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....

Monday, October 24, 2016

Essay: Winter Observations of a Feral Cat Community

Here in Duluth, I observed a feral cat community for some years. I wrote an essay about it fifteen years ago, and while it made the rounds, it became yesterday’s observation and research. All of that leads up to this year although there is more documentation in, I’m sure.  A happy note is that Animal Allies, a shelter here, has reported that they are finding homes for all of their cats. Here is the essay, a story that began about the time of Halloween.



THE CAT IS ACCUSED BUT WILL WE HEAR SONGBIRDS?

Seven years after I began observing stray cats from the second floor of a Victorian house four blocks from Lake Superior, I read news about the songbird-cides in the region. During migrations, the trees outside my windows were often feathered and joyous. A woodsy thicket at the backyard lawn’s end, edged with lilac, snowberry bushes, and sumac, overran a slope that no one would want to mow. Below were elderly bird lovers –  two sisters and a daughter - that fed the aerial visitors and also the neighborhood itinerants, stray cats.

Birdfeeders tinseled the trees behind their gingerbread-shingled house and, on the aluminum roof of their shed, birdseed was continually spread. My second summer, I watched a stray mother cat shimmy to the shed roof where she taught her kittens such acrobatics. There they sat Cheshire-like, waiting for birds.

Near-catches discouraged the young hunters. They napped on the front door stoop of the old carriage house, waiting for the old ladies to set out dishes of cat food. Eventually, the elderly ladies adopted a female kitten, leaving a calico-Siamese male for me to lure inside during the sleet of November. His tuna trail ended at a radiator where he was received by my empty-nest female cat.

Lev
The strays were said to be the progeny of his mother, a calico that was abandoned when a renter moved. Although the disillusioned female aroused the pity of the elderly women, she preferred her roving and romance outside, despite Duluth winters. She could be seen during them with one of a new litter, initiating it to the snow. Once when I neared the dishes on the door stoop next door, I had to call her “the fastest claw in the north” and knew that her invisible claw could operate like a flying fork.

Previously I spent ten years in Minneapolis, a city that loved its cats so well that kittens were given homes hours after being advertised. On seeing another kitten stumble after its mother’s prints in the snow, I discovered that the elderly women, having grown up with barn cats, were adamant about giving handouts to the cats rather than turning them in.

I introduced myself to Animal Allies in 1995, the year that researchers informed Wisconsin residents about the 114 feral cats roaming each of many square miles in the rural areas of their state. The cats were estimated to be killing at least 7.8 million songbirds per year and upwards of 20 million.

On a June day when gardeners were hoeing, my female cat, Desiree, appeared at the steps with an unmangled songbird. I wondered if I should mount it on a plaque. All month, she and the stray newcomer, Lev, had huddled at my second-story windows making decoy chirps at the birds landing on branches a few yards away.

Instead of fooling the birds, they became diverted by a lost mouse. During a two-day cartoon miles-per-hour chase, I observed what researchers had documented. The cats left their food dishes, caught the mouse while it was running to the radiator, released it, and returned to their food. When Lev could finally try his rare mouse, he couldn’t keep it down. The instinct to hunt was independent of the instinct to eat.

At an internet pet board, I asked cat owners if their pets were killing songbirds.   About half of the respondents reported a prolific hunter, gifts at their door, and bird feathers under trees. One respondent noticed that “during the summer when West Nile virus was causing many birds to be sick, cats in the neighborhood were catching more birds.” In 1998, bird salmonella spread from one birdfeeder to another, killing songbirds in at least 14 midwestern states.

Desiree at eighteen
In the year 1999, my 18-year-old Desiree died of hyperactivity and old age. About a year after her wildflower funeral, the elderly ladies next door made an enigmatic appeal to me. New strays had appeared and they were reluctant to feed them. One November night, I looked down at their shed and saw the reason for their occult attitude. A parent and its kitten, both resembling my deceased cat, had climbed onto the shed. There are many bi-color white cats with black markings but not so many with a white part in their head fur.   Rather than ponder nine-life reincarnations, I let the elderly ladies off the hook.

I was on it and within a week, I had lured the kitten to my back porch steps for closer examination. Its resemblance to Desiree had already been established one day when I walked by the gingerbread-shingled house and saw the kitten watching me from the side of the house. After only a few nights of leaving cat food on the bottom back step, the kitten ventured to the dish while its parent hauntingly hung back. The following nights, the two, perched on the shed when I set out the food, hopped down to come over for café food. One night they ignored their gourmet food. Near the bird fountain that was now wreathed like an ice rink was a dark carcass on the snow.

In that year, 2000, songbirds in Duluth had diminished from 60 to 54 species. Crow numbers were up, however, from 524 to 747. A respondent to my internet question stated, “My cat hates crows. He is black and will sit in the shadow of a tree. He wiped them out.   He never eats them though.”

Watching the kitten at the carcass in the snow, I saw other strays slinking to the yard next door. When the night leapt down earlier in the late afternoon, they came behind the visiting kitten and in inverse pecking order. I had lured my stray kitten up to the top back steps where I could watch it eat. Adult cats were showing up behind it, callow to wild.   First the kitten’s parent, Sweet-Side-Part, warily waited at the bottom step for her kitten’s leftovers or for her consort, Brown Bounder. With cat-in-the-hat craftiness, Brown Bounder interrupted the kitten’s eat-and-run meals. After that, Calico Tail, a stray that I thought was dead, began to appear after sundown.

Since Calico Tail had become a nocturnal creature, I trained my stray to come before dusk. Disarmingly the kitten peeked around the corner of the house, the only stray that chanced the porch in the late afternoon light, and then its boundary where the food dish was eventually set, the hallway carpet. I turned off the hall lights, hoping the manmade turf might seem trustworthy and that the warmth inside would be lulling. But the kitten refused to venture beyond the divide between wild and domestic.

These strays did not seem desperate for food. The stray kitten growled fearlessly if Brown Bounder nosed the food dish, never receiving a scratch or an invitation to fight. The ferals must have been relying on songbirds for at least 20% of their diet, what the records said was typical for them. I remembered a Duluth man telling me when I was in Minneapolis about the rats that boys hunted near the Duluth harbor.



Carole Hyde, founder of the Stanford Cat Network, said of cats killing songbirds, “Blaming cats is simplistic.” One of my internet respondents elaborated, “It has been my personal observation that a kid with a pellet gun can do more damage in a few hours than a bunch of cats can do in a week.” My stray probably descended from barn cats that were first brought from Europe for killing rodents and when squirrels were rife in the trees. According to the journal of a French priest, Native Americans welcomed the new species into longhouses that were built on tiers because of night-scavenging mice.

I continued to meet my stray at the porch divide, sitting now on the carpet cross-legged. When the kitten had become accustomed to my presence, I could determine her gender and see another cat from her clan ascending the steps, Gray-All-Loafer.

What happened next in the murky early evening sent the adrenaline to my hair follicles if it was no surprise to the little stray. One bushy longhair and then another ambled from around the corner of the building, presenting themselves at the bottom of the steps in the way of skunk or raccoon, like shy bystanders. They were noticeably larger than the other cats, shaggy in their survival, one a light calico and the other a black and white bi-color. They had mask markings that made my startled mind think of raccoon-cat mixes. I was sure that no one in the neighborhood had ever seen these cats. And then, as a ripping finale, another unknown feline seemed to cartwheel from around the corner. Its black hair was ungroomed and it was not as docile as the bushy masked cats. Terror-on-End, I immediately called it, putting the cat dish on the steps and closing the door to the porch.

Image courtesy of voraorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Even though I dreaded what might come after them, I had to have a second look at these obscure creatures before I insisted on my stray coming in the daylight. The bushy cats were as big as small raccoons, an animal that I had often seen in the backyard. Their masks were singular because one was a cream-orange and the other was black and white. Luckily, I had inspired no panic in them. Having had enough of being astounded at the longevity of cats that I thought were dead and at the appearance of tough, nocturnal cats, doubting what I was seeing, I called around about borrowing a live trap for catching the little stray.

The elderly ladies believed the outdoor cat community was diminishing from attrition or disease - feline leukemia. Yet the cats I saw did not look thin in the January weather. I speculated that the little stray, staying away during a blizzard and then appearing again, already had a benefactor. And I speculated that the bushy cats that came in a couple were well-fed fat pets, Norwegian forest cats or Maine coon mixes.   Still, a pet owner would have to like their unruly bushy hair. A study done by Alley Cat Allies in the District of Columbia found that a feral cat community took ten years to die out.

I actually hoped that my stray would weaken in the worsening weather. Not having located a live trap, I attempted an inexpensive strategy. I rigged a rope from the back porch door handle to my hands and then walked to the inside second story steps. Sitting on the steps, I practiced pulling and found that with one yank, the porch door shut.

Some days later, the little stray was blissfully eating tuna, two paws at the hall carpet, when I destroyed her trust, swinging the porch door shut behind her. She catapulted to the inside hall wall, back to the porch, and then clawed her way up and down the sides of the porch windows. She was like a ping pong ball and I was clumsy in a turtleneck, gloves, and glasses. After she scaled the wood on the porch door, she fell down on the door handle. Within seconds, she was out again. This only reminded me of my first cat, Desiree, and how she climbed curtains before she escaped into winter, liking an hour in the snow.   She must have come from barn cats, I now surmised, wanting to examine the look-alike stray further.

While I brooded over this, another phantom killer was being accused of the songbird-cides. A Wisconsin study done during the 1990’s found that communication towers had become a dark Tolkien-like force, luring songbirds to their red airplane lights like moths. Over a period of 15 years, 100,000 songbirds flew into one Wisconsin TV tower and perished.

Returning to Animal Allies, I found that they had no quarrel with the Bird Conservatory about the treatment of feral cats.  They agreed about a kindly incarceration. It was better than what my feral had been enduring – days in a cage-like space under a porch or a rotten board where the heightening snow put a heavy lock at the exit.  

My hexed project wasn’t getting the cooperation of a new landlord and a dog-preferring tenant. The old landlord was so sympathetic to strays that he and his wife had taken a kitten home. By spring, Terror-on-End was hanging around in the daytime, definitely alarming a few people on the block.

One late afternoon, the little stray found her food inside a live trap, a cage that I hastily transported up into the hallway. I was a novice with this equipment, apparently not having secured the trap door, and as the cage rocked up the steps, the wild stray shot out of it and down the steps to the basement where she hid herself. Although I called the animal shelter for help on a weekend, the dog-preferring tenant, accompanied by his dog, slyly opened the basement door that lead to the outside. Strangely, some of the other ferals appeared and waited outside the basement door.

While securing another apartment, I found out that the little stray had a beautiful litter with either Gray-All-Loafer or Terror-on-End or both. The kittens romped in a cottage garden and the elderly ladies, more housebound than ever, thought them adorable. I made one last futile effort to lure the mother and/or her kitten(s) inside during the de-thicketing of the yard. A concrete driveway was planned to replace some of the lawn.

Fewer songbirds would visit that yard, lilac-less soon. Duluth’s decrease in songbirds was reflecting the continual urban development of southern states, especially the place where songbirds wintered, Florida.

Summer evenings, I used to sit on the back porch steps and observe gulls, pigeons, and cats. Swamp buttercups, tiger lilies, hawksweed, and cornflowers were the lawn where damselflies, skunk, raccoon, marsh hawks, and even a fox passed through. In the winter, a great northern owl sailed past my windows where below, a kitten left its paw prints in the snow.

Image courtesy of saphatthachat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
After ten years of watching stray cats, I agreed with research – that stray cats will not simply die out even though they are a result of human expansion. Now they are adjusting to northern Minnesotan winters, having found new ways of surviving. The belly of a parked car is a hearth for kittens. Cats shelter themselves under porches and behind the holes-in-the-walls of deteriorating buildings. Car owners who joke about gunning cats from under their engines have probably not estimated the number of nocturnal cats that warm up after the car owners have gone inside a heated building. If the neighborhood people didn’t believe me, they only had to put out food every night and wait until just after dark. Longhaired cats, compact muscular cats, cats acting within a community, cats larger than the ordinary – all of these were surviving sub-zero nights like the shy mammals that creep about the woods and multiply.









