Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Weekly Update - 21 Jan

OK, so it's the middle of the week, and I didn't do an update last week... I had one of the most awful colds/allergic reactions/flu imaginable, and my heart was seriously into nothing more energetic than crawling out of bed for a fresh cup of herb tea and some ibuprofin now and again. But I am feeling better now, so without farther ado -

IAG member Patricia Gott (So You Wanna be a Cowgirl?) was interviewed on the Western blog - The Tainted Archive! (Yay us - everywhere that western writers want to be!)

Jack Shakley had a review posted in the latest Internet Review of Books: it doesn't seem to me like he liked the book at all. (and thanks for the warning, Jack - since I have a low gross-out threshold anyway!)

L.S. Cauldwell is over the moon, with a good review for "The Golden Treasure" at "The Midwest Book Review"! So sayeth head reviewer Diane C. Donovan:

"The Anna Mae Mysteris: The Golden Treasure is a multi-cultural
mystery novel for young adults. Twelve year old Anna Mae Botts, her
eight year old brother Malcolm, and Anna Mae's bet friend Raul Garcia
encounter a ghostly black fist on their fist day of school. It drops
paper clues about Jeffeson Davis' lost Civil War treausre, and later
a school fire occurs. Paranormal events multiply, and the young
people are led along the same trail the Jefferson Davis once took
with his gold-laden wagon train. A fascinating story of uncovering
history's secrets as well as hidden welath, The Anna Mae Mysteries-
The golen Treasure is sure to captivate the imagination and is a
welcom addition to young adult library collections. "

And there is a new e-book publisher out there called "Smashwords" (link to side here)
with something of the same mission as the IAG. Check it out, if interested.

And the January Spotlight up at Dianne's plase. Well, it has been up for a bit. Her monthly spotlight is now also on the IAG home-page in the "links of significance".

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Imagination and Will

Sometime around the middle of the time my daughter and I lived in Athens, the Greek television network broadcast the whole series of Jewel in the Crown, and like public broadcasting in many places— strictly rationing their available funds— they did as they usually did with many worthy imported programs. Which is to say, not dubbed into Greek— which was expensive and time-consuming— but with Greek subtitles merely supered over the scenes. My English neighbor, Kyria Penny and I very much wanted to watch this miniseries, which had been played up in the English and American entertainment media, and so she gave me a standing invitation to come over to hers and Georgios's apartment every Tuesday evening, so we could all watch it, and extract the maximum enjoyment thereby. We could perhaps also make headway with our explanation to Kyrie Georgios on why Sergeant Perron was a gentleman, although an enlisted man, but Colonel Merrick emphatically was not.

On occasion, the Greek broadcasting network screwed up, and the next episode of Jewel didn't air. Penny and I would talk for a while, and Georgios would encourage my daughter to all sorts of rough-housing; pillow fights, mostly. (Blessed with two sons, the Greek ideal, Georgios rather regretted that he and Penny didn't have a daughter as well.) On those Tuesday nights when Jewel in the Crown didn't air, the Greek network most often substituted something appropriately high-toned, classical and in English. Brought out from their library and dusted off, most likely— the Royal Shakespeare Company, in all their thespian glory. And Penny and Georgios and all I noticed on one of those warm spring evenings, that Blondie was sitting on a cushion on the floor, totally absorbed, wrapped up in one of the Bard's duller history plays. She was then about four years old— but she was enchanted, bound by a spell of brocaded velvet words, swirling cloaks and slashing swords, glued to the television while we sat talking about other things, drawn in by a spell grown even more lightening-potent over the last 400 years. And it happened, the next time that Jewel was preempted - it was the RSC again, and Blondie was glued to the television, her concentration adamantine, and almost chillingly adult. I was quite sure she had never seen anything of the sort before, I wasn't one of those frenetically over-achieving mothers, stuffing culture down the kidlets' throat. I barely had time and energy enough to be an achieving mother: we hardly watched TV at home, VCRs were barely on the market and her favored bedtime reading was Asterix and Obelix, although we had branched out as far as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. No, it was not anything I had done - it must have been something innate in Shakespeare, a spell that has been cast, and drawn them in since Shakespeare himself was a working actor and playwright.

