Would Jane Austen or The Bronte Sisters Have Self-Published?

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 29, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Well, they did, actually. Or offered to. Or rather their male family members offered to on ” . . . behalf of the author who will incur all expenses” since no one could know their gender. In Austen’s case, the publisher took the manuscript from her father and then refused to publish it. Years went by — something like ten years — before she was ever in print. Such was the reality for women authors in her day.

I’ve been thinking about the spaces these women writers carved out for themselves. Such small tables, such narrow lives, such vivid imaginations, such huge accomplishments.

Look at Jane Austen’s tiny desk and quill pen in the middle of her family’s parlor. It was here she wrote and edited her books. Think of all the pages of Sense and Sensibility piled on top and everyone chattering around her.

And then there’s the table on the right where the Bronte sisters wrote and discussed their books, where they came up with their pseudonyms — Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell — in order to (self) publish their first volumes. Think of the Yorkshire wind howling around them and the church cemetery — the one that would later cause Charlotte’s death from thyphoid fever– their bleak view from the window.

And on the other side of the Atlantic, Emily Dickinson sat at this small desk and stared out of this window when she wrote poems that would — except for only a handful — be hidden away.

When I read about the financial hardships of Jane Austen, for example, the isolation of the Brontes, or all the domestic duties of Emily Dickinson, I have to wonder how I would have fared.

I think of what they achieved with so little formal education, so little personal freedom or privacy. How did they even know what they knew?

Every woman who writes anything — even a letter to the editor — owes them, and other women writers, a huge debt.

Me included.

So what do I do about it?

Not give up. I think that’s what’s required here. Not giving up.

And so self-publishing is my way of repaying my debt to these women writers. Who knows what will happen, and if not to me, to someone else because of my actions?

So in the spirit of Aphra Behn, the 17th century writer and first woman author to earn money from her writing, and Amanda Hocking, one of the great 21st century self-publishing women authors, I’m putting my book up on my website in written form, free.

“All women ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn . . . for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”

Imagine Virginia Woolf writing that sentence at her desk on the right.

With great deference to them and all women authors Palace of the Blue Butterfly is my offering, my flower on the grave of Aphra Behn. Click on the title to see the chapters as I put them up.

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The First Century Philosopher Epictetus Said . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 22, 2011 Under Uncategorized


. . . “The secret to wealth lies not in having many things, but in having few wants.”

Picassos Dora MaarRight now, I just want to stop looking like Picasso’s Dora Maar. I want be able to blink my eye, have my smile back, and look at the computer without everything seeming blurry. Few wants = great wealth.

Anyway, I’d planned to do something different with Palace of the Blue Butterfly by this time in my blog postings, but alas, I can’t quite see well enough to get the thing done.

I have to proofread and make changes to my manuscript anyway before I send the book to the e-book formatter (where it will be proofread one more time), and I thought — why don’t I just put chapters up in serial format as I go like the podcasts.

This would be for folks who couldn’t figure out how to download the podcasts or whose internet was too slow, or who didn’t realize until the seventh episode that they could get up from their desk and move around, straighten the house or what have you, as they listened. True story. And this person is in all other ways completely brilliant, has a Master’s Degree and speaks four languages.

What can I say? My reader’s age group and Scott Sigler’s are a little different.

I’d thought about just putting the text up on my site long before the podcasts, but it’s not much fun to read that way, or rather it wasn’t until I checked out what this young self-published author named V.J. Chambers had done with her novel on her website. Along with writing, Ms. Chambers is a high-school teacher in West Virginia. Bless. Her. Heart.

All she did — a simple solution and totally cool — is place a column of text in the middle of the screen against a black an white photograph.

Publetariat BannerExactly what I’m going to do. That is when I can see well enough.

Don’t know where I found out about V. J Chambers, maybe on . . .

Publetariat is a site I go to for information, encouragement and inspiration. Somebody is always doing something terrific which they write about on that site. Even as readers you might want to check Publetariat out. You’ll get an idea of what you aren’t seeing in print and why.

