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Janice Holt Giles

Janice Holt Giles: A Writer's Life

Dianne Watkins Stuart
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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    Janice Holt Giles
    Book Description:

    In 1946, at the age of 41, Janice Holt Giles wrote her first novel. Although it took her only three months to complete the first draft, working at night so as not to conflict with her secretarial job, it was another four years beforeThe Enduring Hillswas published. Three years later, when her sixth novel appeared, Janice Holt Giles's works had accumulated sales of nearly two million copies. Between 1950 and 1975 she wrote twenty-four books, most of which were bestsellers, regularly reviewed in theNew York Times, and selected for inclusion in popular book clubs. Her picture held pride of place in her literary agent's New York office, alongside those of Willa Cather, H.G. Wells, and Edith Wharton, yet until now there has been no biography of this immensely popular American writer.

    Humbly professing to be "just a good storyteller," Giles was a keen observer of life with great sensitivity, an ear for language, and a superb imagination. Her artistic achievements become even more remarkable when placed in the context of her often difficult personal struggles. Dianne Watkins Stuart, for years the acknowledged expert on Giles's work, has traced the path of her unique life. Stuart walked around the small house where Giles's brother was born andThe Kinta Years(1973) had its origin, wandered through the yard whereThe Plum Thicket(1954) grew, and made countless trips to Adair County, Kentucky, to trace the trails of the Piney Ridge trilogy (The Enduring Hills,Miss Willie,Tara's Healing) and seek out the day-to-day life of her later years. Stuart's long-anticipated biography provides both a narrative of Giles's life and an in-depth description of the art and commerce of American publishing in the middle years of the century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4983-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chronology
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. [Illustration]
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  6. 1 Words and Music 1899-1901
    (pp. 1-7)

    In the fall of 1960, Janice Holt Giles, successful author of twelve books, was invited to return to her native state of Arkansas to address the Library Association. When asked “How did you become a writer?” she began her remarks with a Simplified “recipe”: “Take one girl child, let her be born to schoolteacher parents; endow her with great curiosity and imagination and a love of words; provide her with freedom to read and express herself; give her enough hard knocks to make her tough; let every major job she ever has provide her with challenging associations and unbelievable opportunities...

  7. 2 Prairie Winds 1901-1917
    (pp. 8-15)

    Immediately following their wedding, John and Lucy left for Charleston to visit his parents, Mary Tolleson and James Knox Polk Holt, who, like the McGraws, had raised a family of ten children. The young couple’s visit was brief as John had contracted to teach school in Ozark, Arkansas, a small town five miles west of Altus.

    After teaching one year in Ozark, John received a better offer in a new system. In 1901 the Department of the Interior made systematic provisions for the education of white children in the Indian Territory and established public schools in the incorporated towns. The...

  8. 3 The City 1917-1924
    (pp. 16-21)

    To Janice Meredith Holt, the years her family lived on the western prairie in Kinta, Oklahoma, represented the most memorable and stable period of her childhood. Willa Cather, whose work Janice admired and respected, believed “the years from eight to fifteen are the formative period in a writer’s life, when he unconsciously gathers basic material. He may acquire a great many interesting impressions in his mature years but his thematic materials he acquires under fifteen years of age.” Not only did Kinta provide images of Indians, gypsies, cowboys, and farmers, but special friendships and happy familial relationships. For six years,...

  9. 4 Distance 1924-1939
    (pp. 22-29)

    It was not “David” who arrived on a “rather chilly night at 12:45 a.m., September 30, 1924,” but a nine-pound baby girl, delivered in a tall, four-poster bed in her Grandmother Moore’s home. The young mother was assisted by Dr. E.H. Havenor, “an old-fashioned doctor who did not believe in “evenan aspirin for an anesthetic.” The infant was named Elizabeth for Janice’s mother and Ann “for good measure.”

    Rocking Elizabeth became a nightly ritual that Janice described as “the richest hour of the day,” and added, “Before a week was out I knew what I had been missing, and...

