Audio of American Craftsmen Opening

My reading of the opening of American Craftsmen is now up on the Ghost in the Machine podcast: The reading is a live one-take over the phone. I also answer some questions about the book at the podcast’s sister site: Thank you to Gail Martin for posting  this podcast.

American Craftsmen Deleted Scene (SPOILERS)

Below is a short scene I deleted from the published version of American Craftsmen. If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t read any further unless you don’t mind spoilers.

My reasons for deleting the scene were sound. It takes place right after Dale and Scherie check into their motel room.  Dale then proceeds to given a lengthy explanation of the Witch of Endor story. A little thought showed me the problem with this: Dale was exhausted and wounded and could not give a lengthy explanation of anything . So I shortened his thoughts on the story to about one sentence. But I lost Dale’s cynical “lessons” on the history of craftspeople serving hostile rulers, even as his own government was giving him such a hard time.  I may try to use some of this material in book 3 in a different context, but for now, here it is as it appeared in an early draft of American Craftsmen (with the introduction and ending that did appear in the final version):

“Oh. I thought you just didn’t like the Bible because it’s against wi–” Scherie blushed. “It’s against magic.”

I chuckled, though it hurt to laugh. “You don’t have to worry about the ‘w’ word, though I prefer ‘craftsperson.’ I enjoy the Bible; it has plenty of interesting things to teach about the craft. The Koran too. It’s always there in the old sacred texts, hiding in the corners.”

Scherie said, “I don’t remember any…”

“How about the witch of Endor?” I asked.

“She doesn’t count,” she said. “She wasn’t a real witch.”

“That’s not clear in the original,” I said. “But you’re right in one sense. Everything in the Bible is supposed to be instructive. The story’s a parable of the relationship of the craft to power.”

“Will it put me to sleep?” she asked.

I considered. “Hmmm. Can’t use a Gideon Bible, so I’ll do it from memory. OK, we’re in Israel about three thousand years ago, after the death of the prophet Samuel. The times are good. So King Saul tries to drive all the craftspeople out of the land. That’s lesson one: when the times are good, the witches, wizards, and necromancers are hunted down and exiled or killed, because the state doesn’t like other sources of power and authority besides the sanctioned religion.”

“But then the times go bad,” she said.

“Then the times go real bad,” I said. “The Philistines are coming, and I don’t mean middle-class art critics. None of the orthodox prophets or priests will assist Saul in talking to God. That’s lesson two: when the chips are down, the orthodox religion may desert the state, even go over to the enemies of the state. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s what happens. Maybe it’s the covenant theology–when things are going badly, you must have offended God.”

“So Saul tries something else?” she asked.

“He goes incognito and finds a witch in Endor,” he said, “and has her summon the ghost of Samuel. The witch does it, and the first thing she finds out is that Saul has lied about who he is. That’s a bad joke that every craftsperson knows–even when they believe in our power, governments try to lie to us, to manipulate us into doing what they want.”

“And Saul got what he wanted?” she asked.

“Not exactly,” I said. “Samuel tells him that he and his family are doomed. And that’s where the two last, more subtle lessons come in. The witch has to beg Saul to remember his promise not to hurt her now that he’s gotten the bad news. So the lesson is, don’t trust the rulers to keep their promises even when you’ve kept yours. Then the witch prepares a nice meal for Saul, since he’ll be needing his strength. That’s the hardest lesson of all: we have to be decent to individuals even when they’re part of a system that tries to kill us. I’m not sure I’ve fully learned that lesson yet.”

“And you believe this story?” she asked.

“Maybe not the details,” I said, “but yes, I believe it. It’s one of the few stories in the Bible that every craftsperson believes.”

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“Because,” I said, “it’s a story where craft works.”

Loose Transcript of “Summers in Oz: L. Frank Baum and Macatawa, MI.”

Below is a loose transcript of my Library of Congress talk from four years ago in its most recent revised form (Balticon 2013 and 2014). The slides are mostly available on Facebook, but if you’d like them uploaded to this site please let me know.

Summers in Oz:  L. Frank Baum and Macatawa, MI.

[1. opening]

Thank you very much for inviting me here to meet and talk with you tonight. To begin: I grew up in a land of Oz. Or at least I spent summers there. [2. map]

My Oz was here in Macatawa [point at map], a small beach resort community near Holland, Michigan. [I’m wearing a Holland MI T-shirt.][3. slide of sat view] Here, L. Frank Baum had also spent his summers from 1899 until 1910.

For those of us who lived and vacationed in the Macatawa area, the connection to Baum and Oz has been important, generating stories, arguments, festivities, and magic. I’m going to discuss how that connection came about, its facts and fictions, and its continued meaning for those in the world creation biz.

[4. early view of beach] Macatawa Park opened as a resort in July 1898–originally just a half-mile row of cottages in the liminal space between woods and beach. Baum heard about Macatawa from friends at the Chicago Athletic Club. (Baum was a big joiner.) Ads appeared for the resort in the The Show Window magazine that Baum was publishing. [I recently heard from his great-grandson that Baum may have taken a day trip to Macatawa in 1898.]

[5. baum on backporch] In any case, in the summer of 1899, Baum and his family visited Macatawa for the first time. They crossed from Chicago to Holland in an overnight excursion steamer, which took about five hours and ran nightly during the summer. Baum had not yet achieved success as a writer, so he rented a cottage. He named that first cottage Hyperoodon rostratus, after the skeleton of a bottlenose whale he had seen at the Chicago’s World’s Fair. After the fair, the Baum family used “Hyperoodon rostratus” to describe all things strange and mysterious. For the Baums, there was something magical about Macatawa.

(This photo may be from that first summer in Macatawa, though the first draft of Oz was handwritten–Baum even memorialized the pencil–so he’s not writing it here.)

The natural setting of Macatawa may have inspired Baum in several general ways. The environment must have reminded him of his early life in central New York state, particularly after his later years in the stark Dakotas and the bustling city of Chicago.

Several times, balloonists have disappeared without a trace over Lake Michigan (think of how the Wizard came and went from Oz). Water spouts, the Lake Michigan equivalent of the twisters of the plains, are common, but are more safely observed than tornadoes, as at landfall they usually collapsed or if tornado like, they jump over the Macatawa beach area (at least according to local lore). The great lake, which Baum appropriately called a great inland sea, often has waves on the scale of ocean surf, and its waves have the same meditative effect as any seaside. Dense woods like the fairyland forest of Burzee were all around, even though the logging industry was having its way with Michigan’s lower peninsula. And hot sand dunes could easily bring to mind vast impassable sand deserts like those that surrounded Oz.

Overall, Baum’s style from Oz on would have a stronger mesh of location with story than his previous efforts.

In his Show Window magazine, Baum wrote a review of Macatawa, calling it the “the most original and wonderful place in all the world.” (Even though I agree, Baum did have a saleman’s knack for hyperbole.) He described “the great bluffs covered with dense forest” that rose above the beach (he seems to be describing both the hills and sand dunes of the area).

