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eBook available: Motor Matt’s Red Flyer

Motor Matt's Red FlyerOur latest completed Distributed Proofreaders project is Motor Matt’s Red Flyer; or, On the High Gear, the sixth volume of the Motor Stories series of dime novels. This adventure picks up right where Motor Matt’s Mystery left off, and offers more of the now-familiar mix of engagingly-written action and offensively stereotypical characterizations.

Of particular note in this volume is the fact that Motor Matt ends up befriending a company of actors from an Uncle Tom’s Cabin show. Given the occasionally nuanced portrayal of racial issues displayed by some of the previous adventures, one might hope for a hint of thoughtfulness here, but unfortunately, this one leans entirely in the direction of using African Americans as “comic relief.” Perhaps the best that can be said is that this book helps to demonstrate (for better or worse) the lasting cultural impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel more than half a century after its original publication.

As always, the complete story can be read online at Project Gutenberg, where downloads in popular eBook formats are also available.


eBook available: The Fiction Factory

Just in time for the end of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) we have an appropriately themed new release from our Project Gutenberg endeavors: The fiction factory: being the experience of a writer who, for twenty-two years, has kept a story-mill grinding successfully by John Milton Edwards (a pseudonym of William Wallace Cook). So now that you’ve written one novel, here’s some advice, originally published over 100 years ago in 1912, on how to keep churning them out.

It is hoped that this book will be found of interest to writers, not alone to those who have arrived but also to those who are on the way. Writers with name and fame secure may perhaps be entertained, while writers who are struggling for recognition may discover something helpful here and there throughout John Milton Edwards’ twenty-two years of literary endeavor. And is it too fair a hope that the reader of fiction will here find something to his taste? He has an acquaintance with the finished article, and it may chance that he has the curiosity to discover how the raw material was taken, beaten into shape and finally laid before his eyes in his favorite periodical.

Cook’s account is pretty dry at times, as he goes through everything he wrote year-by-year in a very business-like manner (including how much he was paid for each story), but he also includes some interesting anecdotes about the late-19th/early-20th-century publishing industry. And it’s definitely noteworthy that the accomplishments he relates in such a matter-of-fact way include producing approximately 20,000-30,000 words per week!

This writer’s account is particularly interesting to dime novel fans, as there are few “insider” accounts of that industry. In addition to publishing pseudonymously, Cook also changed the name of some (but not all) of the publishers and other people he encountered – which makes the book quite maddening from a scholarly perspective as it is not always clear who Cook was writing about.

Among many other titles, William Wallace Cook wrote the Motor Stories series that is currently making its way through our Distributed Proofreaders queue.

The entire book can be read online or downloaded through Project Gutenberg.

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Available for proofreading: Countess Vera

Countess Vera

Our latest Distributed Proofreading project is another Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller novel, Countess Vera; or, The Oath of Vengeance. This tale comes from relatively early in Mrs. Miller’s career in melodrama, having first appeared in the New York Family Story Paper in October, 1882. This original publication came hot on the heels of another tale previously released as a Project Gutenberg eBook, The Rose and the Lily. Like that earlier story, Countess Vera is written entirely in the present tense, giving it a somewhat different flavor from most of its contemporaries.

To learn more about how you can help create a modern electronic edition of this long-forgotten novel, read this earlier post. When you’re ready to begin work, you can visit the project page to get started!


eBook available: Sybil Chase

Sybil ChaseAfter her short novel, Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter, launched the Beadle’s Dime Novels series in 1860, Mrs. Ann S. Stephens continued to contribute to the popular line of inexpensive books. Myra, the Child of Adoption followed very quickly as #3 in the series, and a bit later came today’s featured title: Sybil Chase; or, The Valley Ranche, the twenty-first volume in the line.

The stereotype of the dime novel is a fast-paced, action-oriented crowd-pleaser with a convoluted yet shallow plot. With Sybil Chase, Mrs. Stephens once again proves that this pattern did not always hold true. The novel has a somewhat unusual structure, being essentially split into two very different acts and revealing some key plot points in a non-linear fashion. The role of the titular protagonist changes over time and is perhaps not what the reader would initially expect. While there are some significant action sequences, the pace is fairly slow and the writing very descriptive. Finally, as in Malaeska, the narrative contains enough tragic elements to indicate that this was definitely not intended as a feel-good tale.

If you want to check this out for yourself and get a taste of the popular reading options on the market in 1861, the entire book can be read online or downloaded to your eReader at Project Gutenberg.


