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....

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My grandmother's diaries with excerpts from 1909

The Wide Awake Loons made Finalist in the Children’s/Juvenile Fiction category of the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

It’s been a hard year for loons in the upper Midwest.  Our winter was one of the longest ever, beginning early, and then without abatement, record snowfall kept our spring beginning until well into May.  After that, black flies swarmed the lakes and they made nest-sitting impossible for loons.  Many of their nests were abandoned, although there was time for them to try again.  Last week, geese were flying over Duluth and that was odd since their migrations are usually earlier.  Then I saw the report about the loons HERE

My grandparents had a cabin in northern Minnesota and our family traveled from southern Minnesota each August.   To remember childhood vacations is to remember the loon call.

Since my mother died, I have acquired her mother’s diaries which range from 1905 into the 1950s.  My grandmother was the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman who came from Norway in the 1870s. 

Emilie Eggen grew up in Mower County where I grew up, worked in Minneapolis for some years, and after she married, lived on the Iron Range, in Virginia, Minnesota.  We had been told that a man she cared for died of tuberculosis.  She met my grandfather while he was working his way through law school, and eventually married him at the age of thirty-three. 

She worked as a matron at Thomas Hospital  in Minneapolis, established for tuberculosis patients.  She also was involved with acting, as her father had been in Oslo.  From her diaries, it seems that her first paid performances were recitals at Masonic Lodges in Minneapolis.

My grandmother when she was young

The diaries before her marriage are lively and wonderful to read, too little of them for me, while the diaries after her marriage are regular diary entries.  I will glean them for historical information and the possibility of writing a book with excerpts and the Minnesota history that surrounded her. 

Her diary about being a matron at a tuberculosis hospital was written in pencil and often with haste.  I typed out the whole thing and sent it to members of my family.  One saw how I could write a fiction from it, however I don’t know if I could write fiction about my grandmother.  Here are a few excerpts:

“Olsen came down to look at the books and took me with him when he went to Angaards where I stayed til nearly suppertime. -   Of course there had to come a new patient when I was gone. – I knew there would!  I never go out but I feel I ought to be in.  But then I suppose that is one of the 1000 things I have to put up with as a ‘matron.’  How I hate the very word.  Catch me being it if I did not have to. – It is not the position so much as the feeling of being it – ish!”

“Last night Dr. Brey asked me to go for a walk and we went down in the park.  We had both of us felt terribly blue all day on acc't of Miss Holten for Dr. Bell said there was a congestion in the right lung tho it may be from a cold only. - But it made us so sad and worried.  Then when we had walked a while Dr. Brey told me he did not think he would be back in the winter and asked me not to get mad at him for it.  He said he was scared.  That he did not consider this place safe especially his work of it.  You know the heavy feeling that comes sometimes! - It came there. - It was one of these storm-portending nights and the wind rustling and bending the trees and the lightning flashing dully across the skies guiding us across the grassy plots out and in among the trees.  I like Dr. Brey.  He has meant much to me here.  At best it is not such a very cheery place, and he has been quite a streak of sunlight here.”

“A great day all right.  Margaret Haley is quite a society girl here and nurses more for the joy of it.  She has a friend who lives near Lake Harriet – Clyde Ricken, and he owns a canoe so she asked me if I cared to go canoeing this P.M. – Well as it happens I am crazy about it so I said “yes” on the spot.  Margaret has taken a sort of “shine” to me as they say, tho I hardly know why.  We are not really congenial either  - anyhow we went.  I in my white duck suit & a borrowed sweater, she in her workaday clothes. – He was waiting for us by the pavilion and we pushed the little slender thing in the water very carefully jumped in.  A canoe is perfectly safe if one is careful, but dangerously unsafe if one is not.  Mr. Picken & Margaret paddled as there was quite a strong current & I laid back on the cushions and watched them & the water & the skies.  It was a perfect day and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  We crossed the lake and then drifted along the shore in very shallow water. – Then Margaret came & sat by me and they began to fight over a paddle & before I knew what was happening  Mr. R was in the water and half the lake was soaking in my clothes & the cushions.  Of course Margaret being on the other side hardly got one bit wet but I was soaked to the skin up to my waist about.  Well he scrambled in again and paddled to shore.  We put up the canoe and walked up to his house – a pretty trio I promise you -   Mrs. Ricken furnished me with skirts that reached somewhere between my knees & ankles & had me lie down on a great big soft couch & threw a cover over me & brought me a chicken sandwich and some fruit while Margaret hung up my things & phoned for the orderly Jim Martin to bring over my clothes & a suitcase.  And when Mr. Ricken had gotten dry he came down & played for us – I have never seen such a beautiful home in my life.”

