Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Boer War and 2011 America

Reading biography of prolific thriller writer Edgar Wallace, I came across this description of the Boer War that is incredibly relevant for America and Americans facing two wars in the Middle East today. Britain poured nearly half a million servicemen into Africa during the conflict, suffering staggering losses against the ingenious attacks of a Boer army of less than 90,000. It was the largest British force that had ever been mounted against an enemy, and after the enormous disparity, combined with the British incapability to kill their way to a peace, the people in the streets back home began to resent their proxy presence on the veld:

Popular feeling in England with regard to the war had already passed through several distinctive phases. Jingo exuberance had marked the outbreak, speedily followed by dismay and anxiety when it became apparent that the Boers were by no means a body of rebels to be taught a sharp lesson, but a hard and skillful enemy who was costing Britain dear in money and lives...Only one newspaper, the Daily Chronicle, had had the courage to voice the Liberal view of the war as an unethical act of aggression and annexation, and its capable and firm-principled editor, Mr H. W. Massingham, had been ignominiously forced to resign by the proprietors, who had presumably noticed a dwindling in circulation. The foreign press, with scarcely an exception, were shrill in their denunciations of Britain's policy and made no attempt to disguise their delight at the Boer successes. Undignified caricatures of Queen Victoria in French and German newspapers stung the colonial secretary to the point of public protest, but to little avail; the other European Powers, not being themselves at the moment engaged in colony-snatching, were universally of the opinion (pure wish fulfilment as it turned out) that the power of the British Empire was finally cracking...

Now, in the closing weeks of 1900, public enthusiasm showed uneasy signs of flagging. The war had been going on for more than a year; England had poured into the field the biggest army she had ever been called on to provide; the long and bitter struggle had been crowned by victories which at the time had been thought decisive-and yet the war dragged on. Organized Boer resistance had disappeared, and in its place had come dangerous little handfuls of men who invaded Cape Colony and were difficult to catch, and did damage out of all proportion to their size...The public at home was sick of the war and becoming vaguely dissatisfied. The fervid enthusiasm of '99 had dwindled to grumbling doggedness in the second year of struggle.
Replace words and years as you see fit: find spots for US, Taliban, Afghanistan, President Bush, et cetera. Besides numerals and proper nouns, the text could almost stand unaltered to describe our contemporary situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Look to see where South Africa is today, and one can see how much equality and freedom we can truly expect to rise in one, five, ten, or one hundred years in these shredded nations.

Just sayin'.

Quote from Edgar Wallace: The Biography of a Phenomenon by Margaret Lane.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Barbara Cartland's First Story

Barbara Cartland wrote over 700 books, a great number of them romances, winning her the moniker, The Queen of Romance. Born in 1901 to parents of the leisure class, Barbara's brothers were encouraged in their talents while their elder sister, according to the Edwardian values of the gentry, was supposed to simply watch as the male siblings played first and second fiddle.

Fate, however, realigned the stars to position Cartland in her rightful place. Shortly after she was born, her paternal grandfather suffered a massive financial loss and committed suicide in a fatal stroke of 19th century style honor. Cartland's father, who had just embarked on a political career after a life of polo, hunting, and cards, was utterly annihilated, along with his entire battalion, by the Germans in 1918. Her brothers, one a career soldier and the other a Parliamentarian, both perished in romantic feats of heroism during World War II. With no men left to carry on the Cartland honor, Barbara herself appeared to shepherd her family's name into history. It is obvious that she was far more successful than her brothers or father could have been in that regard.

Already in 1925, Cartland had seen her first novel in print. It's dance-the-night-away London atmosphere gave the young woman an unwarranted reputation as "fast," and Cartland herself inspired interest as a society girl who worked. She was also, to provide for her family, submitting gossip columns and bits of advice to keep London's newspaper copy-setters busy, and for a brief period ran a fashionable store that sold only hats.

For decades, Cartland toiled on her books, dictating novels at the rate of 10,000 words a day. When her own children had grown, she began to travel extensively, the principal result being frustration at not seeing her own novels absolutely everywhere. In 1973, to rectify this situation, she made promises to two publishers to produce ten books each for them within a year. To an American paperback publisher, she set up the release of fifty books, one a week, for a year, to catch up women readers on what had previously been a more limited British phenomenon. With a few years, Cartland was writing more than twenty new novels each year, seeing annual sales in the millions in each of England, France, and America.

In 1979, Cartland persuaded her son, Ian, to leave the family business and run the growing Barbara Cartland Empire. That same year, she sold her 100 millionth book and celebrated her 251st published book.

Barbara Cartland practiced absolute discipline in the writing of her books in this fanatically organized empire. After a light lunch, she would every afternoon lock herself in her library with a secretary who could scratch out shorthand without making a sound. A hot water bottle under her feet and a puppy in her lap, Cartland would sit and stare at the wall and fireplace while spinning stories of romance to the unseen scribe behind her. This would continue for two or three hours until the requisite copy was achieved. Additional secretaries would type the manuscript for presentation the next day, during the afternoon of which the story would continue as if the latest session had never ended.

Her novels are indisputably formulaic and it may even said that they are purposely shallow. But by this writing method Barbara Cartland became the most prolific living British novelist in her time, and the English language's best-selling author of all time.

