After months of struggle, The Little Essay That Could finally started its engines, cut loose the string of cars that had been carrying the freight of an idea that didn’t belong and began chugging its way up the hill toward publication. It had been left on a siding, bereft and forlorn, condemned to idleness by my own obstinancy, my stubborn insistence that two thematic strands should remain entwined in a single essay. Only after I pulled them apart, discarding one, was the storyline able to get going and pick up a little steam.
Ironically, just as I began working again on my simplified piece, sighing and moaning to myself that things ought to be progressing more quickly, I came across news of Harper Lee and her former literary agent, Samuel Pinkus. Lee recently filed suit in Manhattan federal court seeking to recover royalties from from the sale of her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. According to Associated Press reports, Lee was contending that Pinkus had tricked her into signing over the copyright to her novel while she was recovering from a stroke.
The suit further alleges that “Pinkus failed to properly protect the copyright of the book after his father-in-law, Eugene Winick — who had represented Lee as a literary agent — became ill a decade ago”. The 87-year-old author regained the rights in 2012, but says Pinkus still has been collecting royalties. Writing in The Washington Post, Mary C. Curtis adds that,
“In the lawsuit, Lee, who is 87 and lives in Monroeville, Alabama, says Pinkus took advantage of her failing health to get her to assign the book’s copyright to him and a company he controlled. In words that hark back to a courtly code, the lawsuit says: ‘The transfer of ownership of an author’s copyright to her agent is incompatible with her agent’s duty of loyalty; it is a gross example of self-dealing.’ Pinkus has so far not commented.”
Mr. Pinkus might do well to remind himself that Harper Lee may be eighty-seven, but she knows something about persevering. Prior to the 1960 publication of To Kill A Mockingbird, she moved to New York, took menial jobs to support herself and did in fact work on her manuscript for about eight years. After putting it into the hands of an editor, she re-wrote for an additional two years. That’s ten years of writing and re-writing, surely enough struggle to frustrate anyone.
One of the most well-known stories about Ms. Lee and her book comes from the early days of the editing process. One winter night in 1958, as she sat in her New York apartment surrounded by drifts of paper which mostly were drafts of the same material, it seems she’d suddenly had enough. Marching across the room and flinging open a window, she tossed her manuscript out into the wind, watching years of work tumble down into the snow-filled streets. Despite some diligent searching, I haven’t found any report of Harper Lee’s words as she flung her life’s work out that window. I suspect they were neither well-crafted nor particularly literary. A phrase like “There, dammit!” comes to mind.
Whether Lee intended to destroy To Kill a Mockingbird we’ll never know. Fortunately, she made an immediate call to her editor at Lippincott, and Tay Hohoff sent her outside to gather up the pages. The cold air and exercise probably did her good, and the gathered pages, which came together quite nicely in the end, have done all of us some good through the ensuing years.
Reading the latest chapter in Harper Lee’s life story, I couldn’t help recalling some wonderful passages from Flannery O’Connor’s letters. Collected and edited by Sally Fitzgerald and published under the title The Habit of Being, they bring into focus an extraordinarily self-possessed, determined and eccentric writer.
In a letter written to author Cecil Dawkins in April of 1959, Flannery not only remarks on the electric typewriter she is using, she has a comment or two about the news that Cecil has been paid $1,000 for a story. Noting that the most she ever has been paid is $425, Flannery goes on to say,
“Your sale to the Post ought to impress your mother greatly. It sure has impressed my mother, who brought the post card home. The other day she asked me why I didn’t try to write something that people liked instead of the kind of thing I do write. Do you think, she said, that you are really using the talent God gave you when you don’t write something that a lot, A LOT of people like? This always leaves me shaking and speechless, raises my blood pressure 140 degrees, etc. All I can ever say is, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”
Very few authors were questioned more than Flannery O’Connor, and not only by her mother. She repeatedly was asked about her unusual vision of the world, her “Southern gothic” characters, her style of writing. When she wasn’t being queried about her view of the world or her art, she was being ignored by agents, publishers, Grant Committees and Boards of Directors who clearly had no idea what to do with her.
Despite it all, her vision of her work and her commitment to that vision were unwavering. As early as 1949, she wrote to potential editor John Selby, “In short, I am amenable to criticism, but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not be persuaded to do otherwise.” In a subsequent letter to Paul Engle, she reflects further on her experience with Selby and Rinehart.
“To develop at all as a writer I have to develop in my own way… I will not be hurried or directed by Rinehart… Now I am sure that no one will understand my need to work this novel out in my own way better than you; although you may feel that I should work faster. Believe me, I work ALL the time, but I cannot work fast. No one can convince me I shouldn’t re-write as much as I do.”
Eventually, the novel was finished and given the title Wise Blood. O’Connor’s accompanying letter to Sally Fitzgerald contains these classic lines.
“Enclosed is Opus Nauseous No. 1. I had to read it over after it came from the typist’s and that was like spending the day eating a horse blanket. It seems mighty sorry to me but better than it was before.”
Later, there were references to Opus Nauseous No. 2, her novel entitled The Violent Bear It Away. In a letter to Cecil Dawkins dated July 17, 1959, she celebrates the occasion in her typically understated way.
“Well, my novel is finished and on its way courtesy the US Postal Service to the publisher. Catharine Carver’s final verdict was that it is the best thing I’ve done. The most I am willing to say is that it has taken more doing than anything else I’ve done.”
In a followup letter to Maryat Lee she adds,
“Been working on that book for seven years with time off occasionally to write a story. The relief of finishing it was extreme, but I haven’t spit up or anything…”
It’s often said that the opposite of love isn’t hatred but apathy. It just as easily could be said that the opposite of perseverance isn’t laziness but exhaustion and ennui, the sort of bone-wearying, spirit-sapping lassitude that leads straight to a nice rocking chair. After eight years of work, Harper Lee just as easily could have kept her windows shut and allowed her manuscript to disappear beneath the detritus of daily life – drifts of junk mail, bills, old National Geographics and cheap paperbacks. Flannery O’Connor could have said, “Well, I believe I’ve messed about with this one more than enough. We’ll just call it done and stick it in the mail.”
But both authors seem to have been bound to their vision of the truth and the integrity of their work by varying degrees of love, disdain, revulsion and amazement. If they were given to dramatic gestures and sardonic humor from time to time – well, so be it. In the end, their gritty, practical and completely unsentimental view of their life’s work allowed them to persevere and to achieve.
And thank goodness they did. At two a.m., when the coffee’s boiled down and the process of putting words to page is akin to nothing so much as pulling my angry, resistant cat out from under the bed, I want nothing to do with bland, insipid paragraphs about the dignity of the writer’s vocation. I’d far rather contemplate Flannery O’Connor eating a horseblanket, or Nelle Harper Lee scuttling around on all fours in the snow, grabbing up those sodden manuscript pages.
That kind of persistence could inspire.
112 thoughts on “Persistence, Personified”
Enjoyed both of your stories of writer who stuck to their work until it was completed. Procrastination should not even be in the English dictionary.