Available for Proofreading: Averil

AverilOur latest Distributed Proofreaders project is Averil, a 19th-century novel by British author Rosa Nouchette Carey. The edition we are working with was published as part of F. M. Lupton’s Arm Chair Library of inexpensive reprints.

To help create a new electronic edition of this text so that it can live alongside some of the author’s other works on Project Gutenberg, you can learn more about the proofreading process in this blog post and then move on to the project page.


eBook available: Motor Matt’s Mystery

Motor Matt's MysteryAnother issue of Motor Stories from our collection is now available as an eBook thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders. Motor Matt’s Mystery; or, Foiling a Secret Plot picks up where the previous volume left off, soon involving heroic Matt King in a pearl theft.

Probably the most frustrating feature of many dime novels is their heavy use of dialect, which not only tends to reinforce negative stereotypes but also makes reading difficult by forcing the reader to interpret nearly incomprehensible text. Unfortunately for readers, this volume has more dialect than any of the previous adventures due to the introduction of Carl Pretzel, an ex-vaudevillian with a German accent. In spite of this impediment, the book does manage to provide the usual action-packed adventure backed up with a reasonably well-constructed plot.

The entire story can be read online or downloaded through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Step Lively!

Hair-Raising Tales

Hair-Raising Tales

When we rediscovered century-old paper-covered books in our basement a couple of years ago, the collection included four volumes from Street & Smith’s Humor Library. We have previously converted three of these (Atchoo!, Jiglets and What’s Your Hurry?) into eBooks, and now the fourth and final title in our collection has also become available.

Like two of the three aforementioned volumes, Step Lively! was written by vaudevillian George Niblo and consists of a transcript of one of his comedy routines accompanied by cartoons. Like the other volumes, the humor here relies largely on puns and stereotypes and is unlikely to induce much laughter from a modern reader. Still, it provides further documentation of a once-popular entertainment form from an earlier time.

If you care to read the entire book, you can find it on Project Gutenberg for download or online reading. If for some reason you just can’t get enough George Niblo, you can find one more volume of the Humor Library on the Internet Archive, courtesy of Harvard University: There and Back; or, A Little Trip to Humorville.


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Available for proofreading: The Dreadnought Boys on Battle Practice

Dreadnought Boys on Battle PracticeA few months after the release of our previous Captain Wilbur Lawton eBook, The Ocean Wireless Boys on War Swept Seas, we have begun another Distributed Proofreaders project for a title by the pseudonymous author. The Dreadnought Boys on Battle Practice is the first of six volumes about adventures in the navy, released just a few years before the beginning of World War I.

To help bring this century-old adventure into the digital age, you can learn how the proofreading process works in this blog post, then proceed to the project page to begin work.


eBook available: Motor Matt’s Race

Motor Stories #5Hot on the heels of Motor Matt’s “Century” Run comes another issue of Motor Stories: Motor Matt’s Race; or, The Last Flight of the Comet. In this adventure, the series’ conflicted view of race is brought to the fore: the plot revolves around Matt’s part-Native American friend Tom Clipperton being wrongfully accused of a crime. He is unwilling to present evidence that could save him because it would further expose him to the community’s racism; he also takes a fatalistic view due to the all-white jury. At the same time, Tom himself readily uses slurs against other races, and the book itself portrays other Native Americans in as offensively stereotypical a way as it possibly could. All of this makes the book an interesting (and sometimes disconcerting) sociological study.

Following the main story, the book contains some filler material that further emphasizes that this is a product of a different time: an article about strange fish found near Cape Cod (including an obscure creature called the “horse-mackerel” or “tuna” that is sometimes eaten overseas) and an explanation of how fireflies generate light using vacuums and the ether.

The whole book can be read online or downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

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Available for proofreading: Lancaster’s Choice

Lancaster's ChoiceOur latest Distributed Proofreading project is yet another Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller novel: Lancaster’s Choice. This title, reportedly one of the author’s personal favorites, was originally published in the short-lived New York Monthly Fashion Bazaar, a departure from the more mainstream story papers that hosted most of Mrs. Miller’s stories. The edition we have digitized is a later reprint from the Arthur Westbrook Company’s Hart Series.

To learn more about how you can help create a modern electronic edition of this long-forgotten novel, read this earlier post. When you’re ready to begin work, you can visit the project page to get started!

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Last Modified: October 8, 2014