Tag Archives: Libby Sternberg

No, Cokie, Weiner’s no Harlequin hero

by Libby Sternberg

ImageDisgraceful, offensive, insulting to women…No, I’m not talking about Anthony Weiner’s latest sexual peccadilloes. I’m referring to Cokie Roberts’s comments about same. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe program this past week, the ABC News political commentator had this to say: “(his) tweets… were so pornographic, and, by the way, so bad. They were like some Harlequin novel.”

I know Harlequin novels, Ms. Roberts. And Anthony Weiner’s tweets are no Harlequin novel.

Well, let me edit that—I’ve not actually read Mr. Weiner’s tweets, but if they reflect his actions of assuming false identities to talk pornographically or expose himself to women, they are no Harlequin novel. I should know. I’ve been published by Harlequin and I’m familiar with a lot of their books.

Harlequin publishes a wide range of what is called in the book business “women’s fiction,” stories that deal with family, love, children—tales where the target audience is women looking for a good, satisfying read.

In the romance end of this spectrum, books range from sweet “inspirationals” that contain absolutely no sex or cursing (but do contain Christian faith references) to steamy tomes where sexual attraction pulls hero and heroine together, and the authors are fearless in describing it. Romance authors are talented women who know how to tell a story well, are in touch with women’s concerns, and who work hard to convey the enduring strength of requited –and monogamous—love.

And therein lies the reason for the distinction between Weiner’s tweets and romance authors’ expertise: Weiner is no hero.

Already disgraced by similar actions that in 2011 led to his resignation as a congressman, Weiner now faced the public with his wife Huma Abedin beside him, attempting to convey to the world that he’s reformed and forgiven. A real hero wouldn’t do that to his wife, and romance authors write real heroes.

In romance novels, the formula is simple: hero and heroine meet, fall for each other, can’t be together for some reason, decide they love each other, have a “black moment” where all seems lost, and then a reconciliation and HEA (happily ever after).

Before you laugh into your Dom Perignon Rose 2002, let me point out that this formula might be familiar to those who think of themselves as lovers of Great Lit-rah-chure.

It’s the plot of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, for one. And hundreds of other well-respected novels.

Jane Eyre’s template, in fact, offers a useful analytical tool for determining the difference between a Wiener story and a true romance tale, where heroes might be flawed and tortured but redemption and transformation don’t come cheap.

Rochester literally endures a cathartic fire (in which he attempts but fails to save his mad wife) before his redemption is complete, and his Jane returns to him.

Jane herself is the archetype for today’s romance heroines—independent, feisty, strong. They might forgive their Rochester heroes, their alpha-males gone astray, but they respect themselves too much to be degraded by anyone. And in the end, it is that quality that makes them most appealing to the heroes of these tales.

In fact, Bronte’s heroine had no moral scolds to answer to—her immediate family was either dead or estranged—but she demurred when Edward Rochester tempted her to be his mistress after the “black moment” when it’s revealed he already has a wife, albeit a mad one hidden in the attic. Jane refuses, despite compelling arguments from the pitiable Rochester, now tormented by the thought of losing his one true love. Here is how Bronte writes Jane’s inner struggle:

“…soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? Or who will be injured by what you do?

 

Still indomitable was the reply—“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. ….”

The heroines in romance novels are all heiresses to that legacy. No hero would dare ask such a heroine to be his prop in a press conference where he’s admitting to continuing the downward spiral that got him into trouble in the first place.

So, no, Ms. Roberts, Mr. Weiner’s “writing” is no romance novel. Far from it. In a real romance novel, he’d be the lecherous villain the hero and heroine together fight off.

This post originally appeared at Liberty Unyielding. Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest book, not a romance novel, is After the War.

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What the NSA would find in my Google searches

by Libby Sternberg

I’m innocent! I swear, officer!

Well, yeah, I was looking up stuff online about weapons and explosives and getaway cars and….

But if I don’t get it right, my boss will be awfully mad, see? They double-check our work all the time. No, no, my boss isn’t involved in anything nefarious. I’m telling the truth here! Yes, I had to get accurate info on Colt 1911s and 9mm guns and powerboats and Humvees for her. I wasn’t intending harm at all. Just the opposite…. Yeah, Plexiglas, too. I confess—I looked that up. No, no, I had no intention of…  Well, yes, I do keep referring to Chicago. No, I’m not planning to go to Chicago. I live in Pennsylvania. Image

I’m just a suburban housewife, I swear, with no ties to terrorist….well, yes, you’ve got me there – I was Googling al Qaeda recently. And, yes, I did look up information about Navy SEAL operations. But I wasn’t building any connections or networks or…. I don’t even know how to speak the terrorists’ language, for crying out loud!

Uh, what’s that? You have records of me using online translation software to look up some Pashto phrases and some Spanish ones, too? Um, yes, I’d forgotten about the…but, hey, since when is it a crime to speak Spanish?

As I said, I’m just a housewife…a grandmother, for Pete’s sake!  Well, uh, yes, I admit it, I also searched more than once for information about SIG SAUER guns! But…I couldn’t remember if the name is hyphenated.

No, hyphenated isn’t a weapons-making process! It’s a dash, see, like an en-dash… No, en-dash isn’t a code. It’s a typography designation for, well, something like a hyphen. Oh, good grief, I just told you that the hyphen doesn’t mean anything! No, “hyphen” isn’t the code word giving a green light to some plot to take down a Chicago building.

Chicago is the Chicago Manual of Style, see? No, no, it’s not some handbook for terrorist plots. It’s a book for copy editors. Like me. I copy edit novels, and some of them are suspense books, thrillers, and…we use Webster’s 11th, too.

No, no, Webster’s 11th isn’t a special cadre of bad guys. It’s a dictionary! I swear. Look it up!

Anyway, these are our tools—copy editing tools! Not real tools! For the love of…. And sometimes I need to refresh my memory to see if words like powerboat are closed compounds or open compounds or hyphenated….

No, no, I’m not talking about compounds for training terrorists! I just told you about hyphens, right? And that’s part of being a copy editor, making sure you have the compounds right…. Oh, Lordy, can’t you understand, I’m a writer! And an editor! Nothing important!

When I research Colt 1911s, it’s to see if it’s a semiautomatic, as the author indicated. When I look up SEAL training, it’s to validate the author’s description of those programs.

And Plexiglas…I bet you thought that was an un-trademarked word spelled “plexiglass,” didn’t you, mister? Nope, trademarked. Lots of common words are—Band-Aid, Dumpster, Jacuzzi, Formica, Styrofoam, even Realtor….  Yeah, that’s right. Realtor. Start uppercasing it, buddy. And lowercase the “x” in x-ray when you use it as a verb. But uppercase it when it’s a noun. Got that?

And dash that dash in lighthearted—it’s a closed compound while light-headed is hyphenated…Write it down so you don’t forget, sweetheart. And when you’re taking down a suspect’s words, use hyphens to indicate stuttered letters, but em-dashes—longer hyphens—to indicate stuttered words, okay, bub? And watch out for those dangling modifiers, Smartypants, you with your “Googling all this violent stuff, we need to ask…”  “Googling all this” has to agree with the subject of the sentence, see, which you meant to be me. Get yourself some Strunk & White and memorize that section, Muscle Head. And stop using “like” when you mean to say “as if.” I might seem as if I’m engaged in suspicious activity. Not like I’m engaged in same. Got it, Officer Krupke? Don’t get me started on punctuation, either, junior. We take the Oxford comma very seriously around here….

Are you yawning?

As I said, I know you found all these things on my computer through random NSA searches, but I swear, I’m not a terrorist. I’m nothing! Really. Nothing. I’m a copy editor. Nothing…..

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. She also copy edits for a major romance publisher. Her latest book, After the War, is now available in print and digitally.

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Goodbye, JC Penney

Recently, I wrote of my prescription for turning around Sears. My phone has since been ringing off the hook, retail consultants offering to pay me millions for more advice. (What? You don’t believe me? Why, just look at the photo of me in the new gem-encrusted tiara I was able to buy with my riches.)

So, now I’m back, offering advice to JC Penney. Here it is:

Stop, before it’s too late!

Penney has adopted a new strategy. They have moved away from continual sales with coupon enticements and have gone to continual deep discounts with what they seem to think is hipper marketing.

That means no more almost-daily mailings from JCP filled with coupons for this special deal or that special item. Good for them. Those coupons were a bear to keep track of, and I know more than one Penney shopper who always ended up in the store trying to use the wrong one for the wrong item on the wrong day (yes, that was me holding up the line in home goods with my outdated coupon for a turkey roaster). The coupons had enough fine print on them to put scores of optometrists’ children through college.

That’s the good news about this strategy: no more annoying coupons.

Here’s the bad news: the stuff shoppers loved about Penney is now…lost in the mist of mercantile marketing miasma. The confusing sales might be gone, but so are the “shopper cues,” the signs pointing you to the “two for the price of one” T-shirt displays, the “marked down” racks of jeans and khakis, the enticing shelves filled with gewgaws that you might not buy but put you in a buying mood.

On a recent trip to Penney’s for what should have been an easy purchase (a denim skirt), nothing pulled me into a display at all. Not even the jewelry or the casual clothes for women of a certain age. Those beckoned to me in the past.

To go along with this less-is-less marketing strategy, Penney now sends out expensive little booklets promoting each month’s special deals. The first one was reasonably, if not spectacularly, done. This past month’s was filled with…jewelry. As if Penney had decided to hop, skip and jump over their latest marketing efforts and become a standalone shop for the Gollum crowd.

But worst of all in this pantheon of pathetic promo ideas is their television campaign. The only thing I ever remember about their TV ads is a rather unattractive mouth on a less-than-appealing auctioneer. Don’t take my word for it. Watch for yourself.