  10. 5 The Move to Kentucky 1939-1941
    (pp. 30-35)

    In late August 1939, Janice and Libby packed their bags and, with less than a hundred dollars, traveled a thousand miles from everything that was familiar to begin a new life in Frankfort, Kentucky. “It was hard going those first few months,” Janice wrote. “We forgot, and set the table for three. We forgot, and tuned in radio programs for a man who was no longer there to hear them. We forgot, and made chocolate cakes for a man who was no longer there to eat them. We forgot, and waited for a familiar step at the door at night....

  11. 6 Journeys 1941-1943
    (pp. 36-43)

    In the fall of 1941, Libby’s “Prince Charming” came “zooming out of the wild blue yonder in a Cub training plane.” At age twenty-one, Nash Hancock, who had grown up on his family’s farm in Finchville, Kentucky, and attended two years of college, decided he would rather take flight instruction to become a pilot than complete a degree. After obtaining his private license in Louisville, he made application to the Army Air Corps.

    The young pilot was staying with relatives who lived near Hepburn Avenue and was introduced to Libby Moore by his cousin. The first date Libby had with...

  12. 7 Newlyweds 1943-1945
    (pp. 44-52)

    There were 822 days between the date Henry and Janice met on a bus in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the time they saw each other again in Louisville on October 11,1945. In the meantime, Henry wrote Janice 634 letters, which she carefully saved and stored. It is impossible to know how many times she wrote him, but it is easy to assume she wrote as many letters as she received. A foot soldier had no place to keep his mail from home. As Weapons Sergeant for the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion, Henry was involved in continuous mobility during the Normandy...

  13. 8 Inbetweenst the Work 1945-1949
    (pp. 53-60)

    When Janice and Henry returned to the Hepburn Avenue apartment, they quickly discovered a whole lot more about each other than they could possibly have learned through a forty-eight-hour bus ride and 822 days of letter writing. Henry sandwiched his few items of clothing in their one closet and stashed his shaving gear in the bathroom he and Janice shared with a bachelor and two working girls.

    Settled into the apartment, Henry began to contemplate what he was going to do as a civilian and as a new husband, how he could fulfill his promise to support a wife. “It’s...

  14. 9 Drawn from Real Life 1949-1950
    (pp. 61-67)

    “Meet Miss Willie!” Janice began the letter included with her manuscript to Olga Edmond, November 30, 1949. “I am very fond of her and I hope you like her too!” Janice had only to recall her parents for inspiration to begin her second novel about a schoolteacher who answered “the Macedonian call” from her niece, Mary Pierce, to “come over” into Piney Ridge and teach in the one-room ridge schoolhouse. Again, the fictional characters had their genesis in family and friends. The young boy, Rufe, grew from a story Henry told Janice about his boyhood. Until he was almost fourteen...

  15. 10 His and Hers 1950-1951
    (pp. 68-75)

    John Scott Mabon, editor of the Peoples Choice Book Club, wrote Henry and Janice in the early fall of 1950 requesting “his and her” sketches about the author ofMiss Willieto be included in their bulletin. The piece supposedly written by Henry contains descriptive information of “what it takes” to be the husband of an author. Having then lived with a writer for five years, “Henry” admitted, “you must have rare qualities of patience, understanding and tact,” and elaborated: “Like a dope I supposed that the writing would be done in her leisure time and that meals would continue...

  16. 11 Good Companions 1951-1952
    (pp. 76-85)

    At the time Janice received Fleur Heyliger’s gracious letter, she did not feel she was among the “fortunate ones” in an idyllic marriage who found “joy in sharing.” Whether she was “reacting too extravagantly” to what was transpiring in her mother’s house in Fort Smith or whether Henry had simply been gone from home too long in the two months since they had left the ridge is not known, but on November 23, 1951, she wrote to Oliver Swan: “I’m sorry, but I have to share with you some unpleasant news. Reluctantly and regretfully, even agonizingly on my part, Henry...

