THE DEATH KNELL OF GREAT AMERICAN LITERATURE – Marilyn Armstrong

Many (maybe most) manuscripts are never are “trendy” or popular enough for today’s publishers. As far as publishers go, no matter how well-written or interesting the plot or characters are if it isn’t a genre they sell, it doesn’t exist.

A Kindle and a speaker for listening to audiobooks

Many genres do not fit in any publisher’s predetermined categories. This is not only true for beginners to the field but is equally true for those who have published — successfully published — eight or nine books, including more than one bestseller. Publishers want their authors to keep writing what they wrote before and not veer from it. They also don’t want to pay real money. Or provide publicity, advertisements, or even a professional proofreader.

I’m not making this up.

I know several well-published popular authors who fell out of favor because they wanted to try something different. They weren’t less good at writing, but publishers want books by an author to be the same as the previous one. The one that sold well. If this is something new, then they do not want it.

They also don’t like first manuscripts from mature people because they want nice young authors who will be able to churn out books for a long time and not be stopped by getting old. I also know a number of these authors, too.

I worked in publishing back when all the books being published weren’t “niche” books. When a relatively rough manuscript could get someone’s attention (back when people read manuscripts, not software), and it was the job of editors to help fix manuscripts and turn something rough into a gem. Long before “Kindle” and free publication, they had already thinned the ranks of editors to nearly nothing — and decided the author should do the work the publisher used to do.

In part, this accounts for the many atrocious books they actually DO publish and the good books they ignore. It isn’t only the author’s failure to recognize what the publisher wants. It’s that publishers no longer want to help authors get published.

What was art is now “just business.”

Does anyone think Hemingway, Faulkner, or Thomas Wolfe would have gotten published without their editor’s help? Maxwell Perkins — ever heard of him? Because he was “the man.” Without him, half of America’s great literature wouldn’t exist. Were they less brilliant because they weren’t good editors — or didn’t have the financial means to hire a quality editor? Nope. They were what they were but the industry is entirely different.

Publishers refuse to admit it is really a business issue. It’s not art. It’s business, politics, and aiming books at what they perceive are their target audiences, ignoring all other potential audiences. It was not always like this and I was working in the business when it was not like this.

Everyone is very busy blaming someone else for the state of the business. It’s the Internet, or Amazon or “nobody reads books anymore.” None of them ever looks in a mirror and says “Maybe our failure to help authors work out problems with their manuscripts, give them some decent publicity and help them make some real money is at least in part OUR responsibility too?” It’s true that fewer people seem to read now than did when I was growing up, yet most people do read at least sometimes.

The publishing world is undergoing a huge transformation and we are in the middle of it. How it will end? I don’t know. But just because publishers say what they say, you don’t need to believe every corporate word they utter.

You can write the most glorious, delicious book ever written for whatever genre for which you write and no publishing house will so much as read it, much less publish it. Why? Because it doesn’t fit into their (usually) very short list of “the types of books we publish.” That, to me, is the death knell for great American literature. It leaves no room for the unique or unusual.

This may not be true in other countries. I don’t know. I do know this market.

If only the “tried and true” can get published, the unique and possibly brilliant will never have a chance.

EDUCATION AND HOMEWORK – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Homework

This is a little rant about schools, educational funding, underpaid, exhausted teachers, outdated textbooks, and overpriced colleges lacking state and federal backing.

In the years since I graduated from college in 1967, I’ve been watching what was a mediocre school system get much worse. I see legally required fancy buildings which offer little real education. Each year, it gets worse. Do we care about education or is it just something we like to to talk about? Do we want our kids to be able to compete in the world?


I pretty much never did my homework. To be fair, back in those golden olden days, teachers didn’t check to see if you did it either. You might get tested on it at some point later in the term, but if the information was covered in class, I’d remember it. Back then, I had a great memory. I prided myself on not having to write down phone numbers. I could remember all of them.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Now, no matter how often I use a phone number, other than my own and my son’s, I have to look it up. I may not remember it long enough to not have to look it up a few times while trying to make the call. Time. It does its thing. I have maybe 15 seconds between getting information and it disappearing like the breeze in the trees.

I swear kids these days get homework intended to make up for not getting taught anything in school. Apparently, they are supposed to learn on their own what their teachers are too tired, bored, or incapable of teaching.

Leslie commented the other day that there are some great movies that could be used in the classroom. There are, absolutely. Inherit The Wind. On The Waterfront. The Lion In Winter. A wide variety of well-done historical documentaries and movies. But they aren’t used.

