Mill Park Publishing of Eagle, Idaho was created in 2003 by author Elaine Ambrose.
The company facilitates fee-based book publication and marketing for local authors
and organizes writer's retreats.

Elaine Ambrose

Elaine Ambrose

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Monday, 26 September 2011 16:15

Hand Gestures as Dialogue

 We took the bus to Noussa, a dusty old fishing village on the Greek island of Paros. The travel guide had warned of primitive conditions, so we weren't shocked when we noticed a group of fishermen casually talking to each other as they urinated off the public dock into the water. Their catch of the day hung from wooden racks: flat silver fish with sharp teeth, round black fish with white eyes, squid with wispy tendrils of upended suction cups.

 We walked through the narrow maze of stone streets past whitewashed buildings, tiny shops, lazy cats sleeping in the sun. The air was heavy with the smells of incense, tobacco, and wild roses.   We stopped at a sidewalk cafe near the ocean and ordered sharp cheese, crusty bread with olive oil, and beer.

 When traveling, I try to locate water closets (bathrooms) with the same zeal that I search for ancient castles and new wine bars. Noussa was becoming a bit of a challenge, and by late afternoon, I regretted   the second beer. We entered a small grocery store tended by a matronly, black-toothed woman. "Toilet?" I asked. The woman shook her head, apparently not understanding. to

 "Bano?" I implored, holding both palms up. No response. Words from my Greek phrase book were useless.

 Finally, with a bit of urgency, I showed my travel packet of toilet paper and plunked down a euro coin on the wooden counter.

 "Ah," she replied, nodding her head. She took a broken pencil and drew a simple map on the back of my book. I smiled and hurried to follow the map like an eager explorer with directions to the Holy Grail. I found the water closet, a tiled room with two foot rests and a hole in the ground. I'd seen these before, and can attest that strong thigh muscles are necessary to be successful. There was no sink, so I washed my hand with the wipes I carry - almost as necessary as my passport.

 Later, as we hiked back to the port, we passed the woman's shop and I waved to her.

 "Good-bye," she called in English. We laughed, and then turned toward the bus stop.

Friday, 02 September 2011 13:16

Here Comes the Bride's Wedding Dress Book

Today with the simple click of the send key, 133 pages of our new book, Little White Dress, are magically traveling through cyberspace to the printer, less than one month from the evening we gathered to write about “the dress.”

Technical details: The book will be 4-3/4 inches by 7-7/16 inches, with a perfect binding, black ink on 60# white paper, and have a four-color cover with gloss UV coating. ISBN is 978-0-9728225-7-2. Price is $10.

Creative details: The book shares cheers, tears and fears from 24 women whose relationship with a wedding dress (or two) made a profound impact on their lives.

The book’s authors include physicians, photographers, television producers, best-selling authors, filmmakers, professors, and stay-at-home moms. We have never-married, divorced, gay, and happily married women, and even a former nun. Ages range from a high school teen to grandmothers. The stories will touch, inspire, and surprise.

Little White Dress will be printed, bound, packed into cartons, and delivered in October, less than two months after Liza Long wrote a post on Facebook about finding used wedding dresses at thrift shops. Liza’s message prompted powerful responses from women who wanted to write about “the dress.” So, of course, we decided to write a book and invite other authors to contribute. With an added hook, we decided to write it in one day and complete publication by October. Done.

Liza set up a Facebook page and sent a call for entries. Then we met at my house on August 8 for the initial writing. Some of the authors are from out of state, so they emailed their stories and poems.   Liza formatted the text and designed the cover with a dynamite photo from local photographer Amber Daley. I secured a printing bid and other publication details and then laughed and cried my way through the stories. Our talented friend Amanda Turner assisted with copyediting. We expanded the book by 33 pages, and decided to donate a portion of the proceeds to Dress for Success. We finished the final edit at Liza’s house on September 1.  

Our stories and poems about wedding dresses incorporate our passionate dreams, some fulfilled, some destroyed. The stitches of our dresses create significant pieces in the fabric of our lives. (Cue Carole King singing “Tapestry.”) Stay tuned for book signing events and festive holiday parties. Wedding dress, optional.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011 14:38

Pins on the Map: Life as Travelogue

I survived childhood on an isolated potato farm near Wendell, Idaho (population 1,000) by reading about adventures and faraway places. Back then, it was a big deal to go to Twin Falls, and the 100-mile trip to Boise demanded weeks of preparation. Sometime during those formative years, I made a personal promise to explore the world, and since then I’ve been fortunate to travel to more than thirty countries. Soon I’ll leave on another journey to celebrate six decades of wonder and wander.

