Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Guardian

This is my most recent novel and is a sequel to my first try Down The River. My pitch reads

The Guardian is a historical novel describing what would have been the largest mass escape of slaves prior to the Civil War. Phyllis Lewis is an ex-slave cooking for a Philadelphia boarding house in the year 1850. She tells her own story of joining a secret and illegal cell that resists the Fugitive Slave Law by helping runaway slaves escape to Canada. The leader of the cell is kidnapped by federal marshals, falsely accused of being an escaped slave, and transported south. Phyllis resolves to rescue her friend and take the fight against slavery to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. All this is contrary to the laws of the United States. She poses as a teacher of French cooking and her co-conspirators include a prostitute, a burglar, a traveling salesman, and a lawyer who specializes in returning fugitives to their masters. Exposure as a slave stealer would result in prison or worse. Just as the scheme is coming together the corrupt marshal recognizes her cooking from Philadelphia and arrests her. Even though she pulls off what may be a perfect crime, she learns that no great purpose can find success without great cost. 

My writers group recommended chopping several beautiful (but useless) chapters. I had an editor go over it and clean it up. Even before it was back from the editor I started the submission process.

I obtained a (digital) copy of The Writers Market, the yellow pages for getting published. The directory has two general parts, publishers and literary agents. Publishers publish your book where the agents find a publisher for you. The biggest houses will not look at a submission from an author and will look only at work an established agent thinks is worth. It's like convincing a real estate agent to take the listing on your house.

I started with the list of publishers skipping over the big ones. Each publisher has different requirements, a short query, a query with 25 pages, a query with 50 pages, some all by email, some by snail mail only. I sent out about a dozen of these, maybe more. The last two books I wrote I took through this process netted me dozens of rejection letters, cards, and emails. That doesn't count the queries that did not even net a reply.

A few of the publishers asked for more chapters. That was encouraging. Then one publisher wanted the entire manuscript a particularly positive indication. This was done all by email. I had to get the manuscript back from the editor first before sending it off. The editor replied she liked it and would send it to the review committee. Hmmm.

The editor came back with a one line email, "Guess what?"

They wanted the book. This publisher, The Wild Rose Press, specializes in romance novels, the bodice rippers with bare chested heroes and nearly-bare chested heroines. But they have a line of historical novels written by, get this, a few men. I joked with the editor that I must be their third male author. "Oh, we have more than three."

I signed a contract and then the editing process started. The editor got stuck on the first word—the first word!—there was back and forth until I suggested deleting the first word. That worked.

Next came the cover design. I looked through the other covers, bare chested heroes and nearly-bare chested heroines. I found some tamer and tasteful examples that I thought fit my story and characters better than d├ęcolletage.

Now I wait for the cover.

Monday, May 11, 2015

West Point and Cadet Benjamin O. Davis

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has named a barracks after General Benjamin O. Davis, '32, the second African American to graduate. He went on to a distinguished military and civilian career. While at West Point he was "silenced" by the other cadets because of his race. His predecessor, Henry Ossian Flipper, endured the same, probably worse from 1873 to 1877.

Who were the cadets who imposed this regime on Davis? I looked up graduates of the Class of 1929, the seniors who ran things when Davis entered the academy. At least two of them went on to some fame in World War II. Frank Merrill headed Merrill's Marauders, the only U.S. Infantry unit in the China-Burma-India Theater and James Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and ambassador to France. Other members of '29 became generals. A less notable member of the class was the father of comedians Tom and Dick Smothers. He died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1945.

To be sure America at the time and especially the U.S. Army was segregated and racist, but I wonder if Gavin's and Merrill's biographers mention this episode. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

So Long Dick

An old family friend passed away about six weeks ago. Last weekend I flew to San Mateo, California and attended a memorial service for him on behalf of my family and, in particular, on behalf of my mother and my late father. Dick and his late wife Sally went back to 1950 with our family. Here are my remarks.

Dick Patton was Dad’s best hunting and fishing parter. They met in 1950 when they were both waiting for the phone to ring in the Sims and Grupe real estate office in Stockton. They were young veterans and as they waited for the afternoon to run out they realized they they both loved fishing and hunting. It’s deer season, how about we go deer hunting some time? When? How about tomorrow?
Dick Patton and Dick Wilma, ca. 1995

Dick and Dick hunted and fished together for decades while their wives, Sally and Sally, waited at home. You could get away with that in those days. The Pattons and the Wilmas became close friends.