A couple of years ago I got "Will in the World" as a book club bennie. It's a good book, a speculative book by necessity, since we know so very, very little for certain of the real William Shakespeare. The author is dependent on speculation and imagination, much given to assuming that if such and such were happening in the neighborhood of Stratford-upon-Avon in the lifetime of the glove-maker's son, then he possibly would have known about it, and might have reason to weave it into one of his spell-plays. Did he have a good education, or not? Might he have been a school-teacher? A soldier? A clerk? Might he have been a Catholic sympathizer? Might his marriage been unhappy, his father a drinker - we have no way to know for sure, in ways that would satisfy the strict accountants of history. In fact, many have been the symposia, the experts, the finely honed intellectual authorities who have insisted over the years that the Shakespeare who was the actor, the manager and entrepreneur, the son of a provincial petty-bourgeois, simply could not have written the works attributed to him. Such expert knowledge of statecraft, of law, of international polity, of soldiering and the doings of kings and nobles - no, the tenured experts cry - this could not be the work of any less than an intellectual, highly placed and noble, gifted with the best education, and extensive mileage racked up in the corridors of power! Any number of candidates, better suited in the eyes of these experts to have written the works attributed to Wm. Shakespeare of Stratford are advanced, with any number of imaginative stratagems to account for it all, but every one of them I have read, leaves out the power of imagination itself.

Imagination, which takes us out of ourselves, and into someone else— the common thing all these great experts disregard, as if it were something already cast into disrepute, something useless, of no regard, but it is the major part of the actors - craft and entirely the part of the writers - that part that is not given up to intelligent research. All those great experts seemed to be saying, when they credit other than Shakespeare, the actor and bourgeois householder of Stratford and London - is that imagination is worthless, null, of no account or aid. It is impossible for a writer to imagine himself, or herself into anything other than what he or she is. One cannot imagine oneself convincingly into another time or place, gender or role in life. Imagination is dead and you are stuck with writing about what you are. How sterile, and how horrible. How pointless and boring—
but that is what the highly-educated would have of us. We must not, under pain of what the academicians judge, imagine what it would be like that it is to be whatever we were born to be.

When I was about 17, or so, I wrote a story for a high school English creative writing class, incorporating an account of a historic event which I couldn't possibly have witnessed— because I had been born fifteen years after the events I described. But I had done research, and even at 17 I was pretty good at writing description and I had the gift of imagination. It creeped the hell out of the creative writing teacher. He knew of the events that I had written about, and I had gotten it pretty well right. So, imagining again; what would have prevented a young actor from sloping up to a friend of his, in a tavern someplace, a friend who was a soldier, or a law clerk, a priest or servant in the house of a noble, and saying " Say, I've got this thing I'm working on - what d'you say about it? What do you think, how would it work, really?"

Which was the creepy, magical part, the part that academicians and writing teachers cannot fathom - how far the intelligent and well-researched imagination can take us. To insist that Shakespeare couldn't have written Shakespeare, is to deny the power and authority - even the authenticity of imagination.

Which may explain the relative shittiness of novels written by all but the most deviant of academics. Education— all very nice, but nothing will take a writer farther than imagination and some good contacts in other fields. Imagination - it' s what we have that separates us from the beasts. Never underestimate it, use it what you must. Especially when it's necessary to get out of what you are, and see through the eyes of someone else.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh, Pioneer Museum!