 

JC Penney used to be my “go to” store, my first stop at the mall, the one I parked in front of. I knew I could always find comfy casual slacks there, curtains, sheets, towels, the occasional small appliance (ah, that turkey roaster), good costume jewelry and an upscale outfit for that once-a-year formal event. I loved Penney’s.  Now, sadly, not so much. They’re losing me, and I was a loyal shopper.

Way to go, corporate!

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JANE EYRE and Me

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THE TIME BEFORE YOU LOVED ME

by Libby Sternberg

I

There we were…

…on the anniversary of Disease Eradication, celebrating the end of the horrors of the past – now less real than the zombies, vampires and werewolves of all the movies and books we were devouring as fast as they were produced. Gone were cancer, typhus, staph infections, heart ailments, autoimmune syndromes, even athlete’s foot. Long live the Scientist!

There I sat …

…on the dais with my dad, Dr. Erich Preston, proud of him, yes, but a little bored, too. I’d been going to these events with him for ten years now, ever since I’d turned eight and he could trust me to sit still. He wasn’t even primarily a biologist. He was a biometrician and a physicist, and lately the latter had been his drug of choice. Oh, I loved him dearly, I did. But he was more than distracted by work. He was addicted to it. So much so that he tried to get me actively interested in these annual celebrations which seemed to mean so much more to him than they did to me… or to anyone else for that matter. I’m sure they wouldn’t get half the crowd if friends and family of lab workers weren’t jollied or coerced into going. The NewsBlogs would carry pictures of the beaming faces, after all, so happy and excited to once again mark the beginning of the New Age of Reason.

There I sat…

… happy to support Dad but not enough to really pay attention to the speeches, peering into the crowd, searching for one face, the voices of the various speakers mere background noise on a bright October morning, crisp and clear, blue as blue can be—the sky! Oh, the sky!—and leaves in Central Park winking yellow and orange, as if they knew something and would only whisper it to the most astute of listeners. Possibility and farewells were in the air, as they always are in autumn. Possibility was my drug. His name was Roland.

Just as my gaze caught Roland’s, Dr. Stephen Galsmith coughed. Dr. Galsmith was one of Dad’s colleagues. He came over to our apartment once every two weeks for cocktails and informal chats on scientific issues of the day. A kind soul, he always asked me how I was doing with my studies, and he seemed to really want to know; he wasn’t just being polite.

He sat at the end of our row today. He coughed again. Like quick snapshots, these images remain with me:

In the crowd, Roland frowned.

On the dais, my father looked over at Dr. Galsmith and grimaced.

A scientist behind Dr. Galsmith – I don’t remember her name—shook her head and looked down.

A NewsBlogger in the first row snapped a picture.

His colleague whispered something to him, and he hit some buttons.

Dr. Galsmith coughed again.

Poor fellow. Did anyone really care if the tickle in his throat interfered with one more dull exultation of Science and Its Accomplishments?

I didn’t. I only cared that Roland looked at me and connected with me and, after this banal festival, we’d go out somewhere and share secrets. I didn’t know what secrets, but surely we’d share them on this waning day of a waning season. Perhaps the colorful trees would divulge theirs, as well.

When Dr. Galsmith coughed for the third time, my father leaned over, talked quietly to the man, and he left! Really—I would have to speak to Dad. I knew he took all this stuff very seriously. I knew he was polite and good-natured and loved order. But a coughing colleague? Shouldn’t he have offered sympathy, not ostracism?

***

 II

The next weeks blurred. Roland was rarely around, which caused a pain in my side—a pain, I  realized with embarrassed relief (and turmoil!), before asking to see a health care professional, that was nothing more than heartache.

Roland was nearly five years older than me. This caused some tension with my father. I’d met Roland first at the Learning Center, at the labs we schoolers had to take together and not online. He was a teaching assistant, and he’d been shyly helpful to me, so shy, in fact, that I’d thought at first that he’d actively disliked me.

No, it had turned out he’d been motivated by purity of spirit. He considered it unethical to “fraternize” with his students. It “colored his judgment.” As soon as the lab was over, I asked him out, more as a dare to myself, to prove what a jerk and a snob he was. He laughingly accepted and proved me wrong.

But Dad—oh, Dad—he’d been a hostile noncombatant in this war for my heart. He’d barely talked to Roland when he stopped by, and whenever Roland stayed for dinner or a movie or anything at our flat, Dad substituted interrogation for conversation. Only recently had his objections been satisfied as he learned that Roland had been forsaking teaching for research and security work, a loyal citizen, a helpful and well-connected member of my father’s circle of peers, all good men and women, all Scientists committed to the improvement of humankind.

Roland was gone a lot during those weeks after the celebration because of his new work, in fact. Meetings he couldn’t talk about. Projects he wouldn’t admit to. The few times I saw him, I could just trace my finger down his cheek and look into those deep pools of eyes and whisper, I love you, hearing his response before the words passed his lips, “And I, you, Aspasia.”

His poetry writing increased during that worried time. If I couldn’t see him, I could get his pings, often snippets of poems about me. At least, I believed they were about me.

His creative side seemed on fire to communicate, perhaps because he had so much else he couldn’t say.

***

 III

“You’re a mope,” my friend Regan said to me, nudging me as we lay on my bed staring at our assignments.

“Am not.”

“Are, too.” She giggled and grabbed a pillow to swat me with. But I wasn’t in the mood for games.

“You’re right. I’m a mope.” I sighed and sat up, looking out at the empty streets. Roland couldn’t come over even if he could find the time. Strict curfews were in effect due to a “temporary security situation.” Usually, these resolved in a few days, but this one was going on for a week. Regan lived in our apartment building, and we were spending more and more time together.

“He pings you every day, doesn’t he?”

“More than that.”

“Then there’s no need to reach for the poison, Juliet. The curfew will be lifted soon.”

“I hope so.”

“Curfew” was a misnomer. For us, it meant restrictions on movement 24/7, not just in the evening. I only learned that after reading an older book and having to puzzle out the usage.

I gazed out the window, at a dreary rain cascading down the glass like transparent satin. I’d not seen Roland in a week.  Suddenly, I felt afraid.

“What is it this time, do you think? The curfew, I mean,” I said, not looking at Regan.

“Beats me. Mom and Dad just complain about it –she hadn’t had a chance to stock up, so we’ve been eating canned foods all week. They don’t say squat about the reason for the curfew.”

Nobody did, come to think about it. It was just part of life, part of being safe and taken care of. Regan’s parents both worked for the university system. Her mother was an anthropology professor, her father an administrator.

A sudden wind whipped rain toward the window with a crash, shaking it in its frame. We both jumped back and then giggled at our fear. Down below, the only people on the streets were the usual police patrols on horses and in minis, and an occasional moped, taxi or segueroller, all of which had the cobalt blue stickers and badges indicating they had permission to break the curfew.

Tonight, a group of those blue stickers would be at our house. It was Dad’s get-together night. With a gulp, I remembered that I’d promised to make some food for the event.

“C’mon, domestic science time,” I said to Regan as I got up and headed toward the kitchen. “How to make mouth-watering hors d’oeuvres with whatever’s in the pantry!”

“Oh, yum. Can I have some? If I have to eat one more tuna sandwich, I’m going to start barking like a seal.”

“Do they eat tuna?”

“Dunno. But they should.”

In the kitchen, we spent a fun hour baking sun-dried tomato mini-biscuits, cheese straws, tapenade for slices of toasted baguette and ham wrapped around pickle slices. This last dish was a joke and a treat. Regan was ravenous for some meat, and I wanted to see if Dad noticed the dish—he disliked pickles—and whether he’d say anything. Always the absent-minded professor type, he’d been more distracted than normal lately.

At the end of our cooking session, Regan popped one last biscuit into her mouthand sighed, rolling her eyes. “Mmm….thanks. I’m going to live,” she said. “But I better get home before Mom calls.” She looked at her handheld. “Too late—I see she already has. I’ll skedaddle and see you in the morning, okay?”

It wasn’t long after she left that Dad came home, and a short while after that, his guests arrived. He was very grateful for the food I’d fixed and didn’t say a word about the ham around pickles. This would have amused me but for one troubling aspect of the night’s soiree. Professor Galsmith wasn’t there.

And as I overheard Dad’s guests talking quietly, I discovered the esteemed professor would never again grace our humble abode with his presence.

He was dead.

***

IV

“Call or ping. Must talk.”

I put down my handheld, waiting for it—willing it—to flash with a respond message from Roland.

Bright sunlight dazzled the outside world, casting a glistening spell on everything as rain had continued in the night. It was as if a crystal net had been thrown over the world—the streets, treetops, sidewalks, buildings sparkled. And the few people, blue badges in place, running about.

Running. They were hurrying. No one walked casually, as if on an unhurried errand. The few who were out and about scuttled in and out of sight as if they were late for something.

In the distance, I picked up a flash of color, standing out from the more natural greens and browns and tans, a manmade color of bright florescent orange. Someone was wearing an orange jumpsuit, a suit that announced its presence long before you could focus on who actually was wearing it. It had a hood, too, that made the face more difficult to see. From the gait and shoulders, I surmised it was a man. Soon, he was joined by another fellow, not in an orange suit but in a security uniform. They both carried a long board of some sort.

I watched as the approached a brownstone, rang the bell, waited, knocked. I saw a pale face glance out a window of the house from behind a blind, snapping it closed in a second. The men waited no longer. They put a device on the door that exploded the lock, and they entered, all businesslike and powerful.

Transfixed, unsettled, I continued to stare. The street went silent. The house remained still as if no one lived in it.

