Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The cigar butts of literature.

link to original article.

Finding little-known work by authors means gold -- sometimes

By Beth Rucker, Associated Press Writer | December 18, 2005

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. --Steve Hines spends hours camped out at the Nashville Public Library, poring through century-old reference books and magazines, looking for obscure works by famous authors.

He's motivated by more than just a love of literature.

Hines is hoping to find and publish stories by writers such as Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder -- not the famous novels like "Little Women" or "Little House on the Prairie," but lesser-known work that still appeals to die-hard fans.

Copyright for most books and stories published in the United States before 1978 expires after 75 years, putting it in the public domain. That means anyone can republish the stories for profit.

Hines found a forgotten Alcott story titled "Patty's Place" while looking through a 1920 copy of St. Nicholas magazine for children in the Nashville library. He published that story as "The Quiet Little Woman," along with another story he found, "Kate's Choice," and sold about 350,000 copies.

"There are people out there who want to read Louisa May Alcott," said Hines, who lives in Nolensville, about 15 miles southeast of Nashville. "That made me wonder if there was more material out there."

Although these stories were never entirely lost to Alcott scholars, Hines gets the credit for placing them back in front of readers, said Jan Turnquist, executive director of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House home in Concord, Mass.

"If you go to Barnes & Noble or any other bookstore, you're not going to find them in on the shelf there," she said. "What he's doing is making these stories accessible."

But even when Hines finds an interesting story with an expired copyright, there's no guarantee he can turn it into a best-seller.

"When you discover literary gold, you have to go out and do your own crowing," said Hines, who calls himself a "literary prospector."

His first success was a largely forgotten collection of articles written by Wilder when she worked as a journalist -- well before she wrote the "Little House on the Prairie" series.

In the late '80s, Hines came across a reference to Wilder's journalism career in Mansfield, Mo. That inspired him to travel to the University of Missouri to see if he could find any articles she wrote.

"Turns out there was a lot," Hines said. "It was a huge success. 'Little House on the Prairie' was available on TV at that time on a non-cable channel. People wanted to read everything they could by Laura."

Excerpts of "Little House in the Ozarks" were published in Good Housekeeping and the popular devotional magazine, Guideposts.

Hines now is promoting "The Abbot's Ghost" and "The Baron's Gloves," two short thriller novels Alcott wrote under the pen name "A.M. Barnard" nearly a decade before the success of "Little Women."

The novellas have been published by Elm Hill Books, a division of Nashville-based Thomas Nelson Publishers.

In the A.M. Barnard stories, characters are often searching for adventure or tortured by vice. But, in trademark Alcott style, the good characters are ultimately rewarded and the bad characters end up miserable.

Hines wasn't the first to find these stories. The pen name and the stories written under it had already been discovered by Alcott's friends, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern, Turnquist said.

Hines says his books have sold a total of about 600,000 copies, but not every effort translates into big profits.

A collection of Alcott's Christmas stories edited by Hines and published in 2002 didn't get shipped to sellers until late December, missing most of the lucrative Christmas sales.

Hines has used other jobs through the years -- working for a publishing company, serving as communications director for a state agency and writing a column for a Brentwood newspaper -- to supplement his love for literary prospecting.

"If you find something good that's just plain good, you run into the problem of how do you promote it," he said. "Goodness isn't good enough."

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


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