Harvard – Photo: B. Kraft

What they are getting is dry, dull textbooks, many of which were out of date when they were written fifty years ago. I never cracked a textbook. I just read on my own and I had a mother who loaded me down with books and a library that was a mere mile away. I remember toting home the maximum limit of books they’d let you borrow in a week. Ten books. They were heavy books, but I was young.

High School, really

For a country that supposedly values education, this country has a  strange way of showing it. Every year, when we begin to run out of budgeted money, states and the feds cut school budgets.

You can’t make a great country from a nation of ignoramuses. Yes, if your parents have the money, they might be able to send you to a superior school and if the child is smart enough, he or she might really benefit from a better education. But there are also a lot of private schools that are essentially “pay tuition for good grades.” Send your kids there. Pay the fabulous tuition and they’ll get grades which should get them into college.

Hofstra in 2014

Colleges have gotten smarter, though. They test incoming kids to make sure they can read and understand what they’ve read. They make sure they have basic maths skills. They check science education. This isn’t to make sure they are brilliant, but to make sure have a basic grasp of English. To see if they can understand the concepts of what they’ve read because — as an English professor I know has pointed out, many kids not only don’t read but can’t.

They don’t know grammar because it isn’t taught in public schools and hasn’t been since before I started school in 1951. They don’t know the parts of speech, have no concept of punctuation, and can’t do anything resembling research because when all of the preceding is true, how can you research anything? If you don’t understand what you’ve read, you can’t move forward.

Let me state for the record this is not the fault of the kids. It’s OUR fault for allowing education to become so bad in so many places and so expensive everywhere else. Only the brightest and most individually motivated youngsters manage to rise above the system.

I know not every child from every family is going to be a scholar, but shouldn’t every child have that opportunity? If they have the smarts and the interest, shouldn’t it be possible?

P.S. 35, Queens

Loading them up with eight hours of homework while loading them down with 50-pounds of boring, timeworn textbooks is a total educational cop-out. The schools I went to weren’t fabulous, but the teachers knew something. They encouraged us. If we showed promise, there was always a teacher who’d give us a nudge, suggest we try a little harder and get better.

These days? Working (briefly) as a substitute I was appalled at how listless and bored the students were. They were thrilled to have someone in the classroom that could talk to them about anything. I was told that usually, all they did was read the textbooks until the bell rang. I’d have collapsed from boredom.

We wonder why they spend so much time on the phone or iPad or computer? That’s how they learn. But what are they learning?

WHAT DO YOU READ? – Marilyn Armstrong

So let’s say you’re at the airport. Your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices are working. Out of juice and all the plugs are taken … and there’s no free wi-fi. Oh no!

How can you pass the time? Those chairs are too uncomfortable for sleep and you’re too old to use the floor.

I don’t believe it. You really don’t know what to do without electronic devices? You are lost without your cell phone? Really?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. I would reach into my carry-on and pick out a copy of The New Yorker or National Geographics. I could take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them) and buy something to read. A newspaper maybe?

Yes, they still print them.

And the Kindle, with books already downloaded, is like carrying a whole library with you wherever you go.

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone).

I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says.

My camera WILL work, no matter where I am.

JANE ALLEN PETRICK’S NON-WHITE AMERICA IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

NormanRockwell Little RockJane Allen Petrick has written a wonderful book about Norman Rockwell, the artist, and his work. It focuses on the “invisible people” in his painting, the non-white children and adults who are his legacy.

For many readers, this book will be an eye-opener — although anyone who visits the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts or takes a serious look at Rockwell’s body of work can see Norman Rockwell never portrayed a purely white America. This perception of Rockwell’s work is a gross injustice to a man for whom civil rights was a personal crusade.

This country’s non-white population were in Rockwell’s paintings even when he had to sneak them in by a side door, figuratively speaking. Black people, Native Americans and others are anything but missing. Rockwell was passionate about civil rights and integration. It was his life’s cause, near and dear to his heart. Yet somehow, the non-white peoples in his pictures have been overlooked, become invisible via selective vision. They remain unseen because white America does not want to see them, instead choosing to focus on a highly limited vision which fits their prejudices or preconceptions.

Ms. Pettrick tells the story of Rockwell’s journey, his battle to be allowed to paint his America. It is also the story of the children and adults who modeled for him. She sought out these people, talked to them. Heard and recorded their first-hand experiences with the artist.

This is a fascinating story. I loved it from first word to last. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is available on Kindle for just $3.49. It’s also available as a paperback.

