Here are photos of my first “book” and venture into the publishing arena. Called THE ABC’s OF SNOWMOBILING. Published by Stenglein Printing of Marquette in 1970. My pals Okie Brumm and Dewey St. Cyr thought it might be a fun project, so i whipped up toons, we printed it and sold copies for a buck per. Not many of these still alive. This one belongs, I believe to Mike Vairo, who loaned it to John Stevens, our 46 ARS colleague, who dropped it at Snowbound Books for me to pick up. I love how we move stuff around in the UP. It’s like the pony express from Kansas to the coast, all done the old fashioned way, hand to hand. Cool. Over. PS, you prolly won’t see this one on my book resume. It’s my only cartoon book.
Day 131, Saturday, September 20, MARQUETTE — Another fine day. Color is gorgeous around Michigamme and Ishpeming and just getting going here. We stopped in Humboldt at the BP to get Lonnie a cold drink and there was a loose dog, a flat coat retriever, who looked like a cross between our late Shanahan and his late cousin, Bogey. The BP people called the owner, Lon put a leash on the dog and we waited. Turns out her name is Loretta, she is indeed a flatcoat and 13 years old. The guy who owns her has six acres and sometimes she gets to chasing things or just decides to mosey down to the BP to panhandlge snacks. Happens so often they have his phone number on the wall by the cash register. He said the Loretta has Alzheimers, which I had never heard of in a dog, so checked it out when we got home and here’s what I learned: “This condition, once called the senile or old dog syndrome, is a newly recognized disease, somewhat similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people. In dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome, the brain undergoes a series of changes that result in a decline in the mental faculties associated with thinking, recognition, memory, and learned behavior. Fifty percent of dogs over age 10 will exhibit one or more symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Cognitive dysfunction is a progressive disease with increasing signs of senile behavior.
Disorientation is one of the principal symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. The dog appears lost in the house or yard, gets stuck in corners or under or behind furniture, has difficulty finding the door (stands at the hinge side or goes to the wrong door), doesn’t recognize familiar people, and fails to respond to verbal cues or his name. Hearing and vision loss must be ruled out.
From the dogscue we went to Marquette to see B-I-L Mike Phillips and wife Claudia and their new golden retriever. Great signing with Dana Schulz and crew at Northbound. Bob Kalbfleisch came in to get books signed for my old coach Ed Jarvie and former Rudyard Bulldog teammate Dan Riordan. Don Mattson dropped in to show off his new pacemaker. And Jack Schneider came in to give me a report on his dad, Corky, a famous VCO in Iron Co. It was like Old Folks Home Day Dana pointed me at a bagful of books and we brought a bag of new far back to Alberta. I may be speaking at the Library in Lake Linden in October, details when and if they materialize. John Stevens, you book is autographed and waiting for you. Just call Dana. Hope to catch you next spring when we do a signing on HARDER GROUND. And Lonnie saw a peregrine falcon near the bookstore; ironically her sis Mary just saw one yesterday in the Portage-Kalamazoo area. Lonnie was blown away by the bird’s speed. And to top it all off, fan, and fly fisherman Leo Smith of Marquette brought me his version of the snowfly for my collection! Very cool. Over.
Have to share this. Thanks to Annie Brezek for sending it along. Only in da yoop, eh.\
Thursday, September 18, 2014. This is a typical day of writing for me. I’m three days into a short story I’m calling “Unmoored Souls.” It’s set in April, 1945 when an SS officer turns himself in to Patton’s troops and offers to trade everything he knows about the Nazi prison camp business in exchange for protection for himself, his direct reports, and all their families. He tells the Americans that a former inmate is loose and methodically and systematically murdering former camp personnel. The Americans have only just liberated Buchenwald and one of its satellite camps.
These then are the premises, or general circumstances of the story, a precis on the collision that creates dramatic tension. You have mass murderer wanting protection from a “small-time” murderer, a flip-flop on reality of the past few years in those times. The actual story, of course, will come from the interplay between the main character and others in the cast. Having gotten this all into my head and started the story I then realize how much I know that I don’t know (to use a Rumsfeldian doublethink concept on it). That is, when exactly did the American people learn about Buchenwald? What color ink was used on inmate’s tattoos, blue, red, what? Was everyone tattooed on the same arm or did this vary between camps? I need only a few details to provide an authentic feel to what is distinctly a time piece. Not any fact or detail, but just the right ones.
First sweep into the story I put it down third person, but this gnawed at me. This is a story that deals with values and principles, not actions so much as thoughts and moral questions. I went back and redid the 25 pages, converting to first person, with the protagonist, Danny Gold, talking to his diary about what is going on, what is happening to him, the decisions and acts he faces.
