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What There Was Not to Tell

What There Was Not to Tell
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About ten years ago, I began the process of writing “What There Was Not to Tell,” a book based on letters my parents exchanged during World War II. There were more than 2,000 letters and it took me a whole year just to read and organize the letters. These were not the usual letters of war, exchanges of love and longing, though there was some of that. Instead, these were about a man named Tom, who my mother had decided to marry instead of my father. My mother and father had known each other since childhood and it had always been my father’s intention to marry my mother. My mother, however, liked to play the field. One summer while on vacation with her parents in the Adirondacks, my mother met a man named Tom. Tom fell for my mother rather hard and then came war. He asked my mother to marry him but she could not make up her mind between him and my father. Tom was the swashbuckler; my father was quiet and steady.

Both my father and Tom joined the Air Corps, which is the early name of the Air Force. Tom trained to be a pilot and my father, an engineer, helped plan and build the air fields. My father was sent first, to North Africa, where he slept in a tent beside the air field and wrote sad letters home to my mother. Tom remained stateside, taking little training planes up into the air and landing them, then writing about his experiences to my mother. One day in 1941, Tom called my mother to tell her he was being sent into the South Pacific. She was not home and so he left a message, saying he was leaving. On the way over, he wrote to her: “How can I do any good in this war if I can’t be sure of your love?” She wrote back, telling him she would marry him and mailed it off. Tom was shot down and killed before the letter could reach him. It, and other letters she had written to him at that time, was returned to my mother, stamped “deceased.” My mother’s heart was completely broken and for months she withdrew from life, writing to my father only to tell him of Tom’s death then ceasing to write at all. He wrote and wrote, hoping to encourage her to write back. In her silence, my mother came to the decision to join the American Red Cross, in hopes of being sent to New Guinea, where Tom’s plane had gone down. She hoped perhaps to visit his grave, or to find him. She felt there had been a mistake, maybe he wasn’t dead, just missing, or maybe even his serial number had been confused with someone else’s. She simply couldn’t accept the news of his death.

My mother ended up joining the Marines, among the first women to serve. She was sent to Miramar in San Diego where she worked a desk job, processing soldiers coming in and out of the South Pacific. Daily she greeted soldiers returning, missing a leg or an arm, blind or with head injuries, the typical and tragic result of a bloody war. After six months she wrote home to her parents, “You needn’t worry anymore. I no longer want to go over. I’ve seen enough from here.”

My parents died within two months of each other after nearly 50 years of marriage. When my sister and I opened our mother’s wallet, we discovered a photo of a young man we did not recognize. At the funeral, we asked a few relatives who identified him as Tom. She never forgot him and she hoped we never would either. His parents became our third set of grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Platt, we called them. Tom had been their only son and they died in the 1950s, clearly, even to me at that very young age, broken-hearted.

This book is about a love story but it is much more than that, a book about how one death in a big war can reverberate into the next generation, how war does not end with the peace treaty but instead continues to corrode the heart, like the slow and steady rub of sandpaper of a rough surface. It is the story I saw when I read those letters and thought about the life we led in our house, so soon after World War II, both my parents returning from the war and quickly marrying like thousands of other veterans. They were encouraged to be proud of their service, and they were. They were encouraged to carry on and get jobs and buy houses and have children, and they did. But deep down, I don’t think either of them ever completely healed from the war. Whenever I used to ask my father about the war, he always used to say, “There isn’t much to tell.” And that’s why I titled it, What There Was Not To Tell, since what I learned from the letters they left behind is huge in proportion to what they ever did tell me about that war: nothing much. I think what he actually meant to say was, “There is too much to tell. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

And so the book is supposed to be about the aftereffects of war, the deep wounds it leaves even on those who never received a scratch from their service. And the affect it can have not only on those who were left behind but even on those who were born after. But, for some reason, publishers to whom I have sent this book find it unlikely anyone would want to read it. They all say it is a good book, that it is beautifully written, they all say it deserves to be published. Except not by them. The most recent rejection I received said this, in part: “This is a wonderful book, beautifully written but it would be ‘small’ for us (meaning we could only get out a couple of thousand copies). Please remember I am with one of the most commercial houses in the industry. We publish John Stewart and Nicholas Sparks, etc. And, our bottom line has been tougher lately as bookstores get less traffic, so our new mandate is to go after the “really big” books and we’ll publish fewer of them. I do hope you find a way to send this to more houses, ones that can take a bit of risk.”

I wonder what they mean by “risk.” I’ve never known publishing to be about anything but risk and what I think is sinking the big houses now is the mad dash for the “big” hit, which they keep missing and missing and missing by publishing “sure bets.” That doesn’t work in horse racing and it doesn’t work in publishing either. The “sure bets” that miss are a lot more expensive than the risks. Publishers are in the embrace of planning their future by looking at their past, a very poor way to publish literature.

