A happy New Year to you all and let’s start with a good story!
Finally, Francine, the bright and beautiful West Virginian, came down the mountain in, Francine – Dazzling Daughter of the Mountain State. A corporate novel which heralds Francine’s meteoric rise at a New York-based international mining conglomerate, in spite of all odds. Kirkus Reviews, the reputed and critical Indie books reviewer, spiked it “A dramatically taut tale propelled by artful characterization and political relevance.”
“Why not solicit an agent for this fascinating story and have it traditionally published?” asked several reviewers of the manuscript. I may still do that but it simply takes too long. Count some 18 months before it is on the bookshelves, if ever. I don’t have that time!
How did Francine come to life?
That’s a great question. She was one of those fabulous young women growing up at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. I had good laughs when I met them in the midst of our daughter’s sorority circle, their sorority house, and the sunken garden.
True, Fiona of Enchanting The Swan was also born at William & Mary! Quite an inspirational college for a writer you would say. But it was the mountains of beautiful West Virginia that spirited Francine’s story. And the contrasting devastation of its coal country. How could such exaggeration of bad economic and environmental management destroy so many happy families, living in peace and suddenly thrown into desperation and suffering? A repetition of Upton Sinclair’s gripping tale of King Coal?
Francine is graduating first in class at William & Mary’s Mason Business School in 2010,
when she is confronted with the horrible mine explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine near Whitesville along Coal River in West Virginia. Twenty-nine miners lost their lives due to gross mismanagement of mine safety. It spurs her to forego a lucrative career in investment banking and join OHARA Mining Inc., the New York-based international mining company which has its roots in West Virginia. She will never forget the fate of those twenty-nine miners and attends the unveiling of their memorial in Whitesville in 2012 on behalf of her company. Her whole life will be dedicated to advance the lives of the company’s miners she works for.
Why place a novel about a promising girl in a mining company? Why not jewelry, fashion or music like A Coal Miner’s Daughter? agents asked whom I offered the story at Writers conferences. The question troubled me. Why not? Those agents did not want to get “their hands dirty.” They feared readers wouldn’t either. They worried about the novel’s support of the miners’ fight with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and overreaching environmentalists. It would choke off a certain group of readers. Well, so be it: Francine took up the fight, and she made it up in the corporate world. To their credit, Kirkus Reviews recognized her perseverance and the miners she stood up for, and gave the manuscript a resounding positive critique. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/john-schwartz/francine/
Born in Beckley, Francine’s journey in her international mining company takes her to many different places, in the U.S. and abroad. She’s propelled by the sight of closed mines along National Road 3 and in southern West Virginia. She vividly remembers the monument dedicated to the West Virginian miner at the Charleston Capitol.
Throughout the novel, she faces difficult issues, from fights in Congress and with a belligerent anti-coal EPA
to labor, financial and pollution problems with OHARA’s gold and bauxite investments in the Guyanas of the Caribbean.
Georgetown Guyana, Paramaribo and Suriname River, Suriname.
And she battles with China on corruptive practices. She participates in rallies of the United Mine Workers with Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Manchin speaking for miners’ rights for health care, and pensions.
But it was Sergeant Lanny A. Perdue of the Charleston Capitol Police who brought me onto Francine’s trail.
Charleston was not the place to start my search for her, he told me. Go down south, to Beckley. As of that critical moment, the search for Francine went on. I found her home in
Beckley, on Timber Ridge Drive,
visited Woodrow Wilson Highschool where she graduated
and admired the spectacular West Virginian scenery where she went trout-fishing with her father in the New River Gorge
And so Francine’s intriguing story developed, much of it playing in New York, starting with her troubled walk in Central Park.
Just one click takes you to a good read!
Why should we be surprised that so many like this memoir/coming of age story? On a first Goodreads giveaway of only 2 books it got some 600 entries!
(If the links do not function- sorry, a WordPress Issue- kindly copy them into your browser/url)
Whose memoir starts off playing with Audrey when they were kids (she 13 and he 7) , only to discover ten years later that she has become a famous movie star winning an Oscar in Roman Holiday with the great Gregory Peck? I remember her from when she came to visit us during World War II when she lived near us in Arnhem at the house of her grandfather, Baron van Heemstra, with her mother and two stepbrothers. She told me she practiced for ballet at the Arnhem Conservatory. I drove her in my pony wagon but did not really know what she was talking about!
