A Creative Process, Illustrated

Every writer develops his or her own process for creation. Some writers make copious notes, doodles, and drafts to flesh out their ideas. Others allow an idea to germinate and grow internally before committing the nearly-complete story or poem to paper. In Conversations with Jim Harrison, edited by Robert DeMott, Harrison describes his own process thusly: “I write my original drafts by hand – The Road Home was in pen on yellow, lined legal paper. Then Joyce Bahle types my manuscript and gives it to me and then I check it against the manuscript, go through it again and give it to her. I don’t revise substantively” (204).

Jim Harrison signed logo

Within the Jim Harrison papers, this process is documented again and again. The collection, donated to Grand Valley State University in 2005, comprises over 360 boxes of drafts, correspondence, publications, photographs, and other material by and about the Michigan-born writer, and spans his life from 1938 to the present day.

Though possibly most famous for his fiction and as the author of Legends of the Fall, the novella which inspired a 1994 film adaptation starring Brad Pitt, Harrison identifies himself first and foremost as a poet. The “yellow, lined legal paper” Harrison describes in the quote above can be found throughout the many boxes of his own writings, which include poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and screenplays.

In the image below, a section of Harrison’s poem “Geo-Beastiary” is shown in its three development phases: first as a handwritten draft, then as a computer typescript (this one is dated April 1998), and finally as a printed broadside. The 34-part poem was initially published in full in The Shape of the Journey: New & Collected Poems (1998).

from "Geo-Beastiary"
Jim Harrison’s creative process demonstrated with a section of “Geo-Beastiary.” (click the image to enlarge)

Later in the same conversation with DeMott, Jim elaborates on his creative journey:

“This outpouring is a cumulative process, and when it ends, as with The Road Home, and then with “Geo-Bestiary,” you just don’t always have any idea how it happened. You think maybe it was more like a seizure, a long seizure” (208).

What is particularly striking about Harrison’s creative process is his sheer prolificacy coupled with the near-completeness of his first drafts. He is the author of 20 major works of fiction, 5 non-fiction books, 18 books of poetry, a children’s book, and either scripted or co-wrote three screenplays.


Works cited:

DeMott, Robert, ed. Conversations with Jim Harrison, Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2002.

Harrison, Jim. “Geo-Beastiary,” The Shape of the Journey: New & Collected Poems, Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 1998.

D. J. Angus: In search of adventure

The people, places, and things that captured the imagination of a Midwestern original

Donald James Angus (1887-1966), born in Wisconsin, was a self-educated electrical engineer specializing in measuring and recording devices. He was co-owner of Esterline-Angus Co. of Indianapolis, and was an amateur radio enthusiast and photographer.

D. J. Angus was especially interested in photographing man-made engineering feats, and recorded dams, mills, bridges, and Mt. Rushmore under construction. He was drawn to the culture and architecture of ancient civilizations and traveled to the Southwest for cliff-dwellings and Aztec ruins, and to Mexico for pre-Columbian pyramids. Angus traveled at a time when the National Parks were being established and before restrictions were placed on access by visitors. He photographed natural phenomena — geysers, lava fields, canyons, and craters and natural disasters. His documentation of the aftermath of floods, shipwrecks, tornadoes and cyclones throughout the mid-West captured his adventurous spirit as well as these one-time events. His images provide a visual chronicle of technological changes at a time when the country was undergoing rapid modernization and provide a lasting record of the country during the late 1920s – mid 1930s.

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The Midwest

D. J. Angus grew up in Wisconsin, and lived most of his life in Indiana and Michigan. He had an understanding and an eye for the Midwest and the lives of Midwesterners. His family and friends were willing subjects of some of his most interesting photos.

Angus family picnic
Angus family picnic at Highland Park on the dunes overlooking Lake Michigan
Angus family members dressed for a game of golf, 1923
Angus family members dressed for a game of golf, 1923

Angus was often on site recording the latest disasters, from cyclones to shipwrecks.

Cyclone damage in Indianapolis, 1927
Cyclone damage in Indianapolis, 1927
Plane crash in Grand Haven, 1931
Plane crash in Grand Haven, 1931
Beach erosion at Highland Park on Lake Michigan, 1952
Beach erosion at Highland Park on Lake Michigan, 1952

Personal Interests and Travel

Angus was a founder of the Indianapolis Radio Club in 1914 and a licensed ham radio operator. He helped design the first portable radio sending and receiving units for the Indiana State Police.

