The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Don't Panic!

If you were to try to purchase Phineas at Bay today in paperback form, you would be surprised to find it is not available. (You can buy the Kindle edition right now, though.) That's just a feature of the fact that I have, upon receiving reader reports of some errors, corrected them. As well as doing a mighty final proofread. The last edits were made today; I expect the book to be re-available within a week to 10 days.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but you will be getting a better book. Those who were early purchasers, however, have a rare book.

Fight it out amongst yourselves who has it better…

(And yes, the Kindle edition will eventually be corrected as well.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Summer Stage Way: A Thank You Note

The only non-chorus part I ever got to sing in a musical was also my last stage appearance, singing the song "The Company Way" from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying between college and law school with St. Aidan's Summer Stage, directed by John Hayes. So imagine my surprise when, a year after it was published, I stumbled on a well-deserved profile of the man and the program:
Even after 50 years in the theater, John Hayes says that guiding the young actors in St. Aidan’s Summer Stage never gets old.
“This is what keeps me going,” Hayes, 75, said. “I’m just happy that I’m healthy enough to do it.”
Hayes is currently directing the Summer Stage production of “Hello Dolly!” - the fourth musical he’s directed in as many years.
Hayes, who returned to Summer Stage in 2010 after a 16-year hiatus from the job, said he remembers directing his first professional production when he was 18 years old.
Hayes had been cast in an off-Broadway of “Arsenic and Old Lace” when the director had a heart attack and Hayes was asked to take over.
“It ran for a couple of weeks. It lost a lot of money but I was happy,” he said.
Hayes directed many successful off-Broadway shows following “Arsenic and Old Lace” before moving to community theater.
In his 37 years as director of the Herricks Community Theater, he has overseen 61 productions.
“It’s been crazy. Trying to keep up with him isn’t easy,” said his wife, Carol Hayes, who is the producer of Summer Stage and has been producing or co-producing the Herricks shows over the past 20 years.
I would never have made a pro, but John Hayes got a good comic turn out of me, and it was a delight to be a part of his crew--and to see him and Carol again, almost two years ago now (!), at the Food Fight For St. Aidan's organized by old friends and classmates Anthony Clark and Kevin Ryan. I got a chance to thank them both then, in person, but seeing this article made me want to do it here. John Hayes is a fine director, a great teacher, and one of the kindest men I know. And his wife Carol puts up with all the chaos, bringing order--and has one of the warmest, most infectious, laughs I've ever heard.

Thank you both so much--even if it is a quarter century overdue.

Monday, August 25, 2014

In Which I Join the Crowd

Well, it had to happen. Last week, I post about my affection for the late David Niven. Bare days later, I was challenged to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

And, of course, I could not say no. Because, little as I wanted the dowsing, the cause is excellent. And my old hero Niven died of ALS.

So, here is your Anglocat, prepared to suffer in a good cause:

Ah, well. Had to happen, really.

Off to donate. It is a good cause, after all.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

High Praise from a Great Source

I have received a wonderful endorsement for Phineas at Bay:
In writing Phineas at Bay, John Wirenius has done the Trollope-loving world a great service. Phineas Finn was my first Trollope novel, at age 19 or 20, and ever since I think of him as the most charming character in English fiction. Now we have the chance to renew the acquaintance with Phineas later in life, and all of his world, in a novel Trollope himself would have thoroughly enjoyed: meaty, filled with humor, affection, drama, and above all, character – Trollope’s greatest genius and gift to the reading world. Read it at once, and, like all Trollope, again and again.
--Randolph Williams, President, the The American Trollope Society.

I couldn't be more pleased to have received praise form so knowledgeable and discerning a source.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I always enjoyed the writing and the performances of David Niven, captured above in his famous ad-lib while hosting the Oscars. He was urbane and witty in person and in print, and enlivened many bad movies as well as being great in the good ones he was in.

But his anecdotage was perhaps my favorite side of him. Here's one sample, courtesy of David Frost:

"Goats? Bad show!"

Monday, August 18, 2014

Print the Legend: Thoughts on Viewing an Old Favorite

Here it is. Anthony Hopkins gets three minutes and forty seconds to play the myth of Zorro, before the story does something unprecedented--it crashes the old Fox's last party, strips him of everything, and leaves him dark and embittered.

But for that 3:40, Hopkins gets to play the hell out of the legend.

Reality crashing into a legend and chewing it up is nothing new--think of Beowulf--he defeats Grendel and his fearsome mother, only to be, in the end called upon one more time, against insuperable odds, to take on a dragon, in his old age.

