Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Everyday tests of the imagination

According to my dated Webster's dictionary, the "formation of mental images of objects not present to the senses, esp. of those never perceived in their entirety; hence, mental synthesis of new ideas from elements experienced separately" is imagination

Imagination might seem to be a totally free idea, like the phrase "pure imagination" in the song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  But the candy there must have been synthesized from something.

Is imagination more like dreams?  A concoction, mixture of gases, totally out of reality's atmòsphere?

Thinking more about the power of imagination in everyday life, I saw how it worked on the romantic level, not knowing  a person very well; on the suspense level, worrying about a possible danger; as a mystery, suspecting  a culprit; in science, not knowing except that much is possible; at the plane of children, not knowing except that anything is possible.

First I considered some romantic scenarios:

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You went to a party where you spent much of the evening talking to a guy. Then he called and asked you out. You know some things about him. But it's a few days before you will know him better. Who is he when he picks you up?

In a few days, a writer with an imagination could have outlined a whole relationship and planned the wedding.  Only to find that...  immediate attractions don't always lead to the ideal. Who did he turn out to be?  I'm not much of a romance reader because I told myself too many romantic stories that dissolved after the first date. What was in my head wasn’t the real person.

So we have the genres of romance and women's fiction and literary fiction. The trouble is that the disappointment of life not being what you asked it to be, happens.

Or your friend who is engaged to a handsome doctor invites you on a blind date evening. You dress for this occasion and you have filled in the blind spots as best you can, and then, for the first time, you meet a hospital administrator. You shouldn't conclude that all hospital administrators lack romance but this one isn't Dr. Kildare. The imagination can get it all wrong, except some central detail like financial security.

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The worst is when the guy imagines that you're like his mother or some other woman that he could love more easily than you, and that includes his ideal woman. Someone says, “But it's not you to do that...”, or some other hint that you haven't turned out as imagined. That’s quite a quandary, someone knowing you better than you do.

So you go to the classifieds and you actually get a job interview at an art museum. You've been to the museum so this job is one to dream on. Oh, the lunches and the people you'll know better there. After all, the best part of a job is lunch. The imagination can get through many hurdles even if you're like me, you couldn't take art classes except for photography.  But the job is perfect; it entails publications.

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I'll always feel that my imagination failed many times and that I hadn't prepared for reality. So a museum administrator doesn't do art on the job, doesn't dress for that, and he isn't looking for flaring creativity at a desk job. Strangely enough, I interviewed at three art museums amongst other interviews where I was surprised at how my mental image of the interviewer was far from correct. At one museum, I was taking a typing test when two attractive men who looked like artists came into the room and told me to move for them. They had to convey a huge piece of art out of the room. That happened during the next test, and then I was looking for the hidden camera. Or was it a test to see what I would do?

If I imagined a story about that interview, it would never have been as good as the story that came out of real life.

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Even so, the best part is the imagining because you can enjoy your own plans. When you see that perfect apartment description or you imagine that a vacation visiting friends is going to launch you into a new life, afterward, you might want to read something that warns you and illuminates about people and places that you don't know.

So I like the idea that the imagination, especially the writing imagination, is a synthesizing process. When there is some knowledge about setting, character, and lifestyle, the process could hit the mark better. I imagine that I'm not done pondering fiction and imagination.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Claude: A Dog of the Sixties is published

Claude:  A Dog of the Sixties is now published. It is available at and Barnes & Noble in paperback, soon at Ingram’s.  It is also available as a Kindle book.

Perry has his own misadventures when the standard poodle Claude comes to his house. Because of a defect, Claude can’t be a show dog. But he fetches beyond his training, opens doors, and attempts to roam the neighborhood. The spring before the moonwalk, Perry plans a group project about UFO’s, space travel, and the Dog Star. During this, Claude makes escapes like a canine Houdini. Perry’s father has enough to worry about with the anti-war protesters in his history classes. Can Perry turn Claude’s exploring into training?

Claude was based on the standard poodle of my childhood and school days. The fictional Claude is placed in another family and becomes the pet of a boy, Perry.  This was the first children’s novel I wrote with a boy protagonist. The book was drafted some time ago however I did a total rewriting of it in recent years.  It had been set in the 1960’s and retained that period, what now is categorized as historical. The poodle I knew was in a time when hair length was an issue and people were worried about being “uptight” or “alright.” Claude can be clipped and Claude can be longhaired, being a poodle.

