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Monday, Monday.

It’s Monday, and nothing’s up. Problem solv-ed!

Here’s chapter one of The Rogue Decamps. 

ONE: A FINE KETTLE OF FISH.

The stair was steep, without a comfortable footing for a man with long dogs. There had once been a wooden railing hooked into the wall but, this egress largely forgotten, unmaintained, it had years back fallen away. It was lit by three slits of grille from above, but the lowered sun failed to illuminate the stairwell to any useful degree. Sly, with his better vision, had begged to precede, to coach the escape – broken step here, sir – but the old man had charged ahead.

Sly had followed his embattled superior down to a door providing easy access to serene formal gardens. They’d spent the best part of the afternoon in a close chamber with a panel of officials, until the embattled recipient of earnest counsels and irritated exhortations had leapt up exclaiming Umeak! Isilik oiloak pixa egin arte! (Children! Be quiet until the chickens pee!)1 He’d turned and bolted without any hint of intention to his stunned assistant. Sly had rushed after him, trailing the fugitive down a long corridor to a cul-de-sac harboring a hidden door. Before a search party reached them the two had vanished, leaving pursuers scratching their heads.

They’d negotiated the descent quietly, and slipped out into a jewel-like landscape, bursts of early blooms everywhere. The recently woken garden was normally a source of delight for both of them but they were too agitated to pay it heed. Sly knew well – too well – what to expect. Lately, any unpleasantness kicked up the same well-litigated dispute.

Batten the hatches, boy, he told himself. You’re in for a real blow this time. Keep your trap shut. Smile. Nod. Get through it.

“Lord On High,”2 he groaned. “Enough upset for one day. No more, please.” He tried a diversionary tactic, a string of acidic quips assessing the intellects of those they’d been sparring with. In response, he got a variety of mirthless snorts.

In his best nothing-fazes-me voice he exclaimed, “Sir! This is a bad business. We must ponder a response, certainly, but I’m not up to it just now. Let’s shrug off this sour mood and enjoy what’s left of a beautiful day. We’ll go at it tomorrow. What do you say?”

The old man tramped sullenly along the brickwork path. Behind a dense hedge the graybeard bent low, one hand cupped on one knee to steady himself nose to nose with his diminutive associate, the other clutching his cloak tight at his throat. His thin lips were contorted in a deep frown. “Look here,” he spat. “You would abandon me to those fat-heads? I refuse to believe it.”

Poorly braced, the hunched form tettered, but his underling did not back off. Although small of stature, nowhere near the other’s heft, he disdained to act on a very reasonable anticipation of personal injury. He was focused on making his point.

“Let me slip away,” he hissed. “It’s all my fault. Those fools are in revolt against me, not you. The most of them are good men. I am willing to assign them the least foul of motives; they are fearful. You and I have been too flagrant in our unnatural association. The sudden accord of ones normally at each others’ throats is the closest they dare come to a bald rebuke. Once I’m out of the picture they’ll revert to their fractious ways, for this proposal is, unquestionably, indecent.”

“Don’t leave me!” begged the anguished ancient. He lurched toward a stone bench, collapsed onto it, and buried his face in his hands. “Holy Mother,” he moaned, “steel my spine, as you did that of my distant relation, the Friar of Carcassonne.”3

Sly dipped his head in a halfhearted show of respect. “A fine kettle of fish,” he muttered. “The spark,” he growled, “emboldened by some exchange with your silly son, feels he has an ally there.”

“Impossible! Bittor despises him.”

“Be that as it may, the rascal sees his star rising. This stunt is a declaration of newfound sway. Why else would he tip his hand? Stealth would seem to be essential.

“Now, part of me says he was trying to get your goat. He loves to bait you, we know that. Take his threat seriously and he’ll be delighted. Confound him. Laugh it off. Look the other way.“

Part of you says! What does the rest of you say?”

“Please, don’t blow your top over an observation. It’s a damn ingenious idea. There’s big money to be made, if he can pull it off. We would do well to assume the worst. I’ll poke around, see what I can dig up.”

“I must talk to Bittor about it.”