I know for a fact that persistence is a sweet word to keep visible in your desk or wherever you are most of the time.
Oh, I think we should leave “procrastination” in the dictionary. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have just the right word to describe what I can be so prone to. I’d have to make do with “shilly-shally”, or “dally” or “temporize”. None of those is exactly right.
You’ve reminded me of dear Mrs. Deutsch, a high school English teacher who taught us a little cheer to encourage perseverance and discourage our bad habits when it came to getting assignments done on time:
“Two, four, six, eight,
No one dare procrastinate!”
It was silly as could be, but it certainly was memorable – more than fifty years later, I still remember it!
Wow I really needed this today! I love your final paragraph, makes me feel a bit better about the frustrating writer’s block I constantly struggle against. Thank you.
Whatever we call it, I think everyone who tries to write struggles with writer’s block from time to time. So many things affect our ability to create, from physical exhaustion to an over-stimulated mind. I tend to be pretty simplistic in my approach to the problem. When I find I can’t write, I get through it by writing. ;-)
I’m so glad you found something encouraging here. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for commenting. Your visits always are welcome.
You are such a wealth of information. And each time you post your writings, I learn something new. This is wonderful information regarding Harper Lee. It is troubling to learn that “buzzards” exist at every conceivable level and in every field of endeavor. Even worse that these “bees” have no compunction about putting the screws to an elderly or sick individual.
I truly hope that she wins her case and that the case not be long and extended. It is good to know that Harper Lee is up and at’em.
Whether we’re talking about telemarketers or even family members, there are plenty of folks willing to prey on the aging or ill, so it’s no surprise that literary agents might be willing to give it a try, too. My knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the publishing world is nearly non-existent, but I’ve seen enough scams tried in the world around me to last me a lifetime.
I’m sure Ms. Lee will be just fine. I found a bit more detail here: “According to the complaint, Lee was living in an assisted-living facility after a stroke in 2007 when she signed a document assigning her copyright to Pinkus’ company. Though the copyright was reassigned to Lee last year, Pinkus was, according to the complaint, still receiving royalties from the novel as of 2013.”
I see from the same article in the “Miami Herald” that Gerald Posner has been named in the suit, too. Apparently the connection is that he incorporated one of Pinkus’s businesses. I’ll let them sort that out, and go re-read “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
Thanks so much, for the reply, Linda. I’ll click on the link.
I thought again of Kipling’s, ‘if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…’
About half way through, I hit a bit of an emotional moment, as I reflected inward on those in my past who said that I would never make it as an artist and should get a real job.
Thank you for a great pep talk that will help all women stay true to their own genius and not listen to others.
And not just women! If I can draw significant inspiration from William Faulkner and Mark Twain, surely men can find inspiration in the work of Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor! I’ve known a few guys who have suffered precisely the same kind of anxieties about taking a “different” direction in life. Even today, the pressures aren’t any less – they’re only different.
I laughed at the “real job” reference. My dear mother used to resort to that line after I started varnishing. She was worried about my security, of course, and I don’t fault her for that. But I don’t regret my choice (very often, at least) and I know how satisfying life is for you. It’s rather amazing to look back at the path, isn’t it?
Oh yes, we look back on our paths and see that we’re right where we should be. Every so often Life gives us a huge stamp of assurance that we’re on the right track.
I wouldn’t want to be ‘normal’ and have to comply with the boring life – I would feel like an animal in a zoo and would probably die prematurely with soul rot.
It would be great if I could fire up that magic carpet and soar up there one full moon night and see where you hang that shingle!
I’m just laughing – we’re right back at that discussion about whether normal = boring! I say no, of course, but I have a feeling we don’t really disagree. We’re just coming at it from different directions. I absolutely agree that one of these nights we’re going to have to sit down and enjoy a good, long discussion about it “all”.
It’ll be fun to see where we are when it finally happens!
As for being right where we should be – there’s a song about that.
the song was beautiful! you’re right, we don’t disagree at all, and we’re looking at it from totally different directions! I do get itchy when I am in that normal ‘stay between the lines and be proper’ life though I can do it well. for a while, and then i’m soaring off on a whim.
they say walter anderson once left a note, ‘gone to china.’ i’m not sure if that’s true or not, but i admire a family that gives the right brainers the license to soar! An artist friend once asked, ‘when you were a little girl, did the teachers have to tie you to a chair to keep you from soaring around the room?’ honestly, no. i was a perfect student and never wanted to get in trouble! i still respect the rules, but i treasure my very unique life.
Just had a thought. We’ve both created our own “new normals” – and that’s what counts!
jajajajaja! my friend silvana brought her sister today. They share responsibilities at their family restaurant in town, and we’re working on some designs to brighten it. Silvana said her sister said she could stay here and never leave. I laughed and said, “This is great; your parents are going to forbid you from coming here if you decide you want to be artists and not restaurateurs!’
“The New Normal” – I like the sound of that concept! z
I hope you do get published. You’re good at nonfiction and you’re good at essays. Have you thought of epublishing?
I can empathize with O’Connor. I write the way I write, just like I walk the way I walk. I’ve been known to write nonfiction, but I prefer to write fiction because you can make it up as you go along. Sometimes the process is like the blind men and the elephant; sometimes it’s like herding cats; sometimes it’s like fiddling around with a random assortment of Tinkertoys; when I’m really lucky, it’s like the Pinkertons after Butch and Sundance. (Who are those guys?!) I’m pretty sure if I’m published at all, it’ll be a posthumous miracle, which is OK by me. I do it because it’s fun. I’d rather not get my next meal involved in the process.
Oh, of course I’ve thought about epublishing, “real” publishing and all the rest of it. Then, I sober up and go do the dishes.
Seriously, here’s a little story that helps to explain my approach. My Yoknapatawpha piece recently was highlighted on WP’s “Daily Post” as an example of what they’re looking for when they seek out posts for “Freshly Pressed”.
Even in that comment section there were people asking what must be the most common question on WordPress: “What can I do to be chosen for Freshly Pressed?” The irony is that I’ve never asked that question, or written with it in mind. My goal is to write the most interesting, appealing, honest pieces I can – period. And yet I’ve been Freshly Pressed three times and highlighted on the Daily Post.
Change the question to “How can I get published?” and my attitude’s the same. I understand that I’d have to be a little more pro-active if I wanted to start publishing in magazines, journals or whatnot, but right now my time is limited and I’d rather spend it writing and interacting with readers. I’ve had some pieces published in local magazines, but the process is pretty simple. I walk in, tell them I think I have something they’d like,they read it and publish it. Easy-peasy. I do have some stories floating in my head I’d like to play with and perhaps submit, but I’m going to have to get better at persevering for that to happen!
I understand and appreciate your comment that you do it because it’s fun, and that you’d rather not get your next meal involved in the process. If I were thirty years old, my approach might be different. But the most I’ve ever been paid for a story is $75. Even I can divide that into my monthly budget and figure out a few things, and I’m not of a mind to start “writing for the market”.
