Monday, March 28, 2011

It's Rejection, However You Say It!

I recently acquired some books that had belonged to a dear writer friend of mine. Among them was The Writer's Chapbook, A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit and Advice from the 20th Century's Preeminent Writers. 

It's the kind of book one picks up from time to time, and reads little tidbits from. Here, from the book, is a rejection letter unlike any one I've ever received. Maybe it's just as well!

"We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret . . ."

It is a rejection from a Chinese economics journal.

Write on!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Into the Home Stretch

I'm in the home stretch now, reading the manuscript from the computer screen, chapter by chapter, aloud, so that I can "hear the story." Above all, I want to make my version of Mary Pickford's biography more than a collection of facts.

As I read, I search out typos, move paragraphs to improve the flow, and delete unnecessary words. You know the gremlins -- adverbs and cliches.

The books bibliography is finish, the illustrations chosen, the index entries ready, but I've been having trouble getting the chronology into two columns. The dates for "Mary and Her Times" have to align with the dates of events in "Canada and the World," including the world of film-making.

I was fortunate on the weekend when I asked for suggestions from my writers' group that one of them, Helen, not only emailed me a table I can use, but also provided me with instructions for how to add to it.

Before this, I was entering information into both columns, only to have it move to the next page and into the wrong column. I was getting nowhere, and the deadline for submitting everything to the publisher was closing in.

That's the thing about writers' groups. Someone is sure to be able to help you out, but better yet, will be willing to share her knowledge. No one is holding his trade secrets close to his chest.

Write on!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Choosing the Right Illustrations

Posted by Picasa It's time to choose the illustrations for the biography I'm writing.  There are so many photos to choose from  -- thousands of portraits, movie stills, and personal photos. Mary Pickford's portraits are all beautiful, many of them back-lit to give her hair a halo-like appearance.

But in my opinion, it's the candid shots that are the most interesting. In the one above, she's obviously on the set, re-applying her lipstick, while someone holds a mirror for her.

Mary always liked to be photographed from the left, believing that was her best side. She was critical of her looks, claiming her head was too large for her tiny body. It's not something I've been able to see, any more than I can see the side of her face that she considered less than her best.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tell Me, Mary Pickford.

I'd love to be able to call up my friend, Mary, and have her answer some of my lingering questions. Or better yet, drop in on her one afternoon and chat for a while.
After all the reading I've done about her, there are still a number of things I'd like to know -- little details that I've never seen in my research.
If only I weren't thirty-two years too late. It's like the regret we feel after a parent is gone, and we think of all the things we never talked about.

For one thing, how did a little girl, who spent her first eight years living in the Victorian slums in downtown Toronto, learn to horseback ride? When did that happen? And where?

We know she rode horses in her films. But before that, she had spent her childhood riding the rails, barnstorming across the States, appearing in plays in every little town that had a theatre. So, who taught her? When did she find the time to learn?

In her autobiography Mary mentions that she loved to read. As she thought about retiring from show business, spending more time with Buddy, her third husband, pictured with her here, she looked forward to relaxing at home and reading. What, I wonder, did she like to read?

Although she'd had no more than a few months' formal education, and her mother taught the three children while they were doing road tours, Mary always insisted that she'd learned to read from watching the billboards from the windows of the train.

I'm afraid that one question would just lead to another,  if ever I'd had the opportunity to talk to this fascinating woman.