Friday, April 2, 2010

The Difference Between Me & Helen Topping Miller (or why I'm not a writer, part 2)

Me:  As King approached the village, he could hear music in the distance.

HTM:  It was when he turned back from the river that King heard the music.  It was swamp music, primitive as the creeping of dark, secret creatures through tangling vine and sucking morass.  It was a music as old as creation, old as the Nile, the mourning sob and keen and arpeggio of a people despised and rejected since time began. In mud huts in the shadow of the palaces of the Pharohs, in the reeking deeps of slave ships, the moan and timbre and ululation of it would have been the same, the melodic plaintive heartbreak of a homeless people.....

I would never think to use words like arpeggio and ululation.   They are not part of my everyday vocabulary.

This is from a small book called "After The Glory", written by Helen Topping Miller in 1958.  It takes place in Tennessee, and tells the story of a family & a community in the months following the end of the civil war - reconstruction, in other words.  It was a pretty rough time for most people, no matter what their station in life.  As is always the case, it was rougher on some than others.  The music the character was hearing was coming from a community of recently freed slaves.

I'm not sure if this book would be classified as great literature, it's certainly inconsistent with it's use of dialect, in my opinion, and is no threat to the likes of John Steinbeck or Mark Twain, but its well above my capabilities.  It tells an interesting story, and I thought that was a neat passage, an interesting way to describe a person approaching a small village, worn out by war.

4 comments:

Grace said...

That is just awful LOL - whatever you do, don't try to emulate this woman or use her as role model -

Patti Anne said...

I like your style better. Straight and to the point. You are much more of a Hemingway than poor Helen Topping Miller.

Helen Topping Miller was born December 8, 1884 in Fenton, Michigan, the eldest of eight children. Under the influence of her literary mother, she began writing children’s stories for St. Nicholas Magazine when she was fifteen. She went on to attend Michigan State College and graduated in 1905.

She taught for two years in rural and city schools before her family moved to Fremont, Ohio. In 1908 they moved to Morristown, Tennessee. Two years later on June 16, 1910, she married Frank Roger Miller, the owner of a newspaper and later executive of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

In 1918 the Millers moved to Macon, Georgia and over the following years Helen would begin to write the first of 11 serial stories that were published in a variety of national magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping and McCall’s. During this time she also taught modern fiction writing at Mercer University.

Beginning in1924 the Millers made the first of several moves which that included Asheville, Washington, and Dallas. In 1939 they bought an antebellum mansion built around 1857, in Talbott, Tennessee named the Watkins-Witt House. It had been used by both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War as a command post and hospital. Confederate General James Longstreet was among its guests for a night. Mrs. Miller named it “ArrowHill” for the mountain retreat she and her husband had owned in Asheville. One of her historical Christmas stories entitled "No Tears For Christmas" is based on the 1863 holiday at ArrowHill. Though her husband died in 1944, she would live there until 1958.

During her lifetime Mrs. Miller wrote over 300 short stories and more than 40 books, mostly historical romance in nature, and many dealing with the Reconstruction period in the South. Her children’s books include a Christmas series with such titles as Christmas at Monticello with Thomas Jefferson, Christmas at Mount Vernon with George and Martha Washington, and Christmas With Robert E. Lee. She has been quoted as saying, “To me the unchanging loveliness of the holy days is proof of the unchanging love of God.”

Helen Topping Miller died on February 4, 1960 at age seventy-five and is buried in Morristown, Tennessee

A Valdese Blogger said...

Grace: It was kind of an odd book, an odd story & not in a particularly good way. I picked it up 'cause I got bored with another book I was reading. It did paint a picture of a certain time, but I thought over all the characters, plot & language was inconsistant. Of course she was elderly when she wrote it, so maybe she just didnt have the energy anymore. I had to look up ululation.

PA: Thanks for the Bio. So she was 74 years old when this book was published. I doubt I've ever been mentioned in the same sentence with Hemingway before - and there's a reason for that.

Heather said...

By time I got to the end of the paragraph, I forgot what she was trying to describe in the first place.

I like yours better, to the point!