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Books within books

A reader asks, "I just read Wind Raker and I loved it! I have a couple of questions. I tried looking up A Little Less Than Gods and I couldn't find anything about it. Also is Bea's book real?"

Ford Madox Ford was a prolific and critically acclaimed literary figure in the early part of the twentieth century, and is today best known for The Good Soldier. A Little Less Than Gods was one of his least successful books, and today has largely vanished except for lingering in university library collections here and there. It is, in my opinion, a terrible book! Not only is it horribly historically inaccurate, but it's not even entertaining! What is it about? It's about the death of Marshal Michel Ney. It has, hands down, the most wooden, ridiculous and out of character version of him that I have ever read anywhere. I can promise you that I will cover the same events MUCH more satisfyingly when we get to that part of Elza's story. I frankly couldn't do worse if I'd written it when I was sixteen. (Yes, I hate it that much!)

Bea's book, The Blood of the Shark, is real and you can find it here! It's an interracial love story, which in 1936 is about as out there on the edge as a polyamorous love story today or a gay love story written in the 1980s. While the writing is not without flaws, it is an absolutely gorgeous book for any number of reasons, including the gorgeous world building and the main characters. I love Kilohana and Adam, and their struggles to cross the cultural divides between them are resonant. Dr. Peter Buck wrote the foreword, which I share part of with you here:

From the native point of view, popular authors assemble a native background of coconut palms, pandanus trees, luau feasts, hula dances and Hawaiian words, to form the canvas upon which pictures are painted with brushes and pigments that the authors brought with them from the lands from which they came. The picture remains English or American though painted in Hawaii. Both the scientific writer and the popular author need the rare quality of sympathy to enable them to identify themselves with native life before they can paint word pictures which are worth while. Beatrice Ayer Patton possesses this quality to a remarkable degree.

And that, of course, is the challenge of the historical novelist -- to paint a picture which is true, not just in its particulars, but in its heart. That is what I strive for.

I own a first edition of The Blood of the Shark, one originally owned by a man named Richard Penhallow. Pasted inside is a letter he had from Beatrice responding to his feedback about the book. Her letter, written on onion skin monogrammed airmail paper, is dated January 2, 1937. Beatrice says,

Dear Dick, I opened your letter thinking it was a Christmas card, and you can't imagine how it has made me feel! Even though I don't understand the Hawaiian very well, I catch your meaning -- and if I have done what you say in your letter, I am entirely repaid. The book took me seven years to write, and I feel quite lost without it. When I first saw it, all dressed up in its colored paper jacket, mine and yet mine no longer, I felt much as I did when I saw my Beatrice in her wedding dress. (Her eldest daughter -- JG) I've offered it as a hookupu to Hawaii, and the aloha with which it has been welcomed is the reflection of the love I put into the writing of it. Please tell me some stories so that I can write another one! With love and best wishes for a Happy New Year to you and Olive, believe me, Sincerely your friend, Beatrice Ayer Patton



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2015 04:25 pm (UTC)
The "problem" is that you write real people so well, and you place them in the story so seamlessly, that a lot of time it doesn't even occur to me they were real. That's a sign of not only good writing, but a good use of what you're given. And if I can't tell the fictional people apart from the real people, what does that tell you about the authenticity of your characters...? ;)
Feb. 12th, 2015 11:40 am (UTC)
*grin* Who did it not occur to you were real? I'd love know what you thought I made up! (Because with this crowd, I can't actually make up anything as interesting as what actually happened!)
Feb. 14th, 2015 04:01 pm (UTC)
In this case it was Bea! Her book just seemed SO cutting edge that it seemed fantastical that she would get it published at all back then. But because she fit your world and your characters so perfectly I just assumed she had been invented instead of discovered. :D
Feb. 15th, 2015 11:20 am (UTC)
Nope, her book is absolutely real. Published by a small press in Hawaii as she's right that no big house would take it. And she is absolutely real!
Feb. 13th, 2015 01:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, that letter is a joy! What fun.
Feb. 14th, 2015 12:45 pm (UTC)
Isn't it lovely? And I love having something of hers.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )