An interview with
1969: A Novel
Visit the hotel in the SMITH era
The film "A Walk on the Moon" focused on the 1969 culture clash between Woodstock youths and residents of a nearby Jewish summer camp. Now comes the Gentile version. Sue Chapman Melanson's self published novel takes us into the back rooms and employee housing of Wentworth-by-the-Sea during the same tumultuous year. The slim 118-page autobiographical story appears thanks to the miracle of on-demand publishing (ODP).
This is not a complex literary "Hotel New Hampshire," but rather a gentle, often technical memoir of the waning years of the grand Wentworth during the "Smith Era". At this writing, no books about the historic hotel are available, and there is not likely to be another written by "the help." Melanson worked among the large seasonal staff who bunked at an old military compound nearby in New Castle. Melanson takes us inside the kitchens, back rooms and guest quarters for a rarely seen view of the hotel and its operations.
Today Melanson is an herbalist. She lives in South Hiram. She and her husband Art run a sled dog kennel, a maple syrup farm and Oak Hill Farm Cottages and retreat center. -- JDR
Interview with Sue Melanson
author of "Wentworth by the Sea 1969"
Click to Buy the Book
Why a novel of the Wentworth? Why not a nonfiction account of your
summer there in 1969?
My creative writing instructors have always said to write about what you know. I knew the nooks and crannies of Wentworth-by-the-Sea well. It was a natural. A non-fiction account of the summer would have read like a Russian novel, with a cast of characters the reader would have needed a score-card to keep up with. A fictional piece gave me an opportunity to combine several characters. I also had leeway to embellish and to create. I would have had to keep a diary that summer in order to keep the events orderly.
Tell us the story of the manuscript. When did you write it and why?
I began my manuscript in 1985 while I was reorganizing and culling mementos of my life. In re-telling the tales of 1969 to a group of fellow pre-school moms, someone threw out the challenge -- "You should write a book!" So I banged out a couple of chapters on my old Selectric typewriter, and the next time we had coffee, they all listened with coffee mugs in mid-air. They prodded me for more, but all I could come up with were bits and pieces and hazy recollections. I was trying too hard to be absolutely factual. Over the years I picked up the project and put it down again and again. It wasn't flowing and I didn't like the heroine or the male romantic lead very much. Last year, armed with a new computer equipped with Microsoft Word 2000 and spell-check, I made my Millennium New Years Eve resolution to complete the manuscript, if only for my own satisfaction. My husband pressed me to follow through, as he knew how frustrating it was for me to have the incomplete manuscript wedged in my bottom drawer.
Two things happened in the year 2000 that helped me accomplish that. First, I met Erin McGowan on-line. We met over a heated eBay auction during which her boyfriend and I were dueling for the same WBS postcard. She was entranced by any and all details of life at the hotel in 1969. She's only 29 and has never actually experienced Wentworth-by-the-Sea as a living, breathing entity, but she is enchanted by it, and walks the hallways in her dreams. She will probably be one of the first patrons through the doors when it opens again in 2002. Erin convinced me that I had something worth saying. She promised that at least SHE would read the book! Secondly, as I was beating my head on the stonewall of writers' block one more time, the magic key to my dilemma flashed across my mind as if on a marquee "MAKE IT FICTION!" Suddenly the male lead took on new life by adding a lot of my husband's qualities to the real-life character -- with a little Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson thrown in. And the project was flying!
You elected to use a subsidy publisher over submitting the
manuscript to a traditional printing house. How did you make that
I credit SeacoastNH.com with directing me to Xlibris. This project has been very personal for me. I have relived my 23rd summer within the pages of this book and I wanted control over the final product. I examined Rod Philbrick's book "Dark Matter" and a couple of others. Xlibris offers four levels of service ranging from Core Service (for FREE) to Premium Service for $1200. Each level allows a greater amount of control by the author. Once the manuscript is published, the copyright belongs to the author and I have the option of approaching traditional printing houses with my completed work. ...or Hollywood...dare I dream?.
Tell us about the ODP (on demand printing) process. You are on the
cutting edge of technology. How does one publish a book on Xlibris? Is
ODP means that no book is published until it is ordered. This means the
publisher does not have to warehouse books. It also means that the reader will have to wait two to six weeks to get a copy of the book in hand. I like the idea that I won't be seeing my title in Buck-A-Book shops or on a remainder table.
I chose Xlibris' Professional Service at around $600. I had a wide range of templates to choose from as far as the physical appearance of my book. I was able to include 20 black and white interior images (most right off my vintage 1969 Brownie camera -- stuff you won't find in the collections of Friends of the Wentworth. I got an ISBN number; my book is registered with the Library of Congress and for a copyright. Everything is submitted on computer disks, although Xlibiris does have an optional, more expensive service for people without computer capabilities.) I submitted my disk on September 25th and was assigned my Xlibris contact: Josh McIlvain and an account number. Then my manuscript, all the interior images and the cover, author write up and book summary were processed into publishable style. The publishable copy was returned to me on disk, and I reviewed it for corrections -- my errors and theirs. Back to them again, corrections made, and I gave my final approval December 2nd. The book was released on December 7th. Within a few weeks Books-In-Print had listed it as well as Amazon.com, Borders.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
How much can an author make using ODP?
