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

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“With a scream, she cut loose. She didn’t know how to handle a gun except for the old fashioned idea that all you had to do was keep pulling the trigger and you were bound to hit something.” --Ed Noon, Private Eye

A redhead, a brunette, a missing undiscovered Poe diary, and a murdered third baseman in an exhibition ball game with the New York Giants are the weird ingredients for the mad behavior of Mr. Arongio, the antique dealer who will stop at nothing to acquire a rare find.
This one is studded with violence and bloody collisions. And two unforgettable heroines, Mimi Tango and Kitty Arongio, cats’ paws in the game of death.


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American Pyramid (Pathfinders Series Book 2) by Frank Mitchell

Geographical engineer Lieutenant Charles MacDonald from American Pathfinder returns as one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Pathfinder-Scouts


What Types of Low-Budget Films Break Out?

An investigative report from Film Industry Analyst Stephen Follows and Founder of The Numbers Bruce Nash

 Breakout indie hits may be some of the most romantic stories in the movie business. The plucky lone film-maker battles the odds to make their dream film, putting naysayers in their place when it becomes a box office sensation, bringing them fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams…

But are breakout hits random events that no-one can plan for or do they share some kind of DNA that can teach us how to make successful independent films, and also what genres or techniques to avoid?

To answer these questions, we began with a list of over 3,000 films from The Numbers’ financial database, investigating full financial details, including North American (i.e. “domestic”) and international box office, video sales and rentals, TV and ancillary revenue. We narrowed our focus to study feature films released between 2000 and 2015, budgeted between $500k and $3 million, which generated at least $10 million in Producer’s Net Profit, using a standard distribution model where the distributor charges a 30% fee.

This produced a list of 63 films in total: roughly four films a year over the 15 years under consideration. Almost all of the movies will be familiar to followers of independent film, from small films that became Oscar hopefuls, like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Winter’s Bone to horror movies like Insidious and The Purge that got picked up by the major studios and became box office sensations. With the list in hand, we looked for common themes and found (with a small number of exceptions) that the breakout hits broke down naturally into four types.

Model One: Extreme, Clear-Concept Horror Films

It will come as no surprise to most producers that horror films feature prominently on the list of top low-budget breakout successes.


  •     Most Profitable Films: Insidious, Monsters, The Devil Inside, Paranormal Activity 2, Dead Snow.
  •     MPAA Rating: 82% are rated ‘R’, 12% PG-13 and 6% not rated.
  •     Running Time: Relatively short, with an average of 94 minutes and no film ran over two hours.
  •     Critical Reviews: Average to poor. Highest rated film in this category is Buried, which has a Metascore of just 65 out of 100. The average Metascore across the dataset was just 49 out of 100.
  •     Audience Reviews: More supportive than the critics, but still not above average for most films, at an average of 6.2 out of 10 on IMDb.
  •     Release Patterns: Two very distinct release patterns – half played in fewer than around 100 theatres while the other half played in over 1,500 theatres.
  •     Income Streams: 28% from theatrical, 60% from home video and 11% from TV and other ancillary income.
  •     Income Location: 46% of income was from the US & Canada and 54% international.

Model Two: Documentaries with Built-In Audiences and/or Powerful Stories

The second group of films that stood out were documentaries.


  •     Most Profitable Films: Exit Through the Gift Shop, An Inconvenient Truth, Marley, Tyson, Bowling for Columbine.
  •     MPAA Rating: A healthy spread across all ratings, with the most common being PG-13.
  •     Running Time: Average of 102, although a wide range from 80 minutes up to 144 minutes.
  •     Critical Reviews: Very high, with a Metascore average of 79 out of 100.
  •     Audience Reviews: Very high, an average IMDb rating of 7.8 out of 10.
  •     Release Pattern: Small number of theatres, with most playing in under 250 theatres and the widest release being An Inconvenient Truth in 587 theatres.
  •     Income Streams: 17% from theatrical, 71% from home video and 12% from TV and other ancillary income.
  •     Income Location: 58% international and 42% domestic.

