Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Old Man and the Sea

One of my many fantasies growing up in land-locked Saint Paul, Minnesota was to sail the seven seas on a tramp steamer. At the time I probably wasn’t even sure what a tramp steamer was. But the name conjured up images of beautiful brown girls, swaying palm trees and vast blue oceans. Perhaps it was some ‘50s Errol Flynn movie that warped my malleable mind into wondrous thoughts of riding the high seas.

The Run for Home by Leland Frederick Cooley

By my mid-teens, it had become a feverish dream burning a hole in my idle hours. I began perusing magazines, novels and seafaring books for clues on how to enter that maritime world. I devoured Joshua Slocum’s ‘Sailing Alone around the world’ and ‘Moby Dick.’ Jack London’s ‘The Sea Wolf’ gripped my imagination more than Dick Tracy or Tarzan ever could.

In fall of 1961, a Life magazine article pushed me over the edge. It was entitled: ‘Before the Mast’ and subtitled: ‘A farm boy ships aboard a freighter.’ The article went on to chronical the adventures of an Iowa farm boy who was selected by the Seafarers International Union hiring hall in New Orleans to work aboard the M/V Del Monte that was sailing off to Brazil. By the end of the article the young sailor was in Rio de Janeiro and getting a tattoo. I was hooked.  I sent off an introductory letter to some maritime union in Detroit seeking employment on any ship available. Their form letter response demanded an in-person interview and I didn’t have the bus fare to get there. Totally dejected, I went to college instead.

Fast forward several lifetimes and after college I went to live in Europe. I ended up working at a Danish laundry outside of Copenhagen. Weekends were spent wandering the harbor and talking to the marginal characters who inhabited that strange dockside world. After a month or so I applied for employment on a Norwegian freighter bound for who knows where. I can’t remember why I was turned down; lack of experience, my glasses or my foreign status. The only available work was as a deck hand or dish washer and I didn’t qualify for either. Go figure. A couple of rough weather weekend runs to Germany by ferry boat got that seafaring wanderlust out of my system for good. Or so I thought.

Upon my return to Minnesota I used to imagine Duluth as my gateway/getaway to the great lakes and the open seas beyond. Lake Nokomis became my Inland Ocean. My girlfriend and I used to drive up to the Twin Ports. We would find some forlorn hilltop overlooking the harbor and hunker down. We’d drink cheap wine, eat cheese and crackers, and wax philosophically about foreign lands and the exotic travels we imagined we might do some day.

Later on in life Sharon and I discovered river cruising in Europe. We found that pace much more to our liking. It was relaxed, controlled and manageable. My youthful fantasies had subsided and the thoughts of living in the same work clothes for more than twenty-four hours caused me a chill.

Recently a ten-day tour of Cuba put us on a cruise ship for the first time. The Celestyal Crystal is one of the smaller cruise ships in the cruise industry. It could hold more than one thousand passengers. Ours had only six hundred. But that was still about five hundred and fifty too many for my liking. Sadly, that ship is as close as I’m ever going to get to my tramp steamer at sea.

I’m an old man now (when I’m willing to admit it.) My imagined seafaring days never came to be and I’m OK with that. It was a fantasy born in boredom, a sense of abandonment and no inkling of the exciting years ahead.

As I matured and came to understand my own idiosyncrasies, quirks, strengthens and weak-nesses I realized it was best that I didn’t end up on some cluttered, vomit-strained deck somewhere. A deckhand’s life was not for me. Laguna Beach is a fair substitute whenever I feel the need to suck in salt air and feel sand between my toes.

My world became rich, involved, and stimulating. The women I knew and the men I befriended were all part and parcel of another world that wove a tapestry of memories as firm as any ships log possibly could. My life ended up a journey well taken with never a sea storm to swell against my ship of state. I crested life’s rolling swells of good and bad experiences always aiming for a horizon that promised only better times ahead.

It still does.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Zsa Zsa Slept Here

We had our introduction down pat as visitors entered the front door. Yes, it was true. This was the home where the famous Gabor sisters and their mother stayed as they recuperated from their many trips ‘under the knife.’ It was also home to many famous and infamous celebrity parties of that era.

All of that was true and our guests loved it. Sharon and I were docents for the day and having a blast spinning tales of old Palm Springs as it was back in the day.

Modernism Week is a signature event held every February and unique to Palm Springs. It attracts thousands of modern architecture lovers from all over the country and the world. There are a host of events to showcase and highlight the very best of modernism designs and trends. There are art fairs, a modernism yard sale, vintage car show, lectures and films on historical Palm Springs architecture, as well as many events at the convention center. One of the highlights of the events each year are the neighborhood home tours.

