Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Seduction of "claire-obscure" by Billie Hinton

The term "clair-obscure" is also known as "chiarascuro" or "light out of darkness". It is a technique used by photographers and painters such as Rembrandt and Georges De Latour. De Latour's Repenting Magdalene (below) is an excellent example -- the figure emerges in swaths of light out of the blackness. It is also a dramatic lighting technique used in stage craft. It is an excellent title for Billie Hinton's novel claire-obscure

claire-obscure is both horrifying and mesmerizing and not for the feint of heart. It is the story of Claire, a lost young woman, who grew up in a bleak family situation, the only child of a cold, bitter mother and a father who was coming to the acceptance of his homosexuality. At 17 Claire is brutally raped and from that point on she lacks any sense of boundaries or self-regard. She is intelligent and lovely but utterly and completely lost. She dresses in vintage clothing from consignment shops, writes secret letters to Virginia Woolfe, and works for a predatory bisexual woman named Ann whose husband manages to disappear at the most inconvenient times.

Billie Hinton has an extraordinary gift for language. Her writing is both mellifluous and harsh. She writes the story of Claire's conflicted relationship with two men, equally strange and remote in their own unique ways, with mesmerizing detail and a sort of come-hither sensuality that beckons you in then leaves you standing at the closed door wondering what just happened. It is intoxicating because I found myself getting annoyed at Claire and her constantly self-destructive behavior but yet so intrigued I couldn't stop reading.

The two men who soon find their way into Claire's life are equally hypnotic. Finn Weston is an affluent medical student who invites her to live with him in a huge apartment but she soon discovers that, while she is attracted to him and he is intensely possessive and controlling of her, he is incapable of a sexual relationship with her, though he seems quite able to function with other women. Claire's jealousy notwithstanding Finn becomes intimate with Lucy who winds up mysteriously dead – though nothing can be proven to the contrary, all of Claire's friends suspect Finn.

Her other lover, Raoul Duras, is part of a Special Forces Delta team and spends his free time rescuing prostitutes and other lost women. Claire becomes his new fascination but, even though he grows to love her and longs for her to live with him, she cannot bear his long absences when he is on assignment and so she returns to Finn. With Finn she begins a descent into degradation with other men, emotional and eventually physical violence, and other humiliations but she is held hostage by his claims to need her, to be helpless without her. The story becomes painful at times as Claire goes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth between these two men.

This is a well-crafted, deeply penetrating study of three people all with their own separate wounds. I was somewhat struck by the fact that Raoul, the eventual hero of the story, had the last name Duras because the haunting style of story-telling Hinton employs was reminiscent to me of some of the stories of French writer Marguerite Duras, particularly The Ravishing of Lol Stein.

This is a very seductive book – not always easy to read but even harder to turn away from.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Crazy Old Lady Bought Me A Kindle!

Okay, yes, I have been lusting after the Kindle 3G+WiFi for quite awhile now. I don't watch TV, haven't had cable in 20 years, and I rarely go to movies – and almost always come out vowing never to do that again. I buy lots and lots of books, my mailman has complained about that. So a Kindle seemed like the most logical of acquisitions – but I kept putting it off.

In July I published a little novelette for Kindle called The Crazy Old Lady In the Attic. It sells for 99 cents on Kindle of which I am paid 35 cents. It has been selling well and recently I realized that in a few short weeks those 35 cent sales were adding up to the point where I could use them to buy the Kindle that I longed for so I ordered it. It came Satuday and I'm thrilled. This is the coolest little gizmo in the world. How did I live without it? And the very best part is it is 100% courtesy of The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic!

The Crazy Old Lady got 2 more excellent reviews this week:

4.0 out of 5 stars the crazy old lady, August 29, 2011
This review is from: The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic (Kindle Edition)
My first read by this author and it was an awesome one!! A great thriller that kept me glued to the screen until the very last page!! Can't wait to read more by Kathleen!! Four stars for me!

5.0 out of 5 stars The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, August 29, 2011
This review is from: The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic (Kindle Edition)
This was an awesome psychological thriller. I enjoyed the detail of the past and present of the characters in the book and how they all intertwined with each other. I felt for Mattie throughout the book as she uncovered as of her life she never knew. I loved this book!

Those two readers apparently liked it so much that they also purchased Arthur's Story: A Love Story and gave it great reviews also:
4.0 out of 5 stars arthur, August 29, 2011
This review is from: Arthur's Story: A Love Story (Kindle Edition)
I really loved this book! It had me smiling and choking up all at once! Great job Kathleen!! What an awesome story!

