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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kind of flat

This has really been one of those years in my part of the Pacific Northwest. Friends who planted gardens have had to replant them two or three times. We haven't been able to till ours due to the soil being sodden and not good to break it up when like that. I am debating whether we will plant a vegetable garden. We might get a summer or then again, who knows...

The weatherman will predict a nice day and then come the clouds, drizzle or rain. Where we live in the hills, we have a kind of gray canopy overhead many days. I can't complain though given what is happening elsewhere across the globe for weather. If this is the worst we get-- drab and dreary-- we will be lucky.

Most people who have always lived here think it's been the coldest and wettest spring they ever experienced. For people who are native Northwesterners, we do pretty well even with these conditions-- although definitely do whine a lot. Some, who moved here from states with more sunshine, are thinking of moving back.

On the week-end we visited Portland's Japanese Gardens on the hill above downtown and then the Chinese Gardens right in Chinatown. Both were very enjoyable but a challenge to photograph all that green when the light was subdued which means we did not get any prize winning shots, but we loved the day and walking the paths even when it drizzled occasionally.

I'm still doing a lot of writing, did buy some bedding plants but plan to have less plants in pots this summer also. Otherwise I am kind of in a flat mood for ideas to write about here. I will take June as it comes. If something comes to me, I'll write about it. Otherwise, it might be awhile between posts. I have the grandkids coming for one of the weeks which always keeps me busy in a good way.

For those wondering what is going on with this weather, this article might be of interest-- although certainly not reassuring.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Creating beauty

"It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process." Henry James

Of all the films I had seen on Manzanar, the one thing I didn't know about was the Japanese stone gardens the internees had created. In many of the housing blocks were these gorgeous stone gardens, with ponds at the time they had been created.

They had lovely symbolisms with Zen meanings like that seeing a crane and turtle together (the shapes of the rocks) leads to longevity.

These gardens had been lost to time and the elements but began being excavated and restored in 1994-- [Landscape Gardens and Gardeners at Manzanar Relocation Center]

Where I had come to Manzanar simply for recognizing it was something for Americans to not forget, I saw a more important reminder in these rock gardens and there were many throughout the site. Man will find a way to create beauty and with his creating of it, he will find comfort. The beauty he creates will give other people joy and the benefits do not end with one generation.

It made me want to visit the Japanese gardens in Portland as soon as I can work it out and to this summer create a Japanese type rock garden here at the farm. I have a feel of it several places but there is a place nothing has ever worked well right in front of our large living room window. The farm needs the energy from it.

Especially, I would like to create a Japanese lantern with stone which although I have one out of concrete, which I spent considerable muscle and energy pulling away from the bamboo, I hadn't ever made one. I saw how beautiful a stone one would be and began to look for the right rocks to make it happen.

When I asked the ranger on duty in the bookstore if there were any books on these wonderful gardens, he said not yet, but there was someone there at the time making a documentary on them. I will look forward to seeing it if it really comes out as this is something that deserves far more attention than I have seen it get.

He then told us about another of the gardens we had not seen, which required some walking, and that some considered to be the most beautiful. When we walked into it, I will have to say it made the most beautiful photographs which are both the first and last I have here.

Several artists are famous for having been interned here and gone on to create art other places. [Henry Fukuhara] is one example who first painted there as a prisoner to pass the time.

Many paintings were on display at a small gallery-- all created at Manzanar.

It truly is an extremely inspirational, creative and beautiful place to spend time-- when it's not a prison.

Because I felt our time at Manzanar was so wonderful, I decided to put all the photos onto a Picasa site, as a combination of the place and how it impacts a person who comes there-- [Manzanar May 2011]

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Americans like to talk about how exceptional they are. It becomes a political argument how much better we are than other people-- and if you want to win a campaign, you better agree. Sometimes, though, a piece of our history reaches up to remind us that we have done some very unfair things. Yes, it's my country and I love it as much as an American, but nobody should be proud of all that it has done.

One example of that is [Manzanar], which was one of ten such camps, where during WWII, as many as 120,000 Japanese, many of them born in this country, 2/3 of them American citizens, but with the misfortune to live in one of the three western states, had their property taken and were imprisoned for no reason other than racial bigotry. If the reason was the war, then explain why Germans on the east coast weren't likewise imprisoned? It had to be revenge for Pearl Harbor; and, as usual with revenge, innocent people were the ones hurt by it.