Beginning in the mid-40s, architects originated a design movement specific to the greater Palm Springs area. It became known as Desert Modern. Their buildings featured ground-breaking techniques such as post-and-beam supports, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a wide array of colors to match the surrounding mountains and desert. Now famous architects such as William Krisel, E. Stewart Williams, Albert Frey, William F. Cody, Richard Neutra and Donald Wexler were among the masters of this design.

Our neighborhood, Indian Canyon, was included in the home tours for the third year in a row. Sharon and I volunteered to be docents at one of the homes. It was a great opportunity to meet more of our neighbors and peek in on the lives of the design-conscious, artsy-types who created these one-of-a-kind homes.

It was fascinating to see what had been done to these retro houses and how the other half lives. Most of the homes were owned by interior designers…no surprise there. Each was a designer’s delight. Stunning is not too strong a word to describe some of those settings.

Here are some examples of the homes on the tour:

We were docents at a home that was built in 1973 and considered a Pueblo Modern. In keeping with the times and lore of old Palm Springs this home had its own fabled history. Over time the tales of its past residents has only grown and become more embellished with each new owner.

Famously known as the ‘Gabor House’ this house carries its own colorful banner of ‘Old Palm Springs’ and its connection to the golden era of old Hollywood.

A plastic surgeon, Dr. Borko Djordjevic, was its first owner. He is reported to have held many celebrity parties during his years there. However, he is most known for hosting the extensive stays for the Gabor sisters and their mother after they had ‘work’ done by him in town.

Explaining the Gabor sisters to our younger visitors was like comparing them to the present-day celebrity sensations The Kardashians. No talent, no chemistry, no discernible reason why anyone would care but somehow fans do care about the Kardashian. The Gabor sisters had that same aura about them back then.

Rumors abound about the house and the escapades there. The sisters, it is claimed by nosey neighbors, used to sunbath with only towels covering their newly remodeled faces. And the rumors just grew and grew.

The house has been totally remodeled and is stunning in its d├ęcor. It’s a fitting tribute to the glitz and glamour that was old Hollywood. Older visitors seemed genuinely interested in the tales of its past occupants. The newer ones just liked the mid-century design. So it goes in the land of fact and fiction, rumor and innuendo - but always a good story to tell.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Scribe in All of Us

Nine books and counting...

Believe it or not, writing is one of the easiest things a person can learn to do. Unfortunately, too often beginning writers only focus on the end result and then are intimidated at the thought of completing a novel, an essay, a blog, or even a short story.

Next Saturday, March 18th, will be a great opportunity for anyone contemplating or just curious about the writing life to come explore their many writing options.

The Steeple Center | Rosemount, MN

The FirstAnnual Rosemount Writers Festival and Book Fair is being held Saturday, March 18th at the Steeple Center in Rosemount, Minnesota. The hours are from 9:30am to 5:00.

Their web site lists all the speakers and events planned for the day. I’ll have a table for selling my books and I’ll be speaking at 2:00 that afternoon. The title of my presentation is: ‘How do I begin?’

For the uninitiated, there are a plethora of books, magazines, seminars, and websites which all claim to have the magic elixir to becoming an accomplished writer. Some will tell you that you can write an entire book in just one month. Others will say that (for enough money) you can get someone else to do all the heavy lifting for you. Experts can do your editing, book design, marketing and promotion. All you have to do is write them a check.

This smorgasbord of advice can be a distraction and excuse for not writing. Their focus is on the procedures here and not the actual ‘doing.’ I believe all of these approaches are wrong simply because they fail to address the most important equation here which is you…the writer.

I would summarize those skills needed to become a writer as discipline, being able to focus and allocating your time wisely. Remember writing is a craft, a skill and a discipline. Like anything else worth pursuing, it takes time and effort. THERE IS NO SHORTCUT. As the old Chinese proverb goes, a long journey begins with one small step.

The first step to begin is deciding what type of writing you want to engage in. The caveat to follow here should be: what is your passion, what drives you, what topic would make you want to get up each morning and write. Remember, you are not writing for anyone else but yourself.

The second step is deciding on your subject matter. Where do you go to get ideas if you have no idea what to write about? The list is unending. Newspaper and magazine articles, conversations, people you know, your past experiences, other’s experiences, and things you have witnessed, etc.

