Book review: Amy Bloom

A few weeks ago, I read a review of Amy Bloom’s Where the God of Love Hangs Out in the New York Times. The review said the book was a collection of related stories about academic couples. I decided to read it since I am using literature in Dames, Dishes, and Degrees.

A collection of two interrelated sets of short stories and four unrelated stories, Bloom’s work is only tangentially about academia. Despite this, I really enjoyed reading it. I have been reading so much nonfiction, watching reality television, and listening to the news that it felt like a real treat to enter the world she created.

Fiction, if well done, can be more realistic than reality. I thought the stories about William and Clare, a middle-aged couple who briefly find love, were the best. The people in Bloom’s stories are often deeply flawed but manage to survive.



Onto Next Year

I don’t usually make specific New Year’s resolutions. I do frequently make lists and sometimes they include more long-term goals or projects. Over a year ago, I started tweeting, which led to a chain reaction where I wound up blogging less. When I started using wordpress for my blog, I did less with my website. Each new technological advance means you use an older thing less.

I really like twitter. It enables you to be part of conversation in real time. During the recent blizzard, Keith Olbermann tweeted almost every hour on the progress of the storm and the lack of any cleanup.  Apparently, people stuck at airports used twitter to try to get seats on flights.

I don’t want to stop blogging because I enjoy it and it helps my writing.  I guess one of my goals for 2011 is to get back to blogging more frequently. I am playing around with some ideas but I haven’t made any firm plans yet.

When I think about my website and blog, I would like to find ways to make them both more current. As I move into writing about faculty wives, I don’t want to abandon beer and brewing. If I want to change how the blog looks, I will have to tackle wordpress, which I have found very difficult in the past.

One big goal I have for 2011 is to continue to make progress on my new book. I have one chapter written and would like to complete at least three more before my year at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center is up. I also want to try to get an agent and then a book contract. For Brewing Battles, I got the contract but no agent. This time I want to try to have the agent first. In some ways it feels more difficult. I will keep you posted on my progress.

Happy New Year!

Agent Anxiety

I found a publisher for Brewing Battles without the help of an agent. I wrote queries to both agents and publishers. I got two positive responses from different publishers before any agent said they would represent me. I sent eleven queries; eight were to agents and three were to presses. I found all of that very frustrating and time consuming.

One day when I was feeling particularly frustrated, I realized that a particular agent lived in my hometown. I thought I would call him since writing letters and emails felt so distance and impersonal. It was a big mistake. Apparently, there is an underwritten rule that you never contact an agent on the phone. He informed me in no uncertain terms that the fact that we lived in the same area was irrelevant. So much for local connections. Despite his very negative response to my calling him, he did look at the book proposal. He told me it would never be published.

This experience along with others I had while trying to get Brewing Battles published has left me with some anxiety about dealing with agents. I feel that there are some many “rules” about what you can and cannot say to them and that you must not do anything that they could perceive of as wasting their time.

Two weeks ago, I attended Write Angles 25, a writer’s conference. I had the opportunity to meet face to face for 10minutes or so with an agent. That alone was an unusual occurrence. The agent liked my pitch and said I should send him/her the book proposal and sample chapter as well as Brewing Battles. This, of course, was exciting. Unfortunately, he/she wrote all of the instructions on his/her card with a felt tip pen that ran.

I tried the best I could to remember everything he/she had said. I had a lot of trouble sending him/her the documents as he/she had requested. I thought, oh, no this will ruin my chances. I emailed to say I was having trouble and ask if I could send them a different way. I did not hear back for two days, which also convinced me I had broken some cardinal rule and lost my chance.  I did receive a response the third day.

This whole experience made me realize I am terrified of agents. I am so terrified that I do not want to reveal the agent’s identity, which is why I am obscuring the pronouns. I want an agent for my new project so I can get a better deal from a publisher. However if it is going to make me such a basket case maybe it is not worth it.

Beer Labels

witchs-wit-87x300

I wrote this post in December of 2008 before I had this word press blog. It was part of a series of posts I did about the seventy-fifth anniversary of Repeal. I am reposting it because I just read a blog about the label on Lost Abbey’s  Witch’s Wit. Tenured Radical is circulating another blogger’s concern about the graphic of a woman being burnt at the stake while a crowd of men watches with rapt attention. Of course, the picture on the label is very small  but I am sure it looks worse when you actually see it. TR and others find it offensive.

December 2 2008

The Road From Repeal: Labels and Advertising

I wanted to write about aspects of beer advertising in the seventy-five years since Repeal but I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to say. I also wanted to touch on labels since they became a regulatory issue in the late twentieth century. While thinking about the topic I came across an excellent article about beer labels in All About Beer (no link available). Dave Gausepohl, a breweriana collector, examines the history of labels and describes the information labels contain.