Saturday, September 3, 2016

Early Reading and How It Happened

Although there has for decades been much discussion about reading and the teaching of reading, I’ve held my own opinions since I was a child. I didn’t learn to read in school. In my town, there was one other girl my age that went to kindergarten reading. 

I grew up in a house with books. I also spent my early years in a house with five other siblings while my parents separated and divorced.  Of course I sat on a few laps with a book and got a read-to at bedtime but that was hardly with the intention of teaching me to read early.

How did I start reading early?  I will always think that it was The Book. It was The Story. And it was the voice. It was The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  As my story goes, once that book was read to me, I begged for it to be read again and again, with anyone in the family who would read it. Then I read along with my finger on each word until I had memorized the book. It didn’t matter that the book had a few impossible words such as implored, exert, and chamomile.  Somehow I began to recognize easier words such as the, a, and blue. 


Where is this book?

Peter Rabbit led to other favorite books. I was a firm fan of  Dr. Seuss although when I got to school I found out that the school librarian had banned him.  Because I was reading Grimm and children’s novels,  she decided to confine me to the picture book shelves for a time.  She wanted to see what I would pick out.  She would say, “Why don’t you like this book?” and  “I want you to find a book on these shelves that you like.”



I used One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish   to help another child with reading. That was because I was appalled at Dick and Jane when I got to school. Their story was usually boring or nonexistent.

I recall that the newspaper became a learning tool. I would sit next to a sibling on the couch and demand to know what the words were in ads and in headlines. Pictures went with them so there was some curiosity.  A brother had a newspaper route, and I still remember being the first to see the funnies. That was reading development.

The public library was about four blocks away. As soon as I could, I walked there.  I remember the children’s librarians being wonderful to me. They became tutors and that was because the children’s room was often pretty much empty. They would try out new books on me and found my next books. I got an early pass to the adult section.

All of that made me think that it was not about the words and the ease of reading.  For me, it was about the material. In sixth grade, my language arts teacher challenged me to read David Copperfield. I read it in two weeks, fifty pages a day, and it made quite an impression on me. Never would I forget the oozing in the law office. I knew I was in a habit of guessing words from the context and as they repeated, I learned them. I was too lazy to reach for a dictionary but that was always possible. I think I read dialogue to get the story and probably skipped many paragraphs. 

But isn’t that the way that humans learn spoken language? A toddler begins picking out words, recognizing them in conversation, and adding to their verbal stash. Out of the desire to talk with people in the room.

1960's Book Club book
I cannot recall discussing a children’s novel with another child though I loved them and had a book club subscription. When I was in junior high school, I knew plenty of girls who cruised the adult section of the library, read books outside of school, and discussed them.

I still retained a love for children’s novels because of their creativity and their unpredictability. So even though I knew that grade school kids didn’t read after school - because they were being drummed with books and words 35-hours a week  -  I still wanted to write them later on.  It is a delightful genre.

That, of course, led to my collecting children’s editions. Somehow I had moved into adult life without taking any of my books. I have a few back now and their condition from my old bookshelf makes them saleable but not that desirable. Good condition in collectible children’s books is an infrequent find. Those books are the ones that are soon gone – early editions of Pooh, Dr. Dolittle, George MacDonald, The Lonely Doll, Horton Hears a Who, 1800’s Louisa May Alcott, The Little Prince, Little Black Sambo. As a child, I hadn’t known that many of the books I was reading were books read in my parents’ generation. Perhaps I wouldn’t have read them if I had known that.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Tug of the Wishbone, a new novel, on Kindle Scout

On and off for years, I have worked on a book of adult fiction which is now titled Tug of the Wishbone. The novel chronicles the first thirty years in the life of a child of divorce, especially her issues with relationships and marriage as she makes gains as a photographer.
Today, the first 5000 words of that book are at Kindle Scout for the public to sample and nominate if they think the book is one to read. All you need is an Amazon password. Anyone who reads this can click here and see my submission to the Kindle Scout program. Kindle Scout discovers new books, presents them to readers, and chooses books for digital publication. 