The Audrey picture above and the dancing one below are private pictures that nobody else has! I donated them to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund.
Thirty years later we met again in Geneva when she was an accomplished and widely acclaimed actress, with two great sons. Many people knew her then but few people knew her as a young, beautiful undiscovered star at age 13 (picture left).
Sam says: This is a heartwarming collection of short stories that portray the path of boy meets world with realism and sensitivity. Perhaps most surprising are the different relationships that each story portrays – some were romantic, while others were more familial or close friendships. Those qualities, combined with the historical backdrop and international perspective, distinguish this book from the more typical and predictable storylines, making it a five-star read!
Get it at:
This may be the reason why so many want to read this story. But it’s not just Audrey. The other woman who till to-day, remains an anchor in my life is my grandmother, who appears in the book as “Lady D.” Who does not love their grandmother like the author does?
Sure everyone’s grandmother is something special! This one was, a Grand Dame who left an indelible mark on the author’s mind and soul. Many want to read it, thinking, yes, that’s how my grandmother was, too!
Then follow the heartwarming females that upset any young lad growing up!
And the first real love? That girl that knocks you of your socks when you are just 17?
Get it at: http://amzn.to/1QIL94B
If I told you that picture with the beloved girlfriend was taken in a heavily guarded Jesuit boarding school you would not believe it, but it’s TRUE.
Then that lovely pianist in Paris.
Paris upsets anyone’s love life. Hundreds of books and movies ballyhoo about it, and you don’t believe it until you get bitten yourself! That city does it to young people, especially if you speak its language of love, as I do. Imagined, dreamt of, hallucination, or wishful thinking, probably all of the above, turned me topsy-turvy. Everyone who went through the same experience, and many did, wants to compare with someone else’s experience, just to be able to say, yes! that’s how it felt! Yes, that’s how it was! And then to think that I and my adorable pianist ran into Sammy Davis in the Hermes store, getting his broad smiles and autographs on her shawl!
Get it at:
But the author ran into big troubles, too. Did anyone mess up because they met spider woman when they started their professional career? I did! Nothing more distressful then getting enamored by blond hair, artic blue eyes, a most enticing bright smile and a sexy seductress grabbing you by your….well you know what. Readers don’t want to miss that desperate episode. The author got out of it thanks to the blessing of his gods…oh boy, how that seductress could have destroyed his life…Remember that fabulous song “Here she comes! she is a Man Eater, Ho Ho Ho!?” Watch out!
And then he escapes to Switzerland, meets a loving woman but when the relationship sours because of differences in viewpoints and objectives in life, he breaks up once more, only to fall in love with a Norwegian Viking on the skis slopes that ends up in tears on both sides.
Ach! How difficult young life is. Loving and living love and it never stays the way it is. Why does it have to be that way?
Dan Dwyer writes: I had read the author’s vignette on Audrey Hepburn a few months ago when I was looking for something short, different and personal because my daughter is a big Hepburn fan. Mr. Schwartz did not fail me then nor has he failed me now with his compilation of the women he has met in his life. This latest work, Some Women I Have Known, talks as much about the man himself growing up amount the fairer sex, which he learns almost too late in life has a decisive advantage over a man too eager to find life’s companion.
Get it at:
And so the deep sufferer left for Africa. Only a desperado would do that. But he got mesmerized by a dark figure, a magnificent African woman, strolling on a hill who wanted something from him. No, not sex, not earning money to give her beauty away. She wanted freedom, away from mistreatment, longing for the moment she could employ her talents, flying away to unsurpassed heights, dislodge herself from imprisonment in a suffocating society, forced marriage and abusive treatment. A beautiful bird from the jungle, begging to be let loose from its cage to spread its wings and shoot out to heaven.
I don’t think I can ever forget Nyira, ever. I don’t know where she is now, what finally happened to her when I got her out, but she did get her chance to live a better life and she did.
