DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB GRACE RICHMOND’S THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF JUNE MIDSUMMER’S DAY

BLOG #21, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

GRACE RICHMOND’S THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF JUNE

MIDSUMMER’S DAY

May 23, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the thousands of books I devoured during my growing-up years, none did I love more than our June selection: Grace Richmond’s The Twenty-Fourth of June, a paean to Midsummer’s Day (the Feast of St. John the Baptist), at the time of the Summer Solstice.  It is a love story like no other.  The story of a rather arrogant grandson of a millionaire who flits through life with little sense of purpose. Then young Richard Kendrick sees lovely Roberta Gray—and is transfixed.  But she is anything but, where he is concerned.  For dilettantes she has nothing but scorn.

 

Richmond’s unforgettable novel chronicles the clash that takes place when a man falls in love with a woman as beautiful inside as out—a woman not in the least interested in him.  When he persists, she throws down a gage at his feet: if he cares for her at all, he must agree to have nothing to do with her, have no contact with her, send her no gifts—no flowers even—for almost half a year.

 

Until Midsummer’s Day.

 

All the suspense of the novel is woven into the fabric of those months of noncommunication.

 

How it all plays out—well, you’ll have to somewhere, somehow, find a copy of this old book, and read it for yourself.

 

GRACE LOUISE SMITH RICHMOND

(1866 – 1959)

 

Grace was born on March 3, 1866, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to a minister father, the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Smith and mother, Catherine “Kitty” Kimball Smith.  Grace was a direct descendant of the state’s founder, Roger Williams.  An only child, Grace grew up the focal center of her parents’ manse.  In 1885, after having pastored Baptist churches in Mt. Auburn, Ohio; New Haven, Connecticut; and Syracuse, New York, Dr. Smith was called to Fredonia, New York; and there he would remain for the rest of his life.  On Oct. 29, 1887, Grace married the personable young family doctor, Dr. Nelson G. Richmond, who purchased a home next door to the manse.  So after marriage, Grace merely moved next door.  And it was here in Fredonia that the bride would write her many stories, essays, and novels.

 

The home.  It all starts there, the action happens there, and it all ends there.  Because of this, Grace Richmond is known as The Novelist of the Home.”  Of the thousands of writers who have written about the home, only Richmond earned that title.  Only in her fictional world is the home the all-in-all, the core, the bedrock.

 

Among her other beloved books are novels such as The Indifference of Juliet, The Second Violin,

A Court of Inquiry, Red Pepper Burns, Strawberry Acres, The Brown Study, Red Pepper’s Patients, Red and Black, Foursquare, Cherry Square, Lights Up, At the South Gate, the Listening Post, High Fences, and several Christmas novelettes.  She was among the most prolific short story writers in America. Most of her novels were serialized as well.  For 40 years, she was never out of print.  Of the dominant family authors of the first half of the twentieth century, only Zane Grey, Gene Stratton Porter, and Harold Bell Wright were better known than she; and her name ranked up there with Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Pearl S. Buck, Bess Streeter Aldrich, and Temple Bailey.  It was illustrious company indeed.  At the height of her popularity she was paid upward of $30,000 for magazine serializations (a princely sum back then!).  Doubleday would sell more than 2,500,000 copies of her books.

 

THE FOCUS ON THE FAMILY/TYNDALE HOUSE EDITION

 

Of the twelve classic books I edited for our Focus on the Family Great Stories Series, one was The Twenty-Fourth of June.  It was also the first to sell out; consequently, copies have always been scarce for apparently readers appear unwilling to part with the book.  At the front of it is my 55-page biography (which I researched and wrote over a year’s period) and at the back, discussion questions for families, teachers, and home-schoolers.  I also include a complete bibliography of all her books and stories.

 

Candidly, I actually feared returning to a book I’d loved so much when I was young.  I needn’t have worried: I was gripped with the same fascination as before, even though I knew how it all came out.  The title was an inspired choice; there is a symbiotic relationship between the plot and the title—each enhances the other.  How many book titles can you think of which are limited to a month and a day?  Richmond’s genius is that if you can remember the title, you can remember the plot.

 

But it is more than that, because the date represents far more than the cutting of the proverbial Gordian Knot, the denouement; it is the source of all the suspense.  All through the second half of the book, the reader reels back and forth between two questions: Will he make it?  And, if he does make it, will it be enough? I know of no other book that incorporates quite the same structure, the same crescendo, of suspense.

 

Copies are available on the web, both the Doubleday edition and the A. L. Burt reprint edition.  Since it is the rarest Focus/Tyndale classic book, I can’t help much as I have only four copies left (all new, unread) at $95 (I’ll include postage and insurance in that price; and inscribe them personally if requested to do so).

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WILLIAMSONS AND TRAVEL

 

WILLIAMSONS AND TRAVEL

For Oct. 19, 2011

As we begin to pack our suitcases for our auto-trip through our Southwestern national park lodges, I thought this would be the perfect time to see if I couldn’t siphon some money out of your pockets.  After all, that’s what’s been happening to me ever since the first time I stumbled on a Williamson book many years ago.