D.J. Angus at Radio set W9CYQ in Room 66 at the YMCA, Indianapolis, Indiana.
D.J. Angus at Radio set W9CYQ in Room 66 at the YMCA, Indianapolis, Indiana.
D.J. Angus with ca. 1910 motorcycle he rode from Lafayette, Indiana to Niagara Falls, New York.
D.J. Angus with ca. 1910 motorcycle he rode from Lafayette, Indiana to Niagara Falls, New York.

D. J. Angus spent many summer camping trips exploring the American Southwest. Traveling during the 1930s, gave him unprecedented access to the National Parks and wilderness areas not available to visitors today.

Cliff-dwellings at Mesa Verde, Colorado
Cliff-dwellings at Mesa Verde, Colorado

The country was rapidly changing to accommodate Westward expansion, and National Parks protected the country’s natural wonders for the enjoyment of future generations. Angus traveled west in 1934 when George Washington’s face was dedicated at Mt. Rushmore and the Hoover Dam was under construction.

Zion National Park in Utah.
Zion National Park in Utah.
Shoshone Dam near the entrance to Yellowstone Park, Wyoming.
Shoshone Dam near the entrance to Yellowstone Park, Wyoming.
Mt. Rushmore under construction in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Mt. Rushmore under construction in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

In all, D.J. Angus traveled throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Waterwheel at mill near Cumberland, Tennessee.
Waterwheel at mill near Cumberland, Tennessee.
Pushing a wicker “taxi” in Coney Island, New York.
Pushing a wicker “taxi” in Coney Island, New York.
Caracol (The Observatory) at Chichen Itza, Mexico
Caracol (The Observatory) at Chichen Itza, Mexico

The collection was donated to Grand Valley State University Libraries, Special Collections & University Archives by Charles Angus in 1986.

 

Chained Books

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, books were valuable goods in that they were expensive to purchase.  One source mentions that one book was worth as much as a farm.  Being portable, books were easily subject to theft.  To prevent such occurrences, churches and schools developed a system of chaining books to tables, desks and lecterns in such a way that they could be read, but not taken away.

This book still has its sixteenth-century chain of eight links that is connected to a hasp, itself attached to the rear wooden cover.  The book appears to have been owned privately before it ended up as part of the collection of the English parochial library in Ecclesfield, Yorkshire, which probably added the chain. Grand Valley State University Libraries purchased the volume in 2011, and it can be viewed and studied at Special Collections & University Archives.

Suetonius 1491 binding

Suetonius Tranquillus, Gaius. Vitae XII Caesarum. With commentary by Marcus Antonius Sabellicus.
Added texts: Marcus Antonius Sabellicus, Epistola Augus-tino Barbadico and Vita Suetonii. Ausonius, Versus. Sicco Polentonus, De Suetonio.
Milan: Uldericus Scinzenzaler, 19 November 1491.
Folio.  Collation:  a-f8 g-h10 i-m8 n-r6 s8 (-s8 [blank])

Suetonius, a Roman historian, was born ca. AD 70 and died sometime after 130.  He was a contemporary of Tacitus, another Roman historian, and friends with Pliny the Younger.  Suetonius was a prolific writer, but his most famous work is Lives of the Twelve Caesars.  It has always been a popular work, although it concentrates on personalities and ignores the generalities of the times and society, and perhaps relies too much on gossip, scandal, and amusing anecdotes.  No fewer than thirteen editions were printed in the fifteenth century.

Dell Map Backs

Dell Publishing was founded in 1921 by George T. Delacorte.  In the 1920s and 1930s it published a variety of magazines, including the so-called “pulps,” as well as comic books.  Beginning in 1943 the company began its foray into paperback publishing, which consisted mostly of reprints of hardcover mystery novels, but later included westerns and romances.

With its fifth book in 1943, George Harmon Coxe’s Four Frightened Women, the company initiated its ten-year program of putting a map on the back cover of these books.  These “scene of the crime” maps could show streets of a town or city, the plan of a country house or apartment, or a bird’s-eye-view drawing of the locale where the story takes place.  Some are not maps at all, but merely drawings that illustrate scenes from the novel.  This successful marketing strategy gradually ended by 1953; by that time more than 600 Dell map backs had been issued.  They are now highly esteemed by collectors.

A few examples from the University Libraries collection are featured here.  The wide range of front cover art should be noted; some are very well designed, while others are more typical of lurid and sensational pulp fiction.


