Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ophelia's Daughters

Writers write for themselves or at least I think they should. Much has been written about a writer understanding the audience he or she is writing for. There’s a lot of misinformation (for newbies) about emulating the best sellers and giving their audience what you think readers want in terms of characters, settings, etc. In the words of one ebullient philosopher, ‘That’s all hooey.’

I believe you write what you want to write about, what drives your interest, what gets you out of bed in the morning and plants you in front of your keyboard. You should write from the heart and hope there is an audience for your work.

I’ve never tried to write with a specific audience in mind. In the beginning, I was mildly surprised to learn that a lot of women liked my western novels. I had foolishly decided who my audience was and totally missed an important segment of the reading public in the process. If you asked me about the YA, young adult market, I could honestly plead ignorance.

My last novel, ‘Follow the Cobbler,’ is a suspense thriller that follows my protagonist Brian, and his fellow traveler Katherine, around the world in pursuit of an elusive character simply known as ‘the cobbler.’ They are, in turn, being pursued by hunter-assassins known only as ‘the druids’ (named after a religious sect from early Roman times in ancient Britannia.) The novel contains some scenes of violence, sexual tension, romance, intrigue and many references to ancient times. It would hardly seem to be the fare for younger minds. Vida, my editor, thought differently.

I’ve been down that long arduous road called ‘being a teenager’ before. Teen angst is nothing new to me but it’s certainly not a back road I’d care to retrace at this stage in my life. So I was more than a little taken aback when Vida suggested that ‘Cobbler’ might be a good YA novel if edited properly. And she knew just the teens to do it. Imagine that, me writing for teens? Turns out the notion wasn’t that far-fetched. It just took a set of younger eyes to see it for me.

Amelie and Nedda are a couple of precocious twins with fearless hearts and critical eyes who were able to turn my 566-page juggernaut into a novel for the YA market. Other YA novels such as the Twilight series and The Hunger Games have proven immensely popular with teens and pre-teens. Upon reflection, I think there’s no reason why this newly revised version of ‘Cobbler’ might not do the same.

The twins spent last winter editing my manuscript, designing a new book cover and changing the title from ‘Follow the Cobbler’ to ‘Chasing Ophelia.’ They had carte blanche freedom to go as far or as easy as they wanted to in editing my work. My reasoning was simple. If they were Vida’s daughters, I was in good hands. I love the new book cover and title. Readers will very quickly grasp the significance of the cover and its background of Celtic symbols.

Now the real work begins. Vida has written a press release which we are actively sending out to local newspapers, magazines, tabloids and anywhere else we think might print it. We have beta readers reading the novel right now and giving us feedback on the YA marketplace. I hope to place the book in local bookstores and libraries upon my return to the Twin Cities. I have a ‘Meet the Author’ presentation scheduled for October 18th at the Rosemount Library.

Of course, it was only fitting that my eldest granddaughter, Maya, be the first in the family to read ‘Ophelia.’ Her twin siblings are clamoring for their chance at the book, as are the Minnesota cousins. Their time will come with, I hope, that of a lot of other teens and pre-teens.

Recently our local newspaper picked up the story of the girls. A nice tribute to Amelie and Nedda and the great job they did on creating my newest YA novel.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Views from a Train

St. Paul’s historic Union Depot got a multi-million dollar makeover several years ago. It’s a beautiful old neoclassical building that has seen more than a hundred years of train travel. At one point, it controlled 9.24 miles of St. Paul track age and terminal facilities. Today it serves inter-city rail, inter-city bus and local bus services. The light rail has a stop outside the station’s head house.

Marlene and I

I’m told that when my sister and I were still in diapers my mother took us out to California by train for a promised job that never materialized. Marlene got sick and our mother brought us back to Minnesota. As legend has it, I was fascinated with train travel even back then as a toddler. So much for California train travel until now.

I’ve always had this fascination with ‘riding the rails.’ It’s one of many fantasy journeys like circumventing the globe on a tramp steamer that I never did fulfill. Sharon and I got our first taste of Amtrak travel several years ago when we took a trip from Annapolis, Maryland to Manhattan, New York. We’ve done that trip now several times. With a tip of my hat to Steve Goodman (‘The City of New Orleans’) the man got it right. There is something mystical, mysterious, and a bit romantic about rail travel.

San Diego’s Old Towne transit hub was the starting off point for our latest venture steel-bound. Old Towne is the second stop for the Amtrak Surf liner that travels from San Diego up the coast to Santa Barbara.