River Panj by David RatermanHere’s a little tidbit of one of the most recent stories of life in self-publishinglandia.

The River Panj is a novel by David Raterman — an emergency relief worker and published author — who, when unable to get this novel published the traditional way, decided to self publish.

Here’s a little tease about the book . . .

On Sept. 11, 2001, ex-Notre Dame football star Derek Braun is doing relief work in Afghanistan when his fiancée and elderly colleague are kidnapped along the border with Tajikistan. With no one to help, he goes in search. On this dangerous journey, he faces Islamic terrorists, heroin smugglers, corrupt Russian soldiers, Iranian spies and helpless CIA agents, witnessing an assortment of terrible acts that culminate in his own kidnapping.

Meanwhile terrorists begin using bodies of released hostages to export radioactive material to America. They want to . . .

You’ll just have to buy the book on Amazon if you want to find out more.

The article in Publetariat included one of the rejections Raterman’s novel got.

Here it is people. I’ve been there.

The vividness of Raterman’s descriptions are stunning and I can certainly see what it is that has you so enthusiastic about his work. However, I am concerned that the book’s subject—while timely—has fiction readers a bit weary and unless it is covered by an established name in the marketplace, will have a hard time breaking out commercially.

It’s an exciting, adrenaline-fueled read, and interest in and awareness of the area of the world at the heart of this story have never been higher. But, ultimately, as intriguing as Central Asia is, I think it makes for a tough setting.

I’m always up for a page-turner, and not only can David deliver the fun, but his writing possesses a certain level of political sophistication that’s rare in these types of novels. As promising as it is, though, I am going to pass. For me it’s really a question of positioning—while it has its strengths, I’m just not convinced it will break out beyond its core audience. Alas, something we need for our select number of fiction titles here.

BTW . . . this is just one example of many rejections you can read on Raterman’s website. All of them say pretty much the same thing. Can’t make any money on it. Not commercially viable. Central Asia is a tough place.

That place. You know the one where there’s the war that’s been going on for ten years. Readers are weary? What about the guys in the army?

Amish QuiltSo if you aren’t reading any books set in Central Asia, you’ll know why. Or any number of places for that matter. Mexico City maybe?

Anyway back to old Epictetus. Few wants = great wealth.

He also said this — Everything has two handles, one by which it can be carried, one by which it cannot.

Here’s the handle I use to carry my writing life: I regard my novel writing the way I imagine an Amish woman regards her quilt making. It is the pattern I make with the scraps of life I have lived, seen, heard about or imagined.

This website is the wall I hang my work on.

Simple as that.

The stories will find whomever they find.

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The Heart Sutra

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 15, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Middle age is catching up with me. For the first time, I’ve come down with an illness that isn’t just the flu or a cold.

Last Monday, I woke up with half my face paralyzed. Bell’s Palsy they tell me, a reaction to stress. Much of it was of my own making.

Wait . . . ALL of it was of my own making. (Okay,okay, I’m not that spiritually high. A few jerks helped me along the way. I guess there are many teachers on the path to enlightenment.)

I’d been meaning to go inward a bit more, be a bit more reflective after the chores of summer. Looks like the universe forced me to make good on my promise.

To cope I have been trying to meditate on the Heart Sutra.

Body is nothing more than emptiness . . . All things are empty: Nothing is born, nothing dies, Nothing is stained, nothing is pure, Nothing increases, nothing decreases. In emptiness there is no body . . .

Of course, one isn’t supposed to hope to GAIN something through meditation, and I am desperately trying to gain the strength to deal with this paralysis . . .

and with age, that autumnal feeling.

And just last night as I was reading, that September equinox wind came up, the one I wrote about last summer, the first cool breeze of autumn. It happened as I read these lines in Tender is the Night ( a book about loss of innocence, about growing older, if there ever was one)

“Another gust of wind strained around the porphyry hills of La Nopoule. There was a hint in the air that the earth was hurrying on to other weather; the lush midsummer moment outside of time was already over.”