  17. 12 Back to the Ridge and Beyond 1952-1954
    (pp. 86-95)

    When Janice resigned from her position at the seminary, Dr. Sherrill had insisted that she take the large mahogany desk that had been hers during the ten years she worked as his assistant. For Janice the desk became symbolic. From it, she had typed hundreds of letters to Henry while he was overseas. Following her marriage, she worked at the desk by day and began writing her first novel in the apartment at night. Many a thought of Hod and Mary Pierce andThe Enduring Hillscarried over to the next morning when she uncovered her office typewriter to begin...

  18. 13 The Plum Thicket 1954-1955
    (pp. 96-102)

    In September Janice was “spinning away at the new book,” writing five to seven hours a day. By mid-December she had composed 250 pages of what Oliver Swan expected to be the second novel in the projected historical series. In a letter to him January 14, 1954, Janice happily announced, “The book is finished! Of course I mean the first draft is finished.” All that remained was revision, but she expected to have the manuscript in his hands within a month and explained it was not the historical novel they discussed during her New York visit. “It is a thing,...

  19. 14 Hannah Fowler 1955-1956
    (pp. 103-107)

    The three grandsons roaring through the house in wild anticipation of Santa Claus were most successful in removing Hannah Fowler far from their grandmother’s mind, but the holiday visit ended all too soon. With gifts from the boys packed in their car and promises made for a summer visit, Janice and Henry waved goodbye and drove home to Kentucky with Janice eager to plunge back into writing the story of a pioneer woman.

    Soon after their arrival, she began plugging away with the manuscript but lamented “the woman story” still did not come right. “While Hannah would not mind that...

  20. 15 Dedicated Writer 1956-1957
    (pp. 108-114)

    In January 1956 Paul Brooks wired Janice thatHannah Fowlerhad been selected by Family Book Club for July and Dollar Book Club for September, with guarantees of two thousand dollars and seventy-five hundred dollars, respectively. Brooks informed her that publication was set for March 7 and added his warmest congratulations. As the distinction of double selection had never before been bestowed upon any other book they represented, Ollie telephoned Janice his praise of the accomplishment.

    InHannah Fowler, Janice Holt Giles had written a novel of considerable substance and was about to realize what her agent had predicted, that...

  21. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  22. 16 Dead Ducks 1957
    (pp. 115-126)

    The isolation of the ridge and the self-contained work of writing and farming did not allow much time or opportunity for Janice and Henry to develop many friendships. “Long ago we began to budget our social life,” Janice said. “Almost too self-contained we found much of it unrewarding. It was also expensive and there were other things we liked better to do with our money. Partly we were simply lazy, but mostly we found too much of it deadly boring.” Describing the closeness in their relationship, she added, “Except for the first few years of our marriage when we lived...

  23. 17 A Place of Her Own 1957-1958
    (pp. 127-134)

    After twelve years of marriage, Janice felt she and Henry had finally come to a time of understanding their needs and wants. She defined their needs as simply “uninterrupted time and rather solitary living” and realized that “the country did, after all, offer it best.” No more cows and chickens to complicate living—just land, water, and solitude. Desiring to be “fenced by the hills of home and the Green River,” they were delighted to have found the fourteen valley acres hugging the banks of the Spout Springs Branch with fifty-Six acres of woodland stretching up the hollow. The seventy...

  24. 18 West with the Fiction 1958-1959
    (pp. 135-140)

    Persuaded that her daughter had regained strength from her surgery in June and that the duties of the new house were less demanding, Lucy Holt returned to Fort Smith in mid-September. Nestled in her Kentucky log home, Janice shifted her thoughts to the fifth historical novel, which would be the first to place characters in her native Arkansas.

    Janice had long looked forward to writing about the West. In the conclusion ofThe Believers, she had set the stage for the beginning of the westward movement by sending her protagonist, Rebecca Fowler, to the old Missouri Territory with her husband,...

