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Friday, January 06, 2006

Love Letter to The Scarlet Letter

A curious thing is what happens to those writers who publish a promising, vigorous book but detest what they experience of the "business" side of books so much that they never try to publish again or else go dormant for many years. Here's a lovely site by a writer who has devoted herself to raising arcane breeds of sheep (Shetland, English Leicester Longwood, Black Cotswold, Navajo Churro, Jacob, and Icelandic) and making needlework reproduction kits, among other things. If you're interested in antique samplers, books on needlework (lace, embroidery, bed rugs, and more), reproduction samplers, charts of antique needlework, Scandinavian linens appropriate to antique-style samplers, or needlework tools, this is a useful and beautiful site to know. If you're not, it may pique your interest all the same. There's a lot of the lavish here, arabesque curls fit for the scarlet A on the bosom of Hester Prynne. The books also include some memoirs, histories, and novels. From time to time, the owner organizes a conference, or publishes an anthology of essays on needlework. She has invaded my work--a woman who makes reproduction samplers is the main character in one of my stories.

One of the genuine glories of the internet is that it links not pages but people. Years ago I emailed this site with a thank you for carrying my novel, Catherwood. (It still has another of my novels.) I'm not a very good correspondent, thanks to the over-stuffed nature of my life, but the correspondence that ensued was intensely enjoyable. And I manage a letter now and then. Despite the unflagging attentions of Theodora the calico and Lady Azure the stupid-but-teddy-bear-cute Persian from Mars, I still have some pristine feathers from Smoke Ham Farm peacocks that are no doubt screaming the Wisconsin sky into dangerous splinters at this very moment. "Smoke Ham Farm was established in 1986 with the goal of preserving endangered breeds of domestic livestock, alongside endangered nineteenth century midwestern ethnic vernacular farm buildings. Today, six breeds of rare and endangered sheep, numerous poultry, waterfowl, and cattle, reside in fourteen restored pioneer log and timber frame buildings on the 93 acre farm, located in the southeastern Kettle Moraine Forest." Doesn't that sound enticing? Yeats said one had to pick between perfection of the work or of the life. This sounds like a fullness and perfection of life.

I wonder what other fascinating things writers who turned their backs on the world of publishing have done...


  1. And not just writers who have turned their backs on publishing--I have a neighbor (and semi-relative through her recent marriage to my partner's nephew) who was a rather well known singer in an LA (that's Los Angeles to us in California, not Louisiana) band. After records out and record tours she was physically sickened by the business. She has a brilliant voice and wrote many a haunting and difficult song. These days she sings to her assortment of retired chickens and solitary grey goose, tends her donkeys, and now and then listens to the music her husband plays on handcrafted, strange instruments.
    Your post makes me think of landscapes throughout the world sparked by these interesting souls

  2. Now you need to write a post about her! That's a fascinating story-in-a-nutshell, especially ending with the husband's weird music.

    I'm interested in people who either change course in some drastic manner or give up some 'prestigious' way of life for something very modest. I know a businessman who became a sexton, a concert pianist who became a neurologist, a lawyer who became a trainer of hearing-ear dogs, a marine biologist who bought an ice cream parlor, a law school professor who became a rector, etc.

  3. An interesting group of people you know, Marly! You are right, someday I will have to do a careful post about my cherished and talented neighbor (careful because she doesn't want the world to find out where she is living these days, lest they drag her back to tinsel and smokey rooms).
    Just got Ingledove. And, damn, I am on deadline for my paper, and shouldn't even be typing this. Must return to politics and rabble rousing now.

  4. My feeling is that the world is quite willing to let cherished, golden things be lost--and more than willing to run after the tinsel!

    So you write for a paper as well...

    Hope you like the Dove as well as you did the Raven--they'll both be out in pb this year (Firebird/Penguin).


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.