It appears the rain forced you to stay inside just at the right time. This came together nicely. I like the way you find the author’s words and describe them to make them human. (See? You do too have characters – you can’t hide behind I don’t do fiction.)
A stellar storyteller…hope it rains more tomorrow and the cat stays under the bed …
Rainy days to make me happy, for every sort of reason. I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more for the Valley, but I think we’re good for a while.
When you’re dealing with someone like Flannery O’Connor, letting her speak in her own voice is the only way to go. If you’ve never visited Goodreads and enjoyed the list of her quotations there, you ought to take a few minutes and do it. I especially enjoy,
“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” As you might imagine, she has other pithy things to say about the South, all of which make me laugh out loud.
As for fiction… it’s not that I hide behind “I don’t do fiction”. I just don’t do it. At least, not to this point. Sometimes I write a poem because what I have to say isn’t suited for an essay. One of these days I may end up writing fiction because what I have to say demands fiction, but I’m not predicting it. I’ll be just as surprised as everyone else if it happens. I do confess I have a couple of titles linked to a very general direction, but I haven’t been moved to get up and head off with them yet.
It looks like no more rain, and the cat’s asleep in her morning chair. If she wakes up, maybe I’ll tell her a story about a possum.
You do better. You see people. You keep their stories alive.
Fiction reflects life hiding behind other’s names and faces.
How about submitting some of your essays here? (from Roxie’s blog)
(art cars postponed until 3…maybe….festival events questionable…But I’ll take the rain, too!)
Interesting site, but they don’t take previously published work. Just now, if I’m going to be putting in time on a new piece, I’d rather it be for my established readers than for TVR (or similar sites). At least that’s what I’m thinking now. I did tuck the site in my files, of course!
It’s funny, but I thought of you yesterday; when I saw a Texas license plate here in the Yukon, where I’m briefly visiting (and plan to write about soon). I thought we’d driven a long way from Vancouver (we had) but Texas! That’s persistence too. I expect that truck was on its way to Alaska.
Anyway, thank you for posting this tale of two remarkable writers. You give me the inspiration to dig out some perseverance in myself, which I’ve been missing lately.
(I wonder what a horse blanket would taste like?)
What a wonderful trip for you! I hope at least some of your reflections about it appear on your blog. I’d look forward to reading it. I’ve been enjoying the tales of a woman who lives in Yellowknife – such a different world, to say the least.
I got curious about the distances. From Vancouver to Whitehorse is approximately 1600 miles (there was quite a bit of variation, some depending on the route). But, the distance across Texas from east to west on I-10 is 879 miles. And, the distance from Houston to Calgary (one of my dream destinations) is 2,100 miles. I’ve driven across Texas in one gulp several times. It makes the thought of heading north fairly palatable.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Both Lee and O’Connor are entirely human role models – the best kind. As for that horse blanket – I imagine stale shredded wheat, minus the milk and sugar.
Now I will spend days wondering where that thought of “eating a horse blanket” might have come from!
Isn’t that funny? When I was a kid, we used to recite the little ditty, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, gonna go out and eat wolly worms”, but that was about it for eating weird things. Well, except for the boy in our class who’d eat spoonsful of dirt for a nickel!
Oh yes, I know that ditty!
Flannery O’Conner’s letters are so priceless I had to interrupt Mr F and read them to him.
“Your sale to the Post ought to impress your mother greatly. It sure has impressed my mother…” hee hee…
I also have been pondering where Flannery O’Connor came up with the idea of eating a horseblanket.
Really sorry to hear Harper Lee’s story – but not surprised. Didn’t Leonard Cohen’s agent take all his money when he was in the Ashram on Mount Baldy?
That collection of letters is priceless. A combination of reflections on the writing process, Thomistic theology and good old down-home gossip, they’re Flannery through and through. There’s plenty on her peacocks, and some pretty inspiring reflections on what it was like for her to cope with her illness.
I really don’t know any more about that horseblanket than the quotation itself. I don’t remember her ever using the phrase again. It may just have been her way of describing an experience she found dry and tasteless – or she may simply have used it as a throwaway line. It’s a funny one, that’s for sure.
As for Cohen – well, he’s no Harper Lee. I’ll not even attempt to summarize that whole business, partly because I know I couldn’t. But there’s a comprehensive and quite interesting article about it here . After reading through the entire chronology again, I’m just glad I neither famous nor rich. I don’t think I could stand it.
I can truly appreciate the perseverance needed to finish a novel. Sure glad Harper Lee gathered back those pages. Come to think of it, nowadays it’s much harder to destroy a work in progress since a click on the save button will keep it.
My major query though is that, have you wonder why Lee only write one novel? I’d like to know your take on this one.
What you say about being able to save material on the computer is true, but of course that requires remembering to hit that “save” button. The other side of that particular coin is that someone who impulsively deletes a draft can’t just run outside and scoop up the pages. (And just last night, my comment on your review of “Gatsby” disappeared into the ether – poof! I have no idea what happened, but I had to reconstruct what I’d said. It’s easy enough with a comment, but not so easy with a blog post, let alone a novel!)
I don’t even have to speculate on why Lee only wrote one novel. We pretty much have the record of it. This article from “The Smithsonian”, written on the 50th anniversary of “Mockingbird’s” publication, is filled with details, but this excerpt pretty much tells the story:
“Many years later, to a fan who engaged her in conversation in a fast-food restaurant in Monroeville, Lee would say straightforwardly that the success of Mockingbird “overwhelmed” her, making it impossible for her to write a follow-up book. She wrestled with a second novel for several years—and then one day Alice rather too calmly told a BBC interviewer that the manuscript had been stolen from their home and the project had been abandoned.”
She was a confidante of Truman Capote, and did research for him for “In Cold Blood”, but the feeling I get is that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was enough, especially since it took a decade of her life. As she said, she could go home again, and it seems as though she was perfectly willing to do that.
In a way, I understand it. For years, I sailed here, there and everywhere. I was immersed in it. I taught it. I read about it and eventually began a new career based on it. But today? I’m done with sailing. Sometimes people ask, “Don’t you miss it?” Nope. I’m glad I did it. I enjoyed it. But now it’s time to move on to other things.
Apathy is a terrible foe. It is like an atrophy of the senses, eating away at them until one simply does not care anymore. As well as the senses, it destroys all feeling as well, and so stands as a terrible threat to all creativity.
Now one can permit oneself some exhaustion, the need for a mental nap – but only if you presevere the next day, when the coffee is fresh and the words are willing to remain stuck to the page!
Now that I think of it, apathy could be considered an exhaustion of the spirit. As a friend likes to say, caring too much or in the wrong way can lead to not caring at all.
One thing I’ve learned is that exhaustion and creativity don’t pair well – at least for me. When I just can’t face another hour with a draft, the best thing to do is take that little nap, walk along the shore, clean out a closet or just go to work. I don’t think the nature of the change matters one bit. It’s the change itself that makes the difference, and makes coming back to the page a pleasure.