[6. cover of Wizard] As with treason, influence is a question of dates. Baum finished writing a draft of The Wizard of Oz in October 1899. So, leaving aside Macatawa’s influence on later Oz books, any influence on that first Oz story would’ve had to occur during the Baum’s short first summer stay.

[7. Baum’s books] By 1902, Baum was a successful writer, and instead of continuing to rent, he bought a cottage in Macatawa. [8. Father Goose cover] Father Goose: His Book was Baum’s big success before Oz, and its royalties provided the means for the purchase. [9. View of cottage.] So Baum named the cottage “The Sign of the Goose.” Around the same time, he suffered from a bout of Bell’s Palsy. His doctor encouraged him to do physical rather than mental work. Instead of writing, Baum built his own furniture with custom geese-shaped nail heads and decorated the entire cottage with goose motifs. [10. interior of cottage] A reporter noted: “Flocks of excited geese chase each other around the frescoing, and a large animated goose forever flaps its wings over the porch. A whole swarm of them in accommodating attitudes not as a rule assumed by geese constituted the furniture of the house, and others in colors that no decoy goose would ever dare assume do service as sugar bowls, andirons, and souvenir spoons.” He had a custom built stained glassed window featuring a goose.

[11. Baum reading] Baum would write on the porch facing the lake. (point out the goose sign). The cottage had a “fantastic air.”

It also had fantastic air for breathing. In a 1903 letter, Baum invited friends to his cottage for “a dose of ozone” (ozone meant “fresh and pure air” back then).

Ever the joiner, Baum joined the Macatawa Bay Yacht Club, headed the Macatawa Cottagers Association and helped organize the Regatta Week and other festivities.

In 1907, Baum published two tributes (?) to the summer community he loved. The less controversial was a poem under his own name in the Grand Rapids Sunday Herald. One couplet ran:

[animation 12. couplet] “Happy the boy or girl who knows

This land of rainbows.”

But he wasn’t talking about the Oz of the later film. The poem was entitled, “To Macatawa.”

In another nod to the “Ozziness” of Macawata, the poem also contained the following lines [13. lines]:

I beg to ask where else you’ll find
A summer haven that’s designed
So perfectly to charm mankind
And tone the liver, heart and mind?
That is, one’s brain, heart, and courage.

The other homage to Macatawa was more controversial: [14. Tamawaca cover] his short novel entitled Tamawaca Folks: A Summer Comedy. The anagram fooled no one. There’s even an error in the book where Tamawaca is called Macatawa! In Tamawaca Folks, he made fun of some of the Macatawans like he made fun of most everything else. Despite this, the town reveled in his mockery.

Baum helped organize the annual Venetian Evenings and Tamawaca Folks includes a colorful description of those events (which I drew on for my on story). “On this occasion the entire bay was enclosed with lines of gorgeous Japanese lanterns placed in artistic designs along the shore. The Yacht Club, the hotels at Iroquois Bay and Tamawaca and all the buildings facing the bay were elaborately decorated with bunting and lanterns, while the sail-boats anchored upon the mirror-like surface of the water displayed a like splendor. Bands played on the ferry-boats, bonfires on the neighboring heights glared and twinkled, many launches brilliant with colored lights moved slowly over the bay, while rockets and roman candles sent their spluttering displays into the dim sky overhead.”

As Baum concluded (again with slight hyperbole)

“It has been seriously asserted that Venice in its palmiest days has never been able to compete with Tamawaca on ‘Venetian Evening.’”

[15. The Baums] For one last tribute to Macatawa by Baum, I quote his introduction to Tamawaca Folks: “Tamawaca exists, and is as beautiful as I have described it. I chose it as the scene of my story because I … was fascinated by its incomparable charm. The middle West has no spot that can compete with it in loveliness.”

[16. Fairylogue] In nearby Grand Rapids, Frank Baum had the first trial showing of his so-called “Fairylogue and Radio-Plays.” (A “fairylogue” being like a travelogue, but the Radio-plays had nothing to do with radio.) This is an image of one of the slides from the Fairylogue –a true multimedia show, a combination of colored film and slides, live actors, and live orchestra, that was perhaps ahead of its time. It was certainly too expensive for his time. Ironically, this locally debuted production would accrue the lion’s share of the debt that would cost Baum the Macatawa cottage.

After the summer of 1910, face with protesting creditors, Baum had to sell his Chicago property and the cottage in Macatawa. Appropriately enough, the remaining nine years of his life would be in Hollywood, California.

[17. image of Baum’s boys]

Even after the sale of the cottage and their father’s death, the Baum sons continued to remember their summers in Macatawa fondly. In the summer of 1901, the second son, Robert, aged 15, met the 14-year-old Edna Ducker. They became close friends and eventually married. Their friendship may have inspired two of the character names in Ozma of Oz (one of the Oz sequels): Evrob and Evedna, children of the Queen of Ev.

Frank Joslyn Baum, his eldest son, remembered the excellent fishing, boating, and swimming. He also remembered the antics of his other brothers (and I unwittingly put something similar in my story–which shows how things haven’t changed). “One day Robert was detected sliding down the porch roof into the sand. His punishment was a spanking with a hairbrush. A few hours later Harry tried the forbidden stunt. He was caught, too, and the same punishment, even the same number of licks, was decreed. But in the meantime the hairbrush used to spank Robert had disappeared. Maud [their mother], in her strict, meticulously just way, decided the sentence could not be carried out unless she had the identical hairbrush. So Harry got off Scot free.”

Harry himself recalled “family gatherings around the dining table where fun, jokes, atrocious puns, and even learned discussions flowed fast and furiously. My three brothers and I were home from various schools and, when the family was together around one large table, Mother often said that there were five boys to gang together against her instead of four…. To settle the frequent points of dispute which arose, a small shelf was built in the dining room where a dictionary, a single-volumed encyclopedia, and an atlas were kept for quick convenient reference and decision. When Father made an especially far-fetched pun, we would all laugh uproariously and then reach out our hand to him for any loose change as a reward for laughing.”

[18. Bob] And Frank’s great-grandson, Robert A. Baum, Jr., and his wife Clare have put on educational shows dressed in character as the author and his wife Maud, and one of their shows focused on the Macatawa years.

    [19. Baum with kids] Some of the Macatawan stories about Baum are relatively uncontroversial recollections that were passed down or recorded. Berenice Lowe of nearby Central Park remembered the author as the “goose man” who was a good customer of her florist father.[i] The poet and fellow cottager Eunice Tietjens recorded that Baum had “an imagination and vitality which constantly ran away with him. But he was a fascinating companion.

    “He was never without a cigar in his mouth, but it was always unlit. His doctor had forbidden him to smoke, so he chewed up six cigars a day instead. There was one exception… Before he took his swim in the lake in the afternoon he would light a cigar and walk immediately into the water. He would solemnly wade out until the water was up to his neck and there walk parallel to the shore, moving his arms to give the impression that he was swimming. When a wave splashed on the cigar and put it out he at once came in and dressed.”  

    Macatawa residents recalled that Baum was frequently seen entertaining children at the “Sign of the Goose.” Kids could not resist his fascinating cottage and fanciful tales.

    All of what I’ve said so far is the extent to which the Baum family and scholars would acknowledge a broad connection between Frank Baum’s work and Macatawa.

