In order to be clearly understood one must write.
In order to be clearly understood one must write.
Mont Chumbley with Eastern Airlines Chair, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker
Let the countdown begin! Eighteen days until the release of “River of January: Figure Eight.” Watch for book talks in your area! Visit www.river-of-january.com.
My friends, book two, “River of January: Figure Eight,” is on it’s way. The book will officially launch November 1st, with public presentations in Idaho and Washington.
Catch “Figure Eight”in the following locations . . .
November 2, 2016: The McCall Library in McCall, Idaho, 218 E Park St, McCall, ID · (208) 634-5522 at 7pm
November 3, 2016: Aunties Book Store, 402 W. Main Ave. Spokane, WA 99201. (509)838-0206, 7pm
November 13, 2016: Garden Valley Library, 85 Old Crouch Rd. Garden Valley, ID 83622 (208)462-3317, 3:30pm
November 15, 2016: Eagle Public Library, 100 N Stierman Way, Eagle, Idaho 8361 (208) 939-6814, 7pm
Get ready to complete the saga of Helen and Chum in “River of January: Figure Eight.”
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two volume, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” out in November.
Chum returned to uniform by August 1941. Luckily he had worked for Eastern Air Lines exactly one year, vesting his employment, ensuring a job when he returned from the war. But that raises an interesting question, what war? There was no American war. Six more months transpired until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The answer to this intriguing question reads something like this; President Roosevelt instituted the preparations he could–Cash and Carry,The Destroyer Deal, quickly followed by the Lend Lease Act in 1941. America’s first peacetime draft had already been activated the year before, in 1940. Everybody knew what was coming, except for the bulk of the American population. They found out the hard way, later, across the Pacific, on a mild Hawaiian Sabbath.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir, River of January, and the forthcoming sequel, River of January: The Figure Eight.
River of January is also available on Kindle.
Thursday, May 12th River of January meets the Boise Public Library.
Join Gail for a lively, multimedia look at the archive that became the memoir,
The program begins at 7pm in the third floor’s Marion Bingham Room.
“This history could be lost” had she not known the story. Janet Juroch~The Idaho World
Initially this post was supposed to discuss what a slob I’ve become since I began writing. I planned on stressing how my story, told in River of January has consumed my days and has trumped any other daily concern–in particular bothering to cook meals or even getting dressed each morning. Then I happened to catch Tina Fey in an interview on Inside the Actors Studio. I like Tina Fey. She reveals her honest opinions with no airs or pretense, openly laughing at her own shortcomings. This particular episode was clearly a rerun, with James Lipton discussing and sharing a clip from her newest film “Admission,” released back in 2013.
This taped exchange between Lipton and Fey eventually transitioned from her many successes on the big and small screens to authoring her first book, Miss Bossy Pants. She confessed that the writing process was surprisingly more difficult and caused her more discomfort than any screen play. Fey shared that she found time to work on the book during breaks on 30 Rock, and in spare moments on various movie sets. While at home, her husband tended their children while she hid in her laundry room to continue her manuscript. And Fey further admitted that publishing Bossy Pants left her profoundly vulnerable and solitary. She said, and I quote, “You really put yourself out there.”
This accomplished, brilliant writer-comedian used her laundry room for writing, and felt vulnerable about her work! Now, I certainly don’t pretend that I anything near her immense talent, but I, too, wrote a lot of River of January in my laundry room! Tina Fey and I both wrote books in our laundry rooms! In my case I busted out my laptop on that cluttered floor because our washer’s timing mechanism was on the fritz. I had to keep a constant vigil so the machine would finish a full cycle. Easily I passed a good two to three hours a session, leaning against the litter box, as the churning rotation of the washer and dryer rendered that little space the best spot in the house to concentrate.
Writing a book is hard, and has frequently forced me to reassess my value as a person. I believed real writers, like Tina Fey, sat behind elegant desks; keyboards illuminated by brass halogen lamps, genteel mugs of hot tea within reach, assistants scurrying in and out of the room conveying edited sheets of type to publishers. That scenario bears no resemblance to this middle aged woman, clad in flannel shirts and sweat pants, continually switching off the pause button on a faulty washing machine.
The most reassuring part of that TV interview was how anxious Fey felt over her book’s public reception, saying something to the effect of how she girded herself for literary failure. Again, another bingo. I’d like to count my writing meltdowns, and vows to never write again, but I only have so many toes and fingers. Any remarks readers have written or spoken regarding my book, River, is indelibly carved into my psyche–forever.
So the truth remains that my writing is mine alone. The words generated, the story those words tell, are between me and my computer. Still, aside from that solitary angle, plus the risk and intimidation in publishing River, I somehow feel less alone. Oh, that washing machine is now working fine.
Ken Burns has done it again–hit another historical piece of film over the wall. I’ve enjoyed Burns work for decades, beginning with “The Civil War,” through “Baseball,” to “Jazz.” He has consistently combined solid historical research with the subtle beauty of an artist. But in his new “Mark Twain” biography I made a discovery I once believed impossible. I watched the film without any historical analysis or comment.
For the first time since publishing “River of January,” I watched simply from a writer’s perspective. In the film, scholars discussed how Clemens didn’t find his unique American voice until well after “The Innocence Abroad,” and “The Prince and the Pauper” were published. Twain’s masterpiece, “Huckleberry Finn,” came after years of hesitation until that singular voice could no longer be kept tethered. The author reached deeply from his childhood–a bigoted world of ignorance, poor grammar, and slang with a twang. He defaulted to what he knew best, his inner core and colorful life.
