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....

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Trees in the way of road repair

At first I thought that young people were getting ready for a party on Fourth Street.  That’s the street I usually take going downtown or to the shopping plaza near the Duluth branch of the University of Minnesota.  East Fourth Street is an older neighborhood and it houses many off-campus students.  I had seen the tree decorations from the road.  They remained and it wasn’t until I walked along the blocks that I could read quotes tacked on the old trees, and see how the trees were also residents of the neighborhood.  Especially to the house owners.  They are old trees, silver maple, ash, northern oak, and elm that form an arching pergola over the busy street, old trees that are glorious in the fall.

Most of my life, I’ve lived near a wide street that leads to a city downtown.  Street repair and neighborhood renewal are usual scenes.  At another location in Duluth, I watched the construction for new sewer pipes in a concave of dirt where old tires gave ballast to the streets.  This was an avenue and because there weren’t many trees on the boulevard, I watched only one tree removed and replaced with a sapling.  It mattered to a house owner at the time, and to me because of the tree’s fall color.

Fourth Street obviously needs repair.  It’s a bumpy ride.  Up here in Duluth, roads weather harsh winters.  But now, about 75 percent of the old trees on that street’s boulevards are threatened to be cut down.  Because the excavation and removal of old sewer pipes, pipes from as long ago as 1888, will damage tree roots.   Even so, the University of Minnesota Extension department maintains that the trees in question might be tolerant to having half of their roots cut.  In a city survey, most Fourth Street trees were in good to excellent condition.  The Duluth Budgeteer explained the issue.

So the argument has begun about this road construction slated for 2016.  The city promises to plant new trees in the boulevards while it also plans bike paths along the street.   Perhaps they could save trees, see how they do after the road and sewer pipe repair, and then remove dying trees and replant where needed?   I know that they’ll have to cut the arching branches to accommodate the vehicles necessary for the repair.

I looked at a map that showed the excavation points and of course, there are many near my location.   I had been working on the publication of Josiah’s Apple Orchard when I learned of this.   A spoiler here, but the kids in the book found out that an apple picking trip was their last because of a similar issue.  At least they didn’t live near the orchard.

One of my first writings in childhood was about a plum tree in our front yard that was charred and split during a lightning storm.  That absolutely horrified me.  The tree gave good plums.   Particular trees become familiars.  Certain trees in my childhood neighborhood, a letterbox tree, a catalpa tree in Minneapolis, an apple tree in St. Paul, a mountain ash tree at my previous Duluth address.  I think I will have to show the annual pictures I take of fall color in Duluth in another blog post.

Josiah’s Apple Orchard was published in August 2014.   It is a Middle Grade novel set in the 1960s although its farmer’s markets and its music lessons are like those today.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Middle grade novel Josiah's Apple Orchard published

Josiah’s Apple Orchard is now published by Couchgrass Books in Kindle format and in paperback at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  In a few weeks, it can be purchased from Ingram's and other book outlets.

Here is the back cover copy:

Besides music, Vivvy loves green apples. She and her brother Matt go on morning apple raids until, one fall, their father drives them to a pick-your-own orchard. The cross old Josiah inhabits another time where pixies might appear like uprooted saplings.

In the early, eventful 1960s, Vivvy takes the flute from Mr. Fortray, a band teacher who plays jazz. Detours confuse another apple picking trip and Josiah is angry about progress. Yet if Vivvy wants to do what she loves, she must think beyond a fear that her father and Josiah share.

This was a book I revised to make it less of a sentimental journey, and to bring out the story.  I felt that the 1960's apple orchard was relevant today because of the organic farming movement.  In the fictional time frame, many farms in the Midwest were still organic.  The old man in the story, though, finally subsisted on his apple orchard, which was unusual in a region where wheat and dairy were predominant.  He became a character as I wrote because I did not remember him that well, except for his curmudgeon temperament and a scene with grass snakes.  What I recalled were our trips to that area of southwest Wisconsin, and how we anticipated picking the best apples we had ever had.

Illustration in book of Matt

Vivvy loves music in the story.  She has her instrument paths while the role music took in the early 19 60s became as ponderous as anything else in America.  It just plain filled the air in the lives of young people as if it were the weather forecast and something to await.

The original manuscript made rounds and it sat for two years at one major publisher’s, at the Director of Children’s Books house, I found finally, because he was in physical recuperation.  It much needed the revising that I put into it later.  Other projects had preoccupied me, but this was a story I simply liked to write and rewrite.

There is a forbidden prize tree in the story orchard and there is talk of pixies and talk of progress.  A freeway is being built.  These ideas formed our childhoods and they are perplexing when they juxtapose.  That was how the 1960s were for me.  Those early years with inventions and speculations and questioning had the makings of the surreal years that were to follow.  In the book, Vivvy tries to comprehend these forces as she realizes old and new music forms and what a girl might do.

Josiah’s Apple Orchard is written for eight to twelve-year-olds.  There is some interior art.  The chapters are fairly short so that it could be termed a chapter book besides a middle grade novel.

Gravel road to meadow

I had mentioned in a previous blog post that authors probably had their Requiem Mass as Mozart did.  This was mine.  I realized that was because my father wanted his ashes scattered in that region of Wisconsin after he died.  He went trout fishing there, and for a prize rainbow trout.  His settler ancestor brought up his grandfather there.  We lived in a flat prairie region while southwest Wisconsin was incredibly scenic in autumn.  Josiah’s Apple Orchard is not likely to be the last book that I will publish, however.

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.