Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sue s Book Review

Midnight Rising
John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War
By Tony Horwitz
pp 365, Picador

Reviewed by Sue Ellis

A Photoshopped likeness of John Brown stares from the cover of Midnight Rising. He appears stern, determined, and weary. After reading Tony Horwitz's biography on the man, I think the only thing the photo doesn't reveal is a touch of lunacy.

John Brown was driven to a purpose from an early age by the mentoring of his father, who taught him that it's wrong for a person to own another human being. That credo firmed up in  his mind as he aged, coming to fruition when he was an old mana man who was deemed a failure by the standards of the day. He was a dreamer and risk-taker who fathered a large brood whom he then had trouble supporting, and he was the probable cause of his second wife's fragile mental state, neglecting her as he did for the cause of abolition.

At nearly sixty, maybe he figured he'd go all out and try to do one thing right in his life, to fight for the thing most dear to his heart. But he didn't limit his ambition to himself; he recruited three sons and a daughter to the cause. In his usual grand, impractical style, he set upon a plan to lay siege to the nation's armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. And he didn't let the fact that he was only able to recruit twenty-one followers discourage him.

Ten men were killed in action, including two of Brown's sons. Brown and six of his followers were later tried and hanged, and five of his followers escaped, including one son, Owen. .

There's no question that the old man was brave. There's no question that his motivation was pure, but the fact is, he martyred himself, his young followers and his family, was responsible for several murders along the way, and instigated a war between the states whose terrible toll still resonates in the  American psyche, regardless of the fact that it set the wheel of racial equality in motion. As Horwitz points out, his actions pretty well fit our current definition of terrorism.

As with any martyr, Brown gained more fame after his death. The court trial and subsequent news stories paid tribute to his clearly spoken, unwavering statement that he was willing to die for his cause. And then he did, without complaint.

After having read Midnight Rising, I'm not sure I perceive Brown the same way the author does, but maybe that's the best thing about biographies that are as well written as Midnight Rising—that we are left to draw our own conclusions. Brown's daring attack on the slave holding south was so ill-planned as to be considered daft. That it succeeded, at least in the broadest terms, speaks to the idea that, for a few of us, our destiny is preordained.

In the end, I admire the man and his vision for a constitution unmarred by the blight of slavery. Not all heroes are successful businessmen, or born with a pedigree. Brown was an ordinary man who lived his beliefs, treating blacks as equals and welcoming them into his home. It didn't matter that he arrived to meet destiny threadbare, a loser whose military strategy was laughable--he had nonetheless arrived.

From now on, when I run across mention of John Brown in another venue, I'll remember who he was. Not long after reading Midnight Rising, I read Rick Bragg's excellent memoir, All Over but the Shoutin', where he utilized Brown to describe himself and his wild brothers as children:

To say we were rotten little children would be like saying John Brown was a little on the impetuous side.

I liked that sentence a lot, and thanks to Tony Horowitz, I understood exactly what it meant.

The Importance of Book Reviews at Amazon

Make no mistake, in todays marketing world reviews of your book on Amazon play a significant role. However, the process can also backfire, as authors are learning. Read the New York Times  pertinent article about the ongoing outcry.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jeannette de Beauvoir's Previous Books Revived

Jeannette (C├ęzanne) de Beauvoir, award-winning copywriter, business writer, scriptwriter, editor, and also novelist and playwright/ is a model of perseverance.

Jeannette de Beauvoir's earlier books are to see new life as e-books, and as you can see from her guest blog below, she's justifiably thrilled.

Never say never. My second- and third-published novels, which came out in the mid-1980s, will see new life next year as Harvard Square Editions publishes them as ebooks. I've always been rather fond of the books, which follow the lives of people involved in a fictional aviation company from its inception in the early 1900s through the end of the second world war, and will be very glad to see a new generation reading them.

Writing Wings and Flight taught me a great deal about a disparate lot of things. I hadn't been all that long in this country when I wrote them, and, like most French people of the time, thought of the United States as one big California, and of California as one big beach, so never hesitated in having a character walking on the beach in San Jose. Oops. That taught me about always always always doing research. I also had the opportunity during the time I was writing them to learn how to fly an airplane myself, and the wonder of that has never left me.

One of the characters in Wings is very clearly and obviously based on Harriet Quimby, the first American women to hold a pilot's license. I received a letter not long after the novel was published, from a woman who wrote, "My husband knew Harriet Quimby, and he says she would have liked the life that you gave her."

So as you see, these books were meaningful to me indeed, and I'm looking forward to seeing them out there again. Not, mind you, to the work involved! No electronic copies exist, and I'm not going to go the OCR route, because between 1985 and 2012 I've become a different writer altogether, more skilled, more disciplined, and so the only way I'll feel good about the books is if I can re-enter them by hand and edit them along the way. So there's a lot of work ahead of me.

A telling family story: I gave a copy of Wings to my father (my mother died during the writing of it, and I dedicated it to her), thinking how proud he would be that his daughter was getting published, that she was a real author.

"What did you think?" I asked him breathlessly.

He pulled out an index card: "There's a typo on page 63," he intoned, "and a couple of mistakes on ..." (I come by my editing abilities via my DNA, it would seem).

So I waited and then asked, "Yes, okay, but the story? What did you think of the story?"

He frowned. "Well, it's a little sleazy, isn't it?" he responded. "Too much sex." (The book was three hundred-plus pages and had, I believe, two or three sex scenes in the whole of it.)

So, fed up, I responded, "Yes, but Daddy, it was all pretty much straight sex: there were no animals involved."

We were, apparently, not amused.

Jeannette de Beauvoir, writing as Jeannette Angell, has an ebook, The  Crown and The Kingdom, available on Amazon. Discover the intrigue  and politics of France in the early fourteenth century!

Her collection of poetry, Seven Times to Leave, is the winner of the 2013 Mary Ballard Poetry Prize. Read more about Jeannette de Beauvoir here.

Are You Ignoring 3/4 of Your Book Buying Market?

Beware that you aren't ignoring three fourths of your market! Angela Hoy provides thought-provoking advice about e-books and the reading public. Read 75% of Americans DON'T Own Ebook Readers - Are you ignoring 75% of the book buying market?! on WritersWeekly .