newsletter #3, Aug 12, 2009 (revised)

Posted Aug 11, 2009
Last Updated Sep 23, 2009
Newsletter, 12 August 2009

HOW GRAMPA MADE A LIVING
This grampa, anyway

(warning: rambling detours ahead)

I've been stashing away ideas for future blogs on political issues, from the viewpoint  and experience of an old man.  It seems to me I have more of value to say than a lot of politicians, though they easily trump me on the mechanics.  First — first I personally recall the depression.  Kids can pick up more than you might think. Without understanding, those memories can be somewhat amorphous, but with luck, year by year all of it grows: the information, cerebral organization, and understanding.  Refined aas you observe data that seem to contradict each other.  Which sometimes create a load of emotional, um, garbage — self-righteousness, zealotry, ruthlessness — the jihadist or crusader approach to life.
    And second, I was once a working stiff, a semi-respectable thing to be in America before World War 2.  In 1944 I was a hired man on a farm, earning $5 a week plus room and board, while I waited for my 18th birthday and the draft.  I'd done quite a lot of day labor on farms before that, and as a high school senior had been the "can boy" in the local farmers co-op creamery, but the continuity of even only 5 months as a hired man greatly improved my understanding.
    Incidentally, farming is done very differently now, and even many of  the verities have  changed.

    After the war I logged pulpwood for 5 and 7 cents per 102-inch-long pulpstick. "Sticks" were required to be at least 5 inches in diameter at the small end (4 inches for spruce and fir), cut and piled.  Butt sticks were often 12 or 15 inches at the stump, and infrequently 20 inches or greater.  (The 5 and 7-cent rates were increased considerably for large trees.)  Accessories were a saw, an axe, a picaroon, a pocket wedge (commonly hand-carved), and sometimes a push pole, typically cut on the spot.  Very high-tech.
As I recall it, the tools were either one-man crosscut hand  saws with 42 or 48-inch blades, or for smaller trees, Swedish bow-saws with, as I recall, blades of those same lengths.  Far different than today's little campers' bow-saws.  (Chain saws began to appear in northern Minnesota pulpwood stands in about 1951.  I heard one growling in the distance in 1952, and bought one a year later, while logging hardwood sawtimber in southern Michigan on college weekends and vacations.) 
    I also spent the long, hard, 1947–48, once-in-a-decade winter on the Minnesota-Canadian border, in large old-growth aspen, hand-loading piles of pulpwood "sticks" onto horse-drawn sleighs, after shoveling 30 or 40 inches of snow off the piles.  And caring for the horses morning and evening.  Our coldest day that winter opened at –52° F, and warmed to –26.
    In late spring and summer and on into autumn, I twice passed coal on different Great Lakes steamships for $212 a month plus room and board (56-hour work-weeks), and  subsequently fired on other ships from 1948 to late summer of 1953.  Also rode freight trains, smokejumped, and worked construction (helped build the town of Silver Bay, Minnesota from scratch)… Some of those occupations don't exist anymore.  (Though smokejumpers still parachute to fires, men still build towns, and there may be hobos again in our future.)  I intend to write about obsolete occupations before the snow flies, in this year of 2009.  All of them are a meaningful but largely neglected part of American history, and worth some attention.
    Some of  the Washington think-tank theorists who hold forth on TV interviews do not favorably impress me (though some do; depends on their BS quotient).  All that education but often so ignorant, reciting/asserting slogans and theories (which admittedly have their place).  One can wonder what their academic advisers were like.  And their mentors, whose examples they presumably emulate.  Zealotry drives some of them.  Zealots often serve useful functions — rouse interest, drive worthwhile movements, and at their best produce worthwhile models — but many tend to be emotionally unstable, and behave destructively, generating chaos and counter zealots.  All part off the mix.
    I eventually got an academic education myself (via the World War Two G.I. Bill), which led to an M.F. in forestry, and a job selling standing timber and supervising forest planting on the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin.  Followed by a Ph.D. in forest ecology.   Both jobs were rooted in theory, but they also rubbed my nose in reality, providing education of another sort. 

