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What gets you running for the hanky? I think of Lily Bart and I’m there. The House of Mirth is my favorite Wharton. Wharton is my favorite American writer. Win-win.
It’s been a long time since she published. Yet with her unique perspective, humor and the emotion she poured into stories she inspired me in a big way to become a writer. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. She lived within the constraints of a stiff, manacled culture on her terms when few women had aspirations outside the cotillion room.
The House of Mirth tells the story of Lily Bart-a poor relation on the fringes of high society. What’s interesting here is that Wharton could have started the novel at a much earlier time. No. Instead, we get a sense of Lily’s past as the belle of the ball, but things haven’t turned out the way she hoped. She’s 29 and on the sunset of her beauty. The money her father left has dwindled and that makes the novel all the more taut, full of razor-sharp tension and projects impending doom for Lily as she tries one last grasp at the brass ring, to arrange a good marriage.
She drifts on good graces and invites from regattas to house parties, racking up debts from cards and clothes she can ill afford. The irony of her situation is all the more acute, since she needs these props to make that advantageous match before her beauty runs out. The promises of an inheritance held as a carrot become spoiled by her own behavior and her desperation to be accepted.
Lily’s conflict-the trappings of wealth pull against her attraction for Seldon who offers her a chance to be herself-as they come crashing down in scandal where she has the means to destroy happiness in one sacrifice. Perhaps the most heartbreaking is Lily’s utter inability to be anything other than what she is; a product of that culture she longs in-part to escape. Her attempts to hold down a job at a hat maker end with realization that she is “a useless sort of person.”
The novel is not a light-hearted beach read but I guarantee you’ll never forget it.
As a child, and later teen I dreamt of the following; girl writes book; girl mails off book; girl gets published and maybe gets a miniseries. I read a lot of Judith Krantz. Mistral’s Daughter is one of my favorite 80’s tomes.
Young and inexperienced, seems so easy doesn’t it? But in today’s uncertain publishing climate, one size fits all is gone.
What do you do to get your head on straight and make the best decision for yourself?
You read a lot. Educate yourself about this rapidly changing business. Know this; even if you push a boulder the size of a house uphill; even if you follow your heart; you will face lots of risk. It’s just not cut and dry anymore.
But there are opportunities. Pause, learn and consider what path you’re taking. Going shotgun on a 100 queries isn’t a plan. Trust that you’re talent will be the life raft you will need to navigate this thing called publishing. Indie authors are exploding. That’s no secret. A few years ago when I was busy writing with my head in the sand I ignored debates going on. One reason is that it bothered me. I wanted the traditional path and I didn’t want to hear all the poo-pooing about ebooks and publishing is a button and ya-ya-ya. Yawn. It kinda scared me. It threatened my dream.
When I bought my Nook three years ago I didn’t think about it. I still had paper books. All this talk must be just that. Then two years ago I walked into Barnes and Noble. There was always new-fangled book lights or pretty diaries for sale. What I saw I couldn’t ignore. 3/4 of the store was given over to candles. Expensive soaps. Godiva chocolates. The stacks of books seemed an after thought. Soap. Think about that. I knew I had to learn the business and quick.
Today, we have choice but it’s overwhelming. Getting an agent has never been harder. So what do you do? Go the small press route to crack in, get your cred and build your career? I don’t have any answers in 2014. Except, think carefully. Don’t be desperate. Read and investigate. If the idea of getting smaller royalties and giving away your rights is okay for a date at the prom, small presses may be for you. Read the contract. If you don’t know what you’re reading get help. If you don’t want to give your rights away, you’re being required to promote your book, heck you’re already doing it, and you want to keep 70% of the profits maybe you want to look into self-publishing.
When I hear so and so say, oh yeah I threw my book up on Amazon and didn’t make a dime, that tells me that they probably weren’t serious. They didn’t invest in a good editor, good cover artist (be willing to change that cover if need be) and weren’t prepared to promote the book and weren’t writing more books. If you want to self-publish you must do all three things. If you want to go the small press route be prepared also to do more. You won’t get an advance, but with small presses you’ll get passion and help.