That all happened in 1909.   I will have to share the diaries somehow, besides planning to eventually donate them to a historical society.

My grandmother and me in the 1950s

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Three Bird Poems

*Goodreads giveaway of The Swan Bonnet until June 2 "
Enter HERE

This month I’m re-publishing three bird poems.   Birds inspired poetry besides two of my novels with young protagonists.  Birds fit poetic subjects for me because they are so varied in their lifestyles and mating habits, to be compared with people. 

I haven’t said much about poetry in my blog although I’ve written it over the years and contributed to journals.  I guess I feel poetry speaks for itself.  However, I believe we are in a renaissance of poetry.  Contemporary poetry, for me, is as valid and astounding as any poetry ever written. 

So in celebration of the season, three poems.

Cedar waxwings  
Image courtesy of Ron Bird/

Was thinking
how tidings
of the city were shooed off
when I saw
a pirate eyepatch
on a bough crooking its twigs.

Cedar waxwing
and another
wearing shades
like a fender on the forehead
and soon a gang
of waxwings have landed
in the yard trees.

Still they are
and gray
having the sinister
switchblade quickness of
keys at dusk.

In a second
the time of
a shriek
or a shooing
they've sped
like passing suspicions
into newsprint on the
sallow sky.

First published in streetcake

Image published courtesy of Christian Meyn/

14 karat hummingbird   

Ready to sit and shimmer
she watches
                        him in a luxurious gust
                        buds and rubies overlapped
it’s a Christmas kind of occasion

her subdued
                        He zooms large and near
he zaps himself small and far.

                        Under neon waterfalls
                        girls go out downtown nights.
                        By daylight the guy’s taillights
                        flash from lane to lane.

                                                Shopping she ponders
                        what’s keeping them apart.

Time is jewel-studded and ticking
                        when a hummingbird
                        finangles in the sun

dangling like filigree.
                        Decided as the lover rushing
                                                with a charged diamond
                        somersaulting out of
                        a small velvet casket.

Just so two upwardlies understand their swiftness
and the honey and the oh-so-lengthened letdowns.

First published in Ygdrasil

Blue heron    
Image published courtesy of Michael Elliot

blue heron on the
island   circumference
of a garage   where
the settler this side

of the bay squatted
duck hunting   a circle
traced around him
the naiad-mystic

ripples humming from
the cool cauldron

one heron   one rock
one cloth of moss
one pine   one boat
one man   one duck

one wild onion
one heron   one leg
one fish   one water

a lookout raised
himself from
the shrinking

area of an office
area of a sunroom
of a stilty fir
sinking in marsh silt

and the waves
fish scale lustrous
where we sisters paddle
with lengthened

arms   lake-brisked eyes
canoe-logging along
to see the heron
the remembered   closely

from the spindle
the blue heron whirs
spins adrift   cloud
of sky camouflage

First published in Ygdrasil

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Swan Bonnet Herstory

*Goodreads giveaway for 2 copies of The Swan Bonnet ends June 2*  
Enter  here

We tend to absorb the history of our environment   As it was for many, Alaska was romantic to me as a frontier, romantic while living in the city.  Of a sudden someone would leave Minneapolis for Alaska.  My brother went there to do legal work after he had worked with Indian Legal Aid in Duluth.   While he was on the south coast, I  thought of moving.  I read up on the state and became caught up in its history.   The issues about swans in Alaska and their near extinction in the United States sidetracked me into reading more about that subject.  Soon I was thinking about settings and planning a story.

Image courtesy of Matt Banks

Image courtesy of  worradmu

Learning about Alaska was like learning grammar through a foreign language.  I've never read a history book about Minnesota though I have Midwestern ancestry going back to the mid-1800s.   Mining hopes in Alaska were very similar to those on Minnesota's Iron Range in the early 20th century.  The influx of people in Northern Minnesota had similarities to Alaska’s new population.  Sometimes they were the same people.  Like Alaska, the fur trade began Minnesota history.  I'd heard much about the 1920s on the Iron Range from my mother.  Boomtowns and sudden wealth mapped the region. 

After being fascinated with two books of Alaskan history, I researched swans.  I read how warehouses with thousands of swan pelts were discovered, more than 10,000 at a time.   Eventually hunting laws were enforced and a positive environmental chronicle was documented.  I began my Alaska story as a shorter fiction about an Irish immigrant couple who bought shore property where swans migrated.  But soon the story led to a coastal town and characters emerged.

When I thought of the swans being killed in masses, I knew that few women were part of such a money-making venture.  How much did women help such an environmental campaign in a lone setting when a particular species were illegal to hunt?  It is known how women responded to Prohibition then.