“Do no such thing. It was a jest, that’s your stance. You have better things to worry about. Haven’t you longed to be rid of M. d’Ollot for years? Give the idiot his free rein. I’ll keep an eye on him and intervene as necessary. I have my own nasty ways and you know it.”

“Do I not!” moaned the grizzard.4

“I can’t predict the exact nature of my disruption but whatever happens, you need not fear retaliation, neither from rat-face nor from your lady-fair. No blame will be laid at your door. I’ll see to that.”

“No blame? What do I say to Saint Peter, standing sentry on the door to Joy Eternal, when the inevitable hour overtakes me?”

“Let’s not dig into that bucket of worms, please. I’ve had my fill of nonsense for one day.”

“Your fill? Of nonsense? That’s rich! You, with your ideas! That I always listen to respectfully, do you dare deny it?”

Sly did dare deny it, but he thought best to keep mum.

“By the way, thanks so much for your intervention earlier! What would I have done without it?”

Sly had sat side-by-side with Jakome, fixing each speaker in turn with a single wide accusatory eye. That and a sneering twist to the corner of his mouth had unsettled them quite spectacularly. His friend had not understood the reason for the frozen faces for a good while. He’d thought it due to a masterful counterpoint, and had congratulated himself on his lithe rebuttal.

“Belief shared by millions, nonsense? Simon Peter, nonsense?” The old man was turned red in the face. “I’ll tell you what the Cephas will say!” he screamed. “He’s not called Rock for nothing. Play dumb, you say, while d’Ollot is merry inciting a crime beyond contemplation. Peter will condemn me on the spot. You saw to your own interests? You looked the other way while faith was mocked? Worse, you failed to hinder the corruption of the innocents? Begone, scoundrel. No, my oh-so-clever friend. No! I will not tolerate the deviltry. Never!”

The wailed remonstrance brought attendants running. Sly lay low in a swath of greenery as his companion raged and shook a fist at the cloud-strewn expanse of blue, the perhaps observant, possibly occasionally responsive celestial space widely rumored to be the safe harbor, after the storm-tossed sea of life, commonly known as heaven. 5

_____________________________________________________________________

Attendants! Is the wobble an inmate of an asylum? You will think so when I tell you that he’s been talking to a cat. But Jakome is no ordinary sad-sack. He’s a king, I’m afraid, a not terribly effective one. He’s a gentle soul. He hasn’t a ruthless bone in his body. That’s not good when you’re king, not good at all.

Jak was not the monarch he’d been, and what he’d been had never been impressive. Always timid, he had become alarmingly withdrawn. His new habit was to brush long bangs into his eyes, using the heavy crown to hold the fringe in place, to conceal the panic that pinched his brow whenever he was forced to speak officially.6

The man feared to give his opinion on any matter of importance until the cat hopped onto his lap, whereupon the two would seem to confer. His adherents held that a beleaguered old wreck took comfort from the presence of a beloved pet and played at confiding in it. Others insisted it was a way to humiliate favor-seekers and annoy adversaries. A few attempted to call it circumspection. His enemies used the term dotty freely, but privately, among themselves.

If the conduct were a strategy, it demonstrated no unifying principle. It could not realistically be branded judicious temporizing, nor cunning dissimulation, nor, as much as one wished to believe it, an unremarkable royal fatuity. (Royal fatuity, in those days, encompassed some outrageous behavior.)

His advisors concurred that he was unfit to rule, but they propped him on the throne. The son would, by all indications, be far harder to manage.