Nothing else quite satisfies me like your writing. It’s a meal I look forward to, savouring and chewing over particularly delicious morsels and never ever finding myself with indigestion. May your train steadily progress to the station. :-)
What gracious words. I truly appreciate the compliment, and can’t help but smile – perhaps one reason you like my writing is that I try to be as direct and natural as possible. No additives, no artificial preservatives. (I wonder what the literary equivalent of GMOs would be?)
It’s a fun conceit – my way of saying thank you for reading. Who knows where we’ll go from here?
I’m so glad you gave us the Harper Lee scoop. I had no idea. There are predators everywhere, but it’s hard to imagine such underhandedness.
To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my favorites when I was young. When I was in my forties, my son gave me a new copy of the book and two tickets to the play that was playing in D.C. Such a nice birthday present.
Such a nice boy, your son! Smart, too. Redundancy in favorite books is a lovely trait to encourage. I just went over to the shelves and double-checked. I’ve got two copies of five books and three copies of one. How that happened, I’m not sure. I probably loaned one out that I thought had disappeared forever, replaced it and then a copy came back home.
I do think you’d enjoy reading this article from the Smithsonian. It’s got a good bit of post-publication history, and some interesting things to say about the film and the book’s relation to it.
As for the predators, I suppose it’s always been thus. I was having a terrible time with Mom and the phone solicitors, until I got smart and described them to her as “smooth talkers” and “snake-oil salesmen”. It sounds like Ms. Harper Lee might have run into one of those herself, and they’re always harder to spot when you’ve known their daddy. ;-)
“In short, I am amenable to criticism, but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not be persuaded to do otherwise.”
Love these words from O’Connor. Developing and staying true to your own personal vision is a difficult task, even more so when listening to those who only want to see your work in terms of how it compares to other’s. O’Connor obviously was able to heed her own words and stay in line with her own vision.
Great essay, Linda.
The thing I’ve always loved about Flannery is her realism about the creative process. She once said, “I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it again.” That’s not so very different from how you’ve described your painting process from time to time.
She talks about creativity as though it’s akin to making your way through an unfamiliar house in the dark. You’ve got to take it slow, and do a good bit of feeling around before you find the light switch. When the switch gets flipped, it can reveal some surprising things.
And you’re right. She was quirky and eccentric and had a vision that wasn’t designed for mass marketing, but nobody who reads her ever forgets the experience.
Glad you enjoyed the post!
The world of publishing sure seems like a jungle. Imagine to write for ten years, endure the frustrations, have the work published, recognized, loved by multitudes, and played by stellar actors. It’s nauseating to think this former literary agent could pull such shenanigans. The ethic of writing belongs in the heavy hands of its creator, not in the light weight world of marketing! To have to wage such a fight, to claim what is yours is unbelievable but apparently true. You’re right, Mr. P has underestimated Ms. Lee’s persistence.
It’s impossible for me judge what actually happened, having nothing but the bare-bones reports in the news to draw on.
I will say this. The longer I ponder it all, the more I tend to think that Ms. Lee’s association with Mr. Pinkus was colored by her trust in his father-in-law, Eugene Winick, who had been her agent since the book’s publication in 1960.
It’s a common human trait. If we know one person in a family to be trustworthy, responsible and so on, we tend to ascribe the same characteristics to othes in the family. And, as the old song has it, it ain’t necessarily so.
One of the most interesting little twists is that Gerald Posner has been named a defendent, as well. Apparently he incorporated one of Pinkus’s businesses specifically for the purpose of receiving Lee’s royalties, but what makes his appearance in the story particularly interesting to me is his long track record of having to defend himself against charges of plagiarism – many of which were true.
The good news is that Harper Lee has her copyright back, and whatever the disposition of the case, she’s not in danger of landing on the street with no resources. Still, it’s a shame.
“Eating a horse blanket”! That is priceless–an image, not to mention a taste–that’s unforgettably appalling. Brava to you for persisting, too, and I look forward to reading of the rewards you will most certainly reap.
Everyone loves that horse blanket! I suspect the reference wasn’t sheer out-of-thin-air creativity, though.
The farm complex at Andalusia, the home Flannery shared with her mother, consisted of “the main house, a peafowl aviary, Jack & Louise Hill’s House, the main cow barn, an equipment shed, the milk-processing shed, an additional smaller barn, a parking garage (also called the Nail House), a water tower, a small storage house (formerly a well house), a horse stable, a pump house, and three tenant houses.”
I bumped into an introductory tour on YouTube. What a lovely place it is – I’d be more than happy to spend some days writing there!
Ah, Andalusia. Now here’s a really stupid thing I didn’t do in my life. I happened to have spent a LOT of quality time in Milledgeville (not at the psychiatric institution, although what I’m about to write might qualify a stay there). I was a union lawyer, working on the J. P. Stevens campaign–and although I knew about the O’Connor place, I never went there. How dumb was that!
Call ME crazy, but I have a feeling you might have been focused elsewhere than Andalusia at the time. On the other hand, isn’t it true that we often fail to take advantage of opportunities that are right in front of us? I can look out my window and see the lights of the Johnson Space Center. Have I ever taken the tour? No. Am I foolish for not doing so? Yep. I wouldn’t be surprised if I get to Andalusia before NASA!
Ah, to have that kind of perseverance.
I’m one of those types that are full of good intentions but not much follow through. I”ve often wondered if this is inherited; Mama’s family is rife with flibbertigibbits.
You do realize there are people in this world who haven’t a clue what a flibbertigibbit might be! I do know, of course, and had an aunt who was the very personification of the term!
Whether it’s nature or nurture, who’s to say? What is certain is that we sometimes have far more fun than the ones who never roll off the tracks!
Flibbertigibbit! People don’t know this word? Oh no; we mustn’t lose this one. I noticed your use of the word kerfuffle, too. Not often heard in my part of the world anymore. Strangely, the word stoush seems to have taken its place, especially in media reports.
I’ve never heard “stoush.” From the definition, it seems a little more serious than kerfluffle, which usually denotes about the same level of violence as a “dust-up.”
I agree. I think we are changing its meaning by our present use of the word in NZ. Language is always evolving!
Surely persistence and perseverence are virtues that should rank higher when we are called to talk about our values. I remember when I read Catherine Drinker Bowen’s book, Miracle at Philadelphia, about the Founding Fathers and the framing of our Consititution, that one word — persistence — could have been the central theme. And thank goodness they were persistent and did persevere.
Every time I now think about persistence, I remember the “miracle” of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. It relates to your wonderful stories about persistence by writers by just a thread, but that’s the association I hold in my mind. Perhaps all miracles have a grain of persistence in their origins.
And how maddening, ironic, distressing and sickening it is to find that “On Jan, 25, 2012, the criteria for flagging suspect groups [by the IRS] was changed to, “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights…” [AP Exclusive: The Big Story, May 11 2013] Any government agency targeting any group of Americans for any reason should be anathema. But there it is.