I posted the book at in 2009 while I began to re-work the historical detail.  (The link will take you to the book's page where you can read its HarperCollins Editor's Desk review and the Authonomy reader comments.)  I was afraid the swan hat would seem far-fetched.   But it wasn't, historically.  The West established its own dress.  I actually hadn't seen Chaplin's The Gold Rush and later, when I watched the VHS, the women's fur hats were part of the entertainment.

Not until I was rewriting the book as Young Adult did I realize the inspiration for the swan hat.  Of course, it was meant to be the white hat of the western.  But I remembered from my grade school years the pheasant pelts one of my brothers brought home after hunting.  He hung the pheasant pelts on the wall of his room and then in the basement.  These pelts fit neatly on the head so that, with my friends, I wore a pheasant hat - until my mother found out and scared us about lice.  There is method to storytelling, after all.  

The Swan Bonnet tab at this blog provides links to sites where the book can be sampled and purchased.

Image courtesy of  Nixxphotography

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hardcovers and an old manuscript

This winter, my used book sales seem to be flagging at my internet store.  I’ve been expecting this, what with Kindle and digital books.  But until this year, I hadn’t seen much of a decrease in book sales.  What happened?

I think it’s what happened to me.  I never bought a Kindle however I put the program on my PC so that I could read new books.  Then last April, I bought a tablet.  Within a week the Kindle application was on it.  Once I could take my tablet around with me – and while waiting for estate sales to begin – I warmed to reading on it.  I’ve downloaded all sorts of books.

In the last years, I began buying differently.  When I first found books for re-sale, I sold many reading copies.  Hardcover used books could be less expensive than paperbacks.  They haven’t been doing so well.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius

Yet I see amongst readers and writers and at book sites an appreciation for the traditional book look.  My first year at a used bookstore, I bought my favorite books in collectible copies and filled a living room bookshelf.  This was to have the books but it was also for furnishing.  Now many book lots on eBay are being advertised as books for interior design.

Photographs of beautiful libraries and remarkable bookshelves, closets turned into book nooks, can go viral on the internet.  Anyway, a nice bookshelf with especially picked spines, books one likes to re-visit, can look as good as antique furniture in a room.   Unfortunately, many books from before 1900 are not books to read.  They can literally deteriorate in the reader’s hands if each page is read.  That is why I bought reading copies of desirable titles.  I find that desirable and popular titles are often very inexpensive as digital books.

While I’ve been wondering where all my book customers are – they are the nicest eBay customers, I think – I’ve been rewriting my first piece of long fiction.  It was more of a sentimental journey than a crafted story.  I thought I had it revised but it still wasn’t ready to submit or publish.  There had once been interest in it.  

Because the story was based on a childhood experience, I could still get enmeshed in it.  Sometimes I think I’ll be putting that manuscript away and revising it until I can’t think anymore.  I watched Amadeus again during this, during a bad cold, and said, “Now I think this is my Requiem Mass.”  Probably, every artist has one.   I noticed in a rejection of that manuscript the word elegiac.

A book for children with an elderly character who is forced to give up his special occupation. 

Then I found an early Louisa May Alcott story in a 1870 Home and Hearth magazine that I obtained.  Mary E. Dodge, or Mary Mapes Dodge, the author of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, was the associate editor of that magazine then.  “The Moss People” by Louisa M. Alcott was a fairy story.  It was charming.

That reminded me how my first draft was written as fantasy.  At that time,  I attended a workshop with an editor at Tichnor & Fields and he was saying that publishers were having trouble selling fantasy.  He was encouraging people to write realistic fiction. 

Well, my story had some very realistic elements, so the incarnations of it.  I finally remembered my fantasy take-off and that became disturbing this last month.  Today, I’ve decided to let it sit for awhile and see if I want to tinker with it again.

Juvenile novels of the 19th century were family fare, G-rated and written for the hearth.  Authors probably expected them to be read aloud.  Alcott and Twain were famed for their realistic novels.  But they both dabbled in fantasy, and Twain eventually wrote a time-travel.  Since Alice in Wonderland, the demands for fantasy and realism have alternated.

There are books authors like to write and books the public likes to read.  In the best scenarios, those two experiences coincide.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Prized surprises in magazine collecting

Once in a while I become acquainted with a forgotten author or publication that I want to collect – especially after my stock of it sells.  Woman’s World magazine, published in Chicago until the late 1930s, is one of those. It was “The Magazine of the Middle West” in the 1920s and then “The Magazine of the Country.”   What jumped out were the art deco covers.  This one is an art deco Mary Tyler Moore, throwing her cap in Chicago, I guess.

