Keeping Up With the Times

The Silent Fisherman by N.C. Wyeth. N.C. Wyeth was a painter, whose exquisite artwork was done primarily for illustrations in books and magazines.
The Silent Fisherman by N.C. Wyeth. N.C. Wyeth was a painter, whose exquisite artwork was done primarily for illustrations in books and magazines.

The Weird World of the Internet

Things seem to change and evolve at a faster rate than they did back in the good ole days. For example, I never imagined that I would live to see the word ‘google’ become a common verb. I remember learning about the numerical concept behind a google in math class. It was quite mind- boggling, but so is the way we commonly use this scientific term to define an internet search technique. Who knows what the future may bring?

Looking Back

I’m also old enough to have been in grade school when JFK was shot and killed. The whole spectacle, from assassination to burial, became a drawn-out media event unlike anything that had been seen before on TV. ( I was actually watching the tube when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot) Furthermore, the event galvanizing the news media into realizing how much interest can be generated by an extraordinary event like the assassination of an American president and consequently how much time people will invest in following a major news story.

Books In the Electronic Age

Things have changed a lot since the sixties and one of the biggest differences has been the arrival of digital communication. This change also includes something new, called the electronic book, more commonly known as the ebook. Fortunately, today, we still have book stores and book vendors who still actual books made from cellulose paper products. These items have attractive covers, brief promotional blurbs from famous people, some info about the author and a good story. Overall, this piece of merchandise is basically unchanged except the cover artist may have created a cover design containing state of the art digital design.

You Still Can Judge A Book By Its Cover

Surprisingly, e-books still have a lot in common with their paper cousin, the tree book. The cover is meant to catch your eye and draw you in. It is also heavily influenced by digital art, especially since the image must be converted to digital form, so it can be viewed online and eventually be downloaded to your computer or electronic reading device. Not only will the cover be influenced by the new digital design techniques, but writing styles in the electronic age are evolving as well. It still takes a good story to capture a reader, but more and more, the shorter literary forms (such as novellas, flash fiction and short-shorts) are ding a better job at gaining the reader’s attention.

And One More Thing

With the advent of the new media, authors are discovering that the first paragraph and even the first sentence are so important in capturing then reader’s attention. Though a lengthy, wordy and highly descriptive beginning may be still be an important literary achievement, it still might lose the average reader and thus be a detriment to higher sales.

Today's digital imagery not only changes the way we visualize a picture and an idea, but it also changing our reading habits.
Today’s digital imagery not only changes the way we visualize a picture and an idea, but it also changing our reading habits.
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A House Made of Sky

A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author
A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author

A Montana One-of-a-Kind Passes Away

Since noted Montana writer, Ivan Doig, passed away this pass week, I deciced to honor the famed author of This House of Sky with some comments and a series of sunset photographs from the West. Though Ivan spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area, he did grow-up in the shadow of the Montana Rockies and wrote extensively from that experience. One of his best known books was This House of Sky. It was a memoir of his Montana youth that became a finalist for the National Book Award.

Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM
Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM

Western Childhood

Ivan Doig was born in 1939 in White Sulfur Springs, not too far from the Big Belt Mountains and the state capitol at Helena. He grew up in a family of homesteaders and ranch hands. His mother died at age six, so after that tragic event, Ivan was raised by his father and grandmother. Soon thereafter they moved north to a different part of the state, where the family’s main occupation was sheepherding. Doig stayed in Montana until educational pursuits drew him away from the state, first to Northwestern University in Illinois and finally to the University of Washington, where he obtained an advanced degree in American history. Ivan would remain in Washington for the rest of his life.

Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author
Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author

Last Bus To Wisdom

Even though Ivan Doig just passed away, there still is one more book on the way. The novel is called Last Bus To Wisdom and it will not be officially released until August of this year. The publisher is Riverhead Books and this autobiographical story revolves around an eleven-year old boy from Montana, who is sent to the Midwest to stay with some friends of his caretaker, a middle-aged woman, who needs to undergo an emergency medical operation.

The visit to Minnesota does not go well and soon the boy from Montana is back on the bus home with a surprise companion. This posthumous traveler’s tale falls in line with a lot of the western tales that Ivan wrote during his lifetime and should consolidate his well-deserved reputation as one of the best Western storytellers of the 20th century. The book is definitely on my reading list for this year.

 

Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author
Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author

February Is Black History Month

A primitive-style painting by W.H. Johnson of WWII soldiers, Training for War
A 20th century painting by W.H. Johnson of WWII soldiers, Training for War. William Henry Johnson was an African-American painter, who studied modernism in NYC and Paris, where he developed his popular primitive style.

