Thursday, October 18, 2018

An Interview with Author Richard Lassin

It's always fun to be in the ground floor of a project, and I think I've been on the ground floor of Richard Lassin's writing projects since the beginning when he penned his first novel, "Matchstick." 


Richard and I have been friends since the 1990s when we met at the WKAR Auction. A geologist in training, he has also worked with children as an elementary school permanent sub and is an avid collector of Mission-style furniture, loving auctions and getting some surprisingly good deals!


He asked me to proofread "Matchstick" and since then, have been one of his beta readers/proofers for several novels, all of which feature some of the same characters, yet are not dependent on one another in terms of sequence.


When he asked me to read "Red Jacket," set in Michgian's Upper Peninsula over the present time and the distant past a century ago, I was eager and intrigued. I knew Richard had spent a good deal of time living and working in the UP and was intimately familiar with the setting of the book and the past time period it covered. 


I wouldn't write this post if I hadn't felt completely satisfied after reading "Red Jacket." But I was. The book follows the story of Evangeline Attwood, who leaves her teaching job and an unhealthy relationship, taking refuge at her brother's cabin in the Upper Peninsula. The book follows two story threads -- Evie's discovery of a rock while diving that may be more valuable than she thinks, something others would kill for, and her inexplicable attraction to a museum in nearby Calumet, the site of a disaster that took place on Christmas Eve 1913. Was that affinity because perhaps she had been part of that disaster?


I asked Richard if he'd share a little about his experiences writing the book:

The book is titled Red Jacket and it has historical significance. Can you explain?
Red Jacket was the name of Calumet before it incorporated. It was named after its primary employer: Calumet & Hecla, a mining company.
You have written several other books before and some of the characters in your previous books return here. How did the plot of Red Jacket evolve?

Reincarnation has been a theme throughout my stories and reflect my own memories of former lives. "Red Jacket" is a fictionalized story regarding the Italian Hal where 73 persons died on Christmas Eve 1913 (Michigan's largest unsolved mass murder).

Your personal background includes quite a history of geological work in the Upper Peninsula. How did that help when building your story?

As a writer, I can only be eloquent about things I understand and/or experienced. Being a geologist has given me a wider view of creation. Essentially I blend science with mysticism in order to explain how things work.

There's a lot of action here and some sounds pretty wild to a reader. How did you do your research to help tell the story of Evie and those who tried to help her out?

The wild story was a balancing act with the violence centered around the copper mine strike of 1913 and use it as a tool to provide contrast. "Red Jacket" is essentially a love story and not unlike the movie "Titanic," it too has trauma incorporated. Enlightenment rarely comes without hardship

A part of this story was inspired by your personal experience. Can you explain what inspired you to actually write the novel?

What inspired me to write this?  think you know this answer as well as I do. It's not something I asked for, and to be perfectly honest, I would of rather not have had those experiences. 


Being trained as a geologist, made it exceptionally difficult to make sense of what happened. Yet, there were so many things I couldn't logically explain. For example, how did I know the two victim's names? There's no logical answer to some of these questions. In the end, I couldn't deny the possibility I lived back then. Not only could I remember it, but I could feel the emotions associated with the tragedy.



When writing about specific locations, how much -- if any -- did you fictionalize (names of places, for example) and if you used real names, how did you pitch the idea to those involved? Was it a hard sell? 

Geographic areas and public places are not fictionalized. There didn't seem to be any need.

How long did it take from your concept until your publication?

It took six months to write a crummy first draft and two-and-a-half years to edit it.
Talk a little about proofing the book. Apart from things like typographical or grammatical errors you found in the proofs, how did your beta readers help clarify some of the content?

Beta readers were essential. I think most people see the world a certain way, and a writer needs to get input regarding style of writing. I got a lot of criticism, and it helped me become a better writer. I accepted 95 percent of the recommendations offered, and I think the story is better for it.

Tell me a little about your experiences with self publishing. What recommendations would you give someone considering self-publishing their own book.

My experience with self publishing? A lot of work! Research and editing take a lot of time. Had it not been for my spirit guides, I would never have undertaken this endeavor. They told me it was time to write this story. Also, I suggest getting proof copies and read the actal book, not the version on one's computer screen. It looks and reads differently. I found literally hundreds of issues. 

I know you have revisited some of your earlier books and edited and re-edited them. Do you think you'll ever be satisfied with them?

Writing is an artistic expression and it takes time for inspiration to come. Yet, it is rewarding, writing something personally satisfying. "Red Jacket" isn't for everyone. It's just a story about going home and karmic justice. Things do work out eventually.