Zorro never re-appears in the movie--or, rather, not the original Zorro. We get the wreck of Don Diego, in his ruined lair, preparing a new Zorro:

Diego plays his part in the finale, but the mantle has passed. Like Beowulf before him, he is ready to meet his bane:

He dies, of course, a hero's death--but nonetheless, Zorro lives on, in the form of his successor. Legends tend to do that, too.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

In Which I Steal a Post: A Good Review

My friend and editor Karen Clark has penned a remarkably generous and detailed analysis of her reaction as a reader to Phineas at Bay, now that her role as editor is behind her. I think she touches on some aspects of the book that I would not have, so here it is, submitted for your approval:
The curious thing about my friendship with John is that we don't always like the same books. We can agree on Saki, but his urgings of C.P. Snow and John Galsworthy as "must reads" leave me politely evasive. He, for his part, can drive me to frantic sputtering with a well-placed jibe at some of my own favorites. I did, some years ago, at his behest, undertake to read Anthony Trollope's Palliser Novels - six books that follow the fortunes and follies of a series of interconnected characters, and two of which, Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux, share the eponymous protagonist John chose to center his own novel upon in Phineas at Bay.

A confession: I did not become a rabid Anthony Trollope fan. The sorrowful fact is, I petered out after The Eustace Diamonds - a book I rather enjoyed, as it had that delightful creature known to fans of East of Eden, Gone With the Wind, Forever Amber, and Vanity Fair as "a good bitch." Lizzie Eustace, pilferer of the diamonds of the book's title, is one of those monumentally selfish, unlawfully charismatic, and entirely mendacious women of fiction who seem to have gotten in line twice for Seductive Charm and not at all for Moral Rectitude or Sensitivity of Conscience, thus making them an enormous pleasure to read about, if not actually to be in the same book with. (I'd hate to be Suellen O'Hara and have my unattractive middle-aged beau stolen for the sake of his paltry bank account by my older sister,wouldn't you?) The problem with Trollope, I decided, was that there were not enough Lizzie Eustaces, and since leavening the story about the Good People with a generous sprinkling of gargoyle-like grotesqueries à la Dickens is not in the Trollopian style . . . well, like Paolo and Francesca, I read no further. There was the additional problem that Trollope has a way of writing labyrinthine sentences that meander on for much of the page - and so, in short, I quit.

Luckily, John Wirenius has taken into account that not all of us have read the entire Trollope oeuvre. If you have been fearfully contemplating the sextet of nineteenth century tomes you think you must plow through in order to tackle Phineas at Bay - fear not, I didn't read them all, either, and I had no trouble whatsoever figuring out what was going on. Fortunately for the reader, John is gifted at weaving exposition into his tale without making it glaringly obvious that he is weaving in exposition. If you need to know what happened in earlier books for purposes of understanding the actions and character motivations in this one, he will let you know, and he will do it far more subtly than J.K. Rowling, who, by Volume Seven, was clearly getting tired of telling people just how Harry Potter got that scar.

Furthermore (and the Trollope Society will probably descend upon me with pandybats and howls of execration for this) I happen to think that Phineas at Bay, while scrupulous in its adherence to its progenitors in terms of the integrity of its characters and its overall tone, is a better read than the other six. A certain sly literary wit that I associate with this contemporary author threads sinuously through the book, like the violin solo of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. And, like that fabled storyteller to the Sultan, John Wirenius is a spellbinder, a Pied Piper of the Pallisers, hypnotically leading us along from page to page, until, like the Sultan, we realize that dawn has broken and we've spent the entire night immersed in the tale, because we simply had to find out what happened next.

Having read through the book three times already, with gun and magnifying glass in hand to search for typos and root them out, I was already familiar with its contents. Another confession: There are still typos, and I am both mortified and mystified. In some cases, I am ready to swear in open court that I took them out and the nasty Bot-Gremlins put them back! (In others, I simply screwed up.) Feel free to hunt them down yourself and to berate me for them (privately) so that we can take them out of the second printing.

So I wondered, as I opened the book, whether it would pass the test I apply to any work of fiction that aspires to take a permanent place on my bookshelves. Do I still read it with pleasure, after the first time around? Or have I already read all the juice out of it? And - the real acid test, which even fewer books pass - do I get more enjoyment, as well as more food for thought and a keener artistic appreciation of its structural beauties, out of it with each subsequent re-read, rather than less? Most of us read for plot the first time around. At least, I do. It's on the later read-throughs that I begin to appreciate subtlety and nuance. I begin to note literary references that may have escaped me the first time around. I start to notice themes. I am startled into a bark of astonished delight at an audacious risk on the author's part. (What other author, for example, have I seen depicting a certain Irish-born playwright - under a pseudonymn, of course - at a Christmas party, acting out scenes from his forthcoming drawing-room comedy that involve a harridan and a handbag?)