If this book ever does get published, I’ll be able to tell my own war story about how many times the manuscript was turned down before someone found it. It does make me curious, though. All I can do at this point is just keep going. I’ve written in other blogs about the Kindle and the “fate” of the written word and so on, the evolution of reading and writing, whether changed by technology or the warp of the modern brain. Everyone has a theory and I’m no exception. I think what is clear is that publishing is in the midst of a revolution and we won’t know the outcome for some years into the future. It could be that trying to stay safe will kill the industry. I look at the best seller list and I see celebrity profiles and how-to books and I think, it’s not so much that people don’t want to read or buy books anymore but more that people are not being given books that interest them, excite them, mystify them and make them think. In my experience, there are still legions of people out there who love to read.

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13 Responses to What There Was Not to Tell

  1. K Lech September 28, 2009 at 6:06 pm #

    Oh, Edie! I’d give my eye teeth to read your book!! The little bit you menitoned here was just bait to read the entire story. I get so sick of publishing houses wanting to get the “big one.” It makes me wonder how many wonderful stories we haven’t been able to read due to the greed these companies have.

  2. Alice Wagner September 30, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    My heart jumped when I saw the title of your blog, “What There Was Not To Tell,” because … I had just checked your website (www.edieclark.com) within the past few days to see if by any chance your book is being published. I was hoping your blog was going to announce that. There are so many things to be weary of these days, and what you just described to us about the publishers, gets on the Weary-Of List. Hopefully something changes and we’ll be seeing that announcement from you soon. Your fans need an Edie-Fix more than ever since Yankee comes only every other month. Mrs. Alice Wagner in Wisconsin

  3. Mel Allen September 30, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    I’ve been Edie’s editor for many years, and I have been lucky enough to read a draft of this book. I hope and trust someone will realize that Edie’s legions of readers alone would lead to a word of mouth swell that would translate into a successful book by any standards. Her readers are the most loyal I know.

  4. Jennifer Willford September 30, 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    Edie, I also was looking forward to hearing the news of the publication of this book, which appears to be a blending of a slice of history along with a particular romance. “The Place He Made” has long stuck with me as a wonderful, but complex, story of love between two people as well as reconciliation of past hurts. I read a lot of books, enjoy some, but few continue to mull around in my mind as often as this one did. My best wishes to you for a successful end to your publication journey of this next book.

  5. annie Gloss October 1, 2009 at 9:18 am #

    oh, edie. my heart skipped a beat as i read thinking i was about to hear there was a publisher at hand. i have waited far too many years to read this book! this publishing revolution is very scary. i remember when norton published books that were important reading to a smaller number of readers. no longer true. so many kinds of books which i have always loved, the memoirs, journals, poetry books, etc., are being shunned. it is very disconcerting to the writers and the readers. i continue to hope that good news is just around the corner. your editor is right…your readers would be grabbing it off the shelves. such a nice comment from him, by the way.

    thank you for posting this and for sharing more about this remarkable story with us. it is such a rich and compelling story. i am convinced you will meet with success and am glad you continue to pursue this. best wishes always.

  6. Heather Atwell October 2, 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    As I read this post, I too was greatly anticipating to learn when the book would be published. I hope that day comes soon.

  7. Tinky Weisblat October 2, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    I know it will happen for your book, Edie. Believe me, I know how discouraging it is. I keep hoping that publishers (and TV producers and all those information and story powerbrokers) will figure out that their model doesn’t work. In the meantime, thanks for sharing your thoughts here and in Yankee…….

  8. Sandy Earle October 5, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    Edie,
    I’ve been a fan of yours for so many years. I’m always eager to open Yankee to see what you’ve written. I used to cut out your article each month and save them in a notebook so I was happy to see them in your book, “The View from Mary’s Farm”. I loved reading, “The Place He Made” and am looking forward to reading your new book. Please don’t give up – your loyal fans are waiting!

  9. Angela Bird October 14, 2009 at 10:32 am #

    Forge on, Mary. Good things come to those who wait! I, too, am anxiously waiting.
    The excerpt here has me wanting to read more.

  10. Angela Bird October 14, 2009 at 10:35 am #

    oops – I meant “Edie”! Since I’ve been reading Mary’s Farm all this time, I slipped up!

  11. Meg August 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    I’m looking forward to your newest book , can’t wait. I just took “The Place He Made” from my bookcase. I knew exactly which book is was and will read it again for the umpteenth time.
    I enjoy your writing every month.
    Thank you.
    Meg

  12. Edie Clark October 28, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    Readers take note: What There Was Not To Tell has been published and is now available for purchase. Go to http://www.edieclark.com or Amazon.com and enter the title in the search bar. Thanks for your encouraging comments and happy reading! Edie

  13. Eleanor McGreevy March 13, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    I just finished reading What there Was not to Tell. This is by far the best book you have written. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed your others. I was so moved by the letters of a true love story. I am glad you were able to find Tom’s resting place. You brought closure to all. I have visited quite a few of the memorials you mentioned and they certainly leave one with a different feeling about all that people endured at wartime especially WW2 I was 8 years old when the war ended and do remember the big elation from all My sister and I rode on top of a firetruck Don’t know how we got to do it but I still remember it to this day. I am 76 years old and no member of my family was in the war. Dad to old. Thanks again for a remarkable book. Eleanor

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