Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Well it weren't akchewally the car that edited the book.  It were me setting for three hours at the shop waitin' fer the mighty Cobalt to git her wheels aligned, so she don't crab down the road sideways no more.

I copy edited 1/3 of my latest detective novella because there was sweet f-all to do at the shop but plunk away at the laptop. At home I have a passel of distractions: internet porn (honest, Mom, I was looking for pictures of brasiers for a report I'm doing for school on how the Romans roasted wieners in the olden days and I got all these pictures of women in their underwear.), my dog whining to go our or come in or to play fetch, the cookies in the freezer shouting my name and pleading "Eat me! Eat me!", a toilet that needs cleaning, the radio warning that the stocks I am too poor to own are going down the toilet (probably the same unsanitary bowl in my back room) and the sofa with her soft pillows who is whispering "Come sleep with me, Big Boy." in her husky dusky voice. No, I have too many distractions at home to concentrate on editing.


My plan is to book appointments with several medical specialists each week and sit in their waiting rooms for hours on end writing and editing. God knows, at my age, my GP will believe damned near anything  is wrong with me I tell her it is wrong with me. Maybe I can even get the time to write more interesting blogs, if I sit long enough in enough waiting rooms.

PS, Dear Blog:

Heard the Ontario three party debate last night as I was baking chocolate chip cookies for the Ilderton fair. I don't know who won, but I know who lost--the people of Ontario.  Still, a lot of people died for your right to vote, so I say, "Vote early and vote often." I'm gonna...

Monday, September 26, 2011


Bet you didn't think self-employed people got sick. Bet you didn't think they got sick days.  Well, we get 'em; we just don't get paid for 'em.

Looking at the above drawing ( I did it all by myself) you will never wonder why I chose writing and photography over drawing and painting as my means of artistic expression.

Just in case no one reads this, I will express my wishes to myself for a speedy recovery. GET WELL, JIM!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Thirteen hours on Thursday and seven yesterday, e-mailing and Facebooking individuals with invitations to buy my books--particularly Surfing Vietnam.  The results, so far as I can tell, is one book sold. Today I am developing an e-mail group list to send out a group e-mail pitching my books. I got up to the letter "c" in my list of 1450 business contacts.

And I am not discouraged, perhaps because I know selling e books is a marathon and not a sprint. The fact that I have sold 20 books on-line in a month is encouraging. There are cases of first-time authors who only sold that many in the first three months, who have gone on to make a good living or even to "clean up"selling books on-line.

I have a firm belief that Surfing Vietnam is a timely, well-writtten and edited, amusing, and very grittily real morality tale and coming of age saga.  It is worthy of success and so am I;  it is just a matter of getting enough copies out (particularly with reviews) on Kindle to start the snowball rolling downhill. My checkered past (and the clever "lies" I tell about my past in Surfing Vietnam) is now where I am placing my hopes for the future. It is the only pension plan I have.

Back to the grind...

Friday, September 23, 2011


 On our trip down Highway 61 along the Mississippi to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, we stopped at the largest archeological site north of Mexico--Cahokia, a village of 15,000 or more N'amerinds dating back about a thousand years. There are mounds there, the largest of which is shown in the photo above. It took centuries to build. The people who built it had to carry dirt from a fair distance away in wicker baskets--one 55 pound load at a time, climb the pile and dump it. I doubt the citizens of Cahokia carrying those baskets were whistling while they worked, more likely, the citizens were listening to the whistling of the lash. Ordinary working-class natives had better things to do than dump dirt because they lived in a very primitive agricultural society that plowed the fields with sharpened sticks and ground corn with rocks. Dumping dirt was probably not viewed as "recreation".

In one particularly telling burial mound (and forgive me if I get the exact numbers wrong), the Chief was buried along with a few hundred ritually murdered servants and a few dozen girls from 15 to 25, also ritually murdered, to keep up his standard of living in the next world and to keep him from getting horny in his cold grave. He also was buried with 1,200 (!) perfect (!) arrowheads, bushels of shaped and punched seashell "coins" and bushels of mica. No one told him that you can't take it with you.