Okay, now I’m going to go all English major on you here, but look at that line, ” . . . the earth was hurrying on to other weather.” So beautiful. It’s the internal rhyme of earth and the last syllable of weath-er that reinforces the sense of turning. Perfect style.

Just think you, too, could have spent years in college writing about things like that.

Anyway, this was a bit of prose that seemed so true and so melancholy, and I recognized how the melancholy-ness of it wasn’t the meaning of the sentence. Fitzgerald had just observed a bit of all-too-fleeting-wisdom and with his fine skills captured it in words, revealing how the universe is both compassionate AND indifferent. Then he handed you, the reader, that wisdom the way a friend hands you a cup of tea.

The trick is just to be able to SEE the wisdom “uncolored by hope or desire.”

Well, here’s the poem that line comes from.

Rebus

Jane Hirshfield

Potter throwing a vaseYou work with what you’re given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus—slip and stubborness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life—
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

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The Things that Make you Happy Have, It Turns Out . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 8, 2011 Under Uncategorized


. . . less to do with the things themselves than
what you think those things are.

Like this little vintage travel trailer, for example. Cute, huh?

I’ve always wanted one up here at the ranch for extra guest housing, but Dave doesn’t want to turn the place into a trailer park.

Stay tuned to see who wins this round.

Guess.

Anyway, this picture comes from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Rob Baedeker titled King of the Road:The Value of a Vintage Trailer.

I’ve been traveling through the midwest and the south recently, and at night in the hotel room, I’d find myself reading the San Francisco Chronicle for a little taste of home. That’s where the article and the picture caught my eye.

The glory of the internet with its links which lead to more links and so on is that by following them, you can write your own article in a certain way.

In this case, I found myself following the links about happiness — the new psychological studies about what creates it. I followed the links which described maximizers — people who only want the best and who are never happy — and satisficers — people who are pretty much content with their surroundings.

I fight my maximizer tendencies all the time, because it’s true — having what is considered (by others usually) to be the best of everything doesn’t really make you happy.

While all the links on the internet are great, there is one problem. Some of those links evaporate, and sadly that’s the case with the next story.

I’ve searched and searched, but it seems to be gone. I think it comes from a TED talk by Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore College psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

I’ll have to write it from memory instead of linking. Imagine that!

Schwartz — if indeed it was Schwartz — begins by saying that happiness comes not from the thing itself but from what you think the thing is. What makes people happy is weird. For some people, happiness can be found on terrifying roller coasters, by surfing dangerous waves, or in my case, reading dark mystery stories about the seamier side of life. Go figure, right?

And for some people, like the group Barry Schwartz studied, they found happiness is great food and wine. In fact, they were quite the connoisseurs.

For this particular study, ten bottles of wine were opened and the participants ( all maximizers) were asked to rate them. They were given all the information — vintage, price, you name it. To a one, the participants rated the expensive wine, the rare vintages and so on all highly. They were very happy drinking them. These wines were complex with great bouquet, wonderful finishes, you name it. Of course, the lesser priced wines were barely drinkable. That’s maximizers for you. They only want the best.

There was just one problem. Schwartz lied about the content of the bottles. They all contained the same wine. See? Not the thing but what you think it is.

With food it gets kind of scary.

To go with the food, Schwartz served a variety of pates. Since I don’t eat fatty, stuffed goose liver with gherkins (read pickles), I wouldn’t know, but apparently in the food and wine scene it’s thought to be the end all and be all. A grand time was had by the maximizer foodies, drinking the high-priced wine and eating the pate. In fact since everyone had been assured that the pate had been flown in from France, the maximizers thought all the pates were outstanding.

Uh . . . Schwartz lied again. One of the pates was made from cat food. (True story. I swear!)