For this is another of the delectable departures from Strict Trollopian Form that John Wirenius has chosen to utilize - the cameo appearances of sundry real-life historical personages, some under their own names, some not. The fun, of course, lies in spotting the Nots. (I'll give you a hint - one of them, who has more than a cameo role, will grow up to become a Prime Minister who looks remarkably like a bulldog. His enchanting American-born socialite mother is recognizably the subject of a best-selling two-volume biography, as well as of a television miniseries. )

But John Wirenius doesn't stop there. Having gone this far, he adds an assortment of fictional characters, as well - only not, necessarily, out of the fiction of Anthony Trollope. An admirer of G.B. Shaw, he coolly appropriates several of the dramatis personae of Candida, adroitly endowing the love-addled secretary with a more prominent part to play than he gives the pontificating pastor. The nonexistent Barchester Cathedral that lends its name to another Trollope opus is back - and so is a sinister trio of statuettes that aficionados of Victorian ghost stories will recognize, with a start, as having crept in from M.R. James' classic tale about that imaginary Cathedral and its stalls.

As for the dramatis personae drawn from the source material - it should come as no surprise that I hailed the return of Lady Eustace - a.k.a Lizzie the Liar - with enthusiasm. If anything, she's better than before. Without giving away too much, I will merely state that, should Masterpiece Theatre have the good sense to option this novel, they would be well-advised to approach Nina Arianda on bended knee and beseech her to reprise her recent Broadway triumph, this time in the character of Lady Eustace. Let's put it this way - in a slantindicular (a word that I first encountered in Phineas at Bay, and that I have adopted with relish) nod to dear Charles Dickens and his giddily evocative nomenclature, Lady Eustace's law firm of choice is known as Rushforth & Bindtheboy. Need I say more?

Lizzie the Liar has a worthy foil in her former husband, the Right Reverend Joseph Emilius, returned from a sojourn in the American West to win her back. A charming and entirely amoral scoundrel, Joseph is Rhett to her Scarlett. Joseph Emilius knows Lizzie Eustace through and through, exactly for what she is. And frankly, my dears, he doesn't give a damn . . . he wants her back at his bed and his board, and is willing to go to any lengths to get her, including putting in a midnight appearance in a certain Irish barrister's office that had me exclaiming, "Good Lord - Amadeus!" ("Oh, you noticed that, did you?" the author said offhandedly, when I excitedly called him up to report my discovery.)

The orphaned Finn niece, Clarissa Riley, is a spirited variation on the dewey-eyed ingenue so beloved of nineteenth century fiction, profiting as she does from her close association with Marie Finn (formerly Madame Max Goesler), the enigmatic Continental cosmopolite who married Clarissa's beloved Uncle Phineas. Marie is a heroine worthy both of Clarissa's admiration and emulation - she is her husband's partner as well as his closest friend and companion, Penelope to his Odysseus, fully his equal in both cunning and kindness. One of the book's great assets lies in its wealth of formidable female characters, all of them different, and each of them endowed with a peculiar fascination all her own. Among the many pleasures of this novel is the fact that each of the various characters is so distinctively drawn, and that the point-of-view shifts so seamlessly from one character to another, whether we are seeing events through the keen eyes of Phineas Finn, or the luminous blue orbs of his wife Marie, or through the bloodshot eyes of Sir Felix Carbury, dissipated sot and one of the novel's most delicious sketches in drawling, languorous villainy.

True, as well, to the conventions of the Victorian novel as a microcosm of the world of Society and its mores, John Wirenius has deftly woven a tapestry of plot and sub-plot, in which one event leads inevitably - if, at times, surprisingly - to another, and nothing is either wasted or left dangling in midair. His invented personae behave as they must behave, given the rich and complex psychologies with which they have been endowed. Never once do they step out of character in service of the exigencies of the plot - the action is propelled by the force and energy of the people with whom the author has populated his imaginary world.

Which is not to imply that this is a novel that touts the haut monde to the utter neglect of the less fiscally fortunate members of Victorian Society. One key plot line follows Phineas' attempts to obtain justice for Ifor Powlett-Jones, a young Welsh miner being railroaded into prison for the so-called crime of having rescued a dozen fellow miners from certain death during a cave-in, thereby disobeying orders from his foreman and inadvertently damaging company property in the course of the rescue. Ably assisting Phineas at every turn is his stern, yet withal warmhearted, majordomo, the German butler Meier - Marie's mainstay, Phineas's impromptu fencing master, and Clarissa's horticultural docent (the author is a fan of Nero Wolfe, and Meier raises prizewinning orchids in the Finns' conservatory.)

