PONDERING PUBLISHING AND THE WORLD GONE BY

I usually say I wouldn’t want to ever work again, but I got to thinking about that. I realized if I could get back my job as editor at Doubleday? I’d do it in a heartbeat. How many jobs give you unlimited sick days, two-hour lunches, and require you to read sleazy novels during the day? And pay you for the privilege? And give you the best bunch of people as colleagues you could hope for.

We met at Doubleday!

I also had to write stuff about the books I read, but a long review was still shorter than any of the pieces I write for this blog. Even in my crumbling state of health, I think I could handle it.

The trouble is, the job doesn’t exist. Publishers are thoroughly conglomerated. Each is a subsection of some über corporation where books are one of many products — and not an important product, either.

The 1970s were wonderful years for reading. It was a tremendous period for books and book clubs — and for literature as an art. In those days, reading was major entertainment. People read books and talked about them by the water cooler. If you got excited about a book, you told all your friends … and they read it, too.


Before the internet.

Before cell phones.

Before cable and satellite television.

Before computers and many years before WiFi …

We had books.

Other entertainment? Of course there were movies, but you had to see them in a movie theater. Television was there, but it had limitations. We had — in New York which was entertainment central — seven channels. Unless you had a really good antenna on the roof, you rarely got a clear picture. There was interference called “snow.” Pictures rolled — up, down, and side-to-side. Vertical and horizontal holds on your TV were designed to help control it. Sometimes, they did, but I remember many nights of giving up and turning the set off because we couldn’t get a decent picture. Meanwhile, many of us used a set of rabbit-ear antennas that worked sometimes — if the wind was blowing due west.

I spent more time trying to convince the rabbit-ears to receive a signal than watching shows.

Doubleday in Garden City, NY

Not surprisingly, television wasn’t our primary source of entertainment. Instead, we read books — and we talked to each other — something we old folks continue to do. Sometimes, we had conversations that lasted for hours and in my life, occasionally ran into weeks. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? All that talking without a phone? Without texting, either.

Books were big business. If you wrote anything reasonably good, there were more than enough publishers who might be interested in printing it. I miss that world, sometimes more than I can say.

All of this got me thinking about how hard it is to get books published these days. So many people I know have written really good books and have never found anyone to back them. It’s rough on writers, and it’s not a great sign for the art of literature. Not only has our political world caved in, but our literary world is sliding down a long ramp to nowhere. In theory, many more books are published today because anyone can publish anything — and sell it on Amazon. All books — the great, good, mediocre, and truly awful are lumped together. Most of them are rarely read since none of them are being promoted by a publisher. This isn’t a small thing. Publishers were a huge piece of what made books great. If your publisher believed you’d written something excellent, you could count on being visible on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. You’d also be part of book club publications. People — reading people — would see your book. There were book columns and reviews — and people read them they way they read stuff on upcoming television shows today.

Of course, we are also suffering from the vanishing bookstore … a whole other subject.

A great idea followed by a well-written manuscript was just the beginning of a book’s life story. From the manuscript, publishers took books and did their best to sell them to the world. Today, all that pushing and pitching is left to authors, including those whose books typically sell well.

Can anyone imagine how Faulkner, Hemingway and Thomas Wolf would do trying to “work the marketplace”? No doubt there were writers who were able to do the balancing of writing and marketing, but many authors are not particularly sociable. A good many are downright grumpy and a fair number are essentially inarticulate. They are not naturals to the marketing gig.

And … ponder this … what kind of blog do you think Faulkner … or … Eugene O’Neill … would have written?

I miss books. I miss authors. I miss publishers. I miss carefully edited manuscripts and beautifully published books where you could smell the ink and paper as you cracked the cover open. It was a heady perfume.

THE SOIL, GROWTH OF AND OTHERWISE

When I was a teenager, my mother plied me with books. Some were entertaining. Then, there was Knut Hamsun.