My journal is the first priority on my packing list. I used it to write poetry after exploring Coole Park in Ireland and walking in the same woods that inspired William Butler Yeats. My writing is more frantic after riding on the back of a bull elephant and witnessing a tiger kill a water buffalo during a wilderness safari in Nepal. While floating the Nile, I wrote of the breathless excitement I felt descending into the tombs in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Each visit, each discovery is an essential part of my own journey through life.

My journal reminds me of the good times - I’ve swilled beer in Germany, haggled with a jade dealer in Hong Kong, flown through the trees on a zip line in Costa Rica, hiked across a volcano in Hawaii, and sang Handel’s Messiah with a concert choir in the American Cathedral in Paris. Some places I never want to see again: Thailand because I didn’t feel safe, South Africa because it’s just too darned far away, and India where a beggar tried to sell me a baby in the shadow of the opulent Taj Mahal.    

I have three favorite places: The Duomo in Florence, Italy stirs my soul. I wept there while standing in Mass and then lit candles for my family members. (Yes, even Presbyterians can attend Catholic Mass.) My second favorite place is Galway, Ireland where somber, intelligent villagers swear that magical fairies live in the trees. I believe them. My third place is home, in Idaho.

Many of my trips were inexpensive. I sang with the Vandaleer Concert Choir at the University of Idaho, and we toured six countries in Europe in 1971. Much to my daughter’s chagrin, in 1995 I volunteered to chaperone her high school tour of Europe. Years later, as the volunteer president for the University’s Alumni Association, I hosted alumni tours through Ireland and Spain. After that, I purchased packaged trips through Egypt and Italy, and yes, I was in a group of gawking tourists that obediently followed the tour guide with the obnoxious flag. But, then it was the best way I could afford to travel.  Now I’m grateful for the opportunity to plan and chart my own trips.

As I pack for the next adventure – a two-week excursion of islands in the Mediterranean – it’s easy to pick the regular necessities: comfortable shoes, drip-dry clothes, and my journal. And I’ll make room for my Ipad, digital camera, cell phone and their chargers. Throw in the blow dryer and adapter and I’m ready. This trip will inspire some interesting writing because it’s with my soul mate. After we return, there will be several more pins on my wall map that connect and complete the dots of my personal path.

Thursday, 18 August 2011 14:14

Random Words: Rejoice, Despise, Pickle, Fart

I was grounded for most of my childhood, mostly for being sassy. I thought my brilliant and clever command of vocabulary and rapier wit should be universally admired, but my parents thought otherwise. I never quite understood their admonition to, “Don’t get smart with me, young lady!” They never appreciated my retort of, “So you prefer I get stupid?”

 

A typical conversation from my teenage years:

Father: “You're grounded for a month.”

Me: “So what? I never get to do anything anyway.”

Father: “You're grounded for two months.”

Me: “Come on, do I hear three?”

Father: “Three.”

The exchange deteriorated from there. My brothers learned from me and never talked back, so they got to go into town while I stayed back on the farm assigned to random chores or exiled to my room. But, being forever grounded provided plenty of time to write short stories and poems full of anguished souls who struggled for freedom. My 15-minute poem “Revenge” won top honors at the state high school speech declamation competition. (Sorry, Dad.)

Words always have fascinated me, and I’ve used them to make people cry, or laugh, or react with a variety of anticipated responses. I love the word “rejoice” because it inspires a positive eagerness for joy. “Despise” makes me snarl. “Pickle” is just too cute and fun, and the word “fart” brings laughter, especially from the 12-year-old crowd. Other favorite words: suddenly, shudder, gargle, snot. I value the onomatopoeia that links sound to subject, and as writers know, the right word can make all the difference in transforming an average sentence into a splendid one.

 Sir Alfred Tennyson integrated onomatopoeia to bring the sounds of birds and insects into the reader’s head. In his poem “Come Down, O Maid” he crafts the lines,

…the moan of doves in immemorial elms,

and murmuring of innumerable bees.

This eloquent example is so much better than tritely writing:  Birds and bees moan and buzz in trees.