If you go the traditional route, if you have the dream of getting an agent and trying to stalk the Big5 peak hunker down, it’s a long winter. Build you’re ice fort around your ego and your skin. Stake your heart to the ground to be safe. Stockpile food for the haul because you’re looking for someone who will love you’re book like a lover. It may be an extended wait. Resist the urge to tear apart you’re work every time you get a No. Believe in your story, keep writing and realize that it’s the numbers game. Keep coming back, it’s a matter of time.
So be thoughtful before you leap at any contract. Make a plan. Have a vision. Embrace risk. Get excited it’s uncertain times but writers are reaching readers like never before and that’s why we do this right?
“… living only for the moment, savouring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting oneself just in floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current: this is what we call ukiyo.”
Edo 17th century. Shogun ruled with an iron fist. The society was heavily stratified with a land-owning samurai class at the top and the merchants at the bottom. But while the samurai began to decline and grow poorer the merchants grew wealthy. What merchants lacked in respectability they more than made up for in money. They spent that money freely on kabuki; courtesans and other pursuits found in the pleasure quarters. Ukiyo-e embodied a live for today attitude, live while the money is flowing, while the samurai prepared for death. Stark contrast between two cultures.
The merchant class popularized woodblock images, “heroes of Ukiye-o” because they had kobans and ryo to burn on mass consumption, the acquisition and the patronage of artists whose images graced their homes. It’s not surprising that the more conservative government wanted to stamp out the images. They feared that woodblocks would infect the mass culture of Japan with a licentious greed. Waves of artist persecutions came and went, but in the end people loved woodblocks. Merchants wives and daughters copied courtesan style of the day. They imitated flashy kimono and piled their hair high with pincushions of expensive kanzashi hair sticks, which led the government to enact more, futile sumptuary laws.
Everyone wanted to dress like a courtesan and that was the problem.
In the 19th century some of the greatest artists became inspired by the woodblocks of the Ukiyo-e. Van Gogh was rumored to have seen an Eisen woodblock of a famous courtesan when he was painting abroad. The style of the floating world swept opera, musicals, furniture and china, styles that became known as Japonaise. What was largely a hedonistic art form born in a city ruled by a dictator went to Paris.
Some examples of Japonaise art.
Van Gogh’s La Courtisane.
Another charming example of the style, La Japonaise by Wordsworth.
Those who walk barefoot in life, hold their pain within and withstand much.
The foot in Asian culture has long been revered an erotic appendage, but the courtesans who scooted around cold, dark floors, even in the dead of winter were a breed all their own.
The courtesan was a unique creature. She wore flashy layers of silk kimono and padded outer coats called uchikake that rippled as she walked-for a courtesan took five steps to the one everyone else took. She hobbled around engagement to engagement with nothing on her feet. Even during dochu procession, a courtesan walked with her bare feet shoved inside stilted shoes to show her height and her majesty amongst a short-statured culture. The bare foot set the courtesan off from the rest of dull womanhood and was not merely an erotic enticement. The barefooted courtesan showed herself to be tough, resilient, flowering, thriving like beautiful red flowers in a place flowing with tears.
She had to be tough. She came to the brothel as a small child. She was exposed from a very early age to the ugly paying business between men and women. If she was lucky and beauty was on her side, she was groomed by a sponsor to become a courtesan herself.
Exalted beauty had a price. She had an iron-clad contract with her employer, the brothel keeper, that was heavy and one-sided. Everything was charged to her account. She was expected to purchase her clothes and accoutrements for entertaining clients which naturally was designed to keep her in debt until her contract could be bought out by a wealthy daimyo. Sometimes her beauty waned before that could happen. Sometimes she succumbed to disease or death first.
There are no old tayu in Edo. Tayu do not grow old.
The courtesan, a complete creature of the artifice dare not show any concern for ordinary cares, even hunger. The number two rule, after though shall not take non-paying lovers, thou shall not eat in front of a client. Parties and entertainments could well go on for days. Sake flowed, noodles were spilt but the courtesan would never allow one bit of noodle powder to grace her red lip. Men might have thought it was more erotic, the brothel owner decided men did not need to watch women eat. Brothels kept their girls starved and they were allowed to eat to their hearts content one day of the year, on New Years.
Good thing dreams were free.
