By SUSANNE MARIE POULETTE
On March 18, 2015, I attended a gathering of readers, writers, and history buffs for a two-part presentation by local best-selling author and historian David Pietrusza, held at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library. The Town of Clifton Park and the Community Arts and Culture Commission sponsored the event.
David Pietrusza discussed his book, 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents, which Kirkus Reviews honored as one of its Best Books of 2007. The book chronicles six famous men and their connection to the presidential election of 1920. At that time, past, present, and future presidents jockeyed for the Oval Office: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt. Pietrusza told each of their stories, embellished with the social and political climate of the time as if he had been present, knew the candidates personally, and witnessed the drama first hand. He thoughtfully set the scene and rolled out the events leading up to the election.
The incumbent Woodrow Wilson was ill, and having already served two terms, he eventually decided not to run for a third time. Former president and front runner for the 1920 Republican ticket, Theodore Roosevelt, became ill and died in 1919. Franklin Roosevelt ran for vice president on the losing Democratic ticket with James Cox. In the end, Warren Harding was elected the 29th President of the United States, and his running mate Calvin Coolidge became Vice President. But in 1923, Warren Harding died in office, leaving Calvin Coolidge to succeed to the presidency. In the next election, in 1924, Coolidge won the office of president in his own right.
The election of 1920 took place just three months after the 19th Amendment granted voting rights to American women. Pietrusza related the events of August 1920, when Tennessee was the last of the thirty-six states needed to ratify the amendment. With a twinkling eye, Pietrusza recounted the eleventh hour action of young Tennessee legislator Harry Burn, who changed his vote—the last and deciding vote for women’s suffrage, at his mother’s urging.
The book opens the window even wider on America of 1920, unfolding the changing culture of the day: women casting votes for the first time, the appearance of the Klu Klux Klan, the rising Red Scare, Prohibition, urbanization, automobiles, mass production, chain stores, newsreel coverage, and the transforming of our economy through easy credit.
In the second portion of his presentation, Pietrusza discussed “The Writer’s Art.” A recurring message was the relevant and wise advice that many writers do not like to hear: basically, to cut unnecessary words, and then cut some more. He pointed out that researching a topic yields a vast accumulation of knowledge; however, readers may not find each fact quite so fascinating. He asked, “Is every word wonderful?” and related the question to publication costs based on word count.
When writing for young readers, Pietrusza explained, he learned how to “ratchet down” his information, making it more concise and more easily comprehended. He encourages this task as “good learning for all writing.” He advised setting a writing schedule with a fixed number of words per day as a goal. All research should be completed before beginning to write, he advised, to avoid lags in progress and extra revisions. His suggestions for editing one’s own work were very clear. Pietrusza advocates reading through the manuscript line by line, seven times, asking along the way, “Does this belong?” If we ponder this question seven times on the same piece, he advises: “If you’re not sure it belongs, then kill it.”
Before concluding, Pietrusza described his experiences of self-publishing, traditional publishing, and screenplay writing, with helpful insights into royalties, advances, right for hire, and copyrights.
For more information, follow the link: http://www.davidpietrusza.com/index.html to David Pietrusza’s website. There you can learn more about his critically-acclaimed works such as: 1960: LBJ vs JFK vs Nixon: The Epic Campaign that Forged Three Presidencies; Rothstein: The Life, Times & Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series; Judge and Jury, his biography of baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and much more.