Chapter Notes

  1. A Basque proverb, meaning shut up, and stay shut up. Chickens, birds in general, do not pee and poop separately. They plop, as we can readily see on our windshields.
  2. A figure of speech. Do not take it as a statement of belief.
  3. Bernard Délicieux, aka the Friar of Carcassonne, battled the corruption of the twelfth century church, in a region not far from my imaginary Haute-Navarre.
  4. He’s a grizzled old man with a long, scrawny neck, a bit buzzard-like. He’s a grizzard, for my money.
  5. Sly’s view, and a source of considerable contention between the two. He is a staunch humanist, in other words, an atheist. An adorable atheist, I promise.
  6. I have extracted phrases from here and there for decades, adding them to my word file. I never jotted attributions. (I never thought my story publishable.) I am cobbling credits as best I can. Using the heavy crown is one of my snatches, I couldn’t tell you where it’s from if my life depended on it.
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Rejected! – Carl E. Reed

 

Rejections. The bane of every working—or would-be working—writer. One hunkers down in front of the keyboard (or pad of paper, typewriter, tape recorder) and . . . writes . . . whatever process that active verb sums up for you. And when finished revising (You do revise, don’t you? Surely you’re not one of those rank amateurs who inflicts first drafts upon their readers? “The first draft of anything is shit.”—Ernest Hemingway. “The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.”—Michael Lee) one sends the resultant manuscript out into the world to an editor (assuming one wishes to be published, that is; not self-published) and breathlessly awaits Caesar’s verdict: thumbs-up or thumbs-down. And when that all-but-guaranteed rejection comes bouncing back . . .

There are countless articles out there that counsel the writer how to react soberly and professionally to rejection. This is not one of those articles. No indeed! Today, friends and neighbors, fellow long-suffering Knights of the Quill, midnight scritch-scribblers, far-seeing farcical fantasists and quotidian-focused literary fictioneers alike, we are going to allow ourselves the inestimable sublime pleasure of hooting and howling at a select group of cement-headed cretins. I mean, of course, the critical mediocrities who rejected first-rank artists and their attendant masterworks with such clueless, querulous verbal spasmings [sic] as:

    • Peter J. Bentley of Bentley & Son Publishing House: First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”
    • Moberly Luger of Peacock & Peacock Publishing: “If I may be frank — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you had penned this entire story locked up at the club, ink in one hand, brandy in the other. Your bombastic, dipsomaniac, where-to-now characters had me reaching for my own glass of brandy.”
    • Name Omitted: “An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.”
    • Name Omitted: “I haven’t the foggiest idea what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.”
    • Name Omitted: “I rack my brains why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.”
    • Name Omitted: “…overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

    • Name Omitted: “. . . you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

    • Name Omitted: “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”

    • Name Omitted: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

      answers to the above: http://mentalfloss.com/article/91169/16-famous-authors-and-their-rejections

      …………………………………

I’ll close with one of my all-time personal favorites:

Name Omitted: “The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.”

(speaking of Crash, by J. G. Ballard)

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book promotion

A (possible) blurb. Plus additional wry remarks.

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Not Sly. But I love those eyes.

Creating a good hook (a blurb) for a book is a tricky business.  

Short and punchy is the rule of thumb. Get as many eyes as possible to your first page. But, my book is not easily conveyed in a few phrases. I could call Rogue a grand gallivant (true as it can be) but that doesn’t capture the insanity.

What I can come up with here, now, on the fly? 

> Puss in Boots as you’ve never seen him. On the money, but trite, and useless, tells you nothing.

> A smarty-pants cat kicks butt in sixteenth century Europe. Closer in spirit, but still way short of the silly stew I’ve … ah … concocted, from numerous sources.

I’ve done a huge amount of historical research, from biographies to period pieces (Margaret Cavendish, called the first female scientist, liked to put her theories into verse. I’ve taken her impulse and run with it) to a marvelously enjoyable Ph.D thesis on a walled town in southern France not far from my first locale. (I borrowed details of the landscape, with permission of the author. I managed to track her down to the BBC.) Rogue is a merry mash-up filtered through my own off-balance point of view.

Rogue is my personal An Incomplete Education, a wonderful book that purports to give an overview of all the information we should have absorbed in college. Twenty years of poking around in history books has made me moderately well versed on the sixteenth century in matters large and small, able to regale you with, for instance, the curious circumstances surrounding the invention of the pencil. The new technology, initially a military secret, figures in my story in strange ways.