Currently all beer bottles and cans contain a government warning about the dangers of alcohol use and abuse. Post-Prohibition, as beer consumption shifted from on-premises to off-premises, primarily the home, the packaging of beer became more important. Ultimately what the container looked like was an integral part of the product’s advertising and marketing.

Beer labels have a UPC code, dating information, the government warning and in some cases, alcohol content, but they do not list ingredients. Brewers, unlike most other producers of edible, consumable products, do not have to disclose what they have used to make the beer. They also do not have to say anything about how many calories the beer has.

What the beer bottle or can looks like is part of advertising but since Prohibition the major emphasis for beer marketing has been radio and television. Brewers gained an immediate and lasting advantage over distillers who, until recently have lived under a voluntary ban against advertising on television. Despite this free gift, post-Prohibition brewers were circumspect in their marketing because they feared a return of Prohibition. This self-restraint lasted to a good degree until the 1970’s and the onset of the “beer wars”.  The intense competition among the top tier brewers fueled by the influx of advertising dollars from Miller Brewing and its parent company Philip Morris led to a decrease in the propriety of beer television ads.

Prohibitionists never went away and one of their ongoing battles has been to limit brewers access to advertising. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a self-styled consumer and public health advocacy organization, has a Alcohol Priorities Project  which seeks to “promote a comprehensive, prevention-oriented approach to the role of alcohol in society by addressing alcohol advertising, excise taxes, changes in product labeling, and other population-based policy reforms.” In August, the Center sent a petition “signed by 60 Division I presidents, 240 athletic directors and 101 football and basketball coaches” urging the NCAA to prohibit beer advertising during college games. The NCAA declined to change its policies.  George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project, was extremely disappointed and commented, “In contrast, the NCAA rejects advertising for distilled spirits, most wine, sports wagering, gambling, nightclubs, firearms and weapons, and NC-17-rated motion pictures, among others.” Mr. Hacker also co-chairs the Coalition for the Prevention of Alcohol Problems, a coalition of temperance groups.

Sports Biz, a blog, noted “The Mountain West Conference does not carry beer commercials on its network, the mtn. (Mountain West Sports Network) It also doesn’t carry commercials for Viagra and similar products, which is a blessing for those few people who actually can receive the mtn. Declining Viagra and Cialis commercials would be a public service that I recommend that the Big Ten Network and the WWLS adopt immediately. Football and basketball fans would be forever grateful.”

It is doubtful that the labels at the top of this posting would have played a role in the ongoing controversy over beer advertising. The image at the bottom however is a different story.

It’s Academic

Several of the associates at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center (FCWSRC) have decided to have a writing group. We met for the first time yesterday. Each person said what they would like to work on while at the center and what help they hoped to get from the group. I have to present a poster at the American Historical Association annual meeting in January. I have never even seen a poster at any conference so I definitely can use some help.

In a discussion of authenticity, which is a subject I wrote about in Brewing Battles, *(see excerpt at end of post) one of the associates said she would like to see my footnotes. I replied that the ideas mainly came from me. In other words, it was my original analysis. This exchange made me realize I have come a long way from my academic roots. Academic scholarship and writing often seeks legitimization by showing that an idea has prestigious pedigree. My current sense of accessible writing is to document the facts and the ideas and analysis are my own.

Another aspect of academe that seems to have changed is literature reviews. When I wrote my dissertation at Columbia University, you had to include a historiographical overview in your prospectus. A prospectus is akin to a book proposal. The actual dissertation did not contain a literature review. Two people in the group who have completed history PhD’s more recently both had to include literature reviews in their dissertations. This seems like a bad idea that will only make it harder to turn the theses into a book.

Before I became a nurse, I had a business, Academic Publicity. It provided promotional services and publicity to academic authors. It was a great idea with a fatal flaw. Most academics don’t think of themselves as writers or authors. Therefore, they do not want to pay to promote their books. By now, I really think of myself as a writer and author. I am writing Dames, Dishes and Degrees from that perspective.

* Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer (New York: Algora Press, 2007, 190.

The emergence of craft brewing highlights a battle within the brewing industry over authenticity and identity. Since World War II the national brewers have connected beer to all things American —  baseball, barbeques, race cars, and pretty, sexy women.1 Yet the nationalizing of the beer industry removed one of the most potent aspects of beer’s identity — localism. The new generation of brewers emphasizes its connection to place and community even more than taste. They stake a claim to authenticity via their roots in a specific locale.

Craft brewers, whether or not they start as home brewers, are entrepreneurs. In this way they are similar to the many hundreds of people who start a business every day. What is interesting about the thousands of people who started breweries and brewpubs since the late 1970s is that they created these businesses in an industry dominated by some of America’s biggest companies.

