Well, I have to say that social distancing – or even more pronounced social distancing than is normal for me – is letting me get stuff done around the house. The Daughter Unit has work obligations, and a social life of sorts, which the Great Wuhan Coronavirus Panic of 2020 has not yet impacted to any degree. We stocked up at the beginning of the month, topped up over the weekend, so there is nothing I particularly need for projects at the moment. The gym has closed for two weeks – and here was a place which routinely sanitized for your protection anyway. We walked the dogs energetically this morning, in place of an hour on the elliptical, and then the Daughter Unit went off to her place of work, assisting her employer with sorting out their personal and professional expenses for the year. It turns out today that the IRS will generously grant us another ninety days to file, due to the Great Wuhan Coronavirus Panic. Well, it’s a very ill wind indeed that blows no one any good.

I may eventually have to go to Lowe’s for wallpaper paste, and some more paint rollers. The new back door awaits installation now, being painted on all sides, so I moved on to the trim around the hallway doors, and the underside of the attic space access ladder. When the new and toweringly efficient HVAC system was installed some years ago, replacing the decrepit and leaking original contractor-grade system, they put in a brand new ladder and a heavy wooden panel covering it into the hallway ceiling – and I never got around to painting it. So that is done, and tomorrow I will haul in the tall ladder and do the trim around it. I watered the garden, and planted some lettuce, and an assortment of basil seeds. We already have garden tomatoes, by the way – from some starts in 2-inch pots that I bought last fall and protected through the winter, and a wayward plant left over from last year – and the first couple of cuttings of spring salad greens, from seeds I planted early last month. It’s been that warm, you see.

Laundry – done sheets, and blankets. What an onerous chore was lifted off the shoulders of women, with the invention of electric washing machines and dryers? What might have been the weekly-occurring project taking up several days of brutal labor over a boiler, wringer, and clothesline now takes a turn in the washing machine and two hours in the dryer. Listen, you could never sucker me into going into one of those ‘history-house’ projects. I know very well what doing household laundry in the 19th century involved – at the very best, sending it all out to an industrial laundry in the big city and hoping that you got all your stuff back again in one piece, or at least, the pieces you sent it out in. Plus having to sew on all the buttons again, unless you had a maid to do all that needlework. The late 20th century to start of the 21st is the best century ever, thanks to household electricity and plumbing (not to mention air conditioning!) and don’t ever you let some freak afflicted with nostalgie de la boue a la The Life Primitive tell you any different. (An all-over bath once a week. Indeed – spare me. The ancient Romans had the right idea, as far as frequent bathing went.)

And – I processed the bag of small sweet apples through one of those patent apple-peeling/slicing gadgets, dropping them into a bath of water acidulated with a little lemon juice, and put them into the patent dehydrator that I am supposed to do a review of, when all those little apple slices are dried. And only then, did I turn to writing…

There is a lovely little classical piece by Maurice Ravel – Le Tombeau d Couperin, composed shortly after the end of the war, five of the six movements dedicated to the memory of an individual, and one for a pair of brothers, all close friends of the composer, every one of them fallen in a war of such ghastliness that it not only put paid to a century of optimistic progress, but barely twenty years later it birthed another and hardly less ghastly war. Maurice Ravel himself was overage, under-tall and not in the most robust of health, but such was the sense of national emergency that he volunteered for the military anyway, eventually serving as driver – frequently under fire and in danger. Not the usual place to find one of France’s contemporarily-famous composers, but they did things differently at the end of the 19th century and heading all wide-eyed and optimistic into the 20th. Citizens of the intellectual and artistic ilk were not ashamed of their country, or feel obliged to apologize for a patriotic attachment, or make a show of sullen ingratitude for having been favored by the public in displaying their talents.
More »

So – Luna City Lucky Seven is finished, changes suggested by the Beta readers have been incorporated – and the latest installment of the Luna City Chronicles is ready to roll, pending arrival of the final cover. Which should happen over the weekend, or perhaps early next week. While I wait on that happy event, I’ve been scribbling away on the first couple of chapters of the Civil War novel, and mentally mapping out a few plot points. This novel, tentatively entitled That Fateful Lightning, follows Minnie Templeton Vining, a Boston lady of certain years. She is a die-hard Abolitionist in the years before the war, and a volunteer nurse during it, as outlined in Sunset and Steel Rails, in which she was a secondary or even tertiary character.