Knut wasn’t a fun sort of author. In “Growth of the Soil” he wrote about the grim, hardscrabble life of the desperately poor farmers trying to survive in places where obviously no humans were supposed to be living. I’m not sure why my mother felt I should read these books, but I know I found them depressing. Not like my regular life was such a bundle of yuks that I needed something earthier to keep me from flying off into the world of the rich and giggly.

I was not rich and nor was I giggly.

I slogged my way through Growth of the Soil and I felt really bad for those sad people. This book was followed up by one of my mother’s favorites, “Jean-Cristophe,” This is  the novel in 10 volumes by Romain Rolland for which he received the Prix Femina in 1905 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915. It is actually a fictionalized story of the life of Ludwig Von Beethoven. And although it is certainly interesting on many levels, it is also really, really, really long. About 1800 pages in small print.

I read it. All of it. But I was not yet finished with Romain Rolland. There were a few more — and they were also long, though nothing (except “Lord of the Rings”) was ever longer than “Jean-Cristophe.” Actually, I’m not sure how long “Lord of the Rings” is since it depended on the printing, font size, and so on … so let’s call them even. But “Lord of the Rings” was far more fun. We had eating and drinking parties while dressed in appropriate Middle-Earthen costumes.

Hobbits were also fond of the soil. They lived in houses dug into the earth. I hope it didn’t rain as much in Hobbiton as it does around here. A house in mud doesn’t seem as much fun as a warm, cozy hobbit hole.

I’m pretty sure that this early exposure to painful books about grinding, desperate poverty may have skewed my reading interests into lighter weight subject matter. Lighter weight everything. Between learning everything I might ever need to know about the Holocaust and my mother’s policy of serious reading, nothing made me happier than the discovery of historical romance and science fiction. Maybe that was really the idea?

SOIL | DAILY POST

THE FINAL WHAT?

When I saw “final” as the word of the day, I got a chill. In the past two weeks, I have lost at least three friends with more on the way. Not to mention that my email is full of warnings of: “This is the final hour! Send $3 now!”

I fondly hope this isn’t the final hour for all of us, but it has recently been the final hour for more than a few friends and loved ones.  I don’t know how many more are on the special waiting line. I’m hoping that Death is like the guy in Terry Pratchett’s books. Pragmatic, friendly and most of the time, there to give you a hand to find your right place.

It is a strange feeling watching your group of friends grow smaller day by day. My mother told me a long time ago that “You know you are old when you start to lose your friends.”

I thought it was the creepiest thing she ever said. Later, I read a version of the same idea in various books. Mostly memoirs by “famous people.” I thought “There is nothing to prevent this final loss. No money, power, or fame can change it in any way.” It’s not that I thought money, power, or fame would stop the progression of life toward its ending, but I hadn’t given it deep thought.

To a degree, that hasn’t changed. I am pragmatic. I care, but I’m not sticky about it. I’ve come close enough to that line to realize it is never as far away as we might think. Final is. Like life is.  So I don’t brood about it, accept it when news arrives, feel the absence of another person I loved. I get notes from friends about their husbands. From the family of friends. A few really good friends. Others are sick and getting sicker. There won’t be an end to this. Someday, I suppose I’ll be the note in someone’s inbox. I hope it will be a generous and kindly note that skips over my failures and all those times I’ve been an asshole. Try to remember the laughter and humor. It’s the part I worked hardest at.

After all these years, I still don’t know how I feel about this ongoing march from birth to that final hour. When I was in my twenties and we — our group — lost someone, usually to a car accident or another unexpected thing, it shook us badly. We were too young. It wasn’t supposed to happen … was it?

Now it is the way the world rolls.

Final.

Final days of the earth? Final years of democracy? Final end to everything in which I believed? Or just the inevitable shearing off of living people whose time was finished?

If this is final, what does that mean? The final what?

NINIANE – THE LADY OF THE LAKE

See on Scoop.itTraveling Through Time

TALLHWCH – The pursuit of history

The first mention of either the Lady of the Lake or Ninian (Niniane, Vivian, etc.) is to be found in the late work Prose Merlin.  Her character remains much the same through to Sir Thomas Malory, who simply makes the story more complex.  In all the stories that name her Ninian is a fully developed character.  She is the original owner of Arthur’s second sword and later becomes Merlin’s pupil.

