Tuesday, September 28, 2021


‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’  Quote by Charles Dickens.

The summer of 2020 was tough on a lot of people. At least on the surface, most folks seemed to have adjusted to the myriad of changes this country has gone through since the pandemic began its relentless march across the globe.

For me, it began in Palm Springs in early March of last year and took almost a year until the spring of 2021 before commerce began to awaken again. This continued a trend already begun in Minnesota in early April when Sharon and I had to self-quarantine and live in semi-isolation here last summer. This summer opened up for us and was much better.

But since early 2020 there have been major and subtle changes that are probably going to be permanent now. There have also been casualties along the way, both personal and in general.

Last fall, one acquaintance of ours, faced with a cancer diagnosis and isolation, choose to end it all. Several others have embraced the comfort of clustered-living and a few drifted back to the  cloistered comfort of their religion. Whatever it took to cope with the many changes brought on by COVID.  Unfortunately, good old American Capitalism also reared its ugly head.

If he were alive today, P.T. Barnum would be having a field day. It’s not that there’s been an influx of na├»ve, gullible pigeons out there. No more than at any other time in history. The pandemic has just brewed up a cauldron of opportunities for some retailers and pitfalls for many buyers.

Organizations that were shut down during the pandemic are slowly starting to reawaken now. Some have embraced a newfound enthusiasm for social justice and economic change. Others have fallen back to their old ways, assuming what worked in the past will work again in the near-future.

For some employers and businesses alike, the pandemic proved the perfect catalyst for change. Past business habits, patterns of employee relations and finances all went into ‘play.’ The pandemic provided the perfect excuse to cut back on services, eliminate assumed extras and just focus on the bottom line. Reduced competition opened the playing field for the larger players to cobbled up market share and eliminate their competitors. Customer seemed to always be on the losing end of the deal.

It was (and still is) the perfect storm for good old American greed. There was a pent-up demand for goods, services and experiences. After a year of COVID-19 induced self-isolation, many folks feel they have plenty of ‘money’ in the bank, checking account or purse. Where there was demand, there were opportunities…unfortunately for us, consumers paid the price.

The pandemic exasperated an already long and exhausting cycle of ‘old world’ business and industry giants that have fallen by the wayside. These include but are not limited to:

Ad agencies and PR Firms

The travel industry

Commercial and Public television stations

Home building

Automotive manufacturing

Colleges and Universities



I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the attitude among many retailers and the trades that they’ve all lost a lot of money during the pandemic (which is certainly true) and now they want to make it all back ‘in one summer.’ Prices for goods and services have risen exponentially and it isn’t all just because of limited availability or gaps in the supply chain.

It’s a temporary situation; I get it.  Farmers plant when the sun is shining. Retailers plow the fields of opportunity when customers are loaded with cash and eager to spend. Right now, ‘feasting time is upon us.’ Once more products get into the supply chain and folks have had their taste of normal life again, most retailers and service folks will be forced to go back to their regular fair prices, available supplies and a need to please the customer. But that isn’t now.

During the pandemic my wife and I have noticed or experienced other, sometimes subtle, changes. Sharon noticed (not me) that a lot of women her age have gone natural gray in lieu of going back to their hairdresser. Actually I think they still look very attractive ‘au natural.’

My ‘Coffee and Chat’  group which numbered almost a dozen folks last year shrunk to only a third of that number this spring.

My 60th Cretin High School Class Reunion was held in August at an old world classic restaurant in Saint Paul. I personally felt it wasn’t well organized or conducive to general reflective comments of small group conversations. But that’s just me.

I was tempted to criticize the affair for its lack of coordination. But as my wife likes to say: “If you weren’t involved in the planning, then swallow your negative comments.” So I swallowed hard and said it was great seeing some of my old classmates. I was glad I was able to make it because a lot of our fellow graduates are in another heavenly place now.

Looking over that room of retired doctors, lawyers, business executives and other successful individuals, I thought to myself (of course, very modestly) ‘Guess, I did OK after graduating at the bottom third of my class.’ Best of luck to everyone.

I started out this summer with a list of writing projects put on hold and others I wanted to tweak. By mid-summer that old list had been thrown out in lieu of several exciting new projects crowding my creative brain. (More on that in a future blog.)

