Sunday Apr. 12, 2015

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Springtime, 1998

Our upstate April
        is cold and gray.

yesterday I found
        up in our old
                 woods on the littered

ground dogtooth violets
        standing around
                 and blooming

wisely. And by the edge
        of the Bo’s road at the far
                 side of the meadow

where the limestone ledge
        crops out our wild
                 cherry trees

were making a great fountain
        of white gossamer.
                 Joe-Anne went

and snipped a few small boughs
        and made a beautiful

in the kitchen window
        where I sit now

“Springtime, 1998” by Hayden Carruth from Toward the Distant Islands. © Copper Canyon Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1633 that Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Inquisition, for supporting the theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. In late April 1633, Galileo agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced to an unlimited period of house arrest in his home in Florence. He gradually went blind and died in 1641. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Catholic Church formally admitted that Galileo’s views on the solar system are correct.

Flaubert’s first novel, Madame Bovary (books by this author), was published on this day in 1857, about a woman who has multiple affairs to stave off the boredom of her empty existence. The novel caught the attention of the authorities, and Flaubert was charged with corrupting public morals. He was acquitted, and the publicity from the trial made the book a best-seller.

It was on this day in 1945 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in office. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his resort in Warm Springs, Georgia. That evening, Harry S. Truman took the oath of office. Eleanor Roosevelt called Truman to the White House with the news of her husband’s death. He asked her, “Is there anything I can do for you?” And she replied, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

It’s the birthday of children’s book author Beverly Cleary (books by this author), born in McMinnville, Oregon (1916), and raised on a farm in nearby Yamhill. She became a children’s librarian in a small town in Washington state, and over the years, she noticed that many of the children complained that they couldn’t find books about children like themselves. It took her awhile to get started, but Cleary eventually decided to write the kind of books those kids were looking for, books about ordinary children living ordinary everyday lives, whose parents struggle to pay the bills and hang onto their jobs. Her first book was Henry Huggins (1950), and it was a huge success. One of the minor characters in that book was a girl named Ramona Quimby, the kind of girl who wipes paint on the neighbor’s cat, draws pictures in library books, and locks her friend’s dog in the bathroom, without ever realizing that she’s bothering anybody. She went on to become the main character of Cleary’s most popular series of books, including Ramona the Pest (1968), Ramona the Brave (1975), and Ramona Forever (1984).

It’s the birthday of novelist Tom Clancy (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland (1947). His father worked for the post office, and his mother got a job in a department store so that Tom was able to attend a private Catholic school. As a kid, Clancy was obsessed with naval history, reading books written for engineers and officers. He went to Loyola University in Baltimore. He joined the ROTC, but he had terrible eyesight and was rejected from military service. He studied English at Loyola, and dreamed of seeing his name on a book. He graduated in 1969, but he didn’t pursue a career in writing. Instead, he went to work for the insurance agency owned by his in-laws. He enjoyed keeping up on military news, and he wrote his first piece: a letter to the editor for the Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, which he insisted on delivering in person. The magazine’s editor refused to meet him at first, convinced that Clancy was pushing for a face-to-face meeting because he wanted to sell him insurance, but finally he scheduled a meeting, and agreed to publish the letter. Clancy was so thrilled by the small amount of money that he framed the check and hung it in his office, and it was never cashed. Clancy also published a technical piece in Proceedings about firing nuclear missiles from hovercrafts.

By 1980, he was making a good living in the insurance business, and he purchased the agency from his wife’s grandmother. Suddenly, he was his own boss, and could set his own hours. He couldn’t shake his urge to write something bigger than an item or two for the Navy magazine. One day he was puttering around in the archives of the Naval Academy when he found a master’s thesis by a U.S. Navy officer named Greg Young. The thesis was about the Storozhevoy, a Soviet destroyer whose crew had mutinied and attempted to set sail to Sweden and seek political asylum. They were discovered, the leader of the mutiny was executed, and the others were harshly punished. The ordeal was covered up by the Russians, and it didn’t make the news, but Young had done some investigative journalism and spent two years piecing together the story into his thesis.

Clancy wrote to Young and asked if he could use some of the material to write a novel. Young was excited that someone had actually read his thesis, and he agreed, and suggested some additional sources for Clancy. Clancy began working on the novel in all his spare time, occasionally neglecting his insurance business. His wife told him to give it up, that he would do better selling insurance, but he ignored her. Although he based his plot on the Storozhevoy incident, his version of the story had a happy ending: the mutinous Soviet submarine crew is welcomed to the United States.

When Clancy finished the manuscript, he called up the Naval Institute once again, and told them that he had written a novel called The Hunt for Red October. They had never published a piece of fiction, but the acquisitions editor there was convinced that it had promise, and they agreed to publish it, offering Clancy $5,000. Fact-checkers spent eight months going through Clancy’s manuscript, and were shocked at how accurate it was, considering that Clancy had never even been on a submarine. Sales for The Hunt for Red October (1984) were good, but not particularly impressive. Then the publisher managed to get a copy to a friend of Nancy Reagan, and it made its way to the president, who loved it, announcing that it was “unputdown-able” and “a perfect yarn.” Suddenly, The Hunt for Red October became a huge best-seller. When it was published, Clancy had hoped that it would sell 5,000 copies. Instead it sold 45,000 copies in its first six months, and has since sold more than 3 million.

Clancy went on to write many best-selling books, including Clear and Present Danger (1989), The Sum of All Fears (1991), The Teeth of the Tiger (2003), and Threat Vector (2012).

He said: “I’m in the entertainment business. My function in life for the most part is to take people out of their lives and put them somewhere else.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®