Thesecurity patrols weren’t often seen on our streets. Oh, we would hear on the NewsBlogs about their success in uncovering this nefarious terrorist plot or that drug cartel, but it stayed far from our neighborhoods. The only time I saw them was at special celebratory events, the annual Refounding Ceremony or the Thanksgiving Day parade with all the floats. They were a benign presence in our orderly society. Father said they were good men and women who kept us safe.

My handheld buzzed. A message from Roland. Relief and excitement morphed into disappointment. A message was good, but I’d rather be able to hear his voice.

Busy today. Can’t come over.

Double disappointment. A Chinese restaurant dish in the making, I mused. Instead of Double Happiness with two delectable treats on the plate, it would hold…nothing.

That’s what my heart held. I felt empty. Why couldn’t he call me? What was happening?

I ambled to the kitchen to read the note my father had left for me on the fridge. Silly Dad. He left paper notes for me, not pings, because he was convinced I ignored most of his electronic missives. He was right.

I pulled the note from under its magnet. “Meeting I forgot about at the university. Muffins in the cabinet, and I’ll be able to bring home something fresh. Stay put. Write your essays. Do your lab report.”

Smiling, I sat at the counter, fingering the note as if some clue could, through osmosis, seep into my hand and head. Dad was an absent-minded professor for sure. But not about meetings involving his work. He was almost obsessive over those, one time nearly frantic when one of my school programs almost made him late for a faculty get-together. A meeting he forgot about? Unlikely.

I ran to his office and switched on his Notebook. Not surprisingly, it was password protected. I tried a few—my name, my birthdate—and came up with nothing. Then I thought of my late mother’s name and tried that. Again nothing.

Sitting back in his chair, staring at the blue screen, I felt not one ounce of guilt. Being trapped in the apartment made me comfortable with being a conspirator, an escapee in training. I kept trying.

Dad was a scientist. Maybe his password was some form of calculation. I tried various equations, and nothing worked. Then I remembered a gift he’d given me on my thirteenth birthday—an equation to solve, the ultimate answer spelling out my name using numerals. Oh, spelling it with Greek letters, that is, since I was named after Periclese’s mistress, a woman of independence, refinement and keen intelligence.

Shooting up from the chair, I raced to my bedroom, rummaging through my packet of mementos, pawing past the fuzzy bear Regan had given me when we were ten, the sparkly notebook I had used to write stories in the old-fashioned way when I was seven, the funny rings and buttons and pins I’d collected over the years.

Finally, I grabbed it—a wrinkled bunch of papers, Dad’s handwriting neat and exact, as if he’d been a calligrapher, mine a mess of pencil marks and cross-outs. He’d not let me use the computer for my calculations, so it had taken three times as long since I’d kept goofing up on basic arithmetic. The last page, I needed the last page, please tell me I didn’t keep everything but that!

With a racing heart, I found it. The digits stood out in dark letters and were underlined three times as I’d realized victory.

Back at the computer, I tried the number sequence as password and was in!

Not surprisingly, his calendar was on the desktop. His days were filled with
classes, meetings, lab time, everything meticulously noted so that every hour was filled. Today’s date had on it absolutely nothing. In fact, he’d typed “home” in that slot, as if he’d had to schedule time for that, too. He hadn’t forgotten a meeting today. There was none. Or one had been hastily called.

I’d started this exercise only wanting to look at his calendar for a clue to what was going on today. But now that I had access to his Notebook, my fingers hovered over other file folders. Should I look? If he’d done similar to me, I’d have been outraged, beyond forgiving him for such a breach.

But something was going on now, something odd and mysterious… I had to look. Maybe he was in danger. Maybe we all were….

Ping, ping, ping!

My handheld buzzed insistently with the high sound indicating serious attention
was needed. Regan—she was calling me. Quickly, I exited Dad’s program and closed the Notebook, at the same time I answered her call.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Boredom to the Nth,” she said. “Talk to me, sister. Or soon I’ll be carted away.”

“Can you come down?” She lived in the same apartment building, just a few floors above.

“No. Get this—Mom says the curfew’s been expanded. No one’s to go out at all. Not even in the same building. To that, I say, Schmaloney. I can probably sneak out while she and Dad argue about something.”

The curfew was expanded, yet Dad was called away? Something made my heart drop. As I talked with Regan, I wandered back to my room and to the window, staring into the now-empty street. Perhaps people had been hurrying before to get inside as the new regulations went into effect.

“Any word on how long this will last?” I asked. “I haven’t checked any blogs yet today.”

“Don’t bother. There’s not much up. Uh…wait a sec…” I heard her muffled voice talking to her father, who said something to her.  “I’m back. Apparently, some people can go out, just not us.”

“Your Dad?” He worked at the university. “Does he have a meeting?”

“Sounds like it. Something special. Probably some planning session for how to keep professors from coughing during ceremonies.”

“He’s dead, you know. Professor Galsmith.” Regan had been at the ceremony, too, though not on the dais, and we’d snarked about the incident afterwards.

Silence. “What?” she whispered. “I…I…took a course with him. Online, but we met a few times to go over papers. He was really nice. How’d you find out?”

“I overheard it.” I felt guilty for giving her the info so cavalierly. “I—I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you knew him.”

“Nothing’s on the news.” I could hear her tapping to various sites, looking for the obit. Usually, when a famous man or woman of science died, there were scads of tributes and a big obituary. Professor Galsmith had been a beloved mentor to many students and had done award-winning research in viral biometrics.

“Maybe it’s too soon.” But it could have been up in the blink of an eye. Others had been. Just last week, a venerable leader of the Reason movement, a respected scion of chemistry, had died at 110. His obit had appeared moments after his passing. It had sounded, from the snippets of conversation I’d heard at my father’s gathering, that Galsmith had passed several days earlier.

“Reg, listen, have you seen any dudes in orange suits roaming around?” I peered out the window. Still no activity at that brownstone, but maybe I’d missed it.

“Orange suits? You mean like jackets and pants?”

“No, like a jumpsuit. Like prison garb from that old flick we watched last week.”

“Ick. Sounds awful. No, I haven’t seen any.”

Just then, the door of the brownstone opened.

“Look outside right now! Across the street. That house with the open door.” The orange-suited guy was coming out. He was carrying something. No, he was carrying the front end of a stretcher—that was the board I’d seen. The security fellow had the other end. On it was a woman, her face ashen, her eyes wide. Her head lolled back and forth, and her mouth moved as if she were saying something.

“What is that?” Regan asked. “Somebody go mental?” Despite the conquest of disease, some mental illness remained intractable, controlled only by strict drug regimens. But to see someone carted away because of it? I’d never heard of that before. One more thing to ask Dad. Or Roland.

“Don’t know,” I whispered as we both watched. Perfectly timed, an ambulance pulled up at the curb, the stretcher and woman were loaded into it, and the crew sped off, sirens letting out a low wail, lights flashing. The strident buzz sent a shiver up my spine. You hardly heard those anymore.

I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to talk to Roland.

“I’m gonna see what I can find out,” I murmured. “Let me know if you hear anything.”

***

V

If Regan heard anything, I didn’t know what it was. Our contact petered out to nothing in the next few weeks. In fact, I peg great change to that moment we watched, separately in our own flats, the orange-suited man and the security guard remove the deranged woman from her house.

After that, the orange suits appeared every day, like a fast-producing new animal swarming the earth, locusts leaving nothing in their wake. Reg and I called them Q cops. Everyone called them Q cops. And by everyone I mean friends, acquaintances, anonymous bloggers, pingers. But not the NewsBlogs. The NewsBlogs called them “Special Health Forces,” an arm of the Security Patrol.

Q is for Quarantine. And we weren’t supposed to talk about it. Dad told me when I mentioned it to him, when I asked him where they all came from all of a sudden.

“Don’t use that term, Azzy,” he said, drinking coffee one morning. “It’s derisive. They’re good public servants just trying to keep us all safe.”

“Safe from what? I thought disease had been eradicated.”

“You’ve read the stories,” he said, and for the first time, I noticed that his hand shook just a little. He’d been working so hard lately, at the lab virtually round the clock only stumbling home in the wee hours and falling into bed for a scant few hours’ sleep.  I had to remind him to eat. He was only drinking the coffee now because I’d made it especially for him and had told him so.

“Malaria,” he continued after a trembling pause that made me wonder if he had lost his train of thought, “makes an appearance every once in a while, and we take great care to isolate the cases and develop new vaccines. The last instance of this kind of outbreak occurred, oh…”

“Fifty years ago. I know, I know. I’ve read the stories in the blogs, Dad.” He finished his coffee and wiped his face with a napkin. He was sweating. “You should eat something,” I said, feeling a frown crease my brow. He didn’t look good. Was it from overwork? Fear tiptoed into my heart and set up a room there.

“I will, I will. There’s so much to do, Azzy. Not a minute to spare…” He looked around, as if he’d forgotten something. I ran to the living area where he’d left his coat, blue badge in place signifying he had the right to be out and about, and handed it to him, along with a red muffler I grabbed from the closet.

“You need to take care of yourself. Keep warm. Are you working on the vaccine? Are you in biometrics full-time, virology?” He floated from field to field, his mind crackling with intelligence like a live wire sparking the ground.

“What? No. Back in the physics group.” He smiled at me for just a second the way he used to, happy at my interest in his work. Then a grimace—no, really, more like a stare of fear colored his eyes. “General work wherever I can help out. No need for you to know.”

He kissed me on the forehead and urged me to stay in and be a good girl. With a growl, I muttered, “what else can I possibly do?”  and instantly regretted my whine. Hurrying to the door before he left, I grabbed him for a quick hug and told him to be careful. What if he didn’t come home?

