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June 15 2017Europe 1956
I found the Irish poor but kind and London wet but jolly and theater in both places good. Paris was wet too but in a melancholy way, and the waiters in cafes so snooty you could starve if you didn’t correctly pronounce the nasalized vowels.
The Dutch were hearty laughers but without much humor. The Danes had humor and were cheerful and spoke excellent English. The Germans had no humor but were busy building gleaming new cities. Around the gaming tables of Baden Baden they jostled the pound-shy English asking: “Who won the war?”
So when I had been through these places and done my duty to monuments and museums, battlefields and cathedrals, it was August before I got to Venice. It was hot in Venice and the canals and close-built buildings made it stuffy. I took a room at the air-conditioned Bauer Grunwald and ate my dinner on the terrace watching the flaming sun drop over the Grand Canal.
For two days I walked crowded streets and crossed over little bridges or took Diritto boats to the beach at Lido. At night I sat in cafes of San Marco’s and listened to the orchestras and sipped wine. Then I took a train to Rome and changed for one to Naples. Then a bus to Sorrento.
I got to Sorrento on Sunday evening and found a hotel on a shady street that curved off the square. The hotel was cool, the rooms white-washed and clean, and underneath tall trees there was a patio that looked out over the bay.
Six waiters served me dinner there, and afterwards I walked back to the square and down the steep switch-back street with flowers hanging over the wall to the pier where boats came and went to Capri. There was a band playing and a lighted Ferris Wheel and the boat offices were crowded with people and children laughing and shouting.
I walked out on the pier and tried out of darkness to find Capri. I stared into the blackness but could see nothing. I threw my cigarette into the Bay of Naples and walked back up to the square where I sat in a sidewalk café lit by strings of little lights and sipped a bottle of Tuborg.
In the morning I took the boat to Capri. It was a warm breezy day and the boats were filled with tourists. I had met a lady in Venice who told me to skip Capri. She said tourists had ruined it for those who remembered Capri as it was before the war.
I didn’t ask what war. Capri has been under attack ever since Tiberius built his villa there. Attila and the Huns, those dreadful Goths and Vandals. This August morning I found myself in another barbarian army mustered at the funicular ready to begin the assault
A battalion in sport shirts, thirty-five millimeters strapped over shoulders, chest bandoliers with film. Like the Goths, we brought our women clutching bags to carry away the loot. The cable cars made their slow grinding climb to the top. We exploded from the cars, storming the little plaza to sack the cluttered shops. The natives put up feeble resistance.
July 20 2017
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Late July is the time to divide Iris
By now, some of the plants in the containers, have gotten long and lanky, especially some petunias. You can cut them back to abut 6 inches. They will soon set out new shoots and make the plant more bushy. Remember to fertilize your containers regularly.
You can sow cold season vegetables until the first week in August for a fall garden. You could water the seeds in the evening to keep the soil moist longer so they will germinate faster.
Often the bottom of the first picked tomatoes and peppers has a brown tough skin. That is called blossom-end rot and happens when the soil moisture is uneven. You can water when the soil starts to dry. If you place a 2-3 inch layer of mulch around the root area, that will help stop the soil from drying out so fast.
In late July, you can divide and transplant the iris Check to see if any of the rhizome is soft or mushy. If so, cut it off and destroy it. When planting iris, don’t plant them too deep or they might not bloom. Leave the top of the rhizome uncovered.
You can start harvesting your herbs now for drying Tie several stems together and hang them up side down.
by Jim Bennett • firstname.lastname@example.org
July 20 2017
The Long, Winding Road to Publication
ABOUT TEN or twelve years ago, I got a letter from an editor at a New York publishing house, asking me if I’d be interested in writing a novel about girls basketball. She had recently read The Squared Circle, a critically-acclaimed basketball novel I published in 1996. This was a woman I’d never met or even spoken to.
She suggested the novel should be “gritty,” and it would be preferable if the book’s protagonist could be a lesbian. The letter’s content made it plain she had no clue about modern girls’/women’s basketball, and what I knew about teen lesbians could fit inside a shot glass with room left over. I wrote back and told her she had the wrong guy.
I tell this story because it offers a glimpse into an important element of the publishing world. Editors are often seeking a certain kind of material, rather than the best possible literature. And that’s not surprising; the industry’s major publishers are, after all, for-profit operations.
A novel about lesbian girls who play basketball with no fear of breaking a fingernail or having their mascara run would amount to an “agenda” book; the quality of the literature would be subordinate to the message. This is not uncommon for teen or children’s literature.
LAST WEEK I went to contract on my most recent book, titled Loopey to Beau, with a subtitle reading, A Troubled Author’s Journey with Dogs. It’s one of the few non-fiction books I’ve written. It’s a gratifying development, but the road to publication was not a smooth one.
The difficulties started when my literary agent died, nearly two years ago. There was a time if authors had a book to sell, they could submit it directly to editors at major publishing houses for evaluation. Nowadays, that’s rarely the case. Most editors will only accept manuscripts coming directly from agents.
