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, April 16, 2014

The Swan Bonnet Herstory

*The Swan Bonnet in Kindle will be on sale for .99 at Amazon.com April 18-25*

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
FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Image courtesy of  worradmu FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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 Authonomy.com 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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net








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
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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 Amazon.com.   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.









Friday, December 13, 2013

Flute Lore, Flute Tales: Artifacts, History, and Stories About the Flute

***Voting is on for the Top 10 Books at the Kid Lit Review.  The House in Windward Leaves is in the Middle Grade category.  At the bottom of the page is the link for voting. This is a wonderful blog for browsing recently released children’s books.***




Flute Lore, Flute Tales:  Artifacts, History, and Stories About the Flute is my new E-book published under Couchgrass Books.  It is aimed for YA, 8 to 18-year-olds, though it is for anyone. 



Explore the flute’s four types as they have appeared on most continents since prehistoric times. This book follows the discovery of artifacts and the historical impact of the instrument. Stories are included in many chapters. Myths, legends, and fairytales are re-told as they pertain to a regional flute. Sumer, the ancient Mediterranean world, Africa, India, the Orient, the Americas, and Europe are presented. The last pages cover eminent flautists, women musicians, jazz flutists, and finally, musical groups and performers who have made the traditional and folk instruments popular again.

Available at Amazon and Lulu Bookstore.  Soon to be available as a Nook Book at Barnes & Noble, and also in the iBookstore at iTunes.   The paperback is in layout phase and planned also, although because of the color photos, it will cost more than most paperbacks.


This is a book I had planned for years.  I began researching it in the 1980s, and while I established my used bookstore at eBay, I collected flutes.   I obtained them, tried them, learned about them, and then I would sell one and obtain another.  During those years, archeologists were publishing stunning new evidence of prehistoric flutes.  If I had written the book in the 1980s, it wouldn’t have included information about flutes older than anyone ever imagined.

I nearly went out for a career in flute performance.  As a teenager, I took from Minnesota Orchestra flautist, Sidney Zeitlin.  Although I didn’t go to a music  conservatory, I continued to play at college, and after that, played for weddings and for musicals until I was in my early 30s.   My mother was a string teacher and my paternal grandfather was a professional French hornist.  He played for Sousa when the great composer was an older man.  He wasn’t even sure Sousa knew his first name.  The story is that while they were traveling by train, Sousa came into his train car and addressed my grandfather by his first name, Burr.

Music was part of my upbringing although my father never followed that career.  He tried the violin but liked playing baseball better.  Yet he could hum along with French horn concertos. 

I wanted to sing but I didn’t have a voice.  So the flute was a great instrument to learn.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned how ancient the instrument was.  Its legacy and its place in societies fascinated me.   I consider it a magical instrument because of a belief concerning its effect on the player.  Now when I play, it is to remember the flute’s personality and how it was good for mine.

At first, I wanted to collect stories about the flute.  But delving into its amazing history, I couldn’t help but tell its authenticated story.   And the flutes around the world – it is almost as if the instrument was a part of being human, usually the first melodic instrument in a society, developed apart from other world flutes.  Its sound accompanied many human stories which are couched into its history, enhancing it rather than conflicting with it.

© Volare2004 | Dreamstime 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fireplace, wastebasket, now internet process

Readers were hardly ever aware of a book’s stages before the internet. But they were used to cover art changes and publisher changes. Two of my books have been re-published with new cover and interior art.  The Swan Bonnet went through a cover and design change in its first six months of publication, being re-published by  Couchgrass Books.  It is now available again as a Kindle book, at Lulu.com as a paperback, and soon as a paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram’s.

As a creative writer who began in journals and as a used books dealer, I’ve encountered many ironies in publishing. Short stories and poetry appearing in smaller publications are often lightly edited. Readers of literary journals encounter material that is closer to being in the raw than that in book form. Published books receive much more editing. Authors - creators of whole books and seen in a different light by the public -  used to expect two years of editing and preparation before their book was released by a major publisher. Smaller publishers vary in these capabilities. 

Still, a book coming out might not be finished. First editions are sometimes identified by their typos or formatting errors.  One of my early investigations was Penrod by Booth Tarkington.  Its first 1914 edition, what I found I had, was identified by the typo “sence” instead of “sense” on page 19.  An imperfect book was more valuable than the corrected later printing. Of course, this occurs with books that garner fame.

The Chicago chef Charlie Trotter died recently. When working in a bookstore, I copied down a recipe for his chocolate brioche. Correct me if I’m wrong!  I remember re-checking the recipe after baking it with the questionable amount of salt.  I knew there was something wrong and changed the salt and the sugar amount for a great brioche. I wish I had bought that book because what might have been a typo in the recipe could eventually make that first edition valuable. Why this is interesting might have to do with the publishing process being mysterious before digital publishing.

In graduate school, I worked in a specialty children’s library, The Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota. This library acquired original illustrations and also manuscripts.  I was first directed to that library by the professor of my biography writing class.  I could use letters there for my biography project.  Working there later, I enjoyed looking at early and edited manuscripts and also the publisher letters. 

FreeDigitalPhotos.net  artur84
The only way a reader could see their favorite author’s writing process used to be libraries like The Kerlan Collection. This was all pretty hidden just as literary journals have some invisibility to the general public.  Sometimes a book such as Ulysses by James Joyce has a revised edition. These editions often include the notes where changes were made to the first edition. Usually this occurs with authors who have the aura of a Joyce or an F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Now the drafts of authors, their revisions, and the false starts in publishing are much more visible. Novels are a tremendous effort because, as John Gardner stated, the fictional dream can so easily be interrupted by clumsiness and even by a typo.  Consistency can feel easy when actually it’s a labor.


FreeDigitalPhotos.net   Stuart Miles
I guess I will always believe that a lasting author sets down their drafts better than I ever could.  We used to never see the mistakes of authors, only the mistakes of publishers. In earlier centuries, authors often sat near a fire and, instead of stacking papers at the back of desk drawer or tossing them in a waste basket, they probably just burnt them. The only story they might have kept was their best effort.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Swan Bonnet is published again

The Swan Bonnet is now re-published by Couchgrass Books.  Paul Beeley of Create Imaginations has done this superb new cover. 



It is available as a Kindle book and priced at .99 right now.   That will be the price for some weeks, at least, to make up for any confusion about the book.  

Also, The Swan Bonnet is available in paperback from Lulu.com Store. The paperback is forthcoming at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram’s. 


Since the book reached the HarperCollins Editor’s Desk at Authonomy.com in 2010, it has had its journey to publication.  I am very pleased to present it in its more permanent state.


Unbeknown to Dawn, her grandfather has shot an old swan out of mercy. In their coastal Alaskan town, her father buys the swan pelt, preventing her Uncle Alex, a fur trader, from selling it for export. Dawn’s father surprises her part-Aleut mother with a hat she helped to make and also with an idea to catch poachers. Shooting swans has become illegal but Alaska is a territory and Prohibition occupies the Sheriff.

Dawn and her mother become involved with suspicious inquiries about the swan bonnet besides its haunting effect. Because Dawn’s grandparents see the swans first, Dawn agrees to secretly watch the migration with the deputy sheriff’s son. But after she and her mother encounter women from a ship and find out about a hunting party, they ride to the inlet. There are townspeople roving the shore too but who is the vigilante and who is the poacher?


"What a relaxing, classic, and vibrant story."  - HarperCollins review at Authonomy.com