Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Two Eternal Types in Fiction

It's strange where research takes you. I blogged about this a long time ago. Recently I had another incidence of this.

For my book Documenting America, in which I excepted a number of historical American documents, I decided I should try to read the entire documents. Mostly I had worked from excerpts in The Annals of America. At first I felt that was good enough for my purposes. But then I thought to make sure the previous abridger hadn't removed essential contact, I had better read the entire document.

Not surprisingly, most of the documents were easy to find using Internet search engines. A couple had to be teased out by multiple searches. Google Books was the main source, though other patriotic websites also had documents I needed. In some of the documents I did find material that the previous abridgment that I could use in my essays.

One document that gave me some trouble was the essay "Our Blundering Foreign Policy" by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. I found it, but didn't bookmark it. Then I couldn't find it next time I looked for it. Then I found it again. Then, when it was time to put a link in the homeshcool edition of the book, I once again couldn't find it. I knew it appeared in the March 1895 issue of The Forum magazine, but I could no longer find it on-line. of the times I did find it I read the Table of Contents for the entire volume, and found an article titled "The Two Eternal Types in Fiction". I figured that was something I should read, so I printed it and set it aside. I found it a couple of days ago while doing a paper clean-up at the house, but I wasn't sure where it came from. I thought it might have been that magazine, but wasn't sure. So I searched for that phrase, and found a ton of information about it. That included finding a new (to me) site for accessing old documents, This is not a university site. It's a free, on-line library. I've only briefly begun to explore it, but it appears to be an on-line place I should try to know well.

So (trying to focus here), I found the article in the March 1895 issue of The Forum. It was written by a man named Hamilton W. Mabie. A little Wikipedia work gave me what I needed to know about him. He was an American writer, essayist, critic, editor, and lecturer. I decided to give Mr. Mabie's article a read.

The main premise of the article is that there are two types of novels: one being the novel of romance and adventure, the other being the novel of realism. I'm not sure that Mabie was saying these were the only kinds of novels, but these are the ones he set opposed to each other. When realism was strong, romance and adventure declines. Realism had just come through a strong, strong period, with many critics saying it was the wave of the future. Realism would dominate literature forever.

Mabrie disagreed, and gave many examples of novels of then recent years that showed just the opposite: romance and adventure were making a comeback. I must confess to not recognizing most of the names. In fact I think Arthur Conan Doyle was the only one I did recognize.

But that's not really what the two types are. The two types Mabrie refers to are two types of lead character: the hero and the wanderer. The man who achieves and the man who experiences. The man who
masters life by superiority of soul or body, and the man who masters it by completeness of knowledge.

Unfortunately, I must end this blog post now, being out of time and almost out of cooperating gray cells. Look for a follow-up post soon.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Not So Happily Ever After

Today I bring you an interview with author Susan Barnett Braun, about her latest book.
Your latest book, Not So Happily Ever After: The Tale of King Ludwig II, was published earlier this month. Give us a nutshell view of it.

It’s the story of “mad King Ludwig,” who ruled the southern German state of Bavaria from 1865 until his mysterious death in 1886. Ludwig has fascinated folks for years – he was quite an eccentric during his life. His lasting legacies are in the arts (he was composer Richard Wagner’s main patron) and in architecture (his three castles are major money-makers for Germany). Yet even though he was a king, Ludwig was never able to find happiness in life. His truly was a “not so happily ever after” tale.

What prompted you to write this book? King Ludwig II seems a bit obscure to the typical American.

I learned about King Ludwig when I was in high school German classes. He fascinated me, and as the years passed I continued to read and learn more about him. When I was teaching, I applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study him. In 1993, I visited Germany and saw all three of his castles. I’ve always enjoyed history, but something about Ludwig just appealed to me. I find myself often searching out new articles or books about him – he’s just that interesting!

What are a couple of things about Ludwig that fascinate you?

The biggest fascination has to be his quirks: dining with his horse, staying awake all night and sleeping during the day, refusing to meet with his cabinet and dignitaries even though he was King, etc. But also, the huge legacy he left Bavaria through his castles. His cabinet heartily disliked him for his “foolish” spending of time and money on building, but today, Bavaria has taken in far more from those castles than Ludwig ever spent. His most famous castle, Neuschwanstein, is probably the most iconic and recognizable castle in the world today. Heck, Walt Disney used it as inspiration for his castles. You don’t get much more publicity than that!

This is a book primarily for school children. Why? Why not write it for adults?

There are quite a few books on Ludwig written for adults, so I didn’t see the need there. I began writing this book for kids in the grades 4-6 age group, but I quickly realized that the events of Ludwig’s life (two wars and quite a bit of information on opera composer Richard Wagner) was a bit beyond the scope of that age range. So, I feel the book is more appropriate to middle or high school students. It’s also good for adults who’d like to learn more about Ludwig, but who don’t necessarily want to read a 300-page book about him.