I wasn’t only peddling Loopey to Beau, I was also shopping two young adult (YA) novels as well. Even though I’ve published several successful books in the past, I found the search for a new agent a series of dead ends. On rare occasions, agents I contacted agreed to read the first two or three chapters. The usual response was usually something like this: “Although your writing is very strong, this material doesn’t fit with what we’re looking for at this time.”
In the case of the YA novels, both of them are set in the 1950s. One in the early ‘50s with a protagonist afflicted with polio, the other a story of an eighth grade boy struggling to make the school basketball team at a time when his small town is traumatized by a series of rape/murders. (This second one, by the way, is essentially autobiographical.)
In both cases, whether agent or editor, the reply came back, “Although your writing is very strong, we’re not looking for historical literature at this time.” I guess these editors and agents were relatively young. It’s hard for people my age to perceive the 1950s as “historical.” But I reckon it’s true.
AGENTS AND EDITORS I was able to contact regarding Loopey to Beau were not usually even willing to read a description of the project. Some of those who were willing made a face (I’m sure) even as they were telling me, “Oh no. Not another dog book.”
Finally, I was able to converse with Bruce, a senior editor at a New York publisher who said, “There can never be too many dog books or self-help/inspirational books or diet books.” (Any trip through Barnes & Noble will confirm this.) “And you have a unique approach that sets your ‘dog book’ apart from the rest.” A few days later, he was able to offer me the contract, which I eagerly signed.
My “dog book” is unique in that it’s an autobiographical journey describing my 40+ years battling a psychiatric disorder. Woven into that framework is crucial material about the loving, loyal dogs that brought support and comfort. It’s this blend of material in a two-pronged approach that sets my book apart; or at least my editor and I believe so.
The publishing world, especially that part of it involving prominent houses can seem like a fortress, rock solid and impenetrable. I had a great deal of success from 1990-2005 writing well-received books. But that just makes me yesterday’s news. All the rejections reminded me that I was essentially starting over.
Editors know what they want, and agents know what that is. There are some exceptions. People with names like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling could make an editor jump up and salute if they simply submitted their shopping or laundry lists.
Lives of celebrities are always welcome. Barack and Michelle Obama each received enormous (as in millions) advances for books they hadn’t even begun writing. For the rest of us, the road to publication is stacked with barriers along the way. But it’s still possible to break through if one is persistent enough.
The Rest is Still Unrwritten
by John Colclasure of Lexington
July 20 2017
Sittin’ on the Front Porch
Sittin’ on the front porch may have been a thing of the past but, then again, it may be coming back. It seems that once upon a time wrap-around porches with gleaming-white columns, corbels, pillars, railings, balusters and posts beckoned family and friends to drop-in, say hello and sit for a spell. Several rocking chairs, strategically placed, adorned those magnificent porches accenting massive homes. It was from those front porches, whether you were walking, riding a bicycle or simply driving by, it was our connection with the world. Just sittin’ on the front porch watching the world go by.
Not that long ago perhaps, that I had the good fortune to sit on a front porch in a little mining town in central Ohio. That country home was nestled among the foothills of an abandoned strip mine and along a stretch of winding roads between New Lexington and Crooksville, Ohio. I remember that porch as if it was yesterday. We have a picture of a home that is almost identical to that home in Ohio. As a matter of fact, the nursing home in Meadows, Illinois has a duplicate copy of that print. Anyways, since there wasn’t any television or radio or cables or modems, our only news came from the conversations that was had about anyone and everyone who traveled on that stretch of highway. A westbound car would pass by and a comment would be made such as, “That must be Elmer headed over to New Lex. Probably taking Isabelle to her doctor’s appointment and then pick-up her pills at the Rexall drug store.” “NO”, would be the response. “I don’t think Isabelle was with him, only the dog. Well, wonder what happened then, because Isabelle is always with him. Suppose she took sick in the night? I heard on the scanner that the rescue took somebody from a rural residence this side of three-mile curve. Sounded like she was in a pretty bad way.”
That was pretty much the local news every waking hour of the day which ended about eight-o’clock at night, except for the radio traffic on the scanner. There was no need for a newspaper of radio or television. It was after all their connection to the world.
But as with most things in life, some things pass away and most never return. The wrap-around porches went away and subsequently were replaced with attached garages, then rear yard decks and then screened in porches, four-seasons back porches or lanai porches. It is with great joy to see a resurgence of front porches, although not as large or as elaborate as they once were, but none-the-less a beginning. Those rocking chairs at the Cracker Barrel are now over $100.00 so demand must be high, since several years ago, they were about $40.00 and I thought that was too much. Now if we begin to see actual people sittin’ on the front porch, sippin’ on a cherry coke, we will know that the clock has indeed been turned back to a more joyful and gracious time. There is always HOPE.
Till next time…john
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