Critical reviews seem vital for this type of film to break out and it’s interesting to note that the documentaries with the lowest scoring critical ratings (The September Issue at 69 and Religulous at 56) each had strong inbuilt audiences (‘Vogue / fashion’ and ‘Bill Maher / religious scepticism’).

In fact, only a handful of the documentaries on the list don’t have an obvious audience: Man on Wire, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, and Searching for Sugar Man are the only ones that needed to find a crowd. The others were either about someone already very famous (Marley, Tyson, Senna, Amy… note the one-name titles!) or played very directly to a receptive audience (Inside Job, Blackfish, An Inconvenient Truth etc).

Model Three: Validating, Feel-Good Religious Films

Speaking of receptive audiences, the third group of films we found were faith-based films.


  •      Most Profitable Films: Fireproof, God’s Not Dead, To Save a Life, War Room, Courageous.
  •     MPAA Rating: Two-thirds were rated PG and the remaining third were PG-13.
  •     Running Time: Fairly long, all were over 110 minutes and the average was two hours.
  •     Critical Reviews: Incredibly poor, with an average Metascore of just 26 out of 100.
  •     Audience Reviews: Similar to the horror pool, with an average IMDb rating of 6.3 out of 10.
  •     Type of Release: An average of 1,273 theatres with the widest being War Room at 1,945 theatres.
  •     Income Streams: 29% from theatrical, 55% from home video and 16% from TV and other ancillary income.
  •     Income Location: 90% of income came from North American sources with just 10% coming from outside the US and Canada.

Two things stand out with these films. First, they make virtually all of their money in the United States. Second, they get very bad reviews from mainstream movie reviewers. The strength of these movies isn’t necessarily their quality so much as the message; they deliver to an audience that is interested in what they have to say.

Model Four: Very High Quality Dramas

At the other end of the spectrum, at least in the eyes of professional film reviewers, come very high quality dramas. Almost half of these films were American productions, with the rest coming from a wide variety of countries including Germany, Argentina, Mexico, the UK, France and Poland.

 art films 01

  •      Most Profitable US Dramas: Half Nelson, Waitress, Blue Valentine, Fruitvale Station.
  •     Most Profitable Foreign Dramas: The Lives of Others, The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros, Sin Nombre.
  •     MPAA Rating: The vast majority are R-rated, with just a third being rated PG-13.
  •     Running Time: A wide range, from 81 minutes up to 154 minutes long.
  •     Critical Reviews: Extremely high, with an average Metascore of 81 out of 100.
  •     Audience Reviews: Similarly high, with an average IMDb rating of 7.5 out of 10.
  •     Type of Release: Small release, with all but four playing to fewer than 300 theatres.
  •     Income Streams: 25% from theatrical, 63% from home video and 12% from TV and other ancillary income.
  •     Income Location: 66% of income for US dramas came from the US and Canada, whereas the reverse was true with non-US dramas, with 64% of income coming from international sources.

The lowest rated film in this category received a Metascore of 68 out of 100, which was higher than all of the films within the Horror breakout success category.

A common thread among these films is awards attention. While they might not be big enough to win a lot of main-category Oscars, these are the films that have picked up a bunch of Independent Spirit Awards, Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, and got some screenwriting and/or acting Oscar nominations.

Do the Films Have to be Any Good?

An interesting finding from this research is that the quality of the film is only relevant for certain types of films.

  •     Religious films received extremely low ratings from critics but had mixed ratings from audiences.
  •     Horror films showed a range: some were disliked by both audiences and critics (such as The Devil Inside), while others had middling support from both camps (such as Monsters) and then there were films which audiences enjoyed but critics were lukewarm towards (such as Dead Man’s Shoes).
  •     Documentaries and Dramas were all popular with audiences and the vast majority also received extremely high ratings from critics.

If we plot this on a graph, we can see just how distinct these three sub-categories are.

 AFM indie breakout chart 03

What’s Missing?