The Rogue Decamps is a bit challenging, quirky, and (horrors!) complex. It’s not Disney. Nor is it a rehash of the traditional tale. It’s arch this-and-that. I have some social commentary, but – relax – those remarks are decidedly screwball. It’s black humor in spots, snark more generally, sweet from time to time. My cat is a fully formed personality, with all the faults and foibles of the human kind. He drags a load of regrets around with him, and obsesses over them, delightfully. (IMO) He’s a bully, a con artist, a sweetheart and a snot. Like any cat, right? (I should know, I’ve lived my life – seventy years so far – in the company of cats.)

Writercoop-ers (writercoop.wordpress.com): Have I said anything useable here, or have I shot myself in the foot? I can’t do a bait and switch, cast a wide net with an uncomplicated blurb, lose readers soon thereafter. They have to have an inkling of what they’re in for.

My few followers on Facebook: If you like this . . . flavor, chances are you’ll find much in my opus (a three-book series) that will have you giggling your head off. Or, as the kids say, ROLF.

I’m nearly done with what I’ve vowed will be the final revision. Plot (conventional momentum) be dammed, I prefer to stop and smell the roses.

One last try at a bite-size blurb: 

________________________________________________

Sly! The Rogue Decamps. (Intro/novella to a series.)

A Smarty-Pants Cat Kicks Butt in Sixteenth Century Europe.

From a faux-visitation by the Virgin Mary (the goal, to lure religious tourism to a dirt-poor backwater realm) to a joint effort with Elizabeth’s Royal Astrologer to eradicate a nasty rodent infestation in a North German town, a whacky wiseacre offers astute but invariably self-serving advice to creeps, cranks, and kings.

Sylvester, aka Sly, is a poet . . . of interesting verse. A scholar . . . devising his own theory of gravity fifty years before Newton . . . folks, he’s Puss-in-Boots, reimagined from the boots up.

He’s the original animal rights activist. He’s got a whiff of Vonnegut about him, how can you resist that? He’s a good-hearted know-it-all, and I furnish him with a series of hapless sidekicks to bounce ideas off and to push around.

The guy’s a corker, full of piss and vinegar, cute as he can be. Aren’t you curious? Step into my ready-to-rollick Wayback Machine. We’re off on one hell of a jaunt.

________________________________________________

I plan to give the novella away as a promotion. This is one of my more sophisticated marketing schemes. Another is to hand out leaflets, dressed as a cat, in Times Square, maybe get myself arrested as a public nuisance, maybe land on the evening news. Or take videos to post on YouTube. A third ploy is to create bumper stickers, mail piles of them to everyone I know to, hopefully, pass out. If you see a bumper sticker, My Guy Sly – that will be the name of my future website – you’ll know I’m up and running.

Sly was taken. Screwball was gone. I pounced on My Guy Sly for a domain name. It is already in use, here, there, as a user name. On one site it belongs to a dodo who adores Sly Stallone. Didn’t move quickly enough there.

I’m way late to the party on a number of fronts. Hey, if I’d been on the ball twenty years ago, I could have bought Amazon. I am no financial visionary. I am no marketing genius. Tech, web tours and such, confounds me. I’m going to work it the old-fashioned way, on the hoof, channel P. T. Barnum, raise a ruckus, my marketing in sync with the anything-goes approach of the story. You take the high road, I’ll take the low road. I just may get to Scotland afore ye.

Next time, kids, I’ll talk about my idea for a Sly-mobile. Now, my husband may not go for our new car plastered bumper to bumper with decals. I believe I’ll wait a while, a good while, to spring that on him.

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About Writers, blogging, Uncategorized, world-building, writing technique

Tomorrow’s Challenge

Why do we continue to use digital media to mimic novels set in type? Linear stories presented word by word and scene by scene are analogs in a world that we are beginning to experience as quantum.

Changes are coming even if we ignore them. Digital e-readers are as capable of sounds as they are of words, so why bother describing the sound of a bell when you can make it? Two paragraphs appearing side by side can present two PoVs to the reader at the same time. Comic books do that now. Imagine what a creative writer of the future will be able to do.

But why wait? Are we all just old analogs stuck in a linear perspective incapable of conveying life’s simultaneity?