I think I have a stunning cover, designed by Bradley Wind.
Tug of the Wishbone began as short stories, five of which were published in literary journals. When my protagonist, Maureen, became a teenager, I found myself writing a novel. One year I finished the novel and then, later on, spent months with major revisions that made the novel shorter and more readable at 112,000 words. Book settings are in rural, town, and metropolitan Minnesota from the 1960's through the 1980's.
Kindle Scout has the entire manuscript though they publish only an excerpt for their program. Tug of the Wishbone can be sampled until September 4. I hope you will click to see the book, read the excerpt and about it, and nominate it. And explore Kindle Scout if you haven't already.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Coincidences in fiction and how the last name Trumper got in my fantasy novel


The House in Windward Leaves will be FREE Kindle June 24-28


In this blog post, I would like to explain about the name Trumper in my fantasy The House in Windward Leaves. Simply said, I chose that last name for two boys in the story before I had ever heard of Donald Trump. That book was actually drafted in the 1980's, and then revised before I published it in 2011. In 2011, Donald Trump was in the news but fleetingly.

Statement made. Such as the statement made in books of fiction about any similarity of the characters to real life people being coincidental.

For a week, I thought of changing the name of the two brothers in my fantasy. With self-publishing, that's fairly easy. I could just change the names in my publishing file and re-submit the files for the printed book and for the e-book. So I made a list of names to replace Trumper.

Somehow, I couldn't come up with a name and I dreaded to change the book that way. Traditional publishing would never do that, I realized. Subsequent editions change covers and formatting, but if the text is changed, that is usually a big issue and explained in a preface.

I decided not to change the name because of that, and because books have traditionally gone through their time in a stable way. Being a used book dealer, I know that books need to surmount reader ambiance.

So Trumper remains the last name of the two boys. In the fantasy, they leave their parents' world and enter an enchanted world where their Halloween costumes become real. That world is basically run by children with only a few adult characters who don't mind being overwhelmed. Well, while the costume of one brother was that of a musician, a trumpeter, the other brother was dressed as George Washington.


      

Of all the coincidences! Of course, Roger Trumper's interior was not George Washington but he was compelled to be the president of the fantasy people. My imagination brought him to some confused moments of having “greatness thrust upon him.”

In the past year, some of my blog subjects have explored imagination. The idea of coincidence, I'm sure for other writers, has made them wonder about their imaginations and where their imaginations lead them. I've had this sort of thing happen before. It has seemed a trick of the collective consciousness – like the portal into a fantasy realm.

When I wrote The House in Windward Leaves, I was confronting the idea that children can decide what they want to be when they grow up. The book gave its children a chance to live that decision and the relief, finally, that they could find out for themselves because they had time.

Since, in my acquiring of collectible books, I bought a biography of George Washington that was published in the 1850's, and contained letters and real witness of the man. The book made me feel a little guilty about my handling of his legacy. I had a chance to change a few paragraphs. George Washington inherited Mount Vernon when he was fourteen-years-old. Within a year, he was persuaded to enter the English navy (his mother didn't understand how) , and then, was transferred to the English army that fought the French in the new world. Letters to his mother told how he was nearly frozen and starved. It is no mystery why this adolescent with land of his own eventually fought for his freedom and his inherited property. British law was keeping him from ownership until he was of age.

I hadn't learned that about George Washington. I thought it was alright for my fantasy characters to have a real challenge in a “new world.” Then I found that George Washington was only an adolescent when he had to live the days of a grown man. No wonder that his adult wishes eventually were to farm.

This had nothing to do with my fantasy. The name Trumper has nothing to do with the current election. A book should be within its own frame, and while it might rely on information the reader has, it is a story on its own.

In the year 2011, The House in Windward Leaves was a Finalist in the eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards. Then in 2013, it made Finalist in The Next Generation Indie Book Awards and The National Indie Excellence Book Awards. Also in 2013, it was in the Top Ten Books at Kid Lit Reviews.