5.0 out of 5 stars Arthur's Story: A Love Story, August 26, 2011
This review is from: Arthur's Story: A Love Story (Kindle Edition)
I just loved this story. This was such a beautiful story that brought tears to my eyes and yet smile on my face. I loved Arthur from the beginning of this book right to the end. 

So I am thrilled – especially with my cool new toy. Naturally, the first thing I did after I learned how to use it, was to download all my books onto it – it can hold 3700 books! I also uploaded a couple of WIP so I can review them whenever I like. I then added several books which I'd been longing to read but could only read on my PC before and tons of samples.

This Kindle comes pre-loaded with 2 different dictionaries, WiFi access to Wikipedia, instant access to Kindle, a web browser, an email account, the ability to listen to music while I read and it syncs with my Audible account so I can download audio books to it and listen to books while I knit or sew or work. I just treated myself to two of my favorite books, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and Hardy's The Return of the Native, read by two of my favorite actors, William Hurt and Alan Rickman respectively.

So what more could a girl ask for? My books are selling and getting lovely reviews, I have a seemingly limitless supply of books to read at my fingertips (literally), and I have William Hurt and Alan Rickman whispering in my ears. Am I smiling?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Closed Due to Hurricane Irene

You can keep an eye on Good Harbor Beach with the Blue Shutters web cam and our buddy Joe at Good Morning Gloucester is blogging the storm so check him out.

Click image to update:

See you all Monday! Stay safe and dry.

Friday, August 26, 2011

For/From Indie Authors: Aliya Anjum

I have been writing since the age of 8 and got published at 17 in the largest selling daily of Pakistan. I have written over a wide range of topics including op-eds, book reviews, travelogues, socio-economic write-ups and economic policy critiques.

I hold a BBA/MBA degree from the Institute of Business Administration(IBA), Karachi and an MS from Philadelphia University, US.  I have worked for a French and British Bank in Karachi before attending grad school in US.  I teach MBA students part time.  At present I am pursuing writing full time.

I am a prize winning author of three manuscripts, I have published one of them as an e-book. My latest writings are based on history. The first book is a short account of the wives of Prophet Muhammad to humanize the 11 ladies by looking at surprising facts about their personalities.

My second book is a travelogue on Greece. This book is an unconventional travelogue since it covers history, culture, sightseeing and globalization in a very enjoyable narrative.

I have also launched a third book on Scientific history, which covers the history of various inventions and institutions from their ancient origins (mainly Greek) through the Muslim golden age of science 750-1500 AD revealing surprising details about the Islamic world and then reconnecting the sciences with the modern west.  This book won a commendation certificate from the National Book Foundation, Pakistan. Its is a fairly easy read despite its breadth and scope.

  • After you finish your manuscript.  Let it rest for a week and then pick it up to proof read.  Then let it rest for a week and again proof read.  Finally after a week, proof read it one last time.  Each time you would find yourself making some changes.  Its better to then run it through family or friends and then give it one last session of alterations.  Finally, give it to a professional editor.  You would save yourself a load of trouble later, this way.
  • Try paint.net an open source software to design your own cover.  Its free and fairly easy to work with.  I designed all 3 covers through this site.
  • For describing scenes elaborately, as I did in my travelogue, its best to refer to a picture and then try and narrate that picture.  It can be a picture on the internet, if its a fictional scene.  


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Guest Blogging the "Build Creative Writing Ideas" Blog

When Bryan Cohen invited me to write an article for his very popular Build Creative Writing Ideas" blog I was flattered and very pleased. I had just started reading the great Sol Stein's Stein on Writing and had been much impressed by his observation that, when he read a new manuscript submitted to him, he wanted to fall in love. I wrote my article and titled it Crafting Your Opening: I want to fall in love... You can read it on Bryan's blog.

Thanks, Bryan, and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dreaming Among the Isles of Shoals

Evenings are already growing shorter and I've been aware that my reading-on-the-porch time is decreasing every day. For me reading on my back porch overlooking the old cemetery where the trees are filled with birdsong and the evening hums with the comforting sounds of my neighbors going about their lives is more relaxing than nearly anything I can think of. For the last few evenings I've been escaping everything thanks to Celia Thaxter's delightful Among the Isles of Shoals.