These were not nice people, or at least their form of government was not nice. For the working classes, it was a life of slave labor in this world piling us up dirt and creating surpluses for the ruling clan to flaunt and more slave labor in the "next world" to keep the Chief and his clan happy--even after death. "Noble savage" is a stupid white man's term that is only half accurate. The word "savage" by itself would suffice.

And although no one knows the exact reason this civilization collapsed after a few hundred years, the best speculation points to exhausting the farm land, internal strife and external wars--none of which fit any definition of "noble". These things sound like the very things that are collapsing our civilization--just plain savagery. People have not changed. 1000 years has not produced any measurable moral evolution in Homo sapiens .

Where there are surpluses, as there are in most social orders beyond the nomadic hunting and gathering orders, the aggressive minority will grab the surplus, create slaves and take their surpluses to the grave with them, leaving the working classes with baskets of dirt.

Savages...  Still savages...

Thursday, September 22, 2011


These are the faces of the three brave men who sailed down the length Mississippi River (by car) and landed in the pagan lands of New Orleans. The hazards they faced on Highway 61 (revisited) were without number, but the most challenging of them all was being confined with each other in car, motel room, tent, bar, for 24 hours a day bumping into each other's lunacy. Two painters and a poet--all too damned verbal and too damned stubborn and too damned smart to agree on anything. One overtly aggressive, one passive aggressive, and one cannily waiting in the wings to take the field when the two aggressive ones exhausted themselves. (No, I will not name names.)

The battle of the Mississippi is over now with no clear winner. (Men always count coup.)

While I was taking 192 voice notes and 155 camera notes for my next novel due out in 2013, Canada Post delivered a VISA bill, a Master Card bill, an American Express bill, a credit card processing bill, a Bell bill, a library fine, and a parking ticket from Keokuk, Iowa.  Reality sucks... The reality of being an artist really sucks. Maybe someone out there will buy a futures contract on the novel. Ya think?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


On the road, falling in love by text message, taking notes for a book that does not exist, seeing the graves of 13,000 unknown soldiers killed by their own countrymen at Vicksburg, in the First Civil War only 82 years before I was born, (a single man’s life span), walking over the pyramidal burial mounds at Cahokia, evidence of a complex culture that flourished and then mysteriously disappeared while Europe was drowning in the murky backwater  of the Middle Ages, the heedless hedonism of New Orleans night life, (“Show us yer tits; show us yer tits!”), fast food, slow traffic, big cities and small towns—some dead and some dying, endless fields of corn, cotton and bean, serviced by giant green and red combustion beasts spewing chemicals and belching diesel, and the road, and the road—always the road, unwinding in front of the plastic dash asking questions and giving no answers—Casino America: pull the handle for health care, pull the handle for jobs, pull the handle for pensions. In Casio America, The House always wins, but the elderly, the dispossessed, the poor in spirit, dragging little green oxygen tanks of discontent, pack the Casino America and stuff the flashing, blinking clanging machines with their coins of desperation.

Surveillance surveillance  everywhere: on highways, in stores, inside gumment buildings, outside gumment buildings, in parking lots, on street corners, at rest stops, at scenic overlooks (lookin’ at the lookers) , in churches and schools, in cop cars and bars. Ya better not pout,;ya better not cry; ya better not shout; I’m telling you why: gubberment is filming the town.

To quote Dennis Allen Ruen, who took the picture above and is seen with his camera in the rearview mirror, “I couldn’t imagine a better vacation.” To quote Carl Homstad, sitting in the passenger seat in the photo above, commenting on the above paragraphs, “That’s a pretty negative view, Jim, but it’s all true, sorta.”

