Finding Private Hargrove

See Here, Private HargroveMy parents always had at least one bookcase in our apartment (not a very big one, because most of their books came out of the library) that held the books they had amassed over the years. As soon as I was able to read, I started going through them and absorbing as much as I was able to. While I was originally most interested in a book on home medicine (and especially with the parts — illustrated — about how to deliver a baby and prepare a body for burial), I eventually read almost every book there.

Last year, when my mother moved out of the house and into an apartment, we went through those books. Some went with her, some were given away to a local charity, many of the Yiddish books went to the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts. And a few I took home.

One of the books I claimed was a stained paperback titled See Here, Private Hargrove, a World War II-era collection of humorous essays on Army life. I kept it because I remembered enjoying it as a child, and because it was obviously old and would otherwise probably be pulped.

So last week I started reading an interesting book entitled When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. It tells how important all types of reading materials were to the troops that went overseas — offering them with a portable means of escape — and about the efforts made to provide them with books, first by holding huge donation drives and then by printing lightweight paperback books especially for their use.

This was just after the paperback was introduced to the U.S. market (according to Wikipedia, the first mass-market paperback, published by Pocket Books, was Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, published in 1938). But, according to Manning, it was during WWII that the paperback really came into its own.

IMG_20151118_081541281To enable soldiers and sailors to have lightweight reading material that they could easily carry with them — and to accommodate the paper shortages that were endemic during the war — thousands of volumes were published. There were many published in a special format just for the troops, but others were “regular” paperbacks. Made of very thin paper and cut with almost no margins at the sides, they were sold at low cost to the public and given out free of charge to the soldiers.

I read about a third into Manning’s book and went looking for Hargrove.

My father and my mother’s brother were both soldiers in WWII — the former in Europe and the latter in the Pacific — and I realized that See Here, Private Hargrove may be have been something that my father carried with him. At the very least, it’s a book that he bought at the time and treasured enough to keep.

The book is well worn, but in better condition than you’d think. On the front, above the title and a photo of the author, it proclaims “Army-Humor Best Seller” and below “Pocketbook Edition Complete & Unabridged.” (Something that the publishers of the new paperbacks felt obliged to emphasize, because otherwise people might not believe that the little paperbacks had everything the “normal” hardcovers did).

The back has the usual blurb and publisher’s logo. In the lower right-hand corner, a little square section reads “Send this book to a boy in the armed forces anywhere for only 3¢.”

The binding is still in fairly good condition (which isn’t the case with some of my father’s other books — a copy of Richard Wilson’s 1950s collection of humorous science fiction stories, Those Idiots From Earth, fell completely apart after I’d reread it countless times). And yes, the print is so close to the edges of the paper that in some places the last letters at the right margin are lost.

IMG_20151118_081518522In fact, the frontispiece reads, “In order to cooperate with the government’s war effort, this book has been made in strict conformity with WPB regulations restricting the use of certain materials.” (The WPB was the War Production Board, which was concerned with turning civilian industries into war production.) The book itself is the third printing of the paperback edition, dated March, 1942.

And there are other interesting indications of the times. A page in the back headlines “Our Boys Want Books!” urges people to donate the book after reading it, while another titled “Help Win The War!” promotes recycling.

So there it is. Something that I’ve taken for granted all my life — a little paperback that I read before I even fully understood what I was reading. And knowing its background, it is more than just an old, historically interesting series of humor essays — it’s actually something that tells me just a bit more about my father and the times he lived in.

Yay! My story “Sabbath Wine” will appear in Clockwork Phoenix 5!

CP5_cover_mockup_small-200x300I’m very pleased to announce that my story “Sabbath Wine” has been sold for the upcoming anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen (@mythicdelirium, for the Twitterites).

This is the third Clockwork Phoenix that I’ve had work appear in; “The History of Soul 2065” appeared in Clockwork Phoenix 4 and “Rosemary, That’s For Remembrance” was in Clockwork Phoenix 2.  But there’s no way I take my submissions to one of these for granted — when I sent in “Sabbath Wine,” I was incredibly nervous (even though I am rather proud of that story) and incredibly delighted when I’d heard that it had been accepted.

