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History As It’s Known In The Writing World

While reading some literary site about Amazon,, I came across the fact that “Harriet Klausner, an esteemed Amazon reviewer who wrote more than 31,000 book reviews, died”. All power to her – that is quite a feat. However, I took more note of her last name, one I had not thought of for a long time.

In my tenure as an author in the world, I have had four or five agents. And I am currently looking anew. At the far beginning of my time, before I was published, I had the New York agent Bertha Klausner – at the start of my career and near the end of hers. She started her agency before I was born and was working two months before she died in 1998 at the age of 96.

Back in those over the transom days, one stuffed typed pages into an envelope, sent them off with return postage on another envelope, and waited up to three months for a reply. And when it came back, you sent it out again. One of my envelopes went to the Bertha Klausner Agency.

However, when it came back, it had other people’s manuscripts in it, and (to my memory)  little handwritten notes politely saying no. Mistakes happen even at revered agencies, so I sent it all back explaining what had happened. She replied, with neither apology or thanks, annoyed that mistakes do happen and adding, “Say, you must have something. Do you want to send it to me?” Which I did.

As I said, communications were through slow mails (slow on her side, as with literary agents to this day).  I assume she was initially, both being polite though seeing some promise in what I wrote.

But after a year or so she said – in effect – ‘thanks but no thanks’, and I sent things to other agents and eventually sold my first novel by, indeed, sending it directly to an editor in New York over the transom,.

I don’t think I knew that Bertha Klausner had such a stellar career until I looked her up. An agent for decades, she had famous names like Upton Sinclair, Israel J Singer, Eleanor Roosevelt and Fidel Castro. She even represented actor Basil Rathbone.

I imagine I would have become a lost tale.

Dale Estey

Kafka Plans An Escape From His Life

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in **missing** diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. It is estimated Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

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19 June 1917

           I arrived here tonight far later than usual. I had been on a day trip for the Institute, dealing with a court case for a few hours. I was in the station at the furthest reaches of Prague, waiting for the last train to bring me downtown. A taxi would have been more efficient, but I found myself in no hurry. I walked around the station, and found myself staring at the Departures List. All those places, with many trains still passing into the night. Bern. Copenhagen. Florence.

     I had a large amount of the Institute’s money with me (I had won our case), and all my travel documents in order – the war can be circumvented by bureaucrats. I think it was just having all that money which gave rise to such ideas. I realized that, with the right explanations, even London was possible. If I so desired. I had it all arranged in my head. The official letter I would send to Max, before I left the empire, authorizing him to pay back the Institute from my bank account. I had even figured – accurately – the interest to add for each day up until next Monday. And I knew I could trust him to tidy up my other business matters – my apartment, and this tiny house.

     I would tell him to destroy all my manuscripts – he could use this stove. Other letters I could write from other places – to Ottla, to F., to my parents. I thought that I might even be able to eventually make my way to Palestine. That would meet with Max’s approval.

And the trains kept departing before my eyes, one, and another, and another. They were not even crowded, the hour was so late.

And then, there was my train. Back into Prague.

I was the last one on.

It Was Friday 13th Two Years Ago And COVID Was In The Air

In my manuscript, There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth  I finished a chapter about the ‘elderly Dutchmen party with Alison Alexandra’ on Friday 13th. I took a trip and, on 19th March, began what turned out to be nearly a full year of Pandemic writing.The next chapter of the novel begins “In times of Pandemic, one of Alison Alexandra’s greatest worries is being bored.”

I started planning to write about the Pandemic the day after I heard that China was constructing hospitals solely devoted to COVID patients. I knew then the world was going to be in a lot of trouble. I was proved right.

 This is how that chapter began.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In times of Pandemic, one of Alison Alexandra’s greatest worries is being bored. And though she doesn’t want to test the theory, she believes she would rather be ill than bored.

“I’d step lightly there,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

“You would?”

“I would,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost. “And I know what I’m talking about. Yes – I do.”

Within the week of Wuhan City in China being shut down, and the building of emergency hospitals to house the sick, Alison Alexandra knew this would inevitably become the fate of the world. It might have intruded a bit more quickly than she has anticipated, but not by much.

Alison Alexandra of course thinks about the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”. But she also knows that this is a phrase in English that has no Chinese equivalent. The closest curse in Chinese is “Better to be a dog in peacetime than a human in time of war”.

“I won’t argue with that,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

And she doesn’t.

So, it was at the beginning of the Chinese curse that Alison Alexandra sets her plan into motion. It is simple, though dependent on circumstance.