How do you plan to market your book? There are a lot of books out there!

For many authors, it's difficult to make cold calls and ask a stranger to market one's book. Yet it's absolutely necessary if one wants their book to be noticed. Amazon alone offers millions of titles on their website and without a marketing strategy, your book will never get noticed. I started my marketing plan by targeting stores in a specific geographic area. My novel is based in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. So, I called just about every place that sells books and asked how I could get my book into their store.

As of September 2018 my book is in 13 stores. Another seven are reviewing the book before purchasing it. A part of my story is located in Escanaba and I mentioned Rosy's Diner in the book. I stopped in at Rosy's for lunch the other day and before I knew it, I had three customers headed to Canterbury Books to buy a copy. Several of my retailers want me to come back and give a talk/reading, which I plan to do. I told them I'm there to help them sell books. Essentially, they are my business partners.

In the near future, I plan to have newspapers do a book review for publication and have branded my name on Facebook to have a platform for my readers so they can interact with me. (Look for Richard Lassin, Author on Facebook).

Brainstorming ideas is the food that drives my marketing platform and any new author needs toput as much energy into marketing as they put into writing their book.

What's next?
I've been reworking the prequel to "Red Jacket," "Reflections." It's a story about a guy who goes home. He's still in love with his ex-wife but she dies, leaving him with a bunch of regrets. What's next? Not sure. Marketing, most likely!



Richard's book is available in 13 Michigan bookstores, mostly in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, and the State of Michigan Museum store. It is also available online at Amazon here.

The video above features photographs from the region in which it is set as well as archival photographs from the period and is set to original music, written for the book.

I'm sorry I won't be able to reply to comments or visit for a few weeks. I will be offline getting all sorts of great photos and inspiration for posts to come. But please do leave a comment if you like -- I read them all and they make me smile more than you know. We need all the smiles we can get!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Southern Exposure -- An Evening with Chef Elsie and Friends

In my last post, we visited the gardens of Southern Exposure on a rainy, late September evening. Imagine how nice it was to step inside, be dry and see this lovely table!


Or this vignette.


It was cool but cozy on the patio as Angie prepared a wonderful blood orange mimosa for us.


So pretty! And with lots of garnishes -- raspberries, candied ginger, orange, even gummy bears!


Then inside for a fabulous dinner. Chef Elsie prepared duck with ratatouille, roasted potatoes and salad, to go with our wine and bread. Note the pretty garnish of rosemary and mums on the plate. It's little touches like this that make Southern Exposure so special. Our dessert was pumpkin creme brulee!


While Kate was chatting with the other ladies at our table, Jan and I had to toast the evening!


Instead of doing a take-home project, tonight was a "food night." We started by going to the main house where the owners of Southern Exposure live. Kevin, who makes the garnishes for our meals, led us through a look at herbs -- growing them, mincing, and making herb butters. Of course when I got home, I immediately wanted to strip my garden of all herbs and make butters. And you know I'm going to.


Then we moved to the next building, the Hog House, where Elizabeth shared a recipe for delicious brownies. (And I know they are delicious because we each had one!) She also talked about using chocolate in cooking and a bit of the history of it. Cocoa beans were considered a marketable item for bartering with the Spanish explorers of the 1600s and from there it went to Spain and into Europe, primarily as a liquid. But I never knew that in England there used to be hot chocolate shops everywhere and that it was there that they developed the process of turning cocoa as a liquid or powder into a solid.


Then it was on to...


Yes, Chef Elsie's kitchen! She shared with us the recipes from our wonderful dinner along with a few prep tips.


Everyone in our group was eager to find out how she prepared the duck so it didn't taste fatty or too gamey. Slitting the skin, dusting with salt, pepper and paprika and doing a five minute skin-side-down cook in a hot skillet before transferring to the oven is the secret.


Angie was back when we went to the Corn Crib for look (and recipes) of several winter drinks, including a delicious mulled wine, the mimosa we had earlier and the recipe for a hibiscus sugar syrup. Elizabeth of Brownie Fame earlier in the evening made wonderful truffles to go with our wine. Of course, the table looked so pretty!


We hated to leave! But we know we'll be back.


Although, I'm not so sure the view outside the window will look this green when we come! But I bet there will be sparkly lights on those little trees!