 Mysteries

Spring Harrowing by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
Spring Harrowing by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
The Wall by Mary Roberts Rinehart
The Wall by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Romance

White Fawn by Olive Higgins Prouty
White Fawn by Olive Higgins Prouty
The Heart Remembers by Faith Baldwin
The Heart Remembers by Faith Baldwin

Westerns

Gunsmoke and Trail Dust by Bliss Lomax
Gunsmoke and Trail Dust by Bliss Lomax
Cactus Cavalier by Norman A. Fox
Cactus Cavalier by Norman A. Fox

Assemblies, Cotillions, and Whigs

There are often surprises to be found in collections of family papers.  One such serendipitous discovery among the Bachelder, Curtis, and Kellogg Family Correspondence (RHC-75) is a series of ten invitations to social events held at the Hallowell House in Hallowell, Maine between 1835 and 1840.  All are printed on one side of a folded sheet of paper.  On the back of each is a single line of handwriting, “Miss Curtis,” which suggests that these were delivered by hand rather than sent in the mail.  The recipient was Massachusetts-born Susan Wheelwright Curtis (1818-1855).

Hallowell House
Image courtesy of Penobscot Marine Museum

Hallowell House was a five-storey hotel constructed in 1832 that contained not only rooms, but a restaurant, a ballroom, a bank, and a post office.  The Federal-style building was designed by John D. Lord who supervised the construction of the Maine State Capitol building.  From the invitations it is clear that Hallowell House hosted a variety of community gatherings and events, from grand balls to political assemblies.

Hallowell House invitations

It is most likely that the invitations were printed by the Hallowell firm of Glazier, Masters & Smith who were active in that town between 1820 and the late 1840s, publishing political and religious tracts, proceedings of the Maine legislature, speeches, among others.

Hallowell House invitations

Susan Curtis evidently saved these invitations as souvenirs of enjoyable times.  On a few of them can be discerned a lightly-penciled response, “accepted” or “declined.”  It is of interest to note that the cotillion party of October 1840 was organized by C. G. Bachelder (1810-1871), whom Susan would marry in 1841.  By their very nature as ephemera, these invitations are most probably the only surviving copies.

Hallowell House invitations

Art by an Unknown Medieval Craftsman

Arv-Brv copy

Eusebius Caesariensis (ca. 263-ca. 339) was an early historian of the Christian Church who lived in Caesarea Maritima, located on the eastern Mediterranean coast in what is now Israel.  He became Bishop of Caesarea around 313 and was a prolific writer on many religious topics.  One of his many works that has survived is his De Evangelica Praeparatione (translated as Preparation for the Gospel) in which he attempts to prove the superiority of Christianity in comparison with all other ancient religions.

C-F

G-K

There were six editions of De Evangelica Praeparatione printed in the fifteenth century.  Grand Valley State University Libraries’ Special Collections has the edition from 1497 printed in Venice by Bernardinus Benalius.  While not particularly rare, this copy has remarkable illustrated initials at the beginning of each of the book’s fifteen chapters and preface, all different and all executed with supreme skill.  These large blue initials contain fanciful birds, reptiles, amphibians, snakes, monkeys, and other creatures; the background of intricately interlaced red penwork also demonstrates the artistic ingenuity.  The final initial also carries the Christogram, the symbol used as the abbreviation of Jesus Christ; it combines the first two Greek letters in the name Christ (Χριστος), chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ).

L-N

Astronomische Beschreibung und Nachricht von dem Cometen 1746

Kindermann, Eberhard Christian  (fl. 1740)

Astronomische Beschreibung und Nachricht von dem Cometen 1746.  Und denen Noch Kommenden, Welche in denen Innen Besagten Jahren Erscheinen Werden

Dresden: Gottlob Christian Hilscher, 1746

[4], 14 p.  Engraved frontispiece

Kindermann 1

This rare publication describes in some detail a spectacular comet (allegedly one of the five brightest ever seen) that appeared in the year 1746.  It was first discovered by the Swiss astronomer Phillippe Loys De Chéseaux, and is designated by modern astronomers as C/1746:P1.  Kindermann’s pamphlet, the title of which can be translated as “Astronomical Description and Information Concerning the Comet of 1746,” besides commenting on that celestial body, attempts to show that it is the same comet that appeared earlier in 1682.  In addition, details are given about other periodic comets along with the dates of their expected return.  Kindermann either was unaware of, or chose to ignore, Edmond Halley’s published computations (in 1708) that in reality the comet of 1682 would not appear again until 1758.