  25. 19 Religion and Politics 1959-1962
    (pp. 141-150)

    In the autobiographicalAround Our House, Janice presents information concerning the writing of most of her books; however, she does not mentionThe Mill Wheel, the novel begun in October 1959. Instead she wrote that in September 1959 she beganSavanna, the sixth historical novel, and had written about 150 pages before the Christmas holidays. Plans for that season included a stop in Fort Smith to spend time with Janice’s mother before she and Henry traveled to Santa Fe for the celebration with the Hancocks.

    When they reached Fort Smith, Janice was appalled to find her seventy-seven-year-old mother “in bad...

  26. 20 Running the River 1962-1963
    (pp. 151-157)

    In January 1962 Janice discussed the possibility with Ollie of doing a nonfiction book about the log house, as a kind of “tide-over thing” for the balance of winter and spring before beginning the next historical novel in the fall. Explaining her motivation, in part, Janice wrote, “We have had some rather shocking news lately concerning the upper Green River dam which, if appropriated and built, will condemn this entire valley. Our house would be under the lake water. I want to do the book before that occurs, while we’re still in it, while it’s still here, and while there...

  27. 21 Pain of Parting 1963-1964
    (pp. 158-163)

    Weeks passed before Janice could return to work on the steamboat book. She had lost all momentum during the stress of her mother’s illness and the weeks spent in Arkansas. She felt she would have to practically begin anew but had no complaints, declaring, “Mother lived and I can do what I have to do.” Constantly concerned about her mother, Janice was elated to learn that she and Henry would soon have a telephone; the neighbors had been connected while they were away.

    In mid-February Janice informed Ollie that she had about a third ofRun Me a Riverwritten....

  28. 22 Lump in the Throat 1964
    (pp. 164-174)

    The New Year began with the good news that, in spite of John Beecroft’s retirement and his successor’s not taking it for the Dollar Book Club, prepublication sales forRun Me a Riverof 7,300 exceeded the advance in earnings. Houghton Mifflin supported the novel with the greatest promotional effort they had ever done for a work by Janice Holt Giles, including a full-page advertisement in the February issue ofThe American News of Books. Delighted with her publisher’S actions, Janice was ecstatic with the “most distinguished jacket” she felt any of her books had ever had. She was “in...

  29. 23 Reunion 1965
    (pp. 175-180)

    As far as her physical strength was concerned, Janice had bounced back into all her old energy and interest by mid-September 1964, but the throat constriction was still with her. “Some days it is fairly relaxed,” she wrote Libby, “some days not so comfortable. I am still taking regularly the vitamin B complex and hormone tablets, but have not taken any of the bromide since you left. And of course no sleeping capsules since the second night I was home from the hospital. Since I only sleep about six hours a night, I stay up and either read or watch...

  30. 24 Home to Come Home To 1965-1967
    (pp. 181-187)

    John and Evelyn Holt were the center of the 1965 Christmas celebration at Spout Springs. Soon after they departed for Arkansas on December 30, rain began. By New Year’s Eve five inches had fallen, washing out the Green River earth dam. Repeatedly the old-timers had told the Corps of Engineers the earth fill was not deep enough or high enough and would not hold the unpredictable waters of the Green. Construction of the fill was completed the week before Christmas and the first big rain of the new year washed it out. Like most locals in their resentment of the...

  31. 25 Up the Holler 1967-1968
    (pp. 188-193)

    At the beginning of 1967, “home” to the habitants of Knifley, Kentucky, was rapidly undergoing change. Families were being uprooted as farms in the rich bottomland of the Green River were abandoned to empty the lake site and make way for the $30.4 million Upper Green River Dam. Over eleven hundred families were vacating the low hills and shallow hollows of northern Adair County. Some families were leaving the area; others were just transplanting their houses to higher ground, leaving behind foundation stones and outbuildings. The post office and businesses that made up the small town at the intersection of...