Dick and Sally Patton were sort of uncle and aunt to me and my two sisters. To us he was Dickie P. My sister Sally—we had Big Sally, Little Sally and Sally P— first met Dick when she was two and she recalls Dickie P as one of the best looking men she ever met.

I have a fix on the date because Dick and Sally Patton took care of me and Little Sally when our sister Patti was born in May 1951. The Pattons lived a few doors down from us on Douglas Road in Lincoln Village in one of the cookie cutter, flat-topped tract homes thrown up on concrete slabs. The houses sold for $6500.

The Pattons moved around the corner into a second-generation Lincoln Village home with a car port and a storage closet. That storage closet became Dick’s workshop. I was there when Dick brought home a Shopsmith, one of those do-it-all power tool setups which he and Dad used to make gunstocks. Forty years later he got another one. How many people do you know have two Shopsmiths?

I reconnected with Dick and Sally in the 1980s when my career brought me to the Bay Area. When I moved back to the Pacific Northwest Dick and I maintained contact by email. We were both interested in history of all kinds. Much of the history Dick took part in himself. I recorded an interview of him where he related his up-and-down military career.

Dick explained to me that when he was 17 he lied about his age and joined the army. He volunteered for parachute infantry to avoid being disciplined for evading KP.

Dick joined the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division. After some action in Africa, Dick parachuted—dropped as they call it—into Sicily in 1943, into Normandy on D-Day in 1944, then into the Netherlands. In Normandy he lost an eye, but ran away from a hospital in England to rejoin his unit. Dick said he didn’t want some idiot taking over his squad. Such was the bond those men held for each other. In France he liberated Leedy, an Alsatian shepherd pup, from a German Army kennel. He got caught up in Battle of the Bulge. There were two drops into Germany ahead of the advancing Allies. He was captured and escaped during an air raid. Dick’s rank during these adventures ranged from private to lieutenant and back down a bit. The 82nd was the “other” division from the Band of Brothers. The 82nd saw the same action, more in fact, but the 101st had Stephen Ambrose, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Dick received the Silver Star—twice—and several purple hearts and was entitled to go home. Dick told me he knew he wasn’t ready for polite society and stayed on with the military government as an investigator, a detective. He investigated the automobile accident that killed George S. Patton.

Dick came home in 1946 and smuggled Leedy aboard the ship. In 1948, Dick volunteered to return to Europe to help repatriate the remains of the fallen.

If I have one memory of the two Dicks it is laughter. They joked about everything, but to watch them you would think they detested each other. The day after Christmas in 1964 the three of us were bird hunting in the Delta. Always having a sense of history I asked Dick, “Where were you 20 years ago?” He stared down at the ground a moment to do the math and then uttered an expletive before laughing. Christmas 1944 was the Battle of the Bulge.

The only time Dick and Dad didn’t chatter like middle schoolers was when they were fishing. Fishing for them was it’s own reward and required, no, demanded, silence and introspection.

When Dad passed away in 2005, I left a message for Dick. Dick called back and just had nothing to say—silence on the other end of the line.

Dad said he never knew anyone to spend more money on his dogs than Dick Patton. The last time I saw Dick was a year ago. I knew then that I had just one more chance to sit down with him. We talked for three hours—about dogs.

My mother, Big Sally, is 89 and not doing too well, but she managed to write something of her feelings upon hearing of Dick’s passing

“It's hard to reminisce about Dick Patton without first acknowledging the influence of Sally Logan. She was the love of his life and the pattern for contentment and peace of mind that chronically eluded him.
Our family became friends when his new found gentleness fit perfectly with our three children under the ages of five. It was a shame that our gift for his generosity was a case of  chicken pox.
Primarily my gratitude to Dick stems from his friendship with Dick Wilma. He was Dick’s sounding board and his loyal friend. No amount of thanks could ever express my feelings.
Thank you Sally for how your love transformed DickieP. Thank you DickieP for giving us your friendship. We love you.”

Dick Patton touched all of us in many wonderful ways and that’s not a bad legacy.

I miss you, Dick, we all do.