The House in Windward Leaves will be a Free Kindle book for five days, June 24-June 28. Readers can find out for themselves if the book still holds its own despite a last name that might remind them of the current election.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Interview with Annie Douglass Lima, author of The Gladiator & the Guard

Since the 1990’s, a surge of fantasy writing has established new categories such as paranormal and dystopian. Dystopian is somewhat the opposite of utopian in that there are horrifying features in the fictional landscape. At Authonomy.com, a site HarperCollins maintained for book writers, I read the first chapters of many such novels, usually vampire, zombie, and apocalyptic scenarios. These imaginative ventures made me curious about the popularity of the genres and why young authors chose them or were driven to write the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Annie Douglass Lima interviewed me about my fantasy, The House in Windward Leaves, at her blog, Letters from Annie (Douglass) Lima. In her Realm Explorers weekly interviews, the blog covers a variety of fantasies and science fiction novels. These interviews are intriguing in that authors answer questions about their speculative world.

I’ve interviewed Annie in this post. Published in April, The Gladiator and the Guard is the second book of a series. The series presents a dystopian society that might be startling because such societies have taken hold in human history, and to the demise of the society. Yet the fight against slavery continues as a concept.

Annie's first book from this series The Collar and the Cavvarach was recently reviewed in Publisher's Weekly! She gives more information about that book after the interview.



















Interview Questions


Congratulations, Annie Douglass Lima!   You published your book The Gladiator & the Guard on April 22nd.
1) Could you give a synopsis or some words about your book? 

Sure!
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

This is actually the sequel to another book, The Collar and the Cavvarach. Here’s the synopsis of that first book:
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

2) Where can the book or information about it be found?   Links?
The Collar and the Cavvarach is available on Amazon here.
The Gladiator and the Guard is available on Amazon here and Smashwords here.

3) Thinking on your book, how do you remember its beginnings as an idea?   After you decided to do this book, how did it proceed?

I’ve had the idea growing in my mind for the last few years.  It started as just a picture of the setting and its culture: a world almost exactly like ours, but with legalized slavery.  The main characters, Bensin (a teenage slave and martial artist) and Steene (his owner and coach) emerged gradually, along with the plot (Bensin’s struggle to protect and free his younger sister, and then later his struggle to survive as a gladiator).
4) How did your fantasy panorama develop? Would you describe it as a parallel reality or as a place of its own? 
You could say it’s a little of both, actually. Though the Krillonian Empire, where this story is set, is a world of its own, I purposely made it almost exactly like our world. I wanted it to seem so real and immediate that readers would be able to relate to it all the better – and be all the more disturbed by the injustice of slavery there. To read more about the culture of the Krillonian Empire, take a look at this post on my blog.)

5) Did you understand the characters in your book at first or did they reveal themselves as you wrote the story?  Did they respond to your plot as you planned?

I planned out all my characters beforehand, and for the most part, they cooperated with my ideas. But some of my characters seemed to take matters into their own hands and decide they wanted a different role than the one I had planned for them.  For example, City Watch officer (the equivalent of a police officer) Kalgan Shigo ended up playing a much bigger part than I had anticipated.  While still a minor character, he is a more important one (in both books) than he was originally supposed to be, and he plays a different – and much needed – role in Bensin’s life.  I loved watching him take charge and step into the position he wanted!
6) Why did you choose the fantasy genre?

Reality just doesn’t offer me enough freedom as a writer!  I like to be able to make the rules.  When I read, I like knowing that things could happen that just can’t in the real world.  Having said that, The Collar and the Cavvarach isn’t really fantasy, at least not in the typical sense. If you were to step into that world, you would probably assume you were still in our own world – except for a few key details, like the prevalence of slavery.
7) How do you like to describe your background? How has that affected your imagination and your writing?


I have an international background! I was born in Southern California but raised mostly in Kenya.  As a young adult, I spent a year teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Indonesia, which was an incredible experience.  Shortly after returning to the States, I married my husband Floyd, and the two of us lived there for several years before moving to Taiwan, where we live now.

I’ve been privileged to visit or live in a total of twenty different countries so far, and those experiences have definitely played a role in my writing. I love getting to know different cultures and the differences between them, and I was glad for the chance to illustrate this in my recent fantasy novel Prince of Malorn (part of my Annals of Alasia series). Prince Korram has to deal with when he travels into the Impassables to seek the help of the Mountain Folk.  In Malorn, Mountain Folk and Lowlanders tend to distrust each other and avoid contact whenever possible, and both sides claim that the other mistreats them.  I wanted to show that often, it just takes better understanding to lead to acceptance and appreciation of another culture.  That, and the willingness to learn new ways of doing things and respect others’ customs even when they’re different.