The magazine featured short fiction for women, their television shows of the time.  Deco fashion patterns and even in the Midwest, articles questioning the role of women, were desirable features for collecting.  

As I list magazines, I’m often drawn to articles.   An example in Woman’s World began with “Probably one thousand times a year the postman brings me a letter asking if I can help some woman out of the drab, gray commonplace of domestic unhappiness.”  Below is the photo that accompanied the article.  Across from it were four featured women with the heading “Women Who Are Doing Things.”

During the Depression, the magazine shrunk.  There weren’t so many pages of fashion for the social set.  The magazine kept their crafts, recipes, gardening, and homemaking articles.  It was defunct by 1940.

What really sold this magazine on eBay were their children’s pages.  My first lot of these magazines featured a children’s author and photographer whose name I didn’t remember – Harry Whittier Frees.   His photographs of clothed pets at Pussyway Park and Catnip School captured me.

Doing a little research, I realized I had probably seen a book of his in my childhood, maybe his Four Kittens.  I hadn’t come across any of his books during my years of book collecting and I wish I had!  They are certainly collectible.

As a child, I had quite a preference for photography in children’s books.  The Lonely Doll and the story series about regional children, Madeline Brandeis’s, fascinated me.  I’ve wondered why this book art wasn’t continued much. 

Then I obtained an earlier lot of Woman’s World.  To my delight, the children’s author-artist featured in their 1920s issues was Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann.  His stories “The Invisible Pig”, “The Whirling Jinny”, and “The Whangdoodles” apparently weren’t done in book form or the books are extremely rare.  I couldn’t find them as books.    I guess the previous owner of the magazines hadn’t recognized the name of Raggedy Ann’s author – a lucky buy.  

That often happens with magazines.  Once I bought a Judge magazines from a book dealer I knew.  He had so much stock that he didn’t know about the Seuss cartoons in one of the issues.   Doctor Seuss, under that name, began with hilarious political cartoons.  

With so many memorable books being published digitally, I try to keep up my vintage magazine stock.  And because I have enjoyed listing them so much.  It’s a nice surprise when you find a major author’s short story or you come across controversial articles.  Few adult magazines maintained a children’s page so charming as that of Woman’s World.

Recently I was surprised, going through some 1890 issues of The Quiver:  An Illustrated Magazine for Sunday and General Reading.   The magazines have lovely Victorian illustrations however most of the articles and fiction are religious.  Yet at the back, most issues advertised ladies’ girdles and underthings, illustrated in the full-figure fashion.  I can’t imagine a religion-oriented magazine doing that today.

While writing this, I was watching my bid for 1871 Home and Hearth magazine issues.  Most have a farm animal on the cover.  The magazine was advertised for its farm orientation. However, I discovered that this magazine was first edited by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  I couldn’t believe it was the same magazine but it was, I found when I looked up an image of its banner.   Stowe handed the editing over to someone else in the early 1870s but she contributed afterwards with articles about slavery and other writings.  I can’t wait to explore these issues.  I got it for the lowest bid and they’re in the mail!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Books I much enjoyed reading in 2013

Flute Lore, Flute Tales:  Artifacts, History,and Stories About the Flute is now available in paperback at   It should be at Barnes & Noble and at Ingram’s by March.  The book contains 66 color pictures.  The Kindle and ebook editions are $3.99.

This last year, while I researched the flute and read what I could about it, I opened the pages of other books that concerned ancient history.  This blog post lists the books I most enjoyed in 2013.   One is ancient, some are classic, and others are more recent or newly published.  As a used book dealer, I usually read old and new.

Every once in awhile, I pull a book out of my internet listings.  This poetry collection is definitely one that I will open up in the future and I did not like to let it go.  The poems are translated from the Welsh, all first written in Welsh, so Dylan Thomas is not there. For anyone who likes Dylan Thomas, this collection helps to clarify the tradition of his poetry.   The poets are all from the 20th century.  There is great poetry in the book, poetry that feels almost transcendental in its imagery and archetypes, poetry beautifully written.

I read Summer when I was about 26-years-old, and remembered liking it a great deal.  This was a re-read, to find out why this Wharton novel isn’t well-known.

The second time, Summer was so compelling that I wanted to read only that book until I was done.  Wharton took up the story of a young woman who was fostered by a small town New England lawyer, very different personalities from her usual affluent characters.  Charity’s love affair with a young architect is told in bittersweet style, and with many images from the time and place. What becomes dynamic is Charity's confrontation with her real parentage, her illegitimacy among the Mountain people, and her roiling feelings. These weren't handled with suddenness, they had momentum from the start of the book.  Although my reading experience was different many years later, I still think Summer is a great book.   