Another consideration was the strong clues that Ludwig was homosexual. I didn’t want to get into a discussion of homosexuality in a children’s book, and so I didn’t include that in my story. Heaven knows there are plenty of interesting things about Mad King Ludwig without going into his possible sexual orientation.

Where can people get this book?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Non-understandable Advice from Eudora Welty

For the last three weeks I've been slogging through The Eye of the Story, which is a collection of essays, critical reviews, and writer career evaluations by Eudora Welty. I must admit to never having read anything of hers; at least I don't remember doing so. For sure I've never read one of her novels, but I suppose it's possible that I read one or more of her short stories during my school years. If so, they didn't make a lasting impression on me.

I first read her short memoir One Writer's Beginnings, which I found quite informative. No two writers' paths are the same, so I didn't read that to serve as a model for anything, but rather to learn something about this icon of American 20th Century literature about whom I knew nothing.

Then, when I saw The Eye of the Story and saw what it was about, I bought it. Used, of course. The first part of the book, the shortest, is five essays about the literary careers of five writers. The middle part, the part that most interests me, is essays on the writing process. The third part is Welty's literary criticism of specific works, maybe as many as fifteen of them.

I thought I should read the book from the beginning, rather than jump right into the writing advice part. However, I found the writing almost impossible to follow. The sentence structure is fine—you would expect nothing less from a Pulitzer winner. But I read the sentences and don't have a clue what she's trying to say. I got through two and a half chapters of that, and decided I would skip ahead to the writing advice part.

Unfortunately, I found this to be just as difficult to understand. Welty must have been an uber-intellectual. This non-fiction sure reads that way. I wish I could adequately describe it. I'm writing this from work; the book is at home. I don't know why I didn't pick it up this morning and bring it with me, knowing I was going to write this blog post. Maybe tonight I'll edit some examples in.

It didn't help trying to read this sitting next to my wife while she wanted the television on. But this last week, while she's been gone, I tried reading it in the quiet of the evening. I tried in the quiet of the morning, when my mind was fresh. Nothing seemed to help.

For now, I'm going to put this on the shelf. I'm not giving up on it fully. I think Welty has something to say to me, if I can ever figure out what it is.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Mom died"

It's been 47 years. Very few years that I've fogotten and not mourned again. I wanted to paste in her picture, but I don't seem to have one electronically on this computer, and can't access my nephew's database where I know there are some.

Remembering Mom and Dad

Mom died at night; a painful death, they say.
Three children mourned. Then age thirteen, I cried,
though not as much as Dad about the way
Mom died.

Despite his nightshift job, this hero tried
to raise us right. He faced the world's array
alone. Steadfast, he took no second bride

who might divide his time. Would he betray
that sacred trust? No way. I've much relied
on what Dad taught, and always kept the day
Mom died.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blame the Writer

Among the writing/publishing industry blogs I read are several by agents, including "Between the Lines," the blog by the agents of the Books and Such Literary Agency. Yesterday, August 13, a blog post by agency founder and head honcho Janet Grant was eye-opening for me.

The title of the post was "Publisher's Contracts and How they Got That Way". The main premise of the post is this:
Every paragraph has an author’s initials beside it. (Which is a quote from an editor, by the way.) Oh, those initials are written with invisible ink, but the truth is authors are responsible for much of each publisher’s contract.
As of right now the post has 31 comments, most of which are positive to Janet's post.

I'm not a lawyer, and I've never played one on television—or on stage. But I've worked with contracts for 35 years. Construction contracts, consisting of multiple documents tied together by an "Agreement," with forty pages of "General Conditions" and "Supplementary Conditions" of about eight to twelve pages. When I administer a construction contract, I'm responsible to interpret these documents as an engineer. I need to understand what the contractor's responsibilities are, what the owner's responsibilities are, and see that both of them are fulfilling those responsibilities. If one party isn't, I get to nudge them in the right direction. When either one has a claim that the other party hasn't fulfilled those responsibilities, I'm the initial arbiter of the claim, and hopefully can bring the parties to a resolution and keep them out of court.

For these construction contracts, those forty pages of General Conditions are the result of a century of construction contract law, with specialty lawyers for the all parties coming together and hammering out language that protects the interests of the parties and facilitates getting something constructed. That doesn't keep construction projects from resulting in lawsuits, but it keeps a whole lot of disputes from getting to the court stage, and prevents disputes from happening in the first place.

One of the most important legal doctrines (if that's the right words and I'm using the concept directly) that has been tested in court is that the parties to the contract must come from essentially equal bargaining positions for the contract clauses to all be valid. I'm sure that's an over simplification, based on a perspective from my years in construction. If one party has a position of superior strength that they can dictate clauses without considering the other side's position, enforcing that clause through a court of law will be more difficult for the strong party.

