Bits and pieces

Item #1:  “If you stay at table long enough, eventually the chips will come your way.”  Maybe, Henry Winkler (and so glad you finally got your Emmy award), but the Persistent Writer has been at the table longer than any other writer she knows, and never quite seems to break even. The newest book launch confirms this: It started out promisingly enough, but then—for reasons completely beyond my control, i.e. internal turmoil at Amazon, combined with their constant tinkering—everything kind of fell apart. Not that I’m all that concerned about it; I knew this particular book would be a  slowly building thing, but…geez, ‘Zon, get your act together! My paperback edition is of particular concern—apparently it was one of the last books ever to be published by the entity Createspace, which is now no more. Its operations are being absorbed into Amazon’s Kindle publishing, and right now neither Kindle nor the defunct Createspace are properly reporting sales (according to both, I’m selling none), although the paperback has a very respectable sales ranking, which is somewhat reassuring. Have to wait for them to sort it all out, but wish I didn’t have to worry about this crap.

Item #2: In regard to the above item, another difficulty is the advertising scheme ‘Zon has set up  for us independents. They decided to  revamp the whole thing earlier this month, which I admit was an improvement, making it much easier to decipher (It’s all about ‘impressions’ and “clicks”—basically it’s those annoying recommendations you see on any given book’s sale page, but they seem—or once seemed—to work.) The trouble is,  I’ve been working to keep my click-bids as low as possible, at literally pennies, to stay within my promotion budget (which is damned low to begin with), but other authors have no problem pouring in ridiculous sums just to get their own books into choice spots.  The worst are weekends, which used to be quite profitable: It seems you can’t bid enough for a weekend spot, but I’m not stooping to that. So it’s basically impossible to compete this month: First off, everyone and their brother has a new book out in September, which for some reason is considered a prime book-buying month (this has not been my experience though; October and November are better). It’s also hard when there’s a “big” book out: Woodward’s book ‘Fear’ pretty much sucked all the oxygen out of the publishing room: At a whopping $14.99, it was still the number-one best-selling Kindle book this week. Then the advertising is off because it’s so new, and other desperate authors are just throwing stupid money at it. I shrug. If this was easy, we’d all be best-sellers. I’m still a believer in old-fashioned word-of-mouth and gradually building a reputation, even if most other authors don’t, so nothing to do but hang in there for now.

Item #3: Enough shop talk…I am just sick about rotten Hurricane Florence, and the drowning of the Carolinas. I love the Carolinas, both north and south; I have some very dear friends and family down there. And  I know full well what it’s like to climb into a rocking police boat from the top of my front stairs, and sail down what was your former street in the pouring rain.  It’s humiliating and humbling, but to the victims of Florence, let me just say this: Swallow  your pride, and just accept everything that is offered to you: whether it’s clean clothing, shelter, Red Cross meals, help from volunteers with cleaning and scrubbing out your house. Just take it. And keep after FEMA and your insurance company, make them do their job. Don’t worry about taking charity, as I once did, just accept it all as part of the circle and cycle of life; someday you’ll have the opportunity to pay it forward.

Item #4: My last post was about older men and younger women; it got a lot of attention, but I’m a bit surprised no one called me out on Thomas Merton and his infatuation with that student nurse (21 at the time) when he was in his fifties. Yeah, it’s kind of creepy, but having read his side of it, in his journals, I don’t think he was preying on her. A lot of my fellow Mertonites love this episode of his life, and it’s why Volume Six of his journals is so hard to find; but I—usually the romantic—never saw the charm in it, it always seemed a pathetic interlude in what was otherwise a stellar sort of life. Though I guess he wins points for honesty. But his friend Father Irenaeus—who I suppose found out about it from Merton’s biographer, Michael Mott—would likely have been embarrassed, but resignedly accepting of it. He did say once, toward the end of his life that Merton “wrote too much,” and as much as I admire old Tom, I would have to agree. But that seems a failing for most writers, myself included…

Old men, young girls

My husband’s birthday is Sept. 1st, and for exactly three weeks and four days, he’s a year older than me. Which gives me ample opportunity to crack jokes about what an old geezer he is, that he’s too old for me now, and I’m going to find a younger man. Then Sept. 26 rolls around, and we’re on equal footing again. This has been happening now for 38 years now, and it still hasn’t gotten old.

When I was a very young woman, and single, it was considered quite the thing to be involved with a much older, and presumably, wiser, man. It was not only accepted by society in general, it was actually encouraged and celebrated: You’ve seen My Fair Lady and Gigi, I suppose. The old Pygmalion trope.  Some literary scholar would probably point out that its roots lie in Regency novels and maybe even Jane Eyre, but the Swinging Sixties gave it a peculiar and cruel twist. One of my favorite books from that era was The Girl with the Green Eyes, by Edna O’Brien, in which a country Irish girl arrives in Dublin and takes up with an cynical old writer. The idea being that the old guy somehow helps the virginal young girl mature and grow in intelligence and wisdom, while the girl brings a fresh perspective and new lease on life to the old guy. Unfortunately I fell for this  nonsense my first year in New York City, dating a wealthy, well-read but overbearing trial lawyer twice my age (I was twenty two). I could see where it was going from day one, when he started recommending books for me to read, and declared my education was full of “startling and alarming gaps.” Luckily, I met my husband-to-be about six weeks into that relationship, and that was the end of that. I immediately dumped Old Rich Guy in a very callow and immature way (I stopped answering his phone calls), but that’s not usually the way it goes with these things. Usually the man tires of the girl, and discards her. Then everyone piles on and starts slut-shaming her. No #MeToo back in those days. It was considered “life experience.” Buck up and move on.

At least that’s what happened with poor Joyce Maynard, who had the misfortune to get tied up with J.D. Salinger. I admit, I’ve never been a big Salinger fan, having been force-fed Catcher in the Rye by more than one (male) English teacher. I’m thinking about her, because in this week of infamous New York Times articles, she had one making her case as a victim of Salinger’s predation. It’s odd, because she’s about two years older than me, and I remember reading the famous New York Times magazine cover story written by the 18-year-old her—two years after it had been first published, when I was myself 18 years old. I read it, feeling both impressed and darkly envious, little realizing that by that time, she’d already had her relationship with Salinger and had been dumped by him.

I realize that many May-December relationships are not inherently destructive in an emotional way. And in some cases, they satisfy certain emotional needs for both parties involved. But it turns bad when the man—who should know better—uses his wisdom, wealth, position or whatever to manipulate a young woman still struggling to learn about life and love. It’s bad when he’s basically just using her for sex; then suddenly turns on her, and literally throws her away—disgusted, no doubt, by his own base urges. Blaming her, for being so ‘seductive,’  and willing.

And…that brings us to the clerical abuse scandal, which surely has elements of this in it, though its victims are both male and female. Still, it’s particularly sinister—and I feel I have to point this out to the unenlightened few who wonder ‘what the big deal is’—because a priest uses that ultimate power, his connection to faith and God, as a tool for manipulation. You not only wreck someone’s emotional life, but their spiritual life as well. You wreck them at the core of their being.

Why did it take us so many years to come to these conclusions?!We were victims of our times, and culture.  I think some virus or poison seeped in with the Sexual Revolution in the 1960s and just fermented into the rest of the century, some erroneous conclusion that any kind of sex as all good, to be pursued at all costs, no matter who got hurt or victimized. Unfortunately, it still goes on. But at least we’re not romanticizing it anymore.