Several years ago, I spoke at my father’s funeral. I told jokes that made people laugh, and I read a poem that made them cry. Maybe all those turbulent, formative years provided the foundation for my goal to be a writer. Then as now, writing is freedom.  Rejoice. 

Thursday, 11 August 2011 15:12

Beyond Captain Underpants: Music as Muse

In my collection of vintage books, I have a copy of a children’s book from 1886 titled

Please Tell Me A Tale. One story, Under the Maypole, has the following lines:

“This Mayday morning they will plant the Maypole on the green,

And hang it round with cowslip wreaths and blue bells set between;

With starry thorn, with knotted fern, with chestnut blossoms tall,

And Phil, the bailiff’s son, will bring red roses from the Hall.”

Can’t you just imagine little Phil proudly bringing the roses? The book doesn’t have any illustrations, and there are no batteries required or toys included, but children still love to listen to the lyrical stories.

I use this example in my writing class for local fourth grade students. Then I follow with an excerpt from a current bestselling children’s book, Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. In this particular version, the children rearrange letters on a sign to read: “Please Don’t Fart in a Diaper.” Laughter ensues, but it causes me to doubt the evolution of children’s literature over the last 125 years.

To inspire the students to write, I play a variety of musical selections. We begin with “No Blue Thing” by Ray Lunch. I instruct the children to close their eyes, listen to the music, and then write anything that the music inspires. The responses always are delightful.

“I’m running through the tall grass through a cloud of butterflies,” is a typical comment.

Then I play “Circle of Life” from the Lion King Soundtrack. Their expressions change as their imaginations play with the music. We then discuss how the music prompted images and thoughts. They are instructed to write what they envision.

For the remainder of the class, I play a variety of other songs, but I always end with the same two selections. “Adagio for Strings” by Samual Barber typically elicits strong emotions, even among the teachers. Once at Garfield Elementary, after the song a shy, little boy in the back of the room timidly raised his hand. “I see blue tears flowing down my wall,” he said. “Write about that,” was my response. He seemed pleased.

I end the session with “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. Often, most of the students will sit taller and smile wider as they listen with their eyes closed. The song prompts comments such as, “I fought the dragon, and I won!”

My classes lasts an hour, and I enjoy volunteering my time with the students. It’s my goal that they will use quality music (with an emphasis on quality), to inspire the muse within them. I want to challenge young people to temporarily laugh about Professor Poopypants but to wonder and write about characters as rich and provocative as Phil, the bailiff’s son. No batteries required.

Thursday, 04 August 2011 14:45

We're Writing a Book in One Day

We’re looking for local writers to write a book in one day and have it published in time for holiday sales. And, we’ll donate a portion of the proceeds to charity. All we need are provocative, poignant, and enlightening essays about “The Dress.”

It all started when my friend, Liza Long Walton, wrote a message two weeks ago on Facebook about seeing used wedding dresses in thrift shops. The response came faster than a nervous flower girl. We all have stories about wedding dresses (and some of us have multiple stories.)

So, Liza and I met over coffee and decided to publish a book of essays from women who want to explore the myth and meaning of the wedding dress. Thanks to the magic of social media and the Little White Dress Facebook page, we already have volunteer (meaning: unpaid) writers who want to contribute to the book. They include married, divorced, never married and gay women. We even have liberal, conservative, and lactose intolerant writers!

To make it even more interesting, we decided to write and compile the book in one day. (Liza and I are co-authors of Daily Erotica, and Mill Park Publishing is the publisher, so we’ve been around the writer’s block on publishing books.)

After another cup of coffee, we settled on the “Rules of Engagement” (pun intended) for our contributing writers:

  1. 1.  Must be female (Yes, it’s sexist but it’s our book.)
  2. 2.  Must have previous experience with a wedding dress
  3. 3.  Submissions must be under 2,000 words
  4. 4.  Submit on one day – August 8, 2011
  5. 5.  Gather at my house from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. (email me for directions)
  6. 6.  Those out of state (or out of the country) can email only during that time frame
  7. 7.  Submission does not guarantee inclusion; writers will be notified by Aug. 31
  8. 8.  We reserve the right to edit all accepted entries
  9. 9.  Each included writer must try to sell at least 20 books to help cover production costs
  10. 10. Net profits will be donated to a local charity as determined by the contributing authors
  11. 11. Genre can include poetry, short stories, and essays

 