Realizing that the book would be retro or historical as I rewrote it, I decided to stay with the Sixties decade. Reviewing the space program was intriguing. I was in grade school when man left the earth for outer space. The attitude then was that anything might be possible. UFO’s  were.  In fact, my worst bedroom bogie, as a child, was the UFO that I was afraid would land near the streetlight in my window view. Then, imaginations went wild about aliens and humans colonizing Mars. Today, there isn’t so much real fear of such invasions or operations.

Claude is a book about a dog and a boy. The people in his family have their own interests, and maybe because of that, Claude has his.  After Perry gets a telescope for Christmas and shows his school friends the Dog Star besides other stars, Claude identifies particular places in his neighborhood that he wants to see up close.

Here are a few paragraphs from inside the book:

laude had been cooped up for days. When he went on the leash outside, his nose froze. The clouds on the ground didn’t sparkle anymore and the snow tasted like dirt.
Tonight the air was warm. And lights glowed from the houses. Claude stretched his paws and he ran and ran. Whenever he ran, he was on a rope, never free. Young people had come for Perry and he thought they might take him away. They all liked the metal thing the way the Brimley’s liked the TV, crowding around it.
Claude suddenly knew what he wanted. He wanted to see another dog. He’d woofed to two dogs in the neighborhood. Then he met one but it was short and strained by a leash. That dog had a hysterical high bark, and it was frightened of him.
The other dog was sure of himself, baying from his yard. They both complained about their leashes when they woofed back and forth. Claude wanted to meet this dog and find out which of them was the leader dog. He hadn’t been the leader in the barn. But here, Claude might be the leader dog.
 He surged into the dark air. He heard Perry but the other kids were calling too. Claude barked. Then he sped along the sidewalk and turned at the corner. When he saw the alley, he trotted down it.
Claude woofed again. He heard a remote bark, the greeting of the dog he hadn’t seen yet. Claude raced towards the barking, into a yard. There at a window was a dog with flapping ears the color of leather.
Claude was on his ground! There was no better way to become the leader. He woofed at the dog and the dog made it clear that once he got outside, they would tussle. Claude showed off his shoulders and his front legs. Then he teased the dog, marking a tree. The door opened but it was the dog’s owner.
“Shooo, you,” a woman said.
Claude took off. He could hear Perry’s voice calling. He ran down the alley again and then he crossed a street and trotted down another alley.
Perry was frantic. He could find the Dog Star more easily than Claude in the outer darkness of the neighborhood.
“He’s like a kid in kindergarten!” Perry said.
“Claude!” Imogen wailed. “It’s my fault. I was petting him and I didn’t think he’d get out!”
It was Perry’s fault because he hadn’t warned Imogen. That’s what his parents would say. At the end of the block, Perry said, “He’s invisible in the night.” He didn’t voice the horrible fact that Claude might be invisible to cars. They crossed the street, calling and calling.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

That Stickler POV (Point of View)

Often a writer has to ponder general rules about fiction. Readers might be disgruntled more often and without referring to these words and phrases - stereotypes, derivative, formula plot, point of view.

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The novel was originally written with the omniscient narrator.  The idea, I have thought, was that the author was like God in knowing, but that characters had free will. So someone above might want to follow the characters for the whole story. Then third person and limited point of view told a story from the character perspective, listening in to the human side.  Characters could hold the spotlight as in a play or film.

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The first person point of view, or first person narrator, is traditionally the human storyteller. “Call me Ishmael…” is a witness who loses himself in the events of Moby Dick. The “I” is infrequent.  A servant tells about Wuthering Heights.  She is at the edge of it, an observer that the reader easily forgets.

Today there’s much preference for the first person narration. Often it seems, the storyteller  becomes what is termed an unreliable narrator. Other characters tend to bounce off of their relationships to “I.” They’d better get in good with the one talking!

An agent wanted me to read some contemporary first person narrations because he thought I might rewrite The Swan Bonnet that way. I usually don’t write in the first person, and when I do, the person is close to my identity. The Swan Bonnet was researched and a historical book, so I wasn’t keen to rewrite it that way. It’s hard for an author to accomplish first person in a historical novel without being found out to be living in the 21st Century, I’ve noticed from my reading.

First person adolescent narrators had me thinking about stereotypes. When characters are stereotyped, they serve the author. And when they are put into formula plots, they do things for the author. That makes the author an authority that most would like to avoid. Characters are made to behave so that the novel works, and then made to unthinkingly perform actions. So I began to see that these rules were really about giving each character their humanity.