Back to Canada tomorrow, where I will pick up my optimism at the border and return to Walden, pull the handle, and write a book or two.

credit Carl Homstad

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Photo by Carl Homstad
Street musicians on Bourbon Street... 
panem et circenses

The photo below is the reason why the US should get rid of Food Stamps, Medicaid, Social Security and every other social program.. It strips people of the pride that can only come from self-reliance and initiative and results in a disdain for keeping up their property and in extreme cases even extends to not caring about their personal appearance.  Out of decency, I did not choose to post any photos showing how terribly unfashionably dressed were the citizens of this neighborhood. Yuk!

The photo below illustrates the value of continuing to tax the upper brackets at the lowest rate in 30 years. These people know how to keep up their property and deserve to be rewarded for it. They also dress well, and are not an eyesore in public. Yes!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


We are in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Robert Johnson wrote Crossroads Blues about big Tommy Johnson meetin' the Devil at the crossroads of Highway 61 and 49 in this town.  The Devil tuned Tommy's guitar so he could play any song he wanted in return for his soul.  The lyric goes " Sun goin' down boy, dark gon' catch me here". 

One day's running to New Orleans, this is where the plot of my book, Highway 61 Revisited turns. This is where the relationship that has been "going south" for days finally arrives in the South.

Clarksdale is two hours south of another town we visited, Blythville, AK, the most frightening town we have encountered on 61, officially designated the "Blues Highway".Blythville is in the middle of a rich agricultural region and surrounded by five operating steel mills, yet the town's population has dipped from 15K to 13K in recent years. The 6 block traditional downtown street and all the side streets running off it are filled with run-down storefronts, 2/3's of them empty of commerce. Broken windows... Stained brick...

What is even sadder is that the town tried and failed to revitalize its center. It turned the downtown street into a curvy pedestrian mall with the odd fountain here and there, planters,  historic murals and gay flags on the lampposts. At the beginning and end of the six block strip there are ornate iron arches over the road.

And the town died. Its death witnessed by three storefront evangelical churches...  And five steel mills operated by robots... 

Photo above taken at The Crossroads

Photo below taken in Blythville.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Moline, Illinois, home of the John Deere company, formerly the Waterloo Boy Gasoline Engine Company was the first stop on our trek to New Orleans on Highway 61 (Revisited).  There were tours of school kids sitting on the floor of the Deere Pavilion listening attentively to the slick, but folksy, company interpreters telling them about the challenges the Deere Company faces in building more modern and more efficient agricultural equipment to meet the nutritional needs of a growing world population, amid the showroom full of shiny new green steel beasts.

Tomorrow morning we will visit the 11th Century Native American City of Cahokia, which in its time was  larger than London, England, only to disappear for no known reason. It was an agricultural community.

And for no known reason someone stuck a Vietnam-era Huey Gunship out in a corn field in southern Iowa. (photo below). It reminds me (and should remind you) that my major new novel, Surfing Vietnam, is now available on my sales site and will be on Amazon Kindle and many other retail e-book sales sites tomorrow or the next day,

Photos of Cahokia tomorrow! 

......The Wilderness of Wisconsin

On Highway 61 Revisited, the three of us visited the wilds of Wisconsin inside the Cabela's Outlet in Prarie du Chien, Wisconsin.  (Photo Above). We also visited the Cathedral of St. Paul. (Photo Below)

Cabela's was crowded, and the cathedral was not.  Weekday, I guess...

We also explored the hidden caves of Potosi. In them we discovered a secret cache of ale--an ale that embodied the wildness and energy of the  Wisconsin Wilderness with the structure and symmetry of the Cathedral of Saint Paul, integrating our earlier experiences on Highway 61 in an unexpectedly satisfying  manner. This brew blended both the bitter and the sweet into a foamy amber fusion that both excited and and satisfied (Mysterium Coniunctionis) in a way  that few of man's lesser creations can.  (Photo Below)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Many Voices

My book is coming together as we drive south to the Gulf along the Mississippi. We are only just north of Lacrosse, Wisconsin now, about the same latitude as London, Ontario with 5 or 7 days driving to New Orleans.  But the book is writing itself. It is writing itself as a debate between its two principle characters— a bad device.