So when the author of that post says it's the fault of a long line of writers that current publishing contracts are so unfavorable to writers, I have to laugh. The publishers have all the strength in this "negotiation," not the authors. This is because of just how much of a buyer's market it is. If the author doesn't like the contract, there are a dozen would-be authors with books just as good, having equal marketing potential, who will sign that contract. So when the author tries to negotiate, through their agent, it's an unequal negotiation. It's not a case of the author bringing a knife to a gun fight; the author brings a pea-shooter to a gun fight.

A late commenter added this to the discussion.
Listen up, writers: I’m sorry to burst your blame bubble, but the only clauses that bear your initials are the ones you initialed. You are NOT to blame for the changes in publishing contracts that have made them less and less favorable to you, the creator.
I agree. She went on to say:
The writer is the person with the least power in the relationship being defined by the contract, the one without whom there wouldn’t be a book to publish, and the one whose career could be wrecked by signing off on most if not all of the current noncompetition clauses offered by corporate publishers.
I agree. Publishing contracts have become the way they are because publishers can afford a team of corporate lawyers who look after the publisher's interests, not the writers. The writer typically doesn't bring an intellectual property rights lawyer to the table, but an agent. An agent who isn't trained in the law, though who knows something about contracts. An agent who represents fifty different writers all trying to sell a book to the same six publishers, or to subsidiaries of these publishers. And yet you want to blame those writers for draconian clauses.

Just one more indication of how the entire publishing industry is broken.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"The Jefferson Lies" Pulled

As I drive home in the evenings, if I'm still en route after 6:05 p.m., I catch a few minutes of David Barton's Wallbuilders show. I'm generally sympathetic to what Barton believes, but listening to him describe it is often painful. Part of the problem is his speech pattern, where he cuts off his words as if he's in a hurry. That grinds on me. He says he swallows his words because he's from Texas. No, Mr. Barton. I've known many Texans, working with them and attending church with them. I've never heard a one of them swallow their words like you do. Don't blame your speech on Texas.

The latest controversy is his book The Jefferson Lies, which deals with what he considers revisionist history having been foisted on an unsuspecting population by generations of inaccurate historians. On August 9, 2012, the publisher, Thomas Nelson (a division of Harper Collins), pulled the book due to concerns about it's inaccuracies. The Internet is abuzz over this. I found what I consider to be a fair treatment of it at

I've been concerned about Barton. As I said I listen to him some and think I'm somewhat in agreement with his conclusions, but wonder how he could get to those conclusions based on his logic. Also, he has the view that we should base what type of country we are today on the type of country we were in the distant past. I don't know that I agree with him. So far I've not read any of his published books, nor even as much as a blog post of his.

I think the case for basing our current public policies and administration on biblical principles needs to be made afresh for each generation. They were good in the past? So what? Why are they good now? This is what Barton has failed to do in my listening to him. He needs to make the case that biblical conduct is superior to secular conduct. It was in 1776. It was in 1789. It was in 1861. And it is in 2012. Absent of that case being made, whatever our Founding Fathers believed is an important item to throw in the mix of other items, but is not definitive.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Irons and Fire: Cliche Alert

When you can't think of something to write, use a cliche, let everyone criticize you, and move on. Then come back and try to think of another way to say it, without the cliche, make the edit and move on.

That's my advice to myself today, so I used the irons in the fire cliche. Yesterday evening all the things I'm trying to accomplish kind of came crashing down on me. I won't go into too many details, especially not about the many things that are not writing related. My to-do list is fuller than normal, let's just put it that way.

One iron was taken out of the fire this morning, sort of. Having not heard from the new managing editor of Buildipedia about the status of my monthly column (previously semi-monthly), I sent a third e-mail. I still worded it fairly nice, but said I needed to hear about whether they were going to publish the column I submitted based on my last contract, and that if not I would like them to pay me the kill fee. She responded very quickly, in very nice words. She said they will honor the contract and publish the column, but that would be the end of it. The analytics just don't support the column. She encouraged me to find other things to write about for them.

The "sort of" comes from what I did next. I asked for the rights to my construction administration articles so that I could cobble them together into an e-book on construction administration. Since the contracts I wrote them under describe them as essentially works-for-hire, I don't have rights to reprints. But I have enough material published there that, if I could get those rights released they would make the nucleus of a very nice e-book. She replied that she would check with her management, and that she would support me in the release of those rights.

Assuming I get that release (which is not a given and may not happen), I'll have around 13,000 words already written. If I could get that up to 25,000, I think I'd have a viable e-book for the engineering community. But that's work. It's taking the iron out of one fire and putting it in another. Oh, well, I won't likely hear for a while, and even if I receive those rights I won't likely work on it for six months to a year.