InPlainSight

From the Author

Whether we love his work or hate it, most of us think of Norman Rockwell as the poster child for an all-white America. I know I did. That is until the uncanny journey I share with you in this book began to unfold.  Then I discovered a surprisingly different truth: Norman Rockwell was into multiculturalism long before the word was even invented.

Working from live models, the famous illustrator was slipping people of color (the term I use for the multi-ethnic group of Chinese and Lebanese, Navajos and African-Americans the artist portrayed) into his illustrations of America from the earliest days of his career. Those people of color are still in those illustrations. They never disappeared. But the reason we don’t know about them is that, up until now, they seem to have been routinely overlooked.

For example, in her book, “Norman Rockwell’s People,” Susan E. Meyer catalogs by name over one hundred and twenty Norman Rockwell models, including two dogs, Bozo and Spot. But not one model of color is named in the book.

Another case in point? “America, Illustrated,” an article written for The New York Times by Deborah Solomon, art critic and journalist In honor of (an) upcoming Independence Day, the entire July 1, 2010 edition of the paper was dedicated to “all things American.”

“America, Illustrated” pointed out that Norman Rockwell’s work was experiencing a resurgence among collectors and museum-goers. Why? Because the illustrator’s vision of America personified “all things American.” Rockwell’s work, according to the article, provided “harmony and freckles for tough times.” As Solomon put it, Norman Rockwell’s America symbolized “America before the fall.” This America was, apparently, all sweetness and light. Solomon simply asserts: “It is true that his (Rockwell’s) work does not acknowledge social hardships or injustice.”

America illustrated by Norman Rockwell also, apparently, was all white. Seven full-color reproductions of Rockwell’s work augment the multi-page Times’ article. The featured illustration is “Spirit of America” (1929), a 9″ x 6″ blow-up of one of the artist’s more “Dudley Doright”-looking Boy Scouts. None of the illustrations chosen includes a person of color.

This is puzzling. As an art critic, Solomon surely was aware of Norman Rockwell’s civil rights paintings. The most famous of these works, “The Problem We All Live With,” portrays “the little black girl in the white dress” integrating a New Orleans school.

One hundred and seven New York Times readers commented on “America, Illustrated,” and most of them were not happy with the article. Many remarks cited Solomon’s failure to mention “The Problem We All Live With.” One reader bluntly quipped: “The reporter (Solomon) was asleep at the switch.” The other people in Norman Rockwell’s America, people of color, had been strangely overlooked, again. I have dedicated Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America to those “other people”: individuals who have been without name or face or voice for so long. And this book is dedicated to Norman Rockwell himself, the “hidden” Norman Rockwell, the man who conspired to put those “other people” into the picture in the first place.

SHARING THE WORLD AT THE END OF MARCH – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World 3-27-19

Did this month go fast or what? I swear it just streaked by! I need things to slow down a little bit!

What is the best pick me up that you know of?  To shake you out of the blues?

A great book, a good laugh, talking with a friend, writing something special. Any of these can work for me. But usually, finding the solution to whatever problem or other is stressing me is the only real solution!

What would be the title of your memoir? 

“The 12-Foot Teepee.” It’s available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon.

Where do you like to go when you eat out?

Japanese or other Asian food. But especially sushi! Yum!

Do you believe in luck?

Well, yeah. Good luck, bad luck, no luck. Luck is just life!

Aside from necessities, what is one thing you couldn’t go a day without?

A laugh.

AVAILABLE TODAY! THE LATEST DAVIS WAY CRIME CAPER, DOUBLE AGENT by GRETCHEN ARCHER

DOUBLE AGENT – A DAVIS WAY CRIME CAPER #8
By Gretchen Archer


Print Length: 252 pages
Publisher: Henery Press 
Publication Date: March 26, 2019

It’s a category four — and soon-to-be category five — hurricane. They call it Kevin, but at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. they are calling it the “the end of the world.”

Maybe not the absolute end, but close enough. Nothing this powerful has come ashore since Katrina flattened Louisiana. The Bellissimo has been built to withstand a reasonable amount of weather stress. It is, after all, on that frequently thrashed southern U.S. coast … but nothing is built strong enough to take this kind of pounding.

So, the name of the game is evacuation. Davis Way wants to get everyone out the door and most especially, her twins, her husband and of course, everyone on the casino and resort staff. It looks like she and Fantasy have more than enough time to get it done.

They’ve been carefully monitoring the track of the storm. They have to cash out ten slot machines, secure the funds, then move everyone out of the reach of hurricane Kevin.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Wrong.