Many of the films in the list come as no surprise, but what’s interesting is what’s missing from the list. We found…

  •     Virtually no comedies (Waiting… is the only out-and-out comedy on the list, and it was made at the peak of the DVD sales boom)
  •     No action movies
  •     No thrillers
  •     No musicals
  •     Virtually nothing directed at kids — Dr. Dolittle 3 was the only family movie that made our list — although we believe some animated franchises such as Barbie are very profitable but their budgets aren’t quite in our range.

Aside from the missing genres, the other notable absence is any major star involvement. Of course, this is largely a function of the budget—it’s hard to get Tom Cruise for a $3 million film—but it’s remarkable that none of these films attracted anybody who would even be called a B-list star at the time the film was made.

Lessons for Filmmakers and Producers from this Research

So we think there are a few lessons for independent film-makers who are hoping to make breakout hits:

Some “niche” audiences are large enough to make for a very profitable market, if you can reach them. 

The “faith-based” film audience stands out, but there are also receptive audiences for certain types of documentaries. Having a very clear idea of your audience is the first step to making a financially successful film.

If you’re aiming for a more general audience, quality matters. 

A lot. Honing your screenplay to what you think is perfection and then having it ripped apart at a workshop may be hard work, but it’s almost certainly what it takes to get a dramatic film to ultimately work with audiences, and to make back its investment.

Look for good actors, not big stars, and do the same with all of the technical crew on a film.  

Fun fact: Affonso Goncalves, who edited list member Beasts of the Southern Wild also edited fellow list member Winter’s Bone and 2016 Oscar nominee Carol. Finding a good editor, cinematographer, production designer and other key members of the crew is more important for a low-budget film than blowing a big chunk of your budget on a famous (or, just as likely, previously-famous) actor or actress.

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 Copyright © 2016 Stephen Follows and Bruce Nash. All rights reserved.

Feature film about the Battle of New Orleans back on track

"The Battle of New Orleans," a long-stalled historical epic recounting events leading up to and during the historic 1815 clash, is again moving forward. "Kidnap" producer Joey Tufaro and his locally based Gold Star Films have been bought on board to co-produce the film with project founders Fred and Ken Atchity. Their hope is to bring the film before cameras in 2018 and release it into theaters by the end of 2019.

The Atchity brothers first announced their plans for the film -- which they envisioned in the vein of 2000's "The Patriot" and 1995's "Braveheart" -- in January 2015, the battle's bicentennial year. Their ambitious outlook called for filming to begin in 2015 with a release date as early as 2016. Both dates came and went, however, with little movement on the project.

Now, though, with Tufaro and his Gold Star Films partner Todd Trosclair on board -- both fresh off the success of the release in July of "Kidnap," an action-thriller starring Halle Berry -- the project has been given new life. According to Tufaro, negotiations are underway to attract big-name actors to the project, and possibly a high-profile actor-director, although he said it's too early in the process to reveal the names being sought.

"The Battle of New Orleans" will be filmed in the New Orleans area and will be based on author Ron Drez's nonfiction book "The War of 1812: Conflict and Deception," which recounts the against-all-odds story behind the battle. "What most people don't realize about the Battle of New Orleans is how pivotal it actually was in deciding the fate of our young nation," Tufaro said.

Fought as part of the War of 1812 -- which has been characterized as the American Revolution 2.0 -- the Battle of New Orleans saw Gen. Andrew Jackson commanding a ragtag force cobbled together of several factions, from American Indians and Cajun farmers to free men of color and the pirate Jean Lafitte's band of privateers, in an effort to defend the city against the British. The two sides met just downriver from the French Quarter on Jan. 8, 1815, at Chalmette Battlefield. By the time the dust had settled, the British had suffered an estimated 2,600 casualties, compared to about a dozen for the American side, making for a decisive American victory.

While the battle was famously fought after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed to end the war, word of the treaty hadn't yet gotten to the battlefield. Consequently, generations of schoolchildren were taught the battle was unnecessary. But there are those -- including Drez -- who speculate that, had the British won the war and taken New Orleans, the treaty might have been immediately nullified by the British, who would have then taken control of the city -- and thus the Mississippi River.

"Together, (Jackson's forces) defeated the British armada, which enabled The Treaty of Ghent to be ratified by Congress, thus ensuring the continuing independence of the United States of America," Tufaro said.