Perhaps the best way we can continue to honor the persistence of the Founding Fathers is to persevere in our own attempts to maintain the liveliness and integrity of the gift they passed on to us. Each of us will do that in our own way, of course, but to recall the old saying, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Women too, presumably.
Beyond that, since reading your comment I’ve been thinking about the importance of perseverance in so many realms of life: farming, fishing, caring for the ill or elderly, raising a child. There are dozens more examples – if not hundreds. Far too many people today are inclined to quit in the face of opposition, boredom or uncertain success. That’s not how a country is built or maintained.
I’d say there’s more than a thread connecting your reflections and the writers I’ve highlighted here. I don’t think there’s any question both of them would understand you perfectly.
Love it Linda! Just forwarded it to a writer friend. DM
Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for passing it on. One thing I’ve learned about writers – no matter their age, subject matter or skill – they love reading about other writers. Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor both are wonderful models. I hope your friend enjoys the post, too.
By the way – I just got an email that the peaches and blackberries are “in” at a new picking farm across the bay. Summer’s coming!
Two things come to mind here as I read your essay and the comments. One, the story of Thomas Carlyle’s cleaning lady’s accidental burning of a completed manuscript. He set to and rewrote the book. Can’t recall what happened to the cleaning lady….
Two, a writer friend who told me that a writer he knew used a very successful ploy to get her up and to her desk each morning despite both ennui and apathy. The ploy? A bacon sandwich, made with great care the night before, carefully wrapped in foil to preserve flavour and freshness, which was then deposited right on top of the typewriter sitting in her study.
Many thanks, Linda, for your unfailing inspiration. Have a bacon sandwich on me….
I love the story of the burned manuscript – dramatic and painful, it even has its own Wiki page! It was a cleaning lady who did the deed, but it actually was John Stuart Mill’s cleaning lady. It seems that Mill had entered into a contract to write the book, couldn’t get it done and passed the job off to Carlyle. When Carlyle sent the only draft of the first volume back to Mill for his comments, the deed was done. But still, no word on what happened to the lady.
The most amazing discovery I made is that Carlyle sat for Whistler, whose “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No.2” is, of course, almost identical to the painting usually referred to as “Whistler’s Mother”. I really was surprised by that. I’ve never seen the painting of Carlyle.
I’d never heard of a bacon sandwich until an English friend instructed us in its pleasures. I believe she called it a “bacon butty”. I’ve never had one done the English way, but my favorite version of the American BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) must be on toast and minus the lettuce. It comes close enough to a bacon butty that I can quite understand it’s power as a motivator!
Two of my favorite authors. I hadn’t heard the story of Lee tossing pages out the window; I’ll have to share that with my students next fall! This also reminds me of all the quotes that speak to writers being those who simply don’t stop writing. It’s hard work, this arranging of thoughts and words. But if one wants it badly enough… perseverance, indeed. Good luck with your essay!
One of the other quite amazing details of the Lee story is that she received what all of us would love to have – the gift of a year’s salary as a Christmas present, so she could take a year off and do nothing but write. At the end of the year she had the rough draft, but I suspect she also was carrying quite a sense of obligation, and the fact that it was taking even more time to get it shaped up must have been enormously frustrating.
But she didn’t quit, and in the end the book justified the effort. It’s a wonderful story – and a good one to share with students!
By the way – happy Mother’s Day!
I hope you’ll pardon the stray threads of my comment.
Over the years I’ve forgotten whether the Harper Lee – window incident has been verified. I trust your intrepid research skills, so I’m glad to assume that’s not just legend. And isn’t it a comforting thought that she would have been frustrated to that extent?
Both stories remind me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s frustrated letter to his publisher regarding the “d***ed mob of scribbling women” whose domestic fiction was so popular in his time.
And, finally, I think Opus Nauseous Ad Infinitum might be my new blog name.
I love stray threads. They’re fun to pull on!
It is indeed established fact that Lee tossed that manuscript out the window. The incident’s described about halfway through this Smithsonian.com article.
It is comforting to know that even the best get frustrated, but it’s even more delightful to me that once she’d produced her novel, she was sufficiently in control of her life to say, “That’s it, friends.” She did piddle around for a while, and of course worked with Capote, but it doesn’t seem to have distressed her one bit to say, “I did what I did, I’m happy with it, and now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Piggly-Wiggly.”
What I didn’t know about was Hawthorne’s screed. I did a little snooping and discovered that Frank Norris picked up where Hawthorne left off, claiming that “women lacked the physical and psychological stamina to produce great fiction. They succumbed too easily to fatigue, harassing doubts, more nerves, a touch of hysteria occasionally, exhaustion, and in the end complete discouragement and a final abandonment of the enterprise.”
Oh. OK. If you say so.
I like the blog title, but I’m wondering if a little repetition might work – like “Opus Nauseous Ad Nauseum”. I think it has possibilities!
It’s been argued that Hawthorne wasn’t nearly as misogynistic as the quote would imply. He was known to be friends with the likes of Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Peabody (his sister-in-law) and the quote may have been related more to the notion of domestic fiction versus serious literature (not unlike, one could argue, blogging versus “serious” writing!).
(I’m earning that ad nauseum label, aren’t I?) :-)
Actually, I’d accept that argument. I read Hawthorne’s comment more as a popular vs “serious” literature commentary than as misogyny. Norris’s view of why women were writing as they did is something else.
When I was in our local writers’ group, there were people who weren’t shy about criticizing authors who produce what they called “bodice-rippers” – formulaic romance novels. I suspect they see them as our generation’s version of d***ed scribblers.
Hawthorne lived next door to the Alcotts; in fact live in their former home. Was he being disparaging about LMA? I hope not.
Linda, you’ve shined a spotlight on two of my favorite women writers, and I thank you. I wasn’t aware that they, too, struggled to find just the right word, just the right expression, for saying just what they intended to say.
I’m not a hurried writer either. Perhaps that’s a natural offshoot of having to hurry with deadlines all those years as a reporter. Now I prefer taking my time, editing as I go. Some might call that procrastination; I prefer “careful.”
“Spending the day eating a horse blanket.” Seriously? What a wonderful expression — I’m going to have to remember that!
Nathaniel Hawthorne may have fussed about “d***ed scribblers” (see Hippie’s comment, just above) but he also was the one who said, “Easy reading is damned hard writing”. We read the books with pleasure, marveling at how easily they flow, but rarely take time to ponder the realities of the process that lead to the book in our hands.
Actually, your way of writing is described in Annie Dillard’s book, “On Writing”. She speaks of those who do a full first draft and then edit, but also talks about the wisdom of allowing the work to unfold, every paragraph building on what’s come before. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, it’s a matter of finding what works. I’ve actually used both methods with my posts, although I think something larger would need more structure in the beginning.
I do think working with deadlines has value. It teaches a kind of discipline we can’t get any other way. I wouldn’t want to work as a reporter these days, but I can’t help but think that experience was invaluable for you!