One result of the pandemic and ensuing change of lifestyle is that I have fluctuated on whether to continue writing my blogs. I can’t decide if my blogs are a pain in the rear to write or are a part of my writing discipline.  For now, I’ll opt for the latter and continue pounding out thoughts and ideas and reflections. Some people seem to enjoy them. I’m always surprised by folks who read my blogs and either ‘like’ them or make a comment. There are more secret readers out there than I realized.

I guess COVID and its myriad of craziness had a few benefits after all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Glady Goes Vella as Agnes

I think I’ve found a place for Glady. It feels right; not rushed nor expanded too far beyond the facts. Yet it’s the proper place for a lady I never knew very well. I can finally tell a fictionalized story of a relationship that never happened. But could have.

Sharon’s frequent trips up to the Arts District in Northeast Minneapolis got me to thinking about my past ventures into that storied neighborhood and a mysterious woman who used to live there. While I never knew that woman on an intimate level, there was enough of a memory or image-banking that it kept me wondering ‘what ever happened to her?’ long after we both had moved on with our lives.

It was enough of a brain probe that I wrote a blog about her and talked to an old friend who also used to know her. Way back then, we were both fledgling writers at the Minnesota Department of Public Health in the early spring of 1968.

Harry and I go back more than fifty years, He is still one of my most favorite and frequent friends to meet up for my Coffee and Chat sessions. Even though long periods of little communication over the years, we’ve managed to stay in-touch. Harry was a good second image-banker for my recollection of that period in my life, the office setting and the various characters who worked there.

Back then, Harry was a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota and looking for his first job.  I had just return from a self-imposed exile in Europe where I neither found myself nor any clarity in my future. We were both just starting out with our first job, first time exploring that tumultuous period called the 60s and learning to live with our boss, Marie Ford.

After writing that initial blog (Homage to Glady) and posting it on my Facebook page, I began to jot down some ideas for a story centered on two characters; a woman like Glady and one like myself. Harry’s recollections were invaluable in helping me paint an accurate honest picture of our lives at work back then. My love story centered on Glady was fiction. But it was based on real people and real events flavored with a liberal dose of creative artistic exuberance thrown to enhance the good story material.

The story was entitled ‘Glady’ and would be a love story between two opposing personalities. The mind-set, social, economic and sexual backgrounds of these two people was radically different. It was the classic case of two folks who had little in common but enough that they bonded on a level they hadn’t experienced before with anyone else.

Some friends of mine thought it would make a great play. I thought not. Others thought it might be a novel or screenplay. Again, I didn’t see ‘Glady’ in that fictional form. I didn’t feel like writing it out as a novel and I don’t do short stories. A novella might be the route to go, I thought. Then Amazon gave me the answer in one simple generic e-mail.

Months earlier as I was finishing up the self-publication of my twelfth novel entitled: ‘Playground for the Devil’, Amazon sent me a notice of a new publishing approach they were just beginning. It was called Vella and it turned out to be the answer for me to release ‘Glady’ to the world.

Vella is a new feature of Amazon’s KDP publishing arm.

At that point, my lovely wife, Sharon, and Vida, my editor, decided that once again my enthusiasm had gone overboard and a little precaution was probably called for. Therefore, my main character would now be named Agnes and other real life characters would take on fictional names. Glady became Agnes, I remained myself and the rest of the world took on a fictional hue liberally laced throughout the storyline.

‘Agnes’ seemed to fit that approach perfectly. I felt I could tell her story in serialized chapter form with a tight story narrative. It would not be an elongated novel or play but rather a focused story of two lives intertwined and what happens to them after their mutual surprise that they have so much in common. It would be a love story for the ages.

Of course, it wasn’t as if I had nothing else to write about; far from it. ‘Agnes’ would be a detour through guilt and self-doubt. Self-criticism raised its ugly head when I thought about my other writing projects still waiting to be addressed.

I had just begun the arduous process of finding an illustrator for my new children’s book. I had an expanded version of ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventures’ which I wanted to publish in script form. ‘Playground for the Devil’ was crying out for attention and much-needed marketing. There were four other plays that needed to be revised, edited, rewritten, and then scheduled for beta readings. A new play ‘Frenchy’s Eats’ was still stuck in draft form. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have enough on my writing plate to keep me busy for a very long time.

