Thursday, March 15, 2012

Going to the Mail in the Titanic Era

A Pile of Nicholson Letters

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Cliche, no kidding. True? You bet.

Right now I am trying to publicize my ebook Threshold Girl, a story about my husband's great Aunt Flora and her year at college in 1911/1912.

No vampires, no lesbians. Just Presbyterian teachers in the Edwardian Era. All corseted up to keep their morals from spilling out at the seams. See the problem?

(The newswires, yesterday, were abuzz  (ancient metaphor) with a story about X Files actress Gillian Anderson. Apparently she had a lesbian affair in high school or something. "Boy is her career that much in the toilet?" I wondered." Actually, I like her a lot and she's been working in Britain. And she starred in a fine production the House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

Anyway, it's coming up to the 100th anniversary of the Titanic Era, so I'm using that angle to get attention, to try to get some publicity.

But I'm not living in the past, my pitch is more about trying to promote an ebook. Ebooks are "IN" right now, and even if Amazon and a few others are trying to get control of the whole ebook thing, it's still pretty much up in the air, I think. At least, I HOPE.

So I'm pitching my Threshold Girl as both an ebook story AND a Titanic Story.

The trouble is, who do I pitch too?

Arianna Huffington posted an interesting article last week on her Huffington Post. She worries that the  'traditional' news media was caught up in a dubious habit of playing Second Hand Rose to Facebook and Twitter by covering little but  'top trending' stories on these social media, as if  'top trending' means IMPORTANT.

Of course it doesn't, it likely means just the opposite.

That or Crime Stories. That seems to be all the traditional press is covering these day. It's cheap: it draws readers through titillation. It's tabloid. It's lowest common denominator, but it seems to be all we've got lately.

My Threshold Girl story IS NOT a top trending topic on Twitter. (And there's no Dead-Young-Women in story for titillation. No the women it in are all very alive.) The book popular in a few classrooms in Canada and the US, that's all. (The follow up to Threshold Girl about Flora's sister Edith, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, does have a love-and-murder theme. So I'm learning.)

The question is? How to make a story about teachers in 1910, Presbyterians at that, 'sexy.'

A headline I read (somewhere online) last week claimed that ebooks are making reading "sexy" again.

(I don't think it was ever considered sexy.)

Another article, I scanned quickly, says that ebooks are changing how we read: while texting, uploading, watching videos. Sexy because it's so chaotic, I guess, so unpredictable.

Reading is no longer this 'sit by yourself under an old oak tree by a bubbling stream' type of activity.

Yes, we're going through a period of exponential change, similar to the 1910 era, when the motion pictures (and they'd only been around for a few years)  were becoming more popular each day, and when telephones were becoming widely used- although LONG DISTANCE was still very expensive.

The Nicholsons of Richmond Quebec wrote a LOT of letters in the 1910 era, because they couldn't afford to use the telephone for long distance. (That's why I could write Threshold Girl, I have hundreds of their letters from the Titanic Era.)

The Nicholson women wore off a lot of calories walking to and from the mail in their town, Richmond, Quebec. About a mile each way.It was a favorite thing to do, after going to church. (Radio wasn't yet around, so sermons were their only daily entertainment. ) They got mail twice  day! Even on Saturday.

I am guessing that for a couple of centuries now walking to the mail has been the highlight of many a person's day. (Or even just getting the mail at the home.)

I'm not guessing. I KNOW it has been.

And even if the mailman mostly brought bills, junk mail and bad news, the hope always was that on THIS DAY, it would bring something better!  Amazing News! Or merely good news. Or just an entertaining letter, a happy letter, from an old friend maybe. A long lost friend, perhaps. A letter to lift our spirits, to make us feel valued, loved and less alone in the world.

(In 1910 people often wrote letters to vent or to complain, (like Greg Smith at Goldman Sachs, yesterday) so many letters the Nicholsons received from friends and relatives were major downers. (And in those days they had things to complain about: typhoid, cholera, scarlet fever.)The Nicholson letters are written in a time of family turmoil, so they are not careful sometimes and write things they shouldn't.) If one of them writes something nasty about a family member, BURN THIS LETTER is often written in large print at the bottom. I have a couple of those. )

So nothing much has changed in that regard. 100 years later. With email, and texting, and all the rest that is evolving so quickly whatever I write now will be obsolete before I finish typing the sentence. (Maybe TYPING is obsolete, I haven't checked.) I strongly suspect blogging is, judging from the number of visitors here.

No, little has changed, if considering the human heart, the human condition: We've just got so much more media to build our hopes and dreams on, that's all.