I’ve based a few details of Jarreon’s culture on the culture here in Taiwan. The convenient boxed meals and the importance of New Year, for example. In addition, competition winners receive award money in red envelopes. As in Taiwan, some in Jarreon’s lower class chew betel nut, a legal drug sold in shops decorated with flashing colored lights.
8) What books in the genre of yours were your favorites?  Did they inspire you to write?
I’ve always enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings series. More recently, I’ve grown to love the Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. They didn’t really inspire me to write; I’ve just always known I wanted/needed to write. I started my first novel (never finished) at age seven. But those books, and many others, have definitely fueled my imagination.

9) During the times when you’re not writing, what sort of activities feed into your imagination?  Do you take walks or talk with others in person or on the internet?
I love to read; that definitely feeds my imagination, as mentioned above. When I’m stuck on a scene, I often talk it over with my husband, who is usually able to give me good ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. Sometimes I ask for suggestions on Facebook, especially if I’m trying to come up with a name for a character or place. I have lots of online friends who have enjoyed giving input into my books like that.

10) Do you have another job?  It seems that some jobs work better with writing than others.  Is yours compatible?

Yes, I’m a 5th grade teacher in an international school. Though I love my job, I must admit I wish it left me with more time for writing.  In the evenings my brain is often so fried after a long day that I just can’t get much done, so most of my writing happens in the early mornings or on weekends or school holidays.  But one thing I really enjoy is the fact that my students are at the right age (though at the younger end of the spectrum) to enjoy most of what I write.  I read one or two of my books aloud to my class every year, and their feedback helps me polish and improve them.  It’s really helped me see what kinds of scenes and characters appeal to readers of that age.
11) What are your plans for writing?   Will you write another book in this series or strike out into another direction?
There will probably be one more book in this series, though I’m tossing around ideas that may eventually lead to other stories set in the same world. In the meantime, I’m working on a final book in my Annals of Alasia fantasy series, which should be ready to publish in the next few months. I also have a science fiction novel that I drafted for last year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in November). I hope to have that one polished and ready for publication in another year or so. Lots of irons in the fire!

Thank you, Annie!
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for letting me visit your blog!

From Annie
 
I'm excited to announce that my young adult action and adventure novel, The Gladiator and the Guard, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach


First Things First: a Little Information about Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).  


Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with "have a rack"), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.




  



Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On individual attention for trees, people, and books

Because of an antiquated sewer system and a plan for road widening, about 200 boulevard trees were chopped down on East Fourth Street in Duluth a few months ago. Third and Second Streets are both one-way so most people could skirt the process conveniently. It all happened in about a week. One day, walking, I saw the tree removal and my footsteps seemed to sink into the ground as my spirit sorrowed. I could only walk by once.


Fall on Fourth Street, 2014



 
Fourth Street, March, 2016
I am glad I took this dreamy picture on the sidewalk of one residence when all the trees were there. A lovely entrance to a front yard. But the vines on this portal were ripped, I last saw, and stumps were near it. 
 



Although there are many troubles in the world and although the Duluth area is filled with trees, this symbolized something for me. It was the lack of individual attention. Sewer work has been going on in Duluth for years. Roads have been excavated with huge cushioning tires revealed under them. 
 

At another location where I lived, a side street was opened up. The workmen finally removed a boulevard tree. An elderly woman in the house behind the tree was angry because that tree had beautiful fall color. The tree wasn't very old so it was said that its root system wouldn't survive the bulldozer. 
 

A boulevard tree in my current view was near an excavation but it wasn't felled. Unfortunately, its spectacular fall color, what enhanced my bedroom view, was a dull, short-lived yellow the next year. Two springs later, the tree did not grow leaves at all. The city finally put a red X on it, and a few weeks later, chopped it down. Before they did, a crow sat on it. Quoth the crow, nevermore. I'm sorry I didn't get the picture. But it would only look like a crow sitting on a winter tree.