I rewrote all that I had and now the draft, all handwritten, of course, is approaching forty pages. No idea how much longer. Stories have their own timers and this one will tell me when I’ve hit the conclusion.
The thing is, I’m a short story expert nor an aficionado of the form. The short story seems to me to be closer to a poem than to a novel. Why? It demands the same efficiency and tautness that good verse requires. It also requires dramatic tension, some form of conflict or collision that in real-life terms may not seem so dramatic. It’s my job to make the conflict real and compelling for the reader.
Think about this: People tell stories all the time, every day, to everyone from kids to lovers, to foes. If you listen to the best story tellers I think you’ll see that they are extremely precise in images and word selection, that instinctively they need to get the words right to make the story have the effect they want it to have. Probably they’ve told the same story many times and each time they edit it a little, like standup comics working their material in clubs in drips and drabs. Verbal story-telling, out-loud telling is a performance art. Writing a short story is different in that all the performance and sound tricks and gestures and nuances have to come through the writers’ pens and their word order choices. One thing we have to do is get rid of so-called speech whiskers, those bits of language which have been so over used they no longer have any meaning and serve only as sounds and clumsy time-buyers. I’m talk about words like, “so,” “you know,” “well,” “yeah,” all those things that slow down the telling and do not push the story forward.
More importantly when you are standing listening to a story teller, the sound of umm takes you out of the story and reminds you that you are hearing it from a teller, rather than living the story from inside the telling, the art that great story tellers all share. With a short story I seek to do the same thing, to get you inside the head of the character and stay there, with no clumsy reminders that it’s me telling the story. It is never easy. But it is great fun, especially when I can get it to work.
This afternoon we’re going to let Shaksper run amok in the fenced compound behind Dave Stimac’s workshop, and while the dog naps afterwards, we are going to hump up to the top of Blackberry Hill and explore the two-tracks way up high. This will give the writing time to percolate and settle into my deep brain. Tonight I’ll come back to it with a fresh look not just at what’s already on paper, but what I will add tonight.
We are pushing 140 days up here and this is pretty typical of the writing day. I’ve just recently had requests from Kingsley, T.C., and Roscommon for readings/signings. I’m still looking at my schedule and logistics. We are a long way from everywhere up here. Over.
DAY 138 –September 17, 2014, ALBERTA: Saw our fourth moose of the summer on Monday, 2-3 miles west of Three Lakes on M-28, crossing from south to north. Frognosticators are calling for temps in the high 20s tonight. Late last week we were below freezing for several nights and had heavy frost. One morning the good folks of Herman woke up to their first dusting of snow. Herman is about 7 miles northeast of us, and uphill, higher than we are. Perhaps the moose was seeking the snow. More likely there is a bellowing cow up that way and he has heard the sour siren and making his way there as quickly as he can go. I am told, but have never witnessed this, that in rutting season cows stay in one place and bellow wantingly (wantonly too) and mournfully, for days, or until service arrives, and I don’t mean Grady.
Earlier this week I had someone here tell me he had seen two men of Islamic descent standing outside their vehicle on M-28 taking pictures. I did not ask how one determines if someone if of Islamic descent, or Catholic, or Church of God for that matter. Some things are best left alone, or for another moment to discuss.
I guess my point is that we have our own weird ways up here int he boonies, including right here in this house, but when I read about some of the crap away from here, I feel almost sad and I have to keep reminding myself that we are in the same country. Long ago I made the note of how certain places orient themselves to other places and I wrote this as Outside New York is China, because that tends to be the attitude of not just native New Yorkers, but most big city peoples around this country.
The Sunday New York Time had a spread showing things for sale for men, including lambskin slip-on slippers for a mere $620. And Theodent 300 Whitening Crystal Mint made from cacao for a C-Note. Out here in the hinterlands there are a hell of a lot of people who can’t afford a basic dental check-up and we have people getting cosmetic whiteners for a hundred bucks? C’mon. Outside New York is China.
That same issue of the times noted that three-button suits are making a comeback, and there are now off-shoulder shirts for mean, and that baggy gym shorts are meant for layering in winter. At thirty five below actual temp gymn shorts here spell death with any prolonged exposure. Three-button suits. I thought Generation X or Mars or whatever it is is taking the world casual. Suits? They were anachronisms when I had to wear them.
What country to these people live in. I’d laugh if it didn’t sound so dumb as to approach terminally pathetic.
