Ahead Of Schedule

It turns out I lied. When I said that A Marble Heart would be available for purchase Jan. 1, 2017, it was untrue.

The reason for this is because the book is on sale now.

There are several purchasing options. The first is buying a paperback copy from Lulu, which prints it on demand for $22 a copy, plus shipping and handling. While this may seem expensive, it actually was the least amount they would let me charge.

That edition is available at the following link:

Paperback Edition

For those of you on a budget, I also am selling e-copies on Amazon for the bargain-basement price of $2.99 each.

That edition is available at this link:

Electronic Edition

If you’re interested in an autographed copy of the book, you also can buy them from me directly, as Lulu allows me to sell them myself. If that is your choice, send me a check or money order for $17, plus $5 shipping and handling at:

802 W. City Limits Rd.

Apt. 11

Yankton, SD 57078.

Please also send me an e-mail beforehand so I can expect your order.

As always, tell your friends. If you like the book, please consider leaving a review at Amazon, Goodreads or LibraryThing, where pages for A Marble Heart will soon be added.

Preview

For today’s update, I thought I would give you something to read during one of those quiet moments (ha ha!) over the holiday weekend.

And so, here is the opening section of A Marble Heart. Happy holidays!

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The performance began at eight. It was the third day of December, and the opera house was cold all through, from the lobby to the backstage area where the children huddled together in a mass of shivering. Their unfamiliar new clothes were not made for winter wear. There were ten boys and girls here and ten times that back at the Home in Kansas City. Rev. Litten was on the stage, and the children watched him from the wings as he quoted complex figures about the number of orphanages operating throughout the country. At the end of his talk he introduced Marie LeWald as the youngest woman working in the charitable field today. She left her place in the wings, wading through the crowd of children, and walked onto the stage, first bowing to the audience and then curtsying to Rev. Litten before he took her former position.

Flora stopped listening as her Aunt Marie began to speak. She had spent all of her twelve years listening to some version of this talk. The cruel adoption laws, the broken families, the lost little children who often never again see their parents. Marie spoke with sobs in her throat and with hands clasped in a prayerlike vise beneath her chin. From behind Flora came a sound like a loud purr, and she took a half-step back into a boy and stayed there as if to warm him. She was right. It was the growling of his stomach. As Flora stood there an object brushed against her thigh, and without looking she reached down and took it in her hand. It was Celia’s tiny palm. Celia was seven years old, the youngest child at the opera house. She had thick strawberry blond hair that was cut very short, above her ears, with a straight line across the bangs. It was the first time she had touched Flora by her own choice in weeks. She was sweet, like a stray dog that follows a stranger for blocks after a single friendly word or a kind look. Under her other arm Flora held her brother Joseph. He was ten. He was trouble. He was sweet, too.

Mrs. Baker’s speech was last and the longest by halves, and the children did their best not to move when she was onstage. She had a pointed nose and pretty lips, and dark hair that she piled on the top of her head. Her eyes were her most striking features, in particular when they were hit by any kind of light. They were like smooth jewels whose radiance grew more intense as she spoke outdoors or lighted by candles, or as now, in the amber glow of the stage.

“The luckiest children in the world are those that have a family,” Mrs. Baker told the audience. “They have parents to love them, and brothers and sisters, too. Apart from proper food and clothing, the love of a family is the most important thing a child can have. It is a very sad thing, then, that in this world of ours, with all of its people and with all of its homes, not all little children can be so lucky.

“You may ask, ‘What about the children’s homes? What about the orphanages? Are they not able to provide everything these little dear ones so sorely need?’ I am ashamed to say they are not. Most of the little ones in these places have at least one parent. How, then, do such institutions come into being? Oftentimes a parent is unable to care for their child. Perhaps they have had a series of misfortunes – they have lost their means of employment, they have succumbed to a sudden illness, they are unable to pay the rent – or perhaps only one tragedy has befallen them. This is when the orphans’ homes swoop in. The unlucky parents will be served with what is called an order of the court and will have their children snatched away. There is a term for this. It is called kidnapping. And, not unlike a bandit that grabs a child off the streets, the courts will invoke a ransom of some kind. In addition, the homes also will take in funds from the county. Those places are paid off per child – per head, if you will. Like cattle.