I can totally relate to Flannery O’Connor’s attitudes about her works not being up to par, and I know for certain that those weren’t empty words. She truly believed what she said about her works, and I know the feeling.
It’s the oddest thing that we wrestle with words, sentences, cadence, trying to express with utmost precision our thoughts in order to evoke a certain sense or feeling; and when it’s all said and done, even though we’ve labored over something until we’re exhausted, we still don’t recognize just how good our work is. When I received the first Outdoor Writer’s award for a magazine full-length piece I did, you literally could have knocked me over with a feather. I was genuinely shocked and couldn’t wait to go back and read the piece to see what the judges found so good about it.
And I am prone to think that the day a writer believes she has arrived and can submit something without wrestling to exhaustion is the day the keyboard should probably fall silent.
I’m not sure O’Connor thought her works weren’t “up to par” in any conventional sense. I think she was convinced she’d gotten “Wise Blood” right, in terms of her own vision for the novel. On the other hand, it seems equally clear she didn’t have a clue how it would be received, or whether she’d done a good enough job of communicating that vision to her readers.
I do think it’s hard for any of us – you, me, Flannery O’Connor – to evaluate a piece immediately after it’s finished. We’ve been too close, too concerned with those words, sentences and cadences to see the piece as a whole. Not just exhaustion but immersion keeps us from seeing it as others do. Perhaps that’s the best reason for having a good editor. It’s certainly the reason I always allow my blog entries to rest for a bit before I publish them. Even a couple of hours away can allow for a different sort of “read” than when I’m still focused on tweaking those words and sentences.
Your story of going back and re-reading your article post-prize reminds me of wonderful words from Stephen King: “…most writers can remember the first book [she] put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize [her] work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for the stuff?”
I know you’ve had that experience. So have I. Perhaps claiming that point of view is what allows us to move from wrestling to exhaustion to wrestling to exhilaration. ;-)
Great piece, by the way, and I LOVE reading about successful female writers who went ahead of us!
Every now and then, I make a run through Goodread’s quotations about writing. There are 145 pages filled with inspiration, instruction, pithy sayings and snark. Some are good, some are great and some make me roll my eyes, but there’s always something catch my attention or affirm my own decisions about how to go about this little endeavor called writing.
Just now, I picked a page at random and found this from Nora Roberts: “You can’t edit a blank page”.
No, indeed, you cannot! Thanks for sharing some of your tips for inspiration!
I like the way you played off the words drifts and drafts in the same sentence. Drafts have indeed been known to drift, and not just out of windows.
It seems that many—probably most—creators struggle, as did the two you cite here. I’ve frequently heard that Beethoven did, often scribbling out phrases in a piece and replacing them with others, even multiple times. But occasionally the opposite is true, and Mozart astounded (and keeps astounding) everyone with his ability to create complicated scores in his head and then just write them down with no changes.
That’s right – and when drafts start drifting, it can be remarkably difficult to shovel all those excess words off the path.
I enjoy Mozart’s music, but I never had heard that story of his compositional methods. It’s astounding. Of course, I find the ability to compose music astounding no matter the method employed. We’re so blessed that there are people able to do it.
Now and then, something comes to me fully formed, ready to be transcribed and never altered – a haiku, a title, a sentence or two. Most of the time, it’s just an idea, a few paragraphs and then the process of stitching them together begins.
I’ve also experienced times when I’m certain I have a viable piece, but the more I work the worse it becomes. Sometimes, it’s clear that the very life is being sucked out of it despite my best efforts. That’s when I mutter “RIP” and tuck it in my dead-drafts file. It’s a nice place to visit when I’m feeling discouraged about something I’m working on. I can browse those dead drafts and think, “Oh – this stuff is really bad!” and go back to work refreshed.
Bravo on lots of levels here, Linda. First — on moving your project toward the next level, of staying with it and working with it despite the fact that it feels oh, so done. But not really done. I know it will pay up for you in the end.
Your point about the ennui and exhaustion is also spot on. Sometimes you just hit a point…
And the stories about both women were great, but I will never think of Harper Lee without imagining her out in the snow, gathering the fluttering pieces of manuscript and the gift she gave the world.
One thing I’ve come to believe is that while any sort of artistic production requires talent and creativity, a good bit of it is nothing more than problem solving.
Often, I hear someone say of their writing, “This just doesn’t work”. Neither does my kitchen faucet – at least not perfectly. Eventually I’ll disassemble it, snoop around, figure out the problem and fix it. There are times when we need to do the same with our writing.
Muses are fine, but good plumbers are necessary. My Muse may convince me that faucet from Restoration Hardware is just the ticket – so pretty, don’t you know?! But it’s the plumber that gets it installed and working.
It just occurred to me – maybe a good editor does function as a plumber. In Harper Lee’s case, it’s a good thing she had a plumber to tell her to get out there and pick up all the parts she threw away!
Glad to hear your piece got back on the tracks and you managed to express exactly what you wanted to say :)
It was that quote from Flannery O’Connor which caught my eye and made me laugh out loud when I first read your blog! Such a good one, perfect description.
And those two women, I love the way they sit in their chairs, signalling (oh stop stop) to us all who they are.
Perseverance is so important…without it, you never get to feel what’s on the other side…along with the mistakes and failures along the way, but they lose their potency if you stick with it, or you just get more accepting that they are part of the process.
Inspiring post Linda thank you!
I’m on track, but still chugging. We’ll see where I end up.
Aren’t those photos wonderful? I really didn’t have a clue what I wanted to use as illustrations. Book jackets seemed so – boring.
But after I found the photo of Harper Lee sitting in her rocker, I went looking for one of Flannery. Lo and behold! There it was. I already had the photo of the empty rocker from a trip to Louisiana, so I thought it was perfect for the header – a wonderful way to invite readers to “set a spell”!
I don’t worry about mistakes, struggle or failure much any more. You’re right – they seem to lose their force as we go on. I honestly think it’s one of the gifts of aging. Looking back over 66 years is much different than looking back over 30. My hardest or most challenging experiences didn’t come until I was well past thirty, and when I contemplate what the future might hold, I do so in the light of what I’ve already survived. It leads to a certain equanimity.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m looking forward to your next!
I reckon that empty rocker is waiting for you!
I greatly appreciate that you are willing to share your magical scribblings with us and that you don’t rush your talent. Patience is truly sister to persistence and perseverance and equally as valuable.
I am a confirmed Sci-fi buff and this quote from the last paragraph of Rider Haggard’s ‘She’ expresses for me the magic of the writer’s vision and why we have to be grateful to the ones who stick it out!! We are the beneficiaries after all of those writings which expand our consciousness no matter what genre!
“Often I sit alone at night, staring with the eyes of my mind into the darkness of unborn time, and wondering in what shape and form the great drama will be finally developed, and where the scene of its next act will be held.”