These fashionista crapfests make me think of men who look like women who look like men, all of whom or each of whom looking like no one or anything of this particular planetary system, more tats than free flesh, fire-hair and such, multiply grotesqueries and willing facial and genital mutilations, all these peopleish creatures living like the gate got left open, the gate to the spaceship asylum. They are happy cum dipsticky lost down-low souls who live between real shadows made by real people, casting no shadows of their own, leaving no footprints even in tightly packed damp sand, possessing no scents even a dog can detect, they are lighter than air, low ghosts of both coasts, autoclaustrating themselves in cities and gated communities, no from grief, the usual seclusion-driver, but from superiority, certain they are at the epicenter of human achievement and I am reminded of all those ants on that log hurtling down the Colorado River in run-of and each of the poor little fools thinking he is steering, or the aborigines conquered by Cortez who thought horse soldiers to be monsters, half man and half beast. Those feathered folk may have been prescient. Even now hundreds of years downwind the evidence against such beliefs if far from conclusive.
I love our spaceship earth. I just can’t figure out how some other fellow passengers got here, or how they can’t see that we are all on the same voyage in the same ship.
To happier things, some photos of the past week or so for your viewing pleasure. Please, no drooling over the agates from our new secret spot.
Joe and Casey Guild stopped by for brunch after a quick hiking vake in the Porkies.
Signing books in Marquette this weekend, Saturday, Sept 20, 1-3 pm at Snowbound Books.
Just made reservations for a friend’s retirement party after a long, distinguished career as a CO.
Going to have friends here for dinner after that, chance to catch up and kick back.
All those three-butto- suiters and off-the-shoulder shirters have no idea how real and good life can be where all that matters is who you are in substance, not what you own or what you wear.
Now back to work to finish a short story set at the end of World War Two. I’m calling it “Unmoored Souls,” the 36th creation of the summer.
For Kalamazoo area fans, and people with too much time on their hands, I’ll do a reading at the Richland Public Library, Tuesday, January 14, 7-9 p.m. Hope to see youse dere, eh.
DAY 131, Wednesday, September 10, ALBERTA — Weird night and day. Shaksper suddenly wanted outside at 0330 and headed around the side of the house, but no barking. Today we discovered a scat gift, not of his manufacture, though at this point we’re not sure what gifted us. He’s been acting sort of hinky all day and sniffing like crazy, so we are tentatively thinking a small bear came through en route to checking out our suet, which we took down months ago because only blackbirds were on it and going through them like hot dogs at a ball game, but now the blackbirds are gone, the suet is back up, and maybe we had a vizzie. Cool. Maybe.
Ordinarily I would have been awake at 0330, or close to it, but not last night. We hiked far up into the nearby hills yesterday, found ample piles of bear leavings along the way. Point is that my patterns of writing have sort of settled into another weird schedule but there seems to be no uniformity to it. One week its one sked, the next week another, with the “average” start being 0400-0800, and another from 8-11 or midnight. I maybe that writing short stories puts my mind in a jumpier schedule, don’t know. When I’m in a novel it’s the same story day in and day out, but short stories chan
ge fairly quickly so maybe my brain is reacting to this. When I am working on a novel my brain settles into something like a long-distance runner’s pattern where the total focus is solely on the next step, or place to put my foot, and in writing that’s pretty much the task in a long piece, with turn-points and waypoints coming up at some fair distances. When I have a short story in mind I seem to be more concentrated and more intense in getting it down and that first draft into the plastic bin for the next collection. Short stories are their own diminutive worlds and because they vary so much and thus my long-distance mindset is never called into action.
Short stories, to keep the clumsy comparison alive are more like running what we called the 440 or quarter mile when I was in high school in neanderthal times. You went off at a fast pace, not quite a sprint back then and around 220 you looked around and made what adjustment you needed, which meant sometimes the last 220 was all-out. Short-story writing feels something like the 440. You open fast, keep every step aimed at the finish, control the emotion and drama to fit the situation and close it up with a sprint and a memorable run through the tape, a finish to leave observers talking, or at least thinking about what just happened.
I enjoy writing short stories, but the process is its own animal. For example, I began a story, “Corona Civica” the morning of Sept 3 and finished it the morning of Sept 5, 33 handwritten pages in all. Won’t know word count until I type and that won’t happen until this winter. So, couple days writing time, but this particular story had bounced around and fermented in my head for a month or more, maybe longer.
As a contrast, both “A Writer’s Moose” and “Win, Win” literally popped into my head and were down on paper in no time, with no long birthing periods. I got up on the 4th, started Moose, finished it the morning of the 6th. By finished I mean the draft. For me I prefer to have a complete entity to revise, cut and polish, rather than as I go.
Most, if no all writers, have their own work processes, which may be similar in some ways, but are rarely even close to identical. Writing a novel is not like manufacturing a product, though that indeed is what the novelist is doing. Like houses, novels are made step by step and the only measure applied at the end is: Does the story work or not? If not, why not, and based on why not, what can be done, if anything to move it from not working to working? If it can’t be fixed what parts will provide good salvage for another time? In the writing game all that matters is the finished product, not how you get to it.
