If there is such a thing as a sub-genre, the dime novel would fit the bill. There are westerns, and then there are dime novel westerns. We first learned of Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Kit Carson and a myriad of others in dime novel series.
The Dime Novel is a book within a book. The first part is about Norwood Graham Steele IV, and his struggle to become an author. The second part is the book he wrote about a fictional character named Monte Bradshaw, who became so real to him that the author actually claimed him to be so.
Books do not get any more fun to write than this one.
The Dime Novel
Tomorrow will be a special day. I turn twenty one, the age at which the endowment my father left me becomes mature, and I am able to claim full and unsupervised ownership of it. One hundred thousand dollars, more money than I would be able to spend in a dozen lifetimes, let alone the one I am solely concerned with.
Here is my dilemma. Everyone in my family is something respectable except me. My father, before his untimely death, and his father, and his father before that were all merchants.
My great-grandfather, Norwood Graham Steele, was the first in his family to rise above peasanthood. He had, at the age of fifteen, built a ferry to take people across the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was actually a raft, large enough to float not just people, but livestock and wagons also. There was, of course a bridge across the Hudson River, but it had washed away so many times that people had quit using it altogether. By the time he was twenty, he had ferries at four different crossings, and had purchased nearly three hundred acres of land also. He continued running his ferry business until he drowned in his beloved river at the age of thirty six. It is said that a team of mules that he had on the ferry spooked for some reason, trampling over him, and pushing him into the river.
Norwood Graham Steele, Junior, did not like the work of ferry crossings as much as his father, and had, upon his father’s death, had sold the entire ferry business, accumulating enough money to purchase a much larger, sea faring boat. He made trips up and down the coast, bringing cotton and tobacco north, and taking various cloths and manufactured goods south. Grandfather also perished in the water, being caught in a surprise nor’easter which plunged his boat upon the rocks of the Maine coast, at the cost of all aboard and a cargo of ash and maple lumber.
What was left of the business was passed to my father, Norwood Graham Steele III. At his father’s insistence, he had pursued reading for the law instead of the marine life, and primarily on his father’s recommendations and acquaintances, had built a very stable and profitable practice. When he married my mother, Adelaide Sidner, (yes, of THE Sidner family), two fortunes came together in one household.
Despite his aversion to the sea, my father had taken a ship to England with the intent of closing a merger of a large shipping company in the United States with a large one in England, forming what would be the most dominant company in all the world, large enough to manipulate and control the shipping lanes both ways across the Atlantic. My mother had begged him not to go, fearing that what appeared to be a family curse would come upon him also. Father scoffed at the idea, saying that when he closed the deal we would be among the richest of all Americans, with untold millions of dollars.
Mother was right, and Father was wrong. We do not know what really happened, but the ship he was on disappeared somewhere on the journey to England. His contact there, after waiting an extra month for the ship to arrive had posted a letter to my Father asking when he expected to be leaving. My mother, of course was devastated by this letter, which she knew meant that he had perished. I was sixteen at the time.
Mother has tried hard to push me toward the law and to take over Father’s practice and what remains of the shipping business, but that position has been more properly filled by my sister. She is two years older than I, much smarter, and much more attentive to details. My younger sister intends to be a surgeon of all things.
And me? A nothing. I have a somewhat strange and awkward existence. I’m neither lazy nor stupid, neither unwilling nor unable. I know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little. I like doing most things, but love doing few. If I could spend fifteen minutes a day doing each of forty things, I would be much happier than spending ten hours doing one thing. It is a drudgery that has many labels, none of which accurately describe it.
There is one exception to this: I like to write. I like to make up stories. My teacher at school said that I had a very vivid imagination, and that if it was cultured correctly might lead me into the newspaper business. I could write things like obituaries, making normal and obscure people seem grand and heroic in their untimely deaths. I could report on the Christmas play at school, on which drunks are now in the county jail, and which fine young couples tied the knot and got married. Eventually, if I proved myself reliable and worked on my word skills, I might even be promoted to larger things like county politics or other featured stories.
The problem with all that is that it seems a bit structured for me, with plenty of drudgery and little excitement.
I just found out about the hundred thousand dollars two weeks ago. My mother and sister sat me down and told me about it. They also were very clear that if there had been any legal way to keep me from getting the money, they would have, but evidently, a will is a will. When I asked why I had not been told about the money earlier, I was told that it had been their hope that I would cease in my derelict ways and become something respectable. Now, with that not being the case, they felt as if they were throwing hard earned money away, as surely as if they had made a bonfire out of it.
“Thank you both for your encouragement and confidence in me,” I said sarcastically. “I shall do my best to fulfill all your expectations.”
Mother was aghast that I would speak to them that way, in such an impudent tone. My sister just said that that was the perfect example of why I was unfit to receive such a large amount of money.
“I promise that I will not be an embarrassment to either of you. Two weeks hence, on my twenty first birthday, I shall leave New York and head west. I intend to become a famous author, much more famous than any Steeles before me, or after, for that matter. My name shall be spoken of with the same reverence and in the same breath as Longfellow or Alcott or Lewis Carroll. If you wish to know what I am up to, all you will have to do is read the newspapers.”
"Oh, Norwood,” my mother interjected, “if only it were so simple."
So here I am, June 6, 1878, twenty one years old and wealthy. I had the money deposited into an account in the bank the family has used for generations, in my name solely. My receipt said, “Norwood Graham Steele IV, Balance $100,000.”
I have not departed New York directly on my birthday as I had declared so forcefully two weeks ago. I found other pressing issues to attend to, which I could not do until I received the money. I first purchased three very fine suits of clothes. The shirts, coats, and trousers were of course all custom fit by my father’s clothier. Silk, to be sure. I also had three boots of slightly different shades made. Two of them were of the finest cow hides, and one, to even my own surprise was made of Australian ostrich. There is no other pair like it in all of New York.
That has taken nearly two weeks. The wait has been difficult, as I wish to be on my way toward my fame and even larger fortune, but I feel it is necessary to look the part. It has not been a complete loss, though, as I have rented the finest suite in the Grand Hotel. I am told that such people as Ulysses Grant and Andrew Carnegie have stayed in this very suite, and enjoyed this very bed. I have taken all my meals at the hotel, dining only on the finest fare offered, including room service delivery of caviar and wine for my breakfast at eleven a.m. sharp. I have insisted on new sheets daily, refusing to sleep on sheets that have been merely laundered. I also have had a phonograph installed, the likes of which only the wealthiest can enjoy.
I find that I am very good at being rich, if I don’t say so myself.