This new project requires me to really begin reading up on contemporary accounts and memoirs – of which there exists a large number. Many of the lady volunteers who took up this heartbreaking task of nursing soldiers under desperately primitive conditions wrote about it all afterwards; after all, the Civil war was the pivotal event of 19th century America. For better or worse, the issue of free-or-slave roiled politics and intellectual life for twenty years before, and the aftermath of the fighting left scars which, as of a century and a half later, are still vivid and raw. Thanks to having been a devoted reader of American Heritage as a tween and teen, thanks to Mom’s life-long subscription, I have always known this in outline, and in small tableaus – but not in such depth and detail that I could write convincingly and authoritatively about it from the point of view of a woman completely immersed, day to day, in both these issues.

So – another long, deep immersion in memoirs and letter collections – facilitated by the fact that most of the women who penned accounts of their heroic labors in field hospitals, in organizing fairs and markets to fund the purchase of medical supplies and comforts, and the rounds of public speaking and article-scribbling – are mostly obscure these days; their memoirs, letters and diaries are mostly in the public domain and free. Which is another nice benefit, since I am not anywhere near the income level of those authors who can command huge advances from a publisher, a guest shot on the Today Show, or The View, or a carefully-engineered position on the New York Times best-seller list.

Me at a recent Halloween market, as Queen Victoria

The other nice benefit reading this kind of material is that one is able to absorb the vocabulary, those thought-patterns and attitudes of the time. To me, there is no bigger crime in the historical-novel-scribbling set than that of ‘presentism’ – that is, basically dressing up modern characters in period clothing and having them walk through a 21st century plot. The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there. One might as well start with reading the authentic words of the residents. Histories are a useful adjunct to all this, but the problem with that is that the professionals all have their own biases and perceptions – and since so many of the female Civil War memoirists were concurrently, or later involved in various feminist crusades … I do not want to be put through the necessity of fighting my way through a bramble of biases. The original biases of the ladies involved is quite sufficient, thank you. The third nice benefit is that I can count on running across events, characters, small exchanges which will inspire plot twists and secondary characters for That Fateful Lightening. This turns up interesting things as a result. Well, interesting things to me, hunting scavenger-like for interesting bits of fact, turns of phrase, coincidences, and personalities – I swear, most of the plot turns in the Adelsverein Trilogy came about because I ran into something in the research reading and thought, “Ohhh! This has to be in The Book!”

The first such volume I have begun reading is a collection of letters, letters from and to a once-notable Quaker activist named Abigail Hopper Gibbons; who campaigned for various worthy charities benefiting women and orphaned children, the elderly, abolition of slavery, the Sanitary Comission (which provided medical care for soldiers during the war) the welfare of veterans and woman’s rights. She was happily married, it appears, and raised six children with her husband. Alas, one died as an infant, another at the age of five years old, and a third while in college after an accidental fall. She was a good friend of Lucretia Mott, who was also a very good friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton – all these people tended to know each other, I gather – or at the very least, knew of each other. These ladies and a dozen others of whom I have collected up their memoirs would appear to have been very far from being meek, submissive, conventional image of a Victorian lady, sitting passively in her parlor embroidering and murmuring, “Yes, dear,” while her husband pontificated.

In fact, these ladies, in their corsets and bonnets, and skirts to the toes of their high-buttoned boots, threw themselves into battle-field nursing, operating field kitchens, fund-raising to purchase supplies, and personally overseeing the delivery of those supplies to hospitals. They were real fire-crackers, these ladies – and it’s going to be an adventure, exploring their world and their words.