I'm sorry I won't be able to reply to comments or visit for a few weeks. I will be offline getting all sorts of great photos and inspiration for posts to come. But please do leave a comment if you like -- I read them all and they make me smile more than you know. We need all the smiles we can get!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Southern Exposure: Autumn at its Finest

You want to talk crazy week? The traumatic congressional hearings, trip anxiety (what am I forgetting?!) and house-cleaning anxiety, too, so Jan at least has a place to hang or place clothes, put food in the fridge and not have Tupperware fall on her head when she opens the cupboard. So what could put me in a mood of lovely Zen?


Southern Exposure!


I will be going three times this fall but the other trips aren't until mid-and-late November. So even though it was raining, I had to visit the gardens, so walk along with me!


I think gardens tend to look more lovely in September than almost any other month. There is still loads of color and pretty much everything is in bloom.


This post will focus on the gardens. The next post will look at what we did -- and it wasn't a project!


When I come here, it's like I truly walked into another land. All the tension and stress seems to fall away, I breathe deeply and smell blooms as I pass and the warm rain-smell of this particular day. I am at total peace.


While Kate and Jan warmed themselves on this cool, rainy evening inside, I had to visit the greenhouse -- one of my favorite spots.


They always do something fun with their vintage typewriter and I couldn't resist this!


The gazebo has been the site of many a Southern Exposure wedding. Imagine walking down this path and either standing in front as you take your vows...


Or being within and looking out.


Of course, their lighting is always just perfect. I loved walking under that lighted arch as we moved from one station to another for our evening's activities -- but that's the next post!


Their use of statuary is abundant...


...and always makes me smile.


The hydrangeas? Enormous!


Birdhouses dot the landscape...


...and should you feel like a bit of a contemplative rest (let's stop here for a journal entry or a sketch! Well, maybe not today...), you'll find benches or even cozy chairs.


Autumn is coming to my special place.


But I'll be back. Just in time for holiday projects! Now, I'd better get back to cleaning out the dresser drawers for Jan! My dresser below? I wish!


Next post, we'll check out the inside!


I'm sorry I won't be able to reply to comments for a few weeks. I will be offline getting all sorts of great photos and inspiration for posts to come. But please do leave a comment if you like -- I read them all and they make me smile more than you know. We need all the smiles we can get!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Running Away From Home!

Rick and I are running away from home for a little bit. We'll stop for a few days in Paris and see our friend Jerry, and enjoy a cafe and a musee or two!


Our Paris list includes Lumieres des Artistes, the Orangerie, perhaps Musee Luxembourg, Poilaine, Sennelier and a market or two. (I really want to go to Rue Mouffetard!)


Then on to London and a bit of England.


Our itinerary includes loads of London, Windsor, Oxford and Bath with a few side trips.


Lest evildoers think Lizzie is home alone and they want to rob me of way too many art supplies, books, CDs and out of style clothes, they're wrong! My wonderful house sitter Jan is staying with her during our time away. She is going to be so spoiled! (Lizzie, that is!) Jan stayed with Gypsy during his last days while we were traveling and kept him going long enough to welcome us home and be with us another couple of weeks. There is no one I would trust more with Lizzie.


I'm not going to be posting from the road apart from FB and Twitter, possibly, but I will be pre-scheduling an interview with author Richard Lassin, photos from our first fall visit to Southern Exposure and maybe one or two other things, so do check in and I'll be sure to read and hopefully reply to comments, if not then, as soon as I'm back.


I'll miss you all! And I know I'll have plenty to catch up on!

I'm sorry I won't be able to reply to comments or visit for a few weeks. I will be offline getting all sorts of great photos and inspiration for posts to come. But please do leave a comment if you like -- I read them all and they make me smile more than you know. We need all the smiles we can get!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Meanwhile, Over at Modern Creative Life...

Please visit me over at Modern Creative Life  this week. The theme of this issue is "Escape." As you know, I'm escaping for a few weeks "across the pond" but I'll still be posting a few things here -- and at this week you'll find me at Modern Creative Life.

My big escape of the summer is always Art Camp, which you've read about here more than once. At Modern Creative Life you will find two back-to-back posts about art camp. The first post is why this time away is a real escape for me. The second post is actually inspired by Gypsy readers who said, "How do you go about setting up your art camp? Are there rules?" So, this post includes my art camp tips (and remember, it doesn't have to be visual art -- it can be writing, photography, you decide!) (It can also serve as good suggestions on getting along with any friend you might invite to spend a week or so with you, even -- on a larger scale -- a family reunion!)


Please do stop over and feel free to leave a comment there! I'll do my best to reply if I'm still around town to check in.