***

VI

Regan’s mother didn’t come home that week. She sobbed out the story in one of our infrequent calls—calling was getting harder as lines and connections went down. She said she heard a bunch of Q cops – an “army” of them – had visited campus and hauled away whole departments. My heart dropped—had Dad been among them? Even as I offered comfort to my keening friend, I worried about him.

When he came in after midnight, I sprang from my sentry spot on the sofa and embraced him with tears in my eyes.

“Azzy, you poor dear. You shouldn’t have waited up. Go on to bed. You need your rest.”

All I got was rest. He was the one who was bedraggled. He’d felt warm to the touch.

***

VII

To my shame, I tried getting into Dad’s Notebook again. But he must have had one of those systems that alerted him to potential security breaches because the password wouldn’t work anymore.

I longed to talk to Roland. He’d offered no information the few times we were able to speak. He complained of the curfews, the quarantines, the work. What work was he doing? Like my father, he wouldn’t say. But he had a first-rate scientific mind, so I was sure he was at the labs, bent over microscopes, peering into the invisible world that threatened to crush us all under its lighter-than-air structure. This heroic picture comforted me, and I longed for him to find the cure.

I longed to be there, too, working with him side by side, like the Curies, excitedly discovering new things together. I was no slouch in the lab. He knew that. Dad knew that. But they both told me to stay put, that I’d be called in if needed, but the work was complex, the security clearances even more so.

Perhaps to comfort me – or, as I liked to think, perhaps because he missed me as terribly as I missed him – Roland started sending me poetry. He’d written snippets before, but now floodgates unlocked, and almost every day my handheld pinged with some portion of a longer work.

The trident spear of deep sleep
Struggles to pierce this restless soul
No rest comes.
Dreams unfold instead.
Aspasia.

Or…

You appeared to me today
A flash of flesh pink in glass
Gone in a whirl of light
Sighing away with my sighs
My longing
My ache that conjures up flashes of you
Even in cold, sterile glass

Or

Eyes like sun, I orbit you
Consume me in your fire

Each one I treasured. Each one I wept over. They seemed to arrive just as I despaired of hearing from him. We’d not seen each other in weeks now. Talk was almost as rare. He seemed…strained…when we spoke. If I complained, if I mentione something I’d read on the citizen boards, he’d shush me. “Azzy, my darling, be careful,” he’d say. “You’re an important man’s daughter.”

An important man’s daughter. I’d never thought of myself that way before. Dad had always been important to me, of course, and I’d always been aware of his many accomplishments and his respect, but I’d never thought of this as singling me—or us—out for special treatment or scrutiny.

Scrutiny, though, was everywhere. The orange-suited Q cops swarmed the streets. Not a day went by that I didn’t see them from the window. Gone were the days of subdued bodies on stretchers. Now the Q cops dragged them, literally kicking and screaming, from households. Surely, if they were strong enough to resist, they were strong enough to dominate the disease. I had to look away.

Why wouldn’t Regan answer my pings? Secretly, I climbed the stairs to her flat and knocked. No answer.

That night, Dad screamed at me. Why’d you leave the flat? What were you thinking?

How had he known, I wondered.

Security video, Azzy. Surely you know that they have to enforce the curfews somehow.

But videos in our building? Had they been there all this time, even before the plague? They must have been.

Dad said the disease was “insidious.”  That is, when he talked about it. Most of the time he claimed not to know details, but this was so obviously untrue that I wanted to scream back at him. He’d told me already it was another manifestation of “malaria.” I knew he knew more. I knew he was working overtime because of it. The Newsblogs were frustratingly vague. Some new “malaira” was in the air, but “quarantine efforts” were sure to subdue it soon.

Finally, Regan pinged me back. She and several of my other friends were being “relocated.” Their parents were ill, and they would be placed in a “children’s center.”  She said she’d read horrible things about those centers, that they were hardly more than prisons, run by sadists. Anyone eighteen or younger was sent to them, when parents disappeared.

I wanted to comfort her. Dad told me that if I tried visiting her again, he could not guarantee my safety. He’d told me this in such a voice—I’d never heard a voice like that from him—that I didn’t doubt it. He said he’d work from home, risking losing his job, if it meant keeping me inside and away from danger.

A strange gleam had entered his eyes, something frantic.

Roland pinged: Don’t despair. Be alert. Visitors make it through.

He was going to come see me!

***

VIII

Of course, he couldn’t tell me when. I had to be “alert.” I waited, like Penelope, for my beloved to return. I’d long since stopped doing schooling work. I spent my days reading blogs—the one’s not shut down by security forces—trying to ping friends, trying to ping or call Roland.

As I gazed out on a hollow steel day of gray cold rain, a van of Q cops pulled up below. With a disinterested sadness, I wondered where they’d head today. I’d caught a glimpse of someone coughing badly the night before in the apartment almost directly across the street from us. I suspected they’d go there, the poor woman turned in by a neighbor or even a friend. Those stories were everywhere.

Instead, they faced my building.

No!

Heart racing, I ran to the door. And then stopped. What was I going to do, who was I going to warn?

I pinged Regan. Qs on the march.

No response. I bit my lip. I tried Dad. What if something had happened to him, and I was being sent to the children’s center because I was eightee? Regan had said something about making up fake birth certificates. Why hadn’t I done that? Why had I thought that I’d be safe?

Because of Dad.

Even though I’d not consciously realized it, somewhere deep in my subconscious I’d always known we were in a different class.

I flew to the Notebook I kept handy in the kitchen. I clicked through programs, found the one Regan had mentioned. Not just a fake birth cert—I needed more than that. Proof of a job, of the ability to care for myself….

Doors were slamming open. Boots clambered up the stairs outside.  My hands shook on the keyboard as I typed in my name, gender, and a new date for my birth that would make me twenty-one. I would be too old for the children’s center.

“Dad, Dad, where are you?” I said, looking at my handheld. He wasn’t answering. No one was answering. Was this the end…

Just as I hit Print, someone knocked at the door. No, not knocked. Banged, a quick thud-thud-thud.

My heart beat so fast my chest ached. I ran my fingers through my hair. I let out a whimper. I had no time to conjure up other documents. I’d have to do with this one. I clicked through programs to file the cert on an alias site mimicking the official records ones.

Thud-thud-thud.

“C-c-coming,” I said. Then, clearing my throat, I said it again, stronger, as if I had nothing to hide. “Coming!” Hearing my stronger voice made me feel stronger.

I ran to the printer and pulled out the fake certificate, then folded it, folded it again. Threw it to the floor and stepped on it, trying to make it look old in a moment’s time. Even the perfed seal was in place. Silently, I thanked Regan for pointing me to this site.

Again, thuds echoed from the door. My mouth dry, I squared my shoulders and walked to open it, not hurrying but no longer delaying. I’d face this with courage, not cowering. Not simpering. Stopping briefly in the kitchen, I pinged a message to my father. Qs in the building, I wrote. He’d know what that meant.

I didn’t even bother to look through the viewhole but swung the door open wide with a fierceness that dared the intruder to confront me, closing my eyes for one second and sucking in a deep breath.

“What do you—”

Not Q Cops!  Roland! Roland!

Bliss—as he swept me into his arms. Ecstasy—as he showered me with kisses. Oh, the smell of him—his tweed jacket smelt like earth and rain and sky and wind and him—him, him, him!

Rain, was that rain on my cheeks? No, tears of joy. Roland.

“Azzy, Azzy, Aspasia, oh, my darling, my sweet…” he cooed into my ear, twirling me around, laughing, rubbing the tears from my cheeks, kissing them away. In that instant, he was more to me than beloved. He was the world. He was freedom.

“I thought…” I began and couldn’t stop the tears again. “The Q cops….”

He brushed my lips with his thumb. “Shh…let’s not talk of that, of any of that, now. I only have a little while before they’ll miss me.”

“The lab?” I asked sniffling.

He nodded, his eyes narrowed. Then he looked around. “Your father’s not here?”

“No.” I shook my head. “He’s at work. I’m worried about him, Roland. I—I—” No, I couldn’t say it, not even to him. Not even to myself. I was worried he was sick, and the Q cops would come for him soon.

“Marry me.”

Had he said…no, I’d dreamt that, overcome by longing, a physical ache for him that grew worse each day, it had made me delirious. No, he couldn’t have….

“Azzy?” he whispered.

Hearing the fear in his voice, I knew I’d not imagined it. He had asked me to marry him.

“I know you’re young,” he said. “But you’re wise beyond your years. And time now is short for everyone. If you’ll marry me, I can promise to keep you safe….I’d wanted to tell your father. I don’t want him to think I’m stealing you away. I can tell him when I see him at the lab. Oh, Azzy, please tell me…will you marry me?”

I couldn’t speak. So overcome, I could merely nod my head and start laughing. I draped my arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. I never wanted him to leave.

***

IX

Before he left, in just a few minutes’ time, he pressed a ring into my palm. It had been his grandmother’s. A simple band with a pearl surrounded by diamonds. I tried it on, but it was too large. He promised to have it reset for me and placed a string around my finger to measure it, taking the ring back to have it worked on. I made him make me another string, a reminder that we were, in fact, engaged.

“Your family,” I murmured before he left. “Do they know?” I’d met both his parents, kind and gentle artists and teachers.

He frowned and shook his head, indicating he didn’t want to talk of it. But he answered, “They might have to go to a Q camp soon. I’m going to try to stop it.”

Farewells followed, too bittersweet to recount here. After he left, I stared at my makeshift ring for hours. I pinged Regan but got no answer. I tried other friends. I tried Dad. Only later did I look outside to the street below. The Q cop van was gone.

