Sound bites in today’s world are as inevitable as they are the nemesis of clear thinking. Politics thrives on sound bites. Why use a hundred words to explain something when you can have more impact with two or three? Slogans and phrases are intended to arouse emotions, which they do, but in social media they can harden into opinions and battle cries, or conspiracy theories, which somehow replace research and critical thinking. "Who has time for debate and research when you already know what’s true.” a friend commented facetioudly to me. But at the same time, he was deadly earnest.
President Franklin Roosevelt was an early expert on arousing urgency without scaring everyone to death. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” made us think we were practically guaranteed to win the war that was about to envelop the world. No one wanted to dwell on the tfate of Pearl Harbor and the loss of half of our Navy. Roosevelt showed leadership by inspiring confidence, while Churchill often added sarcasm or wit. “When you’re going through hell, keep going,” he said. This was an era of using phrases positively, to invoke patriotism and the common cause.
Then something changed in politics toward the end of the twentieth century. The whole idea became to scare people to death. Images and sound bites—the ones you couldn’t get out of your head, and would influence your vote—had the power of an addiction: ”Make love, not war," “Blood and soil,” “cancel culture,” “Black Lives Matter,” “White Power,” “Willie Horton is coming for you,” “We are Q.” The word “disinformation" is getting replaced by “freedom of speech” and “opinion.” This is an example of what one historian called “totalist language…where a slogan protects itself from scrutiny or analysis as it builds social and political power."
I wish the next George Orwell would grab the mic soon. A novel like 1984 needs to be updated to include AI, hacking academies, and spy drones. The only constant will be the autocrat who runs it all.
But Indiana holds its own political ambitions, contestants, and challenges. Fast forward to high school political candidates Matthew and his novice opponent Britain as they run for office. While their campaign would seem to affect little outside of the school, one history teacher believes that the winner is destined to change America.
As Brit and Matthew struggle both with each other and the future of their high school and nation, the town of Hawthorn becomes a microcosm representing political approaches, ambitions, and threats.
Michael R. French is adept at capturing the nuances of this process as the candidates cultivate different approaches to the ultimate goal of winning: "Someone can call himself a winner, but does that make him a winner? How much do you really know about my chief competitor? Read his Wiki page carefully. Demand transparency from Team Matthew, because that’s what I’m giving you—the whole truth and nothing but. I’ve just been called a sorcerer. I can prove otherwise. If I were really a sorcerer, I would have made my opponent disappear. Instead, I’ll give him another chance to come clean and reveal who he really is."
Brit faces intimidation, scare tactics, hackers, and the lure of breaking rules herself, and thus the race to win becomes a mirror image of America's failing moral and ethical systems as the goal becomes more important than the methods used to achieve it.
Brit's evolutionary process is nicely detailed in a story that follows her influences, decisions, and growth. French is especially astute at depicting the give-and-take of a no-holds-barred competition: "What were the odds of a ceasefire holding? The spoils of winning seemed too grand for anyone to gamble on peace for very long."
As Team Matthew's mentors, followers, and campaign ramp up, Brit assesses the price tag of buying loyalty and the deep rifts created in the community by a run for student body president that becomes replete with corruption and moral and ethical challenges.
Manipulation and covert operations permeate the election and influence Brit's growth as she searches for a way to reign in the greed and ruthlessness that threaten future endeavors and the underlying meaning of PTE (Prosperity Through Education, a nonprofit corporation registered for political fundraising which appears to hold powers beyond its stated intentions).
Realistic, engrossing, and politically intriguing, Cliffhanger is about the kinds of social, political, and interpersonal abysses faced not just by individuals, but institutions and society as a whole.
Cliffhanger will delight political thriller readers who will find its social and political commentary shrewdly thought-provoking.
PODCAST WITH Ethan Freckleton
Michael R. French is a bestselling multi-genre author. His latest novel is Cliffhanger, a suspense thriller. His first published work, which he describes as a “throwaway,” was released in 1977. His second novel was a bestseller.
Despite his early success, he resisted the pressure to stay in one lane. Over the course of a five decade career, he’s written fiction, young adult fiction, adaptations, biographies, art criticisms, and several screenplays.
We discuss Michael’s lengthy love affair with writing, why characterization is more important than plot, and his thoughts on self-publishing.
To learn more, be sure to listen to today’s episode of The Fearless Storyteller podcast.
Learn more about Michael R. French at his website.
Say Goodbye to Writer’s Block28 free eBooks and resources to help you find inspiration, focus, and success with your writing.
Published in the "New Mexican
Everything he produces has an entertaining story with a deep and compelling underlying message. Which shows up, naturally, in his latest book, Cliff Hanger : Jump Before You Get Pushed. Dearest Readers, perhaps you joined the Jean Cocteau Cinema’s Virtual Author Event last January and you heard Michael discussing Cliff Hanger. The gist of the story is thus: In 2030, viruses, spy drones, terrorism and joblessness have eroded American optimism. People want something to believe in. As demonstrated in a Midwest high school election, politics have taken on the inflexibility and dogma of a new religion. Only true believers will survive and prosper. Or so they think.