Not a great deal is known about Kindermann.  In the 1740s he was the royal astronomer and mathematician to the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich Christian Leopold Johann Georg Franz Xaver von Sachsen.  He was the author of at least two other astronomical books, one of which was a lengthy treatise, Complete Astronomy (1744).  He is probably better known, at least among science fiction aficionados, as the author of Reise in Gedancken durch die Eröffneten Allgemeinen Himmels-Kugeln (1739) that uses an imaginary voyage through space to popularize astronomy, with creative speculations on the inhabitants of other planets.

Kindermann 2

A Martian Discovery?

In the attractive copperplate engraving that Kindermann uses as his frontispiece, he shows a portion of the solar system that includes the orbits of the Earth and its moon, as well as that of Mars and three comets.  What is remarkable—and perhaps an astronomical mystery—is that Kindermann shows Mars with its own single satellite, with the legend, “Path of the Martian moon discovered by the author [Kindermann] on 10 July 1744.”

Kindermann 3

It is quite remarkable because the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, were not officially discovered until 1877.  A telescope powerful enough to detect these two small bodies orbiting close to the planet did not exist in 1744.  This claim of Kindermann was not mentioned in the scientific literature until 1892 when Ralph Copeland’s “On a Pretended Early Discovery of a Satellite of Mars” appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Interestingly, Jonathan Swift in his Gulliver’s Travels (1726) posits the existence of two Martian moons in the chapter, “Voyage to Laputa,” and his speculations about them are astonishingly close to their actual specifications.

Michigan in the Novel

Comprising over 2,600 titles with additional copies in different formats, editions, and bindings, Michigan in the Novel is the most comprehensive collection of novels with Michigan settings existing in any institution. All genres of fiction are represented, including juvenile literature, mysteries, romances, literary fiction, and science fiction. The earliest title in the collection dates from 1816 and the collection spans to the present day. This online exhibit features a small selection from this wonderful collection.

Michigan in the Novel 1816 – 2006: An Annotated Bibliography, Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged


Braun, Lilian Jackson   (1913-2011)

Lillian Braun books

  • The Cat Who Went Bananas.  NY: Putnam, 2004.
  • The Cat Who Talked Turkey.  NY: Putnam, 2004.
  • The Cat Who Brought Down the House.  NY: Putnam, 2003.

Lilian Jackson Braun began her long-lived “The Cat Who” series in 1966 with The Cat Who Could Read Backwards.  Each book feature a pair of very clever Siamese felines who assist a reporter in solving a variety of puzzling mysteries.  The first four books were set in Detroit, and those that follow have taken place in the Upper Peninsula town of “Pickax City” which the author describes as “four hundred miles north of everywhere.”  Braun’s 29th book in this series was published in January 2007.


Reardon, Lisa  (b. 1962)

Books by Lisa Reardon

  • Billy Dead.  NY: Viking, 1998.
  • Blameless.  NY: Random House, 2000.
  • The Mercy Killers.  NY: Counterpoint, 2004.

Lisa Reardon, born Lisa Ann Hicks in Ann Arbor, began her writing career as a playwright.  Her novels show a distinct gift for characterization, and all fearlessly explore the seamy, anguished, and mostly hidden sides of family relationships: child abuse, drug and alcohol dependency, incest, and murder.  Two of her books are set in southeastern Michigan (Lenawee County and Ypsilanti) and the third in the Grand Traverse area.


Baxter, Charles  (b. 1947)

Books by Charles Baxter

  • Saul and Patsy.  NY: Pantheon, 2003.
  • The Feast of Love.  NY: Pantheon, 2000.

Winner of the Michigan Author Award in 1993, Charles Baxter has taught at Wayne State University and  the University of Michigan before moving on to the University of Minnesota.  Although he has said that he prefers writing short stories, his novels have all received critical acclaim.  In these two novels, the first set in Ann Arbor and the second near Midland, he continues his favorite theme of his characters’ hopes, dreams, and tragedies.


Strickland, Brad  (b. 1947)

Books by Brad Strickland

  • The Beast Under the Wizard’s Bridge.  NY: Dial, 2000.
  • The Tower at the End of the World.  NY: Dial, 2001.

