June 18, 2017

Revisit Missouri

 A year ago, my daughters and I went to Hannibal, Missouri for a weekend. Pretty little place on earth and inspiring.  No wonder Mark Twain got ideas there.  Well worth the visit. 
Here's another blast from 2010!  Enjoy!

Sometimes it seems a writer spend all his or her time undoing cliches.
For instance, familiarity breeds contempt.
Really?  Indifference, maybe, but I’ve never found contempt for the familiar.  Not if it was truly familiar.

I was born and raised—and still live—in St. Louis, Missouri.  Most of my childhood I dreamt of being Somewhere Else.  Nothing seemed to happen in St. Louis.  It almost never came up in movies or stories (except a silly musical with Judy Garland, and how exciting could that possibly be) and it felt like all the really interesting stuff happened elsewhere.  Washington, Berlin, London, L.A.—in fact, anywhere but my hometown.
So I spent a lot of daydreaming time elsewhere, even elsewhen, and the destinations kept getting further and further away until I left the solar system altogether.
Writing science fiction seemed the ultimate in getting away from home.
But like all cliches, the truth is something else.  Contempt can stem from a facile, preconceived, assumed familiarity born of disinterest, of not taking the time or trouble to become honestly familiar with a place or a person.  It’s a pose, an excuse, a way to say you’re more dazzled by what you can’t have, by what is too far away or removed to allow you to become familiar with it...which allows a kind of laziness that masquerades as sophistication, of cool, of unearned cosmopolitanism.
The more I write, the more I find myself writing about St. Louis.  Even the science fiction.

One of my earliest stories, Reveleven, was set in St. Louis, though the city is not named.  But my first novel starts forty-odd light years away and then, presaging my own literary journey, came inexorably home to Earth.  Compass Reach, which was short-listed for the Philip K. Dick Award, ended with action in Istanbul.  Perhaps too close for comfort, since my next novel, Metal of Night, stayed well away from Earth.  But the next one in my Secantis Sequence repeated the homeward voyage with a return to Earth.  But Peace & Memory promptly left home again for farther fields.
In the meantime, I tried my hand at police procedural and wrote a novel set in the near future, about F.B.I. and Treasury agents working together to solve a mystery set in...St. Louis.  It felt simpler to do it that way.  I never intended to stay.  Realtime was just a short visit home, a brief stop on my way to more interesting places.
 But it seems that once I started really looking at my home town, the more interesting it became, and suddenly I found myself setting my next—my current---project, an alternate history, right here, in St. Louis.  But a St. Louis that might have been, a maybe city had certain historical occurrences not taken place.  What if Napoleon had never sold Jefferson all this land?  What if the United States had ended at the Mississippi?  What then?
That’s the sort of thing you do in science fiction, you ask those maybe questions and try to answer them, not to be predictive—prediction has never been what science fiction is about and it has a terrible track record—but just to entertain the notion of other possibilities, systems in flux, the why of things.  It’s what I enjoy about the genre and I no longer feel compelled to find distant cities, alien climes in which to set stories.  (Samuel R. Delany has said that no matter where his stories have been set, on distant worlds, far in the future, in other dimensions, he’s always writing about his home town, New York.  I understand that now.)
Once I started looking at my city and learning about it—becoming genuinely familiar with it—I found any shred of contempt vanishing.  Familiarity has done the opposite for me, made me more appreciative, respectful, and interested.  So I’ve written a historical set in the earliest days of St. Louis.  Not science fiction, at least not overtly (but go back in time and treat an era honestly, try to tell me you aren’t visiting another world, with aliens and exotic locales), but a sketch of our beginnings.  St. Louis began as a village, and for nearly three decades was home to a thousand people.  Not until Americans began arriving in the aftermath of the Revolution did the population start to increase dramatically.  In some ways, that village is still here, at the core of the many layers that have been added since 1763.  At one time St. Louis was the fourth largest metropolis in the country...and then, as if traumatized by the possibilities that implied, shock by its own boldness, St. Louis drew a sharp line around itself and cut itself off from expansion.  The county around it continued to grow, but St. Louis has become a kind of pocket city, an enclosed rete of associations grown from a long history of involuted transformations from village to metropolis to civic palimpsest.
Once I began seriously to write, I discovered Missouri’s literary heritage, which is considerable.  Obviously, Mark Twain, but also Kate Chopin, Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, Robert A. Heinlein, among many others.  Names to conjure with.  It seemed a good place to be from (and as Vincent Price once famously remarked “Isn’t everyone from St. Louis?”) and as good a place as any to work in and write about.
Like my characters, I once thought to relocate, live somewhere more interesting.  But I am less and less inclined these days, having finally recognized what my home possesses.  All journeys start from home.  The best ones return us there.  Having returned, we may find that we never really knew the place.
Please visit Mark’s Website http://www.marktiedemann.com   As a multidimensional artist of the written word and photograph, his talent is worth exploring.