And that’s the moment where young minds settle and reach some sort of maturity. It’s what they call coming-of-age. We all go through that one way or another. The only thing this author can say is that he was damn lucky he did not fall between the cracks. He finally met the woman he felt comfortable with. The opposite of what he had imagined.
I think this is the element why so many want to read this love story. It’s out on Amazon. com, Kindle e-book, paperback and hardcover. Don’t miss out on these stories, they inspired me to write them, and they will inspire you when you read them.
SOME WOMEN I HAVE KNOWN – MEMOIR AND ROMANCE
KIRKUS REVIEW; “A WISTFUL MEMOIR…“
AMAZON.COM KINDLE, PAPERBACK AND HARDCOVER.
This is to announce that my novel Some Women I Have Known will soon be available on Amazon.com. Paperback and hardcover will follow shortly. See the cover below:
Some Women I Have Known is a coming-of-age tale in which John van Dorn searches for his true love and meets some playful, perilous, and wonderful women along the way. He rides a pony with soon-to-be film star Audrey Hepburn, senses his first fondness of female attention at elementary school, experiences tender moments with his cello-playing sweetheart while at boarding school, loses his virginity in a risky adventure, then savors several dangerous and unfortunate loves in Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva and the Swiss Alps, learning that life is full of losses and ephemeral relationships. After rescuing a woman in the middle of Africa and a narrow escape of life and death, he finally finds peace of mind with a warm and beautiful Caribbean goddess in the United States.
The novel is based on the nine short stories that were published under the same overarching title on Amazon before–and listed on this blog– but was rewritten into a self-standing novel to which has been added the story Joy to the World which tells who John van Dorn finally marries (not previously published). Some of the individual short stories were adapted and modified to fit into the one story-line.
Pre-launch critiques are positive:
“Paying homage to his great uncle, an ex–World Bank professional makes his debut with a memoir featuring the series of women he encountered in his youth. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then Joost van der Poorten Schwartz (or Maarten Maartens as he was called in publishing circles) scored the jackpot…
A wistful memory…” Kirkus Review.
The cover design is by Melanie Stephens, Willow Manor Publishing, Fredericksburg, VA, based on a photograph taken by a close family friend, Irma Pahud de Mortanges, baroness Snouckaert van Schauburg, at the author’s home in Holland, in 1955. Audrey Hepburn’s picture on the piano is an original taken by Noel Mayne, Baron Studios, London, 1950, when she was still modeling and not yet “discovered.” It was a gift to me from her mother, Ella Baroness van Heemstra. The original is now in Audrey’s archive, kept by her sons Sean and Luca.
A new website of ENCHANTÉ is under construction by Danielle Koehler (www.dalitopia.com). All very exciting!
In our days of hustling and bustling we often forget the value of what we have. We constantly want things to change, even without realizing that when they do, we don’t like what changed and want to change what cannot be changed back again.
This reflection dawns on me each time when I look out on Lime Street from my million dollar seat. Lime Street in Georgetown Guyana has not changed since I saw it for the first time in April 1974. It is so refreshing that in 2014, forty long years later, it is still the same. Granted, I would never have sat on this seat had it not been for having fallen in love with the smashing beauty in the house, in a place far away from the million dollar seat, but she took me to the seat and since that happened, I don’t want to release it for a million dollars.
Each time over the many years when I sat down in my million dollar seat, it baffled me that the view remained the same. Oh yes, the green city buses disappeared and made room for multiple vans as a genial replacement of public transport, relieving the city budget from a bankrupt company where nobody paid the fares. More cars appeared in the street, from old Wolseleys, Morris, and Austins to Toyotas, Nissans, and scooters. Taxis a plenty. But the horse-drawn wagons are still there, the utility poles have not changed, the same grass grows along the street, and the same houses border the street, some done-up a bit, but otherwise mostly the same.
I have come to appreciate this view. As an economist, I always deal with “ceteris paribus”, the Latin phrase for “all other things held constant”, as a way of arguing that economic outcomes are expected to be “x” as long as the “variables” don’t change (they always do). The perfect reason why economics is not a science like physics: a stone falls straight and does not zig-zag (as my socialist opponents always purport).