I'm sorry I won't be able to reply to comments or visit for a few weeks. I will be offline getting all sorts of great photos and inspiration for posts to come. But please do leave a comment if you like -- I read them all and they make me smile more than you know. We need all the smiles we can get!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Goodbye, Old School

I recently passed by my old elementary school -- the place where I walked daily, five blocks from home. The place where I learned to read and was abysmal in anything related to sports. Picked last for kickball. Corrective shoes. You know the drill. Despite that, I loved elementary school.

Photo: East Lansing Info (no credit given)

Large pieces of equipment were in the lot -- not the playground I remembered, but the big lot that led up to the busy adjacent street. Probably a playground now. I wondered what they might be doing. Gas lines? Some sort of dig-deep technical thing? I whizzed by, mildly curious but not enough to check it out. (Below is what it looked like a few days after that.)


A few days later I was sitting at a memorial service, chatting with a friend whose daughters attended the school. During the conversation she revealed the school was being torn down. A new one would be built in its place.


I have no idea why I felt violated but I did. And sad.

She told me a bond had passed to replace all the East Lansing elementary schools by only 51 votes. A summer election when many of the locals head north or take vacations elsewhere. Or, more likely, just don't vote because "it's just a local election."

Local elections matter, people!

(My personal opinion is that summer elections should be primary only. No bond, millage or other significant tax election should occur in August. Rick's theory is more radical. If 50 percent of the registered voters in the area don't vote, then the race is null. I actually like that but I think it would be pretty tough to implement.)

I digress. For the rest of the day, two trains of thought went through my head. One, of course, was the loss to our community of the man we went to honor -- a wonderful supporter of theatre in general but of one particular local theatre particularly; an educator, an advocate for children's theatre. Bill Helder will be sorely missed.


But I also thought often of my elementary school. Making puppets and covering cigar boxes with macaroni in Mrs. Craddock's third grade class. The death of Bobby Cotter of leukemia when I was in fourth grade -- the second child I knew who had died but one who was actually a classmate. Being in the "Palamino" reading group in first grade (we were the best!). Nap and a snack in Miss Bayless' (later Mrs. Quimby's) Kindergarten.


I remembered watching the first astronauts soar to in space on the black and white televisions that were new to Miss Lee's fourth grade classroom. And I also recall watching the educational television programs (social studies with Miss Bliss) on television -- all produced from the station I would one day work, some by people I would one day call my colleagues.) We made Valentine boxes. And I still have the report on Kentucky I did in the fifth grade.

I remembered my favorite teacher, Mrs. Ruby (fifth grade). Of the dreaded Field Day when we had to do sports. Of Boys Day and Girls Day, Japanese holidays our principal Miss Sloan had for us -- boys brought kites, girls dolls on their special days.


I remembered the lobby with the fireplace in the entrance, where we would sometimes go for stories. And I remember Miss Sloan's Easter Egg tree, which was quite impressive. And I remember school pictures.

I went from being pretty cute on my first day of Kindergarten...



...to the fat kid who couldn't run (yeah, corrective shoes. I STILL wear corrective shoes!) in fifth grade.


I think back to good times. Nancy lived less than a block away. We played Barbies and did trading cards. Remember trading cards?


And slumber parties -- Nancy had slumber party when we were probably about 10.


The twist was in!


The Loomis sisters lived near me too. I've lost track of them and I wish I could find them. We spent plenty of time at their home.


My bestie (we didn't call them that then) Michele has since become a remarkable jewelry designer. Who would have thought when we were playing up north or making Christmas ornaments out of styrofoam balls. (And yes, I was attached to a camera even then.)


And Brownies. Do little girls even do Brownies anymore? I hope so.


And Mrs. Dart's Saturday French class where she tried to turn us all into ladies. With mixed results, I think -- at least at the time!


When Greg and Kevin were in elementary school it happened they went to the same school I had as a child. I remember the first time I walked in to see one of their class presentations. It seemed so small! All the furniture was little and low and the ceilings seemed low, too. The all purpose room was the same and the lobby, but additions had been built. Things were wired. Times changed.

Rick often says "Will a new edition of Word make you a better writer? Will a new stage make you a better actor? Will a new building make you a smarter pupil." After all, Larry "Google founder" Page was an East Lansing grad. He did OK in those schools.

Rick is right. True. Times change. Buildings need to accommodate the internet, enrollments enlarge or decrease. And while we all survived well without air conditioning even in unseasonably hot early June or September, it's probably nice that kids can be a little more comfortable now.

But I'll miss driving by Glencairn, seeing it as it was, remembering where we played dodge ball in the all purpose room or dreaded field days on the playground.


It all started there.

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