But why should I go on? Surely by now you are aware that, for the lover of Victorian fiction who has read everything on the library's shelves and despaired of ever finding another book "as good as the ones they used to write," this novel has the tonic effect of a long, newsy letter from home to an expatriate who has vainly longed for the beloved homeland. If you, like myself, are sorry that nobody seems to write a book anymore that doesn't teem with incest, rape, dismemberment, and casual violence . . . if you have been yearning for the happy days of yore, when novelists assumed that they had an intelligent, well-informed readership to whom they need not condescend with tiresome explanations of what they were up to with a literary reference . . . if you have sharp wits, a discerning critical faculty, and a taste for political intrigue, discreetly dangerous liaisons, philosophical and theological cogitations, and House of Worth couture, then waste no more time on this blog post, but go immediately toPhineas at Bay and order your copy at once!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Phineas at Bay: A Second Helping

On Tuesday, I provided a free sample of Phineas at Bay as a sort of a teaser. Here's the promised second installment; all you need to know is that the Rev. Joseph Emilius has returned to Great Britain elevated to the rank of Bishop of an American Church in the Southwest, with one end in mind: re-uniting with his former wife, Lizzie Eustace. At a ball in London, he impulsively interposes himself between two quarreling young men, and is inadvertently struck by them both. His high-ranking hostess invites him to stay:
Since he was so cruelly buffeted by the combatants, and then forcefully pressed by the Marchioness of Hartletop to partake of her hospitality, the Right Reverend Joseph Emilius had been conflicted in spirit, a rare occurrence for that man of great talents. Even a man of his social ambition and overweening desire for preeminence and attention could scarcely hope for greater public acceptance then to have the Marchioness expiate the sins of her guests by lionizing him among the bluest blood in England. And yet, the canny streak that had saved him from many vicissitudes warned him now that his place was perilous. Bishop Emilius had, in his youth, been a scholarly lad, and had read the tale of Icarus. The blazing sun, wilting wax-mounted means of ascent, and the headlong fall from dizzy heights were prominent in his mind in these days.

While the bishop was in no way amenable to the claims of English law—absent evidence that would not now, could not now, ever be provided, regarding a certain blow struck on a long-ago night—he was keenly aware that his great project stood upon a precipice. His social antennae were sensitive enough to know that the woman he desired to wed anew was herself accepted but gingerly, on the implicit condition, as it were, that she give no further cause for offense. Hence, his predicament. Those old enough to remember the precise nature of the scandal that had engulfed their marriage could, if given any ground to do so, connect the charming American bishop staying at the Hartletops’ with the disreputable foreigner the mob had branded him back then. Were that to befall—well, he, like Icarus, could tumble from the skies, to the jeers of those who had once persecuted him. Indeed, the fall would be so easy to precipitate! In sum, were his name to be remembered in conjunction with the very woman whom he needed desperately to find and court, the game was up.

Yet the bishop was a man of some mettle, persistent, and not easily turned from his goals. He had, certes, several cards in his hand that might yet see him through.

First, he was ensconced in the most respectable, indeed eminent, of homes, and this by no request of his own. He was the invited guest of the undeniable doyenne of high society, a queen only slightly less eminent than she who wore the actual crown. And then there was his own not inconsiderable title—he was a bishop, and thus by definition a paragon of virtue. Aye, a paragon injured in a vain but valiant effort to maintain the peace in his hostess’ own home.

What on earth had he been thinking when he had thrust himself between those two young fools, Emilius wondered, distracted for a moment as he ticked off these assets. He was a little ashamed to own it, but he rather thought it was the tear-streaked face of that young girl as her night of enchantment was shattered about her. He had, quite simply, pitied her. How ironic that she should belong to Phineas Finn! Ah, well, he had no objection to doing the fellow a good turn; he could even, in his own conscience, acknowledge to owing Finn one, or even two, of them.

So: He was a bishop, a brave man—a gallant bishop, then—and a member of high society, residing in the home of a Marchioness. Who in the world would look for an accused bigamist, suspected of other, darker, acts, in all of these?
The book is available in paperback or Kindle format.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Phineas at Bay: A Tasting Menu (1)