Originally written as a series of newspaper articles the text appears as one long narrative for some reason which is a bit disconcerting at first but once you get used to it you find endless treasures both elegant and hilarious. Thaxter grew up on Star Island and is known both as an artist and for her fabulous flower gardens. She lived most of her life on the Isles of Shoals, those jewel like islands that glitter on the horizon nine miles off the coast of New Hampshire. Some years back I took a ferry out to Star Island and then across to Appledore Island but have never been to the rest. There are nine of them altogether. Nine made into eight by a connecting breakwater or seven when the tide is low and land connects two more.

The islands are home to the Star Island Hotel which is now a convention center owned by the Unitarian/Universalist Church (whose earliest known cemetery is my backyard) but which was once a popular resort managed by Celia Laighton Thaxter's father.

Her book is wonderful. She opens by describing the islands, both their geography and their history and then goes on to cover every aspect of life there. She rails quite furiously at how modern technology is ruining life there and how the newly built homes of settlers are an eyesore and destroy the charm of the ancient cottages. Since she wrote this in 1873 it is quite amusing to imagine how she would she her beloved islands today. Her love of the islands is on every page.

She amuses the reader with descriptions of the people, many of whom have lived their all their lives never stepping foot on the mainland. She describes their peculiar speech patterns, the odd, rolling gate that many of the men have developed from spending most of their time aboard ships. The discusses their habit of giving one another nicknames and odd local colloquialisms, rails against the drunkenness that has blighted the islands, and praises the women who seem to keep busy when the men are drinking. “Blessed be the man who invented knitting,” she writes, “It is the most charming and picturesque of quiet occupations, leaving the knitter free to read aloud or talk or think while steadily, surely beneath the flying fingers the comfortable stocking grows.”

In discussing mating rituals she recounts the native custom when a young man is besotted by a young lady he hides behind a tree and chucks rocks at her as she passes. If she turns to look at him that means she is interested. She tells of violinists who think that possessing a violin is all that is needed to make music and thus squawk out the most ear-splitting noise and give it pretentious, high-faulting names. In one charming passage she rhapsodizes about the sight of fishermen “Saxon-bearded, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and bronzed with shade on shade of ruddy brown” and goes on to say “the neutral blues and grays of the salt-water make perfect backgrounds for the pictures these men are continually showing one in their life aboard the boats. Nothing can be more satisfactory.” Celia! You naughty girl!

But amid the ghost stories, stories of wrecked ships, lost treasures, and amazing rescues are her descriptions of nature and there she is at her very best. She writes of storms and squalls, seals and snowy owls, songbirds and butterflies, the brilliant colors of island vegetation, and the beauties of the islands through the months from bleakest winter to sparkling summer.

This is a beautiful book – one that I'll keep and read again when I need a break from the mainland and the 21st century. It is a lovely little vacation in another era among the Isles of Shoals.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 22, 2011

For/From Indie Authors: Consuelo Saah Baehr

Consuelo Saah Baehr was born in El Salvador to French/Palestinian parents. At age five she joined her father and five uncles in Washington, D.C. where they ran the prestigious boutique department store, Jean Matou, a favorite of Bess Truman and Jackie Kennedy. Convent boarding schools came next and George Washington University. After college she began writing advertising copy for the Macy Corp. Marriage and three children followed and the writing was silent until a stunning Op-Ed piece in The New York Times brought a flurry of offers from book publishers. The result was the personal memoir, Report From The Heart (Simon & Schuster). Four novels followed: Best Friends (Delacorte/Dell); Nothing To Lose (Putnam's); Daughters (Delacorte/Dell) and 100 Open Houses soon to be a Kindle original. Daughters, a historical family saga set in pre-war Jerusalem, has been translated into 15 languages. It was published as a Kindle book in late August.


  • Ask yourself what you want to attain.  The easy answer is "a zillion sales."  Here's my answer:  An unexpected consequence of my foray into self-publishing has been what I can only describe as sustainable happiness.  Not a dizzy short-lived delirium but a dependable sense of purpose and satisfaction.     

  • Be sure to read Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing.  You can find them on his website.  They are funny but also very valuable and you should keep them in mind as you write.

  • Don't whine about bad reviews.  You are bound to get them and that's when you have to be a grown up and just move on.

    My amazon page:  http://tinyurl.com/48f565l

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Love It When This Happens: The Rasputin Relic

I don't remember how I heard about The Rasputin Relic but I ordered it and, once I started reading it I had a very hard time time putting it down. This is one of those books that, as a novel has some flaws, but as story-telling is just flat mesmerizing – appropriately so considering the subject matter.

