I came upon this Conrad quote--reputedly in response to a bad review--while in in the Stanford Creative Writing workshop, working on what became my first published novel: High on the Energy Bridge (1980). I printed the quote and taped it on the wall above my writing desk, and referred to it often during several decades of teaching creative writing workshops. Former students may remember my admonition: praise first, then critique when we considered student work. It's much easier to respond well to criticism after praise. Writers, after all, are only human, and never more so than when their work is being considered, assessed and perhaps shredded by appraising eyes.
I was thinking about the Conrad quote after _______'s review of Cuppy and Stew appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 10th.
Book Life review--A RaVE!
This morning, Friday, June 12th, I woke up to this lovely review in Book Life. https://booklife.com/my/project/cuppy-and-stew-46768
Because the review is so good, here it is in its entirety:
Creative writing professor Goodman (Twelfth and Race) merges memoir and historical fiction in this engrossing tale of love, tragedy, and perseverance. In Vancouver, during the spring of 1937, Suzanne “Anne” Kerr meets Stewart “Stew” Morgan and flirtation eventually leads to love. Stew’s wife and father refuse to let him leave his unhappy marriage, so Stew moves to South Africa with Anne to live as a couple. Their daughters, Sharon and Susan, are born there. They return to Canada in 1945 only to discover that scandal still hangs over their heads. A move to the U.S proves fortuitous, and the family thrives until the 1955 bombing of United flight 629 kills Anne and Stew, leaving Sharon and Susan at the dubious mercy of their estranged extended family.
Stew and Anne’s younger daughter—whose character is based in part on the diaries of Susan Morgan, the author’s wife—provides an engaging narrative voice for this seamless crossover of memoir and historical fiction. Descriptions of Anne and Stew’s more intimate moments are tasteful, though odd to hear about from their child’s perspective. Although the Great Depression and WWII both affect the narrative, historical events mostly fade into the background of the family’s personal struggles. Social norms of the period play a stronger influence on the story. Minor discrepancies arise during the time spent in South Africa.
An overriding sense of overcoming the odds unites the romance of part one with the more tragic circumstances of part two. Clear descriptions coupled with entertaining internal dialogue and concise, expressive characterization make the pages fly by. A marvelous narrator and eventful plot make for an entertaining and moving tale that’s sure to please readers seeking inspirational narratives about hard times in history.
Takeaway: Goodman’s unconventional blend of fact and fiction will be a hit with historical readers who like stories about overcoming adversity.
Great for fans of Edward Rohs and Judith Estrine’s Raised by the Church, Lindsey Jane Ashford’s Whisper of the Moon Moth.
Back to the Farm
On May 27th, we screwed our courage to the flying point, and traveled from SFO to our farm in Mecklenburg, making connections in Detroit. Many kudos to Delta; the plane was 40% full (Delta promised no more than 60% in Coach). Not a single passenger in a middle seat. I had a window seat, Susan had the aisle; no one sat across the aisle from her, in front or behind her. We'd scored some real N-95 masks from Santa Rosa friends who'd purchased them during the 2017 fires; Susan is wearing hers in the charming photo of us; note all the empty seats.
Delta uses Terminal One in SFO, but the TSA security checkpoint was closed in Terminal 1. We walked (inside the terminal ) to the TSA checkpoint for Terminal Two, and when we arrived, there was no one in front of us. The gate area was nearly empty; no problem finding six seats (and six feet) of space for the two of us. Kind of eerie, as perhaps 10% of terminal businesses were open. The only scary moment occurred when our first flight landed in Detroit. Despite instructions from flight crew ("Please don't stand up until the passengers in front of you have left their seats and walked forward), lots of people were waiting in the aisle to de-plane. Old habits die hard.
Today, we finished 14 days of self-quarantining. I've been taking my temperature daily and checking my blood oxygen on a pulse oximeter--my COVID security blankets. All has been well. Today I entered into several stores, doing my own shopping, wearing a mask. Natch, Satch, and celebrated by jumping in our swimming pond for the first time. Tonight, a socially distanced dinner on the lawn with two dear friends.
Oh, and there's this. The SF Chronicle ran a long review of Cuppy and Stew in their Datebook section today. Kind of mixed, and the reviewer wagged a finger at me about point-of-view--I think it's fair to say I've forgotten more about POV than the reviewer ever knew--but the review was long, my name was spelled correctly, there was a large author photo, and there were some quotable lines suitable for PR.
So all in all, a fine day. I'll say more about the review in a subsequent post.
Eric K. Goodman