I do think one of the side effects of e-pub and print on demand capability of today is that a writer doesn’t necessarily have to wait for some publisher to decide if his or her work is something they can make money on. The writer just needs to make sure they exercise patience and that the work is ready. Lucky us to have the opportunity to find the gems in the layers of perhaps mediocre work this facility enables. It IS a new world!
PS: I love drifts of drafts too!! Snowed under by a blizzard of words!
You’ve reminded me of that connection I hadn’t made – adding patience to the mix along with perseverance and persistence. I’m thinking they’re just slightly different. Persevering and persisting seem more active to me – patience, more passive. What a good reminder of the cycles of engagement and withdrawal that are so vital for maintaining creativity.
I had no idea you like Sci-Fi. Do I have a treat for you! You can finish reading this comment, but after that, head over to Stainless Steel Droppings. The categories are listed in a drop-down menu in the sidebar. I just looked, and there are 146 for science fiction.
Carl’s a wonderful writer, a wide-ranging reader, and more than capable of engaging the attention even of people who aren’t fans of science-fiction, fantasy, and so on. He does some read-alongs, and the one around Halloween is marvelous (all mystery and scary stuff!)
Do you happen to follow Chase Jarvis? What you say about this “new day” of e-publishing and so on sounds very much like some of his musings. Many of the old constraints are gone – which means, of course, that many of the old excuses are gone. ;)
No blizzards here of any sort tonight, but it’s the best kind of noisy spring evening – nighthawks, night herons, frogs and shad. Oh – and open windows to catch it all!
Both of these sites are new to me and I have to thank you because..yay..they are great!! Have explored more of Stainless Steel Droppings and plan to spend quite a bit of time there. Even though ‘droppings’ is a bad word around here having just had our house tented for termites!! Yuk!!
What wonderful stories… I had no idea. That kind of dogged determination, not without its share of frustrations (that’s polite), is inspiring and humanizing. Fantastic!
One of the biggest differences between Lee and O’Connor is that, once Lee was done, she was done and lived a relatively hidden life. Though increasingly limited because of her lupus, O’Connor stayed connected to the outside world through her letters – and gave us a wealth of stories and quotations because of them.
It’s always hard for me to pick a favorite Flannery life-story. She was so human and so approachable – despite that tart tongue – that she always seems to me like the neighbor across the fence.
Glad you enjoyed the stories!
Linda, thanks for a great post. I especially like the line ” In the end, their gritty, practical and completely unsentimental view of their life’s work allowed them to persevere and to achieve.” I like that you have used the word “achieve” where one might expect “succeed.” This is a necessary tonic if one cares to make a wager in the publishing world.
At some level publishing needs to be at a distance from the writing process. In my day job, it is anticipated that I publish, and the process of submission etc can be soul-numbing. If I have “success” in my sights, I lose my reason to write. I dare not write to be published, but I write because I have something to say
This is a perfect example of that word-echo we were speaking of earlier. I didn’t think a bit about using “achieve” rather than “succeed”, and didn’t even hear it until you pointed it out.
You’re right, of course. There may be reasons to write for the market, to write for publication first (and perhaps foremost), but those reasons aren’t mine and they obviously aren’t yours.
I just sketched out a Venn diagram using “writer”, “writing”, and “publishing”. It’s fascinating to ponder the various relationships and it reminds me of something I’ve observed over the years. Wanting to be published or wanting to be known as a writer aren’t necessarily the same as wanting to write. That may be the next Proust sitting in the coffee shop with his latté and laptop. Then again – maybe not.
Separating publication from the writing process seems wise, even when “publication” takes place in a coffee house on Saturday night or a liturgical context on Sunday morning. It’s what we have to say that counts, after all.
Thanks for the link on Venn diagrams. I have used these without knowing what to call them. Interesting, this echo effect that seems to demonstrate that a writer does well to have a reader even while writing for writing’s sake!
Will, will, will. Where art thou? I need will.
finelighttree, I think I have an answer for you. Will this Will do?
Nope, dear friend. I want a less dramatic one. :D
Livelier probably would be good, too. Let me go look… ;-)
Ah, Linda… the writer’s job is never done. (grin) There are always rewrites on top of rewrites. And all too often, the only reward is the joy of putting one word after another. Every time I see my 92 year old mother-in-law she wants to know if I am going to finish my book on the Liberia Peace Corps experience before she dies. Talk about pressure.
I truly enjoyed your blog. Curt
Those rewrites on top of rewrites on top of rewrites are the reason I’ve found one of my Rules for Vanishers so helpful. I call it “The Rule of Good Enough”. A completed job that comes in at 99.2% perfect always beats an unfinished job of whatever quality – especially if the customer really would like to go sailing.
I rather like your mother-in-law, and her just slightly pressure-laden question. At the same age, my mom still was asking, “When are you going to stop playing with that computer and so something useful, like sit down and watch “Hoarders” with me?” She and Flannery’s mother seem to have had a few things in common.If I’d been hauling in checks with my writing, she would have been happier.
By the way – when are you going to finish that book? I’m eager to buy a copy. ;-)
My mother passed away early but I was lucky that both my parents supported my alternative life-style. My dad was a wanderer like me and had spent his early life as an artist. He got it. I am working on the Epilog now about the Tragedy of Liberia. It’s a tough piece to write. I have a six-week trip to Alaska this summer. The question is whether I can get the Ebook up before I go. If not, it will be this fall.
In the grand scheme of things, what’s a month or three? I’ll look forward to it.
Amazing tenacity, Linda. I really enjoyed learning more about Flannery O’Connor — a name I’d heard of but knew nothing about. The short stories she wrote (at least the synopses I’ve read online) often sound like unrated versions of Twilight Zone episodes.
Reading about the persistent honing and shaping these women pressed into their work makes me think of how often I must stop in my own work at “good enough” because there’s a mound of similar stuff to be done. But then again, my job isn’t anything like a writing career :-)
That’s the best description of O’Connor’s stories I’ve ever heard. There are reasons she wrote as she did, but she also was aware of what people often thought of her characters and plots. There are two quotations from her I particularly enjoy. There’s this:
“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”
And then there is this:
“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”
Both of those just make me laugh – possibly because I’ve lived in the South (well, ok – Texas) long enough to appreciate them in a new way.
That “Rule of Good Enough” can be useful everywhere, can’t it? I think even Flannery and Harper Lee utilized it, though perhaps a bit reluctantly!
I love your account of Harper Lee. It is encouraging to know that sometimes a truly good piece of work can take more than a year or two to write. We are so consumer-oriented these days, that all the how-to-write-a-novel texts stress the importance of speed. But sometimes the right words for a scene don’t reveal themselves until you’ve labored and then labored again and finally thrown your pages out the window in exasperation.
Thank you for sharing your stories.
The demand for speed is, indeed, a sign of our times. When I began blogging, the assumption clearly was that readers have no more patience than writers, and anything requiring more than a minute or two of attention would be passed over.