That was a treat – yesterday at Fredericksburg’s Pioneer Museum. I had a talk and a discussion for an hour, with a group of interested historians and readers, and then sat behind a small table the visitor center, between a shelf of scented candles, cowboy postcards and other souvenirs, and a large rack of maps and information about Fredericksburg and the Hill Country and signed copies of the Adelsverein Trilogy for two hours. All in all, exhausted, happy and talked hoarse. Richard Bristol, the event manager was a little disappointed that it was not standing room only – but alas, it seemed that an elderly retired admiral, who was very much a big wheel in local historical circles had died this week, and his memorial service was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. And Kenn Knopp, who is also very big in the local historical society, was ill and in the hospital … so not as many of the local enthusiasts were in attendance, but those who were, were very keen. One of them had seen the write-up in the Fredericksburg paper, had driven 200 miles.

They had set up a podium and folding chairs, in the old parish hall, which is now part of the museum complex, but I would have felt so stupid, standing up and talking to barely a dozen people, so I just said, heck with it; we pulled some chairs around in a circle, and I rattled on for a bit about how I came to write the books, what was so fascinating about the 19th century, and how I did research, then I read a bit from Book One (the part where the first party of settlers had a bonfire and celebrated among the trees on the first night after arriving at the site of Fredericksburg.) After that – question time!

Not terribly difficult ones; most about Fredericksburg, and the Civil War, and the Mainzer Adelsverein. All those present were interested and knowledgeable, and I have been so steeped in the original sources over the last two years that I could hold my own. Brief discussion of how many murders there actually had been on Main Street (only two, of the Itz brothers during the Civil War – J.P. Waldrip was killed a little way off Main, Louis Scheutze was taken from his house on Main and killed elsewhere), of the ways in which Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels was an idiot (a practically endless list), the origin of the Easter bonfires on the hilltops around Fredericksburg (transplanted regional folk-way, nothing much to do with Indians) and the fact that long-trail cattle drives from Texas to Kansas only went on for barely ten years.

And the most gratifying part was that almost everyone at the discussion had either already bought a set of the Trilogy, or went and bought one directly afterwards, and brought it back for me to sign. As I had hoped, many of them have some connection or special interest: the lady who came 200 miles now owns the house which was built by the Itz family. Richard has ancestors on either side who are mentioned; Lt. Wilke, who went with John Meusebach on his peace mission to the Comanche, and the Stielers of Comfort who were strong Unionists – and still have a large ranch property on the road between IH-10 and Fredericksburg.

After that – two hours, as noted in the new museum reception center. Well, not exactly new, it’s an old historic stone house which became a restaurant at the other end of town, then painstakingly disassembled and put together again on the museum grounds. According to Richard, it took so long that the numbers on some of the stones had weathered away, and it was the very dickens to put it all back together again. It’s much lighter and more open than the house in which it first was – that house was very dim and cramped. Good for working up a mental picture of what the inside of the original houses must have been like, but a bit cave-like to spend two hours in. And the resident cats have moved one: one of them vanished, and the other made such a hit at the local ASPCA that she is now a foster-mother for kittens needing socializing, and lives there permanently. The Museum now has a crying need for some resident cats; the mice are insatiable, even though there isn’t any food kept in most of the structures.
There was a constant trickle of visitors, since this is the last weekend of the holidays. Most of the shops along Main had very serious after-holiday sales going on. After we were done at the Museum – all the complete sets of the Trilogy sold, BTW – and Richard bought the last set himself, Blondie and I walked down Main, and stopped in at a little bookstore specializing in Texiana, where I have hopes of them carrying the Trilogy also. It used to be situated in a nook of a store specializing in Christmas paraphernalia, but the owner has sold the stock and goodwill to another shop-owner a little way along. We spoke to the new owner, who is busy setting up all the books in a larger and more comfortable space. She was very interested about carrying the Trilogy, and wanted to know where and how to order them. (She also turns out to be a descendant of the Nimitz family - yay! Another local connection in the Trilogy!) Berkman’s, at the other end of Main, where I had a signing two weeks ago, sold out of the last copies they had within a day or two; as predicted, the people who bought Book One came back to get the subsequent volumes. We finished up with hamburgers and fries at a little joint called “Buffalo Nickel”. A good day – exhausting, but a good day.