    [20. Oz books] But there’s a more mythic set of local Baum lore that focuses on the influence of Macatawa on the first Oz book(and largely ignoring the other 13 Oz books that Baum wrote), combined with an odd conflation of the images from the 1939 film with those of the original story.

    So now we turn to the more interesting but far less likely claims.

[21. Sign of the Goose] First, claims regarding Baum’s cottage. When I visited Macatawa again in the summer of 2003, I asked which cottage was Baum’s. I was given a few stories, and one older woman spoke with authority and pointed out a likely looking gray cottage.

None of those stories were true. The real “Sign of the Goose” had burned in 1927, then a few years later a winter storm accelerated the perennial erosion and washed the site into Lake Michigan, leading to this epitaph from Baum’s son: “Just as a tornado carried Dorothy and her cottage into the Land of Oz, so perhaps by fire and storm the cottage where several of the Oz stories were born found its safe haven in the same enchanted realm.” (My further fictional speculations about this destruction are likely to run a different direction entirely.)

[22. Hotel] Perhaps because of the absence of the actual cottage, one of the stories we were told as kids was that Baum stayed in the Hotel Macatawa (shown here), though we had confused ideas that existing large cottages might have been the long-gone hotel.

Now for the Oz sites. First, the yellow brick road. No, it’s not the gold standard. Please, let’s drop the Oz as allegory of populism theory. Short answer: Baum was a lifelong Republican whose only involvement with populism was through the one political issue that deeply concerned him and his family: women’s suffrage. So, after this, if you’d like to discuss the influence of early feminism on Oz, that would be more interesting.

But the Macatawa-centered theories aren’t much more likely than the political. [23. Crescent Walk] Wooded paths such as Crescent Walk (aka Lover’s Lane) are offered as yellow brick road candidates  due to the supposed yellow cast of the wood. But Baum’s choice of brick color might have had a different local connection. [24. Veneklasen] Dutch towns, and towns settled by the Dutch in America, used yellow brick for buildings and even road paving. One biographer notes how the young Baum would have seen such yellow brick roads in Peekskill, New York on his way to military school. But he may have seen such brick again, during that summer of 1899, in the local structures built using Veneklasen company bricks.

Munchkinland was supposedly inspired by Macatawa’s quaint Victorian-era cottages gathered around squares (originally one called Perry’s Circle). My generation moved the likely square to the top of a wooded bluff on Maksaba Trail, which led down to our beach.

[25. Castle Park] A folly in nearby Castle Park (and not Chicago’s White City) was said to be the model for the Emerald City or the Witch’s castle, depending on whom you asked. [Look up, take off glasses] Full disclosure: I still resent Castle Park. The Macatawa Park cottagers played softball against the Castle Park team, and Castle Park usually won.

To quote a Castle Park resident, the so-called castle was once used “as a late summer/early fall gathering place for Wizard of Oz fanatics.” To explain, one of Baum’s sons, Harry, with his wife Brenda, [26. Brenda Baum] hosted the earliest International Wizard of Oz Club meetings in Indiana. When Harry died, Brenda became a hostess at the Castle Park folly hotel, and the conventions followed her there, reinforcing the association of Oz with the area until the hotel became a private residence again in 1985.

(I remember the excitement as a kid, wanting to see the spooky Castle, which I was told was haunted.)

Castle Park also claims that they used to have an actual road of yellow bricks (if you can trust those guys).

I’ll add my own speculations regarding the colors of Oz: perhaps the pervasive blue of Dutch Delft-ware in the area eventually suggested the blue color scheme of Munchkinland, and that the fields of red tulips in Holland would suggest fields of red poppies.

A former Holland Michigan bookstore owner has gathered some local Oz lore. The most amusing respondent reported that her father believed that his mother-in-law was the model for (wait for it) the Wicked Witch of the West!  Apparently, his family took this story seriously.

But what’s the question that everyone really wants the answer to? [27. Dorothy] Who was Dorothy? Macatawa had not just one, but two claimants. Baum’s family generally insisted that he did not model his little girl on anyone in particular. Frank Joslyn Baum wrote that:

“[M]any rumors have circulated and some have been printed too, to the effect that my father, L. Frank Baum, had named “Dorothy” of the book after some particular child he knew. One such claim, made by a certain woman [here, the editor interpolates the name Dorothy Hall Martindale of Michigan] [in the Midwest], recently came to my attention. There is no truth in any of the stories. At the time he wrote The Wizard of Oz he did not know any girl or woman by the name of Dorothy. It was a name he selected because he liked the sound of it. … And he wanted very much to have a daughter of his own. … The name of “Dorothy” was [a] name he hoped to give to a daughter.” [ii]

Well, first, the younger Frank isn’t always the best source. His biography of his father has been criticized. He had fallen out with the rest of the family, and wasn’t able to consult with them about his father’s life. He shared his father’s gift for fabulizing–when he didn’t know something, he made it up (including his father’s supposed support for William Jennings Bryan that would cause such confusion).

Second, his quote as edited conflates two Dorothys–Dorothy Hall and Dorothy Martindale–and I’ll get to them shortly. Third, it’s obviously untrue that Baum didn’t know any girls or women named Dorothy. Among the several he knew, the biographies now point to a niece named Dorothy Louise Gage who died as an infant shortly before the Wizard was written.

But this identification of Baum’s niece hasn’t stopped others, including local Macatawans, from being assigned or claiming the role. Lewis Carroll’s Alice had Alice Liddell, Peter Pan and the Darlings had the Davies’ boys, so why shouldn’t there have been a real living Dorothy somewhere?

The Holland bookstore owner turned folklorist noted that “the longer I was in the store, the more people I met who sincerely believed that the main character, Dorothy, was a relative of theirs (it must have been a very large family).

[28. Dorothy Hall] The best-known Dorothy of Macatawa was Dorothy Hall. Here’s a quote from the “Song of Macatawa,” a book of local history on our cottage shelf. “In her mind’s eye, when she ponders over her adventures during childhood days in Macatawa, Dorothy Hall is likely sitting on the front porch of a cottage on the lakefront, south of Griswold, in a spacious, goose-shaped rocker, with Frank Baum, a nearby neighbor, listening, as he sits beside her spinning story after story, with the same imagination that dreamed up another Dorothy.”

In a set of interviews in the late 1970s (when she about 80 years old), Dorothy Hall denied believing that she had inspired Dorothy Gale, herself pointing out the greatest problem–that she was born in 1897 and only two at the time of the first draft of Oz, and one in 1898 when one of Baum’s sons first remembered hearing Dorothy stories–so she was an unlikely inspiration.

But her Macatawa neighbors continued to believe. “Everybody’s convinced,” said the wife of the postmaster who ran the quaint old Macatawa post office. “She was always the Dorothy, the little girl Dorothy. That’s an absolute, known fact.” Burton McRoy Jr., Hall’s relative and guardian in later years, said that Hall was “a child at heart. We all accepted the stories. We believed.”

In later interviews in the 1980s, when she was about 90, Hall seemed to succumb to the wishes of those around her, and advocated the case that she was indeed the particular inspiration for Dorothy.