***

Did you enjoy this story? If so, please let me know! Email: Libby_Malin (at) hotmail (dot) com. And…stay tuned for the release of The Plague Jumpers, the continuing story of Aspasia and Roland. Here’s a quick sample:

The Plague Jumpers by Libby Sternberg

Chapter One

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers

Of the world.
                –Langston Hughes

 

Before he sets me adrift, like Moses into the bulrushes, my father mumbles words of wisdom. At least, I think of them as such. They are the last things I hear him say to me, so I’ve decided to hold them tight like they were sacred counsel.

We are hurtling through the dark streets of New York in a taxi he’d purloined at the curb. He “hotwired” it—who knew such a thing was still possible, especially in this age of digitalized security codes and anti-theft programming? My father is a scientist, not a mechanic.

No one owns cars anymore. We’re all expected to use public transportation or the occasional taxi. Ever since the Q cop battalions formed, the government is ever more vigilant about that, assessing steep fines and even more severe penalties fortransgressors. I didn’t even know my father could drive, let alone hotwire a car. My father is a genius.

My father is sick.

He rousted me from bed an hour ago, told me to dress in warm clothes—several layers, Aspasia—and paced in front of my door while he waited for me to get ready.  I didn’t disobey—I’m old enough that I don’t need to fight him at every turn, and he was obviously deeply infected by now with the Estuary Flu, the pandemic that has sent so many into quarantine.

Fear imprisons me. Roland hasn’t answered my texts lately, and usually his fingers fly over his Palmo’s tiny keyboard any time he gets a ping from me. But he could just be busy, right? He could be working on an experiment or finishing a poem just for me. He’s five years older than me, but it doesn’t matter. He’s kind and considerate. My father respects him. He’s brilliant too and always busy.  Maybe he’s fine, just taking care of his sick mother or father. He could be out.

But people don’t go out much anymore. And when they do, they wear blue biomasks over their mouths and noses. Roland refuses to use one. He says they don’t work and are scams thought up by greedy con men playing on our fears.

But it’s been so long since I’ve talked to him. Even longer since last I saw him. I stare at my ring finger, where twine twists below my knuckle, a symbol of the ring he was to have had fitted just for me…

I can’t. Think. About. It.

But I do. My stomach cramps with worry—Roland, friends and their families, now Dad. When will it end? I blink fast. Can’t. Think.

Roland’s mother went to the Quarantine Sanatorium three weeks now. Now Dad is showing the signs, and this evening I saw the orange-Hazmat-suited Q Cops knocking on an upper floor apartment door as we crept downstairs quiet as dreams.

The Q cops. They’re everywhere lately. They seem to have more power than the government itself. I loathe them, as does Roland and most everyone in my crowd, except fora few who try to persuade me that keeping order is essential in these rough times. It’s just temporary, they say. Temporary has lasted too long to remember.

My poor father, even in his addled state, knew he would be going next, leaving me an orphan until… Until I joined him. Until he returned. But no one’s returned yet.

Draconian measures have ruled ever since Chicago and Philadelphia were wiped out. Quarantine the infected as soon as they show signs of illness. Not a building in sight is without a white and orange sticker in the window warning people away until danger passes. Someone must have snitched on my father. His cough had grown worse in the past twenty-four. Even I, optimistic by nature and made delusional by heartbreak, had begun to worry.

And now, as he picks up speed and careens around corners, as he mumbles and shouts over his shoulder to me in the back seat, I am sure. Hallucinations are part of the package. A rash on arms and legs. Unrelenting fever will follow. Seizures and internal bleeding after that unless it breaks.

“There are things in the bag for you. Food. Clothes!”  His eyes are wide as buttons and as shiny dark. I’m glad I can’t see the jaundice in the gloom. From practical he moves to philosophical, tumbling through a bullet-point list of things that veer in and out of importance. As he thinks of something he’s always wanted to tell me, he quickly jumps to something he believes I absolutely need to know. I try to hang on every syllable, memorizing the sound as well as the words themselves:

“Love is the most important thing, Aspasia. Most important thing. Your mother and I…..”

“You can always pretend to be mute…”

“Lots of things are in the bag.  Don’t lose the bag!”

“Oh…and a nice cape. Had it made special.”

“Don’t be afraid, Aspasia. Fear is friend and enemy. Fear is the start of every adventure…”

“There’s jewelry in there, too….your mother’s.”  Here, his voice breaks.

If you find love, hold it. Love outlasts the ages.”

A sweet drop of nectar in this drought of anxiety–his mentioning Mom. Dad doesn’t talk about her much. She’s been gone–killed in an accident–since I was four. I barely remember her, just flashes of a tall, blonde woman, always smiling. And I’ve seen the digital pix that verify my memory. Of the crumbs my father would share, here was one: her undaunted optimism and belief in individual talents. Let your light shine, she’d say to me. At least that’s what Dad told me anyway. Usually when I was irritated with doing a math assignment. He knows I’m good at it. I prefer other subjects.

His talk of his own love takes my thoughts back to my own.

“Dad,” I ask as gently as I can, leaning forward. “Have you heard anything about Roland?” Even though everything’s shut down, maybe Dad’s been in touch with his colleagues about research, lab work, papers…something. Right? Roland worked in the labs.

“Roland?” My father’s head snaps up as if he’s been jolted by electricity. “He’s not here. Forget about him, Azzy. No good…You’ll be far away soon. No use thinking about it.…”

And he rambles on like that for what seems like eternity, in and out of sanity as I try to grab hold of anything resembling the truth. Roland is not here. Gone. To the Q Camps? Yes, the camps. Maybe. Don’t know. Don’t think about it.

It’s all I can think about. I grab the bag to my chest, holding it up as if it were armor.  Delirium could pass in a day or two, but in the meantime, he can get us both killed with his reckless speed and no headlights. Where is he taking me and how quickly can I get back to Roland and home? I am sick myself, with worry, and it weights me down. I slump back in the seat.

The Midnight Reality has begun to grip my soul, that time of night when hope dies. An Unthinkable steals into my heart—Roland is at the camps, Dad might join him, I will be left to fend for myself. I’ll never go to the Children’s Center, not at my age, and even if I were younger, there have been stories, terrible stories about children sold and abused.  I’m not stupid.

“You’re a bright girl,” he says in his normal voice, as if plucking the thought from my mind. I lean forward again, hearing the man I used to know, the brilliant scientist, both an astrophysicist and biometrician, a “Renaissance Man of the Sciences,” as the e-mags had dubbed him. He’s won a Nobel in biometrics, and was short-listed more than once for the prize in other fields.

“Dad, why don’t we go home now?” I whisper. “The cops are probably gone. I’ll take care of you.”

His grip on the wheel relaxes and his face softens, tension melting away. The taxi slows. I exhale.

But only for a second. In the way distance, somewhere far behind us, a siren wails like audible smoke reaching forward to warn of us fire behind. My father stomps the accelerator and we zoom off again, the cab rattling and shaking in protest.

I scream. The Hudson Riversparkles just ahead in the moonlight and Dad isn’t turning away. He yells back to me again, something about Mom and me and “love of his life, never any other, never…” and then he looks at the stars and his watch and floors the ancient vehicle so that it springs into the void over the banks of that steel gray river that ran through what was once my home town, my very life.

This is how he tosses me into a rippling gravitational wave, so that the sparkling Hudson joins with the sparkling stars and for a minute, or more accurately, two hundred years I see and feel nothing, consciousness ripped from me with my breath as I fall and fall and fall…

***

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CONFESSIONS OF A PROBLEM CLIENT

by Libby Malin Sternberg

I’ve had four literary agents since I first started writing fiction seriously, a little over ten years ago. Actually, more like five. At the outset of my publishing career, a small press publisher (Bruce Bortz of Bancroft Press), who enjoyed my work but wasn’t publishing in my genres at the time, represented me for a short period, an amicable relationship.

I learned something from my dealings with each agent and have wanted to share my lessons for some time. But as my observations began to gel into something coherent, I kept coming back to these questions:

  • Had I been a problem client?
  • Had I been difficult to work with?
  • Was that why these relationships didn’t work out?

If you survey my former agents with those questions, my guess is you’ll get variations on a “yes” answer from most of them, with, perhaps, two exceptions—that publisher I mentioned above and my last agent, a sweet, aggressive woman I’ll talk about a bit later.

As I delved deeper into the reasons why my former agents might consider me a problem child, however, a theme emerged. I was a problem because I expected my agents to deliver. Deliver contracts? Sure, that would have been nice. But I’m not stupid. I know that sometimes stuff doesn’t sell, no matter how good the project or the one pitching it is.

No, I expected my agents to deliver the following:

a) respect for me as an author and as an intelligent human being;

b) reasonable responsiveness to my questions and suggestions;

c) due diligence when  handling contracts;

d) keen insight into books and the book business;

e) valuable advice on my writing career, based on informed observations of the publishing world coupled with what was best for me;

f) oh, and honesty, too, would be nice.

Too often, one or more of those items was lacking. So, instead of literary agents, I ended up with transmittal agents. The agent was good at “transmitting” the manuscripts I wrote to various editors, but little beyond that.

It’s not usually politic for writers to talk frankly about their former agents, but I’m going to share some information about mine, without using agent names, in an attempt to help other writers who might share similar situations. My overall advice to writers struggling in a so-so agent relationship – it’s probably not you that’s the problem.

I’m jumbling up the order these agents appeared in my life, too, to help obscure their identities even more. I’m not saying these are bad agents, after all. They were just bad for me.

AGENT A: She was with a prestigious agency. She had sold some blockbusters, one of which would be immediately recognizable even to those who don’t read a lot of fiction.  She handled “up-market” fiction, even some literary fiction. And she liked my stuff, my serious stuff, not the lighter material I was writing to try to break into the market. She agreed to represent a serious historical mystery of mine.

