Steve Harlow

The Year in Rooms

East Village, NYC
A traveller needs shelter for the night, a room at the inn, or wherever is available -- a stable, a couch. Frequently it involves a business transaction, but lucky travellers more often depend on the kindness of friends.

In Québec, a room with a sloping ceiling and a narrow view of the snowy Plaines d'Abraham. Then, later in the year, a charming old corner of New York's East Village, a superb vantage point on the near 24-hour basketball action at Tompkins Square Park.

Instant bedroom, Harlow/Parson home
Amid such variety, it's hard to choose favourites. Still, the hands-down most unique room of the year had to be the space thoughtfully created by artist-hosts, Steve Harlow and Ruth Parson, who transformed an open-plan domestic area into a private bedroom by erecting walls of their paintings.

Some rooms offer only the promise of a view, such as Bright Angel Lodge, where budget accommodations meant a whole-two minute stroll over flagstones to the lip of the Grand Canyon. Old-fashioned sash windows with screens. The smell of dry sage. And close enough to slip out at night for stargazing under the black, black sky, or to be among the first greeting Dawn as her rosy red fingers glanced on the rosy red rocks of Canyon sandstone and siltstone layers.

Harlow/Parson home
Modest but historic was the third floor room at the Weatherford, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Iron bedsteads, a tiny corner sink, literal floor to ceiling windows that looked on the theatre across the alley, and the veranda outside the bar down the hall where popcorn was free whether you ordered a drink or not.

A skeleton key opened the rattly wood door.  The gaslight-dim hallway led out to a broad, red-carpeted, two-flight stairway down to the lobby, the pre-dawn streets, and the Amtrak station, one block away.

Western style, Flagstaff, AZ
A rooster crowed half-heartedly next door to the casita in Santa Fe. Dry leaves skittered along the entry path between adobe houses. The temperature dropped to freezing. Dogs barked. A light shone on a shrine to the Virgin in the chain-link fenced yard across the street. Outside another casita, in sunnier Phoenix, the sound of water circulating from a small waterfall to a pool surrounded by a garden of palm trees and hibiscus, and sagauro cactus with its fat bristly arms. A rare and early morning conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars shone in the eastern sky.

An overheated third-floor walk-up in Toronto, windows iced shut;  a blow-up bed behind a feed store; a niece's basement rec room, with a futon bed unfolded beside the wet bar. A not-such-high-Quality inn. Before, between and after, the smell of the forest out the window, familiar yellow walls hung with pictures of calla lilies and icebergs, and a long slept-on mattress that needs turning.

Shinny's Girls (the novella), re-revisited

I missed many things on the first edit (including whole pages) of the scanned in novella. Now, on my desktop computer I am seeing errors more easily and feeling that I might not write that book today, not in the same way. Yet, I am attached to the character. To be true to my original idea of re-publishing originals, I have to look at it as a historical novel to some extent. Writing style, content. The history of me as a writer and the history of my characters in the late 80's. Cannot resist making improvements, however. As my friend and e-mentor Steve has reminded me, an ebook remains a live document. The writer can make changes any time. Whew! The eternal writing process?

For better or worse: rediscovering older work

The long process towards re-publishing two novels (Shinny's Girls, 1989 and Flashing Yellow, 2001), but electronically this time: I think the conversion went well, except that the converter seems not to have liked one of my characters, Elfie, whose name was consistently left out from the scanned in versions of both the first and second novels, not even pronoun references. b became h's... punctuation miscues, i.e. exclamation marks where l's should be. r's for t's c's for e's, Morn for Mom capital W for small W very often, maybe because so many Why's begin sentences? Is this like autocorrect, the program trying to decide for itself? Finally, at the end, Elfie is converted as Ellie. Then Elrie. Finally, Elfie... 25 pages before the end of Flashing Yellow.I think of the program, struggling to figure it out..Does the computer prefer standard useage, common names? Then, as if tired, it left out whole phrases near the end. Started to reproduce Flashing as \flax/jing. Yet, on the whole rather miraculous to be able to do this. to scan actual pages from published books, upload to Google docs, download as Word documents. Over 90% correct, I would say.

This opportunity to revisit work I wrote over 20 years ago showed me that I intentionally constrained language in an effort to be true to the level of my character's education in the original Shinny's Girls. (I talked about the project on artchatpodcast 49) I have changed since then, become more confident as a writer. To create a character of whatever type,  it is not necessary to try to achieve a dumbed-down narrative. Hmm. I have grown as a writer, too, thank God. In the original Shinny's Girls I used so many passive sentences, weak verbs, imprecise sentences, so much word repetition. They drank so many cups of tea! Flashing Yellow is much better written and the story holds up, in my view.

Allthough I need to go over the work again, to proofread carefully (which has never been my strong point), I sent the first two-thirds of what will be the trilogy called Shinny's Girls to my friend, associate, e-mentor Steve Harlow, who will create the cover art.

It's happening!

Chatting about the new world

Another artchat podcast this morning, with Steve, Emory, JimmythePeach, Ruth, and, this week, David. Steve and Ruth, and Peach too, lead we old time writers, musicians, painters into the new world of media or the world of new media, and what they say is confirmed by most people who are thinking about it, that it is the individual's responsibility to reach an audience, readers, listeners, viewers. The dialogue includes e-publishing versus traditional publishing and Steve referred us to a talk by Seth Godin on that subject. I love Steve's enthusiasm for the artistic possibilities of Twitter, for example, but I lack his ease with the medium and I resist spending time on it. Work, yes, and more hours at the computer, but I will persevere. Next step is to convert the pdf files into editable text. My goal is to create a volume consisting of Shinny's Girls and Flashing Yellow. I would still like to see You Again published traditionally before I publish it online, but since the first publisher backed away, I haven't found another to take it. Still looking.

Meantime, robins are expressing the beauty of this perfect spring day.

angling towards e-publishing

In the latest of a series of Skype conversations - - about e-publishing, I asked my encouraging friend and e-mentor, Steve, how one promotes a book via social networks when one does not have much of a social network. Steve proposed that I make process a news story. For example, the fact that I wrote to a former publisher four months ago, regarding my wish to e-publish an updated version of a book he published in 1989, and that he still has not replied.. that's news, says Steve. Well, the fact that publishers of literary fiction take notoriously long to reply is not news to those of us who have dealt with them over the years. In my view, there is no reason why I should not republish, in e-form, my second and fifth books. The paper copies have not been selling. The publisher has nothing to lose, and, de mon côté it will be an opportunity to revisit and polish old work, and make it available to those who want to read the first two books of the trilogy I have recently completed with You Again. I bought a scanner so that I can scan in the text of Shinny's Girls and Flashing Yellow. I have to figure out how to use it and then proceed with Steve on making the e-book, then, at least, attach it to this site.

The art chat podcast discussion this week featured our thoughts on making money via web publishing. I said, perhaps hastily, that I would rather people read my work then get paid, but it isn't as if I object to earning money from my writing. I have earned a living as a writer and a teacher since about 1972. Who would not want to earn more? It's just that I have rarely earned enough solely from writing to support myself. Unless things change, money will continue to be an undependable reward. That doesn't mean I can stop writing books and plays, or will stop. I write stories and plays to entertain people, not for myself alone, so making them available is the least I want to do.

Jimmy the Peach recounted what he read about haiku, that it is not finished until it is read.