For someone like me still wedded to my car and bicycle, Old Towne Station presented a fascinating cornucopia of transportation modes. Commuter trains, regional rails, buses, cars, Uber, bicycles, skateboards, sore feet and of course, Amtrak, all converge on that web of tracks along with the less fortunate who gather there.

Hobo with coffee and cop in the background

Feeding the Pigeons


Grocery store; pay to pee and watching for slippery fingers all day

New age traveler; phone and suitcase on wheels

I quickly realized that the only way to travel by train is in Business Class with reserved seats. Call it an age thing but Coach Class seemed like steerage on the Titanic; a backwash of humanity and crowded quarters. It may be cheaper but it isn’t worth it.

While peering out the window I was like a kid in a candy story. Every scene that flashed by filled me with excitement. The highly concentrated coastline rolled by from La Jolla, through Ocean-side while skirting the back of towns in Carlsbad and Dana Point. Then the train swung east toward Santa Ana, Anaheim, and finally Los Angeles.

LA Canal

LA Downtown

By the time we got to Union Station our time schedule was way out of whack but none of us cared. L.A. was the halfway mark and from there we headed northeast. It was one city melding into another; all of them forming the industrial underbelly of the region.

Finally business and industry began to thin out and we were pushing east through rolling foothills and finally came upon vast agricultural fields of plenty. Fullerton, Van Nuys, Oxnard, and Chatsworth were all farming communities.

Racing an Olds 88 (we won)

Finally, the ocean

Then as pending fog began to creep ever closer to the shoreline we were back to the beach communities at Ventura and finally Santa Barbara. A sleeping transient greeted us at the depot.

Bum sleeping at the depot

Me standing by train

Santa Barbara train station

We only had one overnight in Santa Barbara and the now fog-bound city never revealed its beautiful beaches or blue ocean.

Santa Barbara in the fog

Rain, drizzle, fog and dirty train windows hid the foam-splashed beaches on the way back south. It was a marvelous trip never the less.

Traffic on the 5

Finally, because of rail reconstruction that weekend, we were transferred to a bus for the remainder of our trip back to the Old Towne transit hub. Traveling the ‘5’ down to San Diego reminded me how much I enjoyed the comfort and convenience of train travel.

We’re imagining another train trip in the near future. Traveling the length of the state sounds pretty interesting. It would mean hugging the coastline with its spectacular views and a wealth of story ideas thrown in at no extra cost. It would be retracing old jaunts through the Golden State from my younger years. Rail research that appeals to the kid wrapped inside this old fashioned traveler.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Mig and Pat

Unlike a lot of kids in my generation, I had no adult influences growing up. There were no doting grandparents hovering around the corner, no aunts, or uncles who cared about my sister and me. No male father figures to substitute for my own father who left our family after a couple of years. I had no uncles, cousins, coaches, or teachers to show a young boy the ropes. There was a vacuum of adult guidance that no one stepped forward to fill.

Thus growing up, I had no road map or past history to guide me into the world of adulthood. It still surprises me sometimes. My only world of adults consisted of cold sterile aunts and bachelor uncles, shouting card-parties and the ever-present, none too subtle attitude that ‘children should be seen and not heard.’ Our opinions were neither recognized nor cared about.

So it’s hardly surprising that my attitude toward ‘old people’ has never followed that 50’s tradition of respecting our elders for their wisdom and guidance. They didn’t seem to care about me and I returned the attitude. My protagonist Daniel said it best in ‘Love in the A Shau.’ He said ‘The best thing I can say about my Aunts and Uncles is…” (It wasn’t a kind statement but it was true.)

That is, until now.

Mig (Mylon) and his lovely wife Pat have restored my faith in old people. That’s good news coming from a newly ripen 75-year-old who only recently began to recognize his own mortality. At 89, Mig still has got the vim and vigor of a 50 year old and his mental acumen can beat the best of them at card and dice games. He can still swing a fishing pole or heft a shotgun with his sons and grandsons.

Knowing Mig and Pat has helped dispel many of my myths about growing old and in the process has clarified why it’s so easy to fall into the trap of ‘getting older.’ There were a couple of other folks that taught me the same thing.

Sharon with parents

Sharon’s parents finally sold the farm long after others had ‘gone to town.’ They began to travel and engage in social activities long denied them because of the many hours and hard work on the farm. They were like Mig and Pat.

Mom and Erwin and Brian

My mother used to confuse me with her distain for old people. Whether it was dancing at the Marigold Ball room with her new-found friend (soon to be her second husband) when she was in her seventies or card games at Gloria De Lutheran Church in her eighties, my Mother would go on and on about the old people at both places. Now I’ve come to understand what she was grousing about.

