he’s living in a world that is ignorant and complacent about the last century and there are many reasons for that but number one is the fact the schools don’t teach this stuff anymore and haven’t for some time.

In Ontario today you can take one history credit in Grade 9 and never open a history book again. In my day we had Social Studies – which combined History and Geography – in the early grades, and we always had history in high school.

Not anymore.

The result is The Lost Generation when it comes to history, and that’s why those students were scratching their heads searching for a tidbit about Churchill, Normandy or the Holocaust. This profound level of ignorance was my premise that the publisher’s editor didn’t buy in a world 25 years from now. I don’t know if that editor has seen my video, but he should.

Jerry Amernic is the author of historical novels. The Last Witness is available on Amazon and the video mentioned in this article is accessible at:

Reposted from Jewish Tribune Canada