There, Creampuffs, that should pique your interest. Michael is not only and author, he is also the father of two adult children, an avid high-altitude mountain trekker, and a collector of first editions of 20th-century fiction. But he is most famous in Santa Fe for his long business career in real estate, having been a partner with his wife, Pat French, in French & French Fine Properties, the prestigious boutique agency that is defunct but never forgotten. And now you know … the rest of the story.
So long, Sweetpeas. Until next time…
Watched Anderson Cooper narrate an hour TV primer on QAnon (“Q”). Anderson (know as "A Cooper” on the deep web) was trying to reason with a man who wrote the commentator that he wanted to execute him (exact reasons were unclear). A fallback for Q is promising to execute evil celebrities; that seems to up recruitment numbers. There’s more. Did anyone know there was a tunnel running underground from the Vatican to Jerusalem? That a cabal of child-molesting liberals (Republicans and Democrats) suck blood from small children to gain special powers? Every decade, our country has prophets of revolution and conspiracy theorists. The American Nazi Party in the Thirties. The John Birch Society in the Fifties. The Tea Party Republican wing starting in 2010. Today, social media changes the game in so many ways that we should pay close attention. Q flourishes because too many Americans need to express their rage over being left out and left behind. The absurd conspiracy claims come from the manipulators What’s real is the fear and frustration of those craving leadership and believe they have to settle for the loudest voice.
>> I’m hoping the Pandemic ebbs soon, Congress pays a $15 hourly minimum wage, and America gets busy with infrastructure and climate change. That’s something we should all be able to get behind.
I remember the significant outcry in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem, protesting racial injustice. The nerve of an athlete using his knee to desecrate our beloved anthem, many said. Last year, a video showed a police officer planting his knee on George Floyd's neck, suffocating him to death. The victim was a troublemaker, said many of the same people irate with Kaepernick. This year, one of the rioters storming the Capitol, bending over if not quite kneeling, used an American flag pole to beat a police officer nearly to death. The rioter was protesting the results of an election. The response I heard from a vast number of “patriots" was an eerie, haunting silence.
With a new White House beset by critical challenges, for now my attention is more riveted on the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack and desecration. With more FBI details emerging about the planning and execution of the insurrection, how deep the roots might reach, and how audacious the Trumpian strategy to possibly impose martial law, the words “shocking,” “unprecedented,” and “complicity” aren’t enough.
The realization that things could have been so much worse doesn’t mean that next time they won’t be worse. I’m not thinking of another attack on the Capitol. For now I’m hopeful of a period of positivity and peace. But there are far more things that can go wrong that we don’t know about, than things we do know. History has never moved so fast, attention spans been so short, memories so inundated and selective. Instead of divining the next decade by what you might feel and want, or what you think is just and right, study history. Read about the cycles of governments, dynasties, and political parties. Nothing lasts forever, but your dreams will last longer if you don’t let your guard down. When the future arrives, you want to be able to recognize it.
Mr. French's manner of story telling is unique and his writing masterful and precise. I feel I'm being mesmerized bass I read- if that can be possible - as if I'm watching a painting being made, brush strokes by brush stroke. His style is invisible, he is not standing between the reader and the story. And the story seems to materialize out of itself.
Mr. French's #1 talent as a writer is his way of generating living, breathing characters. I became aware of his flair for this about half way through the book. I had been reflecting upon what I had just read when I realized that I have a high definition image of the main character, Brit, and that I have no recollection of reading lengthy passages that describe her in such fine detail. My dawning was this: she was assembled by me from lots of little pieces, unrelated quirks, gestures, stray thoughts. Perhaps this is the same mechanism that we use when we come to "know" someone, that we form a composite from the bits and pieces of what we observe. Here we areaquainted with High School seniors in the process of sifting and solidifying the traits that will define their future roles. The readers are on a parallel course with that of the characters, we are aquiring an ever increasing detailed image of them as they gain deeper understanding of themselves. In one memorable scene, we become more familiar with Nathan through the eyes of Brit as she clandestinely surveys the contents of his bedroom through a closed window. His possessions help us to understand the diverse factors influencing his internal make up, subtle hints ,that become obvious with hindsight , of the ingredients that will flavor his unfolding personality disorders. Here, Mr. French's fluid manner of description is cinematic, successfully emulating that of Hitchcock in the opening scene of Rear Window.
Cliffhanger is a purely fun-to-read novel. We become witness to aspects of average American High School life coalesce into a promise of a greater future, one that they will play a part in designing.
Date: 01/10 Time: 4pm
Michael R. French discusses his latest book.
"Cliff HangerJump Before You Get Pushed"
n 2030, viruses, spy drones, terrorism, and joblessness have eroded American optimism. People want something to believe in. As demonstrated in a Midwest high school election, politics have taken on the inflexibility and dogma of a new religion. Only true believers will survive and prosper. Or so they think.
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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