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....

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 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.  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.   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 Store. The paperback is forthcoming at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram’s. 

Since the book reached the HarperCollins Editor’s Desk at 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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Where is The Swan Bonnet?

The Swan Bonnet is being re-published.  It is unavailable for a short period.  GMTA Publishing was not the venue for the book.  I have decided to continue its publication myself, rather than seeking another publisher.  The publisher will change to Couchgrass Books and the book will have another cover.

It was in publication for little more than two months.  GMTA has made changes in its policies and will be only a digital publisher in the future.  I did have a chance to drop out of their contract a few months before publication, as did the other authors, and I should have done so.    The contract was for only a year which was coming up in November.  But with their many changes, it was agreeable when they wanted to be released from it, though  inconvenient.

When I signed with them, they were listed at Preditors and Editors without much comment.  Not many weeks after I signed the contract, I was disappointed to see that their listing had changed to Not Recommended.  Preditors and Editors lists publishers for author edification however it is a trusted source for many people.  So I was relieved to be free of that.

The Swan Bonnet will be in paperback and also in Kindle format, probably in the next week or two.

In January 2009, I posted the first third of  The Swan Bonnet at  It reached the HarperCollins Editor’s Desk in 2010 where it received a positive review.  After that, it was tied up for a few years while I sought an agent, with three requesting the full manuscript.  As a historical book and an environmental mystery with a teenage protagonist, it doesn’t fit easily into a particular genre.  I would prefer to have it available soon.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tall ships

Looking at these pictures, they are the ships of summer to me, superb in the port and gone too soon.  The tall ships came to our Duluth harbor for the last weekend of July.  They were going to parade in Thursday at about two in the afternoon.  So I posted my ebay packages downtown at 1:30 and strolled to the lakewalk.  There were sails on the horizon.

I really didn’t expect to see anything at first except for the crowd that showed up.   Those ships were on time and I had to trot to get closer while the first masts staggered past me.   It’s too bad that I didn’t have the camera I bought since for zoom power.  But maybe that’s like wishing to see a ship with a steam engine instead of sails.  I had to wonder how time goes on those ships because, after spying another on the horizon, it took less than a half hour for it to swell in approach.  One ship dropped out because of a fire on board during a Lake Superior storm.  The ships were grand. 

           Usually on Lake Superior, we see lake barges.  They are low, leaden, and business-oriented.  In the summer, there are white tour boats. And the sailors with their small crafts, out there that day to welcome the tall ships in.  The tall sails radiated on the waves all the adventure and expedition of the past.  Lake Superior is not a friendly body of water so anyone who has watched its moods had to cheer these sailors.  We don’t usually think Edmund Fitzgerald these days, however the courage to navigate  antiquated ships on those cold waves brought a crowd that kept me from getting close to the passageway under Duluth’s lift bridge.

         I had just had my historical novel The Swan Bonnet published and could imagine again what it might be like to see ships arriving along an Alaskan coast, albeit it steamships with high chimneys.   Lake barges are not as romantic as past ships to see, I’m sure now, although there was a winter some years ago when the lakers were threatened by late spring ice.   The city watched a stranded ship for days and the coast guard ice breakers freeing it.

        These are sights that stir the imagination and feed tall stories.  On vacation as a child, I remember walking up a rope ladder to a ship in the Duluth harbor.  And a sailor saying "Hello 'dere" in a British accent.  He was wearing white and probably bell-bottoms too, thrilling in my memory.  At the new and used bookstores where I worked in Duluth many years later, people from the lakers visited from other parts of the world.  The iron ore industry was over but there was still some commerce.  I was like my character Dawn, watching the ships come in although these were not passenger ships.  Ships materialize like dreams.  Usually they are on the waters between one place and another, symbolic of isolated ventures or escapades, skirting the everyday world.  Tall masts on ships came like clouds of the past when they heralded cargoes and passengers.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Five Ways to Jumpstart Your Story

After The Swan Bonnet reached the HarperCollins Editor Desk at, I began a total rewrite.  An agent had expressed interest and I wanted to do something about my protagonist being among so many adult characters.  I made her a few years older and added chapters.  Never having added chapters to a work that way, I worried that I might not be able to jump in and imagine them.  These are ideas for jumpstarting your story.
1.  Sleep on it.  Literally doing that might help.  I haven't actually slept with the manuscript under my pillow but I've slept with it near my head.   I've found written notes in my bed.  Creative writing often emerges from the unconscious as dreaming does.  When I first began writing, I used to put my typewriter in its case because I tended to brood on my story.   Over a fresh day and during sleep, I collected thoughts about my WIP.  Often, the hurdle I couldn’t jump was no longer there the next morning.

2.   Revise into your blank page.  Ernest Hemingway said that he typed at least the last paragraph he wrote the previous day before writing a new paragraph.   It might seem wasteful but I often find that retyping a page or more improves the flow.  However perfect a writer is as a typist, they hardly ever write down the perfect paragraph the first time.  If a person has a busy day ahead, they might have trouble landing down to the next sentence in the WIP. 

