Treasure from 1893 Speaks Volumes about Publishing 120 Years Later

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Many years ago while visiting Wisconsin, I drove to a rural farm sale outside a small town. It was my last stop after several garage sales. Price tags hung from farming equipment along with assorted household items and antiques. It drew a crowd of curious neighbors as well as treasure hunters. I fell into the latter category.

Drawn to the tables laden with books, I found ancient leather-bound volumes and others in cloth. I sauntered along the stacks of old family Bibles and velvet photo albums. While leafing through Ladies’ World and The Ladies’ Home Journal magazines from the 1800’s, one raindrop plopped down on my head followed by another. I grabbed a box.

After filling it with as many old books and magazines as I could carry, I paid the lady $5.00, and staggered to the car just before the sky opened up and it poured.

I took the magazines home and glanced at the fine drawings and paintings. As an illustrator, I really appreciated the attention to detail. No photographs were included in these early issues. I was amused at the old advertisements, but nothing grabbed my interest, so I put them away and forgot about them.

Today, I read The Ladies’ Home Journal from 1893 with a different perspective. Now that I am a writer, several ideas jumped off the 120 year-old pages.

Long fictional stories and excerpts of books were included in each of the three issues I purchased. All were beautifully illustrated and captioned. Back in the 1800’s, reading was a very popular form of entertainment.

What really smacked me upside the head were the advertisements for one year subscriptions.

Inside the cover of The Ladies’ Home Journal was an advertisement for Mark Twain’s, The Century, FREE to anyone who subscribed to the magazine. This was a leather-bound edition! I believe Twain’s idea to advertise his book by giving it away, reached a wider audience. This compilation of short stories was perfect for the type of reader catered to by the Journal.

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At the time of this periodical’s publication, many authors feared short stories and magazines would take over the publishing industry. This point is often made to compare the same fear many have about ebooks replacing real books. It didn’t happen then and many believe it won’t happen now.

The first article by Frank R. Stockton, explains how he garnered a huge audience by frustrating them. In a beautifully illustrated essay, “How I wrote ‘The Lady or the Tiger?’” he defends the history of his controversial short story.  It caused quite a “hoopla” or “hullabaloo” back in the day.

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Stockton was invited to a dinner party along with several other literary guests. As part of the evening’s entertainment, he was asked to prepare a story. When he didn’t finish it in time, he demurred. Later, he completed this ultimate cliff-hanger about a young man who falls in love with a princess who becomes his lover. They end up in an arena which has two portals. A tiger paces behind one of them. The princess tells her lover to open one of the doors. He let the reader decide which one.

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He received many letters from irate readers left in the lurch. Many offered their own resolution to the ending and begged him to finish it. Most women couldn’t fathom the barbaric nature of a woman who would send her lover through a portal to be eaten by a tiger.

A second book was written with more detail about the lives of the two characters, but still didn’t include an ending. The readers went wild again. At one point, graduates of Vassar College put it to a vote. The tiger received 18 votes and the lady only six.

Ten years later, readers were still talking about it. Not only did The Ladies Home Journal showcase the author, but offered his short story along with eleven others for free along with a one year subscription to Scribner’s Magazine.

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The book is offered free with 10 cents postage and $3.00 subscription.

Like so many who have written their first book, I am watching the publishing industry and new authors to see how they approach selling ebooks. I had been concerned after seeing prices drop from $5.99 to $2.99, and then given away for free on Amazon.

In 1893, there were probably those who thought Twain foolish when giving away The Century. I would bet the giveaway put his work in the hands of many who may not have been acquainted with the great writer.

Today, that is the goal as well. The free price is usually a limited time offer and it gets the book out to more people and the writer’s name on the lips of many.

Writing controversial books is still an effective way to get people talking. Just look at Fifty Shades of Grey!

No matter how many people are in a writer’s platform, a book is still sold by word of mouth. The more tongues wagging, the better the sales.

Here I am in 2013, reading this old magazine from 1893 and can still learn something. Now that’s what I call a treasure!

What do you think about giving books away?