GETTIN' OLD

    I've been accumulating observations on aging.  So far they've resulted in five pieces on this site.  The first two pieces were an exploratory set.  The third describes my mom's long (1961–1984) bout with senile dementia (Altzheimer's was known but not generally diagnosed then).  For most of that time I was mama's guardian, some of it hands on, some from a distance.  The fourth article describes Gail's (my wife's) primarily physical decline (2004–2007), due mainly to strokes, and culminating in death from "multiple causes," primarily pneumonia.
    The fifth installment describes my own aging, at age 82 also a work in progress.  I  will add to it as my understanding progresses.  I've had some real surprises, and increasingly, changes, but so far minimal trauma. 
    Why write such accounts?  (1) Because we all age and die, unless we die relatively  young.  (2) Because so many Americans fear the prospect of getting old, of being old, not realizing that with a bit of luck, old age can be a good — a satisfying and fulfilling experience in the very teeth of decline.  (But what will my  friends think if they notice?  They'll think whatever they think.)  Even if it doesn't feel satisfying or fulfilling, at death you'll at least take with you a fuller sense of what humanity and inhumanity are and can be.  It is the stuff of spiritual growth, of the process, of the evolution of soul and our human species.  Especially if, like me, you accept the possibility that you return for another grow.
    It seems to me that those who choose to read "the aging series" will find it worthwhile.  Even if they end their reading with distaste, it may provide some basis for later understanding, as you witness the decline of grandparents, parents, friends, and eventually yourself.
(3) Also, old age can bring pleasures not common to youth.  Each stage has its own experiences, virtues, and values.  But America, just now, has a love affair with Youth, Intensity, and Passion (YIP!).  Which is fine for a few decades, but later, to the aging, um, practitioners, they become less important.  They begin to fade in one's 60s, perhaps even in your 50s.  But hopefully by then you'll have discovered other values, other good things in life.  I touch on those in the series, too.


PROJECTS IN PROGRESS

    Got out of the hospital at noon, after two days of  bed rest and medication.  Doctors get up tight when octogenarians start to show pneumonia symptons in x-rays.  "Kill it! Kill it!"  And for that, good on 'em.  I have projects to finish and brandy to drink.  I'm working at marketing THE SIGNATURE OF GOD, the sequel to THE SECOND COMING.  Together they constitute The Millennium Series.  I've recently developed a marketing plan for  it.  We'll see how it works.  If you'd like to examine the plan (with both novels in pdf), lemme know.

About Armfelt
    About 1970, a friend and amateur historian of the history of Jämtland (a Swedish mountain province) sent me a book, Dödens Drabantar, the story of a military campaign in the Great Northern War.  (It was launched from Jämtland.)  When I'd read it, he sent me more books, and later still more.  Eventually, in the late 1980s, I began to write a fictional account, but only intermittently, always giving priority to science fiction, which I was sure I could sell.  In the late 1990s I started an author website (www,sfwa.org/members/dalmas , and soon began posting my early chapters there, until now it holds the first 22 chapters.  There I stopped posting them. 
    Meanwhile, I still turned to friend Google, to help me fill holes, and found more and more that Google delivered my own chapters to me.  Somehow I found this encouraging.
    I now have a good third draft of the complete novel with my agent, and feel I've done a good job of it.  But to sell a historical novel set in an era with a limited American audience and not featuring a famous charismatic figure?  John, John!  What were you thinking? 
     Well actually, I was thinking of the interesting peasant culture which provided the cannon fodder, and of its gentry mercenary officers seasoned by decades of European wars.  And of the nature of warfare and logistics in that pre-industrial era. 
    And finally of why Scandinavia, especially Sweden, became pacifist.