We visited three “sculpture” gardens: the first was the vanity creation of a capitalist factory owner. It was a “walk of war” about a quarter mile long with memorials to every conflict the US started since the War of Independence, ending with a big smiling bronze of George H. W. Bush winning the First Gulf War.  The horror of this “walk of war, was that Bush was only at the half-way point, leaving about 1/8 of a mile of sidewalk empty for future wars.

We then went on to a “natural sculpture garden” with huge rocks and cracked rocks and broken rocks and potholes in rocks and magnificent bluffs overlooking raging rapids. God was having a jolly good laugh when she made this patch of geology.

The third garden was in a huge field surrounding an art school for sculptors—a wacky weird and wild collection of nearly fifty whimsical creations by the students and faculty. The pieces challenged our preconceived notions about damned near everything—floating houses, black boxes, cast-iron canoes and animals with too many legs or none at all. The photo above is of a student piece I called the Tower of Babel—hundreds of old boom boxes piled up to heaven playing the voices of local Minnesotans among selected songs.

We visited the St. Paul’s Cathedral in St. Paul, which, if memory serves me well, rivals or surpasses the magnificence, grandeur and even the size of Notre Dame in gay Paree.  From there, our next stop was the Treasure Island Casino, which, if memory serves me well, rivals or surpasses the tawdriness, glitz, sadness and abandonment of hope of the Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas.  I won $7.72 and Carl won $5.25. Dennis ate a chocolate cookie that cost $1.50. Winners! Winners! Winners! On the way to New Orleans…

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pie and Politics

Today is the beginning of day three of my trip down the Great Mississippi River on Highway 61, seeking colour for my fifth novel, truth, and the heartbeat of America. I am almost at the headwaters and about to head south.

So far I have discovered a Norwegian pie shop with 40 kinds of pie. I have also discovered optimism about the future of America. The two guys I am traveling with are ardent left-wing radical Americans (about as far left as the Federal Conservative Party of Canada or Norway), and they see freedom and inventiveness and the young as the forces that will pull the Yankee fat out of the fire  into which the corporatist/militarist conspiracy (that Eisenhower warned Americans about in his farewell speech)  have thrown it. The crisis, they both agree is caused by widening income disparity. And the artist in whose house we are staying tonight, agrees. A country of the rich, by the rich and for the rich will not soon prosper.

But all these guys have hope.  This cynical Canadian hopes they are right.

(The pie is a pecan cream cheese pie.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Highway 61 Revisited is the working title of my fifth novel. I am headed out on the road for a few weeks to do research for it--actually traveling on the same road made famous in the 1965 Bob Dylan album of the same name. US 61 used to go from Thunder Bay, Ontario to New Orleans following the Mississippi River. Of course in Canada it was not a US Highway. It now only runs from just north of Minneapolis/St. Paul to the Gulf of Mexico.  Part of it was consumed by Interstate 35.

My friend the insightful and gifted  Iowa painter and printmaker, Carl Homstad and I will travel this two-lane blacktop,  inhaling the sights and sounds of the old towns along the Big Muddy--he for ideas for paintings and me for atmosphere for the book.  We will both be doing a lot of photography, and I will be taking verbal and written notes. We will spend our evenings in little working class beer bars picking up on the mood of that sad, angry divided country.

I intend my book to be about a love affair between a washed up writer and his much younger photojournalist fiance that "goes south" during a trip down 61, interwoven with the working-class political observations of the people who live along the river, spiced with all the visual and sensory richness of America's heartland at the end of the summer of 2011.

The book and the love affair will end in New Orleans, a town emblematic of a failing political culture that is still unable or unwilling to reconstruct this iconic place, battered by Katrina and gut punched again by the oil spill.