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to travel when the automobile was new?  When there were no transcontinental highways (how about hardly any paved roads at all!), motels, service stations, AAA, repair garages, etc.?  Not to mention automobiles that broke down so often that only the foolish traveled without a chauffeur, mechanic, and ample supply of spare parts and tires.

Well, imagine no more.  Back in 1902, an adventuresome British husband and wife writing team, C.M. and A.M. Williamson, partnered with Doubleday Page to produce one of the most fascinating and informative series of travel novels ever written.  Before they could write such a book, however, the fearless couple had to themselves explore a given travel route.  In the process, they devoured local travel lore, legends, history, historical romances—all kinds of fascinating side trips.  Then they incorporated all the usual mechanical breakdowns, and stirred in enough romance to keep the reader up half the night turning pages.  In short, there has never been another series like theirs!  There could not be, for the age vanished almost as quickly as it began.

Following are the books I have been able to find (first editions when possible):

  •   The Princess Passes                                (1903-4)                         Early automobile
  • The Lightning Conductor                        (1903, 1905)                 Early automobile
  • My Friend the Chauffeur                         (1905)                              Early automobile
  • Lady Betty Across the Water                 (1906)                         General early travel
  • Rosemary in Search of a Father            (1906 – 1907)            General early travel
  • The Princess Virginia                               (1907)                         General early travel
  • The Chaperon                                              (1907 – 1908)            Water travel
  • Set in Silver                                                 (1909)                         Early automobile
  • The Motor Maid                                         (1910)                        Early automobile
  • Lord Loveland Discovers America      (1910)                         Early American travel
  • The Golden Silence                                     (1911)        Travel in desert lands (including camel transportation)
  • The Port of Adventure                         (1913)                         General travel
  • It Happened in Egypt                          (1914)                         Egyptian travel
  • Secret History                                        (1915)                         Early airplane travel
  • The Lightning Conductor                    (1916)                         Early automobile Discovers America
  • Winnie Childs: Shop Girl                    (1916)                          General romance
  • Everyman’s Land                                    (1918)                        End of World War I travel
  • The Lion’s Mouse                                    (1919)                         Post-war travel
  • The Second Latchkey                             (1920)                         General
                                                                                               

Here are some passages from their 1905 novel, My Friend the Chauffeur, that will give you a sense of their writing style:

In France: “. . . we moved like a ship under full sail; but suddenly the road reared up on its hind feet and stood almost erect, as though it had been frightened by the huge snow-capped mountains that all at once crowded round us.  An icy wind rushed down from the tops of the great white towers, as if with the swooping wings of a giant bird, and it took our car’s breath away” (118-19).

In Italy: “It [Certosa of Pavia] was too beautiful to chatter about.  But it did seem strange that so pure and lovely a building could have owed its existence to a crime.  I had heard Mr. Barrymore telling Mamma that it was originally founded in thirteen hundred and something, by the first Duke of Milan with the view of taking off the attention of Heaven from a murder he had committed—quite in his own family—which got rid of his father-in-law, and all the father-in-law’s sons and daughters at the same time.  No wonder it took a whole Certosa to atone for it. . . .”(164).

Bellagio, on Lake Como: “The rest of the party were on an entrancing terrace, looking down over other flowery terraces upon the town of Bellagio, with its charming old campanile, and its grey roofs like a flock of doves clustering together on the border of the lake.  The water was so clear and still that the big hotels and villas on the opposite shore seemed to have fallen in head down, and each little red-and-white canopied boat waiting for passengers at the quay had its double in the bright blue mirror.  Clouds and mountains were all reflected too, and it seemed as if one might take one’s choice between the real world and the dream world” (192).

My favorite passage from the book, however, is from Maida (the loveliest passenger in this ancient Panhard automobile) who plaintively poses this rhetorical question: “What becomes of the beautiful army of days marching away from us into the past?  The wonderful days, each one differing from all the others: some shining in our memory, in glory of purple and gold, that we saw only as they passed, with the setting of the sun; some smiling back at us, in their pale spring dress of green and rose; some weeping in gray; but all moving at the same pace along the same road?  The strange days that have given us everything they had to give, and yet have taken from us little pieces of our souls.  Where do the days go?  There must be some splendid world where, when they have passed down to the end of the long road, they all live together like queens, waited upon by those black slaves, the nights that have followed them like their shadows, holding up their robes.

“I’ve had this thought in my mind often since I have been flashing across Europe in an automobile, grudging each day that slipped away from me and would not stay a moment longer because I loved it.  I wish I knew the way to the land where the days that have passed live; for when those that are to come seem cold to me, I would like to go and pay the old ones a visit.  How well I would know their faces, and how glad I would be to see them again in their own world!” (205).

If you too are getting the Williamson bug, just log on the Internet and begin chasing down these wonderful travel romances.  Your travel life will never afterwards be the same!

* * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll ourselves hit the road.  Please come along.


ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS: THE NEXT STEP

Again and again in life, I’ve seen it happen: God never does anything by halves! And I was about to experience the second half of a plan I knew nothing about. I took my creative writing class on a field trip to Maryland’s largest publishing house, Review and Herald Publishing Association, in Hagerstown. Once the guide had my students safely in tow, I escaped. As I wandered around, I chanced to peer into the doorway of then Acquisitions Editor Penny Estes Wheeler (I figured that with a last name of Wheeler she couldn’t be all bad).

We small-talked for some time. Turned out she was already familiar with my writing in magazines and liked what she’d read. After a time she said, “Well, what have you been writing lately?”

“A couple of Christmas stories.”

“What kind?”

“Oh, they’re Christ-centered rather than Santa Claus-centered.”

“What else?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“Try me.”

“Well, you can’t read them without crying.”

“Just what we need. But you’ve only written two?” She replied.

“Yes. But I’ve been collecting others all my life – in fact, I was raised on them,” was my response.

That’s all it took. Being very good at what she did, she leaned back and said, in just as deceptively casual a tone as Naomi had used a couple of years before, “You know, there’s a real vacuum for that kind of story today in the market today. Why don’t you just package up your favorite stories and send them to us? We’ll do the rest. Piece of cake.”

Although it sounded easy, I suspected I had a lot of work to do. Penny bulldogged me by mail and by phone until I assembled a big stack of Christmas stories and sent them to Hagerstown.  Then, happy to be done with my part, I all but forgot about it.

Several months later, I was jolted back to reality with a phone call. She said, “Joe, the committee has cried its way through your manuscript. We’d very much like to publish it.”

From there on, events moved quickly – but no thanks to me. From the title of the book to the Currier and Ives winter scene on the cover to the woodcut illustrations inside, my good editor pushed the book through.

The finished book was beautiful. People loved it.  But most of all they loved the deeply-moving stories inside. The collection was called Christmas in My Heart, and it was intended to be a stand-alone book

But gradually sales began to build. People realized that the collection was different from anything else available. When it went through two printings before Christmas, my editor got me on the phone and said, “Joe, can you put together another collection right away so we can rush it into print before next Christmas?”

“Sure, no problem,” I answered.

So it came to pass that our second collection bravely bore a “2” on its cover. It would not be a one-shot book after all; it would be a two-book series.

Right after Christmas in My Heart came out in 1992, I became convicted that I ought to send a copy to Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. I knew him to be as sentimental about deeply-moving stories as I was.  I inscribed a copy to Dobson and sent it off. He didn’t respond, but one of his vice presidents did – she loved it! When Number 2 came out, I sent him another. Dobson didn’t respond, but the same vice president did.

Late in ’93, I came to my personal Rubicon – on the phone was my remorseless editor: “Joe, Number Two is selling so well, we’re wondering if it’s possible for you to put together a third collection of Christmas stories?”

The ball was now in my court. I was out of stories as well as illustrations for the covers. If the series was to go to three, I would have to seriously dig in and find the stories that would grace it. Fortunately, by now readers had begun sending me their favorite stories, their way of letting me know they wanted another collection. So I was able to put together a third collection. As for the illustrations, I began buying old books illustrated with woodcuts (most of these books were at least a hundred years old).

So it was that I belatedly moved from a passive role into an active one. For the first time I began to realize that I was part of something big. That it was big enough to commandeer the rest of our lives, however, was mercifully withheld from us.

In the fall of ’94, Christmas in My Heart 3 came out, and I once again sent a copy to Dr. Dobson. In my naiveté I assumed that all you had to do was address a book to Dobson, mail it off, and he’d get it and read it. The reality was that Focus had thirteen hundred employees; that over eighty Christian publishers barraged the ministry with their books; and that it took almost six hundred employees to answer mail and phone calls from people like me. The chances of getting through to the great man himself were almost nil. Yet, in spite of those facts, now came the third life-changing day. The telephone rang and a voice I’d never heard before was on the line. The voice turned out to be my correspondence friend at Focus on the Family, Diane Passno.

My relationship with Focus on the Family ministry really began that day when they asked to use one of my stories called “The Tiny Foot” by Frederick Loomis. They called again later and asked if the story could also be used on the air. Again I agreed. But I still had no idea of what those two requests would really mean for me. I did remember that Diane Passno had warned me, “Joe, if Dr. Dobson ever really uses you, your life will never be the same again.”

Truer words were never spoken. By the time that story had gone out to about three million homes and it had been read on the air around the world, life as I had known it was over. The series was a Gold Medallion finalist the next year.

Twelve publishing houses, and 73 books after inception, here we are in December of 2010. Christmas in My Heart®, now the longest-running Christmas story series in America, has been made so by seven publishers: Review and Herald, Pacific Press, Focus on the Family, Tyndale House, Doubleday/RandomHouse, Howard/Simon and Schuster, and RiverOak/David C. Cook. I’ve never taken credit for any of it, for it is not a Joe Wheeler-thing, but rather a God-thing. What a joy to be given the privilege of co-partnering with the Divine.