Just think about that dress delicately packed in white acid-free tissue paper, wrapped in unbleached muslin, and sealed in a box with a view window that’s stored in the attic. Why do we save them? Or, are they destined to hang empty and forgotten in some thrift shop, waiting for another chance at the dream wedding? What’s your story?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011 14:33

Deadlines Annoy my Creative Freedom

How does a creative person perform to peak potential when strict deadlines demand 2,000 words by Friday? I know there are writers who have the discipline to rise early, go directly to their offices, and passionately produce a poem, chapter, or short story by lunch. I have the concentration of a deranged ferret, and I’m easily distracted or I'm working on a sassy essay about the humor of elder care while writing a novel about the dramatic angst of greed and betrayal. But, now it’s my goal to focus on producing more coherent content before my eyesight fails, my fingers are too gnarled to fumble on the keys, and I forget where a preposition is at (and to never end a sentence with one.)

During my career, I've written for television news, newspapers, magazines, advertising clients, and corporate communications. The shortest turnaround was for a daily television news program, but the stories were only 30 seconds long so the text wasn't much more to write than who, what, why, and where. The longest assignment was for a non-fiction book, but the intensity and reward were much greater.

My contract in February of 2007 with Adams Media for Menopause Sucks required me to write and submit 70,000 words by June 30. I dabbled and researched through the spring, and didn't begin Chapter One until April. But during May and June of that year, I wrote and edited almost 12 hours a day until I met the deadline. Then I waited, somewhat impatiently, until the book was published and released in August of 2008.

As many students do, I honed my last-minute, burn-the-midnight-oil skills in college when I would start a term paper around midnight before it was due the next day. My manual typewriter was reliable in the wee hours of the morning, and I never had to worry about a power surge erasing all my text. Now I rely on computer features that allow me to check spelling, research synonyms, copy and paste, and find and replace. Also, the word count is always there to remind me to keep going or stop now, please.

I recently enjoyed a short story class taught by local author, poet and film maker Ken Rodgers. We were assigned to write five short stories in five weeks. I proudly presented my story every Monday, but now the class is over and I haven’t written another story. I’m trying to focus on setting my own deadlines so I continue to write. And, who knows what great stories are just waiting to be written if only I would sit down, turn off the worldly interruptions, open my imagination, and connect my brain to my fingers? Today’s goal: 1,000 words before cocktail hour.    

Wednesday, 20 July 2011 14:46

Radio, Duke of Earl, and Smashing Coyotes

Long ago, sometime after the extinction of the dinosaurs, I was a ten-year-old child, and my favorite possession was a transistor radio. Though isolated on a potato farm in southern Idaho, I could connect to civilization through my magical radio. I would sing along to “Duke of Earl” or “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” until my exasperated mother told me to go outside and play. My favorite assignment! So, I would climb into my tree house with my radio and an extra 9 volt battery and wail “Crying” along with Roy Orbison. And, I wouldn’t come back inside until I had roamed the back pasture and warbled “Blue Moon” with The Marcels.

Fast forward many, many decades and I notice, with sadness, that children today are complacently mesmerized by animated videos that require no imagination. And, children’s television offers only sanitized, politically-correct programs with plastic, too-cheerful hosts who have turned budding brains and bodies into lumps of lard. At least I got to watch Wile E. Coyote smashed flat by an anvil as he tried in vain to catch and eat The Road Runner. (Literary tidbit: The character was based on a coyote mentioned in Mark Twain’s Roughing It.) At the risk of sounding like an old fart curmudgeon, I wish children could have the freedom and opportunity to go play outside with only a radio and a song to sing.

The power of radio has transformed audiences for more than 100 years. On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles recited his adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. The radio drama was delivered through a series of news bulletins so cleverly broadcast that people panicked and actually believed that Martians were landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. During World War II, Winston Churchill encouraged war-weary British citizens with his broadcasts on the BBC. In 1941, he made his famous speech that included the words, “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire.”

Today, radio provides an efficient forum for the exchange of ideas, news, and music over the airwaves. From the pleasant stories of Garrison Keillor and the late Paul Harvey to extreme political rhetoric, you can find a wide variety of interesting and provocative programming. For local writers, your promotion plans should include radio interviews. Start small, with the intention of obtaining regional and national opportunities. If you have a compelling story to tell, there is an audience wanting to hear.

GRATUITOUS PLUG: I will be the guest on Amanda Turner’s radio show on Thursday, July 21 at noon. Tune into 89.9 FM. www.RadioWritersBlock.com

Wednesday, 13 July 2011 13:27

STOP YELLING AT ME !!!!!!!!!!!!