The story begins in a Pennsylvania town that has slipped into decline since the closing of the mines that once made the entire area prosperous and attracted thousands of immigrants,largely Eastern European and Russian to work in those mines. Since I grew up not far from there I heard stories about the hundreds of miles of mining shafts under towns where fires burned for years, noxious gasses were emitted, and sudden collapses and cave-ins shook the entire town. Because many of the immigrants were Eastern Orthodox the skylines of these towns were punctuated with onion-dome steeples and I have lots of memories of looking at those skylines and being intrigued by those exotic-looking churches throughout the Lackawana River Valley.

The story opens in Middle Valley, Pennsylvania where Viktor Rhostok, a third generation Russian-American, is the acting chief of police. An old man named Vanya has died under very mysterious circumstances – he was confined to the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital – and, though the coroner rules it an accident, Rhostok has his doubts about an 80 year old man managing to crush all the bones in his right hand before falling off the roof of the hospital. The old man, it turns out, is one of three old men who have died in different parts of the country, all with destroyed right hands – and, Rhostok discovers, all veterans of the WWII era 101 Airborne all of whom were part of Operation Overlord, the preparation for D-Day. Rhostok knows one thing for sure, they might have been old men, but they were not weak, easily intimidated old men. (I want to add that, as the story progressed, I could not help but be reminded of Chekov's play, Uncle Vanya, the theme of which was unhappy people and wasted lives.)

Two months later another strange death occurs. Vanya's 50-something son returns from Las Vegas with a stunningly beautiful young wife and, within a few weeks, dies while making love to his bride. The young widow, still in shock, discovers a key to a safety deposit box that her father-in-law rented in 1946 and which has not been opened since. When the box is finally opened it is found to contain a huge male hand, still plump and bloody and fresh. Within hours the game is a-foot and all the people present at the opening of the box begin to die – all of them bleeding to death.

Rhostok, who was taught to read an ancient and arcane form of Russian, is the only one present who recognizes the writing on the paper in which the relic is wrapped. It is the name Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, the Mad Monk of Russia who beguiled the Tsarina Alexandra and was credited with saving the life of her young hemophiliac son, Alexi. It is up to Rhostok to find out what is going on, why all these people are dying, and to do it all while keeping it quiet lest unwanted publicity erupt into religious hysteria.

The book is just plain fascinating. The writing is straight-forward and never intrusive and the author, William M. Valtos, has done a tremendous amount of research. In the past I have criticized books for containing long passages of speeches and explanations – a fictional form that seems to be growing in popularity since The DaVinci Code – and Valtos' characters do a lot of that but the stories they have to tell are so intriguing I was very willing to overlook the form. The plot involves phenomenal amounts of Russian history, culture, mythology, religious mysticism, and medical anomalies. There is discussion of the phenomena of the “incorruptibles”, the role of the 101st Airborne, and contemporary biological warfare.

And some of the characters are just great. Rhostok is delicious, as are the two women he is forced to deal with, the widow Nicole whose life has been traumatized by years of sexual abuse and slavery, and a news reporter, Robyn, who is only too willing to use her sexuality to get what she wants. There are mad scientists and another equally mad Russian priest as well as a pantheon of really nasty bad guys.

If you are intrigued by Russian history and willing to suspend disbelief, this is a delicious read. I found it to be somewhat reminiscent of some of the books by one of my favorite authors Arturo Perez-Reverte, especially The Flanders Panel and The Club Dumas. I've ordered Valtos' novel La Magdalena and if it is as good as this one I'll be thrilled.

Fascinating interview with author William M. Valtos (audio).

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Economic Stockholm Syndrome or Old-Fashioned Resentment?

Warren Buffet's comments this week about taxing the rich has touched off a fire-storm of controversy among a lot of people I know and I keep trying to figure out why average citizens, making a decent living but far from billionaires, are so angry about the idea of taxing the super-rich at the same rate as the rest of us pay? It's a total mystery to me. I know people who are well-off, making a nice salary and with a good lifestyle, who just get rabid at the notion of millionaires having to pay the same percentage of taxes that made this country prosperous back before all the tax cuts for the uber-wealthy spent us spiraling into the current abysmal situation. I'm starting to think it's a form of economic Stockholm Syndrome. You know, the theory that people who are being abused and oppressed start to identify with their oppressors and act on their behalf? It's baffling.

