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, 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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Historical fiction that immersed me in 2014

In recent years, I’ve come to crave historical fiction.  When I was in school, history was hardly my favorite subject.  I think that had to do with history textbooks.  Yet I had been learning some exciting history while reading good books.  Researching later on, I found that history books in the library were far more interesting.  An author’s narrative style, their ability to tell a story, and their personal commitment to a historical subject made a nonfiction book readable and even fascinating.  Eventually, I chose to read books that concentrated on a time or a gap in my understanding.  Here I will share the works of a few historical authors, those I read in 2014.

I had read The Histories of Herodotus, Volume 1, and because I enjoyed this ancient historian’s perceptive and flowing style, read Volume II.  This was not only history but anthropology, and it lead up to the Persian attack on Athens, a thrilling chronicle. Here are my comments:

As with Herodotus's other works, this varied between fascinating accounts and more tedious material. It was mainly about the Persian Empire's campaign against Athens, after they had conquered most of the city-states in Greece and Turkey, besides the Middle East and Egypt. I'm surprised there wasn't a blockbuster film about this.  The description of the armies that marched with Xerxes into Greece was incredible - a much bigger cast than Cleopatra going into Rome. Most Greeks thought that Xerxes was Zeus come down to earth and most submitted. The Athenians didn't think that and tried to persuade others to accept that Xerxes was a mortal man.

The Greek tactics turned out to be Herculean, winning the naval battles and waylaying the Persian army until the Persians had no more supplies or food.  I don't usually enjoy war stories but this was so colorfully told.

Then I read The Girl from Ithaca by Cherry Gregory.  Odysseus’s sister gets caught into the Trojan War in this historical fiction.   My comments:


I liked from the beginning the author's interpretation that the Trojan War wasn't just about Helen, and that it was about women and Greek men.  Cherry Gregory's telling was usually well-based on the historical story, and it told about Odysseus's sister being part of the war. The idea that women helped during the years of the Trojan War is solid.

The book also brings Greek heroes into human scenes while Neomene, Odysseus’ sister, attempts to be diplomat with Helen, helps to heal the injured, falls in love with a hero, and all the while, shows with the other women caught in the war the ancient woman's options in a treacherous and advancing world where warriors won.

Another recently published historical novel is Fiji by Lance Morcan and James Morcan.  I was glad to discover this book last summer and to be absorbed with the Island of Fiji in the 1800s.  Here are my comments:

Fiji was immediately very readable, written with flair, and smoothly intertwining its character plights with the history of missionary efforts, traders, and the Fijian people. While a love story between Nathan, the American trader, and Susannah, the missionary's daughter, dominates, the other characters figure with their own plots. Rambuka the outcast is comprehended in all his vengeance towards his brother. The passion of Joeli for his people and Sina for her lover, after she is abducted by Rambuka and made a slave, is ably drawn.

Also, the theme of death, its meaning to the Fijians, to the missionaries, and to Nathan, gives this book its realistic depth and that contrasts with the native lifestyles, their attachments, and their festivities.  Moving at the end, the book is full of believable heroism.

Dealing in used books, I kept coming across those of H. Rider Haggard, an author I hadn’t read.  He was very popular in the late 1800s, and I’d heard he had inspired some of the plot in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I read his book Cleopatra.  Ever since reading Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra in college, I’ve been interested in depictions of Cleopatra, historical and fiction. Haggard’s was tops, I thought. The books I’ve read of his seem to be modern movie fare.  Here are my comments on The People of the Mist.

Because of his uncle's financial affairs, Outram loses his family mansion and his intended. He leaves England for Africa with his brother but when his brother dies, Outram has no gold, only his trusty Zulu servant Otter. Otter recognizes a woman from a slave camp that he escaped. Soa knows where rubies are but she requires that the two help her free the white woman she worked for, and as many other captives as possible.  After they all bamboozle Arab slavers, I realized I had downloaded a long Kindle book. What I’d read seemed adventure enough but every time I picked up the book, the characters were so well-drawn that I continued to the ruby treasure. Soa ran away from the mountain People of the Mist and she knows how to disguise Juanna and Otter to look like gods prophesied to return someday. From one peril to the next, the story surges.

At, I read the first chapters of Gev Sweeney’s The Scattered Proud.  This is set in colonial America and moves to the France of Napoleon.  Here are my comments:

Gev Sweeney does a brilliant job in creating characters that are challenged with the turmoil of colonial times, then the revolution politics in France, heroically and in the spirit of religious commitment. An adolescent at the outset, Jeannette matures in France where her clergyman father dies.  She continues work at an orphanage with Kit, a young clergyman who is married to a returned French ex-patriot.  The scenes in France are vivid while the characters Jeannette comes to know are surprising under their surfaces, especially when she takes refuge in the country outside of Paris. The Bonaparte brothers enter because of stored arms which is part of a clever intrigue, a scene led up to and climactic. This is a book that doesn’t slacken in its storyline, continuing to be as compelling as the first scenes.  Underlying is the protagonist’s religious probing which can entangle the contemporary reader.

So I have found that historical fiction can be the tumultuous stuff of life!