Trade paperback versions of my book sell for $16 suggested retail. I get $4 per book on direct sales through Xlibris. Bookstores, libraries and resellers get a 40% discount and I get $1.60 of each book sold. Hardbacks retail for $25. I get $6.25 on each direct sale and $2.50 from sales to bookstores and the like. I had the option to put "Wentworth-by-the-Sea, 1969" out there as an E-Book, but I opted not to do that. It didn't feel right - I want people to hold my book in their hands!
How do you handle bookstore sales with ODP? There are no copies to sell.
Bookstores order whatever they need at their discount. The books are printed and shipped out just as with any other traditional publisher. The difference is that there is a lag time while the books are produced. The final product, in my humble opinion, is a stunning volume with a striking picture of the Wentworth, as it stood in 1969, on the cover. There aren't any other books about the Wentworth out there. I get a spreadsheet showing where sales are coming from and the very first book sold was in Oklahoma City, so perhaps there is interest beyond the confines of the Seacoast area.
You offer us a lot of nostalgic detail about the Wentworth, yet it has
a reputation as a white gentiles only hotel. Did you see examples of
that as late as 1969?
Management was still clinging to that elite image, a lot of patrons were too, but by 1969 there "was no longer a graceful dance between the classes". I have included the description of the day the rock band, The Association, arrived to stay while doing a gig at the Hampton Casino. The front desk had thought The Association was a business group. I understand there were some tense moments before their reservations were honored. One of our busboys, I think his name was Mark, was black. Very few guests were black or of any other minority group, but change was in the air even as the summer progressed.
You euphemistically refer to "class" discrimination, but wasn't there
real bigotry towards race and religion?
In 1969 money was the common denominator that spoke. I had heard that a black speaker had been "un-invited" to speak years earlier. Protestant and Catholic services were held each Sunday in the Ball Room, but no effort was made to cater to Jewish clientele. There was an occasional Asian couple staying at the hotel. The Japanese regarded it as a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Treaty of Portsmouth. I never saw guests from the Middle East or India nor Native Americans.
What kind of response have you received from readers? Any old
To date there are only about 60 copies of the book are in circulation but response has been very positive. Most people have picked it up and read it in a sitting; it's only 116 pages long. It's the kind of book I used to look for to do book reports in school. Women seem to like the romance and lavish how-it-was-done details. Men have all commented on the "Eagle Has Landed" chapter.
I have always been friends with my old boyfriend. He is the basis for the character Geoffrey. In firming up some of my hazier memories, I was able to reconnect with Miss Flipper and Miss Dolphin who worked with the guests' children. The real-life busboy Corby and his sister, Cher, have also beamed in from cyberspace. I keep hoping my old roommate will reappear!
You are also your own publicist. How do you plan to promote your new
My husband keeps asking that question! My daughter is trying to get the professor of New England Literature to add the book to the required curriculum at Colby-Sawyer. A mass mailing has been sent to Portsmouth area book stores and hotel gift shops. The Friends of the Wentworth, Ocean Properties (the present owners), and the press, as well as everyone on my e-mail list, my Christmas card list, my high school reunion list, any random Wentworth-by-the-Sea alum and anyone who ever bid against me for WBS memorabilia on eBay.
Any stories you left out of the book because they were too spicy? It
was 1969 after all.
There are dozens of spicy tales to be told not only from the staff quarters, but also from the lavishly appointed guest suites. The character Leanne is bound to entertain readers looking for spice. My style is to let the reader read between the lines. Besides, 87-year-old mother is going to read this!
Any final memories of Maggie and James Barker Smith not in the book?
I have Wentworth history that continues for 6 years after the 1969 summer. One blustery March I returned to help open up the hotel. I lived in a camper that was supposed to go on the back of a pickup truck, except there was no truck. It was located on Campbell's Island behind the hotel. We worked in teams of two moving from room to room with no running water and propane heaters. We washed windows inside and out, washed down walls, re-varnished ancient newel-posts, hung draperies, examined bedspreads for wear, etc.
At lunchtime Mrs. Smith would send a car up from her house just across the bridge and fetch us into her kitchen for a hot lunch. She was my savior in those days and it didn't matter that she didn't remember my name. We were all "my dear". Mr. Smith was always jolly and chatty and a little vague, or perhaps the word is "vacant". I always regarded Mrs. Smith as the one in charge. She loved to dote on the people that mattered.
Now that you've successfully self published, do you ever wonder if an
editor or graphic designer might have been helpful?
My husband has been a critical editor going through the book over and over again, word by word, sentence by sentence. So before submitting the initial manuscript, we labored over it, every paragraph, every
description. We edited out some superfluous characters and beefed up some others. I thought about a graphic designer to illustrate my interior images at one point, but the authenticity of REAL photographs worked better for me in the long run. In retrospect, my book is exactly the way I wanted it to be.
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