Hall did have a real connection with Baum, who seems to have watched her for her parents from time to time. Hall remembered many details of the Sign of the Goose, and also confirmed that Baum had said that if he’d had a daughter, he would have named her Dorothy.

[29. old and young hall] It appears that, when young, Dorothy Hall may have looked like some people’s vision of Dorothy Gale.

The other Dorothy claimant, Dorothy Martindale, has a different problem with her case. Her son said that Baum met Martindale one summer when he found her picking flowers from his garden. Quote: “She would go next door and pick flowers from his flower bed and one day he discovered her and they became friends.”[iii] [30. Sign of the Goose.] Can anyone guess what Hall’s supporters say is the problem with this story? That’s right–they say no flower garden at the Sign of the Goose. As Dorothy Hall pointed out, “He had a sandlot.” I know from family experience that it’s difficult to have a garden immediately on the beach in Macatawa.

Well, there are further complications. A biography of Baum quotes a contemporary interview with him in Macatawa. “I found… Mr. Frank Baum, hovering over the beautiful flower bed which graces the front yard of his pretty cottage.” (From descriptions, the front is the side facing away from the beach.)

Dorothy Hall had few other words for this rival contender, denying that she even remembered there being another Dorothy in the community. For popularizing her claim, Hall had the advantage of living three decades longer than her rival. Martindale passed away in 1965. And Dorothy Hall passed away in 1996, at the age of 98.

[31. Baum Paradox] In fairness to the Dorothys and all the Macatawa Oz lore masters, Baum contributed to these contentions. When he told Oz stories to Dorothy Hall (and probably Dorothy Martindale) in the years after the first book (when Hall grew old enough to hear such tales), he would tell the tales in the second person, saying “you” instead of Dorothy.

“You were in the house; you were drowsy. And then the winds came up and shook the house, and your house was lifted off the ground and it went right through the air. And when you came down, you were in Oz.”[iv] Kinda weird hearing it that way, isn’t it?

This actually made the stories more into role play, and Dorothy Hall recalled feeling as though it were her feet that skipped along the yellow brick road. She said, “Bit by bit, he would tell me the various stories of Oz, as if I was there. And I thought I was. I believed it, and I do still, which is ridiculous. I know better now, but I can’t say I don’t believe it.”

Everyone who was a kid in Macatawa understands a little of this feeling.

[32. Ozma cover] Baum did something similar in his books, dedicating Ozma of Oz, which he wrote in Macatawa in 1906, to all his readers, but “especially to the Dorothys.”

[33] A final bit of Dorothy lore: in putting together the photos for the recently published 1899: L. Frank Baum’s Macatawa Park MI, William Bollman found a series of shots of a young girl whom he believes could have served as a visual model for Dorothy for Baum. [34] Notice what may have been a blue and white checked gingham dress, and the monkey, with the cap and apparently free rein of the area. [35] The sun hat isn’t like Denslow’s bonnet, but the shoes are like Dorothy’s pre-silver slipper footwear. [36] [37] And here’s a clearer shot of a checked dress. [But if Bollman wants to argue that this girl was a visual inspiration beyond the checked gingham dress and old leather shoes verbally described in the book, an important question may be when did Denslow the artist first visit Baum in Macatawa? We know he was there later to work on the Oz musical, and we know that Denslow was working and socializing with Baum prior to 1899, and I believe I’ve seen one source that says he may have visited Macatawa early with Baum, but I haven’t had the time to clear this up yet.]

Macatawa had enchanted Baum, and Baum in turn enchanted its landscape. A fragment of an unpublished Oz book begins with description of Ozma’s lake that probably would have enchanted Lake Michigan itself for us.

Macatawa hasn’t been the only place to lay claim to being an Oz. Most everywhere Baum lived tries to connect itself with the Oz stories. And even places Baum never got near but sound like Oz assert a connection. Australian soldiers sang “We’re off to the see the Wizard” in the deserts of North Africa as they chased after Rommel during World War II.

But what Baum did with the Dorothys, and the community of Macatawa, he did with America as a whole. Baum knew how to sell his stories to his audience. He told modern Americans that the Oz stories were especially for and about them. The locations were inspired by the sights he had seen, and Oz originally appeared to be an undiscovered part of America. Dorothy was a quintessentially American girl–rural poor, yet presenting herself as the equal of anyone. (In this way) we all grew up in a land of Oz.

In the study of folklore and mythology, it’s important to drop the idea or distinction of a valid original tale versus invalid imitations. So I’m not that interested in coming to a resolution of what did or did not inspire Baum in his writing of Oz. I’m more interested in the process of how stories beget stories, not just in fictional worlds, but in our own backyards.

[animation 38. Coroner] 49 and 50 years after the Oz film, Macatawa and Holland imported the surviving Munchkin actors to sign autographs, including the actor who played the coroner, Meinhardt Raabe.

As coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her.
And she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.

My little sister attended the celebration. [39. Kendalyn] Her daughter, my niece, was already Oz crazy at age 2 and ½.

Under the principle that when local legend becomes fact, teach the legend. a Holland high school teacher used to teach his class about the area’s connection to the Wizard of Oz. Later that teacher became mayor, and continued to advocate the legend.

Picking up on L. Frank Baum’s Holland connection and Wizard of Oz theme, a Washington lobbyist recently urged Holland area business and community leaders to get on the “green brick road” to sustainability, energy efficiency and green jobs.

[40] Just this past year, Holland businesses have commissioned two new murals with Oz themes, and an International Oz Club convention again met in the Macatawa area.

So, we reach my own childhood in Macatawa and Oz. [41. Doyle cottage] We had the same urban legends and ghost stories as other summer residences, but another layer of Oz stories on top of those. Stories were passed down from older kids to younger ones, and from the young summer sitters. This meant little concern for the truth of any tale, with no internet fact-checking.

We created our own associations with Oz. A dark house at the top of Maksaba Trail largely hidden by woods became the witch’s castle (even when we knew the family that lived there). We also conflated that large house with the old Macatawa Hotel. Every winding road up those wooded hills struck us as a yellow brick road.

Our landscape was enchanted.

One summer, a local girl put together a production of the Wizard of Oz with all the other cottage kids. [42. me on horse] At 5 or 6 years old, “I was the Mayor of Munchkin City.” I’m pretty sure the reason we were performing Oz was Baum’s connection to Macatawa.

As kids, we were interested in questions of the differences between book and film, and their local inspiration. We would debate the local legends, and sing “Off to See the Wizard,” and skip badly down the street.

Macatawa also had its own store of magic not tied to any particular mythos, so applicable to all. The dangerous roads made winding paths up steep forested bluffs, an ancient concrete stairway curved up through the woods to the top of the hill. Hidden in the forest, a giant old water tower lay burst and rusted, its escaped water had cut a path to it. Thunderstorms and perfect sunsets both could be seen to the west over the great inland sea.

[43. cover] So why did I decide to write a fictional story about Baum and Macatawa?

Preparing for Clarion, the six week science fiction writing workshop that coincidently was held in my home town of East Lansing, Michigan, I was looking for new story ideas, and I thought I might connect my memories of Macatawa and its Oz folklore with Oz’s creator.