Do you think controversy sells?

Related Articles:

The Ladies’ Home Journal

Mark Twain – Wikipedia

Frank R. Stockton – Wikipedia

Scott Turow and His Sinking Ship

The Nutley Hall of Fame

Do You Curse Brightly?

While finishing my paranormal thriller, I have made some major cuts and additions. I think my sex scene is sexier after eliminating the mechanics and expanding the sensual description. I fixed the parts where the chicken went into the oven and came out as roasted rabbit. I deleted overused words like “perfect” even though at one time I thought they were perfect.

Reading best-selling thrillers while writing my first have inspired me, until yesterday. In the middle of an intense scene where agents were kidnapped, the protagonist, “cursed brightly.” (insert sound of needle scratching record here) WHAT??? It pulled me right out of the story. I stopped reading and set the book down.

shouts expletive

The hammer actually smacked my poor thumb, hence the realistic grimace. Continue reading

The Mistresses of Mayhem

As the days grow shorter, I begin to feel autumn’s chill through the drafts in my house which seems to penetrate the floor and slip up my pant legs then settle down deep in my bones. While running upstairs to retrieve wool socks for my cold feet I am reminded of the time of year and begin to long for All Hallow’s Eve and a month of ghostly tales. When I was a teenager, my girlfriends and I would gather around the television at midnight and dare each other to look at the spectacle originally written by Edgar Allen Poe or Mary Shelley. I would peer between my fingers which covered my eyes as my heart quickened and my stomach clenched in the inescapable mix of shock and horror. After a sleepless night of hearing the water trickle through the pipes in our family room thinking one of the undead crept around our scattered sleeping bags, I would rouse myself and smile looking forward to next week’s episode

Wikipedia defines Gothic fiction, sometimes referred to as Gothic horror, as a genre or mode of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance. When I think of authors of gothic horror the first to come to mind is Edgar Allen Poe. The Fall of the House of Usher(1839), The Pit and the Pendulum (1842), and The Telltale Heart (1843) are a few examples.

Many years before Poe was born, some of the early masters of the macabre were actually mavens. Ann Radcliffe first wrote The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne in 1789. This tale of a lonely woman included paranormal conventions interwoven with the very first vivid descriptions of nature. She gave natural explanations for the supernatural occurrences in her book making this genre acceptable for the first time in English society. She ended her chapters with cliff hangers keeping her readers flipping through pages.

1816 was known as “the year without a summer” for many in Europe. Mount Tambora erupted on an Indonesian island obscuring the sun for more for many months and creating a mini-ice age. Mary Shelley spent that summer in a villa on Lake Geneva, Switzerland with her husband Percy and friends including Lord Byron, and John Polidori.  Since the days were cold and nasty they spent many of them indoors reading ghosts stories. One day Lord Byron challenged each of them to write their own. Polidori created the vampire genre with the book, The Vampyre and Mary wrote Frankenstein.

Each author wrote gripping tales of suspense and terror keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. Speculation over their fascination with death and the supernatural in some cases seems obvious and in others not so much. Edgar Allen Poe’s mother was an actress who played Juliet when he was a young child. He found it confusing and upsetting to watch her die on stage every night. Eventually she succumbed to tuberculosis and died back stage. At 25 five years of age Poe married his 13-year-old cousin who died of the disease when she turned 25. Many historians believe that Poe’s tormented mind originated from the dread of contracting this white plague. He died mysteriously –most likely alcohol poisoning- at age 40.

Mary Shelley endured horrible headaches and passed away of a brain tumor at age 40 as well. Maybe that is why she came up with a monster made of bits and pieces from other bodies. She may have felt like getting a brain transplant!

I love that researchers couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary about little Ann Radcliffe.  She lived quietly with her husband and worked as an editor of The English Chronicle. She seems to have created these twisted tales without any documentation of torment, living until age 58. Her husband continued to support her writing by having the last of her work published after her death.

