The time comes when you face your darling project with an editor’s eye. Excess must go, no matter how much you love it.
Emilie Loring kept this reminder tacked on the wall above her typewriter:
From all its chapters, from all its sentences, the well-written novel echoes and re-echoes its one creative and controlling thought: to this must every incident and character contribute; the style must have been pitched in unison with this; and if there is anywhere a word that looks another way, the book would be stronger, clearer, and (I had almost said) fuller without it.Robert Louis Stevenson, Memories and Portraits
Say it’s not so! For years, the researcher collects with abandon. Notebooks fill with choice tidbits, and the subject’s life and times come into focus.
But learning isn’t telling, whether you’re writing a novel or a biography. Telling requires selection, and what doesn’t go into your narrative is… what? Lost forever?
Early in the writing of Happy Landings, my husband made a suggestion that eased my collector’s mind. Why not keep a file of “fascinating things that didn’t make it into the book” and use them another time?
In that spirit, I offer two choice bits that didn’t make it into Emilie’s biography. Both have to do with her husband Victor’s literary connections. We join the tale in progress…
Fred Loring and Evil Merodoch
Another Loring writer was Victor’s cousin Frederick “Fred” Wadsworth Loring. At age 22, his articles appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, and he had published The Boston Dip (1871), a humorous collection of poems inspired by a young man’s fixation on the female of the species and also by a popular dance with that name.
No more do dancers float along, They frantically skip; They tumble as if sick upon A very buoyant ship; The gentle clasp around the waist Has now become a grip, And round and round the couples bob,-- It is the Boston Dip.
Fred joined the Wheeler Expedition to the desert southwest in late 1871 and sent back to Appleton’s Journal a diary of dispatches from their travels.
“Tuesday, August 15th. – We have a guide, an objectionable pioneer, mountaineer, miner, forty-niner, bear-hunter, and squatter. I do not like the class. One of them took me for an old partner of his–another forty-niner, who narrowly escaped being lynched–which was flattering. Still, my beard has grown to such an extent that I am not astonished at the mistake.”
His last letter was dated August 27th:
“I am bootless, coatless, everything but lifeless. Thousands of dollars would not pay me for my Death-Valley experience of two days ago and our Indian row of this morning, of which I hope to send you an account in a week… The ghastly absurdity of my recent experience makes me almost laugh in spite of my being somewhat scared at what I fear is yet to come.”
Riding in a stagecoach near Wickenburg, Arizona on November fifth, the group was attacked by men dressed as Apaches. The first volley of shots killed the driver, after which young Loring, who was seated next to him, had the misfortune to jump off the coach on the side from which the attackers were coming. Fred attempted to run but was quickly surrounded, and two bullets and a lance thrust into his chest ended his life. Three others were killed, bringing the total to five, while a pretty prostitute and another of the coach passengers leaped to the side of the coach away from the shooting and escaped with their lives. This photo of Fred, taken only hours before his death, made it back to the Lorings and was passed down to the next generations.
Aaron K. Loring, Boston
Fred’s publisher was another Loring cousin, Aaron K. Loring. Even among scores of literati in Boston, he was considered “someone to know.” He witnessed the founding of the Atlantic Monthly by Phillips and Sampson and was privy to the dinner conversations of Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow, and Lowell. At the death of Moses Sampson in 1859, Loring published on his own, and like his predecessor, he told stories of the books that “got away.”
Having advanced over $400 for three separate manuscripts of Louisa May Alcott’s which proved dismal failures with the public, he rejected a reading of Little Women with the stuffy reply, “No, Mr. Alcott, I do not think I do want to read any more of Miss Alcott’s manuscripts.” As he told it later, “But Miss Alcott never wrote any better book than her ‘Little Women,’ which made her famous and might have made me rich. I escaped the latter condition…”
Mr. Loring did just fine. Almost a decade after rejecting Miss Alcott, he accepted Horatio Alger’s first Ragged Dick book and thereafter published the full series of popular, rags-to-riches tales.
More significant than Aaron Loring’s publishing efforts was his establishment of “Loring’s” at 319 Washington Street. Both a bookstore and a lunchroom, the store operated one of the first circulating libraries in Boston, lending books for two cents a day, and served as a social gathering point. Ralph Waldo Emerson might drop in with a new manuscript, passing by groups of ladies who met “at Loring’s” for coffee and “luscious oysters cooked to [their] fancy,” discussing ways and means or picking up the latest novel. The senior Henry James asserted to the proprietor, “I count that day lost, Mr. Loring, when I fail to visit your library.”
Tell me, if you find a bookstore offering coffee and oysters these days!
Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing and Wisdom is at the copy editor’s, and when that task is done, book design will begin in earnest. We are still hoping for a fall/winter release. Stay tuned.