Craft brewers have been able to exploit a hole, a gap, in the huge edifice of American brewing. Some three to fifteen percent of the American beer drinking population didn’t and still doesn’t like drinking Bud, Schlitz, Miller, or Pabst. In the nineteenth century ten percent of Pabst’s customers wanted pure malt beer; craft beer drinkers of the twenty-first century are their  descendants. 2


News

I recently got a yearlong appointment as a Five College Women’s Studies Research Center Associate. I actually found out in April but I have been very busy and a little reluctant to toot my own horn.  I got the associateship because of my new project, Dames, Dishes, and Degrees. I also will be giving a paper at the History of Education Society 50th annual meeting in November and I will be giving a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours putting the above information on my website. That felt a little strange because of course my website is entitled Amy Mittelman Brewing Battles. I have many questions about how I will maintain a focus on beer and Brewing Battles and move towards prompting and discussing the new book.

I have been on Twitter for about six months and I am one tweet away from 100. As if have probably said before I feel twitter is best for things I probably would not blog about. I also like that you can follow a conversation about trending or immediate events. It is a lot of fun to follow #Yankees during a Yankee game.

I still have not really figured out how my various online activates connect or should connect. I had decided to keep tweeting and the blog separate but I am rethinking that. I also do not really see how to keep the website vibrant since most of the new content winds up on the blog. One idea I have is to put my twitter feed on the website, but I am not sure how to do that. I also think it would be nice to give my readers the opportunity to tweet about the blog. Again, I will have to figure out how to do that.

Getting the Associateship is a wonderful opportunity; I am most excited about having a Mount Holyoke College library card. I feel motivated to think about new directions for both my work and my online presence.

Academic Publishing

Today I attended a panel on Publishing cosponsored by the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center and Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. The panelists were: Marilyn Billings, Scholarly Communication and Special Initiatives Librarian, UMass Amherst, Ralph Faulkingham, Professor of Anthropology, UMass Amherst and Co-Editor of the African Studies Review, Paula Giddings, Senior Editor, Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism,  Laura Lovett, Associate Professor of History, UMass Amherst/Director, Five College Women’s Studies Research Center/Editorial Staff, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Professor of English and American Studies, Amherst College and Editorial Staff, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, and Bruce Wilcox, Director, University Press, UMass Amherst.

The discussion was mainly about publishing articles in scholarly journals, which seems like an arduous task. Several of the speakers connected publishing to advancement in one’s career. Given that it can sometimes take up to two and a half years for an article to be published, the process seems designed to be very anxiety provoking.

One of the questions from the audience was about journals not wanting an author to submit to more than one journal at a time. Karen Sanchez-Eppler said she feels it is because the peer reviewers are volunteers so the journals’ editors want to be protective of their time and energy. She suggested that it is a system of collegiality. Of course, whether they mean it or not, it also acts as a barrier to entry for aspiring academics. The journals’ editors and reviewers are already in, to a greater or less extent, and their decision on your journal article submission can play a role in whether you rise up the tenure track ladder or not.

Another group of questions was about images and copyright issues more generally. This is a very grey area since a lot depends on whether you think somebody will notice if you have used an image or not. I tried very hard to acquire permission for all the images in Brewing Battles but I know that other authors are sometimes not as scrupulous. It can cost you a lot of money to use images; authors usually bear the cost.

Marilyn Billings is a librarian at the University of Massachusetts where they are encouraging PhD students to place their completed dissertations in an open access format, Scholarworks, that the University maintains. This is not a replacement for what in my day was UMI and is now Proquest UMI Dissertation Publishing.  Although Scholarworks is not competing with UMI, I wonder about its future.  As both print on demand companies and open access services provided by universities increase, the option of placing your thesis with UMI to be “published” seems less automatic.

I am not an academic although I am a historian and I do have a PhD. Listening to both the speakers and the audience, I realized once again what a difficult career choice academia is, certainly, until you get tenure.

Book Review: Good Morning, Miss Dove

Frances Gray Patton published Good Morning, Miss Dove in 1954. It was an immediate success. Prior to writing this novel, she had published short stories in various magazines, including Harpers and the New Yorker. Patton was also a faculty wife who lived her whole adult life in Durham, North Carolina.

I read this book because I thought I might do research on Patton when we went to North Carolina. Duke had several faculty wives organizations including Law Dames (wives of law students) and the Reviewers Club. The Faculty Wives of NCSU occasionally had joint luncheons or meetings with wives clubs from the surrounding area.

Good Morning, Miss Dove is not about a college town or an academic instruction. Liberty Hill is not even a southern town. The book is about learning and the role of teachers.

Good Morning, Miss Dove is very sentimental and somewhat unrealistic.  Patton’s portrayal of Miss Dove borrows from other literary figures, including Mary Poppins. One character in the book even remarks on Miss Dove’s similarity to the British nanny.