Well, Lime Street in Georgetown Guyana is the perfect example of all other things being held constant. The same beauties come and go and never seem to age.
The same little food carts with their Calypsos blare over the street. The same loud vans with their oversized speakers drum by. The same stray dogs hop from grass poll to grass poll, cross the small street in utter disregard of oncoming traffic, somehow never getting hit. It’s a continuous flow of things that never changes in substance, only in color, number or size.
There are other million dollar seats.
I know a few, such as a terrace on a beach house in Goa in India where you can stare for an eternity at the Indian Ocean rolling in,
sitting on a balcony in the Jura watching the Mont Blanc across Lake Geneva, turning white to pink to blue, a seat under a parasol on a Bali beach where the sea stays forever blue
or a view of a swimming pool bordering the Dead Sea.
But Lime Street is different: it’s not nature, it’s in the middle of a town where hordes of colonialists, World Bank and IMF and other “developers” have come to preach the benefits of change. And it did not. Thank God.
It’s a relief to look at things that remain the same.
Above: Lime Street Early Morning
Middle: Lime Street at Siesta Hour
Below: Lime Street After a Rain Fall
It’s peace of mind. Leave the hustle and bustle to others and other places. Bring poetry into your life. Sit, watch what stays, let it flow and come back into place, while sipping from a glass of rum. Value what is and what you have.
Don’t change. Don’t change. Don’t change.
What’s that noise? A shrieking crank of a rusty water-pump perhaps? But why would somebody continuously pump water in the night? Or was somebody practicing the violin for a Schoenberg concert? No, not in Georgetown Guyana. A loud record of the Lady and the Tramp in the Disney movie howling at each other? The One Hundred Dalmatians let loose in town? Delirious. What’s the first plane out? Those were the thoughts of a displaced modern “Saïdjah” transplanted from his comfy habitat into a totally unknown world.
Both protected by a romantic mosquito net, his “Adinda” was sleeping peacefully beside him, unaware of the rambling thoughts of her recently acquired hubby, who was knocking on his compass to find out where he was. After a six-hour journey, the plane had landed at a slightly lit airport on a late evening in April 1974. Hit by a fire wall of steamy air, accompanied by some 24 suitcases with stuff needed for the Blessing of the Marriage – including champagne – we were whisked along immigration and customs agents as if we were a royal couple, into the arms of enthusiastic family members, waving wildly at “Adinda” and looking curiously at that white fellow from Amsterdam. Did he look like the former Dutch colonial masters? Or a bit like those British imposters who followed later?
Packed in various cars, we trucked in pitch dark over a potholed old airport road. The airport was built during World War II by the American Army Engineers to protect their access to Guyana’s rich bauxite mines for their fighter planes and to protect them against German attacks that were after these resources as well. (Since then, this road has been substantially improved.) We traveled 45 minutes through sparsely lit villages with Dutch names (such as Soestdijk), along sugar fields and sweet-smelling rum factories, into Georgetown. Under Dutch colonial regime, it was called Stabroek, after a gentleman who was the Governor of the Dutch West Indian Company (WIC) in the 18th Century. When the British took over Guyana after one of the many European wars in the 19th century, Stabroek became Georgetown, named after the British King George III. But many of the old Dutch names were kept, like “New Amsterdam”, and so were the colonial administrative structures in Demerara and the Berbize. Stabroek market is still Georgetown’s main market.
Somewhere around mid-night, “Saïdjah” entered the home of his “Adinda”. Definitely a much better situation than in Multatuli’s bitter story. Houses in Georgetown, some still dating from the Dutch colonial period, are built on stilts because of the often high waters (torrential rains and rising mighty rivers coming from Brazil’s Amazon forest.) Even though the Dutch built many dykes and sluices, ground floors get often flooded. At the top of the stairs stood a fierce mother-in-law, staring at him, piercing eyes like laser beams. “Now we finely meet,”she said, offering a suspicious smile after our phone-calls from Washington D.C. (Who was this guy? What the heck did her daughter fall in love with?) “Yes we do,” he said, standing half-way on the stairs on shaking knees, looking up, feeling naked.The great father, an exemplary gentleman, smiled encouragingly. That helped. One sister, a “late-comer” who still lived in the house, talked in Guyanese that he could not comprehend. What would the morning bring?