When we came driving up U.S Route 395 in California, I had forgotten (if I knew) Manzanar was on it. I knew the name though and when we saw the National Historic Site was ahead, we turned in to learn more, to pay our respects to those who suffered here, some who died during those years when the United States referred to it as a relocation center-- euphemisms in the United States obviously aren't new.

This act was done by a Democratic president with an Executive Order. Amazing how many outrages are done that way, isn't it! It was admitted to having been a mistake with restitution offered to survivors by two Republican presidents. That pretty well says it was not a partisan issue but rather one of wronging one people out of revenge and fear from another people. We can only hope we have learned through it as we should have through Vietnam. Sometimes Americans though are pretty blind to history lessons.

For anyone who might want to think the people brought here were not like us, so it was okay, they were us. On the route you drive through the auto tour, you see where there had been a Buddhist temple but also Catholic and Protestant Christian buildings for worshipers.

When we were there, we saw Manzanar in a beautiful setting as it was a lovely early spring day in the high country. It would be not so much in the winter which lasts a long time at this elevation (3700 feet). It is a pretty valley if you don't think how it would be to be imprisoned there, having your freedom and property taken for no reason, when you were forced into small barracks with no privacy, where you were forced to work for pennies and pay for your own food with the wages, when you knew it wasn't fair, but you had to endure it.

This place was where originally there were homesteads; so the ranch remains are also on the site. Walking and driving the roads, seeing the film at its Center, the illustrative displays, led me to have even more respect for the stoicism of the Japanese people which was reinforced recently by their reaction to the horrific earthquake and tsunami with the aftermath of nuclear devastation. They really are a tough people.

So when you visit a place like Manzanar and there are other such sites, relating to more than the Japanese people, across this nation, you feel a mix of embarrassment that humans can act this way at the same time admiration for the strength of humans. There were those who came from outside to help improve the conditions in the prison. Many who saw it as wrong, but couldn't stop it, more who paid no attention to it or thought it was a good idea. When a nation (any nation) goes on a rampage, it's hard to stop it at the time. It is easy to convince the masses it's for their own good even if what they should realize is-- there could be me next time!

The inscription on the monument, created at the cemetery in 1942, means-- Soul Consoling Tower. Offerings are regularly left to show people have not forgotten. Most of the bodies (most of the dead here were cremated) were moved after the internment site closed. Six are left.

I will do one more blog for this place as it deserves it as there was something I didn't know about it and having seen several documentaries on it, I thought I had known it all.

Monday, May 23, 2011

East side of the Sierras

Because we had never driven California's east side of the Sierras, we decided we would drive up Route 395 from east of Barstow until we cut over with Route 89 on the west side of Tahoe. With the passes still closed by snow, this choice meant not going to Yosemite National Park. I hope we do that though sometime in the not so distant future.

As we drove north, I was delighted by the treasures, the beauty, the history, the surprises, and definitely want to go back. This is a little populated part of California (except I would guess during the summer). You better like winter if you want to live here. We were lucky we drove up when we did as two days later there was a snowfall that would have forced us to choose a different route north.

No captions for the following pictures. If you want to know where they are, you have to earn that-- and if you do it by going there yourself, it will be hard-earned as it's a lot of miles and some of it very curvy with more of those 10 mph curves except this time with pavement.

The photos are in sequence of how they were taken through what I consider some of California's prettiest country. And that takes some doing if you have seen California's gorgeous coastline or their wine country.

One thought kept coming to me as we'd come up over a rise and see something else that was beautiful-- our earth is unbelievably gorgeous, in so many places, and how lucky we are to live on it.

There is one more blog coming from this drive north. It deserves its own blog and actually even two...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A guest on our last day in Tucson

On our last day, we had decided to invite Darlene (isn't she cute), who writes a blog from Tucson called Darlene's Hodgepodge, to visit our home. We met Darlene twice before and missed out on enough time to do it last trip down which made us determined to work it out this time. To complicate meeting, Darlene lives about 30 miles across Tucson; so getting over there only happens on a trip like this one, when we have a lot to do, when we really really want to squeeze out the time.