I took time out from writing and critiquing to research Baum’s life at the Library of Michigan, which had a copy of the very rare (and not yet digitized) Tamawaca Folks.

Friends of my family had given me as a child what I believe is a first edition of the sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz.

So, I wrote a story, “The Wizard of Macatawa.” The story takes place in the years 1899 and 1979. I nudged both dates. Yes, Baum’s was in Macatawa in 1899, but he wasn’t as settled there as he would be in later years. But 1899 was crucially prior to the completion of The Wizard of Oz and was a year with end-of-century millennial expectations. So I had to stretch things regarding the Baums’ presence in Macatawa that summer. Their situation is more like 1907. My Frank Baum is a big part of Macatawa life, the Regatta Week and Venetian Evening are in full swing, and the Baums are living in the Sign of the Goose. And there’s a little girl named Dorothy who listens with other children on Baum’s porch to his stories of Oz, but I gave this Dorothy the more local name of Vandermay instead of Hall, Martindale, Gage, or Gale. My Baum has finished a draft of his Oz story, but it’s a very different story from the final version.

I perhaps make Baum more of the man behind the curtain, emphasizing his own childlike aspects and his hatred of seeing kids hurt.

The things I didn’t change were his interest in theosophy, his love for his wife and sons, his joy at telling stories to all the children in the neighborhood, and his instinct for showmanship.

For the late 1970s part of my story, I moved the Oz festival in Macatawa with the Munchkin actors ten years earlier. I also decided early on that the 1970s child protagonist would not be me (as that would be boring), but someone else (who is a surprise that I leave for you to discover). I admit that, after the story was published, I had a vision of being pursued by angry Munchkins with sharp farm tools and torches, but even serious Oz fans have seemed to enjoy it. In 2008, “The Wizard of Macatawa” received the Washington Science Fiction Association’s Small Press Award.

I’ve recently completed a novel-length extension of my short story. It goes on to other parts of Baum’s life and writing, but has also deepened my exploration of his connection to my childhood summer home.

As a concluding thought, I note that fantasy writers are losing the real life examples of distinct and magical places, as things become homogenized. To create his distinctly American fantasies, Baum had upstate NY, the Dakotas, Chicago, southern California, and Macatawa, and his brief unpleasant travel through Kansas–when these were very distinct places, each contributing a different part of the geography of Oz and his other writings

[44. new cottage] Now, when I return to Macatawa, the quaint Queen Anne style cottages have been remodeled or replaced with broad windowed summer homes that look the same as those in Malibu or any number of other waterfronts across the country [maybe not this one]. The beautiful dunes have been decapitated for development or beach sand.

The loss of distinct settings has noticeably affected the quality of modern fantasy writing–critics and authors have both remarked on it.

So the question I’ll leave you with is: can today’s fantasy writers still help information-savvy children become enchanted with their own small corner of the world? Can children still grow up in their own land of Oz?

After thoughts and notes:

[45. Acknowldgements] My acknowledgments.

I have some copies of my collection, “The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories” on sale here for a bargain price of $10–but wait, there’s more. If you buy a print copy, the publisher (Paper Golem Press) will also send you the e-version if you send him a photo of yourself with the book. And I’ll throw in a copy of last year’s Writers of the Future with your purchase. If you like, you can listen to me read “The Wizard of Macatawa” story for free at [46. site]. There’s also on online pdf version, but it’s not the easiest to read.

[Baum’s work came relatively early in the history of publishing for a children’s market. Now, it sometimes seems like the only thriving market is publishing for children, and even that is continually undermined by all the new toys of our age.

Today, we’re used to the infiltration of our real world by fictional ones. 221B Baker Street, Platform 9 and 3/4s, the entirety of Middle Earth or Narnia in New Zeeland.]

[i] Grand Rapids Press, Jan. 8, 1978.

[ii] The Annotated Wizard of Oz, p. 12.

[iii] Grand Rapids Press, 1989.

[iv] The Grand Rapids Press, Feb. 24, 1988.

Thoughts on Arthur Conan Doyle and Roddy Doyle

A re-post from my Live Journal archive: [In 2008,] as part of my annual Irish readings, I went through the work of Arthur Conan Doyle and Roddy Doyle.  I finally finished The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes given me on my 10th birthday.  I also read much of AC Doyle’s other works:  his non-Holmes short stories, his Brigadier Gerard stories, and his historical adventures from the 100 Years War (The White Company and the prequel, Sir Nigel).  Two of the Professor Challenger stories (The Lost World in book and silent film version, and The Poison Belt), and Maracot Deep.  I read Arthur and George — a fictionalized biography with a focus on the George Edalji case, and Teller of Tales, a literary biography.  I also read some of an unreadable play Holmes play co-written by AC Doyle, and Baker Street, the Broadway musical.

Until this year, I knew nothing about AC Doyle, except that he wasn’t really “Irish,” and that he was goofy about spiritualism.  I had seen an episode or two of Murder Rooms, which transposed Joseph Bell and AC Doyle as Holmes and Watson.  I had previously read a critique of the silly fairy photographs.

There’s a reason that Holmes is still with us, while the rest of Doyle’s creations have faded into obscurity, at least here in America.  Holmes’s concerns are still ours.  For instance, identity in a mass urban and global society (e.g., can a respectable man also be a beggar?).

Motivation is another, perhaps the major, subtext to the Holmes stories.  The surface stunt is how Holmes’s powers of observation and “deduction” allow him to see the significance of small details.  But the little secret is that Holmes often already knows what he’s looking for, because he’s already deduced the probable motivation of the criminal.  When I read some of these stories as a kid, I couldn’t see the adult Victorian motivations.  As an adult, the cases are nearly as transparent to me as to Holmes.  Did contemporary readers see them so clearly?

AC Doyle plays with other Victorian and early 20th century  blind spots, particular the effect of race on perception.  This counterbalances his own pervasive racialism, which at his time may have seemed scientific and even progressive, but seems hopelessly racist to the modern.

Another feature of Holmes stories that sustains them in our time is the great friendship at its core.  Watson gets dumbed-down for the classic movies, but his role in the stories is essential, and the relationship is right up there with Kirk and Spock.  He’s one of Holmes’s few links to the normal human world.  The movie treatment in Murder by Decree captures this, as much as it fails in other respects, particularly the resort to the supernatural.  (Murder by Decree also anticipates From Hell by a couple decades.)

For Roddy Doyle, I finished reading the Barrytown Trilogy (The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van).  I had already read Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and its sequel Paula Spencer, the early play Brownbread (rhyming slang for “dead”), his most recent collection of short stories The Deportees, and the first two books of his “The Last Roundup” trilogy, A Star Called Henry and Oh Play That Thing.

I enjoy most everything Roddy Doyle writes.  He has a delightful transparent style:  easy, understated, humorous, human.  It’s sprezzatura at its finest.  Those who fail to respect R Doyle’s craft haven’t tried to duplicate it.