My own experience with ‘Love in the A Shau’ began as a loose compilation of information about the sixties and my own experiences in college and the military back then. After fifty-five pages of notes my storyline was ready for writing.

Writers must have multiple personalities because they take on the personalities of their characters. So make it a point to listen to dialogue around you. How do people talk, what do they say and how do they say it. Readers love a good story and interesting characters. It’s your job to provide both.

All your ideas won’t mean a thing unless you can organize them. Begin by just spilling ideas, phrases, dialogue, facts, etc. onto paper. Some folks use post-it-notes, notepads, or just compose on the computer screen. Whatever works best for you is the right way to go. Once you have enough information then begin to organize your notes with a beginning, middle and end. I just dump ideas, words, phrases and dialogue onto a computer screen. Then it goes to paper and finally I begin to edit my material before dumping it back into the computer.  


Once you have a treatment or an outline you are ready to begin writing your story, article, etc. Begin by filling in what you have already written. Then add whatever else seems appropriate and/or relevant. Once that’s done, let it cool off. Walk away from your writing project for a period of time then go back to it. ALL writing takes place in rewriting, not during the initial first pass.

You need three things to become a writer:
            Talent…you won’t know if you have it unless you give it a try.
            Desire…you won’t know if you have it unless you give it a try.
            Perseverance…you won’t know if you have it unless you give it a try.

My one hour presentation starts at 2:00pm at the Steeple Center. There will be a lot of great speakers and books for sale. Check out their websites here at http://www.rosemountarts.com/ or http://www.rosemountwritersfestival.com/

I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Bible and Me

Meaning no disrespect to Peter, Paul, and the other wordsmiths of their time but my bible has come in at a back-breaking 856 pages. This kettle drum of mystery and intrigue is the longest and most detailed book I’ve ever written. It’s an around-the-world suspense thriller that took a year to write and kept me guessing as to its outcome until the very last page.

For several years now this edifice to an imagination run amok was lost in a pile of completed manuscripts desperately in need of some very good editing. Other writing projects such as my ‘Apache Death Wind’ trilogy and then the ‘Debris’ trilogy overshadowed its completion. Just about the time I thought I could venture back into that morass of foreign languages, country details, and a subliminal love story ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ captured my imagination. So, off I went in yet another direction; playwriting.

The solution to dealing with that heavy weight orphan came last fall when I submitted it as an unpublished manuscript to the Minneapolis Star Tribune for their serialized novel competition. It wasn’t chosen (for many reasons) not the least of which was that it wasn’t just based in Minnesota. While the story line starts in Saint Paul, it quickly leaves town and travels around the world. Two locations; Macchu Picchu and Angor Watt play prominent roles in the storyline.

It was Vida, my insightful editor, who suggested that she tackle the herculean task of reading, organizing, and then editing this momentous project. I couldn’t have been happier. I’ve long felt, as has my wife, that ‘Follow the Cobbler’ was one of my best works thus far. It certainly was a labor of love. I have a stack of reference files that if piled up could easily measure eleven inches in height.

For this mystery travelogue, I had to research old Saint Paul, Custer’s Last Stand, the San Francisco Bay area, Macchu Picchu, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Angor Watt, Rome, the Roman Coliseum, and Bethlehem.

In addition, I had to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the origins of the birth of Christ in addition to a hundred-thousand (a bit exaggerated) facts and details of my protagonists travels. I had to familiarize myself with Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Street view, various country maps, the Celtic religion, and its ancient texts.

My nebulous character called ‘the cobbler’ was a mystery right from the start. Even as its creator I wasn’t sure what it was that my protagonists were chasing around the world. I knew this thing; icon, person or spirit possessed magical powers and had a sinister intent. Was he the son of God, his half-brother or second cousin? I really didn’t know what it/he was until the very end of the story. Even I was surprised at my ending.

It’s also really two stories in one. First it is a suspense thriller that takes my readers around the world. It’s also a love affair between two totally opposite individuals who find commonality in their shared passion for finding the Cobbler and gradually for each other. Their love story as well as their pursuit of the Cobbler unfolded in front of me every time I opened their computer file.

Right now, editing is an ongoing pursuit with Vida pouring her energies into making sense of the trials and challenges facing my protagonists. Once that hurtle is passed then book design and printing will rear its dominant head. After that, marketing will once again present a formidable challenge for me.

Marketing aside, upon completion this literary colossus must compete for space inside my head alongside Club 210 and marketing my other products. It’s like a freight train a-comin’ round the proverbial bend and I can’t stop it.

Then what do I do?