I have my own theory as to what motivated these authors. I began writing my own Gothic Fiction recently and can say that the thrill of writing them comes from being inside the character as I go through the process of typing out the words. No sooner have I set down the first sentence, does my own heart begin to race along with the story. Regardless of the personal fears the author may have had, I think they all enjoyed writing these thrillers just as much as their readers enjoyed reading them.

It is written that Ann Radcliffe passed the lonely cold winters writing her Gothic tales near a warm fireplace most likely feeling the grip of winter through the icy fingers of chilly drafts. My guess is she would have enjoyed our sleep-overs where we peeked out from our sleeping bags and glimpsed old black and white films of Frankenstein and Dracula. I wonder if Ann would enjoy Stephen King and what she would write if she were alive today.

Do you enjoy Gothic Fiction?

Who are your favorite authors today?

Illustration from Google  – Poe’s “The Raven” 

Stolen Regret

I

The biting wind struck Maeve’s frail body with force so she drew her mother’s thin red shawl around her shoulders tighter. She shivered remembering what she had done. The stunning ring had been lying on Mrs. Carver’s bedside table along with her yellowed false teeth which floated in a glass of water. She moved the tumbler and dusted, then slipped the ruby ring into her pocket.

Trudging home on the icy path through the shadowy forest, the weight of the stone spun the ring around her thin finger. When the vagrant grabbed her from behind, it flew into the gloom.

 II

After a long cold winter, sun-filled days thawed the frozen earth and birds migrated back from their winter respite. A squirrel sprung from his warm leaf-lined den in the trunk of an ancient oak. With pangs of hunger he dove to the forest floor and dug for buried acorns. A bright glint like crimson berries caught the attention of his black beady eyes and he hopped through the decomposing leaves hoping for an edible treasure. Cocking his head to one side he gazed at the ruby ring. An ebony crow swooped down and snatched it up with its hooked beak.

 III

“What are you afraid of Chelsea? Ghosts?” Jack taunted. Mary and Thomas giggled, but the tales about the woman in the woods and the thought of meeting down there at midnight to have a séance made her flesh crawl.

The moon hung like a fingernail clipping over the old Carver house where the remaining shards of glass in the windows seemed like a menacing grin.

The rhythmic crunching of their footsteps on the path into the dense forest kept time with the banging in her chest. Jack found an old oak and the four friends settled underneath its gnarled branches.

 IV

Maeve floated through the forest on the wings of the gust’s frosty breath twisting with the wailing wind. Like so many nights before this, she found herself on that muddy path with the ruby ring heavy on her finger like the weight of guilt on her soul. Sometimes she caught glimpses of others completely unaware. Other times they seemed alarmed then faded into the gray snowy night.

Tonight the pull at her core caused a ferocious velocity of writhing. She whipped towards the foursome dislodging something from the old oak which fell between them.

Return it!” Maeve howled with wind.  

 

Mirrored Vengeance

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“Be careful of the woodwork!” Kathryn directed the moving men who lugged the heavily carved dresser up the stairs of her honeymooning daughter Allison and son-in-law Derrick’s house in San Francisco.  Once in place, across from the entry of the newlywed’s bedroom, they fastened the ornate mirror to the top of the dresser. Kathryn looked at her reflection in the diamond dust and brought her hand up to her mouth. “I wonder who sent this. What an usual wedding gift.” She looked at the stains on either side of the top drawer and made a mental note to try to have it repaired. She reached down to graze a manicured finger over the teeth of one of the carved heads which flanked the drawer and yelled, “Ouch! Why, I think it bit me!” Kathryn looked back at the mirrored dresser with a shiver.

The moving men laughed. “Yah, right!”

Two weeks later, Allison and Derrick arrived home in San Francisco. “I am going to check around the house and make sure everything is okay. Why don’t you lie down and I will order Chinese.” The three week honeymoon cruise left Allison empty inside.  What had she done? She wished she could wake up from this nightmare. She kept going over it in her head and felt too terrified to share the memory with anyone.

Her engagement to Derrick had been logical. He was handsome in a very Nordic way and a successful lawyer. He fit all the criteria she had made for the perfect mate except for one thing. He had hardly touched her. Allison thought of his old-fashioned sensibilities as cute, but as time went on, it had become frustrating.