However, as with many aspects of the Arthurian literary world, there are serious gaps in reasoning with her story, and these gaps suggest a very different origin for her.  For instance, Merlin somehow knows she will betray him, but teaches her anyway.  The romances explain that he does so because he loves her, but that sounds like more of a rationalization of something not understood than an historical fact that is.

The end of her story is that Niniane does trap Merlin in a cave the moment her studies are over.  He is left there, alive (again, no serious explanation).  It certainly is not out of malice for Arthur.  Ninian takes over as his counselor for the remainder of his reign and does her best to help him.  She is also one of the four women who takes him to Avalon.  That is the extent of Ninian’s literary career.  Clearly her original character and the transformation have been hidden by chance and misunderstandings.

Uinniau was a prominent ecclesiastic of sixth century Britain who may have been Columba’s teacher.  He was known as Ninian in Welsh saints’ lives or Nynia by Bede.  However, much of Scotland has place-names derived from his proper name of Uinniau.  This Uinniau was known for three things mainly.  First, he was one of the most knowledgeable persons of his age.  Second, he was a great teacher who made his monastery of Whithorn was a primary center of learning in Britain.  Finally, it is known that he would occasionally go on a retreat to a nearby cave, known as St. Ninian’s Cave, which was several miles away from his monastery.

Ninian would eventually became the form by which Uinniau was exclusively known.  In fact, the process must have been an early one.  Bede, writing in 725, knew him only by that name.  It was an unfortunate circumstance that Ninian was a Celtic name, and the romance writers who would treat Arthur on the continent spoke Germanic and Latin languages.  The unfamiliarity with Celtic would lead to confusion over his gender, and he became a she there.

Arthur was an attractive figure in the literature of the Middle Ages, gravitating all manner of figures, motifs, and stories to him.  In previous blogs I have mentioned the attraction of the Myrddin (Merlin) legend and the figure of Urien.  The same sort of fate awaited Uinniau.  Long before Arthur had become a figure of romance, Uinniau’s dominant name-form had become to Ninian.  For the Celtic speaker that was still a male name, but for continentals it was female.

That change from male to female, from independent ecclesiastic to intelligent layperson was where Uinniau became a different literary figure.  Once Uinniau was a part of the Arthurian universe, his reputation for intelligence would have drawn him to the already established Merlin; in an irony of history a lunatic (Myrddin) became the teacher of one of the best-read people of the age (Uinniau).  Once that  transformation was accomplished, the latent aspects of Uinniau’s memory easily made their way into Arthurian the tales, and Merlin was trapped in the cave Uinnau had used as a refuge.

I won’t pretend to know how Ninian became the Lady of the Lake.  However, she would not have begun her Arthurian career that way.  She would have started off as Merlin’s pupil and successor with the qualities of her historical precursor intact.  She was associated with a lake only by Robert de Boron, an author that I have discovered in my research was not one to stick with his traditional sources.  It is possible he knew of some Celtic tale which he used to enhance Uinniau’s mythology.  It is equally possible he used something more contemporary.  That part of the history of the Lady of the Lake we may never know.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

One of my favorite mysteries, leaving enough unanswered questions to hold my interest. If you have never visited TALLWCH, check it out: http://tallhwch.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/niniane-the-lady-of-the-lake/

See on tallhwch.wordpress.com

HAPPY 184TH BIRTHDAY LOUISA MAY ALCOTT – AND ALL THOSE LITTLE WOMEN

women's suffrage-2In an alternate universe, Louisa May Alcott would be 184 today. In my alternate universe, we all live — as a matter of course — to at least 200. And because of our extended life span, we are better custodians of our earth recognizing that we will have to live in the mess we make of tomorrow when we despoil our world today.

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist and poet, best known as the author of the novel Little Women (1868) and its sequels Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).