Monthly Themes

Nowadays, it seems that every month of the year has at least several attached themes that are designed to inspire the enlightened person to take at least a small glimpse outside the world, which surrounds them. February is no exception, for this winter month has several themes associated with it. February is Children’s Dental Health Month, Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Month, Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, Senior Independence Month, National Bird-feeding Month and last but not least is National Condom Month. Nonetheless, by far the most widely known theme for this, the shortest month of the year is Black History Month.

The Slave Ship was done by the English painter, JWM Turner, in 1840 during the heyday of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Based on the real life event, whereabouts an English sea captain through over a hundred slaves overboard on a trans-Atlantic voyage  to the New World, this piece of art helped raise awareness to the horrors of the booming business of importing African slaves to the Americas.
The Slave Ship was done by the English painter, JWM Turner, in 1840 during the heyday of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Based on the real life event, whereabouts an English sea captain through over a hundred slaves overboard on a trans-Atlantic voyage to the New World, this piece of art helped raise awareness to the horrors of the booming business of importing African slaves to the Americas.

Black History

No matter how you look at it, Black History is inevitably linked to slavery. Even though African slaves had been brought to Europe and other places before Columbus,
the transatlantic travels of the great explorer opened the door for the slave trade. Beginning in 1502, Portuguese
and Spanish ships routinely carried slaves from Africa to the New World. Even though black slavery in America
ended in 1863, the aftereffects and legacy of this human condition still carries on into the present. And this is the essence of American black history.

Barrack Obama was the first black president elected to the White House. He took the oath of office in 2009 and will leave the White House in January 2017.
Barrack Obama was the first black president elected to the White House. He took the oath of office in 2009 and will leave the White House in January 2017.

Beyond Slavery

There is a lot more to Black History than just slavery, especially if you consider that the Emancipation Act was passed just over a 150 years ago.
Since then, the essence of Black History has been about urban migration, de-segregation of the schools, voting rights, equal pay and fair housing.
Also of importance, has been the individual accomplishments of various individuals from the black community. This includes not only politicians,
like our current president, but also, a long list of athletes, actors, musicians, visual artists and authors.

Writing A Story About Black History

Anybody can write a story about Black History. Mark Twain explored new ground with his colorful 19th century
story of Huck Finn and Jim (a runaway slave) and their journey down the mighty Mississippi. Their journey did not end in freedom for Jim, but the struggles
of the two vagabonds has captured the hearts and minds of many readers, ever since the novel was first published in 1884. Since then many literary works,
songs and films have dealt with the sensitive subject of race relations in America. A list of other such classics, viewed from a white viewpoint might include
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Go Down Moses by William Faulkner and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In fact, February might be a good month to read one of these classics, but don’t stop here for there are many books that have been published
over the years that deal with this important subject.

What’s New for 2015

Vela Supernova Remnant  Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC  (Central European Deep Sky Imaging)Team - Processing: Wolfgang Leitner
Vela Supernova Remnant
Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC (Central European Deep Sky Imaging Conference) Team – Processing: Wolfgang Leitner

Welcome To 2015

It’s now 2015,  hard to believe isn’t it? Here in Montana we are in the midst of a four-day snow event. One that should leave us with at least a foot of snow. So far, the first two days have quite snowy and the total accumulations should hold up. Around the world, Indonesian planes are still crashing, the Russian economy is in deep doo-doo and American politics are still deadlocked….And as always, things are changing for the Indie writer and self publisher. Here’s what new for the self-published and ebook writer.

Amazon

Big changes are up and about at Amazon. On the up-side Amazon Studios is releasing new shows and films via online streaming, thus creating new markets for writers. Interested writers with a good script can apply directly to Amazon Studios and if you make it all the way through the final cut, the end result og having your little sitcom shown by Amazon can be quite lucrative.

On the down side, the Kindle Select Program is being diluted by Kindle Unlimited, so Indie authors are not making as much per boook sale. Authors with books priced higher are particularly hard hit by this new development. (The one beneficiary here would be those making sales at $0.99 cents. Since the paypout is still above one dollar, they gain by selling through KU. But not if the KU price keeps dropping…..which may become a reality.)

The Indie Field

Just because Amazon is cozying up to the Big Boys, this does not mean that the Indie Field is crumbling. There still are many ample opportunities out there, especially for those writers with a very good written, product and a good sense for how the market is changing. One thing to note is that ebook sales may not be showing the explosive growth potential that they did in the recent past. In fact, it is highly unlikely that there be another growth period than the one that we have most recently seen……Unless of course you come up with the next Harry Potter or Shades of Gray.