There seems to be a trap that a lot of older folks fall into as age creeps into their lives and slows them down. All too often, they become more self-centered and absorbed with only themselves. Their view of the world becomes more narrow and sheltered. In turn, that isolation from every-day life makes them overly cautious, concerned, and protective of their own self-interests at the expense of relationships with others. It becomes a gradual transformation into someone you don’t want to be around for any length of time.

Mig and Pat are just the opposite.

Mig working

Pat painting

These great-grandparents are still very much engaged with the world around them. They still babysit their great-grandchildren, travel, engage in social activities, and are very much involved with their church and community. Mig is quick-witted, sharp minded and engaging. He can talk with some knowledge to anyone about almost any subject. He’s like my youngest granddaughter. Leave him in a room with strangers and he’ll have ten best friends in no time at all. Pat is just the same.

Mig working

Like my mother, Mig can’t stand to sit still. He has to be on the move all the time. He still does electrical work whenever a job pops up having been a master electrician all his life.

I’ve come to realize the secret of growing older with grace and panache. It’s simply to keep moving; physically and mentally. It means being engaged in just about anything that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. It means spending time with your adult children, your grandchildren and just about anyone younger than yourself. It means doing what excites you, moves you, and fulfills even your most modest of ambitions. Mig and Pat are sterling examples of this.

There’s no doubt about it, when I grow up, I want to be just like Mig.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Living in the Past

 For a lot of folks my age, the final tabulation is near completion. Most of our past accomplishments count for little in today’s marketplace. There are few laurels left to adorn and accolades too often reference times past instead of the future. For those of us still moving forward there are new standards to focus on to keep life interesting and fulfilling.

“So what’s with this nostalgic rearview mirror look back at life?” my wife asks me frequently. I respond defensively that it’s an important part of my current writing stage. Sharon finds it a lot of hooey. Go figure!

The reason Sharon and I have been happily married for over forty-six years is simply because eighty percent of the time we go in her direction. Not only is it easier that way; quite honestly I don’t care. Now Sharon would argue that figure is about twenty-five percent short of what it should be. But that’s another blog entirely.

To continue with that mathematical analysis, fifteen percent of the time Sharon and I are in total agreement on the most important issues in our lives; raising our children, finances, etc. Five percent of the time there is no agreement and no compromise between us. We have simply learned to live with our rock-solid five-percent differences. One such discussion point is my ‘living in the past.’

Sharon is adamant that one should not dwell on the past.” Let the memories fall where they may and move on with your life,” She will argue. I feel quite the opposite. I believe that if your feet are firmly planted in ‘today’ you can go back and realistically evaluate your past for what it really was.

 At times, I’ve been made to feel that too much of my writing is about my past. It’s certainly true that some of my writing references back to the sixties. But I refuse to do is live my life by default. An examination of my many past lives lends clarity to my present life and fuels story ideas for the future.

I would argue that I’m not stuck on the past as much as I’m exploring new territories by examin-ing old experiences, relationships, events and other phenomena that impacted my life for a lifetime. One argument I hear occasionally is to just focus on the future because ‘isn’t that where it’s at?’ Maybe but I think I can do both or all three.

In my world, I am moving forward by recapturing my past in books and plays and movies and songs. I am also claiming a place in the present and peering forward for a taste of the future.

Mywestern novels were born in the back pew of the St. Louis Church chapel during daily mass in grade school. They were enhanced by black and white images on the big screen of the Gem Theater on West Seventh Street in Saint Paul. They are a salute to an old grainy black and white John Wayne and John Ford images of Americana. They are the embodiment of a youthful imagination held captive by the excitement and thrills of riding horseback on a Saturday after-noon.

‘Lovein the A Shau’ is about recapturing the confusion and excitement of growing up in the sixties and time spent in the military. It is a semi-autobiographical journey back in time of youthful exuberance and fond hopes for the future.

‘Debris;the trilogy’ is a reflection of life in Palm Springs on ‘the other side.’ It is about capturing the many facades of this palace of smoke and mirrors. It is the surrounding mountains and rough-hewn individuals who traverse its summits and canyons and plateaus.

‘Followthe Cobbler’ is a mind-game set to words. It’s an adventure around the world created in lieu of that tramp steamer I never got to sail around the world.

‘ApartmentManagement’ reflects my life as a landlord and the lessons learned therein.

So in the end I won’t apologize for a focus on the past when my feet are firmly planted in the present and my head is facing forward. I’ll keep moving in many directions even as I let my eyes drift to that rearview mirror etched in my brain. On that final sunset ride I want to be able to say that I lived my life the way I wanted to. No apologies needed or given.