Of course, very few contracts were ever bought out. The girl had to be extraordinary. Famous, a sensation of her day. If she rose to the very top, she might get out of the life while she was still young enough to enjoy what was left. Before she left the Yoshiwara behind for good, she would wash her feet at the well and walk away free and clear of the quarter and into life with her feet covered as a sign she was retired. Respectable.
A beautiful orphaned girl grows up in a brothel from kamaru to top courtesan amongst female intrigue, jealousy and costumes that demand attention. What’s not to love?
If you haven’t seen the 2009 film bringing the Japanese manga artist Anno’s beloved world of the Yoshiwara to life what are you waiting for?
Kick off your geta, untie your sash this is one spectacular feast for the eye.
Anna Tsuchiya (Kamikaze Girls) plays Kiyoha, a girl traded to a brothel who undergoes a transformation to reach the top courtesan. But she doesn’t want to be oiran. She’s rebellious. She has a dream to see if cherry blossoms are the same as ones outside of the brothel gates. It might sound simple, but courtesans were rarely allowed to cross the great Omon gate for more than a handful of festival days. But while Kiyoha dreams of a life beyond the brothel, grasping elders see her spirited nature as a sign. This girl will rise as a great oiran. The older, house oiran already fears her as her greatest rival in the making. As she grows the tensions escalate to delicious fun.
Rivals aside, and who doesn’t love that, the film explores the courtesan’s peculiar state of being. She’s schooled in the ways to please men but for the love of God, thou shalt not fall in love. To take a lover was the end of a courtesan’s career, a hidden trap that could expose her to pregnancy, blackmail and disease. If a man takes a courtesan to bed he must pay for the privilege. To fall in love was a weakness. To give away favors for free was a disgrace. Dismissal was the price to be paid for disobedience and the contract, thousands of ryo, was due and payable to the brothel upon expulsion. Woe to the courtesan who didn’t steal her heart and was wise in the ways of love; who didn’t wait till the time was right for love after her contract was bought out. This is Kiyoha’s down fall and why we love her so much.
Will Kihoya get to see the cherry blossoms on the outside of the brothel gates and what will she find? You’ll have to watch but trust me this film just has it all. Stunning costumes; allusion and symbolism; terrific cast; amazing cinematography and a fabulous soundtrack. They also nail the figure-eight step.
If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing check out the song below Gamble by Sheena Ringo for a montage of the film.
A man is a samurai first, the blade is his lover.
So what happens when a samurai is shut out of work? There’s no unemployment line, right? Starvation? Decline? That’s exactly what happened during the twilight era of the samurai. After the Tokugawa installed themselves as shogun and reigned for nearly 300 years, Japan began to settle down. There was inter-clan warfare but the large-scale battles receded. Armies dwindled. Daimyo fortunes began to dry up. Samurai were let go from their castle towns. They became masterless, or ronin. They had no one to serve, forced to wander the countryside in search of opportunities.
But sometimes they left over a disagreement with their daimyo. Perhaps they suffered dishonor, they went against their lord or held to a conviction they knew was right. Sometimes the daimyo was killed and that left a samurai masterless. Sometimes a samurai even committed seppuku if his grief was great enough or he made a promise to do so.
The 47 Ronin is a dramatic tale of extreme fealty and revenge. This most famous samurai story certainly entertains. The term ronin carries an air of romance and glamor but during the Edo period, ronin were often a dangerous nuisance to be avoided. They acquired reputations as bullies who strutted along busy streets looking for provocation and willing to split heads like melons over the price of tea. You could tell by the half-mad stare of the eyes and the pompous, almost dandified way they carried themselves. Sometimes ronin are portrayed as cheats who stuck noses in business dealings for the privilege of taking a cut for not murdering you. Ronin was feared, but he was laughed at behind his back.
The real truth is somewhere in the middle. Samurai pay was small. It barely covered living expenses. It was once considered a disgrace for a samurai to work the merchant trade. But some ronin made respectable livings working as merchants, growing vegetables in secret or scouting new talent for the brothels. Some could be seen swaggering up the streets with umbrellas stuffed under their arms, and their swords struck at their side. They were not comfortable but they survived, they adapted and struggled to retain their dignity. And that’s my definition of a samurai any day.