A month before the wedding, Allison’s girlfriends called wanting her to get together with them to catch up. What started out as a simple girl’s night out soon escalated in a full out binge. After several rounds of cosmopolitans, she began to dance. She caught the eye of a dark dangerous looking man. She boldly grabbed him by the hand and the two of them danced. She had never felt this deep sexual attraction before and the dancing soon spiraled into an erotic grind and she could hardly control herself.

It was as if a different person emerged that night and took hold of Allison’s body. At that moment, she wanted and needed him more than anyone and the alcohol removed all inhibitions. Derrick was lost in the dark shadows of her mind, as she ditched her girlfriends and pulled him out of the bar. They barely made it into her nearby apartment before they stripped off their clothes, never making it to the bed.

She awoke on the floor, squinting against the blaring sun that streaked across her clothes scattered about the room. “What did I do?” The impact of regret hit her at the same time as the pounding headache that threatened to split her head in two. She reached over to her blouse and slipped it back on.

“Here. Drink this lovely lady.”

She gasped as she looked at the bare feet of the gorgeous man she had met last night working her way up slowly. In this light he looked older.

“Oh my God! What did I do?”

Tony reached out to help her off the floor and on to the couch.

The horror of what she had done slowly made its way to the cognitive part of her banging head and she began to shake.

He set down the coffee cup and began stoking her hair. “We had a great time. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I am engaged to be married next month!”

“What?”

“Last night was a mistake. You need to go. Now!” She stormed over to the door.

“Hey! You couldn’t keep your hands off me,” Tony said knitting his brow and stepped towards her.

Allison stepped back not sure of what to do if he got violent. Her cell phone was in her purse across the room.

Then his eyes softened and he tried to embrace her.

She pushed him away. “Just go. Please.”

“You’ll change your mind.”

Tony reached over to kiss her and she turned her head. “I’ll call you.” He walked out the door and she locked it behind him.

Allison fell on the couch and sobbed until her girlfriends began calling wanting all the details about the night. She told them she got sick and Tony had walked her home.

This began a nightmare that went on until the wedding. Tony called her non-stop. She felt stalked, but because of the infidelity, she couldn’t tell a soul. She began staying at Derrick’s house in his spare bedroom. She would be moving in with him after the wedding anyway.

Finally, they were married and Allison took the first deep breath in weeks.

It was the first night on the cruise and Allison and Derrick had just finished their lobster dinner in the main dining room. Derrick didn’t feel well so they walked up to the ship’s deck.

“I think I’ll go back to the room. Do you mind?” Derrick asked. They had planned to go dancing afterward.

“No. Go right ahead. I think I might stay out here and enjoy the fresh air.”

As she stared at the moon’s reflection on the water, she heard a familiar voice behind her.

“Did you miss me?”

Allison gasped and whipped her head around and saw Tony dressed in a black tuxedo. “What are you doing here?”

 “You don’t love him. You love me.” Tony pulled her close and she could smell alcohol on his breath.

“You’re hurting me!” Allison tried to rush past him but he staggered towards her and grabbed her arm.

“Stop!” They struggled and Allison used her leg for leverage. With all her strength she pushed him away. He tripped over her, wheeling around just as the ship hit a swell, lost his balance, and fell over the railing into the black ocean below.

She saw his head bob twice and then disappear with a rolling wave.

“Help! Help me!” Allison screamed, but no one responded. She seemed to turn to stone as she stared out into the ocean. It seemed like hours before Allison staggered back to the room.

For the rest of the honeymoon, Allison’s secrets weighed her down as if Tony still held her tightly in his grip.

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After a quiet trip back to San Francisco, Allison felt relieved to be home.

When she reached the top of the stairs, she was struck by her own reflection in the mirrored dresser. Her mother had told her of its mysterious arrival. Unblinking, it drew her into the room. Something about it attracted and repelled her. She stepped into the bedroom and the diamond dust luster began to glow from an unknown source. A cold sweat broke out all over her body and she shuddered with dread.