Years ago when I lived in Texas I had a relationship with a man who was at a place similar to mine in life. I grew up in a medium-sized town in Pennsylvania, graduated from Penn State and was working in the art department of Houston Natural Gas (later Enron.) He grew up in a medium-sized Texas town, graduated from A&M, and was working at another oil company as an engineer. We had a good time together – it was an exciting time to be in Houston – and things were looking positive. But I noticed how often he talked about how poor his family was when he was growing up, how he never had anything, how they were so broke and his parents were so ignorant of niceties, etc. etc. etc. He was very concerned with dressing well and, as my people would say, “putting on airs”. I met his parents and his sister and they were very nice people – pretty much similar to my own family. They had a pleasant, tidy little house and, despite all his comments about how uneducated they were, they seemed perfectly fine to me.

One day during one such conversation, when he was talking about growing up “poor” I said, “Now wait a minute. I grew up with seven siblings. My Dad was a carpenter and my Mom was a full-time mom. You had one sister, your Dad was an oilfield roughneck and your Mom was a beautician. How come you were so much poorer than us?” He didn't have an answer for that.

A couple years later the Oil Bust hit Houston and both of us were laid off from our jobs. Within weeks I saw the difference between us. I wasn't happy about being laid off but I quickly got a temporary job with Pennzoil and then signed up with a few temp agencies and was kept pretty busy. He sent out a couple resumes every day and spent the rest of his time watching television and bemoaning how everything sucked. Within six months he found a job that he viewed as a huge step down and with a substantial cut in pay and I watched his steady decline into bitterness, resentment, and self-pity. The relationship ended and I moved to New England.

What I realized was that he, for whatever reason, saw himself as powerless in the world and completely at the mercy of the Fates. I regarded life as an adventure and, even though I wasn't happy about having to change, sometimes it was exciting and even fun. I don't know what ever became of him but I remember during those dark days how he would complain bitterly that, no matter how hard you worked, life was basically unfair.

I've been thinking about him as I've been listening to the people who oppose the idea of the rich being asked to contribute more. Their attitude is “I work my ass off and other people get something for nothing, it isn't fair.” Their bitterness and resentment against those they view as undeserving seems to be leading them into identification with -- and defense of -- those who would strip them of their last dime if they had the opportunity.

It's a mystery to me. Yes, there are those who abuse the system, but there are children going hungry every day in this country. There are elders who have to choose between medicine and food. There are hundreds of thousands of people who can't afford medical care. And there are those who trade in their old yacht for a new one when the ashtrays are full. I fail to understand why those who are comfortable, though not affluent, prefer to defend the latter and revile the former. What are they thinking?

I still cling to the Christian concept that we must feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and care for the sick – and leave it to God (or whoever) to decide whether they deserve it. I believe this because I grew up believing, as my Mom always said, “We're not poor, we just don't have any money.” There are lots of people with lots and lots of money in this country. Those of us with even a shred of conscience need to ask them to do more.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 19, 2011

In Love With Hemingway's Paris

This blog post appeared in April but with the renewed in Hemingway's Paris years thanks to the popular novel, The Paris Wife, I've gotten some emails asking where to find this so I am re-posting it. Enjoy!

Of all the books I own the one that gets taken down and re-read the most is Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. I pretty much learned everything good about writing, about creating atmosphere and mood, from that book. For that reason I was excited to see that Hesperus books has released a volume titled On Paris by Ernest Hemingway. It is a small volume, just 80 pages, collecting the young Ernest Hemingway's dispatches to the Toronto Star between March 1922 and December 1923. Some short, some longer, all of them filled with the young journalists beginnings as a writer.

The key to appreciating Hemingway's style in these early years is in recognizing the dry, droll humor. It seems sometimes that he is the only sane man in a lunatic asylum but he has chosen to report on whatever happens as accurately as possible. A Moveable Feast was written forty years later than the articles in On Paris and, in it, we see the seasoned old giant looking back on the eager young man he once was. But in On Paris the author is that eager young man and everything about him seems strangely wonderful.

My favorite of the articles is Rug Vendors in Paris. Complaining about the inevitability of being accosted by a rug vendor while enjoying a coffee at an outdoor café he advocates periodic outbursts of screaming “Death to robbers and rug vendors!” but recognizes they will probably not take that seriously. In the conversation that follows, arguing with a rug vendor, the dialog style, that became so typical of the later novels, is crisp, clean and hilarious.

