Jun. 22, 2011

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

by Christopher Marlowe

COME live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There will I make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider'd all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair linèd slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my Love.

Thy silver dishes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my Love.

"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe. Public Domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of best-selling novelist Dan Brown (books by this author), born in Exeter, New Hampshire (1964). His father was a math teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, and Dan spent his childhood working on math puzzles. He said: "On Christmas morning, when we were little kids, he would create treasure hunts through the house with different limericks or mathematical puzzles that led us to the next clue. And so, for me, at a young age, treasure hunts were always exciting."

Many years later, he was on a vacation in Tahiti with his wife, and he picked up a thriller that was left behind by the last tourist — The Doomsday Conspiracy by Sidney Sheldon. He said: "Up until this point, almost all of my reading had been dictated by my schooling (primarily classics like Faulkner, Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, etc.) and I'd read almost no commercial fiction at all since the Hardy Boys as a child." He was enthralled by The Doomsday Conspiracy, and decided to try his hand at writing a page-turner.

He used his fascination with puzzles and symbols to write Digital Fortress (1998), a thriller revolving around government codebreakers and a dangerous algorithm, complete with murders, suicides, and love triangles. Digital Fortress didn't sell very well, and neither did Angels and Demons (2000), featuring the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon; or Deception Point (2001), about a team of scientists in the Arctic.

He wrote the outline for his next book in the laundry room of his house, sitting on a lawn chair with an ironing board as a table. He brought back the character of Robert Langdon and wrote a thriller featuring Renaissance art, the Catholic Church, and early Christian history. That was The Da Vinci Code (2003), one of the best-selling novels of all time. The success of The Da Vinci Code meant that Brown's earlier novels became best-sellers too.

Brown hasn't slacked off on writing just because he has sold millions of books. He said: "I still get up every morning at 4 a.m. I write seven days a week, including Christmas, and I still face a blank page every morning. My characters don't really care how many books I've sold." And he said: "In addition to starting early, I keep an antique hour glass on my desk and every hour break briefly to do pushups, sit-ups, and some quick stretches. I find this helps keep the blood (and ideas) flowing. I'm also a big fan of gravity boots. Hanging upside down seems to help me solve plot challenges by shifting my entire perspective."

He said: "Writing an informative yet compact thriller is a lot like making maple sugar candy. You have to tap hundreds of trees…boil vats and vats of raw sap ... evaporate the water ... and keep boiling until you've distilled a tiny nugget that encapsulates the essence. Of course, this requires liberal use of the DELETE key. In many ways, editing yourself is the most important part of being a novelist ... carving away superfluous text until your story stands crystal clear before your reader. For every page in The Da Vinci Code, I wrote 10 that ended up in the trash."

It's the birthday of novelist Erich Maria Remarque (books by this author), born in Osnabrück, Germany (1898). He was raised in a working-class Catholic family. He was a talented pianist, and to earn money for his schooling he gave piano lessons to younger children.

In 1916, he was drafted into World War I, where he worked as a sapper — a type of engineer —building bunkers and dugouts and laying barbed wire. A few months before the war ended, he was wounded by splinters from a grenade, and spent the rest of the war in the hospital.

It took him awhile to write about his war experiences. He drifted from job to job. Because of his injuries, he could no longer pursue a career in piano. He sometimes posed as a decorated officer in public, wearing a lieutenant's uniform with medals, which eventually got him in trouble with the authorities. He did some substitute teaching, wrote a couple of sentimental novels, played organ at a mental institution, worked for the Continental Rubber Company, and worked in the photo department for an auto magazine.

In 1927, 10 years after he had been injured, Remarque began to write a war novel. He drew on some of his own experiences, but also on stories he had heard, and other things he just made up. That novel was All Quiet on the Western Front. He had trouble finding a publisher because publishers doubted that the public was interested in World War I anymore. Finally, his manuscript was accepted by a large publisher, Ullstein, who threw their weight behind a major marketing campaign. First they serialized it in one of their magazines, which sold out on every day that All Quiet was printed. It was released in book form in 1929, and sold 200,000 copies in three weeks. But Ullstein fudged the background story in order to sell more copies and appease the government. They took out some of the more explicit anti-war statements, and most significantly, they suggested that All Quiet on the Western Front was a memoir. They characterized Remarque as a regular soldier fighting in the front lines who wrote the book as a form of therapy, and they implied that he had written the book in just a few weeks and then never edited it at all. This strategy sold a lot of books, and it assured the government that Remarque was just a soldier with a story to tell, not an artist creating subversive anti-war art. Later, Remarque was criticized for changing the facts of his war service, when in fact he had not even set out to write a memoir. He escaped from Germany when Hitler took power in 1933, and a few months later, copies of All Quiet were publicly burned.

All Quiet on the Western Front made Remarque famous, and he used that fame to become an international playboy. He bought valuable antiques, and paintings by Picasso, Degas, and Van Gogh; he purchased a three-story villa in Switzerland; he hit up New York's swankiest nightclubs; and he dated Hollywood stars.

Remarque is best remembered for All Quiet on the Western Front, but he wrote many more novels, including the best-sellers Arch of Triumph (1945) and The Night in Lisbon (1961).

He wrote: "We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men; we are crude and sorrowful and superficial — I believe we are lost."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Octavia Butler (books by this author), born in Pasadena, California (1947). Her father was a shoeshiner who died when she was young, and she was brought up by a single mother who worked as a maid and had to use the back door. Octavia's mother couldn't afford to buy her daughter books but sometimes she got to bring home battered copies from the houses where she worked. Butler loved them, and started writing her own stories. She said: "When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn't in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn't manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I'm me and I'm here and I'm writing." She went to UCLA, and there respected science fiction writer Harlan Ellison took Butler under his wing. For years she woke up at 2 a.m. to write before she went to work.

One of her best-known novels is Kindred (1979), the story of a black woman living in 1970s Southern California who is suddenly transported to a plantation in antebellum Maryland, where she is forced to live as a slave among her ancestors in order to guarantee that she herself exists in the 1970s. The novel was rejected many times, and when it was finally accepted Butler received a $5,000 advance. She said: "I was living on my writing, and you could live on $5,000 back then. You could live, but not well. I got along by buying food I didn't really like but was nourishing: beans, potatoes. A 10-pound sack of potatoes lasts a long time."

She said: "A good story is a good story. If what I'm writing reaches you, then it reaches you no matter what title is stuck on it. [...] I think people have made up their minds that they don't like science fiction because they've made up their minds that they know what science fiction is. And they have a very limited notion of what it is. I used to say science fiction and black people are judged by their worst elements."

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