The full table of contents and publishing date hasn’t been revealed yet –that should come soon. Meanwhile, congrats to all my new anthology-mates — I’m looking forward to reading all your stories!

Thanks for a nice weekend at Capclave

Capclave dodoJust a brief note to thank all the folks at Capclave who made the weekend so nice.

There are way too many to mention here. I would definitely start with our good friends Ben Zuhl, Lowry Taylor and their son Will, who always act as very gracious hosts when we come to the D.C. area.

Tom Doyle, who not only did yeoman service on the Linguistics in SF panel (along with C.S. MacCath and Lawrence Schoen, while I played moderator), but also gave a wonderfully dramatic reading from his upcoming novel and sat in on my own reading. (And who, along with a gentleman whose name I did not note down, was gracious enough to listen attentively while ignoring the workmen setting up tables at the back of the room.)

The other folks on my panels, such as Lawrence, Brian Lewis and Sarah Pinsker, who kept the panel Your Day Job As Your Muse going, despite the fact that it took place in the first timeslot of the con, before most people had gotten there. (And an extra thanks to Sarah, whose reading of her lovely short story I attended). The wonderfully informative panel on Crowdfunding and Alternative Funding for Writers, which I also moderated and which featured Bill Campbell, Neil Clarke and Alex Shvartsman. (And an extra thanks to Alex for the breakfast ticket!)

And finally, all the people, too numerous to mention, who chatted, listened, spoke on panels, or who just hung out and made it a really nice weekend (including, of course, the organizers). My apologies to all those whose names I haven’t mentioned. Hope to see you again soon.

Starting to look forward to Capclave: Here’s my list of panels.

Capclave dodoCapclave, the convention held each year by the Washington Science Fiction Association, is coming up. Jim and I like to attend because it’s a really nice East Coast literary con and because we have friend who both attend and live near there. Capclave starts Friday, October 9th and runs through Sunday, Oct. 11th at the Hilton Washington DC in Gaithersburg, MD.

If you’re going to be around the area and plan to come, here are the panels/readings I’m currently scheduled for (I’m told this is a beta schedule, so things may change). Drop by and say hello!

Friday 4:00 pm:
Your Day Job As Your Muse
Salon A
Panelists:Barbara Krasnoff, Sarah Pinsker, Lawrence M. Schoen
SF writers who work for NASA have it easy. What about the rest of us? How does your day job influence what you write when you are off the clock? Do you base characters on coworkers? Turn daydreams of being the corporate hero into your creative works?

Friday 5:00 pm:
Crowdfunding & Alternative Funding for Writers
Panelists:Bill Campbell, Neil Clarke, Barbara Krasnoff, Alex Shvartsman
Traditionally, publishers gave authors an advance on royalties in exchange for the completed manuscript. Today, some writers are receiving alternate revenue streams including crowdfunding of anthologies and novels in advance by the public, serialization in which the author releases a chapter (or story) as long as readers continue to fund it, and electronic self-publishing. What methods have you used and what works? What new methods do you see in the future? How will this change the creation of books?

Friday 7:30 pm:

Saturday 4:00 pm:
Linguistics In SF
Panelists:Tom Doyle, Barbara Krasnoff, C.S. MacCath, Lawrence M. Schoen
What are some of the creative ways writers use language and linguistics in their fictions? How can language be used as a weapon or to unite different peoples? How can writers portray linguistic differences in a way that is not condescending?

Thoughts from a porch

From the porch of a seaside house on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, near the end of the Starry Coast Writers Workshop:

From a porch

The sound of the waves against the shore is constant and changes only slightly with the tide. Unlike the waters north, the waves are smaller, quieter, perhaps appropriate to the South.

Butterflies On either side of the boardwalk that leads from the house to the beach, there are bright yellow-orange flowers at which butterflies, usually at least five to ten at a time, stop and drink before proceeding along their migratory route. The butterflies, dark orange wings lined with black and with black spots, flutter to each, stop, pump their wings slightly as they drink, and then travel on.

Small sandcrabs, the same color as the sand in which they live, wait until the humans pass, and then scutter from their holes, quickly scuttering back if there is any noise or vibration to alarm them. One has fastened onto a smaller black crab and drags it along the sand; the black crab struggles uselessly. Food? A mate? I’m not sure. The predatory crab is the only one that doesn’t move when I shift my stance; it has its prey and is reluctant to let it go, even when danger threatens.