What are those flowers?    Photo from
3.  Do some fact checking.   Solve some concrete details in the WIP. You have an idea of your character's taste in clothing, cars, or food.  Go shopping for her or him, even if it's in another time period.  Look up information about your setting or find facts that build on an event or scene.  Write it down.  Describe.  Did you know that Margaret Mitchell wrote a character study - an individual history of every character in Gone with the Wind - before she began the book?

4.  Free write.  Before I begin anything, I usually get out a pen and simply write on notebook paper about my project.  You can free-write at any time.   Take a fresh page and let yourself go.  Write around your next page.  Speculate on character responses or "might-have-beens" in your WIP.  Something behind the story might be preventing the story from simmering.

5.   Change your surroundings.  Some writers pick up and change place.  I felt unleashed when I first got a laptop.  I could write in any room and in comfortable positions.  Once, writers used portable typewriters but electric typewriters and PCs put them through a desk period.  Now with a tablet that came with a small keyboard, I can write anywhere, as long as I'm not trying for speed.  Alone, a writer might become too self-conscious.  In most jobs, we work around and with other people.  The solitary time of writing can become a lazy time.

          And here in Northern Minnesota, I often take time off in the summer.  Our summers are so precious that I can easily abscond from the writing habit.   Somehow, when school begins, I  focus again but I might need a jumpstart.  Looking back on writing I’d done, I wasn’t sure that the grind was a good thing.  Discipline is, but taking time to gather the thoughts and absorb the present is a part of the creative process.   Writing again, well, hopes are that the keyboard  is that bicycle and a writer might whizz on it when they want to.

The Swan Bonnet is on a blog tour this month!   Here are the blog stops from As You Wish Tours, blogs to check out for books, reviews, and new releases.

Tour Schedule
Aug 10JuliaHendrixAs You Wish Reviews
Aug 11CrystalAllmonOut There Reviews & Stuff
Aug 12AnnSnizekRambling Voices In My Head
Aug 13ChereeCrumpConfessions of the Paranormal
Aug 14KellyPowellKelly P's Blog
Aug 15RaeBethBudaThe Writing World
Aug 16CassieChavezSassy Cassie's Reviews
Aug 17S.Cu'AnamPolicarCu's Ebook Giveaways
Aug 18MelissaBakerBuried Under Books
Aug 19AndreaBuginskyAndi's Realm
Aug 20TinaDonnellyReading For Fun
Aug 21ChristinaIrelanIntoxicated by Books
Aug 22ItaraSosaMy Midnight Fantasies
Aug 23KatherineHolmesGMTA

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Swan Bonnet at

The Swan Bonnet, a YA historical book set in Alaska after swans nearly became extinct in North America, is scheduled for publication from GMTA Publishing,  July 16.   The book first appeared at, a site where writers can post books for review and for moving up the chart to the HarperCollins Editor's Desk.
When few print publishers were still reading unsolicited manuscripts, I received two letter rejections for The Swan Bonnet.  I knew the book needed work but waited while working on another project.  In 2009, I posted the book at  This was the first site where I had posted a manuscript for reading and comment.  I gritted my teeth and cringed.  But I wanted feedback for that book. 
Authonomy is a public site.  Even the messages can be viewed from outside which unnerved me.  But soon I learned that people just don't have much time to read unknown books and that it took awhile to be visible there.  Writers can usually tell the stage of a manuscript when it might be an embarrassment with readers used to edited books.  Out of the eventual 1000+ comments, most liked and "shelved" the book.  Ten per cent, more than a hundred, expressed that they would buy the book in a bookstore.  Most comments were helpful and honed in on a place that could be improved.  Mean comments were a joke at the forum:  "How can I get that reviewer?"
These days, there is a lot of cynicism about writing programs.  I did a writing M.A. at the University of Minnesota.  At the time, I didn't know many writers who were embarked upon a novel.  Classes were actually similar to the experience at Authonomy with one difference - a writer (teacher) was present who had been published by a major or well-known publisher.
I finally got to the HarperCollins Editor's Desk at Authonomy where I would receive a review - the real thoughts behind that personally addressed reply with its brief reason for rejection.  I'd written the book as a children's book originally and knew I was getting into trouble with the older characters having much of the storyline.  While at Authonomy, I revised my protagonist to be at the brink of YA.  I regret not doing my big rewrite before reaching the editor's desk.  That would have meant stasis on the Authonomy charts.  Having readers read your best is worth the wait.

by AshenSorrow
I felt the book came together when I settled into it alone and rewrote each chapter, portraying Dawn as a teenager.  That changed scenes and required additional chapters which I felt were there all along.  I'd found that readers could follow the decoy hat idea besides my historical characters.  If you can't find a writing group in your immediate vicinity, the internet is a good alternative.  After all, successful writers can only know a fraction of their readers in person.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Rewards of Indie Publishing!