June 11, 2017

Authors in Mississippi Have the Benefit of a Great Writers Group

In my search for a Mississippi representative, I came across this beneficial group.

Mississippi Writers Guild ,  Incorporated November 2005, has steadily worked towards building its membership and community involvement in the arts and education within Mississippi.

One of MWG's goals is forming chapters throughout Mississippi with a chapter head spearheading each group according to the needs of the writers in that area.  

Annual membership dues allow MWG Members to link from the MWG website to their personal website,  give membership discounts on all MWG events as well provided scholarships to students pursuing a career in a literary field.

MWG sponsors writer workshops, conferences and writer retreats.

MWG partners with public and private schools to assist in literacy skills and to provide literary outlets, events, and activities for all students. Mississippi Writer Guild also provides outlets in the community with events and activities for adult outreach literacy programs.

They act as a voice for literary artists and striving to integrate literary arts into community/state art programs and events.

http://www.mississippiwritersguild.com/about.html is the place to go to learn more. 

Be sure to check out the information on their upcoming Writers Conference  August 25th and 26th in Jackson, Mississippi.  The list of guest speakers is impressive and, from my experience with writers guilds, the benefits of attending an organized conference by writers are well worth the small conference fee.  
(all material downloaded from http://www.mississippiwritersguild.com)

June 4, 2017

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes-Resident, Laura Vosika

So our license plates tell us. But that’s only because Land of 11,842 Lakes More than Ten Acres and More if You Count All the Smaller Lakes Plus 6,500 Miles of Streams and Rivers lacks that poetic flow—in addition to not fitting so well on a license plate!

I was born in Minnesota, but within six months had moved (or, being an infant, been moved) to Germany, where I stayed for more than five years. Life in the military followed, but we frequently traveled back to Minnesota for holidays, and weeks before I started 7th grade, moved to Duluth, on the southern tip of Lake Superior.  I've traveled a fair amount and I still find the North Shore one of the most beautiful places on earth.

I spent high school in the Twin Cities, left for college and the west coast, and finally moved back here in 2004.
Minnesota sits at a crossroads between the older original states and the wild west. While our history, unlike the East Coast where I spent some of my childhood, doesn’t stretch back to the Revolutionary War, we do have history here: the North West Company Fur Post http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/north-west-company-fur-post which takes us back to 1804, Fort Ridgely http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/fort-ridgely with its Civil War re-enactments, and Fort Snelling http://www.historicfortsnelling.org/ just minutes from the airport, which has re-enactments along with a national military cemetery. Duluth https://downtownduluth.com/about/history.php, home to the world’s largest, farthest-inland freshwater port, was once home to some of the wealthiest families in the country, as shipping boomed in the late 1800s.

Culturally, the Twin Cities has a great deal to offer. We have the Minnesota Orchestra, the Jungle Theater, the Guthrie, and for writers, the Loft, Rain Taxi http://www.raintaxi.com/ and numerous other venues.

In my time-travel saga, The Blue Bells Chronicles, Shawn Kleiner, a notorious, young classical musician who has risen to international stature, known as much for his partying, drinking, and womanizing as for his music, hails from Minnesota—Maple Grove, to be exact, where my writers’ group meets and where I teach music lessons every Wednesday. He grew up on the lakes with his father, sailing and swimming, doing polar plunges for charity, and likely skating, skiing, and doing some ice fishing. Yes, we cut holes in the ice here and fish in the middle of winter!

Being in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, he would have also grown up surrounded by cultural and musical opportunities. He may have studied music at MacPhail and played in both the Minnesota Youth Symphony https://www.mnyouthsymphonies.org/ and the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies (which I myself did until The Day They Both Had Concerts at the Same Time...but that’s a different story.)

The history Shawn learns throughout The Blue Bells Chronicles, however, is a far cry from Minnesota, as he ends up in medieval Scotland, mistaken for Niall Campbell, Highland warrior, fighting wars with Robert the Bruce and the Good Sir James (or...the Black Douglas as the English have ever since called him.) When Niall—who apart from his looks is as different from Shawn as a man can be—and Shawn meet, they are not terribly impressed with each other.

However, in addition to time travel, adventure, and history, Blue Bells is a story of redemption. While Shawn loves water, Niall’s experience with it is seeing his older brother drown in Loch Ness, on the shore of which his castle home, Glenmirril, sits. Niall’s phobia is seen throughout the five books of the saga; Blue Bells of Scotland, The Minstrel Boy, The Water is Wide, Westering Home, and The Battle is O’er (due out this coming December.) That, and Shawn’s ease on the water—a love learned right here in Minnesota—play into the end of the series.