That resonated with me in my own struggle for voice. I have come to realize that a personal truth has to come off the page to remain in the manuscript. If the story line, or flow of dialog doesn’t resonate, it has to go. There must be a truth to tell. The obstruction of a badly worded sentence, or contrived idea hangs uneasily in my psyche. I have to write what I know to be authentic. It’s a weird dynamic too, and takes concentration to pull off. I put myself in the scene–whether it’s a cockpit, or a dressing room. From that bit of time travel I can survey the setting, describing it both physically and emotionally. I understand the importance of familiarity.
In another tidbit from the documentary, Ken Burns examined Clemens daily writing regimen.
At his home in Hartford (I’ve been there, it’s so cool) Twain worked in an upstairs room, away from everyone, committing his tales to paper. Each evening Clemens gathered his family and friends to listen to his day’s bounty. I found that intriguing–not as a historian, but as a writer. (Twain had many notables among his friends, President Ulysses Grant for one.)
Samuel Clemens made writing his day-job, and used his household as an audience. Something I find I am unable to follow. However, my ears were carefully adhering to that writing schedule revelation, contemplating his patterns.
I too, need quiet and solitude, but don’t produce the same way. My engine needs to rev up before any writing session. I think and think and think (like Winne the Pooh) then inspired fire up the old laptop. The historic record can spark my thought processes, and the Chumbley archives also can prompt a productive writing session. All in all, a “fits and starts” style best describes my method. Both “River of January” and the new one “Figure Eight,” have come to life through my haphazard style.
Mark Twain can stand alone as a historic figure, apart from his brilliance as a man of letters. He belonged to a political group known as the “Anti Imperialist League,” opposing unrestrained immigration, especially from China and the Philippines. He disapproved of John D. Rockefeller and other greedy Robber Barons, making no friends among the elite. All that I all ready know, and taught for years. The astounding thing is I watched the program hearing only the literary journey of an American lion.
This is not a blog about Led Zeppelin. I have shamelessly used this title and image to get your attention. I am sort of sorry, but not really.
This blog however does concern the song title, “Good Times, Bad Times.”
At a book publishing seminar I attended a while back the speaker warned that marketing books was much more difficult than writing books. I didn’t believe her, or more accurately I couldn’t allow myself to believe her. At the time I was slinging rubbish into my manuscript and worse, knew my style was bad.
A couple of years later here we are–River of January is complete and I am finding that wise facilitator’s words haunting me. I think we are doing everything right, talking about the work whenever and wherever I can find a platform. Book stores, libraries, service clubs, book clubs, pushing the story on friends–you get the picture, Those who have read River, for the most part, ooze with enthusiasm and push me to complete part 2, The Figure Eight. And I am trying to get back into that writing zone, communing with Helen and Chum, by studying their mementos, listening to Chum’s taped interviews, and brushing up on the historic background of their lives. But there is this big problem in my attitude toward the second manuscript . . . plunging into the marketing angle again, when I have only sold around two hundred books with the first one.
My husband is a good cheerleader, claiming that everything with the book is good, and that we will meet our goals. We will sell books, and the public will respond in a positive manner. I think he might be right, the whole package is gorgeous: cover, interior design, pictures, font, paper color and yes, even the style and especially the story.
So Good Times must certainly follow this funk in the process of publication, and leave behind the episodes of Bad Times.
So once again consider River of January. It’s a pretty good read, even if I say so myself.
Writing isn’t a skill that comes naturally to me. And I know what good writing looks like when I read it. I have had students who were naturals, fashioning well constructed sentences, laced with alluring imagery. I have friends who make words sing, in fact some have earned their living producing written words for money. Many teaching colleagues who literally drip poetry were my neighbors in nearby classrooms. Not me. Not this kid. When this story, River of January, fell into my lap I didn’t know where to turn. The idea of me writing a book was laughable, astonishing, the last thing an old girl like me would take on.
I tried to outsource the effort at first. I beat the bushes to get help from a number of people. who would essentially write it for me. You know those friends. The one’s who would love to put their lives on hold to unravel my convoluted sentences. And in fairness, some individuals actually did that for me, I am deeply grateful and indebted to them.
Still, sitting down at the keyboard, I know what it is I want to say. I know there is passion, anguish, ethereal joy. But my brain flushes, just like a toilet. The harder I push, the more words elude me. It’s as though English becomes somehow unintelligible, and foreign. I thumb through Roget’s, scan Webster’s, and finally have to walk away leaving my mental firewall to soften up.
Much later, while making my bed, eating red licorice, or watching “The Fatal Attraction of Adolf Hitler” on the Military Channel the words form in my mind, elegantly phrased. Then look out, I’ve got to jot them down before they evaporate, never to reappear.
I figure this writing business is a lot like golf, not that I play golf, mind you. But my husband does. He’ll come home from eighteen holes and it’s easy to see how his day passed. I get a tapping Fred Astair through the front door when the links played well, or he stomps in cussing, fit to be tied with frustration.
Can any of us control the flow of magic when it visits? Can any of us make magic appear at will? I can’t. That neuron synapse-ed mess I call my brain does not tolerate fools. It shuts tight when I squeeze too hard. And we have words, my brain and I, when the disconnect seals off from my head to my fingers.
To finish this bathroom-themed post, I must return to the natural. Writing isn’t easy to fake. I can push and bargain and swear, but the fluency of truth, of an honest phrase or an essential certainty is a gift of grace, not a product of stress. When I am anchored to my spirit, not my head, the magic has half a chance.