So you can read my books

Thursday, January 16, 2014

LETTERS FROM JOHN_What Price Dreams?

Pacific Grove
January 15, 1931

Dear Roland -

     How odd it is to write you tonight, knowing that you will be reading this in the year 2014. 

     McCord has shown me that reality is not at all what I supposed so you would think I would not be surprised at his exchanging our letters back and forth across nearly 100 years.

     But I am.

     Tonight the damp fog is down and you can feel it on your face. I can hear the bell buoy off the point.

     Roland, you are right — I do get the horrors every now and then.  Comes on like a cold wind. There it is, just a matter of weathering it.

     Alcohol doesn't help that a bit. I usually go into the garden and work hard.  I miss the ducks.

     Did I tell you they were mallard— green irridescent heads, russet of breast— pale blue wings and orange feet, beautiful birds.

     But they muddied the pond and pulled up lobelias. Also I was flat broke and had no way of finishing my ms. So I sold the ducks to buy paper for the stories. I wish the stories were as beautiful as the ducks.

     Yesterday Carol and I indulged in the only luxury in months. We bought and charged a chess board and pieces. Two dollars. It will eat up the winter evenings.

     There is no companionship of any kind here. Carol and I are marooned. This is probably a good thing.

      I throw myself into work. How are my monies you ask? Our poverty is tiresome, but I can see no change in it. Only work. I must cut down two trees for fire wood and that will take some time.

     I learn that all of my manuscripts have been rejected three or four times since I last heard. It is a nice thing to know that so many people are reading my books. That is one way of getting an audience.

     Is it true what you say?  That you have an electronic gadget the size of a 8 X 10 picture frame that contains a small library of books?  How utterly fantastic.

     I do not love books for themselves. I like to have certain books about me to refer to but only because of the text. I have never collected books for their physical selves.

     A book is a naked article. A book is only read when you are alone. No group audience starts the laughter or the tears for you. It is a communion of two and as such it is unique.

     It is itself— one of the very few authentic magics our species has created.

     I wonder very much about the future of books. Can they continue to compete with the quick, cheap, easy forms which do not require either reading or thinking?

     But now you tell me of this marvelous electronic library without those jackets I detest and lurid illustrations that tease.

     You have eased my mind somewhat.

     I fear I put Carol through the grinder of poverty with my dream.  I long to ask you if I will succeed.  But McCord says it is not fair to ask that of you since you have no way of knowing if you yourself will succeed.

     But I can ask you if you think the price that Carol and I are paying and that you are no doubt paying is worth it?

     Can any dream be worth the loneliness and heartache that goes with our efforts to be published?

     (and write to me)


What would you say to John?


  1. Ultimately, it depends on how badly you want it...

  2. I'd say keep at it for his encouragement, but I've little hope for myself beyond a handful of short story publications. Still I dream, as did John.

    Times are different now, and a day job is necessary to support the writing obsession. Poor John, I'd miss the ducks too, lol.

    That music was perfect for this post. I listened to it while reading.

    You're doing excellent yourself Roland. You have so many of your novels published, and have a readership for them. That's a great accomplishment.


  3. Dreams should be cherished and nurtured. Without dreams who are we?
    Who would you be if you surrendered your dreams? Would you like him? Would Carol? Ask her some time.
    And only you and she can decide whether the price of following your lode star is worth it. Worth it for you, for her, for the pair of you...

    And I would miss the ducks too - but they remain in your heart.

  4. Alex:
    You find time and will for that which you truly want, right?

    Like you, I have little hope for my novels -- but thanks for the kind words about them!

    I learned early on: everything worthwhile costs. Ouch.

    In 1931, it was the worst of the Depression and jobs were just not to be had. We learn more of that in the next letter from John -- how it was to live in a time of No Jobs and little money.

    I'm glad you liked the music. It did seem to fit, didn't it?

    Elephant's Child:
    I think John would have used your words to Carol or she to herself.

    Only they could decide what was the right price as it is with all of us. You are a wise lady. :-)

    And yes, it hurt me to read he had to sell his ducks for paper to write his stories.

  5. I know I'm late with this, but did want to comment.

    It depends on how much you want it, I guess, if you struggle through with your writing. Back in John's day, you didn't have to keep updating your equipment as fast, with a dependable typewriter. Every generation has its hurdles.

    Tell John - hang in there! The world needs to hear your words.