Without giving any spoilers, I thought it might be fun to share a few moments from Phineas at Bay that might not be in the preview, but might give some of the flavor of the whole. Here's the first, a glimpse of Phineas in court, representing a young Welsh miner accused of riot, in a politically-charged private prosecution at the Old Bailey, funded by Sir William McScuttle, the mine owner and a heavy donor to Phineas's own Liberal Party. Phineas is accompanied by his orphaned niece, Clarissa Riley, her suitor Savrola Vavsor, and his old friend, Oswald, the former Lord Chiltern, now Earl of Brentford:
Phineas moved to his seat casually, spreading a few papers, placing his pen just so, and looking around the courtroom until he saw Brentford’s party. As the judge had not yet entered, the barrister tipped a quick wink to his niece and smiled at Brentford and Savrola both. Phineas extended his hand to the leading barrister appearing for the prosecution, a gaunt, balding man only a little past his own age, but looking older. This barrister, Sir Simon Slope, had once been Solicitor-General, and in that capacity had been the junior barrister for the Crown against Phineas himself. It was thought that this unusual re-encounter was a stratagem on the part of Sir William McScuttle, an effort to rattle Phineas by placing him in the same courtroom in which he had stood trial for his life, against the very man who would have seen him hanged.

Brentford smiled, a trifle grimly. That little stratagem did not appear to be working, if Phineas’s calm good humor in shaking the hand of his adversary, and exchanging some pleasantry with him was any indication. He mentioned the fact to Savrola Vavasor, who let out a soft whistle.

“The cheek of it!” he exclaimed softly. And Clarissa’s white hand gripped his own, and her milky flesh paled even more as she gazed in horror at the man whose energies and skills had been directed at the hanging of her beloved Uncle Phineas for another’s crime.

But now the usher was declaiming “Be upstanding!” and the judge was making his grand entrance: Sir Lemuel Bullfry, large and pouched, with deep-set eyes, resembled an amphibian, a fact that, combined with his name, had earned him the obvious soubriquet. Still, he bore the scarlet and ermine well, and played his part in the medieval mummery that ornaments the process by which years of a man’s life—nay, his very life!—may be deemed forfeit. But to call the pageantry in which the trial is cloaked mummery is to display ignorance of its purpose, the solemnization of one of the great functions of the people acting as a community, the weighing of guilt or innocence, and the meting out of the communal judgment on the accused. For the criminal trial is many things—a search for truth, a drama, a battle in which every technique of rhetoric and wit is brought to bear in the contest for victory. But it is nothing quite so much as it is a crucible testing the characters of all involved, though none so harshly as that of the accused, which must, unless it is of true steel, crack.

Phineas Finn had not cracked. Neither, though, had that other man, Joseph Emilius. If ever they were to meet, each would have the measure of the other in a way that very few could understand, almost none who had not undergone the ordeal they each had survived. While the one man strove to use his days to do good, and the other sought to bend the precepts of good to his own uses, both had faced the extremity of fear and shame—and had come through intact.

Now the test was upon poor Ifor Powlett-Jones, young, and without the friendship, or the education, or the sheer anger that had strengthened the man now defending him in his own hour. Phineas met the lad’s eyes as he was put into the dock, and tried to will some of his own confidence and buoyancy into him. The adrenaline of arriving at the day of hazard had revived poor Powlett-Jones a little, and he stood in the dock, dreadfully pale, but composed, the trembling in his hands suppressed by his grip on the rail of the dock. He looked terribly young, and terribly innocent.
Hope you enjoyed; another sample to follow Thursday.

Monday, August 11, 2014


Sadly, Robin Williams has died:
OOscar-winning actor and comic Robin Williams died Monday at 63 of an apparent suicide, the Marin County Sheriff's Office confirmed.

Around 11:55 a.m. Monday, sheriff's officials said, a 911 call came in about a man who was unresponsive in his home in Tiburon. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The news of the beloved actor’s death rocked the nation. Channels broke into their usual programming to make the announcement, and within minutes, he dominated online trending topics.

Williams was hailed as a comic genius was a star of both movies and television for more than three decades. But he also suffered from substance abuse problems.

Williams "has been battling severe depression of late," his publicist Mara Buxbaum said. "This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time."

Williams was known for being open about his problems with cocaine and alcohol over the years.

The actor spent time on a Hazelden campus in Oregon in 2006. He later explained that drinking had gradually become a problem again after 20 years of sobriety.

"You're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump,'" the "Mrs. Doubtfire" star told ABC News in October of that year. "The same voice that goes, 'Just one.' … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that's not the possibility."

This summer, he returned to rehab to "fine-tune" his sobriety.

Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams became one of only two students accepted into John Houseman’s prestigious acting program at Juilliard, the other being Christopher Reeve, who became a lifelong friend.

Williams gained fame as Mork, the bizarre, suspenders-sporting alien on the sitcom “Mork & Mindy,” a spinoff from “Happy Days.” Williams departed from the script so often that producers intentionally left blank moments on page for Williams to have space to indulge his ad-libbing genius.

"I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul," fellow actor-comedian Steve Martin said on Twitter.