It’s Still A Great Time To Be a Writer

Despite some ominous signs, it’s still a great time to be a writer. Good reads are being released all the time and with a little bit of skill and a lot of perseverence you could be a writer that reaches a mass audience in a meaningful way.

My Goals

I have quite a few goals for this year. We’ll see how they turn out in about twelve months or so.

1. Finish my half-completed novel and submit the manuscript to agents. (I love the second part of this goal.)

2. Write another screenplay. (The writing part is fun and easy, but oh tell me how do you sell one.)

3. Keep blogging at least once a week. (Sunday is good but I may move to Mon or Tues)

4. Continue writing short stories and flash fiction and then self-publish them as ebooks. (Self-publishing is easy, but selling stories as ebooks is getting more difficult.

5. Invest a little in marketing.

Northern Lights in Ruka, Finland     from wikipedia photo by russavia
Northern Lights in Ruka, Finland from wikipedia
photo by russavia

A Look Back at 2014

 

Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula  Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci
Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula
Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci

Good Riddance to 2014

Though 2014 has not been all that bad a year, I am more than glad to see it banished into the realms of past history. For me, as a writer, this past year has been one of great promises, all of which seem to have gone unfulfilled or turned into dead-end back alleys. All the good contacts and leads, which I had so painstakingly advanced, dissolved into nothing.

Then there was the closing of Yahoo Voices, a site which I had started to contribute to, way back when it was called Associated Content. Finally, as of this year, the site was beginning to produce some real revenue, but as soon as that begin to happen, YV closed it doors and took all articles off the web with just a 30 day warning…….2015 has to be better!

Important Literary Events of 2014

By far the most important literary event of 2014 was the ongoing feud between Amazon and Hachette. Although this dispute was settled last month, just in time for the Christmas sales, the ebook pricing agreement will affect all the large publishers, who wish to sell ebooks on Amazon.com. Another important Amazon action that will affect many self-publishing Indie authors is the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (commonly called KU) by Amazon. This decision will be especially detrimental to authors, who sell a large number of self-published ebooks  in the $2.99 to $7.99 range through Kindle Select. Stay tuned for there is more to come on this new development.

And finally there is the most recent success of The Interview, a recent Sony pictures release that depicts the death of the leader of North Korea. This is a complex story, where Sony originally eighty-sixed the movie after hacking repercussions, but later released the movie in an unique way that has made the dark comedy a smash hit around the globe.

In Passing

For me, the most notable passing has been the death of Maya Angelou, theaward-winning  African American writer, who penned such American favorites as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Also gone are Thomas Berger (author of Little Big Man), Nadine Gordimer (July’s People), Graham Joyce, P.D. James and Ralph Giordano (a holocaust surviver and author).

2014 Success Story

One of the most amazing events of 2014 was the landing of a ESA spacecraft on a moving comet. On November 12, 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft successfully landed on the Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko and immediately started beaming back pictures, such as the one below. Unfortunately, a notably 20th century problem has now disconnected the adventurous, ESA spacecraft from the planet Earth. And that problem is low batteries, which is something many of us experience all the time.

The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko  Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson
The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson

What the Future Might Bring?

image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanders
image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanderers, which was created by Eric Wernquist and Christian Sandquist and features the words and voice of Carl Sagan.

To view The Wanderers go to the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day site, here.

 

Stolen Stories

illustration by Henry Kane of North country canoeist
illustration by Henry Kane of North country canoeist

Before the Internet

Before the internet came rolling around way back when, books were an important way of discovering strange worlds that were unknown to us in our day-to-day routines, which most of us lead. And as you go further back in time, before the TV network news, movies and the color photographs, you might find that the written word had an added importance in telling people about the strange worlds that existed across the seven seas and into the interior of some of the most isolated spots on the planet. Our world would have been a whole lot poorer, if it wasn’t for the likes of such writers as Jonathon Swift, Jules Vernes, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shelley or William Shakespeare.

Cache Lake Country

For me, one of the most vivid books of my youth was Cache Lake Country, which was written by John J. Rowlands and illustrated by Henry B. Kane. I grew up in central Maryland where the winters were not so severe and not all too long. So to read about two men who spent an entire year in the North Woods of Ontario, Canada was spell-bounding to say the least. The most fascinating part of their tale was their life on snowshoes, which lasted approximately from December till April. The fact that no photographs are part of this book, only adds to the mystique of time and place, even though the manuscript was published in 1947, when cameras were well in fashion.