While revising a children’s novel, I pondered stereotypes and narrator focus. It is the only children’s novel I wrote with a boy protagonist. The novel is about a dog like the dog in my childhood, and I wanted the boy and male dog parallels. What revisions I had. First of all, I had to think about the boy’s actions instead of seeing them from his mother’s or his sister’s eyes. I did a whole rewriting of the book, shadowing the boy. The dog story was the core that kept me revising.

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Then when I thought the book was about done, I knew it wasn’t. What was the problem? I made the boys around the main protagonist do what I wanted. When I thought about them, the plot changed and entire scenes had to be rewritten. I had to stick with what a minor character would do in order for me to accept the book myself.    

At a recent library book sale, I picked up an antique book, Peter, Pippa and Puck.  It was from the early 20th century and I was taken with the photographs in it. I’ve always liked photos in children’s books. A British woman told a real story about a dog. I enjoyed reading some of the book, and noticed that her dog dilemma was similar to that in my book.  There it was.  A writer has to tell about a dog, because that dog is not like other dogs, and it ran off and did  something different from the other dogs, I heard.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Publishing Glitches File

If I begin to feel confident about the computer, I have to laugh.  I’m reminded of a previous experience, usually an unnecessarily lengthy experience, and what small hurdles catapulted me backwards.  Recently, preparing a manuscript for a publishing site, I began to feel I had mastered the tasks of formatting and photo placement. I have reminders now, especially about the order of things so that I don’t have to go through the manuscript for added formatting.  And then there are my own pointers for formatting page numbers. Formatting page numbers is usually done first now, and it might be the hardest thing to do because of some mysteries in the Word program.

I was reminded of my first page numbering sessions in Word, what seemed to take a whole day. It was like being back there in the 1980’s when each page actually went through the typewriter.  How could I miss my old Olympus, my green Olivetti, or my electric IBM?

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Somehow I managed those iii, iv, v's in my first self-published books. It took me hours to establish my Sections and continued page numbering, 7, 8, 9, and so on. Now I have my glitches guide. And I dispensed with small Roman numerals, paginating where the text begins.  It goes like this:

Page Numbers

Section break

Footer in numbering section – uncheck Link to Previous and uncheck Different First Page and Odd & Even

See if you can remove the bottom line.  Then find bottom center position from centering on home page.

Page Numbers – Current position and then the simple number

This is probably not THE way, but now I’ve got my way! I started a project and did the page numbering within an hour.  I think I wasn't unchecking one of those boxes, and that has to be done in a particular order.

           If photos in my manuscript come back with Alert!, I have a note in my “Publishing Glitches” file.


When inserting pictures for print, make sure that they are 100 percent and that Do Not Compress Images in File is checked.

If THEY say your DPI is less than 300 and you’ve set Photoscape for 300, blow up the picture.

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Somehow this time, my 300 dpi pictures had turned into 72 dpi! What I think happened was that I took them from the Photoscape picture program to the Picasa program. Did Picasa save them as 72 dpi? Or did they compress? It’s all about the order of doing this stuff. Then I wasn’t sure what I meant, telling myself to blow up the picture.  

          So back to Photoscape with my tape measure and calculator. At 72 dpi, they had already blown up.  But I obtained the pictures at 300 dpi. So starting again, 300 dpi is about 300 pixels an inch; a 3-inch wide picture would be sized to about 900 pixels. I should say I messed with the pictures although after one, this came back fairly quickly. More quickly than I ever got page numbering.

Because I began to prepare manuscripts when there were still typewriters, the changes since are to me incredible. I was at the University of Minnesota and worked there while completing an M. A. in Writing.  In the years after 1983, I learned many computers on the job.  At that time, someone in an office would simply give a computer manual to an employee so that they could work with a new computer.  It was challenging although the ESC key (escape) was always there for desperate moments.

I refused to buy a word processor – the term in that time – until Windows came out. The computer companies didn’t have anything standardized and their programs were all different.  To me, it was as if the typewriter companies had once manufactured keys with their own brand of placement. Going from one new computer to the next was mind-boggling.

You think you might have mastered things, and then you try self-publishing. It can be learned. I’ve found the forums at CreateSpace and Lulu very helpful. You just don’t know what happened when you got the entire manuscript onto a PDF with your CuteWriter, and then you upload it and the pages don’t fit at all.  All those !!!! Alerts.  So you ask at the forum and someone gives you the reason. I wrote that reminder up too.

Your PDF might have a default page size of 8-1/2” x 11”.   Check it at the bottom left of the PDF page, clicking, or in Properties.  How to fix?   Here is Walton’s answer if you can’t figure it.

