Do Your Research to Make Your Story Really Come to Life

A page from my fully illustrated Maisie in Hollywood. Mulot danced briefly with the celebrated Denishawn Dancers. It was Ted Shawn who gave her the name Marcelline Mulot. He refused to have a Maisie Snodgrass in his troupe.


We have a magical resource at our fingertips. How many of us make optimal use of it?

It is an essential tool for me, writing fiction set in the sixteenth century and the nineteen-twenties, but I would make equal use of it if I were writing a piece set in the here and now, or on a world in the distant future. In order to build an intriguing world, I need information. Gobs of it.

I need the layout of London in 1583, sure. But, more than that, I want obscure, screwball details. I’m always on the lookout for fun facts. Always!

I am constantly googling biographies, description, any oddball thing that occurs to me. Last week I found an article on the history of mirrors, and the use John Dee made of them in his occult work. When I get to book four of Sly . . . when I get down in the mud, wrestling a story out of Dee . . . I could make it up, sure. And it would be fun. But it will be so much more fun if it’s (sorta) based on historical reality.

What is flon flon? The term was attached to a headpiece designed by Paul Poiret a century ago. I plugged flon flon into Google and got this: “An improvisation in wire, strips of silk, and feathers and is little more than a headband. As with many of the hats and headdresses intended for pairing with evening ensembles, the ‘Flon flon’ is theatrical in spirit.” You know those lists of words everyone overuses? I overuse frou frou. Flon flon is an interesting alternative.

Google has not obliged me in my search for info on Bea Wanger, one of my two main characters in Maisie in Hollywood. This is all I’ve found on her:


American interpretative dancer. Name variations: Beatrice Wanger. Born Beatrice Wanger, c. 1900, in San Francisco, CA; died Mar 15, 1945, in New York, NY.

Stage name: Nadja (c. 1900–1945) Trained at school of Florence Flemming Noyes in New York City; taught classes at schools in NY and London; moved to Paris where she made performance debut at Théatabletre Mogador in Cora Laparcie’s Lysistrata (1924); created and performed recitals (often set to poems by Dante Gabriel Rosetti and G. Constant Lounsberry) at Théâtre Esotérique and other popular venues; returned to US (1937) and taught at studio of Albertina Rasch in NY.


She was the sister of the legendary producer Walter Wanger, that I’ve ascertained. With so little to go on, I felt I had permission to write her as I pleased.

Hedda Hopper, I have reams of material on her. W.C. Fields, ditto. Dalton Trumbo, I’m good with him also. Yes, he’s in Maisie as well. Erich von Stroheim’s methods of eliciting riveting performances from his actors. Wallace Beery . . . he was Gloria Swanson’s first husband. Did you know that? He was already a big star when she was just starting out.

I have a file on the history of shoulder pads. Square-shouldered bodices were designed by Adrian for Joan Crawford, to camouflage her broad shoulders. They became the style, on film and in the culture at large. Maisie, with no shoulders to speak of, longed to be in fashion. I have Travis Banton at Paramount giving her leg-o-mutton sleeves, the illusion of shoulders, which thrill her no end.

I see a file named ‘The Original Red Mirage’. I don’t recall what’s in it but I’m sure it’s something valuable.

I have three files for Victoria Cross. She wrote schlock romance in the nineteen-tens-twenties, really terrific, terrible stuff. I use a line of hers in chapter nine of Maisie: “Cuckoo! screamed the bird in the tree, taking to the purple-bruised sky with a joyful flapping of last-light-licked wings.”

I stole this line (and made changes to gunk it up even more) off guttenberg.org, for my character Bea Wanger, who writes romance also. This bit (and others) were too good not to grab.

The folder I’m looking through at the moment contains my notes for Maisie. I have another folder of notes for Sly, with triple the material. I’ve been doing my research on him for thirty years, first in typewritten pages, now pulled off the web and saved, with a tenth of the effort.

