12 Winters Blog

Getting Men of Winter out in the world, and more Tolstoy

Posted in January 2011 by Ted Morrissey on January 23, 2011

I haven’t been writing this blog with regularity of late, largely because it’s that part of the calendar that is most irregular, especially for us academic types — with one semester’s ending and another’s beginning, and that whole holiday season thrown in to boot. But 2011 has settled into place, and my schedule is normalizing as well. Technically Men of Winter was released in November 2010, but it was very late and with all the academic and holiday hubbub, it was almost like it hadn’t been released at all. I was hoping to enter the novel into some contests, like for first novels or just fiction of 2010, but I was surprised to discover that just about all of those sorts of contests had mid to late December submission deadlines; and I had difficulty getting a significant batch from my publisher, Punkin House, (in fact it was only this past week that a shipment of fifty arrived), so I missed the deadlines, as even first novels have to be submitted in the year of their publication. C’est la vie.

I spent some time over break trying to arrange some readings/book signings, and I can’t say that’s going especially well. I’ve contacted about fifteen bookstores and coffeehouses (known for their readings) in Chicago, Peoria, and Galesburg, and only one has responded, at all, and that was in the negative (they no longer host such things because they’ve decided their establishment wasn’t well suited to them). I need to step up my efforts, and now that we’re getting settled into 2011 I will. Men of Winter has been listed on Amazon, but sold via Punkin House as an independent seller. Punkin House is working on an agreement with a book distributor, and once that happens it should become easier to place books in corporate bookstores, like Barnes & Noble and Borders, and on Amazon proper. The publisher had been trying to sell exclusively through its website, but that’s just too difficult in today’s web-based, corporate-controlled world.

Quite frankly, as I’ve written here before, my three-job lifestyle does not lend itself to vigorous promotion of my book. I’m not really at economic or professional liberty to be gallivanting around North America pitching my novel. It’s also tricky to be a small-town English teacher and also a writer of serious literature, as there certainly are elements in the community that would disapprove, at times, of my subject matter or even my language. It puts one in the awkward position of needing to fly both on and off the radar — I definitely want people being aware of and reading my writing, but I don’t need a mob with pitchforks and torches marching up my driveway, metaphorically speaking of course (I’m pretty sure). That is precisely why tenure was established: academics and others who work in the arena of the human intellect (I just like the way that sounds — not even sure what it means) need to be able to explore and express ideas without fear of losing their jobs because somebody with a little clout takes offense. Of course, if education “reformers,” including those in Illinois, get their way, tenure will be abolished. That would be a pleasant day.

I have been invited to read the first chapter of Men of Winter at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 next month at the University of Louisville. I’ve attended that conference, maybe, seven of the last eight years, and enjoy it very much. Normally I’ve presented an academic paper in addition to reading a creative piece, but I didn’t submit an academic abstract this time (though my brain runneth over with ideas for scholarly pursuits) because I knew I’d have to stop working on my novel in progress, the Authoress, for a month or longer to research and write a proper paper — and I don’t want to distract myself from my creative writing, which, by the way, is going along well. I just completed a draft of chapter 21 and am at work on the twenty-second chapter, with the manuscript now in excess of 350 pages (not that bulk in itself matters, but this is by far the most complex work I’ve done). I’ve contacted a couple of independent bookstores in Louisville in hopes of scheduling a reading while I’m in town for the conference, but, shockingly, I’ve heard from neither.

On the reading front, I’m still tackling Anna Karenina and enjoying it a lot. No doubt the snowy, frigid weather of the last few weeks has enhanced my enjoyment of Tolstoy’s novel even more. I was marveling at a scene I read this morning because of its being so applicable to today, even though it was written in the 1870s, in Russia. At a dinner party, a guest is envious of the “American way of doing business,” which in essence means an expedited, informal way, minus a lot of bureaucratic oversight — exactly the unregulated style of business that led to our economic near collapse two years ago — and the sort of style Republicans would have us return to in earnest now that Wall Street tycoons are back on their feet, thanks to taxpayers.

Also at the dinner party, which is in section 6, chapter 22, they discuss the latest innovations in agricultural technology, specifically a new threshing machine, and how Levin, a wealthy yet hands-on landowner, is opposed to these sorts of innovations as they will, in the long run, be detrimental to farming and, more profoundly, socioeconomics in Russia. Basically he asks, If we replace the peasant class with machinery, what will the peasant class do? This is precisely where the United States is at in the twenty-first century in that our emphasis on computer technology has made obsolete many manual-labor and even skilled-labor sorts of jobs, like in manufacturing, for example, and educators, therefore, are charged with the task of making certain every student is college bound and ready for a high-tech-related job (the thrust really of the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative). It all sounds quite lovely, except for the minor detail that not every student is geared to do that high-tech sort of work. Just as I will never be able to dunk a basketball, some students will never be able to write well or to work calculus (just as I cannot work calculus). But the sorts of decent jobs that these good young people could count on a generation ago are no longer available — they’ve gone overseas or have disappeared altogether.

In short, Tolstoy’s broad insights, from the economic workings of society to the romantic workings of the human heart, are quite remarkable, even a century and a half later.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

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