Few contemporary authors could match her credits; Lauran Paine, an American author, chiefly of Westerns, put over 900 novels to paper; but Spanish romance writer Corin Tellado was undisputed champion, producing better than a novel every week for more than thirty years. Tellado's eventual output is clocked around 4,000 volumes, with sales of more than 400 million copies. Among prolific British authors, John Creasey and L.T. Meade come closest to Cartland's almost unbelievable totals.

So where did Cartland story in her storytelling? Let us indulge in some traveling to a time long before Jigsaw made her famous in 1925. Here is Cartland's first story, written in crayon at age 5.

The Little Slide Maker
Barbara Cartland

Once upon a time there was a little girl and her name was Mary.
Now this little girl was very fond of making slides.
Her father was the village doctor.
One evening the Doctor came home late.
Mr Joe Carter stepped into a slide. Poor old man. He said I hope no slide will be made down Winter Hill or it will be a bad look out for old Betsy Gray.
Then Mary felt very unhappy for it was just down Winters Hill that she had made all her slides. That evening when she had been put to bed she got up and got a spade. When she got to the hill she found that the dirt at the side of the road was quite hard but she found some in a garden at the top of the hill.
The End.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Seizing the American Way

Americans are simultaneously complacent and revolutionary about America. They believe in everything America stands for, yet are convinced that the country has not taken the right path. They two concepts cannot coexist. America's present derives from its past and the past is where "The American Way" is often pointed at as existing. America cannot simultaneously be the Land of Progress and a country cemented into old ways of being. One cannot harken back to decades past as "better days" because to return to them would have the same conclusion: we would reach the point where we are today. America was evolving then, constantly changing. It was never frozen in time. We cannot freeze time today.

So every American must seize the day and seize the American Way and make it his or her own.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Absinthe Can Wait

I have little time or money. Had I an excess of either, I am sure that I would exercise my freedoms in excessive libations. These days, though, I am quite sober and my independent creative moments are spent in a hunch-backed fever, punching words into a keyboard or scribbling into a notebook resting on my knee. It was my plan, by this time this year, to have income enough and the open schedule to spend a handful of notable hours in blissful inebriation, experiencing the fall colors of the rural northeast with dazzling false intensity. I smoke the occasional dry cigar until I’m dizzy, but there isn’t room to drink.

Instead, I mostly scribble on the train, the bus, during lunch, and at night, when I walk from here to there and on the way I have to stop and sit down and write in my notebook on my knee. There are so few moments to squeeze in the story that I practice my personal craft of piezochronosyngraphophilia, letting the sleepless hours stack up so that I might translate the deepening lines under my eyes into published lines in a magazine or book.

Even when I go to get a drink, when I plot a trip to the building where the vending machines are, the whole way lost in a thought, I arrive to find I haven’t enough change to acquire the mixer for a beverage. So I think to myself that tonight is instead another night for writing. The ideas rise so I sit and put down two more pages in the notebook before returning home to punch them into the word processor.

It was supposed to be so poetical, drinking in the autumn sun like mead running sideways through the red and yellow trees. But maybe the harsher reality is the more poetic. Shucking the useless things from the routine until all that’s left is work and poetry. Work by day, poetry by night. It’s making the night last and last that might make them memorable and bright as lit liquor.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What is a definition?

The facts upon which definitions are based are so varied and complex and at times intangible that it requires a giant volume typeset in small print to make the “meaning” of a language understood.

Definitions appearing in the dictionary are precision essays. One takes a word out of the language, a word with countless connections to every other word; a word with history, influence, connotations, and emotion; a word with a unique sound and intonation and which attempts to circumscribe a part of the human experience and assign it to a word. The organizational human brain whittles down an infinity of possibilities, mental tokens, symbols, and feelings into a taut collective that gives simultaneously the broadest and narrowest scope allowable. This tiny audible drama draws together otherwise disparate minds in a repetitive performance, actor and audience indistinguishable in the resulting spectrum of cerebral communion.

A definition is only involved in the scientific method to the extent that observations have been made as to the character of other speakers’ uses of words; and these utterances based on nothing more than childhood imprinting. Therefore, the dictionary is not only a precision essay, but really a minute persuasive composition. It comes complete with etymology and annis and the occasional quote from a refereed source to demonstrate that this particular stance has the witness of ages.

Writers work on essays of many different lengths. Poets on poems of varied meter and line. Of all the genres, the definition is the ultimate terse expression of intellect, a paring down of all unnecessary ornament to leave just visible the outline of a single word.

Poets may weave phrases that expose more of the internal, unspoken self. Dance may connect individuals more viscerally than flapped-tongue speech. Music may move the soul more paces than any mere word can motivate. But the definition, the sweet seed of language, strikes at the core of what a word is, where it has been, where it is going, and what it can do, today, to bring minds together to work towards that singular human purpose of expanding and contracting the very universe in which we live, making it reside within and between and among us, to enrich our days under the sun and enliven the planet for this day and beyond.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Neologism: Piezochronosyngraphophilia

PIEZOCHRONOSYNGRAPHOPHILIA, n. A love for squeezing every last drop out of time in pursuit of the written word.

Follow up: This has become my theme as a writer at work.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The benevolent linguist

The ultimate role of the good student of language is to convince a majority of his acquaintances that they should use as little of it as possible.

Follow up: The conscientious linguist realizes that there is so much to talk about, yet so little to say.