Actually I had intended to also get together with another lady, who we had met at Yellowstone in September. She lives a lot closer; but a major glitch ended that possibility when I realized I had forgotten to bring my journal (along with any sandals). The sandals were replaceable (although they forced some shopping time that I begrudged). The journal was not as it had all my phone numbers and even emails of anybody I don't regularly contact. It is the first time I have gone off on any trip without either and I blame it all on us deciding to use our airplane suitcase with rollers. Change one thing and my mind goes.

Darlene is a delight and was as much a pleasure to bring to our house as I had expected. She also loves photography and watching birds; so we sat out on the patio before we had lunch out there (first one on the refinished table for under the patio cover) of grilled wild steelhead (Tucson gets excellent seafood into its stores), rice, and baked cauliflower. It was a wonderful afternoon as you can tell by the photos.

We used a self-timer for the one above and as often happens with such, it caught her with her eyes closed. It seems it always does somebody but I thought it was such a nice picture, I wanted to use it anyway.

(Darlene took the one of Farm Boss and me which she sent me after we left. Since I don't have many of us together especially not standing together, I thought I'd include it although she has it in her blog also. I am tall for a woman and don't think of him as being so much taller than me as he actually is. Maybe I am shrinking-- height-wise that is...)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tucson sculptures

Although I am most involved right now with getting over the long drive home, a major well problem on the farm that revealed itself as soon as we arrived, fencing, hay problems, and my own writing and creating those covers, I did want to write two blogs about the end of the Arizona trip, and then cover the drive back to Oregon and what was revealed along the way.

First one for Arizona, not most important, just first, came as an addition to the pool area which I absolutely loved. I had the idea that where we cannot grow plants because of not being there regularly enough to keep drip-waterers going everywhere or in places the soil has too much clay without additions of topsoil, we could get a sculpture. It ended up being three of them made from rusted metal.

Our Tucson house has always been a home with a lot of sculpture, two outside and many more inside, but up until now, they were mostly mine. I couldn't do another big one or really any large one with clay in time or even at all given the size I had in mind. So we went looking for the right thing.

What we found at a Mexican import store simply thrilled me, and I was almost tempted to bring them back to Oregon but resisted the temptation only because they so belonged in Tucson (and there wasn't room in the back of the truck). I think they set the spirit for the pool area that it hadn't had before. Farm Boss suggested we position them with one facing the rising sun and the other the setting and so they are.

The largest one is a kind of Native American Saint Francis of Assisi. The personality is not so much shaman, although it could be, as it is a man who is part of nature with the bird on his shoulder, a small leafy twig in one hand, and a staff in the other. I fell in love with it, and we took a lot of detail photos for the possibility that Farm Boss could do something like it for the farm-- if he ever has any spare time which might come in 2013 or '14 assuming the world doesn't end this week-end or December 21, 2012.

Well I guess the ending this week-end would only be for Christians of a certain sort as Rapture would take them up to heaven before the rest of us paid for our sins due to the destruction of this world-- which might come about due to the abuses of this earth which certain kinds of Christians had eagerly engaged in with their prosperity doctrines, but now are going to escape by that upward lift. No wonder that bunch has had no concern for environmental issues. Even without this newest Christian prophet claiming the end is here for them, they never did believe they'd have to stick around to deal with the consequences.

As for me, I will be with family this week-end as we will be attending a concert in which our grandchildren will be singing; so we will be gone from the farm again *shhh don't tell the cats*.

Since I don't think we'd be on any Rapture shortlist, we are likely to be returning to care for the cattle and sheep the day after the concert. Because of the problems here, we aren't likely to extend that trip beyond one night away.