Magical! The web is magical! How did we get along without it?


No Elvis Cadillac for you, Mom.

  • by Mimi Speike

Okay, I saw this yesterday. It sparked an idea for a post, so I jumped on it. Now I see it’s all over the web. You’ve read this already. No problem. I never intended to talk about Tarentino. I’m going to talk about me, and you, and our less-than-supportive families. Who ought to give us some respect, but mostly don’t.


Maybe none of you obsess about your family the way I do about mine. Maybe you all had (relatively) normal families. (I know Carl is the exception.) I think about writing a piece, for Medium probably: Lies my father told me. He lied often, I only realized it after I was grown and my siblings and I compared notes. He bent reality to be what he wanted it to be. He told me when I was at Syracuse that my cousin had failed the physical to be drafted into the army. He was required to have an operation on his knee to make him acceptable. I understand now that he made that up to shame my brother, who was trying to escape the draft any way he could, and that bugged the hell out of Dad. Another of his fibs: he invented an abandoned wife and child for the creep boyfriend of my sister, to disparage him. (Joe didn’t need disparaging, believe me. His treatment of my Sis spoke for itself.)

The lies, the manipulation, that’s another issue, to deal with elsewhere. I grew up in my little bubble of misery. My brother seemed to be oblivious to what was going on and I resent him for it to this day.

My brother and sister do not read my work willingly. Nor do my nieces. I don’t twist arms. I send a chapter or two, with the instruction: don’t feel you have to comment, just tell me where you stopped. If that’s in the third paragraph, fine. That’s all you need to tell me.

The only meaty (dumb, but meaty) comment I’ve ever gotten was from my sister, who told me, I can’t understand this Shakespearian English. I change our modern word order a tad and throw in a few archaic terms and she calls it Shakespearian. Christ Almighty!

Oh, my brother told me: “I’m not a reader.” He told me this about fifteen years ago. I was stunned. Not a reader! He graduated from Harvard. All these years I had no clue. We were not close, despite being twins.

His wife, or ex-wife, they still live together, she claims to be a huge reader. Has she looked at my stuff? Not that I know of.

I’ve been on Sly and Celestine, Maisie too (in an earlier version), for forty years. I never informed any of them that I write until twenty years ago, anticipating the reaction: “Guess what my crackpot sister is up to now.”

My husband is solidly behind me, thank god. He’s a heavy reader, of nonfiction. He’s also the only person I ever met who owns more books than I do. He loves what I’ve written, though I know he doesn’t appreciate my finesse with words. He speaks English well, but it is is not his first language. He loves Sly for the history I build in. He’s all for history. Educate while you entertain. References to the Arabic origin of math and physics, super! More, he wants more of that. It’s never enough for him. He’s always ready to jump on a problem and research it for me.

My brother’s major complaint about me is that I’ve drifted through life, not making plans, kind of like the way I write, come to think of it. I believe this annoys him more than all the bad choices I’ve made with my life. He probably views my writing as my latest whim. A forty-year whim. Yeah, right. If he respects what I’m doing, he doesn’t show it.

If it makes me money, if I leave an estate of any worth, I’ve made up my mind. My nieces aren’t getting anything from it. I sent one of them a snippet a while back, with my usual instruction. She emailed me back: I’ve passed this on to my father. She’s a creative. She makes art. She’s studied acting, seriously, at a top acting school in NYC. I would have thought she’d at least be curious about what I’ve written. Apparently not.

Families don’t owe us a read, but it would be nice to be taken seriously. Does your family see you as a joke: Still wasting your time on that pipe dream of yours? Oh god, another story! This one’s about a mouse!

They don’t even visit my Facebook page, to look at the art. That’s easy enough to do. A friend of my niece, a cartoonist, visits and comments regularly. Not my one and only next-generation close relation.