Just asking 🙂 What do you think?

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About Writers, book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized, writing technique

BOOK BLURBS

We writers are the pioneers in this brave new world of book marketing. It is our task to boldly go where few authors have gone before. Finding what works for us is often intuitive, so it helps to ask others what they think. What do you think of the following insight from a fellow author about book blurbs?

Book Blurb
“The blurb should draw you into the story, not tell you all about the story.”

Example: (my current blurb)
The Phoenix Diary
Legends speak of a mysterious and powerful record that might be a formula for free energy to rebuild the lost civilization or an ancient tome written by a man from the stars telling of mankind’s true beginning and ultimate destiny. Now three teens – Otero, Rhia, and Marc – set out to find the Phoenix Diary with the help of hints from their own genetic memories. But a mysterious man pursues them relentlessly through the ruins of Denver and into an ancient vault in the Rocky Mountains; he knows the Phoenix Diary is everything the legends say and more. It is humanity’s past, present, and future.

Example: (Proposed revision. Is it better?)
The Phoenix Diary
Can genetic memories guide three teens to a tome written by a man from the stars buried in an ancient Rocky Mountain vault? Does it really tell of humanity’s past, present, and future? Only the warrior pursuing them knows.

Example: (Your Best)
Let’s see your best book blurb!

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book promotion

Marketing update

repeat

A short while ago I announced I was doing a giveaway. It ended on 5th July, so here are the preliminary results. In fact I also participated in a cross-promotion in which 20 mystery and suspense authors made their books available free on Instafreebie, undertaking to promote the offer to their mailing list.

The giveaway was costly – the value of the prize plus promoting the giveaway itself came to over $200. I’d hoped for a minimum of 200 subscribers; I got 97. Conclusion? Not worth it. Especially when compared to the cross-promotion, which cost me nothing (Instafreebie offer a free trial for a month, after which it’s $20 a month if you want to collect the email addresses of those who download your book).

The cross-promotion brought in 576 subscribers, meaning I now have upwards of 700 altogether. In three years of blogging, I laboriously reached 65, so the sudden influx is massive. Is this the way forward? Everyone says so.

Now the challenge is to convert those subscribers into readers, and ultimately readers who’ll want to pay for the next book in the series. I’m approaching this with some trepidation – send out too many emails, be too pushy or adopt the wrong tone, and they’ll unsubscribe. So far, my unsubscribe rate is under 4%, which is healthy. If it goes up to 7%, Mailchimp (free till you get to 2000 subscribers) suspect you of spamming and send you nasty warnings.

A lot of people, of course, don’t even open the emails. Or don’t read the free books. Or if they do, don’t pay for the next one. So only a tiny proportion of subscribers will become your followers or fans. How tiny? Only time will tell. But at least it feels like I’ve got some sort of traction, a sense of control over a process which has hitherto been random and wasteful. If I convert just 5% of subscribers into followers, that’s 35 – not a lot, but still way more in a single month than in three years of effort up to then. So what do I do next? Rinse and repeat.

 

 

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reading, Uncategorized

The one-two-three-dollar library sales, heaven on earth!

images.jpgEvery year my husband and I have the same discussion. Do we really need more books? The house is full of books. Books that, mostly, haven’t been read. That we mean to read. Or, rather, to get to. We’re reading all the time.

We bought them because they looked interesting. We sure didn’t buy them to decorate our space. (Some idiot, years ago, suggested to a friend of mine that this is a big reason for buying books!) They’re, mostly, tattered, covers long gone, spines often unreadable.

Books are a drug. Is the urge to acquire a disease or a character flaw? Why, no bookshelf footage left, books piled on tables, under tables, in corners, why do we return to the well? Here’s why: I might find something extraordinary. Period color. A bit of history that I’ve seen nowhere else. A stunning style.

The sales are exciting. It’s a treasure hunt. We pay the five-dollar first-day fee. I head left, to the fiction. I gravitate to ‘literature’, the amount of which, sadly, is less every year. The holders of troves of long out of print, odd and obscure are passing. Here’s my tip: do not ignore the books with crumbling, illegible spines. They are often little known authors telling out-of-style tales in prose that will turn you green with envy. Those moldie-oldies could write.