Some of the articles delve in to the mysteries of French politics and the growing tensions (between the two World Wars) with Germany. In an essay on gargoyles he makes note of the particularly nasty gargoyles on high towers that, despite having been created some centuries before, all seem to glare in the direction of Germany.

He also takes on shocking offenses against Parisian society, did Pioncaré laugh in Verdun cemetery, and the great apéritif scandal, which happened during a particularly festive July 14th celebration. It seems an “unbalanced young Communist took a shot at and missed a prefect of police by mistake for M. Poincaré and the patriotic crowd mobbed him. Everyone agreed that M. Poincaré's life was undoubtedly saved by the Fourteenth of July because who could be expected to hit anyone they had shot at after such a night as all Paris had just spent.” This had little to do with the actual scandal which only manifested days later when everyone sobered up and realized that the many signs advertising apéritifs hanging over the cafés had been paid for by the government and it just seemed wrong that the government should promote the distilleries in the process of creating such a grand celebration. “There is a fearful scandal on,” Hemingway concludes, “and the inquiry about the apéritif signs still continues.”

I had to stop myself from reading the book all at once because the stories were so entertaining. In one article he discusses feminine fashion and the fad of ladies wearing hats with sparrows on them. In another he questions why the working men of Paris tolerate wearing such dreadful clothes just because their wives bought them. The men admit that the female domination of working men has to stop but, unfortunately, there is a daunting issue – these same women are such excellent cooks it is rather hard to stand up to them.

One of the most purely Hemingway essays in the collection is about one M. Deibler who lives in a comfortable Paris suburb among neighbors who respect and admire him for his jovial personality and neighborliness. They know he works for the government and, when M. Deibler is called away for a few days on business, they keep his wife company and await his return. What they do not know is that M. Deibler is the official executioner of Paris and is often required to pack up his portable guillotine and travel to some other town to attend to business. Well, you can imagine the rest.

This is such an entertaining little book. In it Hemingway is never more Hemingway-ish and that is a non-stop delight.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Love Letter to a First Wife

I've written before about my love of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast so when I read about the restored edition culled from his original manuscripts in the Hemingway Room at the JFK Library here in Boston, I couldn't wait to read it. A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition features a Preface by Hemingway's son Patrick (by his second wife, Pauline) and an Introduction by Sean Hemingway, his grandson, son of his son Jack by his first wife, Hadley. For a genuine Hemingway fan this is a tremendous treat.
Ernest and Hadley, Wife #1

Both the Preface and the Introduction point out differences in the original version and the restored one and some of them are quite interesting. As every writer knows it often takes several rewrites to get a sentence to convey the concept that you wish it to. Hemingway was no different than any other writer and the nuance of certain passages is better illuminated by the inclusion of passages he wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote until he got the meaning that he wanted. This is particularly true in his passages about F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Restored Edition paints Fitzgerald in a far more compassionate and appreciative light than the earlier one did.

In the Introduction there is also a discussion of the end of Hemingway's first marriage and the way in which he described his second wife Pauline coming in to his life. When I read this the first time I was upset by the seeming brazenness with which Pauline is depicted as throwing herself at him albeit he was only too willing to catch her. In the new Introduction we are told that Hemingway never really intended the book to end the way it did – that the depiction of Pauline as the seductress and Hadley as the wronged wife was more an effect created by Mary Welsh Hemingway, the fourth wife, who edited the book. But regardless of how the final chapters were arranged, the words remain virtually the same. Hemingway still says that he wished he had died before he loved anyone else.
Ernest and Pauline, Wife #2

What struck me with this reading, though it was always there, was that this book was written thirty years after Hemingway's marriage to Hadley ended. He was on his fourth marriage at the time and was looking back on his youth. When you read the book all the passages about Hadley are so beautifully written and describe her in such loving terms that she comes across as an adored and worthy wife, completely devoted to her young husband, who in no way deserved to be so cruelly betrayed by both her husband and her best friend. Though the Introduction assures us that Hemingway viewed his second marriage as a new beginning, the four-times married man looks back and sees this lovely, sweet, supportive wife whom he seems to admire tremendously. He speaks openly – painfully – of his remorse in leaving her for someone else. He calls her the heroine of the tale and says he is happy that she met and married someone far more deserving and worthy than he was.
Ernest & Martha, Wife #3

I cannot help but wonder what the subsequent wives felt about this book. Well, Pauline, Wife #2 was dead when he wrote it. Martha, Wife #3, was the one who left him, and Mary, Wife #4, was with him when he wrote it and acted as editor for the original version.

