Thursday, September 3, 2015

Status of manuscript update

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick.  Stereoscope similar to Isaac's
As those of you who follow my blog know, it has grown out of the research I have done about Isaac B. Werner, acquaintances mentioned in his journal, the community and its activities, and the exciting political era in which Isaac lived.  You know how I found Isaac's journal (See "Finding Isaac's Journal," blog archives 10-23-2011), how we visited his childhood home in Wernersville, PA ("Isaac's Birth & Childhood," 11-4-2011) and his home in his mid-twenties in Rossville, IL ("Isaac's Years in Rossville, Illinois," 2-23-2012).  You also know what an important part of Isaac's life the political issues of his day were ("Politics & Wealth in Isaac's Day," 10-18-2012).

Merely by looking at the dates of those early blogs, and knowing the prior transcription of Isaac's journal that took 11 months and the hours and hours of research before I could begin the first draft of the manuscript, you have some idea of how long I have been working on sharing Isaac's story.    You may even recall that in the blog "Writer's Angst," posted 8-23-2012, I declared the manuscript "finished!"  I was wrong...

Titles of books that were in Isaac's library
Since then there have been many revisions and severe editing to reduce the length of the manuscript.  There were also two years during which I served on the board of the new Filley Art Museum in Pratt, KS, during which Isaac was neglected. 

Since leaving the museum board, I have returned to Isaac (in between obligations connected with construction at our farm house, which have definitely been a distraction).  However, to all of you who have followed the blog so faithfully and those who have continued to inquire about the status of publication, encouraging me by sharing your eagerness to read the book, I offer this status update.
Political cartoon of workers confronting the wealthy
I set out to tell Isaac's story in such a way that it was of value to scholars but enjoyable reading for general readers.  Perhaps that was impossible--leaving some references too superficial for scholars but intimidating  general readers with all the footnotes.  I am about to tackle a major re-examination of the manuscript, focusing more on writing a history for general readers.

Two editors who reviewed the book proposal were kind enough to offer their advice.  One advised that it was apparent that my primary interest was in telling the story of Isaac and his community and suggested I eliminate most of the political history.  The other advised that it was apparent that my primary interest was in telling the story of the political era's impact and suggested I reduce the emphasis on Isaac.  I appreciate the advice given by both of them, as apparently contradictory as it may first seem.  In fact, I think both were right and that their advice relates to my problem in trying to write a history for both academic and general readers.

Hay rack typical of what Isaac owned
Recently I read a review from London's Guardian newspaper of the book, The Great Silence: 1918-1920, Living in the Shadow of the Great War.  The newspaper reviewer wrote:  "If, instead of looking at the great sweep of find out the small, everyday things that people of all stations in life were can convey a sense of the past that no conventional history can offer."  The reviewer concluded with praise for the book's author, Juliet Nicolson, calling the book a treasure "...from a writer who understands the vital importance of small details."

Isaac's Journal
Juliet Nicolson used such individuals as the king and his manservant, the prime minister and the postman, to describe daily life following W.W. I. To reveal conditions during the so-called Gilded Age of Andrew Carnegie and George Pullman, I have Isaac and his community, as well as the leaders of the Progressive Movement, who often came from the working class of farmers, miners, and factory workers.  These ordinary people illuminate the vast differences between them and the better-known wealthy class.  The everyday struggles of workers just to survive explains the rise of the populist movement intended to confront the political power of the wealthy.

Too many people think of Kansas in terms of cowboys and Indians, tornadoes, Dorothy Gayle and the Wizard of Oz, and KU basketball, but Kansas has an even richer history.  I am confident  that Isaac's journal has given me the opportunity to share the history of the Progressive Movement during the late 1800s through the daily lives of real people in Isaac's community.

The confrontations between men of the Gilded Age and workers in the Progressive Movement during the late 1800s is no less interesting than Britain after W.W. I.  I hope by focusing more on a history for general readers, I can revise my manuscript to make it even better!  My goal will involve what the Guardian newspaper reviewer called "the vital importance of small details," with less emphasis on footnoting every reference to Isaac's journal and generally known historical facts.  Thanks to all of you for your continued encouragement and interest.


Kim said...

I just heard Larry Hatteberg speak at the Master Farm Homemaker Guild's national convention. Hatteberg, who filmed and wrote Hatteberg's People for KAKE-TV for years, reminded us that everyone has a story. It's a truth I've also found as a reporter and writer. And sometimes the best stories are those from "ordinary" people living their "ordinary" lives. I find extraordinary beauty in the "every day" people, places and things around me. Good luck with the revisions!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Your comments and best wishes are appreciated. The history of this period is too little known, even by people whose ancestors settled here. I think it is important to share this wonderful history!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Michael in Kansas wrote: It's interesting that the two editors gave you such conflicting advice. I feel that telling the story of Isaac's life against the backdrop of the larger historical context would make the diary infinitely more interesting. I agree with you that it needs both, the personal and the larger political/historical picture.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Continuing Michael's comments: "Local history puts national history into context. It brings us down to earth, away from the abstract, to reveal the lives of ordinary folks who are the real shapers of history in any society. Rather than addressing the grandiose theme so often found in textbooks, local history gets down to the nuts and bolts of how we got to the point we are and how we might get to the next." (from 'Why is knowing local history important?' at WikiAnswers)

"Historian Thomas Carlyle wrote, 'History is the biography of great men.' While this may be mostly true, great men could not achieve great things without their followers--the farmers, factory workers and laborers who make the dreams of those great men a reality. So local history--the story of the people in a neighborhood, town or county, and their links to the larger community of district, state and nation--become 'history as the biography of the Common Man,' and reminds us that history begins in our own back yard."

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Michael, thank you for your encouragement and sharing the great comments from WikiAnswers. That describes exactly what I am trying to do, and by revising to make it more interesting to general readers rather than footnoting constantly for easy reference to Isaac journal, I hope it is a big improvement. Lyn

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

C.M. in Texas wrote: Good Luck with your manuscript, Lyn. It is a work of love on your part and a history of 'everyman' that should be read.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

A.C. in Colorado wrote: "Think your ideas about making the manuscript more about Isaac and his community will interest [both] readers and publishers. ...Can't wait for it to be published so I can read it! Hang in there!!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

C.M. and A.C.: Thanks for the encouragement and your continuing following of the blog. Feedback is always valuable to a writer, and as solitary as writing may be, it is good to know there are future readers out there waiting to read what I write!

The Blog Fodder said...

Someone once said that if there are five Mennonite families in a community there will be seven Mennonite churches. I take it publishers are much the same. I do hope your rewrite will be successful in attracting a publisher. Academics can read Isaac's Journal for themselves.