Mitford North
    Meanwhile I've made real progress on a novel I think of as "Mitford North" — with the working title Tea River Tales.  The Mitford series, by Jan Karon, is Mainstream Literary in style, charming (with a touch of quirky), very readable, and rich in attractive small–town stereotypes. 
    (I do not use the term "stereotypes" pejoratively here; sterotypes can work very nicely in such fiction.  They give the reader expectations the writer can play off of.)
    Wife Gail, who generally wanted action and adventure in a story, enjoyed them so much, I had to read them for myself, and like her I was charmed, despite not much happening.  And by the end of the first book, I had an idea for my own version.
    "A derivative novel?  Skam på dej, jävul!"  Well a little derivative, maybe.  But instead of the contemporary North Carolina foothills, mine takes place in the Minnesota border country in the early 1930s.  Muskeg country instead of mountains.  And instead of a mix of down-home Appalachian countryfolk, and genteel refugees from yuppy land, Tea River is a frontier community replete with immigrant homesteaders and loggers: Scandinavians, Schwäbischer, Finns, and their sometimes cross-ethnic pairings, getting by in the pre-FDR years of the Great Depression.  (The Schwäbischer identity I borrowed from Eisenstein Township in northern Wisconsin.)
My focal characters (so far) are two German–American Catholic priests, their Irish-American handyman, and his non-Catholic Swedish-American sweetheart.  He and his tough Irish immigrant ex-shipmate are both refugees from the collapse of Great Lakes shipping in 1932. 
    Oh, and there is also Agnes "Pearly" Gates, proprietress of Pearly's Café. 
    All told, a very different cast, stage, subplots and flavor than Karon's, but one I know by inference, beginning 15 years earlier than my actual arrival there in November 1947.  A  story hopefully interesting to folks with a taste for out-of-the-way times and places in America; a niche market.
    A caveat: My familiarity with "Tea River" was as a logger, and later as a graduate student, who sometimes went to town, and came to know some of its people, some personally, and more by repute.  But that familiarity is by no means deep and integrated.  So I've turned to other sources that provided a broader, fuller sense of community.  They are: A Country Doctor's Casebook, by Roger A. MacDonald, M.D., published by the Minnesota Historical Society, 2002.  Doctor MacDonald, who doctored me once, changed the names of people and places, out of medical ethics, and respect for his  ex-patients.  (I did, however recognize one case, of a logging boss I knew.  Surviving your hand being blown off by dynamite is quite uncommon.)
    Doctor MacDonald writes very well.  If interested, contact the Minnesota Historical Society on how to (hopefully) get a copy.
My changes are broader than Dr. MacDonald's, in fact my accounts are entirely fictional, allowing me elbow room to include inspirations from somewhat similar communities in Upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and the north shore of Lake  Superior. 
    I've also perused two other published sources, harder to find than the Karon books or Dr. MacDonalds.  My copies were given me by friends from the past.  The first is Littlefork 75th, a community birthday book, typewritten and photocopied, produced by a volunteer committee.  It is a work of love.  Ringbound, Littlefork 75th is rich in interviews and descriptions, with photos of pioneer faces, log homes and log schoolhouses.  I suspect the Littlefork and International Falls libraries have copies.
    And finally the centennial book: Littlefork 1904 to 2004, published by the Littlefork Centennial Committee.  It is organized differently from Littlefork 75th.  Opening with a short section on "The First Residents, the Paleo Indians," it makes much good use of news items from the Littlefork Times. 
    Credit where due. 
    I am not qualified to write a book about Littlefork, Minnesota,  nor would I try.  But I can write one about Tea River, Minnesota, also with love.


IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND, by Michael Flynn 08.10.09 by John Dalmas Book Review Read More...
Health Plan Axioms 07.18.09 by John Dalmas Basic system considerations Read More...
"Simple Gifts," Aaron Copland, and the Swedish connection 07.03.09 by John Dalmas a deeper look at the origin of "Simple Gifts" Read More...
MAUNDERING, June 2009 06.17.09 by John Dalmas personal thoughts and reminiscences Read More...
Rant on Our Times, With Reply 06.05.09 by John Dalmas A dynamic of social evolution Read More...

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Michael Harris

Aug 19, 2009

Two questions for you:

1) I see that you are writing a marketing plan for the sequel to "The Second Coming" does this mean it won't be available through Baen? How do you plan on releasing it? I suspect the details are probably hidden somewhere here on your web site, but I'm new to johndalmas.com and I'm not sure where to start looking.



2) Is the Varkaus Conspiracy out as an ebook anywhere? The General's President? I'm getting my son an ebook reader (I already have one) and these are two books I'd love to load for him. Unfortunately I couldn't find it for sale anywhere. And of course, my paper copies are long gone -- I had to get rid of them when my allergies couldn't take the dusty pages. I suspect that I'm S.O.L.; they are probably not new enough to be in electronic form, but I thought I'd ask just in case.



Finally, as a fan of yours, I thought I'd say thanks for your work. I have enjoyed many of your books over the years. I looked over your list of books from your sfwa.org web site and I believe that I have read most of what you published. It looks like I missed a couple of your collaborations.