The House in Windward Leaves is having an enchanting year.  This May, the comic children's fantasy made Finalist in two Indie award programs:   E-book Fiction Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and Juvenile Fiction Finalist in the National Indie Excellence Book Awards.  The book is also in the Top Ten Children's Books at Kid Lit Reviews.  That blog presents new books from both Indie and established publishers.  The public can vote for the Best Children's Book of 2013, from the blog's top ten, in December.
My self-published book and many books from small or Indie publishers might reach the public!
The Duluth Public Library was built to look like a ship.
This week, I attended the annual book sale at the Duluth Public Library to fill in the shelves of my internet used bookstore.  As always, I looked for collectible books, especially books from the 1800s with fine bindings.  Over the years, I have given more attention to rare books, not only antique books but books from small publishers.   Early on, I obtained an out-of-print book on taxidermy published by Herter’s in Minnesota, a publisher I now buy whenever I find them, mostly because their photos and illustration are as focused as their books are detailed.
A more recent paperback about surfing on the Great Lakes brought an unusual price on the internet.  I had similar experiences with self-published children's books that contained high quality nature photography with their animal stories.  And if I find a book on regional crafts such as quilting or quillwork, or a university press book on Missouri caves, I buy it.  As many now know, there is hope for a good book, regardless of the publisher.  It used to be that an author of fiction had to go to an eastern publisher but these days, other things are possible. 
When I worked in new bookstores, a children's bookstore and a mall bookstore, small publishers and self-published authors came in to request shelf space for their book in the shop. They were seldom refused, however their books sold on quality.  Most customers then were wary of books from new publishers and especially when the store was brimming with books from the lists of recognizable publishers. 

Within fifteen years, self-published books were finding readers on the internet.  Having done stints in publishing while staying in the Midwest, I had dreamed of publishing books myself.  When the opportunity to self-publish came, I had to try it with an imprint name I thought I might use for my used bookstore - Couchgrass Books.  Digital publishing seemed like a completely different area at first but after learning its tools and formatting, layout and manuscript preparation produced the same paperback and screen print book.  I was putting together dummies on my screen and using Word program options instead of a ruler.  It’s been very rewarding that my efforts brought about much more than my own satisfaction.

Monday, May 13, 2013

My MG novel The Wide Awake Loons released !

In time for summer vacation reading, The Wide Awake Loons was published April 16 by Silver Knight Publishing.   Set in Northern Minnesota, this middle grade novel unites the stories of lake kids and a loon family.  It is available at, Barnes and Noble, and at the Silver Knight Publishing site.   Here is the back cover copy:

Ten-year-old Ginny and her mother are opening up the cabin where her family stays during the summer. On an otherwise quiet day, Ginny hears a male loon, Yudel, sparring with a younger bird over territory.

Canoeing with her friend, Wes, Ginny discovers a loon nest on an island. They quickly find themselves protecting the defenseless eggs against predators. On a later visit, Ginny finds Yudel drifting in the water, a fishing line trailing from his beak. Ginny’s attachment to the loons brings her to find inner strength.

During the summer, the loons raise three loonlings. Now faced with many dangers, Yudel and his mate, Owala, will put their courage to the test. Follow the journey of Ginny and the loons as their stories unite . . . 

Since childhood, I've watched for loons summers, wondering at their two lives – their floating like ducks on the water's surface and their deep diving, what makes them so elusive.  My mother's family had a lake cabin and we also stayed at resorts.  During college, I worked at two resorts during summers.   It was a normal summer when I heard loons.  A boyfriend could imitate loon calls so well that loons answered.

One sultry city summer, I began planning my loon book.  I lived one block from a branch YMCA where I swam and took saunas.  My vacation time north stayed with me. Researching loons, I found it uncanny how their nesting was like the atomic family when both parents work fulltime.   

The Wide Awake Loons is the only book I planned in my head before writing it down.  From the start it had another element that paralleled the normal world.  The behaviors of birds are so mysterious that the book became one of both researched scenarios and of speculation.  Loons are amongst the oldest birds because waterfowl appeared earlier than many aerial birds.  Loons are thought to be related to penguins.

Yet loons have disappeared from many Minnesota lakes as people populated them.  The year I wrote The Wide Awake Loons, the roads near the lake I'd known since childhood had become named instead of being backwoods dirt roads, found only with directions.

The Wide Awake Loons is published three months before The Swan Bonnet.  They are very different books yet the loon book urged me to write another bird endangerment story.  I hadn't had so much experience with the swan or its setting.   But that book took off too.  My brother was then doing law work in Alaska and, with some ideas about moving there, I began reading about the south coast region.  Coming across the near-extinction of swans in North America, I was again ready to research, this time in the historical context.   There must have been heroes and villains.  

The Wide Awake Loons doesn’t have a clear-cut villain outside of the animal predatory system.  Loons have become scarce without hunting or any intentional action against them.  If they didn't call, they might not be noticed at a lake.  Perhaps it is because of the remote and solitary ways of loons that I imagined communication between them and other animals.  Anthropomorphism.  I could hardly believe that such birds, and other animals too, didn’t have a communication system.  

As I wrote the loon book, I considered that animals might use telepathy.  The loon language was to suggest their communication and, of course, it was also for entertainment.  As a child, I was a great fan of anthropomorphic animal novels.

The Swan Bonnet, due out from GMTA Publishing July 16, was too tragic a plot for me to attempt anthropomorphism.  The books are not a series.  Yet they are both based on facts about migrating waterfowl and the settings where they nest.