Select CutePDF as your printer, click on Properties; 2) click on Advanced; 3) On the PaperSize drop down menu select PostScript Custom Paper Size; 4) Enter the paper size; 5) If you want to change this, click on Edit Custom Page Size.

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Voila! In a few minutes, the manuscript comes on at your book size, 6” x 9” or 5.5” x 8.5”, whatever, and then you actually think that it was all so easy.  Until next time, when much is forgotten.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Memorable used books and finds, gone now

The Swan Bonnet, Historical Fiction and YA too, is Free Kindle through April 19.

This year's buying season is beginning. Although I enjoy Antiques Roadshow, as a person who attends estate sales and other sales in my area, I know that those tremendous finds and hand-me-downs are very hard to come by.  Yet there are many intriguing and tempting things to buy at sales, and a dealer can bring in steady money with more affordable items. The stories about finds and the items themselves are memorable after they are gone. Here are a few of mine this last year.

There was a garage sale about three blocks from where I live. I didn’t find much there except for a box of George magazines, almost every one published, and all in excellent condition. I paid three dollars for the box. They began to sell pretty regularly so I bought  more George’s as I came across them.  Recently, I had an international sale totaling 21 of those magazines.  The amount they have brought in is actually embarrassing to tell even if the magazine isn’t very available on the internet. It is about what I made on my second-last nice sale, a Haynes flute.

An estate sale was advertised.  Besides a flute being listed, there were many musical items, and antique theater magazines. I arrived in time to be about the fifth to enter the sale.  The mosquitoes were terrible that morning, the house was curtained with greenery, and I learned something new. A few women were huddled near the pine trees at the side of the porch steps. They claimed that mosquitoes stay away from pine.

Once inside, I asked where the flute was. It was on a chair in its case. The flute was totally gray with tarnish. It looked terrible, and that’s often the condition of flutes at estate sales. I looked at the markings, and had found what to me was a treasure – an old Haynes flute. The best, as it were. It played very well too, but before I sold it, I had it repaired and cleaned professionally. I was afraid I would be tempted to keep it, but I wasn’t. It was a closed hole flute and I just couldn’t play on one of those again. Yet the “golden age” 1931 Haynes tone was lovely.

Another great find to me was a signed Sean O’Faolain book, The Finest Stories of Sean O’Faolain, published in 1957. That was at a strange estate sale. The woman who inhabited a large house on Lake Superior had lived with her parents there. Highly collectible items were in a house that had been much neglected in recent years – and in a creepy way. The woman made phone calls to the police which were considered paranoid and disconnected from reality. She was wealthy. Anyway, I found some interesting regional things, and I found the O’Faolain book in a bookcase. I had read his short stories from the library while writing short stories. It wasn’t until I was standing in line to pay that I found his signature in the book, gone unnoticed to the estate dealers. They had quite a load of things to go through.

Tins. When I worked in a store that had both book dealers and antique dealers, I liked old tins with lovely art deco or art nouveau design. This was not a high-priced item usually but tins from before 1940 are very hard to find in good condition.  Last spring, I attended the estate sale of an art professor. While I didn’t understand much of the art as far as dealing it on eBay, I had quite a time with the tin collection there.  Collectible tins were on high shelves in every upstairs room.  I sold most of them in a few months but here’s an example of one I still have. It was nice to walk out of a sale with a big light box, full of tins.

I had done a blog on old magazines previously. That is one of my favorite collecting areas. Woman’s World had so charming a children’s writer and photographer, that I mentioned in the blog how much I would like to find Harry Whittier Frees’ early edition books. This year I went to an estate sale at an elderly condominium and what contained very unusual Native American collectibles. Most of the attention went to those items, however though I was late, I found four of Frees’ books. They were extremely reasonable, and even more charming as full page photographs. Both the Kittens books are already gone, and now I have only his Puppies books. I am fascinated at his dedication to the photography subjects. I don’t know how he got the kittens and puppies into clothing and into poses, though have to wonder.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Two One-Act Plays: The Lawn Auction & Would You Like to Go Out Shoveling Tonight

Two One-Act Plays: The Lawn Auction & Would You Like to Go Out Shoveling Tonight? is now published in paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in a few weeks at Ingram’s.  The Kindle book, Nook, and eBook are available for 99 cents.

Both of the plays in this book were published in literary journals.  “The Lawn Auction” appeared in Mused Literary Review this last fall and “Would You Like to Go Out Shoveling Tonight?” was published in Eclectica Magazine in 2005.  The plays are revised.