This will be the biggest and richest project I have undertaken to date, and I will be lucky to finish it in less than a year. I will still be continuing to write my Max and Molly Murder Mystery Series during the year, as this series, I believe, has some real commercial potential.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

FIRST KISS--Deconstructing the writing process

Follow along.  I'll supply numbers to make it easier.
#1.  I heard a CBC Radio One documentary soundscape on "the first kiss".
# 2. I enjoyed my first kiss with a woman recently.
#3. I re-encountered a woman on Facebook with whom I shared my first  first kiss at the age of 8.
#4. I had an experience recently connected to my writing (the nominal subject of this blog) that thrilled me like a first kiss; I sold my first books on Amazon this week--even some in England!
#5 I saw a Woody Allen film last night the subject of which was making a film. It was called Melinda and Melinda. 

It was #1 through #4 that gave me the idea of what to write in this blog and also supplied the material about which to write.  But it was #5, the film about making a film, that gave me the blueprint of how to build this blog.

Books about writing books (my second novel, How to Kill Your Wife, is about writing a book), films about making films and songs about writing songs are well known to all of us. Bogging about blog writing seemed an easy and fun way to present and connect the ideas in #1 through 4.

So there you have it:  Idea+Content+Structure= Blog (or novel or short story or song etc.)

I enjoyed my recent first kiss more than that first first kiss many decades ago.  When I was 8, I used to stick my tongue out at girls and not in them.  "In" is far better.

Monday, September 5, 2011

R.I.P. William

My friend William died yesterday at age 80. His mind and spirit, and until recently, his body rivaled that of a thirty-year old. William was many things: a businessman, a husband, and a father to name a few. I knew him as a conceptual artist. No, he never had a show at MOMA or even in the Big Apple, but he did show anywhere and everywhere he could find a venue.

But it is not his success or lack of it in the art business that distinguishes him so. It is the quality of his concepts and his good nature. He achieved irony without the ill-tempered pettiness so prevalent in serious recent art school grads. He was skeptical and questioning in his art without slipping into cynicism or worse, nihilism. His curiosity never failed him. He didn't always have answers, but he always had some of the most intriguing questions. William's art did a good job of questioning the obvious.

He lived his life the way an artist should live his life. He ran joyfully and hard, right until the end--still planning books and shows and projects that he knew he could never complete, but that never stopped his planning.

 I envision him as a great track athlete who knows he must run THROUGH that tape at the finish line, not stop or slow down when it comes into view. He didn't look back and never lost his generous spirit. He will live on, if those of us left behind are so moved by his example that we too run right through our finish line tapes without slowing.

I have to leave this eulogy now and work on my latest novel. It's what William would have done.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


As some of my faithful readers and friends know, I have vowed never to publish in paper, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog post. Just last month, more e-books were sold than paper books. Paper books will be specialty items for collectors and only a few hyper best sellers will be available at a consumer price or at the airport gift shop. The only bookstores will be used book stores and high end boutiques with limited collector editions of new books.  I am talking 3 to 5 years from now, not 10.

But I am drifting off topic. I got my first e book reader last week.  It is a Kindle 6".  I bought it not because it is the best e reader but because it is hooked into Amazon, which right now, is THE only place to buy e books for depth and breadth of selection.  It is superior in every way to a paper book for usability, readability and convenience, but totally lacking in charm.  No smell, no delightful color cover, no tactile pleasure... It is the modern world exemplified a little grey 6 ounce package--efficient and useful, but lacking in character. With an e reader, the charm and character will have to come from the author's words themselves and not how they are packaged.

Modern e readers, except the I-pad are passive devices that emit no light. You need a reading light to read "digital ink" type e-readers. They work fine in full sunlight and do not fatigue the eyes. The font size and type and spacing are selectable.  They are damned cool. They even remember your place and let you underline and bookmark stuff. Did I say "damned cool"?

