Oct. 8, 2004

Mother, In Love at Sixty

by Susanna Styve

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Poem: "Mother, In Love at Sixty" by Susanna Styve, from Miscellaneous, Tender © Laurel Poetry Collective. Reprinted with permission.

Mother, In Love at Sixty

Reason number one it can't work: his name is Bill. For god's
sake, he hunts. He has no pets, other than two doting
daughters, and his ex-wife is still alive. He's simply not my
type. Who wants to get married again, anyway? I'm too old.
I go South at the first frost. Plus, he's messy. Men are messy.
He could die. Then where would I be?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of young adult novelist R.L. [Robert Lawrence] Stine, born in Bexley, Ohio. The creator of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series of horror novels for young people, he's one of the best-selling children's book authors of all time. He has written more that a two hundred books and he's sold more than a hundred million copies.

He started out as a social studies teacher, but he quit after one year and became a freelance writer. His first writing was producing fake interviews for a fan magazine. His editor would come by in the morning and tell him to do an interview with the Beatles, so he'd sit down and make it up.

He worked on a series of humorous books for children, including How to Be Funny: An Extremely Silly Guidebook (1978) and The Complete Book of Nerds (1979), but they weren't especially successful. It wasn't until he tried writing a scary book for kids, a novel called Blind Date (1986), that he found any success.

By the early 1990's, his books were selling about a million copies per month. To keep up with demand, he had to write twenty pages a day, finishing a book every two weeks. His Fear Street series was the first modern book series for children that sold equally well to both boys and girls. He is also the author of a horror novel for adults Superstitious (1995), and his autobiography, It Came from Ohio: My Life as a Writer (1997).

In response to critics who have said that his books aren't good for children, R.L. Stein said, "I believe that kids as well as adults are entitled to books of no socially redeeming value."

It's the birthday of the science fiction author Frank Herbert, born in Tacoma, Washington (1920). He was an obsessively curious kid growing up, and he actually dropped out of college because they wouldn't let him take as many courses as he wanted to. As a young man, he supported himself variously as a professional photographer and television cameraman, radio news commentator, oyster diver, and jungle survival instructor, and as a newspaper reporter and editor.

He was an early member of the environmentalist movement and he was especially interested in ecology and resource management. After having worked as a journalist and written about those topics, he decided that the best way to get his ideas across would be to write science fiction novels.

His first novel was The Dragon in the Sea (1956), which was moderately successful. He got the idea for a new novel while he was writing a magazine story on government experiments to control the shifting sands in the coastal town of Florence, Oregon. It took him six years to research and write it. And that was his masterpiece, Dune (1965) about a desert planet where people only survive because they have learned to conserve and recycle every possible trace of moisture.

Dune was one of the first science fiction novels to completely imagine an entirely different world, with different plants and animals, different social classes, and a whole set of elaborate religious beliefs. It became a cult novel on college campuses and went on to sell about 12 million copies in 14 languages.

Herbert went on to write five Dune sequels. He spent a lot of the money he made inventing solar and wind cooling systems for his home. He also served as a consultant in ecological studies to various foundations as well as South Vietnam and Pakistan.

Frank Herbert said, "I refuse to be put in the position of telling my grandchildren: 'Sorry, there's no more world for you. We used it all up.'"

It's the birthday of editor, essayist, novelist and memoirist Michael Korda, born in London, England (1933). He's the editor in chief of the Simon & Schuster publishing house, as well as a best-selling author himself. He started out as a slush pile reader, and he worked his way up to the top by finding a series of best sellers in that very pile. He went on to edit writers such as Graham Greene, Joan Didion, Larry McMurtry, Jackie Collins, and Anthony Burgess.

But he wasn't satisfied just being an editor, so he decided to write books himself. His first big success was a self-help book called Power! How To Get It, How To Use It (1975). He intended the book as satire - describing, for instance, how to arrange your office furniture in order to take advantage of your co-workers. But people took the book seriously and it became a bestseller. He's gone on to write many more books, including Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller (2001).

It's the birthday of the novelist and short story writer Bret Lott, born in Los Angeles (1958). He's the author of many novels, including The Hunt Club (1998) and his most recent novel A Song I Knew by Heart (2004). He didn't realize he wanted to be a writer until after he had studied forestry and marine biology, worked as a cook, sold RC Cola, and taught high school. He happened to take a creative writing course in graduate school, and he liked it so much he kept at it.

Lott supported his family teaching remedial English, and every morning, he got up at 4:30 a.m. while his wife and new baby were still asleep, and wrote for a couple hours, and that was how he finished his first novel The Man Who Owned Vermont (1987).

Bret Lott said, "All my writings, whether short stories or novels, are about working people—people who have to sort through their personal lives and problems while working to pay bills and put food in the refrigerator."

It's the birthday of the comic book writer and essayist Harvey Pekar, born in Cleveland, Ohio (1939). He is the creator of the American Splendor, the first ever autobiographical comic book series, which was made into a movie last year.

His parents were Jewish immigrants. His father was a Talmudic scholar who supported the family by working as a grocer. Pekar was a smart kid, but he dropped out of community college and got a job as a file clerk at a Veterans Administration hospital. He spent his free time reading literature and collecting jazz records. He owned about 15,000 records at the height of his collecting obsession.

It was through record collecting that Pekar became friends with the legendary comic book artist Robert Crumb. One day, while discussing the future of comics as an art form, Pekar complained to Crumb that comic books were all about superheroes or monsters. Even the new alternative comics, geared toward adults, tended to be about sex maniacs and drug addicts. Nobody wrote comic books about real people and their ordinary struggles. After that conversation, Pekar decided to write a comic book about his own life.

Pekar spent the next few weeks writing about his daily difficulties at the supermarket, his interactions with his co-workers, his ordeals with lost keys, and his dating life. Since he couldn't draw anything other than stick figures, he let Robert Crumb illustrate.

The first issue of American Splendor came out in 1976, and Pekar continued publishing a new issue every summer, each one illustrated by a variety of different artists. He printed 10,000 copies of each new issue himself and distributed it to independent bookstores and comic book shops across the country. After fifteen years, he was picked up by a publishing house.

Pekar has written about nearly every important aspect of his life: his job, his friends, meeting his wife, marrying her, their struggles as a couple, buying their first house, and going through his cancer treatment. His work inspired a whole generation of artists to write autobiographical and realist comic books. An anthology of his work was published last year as American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar.

When asked why he wanted to turn his life into a comic book, Harvey Pekar said, "I wanted to write literature that pushed people into their lives rather than helping people escape from them."

Robert Crumb said of him, "He's passionate and articulate. He's grim, he's Jewish. It's a good thing he has stayed in Cleveland all his life. That place would be forgotten in the soup of history without him."

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




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