My usual process involves characters forming in my head. These can be stimulated by anything from something I saw to something I heard, to something I read. Once observed such catalysts begin to ferment. Sometimes the fermentation goes for a long time and produces a recognizable voice, which then begins talking to me, not in the bat-shit, Martian- in-my-fillings inner voice way, but simply a nice voice in the head, an interesting one. Sometimes this sort of thing can drag on for years. Only when the voice is loud and clear and interesting do I take up the pen. What starts the writing is a physical voice,which talks into the sensor in my brain and says to me, “here’s where the story starts, or where it ends.” Either is helpful as a starter. Once I launch, the characters push me toward the natural end of the tale, which, like the start, is not something on a map, but rather something you recognize for what it is when you see it.
The things writers think about, once the process begins, are somewhat different than what readers think about, but we do think some about the readers as this progresses.
For example, in novels with recurring characters, I’ll only hint at a continuing character’s look and physical description. I may tell you that someone is tall, or whatever, but not much more because I want your brain to provide the details that work best for you and what I may see as a Grady Service or Lute Bapcat will not be who or what you see. This is also why movies often fail. Characters from books do not easily translate to actors chosen to portray them and thus choice of actors is critical for directors and producers. Every time Limpy Allerdyce comes up in a story, you get to see the Limpy you want to see ant therefore you have some sweat equity in the outcome.
Writers fuss considerably with and worry about voice, most often the narrator or the voice telling the tale. To me it’s a never-ending goal to keep myself out of the narrative and let you look directly and only into the character’s head. Naturally I fail, but I keep trying because when you are reading and nothing reminds you of the author or narrator or anything else external, the magic is real, you are inside the character, moving, seeing, feeling and thinking with him. In all of my latter books, probably since 2000, I try to never put you into more than one voice in an entire novel so that you travel the story with the protagonist. I think I’m pretty solid on this, but there are no doubt slips now and then. I do this because I want you as the reader securely inside that one critical mind so that everything that happens goes solely though that one filter.
Writers also have to pay attention to speed, or pace. We know that dialog moves faster than description and that short sentences go faster than longer ones, short scenes or chapters faster than lengthier ones and as the story moves along we use this knowledge to either raise the tension or dampen it as the telling needs.
This writer also thinks a lot about silence both as a marker of events and mind condition, and as a tool. If you’ve just driven cross country at 75 mph you are going to be somewhat velocitized when you stop, the physiological and psychological sense of having just stop being somewhat delayed until the body itself can slow down. It’s probably something like the ghost pains and sensations amputees experience, but the point is that when you stop or hit a sudden silence it is not something that goes unnoticed and writers can use such moments to either illuminate things that went or before, or will happen subsequently.
Likewise, the fact of fiction is that fiction needs fact. Let me state that another way, Readers read writing and writers write reading. The protein of stories is always fact and the amount can vary from mountains (as in Moby Dick, with Melville first having you build a whaling ship before launching the big hunt) to something a lot less. It’s the facts the writers selects that often make a story convincing, compelling, and authentic. We aren’t seeking some endlessly verbal vomitorium, but just the right facts applied at just the right time in just the right part of the story.
Sound is a peculiar phenomenon. I can remember in my jock days playing in front of large crowds who were tearing the roof off the gym, yet down on the floor we players could talk in near-normal tones of voice and hear and be heard with no strain at all, like we were inside some sort of sound bubble. This happened a number of times and it struck me that a writer needs to think about this sort of thing and how he or she might deploy it. The challenge for the writer seems to be how do you create memorable yet believable sound experiences befitting the tale being spun, and make the experience come through to the reader. There’s no set or pat answer to this challenge.
Here it is Sept 10 and I have been playing with another short story, this one about a tailgunner on a B-17 forced to bailout in the mountains, not in wartime, but in training before deployment to Europe and he parachutes into and is hung in a tree and there are bears around the base of the tree and deep snow on the ground and he has no idea where he is and what is he going to do to first get down safely, second evade the bears safely and most importantly find his way to safety? And all the time think, if I have to go through all this trauma in training, what will the real deal be like and do I want to put myself through that, or find a way out, honorable or otherwise?
Great blackberry picking couple of days ago, up the hill here. Got almost a quart in less than an hour and even spent some time staring up into a very tall white pine, diamets of four feet, maybe, wondering how the hell I would get down without breaking my keester.
Back to work. I leave you with the scat present from this morning. Sorry for the “up-close look.”
I’ll be signing books at Snowbound Books in Marquette, Saturday, September 20, 1-3 p.m.