She’s maybe gonna regret that one of these days. My money’s going to the folks who supported me, who encouraged me. I’m with Quentin Tarentino on that. I’ll leave money to my sister, with the understanding that none of it is passed on to Meda.

I’ll leave it to her friend the cartoonist, creating wonderful, fun LGBTQ-themed small publications, and doing community outreach, leading graphic novel-creation workshops in San Francisco at senior centers for the hanging-out retired, and in after-school programs, for kids. Any amount I’m able to bequeath, I may give it to Alex. He’ll put it to good use, I’m sure. Alex Leslie Combs, find him on Facebook. I admire his spirit, and his talent.

It’s not that I long for my relations’ praise. Anything they say, I would discount it. I have serious doubts about their literary judgment. I merely hope that, after a lifetime of missteps great and small, I am finally doing something admirable with my talent, that I was never able to exploit to my satisfaction.


Advice to Authors, circa 1907

Arthur C. Benson, Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge

I had imagined that being a successful author was easier a century ago. More people read books, there were fewer competing entertainments. A work was printed in a finite edition, and except for the most popular offerings, eventually went out of print, it did not linger in cyber space for all eternity. You browsed book stores, and joined lending libraries. There were mentions in the press, and word of mouth. It was a small world, compared to today.

Publishers promoted their books. Almost every piece I have from that period has one, sometimes several pages, of enthusiastic blurbs for works by the same author, or works in a similar vein.

If you have a use for laugh-your-ass-off reviews, find them in front and back matter for ancient publications on guttenberg.org. FOR INSTANCE: Percival Pollard (an American literary critic, novelist and short story writer) in Town Topics (a quarterly New York-based magazine of fiction, humor, and light verse, published in the late 19th and early 20th century) wrote (of a schlock romance by a now-overlooked contemporary of the wildly successful Elinor Glyn): “Be as sad and as sane as you like, for all the other days of your life, but steal one mad day, I adjure you, to sit and read this stunning . . . ” 

Arthur C. Benson, in ‘From a College Window’, has a few words for hopeful writers. A modest level of success was a high hurdle even way back then. He says:

“I have been sometimes consulted by young aspirants in literature as to the best mode of embarking on the profession of letters; and if my inquirer has confessed that he will be obliged to earn his living, I have always replied, dully but faithfully, that the best way to realize his ambition is to enter some other profession without delay.

“Writing is indeed the most delightful thing in the world, if one has not to depend upon it for a livelihood. One must not hope for much monetary reward. A novelist or journalist of the first rank may earn a handsome income; but to achieve conspicuous mundane success in literature, a certain degree of good fortune is almost more important than genius, or even than talent. It is necessary to have a vogue, to create or satisfy a special demand, to hit the taste of the age.

“The literary writer pure and simple, can hardly hope to earn a living wage, unless he is content to do, and indeed fortunate enough to obtain, a good deal of hack work as well. He must be ready to write reviews and introductions; to pour out occasional articles, to compile, to edit, to select. He will have little of the tranquility, the serenity, the leisure, upon the enjoyment of which the quality of the best work depends. Unless a man has private resources, he can hardly afford to turn his attention to belles lettres.”

Benson had a considerable reputation in scholarly circles. His books of essays sold like hotcakes, apparently. All the works I see touted in back matter are advertised as being in the third to tenth editions. He wrote biographies. He wrote poetry. He wrote lyrics.

And (so it appears from some of his titles) he wrote fiction. I’d like to see what his fiction consisted of. It will certainly include a moral. That a sinner must repent and/or be severely punished was a given for the era. And Benson was the pious son of an Archbishop of Canterbury. Morality was the core of his being.


No, it’s never been easy, on any level.

A compelling story is the tip of the iceberg. We must be as relentless in promoting our work as we were in writing it.

I have created a series of posters. If summer art fairs make a come-back, I have a fine backdrop for a retail effort. (I am going to print-publish. The story pairs with a paper doll, to be cut out and played with.)