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Allison stared into the mirror and it began replaying the events of the last month in its refection. As the images progressed, they became projected in front of her. She stepped back appalled at what she saw. She gazed at the image of Tony and her dancing at the bar and later having sex at the apartment. “No!” she murmured, shaking her head. Then she saw herself struggle with him, sending him over the edge into the sea. She did nothing to save him. Allison screamed, “No! No! No!” She continued backing up towards the stairway and her heel caught the top step. She tumbled down, breaking her neck in the fall.

“That should do it!”

The moving men tied off the last rope in the van and slammed the door. Under the packing blankets the mirror began to glow. It sifted through all the reflections it had collected over the last 150 years held within the diamonds. The carvings began to writhe. Blood trickled down the front of the bureau out of the mouths of the carved gargoyles.

 All photos by S. Lindau

The photo of the reflection is in an original diamond dust mirror!

Swept Away! – Flash Fiction

As Felicia bit down on the straw of her Camelback and sucked the lukewarm water into her parched throat, her legs pumped with relentless force pushing down as hard as she pulled in the tightly bound toe clips. With gloved hands she gripped the handlebars, engaging her upper torso in contracted energy. She noticed only a couple bikers on the mountain trail today. “Probably, due to the warnings,” she thought.

The first time she had gone out mountain biking with her boyfriend Jacob, Felicia fell in love with the sport. She filled her lungs with pine fragranced air, enjoying the exercise and time spent outdoors.

One morning, Felicia stopped over at Jacob’s to bring him blueberry muffins. She took out the key he had given her months before, slid it into the lock, and turned the knob.

“Jacob! I have a surprise for you.” Felicia strained her eyes in the darkened studio apartment and immediately became confused by the shapes formed under the sheets of her boyfriend’s bed. He wasn’t alone.

“You bastard!” Felicia screamed. She began pelting him with the warm missiles.

Jacob threw up his hands to protect his face as the pretty blond slid down under the covers. “Felicia! What are you doing here? Stop!”

With each word, she fired away. “How – could – you – do – this – to – me!” Felicia stormed out, but then turned and yelled, “Whore!” She threw the key at Jacob and hit him in the nose, slamming the door behind her.

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In the weeks that followed, she continued biking to clear her head and mend her broken heart.

The thick evergreens that lined the path and the tender wild flowers which bloomed in the understory in shades of purple, yellow and orange were swallowed up in darkness as the clouds above her gathered. She swerved to avoid the large rocks, but pulled up on the handlebars and hopped over the smaller ones utilizing the shock system of her bicycle and picked up the pace.

The rush of crashing water from the swollen river beside her thundered louder. Felicia felt a cool breeze at her back and the fine golden hair on her arms stood on end. Rain began to pour down on her helmet and she had to stop and take off her sunglasses to navigate the muddy trail. Her heart and mind raced, as the river overflowed its banks and water streamed across the trail. She pedaled to a rocky knoll jutting up from the forest floor, when she heard a man’s voice call out, “Over here!”

She rode to him and he reached out and pulled her by the hand up the steep embankment.

“We don’t have much time. C’mon!” He dragged her up rocky slope. They reached a shelter under an outcropping of rock as the rain pelted overhead as the river roared below.

“I’m Kevin.”

“Felicia.” She locked eyes with the handsome man with gentle brown eyes and curly hair that glistened, realizing she hadn’t let go of his hand.

500 words!

I am dusting off my “Rockhopper” to start mountain biking again. With all the tennis I play, it has been hard to find the time, but recently I learned that one of my knees may have to be replaced in the future if I don’t. My kneecap slid over when I twisted it thirty years ago in a skiing accident. It has been grinding the back of the cap ruining the meniscus. This is very common in women. In order to move it back into position, I need to build my thigh muscles. I will be out on the trails breathing in that pine scent in Colorado once again!