Beginning in 1973, John Bellairs (1938-1991) wrote a number of children’s books that featured Lewis Barnavelt, his magician uncle, and friend Rose Rita Pottinger in a variety of occult mysteries.  Brad Strickland has continued the series, which is set in Marshall, Michigan—in the books called “New Zebedee”—in the 1950s.


Cleage, Pearl  (b. 1948)

Books by Pearl Cleage

  • What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day…  NY: Avon, 1997.
  • I Wish I Had a Red Dress.  NY: William Morrow, 2001.

Born in Massachusetts and now living in Atlanta, Georgia, Cleage spent her childhood and high school years in Detroit.  Her first novel received national attention when it was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club.  Both of the books here deal with African-American women and the consequences of life choices.  Set in the African-American resort community of Idlewild near Baldwin in Lake County.


Estleman, Loren D.  (b. 1952)

Books by Loren D. Estleman

  • Motor City Blue. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.
  • Sinister Heights.  NY: Mysterious Press, 2002.

Estleman’s first book featuring Amos Walker, the cynical, hard-drinking, and wise-cracking private investigator, appeared in 1980.  Since then the series has been going strong and has a wide following.  Some critics have claimed that the more important character in the novels is the city of Detroit itself, deftly drawn by the author with a combination of love and loathing.


Whelan, Gloria Ann  (b. 1923)

Books by Gloria Whelan

  • Welcome to Starvation Lake.  NY: Golden Books, 2000.
  • Rich and Famous in Starvation Lake.  NY: Golden Books, 2001.
  • Are There Bears in Starvation Lake?  NY: Golden Books, 2002.

Noted young-adult novelist Gloria Whelan has been the recipient of the Michigan Author Award and the prestigious National Book Award.  In these books she has created three connected chapter books for fourth-grade readers.  “Starvation Lake” is loosely based on Whelan’s northern Michigan hometown of Mancelona.


Driscoll, Jack  (b. 1946)

Books by Jack Driscoll

  • Stardog.  NY: Dorling Kindersley, 2000.
  • How Like an Angel.  Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

Jack Driscoll, writer in residence at Interlochen Center for the Arts south of Traverse City, has written novels, poetry, and short fiction.  In these two recent novels his male characters struggle with mid-life crises and troubled relationships with women.  The settings are Sault Ste. Marie and a Benzie County cabin, respectively.


Hellenga, Robert  (b. 1941)

Robert Hellenga, Blue Lessons

  • Blues Lessons.  NY: Scribner, 2002.

Blues music and the daughter of the African-American foreman of his family’s apple orchards are twin loves a high school junior.  Both will greatly affect the rest of his life.  The novel is set in “Appleton” in Berrien County, and is probably based on Three Oaks, the town where Hellenga grew up.


Eugenides, Jeffrey  (b. 1960)

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

  • Middlesex.  NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002.

When published in 2002, Detroit native Jeffrey Eugenides’ second novel received both critical acclaim and some notoriety for its subject matter.  Set mostly in Detroit in the 1970s, the book concerns a Greek-American girl who, while attending a private school, becomes attracted to a female classmate and discovers that her family carries a genetic mutation that causes a predisposition to hermaphroditism.


Heywood, Joseph

Woods Cop books by Joseph Heywood

  • Ice Hunter.  Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2001.
  • Blue Wolf in Green Fire.  Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2002.
  • Chasing a Blond Moon.  Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2003.
  • Running Dark.  Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2005.

Former Marine and Vietnam veteran Grady Service is the protagonist in Heywood’s “Woods Cop” series of mysteries.  Service is a Michigan Department of Conservation officer who operates in the “Mosquito Wilderness Tract” in the Upper Peninsula and becomes involved in a variety of adventures, from poachers and animal rights advocates to illegal fishing.  Heywood, an avid sportsman himself, lives in Portage.


Kasischke, Laura Kay  (b. 1961)

Books by Lara Kay Kasischke

  • Boy Heaven.  New York: HarperTempest, 2006.
  • The Life Before Her Eyes.  New York: Harcourt, 2002.
  • Suspicious River.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Since the publication of her first book of poetry, Wild Brides (1992), Laura Kasischke has been recognized as a writer of great talent in both poetry and prose.  She received her MFA from the University of Michigan where she now teaches creative writing in the Department of English.  She has been the recipient of many national awards, besides the numerous Hopwood Awards from Michigan when she was a student: the Bobst Award for Emerging Writers (NYU Press), Beatrice Hawley Award, Juniper Award (Univ. of Massachusetts Press), Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award (Poetry Society of America).