The Uses of Time in Christian Apocalyptic Fiction

What follows is a loose transcript of my presentation at the Center for Millennial Studies Conference in 2002:


For my third and apparently final presentation on premillennialist apocalyptic fiction, its easy for me to speak to the theme of this conference — disappointment.  I’ll miss these gatherings.

As before, my definition of premillennialist apocalyptic fiction is books and movies that, like the bestselling “Left Behind” series, follow the modern premillennialist “rooster” script as first popularized in The Late Great Planet Earth.  Fortunately, we’ve had a discussion of the Left Behind books in one of the morning sessions by Heath Carter, but just to make sure, does everybody understand the type of fiction I mean?  Good.  Then on to the disappointing stuff.

As posed to us in the call for papers, apocalyptic disappointment is a function of time.  Time is a central element of apocalyptic discourse generally, as elaborated by Stephen O’Leary.  With disappointment, time is still more important.  A typical scenario is that a millennial movement sets a date or time with more or less precision, anticipation builds, the date passes, disappointment sets in.  Without a predictive time frame, both great anticipation and great disappointment are less likely.

Disappointment is a function of time, but time is different in fiction.  A fiction author has more flexibility than a non-fiction author in controlling and constructing time differently than it is socially perceived.  How does apocalyptic fiction create (or fail to create) disappointment with its distinct relationships to time?  And what are the disappointments peculiar to fiction?

I’m going to discuss three kinds of time that relate to disappointment in fiction.  First, external time, meaning the time when the work is written and published.  External time relates to my second category, predictive time, meaning the end time dates set within the book (explicitly or implicitly).  Finally, and most distinctive of fiction, is internal time, the flow and “feel” of time within the books.

In terms of external time, premillennialist apocalyptic fiction emerged into mainstream culture only within the last decade.  This is puzzling, as The Late Great Planet Earth script was published in 1970, and was quickly a huge crossover hit.  Tim LaHaye, one of the Left Behind authors, published his own Late Great Planet Earth style book in 1972, and he claims that he thought of the idea for the Left Behind books in the 80s (or even possibly the 70s), but the first Left Behind book comes out in 1995, and only after other such novels had already been on the market  Why then did it take so long to put LaHaye’s idea into execution?

As I’ve noted in previous presentations, there were serious inhibitions against publishing premillennialist apocalyptic fiction, particularly the perception that fiction was a less serious medium and compromised the claims to truth and underlying biblical certainty in the prophetic argument.  As we approached the years 2000-2001, however, reasons arose for overcoming such inhibitions.  One important reason was the inevitable apocalyptic disappointment that would accompany nonfictional writings focused on those years, accompanied by a desire to maintain and guide end times enthusiasm.

From this emergence, one might have predicted that the genre would peter out after 2000-2001.  My own prediction was that the genre would endure, though sales might be weaker.  The events of September 11, however, have given unforeseen energy to the genre (particularly the Left Behind series) and to apocalyptic speculation generally.  This boost came even though the no book in the genre predicted those specific events.  The end has not yet come for premillennialist apocalyptic fiction.

So, the emergence of the genre in external time is related to the genre’s ability to finesse predictive time, in which it has a clear advantage over non-fiction biblical interpretation.  As noted by Stephen O’Leary regarding non-fictional discourse, Hal Lindsey had already improved on Millerite-style apocalyptic rhetoric by strategic ambiguity regarding the timing of the end.  This allowed him to “maintain the sense of apocolyptic anticipation without resorting to falsifiable predictions” which could lead to disappointment.  But there are limits on such as strategy — eventually, even ambiguous time periods such as a “generation” run up against the limits of their range.

Fiction can take the Lindsey strategy further.  A novel can set fictional dates for the end without standing behind them, and that became more important as we approached 2000-2001.  Thus, Pat Robertson could set a year 2000 date for the beginning of the Tribulation in his 1996 book, The End of the Age, and yet not face questions regarding that date now that we are past it.

The Left Behind books take this strategy further still — they avoid specific date setting altogether.  It is hard to imagine similar non-fictional interpretations being so restrained while still fulfilling the goal of maintaining apocalyptic anticipation.  To maintain such anticipation, the Left Behind series relies mostly on its descriptions of available technologies and the global situation to convey the sense of “always now.”  Appropriately written fiction can also to some extent rely on the reader’s  imagination to continually update certain ephemeral details (clothing styles, etc.) to avoid becoming quickly out-of-date.  In this context, the use of the political or techno-thriller form is appropriate:  unlike science fiction, the date for such stories could usually be today.

Why then did the Left Behind authors, LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, insist last summer at the National Press Club that their descriptions of technology place their books in the future?  The authors’ idea that mere incremental improvements in existing technologies (particularly information technologies) make the books futuristic shows very little sci-fi reading/exposure or even common sense.  But the Left Behind authors may have particularly good reasons for this inconsistency.  The authors have expressed their concerned about an undue association of the Left Behind series with the events of 9/11 in the same manner that they expressed their concern about an undue association with the years 2000/2001.  The authors refuse to be caught date setting, and take deliberate care to avoid it, thereby avoiding disappointment and any link to extreme behavior before, during and after such dates.  But the technology and geopolitics of the Left Behind books still gives them away — the time is now.

Some other books in the genre took the opposite approach and dared to explicitly set dates close at hand — for instance, the Robertson book I mentioned and the novel Flee the Darkness, which was contingent on the Y2K crisis being much worse than it was.  It would seem, however, in terms of book sales, that most readers prefer the vague approach to time, perhaps because they can place the time themselves at some mildly exciting point while avoiding any serious anxiety of anticipation or disappointment.

As a final way of dealing with predictive time, an author may set a fictional date artificially late, yet fully intend that the reader perceive the events as more immediate.  For instance, the Omega Trilogy is set at a more distant future date (2050), yet clearly describes a society and a Y2K like crisis that belong in 2000.  This approach creates a strange sense of time that is both “always now” and “to come,” and avoids setting a closer date that could create disappointment.

So, emerging into popular culture in the last decade, premillennialist apocalyptic fiction avoids creating disappointment while still creating anticipation by effectively finessing the issue of date setting.  Another way that the genre avoids creating disappointment is through its internal representation of time as jumping or collapsing from biblical times to the present.  The time in between is extremely compressed and largely irrelevant, and biblical writers are always writing for now even when they are also writing about their own time.

Although apocalyptic nonfiction similarly collaspses time, fiction does it even more thoroughly.  Most non-fictional interpretation has to delve into recent history to make its case, while fiction is capable of ignoring even this much history.  For instance, in Hal Lindsey’s own novel, Blood Moon, each near future event finds a parallel in biblical history.  Blood Moon has no sense of the weight of years in which the end has not happened.  Time skips directly from prophecy to fulfillment, erasing generation after generation of disappointment

Even books where the premise requires some history, the history intrudes only sketchily.  In the Fourth Reich, we have a clone of Hitler, but we are never given any historical perspective on his character.  In book The Illuminati and similar works, we have powerful ancient conspiracies, but their activities in the modern era are painted broad and vague (for example, propagation of the theory of evolution), with few details that would make them appear historically real.  Again, I think the reason for this is that the temporal priorities are the biblical past and the immediate present.  Such thinking has real political implications; for example, the Arab-Israeli conflict can be rendered as continuous for 3000 years, rather than discontinuous for most of that period.