The book is just marvelous and no matter how many times I read it I just fall in love all over again. My favorite story is still the one about the opium-addicted poet Dunning who Hemingway is put in charge of by Ezra Pound. That dry, droll Hemingway humor that I adore is never more evident than in that story. And I'll never forget the chapter in which Scott Fitzgerald asks Hemingway to have a look and reassure him that he is... um … adequately endowed (because Zelda said he wasn't) and Hemingway's solution to his distress is to take him to the Louvre to look at classical nudes. But through it all I wonder about the remorse he talks about so poignantly at the end – the remorse that he had loved someone as much as he loved Hadley and yet wronged her as he did.
Ernest & Mary, Wife #4

A Moveable Feast is many things and, perhaps most of all, it is a love-letter to the woman with whom he shared his earliest years and struggles and disappointments. Hadley went on to live a good and happy life (she palled around with Julia Childs in Paris during her years there) with her second husband. But reading this new version of Hemingway's masterpiece I cannot help but wonder what she must have felt reading it. I wonder if – had he stayed with her – he ever would have written it at all.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Girl of the Limberlost: The Thing I Missed Back Then

Awhile back in a discussion of books that we loved when we were young Gene Stratton-Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost came up. This brought back wonderful memories for me because that was one of my favorite books when I was a girl. Because I lived in an area where there were woods all around us and I spent many hours in those woods the story of Elnora, a girl who was pitifully neglected by her grieving mother, finding solace and then a future in the woods, was delicious to me. Recently I decided I wanted to read it again. I realized that a lot of the things I try to infuse my own writing with came from that book – especially the omnipresent natural world with all its moods, beauties, and dangers. I found a copy on Amazon and, when it arrived, I immediately went to the porch and sunk into it.

It's a wonderful book – heart-breaking and heart-warming with an old-fashioned sensibility and yet some slightly shockingly contemporary touches that must have been a little surprising at the time it was written in 1909. It is set in Indiana on the edge of the Limberlost Swamp whose dense, lavish beauty is filled with both wonders and horrors – the wonders being the abundance of all manner of moths who flit through the swamp. The horrors being the bogs that can grab onto a careless traveler and suck them down to an unpleasant death as they did to Elnora's father when she was just a babe. Her young mother witnessed the death of the beloved husband to whom she had only been wedded a year and who has never recovered from his death. She takes out her grief and her temper on Elnora.

But Elnora is a remarkable girl – sometimes a little too sweet and amazing by today's standards. She is beautiful and brilliant and resourceful and everything I wanted to be when I was a girl. She wants to go to high school but she doesn't have the means and her mother is nasty and mocking of her unsophistication. I really, really hated her mother.

Then Elnora discovers something wonderful – she can sell the beautiful moths that live in the swamp to collectors to earn the money for books and clothes and treats to fit in with the other girls in her school. The story moves on from there. However, in all my youthful day-dreaming over Elnora's secret kingdom – the “room” with a hidden trunk where she stored her moths – I managed to miss one thing that jumped out at me this time. She was catching those gorgeous moths in order to kill them. Yikes. I know the comments about her cyanide jars were always there. No surprises but somehow I missed that when I was reading it as a girl.

My sensibilities are not so delicate that I get terribly upset by the gathering of moths for collection but as the story progresses and the moths get harder and harder to find – when some become so rare that Elnora despairs of ever finding certain types again. Then she finds these rare elusive creatures and immediately gets her cyanide jar all I could think was, “Hey, don't be so greedy! Let them breed!”

The first half of the book is still wonderful. I loved the descriptions of the foods her mother and her neighbor Margaret prepare. I adored the descriptions of the clothes they made for her. And the descriptions of the beautiful woodland baskets and gifts that Elnora made of bark and mosses and woodland flowers and nuts still enchanted me. When her mother realizes what a fool she has been and tries to make amends to her daughter by taking good care of her I was so happy. I must admit I was a little shocked this time to realize what I missed before – that the reason Elnora's father got sucked into the swamp was because he was fooling around with a woman on the other side of the swamp and, after being with her, he was hurrying home to his wife and baby and didn't watch where he was going. Jerk.

