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, November 17, 2015

True or false? The imagination as scientific theory

**Claude:  A Dog of the Sixties is FREE Kindle Nov 26-30**

Imagination usually has a positive connotation. Lies are “falsehoods uttered or acted to deceive”, my old Webster's dictionary says. There was a period, it seems in the 1990's, when some interviewed about the fictional process claimed facetiously that they were good liars.
I guess a person uttering a falsehood without knowing the truth is not a liar. They are incorrect. A lie operates with the intention to deceive.
The term “meant to deceive” is used by antique dealers, less often by used book dealers. I discussed with a seasoned book dealer the issue of signed copies and whether people could get away with forgeries, thinking it could be risky to be certain of an autograph.  One grade school year, I practiced handwriting by copying the signatures of my parents, one backhand and the other forward. I didn't think about signing checks, however a person can get pretty good at another person's signature.
A few years ago, I found a confusing book at an estate sale. It was a perfect copy of A Christmas Carol  marked only with Chapman & Hall MDCCCXLIII.  I wanted it for the original illustrations but of course, the perfect condition was suspicious. Usually, facsimile copies are marked by the publisher as such and the publisher is identified on the copyright page. I would not be a liar and yet it made me wonder what would happen if a person knew how to dirty up the book and wear off the edges of the binding. Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol, but soon afterwards Chapman & Hall became the book's first publisher. I see on Abebooks today that a First Edition copy is priced at $9000.

Photo from Wikipedia

At the time, I didn't see what is on Abebooks today, that Chapman & Hall published a facsimile of that 1843 book, however they didn't mark it as a reprint or facsimile. I felt that my book, in its condition, would have had to have been stored in an lead box and kept in a cool place to be a book from 1843. I researched it, and couldn't find the information about Chapman & Hall's facsimile. Yet the spine binding, I felt, would prove its reprint or facsimile status. Its components, a color dye, seemed to be  from a later period. I guessed my book could be from the early 1900's.
Chapman & Hall might have published the facsimile before their business merged with another publisher in 1930. That was all I could figure. But it looks as if I was right and re-sold my copy with acceptable information.
After I began working with antiques, I started an inkwell collection. I made a mistake with a porcelain inkwell that was probably “made to deceive.” On the internet was a Limoges inkwell in the French style, and quite beautiful.  When I got it for too good a deal, I was still stunned at the Limoges mark – looked like someone wrote out longhand Limoges. After that, an antique dealer told me that inkwell reproductions were being made in China. I knew I had one and I re-sold the inkwell, making it clear that it was not Limoges of France. I didn't lose much from that lesson.
The informed reader often comes across books where the settings or the characters seem replicated from other media or produced from a wishful imagination because details give away the author's ignorance. Yet many can be fooled and don't mind it. 
Then there are the authors who are not trying to deceive but they prove to be incorrect. I haven't read a lot of science fiction but the speculative nature of it makes flaws acceptable. The book Perelandra by C. S. Lewis was a favorite of mine way back in the 1960's. Then I re-read it after the Venus probes.  I couldn't finish it, a book I had loved. I tried to re-imagine for C. S. Lewis, that a watery planet with floating islands was in another solar system rather than ours. But my disappointment about Venus kept intruding into the story.

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Image Victor Habbick @

When people don't know, the imagination is like scientific theory. From ancient times, prophets were hailed or cast out for their true or false predictions. I like to think of fiction that way, as a speculative venture, based on what an author knows, researches, or fathoms. The unknown fascinates and the author tries to fill in those gaps.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Gilding the Lily: The Fantasy Imagination

Choosing to try children’s fiction, like many young writers, I started with fantasy. I ran into a problem in my first draft of Josiah’s Apple Orchard because I wanted to create a place that not only conquered the seasons but contained new apple tree hybrids. That book was rewritten with realism but I was happy with a Readers’ Favorite reviewer terming it “surrealistic.”

I felt I was in trouble and read up on fantasy. According to children’s literature experts, fantasies have rules within their boundaries. The sorcery in Harry Potter often goes wrong in the real world and could cause Harry bad trouble with his relatives. The sorcery at the school has a much better chance of success. I admit I liked the juxtaposition of Harry's magical friends in the real world while the author preferred the wizard school as her setting, establishing a sensible rule. Mary Poppins was an odd adult who didn't get caught and could escape if she were suspected for magic.

Creating parallels with real life, the best authors can elevate fantasy to philosophy. Alice is controlled. Someone who knows biology has controlled her body and its growth. When she tries to obtain more power over her plight in Wonderland, she runs into tyranny, a queen who bends Wonderland rules for her own purposes.

Recently I re-read The Wizard of Oz. The news probably nudged me. Judy Garland's childhood home was in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and so The Judy Garland Museum there displayed the ruby slippers, one pair of the four that Garland wore in the movie. But ten years ago, a thief entered the museum and stole them. This June, one of the museum founders followed a lead to a nearby mine. During a Wizard of Oz festival, divers searched for the slippers but didn't find them. Then in July, a Garland fan and donor offered a million dollars for information that would lead to the slippers. Every dreamer goes to Oz, trying to solve this one.

Smithsonian ruby slippers photo from

I wanted to re-read The Wizard of Oz to find out why it disappointed me after I first saw the great movie. That was probably because the dream aspect of the story was not in the book. There was no connection between Oz characters and Kansas characters. The movie added Miss Gulch and the circus man. Dorothy's orphan status was more apparent. She was caught up over the rainbow, and there was reluctance about her need to return to Kansas where it was just Auntie Em and her uncle who revived her. She could have returned at any time, the good witch told her.

It seems that the imagination in a good fantasy is driven by an obsession for answers. The world of children is full of rules that can be questioned but can’t be changed. Children probably realize that parents change in every generation and that the world is unique today.

One of my favorite juvenile fantasies is the Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, from the 1960’s. I was absolutely taken by the idea that certain characters in her story had been reincarnated and knew it. They were the secret society. Is there reincarnation? I’ve often wondered.

I finished one fantasy – The House in Windward Leaves. The concept that ruled the book from the first was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I felt that children discover what they like to do. In the fantasy, I allowed my characters to find out about an identity they chose. The rule was that their Halloween costumes became real in the fantasy world, but they couldn’t remember who they were. They could magically get the hang of their new status and experience the up and down side of it in a society of children.

My fantasy has more humor in it than horror. I suppose my big question was: Why are the decisions we make at eighteen so serious? Lewis Carroll may have wondered: Can a female get any control out there in the world if she isn’t an aristocrat or a queen? Maybe L. Frank Baum was asking: Why is a fabulous place close in the mind when home is drab?

After all, it’s greener on the other side of the fence. Strangely, good fantasies, as stories, make good sense. The human imagination, in real life, creates locales wonderfully different from another while the human experience is very similar. Humans gild the lily of life.

In the fantasy world, things can get out of control for characters who have arrived at the site of an author's imagination. The reader shares the dilemma: “How soon can I make sense of this?” There is satisfaction in getting somewhere and finding that an author is gilding that recognizable lily. 

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Everyday tests of the imagination

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

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

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

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

First I considered some romantic scenarios:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Serge Bertasius at

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

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Claude: A Dog of the Sixties is published

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few paragraphs from inside the book:

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

That Stickler POV (Point of View)

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

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

Image Stuart Miles at

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.