I'm in the process of trying to finish the two print books I recently proofed. Hopefully tonight I'll find the hour I need to work out the pagination on the homeschool edition of Documenting America and upload the new file. It would be nice to get that out of the fire for a few days. Then I can put the marketing iron for it into the fire.

The work needed for the print version of The Candy Store Generation is proving more difficult than I expected. The graphics are the problem. In order to improve the quality of the many graphs to make them look decent in print I need to go through a software contortion for each that would make a sideshow performer lame. The book has 18 graphs. All but three need improving. I generated about half of those using Excel, the others I pulled from websites. I'm reading in a guide on how to improve or maintain the quality of graphic files pulled into Word. It includes a software step for which I don't have the program, but for which there's a free program work-around. I don't think tonight will give me enough time to do it, but maybe tomorrow and the weekend.

Unfortunately the iron I have to tend to right now is my day job. Possibly I'll get back to this.

Monday, August 6, 2012

We Are Not Alone

That sounds like something right out of a science fiction novel. We are not alone in the universe. Other intelligent life is out there, waiting to be contacted." Queue up some aliens, some laser beams, and redirect the S.E.T.I. telescopes.

But in this case, We Are Not Alone (WANA) is a relatively new organization for writers. At least, I think it's relatively new. I haven't figured it all out yet. It's the brainchild of author Kristen Lamb. I don't know her, never read any of her books, don't know what she writes. She has a blog that looks promising for a writer to keep up with.

Writing is a solitary profession. Not many of us will write at a sidewalk cafe in Paris. Most of us are at a keyboard in a writing hole (or The Dungeon in my case), what little interaction we have with other writers limited to on-line groups, the occasional conference or retreat, and maybe a book signing for those lucky enough to have a book for which a signing can be scheduled. On-line now means social media, a stew of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and probably more.

Kristen jumped into this mix with something new: social media just for writers. The WANATribe is a social media location for writers to hobnob. It's part of WANA International, something which I haven't figured out yet. Kristen wrote a book about it, and appears determined to help writers through this method.

Is it right for me? I don't really know yet. I joined the WANATribe, including four sub-tribes within it. I'll be active for a while and see if the fellowship is what I need. I'm not much of a joiner, and I've generally found that it takes a huge effort to make friends at on-line venues, more so than in real life. But it's worth a try. Away from the Facebook clutter, who knows? It might just be right for me. I'll know in a few months.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thirty Years Ago

I had planned to write this post over the weekend, or even last Wednesday or Thursday, but as usual time got away from me. It was then, just before the Olympics started, that I thought about where I was thirty years ago. No, it wasn't London—but close. We were in Paris, just finishing up the first grand vacation of our lives, as we took our annual leave after a year in Saudi Arabia.

Charles was 3yrs 5 months, and Sara was 1yr 2 months. We were in Europe 28 days, going from Rome to Florence to Lucern to Schaffhausen to Salzburg to Munich to Glottertal to Paris, almost all by Eurail. The things we saw were just amazing. Growing up, Paris had always been my dream city to visit, and I learned that Rome was Lynda's dream city. So we anchored our trip at the dream cities.

While there, we by chance were in Italy when the Italians won the World Cup semifinal. A few days later we were in Germany when the Italians beat the Germans in the finals. That was a study in how seriously those nations take their soccer. We came into Paris on a Saturday night, and the following day the Tour de France finished in Paris. We saw the cyclists go by in front of our hotel.

It all seems a dream to me now, almost unbelievable that we went through Europe with two small children, on our own, with no tour, on a loose itinerary with only one hotel reservation the whole time. We had hotels picked out and had sent ahead for reservations, but had only heard back from one before our trip began. One adventure during that trip was when I was separated from Lynda and the kids when a train pulled out unexpectedly.

Thirty years ago today we were in Rhode Island, celebrating my dad's 66th birthday. He would live another fifteen years and leave an outstanding legacy as a dad and granddad.

I hadn't really had a chance to figure out how to work those years into my writing. Conventional wisdom is that foreign settings don't sell well in the USA, so I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about most of those expatriate years, other than my planned novel China Tour, where I turn our 14 days in China in 1983 into an espionage story.

But the idea came to me that I could use those settings. I plan on using them in a series of short stories. I have a female lead character who will be a CIA operative, with a reputation for rogue tactics, who will be at those places. The first one is started, with other ones in the very early planning stage. I don't know if I'll succeed in this, or whether I'll really turn these into a series of short stories, or whether anyone will be interested. But it's good to have a plan.

And it's good to be able to have been on the grand tour, so many years ago, not knowing that someday I would be a writer and be able to use the experiences in stories.