Williams was, simply, one of the funniest men I have ever seen perform. He was so funny it hurt to breathe--only Denis Leary did that to me (OK: full disclosure--sometimes my sister could have that effect on me, and Vinnie Bartilucci on a tear.)

But his breakout moment for me was Garp:

Yet another loss to alcoholism, it seems. Cunning, baffling and powerful, indeed. No matter how many coins you collect, we really only have today.

Rest in peace.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Base Metal Shows Through: Hem and Fitz

The New Yorker has an interesting piece on the new edition of The Sun Also Rises:
Early drafts of the book are well known to scholars, and are available at the Hemingway Collection, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, in Boston. But this new edition puts them in handy appendices, giving us lay readers a sense of Hemingway’s writing process, and, more importantly, of how different a novel “The Sun Also Rises” might have been.

All of Hemingway’s major changes to his manuscript move it toward a greater simplicity. In early drafts, the novel began in the middle of the story, at the bullfights during the festival of San Fermín, in Pamplona. Later, Hemingway opted for a more straightforward, chronological order, introducing the American expats Jake, Brett, and Robert Cohn in Paris, before they travel to Spain. In the manuscript that he sent to his editor at Scribner, Maxwell Perkins, the first two chapters detailed the characters’ histories and motivations. “This is a novel about a lady,” it began…

Jake Barnes was named Hem in the early drafts, and in the version he sent to his editor, Hemingway retained the conceit that the book was not merely based on his real-life experiences but was actually a memoir: “I made the unfortunate mistake, for a writer, of first having been Mr. Jake Barnes.”

All of this was cut at the suggestion of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who, after reading the version that Hemingway had sent to Perkins, wrote a long, dismayed-sounding letter to Hemingway, in which he said, “I think that there are about 24 sneers, superiorities, and nose-thumbings-at-nothing that mar the whole narrative up to P. 29 where (after a false start on the introduction of Cohn) it really gets going.” Though Hemingway would later downplay Fitzgerald’s editorial influence, the published novel begins with the sentence: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”

In the letter, Fitzgerald also criticized Hemingway for injecting his own writerly persona into the text: “That biography from you, who allways believed in the superiority (the preferability) of the imagined to the seen not to say to the merely recounted.” With this fragment of a sentence, Fitzgerald gives Hemingway the familiar writing-class advice—show, don’t tell; less is more; and what is left out can sometimes be more meaningful than what is included. Earlier versions of the novel contained even more of this “biography”; Fitzgerald had caught the remnants of nervous self-consciousness that Hemingway himself had curtailed as he wrote.
So, after Fitzgerald helps make Sun the major book it in fact is--though I do not admire Hemingway's code hero nonsense, which I think rather richly deserved Kurt Vonnegut's scathing takeoff--how did Hem repay him?

Slamming him in print and in a letter to their mutual editor, Maxwell Perkinss, for "whining" when he wrote his confessional memoir, The Crack-Up.

Not a nice chap, Hem, for all of his abilities. And, in fact, the nihilism of his philosophy, embedded as early as Sun,--"Our Nada, who art in Nada, Nada be thy name"--shows in his bleak record of bad behavior toward his onetime friend and benefactor

Patricia Hampl, in the American Scholar, tells the tale::
Hemingway lost no time trashing Fitzgerald to Perkins, their mutual editor (a connection that Fitzgerald, already a literary star, had arranged for the unknown and struggling Hemingway when they met in Paris in the 1920s). In a letter dated February 7, 1936—right after the first “Crack-Up” piece was published—Hemingway complains to Perkins that Fitzgerald “seems to almost take a pride in his shamelessness of defeat. The Esquire pieces seem to me to be so miserable. There is another one coming. I always knew he couldn’t think—he never could—but he had a marvelous talent and the thing is to use it—not whine in public.”

Hemingway wasn’t done. He went on to savage Fitzgerald in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” a short story that also appeared in Esquire, in August 1936. He injects “poor Scott Fitzgerald” into the fiction, noting that Fitzgerald had been “wrecked” by his “romantic awe” of the rich. This short story also refers to an exchange in which Fitzgerald is supposed to have said, “The very rich are different from you and me,” thereby allowing Hemingway to write the arch reply, “Yes, they have more money.”

Except this exchange, much quoted ever since, never occurred. Even decent Max Perkins couldn’t manage to correct the inaccuracy, though he put the facts on record: he was present at a lunch in New York in 1936 when Hemingway said, “I am getting to know the rich.” To which the literary critic Mary Colum, the third person at the table, said, “The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.” Fitzgerald wasn’t at the lunch—or in the city at the time. No doubt Hemingway was glad to offload the exchange onto Fitzgerald and adopt for himself the memorable zinger.