There is a fragrant lilac smell and blossoming on young trees in the neighborhood. I asked people what these new trees were but didn't encounter anyone who knew. Someone on Faceboook suggested that they were Japanese lilac trees and linked me. That was the tree.
 


University tree experts could not predict how many of the 200 trees would survive the Fourth Street excavation. I wished they had been allowed the chance to survive. I know that when a tree dies and a crow mourns it, the tree removal guys are not resented. But the widening of Fourth Street caused the trees to be treated as a group or even a population.


This brought to mind refugees and the challenge of numbers versus individual attention. The displacement of so many people presents a much more urgent crisis for governments. Books are the focus of this blog and the problem is there. More books are being published than ever before while the sorting of them is difficult, more important than it would seem to be. I have to admire the used books trade for sorting old books. Young people looking for jobs often feel that they are not really considered. People displaced don't want their lives sorted out in large groups. 
 

Before the internet, many people felt anonymous, desperate for their resume to be noticed. Urban identities tended to be stereotyped to a group. The internet and its documentation was a kind of savior. At its advent, people thought they would be treated as numbers in the hands of a robot. Surprisingly, computer life developed into a restoration of identity, easily found. There appeared to be hope that a person could find themself amid large numbers of people. And the computer saved trees.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Writing poetry and how that becomes diary

One of the things I'm happy about this New Year is that in the past months, I went over all of my poetry, formatting it digitally for editorial benefit and revising when needed, and it was needed. The formatting was technical. I removed all tabs and used the digital spacing in Word paragraph formatting for any lines that didn't start flush left. The revising was another project. I had organized my poems into three books, and then there were others.


I have never kept a diary and though I've tried to journal in my lifetime, I didn't keep that up. But I kept up a poetry journal, small notebooks with images, reflections, realizations, and piquing moments. The entries were sketchy, ideas to fill out.



The poetry I wrote over the years became a private diary. As poetry, it was written for others and for poetry itself. But for me, a poem told about a season of my life and what I was contemplating then. The test was how evocative it was, recalling scenes and moods and concerns. When the poems brought back particular months, places, and sights, I could relive the days that inspired them.



Memory is a funny thing. As I got older, the feelings of the past seemed to drain from memory and events remained. That can be disheartening! I remember what happened but often I don't recall the sensations, the moods, the thoughts I had then. Beyond a diary entry, a poem recalled the person I was before I had changed and lost my younger attitudes.



The poems I wrote were in about three varieties: poems where nature could reflect human issues, poems about the dream world and its relation to life, and narrative poems. I had many published in literary journals along the way. I usually worked during the day, and, while I liked to write fiction before work, only spending an hour or so on those projects, I wrote poetry after work, usually before I made dinner or while it was cooking. That was a relaxation time, a period where a poem might allow me to forget the day and ponder something I'd seen or wanted to explore. I often had a glass of wine when I was writing. The experience established my own time and it opened up the evening.



Because I also wrote fiction, poetry became a more confidential and honest expression of creative writing for me. Besides its being a private diary, it was revised to be snapshots in words and thoughts. I realized, rereading the poems, that some of the happenings were beginning to fade and I might not have recollected them - and especially because they connected to inner life.



My most recent poem published is in Review Americana. That is the literary journal published by americanpopularculture.com. Their book publishing branch, Press Americana and Hollywood Books International was the publisher of my short story collection, Curiosity Killed the Sphinx and Other Short Stories (seen under the blog tab Short Fiction and Plays.)

In the last year, I was also published in three excellent print journals, Cider Press Review, Thin Air Magazine, and  Agave Magazine, besides being published again in the internet journal Shadowtrain.



Before the internet, I found good lists of literary journals in the annual Pushcart volumes and also at literary organizations such as The Loft in Minneapolis. When I went to the internet, I found a site named NewPages. They maintained extensive lists of literary journals, both traditional print and internet journals. Since the early 2000's, it was interesting to watch the traditional journals adding internet reading to their publishing. I've thought it fantastic how the internet could support art with poetry, short stories, and prose nonfiction. Reading these journals is never time wasted and usually illuminating.