The resumption of progress on the Atchity brothers' "Battle of New Orleans" project is particularly timely. First, since taking office in January, President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited Jackson as one of his political idols. A portrait of Jackson hangs in Trump's Oval Office, and the president visited Jackson's tomb in Nashville, Tenn., in March.

It also, however, comes at a time in which Jackson's legacy -- including his championing of the brutal Indian Removal Act as president -- has drawn renewed scrutiny. Amid recent calls for removal of Confederate monuments around the country, some have called for Jackson's iconic statue in New Orleans to be removed and his name scrubbed from the public square dedicated in his honor. (For the record, Jackson was never a part of the Confederacy; he died 15 years before the Civil War began.)

Tafaro, however, shrugged off any potential for controversy, pointing out that -- irrespective of Jackson's legacy in other areas -- the battle marked a pivotal point not just in New Orleans' history but in American history.

"Andrew Jackson, like most well-known historical figures, had a polarizing personality and many of his policies would be controversial given today's political climate," Tufaro said Monday (Aug. 21). "Our film concentrates on the tremendous sacrifices he and his men made to shape our country's landscape for generations of Americans to come."

"The Battle of New Orleans" won't be the first film to focus on Jackson, Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans. In 1938, Cecil B. DeMille directed "The Buccaneer," starring Fredric March as Lafitte and Hugh Sothern as Jackson. Two decades later, actor Anthony Quinn directed a 1958 remake, with Charlton Heston playing Jackson and Yul Brynner as Lafitte.

The script for a competing "Battle of New Orleans" project, penned by Daniel Kunka, has also been circulating in Hollywood in recent years, even landing in 2015 on the Black List, an annual ranking of the most liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.

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MJ Magazine Reviews Michael A. Simpson's "Sons of My Fathers"

Sons of My Father: Michael Simpson: Reminding Us of our country


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Within the pages of this book you will meet members of the Simpson family within two distinct time periods. Both stories will come full circle and are told in separate narrative forms by one of the characters relating their struggles, joys and high jinks that were indicative of the Simpson family. This journey will introduce you the reader to the many generations of this family and give you a close profile of the author. In the past during the time of the Civil War you will meet Ulysses Simpson who along with his father Baylis and Uncle Eon join forces bent on revenge that will place them in danger with the Confederate Army, other soldiers as they forge ahead on many unknown territory with a wagon with feeble horses pulling them hoping to find the right burial ground for the men they are hauling in the back of their wagon. In the present we meet Ron Simpson who enlists in the Army following his father’s path. His father was as you will see in one of the pictures shared in the book was a WWII Marine Corps combat veteran. He was one of the legendary fighting forces combat veteran and one of the of elite instructors as noted on the back page during the Korean War.

In the present we get to know Ron, Michael and their close friend Alex Granger who along with Ron is somewhat of an upstart you might say. Loyal to Ron but yet never surprising readers with his pranks, strong armed ways and of course at times making Michael feel out of place. Their antics become well known, their trouble they get into while in the armed forces at times might get them in the brig or with some type of court martial yet when Michael is attacked at a dance when he innocently asked Diane, who he likes to dance, they rally around him making sure the bullies meet with their just desserts. Diane broke up with Chuck and even though he has a new girlfriend he seems bent on destroying Michael’s interest in her any violent way he can. Michael is the head lifeguard at the beach and Diane is one of the guards.

In the past we meet Baylis, Ulysses and Milton who takes along with them. He’s a teacher and has lost his job. As they travel together they realize they might be from different worlds but have much in common. 

When they finally reach their destination Ulysses and Baylis ask to rejoin their regiments to fight and Milton decides to become a missionary of some sort to help the people who have lost families and loved ones. But, when a guard starts to kill and maim those he feels are deserters, the Captain who Milton knows along with Baylis and Ulysses make their point in a very graphic and poignant way.