Exhausted from the flight and the long homecoming, we went to bed almost immediately. Houses in Guyana are self-air-conditioned. Walls reach two-thirds to the high ceiling, leaving the top open, and air circulates around, pushed by the outside breeze. Much like the chambrettes in the dorms of my boarding school, though much larger. Very ingenious, but what if I let a fart? Or snored? Or what if you made love and they heard the stumbling on the bed and sexy screams and squeaks?
Thank God that in the tropics light starts at 5 a.m. Saïdjah’s curiosity to see where he had landed became untenable. First, to the bathroom. This is part of the community-architecture: open at the top, for everyone to hear. Again, what if I let a fart? They would know it was me! Only Dutch people fart like that. I just put my fingers in my ear, as if it did not happen. Best in multiculturalism is to fool yourself you’re in your own place. Then I trotted to the front of the house. It looked out on a T-crossing with a narrow street ahead, lined with green patches of grass and colorful homes along it.
Small cars and green buses wriggled through, as well as wagons pulled by horses and sometimes donkeys, transporting wood and bags of cement.
Dogs (must’ve been the ones that barked all night) crossed the street in suicidal mode but they were doing that all the time, as they smartly avoided getting run over by traffic. Kids dressed in green, blue and yellow uniforms walked to school, chatting, with broad smiles. Women walked to the market, men drove to work. People on bikes peddled along, as if they had all the time.
A most peaceful view of a most peaceful town, so to see, with flamboyant trees in full bloom.
I relaxed. My Adinda, dressed in a white shirt and tiny shorts, brought me a cup of coffee. Soon I smelled toast, bacon and eggs. The radio brought the local news and happy Caribbean calypsos. The mother and father came to chat. Did I sleep well despite Georgetown’s nightly noises?
The most interesting experience was my immediate conclusion: “First” and “Third World” differed only in the Third World’s warm climate. I would reach a similar conclusion in my World Bank work. There was no difference in terms of intellectual capacity. Application of that capacity perhaps, and the critical mass of that capacity, but that was very dependent on the political environment. The mother was head of a Home Economics School and had been to the USA on scholarly visits and to Europe with her daughter, now married away, to places I had never been. The father was a business man. “Adinda” had two brothers, one a high-level attorney in the British Government (the highest “non-white”), another an engineer finishing studies in New York. Another sister was a nurse, certified in London, living and working in New York. Her mother said: “it does not matter where you come from, but where you are going.”
The rusty pump during the night turned out the sound of tropical crickets. Also, in Georgetown the night belongs to the dogs and the happy Caribbean music wafting out of bars. You get soon accustomed to that.
I remembered the fortune-teller, whom I met when I started work in Holland, as part of an agreement with a lovely young lady who had a room for rent in her large apartment. The reason I wanted that room was that she had a grand piano, and I could use it to practice on. To my regret, the young lady refused. So I went back to the fortune-teller and asked her why. “First,”she said, “your stars paint you as a Don Juan and that frightened the landlord. Secondly, I also discovered that your lifelong task is one of constant adjustment. Your stars are not stable but in perpetual flux. That frightened her too. While this may hurt you on the way, if you don’t reject your destiny, it will also be your savior.” Meaning what destiny? I sat stunned. Fortune tellers only interpret the stars and do not give clear recommendations.
Horishi Teshigahara’s wonderful Japanese film “Woman in the Dunes”, based on Kobe Abe’s novel, came back to mind. A man is captured by unknown individuals and thrown into a deep pit. The pit holds a house with a beautiful woman. How did she get there? They bring them food everyday. He tries to flee to his previous imagined freedom but cannot climb the loose sand. Eventually he succumbs, falls in love with the beautiful woman and relaxes. When his jailers extend a ladder to him, he does not want to leave the pit anymore. “It does not matter where you come from, but where you are going.” That was it. Destiny reached. The road was clear.
Next – The festivities and country visit.