Monday, January 28, 2013

200 Glorious Years



Today, I am celebrating an event that most writers can only dream of achieving — the 200th Anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice.

I hope somewhere up in literary heaven our dear Miss Austen knows how much her work has meant to so many people.

Classic.
Immortal.
Genius.

Who amongst us would not love our work to be labeled any of those superlatives?

Yet, most people do not begin writing their novels thinking that this is “the one,” the breakout book sure to define their careers. Indeed, the thoughts that usually travel through my head when starting a novel are more along the lines of “What were you thinking?” or “Oh my God, I hope this doesn’t suck.”

Still, there is that slight bit of magic when I have typed the working title followed by my name underneath that gives me butterflies, in a good way, of course. I wonder if Miss Austen felt it too as she dipped her quill in ink and moved it over the paper, careful not to drip?

A first edition of Pride and Prejudice, printed for T. Egerton, 1813.

Regular readers of this blog are very familiar with my love of Miss Austen and her novels. I have written about her frequently: a piece with fun facts about her life and work for Women’s History Month, birthday posts each December, and my essay about my pilgrimage to Chawton to visit her home and Winchester to put flowers on her grave.

Her work has inspired me like no one else’s. In all sincerity, Pride and Prejudice changed my life when I first read it all those years ago as a sophomore in high school. It sparked my interest in English literature and sent me on my life’s journey.

From those first sentences…

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
—Chapter 1

To mocking the buffoonery of Mr. Collins…

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been 
but little assisted by education or society.
—Chapter 15

To Mr. Darcy’s apology and second declaration of love…

I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions 
to please a woman worthy of being pleased.
—Chapter 58

…Miss Austen hooked me and millions of others into her supreme novel of courtship and country life through the magic of literature. May it continue to inspire many more in the generations to come.







Monday, January 21, 2013

Honoring the Promise of Hope


Today we are celebrating Martin Luther King Day in the U.S.

I have written about Dr. King a few times here on Bibliophilic Blather. I analyzed his writing and speech-making skills on Editing for Grammarphobes in January 2011 and participated in a blogfest about discrimination in our times organized by Beverly Diehl at Writing in Flow in 2012.




His message of true equality for all resonates in my soul, no matter what issues our country faces or how much vitriol was thrown President Obama's way throughout last year's campaign, throughout his entire presidency, really.

Today is also Inauguration Day. I read somewhere that President Obama will place his hand on Dr. King's bible as he takes the Oath of Office.

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

And as he does so, hope for a better America will blanket this country, even if only for one day.


Good luck, Mr. President. May the muses of wisdom, fairness, and justice guide you through your next four years.






Monday, January 14, 2013

Standards


I love Downton Abbey, the fantastic British television show about life on a prestigious country estate during the early years of the twentieth century. While watching a documentary on Highclere Castle, the glorious setting for the show, I was struck by something the present-day butler said while setting the table for the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon’s breakfast. Colin Edwards explained that tables had been set and meals had been served in the same fashion at Highclere for hundreds of years. Scaling down just wouldn’t feel right.

“I think it’s very important to maintain standards because once they disappear, they will never come back,” Edwards said.

Standards.

I am known to drone on at the dinner table, pontificating like a fossil about the bare minimum of service in the retail industry and the lack of manners in society. “Casual Fridays” at work begat a general malaise. Being seen in one’s pajamas in public used to be cause for ridicule. Now, it’s commonplace.

However, I am not merely romanticizing a time when elegance was reserved for only rich people who had servants, while everyone else lived in squalor, fighting for every dollar they could scrape together. That is a topic for a different post.

What I am referring to occurred not that long ago, early in my career when I worked in downtown Chicago and even a little afterward in the suburbs. The Marshall Field’s department store in the nearest mall used to have a concierge and a coat check. Each department offered to send your purchases to the coat check where you could pick them up on your way out, so shoppers didn’t have to schlep bags around the store. This service was complimentary, of course, and it was lovely.

I didn’t have a lot of money while shopping at that suburban Marshall Field’s, but it sure felt like it.

Standards.

'I think it's important to maintain standards 
because once they disappear, they will never come back.'
— Colin Edwards 

Holiday shopping this past December was not that easy. How many times did you look for someone to help you, only to stand there, deserted?

Retail establishments used to have people available to help customers, before warehouse stores and price slashing drove the experience permanently into the bargain basement. Heck, some of these places don’t even bother to put carpeting over their grey concrete floors!

I straddle two worlds, uncomfortably dipping my toe in and checking the waters on one side, while learning what I can and applying it to the other. One side is an indie author, while the other is a published journalist and magazine editor who still freelances. Half of me is a part of the old establishment really, trained by professors in the English department who frequently reminded us that our writing was being judged not only as student literature, but against all literature that has come before us.

Standards.

Many say the way to commercial success in indie publishing is to release a ton of books each year, for some upwards of four to six. Kudos to those who can churn out that much copy and still create great novels. That is a most admirable feat.

I also know a few traditionally published authors who produce one book every year or two, which offers time for the idea to germinate, for the muses to strike, and much wordplay.

Each schedule has its benefits, and I am torn between what the market demands and my own writing method, which is considerably slower than many of my indie peers.

Whichever schedule I choose, I think Colin Edwards’ words, as well as those of my college professors, will forever echo in my ears.

Once standards disappear, they are gone forever.




Monday, January 7, 2013

Changes

Do you pay attention to the voice within? Heed the soft whisper that reveals what you already instinctively know?

When I first started Bibliophilic Blather, I was trying to figure out what I could offer the blogosphere that would set me apart. I chose my journalism years with “Editing for Grammarphobes,” while “Flash Fiction Fridays” harkened more to my old magazine days of soliciting for manuscripts and such.

Through these features, I met some fellow word nerds and many wonderful writers of all genres for whom I am very grateful. What I did not anticipate was how much time it would take to produce three posts per week plus manage my own books and new releases.

This year, 2013, is the Year of the Black Snake according to the Chinese calendar. The snake is a studious creature of steady progress and attention to detail. According to what I read, it requires peaceful solitude to use its analytical skills. Focus and discipline will be required to complete the tasks at hand.


I, too, have been feeling the need for quiet reflection, craving a time to write more and challenge myself to move onto the next level.

Consequently, I’ve decided to restructure Bibliophilic Blather, discontinue “Flash Fiction Fridays” and “Editing for Grammarphobes,” and only post once a week on various topics ranging from fantastic books to interesting facts about classic literature and the literary masters, to tidbits I will find while researching the third Bibliophiles book starring prim anglophile Thaddeus and leftover flower child Spring. Who knows? It might even be anything that pops into my head that particular week.

As the Year of the Black Snake encourages, it is time for me to spend the majority of the day writing, coiled up in my office, making steady progress on my novels and the craft itself.

I hope you will continue to take this journey with me as we all head into a year of contemplation, study, and focus. Just think of all the wonderful things that will come out it!

Here’s to shedding our skins and emerging anew in 2013.  


Photo courtesy of www.gotohoroscope.com.