Another plus of the dollar buys: I highlight to my heart’s content, with no qualms about ruining something. I draw stars and arrows, even circle passages. I can flip through that book on Oliver Goldsmith and find what I need fairly easily. I don’t have to laboriously transcribe into a word doc. I mark useful info up but good, facts, dates, quotes, description. For data, I look to biographies. For artful description, to vintage fiction. Charles Reade is a favorite. Never heard of him? I’m not surprised.

From Wikipedia: Reade fell out of fashion by the turn of the century—”it is unusual to meet anyone who has voluntarily read him,” wrote George Orwell—but during the 19th century Reade was one of England’s most popular novelists. He was not highly regarded by critics. The following assessment is typical:

“Mr. Reade is unsurpassed in the second class of English novelists, but he does not belong to the front rank. His success has been great in its way, but it is for an age and not for time.”

Orwell summed up Reade’s attraction as “the charm of useless knowledge.” Reade possessed vast stocks of disconnected information which a lively narrative gift allowed him to cram into his novels. Can anyone who has read my work come away wondering why I am so enamored of him?

At those sales you find nearly anything you want except for the very latest best-sellers. Wait a year, you’ll find them by the dozens. Therefore, I see no compelling reason to buy anything but e-books. The exception for me is period research, when I’ve been sufficiently beguiled by a mention of a particular work. I have purchased a pricy work on Early Modern French Theater for a specific tidbit of information that I couldn’t find on the web. But, you never know what else you’ll stumble on. Also, I have that huge, eighteenth century work on Astrology. Dense, and then some. I’ll pull what I can out of it, then mangle the hell out of it. For Sly, of course.

I tell my stories again and again, have you heard this one? If so, I apologize for being tiresome. In a circa-fifties interview in Evergreen Review, Dorothy Parker said, “I am the only person you’ll meet who has read all of Charles Reade.” She had to have loved him for his style. His plots are atrocious Victorian treacle. I salivate over his way with words, and his impulse to cross every t and dot every i. The man is fun, damn it!

I share a curious literary enthusiasm with . . . whoa! Dorothy Parker! I call that a feather in my cap.

What will I be looking for tomorrow? Like I said, it’s a treasure hunt. All I know for sure is, anything by Charles Reade.

____________________________________________________________

Book sale wrap-up:

I bought a dozen works of fiction, by Anthony Trollope, Rudyard Kipling, Samuel Johnson, George Meredith, and lesser lights. I found no Charles Reade, not even his most famous work, the one I’ve owned for twenty years, the only one I’ve ever seen for sale: The Cloister and The Hearth.

More importantly, I snagged a dozen compilations of essays and letters, explaining and commenting on life, mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Whatever I found of delightful pontificating, I grabbed for you-know-who. The cashier made a bit of a to-do over an unpriced three-book set of essays. She couldn’t let them go for the two dollars a pop that most of the others cost. These might be valuable, said she, I have to check with a higher-up. I told my husband as we awaited her return: Yeah, like anybody but me wants a set of ‘Select British Essayists’ (copyright 1878). They ought to give it to me just to be rid of it.

At these events I browse, looking for a flavor to the prose that puts a smile on my face, a personality that promises to mesh with, and enrich, my own entrenched (but elastic, I can work in almost anything) style, and for pronouncements that will stuff comfortably into the mouth of a know-it-all cat. Here’s a sample of what caught my eye today:

Homilies and Recreations (copyright 1906)

Representative Men by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Characters of Theophrastus (newly translated and edited, 1927)

Wanderings and Excursions by J. Ramsey MacDonald, 1925

C’mon, where ya gonna find this kind of stuff nowadays, but for the library sales? Something in this vein of recent origin, well, the voice of today is not the sensibility of yesteryear. I revel in a nice bit of vintage pomposity, generally, more preachy than what goes now, and I try to echo it in my screwball epic starring a full-of-himself, scholarly-inclined feline.

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