Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dust, Dollars and Disappointments

Okay, it'll be a miracle if I manage to make a coherent entry out of all that's blowing around in my head tonight. Let's get the Weekend Assignment out of the way first, and then move on to other subjects, only tangentally related.

Weekend Assignment #95: The Best Money You Ever Spent

Welcome to the first of five Journaler-suggested Weekend Assignments, leading up to the 100th Weekend Assignment a few weeks from now. This week's special Weekend Assignment was suggested by Teeisme57:

"My ex-husband always said the best 10 bucks he ever spent was buying his dog, Ace, from the local animal shelter. What's the best money you've ever spent? Whether it's something you love, something you use all the time or something that doesn't owe you a nickel, what is it?"

"Extra Credit: Aside from food, what's the next purchase you plan to make?"

This is one of the rarest titles in my Madeleine L'Engle collection. I've showed the book to you before, but not this particular photo of it. It's her second novel, Ilsa, published in 1946. The Small Rain (1945) has been reprinted many times over the decades, and most of L'Engle's other novels have been reprinted at least once. Some have been continuously in print for 40 years or more. But Ilsa has never been reprinted. It never will be, at least not in L'Engle's lifetime.

The reason is this: she doesn't like it very much.

She's right, too. It's not a very good book. It has interesting characters and an intriguing setting, mood and tragedy and excitement and pathos and social commentary - but ultimately, it's a failure. The protagonist, if you can call him that, drifts along, never really makes any decisions, and ends up with a wasted and ruined life. The title character (unlike Henry) at least has strength of character and an independent spirit, but Ilsa ultimately makes as big a mess of her life as Henry does. Plus she goes blind, as I recall, for no good reason.

Needless to say, I was rather disappointed when I finally got to read Ilsa. It started out very well, but was actually painful to read through to the end.

So why is Ilsa such a great purchase to have made?

Well, for one thing, this is a book I started to read in 1972 or so, and was never able to finish until our friend Kal found me a copy in 1996. I spent a lot of time in a lot of bookstores, looking for this elusive book, first seen in the Manlius Public Library. So I had a specific connection with this book, as I wondered for years and years whether I failed to finish it as a young teen because I wasn't old enough to appreciate it, or whether the book itself was at fault, or both. Now I know. It was both.

Second, as a Madeleine L'Engle collector, I've been trying to collect at least one copy of each of her books. Not having Ilsa would mean that I had a serious gap in the collection, one that would be almost impossible to fill.

Third, there's the fact that this is the most sought-after of L'Engle's books, and one of the most valuable. I still have the receipt for the $40 I paid for my copy in 1996. I was extremely lucky to get it for that price. (Thanks again, Kal!) I have seen the book in similar condition on eBay, selling for over $600. Even a photocopy has been known to fetch $80.

And no, my copy is not for sale.

So that's the best money I've ever spent - at least, that's the best purchase I remember at the moment. See below for the extra credit.

It was windy here today, especially late in the afternoon. When I left work there was a dusty brown cloud hanging over the Catalinas. I had a couple of chances to take pictures of it, because when I reached my car, I discovered I'd left my keys on my desk. So I made two more trips across that dangerous crosswalk, and took more photos while I was at it.

Afterward I went to Dillard's before heading home. I parked on the roof of the Park Place parking garage, figuring it would offer me still more photographic opportunities. That high parking lot offers an almost unimpeded view of the mountains. By the time I left, it also gave me a great view of odd peaks of cloud over the mountains, with an orange sunset off to the left.

Why was I at Dillard's? It was about the dress. You know the one. John hates that dress, and I clearly can't wear it without losing a lot of weight first. Nevertheless, that blue and brown dress has been on my mind. It reminds me of a magical dress Cathma is given in volume two of the second novel. Yes, I know it's weird, but there are a number of items in the real world that I like, based almost entirely on my associating them with Mâvarin and its characters. To me, that blue dress is a fantasy dress, in more ways than one. If I could diet down into it, buy it and wear it and actually look good in it, what a triumph that would be.

So I went in to see whether the dress was still there, two months after I first tried it on. It was. They even have one that's theoretically only one size too small for me, although I suspect it would take a major weight loss to really be able to wear it. And yes, it was marked down on sale - to $135.00. That blows that idea! I can't justify buying a $135 dress that looks great on me, let alone one that looks so bad that John was ashamed of me when he saw the photo.

But I still want it.

I had an odd little flurry of emails today from Carlong Publishers (Caribbean) Ltd., seeking permission to reprint my photo of the sand painting shown above. I was initally perplexed by the request, because they asked to reproduce the photo of an African sand painting from my website. Although the original photo is stored on, it's never actually been posted on - and it's Navajo, not African.

But what the heck. Carlong publishes workbooks and activity books for elementary-level students in Jamaica, and they apparently want to illustrate an activity for making sand paintings. So of course I said yes. Who am I to stand in the way of some Caribbean kid's education? No, there's no money in it, but I asked for a copy of the workbook. So I guess this means I'm going to be a published photographer - sort of.

Now, returning to the issue of the dress, and other frivolous purchases, the only way I could justify spending serious money on a "magic" dress, or a caftan fit for a wizard, which I've also been ogling, would be if I were to sell the novel. To that end, I've emailed a draft of my Heirs of Mâvarin synopsis to a handful of writerly friends. The results so far have not been all that encouraging. I see I have some work to do, getting a synopsis that conveys the gist of the story to someone who hasn't already read it, and makes it sound intriguing and marketable and all that good stuff.

Years ago, I had trouble writing the Adventures subset of the Doctor Who trading cards. I had only a tiny block of space for my text, and it needed to be what the serial was about, not what happened in it. This synopsis thing, I suspect, is a similar writing problem.

But I'll get it, and I'll sell the book eventually. This Karen swears. I'll also get dieting again, because as much as I believe that obesity should not be a source of terrible shame, it's not a good thing, either. Maybe someday I actually will buy that silly dress, or some other dress suitable for Mâvarin - or to wear on a book tour. The other thing I plan to do with the book money - and this one's for sure - is to commission the making of a pendant with the Sun and River design, the symbol of Mâvarin. I don't know when I'll sell the book, so I don't know when I'll make that purchase. But I will sell the book, and I will have that jewelery made.

And now you know the answer to the Extra Credit question.



Carly said...

I have been enjoying sunset photos. I am hoping to take some alos tomorrow, if the weather holds up. :)

Becky said...

The instant I saw the photo of that book I thought "I've never heard of THAT one before!" And no wonder! Very interesting!

Globetrotter said...

Isn't it funny how the characters in our stories become so much a part of us that sometimes there's a very thin line between our mind's perception of whether or not they are real?

I totally understand what you are saying about the dress. For a while, I became "Lora", the quirky heroine of my novel, "The Trip".

Have you read "Shadow of the Wind" yet? It's by a Spanish author and since I have loaned out the book to a friend I cannot tell you the author's name. But I absolutely loved the book! It's about a very rare book that a young boy picks up and it plunges the protagonist into mystery, danger and romance. I thought of it as I read this entry and I believe you would enjoy it , since you collect rare books.

I do believe you'll be published, Karen, because I know how tenacious you are, although I have not read your book. But my advice is to be prepared to hear the worst from some of the agents.