You can also read e-books (MY E-BOOKS, PLEASE), on your laptop by getting a free software download from Amazon/Kindle called Kindle for Mac and Kindle for PC. They are great little apps--very versatile, but I find my little 6" Kindle a much friendlier tool than my laptop.  Amazon/Kindle also has apps for iPhones, and Androids and iPads too, I believe. The WiHi read all three Streig Larson books on her Android--not a passive screen and a bit small for my taste, but she is an amazing woman.

And on that note I end.  Amazing woman, indeed...

Feel free to contact me, if you want advice on how to read my e-books (available on every major retail book site to serve all current brands of e readers).

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Yer brain is a funny ol' thing. F'rinstance my cousin Bill commented on a synopsis of the first book in my detective series, Four Johns and a Jill by saying that the lead detectives name was similar to his father's name, Max Billard.  My hero is Max Bullard.  I chose the name out of thin air with no thought whatsoever.

I had no thought about my cousin's father. I had no thoughts at all. Only after Bill mentioned the similarity, did I delve more closely into why my unconscious mind chose that particular name "out of the air".  First of all my hero is a little guy for a cop--only 5'3" 130 pounds, a marathon runner.  Max is a name that implies a lot of size, it is short for "maximum". It is ironic that a small guy should be called Max.  I compliment my unconscious mind for supplying this super bit of irony for me. Thanks, brain.

The second name is short for the older English name "bullherd" or "one who herds bulls". Since my tiny detective is a police Homicide Lieutenant he commands or "herds" a team of bulls (bulls is a common slang term for "police").

So this is your brain on writing--a lot like your brain on drugs, but not as much fun.  Coming up with cute and meaningful things like this hero's name without even trying is kinda amazing. In centuries to come when students of literature ponder my little detective entertainments, they will argue whether the name Max Bullard was a tribute or a reference to my cousin Max Billard, or whether it was a cleverly ironic construction referencing the hero's size and rank.

Neither analysis of the name by scholars would be correct. I picked the name out of the air without any thinking involved at all and would never have realized its cleverness had not my cousin Bill started me thinking.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Yesterday the CBC replayed an interview with Brian Wilson that got me thinking (and writing). In it, Jian Ghomeshi, the host, asked the famous Beach Boy, who Jian calls one of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century, what part drug use played in his musical creativity. Wilson, being dope-free now and also honest, said LSD and weed played a big part. One whole album he credits to weed. Certain songs to LSD...

Jian told Wilson about an interview he did with Sonny Rollins (certainly one of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th Century). In that interview Rollins credits heroin (yes, heroin!) with creating the state in which he did some of his best work. Rollins is also now drug free, or at least heroin free. He believes that this is true of a lot of other jazz greats of his era too.

Everyone knows that good old booze is reputed to be the writer's and musician's favorite food group. A few decades ago, a famous Canadian musician, whose name I will not besmirch, told me he couldn't write music unless he was drunk. I told him I thought he was so good he could write music despite being drunk. I am sometimes a smug little prude, having myself never been able to do my best photographic work with even a residual bit of any mind-altering substance in me.

Recently, the WiHi* asked me about my personal history with substances, and without, in this blog, letting any cats out of any bags (of dope?) I answered her by talking about the doors of perception having to sometimes be forced open to solve a particular nagging problem with a composition. But I went on to add that I believe that the details of the solution had to be executed in a clean, straight and sober state, as the mechanics of writing or composing are technical and not creative. 

In this post, I am not giving answers or drawing conclusions about the role of substances in acts of creation. I do think that some of my former prudish blindness is gone regarding booze and dope, based on what I heard from Sonny Rollins and Brain Wilson. I would love to hear what you think about the role of substances in creativity.

* For those of you who do not regularly follow this blog, WiHi is short for "Woman With Whom I Have Honorable Intentions".