SanderlingFive Sanderlings skitter across the sand just at the point where the water occasionally flows into their path. They completely ignore the humans walking around them in a way that I’m not used to; it’s as if they were pigeons in Washington Square, so bored by the presence of humans that we’re no longer part of their landscape. They only dance a short distance away if our feet get too close. The birds pick at the surface of the sand for food; when the tide comes in, they probe a little deeper in the wet sand. One obviously thinks of himself (assuming it’s a male) as the alpha Sanderling; he occasionally chases the others away from a treat he wants, and they hurry away, looking a bit like actors in a silent film that has been accidentally sped up.

The beach is lined with large houses, big enough for a family, or for a group of friends. Two people alone wouldn’t be enough; they would rattle around like marbles in a can. People wander along the beach, either alone or in pairs or groups; walking their dogs or walking their kids. A few yards into the water, people stand on surfboards and paddle themselves along, only occasionally riding a slightly more enthusiastic wave into the shore.

I love porches. I love sitting on a porch and writing (and occasionally grabbing my binoculars when a Brown Pelican flies by, and no, I haven’t been able to get a good photo and probably never will). I wonder if I would get bored if I could spend the rest of my life like this.

My short story “Sophia’s Legacy” is now available on Mythic Delirium

Mythic_Delirium_1_4_coverGreetings all! If you’re looking for something to read, you might want to try my short story “Sophia’s Legacy,” which just went live on the Mythic Delirium site. It’s part of the July-September issue of the magazine; the stories are released over the course of three months, and mine was held for September. Enjoy!

In other news, I’ve sold my story entitled “Of Their Sweet Deaths Are Sweetest Odours Made” to TripTych Tales — it’s the second story I’ve sold to them; the first was “The Waterbug.” They’ve got a lot of good fiction on that site; you should check it out.

And I’ve sold another story as well, which I’ll report on as soon as the contract is signed…

Trying a novel: Watching a deadline float by

While I’m not usually the kind of person who does things at the absolute last stay-up-until-4 a.m. minute, I have to admit that I usually work well with deadlines. They give me a goal and an endpoint. They keep me on track. And, for the most part, I usually make them.

Fresco from Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum
Credit: Carole Raddato

So it pains me to admit that I didn’t make this one.

I had a deadline of today — Thursday — to have a reasonable chunk of novel ready for the Starry Coast workshop that I’ll be attending next month. The idea is that each person attending the workshop should have a manuscript (or, at least, a reasonable piece of it) ready so that two of the other attendees can have enough time to read and critique it.

Three weeks ago, I thought: I can do this. I’ll work hard, I’ll push through, and I’ll get at least 50,000 words in a reasonable condition so that I can send it in.

Two weeks ago, I thought: Well, maybe I’ll settle for 30,000 words. In decent shape.

One week ago, I thought: Yeah, right. I’ve got about 30,000 words, but there’s no way I’m going to show this to anybody. Decent shape? Yeah, tell me another one.

The problem is that I — like many writers, I think — am extremely critical of my own work. And while I have approximately what I think of as a beginning of a piece of work, as soon as I started reading it over I saw that it was barely a beginning — certainly not anything I’d want anybody else to read. The characters aren’t well laid out; the dialogue is awkward; the environments aren’t well described or thought out…

This, I thought, is not enough. The people reading this first draft should at least have some idea what the storyline is. I don’t mind hard critiques — I’ve spent my life attending a variety of classes and writers groups — but I visualized instead a puzzled silence. As in, “Um — who are these people and what is going on here, anyway?”

I started editing and rewriting — and realized a couple of days ago that I just wasn’t going to make it. It was just going too slowly. So I found myself typing out a pitiful plea to the two people who are going to critique my work, asking for at least a weekend to do another edit.

They, generous souls that they are, said that there was no problem. So deadline’s passed, and I’m going to try to make the secondary deadline and at least get the first 30,000 words out — in a reasonably coherent form.

And I’m also going to keep hoping that this will all be worth it, and for the first time in my life, I’ll finally be able to finish a single story that is over 5,000 words.