She talked to me about revisions, and it was a thrill to have someone discussing “marrying theme with character development” rather than what genre markets were hot. But revisions seemed to drag on. I was a fast writer. She would take weeks to respond to my latest revision. Finally, she made one last suggestion—maybe I should consider changing who the murderer was in the story.

Changing the murderer in a murder mystery isn’t a revision. It’s a new book.

I balked; she backed down. But that suggestion started taking the air out of the relationship. Maybe she didn’t have as keen an understanding of books and the book business as I’d originally thought. I recalled an early conversation with her about a famous favorite novel. I remembered being a bit unsettled by her complete lack of understanding of a core part of this famous book. Now I began to wonder—was she good or was she just lucky?

Submissions began. Rejections came in. Her office would fax them to my husband’s office since I didn’t have a fax. This became problematic. Faxes didn’t come through. I’d wait, wanting to hear if something in the letter would provide guidance for further revision, and I’d wait some more.

But, while her office would bungle this and other clerical tasks, they were quick to bill for copying and messenger service. Too quick, in fact. They double-billed me once.

A contract did come through, though, that she negotiated. But it was for a book I’d had on submission prior to signing with her. Although she did a fair job with the contract, she muffed the announcement in Publishers Lunch, using the wrong title for the book and the wrong name for me.

After a round of submissions of the literary mystery failed to deliver a contract, it was clear she was tired of me and I was tired of her. She suggested we part ways, a relief since I’d been engaged in anguished debates with myself and my writer friends on whether I should let such a prestigious agent go. I’d been on the phone with one of those friends discussing that very topic, when Agent A called suggesting we break.

AGENT B: This agent represented a light work of mine, and I have no quarrels with her aggressiveness. She seemed to leave no stone unturned when submitting, something I respected and still appreciate. But she discouraged me from writing outside the genre she was representing, and she treated with disdain suggestions I would make.

Tension surfaced during submissions of a light women’s fiction manuscript, her specialty. My first YA, published without an agent’s help, was getting wonderful reviews. It was similar in tone to the manuscript she was trying to sell, so I asked her if perhaps dropping a note to the editors who had the manuscript, sharing some of the great reviews, might be helpful.

I’ve worked in public relations, you see. And I know that “expert endorsements” might not persuade nonbelievers, but they can affect the outlook of “leaners” and help those who like your point of view by providing them with ammunition in debates. So, while the reviews wouldn’t flip a “no” into a “yes,” they could help push a “maybe” toward a “yes,” and help a “yes” get the manuscript past an editorial committee.

But Agent B didn’t like my suggestion to send along the reviews to editors.  Her attitude seemed to be: I’m the All-Knowing Agent and you’re the Know-Nothing Author, so be quiet and sit down until I pay attention to you.

She, like Agent A, didn’t always pass along rejections in a timely manner. I’d get them sometimes when they came in and other times when I happened to “rattle her cage” for news.

An aside about timely rejections: it bothered me to learn a rejection had been sitting in her office for a while before I learned of it because it made me feel foolish. Like most authors, I have a hard time suppressing hope that such-and-such editor might be reading my manuscript at this very moment and liking it. To learn that while I was hoping, the editor had been rejecting made me feel silly. I preferred bad news straight up with no delays. A small thing, perhaps, but important to me.

Back to Agent B’s refusal to send my good reviews along to editors…I later learned that she might have been sending reviews along to editors anyway. She just hadn’t been telling me.

The break came, though, when I wanted her to rep some serious fiction I was writing. She agreed but wasn’t enthusiastic and even suggested I pay for these submissions—copying and messengering—when that had not been part of the original contract.  It was time to move on.

AGENT C: When I signed with Agent C, I thought I’d finally found the perfect one. Unlike Agent B, this one seemed sweet-natured and kind. Unlike Agent A, she seemed really savvy. In fact, she impressed me right away by taking on the literary mystery Agent A had not been able to sell and deciding to resubmit it to different editors at some of the same houses. She just retitled it and branded it a “revision.” A cynical move? No, a smart one, in my opinion. Some of the editors on her list might be more open to the kind of book I’d written, and she didn’t want them to be prejudiced by the previous rejection by that imprint.

Unfortunately, I came to discover that Agent C might not have been as savvy as I originally thought. She was new to agenting, and she often consulted the agency owner for advice. This all began to have a “mother, may I” feel to it, delaying actions, and I began to wonder if I’d mistaken a kind nature for a timid one.

Timidity showed up, too, in her edits of my manuscripts. She’d send them back to me with the faintest pencil marks in the margins, as if she were unsure of herself.

The break ended up being messy. Oh, at first it was fine—a simple “this isn’t working” talk. But after that, one of the projects she’d repped gained film option interest, due to my own efforts, not hers. It also sat with several editors due to my own efforts.

Since she was agent of record for the project at the time of the film interest, her agency’s film agent began negotiations. They were painful. He would communicate with me when I agreed with him, but if I had a question or a suggestion, he fobbed me back to her. And she didn’t seem to have the courage or inclination to stand up to him. It was far easier to think, I’m sure, that I was the problem with all my pesky questions and insistence on knowing what the agent’s approach would be.

One dismal afternoon, she called me to say the film people wanted to buy the book rights, too, since the book wasn’t under contract anywhere. I had to decide by close of day what to do. I asked her if that meant close of day eastern time or California time. She said eastern time because she would close up shop at five that night. So, with barely two hours to consider, I had to a) get back to book editors who were then reading the book to see if they did want to buy it, letting them know they had to tell me pronto; and b) decide if I was willing to let the book rights go if no editor bit.

She did not lift a finger to contact editors for me. She didn’t even offer. Her attitude was: all editors were used to authors telling them about film deals and they’d “roll their eyes” if she contacted them about it.

The rest of this negotiation could fill pages. But here are the highlights: the agency head – the one to whom she always deferred – tried to convince me that everyone in Hollywood was a “snake” and if the deal went south, it was no heartache (uh, it would have been to me); a friend, the small press publisher mentioned earlier in this post, ended up helping me sort through the deal and make up my mind about various contract provisions – he’s also a lawyer, and his help was invaluable; the film agent wanted me to hire a lawyer he recommended to give the contract one last look but I resisted shelling out the money for this “service” (uh, Authors Guild legal help told me this is unethical and grounds for breaking the contract with the agent); former Agent C told me she’d felt she’d earned her few hundred dollars commission on the option and didn’t want to deal with it.

So, she wasn’t nice. She wasn’t savvy. And she wasn’t aggressive. Ironically, the people who ended up being the nicest as I dealt with them in the following years were the film “snakes,” who negotiated extensions in a forthright manner even when we disagreed over some terms.

AGENT D: Okay, this is a good story. I still like this agent, even though she doesn’t represent me any longer. After breaking with Agent C, I felt burned. I wasn’t even sure I wanted another agent. Maybe I’d just use a literary lawyer to negotiate contracts.

But as I started submitting material on my own, I grew weary. I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to research editors and imprints and what they were buying. I wanted someone to do that for me. So I started querying agents again.

One of them was Holly Root of the Waxman Agency. I’d read an interview with her on a writers email group. She’d impressed me with her smart answers, not the usual cookie-cutter responses but insightful comments on the industry. She seemed refreshingly honest.

And that’s the way she was when I contacted her. She liked my stuff. She knew I’d had bad luck with other agents. She knew that my publishing success, such as it was, had come largely due to my own efforts. She frankly told me that she wanted to make sure she could give me what I wanted. I appreciated that. It told me she was wondering if she could be the kind of agent I needed.

Then I got a call from Sourcebooks wanting to buy Fire Me, the manuscript that had been optioned for film. It was free and clear of encumbrances from the previous agency now—I had pitched it to Sourcebooks on my own. So I called and asked if Holly wanted to take it on. She agreed.

And thus began a beautiful relationship. She sold that book and a second one after it. She tried to sell some others, in particular a YA. She gave me a green light to pursue a contract with a small press for a “book of my heart,” even telling me she’d take no commission on it since the contract was so simple and straightforward and the advance so small.

She had no illusions about the industry. She knew sometimes great books were published, but sometimes great books were rejected. She didn’t view editors and publishers as her superiors. She was more than just a “transmittal agent” and she treated me with respect and attention. And although she wasn’t able to snag any more film deals for me, her attitude was: you won’t get one unless you try, and she was willing to try.

We parted ways only when I couldn’t write the kind of stuff she was beginning to represent more and more. We had one heart-to-heart about it when I wanted to branch out into a field she wasn’t dealing with. We decided to keep going. Then when another manuscript didn’t quite fit with her stable, we decided it was the end of the road.

But I still exchange emails with her occasionally. And I’d recommend her to other writers.

IN CONCLUSION

Was I a problem client? Only if you define “problem” as expecting that a promised service be delivered.

Was I unreasonable to expect quick turnaround on manuscript revisions, on submissions, on hearing about rejections or editors’ reactions to my works?

I can only answer that by saying that I feel the passage of time acutely. I started writing later in life, when I was in my 40s. I don’t like wasting any more time now that I’ve “given myself permission” to pursue this lifelong passion.

Besides, at my current age, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve accomplished a great deal. I refuse to be treated as if I were incapable of understanding how the business works. I refuse to accept “it’s always been done this way” as a rationale for poor or inefficient approaches. I refuse to be a “good girl,” patiently waiting up to a month to hear from an agent who sometimes acts as if she is honoring me by coming down from the mountain to deliver a tidbit of news.

Sure, I understand that agents have a whole group of writers they’re dealing with, not just l’il ole me. But if they can’t stay on top of each client’s business, they shouldn’t be representing them, or they shouldn’t balk when those authors want to handle a few things on their own.