Alison Alexandra arranges to get those with whom she’d like to share the End Times – if End Times they prove to be – to join her at her house and wait out the famine with a feast or two. Or three.

“I don’t think the End Times are supposed to be good times,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost/

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” says Alison Alexandra. “But aren’t you supposed to know?”

“Point taken,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost.

Never Say Never With A FINAL Novel Edit

What it is now:

THERE WAS A TIME, OH PILGRIM, WHEN THE STONES WERE NOT SO SMOOTH

                                   THE END

                                    26 03 2022


566pp     165,669 words

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What is was earlier this year:

THERE WAS A TIME, OH PILGRIM, WHEN THE STONES WERE NOT SO SMOOTH

                                              THE END

                                                 07 01 2022

595 pp.     174,838 words

Alison Alexandra Wonders Whether To Change Her Future As The Past Becomes Distant

Alison Alexandra sometimes thinks of turning over a new leaf. Sometimes at the most traditional of times, like at New Year or her birthday or under a full moon or when the tide is at its highest.

But then she remembers that well into her pre-teen years she thought the expression to turn over a new leaf meant reaching into the branches of a tree and flipping her wrist (somewhat like Amanda does when cutting cards) and when she found out the flip flip flipping concerned paper pages she was so bored she never did it.

No, not once.

And anyway, why would she overturn anything in some sort of orderly fashion when she pell-mell turns things over at the very time they seem that they need to be overturned and not a minute or an hour or a full moon or one leaf later.

That now is indeed now is, indeed, now and as she daily finds out from her windows or cliffs overlooking the ocean; tide and time await no Alison Alexandra.

So she will not wait for them.

Alison Alexandra has often thought – and she also often thinks – that she could happily turn over all her leaves just from her prow-of-a-ship room jutting into the sea or the cliffs that, as yet, do not erode under her feet as she walks them looking out to sea.

But that would be unwise and probably as stagnant as a rotting fish that sometimes lodges itself at the base of her cliff and though she has not traveled as often as those sailors and their spyglasses, she has traveled as far as many of them just to keep those leaves flip flip flipping.

So, today she is going to walk to town.

In February, Kafka Ponders The Role And Duties Of The Citizen

In real life, Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:

August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.

That was it.

But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.

But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling.  Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

07 February 1918

              I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.

     There were time (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.

     “If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”

     That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.

Franz Kafka Has A Dream And Then Ponders His Life

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.
*********************************

15 January 1917

Dreamed that I never dream.

“That can’t be true,” said AB, dropping the papers she held. “Everybody dreams.”

 “It never happens to me,” I insisted. “And what’s more, I don’t really believe that anyone else dreams, either.”

“Of course people dream,” said AB, dropping bunches and pots of flowers on the floor. “I dream all the time. I’m full of dreams every night.”

“Even tonight?” I asked, excited, because I had some power, some type of knowledge, although I didn’t know what it was. “Tonight,” she repeated. “Especially tonight,” she said, dropping bowls of snow on the floor. “It is right now, right here.” Her voice was also full of excitement. “I am dreaming about you.”

“Me?” I said. “You can’t be dreaming about me. I’m right here – I’m not in your dream.”

“Not only are you in my dream,” she said, dropping automobiles and tram cars on the floor, “but you’re talking in your usual obstinate way. You’re cross, and you’re silly, and you’re shaking your hands at me.”

“I’m doing no such thing,” I said, wringing my hands and starting to yell.

“You’ve taken your absurd thoughts,” she said, dropping pieces of Prague on the floor, “and you’re forcing me to be part of them.”

“Even if it’s true – all true,” I said, trying to sweep Prague into the river, “it still isn’t me. You’re the one having the dream.”

AB snatched the broom out of my hand, and dropped it to the floor. “Then try to wake me,” she said.

16 January 1917

I have the feeling, that what I really am doing at the office, is committing suicide. And doing a good job.

A Novel That Took Five Years To Write

THERE WAS A TIME, OH PILGRIM, WHEN THE STONES WERE NOT SO SMOOTH

                                   THE END

                                 07 01 2022

595 pp. 174,838 words

Featured post

Kafka Slips Out Of Love As He Wends His Way Through January

In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

10 January 1917

This lull with Felice. We have not experienced such a calm for the past four years.

But there isn’t passion, such as when I walked the streets of Prague just to be near the site of our first brief encounter.

Or, when I awoke filled with the hope of just receiving her letters.

But now, in addition to knowing that she would not like this tiny house, I find that I do not even want her present.

Oh, the tortures we have gone through, the incrimination and the tears. J’accuse. But nowadays, we write to each other so sensibly, and discuss the type of furniture which will fill our rooms.

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