To release a work in installments is frequently cited as a useful strategy. The more your name is out and about, the better your chance of being noticed. I am considering that also.

The big problem would be the extra ISBN numbers I’d need, and the publishing fees for three-four-five pieces. The big plus would be–I’d have room for more illustration, by which I mean, of course, additional outfits. I would dearly love to get the Bird of Paradise costume into my (as currently laid out) already packed sixty pages.

Sixty pages is a monster of a paper doll book, which is what Maisie pretends to be. I expect the paper doll to be the major factor, at least at first, in grabbing attention and generating sales.

You will find the beginning of a Maisie website here


Got Them “Screw this shit—what’s the use” – Submission Blues

I hit SUBMIT yesterday at noon. I am suddenly reminded of why I gave up on submissions twenty-five years ago.

The Prospect Agency tells me: You will hear nothing back unless we are interested. Do not expect a reply before three months are up and possibly longer.

Because my book is a hybrid: not a text-only novel, not a short picture book. (For picture books they want to see it art and all.) I have a tad under twenty-thousand words, just barely a noveIla. I sent (requested for a novel) three chapters. I also sent two pieces of art. They may or may not be pleased with my lengthy captions.

I may have violated their guidelines. We’ve all been told, they’re looking for any reason to reject you, to whittle down their stack of submissions.

They state on their submissions page: you will receive an email within three hours informing you that you’ve been added to the queue. It’s two days now, and I have no email. Is this a sign?

An 11×17 poster to be used for publicity. The images are high quality, it can be blown up even larger.

I am going to continue to build my print file for a self-pub. It will take me another several months. The dimension I originally set it at is not accepted by any self-publisher that I can find.

You might well ask, why didn’t you confirm the size before you started? I did. With Valor Printing, in Utah. They said fine. Slowly it dawned on me that they are not a publisher. They print, but do not connect with wholesalers, and they do not fill individual orders. You receive a bulk shipment and mail the book out yourself. That’s when I began to explore true self-publishers.

My layouts are elaborate, with many text-wraps. I have half-a-dozen major pieces of art still to create, perhaps more, this to be determined by how much the page count grows because of the restructure.

The story will contract a bit. I’m taking out sentences here and there. The paper doll will stay the same size, I refuse to have it any smaller. The Victorians made their dolls teeny-weenie. That’s not for me.

Thus, pages that hold two outfits may take only one. And I want every two-page spread to be a least twenty-five percent art, fifty-percent even better, to break up the type, so it’s not so intimidating to those who think they bought a paper doll book.

At the same time, I will resubmit once a month. At the end of six months, when my book is ready to go, it’s gonna go, probably to IngramSpark. From comments I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of comments on a lot of impartial-pundit sites, they seem to be the best choice. On the whole. Each possibility has advantages and disadvantages. Ingram has extra fees along the road to publication that the others don’t have. They’re small, but they add up.

I’ve contacted an agent. Now I’ll look for a publisher that accepts submissions without an agent-intermediary.

We all know how many rejections Rowling got before she landed at Scholastic. Did she receive notices of rejection, or was she told, if you don’t hear from us within six months, assume you’ve been dropped from consideration? At what interval did she approach a new target?

it all comes back to me now. Abundant aggravation, until I finally gave up. This time I have a solution: IngramSpark.


Nope. Nope, change in strategy: I’ve been combing through the Agents’ Wish List site. Honestly, my thing is probably not what any of them say they want. And the closest I see to a genre for Maisie is Magical Realism.

OK, at least I have a category they’ve heard of. I’ll call it Humorous Magical Realism, pick out five more agents to approach, then look for five publishers who accept un-agented manuscripts. That may be more difficult. The publishers are narrower in the range of what they’re open to looking at.

Ten tries out there, next week if I can manage it. If I hear nothing back by the time my book is complete, I’ve given it a fair chance. I get no nibble on my line, my best path forward is to self-publish.