“Once a child is placed in one of these homes – although I hasten to call them such, for how can it be a true home where there is no love? Once the child is placed there, it loses its identity. He is no longer little Johnny, she no longer pretty Jane. They are nothing more than one of the many holy little beings to which a numeric figure can be attached. Think of it – our laws are set up to aid in this business. For that is all it is. A business.”

Mrs. Baker’s head bowed as if she were in mourning.

“That is why I embarked upon my mission. It is why I founded the Joseph Walter Home. This name holds a special meaning to me, for it is the same as that of my own son. The poor little thing, he died in infancy.”

Confused, Celia arched her neck to look at Joseph, who continued to stand next to his sister. Opening her mouth to speak, Celia pointed a stubby finger at him.

“But he’s right–”

Before Celia could finish, Flora motioned for her to be quiet, a look of panic flashing across her face. The girl stopped speaking.

From the stage Mrs. Baker squinted into the wings to ascertain which of them had done it. No one from the audience seemed to have heard, and after a few seconds she turned back to the crowd and resumed her talk.

“As I worked to raise my young daughter without the help of a husband – he disappeared after the death of our son, and I heard later that he himself had died, too – I saw the need for a different kind of home, one that not only provides the food and shelter each child needs, but also the love they need just as much. Since I first opened that home in Kansas City, I have helped to raise hundreds of children. I have been a mother to them. Indeed, that’s what they call me. ‘Mother Baker.’ Nothing makes my heart gladder.

“And of course, for those children who still have at least one parent, they are returned to their former homes once conditions there improve. This is not possible under the terms of a normal orphanage. Once those poor children are taken in by the county, they can be adopted, after which time they never see their true parents again. They are robbed of their families, their names and, I repeat, their identities. I guarantee you that nothing of this sort ever happens at the Joseph Walter Home. In addition to food, clothing and shelter, our children are given love, and they retain a sense of who they are. You cannot receive this guarantee from a county orphanage. The only guarantees those places can provide are broken homes and broken hearts. These things, dear friends, are forever.”

Mrs. Baker looked again to the wings and broke into a smile that showed as many of her teeth as possible.

“It is difficult work, and costly, too. But I am glad to do it so that children like these can get all the love and comfort they so need and deserve.”

She lifted her right arm with the palm out, and the children began to file onto the stage as they had rehearsed. Some held hands, while others stood close together in groups of two or three. All of them smiled and faced the darkened opera house as the applause boomed out like a hailstorm from the audience. The children formed a half-circle behind Mrs. Baker, who held up both of her hands until the clapping died down.

“And now, my children will favor you with a hymn whose meaning is so very important to us at the Joseph Walter Home. Thank you very much.”

A small band played the opening strains of “No, Never Alone” as she left the stage. The performance went well, with each of the adults joining the children at the conclusion of the song. They took in the last of the applause and went back to the wings together, waving and smiling at the audience. The sound gave no sign of diminishing as Mrs. Baker turned to the children.

“Which one of you did it?” she snapped. “Which one of you interrupted my speech?”

She walked up and down the line of children, staring into their faces. Although she was near the far end of the group, Celia began to whimper. Her face went red and her eyes stung. Flora squeezed her hand. Celia shut her eyes and hoped her tears would not be seen.

“I did it, Mother.”

It was Joseph. Celia squinted in time to see Mrs. Baker haul off and slap the boy hard across the lips with the back of her hand. Then Mrs. Baker returned to the stage to give a final joyous wave to the crowd.

Artifact

Here’s an interesting item that was used as an exhibit in one of the (several) lawsuits that were filed against Mrs. Baker. I’m only including the letterhead, but it has a lot of information. So far as I can tell, while the address listed still exists in Kansas City, the home Mrs. Baker used does not.

Another point of interest is the list of names, several of whom are characters in the book.

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Influences

Each book I’ve written is a grab-bag of books I’ve read. I usually don’t think in terms of conscious influence as I’m writing, since this seems dangerous to me. If you think too much of other peoples’ work as you’re working, what you’re doing may resemble those other things a bit more than you’d like.