Every time I need to choose between hitting my head with a hammer or reading online message boards about various political and social issues, I usually pick the latter. Then, it’s with great annoyance that I realize I made the wrong decision.

I only allow myself an hour to read online “news,” but I can’t avoid clicking on the “Comments” section after I read a provocative item. That’s where I’m thrown into the sordid realm of anonymous people who communicate like deranged savages: Every capitalized sentence is just one more slobbering grunt, and every additional exclamation point becomes a series of belches and farts from their overloaded, underdeveloped brains.

I’m amazed at the horrible and nasty phrases that humans actually write to complete strangers. And they prove their enormous inadequacy by hitting “Send” so the entire world can know that their only contribution to society is to help with the deterioration of the culture. Here are a few examples, followed by my more refined commentary:

“SHUT UP UR DANMMD TRAP!!!!!!!”  

We’ve got some anger management issues here. Why would someone be so mad at someone they will never know? And, it’s about an issue over which they will never have any control.  We won’t discuss spelling because no one cares about that.

“YOUR A FU**N IDIOT!!!!!!!”

Again, we must marvel that someone this illiterate has the capacity to turn on a computer and actually find the Internet.   He doesn’t understand the different between “your” and “you’re,” and it’s probably not a good idea to inform him that the abbreviation is wrong.   Five syllable words would be beyond his comprehension.

“EAT SHT N DIE!!!!!!!”

This comment came after another anonymous poster defended a high-ranking politician. In my humble opinion, the task doesn’t make sense. But, perhaps logic isn’t the issue. Also, I’m guessing that this person doesn’t write thank you notes.

Most of the sites do have restrictions stating that inappropriate comments will be removed for violating the rules. That makes me wonder just how bad the culpable comments had to be. We’re witnessing an entire sub-culture of professional posters, people who earn badges for their popular online comments. To prove that civilization is, indeed, teetering on extinction, unnamed but prolific people who regularly post comments on HuffPost can achieve various levels of popularity and obtain separate Facebook pages to expand their fan base of other unidentified "writers."  I imagine lonely, dark rooms full of hunchbacked gargoyles pecking away on grease-stained keyboards, chuckling insanely at their own wicked messages.

Yes, I know that I can avoid all this mental anguish by refusing to read the message boards on various sites. Or, maybe I could initiate another option for those who wish to communicate through a more sophisticated, genteel, and enlightened debate that could salvage what’s left of civil discourse.   But, just as NASCAR isn’t any fun without wrecks, and fans scream for the defensive line to take down and hurt the quarterback, sometimes we enjoy our roles as spectators in life’s dark satire. Can the gladiators be next?

 “Boris Stuchenko would be dead in less than nineteen minutes. And he had no idea why.”

 The first two sentences of The Ezekiel Option by Joel C. Rosenberg captured my attention, and I was hooked. I read the 413-page book over the weekend, and the contents were as powerful as the opening lines. It’s the kind of book that lingers in thoughts long after the next book is opened.

 "It was a dark and stormy night" is now a cliché for trite first lines, followed by "Once upon a time.” Other notable beginnings that challenge the reader’s intellect include this sentence from the first page of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code:

 “On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.”

 Just because a book sells millions of copies doesn’t mean it’s well written.

 Studies indicate that readers are attracted to a book by its cover, then they turn it over to read the back, and if they’re still interested, they turn to the first page. All in about eight seconds. As a writer, you should view the first page as a literary seduction, a series of pick up lines to snare the reader. They may not get to your dazzling chapter four if page one is a dud.

 I've been taking a short story class from poet, writer, and film maker Ken Rodgers. He guides us like a wise sage as we discuss various authors and read our own stories. For our last assignment, I wrote this sentence to begin my story:

 "Tara Swanson desperately needed to get across the river but the old man kept shooting at her."

 Then I wrote the story around that scenario. The opening vision prompted the plot, the characters, and the setting. I edited one of the two characters several times, but the main theme remained the same: survival. I didn’t know the ending until I had written over 1,000 words. But, the entire story was driven by the first line, and I, the writer, enjoyed going along for the ride.

 As you begin to write and then edit your work, think of the experience as complicated and daunting but also rewarding. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it can be the best of times, it can be the worst of times, it can be the winter of despair, or the season of hope.

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