Raised by her transcendentalist parents, Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott in New England, she also grew up among many of the well-known intellectuals of the day such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.

Bronson Alcott was a dreamer, not an earner. The result was that her family went through extended periods of dire poverty and Louisa was required to work to help support the family from very early on.

louisa_may_alcott_5c_1940_stampPublished in 1868, Little Women is set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, later renamed Hillside, then the Wayside, in Concord, Massachusetts and is loosely based on an idealized portrait of Alcott’s childhood experiences growing up with her three sisters. Real life was much harder than the life she lived in “Little Women.”

“Little Women” was high successful almost immediately.

As Joan Goodwin explains, “from this point on Louisa May Alcott was a victim of her own success. Though she yearned to do more serious fiction, children’s books flowed from her pen for the rest of her life because their sales supported her family. Louisa herself wrote, “Twenty years ago, I resolved to make the family independent if I could. At forty that is done. Debts all paid, even the outlawed ones, and we have enough to be comfortable. It has cost me my health, perhaps; but as I still live, there is more for me to do, I suppose.”

Following in her mother’s path, Alcott pursued women’s rights with fervor, enlisting the aid of famous colleagues such as Thoreau and Hawthorne to her cause.

Goodwin goes on to write that now “Alcott gave her energy to practical reforms, women’s rights and temperance. She attended the Women’s Congress of 1875 in Syracuse, New York, where she was introduced by Mary Livermore. She contributed to Lucy Stone’s Woman’s Journal while organizing Concord women to vote in the school election. ‘

“I was the first woman to register my name as a voter,’ she wrote. “Drove about and drummed up women to my suffrage meeting. So hard to move people out of the old ruts.” And again, “Helped start a temperance society much-needed in Concord]. I was secretary, and wrote records, letters, and sent pledges, etc.”

orchard-house-contemporary

Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts

Louisa continued to publish children’s books, and in 1880, after her sister, May, died after childbirth, she adopted May’s baby who was named for Louisa, but called “Lulu.” In 1882, after her father suffered a stroke, Louisa settled the remaining members of her family at 10 Louisburg Square. Her own health was failing. It is generally believed from her pictures and other descriptions that she suffered from Lupus. There was little knowledge of Lupus at that time. No cure or medicine to lessen its impact. Louisa moved “from place to place in search of health and peace to write, settling at last in a Roxbury nursing home,” according to Joan Goodwin.

Jo March - By Madame Alexander

Jo March – By Madame Alexander

Her father, Bronson Alcott, who she faithfully tended even as her own health declined, died on March 4, 1888. Louisa outlived him by only two days. She passed away at age fifty-six.

She had known her death was near, despite her relative youth. She had adopted her widowed sister Anna’s son John Pratt to whom she willed her copyrights. Through him, all income from her books would be shared amongst her nieces and nephews — Anna, Lulu, John, and Anna’s other son Fred.

Louisa May Alcott never married, in part because the right person eluded her — but ultimately because she was unwilling to give up her freedom and personal power to a husband.

Louisa May Alcott was buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord on “Author’s Ridge” near Thoreau and Emerson. A Civil War veteran’s marker graces her gravestone. During her lifetime, she produced almost three hundred books, but the one that most every knows remains “Little Women.”

DOG BONE SOUP by BETTE STEVENS – GROWING UP POOR IN RURAL NEW ENGLAND

DOG BONE SOUP Launch Banner

THE REALITY OF RURAL POVERTY 
A RIPPING GREAT TALE OF GROWING UP AND TRIUMPH OF THE SPIRIT!

DOG BONE SOUP is not only the title of Bette A. Stevens’s debut novel; it ranks high among the paltry meals that the book’s protagonist, Shawn Daniels, wants to forget. Plodding through mounting snow and battling howling winds, Shawn is ready to leave it all behind — living in poverty, Dad’s drinking, life in foster care, the divorce, the bullies….

Travel with Shawn Daniels through the guts and the glory of life. It’s all in DOG BONE SOUP, a Boomer’s coming-of-age saga. Available at AMAZON.