Both of the one-act plays present a cooperative setting and the dynamics within it. Personal aims and relationships reveal discreet happenings that cause characters to take sides. Rumors and scheming build to intrigue and comic turns. The first play concerns an auction where dealers from an antiques store are part of the bidding. Becca is a new counter clerk, learning the ropes which include dealer provenance in the aftermath of a divorce. The second play takes place in an apartment building where tenants air their frustrations and attempt to goad the caretaker. Hazie wants to be on her own side when pressures from her neighbors and the caretaker force her into involvement.

Most of my time spent in theater was in the orchestra.  I played flute and piccolo for high school productions, college productions, and at a St. Paul theater.  These were musicals but that included Bertolt Brecht.  In rehearsals, an orchestra member sees a lot; the rehearsal on stage is a play in itself. 

My first attempt at play writing was a neighborhood production.  For the first time I wrote with a typewriter.  As I remember, I turned a fairy tale into dialogue. Summers, the kids usually had a neighborhood carnival. We put blankets over the clotheslines in someone’s yard, tacked them down into tents, and had acts such as fortunetelling, dog tricks, and games.  We made a little from Kool-Aid and popcorn balls.

That year, the neighborhood kids decided to do a play in our garage.  The lines were memorized and costumes found. Then we invited other kids from the nearby park and the Girl Scout troop. 

It was already to go but someone, maybe me, had the idea to spray paint the garage door.  We must have done a skit about a haunted house because I can still see those words sprayed on the garage with some ghosts.  My father came home from work and blew up.  I think it was the first time he was ever really angry with me.  But our play had to go on, and the garage was full for it.  I didn't try to write a play again until some decades later.

As a teenager, I found I liked reading plays, although I’d given up trying out for parts.  There was vitality in them and an efficiently told story.  They were refreshing after novel reading.  High school students even found them a treat in English class.  I’ll never forget someone having to read the line, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend me your ears.”  A class clown had brought a bagful of ear shapes to class, distributed them, and at the cue, a number of boys pelted ears at the reader.  In the halls, kids repeated, “Beware of the Ides of March.”

Though I read The Matchmaker years ago, lines from it still come to mind.  In college, I took a dramatic literature course from a professor who was also a dramaturg for The Guthrie Theater.  Then I loved reading plays.  I’m always reading a book of fiction but I never mind putting it down to read a play.

After I acquired the one-act plays of August Strindberg for my used book stock, I was so inspired by one of them that I immediately sat down and began a play. I’d written a number of short stories by then and felt that some ideas were better for dialogue.  In real life, dialogue is spontaneous and things come out.  After conversations, I’ve often puzzled at someone’s response or their telling.  Every so often, considering characters in a setting, I’ve thought, now that would be good for a play.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cabin fever and the book-sized screen

It might be noticed that the children in the story have cabin fever.  Children and many adults can have cabin fever at any time of the year.  Here is summer, when the cure for cabin fever is canoeing and hiking in the woods.  The loons in the book don't have cabin fever however they are well aware that the humans living in cabins are unpredictable outdoors, and have to be watched for their feverish activity.

After the book rights came back to me from Silver Knight Publishing (who had returned book rights to most of their authors), I decided to add b/w illustration.  The illustrations are at the chapter beginnings, not large illustrations but pictures of scenery or wildlife in the next pages.  Since many readers might not be familiar with the Northern Minnesota woods, the illustrations are meant to be like a nature trek.  They are photos that have been treated for the fictional content.

Making books free as Kindle books, to me, is an extension of the reading experience.  Especially with children’s books, readers are used to borrowing from libraries and having an opportunity to try obscure books.  The tendency with most readers is to purchase widely popular books of fiction.  With novels, a person needs to spend some time reading to the end to even know if they like an author’s development of a story. 

The first thing I used to do in the library was to look at the new arrivals.  Like many people, I followed certain authors, and then wondered what was next.  I would check out authors who were unfamiliar but whose book had attracted me.  I must say, I didn’t later buy books like that unless they were sitting on the remainder table in a bookstore.  A book that pleases some people some of the time is still a possibility for enjoyment because of its focus on a particular subject or people. 

I was Kindle-resistant while seeing the enthusiasm of readers I knew online.  Once I had Kindle in the book size, I experienced how quickly the conversion from paper to the electronic screen happened.  Free Kindle books and the ease of trying books on a small screen has resulted in a wider experience.  Book exploring has probably never been better.  I have several bookcases around me filled with used books, but now it doesn’t matter whether I’m reading from paper or from a screen.  The book is all.  And it can ameliorate cabin fever.