The two characters share certitude and high self-esteem. Miss Dove does not possess any of the whimsy or magic of Mary Poppins. They also share an ability to transform the lives of their charges. Patton does capture the phenomenon that teachers can sometimes be the most important figure in a student’s life.

The book is dated both in use of language – “colored” and in the portrayal of the relationship between nurses and doctors. Although it is set in the present, 1954, it has an old time feeling. The only modern element is her discussion of World War II and the fate of some of her students.

The plot, if you could call it that, revolves around the sudden onset of paralysis for Miss Dove.  Her hospitalization and surgery allows Patton to explore and elucidate Miss Dove’s character and memories. The outcome is unsurprisingly positive. Both the town and Miss Dove have gained greater appreciation of the meaning of her life.

In 1955, Jennifer Jones starred in the movie version of Good Morning, Miss Dove. I wish I could see the movie because Miss Dove was not supposed to be a beautiful woman. So far, I have been unable to find the movie in either VHS or DVD format, which is surprising.

Movie Poster Good Morning, Dove
Movie Poster Good Morning, Miss Dove

Write Angles 24

Last Saturday I attended the 24th annual Write Angles conference I have attended this conference several times before and it is always a good experience. This year the two keynote speakers, Leslea Newman and Roland Merulllo both spoke about different aspects of the writing process. The theme of this year’s conference was “staying inspired.”

I had the opportunity to meet with a literary agent for fifteen minutes.  I am at the beginning of my new project so my query letter and book proposal are not as detailed as they will be further along in the process. It was still good to try to pitch Dames, Dishes, and Degrees to her.

I attended three panel sessions at the conference. The first was “Self-Publishing Success” I have often thought about self-publishing. Depending on who your publisher is, as an author you may have to do a lot of marketing, publicity, and even editing on your own. Small publishers and university presses may not have the same access to the large chain book stores as large publishers do. According to Jason Rich, one of the panelists, if you self-publish you will not get your book in Barnes and Noble.

Self-publishing is appealing because you would retain control over your work and have the potential to realize greater earnings from the sale of the book.

Apparently Apple will be releasing an e-book reader in the near future and Jason felt that this would lead to greatly increased sales e-books. It is very inexpensive to self-publish an e-book.

I also attended a session on blogging and one  on “How Agents Think.” The panelists  who talked about blogging included Jeannine Atkins, Kathryn Hulick, B. J. Roche, and Victoria Stauss. All of them mentioned that blogging is work. Jeannine, B.J., and Victoria all have blogs that have a different focus from their websites. I would find it very difficult to maintain two completely separate web entities.

Jeannine’s blog is about the writing process; her website promotes her books. B.J. has a website, Fifty Shift for mid-life women which is not exactly a blog. Victoria runs a website, Writer Beware and blogs there. She  also writes fantasy novels. These two different types of writing conflict. I have found that writing this blog helps my overall writing but it is also true that sometimes there are not enough hours in the day for both the blog and my research.

The main practical thing I took away from the conference was that I should finally take the plunge and start using social media. I have signed up for Twitter but I have only tweeted once. Stay tuned for further developments on that front.

101 Posts

This is my one hundred and one-blog post if you count the thirty-eight I did before I had a word press blog. If anyone is interested in reading them go to my website, amymittelman.com, and click on archives.

At the panel discussion on Monday about women and blogging, Jenny Davidson said she had started her blog because she wanted to promote her novel. I initiated my website, then the blog in both versions, for the same reasons. Somewhere along the line, however, the blog has become its own entity. I enjoy writing and I think writing more frequently has helped me to become a better writer.

My public online presence or persona has also evolved. In the beginning, I felt it was important to stick to writing about beer and other topics that directly connected to Brewing Battles. I also wanted to sell as many books as possible so I tried not to write anything controversial or potentially offensive. I also tried not to generate controversy, which may have had the unwanted effect of limiting my audience.

I still want to sell books and maintain a professional demeanor but I have relaxed about topics and opinions. Partly I am never sure whom or how large my audience is. This has given me some freedom to express myself since it is entirely possible I am talking to myself.

The internet and web have changed ideas and expectations of privacy. Because I have consciously sought a public identity, I have to expect that when I Google my name various things come up. I live in a small town so car accidents and the like are news in a way that they would not be here in Manhattan.  Because all newspapers have an online version, news items wind up being readily available.

The discussion on Monday touched on some of these privacy issues and Alexandra’s comments about the racial nature of disclosure are troubling. The real life consequences for someone’s risky behavior coming back to bite them later in life are very sobering.

Realizing this makes me more determined to behave online in an appropriate and professional way.  My blog persona is therefore close to my real life persona but not necessary how I am in the safety and security of my home and family.

This is a little more serious than I initially planned to commemorate my 101 posts. I will keep posting about beer, politics, women, and any other subjects that interest me. If you have been reading, I hope you stay around. If you are new, welcome and cheers!

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