[A short essay, written by Siby (Croly) Hanchett, probably around 1936, as the first edition of “Late Harvest” was finally published in 1937.]
We often hear people say, “I often think I’d like to write a book.” I think I could too. If I just took the time to sit down and put on paper the curious things and people I’ve seen, it could make a book worth reading. And the more I see of people, the more respectful I feel toward that idea. I think it is probably true that in one sense every person’s life would make an interesting book. The actual difficulty of sitting down and putting it on paper is overestimated by some people and underestimate by others. I suppose no one can have an accurate idea of it who has not tried to objectify his own thoughts in cold black and white. I remember trying to answer a man who asked me how it feels to write a novel. I searched my brain for a metaphor which would convey my exact idea of how it feels and I said to him, “You know it feels almost exactly like having a baby.” From his blank look I gathered that my carefully chosen comparison didn’t mean much to him. Of course there are important differences. You can stop writing a novel after it is started, whereas you usually have to see the other thing through. And if you do finish your novel you begin to grow away from it. It stays as you left it. It represents yourself at a certain stage of your life and mental development, but after some years you can look at it with a great degree of detachment and wonder how you ever were that way.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is, “How do you ever find time to write?” And I rarely dare to be quite frank and tell people how much I neglect, what a callous, ruthless, conscienceless person I had to become in order to bring novels into the world, I seriously question whether it is worth the price. In fact I never did think it was worth the price. Then why did I do it? I’m going to make a confession. Years ago when I was first married, my husband thought I could do anything. In the first fine fever of that belief he one day brought home several yards of tweed and said, “I’d like you to make me a pair of pants! I tried to beg off. I’d sewed a little bit, but something told me that men’s pants were clear out of my jurisdiction. But he insisted, and I realized that he would never give up until I had proved something or other. So I bought a Butterick pattern (they used to have men’s trouser in those days) and I honestly tried to make him a really professional pair of pants. I don’t know what happened to those pants. I can’t remember that he ever wore them, and I hope, for the sake of a suffering world, that he didn’t take them to the Salvation Army. But in a way I was successful. He never asked me to do it again.
Well, the years passed, carrying with them a good many of my husband’s illusions. He discovered that I couldn’t do everything. In fact I am sure there were times when he suspected that I couldn’t do anything much. But he is a persistent person, and he finally hit upon a bright idea. He said “I’m sure you could write!” I explained that one couldn’t write between peeling a mess of potatoes and putting the clothes in to soak, and I pointed out that if I did try to write I would probably neglect everything worse than ever, and when he got me a typewriter I began to see that only one thing would convince him. I remembered those pants and I really believe I started my first novel mainly to show my husband that I couldn’t. Of course I got interested in it after awhile and had a perfectly gorgeous time, and forgot all about my duties and responsibilities. It was a future story about life in the fifth century hence. I did what Omar aspired to do, “grasped this sorry scheme of things entire, shattered it to bits and remolded it nearer to my heart’s desire.” A few friends have liked reading it, but it never seemed to impress a publisher, and after several trips across the continent it came to rest in a drawer, and I said to my husband, “See?” And he said, “I still think you can write.”
So about a year after that I bought a new typewriter ribbon and went into seclusion for ten days in a cottage at Santa Cruz, emerging with ten thousand words and a complete plan for a novel which was to be much more realistic. I threw way all my schemes for remodeling the world and decided to write about the world as I knew it. That book was finished in the summer of 1930, which was about as bad a time to approach publishers and agents as any year since there were such things. So when that made it way across America several times, coming to rest in another drawer, I said to my husband, “I hope you’re satisfied.” And he answered, “I still think you can write.”
Well I wrote one more, with the same results. Then I said to myself, and him, “Now, I’m through! I don’t like to write novels anyway. Its bad for the eyes and ruinous to the disposition, and it doesn’t get you anywhere. If I had put the same amount of effort on a needle point tapestry I‘d have something to show for it. And he said – – – you can guess what he said. Well, I haven’t given up. I may show him yet. Lots of novels get published.
It is that second novel which is now being published. I called it LITTLEFIELDS, because it is all about a family named Littlefield and a village named after them. The publisher asked my permission to change the title, and make a few cuts. I told him too go ahead. So he changed the title to LATE HARVEST. That really is a good title, because it has a bearing on the story. But as time goes on and the date of publication is postponed time after time it seems to me that LATE HARVEST is even more appropriate than I first thought. Maybe he knew what he was talking about. The book was supposed to be published in November, then January, then the 22nd of February, but now I am getting really sophisticated and I know that publisher dates are only campaign promises.
As I said, he asked if he might make a few cuts. I do not know to this day what cuts he made. Probably the chapter about the church choir has been sacrificed. It could have been spared. I thought it was funny when I wrote it, but it probably wasn’t so good. By the way, that reminds me of another question people ask, “Do you take your character from life, and are there any Saratoga people in the book?” If that chapter about the church choir does appear in print, I certainly hope nobody will think I used local models for it. It is purely imaginary. But of course I do use traits or features of my acquaintances here and there. If I like a man’s mustache or a woman’s legs I just appropriate them and attach them where I think they will do the most good. I suppose any novelist does. And even by trying to write a novel one gets a different way of looking at people, just as a mechanic sees more in a car than I do.
The scene of the novel is the village of Littlefields in an unmentioned state. The topography of the surrounding country was very clear to me, but I have never seen a place like it. The river runs past the village from east to west. North of the river is hilly country and south of it flat farm lands.
Did these two novel manuscripts survive into present time? I’d like to read them
“Late Harvest” was published. I have a copy of the book and copies might be available online or through inter-library loan. I don’t have a copy of the manuscript for the first novel – still hoping one will be found.