However, I would be lying if I said I was not influenced by other books as I was writing A Marble Heart. Here are just a few of them:

ragtime

Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow. Possibly one of the most obvious influences, it mixes real people with fictional characters. Although I had read it once before in high school, I read it again as I was writing A Marble Heart, specifically because I wanted to see how Doctorow uses history as a springboard to tell his own story.

harriet

Harriet, by Elizabeth Jenkins. Somewhat obscure today, Harriet caused a sensation when it was published because it told a true story – that of a developmentally disabled woman whose husband and family let her starve to death so they could get at her money – and used the names of those involved. To be fair, I did not read this book until I was editing A Marble Heart, but I was gratified by the fact that Jenkins drew on contemporary accounts as sources for her novel, much like I did.

usa

The USA Trilogy, by John Dos Passos. I have not read the trilogy since I was in college, although I remember loving it. The biggest influence I drew from these books was the quick dispensing of information between the more obviously fictional chapters.

human-smoke

Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker. The only non-fiction work on the list, Human Smoke consists of short sections that build and build over the course of hundreds of pages to tell the story of how World War II came about. A devastating read in which almost no historical figure comes off well.

fantomas

Fantomas, by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. Perhaps the most seemingly incongruous item on this list, it may have been the biggest influence on A Marble Heart. It tells of the exploits of master criminal Fantomas, whose supernatural powers allow him to change faces and identifies with ease, allowing him to repeatedly escape justice. Repeatedly? Is the book repetitious? Yes, but the joy lies in finding who Fantomas becomes next, not necessarily his actual escapes. I cannot recommend the book highly enough. It’s Fanto-marvelous.

the-man-who-loved-children

The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead. As Nelson Muntz memorably observed about Naked Lunch, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.” A vast branch of literature seems to be built upon dysfunctional families and parent-child conflicts. There is no family more dysfunctional or conflicted than the one featured in Stead’s masterpiece. I owe more to this book than I can say.

crane

The Works of Stephen Crane. Crane is a huge influence on my writing style, and shows that brevity can be a writer’s best friend. You don’t need to get fancy in order to say what you want to say. People may give credit to Hemingway, but Crane did it first. And best.

First Edition

proof-copy

One of the most rewarding parts of writing a book is holding that first copy in your hands. I had this pleasure on Wednesday, when my proof copy of A Marble Heart arrived in the mail.

The book looks good in terms of layout, so I’m set to order more copies in time for the Jan. 1 release date. Until then, I still have some more decisions to make.

The first of these is what the book will cost. At present, I’m guessing $17 per copy, taking into account how much it costs to print (I won’t tell you) and how many I plan on purchasing to sell myself (so, so many).

Before you say this is too much to pay for a book, let me tell you that it will be available as an e-book, as well, and will cost a mere $2.99 on Amazon.

Also, this book is long. Four hundred fifty-seven pages, to be exact. So $17 isn’t all that much, really, in terms of size.

But, as I said before, there’s still about two weeks before Jan. 1 arrives. All I want to do now is hold the book, flip the pages and think to myself, ‘It’s finally done.’

Of course, I still have to sell the thing…

Defending Mrs. Baker

The following article appeared the same week as the one I shared the other day, but it could not be more different.

For one, it ran in a competing publication, The Deseret News. Also, it is very much in favor of the work Mrs. Baker claims to be doing, and goes so far as to give her a platform in which to tell her story, albeit through the words of a third party.

Mrs. Baker and her assistants garnered quite a bit of attention during their brief stay in Salt Lake City, enough so that they acquired the nickname, “The Women in Black.”

At first, the publicity they received was positive, but this changed after citizens and news outlets had inquired as to the true nature of Mrs. Baker’s activities.

It did not change, however, in The Deseret News. For whatever reason, the paper chose to take Mrs. Baker’s claims at face value. While misguided, the following account does provide a fascinating glimpse into Mrs. Baker’s methods and the ways in which she presented herself.

In an era of “fake news,” non-researched articles like the following can help to illustrate just how little some things have changed in the world of journalism over the past hundred years.

The story ran Feb. 29, 1908.

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History

After Mrs. Baker had operated in Kansas City for a few years, a circular was printed warning people against giving her any money. It was written and distributed by the Associated Charities of Kansas City, and it gives a good rundown of Mrs. Baker’s early career.

It is shared here verbatim as it appeared in The Salt Lake Herald – one of many publications to print it – on Feb. 27, 1908.

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