Fitzgerald wrote to Beatrice Dance (who had been his lover that summer) to report that he had protested his old pal’s literary slam in “a somewhat indignant letter,” though Hemingway remained unrepentant. “Since I had chosen to expose my private life so ‘shamelessly,’ in Esquire,” Fitzgerald notes, “he felt that it was sort of an open season for me.”

Fitzgerald then wrote Hemingway “a hell of a letter,” which, on second thought, he decided not to send. “Too often,” he says to Beatrice Dance, “literary men allow themselves to get into internecine quarrels and finish about as victoriously as most of the nations at the end of the World War.” Hemingway, he says in a final remark, “is quite as nervously broken down as I am but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy.” About as good a mutual character assessment as either of them ever got.
I've always been on Team Scottie. This is partially why, but Fitzgerald's tragic romanticism at least has a living ethos, unlike Hemingway's underlying Nada.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"Into Darkness"?

OK, Season 8 is coming…

The Doctor is now over 2,000 years old;

Clara doesn't know if he's a good man….

And they're going "into darkness." (Hopefully avoiding Benedict Cumberbatch, 'cos they did that one already.)

Moffatt is clearly planning on upping the ante this year.

Now if he does bring back the Master, despite my misgivings, can we at least get a Capaldi throw down with James Nesbitt:

And can I point out that's him playing the Dr. Jekyll character?

Edited to add:

A glimpse of Capaldi:


The Doctor: “This is Clara. She’s not my assistant; she’s some other word.”

Clara: “I’m his carer.”

The Doctor: “Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”

Shades of Malcolm Tucker?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Confession of Errors

So, the thing about writing a 500+ page book is that, even with the best editorial review and will in the world, a few typos and errors will creep through. Listen, it's even happening at the major houses these days:
Book publishers used to struggle mightily to conceal an author’s errors; publishers existed to hide those mistakes, some might say. But lately the vigilance of even the great houses has flagged, and typos are everywhere. Curious readers now get regular glimpses of raw and frank and interesting mistakes that give us access to unedited minds. Lately, in a big new memoir from a fancy imprint, I came across “peddle” for “pedal.” How did it happen?

Editors I spoke to confirmed my guesses. Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing, they explained, most publishers employed battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.

There is also “pressure to publish more books more quickly than ever,” an editor at a major publishing house explained. Many publishers now skip steps. “In the past, you really readied the book in several discrete stages,” Paul Elie, a senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, explained. “Manuscript, galley proofs, revised proofs, blue lines. You marked your changes at each stage, and then the compositor incorporated them and sent you the next stage. Now there are intermediate stages; authors will e-mail in ‘one last correction,’ or we’ll produce intermediate stages of proof — the text is fluid, in motion, and this leads to typos.”

Authors, too, bear some blame for the typo explosion. As Geoff Shandler, the editor in chief of Little, Brown and Company, told me, “Use of the word processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention. Manuscripts are much longer than they were 25 years ago, much more casually assembled, and beyond spell check (and not even then; and of course it will miss typos if the word is a word) it is amazing how little review seems to have occurred before the text is sent to the editor. Seriously, you have no idea how sloppy some of these things are.”
Well, and even the Times itself isn't exempt. But there's no point in whining about it; errors happen.

Still, the number of typos in Phineas at Bay is pretty small. There are a handful of blunders, though--one sentence fragment hanging out on a page, a few missed commas, and one place where I accorded the Countess of Brentford the wrong title.

Also, as a discerning and quite kind reader from England gently pointed out to me, there are a handful of errors in forms of address, particularly in the case of titled ladies (OK, pretty much Lizzie Eustace, who is not entitled to be addressed as "Lady Elizabeth" but only as "Lady Eustace." Like that would stop her, but, no--my narrator should know better.)

Although my reader was far more kind, I rather felt like I deserved a Trollopian version of the classic Rupert Giles rebuke:

So, all of this is to say that these errors are being tended to--the great thing about self-publishing is that they can be fixed, because the book is being printed by the order, and not as a full edition that would need to be withdrawn and pulped, or superseded, at least, if changes were required. All of you lovely people who have generously shelled thus far out will own the rare collectible copy with the printer's errors--not unlike the highly valuable, error-laced first edition of Huckleberry Finn, with the illustration in which somebody's fly appears to be open. That goes for $25 K, so you may yet be the winners on this deal.

Although I did manage to keep everyone's trousers zipped--in public, at any rate. So I've got that going for me, anyway.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Cat About Town

I've been blogging almost exclusively about Phineas at Bay of late, and, indeed, publishing a first novel is gripping, exhilarating and a peculiarly vulnerable place to be in.