I did wonder how many of those who are expecting the rapture on the week-end will have given away all of their earthly goods. I heard stories of those back when my father was a boy and they did give away all they had as they waited on a hill-- now that's faith. That doesn't mean the current ones should give up hope that this time it's not for real; and if they wish to give something nice to me, like say a lot of their money (replacing our well will be costly), why I'd be quite willing to hold it for them until I get my just rewards a little later in the year. It would be a nice parting gift, don't you think? :)

Photos are of the Tucson pool area. That tree, that looks dead right over the St. Francis's shoulder, well it is an old ironwood and it is dead. It is also precious to the creatures there as it's where the doves and quail love to land to keep watch. Actually a hawk is there sometimes also for more nefarious purposes...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

who reads romances

Probably I have lost my male readers by now and maybe a lot of the females. I do understand romance novels have a bad rap, probably about the equivalent of soap operas. Who reads them? Maybe women a lot like I was when I did.

My first romances (to read that is) came when I was in the end of grade school and began checking out from the library some of those sweet stories like Paintbox Summer by Betty Cavanna (I had forgotten the author's name but still remembered that title which led to the author).

Those books were pretty much like the little films of the time on the Mickey Mouse Club with Spin, Marty and Annette (if you aren't in your sixties at least, you probably have no idea who they were). The stories were sweet. Sex, drugs, and alcohol rarely intruded in the lives of those teens; or if they did, they were shown as negative. I was living a life a lot like those books; so they suited me for a few years.

Then in my early teens came the westerns which really were my first romance reads of an adult sort. I was as interested then in the western life as the romantic parts. The women in his stories were often learning to live a western life and toughen up. The men they were attracted to were as tough as the land.

From this came more grown up fare by authors like Frank Yerby and Ernest Hemingway (yes, he did write stories with romance even though it usually didn't end well). The romances I read during that period had history as more important than the romantic parts, and the endings might or might not have been happy.

It wasn't until I was married and I think had my first baby that I actually read my first romance novels of the bodice ripper sort which had only recently come into popularity with authors like Rosemary Rogers, and I might add were considered wicked back then. For me, those books were quite enlightening, and I went for enlightenment in a big way for awhile.

Then I realized I didn't like any where rape was romanticized or glorified which means even by the hero. For awhile I still read romances but less frequently and a bit more carefully chosen; until, boom, I lost interest in all of them.

So what do romance novels give to women like I was and those who read the romances today, the women I'd like to interest in reading mine? In the sociology studies I have seen, they are frequently read by women with high stress jobs, sound marriages, families, and a lot of pressure. The books aren't a substitute for reality but just provide a break from it.

If someone thought they are generally read by lonely spinsters at home waiting for their Prince Charming, the studies say they are not. They mostly are read by women with very active lives, most frequently satisfactorily married. They are very unlikely to have a hero like those in the books and they wouldn't want him. They are pretty satisfied with what they do have. They aren't plotting when they will run off for their dream. Like men's Tom Clancy novels, it's just a break to travel into someone else's life for a few hours where it's exciting.

For women, it's a bit like the Barbie dolls that some feminists had a fit little girls were being ruined for life if they played with them. It doesn't make those girls want to have a figure like Barbie. She just represents glamor, imagination and play. I think that's a lot of what the romance books represent-- a break from reality and not in a bad way.

Now why I have lost interest in them, well that I cannot say. I might though get interested again if the stories changed to more like the ones I am writing ;)

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Over three weeks after first considering eBooks for my manuscripts, I am still torn on the issue. For several reasons eBooks seem more desirable than trying again with publishers with one big IF-- I can figure out a way to promote them.

I have been gathering potential ideas for that although it's obviously a hard road with a lot of work which may or may not pay off with sales which can also happen with books put out by big publishing houses. The books sit on the shelf unless they are noticed. Often that is the writer's job when it's a little known author.

What I do know for sure is I am not interested in self-publishing in paperback form. I helped to get a group-published, church recipe book into the stores once. It's a lot of work and you are always having to go there, replace books that sold, check back and I only did it locally. To have gone beyond my local area would have meant it would have been a full time job. I can't imagine self-publishing romances would be anything but a nightmare.

It appears one necessity is to join local, good-sized writer groups. Have I mentioned I am not a joiner? Now I have for many years been a member of Romance Writers of America, but it doesn't require attendance at meetings. By my not going to their conferences though, I have not had the advantage of meeting editors or attending the workshops. Networking is a factor in pretty much anything, and networking is one of those things I don't like doing even if I understand its value.