A very readable book and one that searches for and explores the powerful people that were a part of Cleopatra's reign. Also, the book attempts to balance all of the attitudes about Cleopatra and what kind of woman was beneath her trained exterior.    An interesting documentation for me was that Anthony was a full-fledged Roman with a history of violence that was not "Egyptian", making one wonder about his relationship, rather than his romance,  with Cleopatra.    Schiff can narrate history with fascinating details that heighten the plots inherent in it.

Originality and humor, plot twists that followed from previous scenes rather than from sensation made the book feel solid, a world of its own. I also liked the characterizations, again how they developed naturally from their entrances into the story, and the dragon Kale's difficulties with his human role, his hotness. 

A girl is adopted by embroiderers who live near a cathedral and provide fine work for the priests. During her childhood, she is much affected by the sculptures of women saints.  As with Nana, Zola is slow in getting to his action. I didn't mind reading about so many saints because I didn't know alot about them.  However, this part and the detail about the cathedral might be very tedious to many readers today.

But the girl embroiders, has a haunting love experience, a difficult engagement, and then she becomes a saint without Zola saying that.   He sat at the last illness of Paris’s Marilyn Monroe, writing Nana into a great book that made him rich.  After reading about the courtesan, I was amazed at Zola’s ability to handle the spiritual female.

I've read The Book of the Dead and was very interested to see how this subject was handled. There was some very good writing and imagery in this. The protagonist falling into the Egyptian underworld and being mistaken as Isis continued as a mystery about her identity, and this was compelling. That theme didn't weaken.  The conflicts between the gods was a take-off from the ancient book but it is a part of Egyptian mythology. While some of the many characters didn't develop, Brooke's relationships with them were strong.  Although long (especially when you consider the spells for turning into birds in The Book of the Dead), the crossing of the Lake of Fire was visual and exciting.   I found this at BookGoodies for Kids, a new site that was worth exploring.

Terrerae did much more than to increase my acquaintanceship with this major poet.  She took vignettes from her life, each with events that were telling, odd events too, and they were fascinating.  These extend from her childhood in Wales and London where her Jewish father was a Christian clergyman, converted, and where her Welsh mother figured a great deal.

This is all written with a poet's eye for images so that reading it, I felt the setting constantly. It was very enjoyable, especially her profiles of people that had an effect on her life or were stuck in her memory.  As sometimes happened, I couldn’t finish the book because someone bought it from my internet store.  That did not surprise me.

Balzac can be tedious, especially when he writes about the French countryside, it seems. But if you don't like his description and characterization, he gives you the whammy at the very beginning of this book. A printer makes a tough deal with his son to take over the shop but after the son marries, he becomes more involved with inventing a new type of paper. That while his friend, now his brother-in-law, recklessly goes to Paris to become a poet. The French village is full of eccentrics and probably the most tedious but revealing section of the book has to do with a lawsuit for debts.   Fiction often skips money issues as if they can be guessed or don’t even exist; Balzac can show conscientiously how they can affect his characters and how nefarious this can be for the idealistic.

After reading Haggard's Cleopatra, I was enthused to read another book of his. But this was a book of adventure with male characters - two Englishmen who commission Quatermain, experienced with African safari life, to help find one of their brothers who had disappeared while searching for diamond mines established in King Solomon's time. They take two Zulu men, nearly die in the desert, and then encounter a huge tribe of Zulus close to the mine. 

This isn't my usual fare, especially with a long Zulu battle over kingship, but Haggard is modern in style and so involving with character.  I’ve already uploaded another book of his from Kindle.

I guess Herodotus wasn't always trusted but that is because his history is based on accounts from civilians, scribes, or priests where he traveled. The many changes in Mesopotamia while the Persians took over really reminded me of today. One of his first accounts is of Croesus ("Rich as Croesus"), which really pulled me in, however there is much inhumanity against man and specifically sometimes women in certain places that he covers from the 4th century B.C.

He tells about the Amazon women, and the traditions of their nomadic community.  The story of Cyrus was a little like Arthur's but awful, and then there was his son. There were Pharaohs who drank and joked too much, and kings who were kind or horrible. India was the farthest eastern place then, where the sun rose, and with only desert beyond. Most of the people he talked to then knew little of the land of the North Wind. One Scythian people said that the air was filled with feathers. Herodotus is interesting in that he often doesn't accept these versions. With that one, he said that he believed they were speaking of snow. It's long and can be stultifying but I really had to laugh many times, reading this.