 

10. August 2018 · Comments Off on New and Interesting – The Young Adult Version · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings

I am not principally a writer of books for children, although I admit to dabbling in creating adventures for the tween and teen reader, that which is mostly called ‘young adult’. After all, kids should be encouraged to read; you know, explore the world(s), vicariously sample challenges, encounter strange new world

In Pursuit of Justice

s, have a go at establishing an adult identity. Alas, of late, the fashion in YA books seems to be for force-feeding the young reader with heaping helpings of despair, dysfunction and dystopia. For kids experiencing despair, dysfunction and dystopia in real life this would seem to be an exercise in rubbing salt into an oozing wound, rather than offering an escape. For those readers who aren’t … well, they’ll find out about that on their own, soon enough; why rush things?
Over the last decade and a half, I’ve hung out on-line with other authors and in a couple of readers groups; you know, people in the same kind of work do have fun talking shop, and people who like books like to share the word about good ones. So, a group of us has gotten together in a semi-organized fashion to pass the word on; none of us being favored by the mainstream publishing establishment and handmaidens of the establishment, like the NY Times bestseller’s list. We have decided to mutually support each other; this week I’ve picked some YA books to highlight: Check them out. Better yet, have the young adult, tween and teen readers in your life check them out.

Hawkwing

Dragontamer’s Daughters

I cannot say how much the ditching of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name for a yearly award for the best in published books for children and young adults distresses and disappoints me. I am one of those millions of readers who read and adored the Little House books early on, which various volumes my parents presented to me for Christmas and my birthday from the time that I could read – basically from the age of eight on. I would sit down and read the latest gift from cover to cover almost at once, so much did I love the books. After so many decades of honor, respect, and dedicated fanship, after having basically created (along with her daughter) a whole YA genre – historical adventure novels set on the 19th century frontier – LIW is now writer-non-grata, in the eyes of a segment of the American Library Association which deals primarily with library services to kids. Henceforward, sayeth the Association for Library Service to Children, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award, or something equally forgettable. The public reason given for this are two-fold, as nearly as I can deduce.

In certain brief passages of her nine-volume retelling of her childhood on the post-Civil War American frontier, LIW reflected the attitude of wary dislike with regard to the presence of American Indians common to those 19th century Americans, especially those who lived in close proximity to them. In the eyes of tireless social justice warriors, which appear in oversupply in today’s hypersensitive age, this is practically the same as preaching genocide on every page. And in one single chapter, her father and several men of the town put on black-face makeup and performed a minstrel show to entertain their friends. Such a form of entertainment was as popular then as it is considered disgracefully racist today.

So, rather than look honestly at the mores of the past – and perhaps entertain the thought that many of those notions which today we accept merely as conventional wisdom will, in a hundred years or so be held in as much, or greater disfavor than those attitudes held by LIW’s family and neighbors. I wonder though, if the motivations of the members of the Association aren’t just a little more complicated than polishing their social justice credentials. The Little House series presents – more than anything else – the quiet, intimate epic of a strong traditional family; a hard-working, resourceful, loving family, equal to every imaginable hardship going, from frontier isolation, to plagues of insects, bad weather, and grinding poverty. The Ingalls do not lament their lot, as LIW presented them; they make the most of it, and eventually achieve a quiet and modest degree of prosperity.

The Little House series, originally written and published a little short of a hundred years ago, remain overwhelmingly popular. Thousands visit the places which LIW immortalized in her books – the places where she and her sisters lived and grew up, the farm which she and her husband eventually established in Missouri. The TV series very loosely based on the series continued for years. I cannot help wondering if the kind of family and community life thus portrayed in the book series runs counter to everything in those young adult novels currently being pushed upon the younger generation by teachers and the child librarians; books which revel in gloom, despair, dysfunction and nihilism, a kind of literary filboid studge, in which in every grim trope embraced on the page discourages kids from reading. So – a burnishing of social justice credentials or sabotaging a classic series to advantage of contemporary but unreadable books intended for the juvenile consumer? Discuss.