Constant Longing

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Constance knew the second she opened the letter, before she even read it, her life would never be the same. She had just returned from the Post Office and had climbed the stairs to her bedroom. She walked over to the paned glass window and drew back the yellow calico curtain with a delicate hand. The ruby ring on her finger caught the slanting afternoon sun’s rays transforming it into a burning coal. Constance scanned the horizon and could see Jack the wrangler riding back to the ranch on his chestnut mare. His faded denim shirt billowed in the breeze. Looking beyond her property, the rolling hills looked like a patchwork in the golden light. With her left hand she rubbed the fastened top button of her white lace blouse. This nervous habit had started many years before.

She turned away and walked back through the French antique laden bedroom. Constance couldn’t bear to read what he had to say just yet. Slipping the letter back into envelope, she set it on her nightstand. She hitched up her long cornflower blue flowing skirt and walked back down the stairs.

“Connie! Are you there?”

Constance recognized the voice of her younger brother Hank and the back screen door slamming shut. She turned a corner on the landing and walked into the kitchen. He had been working with the beef cattle out in the fields and kicked the mud off his boots onto a red braided rug.

“Can’t you do that outside?” asked Constance.

Hank ignored her and stomped into the kitchen where he started working the pump in the sink. Up and down and up and down and all the while squeaking until a thin stream of water spurted forth. He grabbed a tin cup from the table and caught the fresh water.

“That stupid Heifer got stuck in the mud again.”

“It looks like you did too.”

Hank pulled out a red bandana, dunked it in the enamel pan sitting on the wooden side board and wiped his sun burned face. “Did you hear from him?” Hank’s piercing blue eyes seemed to look right through her.

Constance felt her cheeks grow hot. He knew. “Yes I did.”

“What did he say?”

“I, I haven’t read it yet,” Constance replied and played with the top button.

“What? Well where is it? I’ll read it,” Hank replied.

Constance stormed out of the room and paced towards the stairs. With every step she took up the staircase, her heart beat faster. Beads of sweat broke out under her covered arms. She clung to the rail her father had planed and sanded then polished over thirty years ago. As she gripped it her throat closed up. She still couldn’t believe they were gone. Her parents had claimed this fertile land years ago and had worked hard to build a successful cattle ranch. This house was the first two-story in the region and her father had built it himself with her Uncle Robert. It was all she had known and it could be gone. What would she do?

She walked into her bedroom and her hand shook as she picked up the letter she had laid next to her feather bed. Tears welled up in her eyes as she descended from the steep stairway. Her mind raced. Hank would be a college student in Richmond and she would have to move to town. And do what? Laundry? Sewing? Become a maid? A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it away along with a blonde ringlet.

She walked across the pine floor and slid the letter out a second time. This time she unfolded the thick vellum and recognized the neatly quilled penmanship. She took the letter in both hands and read aloud.

“Dear Constance and Henry,

I am happy to inform you that the sale of your parent’s ranch has proceeded much better than expected. You will be relieved to know that not only did it sell and make a profit, but a handsome one at that.”

 Constance was visibly shaking now and a smile appeared on her face as she looked up at Hank and said, “Oh my heavens!” Hank reached over, grabbed her by the forearms, and gasped.

“There has always been some suspicion that oil may exist on the property, so the mineral rights ended up being more fruitful than the 250 head of cattle and the 500 acres of land.”

Constance looked up at her brother who was only 18 months younger but taller by almost a foot.

“And? And? What does he say? How much do we get?” Hank was practically jumping up and down now.

“As part of sole beneficiaries of the estate, you will each receive a check for $65,000. I hope you will find this a sum to your liking. I know your parents would be proud of what they accomplished.

The new owners would like to offer employment to your ranch hands.

Henry will be attending Richmond University in the fall. I have taken the liberty to enroll Constance in Miss Judy’s Finishing School.

More information will be forth coming.

Sincerely yours,

Uncle Robert”

The siblings hooted and hollered and danced around the kitchen.

Hank ran back outside to inform the men and quiet any of their fears. They would be able to stay on if they liked.

Constance walked out onto the veranda and lifted her hand to gaze at the ruby ring which glinted in the sunlight. She knew that her dream could now come true.