Right from the introduction to America: Standing Strong, I knew I‘d be powerfully moved by Robert J. Emery’s book. He says, “There is a worldwide upheaval coming if it’s not already here. This time, it feels different; this time, it feels dangerous. Where are the voices of common sense, reason, and compromise? There was a time when America’s two-party system, for example, worked to advance American society despite philosophical differences. Today there is endless in-fighting and political posturing between the parties that do little to advance the lives of citizens. Enough already.” Exactly—enough already!
I’m not a zealous fan of political essays or social histories, although I’ve read a few important books in my day, and this is one of them. The book is not anything I expected when my fellow Indies United Publishing House author asked me to review. Emery has offered readers a look at our divided society, politics, COVID pandemic, racial tension and eroding trust in our government, leaving it up to us, the reader, to form our own opinions. He punctuates his thoughts and illuminates the facts with quotations from famous authors, movies, politicians, songs,—even Forest Gump— all designed to make the reader think and to put things in perspective. Inspired by columnist David Brooks, “. . .when social trust collapses, nations fail. Can we get it back before it’s too late?” Emery counters with [Brook’s words are] “a call to arms, not with weapons or violence, but as a unified country to meet challenges head-on with honesty, truth, and facts and to roundly reject the voices of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who would lead us in the wrong direction.”
Written with humor and straightforward “plain talk,” America: Standing Strong explores where we are on many fronts and how we got here. Emery includes chapters on Dictators, terrorism, Anger and the Loss of Civility, Guns in America, the environment, Conspiracies Theories & Misinformation, Technology & Social Media, along with the expected chapters on January 6th, The 2020 Election and The Pandemic. He says, “Stay with me; it gets messier as we proceed.” He often opens a chapter with “What went wrong, and what went right.” and often ends a chapter with a call to action and a summary of the consequences of the chapter topic and a final word. In the chapter, Whatever Happened to Common Sense? it ends with this:
The final word goes to philosopher Voltaire
are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally
each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”
—Voltaire (1694 -1778)—
Writer, historian, and philosopher
Another favorite line of Emery’s is “Make of that what you will.” He isn’t proselytizing or persuading. He’s presenting the facts of our current socio-political life and inspiring us to action by telling it like it is, how it’s been (there’s nothing new under the sun, is there?) and offering steps to right some of our wrongs. As an added bonus, Emery offers a host of books and articles to reference within the text. I read several of them and made a list of many more to catch up on later. That’s because Robert J. Emery has made me a convert.
Rather than sticking my nose into another thriller, now I’m paying attention to real life. How did this happen? Robert J. Emery has written a book that inspired me. The issues are complex but the intent and presentation are simple. America: Standing Strong is fact-filled, often entertaining, and left me feeling hopeful. I highly recommend it. “Make of that what you will.”
What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
—T.S. Elliot (1888 -1965)—
An Interview with Robert J. Emery
am: What brought you to writing?
RJE: I have no idea why I began writing little stories in the 5th grade, like the two pages I wrote when my dog died. I attended Catholic school and my homeroom teacher, a nun, was kind enough to read my one- and two-page stories and she encouraged me to keep writing, which I did consistently all through school and my 4 years in the Air Force. It was a fun way to amuse myself. I never gave thought to where it might lead me one day.
am: You eventually broke in to the film industry. Tell us about that.
RJE: It began with a small ad agency I opened in Canton, Ohio. When the first TV station came to town in the mid-sixties we got into the writing and shooting of local TV commercials. I then created a daily morning talk show which I produced and directed for that station. We were fortunate to have a regular flow of Hollywood actors as guests when they were doing summer stock at the Warren Theater in nearby Warren, Ohio.
At some point, I began writing screenplays with no clue what I would do with them. As it turns out, some local businessmen had an interest in investing in an independent motion picture and that’s how I got my first film made. I then spent 4 decades writing, directing, and producing eight motion pictures and over 140 hours of cable network documentaries, and everything in between that had anything to do with film production.
am: Now you’re writing books. Have you come back to your story telling roots?
RJE: Yes. In 2006, I retired and set out to fulfill a life dream of writing books, which I never had time for during my production career. First came four non-fiction books. A NY publisher asked me if I would write on my experiences producing and directing the Starz/Encore 92-episode series, “The Director.” I followed that with my first novel, In the Realm of Eden, a science fiction story about human/alien first contact. Later, I extended the story to 562 pages, changed the name to The Autopsy of Planet Earth, and released it in two volumes via Indies United Publishing House. Next came the dystopian novel Midnight Black, also revised and expanded and released through Indies United.
am: Tell us about your writing process. You write in several genre.
RJE: I admit to being obsessive writing 6-7 hours a day every day when I can. And I’m fortunate to be able to write in any genre when a subject moves me, fiction or non-fiction, like my current book America: Standing Strong, a subject I’m passionate about. America: Standing Strong is a non-fiction examination of what Americans endured between 2015 and today, and how as a country we will come back strong.
When writing fiction, I believe one of my strengths is creating characters because of my background in writing and directing screenplays. I direct my book characters in my head the same way I did when directing actors. For me, it’s the same process. I try to give each character something that sets them apart from the others. It might be how a character looks or how they talk. In Autopsy, for example, I had one character drop the ing’s on all his spoken words. It’s something I work hard at to give readers a visual sense of who each character is. That, I believe, is the challenge each writer faces.
am: What was the inspiration behind America: Standing Strong?
America: Standing Strong came about because all the books that were coming out by investigative reporters, as good as they were, were about the previous American administration. But what about what Americans endured not only politically, but the pandemic, the racial uncertainty, the 2020 election, the Jan 6 insurrection, unemployment, healthcare, inflation? That’s what was missing from the narrative. That is why I became passionate enough about it to spend over a year writing.
am: So what’s next? Will you write more on the troubling times we live in?
RJE: Ahhhhh… the next one, The Diarrhea Diaries, Trump’s Tweets That Give us the Runs, began as a joke that I turned into a non-fiction book featuring 400 of Mr. Trump’s greatest insulting Tweets which gained me my share of blowback from his supporters.
I will never live long enough to write all the stories rolling around in my head, but, I’m going to give it one hell of a try, because I love what I do.
Robert J. Emery