At this point in my writing career, I don’t see myself using another agent. If I have a deal to negotiate, I’ll probably call on my former agent, Holly Root, to see if she’d want to do the deal, or use a literary attorney, paying a flat fee and no commission.

Agents aren’t bad people. They just have different priorities, different timetables, different outlooks that don’t always jibe with those of the authors they represent. Authors have to remember that they are giving agents one thing and one thing only—the right to market their books. They’re not ceding over their lives, their pride or their dignity.

LESSONS I LEARNED WORKING WITH AGENTS:

  • If an agent tries to make you feel your intelligent suggestions are unwanted because she is The High and Mighty Agent and you are the Lowly Author, she might be the wrong agent for you.
  • If your views on literature don’t jibe with your agent’s, don’t expect the agent to understand your work.
  • Don’t mistake timidity in an agent for niceness.
  • If film or other subsidiary rights are important to you, make sure the agency handles them and handles them well.
  • If your agent or her agency regularly bungles small things, what makes you think they’ll get the big things right?
  • If your agent doesn’t respond to you in a timely manner, ask yourself if that agent is excited about you and your work any longer.
  • If an agent is suggesting you confine yourself to one genre when you want to write in others, she might be wrong for you.
  • Finally, if you’re multi-published, many editors will read your work without an agent—you can always find one or a good literary attorney to negotiate any deals.

______

Visit Libby’s website for info on her books: www.LibbySternberg.com

 

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PERSISTENCE AND REVISED DREAMS

I have eight books published by houses ranging from big Harlequin to little Bancroft, but some books occupy a special place in one’s heart. Sloane Hall is that book for me.

It will be released by Five Star/Cengage in hardcover this fall. Five Star markets primarily to the library trade, and I happen to also read manuscripts (making recommendations to buy or pass) and edit for them.

Selling to them wasn’t a slam-dunk, though. It just meant I’d get a quick read and some good vibes. In fact, selling Sloane Hall to them required a strong sales pitch along with the merits of the book itself. Here’s why:

Although it’s women’s fiction, Sloane Hall is written in first person from a male point of view. It’s set in old Hollywood but inspired by the classic romance Jane Eyre. The genders are reversed, with the protagonist, John Doyle, in the role of servant–a chauffeur–to a silent screen starlet about to make her first talking picture. She’s the Rochester figure. He’s the Eyre one.

I wrote Sloane Hall, oh, maybe eight or so years ago. Yes, it’s a long time. And if you’d told me then that it would take this long to sell it, I would have covered my ears and started humming loudly to drown out such a gloomy prediction! I’d heard stories of other authors taking that long to sell a favorite tale, or going through eight or more revisions of a novel. I just couldn’t imagine it happening to me. I couldn’t believe I’d keep trying that long.

But I couldn’t let Sloane Hall go. I love the Jane Eyre story. I’ve read it so many times that its emotions don’t pop the way they used to. So I wanted to hear the story again, with all the powerful moments fresh. Thus, my desire to reimagine it, to make a drastic, fundamental change that would force the reader — and myself, the author — to view the story as if it had never been told.

My first iteration of this manuscript, in fact, was practically a point-by-point mirroring of the original Bronte tale. My critique partner loved it and the characters. My agent at the time was tepid. And rejections from editors told me it wasn’t heating up their hearts either.

But one editor told me this — the story has to work separately from Jane Eyre. It has to be something on its own. Of course it did– this made perfect sense. If people want to read Jane Eyre, they’ll read…Jane Eyre.

Back to revisions. This time I looked at the characters and asked myself how they differed from Bronte’s. If they were different, how would that affect how they’d act. How would it change the story?

I wrote and wrote, sculpting an altered story, one in which the main characters shared some of the characteristics of Jane and Rochester, but also some flaws that were more pronounced, that led them down different paths.

Again, back to submission, this time with another agent a little reluctant to send out the manuscript since it had been submitted before.

Alas, still no deal. But the rejections! Some of them read like back-cover blurbs. Here are two of my favorites:

“(The) story has all the elements of a perfectly developed read: a colorful cast of characters (Eleanor is incredible!), a good sense of era and setting, and a compelling major plot line that feels complete and yet leaves you wanting to know what happens next.”

Libby Sternberg did a wonderful job of capturing 1920s Hollywood in all its drunken, tragicomic glory. John and Eleanor were very appealing, sympathetic characters, and I loved exotic Marta and mysterious, crabby Julia. . .”

These editors and others passed because of market reasons–not being able to envision the book on their list, mostly. One editor at a major house did want to buy it, but couldn’t get her editorial team’s okay.

One editor, the same one who’d told me before to make sure the book worked without the connection to Jane Eyre, was kind enough to again pass along meaningful advice with her rejection: “This needs to be a big book at a small house,” she said.

And that’s when I woke up. Up until that time, I’d been thinking that Sloane Hall could be my “breakout novel,” the one that moved me up farther, that maybe, just maybe, would get me on a list or two.

But I loved this story so much, it absolutely pained me to think it wouldn’t get published by anybody at all, that it would sit in my documents file collecting cyberdust until maybe I decided to go Kindle with it. By this time, I’d revised it yet again, changing the setting back a couple years into the tumultuous time that Hollywood shifted from silent to sound pictures.

So as I was editing some Five Star manuscripts, I thought: why not submit it to them? I mentioned it to a fellow Five Star editor I know, and she was enormously supportive. Yes, she said, submit it — and I want to be your editor.

As I said, it still wasn’t a slam-dunk. The male point of view was a big hurdle because Five Star’s women’s fiction usually features a strong female protagonist. The editor and I came up with a list of examples of male POV novels that had done well with readers, especially women readers. We came up with the many Internet and social media groups devoted to fans of Jane Eyre. We pointed out the strong female characters in the book, despite its male POV.

And, after holding my breath for a few weeks, I got word that Five Star would buy it. An immense sense of relief as well as joy went through me.

I have printed copies of the book now, and I still love this story. And I’m so glad the earliest version of it isn’t the one being published. I am also so, so grateful to the people who’ve helped me get it to print, including the editor who rejected it twice but with advice that really resonated with me, ultimately spurring me to revise and resubmit . . . and sell.

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SLOANE HALL-FIRST CHAPTERS

I’ve just uploaded the first chapters of Sloane Hall to the home page of my website  — www.LibbysBooks.com. But I’m also making them available here: First two chapters SLOANE HALL.

I’d love to hear your comments after you read them. Email me at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com to let me know what you think, or post your comments below. Romance Reviews Today has called the book “well worth reading,” and I’m anxiously awaiting other reviews!

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JOHNS HOPKINS LECTURER ON SILENT-TO-SOUND

In my novel, Sloane Hall, the main characters wrestle with the challenge of adjusting to the “new” Hollywood of talking pictures. While this was a period of great upheaval, resulting in careers dashed and others being born, the film industry adjusted pretty quickly to the new technology, says Meredith Ward, a lecturer in the Johns Hopkins University Film and Media Studies Program and a Ph.D. candidate in the Northwestern University Screen Cultures program.

Here’s a Q and A with Ms. Ward about her study of that tumultuous and fascinating time:

Meredith Ward

LMS: Most people think of the silent screen actors who lost their jobs when films went from silent to sound. What other positions were lost?

MW: More than positions lost, there were positions gained. Diction coaches, scriptwriters (especially dialogue writers), and new talent were hired to staff a new Hollywood for its new plans. As far as I’m aware, and as far as what I’ve read  in the major accounts – these being Don Crafton’s The Talkies, Jim Lastra’s Sound Technology and the American Cinema, and Emily Thompson’s The Soundscape of Modernity – what’s most remarkable is how well Hollywood took the transition, and how much stayed the same.

LMS: Could you describe the “standing coffins” that housed cameras during the early talkie days and why they were used?

MW: These were referred to as “camera booths” and they were used to house the cameras, which were otherwise far too noisy for sound film sets… There was a lot of debate about how to quiet cameras.

The booths had a window in the front that the camera pointed at. The booth itself was on wheels, so it could be moved around the set. The difficulty of moving them, however, proved to be a real problem. And the shift to sound films caused a revolution in the way films were shot. After a late silent period in which cameras were incredibly mobile, swooping up and down on cranes, tracking in and out on dollies, able to somersault and pivot in films like F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, things changed. The camera was locked down to one spot more or less because of its connection to sound equipment. To get around the incredible static quality of the camera set-up required by the booths, Hollywood often shot films with a three-camera set-up. A scene was shot simultaneously by three different cameras. The footage was then spliced together to give a feeling of visual movement. The effect was often unsatisfactory and viewers complained that it felt unnatural after the more fluid movements of the camera.

LMS: Not all silent directors made the transition to talkies as Hollywood started importing stage directors to work with actors who were speaking. Can you give some examples of great directors who lost their jobs, great ones who did make the transition and why they survived?

MW: The directors who survived the best were those who knew how to work with actors. Howard Hawks and George Cukor both really came into their own after the sound tradition. Cukor was famous for his work with actors, particularly his female stars. An interesting example of someone who began well before the sound shift but whose work absolutely thrived after it would be Ernst Lubitsch. Guys along that line, whose work was very verbally-oriented, might be a good avenue to pursue if you’re interested in this question. Some directors who definitely did not thrive included the silent comedians. Keaton’s career tanked in the sound era, Chaplin’s waned, and Harold Lloyd’s disappeared entirely. But again, this is not as big an aspect of either my own research or the texts I’ve read!

LMS: The Jazz Singer uses two kinds of lighting  — a quieter incandescent lighting for the sound sequences. Can you talk a bit about this change, too, and how it affected the industry?