In the Rift in Time books, about a born-again Christian archeologist, the biblical past literally erupts into the present — Mt. Sinai starts turning into the Garden of Eden, the Ark of the Covenant is retrieved.  This fictional present re-affirms a particular vision of the past which in turn reaffirms the end times vision.  Such an excavation of the past is particularly appropriate where the fictional apocalyptic chronology has been played out or has risks.  So it is perhaps no surpised that the Left Behind team may go on to another series about a Christian archeologist much like the “Rift in Time” books.

While Christian apocalyptic fiction may thus have a mitigating effect on any sense of disappointment vis a vis the external world, there are other forms of disappointment intrinsic to such fiction, particularly the finiteness of apocalyptic stories.  Within the limitations of the genre, there are only so many ways to tell the apocalyptic story, and these stories must all come to a similar end.  It does not help that most apocalyptic authors have derived their story structure from the political thriller genre, tired and cliche ridden as it is.

The finiteness of the apocalyptic story is related the finiteness of apocalyptic time.  Premillennial dispensationalism has a fairly rigid orthodox chronology which presents problems for authors of fiction.  Writing about the end times, an author must cover the Rapture, then move through a seven year Tribulation in which each event procedes according to schedule (for example, the Beast rules as such for precisely 3 1/2 years) and then cap things off with the Glorious Appearing of Jesus.  How may authors tell an original story within this strict time frame?

One answer is that they no longer can, at least when we’re talking the standard Tribulation scenario.  The Left Behind books have, in effect, pushed out the numerous competitors in telling a standard fictional version of The Late Great Planet Earth script.  This situation may continue for a while (what is a “generation” in book terms?); it is difficult to imagine something of similar scope (12 volumes!) anytime soon.

The most direct way to escape the constraints of the standard apocalyptic chronology (and its dominance by the Left Behind books) is to play with time in ways that only fiction can.  One of the best examples of how apocalyptic chronology was changed in fiction in response to the success of the Left Behind books is the Left Behind books themselves.  Their best seller status led the authors to telescope the internal sense of time, devoting more and more pages to fewer apocalyptic happenings.  To be fair, some telescoping was already in evidence when Jenkins sat down to write the first book and realised that the story he wanted to tell would have require several volumes.  But a comparison of the concentration of significant apocalyptic incidents in the first volumes to the most recent ones clearly shows an effort to milk the apocalyptic judgments.  Indeed, the reader is now bombarded more with endless chase sequences than with God’s wrath.

As the Left Behind authors attempt to extend the series, they give events more detail the closer they get to the end.  This is the exact opposite of most books in the genre, where events in the last part of the Tribulation are compressed, though we may be seeing some compression now in the Left Behind story as it fast forwards to Armageddon.  The reason for the compression is that closer the plots of these books are to the end, the more the plots become stereotyped by the strictness of the apocalyptic script and its inevitable conclusion.  For instance, by the point in the script when the Beast insists on his Mark, everybody must choose salvation or damnation — and so subsequent further character development becomes difficult.

In response to the growing success of the genre, one series of books, The Millennium Trilogy, took its story all the way to the post-millennial period, then cycled back to tell the premillennium story again from a different, spiritual warfare point of view.  This cyclical telling would almost seem incompatible with the fatalistic linear time of apocalyptic chronology, but its quite compatible with market imperatives.

Another related way to milk the same basic plot parameters is to tell another story in parallel.  The Left Behind authors have been telling a parallel serial story for children, which like the Harry Potter books are regarded as a guilty pleasure for adults while they wait for the next book in the adult series.  These efforts are further evidence that for Left Behind fans, finiteness of story is the real disappointment.

Film has been equally if not more successful in milking the maximum number of stories from the limited apocalyptic chronology.  The Lalonde brothers have managed to create several movies by telling different incidents of the Tribulation from different perspectives, jumping about from film to film with no particular regard to time.  For example, an amusing narrative trick in one Lalonde video was to take a normal unbelieving person pre-Rapture and put him in a coma to awaken during the Tribulation, skipping over the incidents already covered in another film.

Faced with the overwhelming dominance of the Left Behind books, however, the solution that most authors seem to be adopting is to set their stories in a period that is end times yet pre-Rapture, allowing them to break with the strict chronology yet convey the sense of temporal immediacy.  What, then, makes something “end times” when the Rapture hasn’t happened yet?  In the context of Christian fiction generally, it seems that merely setting a work in the present makes it end times, so long as the author enhances the present with some behind the scenes political intrigue, the secret designs of hubristic science and the hidden spiritual agendas of evil.  For example, Perretti’s spiritual warfare books are often described as end times fiction, though there may be no indication that we’re in the Tribulation per se.  A generic end times setting seems also to allow for an easier use of sci-fi tropes, which have become increasingly common in response to Left Behind’s market dominance.  The generic end times, particularly the fictional end times, can continue indefinitely.

Changing to a generic end times also changes the need to be orthodox in non-temporal ways.  In this pre-Rapture, pre-Tribulation loosely defined end times, debates about who the two witnesses are, the timing of the judgments, or even the very existence of a Rapture or a Tribulation become less relevant.  Such works can potentially appeal to a broader segment of the Christian audience than simply premillennialists in the Dallas Theological Seminary mold.  (Though crossover appeal has apparently been no problem for Left Behind.)  A work such as Rift in Time, set in a pre-Trib world, can thus take on what the author calls the “prophets of literalness” without much stir.  (p. 480)

Of course, an author may successful survive in this Left Behind story simply by telling a more original if still orthodox version of the story.  For example, of we look at the other books that have survived on the shelves, The Christ Clone Trilogy has shown remarkable resilience.  It has more of a sci-fi premise, and more of an active philosophical engagement with New Age ideals.  Indeed, as I discussed last year, the use of sci-fi tropes in this genre (such as aliens who are really demons) has become more common and a somewhat crowded area in its own right.  Another highly original work, We All Fall Down, tells its story from the perspective of a damned soul.  Its approach is character driven, focused on particular events in the life of the indivdual, and apocalyptic events are just window dressing.  Such a literary approach is the most thorough liberation from the orthodox chronology, but it is also most difficult for the authors in this political thriller derived genre.

To sum up:  Although it may still be early in the career of premillennialist apocalyptic fiction, I think it is safe to say that a strong conventional disappointment related to such fiction is unlikely, both because of the place of such fiction in time and the place of time in such fiction.  The genre may have arisen as a response to potential disappointment in the first place.  To the extent it sets dates, premillennialist apocalyptic fiction gives fictional dates that do not disappoint most reader’s expectations and for which authors cannot be held accountable.  The weight of history and previous disappointments is thoroughly absent in these books.

Some might look for evidence of real world apocalyptic disappointment in the genre’s plots, but this is a tricky area.  For example, the Left Behind series books published since the year 2000 have grown more permissive regarding violence by the good guys against the evil doers.  But the growing permissiveness also occurs at the same point in the plots of books written prior to 2000; that is, the point in the plot when all of humanity has chosen sides in the struggle.  This also indicates the importance of not reading the Left Behind series in isolation, which has been the temptation of many other commentators (and which is understandable, given the poor quality of the genre).

