Monday, August 14, 2006


Over on MB has just posted some reflections on what computers have done to the arts. They’ve certainly blown my plans out of the water. All my life I’ve intended to be a writer and I knew what that was. I’d go into a publisher’s office somewhere, even if I had to go back east. The office would be paneled with wood and I’d carry a brilliant manuscript on my arm and wear a beret on my red head. I’d emerge with a big handful of money which I would use to buy a little house (maybe in Valier) and so on. It worked for George Sand, Gene Stratton-Porter, and L.M. Montgomery, so why wouldn’t it work for me?

Well, because this is the era of self-publishing. All those paternal and protective editors are GONE. Thus, my adventures with Little Lulu. This little book seen above was published in 1936 and was bought by my father in 1942, when I was three and thought I WAS Little Lulu. I certainly acted like it. But now the Lulu I’m talking about is the website ( through which I hope to begin self-publishing.

I began making books by drawing cartoons in a scrapbook. My main character was “Herbert” who didn’t accomplish a whole lot while “Time” went by. I think I’m still quite a lot like Herbert. (I'm a little surprised to see how fascinated I was by smoking, shooting, and pin-up lamps. The only category that interests me now is pin-up lamps. I never have smoked.)

In high school I was more of a dramatist. We had a really terrific dramatics teacher (Melba Day Sparks) who was the head of National Thespian Society and she urged us to write “assemblies,” which consisted of skits and speeches. In college I got serious about writing and was published in one of the earliest Northwestern TriQuarterly issues. Then I came to Browning, Montana, to teach and learned all about dittoes, those alcohol-based purple “masters” that one corrected with a razor blade by scraping off the purple. Every morning the teachers ended up groggy from the alcohol and with purple fingers from making corrections.

Mimeos were a major advance. A typewriter cut an impression into a blue wax “stencil” and then one turned a crank that squeezed ink through it onto the paper. I made a lot of mimeos to be hand-outs for the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife: stories about the bobcats and badgers we kept for pets plus price lists for Bob Scriver’s bronzes. He was still using them when he died in 1999.

Then came photocopying. For Multnomah County Animal Control I created all sorts of handouts about such vital matters as “how to scoop dog poop without making a total fool of yourself.” I used to make a fool of MYself by cutting out the crazed dogs from George Booth cartoons in the New Yorker and gluing them into my handouts.

When I left to go to seminary, I began sending a one-page weekly newsletter back to my home church and anyone else who showed the slightest interest. Out of seminary and serving four small congregations in Montana, I “published” the monthly newsletter, by now using the services of an offset printing business. The Edmonton Unitarian Congregation organized a “wholly owned subsidiary” called “Moosemilk Press,” and published some of my prairie sermons. You can sometimes buy this through the Internet used book services. (“Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke”) If you can't find it there, I still have some under my bed.

Over the years I've sold articles to the Christian Science Monitor, American Artist, Art of the West, Southwest Art, the National Animal Control Association and the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counselling. (Well, that has is due out in a month or so.) Am I making any money? Heck, no.

I'm blogging as fast as I can type, and now I'm ready to make blooks.

Lately, retired, I’ve been making books on my computer with the help of a wire-binding machine. I’ve taken courses in Photoshop and electronic layout -- even made a living doing layout at the Prairie Star (an ag rag) for a few months. And my biography of Bob Scriver will be formally published by the University of Calgary Press in Spring, 2007. "Bronze Inside and Out, a Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver."

In the meantime, I’ve got new manuscripts piling up around me so I’ve decided to go to “print on demand” via and see what happens.

So far this has happened:

1. I’ve downloaded and read a lot of directions and advice which I’ve assembled in a three-ring binder so I can read it repeatedly. It's not that hard to understand. I'm just insecure.

2. I’ve compiled my manuscript into a PDF by composing it in Clarisworks and then pretending I’m going to print, but using the PDF option instead. This is now uploaded someplace in Lulu’s archives. I had a little struggle because I wanted the story text in two columns. I did NOT want the intro and time-line in two columns, but Clarisworks will either make two columns or not for the entire document. I didn’t know whether I could upload more than one separate document for one book, so now the whole dang thing is in two columns. It doesn’t look all that bad. But I think I could have uploaded in installments.

3. I’ve designed my cover art and scanned it. I’ll make this book 8.5x11, perfect bound like a real book.

That’s as far as I got before the website shut down for maintenance. “Back shortly,” it says. What’s shortly?

Shortly turned out to be an hour or so. So since then, I've completed the book and ordered myself a copy. You can buy "Twelve Blackfeet Stories" yourself as of now, if you can make the title come up on that website. They'll print it and mail it to you for a little less than $20. I think. Maybe I got a special rate for being the author. The whole process would have taken four hours or, so if there had been no interruptions. The content, of course, has taken years to write.

There are some blank pages in this ancient scrapbook I drew in as a child. I’m tempted to draw another Herbert cartoon! But maybe Lulu would be better. Anyway this disintegrating scrapbook is acid paper, cheap wartime newsprint. It might crumble under my crayon. I'll blog.


Steve Bodio said...

I came in on the end of that editor culture. Now I am trying to make sense of what has repalced it. Maybe this will help.

George Booth dogs!

prairie mary said...

Yeah, in those days no one had made monsters out of pit bulls so Staffordshire terriers were still funny. George Booth's daughter had one which evidently went into flea-motivated whirls now and then.

In terms of publishing, we seem to be back to Walt Whitman printing off copies of "Leaves of Grass" by hand. I can see these things clearly:

1. People are much more interested in writing than reading.
2. There is far too much stuff out there to waste time reading at random.
3. At the same time there are a lot of people who realize that they really NEED some of this writing, but still aren't very plugged in to how to sort for it, in spite of Google and Amazon.
4. There was a lot of writing out there that people wanted to read and even own if they knew how or where -- thus abebooks, alibris, and the used books on Amazon.
5. If this has been hard on the writer, think what it has done to the publisher and small used bookstore!
6. There are still lots of people out there who approach writing through the personality of the writer. This is very dangerous for the writer, but it sure sells books if you can stand being a "personality."
7. We need to tap into other countries that speak English.

Matt Mullenix said...

"What is a blook?" asked the bird by the brook.

It's a book that began as a blog.

"But I thought the blog," said the frog on the log, "was supposed to have murdered the book!"