MW: The original lighting used for motion pictures was designed to do just the task of lighting a silent film set: they illuminated the scene completely and strongly, but they had one major flaw. They hissed, popped, and crackled fairly loudly. This, of course, was in no way acceptable when the shift to sound cinema occurred. So Hollywood turned to incandescent lighting. These lights were much quieter, which solved that one problem, but they unfortunately also caused a host of other problems. Instead of being loud, they were instead very, very hot. This caused problems on the movie sets because the actors would, simply put, overheat. Makeup would run under the intense lighting, causing a notably un-Hollywood and unglamorous effect. The amount of incandescent light necessary to mimic the intensity of the original arc lights produced intense heat that, for a time, made sets unlivable.

LMS:  Did studios see the shift to sound as a way of purging highly-paid actors and directors from their stables?

MW: I believe this is mostly a myth. It’s true that certain actors like John Gilbert did disappear with the sound shift. And in certain cases, these disappearances were welcome. So yes, in certain cases it was a way of getting rid of an actor whose ego and whose salary had both gotten a bit out of hand. But as a general rule, it would have served the industry best to hold on to those stars who could complete the sound transition. Sound pictures were a real risk for motion pictures. Coming, as they did, on the heels of the Depression, Hollywood was taking a chance in taking on sound. One way that it secured its own safety as an industry was in the continuity of its stars across the gap. The studios were particularly proud of their stars who did make it across the sound shift and considered them prize ponies. Their presence ensured a continuity of audience, since stars had a truly enormous pull on audiences and were one of the very top reasons that a given spectator would return to the theater again and again. They (silent actors who made the shift to sound) also helped to put to rest the claim that was sometimes made that they were less talented than theatrical actors. The idea that they could “do it all” was very important for the studios in making the claim that motion pictures were a new art, and not just a new technology.

LMS: Around the time The Jazz Singer was released, Murnau’s silent Sunrise was released. Why should audiences–outside of film students, that is!–watch this movie today?

MW: Sunrise is one of the movies that I know of that can consistently make men cry. I don’t know whether it’s the theme of wronging a woman only to have her forgive you so completely, but it’s enormously popular with men and it seems to be quite consistently moving to them. In terms of the film itself, it is incredibly beautiful. It is a moving and universal human tale. And it’s one of only a handful of films that F.W. Murnau made before he died in an unfortunate auto accident. Murnau is one of those iconic Hollywood figures — the young genius whose career was cut too short by tragedy, a bit like Irving Thalberg. Sunrise also serves as an interesting segue in F.W. Murnau’s career. It is, essentially, a German film that happened to be made in Hollywood. It has elements of German Expressionism left in it, and cinematographically it’s stunning. It also had a synchronized soundtrack, which, although we don’t think of that as being particularly notable now, was a major step toward complete sound films. While not everyone was on board with the idea of “talkies,” many folks in the know supported synchronized music because it was considered to be the height of artistry: a perfect fusion of sound and image, dictated by the producers and creating the maximum possible dramatic effect.

LMS: How accurate is the 1952 musical comedy Singin’ in the Rain, which tells the story of two silent actors making their first talkie, at portraying the challenges of early talking pictures?

MW: Singin’ in the Rain captures many of the jokes that would have circulated in Hollywood about the sound transition. It showcases a whole host of concerns that were active at the time, if not real-life events. Actors did have a very difficult time learning to speak properly for the camera. Diction coaches were called in to help to craft appealing tones from actors’ voices. Being a diction coach during the sound shift was a great gig. And, yes, certain actors (Clara Bow being among them) had dialects and accents that didn’t play well. The placement of the microphone was a real concern, as well (here, echoes of the situations in Singin’ in the Rain when they have to place the mic in a bush, a corsage, etc.) but these situations were not as extreme as they are depicted in the film — of course, because it’s a comedy. But yes, there are accounts in the original Academy documents I’ve been looking at that have sound technicians complaining that directors don’t understand how sound technology works, and directors insisting on truly bizarre microphone placements on set so they don’t get in the way of the picture.

LMS: When did the “tyranny of the sound technician” start to end?

MW: There was a period for the first three years during which traditional Hollywood personnel fought pretty rancorously with the sound techs. This had a lot to do with the fact that sound technology was the product of scientific electro-acoustics laboratories and not Hollywood. There were a few major initiatives that helped to quell the rancor, but these are highly specific and probably wouldn’t be too interesting to a general audience. They’re also the subject of the second chapter of my dissertation, which I haven’t published yet! But suffice it to say that by 1930, Hollywood was back to functioning more or less as it did before, which, given the upsets caused by the change, is really quite amazing. As Don Crafton points out in The Talkies, it also serves as a real testament to the stability of Hollywood. The resolution came about largely by studios intervening and encouraging film directors and sound technicians to discuss their problems on mutual ground and come to an understanding of one another’s needs and problems.

Meredith went on to add: Some of this comes from my own research, but for these answers I am definitely indebted to the scholars who have already written on the topic. For my own dissertation, Donald Crafton’s The Talkies: American Cinema’s Transition to Sound, Jim Lastra’s Sound Technology and the American Cinema, and Emily Thompson’s The Soundscape of Modernity have been my bibles as well as the foundation and jumping-off point for my own research. Many of the answers given come from knowledge gleaned from their texts. My own dissertation research focuses on the question of noise in American cinema, and as a result I have done a significant amount of original research at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. Some of the answers, then, come from that. My research on Hollywood’s transition to sound is going toward my dissertation: Insurgent Sounds: Noise, Audiences, and American Cinema Culture. My first chapter, “Songs of the Sonic Body: Noise, the Audience, and Early Moving Pictures” will be published this fall in Propelled by Media: Rethinking American Studies Part I: Cinema and Americanization, edited by Kingsley Bolton and Jan Olsson.

____

Sloane Hall by Libby Sternberg, a story set in old Hollywood and inspired by Jane Eyre, tells the tale of troubled chauffeur John Doyle, who falls in love with his starlet employer Pauline Sloane, only to be repulsed by secrets she hides from the camera and the world. It is available in hardcover for preorder on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, among others. It will be available on Kindle within the year.

Check out other posts on my blog for more related to old Hollywood, Sloane Hall, and its inspiration, Jane Eyre.

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JANE EYRE ON FILM

A decade doesn’t go by without a new film version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic romance, Jane Eyre. Test your knowledge of the various film versions with this quiz:

1. What actress played a young Jane in the Jane Eyre film released three years after she won an Academy Award for her performance in a film co-starring Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel?

2. What composer/conductor wrote the music for an American television version of Jane Eyre before becoming famous for music he composed for many more movies, particularly a series that started in 1977?

3. What “brave new” British author famous for a futuristic novel helped co-write the screenplay for the 1944 Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine film version of Jane Eyre?

4. What now-famous actress played an uncredited role in the 1944 film version?

5. The first talkie of Jane Eyre starred what actor as Rochester who went on to play a famous monster maker?

6. A BBC miniseries of Jane practically transcribed the book word-for-word to the screen and starred what actor who might have preferred his off-camera drink shaken, not stirred? 

7. Robert Stevenson directed the 1944 film version, coaxing lovely performances from the child actors playing the young Jane and Helen Burns. What well-known child-friendly film did he go on to direct starring Julie Andrews?

8. A 1918 silent version of Charlotte Bronte’s book featured a change in the story — Rochester doesn’t realize his first wife, Bertha, is still alive, until her brother brings her on the scene and attempts to blackmail Rochester before his wedding to Jane. What was the name of this version?

9. Another early version of Jane handled the first-wife angle by having Rochester in the process of annulling his marriage to Bertha, when Jane discovers it’s not yet final and flees the scene. Which version was this?

10. Finally, another musical question — the composer of the score for the 1944 Jane Eyre went on to score a famous Hitchcock movie where one scene’s music is remembered as much as the scene itself. What was the movie?

Bonus question: How many silent iterations of Jane Eyre were made?

Answers:

1. Anna Paquin played young Jane in the 1996 William Hurt/Charlotte Gainsbourg version of Jane Eyre directed by Franco Zefferelli. Paquin had won the Academy Award for her role in the 1993 movie The Piano starring Holly Hunter.
2. John Williams, who wrote the music for the Star Wars movies among many others, was a relative unknown when he composed the score for the 1971 American television version of Jane starring George C. Scott and Susannah York.
3. Aldous Huxley, author of the novel Brave New World, was one of the screenwriters for the 1944 film version of Jane Eyre.
4. Elizabeth Taylor played young Jane’s friend Helen Burns in the 1944 film, but she received no screen credit for the role.
5. Colin Clive played Rochester in the 1934 talkie of Jane Eyre. He went on to play Dr. Frankenstein.
6. A 1983 BBC version starred James Bond-portrayer Timothy Dalton as Rochester.
7. Robert Stevenson went on to direct Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in the lead roles.
8. The 1918 silent was called Woman and Wife.
9. The 1934 first talking version of Jane Eyre featured a storyline where Rochester was annulling his marriage to mad Bertha, who comes upon his wedding preparations in one scene and thinks he’s marrying her again.
10. Bernard Herrmann, who wrote the score for the Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version of Jane, also wrote the music for Hitchcock’s Psycho. The screeching violins of its shower scene make up perhaps one of the most recognized pieces of movie music.
Bonus: There were eight silent versions of Jane made.

Hope you enjoyed the quiz.

____

Sloane Hall by Libby Sternberg, a story set in old Hollywood and inspired by Jane Eyre, tells the tale of troubled chauffeur John Doyle, who falls in love with his starlet employer Pauline Sloane, only to be repulsed by secrets she hides from the camera and the world. It is available in hardcover for preorder on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, among others. It will be available on Kindle within the year.

Check out other posts on my blog for more related to old Hollywood, Sloane Hall, and its inspiration, Jane Eyre.

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