In the present we learn more about Ron and his stint in the army trying to learn to fly a specific type of plane. He wants to fly unarmed medavac helicopters during combat. These type of missions and helicopter flights have a high mortality rate but instead Ron finds himself flying a Huey gunship. Both Michael and Ron seem to be fighting personal wars within themselves as each one tries to find a place where he will be recognized in their own way. Remembering the past and what happened to the girl that wound up dead will this ever come out? Michael relished his role as head lifeguard until something happened to change it all.

When Julie Lacey drowned and his friend Kenny froze he tried to save the young girl but blamed himself for the failure. Helping a woman come into the club he realized that his boss was prejudice and quit. As Ron realizes that he would fly a Huey Gunship and was being sent along with his friend Alex to Vietnam. Haunted by what he sees on television and the deaths he witnesses himself, Ron is plagued with nightmares that never seem to go away. Alex finds it different and is more hardened to what happens during this war. Michael and Diane seem close for a time as Ron realizes that his enlistment was not what he expected and something snaps within him and goes back in time to his family’s past and might lose everything in the present.

Baylis and Ulysses and Milton bond in the past and then returning to face the Confederates and hoping to make it home to his family alive. As the rape of his daughter and the murder of his niece as too haunt Baylis the book begins with this incident and the burial of Melissa. Can a soldier find himself questioning is service? “Soldier’s of conscience” who would want that title and want to be called that would Ron?

The Civil War and the Vietnam War should be thought of as Civil Wars as both our nation and that of South and North Vietnam were torn apart. As in the past Baylis and Ulysses fought for the North hoping to defeat the South and the present the Vietnam War that most still feel should not have involved our country at all.

There are many issues that are brought to light within this true story and drama as the family is torn apart at the start and fights to find those who killed his loved ones, family loyalties, star crossed lovers, sense of obligation to your role in the army as opposed to patriotism, and conscience in war and a family secret that has been buried for years.

Two wars fought during two different time periods as Baylis and his son fight a war within the confines of their own country and Alex finds the battles terrifying and the end result if tragic for everyone. Ron realizes that he has found God and can no longer justify fighting in a war and killing people. His actions might cost him more than he is willing to give up as he decides to go AWOL. His family is alerted about this desertion but what will the final outcome be? Will he go across the Canadian border or will he return and face the consequences? Baylis too finds a new meaning in God but no one understands why he would let this carnage happen during both time periods.

Listening to Ron’s plight and meeting Vicki who changes his life will he come home when he learns his mother is ill and in the hospital? While Michael and his family are struggling with cold shoulders and being shunned by friends because of his desertion, Harold his own father loses his and things take on more of a tragic turn. While in the past you can smell the cannonballs, the fire, the death and the stench from the holes that many soldiers find themselves hiding in and taken prisoner.

Author Michael Simpson paints a grim picture but a realistic and true picture of two wars fought by his family members each one a civil war among people that wanted their own type of freedoms. The Bluecoats were dangerous and knowing they wanted to blow up Baylis’s regiment and his men would they be able to stop it before more men died? Alex’s death destroyed Ron in many ways and his mother Ginger seemed to withdraw from life while his mother Carlotta faced a different if not more powerful grief.

Baylis faces the soldiers and those that are captured will be sent to prison until the end of the war but General Sherman shows up and demands that one man be executed. The injustices are many and the fact that his men go along with it makes you understand the cruelties of war first hand as one man takes the bullets for the rest accusing himself of being guilty of a crime that was anything but one. In the present Ron comes home but will he be placed in jail or court marshaled?

Some endings prove to revert back to the beginning as the time line of events in each time periods brings to a close the dramatic end to both wars and what happens to Baylis and his son and then Michael and his family as lives end but some start over but how and where?

There are different ways we honor our country and Ron decided that his was to fly the medvac planes that were unarmed. His decision to state he was a conscientious objector caused him to be denied the right and he left to cross the border to Canada. The ending will explain his fate and Baylis’s convictions that he learned when he did a favor of a Confederate soldier who granted him his freedom in a way he would never forget. The ending brings us full circle to the beginning when Ron, Michael and Alex were best buds and got into all sorts of trouble as they relate the story to someone. “ I do solemnly swear in the presence of the Almighty God that I will henceforth and forever faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of States thereunder…” as Baylis made his sons take it to understand the meaning of loyalty to your country. This is a great reminder of what everyone needs to remember today. The documents added, the letters at the end and the pictures bring the story full circle and to life thanks to author Michael Simpsons and the Sons of My Father. As Ron explains the rationale behind the Vietnam War and is feelings about why it was about time to end it and go home. A true story of two wars that cost too many lives.

Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine

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Shoot It Again Sam by Michael Avallone, An Ed Noon Mystery!

“It was all so simple, really. My assignment. I had come to kill the President of the United States." Ed Noon, Private Eye

For an old movie buff like Ed Noon, escorting the corpse of his favorite movie star to the west coast for burial was a sentimental journey. But then the coffin lid opened, the corpse sat up, the lights went out and Noon was on a terror trip past the wildest nightmares of the Hollywood dream merchants. Ed Noon is kidnapped, brainwashed and sent to assassinate the President of the United States, in one of his most mind-bending and intense adventures.


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She skis sightless, a monster at her heels!

A former downhill racer is trying to restart her life by learning how to ski again—without eyesight. A new audible-radar technology makes this miracle possible.

A fierce winter storm forces her to take refuge in a trapper’s cabin. She soon finds she’s trapped by more than the snow— there’s some kind of monstrous beast on the loose.


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The Arousal Plan is a daily 10-week program to help you optimize your Arousal and achieve your goals. Created by Sarah White, The Naked Therapist, and based on her session experiences with over 1,000 clients, the Arousal Plan consists of 70 daily inspirations, exercises, and assignments, each around a different theme.


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Nicolas Bazan's The Dark Madonna

An American neuroscientist becomes embroiled in an international mystery that explores the meaning of miracles.


We all need to listen to this: Is truth still a relevant concept? How do we determine it?

The more we read and watch online, the harder it becomes to tell the difference between what's real and what's fake. It's as if we know more but understand less, says philosopher Michael Patrick Lynch. In this talk, he dares us to take active steps to burst our filter bubbles and participate in the common reality that actually underpins everything.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference.

Larry D. Thompson's Dark Money is a finalists oin the 2017 Red City Review Book Awards!

Dark Money is eligible to receive the Fan Favorite award! Anyone can vote between now and August 15th.

To vote, you must tweet at us by mentioning @redcityreview and write the name of the book and author you want to nominate. Please also use the hashtag #redcityreviewfanfavorite.

One vote per Twitter account. Votes that do not follow these guidelines will not be counted.

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"Dark Money is a delightful detective yarn but, more than that, it brings to light the terrible . . . corruption of American politics. Highly recommended." 

~ Dain Dunstone.

Jack Bryant, a millionaire plaintiff lawyer, is caught up in the collision of money and politics when he receives a call from his old army buddy Walt Frazier. Walt needs his assistance in evaluating security for Texas Governor Rob Lardner at a Halloween costume fundraiser thrown by one of the nation’s richest Republican billionaires at his mansion in Fort Worth.

Miriam Van Zandt is the best marksman among The Alamo Defenders, an anti-government militia group in West Texas. She attends the fundraiser dressed as a cat burglar, wounds the governor, and murders the host’s brother, another Republican billionaire. She is shot in the leg but manages to escape.

Jack is appointed special prosecutor and calls in the Texas DPS SWAT team to track Van Zandt and attack The Alamo Defenders’ compound in a lonely part of West Texas. Van Zandt’s father, founder of the Defenders, is killed in the attack and Miriam is left in a coma. The authorities declare victory and close the case—but Jack knows better.

The person behind the Halloween massacre has yet to be caught. When Walt and the protective detail are sued by the fundraiser host and the widow of the dead man, Jack follows the dark money of political contributions from the Cayman Islands to Washington to Eastern Europe, and New Orleans.

Dark Money is a thriller, a mystery and an expose for fans of John Grisham and Joseph Finder.

Kenneth Atchity on What is Coverage? Dublin Writers' Conference

The Hollywood decision-maker who receives your story submission rarely has time to read it him- or herself. They assign it “for coverage” to the story department, and receive back a coverage. “Coverage” is the term used in Hollywood for the document that determines the fate of most story submissions. 