  32. 26 No Dreary Moments 1968-1969
    (pp. 194-201)

    Publication day forShady Grove, January 16, 1968, heralded the New Year. Most appropriately, Janice’s old political comrade during the Kennedy campaign, Pete Walker, reviewed the “social document” for theAdair County Newsand declared: “President Truman never took more pride in his Marshall Plan that rebuilt an economically devastated Europe after World War II than did Sudley Fowler of Broke Neck, Kentucky, in his ability to make use of the programs of the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. The thing that makes Sud glow inside is his great talent for placing members of his family...

  33. 27 Research 1969-1970
    (pp. 202-210)

    Before Janice could begin writingKinta, there were frustrations to deal with involvingThe Damned Engineers, the official title of the book about the Battle of the Bulge. With the skills of a lion stalking prey, Janice Holt Giles had begun her military research of World War II in 1964 in preparation forThe G.I. Journal of Sergeant Giles. Prior to that, as a young woman in her mid-thirties, she had lived the war through media broadcasts, newspaper reports, magazine features, and the involvement of friends and family members. The war was foremost in the minds and hearts of every...

  34. 28 Green Bough in the Heart 1970-1971
    (pp. 211-219)

    By midsummer of 1970 Janice was beginning to feel much better and had been dismissed by her doctor. Whereas she had previously written for five or six hours a day, she was now working about two. “Even so,” she declared, “I’ll have another book ready by mid-winter.”

    On August 7 Janice responded to Anne concerning the sentiment shown to her by Houghton Mifflin friends. “Tell the Sales Department to cool down, but bless ’em for getting into a high dudgeon over that blasting review inLibrary Journal. And thank you and Dick for taking up the cudgels in my behalf....

  35. 29 Act of Contrition 1971-1973
    (pp. 220-228)

    In late August 1971, Janice wrote Anne Barrett, “You’ll be glad to know thatKintais nearly finished. Two or three more chapters is all I lack. I have taken so much time on it, but my interest in it has never flagged.” Janice wondered if it would be better to call the bookThe Kinta Yearsas justKintahad little meaning for the public. Anne was delighted with her progress and the new title for the book. She was also happy to tell Janice thatAround Our Housewas very close to seven thousand in sales. Later in...

  36. 30 Recognition 1973-1978
    (pp. 229-236)

    Sadly, the 1973 New Year did not bring Janice good health. In January she had a severe upper respiratory infection and suffered with angina. Her heart condition forced her to “be practically on bed rest,” with doctor’s orders to remain that way for some time.

    Regrettably, Janice was unable to attend the presentation luncheon ofThe Kinta Years: An Oklahoma Childhoodon February 10 at the Civic Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her brother, John, and sister, Mary, were guests of honor. Remarks were made by Dr. Arrell M. Gibson, head of the Department of History, University of Oklahoma, after which...

  37. 31 Writing about Writing 1978-1979
    (pp. 237-241)

    Like many other authors, Janice Holt Giles explored the writing profession out of economic necessity and an interest inspired by a passionate love of books. She professed to have devoured an average of five books a week since her youth. “Reading, reading, reading,” she declared. “Every writer is an omnivorous reader. Also he is a sponge soaking up impressions and nuances, absorbing everything he sees and hears, and like a pack rat, stores it all away to be pulled out and used later.”

    William James depicted “writing about writing” as “turning on a light to see the darkness,” but Janice...

  38. Epilogue
    (pp. 242-248)

    Writing the story of a person’s life is like taking a long journey on a road filled with hills and valleys and potholes. There are delightful views and thrilling encounters, and there are dangerous curves and lonely stretches. As I come to the end of my journey in writing Janice Holt Giles’s biography, I vividly remember my first visit to her adopted and literary homeland, the ridge country of Adair County in south central Kentucky. Just out of curiosity, I was searching for the woman whose writing had so powerfully touched my heart. I wanted to see and experience her...

  39. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 249-253)
  40. Index
    (pp. 254-261)