Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coming Clean

It wouldn't be the first time it's happened.

A pen name taken in order to write anonymously to enact social or political change. Think of Mark Twain and Samuel Clemmons.

So, I'm coming clean - I am the author of the article I posted here earlier and published elsewhere, harnessing the power of social media and the net. Though some change has been managed, we are not out of the woods yet:

The surprising thing I find is that both (honest) conservatives and liberals agree upon is the idea of locality...even if they differ on the details and means to achieve effect. Extreme ego seems to be the real enemy.

Friday, January 28, 2011

An Initial Outline

I am something of an organization freak when I write long prose. Shaping something visually (perhaps because I am also an artist) always helps me to contain verbal affluence. I imagine--and actually know--that most writers have these little tricks to help them to write. Mine may not be writing in bed (forget who that was), or using three sharpened #2 pencils, or a special ancient typewriter, but it is an eccentric trick, too, of a sort.

Thus, I have created an initial outline, which I may or may not alter as I go (oddly, when I have written other things, I have followed my initial outline to the finish line):



Approximately 10-12 chapters

Chapter 1: New York/East Coast - William and Charles
Chapter 2: Ireland/Ellis Island - Sylvie & her brother
Chapter 3: Skull Valley/first peoples
Chapter 4: Camp Verde - The Sutler Store
Chapter 5: Jerome/Sylvie/brothels - the mining rush
Chapter 6: The minister
Chapter 7: Prescott/family relations
Chapter 8: The ghost
Chapter 9: The US Senate
Chapter 10: San Francisco
Chapter 11: The House & legacy

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Moody historical fiction gives life to filles du roi banished to French colonies

Bride of New France

By Suzanne Desrochers

Penguin Canada, 224 pages, $25

This is a moody, beautiful piece of historical fiction, casting Louis XIV's Paris as a grey and Gothic city, pitiless toward its poor and dark with imperial desires.

The novel opens with a swift and frightening prologue, in which Parisian archers seize the protagonist, Laure Beauséjour, as they implement the 1656 decree to clear the streets of beggars. It then shifts to the gloomy setting of the notorious Salpêtrière Hospital, where Laure finds herself imprisoned.

She can hear the murmurs of madwomen through the walls of her dormitory, as well as the weak cries of infants and orphans. The place is truly ghastly in its muffled expressions of sorrow -- as bad as the mysterious attic in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and just as symbolic of the secrets at an empire's centre.

These are the shadows within the Sun King's dominion, the dark recesses containing the history of the women whom Louis XIV tried to banish from his sight: the destitute and delinquent, 800 of whom were sent to marry the men stationed in the French colonies. It is into the world of these so-called filles du roi that French Canadian Suzanne Desrochers tries to bring some light.

As she notes in her afterword, Desrochers grew up on stories of the filles du roi, despite the sparse historical record about them. Unaware of their origins in the Salpêtrière, she had also romanticized the women's lives and their voyages across the sea, until research for her MA thesis in history quickly set her straight.

With this novel, her first, Desrochers returns to that research in an attempt to imagine the flesh-and-blood women in the archives of the Salpêtrière's workshops.

Like the best of historical fiction, the novel rewards us with knowledgeable and intriguing details, this time about late 17th-century Paris and Quebec. And it is through Laure's skepticism and ambition that Desrochers casts a stern eye upon the ways in which the Salpêtrière women were used, starved and shipped across the Atlantic to marry the fur traders and expand the empire.

The characters are interesting, if a bit flat at times, and the settings compelling. The chapters describing the ship that carries the filles du roi to Canada offer moments of great writing and insight, and the scene in which Laure views a slave ship from her own hold is particularly breathtaking.

Desrochers' writing sustains a good pace: it is at once melancholic and engaging, consistently delivering skilful turns of phrase. But it is not flawless, mostly because Laure often functions as the vehicle through which the world is observed. "Laure enquires," "Laure walks over," "Laure sits on the bed": too many sentences open like this, and they weigh things down.

There's also a repetitive quality to the characters' fears of the New World "savages," as if we're being entreated to shake our heads from our enlightened position in the present.

One of the novel's key strengths lies in its brevity, not because you want it to end quickly but because it seems to keep its distance from what it cannot know. In the three distinct settings of the hospital, the ship and the colony, it confers a sense of what it might have felt like to be someone in Laure's position in the 1660s, and then it backs off.

It pairs well with Toni Morrison's most recent novel A Mercy, high praise indeed. For, as Morrison's characters journey to Maryland in the same period, Desrochers' go north, past the icebergs to a place where "they cannot imagine what the rest of their lives will be."

Dana Medoro is a professor in the department of English, film and theatre at the University of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2011 H8

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Starting to Cook; All Part of the Post-Colonial Batter:

by Lita Sorensen

The personal is political.

An old saw from the 70’s that nonetheless rings true today. This is especially notable as businesses, families and individuals all over Camp Verde and the greater Verde Valley area are suffering, the same as many localities throughout the nation, in our current economic climate.

Walking in downtown Camp Verde feels more like trekking through a film set for an old Western ghost town than walking through a vibrant small town. Nearly every other building stands empty, with restaurants, shops and other professional service providers abandoning the town one after the other.

And that is why the current management tone and actions of Camp Verde’s largest employer, Cliff Castle Casino, must be questioned.