Not that the maximizers noticed this, mind you! With the parsley and cornichons and whatever plus thinking it came from France, the pate made of turkey niblets made the maximizers just as happy as the fancy stuff from France. Really. Turkey Niblets. Who knew? (BTW What’s a niblet?)

What can I say? Not the thing itself, but what you think it is.

Anyone going to eat pate again out there?

That’s what I thought.

Well, here’s a great recipe for a lower priced champagne drink that will please both maximizers and satisficers, and would also be great for sipping in the lawn chairs in front of your little travel trailer.

A Grownup Pink Lady

Ingredients:
Champagne
Lillet Rouge
Dried rose petals

Instructions:
Fill a champagne flute 1/3 full with Lillet Rouge
Pour champagne to the top
Float a dried rose petal on top

 

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Ernest Hemingway’s Very Own . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 1, 2011 Under Uncategorized


. . . Gazpacho Recipe.

Or so I’m told.

Back in the day when I was working for Public Radio, I went to Cuba ( legally, on a cultural exchange program sanctioned by our very own government who still manages to be lost in time, partying like it was 1963. Oh well . . . ) to freelance some pieces on the International Latin American Film Festival held there every year. It’s a total glamor-fest. Everyone who is anyone shows up. So there I was, recorder in hand!

Anyway, we—the beautiful people, the journalists, and well, me—were all holed up in the the venerable Hotel Nacional, a famous Frank Sinatra, Rat-Pack hangout during Batista. Trust me, it definitely had the patina of age!

La Bodegita del MedioThe films were incredible, the beaches beautiful, the rum abundant, the salsa music constant, the conversation fascinating and intense.

Anyway, when we got tired of discussing art, cinema, and politics over mojitos in the Nacional’s bar, we moved on to discussing them at the the famous Bodeguito del Medio, where, again, everyone who was ever anyone had, at some point, hung out— Pablo Neruda, Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway and well, me.

Of course, the conversation turned to Hemingway, his oeuvre, his influence, and since the people in my crowd were all some sort of journalists—from European and Latin American AP folks to American stringers and freelancers like me who managed to get to Cuba by hook and crook—we talked about Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War. At some point as the evening wore on, someone said, “You know what? We all wanted to be journalists because of Hemingway. He created the romance of the foreign correspondent.”

Seemed true at the time, and it still does.

For them.

I wanted to be a writer, so I was there for the stories. But that’s me. And I was probably more influenced by Garcia Lorca’s plays than Hemingway, truth be told.

Later someone from that group sent me this recipe for Ernest Hemingway’s Gazpacho, and my summer menus have definitely been influenced by that! Here it is.

Gazpacho a la Hemingway

Ingredients:

3 cups cored, coarsely chopped tomatoes. Fresh is great, but I’ve used canned San Marzanos, too.
1 1/2 cups peeled, coarsely chopped cucumbers
1 green pepper cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup water
6 TBS olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt to taste
2 slices untrimmed, baguette
milk to cover bread

1. Soak bread in milk while you prepare vegetables
2. Put all ingredients, including bread that has soaked up the milk, in a blender or food processor and blend until creamy, smooth. You may want to push the soup through a sieve and discard any solids, but I never do. I just blend and blend!
3. Taste the soup for salt and vinegar and add to your liking.
4. Chill for several hours.

This is best the first day. The raw garlic can get overwhelming by the second day. Of course, this is only as good as your olive oil and vinegar. I use Spanish olive oil for this as it is less mellow than the Italian.

Gazpacho is hard to pair with wine ( it’s the vinegar). A glass of cold, dry Spanish sherry is nice.

Here’s a picture of the Hotel Nacional Bar. When I was there, it was jammed, standing room only, with Los Van Van blasting from the speakers, and Latin American movie stars yelling, “Tres mojitos mas! Cinco mojitos mas.”

It isn’t really a great mojito without the great Cuban rum. Another reason to end the embargo, I’d say!

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