Today, things have changed a bit, at least in the blogging world. Essays, magazine-format articles and serial entries are common. Even WordPress is enouraging #Longform pieces. I think it’s good – and I’m not surprised. People will eat frozen dinners from the grocery store or burgers from the drive-through, but if they’re given the option of a well-prepared and nourishing home-cooked meal, I’ve never yet seen anyone turn it down.
I can’t tell you how pleased I am you stopped by. I’ve been in every town with a SLCC campus, and it always makes me feel good to find someone else with connections in the area. I have Crowleys in my lineage, my many-times-great-grandfather fought in Louisiana during the Civil War, and my first blog post was occasioned by the Evangeline saga. I keep muttering about getting down to work on a larger work about all of that, but I’ve been dallying. I need to start.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and the gracious comment. You’re welcome any time.
I noticed in the photos they both adjourned to the rocking chair, obviously a place for rocking into imagination or the daydream-state, which is very relaxing! I’m considering getting one.
I don’t profess to be a good writer or even an interesting one, but a couple of years ago I wrote a short story in many segments, written in the third person as a narrator and then some in dialogue. It is fiction based on my experience of one particular short series of events with the same person, a child. This happened in 1997; it took how many years? for it to bubble away before it came to me, in bed at night, in complete pieces which I wrote on my cellphone. I later re-typed it onto my PC and printed it out.
At this point, I see it as a short movie/morality play. No-one has seen it yet, but I do have one person I’d like to read it who would make the moview from it, perhaps. And, I must say, never having anything else published, other than my blogposts on JMNPIXELS.COM, I am always concerned about theft and copyright issues and collaboration in particular. I view this short story as my best writing, ever! Probably won’t be any more, as I felt exhausted after it, which I understand is quite normal, it’s like an emptying, one needs time to refill the vessel.
Re Harper Lee and the court case; I do wish her success, but, of course, that depends on how good the lawyer is, no guarantees there either.
PS: Why is it that some famous women, like these two, have men’s names? Are they real or pseudonyms? If real, says something about the parents wanting boys instead of girls, and that knowledge must have hurt in some way to turn them into introspective creative types, perhaps.
Great post as usual, Linda.
Ah! First, the names. They are real, but in fact both are middle names. Harper Lee’s first name is Nelle, and when the book was published she chose Harper because she didn’t want to listen to everyone referring to her as “Nellie” (Nelle Lee).
Flannery is Mary Flannery O’Connor, and she often went by both names, as is the Southern custom. When my mother was irritated with me or needed my attention immediately, she would say “Linda Lee!” but that was rare. On the other hand, the southern double name is used pretty commonly.I don’t know, but I suspect that both Harper and Flannery might be family names. I had a friend once whose first and second names were Amalie Jordan – Jordan being a family name. And that’s what she was called.
The thought of you tapping out a story on a cell phone fills me with admiration. Of course you must have a phone that has an actual keyboard. I’m still using one of those flip phones from way back, where each key represents three or four letters. One reason I avoid texting is the hassle of working with that.
Concern about copyright, plagiarism and such is certainly valid. I just was reading a week or so ago about someone who’d posted a portion of a new novel or story online, and somehow the whole thing got leaked. It happens. If I had a manuscript finished, as you do, I certainly wouldn’t put a snippet online until I’d figured out exactly what I was going to do with it. I have the BEST name for a character ever, but I haven’t shared it with anyone, even my best friend. I need to write the story, so I can get her name out there!
You’re exactly right about the refilling process, too. There has to be a rhythm in every creative process. Or so I think. Anyone who keeps pushing and doing without those periods of rest and reflection isn’t helping themselves.
Thanks so much for the insightful and evocative comments. It’s always a pleasure!
LOL re the cellphone, but, yes, it was just like yours, an old flip phone! When this type of writing comes, I must get it down before it disappears and as I have my cellphone on my bedside table, well, that’s what gets used.
As to the names, yes, I think this three-names routine is very American and I should have guessed about the origins. It happens here sometimes too, only usually as a hyphenated surname. I have three names too, my first name, my second name (which is my mother’s first name) and my surname, my father’s surname. Usually I just use my first and surnames.
With a story that you consider particularly important, I’d go to
and register your work. Only that way are you eligible for extra legal protection and monetary damages if someone infringes your copyright.
You know, I remember reading about that registration process very, very early in my blogging career. I decided it wasn’t something I needed to concern myself with. I’m glad to be reminded, and have tucked the link into my files.
Thank you, steve, for this link, which is to U.S. copyright laws. I will check that out, as well as searching for any Australian similar website, which I’m sure there is. As stated, I will be particularly interested in what it says about collaborative efforts and any future royalty payments.
I can attest to the Southern habit of using a family surname as a middle name for a girl. I’ve got one of them, myself: Gue’.
Good heavens, that’s right. And I’d completely forgotten about it. My mother’s maiden name was used here and there in the family as a middle name – Elliott. And now, it seems to be coming back into favor as a first name. I’ve known three people in the last couple of years who’ve named baby boys Elliott – one “t” or two.
Have you named your century plant? I guess maybe you don’t have to. Folks will know how to find it!
When reading your inspirational post, the quote, “Be yourself, who else is better qualified?” by Frank J. Giblin comes to mind.
It takes a lot of perseverance, and resistance, but imagine what life would be like without those who stay committed to giving their uniqueness.
Imagine what life would be like? Let’s see – we could increase the dullness, boredom and predictability quotients substantially!
Years – actually, decades – ago, a vacation Bible School teacher said to her little charges something like this: “The world is a puzzle, and you’re one of the pieces. If you try to change your shape, you can’t help make the big picture”.
I was too interested in when we were getting the Koolaid and cookies to really pay attention, but I’ve remembered the words. They’re not so different from Giblin’s quotation, when you get right down to it.
I had filed “To Kill a Mockingbird” to books I have read and a movie I have seen, now I want to read the biography about the author and then reread the novel. Thank you for the new inspiration.
Isn’t it fun to get a better sense of the people behind these books? Now that I know she was chums with Truman Capote and that she helped him research his book, I want to read “In Cold Blood” again, just for curiosity’s sake.
I’ve never seen the film. Now that we’re moving into the heat of summer, I tend to work early and late and take some time in the middle of the afternoon for indoor pursuits. I think “To Kill a Mockingbird” would do rather well, don’t you?
So grateful you posted the link to this post on my blog. I love your choice of rocking chair illustrations; on this link we have been discussing the importance of chairs in our lives. Writing requires persistence; it also requires Hands…..you quote from Flannery’s letter to Paul Engle…is this the Paul Engle of the helping hands philosophy mentioned here on my post, written almost one year ago?
It is the same Paul Engle. I’m not sure of the chronology, but I think he already had established the Iowa Writers Workshop when I spent a couple of summers at the University of Iowa speech and drama camps for high school youth. It would be many years later before I’d find him as a correspondent in Flannery’s work, and figure out that we had, at least metaphorically, crossed paths.
Intriguing. I knew very little about him till last year when I was researching for that post.