Instead I was focusing on this fictional person (based on a real person) and the imagined love affair between the two of us. Unfortunately it parroted real life in that the mental and emotion forces that kept waking me up at night to run dialogue between Agnes and I pushed me to face the fact that the story had to come out or I was going to be distracted from everything else until it did.

The only saving grace was the fact that I didn’t have to publish it as a novel. Vida, my editor, could upload it to Vella for me. If it caught an audience, that would be great and a couple of bucks in my pocket. If it didn’t, the story would still have been told and I could move on to other things.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Old Man on a Bicycle

I have this love-hate relationship with my bicycles…all of them.

At one point, I thought it would be cool to ride long distance. So, as a younger man, I did a Century (One hundred miles in one day). Then I did a couple of TRAM rides (The Ride Across Minnesota done in a week). Then several ‘Ironman’ (60 miles in a day) bike rides. All those rides were challenging, fun, stressful and made me very sore. Time and commitments intervened and I didn’t ride for a long time. Then the itch came back again.

Europeans have been doing it for years. When I lived in Copenhagen, it was one of the primary means of transportation. Now Amsterdam and other European cities vie for prominence with their own focus on two-wheel transportation.

Magazines and web sites that cater to the biking crowd have gotten very popular recently. Web sites like Cycle Chic, Copenhaganize, Citylab and Planetzien are among the many that frequently carry biking-related articles. Bike sharing outlets like Minnesota’s own ‘Nice Ride’ are expanding their outreach efforts. Bicycle riding has been rediscovered all over again.

Eventually it was my more leisurely paced, time-free, long distance rides that I came to really enjoy. That style of bike touring was more casual and self-directed. It usually took place in springtime after a hard winter of indoor gym visits and treadmill journeys in the basement.

The pandemic and other weak excuses have prevented me from those self-directed tours for a couple of years so I decided this summer to try to replicate what I used to do in a regular basis in the past.

It began as a ‘rediscovery’ bike tour of twin cities. In the past, these bike tours meant revisiting old haunts, abodes, rendezvous and memorable places in my life. It usually began on a Saturday morning, first at some coffee shop in town and ending after twenty or thirty plus miles of meandering wherever my head and heart wanted to take me.

I might begin at the Lake Street Bridge, go down the Midtown Greenway, end up by Lake of the Isles and then find my way back home from there.

Other times, it meant traveling the length of Summit Avenue, ending up in Lower Town and then following the river route back up into Highland Park. Those were just two of more than a half dozen routes that inevitably would return me to my first home in Saint Paul, educational outposts, make-out rendezvous, induction stations, real estate ventures and other debris of my past seventy years in and around the Cities.

Inevitably and not surprisingly, time changes everything and old familiar structures are often the first to taste the ravages of time and decay. The location might be the same but all vestiges of memory points are long gone. But that doesn’t matter because both the Twin Cities and the Coachella Valley have wonderful biking routes that allow one to meander the neighborhoods.

The latest craze that’s gotten my attention are E (electronic) Bikes. Several of my friends have them and swear by their efficiency and ease of climbing tough grades or going long distances. I’m more than intrigued by the prospect of expanding my traveling range around the cities or the Coachella Valley.

Either way, by pedal power or an assist, I want to return to the road as soon as I can. Either in the Twin Cities or the Valley I have my own in-town wilderness to explore. It’s a meandering, relaxed revisiting of old memories, discovering new places and people along the way. But always ruminating about my past lives, present ventures and future endeavors.

I’m still peddling after all these years. As long as I can keep my balance and the old legs and back don’t give out, I intend to keep pushing along and enjoying the scenery along the way. Just like when I was a kid.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Pictures Tell a Story

After a while I finally found my groove as a writer and book cover designer. So by the time I got to my monster doorstop entitled: ‘Follow the Cobbler’ I knew a good photo (I happened to have one I had taken myself) and a great font style (thanks to my editor) I would have a cover in one image that told the story I wanted to convey.  It wasn’t as easy when I first started out writing novels and plays and then deciding how to illustrate their covers.

My first western was a good example of this. I wanted a front cover that really told the story I wanted to tell. I thought the cover had to depict some dramatic incident from the storyline. I figured an artist would have the talent and skills to pull it off. I’ll never know if I was right or not.