That said, though, there is more going on. I'm three weeks into a new job, which is pretty marvelous--and that's all I'll say about that. Meanwhile, I do have a new scholarly article out, this time in the prestigious Anglican Theological Review; the abstract:
Swallowing the Camel: Biblical Fidelity, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Love of Money

As the Episcopal Church begins local discernment on the question of whether to bless same-sex relationships, evaluation of the theological strength of the arguments for and against is ongoing. I examine the case against same-sex blessings and marriage made by the Traditionalist component of a task force appointed by the House of Bishops in their report. That case’s weakness, in terms of the asserted scriptural authority and basis in philosophic reason set forth by the Traditionalists themselves, is contrasted with the much stronger case on both grounds in favor of the biblical prohibition of usury, given by the Traditionalist report as an example of a scriptural command that was appropriately discarded by the church. The Traditionalists demonstrate a much greater willingness to put aside scripture, reason, and tradition in the case of usury, which is endemic in the culture at large, while holding fast to the prohibition against same-sex marriage, which is much less strongly rooted in each category. This in turn suggests that defenders of this prohibition may be unwittingly defending obedience to scripture when it imposes a lesser challenge to the culture in which defenders are invested, and imposes costs which they only feel in the abstract.
You can hear me in conversation with the Rev. Buddy Stallings on the article two weeks ago at the St. Bart's Rector's Forum, if you're curious.

Also, I had my final bow (for now!) as an EFM mentor at last week's Rector's Forum, discussing the program with my successor as mentor and the Rev. Lynn Sanders. I will miss EFM for this little period, but with a new job (which involves more travel than I'm used to), my last academic term as a postulant for the vocational diaconate upon me, and a writing project to follow Phineas at Bay--well, it was time to bow out.

It was a wonderful way to end my tenure as mentor--to hand off to a new mentor who I knew would make the group I had headed her own, and to reflect on the best of our time together. Sometimes leaving is bittersweet, but sometimes it can be celebratory.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Intelligence Squared and Free Speech

I'm rather a fan of Intelligence Squared, whether you mean the US or UK versions, but I missed, until I heard it on NPR today, the June 26 debate on the resolution that "individuals and organizations have a constitutional right to unlimited spending on their own political speech. (Transcript of the debate may be found here.)

In support of the resolution were two giants in the free speech community--Nadine Strossen, who has generously shared her archives and her advice with me in the past--and Floyd Abrams, whom I have only met once, when he and I were on opposite sides of a case (he won, and quite properly, too), but who treated me as a colleague throughout. In opposition, stood Burt Neuborne, founding Legal Director of the Brennan Center, and Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout.

The debate was complicated by the fact that the resolution was so broadly written that each side had a difficult proposition embedded in the DNA of their arguments. On the side of the resolution, Floyd and Nadine (what? They've each invited me to be on a first name basis with them) had the difficulty posed by treating campaign contributions as the equivalent of speech, while Neuborne and Teachout had the inherent difficulty of a proposition that, taken broadly, would lead to penalizing natural persons, not for profits and for-profit corporations alike for publishing books, articles or films, a result very hard to square with the language of the First Amendment.

Alas, the anti-proposition side, from their opening statements on, took the position that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment--"Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech"--could not mean what it says. Rather, they argued, a rule of reason needs to be applied, and the courts should use the allegedly ambiguous words "abridging" and "the freedom of speech" to allow for reasonable limitations.

As the author of a fairly lengthy book refuting that pernicious proposition, I was appalled. Nadine and Floyd quite skillfully and correctly laced into that viewpoint, one that has, in the past, been used to allow for censorship of whatever the dominant political or cultural elite does not find comfortable. (Really; just look at Edward de Grazia's masterful account of the abuse of the law to criminalize some of the most important writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, or at Nadine's own account of how obscenity law has been used to limit women's speech. I address some of this, too, in my own work.)

I should have liked to hear Nadine and Floyd defend treating as pure speech donating money--as opposed to actually spending it directly on expressive activity of one's own--but the anti-proposoition side did not press that point. As I believe that donations are not pure speech, but conduct (a transfer of funds) that has an expressive component, and thus may be regulated in a non-discriminatory, viewpoint neutral way, just as burning objects (crosses, flags or draft cards included, but not only those), I would have loved to hear their response. Alas, the anti side, having chosen to water down the essence of the First Amendment down to, as Justice Douglas once scathingly described a similar analysis, "no more than admonitions of moderation," did not get that deeply into the nitty-gritty of the debate.

I regret to say that the antis nonetheless won the debate by swinging more voters to their side in the post-debate vote. One wonders if those old polls suggesting that the First Amendment might not pass if put up to a vote today still tell us something about where our populace is. Obviously, I hope not.