To some, the “lay-offs” of some 12-20 employees (with rumors that more will be laid off, in search of greater ‘efficiencies’) at Cliff Castle Casino, some of them 10-15 year career veterans, plus the outsourcing of virtually all casino marketing creative functions to an out-of-state agency seems like a necessary part of the landscape in a tough economy.

However, all actions have long term consequences as well as personal and community repercussions.

Businesses succeed because they produce products and/or services that are superior to their competitors—something which Cliff Castle Casino has excelled at. It has been voted the top casino in Arizona for over a decade by Arizona Business Magazine—and in this case Cliff Castle’s model has always been supportive of local communities and even of families (counting among its venues a Kids Quest child care facility, family friendly restaurants and a bowling alley popular with area teenagers).

The abrupt terminations of long term, loyal career employees and the outsourcing of core business functions necessary to the casino without concern for anything but the so-called “bottom line” and without offering alternatives to the effected employees can be called nothing but bad business.

Research also supports this.

In 2005, a study by Deloitte revealed that a majority of firms surveyed had long term negative experiences with outsourcing. Among the experiences detailed was dissatisfaction with cost savings—which failed to materialize, as the entire process was found to be far more complex than initially anticipated. The results included a loss of organizational and communication flexibility, plus expenses not lifted, but shifted from one area to another to another.

According to the study, outsourcing experiences have ruined more businesses reputations that they have built.

The elimination of loyal, locally based staff members and the outsourcing of core job functions sends a message to employees, to the community and to governing bodies that management cannot handle existing human resources and business systems in a productive fashion and that outsiders are needed to develop new ideas and innovative solutions.

More telling is what research says about these certain kinds of business models. Namely, that there is no research and no proof that this works.

There is nothing but anecdotal evidence to support the fact that these practices produce real results. If all these ‘hard-core business decisions’ worked as well as advocates say they do, there would be an abundance of data available to demonstrate their effectiveness. In fact, the opposite is true, so this runs counter to logic.

Social responsibility in the wake of such actions also cannot be overlooked.

Long term local business success and growth in any community is built on attracting and maintaining an essential middle class with the disposable income necessary to keep the economic ball in motion. Short term solutions—scrimping on quality and integrity in the business arena and creating a bigger human and community impact than may be realized— is simply bad business.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A former co-worker's book is ready for purchase:

New book chronicles Camp Verde history in photos
Sales benefit local historical society

By Raquel Hendrickson
Bugle Managing Editor

CAMP VERDE - Jerome has a book, and so does Sedona. But Arcadia Publishing felt there was a gap in the Verde Valley section of its "Images of America" history series.

When the Camp Verde Historical Society was contacted by Arcadia's acquisitions editor about putting something together, members thought a brief pictorial history of Camp Verde was a great idea. The CVHS had all of the photos and turned over the task of writing explanatory captions to board member Steve Ayers.

"I thought it would be much easier than it turned out to be," said Ayers, who is also a reporter for The Bugle. "We had lots of photos and little information."

The book "Camp Verde," which will be available during Fort Verde Days, is not officially released until a week later. It was five months in the making, and that only came after a requested extension. The historical society not only had to piece together a coherent story but also had to decide what had to be left out due to Arcadia's restraints.

Part of the difficulty, according to Ayers, was a dearth of information on the community in the first half of the 20th century. There was lots of information and material on Fort Verde, but once the fort disappeared so did real record keeping.

"There was a great void from the end of the fort to about 1960," Ayers said.

So the CVHS set about telling that story of the transformation of the community from a military fort to a town. In the process, the historical society discovered a few things itself. A discovered hand-drawn map by Dr. Edward Palmer from around 1903 completed much of the puzzle of what Main Street looked like.

"We had to triage what information to use," Ayers said. "Which settlers, which families played a major role. The Wingfields, for instance, played a big part in the continuation of the town and the growth of the town."

The Yavapai-Apache Nation was brought into the process to proof information for accuracy as well. The historical society has always had pits and pieces of local lore, but the book is the first real history of the town, though it is primarily historic photographs.

"Fort Verde could stand a separate book," Ayers said.

During Fort Verde Days this weekend, the Camp Verde Historical Society will sell the book for $20. If copies run out, new orders can be placed. All proceeds go to the CVHS for the research and archives department in order to grow the collection of maps, photos and documents.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Houses are Made of Dreams

What is it about a house that makes it so much the stuff of dreams?

I recently got back from a trip back to to the Midwest--Kansas City--on a search for investment houses in the there. Of course, I want to keep this house I plan to buy for personal use, possibly, too, in the future. This makes it a more difficult buy by far. So many qualities must go into a place that you might want to live. As in, how does the place make you feel? Is there air and light? Movement from room to room?
And each place, if one notices, has a certain smell...maybe old and musty, maybe of cheap new linoleum, maybe like the pine trees outside in the lawn.
And there are artists, such as Karyn Olson, whose work, left, draws on the house as a visual motif, drawing on our ancient sense of shelter, of sanctuary or emotional connection to place.
The best use of a house as a motif yet in literature has got to be in the novel The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, where the weight of this old house, tied down by ropes on an island in the wind finally is torn apart by the elements (both in mother nature and the forces within the family) that have whipped at it for decades.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Connected Categories & Relativity

I've been neglecting this blog and my book aspirations, mainly because other aspirations get in the way or must take precendence.

Then I came across this:

Where one of my favorite photo exhibits shown in Santa Fe, James A. Michener and Ellis Island all meet, all tied together with a string of freedom and a sense of place.

Life, not just geometry and mathematical field theory, is strange like that.