The advantage for a writer in eBooks is control over cover and content. There is no doubt publishers are going for what they believe will make money which means their motive, in what they accept or the covers they want, is because it's what they believe readers want. This can lead to missing a trend or staying with it too long (think Harry Potter or vampires).

Publishers must guess what the next thing might be but are probably best at getting more of something that already was a hit. Someone putting out their own eBook is more likely to mostly be concerned with writing what they believe and making it as good as possible as there is not much money yet invested in it, less risk but possibly less gain also.

There was a story I submitted to a publishing house some years back with a supernatural aspect to the story. Basically it had a kind of monster, created by one of the characters, and the question of how to get rid of the monster. I had sent it to a house what wanted supernatural topics but not romances. The editor felt my story had too much romance for that line but liked it well enough to send it to one of the houses that had romances, who then rejected it for unbelievable supernatural element. Harry Potter burst on the scene later. In that case, I think I was ahead of a trend which for an unknown writer meant rejection.

That is the problem for a writer. Write what IS already hot and you are potentially stale and too late. Write what IS not yet hot and they can't see the potential.

Then there is or was (I haven't looked into this yet for publishing houses today) the problem of length. Mostly where I was trying to get interest, your stories had to fit certain lengths. Mine often did not. If you wrote something over 100,000 words, you could not interest a publishing house in even looking at a query and synopsis without an agent. Agents generally wanted writers who had published already.

So an eBook format gets the books out there for readers to decide for themselves while they get a considerably better deal financially from writers who are not also in print. But how does the reader find them?

From what I can tell the easiest eBooks to find are by authors who are also published on paper. They are the ones being promoted at various websites like that of Barnes and Noble. What is needed, from the aspect of the unknown writer, would be a site that reviews the 'other' books; so that the reader doesn't waste their time-- except doesn't that come right back full circle with someone between reader and material?

When I went to the used bookstore to look at covers and get an idea if what I am doing for them will look professional enough (it won't if what they are doing is the requirement), I left feeling disillusioned. Most of the romance covers look like photographs with some softening of the edges. They aren't painterly but pretty realistic. So is that what the reader wants? Or did graphic artists convince the publishers it's what sells.

And then those beefcake bodies for the men. I cannot believe women want that in a book cover but they must or would those balloon muscles be there? When I see a man all beefed up with steroid looking muscles, I figure they either spend all their time working out or are using drugs. Either is very unappealing. Real muscles coming from real work do not look like those covers.

So the digital covers, which I absolutely have loved doing, are still an issue as to whether I would attract readers to them or would they feel they were amateur and therefore the writing must be also? What can I create that will pass the 2 second test for how long I have to intrigue a potential reader before they go on?

Especially the cover design would be a problem if women really want those balloon bodies. The idea of having one of those beefcakes on a book of mine is repulsive. If I wrote about such a hero, it would be where he sees the error of his ways for caring too much about outward appearances and not enough about what was inside. If, however, I submitted a manuscript to a publisher and got it accepted, they'd be the ones determining the cover.

Creating digital covers and trying to get the feeling, the faces to fit the stories, has been challenging and stimulating; but my covers are painterly. I have chosen to use backgrounds that have an iconic element for the story, not realistic. If I wanted to meet the needs out there, could I do it? Would I be willing to do it?

While I was glancing over the covers in the romance section, I saw several women looking for books. One was on her cell phone almost the whole time as she told someone else which authors and titles were there. Definitely romance readers appear to be almost always women (you never see men looking through that section which means if they read romances, it's likely their wife's) who are loyal to a writer they have discovered. The problem is being that writer...

I did some research some years back on who reads romances. I'll write something about that next. Incidentally, I am back in Oregon and these two blogs were written while in Arizona. I am tired of driving and everything else; but will write more about the drive home after my body recuperates from the long hours on the road.

All wildflowers from Catalina State Park and the last one is theoretically not regarded well at all by cattleman-- jimsonweed which kills cows if they eat it. Pretty though.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cactus blossoms and romance

Cactus blossoms, although not relating to the story I am writing about below, are very relevant to the underpinnings of a romance. There is at first glance the beauty that is almost transcendent but around it are the thorns. No thorns, no story. A well-written romance story will be like romance itself. Grab it too tightly and it will be destroyed. There are always thorns. It doesn't last in the form it is no matter how one might wish. Lovers can try to hold onto it through words or photos but the only real place it can be held is in one's heart and through memories as it is a fleeting thing, not the forever kind.