By John Pfordresher 

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If I had read this admirable study by John Pfordresher, a professor of English at Georgetown University, of the enormous amount of lived experience Charlotte Bronte put into her novelistic Magnum Opus “Jane Eyre” even a few months ago, I would have thought it a little bit superfluous. After all, more than any other novel I have read, it strikes one with such immediate force, inducing a visceral reaction, an immediate empathy with the eponymous heroine.

Reading about the powerful emotions, even more powerfully expressed, in its opening which the bullied, scorned child Jane feels while locked in that infernal room, you would have to have the stoniest of hearts not to be moved to your very core.

But recently at an academic symposium, I had to sit and listen while a professor at a prestigious British university bloviated — seemingly endlessly — about what a ludicrous provincial figure Charlotte Bronte cut in London literary society.

In an insufferably superior manner, he mocked her Yorkshire accent, her dour demeanor, the paucity of her conversational skills, all the while paying lip service to her as a great writer. His whole point, insofar as one could grasp it amid the excess verbiage, was how could this ridiculous creature have produced such great books?

Had I been able to get a word in edgewise, what I would have said was “you just don’t get it, man!” And what I was thinking was “pity your poor students whom you are so misleading.” Didn’t he realize that perhaps the central point of “Jane Eyre” is that a small, unprepossessing young woman could possess a strength of character and of will so powerful as to be all-consuming and literally terrifying?

After all, when she does eventually get the once so formidable Mr. Rochester, who had deceived, teased and tormented even as he bewitched her, he is much reduced and physically as well as emotionally in her power. Make no mistake, it is the small, plain woman who has the upper hand now.

So if there are people like this strutting their false stuff in the groves of academe, Mr. Pfordresher’s students are fortunate indeed to have a guide like him to Charlotte Bronte’s life and oeuvre who understands how intricately they are intertwined. And so are the readers of this book, which now seems to me a good deal less redundant and a great deal more necessary than I might previously have thought.

This is indubitably a teacher and a critic who has enormous respect for Charlotte Bronte. And he knows how to express it through the words of those who actually knew her:

“When the well-known critic Harriet Martineau visited the family home in Haworth in later years she felt ‘something inexpressibly affecting in the aspect of the frail little creature who had done such wonderful things, and who was able to bear up, with so bright an eye and so composed a countenance, under not only such a weight of sorrow, but such a prospect of solitude. In her deep mourning dress (neat as a Quaker’s), with her beautiful hair, smooth and brown, her fine eyes, and her sensible face indicating a habit of self-control, she seemed a perfect household image.’ “
And how to add his own penetrating insight to this perceptive, respectful portrait:

“Reading ‘Jane Eyre’ we know how much of a personal victory Bronte had achieved through that self-control and how many secrets her composed countenance had concealed.”

That sentence, with which Mr. Pfordresher concludes his fine study, is nothing less than the distillation of his thesis and the multiple demonstrations of its validity.

Although Mr. Pfordresher gives due attention to Charlotte Bronte’s other works like “Shirley” and “Villette,” it is no accident that his title and subtitle enshrine “Jane Eyre” as her masterpiece; and rightly so.

It needs emphasizing that, just as the academic canon has come to elevate Jane Austen’s “Emma” on grounds of its structural perfection over her masterpiece “Pride and Prejudice,” it has tried the same legerdemain (albeit less successfully) with “Villette.” Here, the author demonstrates convincingly that although this last of Bronte’s novels published in her all too short lifetime draws more directly on her thwarted love for her teacher Constantin Heger in Brussels, Jane’s obsessive love for Mr. Rochester draws even more strongly on it.

And it is important never to lose sight that, however accomplished “Villette” is, “Jane Eyre” is, in addition to its manifold intrinsic virtues, probably the single most influential English novel ever written. Think “Rebecca” among so many other novels that could not have been written but for this magnificent precursor: a true and fruitful masterpiece indeed.

• Martin Rubin is a writer and critic in Pasadena, California.

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