You know every one of Miss Snark’s blog posts, you don’t care if she went dark years ago. In fact, you still believe she’s out there. Waiting to get you. You still troll Nathan Bransford’s Orange Goodness before you make a move and Query Tracker has lost it’s shine. It’s time for the credo.
Writing is hard. If the process was easy, we’d all be cranking out book deals.
Don’t You Quit.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, When the funds are low and the debts are high, And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit-Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about When he might have won had he stuck it out. Don’t give up though the pace seems slow -You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up When he might have captured the victor’s cup; And he learned too late when the night came down, How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt, And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit -It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
What’s it gonna be?
P is for PERSISTENCE. If you want to get published, learn it. Memorize it. Embrace it.
Publishing is hard. The business rewards those who don’t give up.
Editors and agents will keep it real. Learn from what makes sense, discard what doesn’t. Don’t sell out your dream.
Realize you will be rejected more times than you ever thought possible. Mourn for a day and move on. Revenge query.
Structure will guide you like a headlight along a dark road. Don’t compromise on craft. Read good books.
Imagine yourself at the top, even when you feel like you can’t crawl out of the gutter of rejection. Imagine it. Be it.
Stay the course. If you need another round of edits, dive in. Don’t fight it. Keep editing and carry on.
The fact is, you’re looking for a marriage. You’re looking for the L word. You want that agent to adore your work.
Expect critique partners who help and respect you. Treat other writers as you would be treated.
Never give up. Never. Even when they say your baby’s ugly. Editing is plastic surgery be your own book doctor.
Care for yourself during submissions. Resist the urge to wallow. Buy little rejection gifts, treat yourself to manis/pedis.
Embrace the challenge to get published. Believe in your story. Look for the love in their eyes, even if it’s under every rock on the planet because publishing, more than talent rewards persistence
The kago drops the daimyo off to the House of Great Muirya-a prestigious brothel where the lawns are manicured into impossibly, charming little gardens and cedar floors lead into a labyrinth of assignation tunnels.
This is not the daimyo’s first time or his second. He’s paid a bundle in ryo just to negotiate a meeting with the high class courtesan. He hasn’t been accepted. She’s late. She didn’t even show up the last time the meeting was requested. He’s donned the inevitable straw hat disguise, so no one knows he’s moving about such an infamous place.
The hat is of course a joke. Many samurai wear the same disguise but it seems a ritual that is tried and true in the Yoshiwara. He’ll give up his daishi and sword at the door before he enters the brothel. They don’t want any trouble, and besides everyone knows he’s here. His name is posted outside. If she accepts him, the room will be sumptuous. He can think of little else. He hasn’t seen her. There’s been drinking games, endless sake, geisha entertaining and he’s getting poorer each time but that’s the brothel’s idea. Make him wait. Spend his money. It’s been months and he’s a man of position and power. But still the courtesan refuses him. He’s determined all the more to have her, at least till his ryo runs out.
Yabo jingles kobans in his sash. He’s saved a lifetime all for this moment. He has enough for a meeting at the tea house to request a night with the famous courtesan. He wonders if his countrified airs will count against him. He jingles kobans again. He’s not handsome and the courtesan may well turn up her nose. Money will pay for anything, even a night with the girl of his dreams.
The shoji slides and she floats into the room, with a trail of silk and jasmine flowing behind her. The yabo and the daimyo look at each other. Who will she choose?
The Greeks had their tragedies. The Romans a love for gore. The Japanese have Noh.
Well not quite as old as the ancient world, Noh’s classical drama has been performed continuously since the 13th Century. Like kabuki in it’s earliest inceptions, men play both male and female roles. Masks are a big part of the performance that can last all day.
If you went to a traditional Noh in the past, you would see five plays mingled with short, humorous courses to cleanse the palate. Today, Noh is performed in two plays and a humor set, a kyogen, set in between.
The plays are traditional and codified by the family foundation, new plays occasionally celebrate history and welcome innovation. There have also been fusion Noh blending with other art forms like Banruku, puppet theatre.
One cool tradition is that Noh players rehearse only once as an ensemble, which embodies the saying, Sen no Rikyu, “one chance, one meeting.”