The second half of the books, the “Cinderella” story, was a little bit too sweet but those were simpler times (I guess) and happy endings tended to be very happy indeed.

I still love the book. As an adult I am more aware of its flaws but it is still a wonderful story and I know my writing has benefited from Stratton-Porter's eye for the natural world. She gave me a gift in that and it has served me well.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

#SampleSunday: Clair Gets Even from "The Old Mermaid's Tale"

Since this book got a couple of very nice 5-star reviews last week I thought I'd use this one again.....
In this excerpt from The Old Mermaid's Tale: It is 1963. Clair, Gia, and Karen are waitresses in a waterfront diner and Gia is about to elope with her lover Willy. Clair is in love with a musician who was crippled while working as a deckhand on a merchant ship, and Karen, who has been around for quite awhile, resents their romances.

A group of sailors pushed through the door and crowded into a booth in my station. I sighed and picked up a pitcher of ice water.
So what’s Mama think about you being a fallen woman?” Karen smirked at Gia.
I don’t have to talk to you,” Gia said untying her apron.
No, you sure don’t and I’ll bet you’re not talking much to Mama these days either. How you planning to explain your red eyes when loverboy here pulls out of town? Or do you have a replacement lined up?” She had her hands on her hips and blood dripping from her fangs.
Shut up, Karen.” I repeated as I passed her. “Leave them alone.”
Why should I?” she snapped. “You two think you’re such perfect little virgins—always talking like I’m the slut. Seems to me like you’re not one bit different.” Two truck drivers finishing up their meals at the counter nudged each other and snickered.
What are you laughing at?” she turned on them. “They think just because those bums hold their coats for them and buy them dinner they give a rat’s ass. Ha! Make me laugh!”
Willy loves me!” Gia said, startled. “He wants to marry me.”
Karen snorted. “Oh right! He’s going to go back to whatever God forsaken cow town he came from and write you love letters and find a little love nest for you. Why, maybe he’ll even invite you home to meet his mama. In a pig’s eye!”
Willy,” Gia went around and placed her hands on his shoulders, “tell her.”
Willy would have stood up if she hadn’t been leaning on him. He looked up at her and said, “You know how I feel. Who cares what she thinks. I just want to be with you.” He slid his arm around her waist.
See,” Gia said looking directly at Karen “He’s taking me with him when he leaves. I’m going to stay with his family and we’re going to be happy together.”
Karen stared open-mouthed for a full minute. She poked her pencil back in her curls. “Oh now I’ve heard everything,” she sputtered at last. “Well, I won’t try to stop you making a fool of yourself.” She turned and the obnoxious smirk returned as she eyed me. “You might be making an ass of yourself but you’re still not as stupid as smart-ass college girl here.”
Giovanna’s jaw dropped.
Ignore her,” I said putting down the pitcher of water and leaning over the counter to give Gia a hug. “Just go. You won’t be sorry.”
But it was me Gia chose to ignore. “What the hell is that supposed to mean, you cow?”
Sal choked on his coffee and stared at her open-mouthed.
Karen looked back and forth between us with that smirk. “Well,” she drawled, “at least your bum has two legs.”
No one is ever prepared for such moments. We prefer to believe we would behave with dignity, at least I always did. But the mad, instinctual violence that had been lurking under my surface ever since I met Karen was way ahead of me. I meant to walk away but somehow—in the same moment—I was turning and the satisfying crunch of her jaw crumpling under my fist was reverberating up my arm. She flew backward in a graceless, but appropriate, spread-legged posture and landed across the end of the counter sending salt shakers, ketchup bottles, and sugar shakers flying. A loud hiss sounded when the brown mountain of curls flew off the top of her head and hit the coffee machine burners where they simmered like a scorched tarantula. I heard a mixture of gasps, laughter, and a brief smattering of applause.
Goddamn.” Sal put his coffee cup down.
Minka came rocketing around the corner—her skirt in a wad around her waist as she fished in the far-reaches of her pink flowered girdle for her Smith and Wesson.
Clair!” Gia covered her face with her hands. “My God, Clair! Did you hurt yourself?”
My arm was going numb and, though I could see blood welling up on my split knuckles, I couldn’t move. The truck drivers bent over Karen’s limp form splashing ice water on her face. Carl came running out of the storeroom the side of his face still white from the flour sack he had been sleeping against.
Who got shot?” he shrieked.
Way to go, slugger.” Willy chucked me on the arm. I stared at him, then closed my eyes and fainted dead away.