My encounter with three very talented artists all produced the same results. Each artist insisted on first reading the novel and then 'telling me' what the cover should look like. I tried it with one artist; a talented fellow from Northern Minnesota, and after writing a $500.00 check I realized that was the wrong direction to go for me.

The artist had done an acceptable drawing but totally missed the drama and emotional feel I was looking for. His painting looked like a cartoon drawing and would have worked for a comic book but not the serious authentic Western I felt I had written.

This first novel had gone through many incarnations from first being written in 1973, typed out on an ancient L.C. Smith typewriter and stored away for 40 years. Its title ranged from ‘Man of Many Tribes’ to finally ‘Apache Smoke.’ The novel had been scanned into a computer from faded graying paper, edited many times and was now ready for self-publication. What I needed was a great cover to give the potential reader a hint at the action, suspense, and romance inside. But how to do it in one set image; the book cover?

For the final cover, I had my editor use a photo I had taken at Joshua Tree National Park, colorize it, add silhouettes of three riders, smoke and mountains in the background. It was her idea to add the two authentic Apache arrows on the cover. The title changed to ‘Apache Death Wind’ and I was in business.

Eventually the story became a trilogy and two other covers were created in much the same manner. A fourth western entitled: ‘Apache Blue Eyes’ was also created in the same manner. A photo I had taken of Superstition Mountain was colorized and a stage coach painted in. I was trying to emulate the look and feel of the John Ford ‘Fort Apache’ trilogy series.

‘Love in the A Shau’ was another case of a front cover that worked at first but quickly (in my mind) missed the effect I thought I was looking for. The first edition of ‘A Shau’ featured a photo of my daughter Melanie on the front cover. She was supposed to represent the main female protagonist ‘Colleen’ in the story. When I realized I could easily make some serious edits and upload a newer second version of the book, the revamping of the cover immediately came to mind.

Vida, my editor, and I discussed multiple options for a new cover and we agreed that the less specific it was, the more we would leave the content up to the reader’s imagination.

Therefore, we would show the front of a campus building but never identify it. We would put the figures of Daniel and Colleen in silhouette but never delineate a clear picture of what they looked like. The vapid, almost hard to read, text on the back cover along with the two Huey helicopters and Vietnamese star was all meant to tease the reader about its content.

My trilogy on Palm Springs entitled ‘Debris’ began as a single novel but quickly morphed into a three-book package when the content demanded more pages. The first novel began with a black and white photo of my swimming pool. Vida carefully added the lettering of ‘Debris’ and an additional water splashing effect on top of it.

Later on, she took some of my old photos around the area and made them into covers for the two additional books in the series.

My latest novel ‘Playground for the Devil’ proved a challenge in that we had several areas to highlight. I wanted to show the cabin in question, the Big Sur area and the San Francisco location for the boutique publishing firm where my protagonists worked. Two out of three proved the right formula.

Vida and I went over dozens and dozens of royalty free photos along with my own collection of photos of Big Sur. The idea was to capture the dark side of the area with its storied history, back canyons, deep penetrating forests, and odd assortment of characters who have lived there over the years.

We chose a generic picture of the Big Sur coastline and then tinted it with a reddish-black effect. The front cover enjoyed the same tinting effect but with multiple layers of images.

Initially, we tried out a two-story cabin but in my storyline the cabin in question is one story and hidden deep in the woods. So our second attempt began with a simple photo of a cabin. Then Vida layered in trees and foliage in front and more woods in the background to give us the forest look we wanted.

‘Polly’s Amorous Adventures’ was easy enough to design for the Showbill cover. Three figures told the story we wanted to hint at. But it wasn’t enough for our overall promotional effect. Talented friends of our group ‘Script2Stage2Screen, came up with a delightful ad poster that ‘said it all.’

The challenges continued with PTV and for now, we’ve got two covers to choose from.

Tangled Roots looks like a winner but ‘Widow’s Waltz,’ ‘Wake; the Musical’ ‘Frenchy’s Eats’ and some other first draft plays are still in the embryo stages. They say words tell a story. I’ve got that part down now but it’s that one emotional jolt readers get with the ‘right’ picture that I’m looking for with everything I write.