After clearing most of the slot machines, fifty million dollars of the cash vanishes. Instead, they find a corpse.

Definitely dead.

That would be bad enough, but there are more bodies to come. Bodies keep turning up while Davis is desperate to get everyone out of the Bellissimo.

At which point who should arrive but her boss and body double, Bianca Sanders. A woman who doesn’t appear to have a grip on what’s going on because she has fled to the Bellissimo to get out of danger, but while she was fleeing, the storm changed direction.

Who else has shown up?

Eddie, Davis’ ex-ex. And his pet pig. Or is it his girl friend’s pet pig? It’s definitely someone’s pet pig. Eddie has been shot and is sure he’s dying, but as it turns out, he’s not dying, but he’s sure his girlfriend is dead. She’s not dead either … but someone else IS dead because they found the corpse in the fountain in the main court.

There’s a double agent somewhere. Instead of evacuation, it’s more like coagulation including some very odd people. All of whom claim to be inspectors from one official agency or another, but … well … neither Davis, Fantasy, or Bradley … or those very strange and drunken meteorologists thought so either.

Meteorologists?

As the storm finally begins to make landfall and there’s a whiff of poison in the air. As Davis, Fantasy, and Bradley do their best to track down who is who and doing what and whether the Bellissimo is the victim of one incredibly complicated heist or possibly several unrelated but intertwining heists, a lot of lives and more than a few deaths are on the line as the various knots are teased apart and the water finally recedes.

This is by far the most lethal, complex, and frightening Davis Way caper to date. You’ll need your best mystery-solving abilities to find your way to the end. It’s an exciting ride with never a dull moment!

This is a sophisticated and extremely complex mystery. Until the end, I was not entirely sure who were the bad guys, the worse guys, the worst guys … and maybe not such bad guys after all. And occasionally, a good guy.

Gretchen Archer’s ties up all the ends into a neat bow. And it all makes sense.


 AVAILABLE ONLINE AND IN STORES — TODAY, MARCH 26th, 2019! 

MINIMALIST PUBLISHING – Marilyn Armstrong

Why do publishers ONLY publish potential best-sellers? Many books we read from in those old days were not wildly popular. Publishers understood a good book deserved publication, even if it wouldn’t be a bestseller. Our literature would be a very poor place if we only published the most popular genres.

It’s true I don’t read every kind of book anymore, but I did when I was younger. I did when I was a kid and right through most of my adulthood. Only during the past few years has my taste become more specific.

I read all of Dostoyevsky in one year. Aside from never remembering anyone’s’ name, I mostly enjoyed them. I couldn’t read them now — too gloomy — but when I was 15? It was great stuff! I’m also pretty sure none of those books ever made anyone’s bestseller list. Can you imagine Proust topping the best-seller list? Or Gorky?

All writers wrote more and less popular material. Not everyone likes every book or every genre, but that ought not to be the only reason a book gets published. It’s depressing for writers and very off-putting for those who have written GOOD books and know that there isn’t a publisher on earth who wants it because it isn’t in one of their “niche” areas.

When I worked at Doubleday, we published anything that was reasonably well-written. We had more than a dozen book clubs that catered to specialized audiences as well as two generic clubs. I ran (they made me do it) two libraries: American Garden Guild (I learned a lot about plants!) and Doubleday Romance Library. To this day I know more ways to say “fell in love” than you can shake a stick at.

None of this stuff had to be bestseller material. It had an audience. The major point of book clubs what we knew there was an audience for just about everything, so we published for everyone. From military book clubs to science fiction and crime, if you wanted to read it, Doubleday published it and probably had a book club dedicated to it, too.

Many books were published because a real, live human editor felt it was worth the paper and ink.

Today, if you aren’t writing something the company’s editorial software thinks is “hot,” no human editor will so much as look at it, much less publish it.

Which is why writers end up with a boxful of computer-generated rejections. The computer scanned it, didn’t find the right buzz words, and threw it away. I finally had ONE editor willing to look at my book … and — this is true — he died a few days before he got to it.

I gave up. Not that I wrote anything really great, but it was worth at least a read or two.

My collection of Gretchen Archer’s books and cup, if you please

It really is going to be a sad batch of literature we leave to the next generation. Good thing there are still books from earlier years to read. So many great writers will never publish or will self-publish and no one will notice them.

Okay, this is my rant of the day. It worries me that so few writers get properly published. Excellent writers are rare beasts and deserve notice. Deserve publication. And all good writers deserve to have at least one hardcover book that comes with the delicious smell of ink fresh from the press.