From the Reviewers

“Dog Bone Soup is the poignant tale of a dysfunctional family struggling to survive in America in the 50s and 60s, when most others were on the crest of a wave. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry. But most of all it will make you glad you read it.” ~ Charlie Bray, founder of the Indietribe

“In Dog Bone Soup, Bette Stevens captures the feeling and images of growing up in hardscrabble times perfectly.” ~ John Clark, librarian and author

DOG BONE SOUP


READ an opening Excerpt from Chapter One right here…


DOG BONE SOUP BW Border 2015The postcard arrived four days before my eighteenth birthday. All I had to do now was sign the final papers and light out for basic training. I could hardly wait to leave this place behind.

There were six of us ready to become soldiers. The other five guys were headed to Fort Dix. Soon as we were inducted, the sergeant who swore us in started calling us a bunch of lily-assed bastards and worse. When the jerk marched the other five guys off, I was happy as hell I wasn’t one of them.

Lieutenant Richards called me into his office. “You’ll be heading out tomorrow, Private Daniels. Here are your tickets.”

We sat in his office and talked about my future with the U.S. Army. Then he handed me a schedule for the next day’s journey and we went over every detail.

“Now let’s get you home so you can get a good night’s sleep before you fly off to serve Uncle Sam, soldier.”

“Good luck Private,” the lieutenant said when he dropped me off at the house. We saluted and I stood there watching until his car disappeared over the hill.

I’d always liked army people. They called me Mr. Daniels and even sir sometimes. Now I was officially a private in the U.S. Army and I was ready to start a new life. I pictured myself in an officer’s uniform one day—a lieutenant, a captain, maybe even a general.

Mum and I didn’t get much more than a few winks of sleep that night. I don’t know how many pots of coffee she perked while we sat at the kitchen table and talked the night away. Of course, it was Mum did most of the talking. Once she opened her picture books, I felt like I was drinking in the life I wanted to leave.

Mum took all of those pictures with her Brownie—that camera was her pride and joy. None of us kids was allowed to touch it unless she supervised a picture-taking every now and then. If Dad wasn’t around, it was me peeking through the lens. Mum was fussy about taking pictures just so.

Five books were piled on the table and we went through them one page at a time. Mum had a story for every snap shot. Some made me laugh so hard that I doubled over.

It was two minutes shy of three when she closed the last album.

“Thanks for staying up. I’ve got the alarm set for six and I know that won’t give us much sleep.” Mum pulled out her hanky, sniffled and hugged me before we turned in. My leaving would to be hard on her.

Willie was snoring away, likely dreaming about cars. I slipped in next to him and pulled away some puffs and huddled under them.

The minute I closed my eyes I started dreaming about my new life. No more freezing to death up north. I was headed for southern sunshine and I saw myself soaking it all in.

Bzzzzzzz. I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, grabbed the suitcase and headed for the kitchen. Mum already had breakfast on the stove, so I ran outside to do my business and came back in to grab a hot biscuit and down it with a cup of steaming coffee.

I was half-frozen and snow was whipping around me in circles when I headed out on the three-mile walk into town to catch that bus.

I shook flakes big as quarters from my jacket when I climbed the steps of the Greyhound. Two hours and I’d be boarding a plane headed to Fort Jackson. South Carolina was sure the place to be, especially in February.

— end of excerpt —

The Countdown’s On—DOG BONE SOUP by Bette A. Stevens ONLY 99¢ through November 28


About the author

BAS Author logo stamp 2015Inspired by nature and human nature, author Bette A. Stevens is a retired elementary and middle school teacher, a wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. Stevens lives in Central Maine with her husband on their 37-acre farmstead where she enjoys writing, gardening, walking and reveling in the beauty of nature. She advocates for children and families, for childhood literacy and for the conservation of monarch butterflies (milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat).

Bette A. Stevens is the author of award-winning picture book AMAZING MATILDA; home/school resource, The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!; and PURE TRASH, the short story prequel to DOG BONE SOUP.