Personally, I think, that someone who tries to hold onto romance through life is looking for a lot of disappointment as well as ignoring other things that are deeper. Now reading or writing one, that's a horse of a different color.

As I mentioned in the last blog, while in Tucson, I wanted to get typed onto the hard drive a story I had written first in the early 1970s (not sure of its initial date but it never made it onto the computer so definitely typewriter or maybe the first Atari).

What I had was text-- up to but not including the ending. I had had to look hard in Oregon to even find that much as it hadn't had a place of honor anywhere. It had never been sent to an editor to be accepted or rejected-- although as I began to read, clearly it would have been rejected two pages in if it made it that far.

Still, these characters were my creation, this manuscript was my baby, even if incomplete and shallow. I wanted all of my fiction to be on the computer as well as protected on jump drives. So I began the job of typing it while in Oregon and brought it to Tucson to finish. My writing work down here has mostly been it along with creating potential, digital eBook covers.

One question is what if, when I began to read it, the story had had absolutely no potential in my mind, would I still have done that much work? I am not sure, but I did feel the characters and the conflicts had validity. I also knew it would take a lot of digging to make it believable, to make it fit my criteria for stories I want to create today. The characters were young. Could I go that far back in my own emotional memory to make them deeper but realistic for their ages.

It's always interesting to me when I look back that far in my own fiction because I would have been not that many years older than the heroine when the story first came to me-- although I was in a very different place with two children and in a marriage. Now here I am working on it again potentially at the age of her grandmother.

The first big problem in the story was its time. With the rest of my stories, they were either historical or easily brought up to today, leaving them indefinite for when they happened. The only changes they have required related to adjustments in communication tools (boy, have those changed even in the last ten years especially for younger people).

The thing was that this particular story couldn't happen today. It reflects the attitudes of its time as well as the research I had done back then. It had to be set when I wrote it. That puts it in kind of a no-man's land as it's not historic by that criteria as they must be before 1900; but it's also not contemporary.

Still this is my story and I knew it had to be set in 1974. As I was typing it, I also was looking into what kind of music, what political events would have been part of that. Although, unless the characters are involved in politics, romances are not often political (want to start by turning off half your readers), there should be some reality to the setting, and in this country, Vietnam was a big part of the early '70s.

As I typed in the events, I saw places the characters didn't have depth nor enough interest to even keep me at it if I hadn't been the type of person who always finishes what I start. There were, however, other places I liked a lot. In this initial run-through, I enhanced the conflicts between the main protagonists, the struggles they had to face so they would have more barriers to being together than the obvious ones, and hopefully intrigue a reader, who didn't regard them as their children, for it to be worth their while to care about these people. Overall, I could relate to the events now when I am almost 68 as much as I had, and maybe even more so, than when I was around 28. There are some struggles that are classic-- okay, pretty much all of the main ones.

Down here it took me several long days at the keyboard; but I got it done, created an ending that I felt was true to the situation, created a digital eBook cover, and began to think how I could flesh this story out. I am of an opinion that a book of 62,000 words (its current length) just doesn't have enough depth, doesn't let the events unfold deeply enough, nor the characters to have the dimensions I like when I read someone else's book. It also will benefit from more development in the subplot. Right now I consider it a bit stereotyped. I think I can fix that.

At any rate, it's on the computer and that was my goal for now. Generally I like to leave stories for awhile before I work on them again. That is never a sterile time as the characters and events are always running around in the back of my mind. The next go round will be to expand the events and the character portrayals. It will require at least one more editing after that to get to where I think it flows.

In a way, it was a distraction from what I had been doing with trying to get the other stories into a place where I could see them being finished because they are much closer to that then I am. From another perspective though it was part of getting everything I had written in one place.

I am still trying to decide if eBooks is a good way to go. I do know now it's easy to get a book into eBook format. What I don't yet know is how you get anybody else to see it after it gets there...