Stolen Stories

When I wrote Le Loup de Garou (see previous post), I borrowed from two parts of the Cache Lake book. One part of the short story is influenced by the account of a real-life lumberjack, who gets turned around on one of the coldest nights of the winter and spends most of the night outdoors attempting to gain his bearings. Finally, he comes across a lighted cabin, but not before developing a minor case of frostbite. And then there is the title, which comes from a French-Canadian legend in regards to a wolf-man type of creature that haunts the North Woods at night. So there it is in a nutshell, on how to be influenced by real life experiences, even though they might only appear in book form.

Cache lake woodlore as illustrated by Henry Kane
Cache lake woodlore as illustrated by Henry Kane

Native American Authors

Poster by TC Cannon, an
Poster by TC Cannon, an Oklahoma Native American artist, who died tragically in 1978.

American Indian Arts in the Twentieth Century

November is Native American Heritage month and so I thought that I might shine a spotlight on U.S. Native American authors, writing in the English language. I was completely unaware of the official designation until I chanced upon a table of books authored by American Indians. This small  display was located in downtown Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Public Library. By coincidence, the Institute for  American Indian Arts (IAIA) exhibition space is located just down the street. This institution is a national arts college for American Indian students, where many disciplines are taught, including creative writing.

An Overview of American Indian Writing

Though American Indian oratory has been an important part of American history for many years, creative Native American writing has been largely a contemporary phenomena. In recent years, American Indian writers have become more noticeable in the literary marketplace. Perhaps, all of this began, when M. Scott Momaday published House Made of Dawn, a short novel that achieved literary fame, when the tale of the Southwest won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. Following is a quick look at Native American writers, who are readily available in most bookstores, along with a short selection of eclectic writers, who may not be as readily available.

The Big Names

Sherman Alexie – Mr. Alexie has been writing novels for years, but when The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007, the author from the Spokane reservation in Eastern Washington was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. Most of his captivating titles are readily available in any bookstore.

N. Scott Momaday – Already mentioned for his Pulitzer Prize, Momaday is an Oklahoma native of the Kiowa nation, who has written may books of stories and fiction. Besides The House Made of Dawn, you might come across The Way To Rainy Mountain along with some of his more obscure titles in your search for Native American authors.

Louise Erdrich – Louise is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas. She has written many novels and stories about Native life in the upper Midwest and Great Plains. She also owns and operates a Native American bookstore, Birchbark Books, in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Linda Hogan – Though more obscure than the above three authors, Ms. Hogan (Chickasaw) has over the years put out an impressive array of novels, short stories and non-fiction titles. Some of her more prominent titles include Mean Spirit, Solar Storms and People of the Whale.

Leslie Marmon Silko – Leslie grew up on the edge of Pueblo society in central New Mexico in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, she would receive national acclaim for some of her stories and books. Her short story, The Man to Send Rain Clouds, received a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant shortly after the story was first published in 1969.

Lesser Known

Not all Native American writers produce written works that go on to find national distribution and acceptance. Still, that does not mean that these “lesser works” are without inspiration, merit or good storytelling. Many of these writers have found an important niche as observers of the American scene on a local or regional level. Following are a very select few taken from a much larger group that always seems to be getting bigger. Please note that only a few of the following  poets and writers work solely in the literary mode.  Many have expanded their voice to the realm music. To paraphrase one Native American poet turned performer, Roxy Gordon, “you have to go where the audience is”

Louis “Little Coon” Oliver – Louis died in 1991 and during his lifetime he only published two books. Nonetheless, his ramblings about tribal life and modern society filled with his humorous and satirical observations were enjoyed by many. Louis was born in Oklahoma, when it was still a territory and was a part of th the Muscogee Creek nation. He was ostracized by many of his tribal members for attending high school and actually obtaining a diploma.

Joy Harjo and Poetic JusticeJoy Harjo is an Oklahoma (Mvskoke Creek) poet , who after publishing several books of poetry, decided to form  a band and go on stage. Still essentially a poet, Joy often performs around the country with her musical ensemble, Poetic Justice.

Joseph Bruchac – Though a long-time resident of the Iroquois country in upstate NY, Joe comes from Vermont, where he is connected with the Abanakis. Not only has Joe written numerous articles, stories and books about the Indian life in the Northeast and elsewhere, but also he is a major organizer of Native American literature and American Indian authors. Check out his Greenfield Review Press, for a major who’s who in tribal literature.

Without Rezervation – Without Rezervation was a Native American rap group from Oakland, California. During the 90s they cut 2 CDs and achieved some notoriety as on of the few (or possibly the only) Native American rap groups. The trio consisted of Chris LaMarr, Mike Marin, and Kevin Nez. The members of this group had Native roots in California (Pit River) and Arizona (Navajo)