Monday, March 25, 2019

Battle of the Prophets

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer was one book I had to finish. Not so much because of the true crime aspects, as sensational as they may be, but because of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Krakauer reported. As I read, I began to note some basic similarities between Joseph Smith and Eric Janson. The former was the founding prophet for the Mormons and the latter was the founding prophet of the Bishop Hill colony in Henry county, Illinois. I made my home in Bishop Hill for years, so reading this book became something of a personal journey.

Joseph Smith Jr.
Born: Dec. 23, 1805
Died: June 27, 1844 [age 39]
Cause of death: gunshot
Spouse(s) Emma Smith & other plural wives

Eric (Erik Jansson) Janson
Born: December 19, 1808
Died: May 13, 1850 [age 41]
Cause of death: gunshot
Spouse Maja Stina died of cholera. Janson remarried in September 1849. Plural wives? Not to my knowledge.

Smith was swept up in the American “Second Great Awakening". In Sweden, Janson was part of the Pietist Movement that had spread northward from Germany.

Smith had visions of a golden book. Janson had mystical experiences and claimed his rheumatism was cured.

1831 Smith and his followers moved from western New York to Ohio, to Missouri, and then to Nauvoo, Illinois. Janson led his pietist sect to emigrate from Sweden to US in 1846. They settled in west central Illinois. They Americanized themselves by learning the language and, in some cases, changing their names.

For a time, Nauvoo grew to be second largest city outside of Chicago. Bishop Hill, named for Janson’s birthplace, also grew but not nearly as much. Bishop Hill colonists used John Deere’s new plow to break the prairie and grow sustaining crops. Their letters sent back to Sweden sparked a wave of immigration to the US.

Smith landed in jail in Carthage, IL, and was fatally attacked by a mob. Janson was jailed in Sweden prior to escaping for America. His beliefs conflicted with the state religion. He was at the Henry County courthouse on business when he was attacked by former colonist John Root.

After Janson’s death, Bishop Hill colony had a group of trustees take control of the colony business. Which was in very bad shape. In no small part because a doctor Janson had called in during a cholera outbreak sued to get his bill paid.

Where did Dr. Robert Foster come from? —Nauvoo.

Nearing bankruptcy and depopulated by desertions, the Bishop Hill colony could still list the following: “100 men, 250 women, 200 children. It owned 4000 acres, a church, grist and flour mills, 3 dwelling houses, and 5 other buildings.” This list doesn’t begin to do justice to the imposing scale of those colony buildings. Most still exist.

The dissolution of the Bishop Hill colony began in 1862 but, because of the Civil War, was not finalized until 1879. The 200 remaining “Janssonists” dispersed among: the Methodist church, Pleasant Hill Shakers, and Seventh Day Adventists.

I found these rough similarities uncanny, but Jon Krakauer’s book plumbed a depth of violence in the background of the Mormon religion and its fundamentalist factions that I never experienced in my time living in Bishop Hill. I would subscribe to the following quote:

“The Bishop Hill colony was not insular & makes a useful contrast to Mormons in Nauvoo & the Amanas, both contemporaries.”

Monday, March 18, 2019

Valuable Marketing Tool

The saga of the orange “Crush” pencil stub or the review of Book Marketing Basics, either way you look at it, there’s a valuable marketing tool here.

I’ve known that marketing was Jodie Toohey’s passion since the first time I laid eyes on her. It was at a 2008 launch event for Crush and Other Love Poems for Girls and everything had an orange theme. I picked up an orange pencil. There wasn’t much left of that pencil after my husband used it for a carpentry project, but I saved the nub all these years. Printed on that four-inch piece of orange wood is “CRUSH” and a web address. I’ve kept it because it was, and still is, a valuable reminder of the essence of marketing: getting your name and your product out into the world, and letting people know how to find you.

Book Marketing Basics: The 5 Ps; Applying the Fundamentals to your Book is Toohey’s latest book. I was thrilled to receive a free early copy so I could provide a review. I have watched Toohey hone her approach to marketing by leading traditional classes, holding multi-day workshops, and experimenting with online avenues for instruction. She’s always made her educational tools interactive and relevant.

My favorite chapters from Book Marketing Basics:
Developmental Editing—a great money saving idea that’s easy to implement.
Line or Copy Editing—offers solid examples to help your writing.
Copyright—or now not to stress out about protection.
What To Charge? & Discounts—numbers are always important for the bottom line.
There are too many chapters on where to sell and how to promote to list them all separately.

I found things I knew and needed to be reminded of, plus new things I’d like to try out. There are tips for saving money and advice on spending your money wisely. Throughout is the mantra of knowing your readers and connecting with them either in person or online. The list of resources at the end of Book Marketing Basics is a gem all by itself. 

As a writer, I started out at the lowest level and I sure wish this practical resource book had been there for me. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Iron Pen 2019 part 2

I was sorting through files looking for one thing and found another. This quote from Barbara Kingsolver is a favorite and worth sharing. I strive to follow this advice and look for joy and be hopeful. It's easiest in a garden. Hardest at the keyboard.

Excerpt from High Tide in Tucson

“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.

In my own worst seasons, I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.

It’s not such a wide gulf to cross, then, from survival to poetry. We hold fast to the passions of endurance that buckle and creak beneath us, dovetailed, tight as a good wooden boat to carry us onward. And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another—that is surely the basic instinct. Baser even than hate, the thing with teeth, which can be stilled with a tone of voice or stunned by beauty. If the whole world of the living has to turn on the single point of remaining alive, that pointed endurance is the poetry of hope. The thing with feathers.”

Barbara Kingsolver from High Tide in Tucson, Essays from Now or Never

Monday, March 4, 2019

Iron Pen 2019

The Iron Pen twenty-four-hour rapid writing contest for 2019 is history. The entries are in and awaiting judgement within the three major categories: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. My judgement, however, doesn’t need to be tallied. I totally froze up on the prompt. Which has left me wondering what happened?

In 2010 I came through with a win when the prompt was about broken bones. I eked out a win with the quote from Bird by Bird a couple of years later. I’ve always managed an entry of some kind for every other year. My best guess at this point is that some time ago I stopped flexing my writing muscles. I let my skills go lax along with my blog. The main exceptions were a few stints on my next novel. 

Missing out on this year’s Iron Pen was a shame. Especially once I found out this year’s prompt was from a short story by Roxane Gay. Some Iron Penners don’t like knowing anything about the origin of the chosen prompt. But I do. Even if I don’t use that information for my work. I just like having the background. (Sadly, my Google search couldn’t find it for me.)

I read Gay’s Difficult Women for a book club last fall and enjoyed the variety in her short stories. What I liked most about The Dissection of the Human Heart was its similarity to Bullet in the Brain, a short story by Tobias Wolff. I was so impressed with that one I’ve remembered it decades later. Gay’s story does indeed use the anatomical sections of a human heart as repositories for memories and emotions, while Wolff’s story uses the path of the bullet to excite synapses for a single memory while bypassing a host of other possible last thoughts. Gay’s piece offers the perfect feminine counterpoint to the masculine viewpoint of Wolff’s Andre, the protagonist whose snarky attitude led to his demise.

I haven’t been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I guess, as late as this may be, it is time to make one. Starting now: MORE WRITING.

If only my Fitbit would count words as well as steps.