I currently live in the Minneapolis suburbs with five of my nine children, three cats, and an Irish Wolfhound, reminiscent of the Laird’s great hunting hounds. You can find a great deal of the History Behind the Story at my blog http://bluebellstrilogy.blogspot.com where I post articles on Scotland, medieval history, time travel, and the music of the book, along with posts on the craft of writing and guest posts from other authors.

With that, I’m offering a $10 gift card to Amazon or a signed print copy of one of my books. Check out my work with any of my links in this post and comment here to be entered. Remember to leave a way to find you so we can contact you when you win!

I also host Books and Brews with Laura Vosika on 950 AM here in the Twin Cities, and am a founder of Emmanuel’s Light www.emmanuelslight.com and www.emmanuelslight.wordpress.com, a photographers’ cooperative.
Read my full bio on my blog listed above. 
My books can be found in print or various e-book formats.

Blue Bells of Scotland: http://amzn.to/2buiWBV
The Minstrel Boy:http://amzn.to/2b20AqH
The Water is Wide:http://amzn.to/2blfZ6a
Westering Home:http://amzn.to/2a244vZ

(Info provided by author: Food and Feast in the World of the Blue Bells Chronicles: http://amzn.to/2dW3kZ6)

May 28, 2017

Flash Back to 2011: Michigan, My Michigan by Jane Toombs

In case you’re not aware, Michigan has always been separated into two peninsulas. A ferry was the only connection until they did the impossible--built the Mackinac Bridge over the Straits of Mackinac where the waters of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. The Mighty Mac, as we call the bridge, led to those of us in the Upper Peninsula to be called Yoopers. Those below in the Lower Peninsula naturally became Trolls.

Back when the states were setting boundaries, Lower Michigan did not want the UP, they wanted Toledo. At the time Michigan was becoming a state, so was Ohio--who also claimed Toledo. In its wisdom, the federal government chose to give Toledo to Ohio and Michigan got the mostly unknown-at-that-time, and certainly unwanted by the new state--the Upper Peninsula. As a result, those of us who live up here have often felt like unwanted stepchildren as far as tax money goes.
While Lower Michigan has some beautiful areas, all of the Upper Peninsula is beautiful. From our ubiquitous woods to pristine Lake Superior beaches, to the Porcupine Mountain State Park stands of virgin hemlock, it’s truly a much underused vacation spot.
Think all weather fishing, hunting and skiing in the Porkies, a nickname given parks. My tiny village even has a golf course. Then there are the water sports. Swimming, boating, kayaking and romantic walks on sandy beaches christened by long northern evenings and camping near a driftwood fire and toasting marshmallows with a group of friends is a common.

The Lower Peninsula has Lake Michigan on one side and Lake Huron on the other while the UP has Lake Superior and the north shore of Lake Michigan, plus a tiny part of Lake Huron. If you’ve never seen the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, you’ve missed an awesome experience.

Oh, the food! Michigan residents bake delicious pastries. The Cornish brought them when they came to work in the copper and iron mines. The Finns arrived and their wives improved the pastries by adding carrots and rutabaga. Between the mines and the logging, men from every nation in Europe came for work bringing their delectable recipes with them.

For history buffs, there are remarkable mines to visit. We also have lots of lighthouses and almost every town has a historical society which includes lighthouse tours.

You can’t take a trip to Michigan without visiting Mackinac Island in the Straits or you’ve missed a great historical experience. Owned by the French, the British, briefly by England and finally the United States, this powerful defense now stands as reverence to history adding even more beauty an island now famous for fudge. I’m a Yooper and the Upper Peninsula is so special to me that I use it for many of my book settings covering a variety of genres.

From my paranormal romance stories like North of Nonesuch, an anthology, to my gothic suspense romances, like Null and Void or my Darkness of Dragons trilogy, and my releases coming this year, I’ve penned a record number of works. Perhaps the amount of books I’ve written lately is be due to winters in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula being too cold and snowy for this old bat to get out much. Whatever the case, I’m a prolific and eclectic writer, which means I have lots of books coming out every year in all sorts of genres--I haven’t branded to just one so I write something for everyone’s reading taste.

While I was growing up in the UP, praise was always enthusiastically given to me for good work but bragging was discouraged. Overcoming this ingrained behavior has made it difficult to promote my talent and say, “Hey, look everybody, I have a new book out. And is it good!” A sweet romance set in Alaska, Two Hearts And A Crow; a suspense romance novella coming out in a Christmas anthology plus two ghost novellas Taken In and Shadow On The Floor are just a few of my completed projects releasing this year.

You can check out my bio and all my work at my web site: http://www.janetoombs.com/

Thanks to Jane Toombs for the reprint of this article from 2011 
Click on her weblink for more information on her work.