Instead, apocalyptic fiction’s disappointments are mostly those of the fanatic reader in Stephen King’s “Misery” — eventually all the books and series have to come to an end.  To counter such disappointment, apocalyptic fiction actively alters the flow of time to meet audience expectations and extend the story possibilities.  The setting of books in the less strictly scheduled pre-Rapture end times will help to extend the range of plots and the potential length of any series.  But even in this expanded area, we already see duplication — Christian archeologists and alien Nephilim seem to be everywhere.  Eventually the worlds described in such fiction and their literal ideological conservatism will begin to seem stale even to the fans of the genre.  Everything has to end sometime, including the end times fiction story.

So, how do audiences ultimately respond to the disappointment of story’s end?  I think the answer may be found in previous examples from other genres.  What do people do after reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings?  They literally try to recreate Middle Earth, delve into further details, create their own fan music, stories, etc.  We can see this happening in Christian apocalyptic fiction.  For example, there’s a Left Behind website, which features discussion groups, music and other kitsch.  Perhaps this is analagous to real world apocalyptic disappointment — both may unlease mass creative energy, of a sort.  Fiction allows the end times to be like Middle Earth, and the true fan’s disappointment is that she will never get there (God willing).

Thank you.

What To Do After Nanowrimo

These are the rough notes that I prepared prior to my meeting at the DC Public Library with a group of Nanowrimo winners. They aren’t even in proper outline form, but they may be helpful to some new authors, Nanowrimo or no:

Congratulations on your participation–you’ve already done what most only talk about. I a bit in awe of your achievement.

My talk mostly assumes a professional publication trajectory, whether through traditional publishing or self-publishing. At any stage, you can say, “I’ve had enough” and self-publish what you’ve got at whatever level you’ve reached. If it’s not at a professional level, you’re unlikely to get large numbers of readers, but that’s a question of your ambition. My talk mostly focuses on traditional publishing, as that’s my own experience.

  1. Finish your draft.

50,000 is a lot of words, particularly in one month, but (in most genres) it’s not a novel.

You probably know better than anyone that your novel is incomplete (if it is complete, you have a novella–which may be fine in romance, for example).

Look at your genre for the optimal word count range (remember, some publishers still go by the 250 words/page count).

SF/F first novel 100K

  1. Revise.

You have a complete draft. Now the painful part (for some–I actually enjoy this). Revision.

But, beyond the obvious how do you know what needs more work?

  1. A Writer’s Group

You should get a critique circle, a writers group.

Who?–look around you (other nanowrimo winners).

But some limits. First, if you’re writing genre, you want a group that writes and knows that genre.

There are great online groups, but I prefer the in-person sort.

  1. Workshops

And you could attend a workshop. Many (but not all) are oriented toward short fiction. For SF/F, Clarions and Odyssey. I attended one of the Clarions.

Workshops are also helpful for the networking I’ll describe later.

  1. How to revise, and when are you done.

Revision includes putting your ms. into standard format.

Revisions at all levels. Storydoctor and line edits.

Anything nags you, but you tell yourself nothing you can do, and hope no one notices–they’ll notice.

A couple of ways to make you freshly engage with your ms.

  1. Read it aloud.
  2. review backwards chunks (as you can get tired of the beginning.

You’ll want a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style–answers many questions

1st three chapters particularly important (a typical query package size); opening very important; but whole thing important too.

As your first novel, I recommend a book that can stand alone with a slingshot ending.

  1. Start your next book.

After you finish your current book, what should you do before anything else? Begin your next book. For starters, it’ll probably be better.

Don’t make it a sequel.

Short stories are good too, if there’s a market for your genre in short fiction–good in themselves and as resume builders.

You should do this because the rest of what you do with your first book isn’t actually writing, and writers write.

  1. Self-publish versus Traditional Publish

Questions: again, what are your ambitions/goals?

What is your skill set (or what skills do you have the time and ability to learn)? Or do you have the money/connections etc. to get others to do certain things for you.

To self-publish at a professional level, you’re going to need to do for yourself (or have someone else do) all of the things a traditional publisher is supposed to:

  1. cover design and art
  2. copy edit and format for all e-versions
  3. get blurbs
  4. publicity–get your work noticed amidst the 100Ks of self-published books.
  5. Sales. Everyone I know in self-pub or small press is selling all the time.

You can skimp on these (depends on your ambitions/goals), but don’t fool yourself–people will notice.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING (aka, here comes the hard stuff)

  1. Find an agent

This is very difficult, but remember, a really bad agent is indeed worse than no agent at all

Money always flows to the author, so any agent who asks reading fees, or sends you to his for-pay editorial service, etc.–they are by definition a bad agent.

What can improve your odds of getting out of agent slush and getting a good agent?

  1. Research the agents
    1. Figure out who represents your style of work (and sells it).
    2. Who is taking queries?
    3. What they want in query package? Most are specific about what they want and you should follow directions, as this may be a threshold test.

B. Meet the agents

Venues different for each genre. Some opportunities free, some have the cost of attending a convention, some are higher priced “speed dating” sessions. For science fiction/fantasy writers, the SFWA industry reception in NYC is a great place to meet agents.

What does meeting an agent tell them? That you can at least present yourself as sane and socially competent, and that you may not be an instant nightmare to work with.

Meeting an agent will often get you out of the unsolicited slush pile into the requested material category, and typically you’re asked to send in more than the usual query.

C. Resume builders

D. The Dirty Secret (ask me in person)

Queries: How many do you send? Lots and lots. Authors tend to send them out in waves. First, because you might succeed with your favored choices. Second, you may figure out you’re doing something wrong in your query.

An agent may then request a full ms. (Some may do that from get-go, because of electronic ease.)

They may then offer representation or reject. Some may give you reasons for rejection, but unless they offer to look at a revised ms. (or unless what they’re saying is objectively an improvement) you probably shouldn’t revise (authors should revise their final ms. only in response to money/editorial demand).

Agents can take a while, but the good ones will get back to you in some reasonable timeframe.

  1. Find a Publisher

Why can’t you just skip to the publisher step?

  1. Many houses no longer take unagented/unsolicited manuscripts. You could take the approach with editors that I advised with agents, but for the reasons below, that doesn’t really save time, and to really get results, it takes a lot of contact with the editor.
  2. Publishers want no simultaneous subs from the unagented.
  3. Despite no simultaneous subs, publishers take forever to response to the unagented.
  4. Once you’ve tried an editor, you’re done with them with that ms., and that means you’re reducing the opportunities for an agent to succeed for you. An agent isn’t going to like this muddying of the waters.

I have other thoughts for further on in the process if you get this far.

Nanowrimo at the DC Public Library

This Saturday at MLK Library, I’ll be one of five authors talking to twenty-two people who finished their nanowrimo goal of 50,000 words. I’ll be advising them on what to do next with their writing. I’m always a little bit in awe of the folks who meet this goal, btw–I don’t think I even did 50K for Clarion.