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#2172: Willa Cather to Roscoe Cather, October 5, 1940

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My dear Roscoe1:

Before I left Grand Manan5 I wrote you a rather hysterical letter6, and I am ashamed of it. Please forget it and forgive me. Sometimes, at the end of a long pull of work, people get shaky and wonder what it is all about. Unfortunately, I had a severe toothache nearly all the while I was up there, and with our queer boat service I would have lost a whole week getting to a dentist on the mainland and returning. I had only six weeks to finish the book7, and could not lose a week. The local doctor gave me codeine when my sleep was too badly broken up, but codeine leaves a mean hang-over ,.. and oOn the whole it was a fairly nerve-racking experience. I got the book done, however, and apparently with considerable success.

In these days any kind of success brings its own problems. I am enclosing a letter8 from Alfred Knopf9 which will explain some of them to you.

The Book of the Month Club10 (their selection of the book for January has not been publicly announced and is a secret) will make their payment to both Alfred and me at the end of January. I always make up my income tax from January 1 to January 1. Mr. Lesser11, in Alfred's office, does it for me. I have been four years writing the book and most of the financial returns will come in during the year 1941, when the tax on what is called "unearned income" is to be greatly increased. You see, Alfred has taken the trouble to worry about that , and is willing to advance me half of what the Book of the Month Club pays, in order to get that amount into my 1940 tax return. I had been thinking rather mournfully of the income tax problem that would confront me next year, but I had not spoken to him about it.

I have in my safe deposit box a letter received from you some time before I went away for the summer. In this letter you said that you had a check for me from the -2- Ocean Front Oil property, but that you were holding all such checks to use in some litigation with the State of California. If, without any injustice to the other participants to whom checks are due, you could send me my check before the first of December, it would certainly help me out very much in my tax report, by increasing my income for this year (this year it (my income) happens to be lower than it has been for many years) and reducing it for 1941, when it will be larger than it has ever been before in any one year. Knopf never made as big a first printing12 as he is making for SAPPHIRA7. The next largest first printing13 was of SHADOWS ON THE ROCK14, which the Book of the Month Club had also accepted. As you probably know, the Book of the Month Club makes its own books. It simply buys from the author and publisher the right to print the book in their own cheap way, and send it to their subscribers. They cut into Alfred Knopf's sale somewhat, but he feels that the largewide advertisement they give the book fully compensates. Moreover, the Book of the Month Club members are made up of people who practically never buy books—they want something to read but don't know how to go about getting it. As Alfred says, very few of the members are in my "natural audience" at all.

God knows, my dear brother, why such a quiet book, dealing with old fashioned people and the long ago, should set a bunch of young men like the office staff on fire, but it seems to have done so. The form (structure) of the book is prettyfairly good, but the eEpilogue and the approach to it are pretty daring, and I was very much afraid it would give the reader a jolt. Fortunately, I wrote the eEpilogue before I wrote beyond the first few chapters of the book—I like to see my end from my beginning :. tThat was before Douglass15 died and before Isabelle16 died, and I was full of enthusiasm for my idea. Every word in the scene of NANCY'S RETURN is true, my boy, even the weather. The excitement of that actual occurrence seemed to change me from a baby into a thinking being. For years I had wanted to write -3- that actual scene, but I could never see a way to use it except in a personal autobiography, and I hate autobiographies.

With my loveWillie

P.S. I am sending you a copy of a letter to Elsie17, which will explain some of the problems which puzzle me at present, quite as much as the income tax! I'm only half way through the page proofs.

FROM CATHER 570 PARK AVE3., NEW YORK CITY2 Mr. R. C. Cather,1 First Savings Bank of Colusa, Colusa,4 California. NEW YORK N.Y. STA.Y2 OCTOBER 5 4.30 PM PersonalSapphira