I need how-to advice (on publishing a print-book)

Maisie is a silent-movie-star mouse. The story deals with her fabulous career. These outfits are part of her also-fabulous wardrobe. In case you’re wondering, her tail is on the paper doll figure.

I am creating a print-edition of Maisie in Hollywood, an illustrated paper doll/story book. It will be 52 pages, of which I have 31 completed, another ten or so with finished art (previously posted on Medium.com) only needing to be reconfigured to my trim size. The remainder has to be built from scratch. (The story is written.)

I am pausing in my forward progress, revisiting what I have in the can, looking for what needs to be tweaked.

I was never happy with the original page. This is a new version of One.Tough.Town.

I’m talking to a printer that GD recommended. Valor Printing will print inside front and inside back covers (Book Baby won’t) and will accept my 9×13 pages. Book Baby won’t. 9×12 is the closest they come. I had set up 9×13 to accommodate a decent-size doll and an all-in-one tri-fold stand. I have paper doll books that size and I like the generous proportion. (Bought forty years ago, maybe standards have changed.) I should have checked it out at the start. Too late now.

If Valor is not a publisher, only a printer, do I need to set up my own publishing company? Who has self-published print books?

I suppose I should buy a block of ISBNs? I have a bunch more stuff to publish. (All involve heavy illustration.) But to imagine that I can finish (art, they’re all written) Sly, Celestine, Gaudy Night, and my other series on Sly, on his hard-times childhood in Northern England, his (super whacky, naturally) adventures with his friends Herk (Herk the Jerk) Hedgehog and Ferd the Frog, is unrealistic.

I have an illustration method worked out. I grab bits off the web, marry them, and use the result as an underpainting, reworking them, using, not the Photoshop paint brushes, no. I go with the clone tool, copying textures, manipulating transparency, colorizing, building my figures piece by piece. I might find a mouse body I like, but not the head. I have my folders of high-quality mouse heads, mouse feet, mouse hands. Hands are always a problem. Resolution on mouse hands is mostly crap. You will notice that I use my go-to mouse hands again and again. I gotta jump back on the web and find more good mouse hands. Mouse hands, my biggest problem.

When I get my Info page together, I’ll feel like I’m really on my way.

Is Valor Printing a publisher, taking orders and mailing out the book, or do I have to have a stack of books on hand, take orders and mail them myself? I emailed them that question. Yes, that’s what I will have to do.

The gold gown could stand to be brightened a bit. I’ll be looking at everything as I give my pages a final evaluation.

I am researching POD publishers vs. working with a printer, doing the rest of it myself. Each method has advantages, and drawbacks.

A very informative article here by Andrew Couldwell has my head spinning. He has looked into five big POD publishers, and his conclusion is: IngramSpark is the best of the lot, but ‘Mostly fine’ is as good as it gets with print-on-demand.

With a POD publisher, you give up quality control (he had some significant disasters) but save yourself a lot of work and potentially (again, with IngramSpark) have your book included in industry-wide showcase/catalogs. Aside from iffy print quality you also, after all charges and fees are deducted, make little from your sales. That I don’t care about so much. I’m retired, I’m OK financially, my intention is not to make money. I do want my art to display well, that is my big concern.

With POD, neither do you have to pay for a print run (a thousand and up), nor do you have to be out and about selling. Book/art fairs are what I see ahead for me, and I’m hobbling around from arthritis.

Couldwell says to beware of the POD publishers. He received samples that were acceptable, but when his full order arrived, cheaper, thinner paper substituted, the spines, set up for heavier pages, cracked. Color was sometimes streaked. A bunch of books began on page 31! Some of those services print at multiple facilities, which give very different results. He looked at Kindle Direct (Amazon), Blurb, Lulu, IngramSpark, and Book Baby and, as I said, pronounced Ingram the best of the lot. Ingram also seems to have the most potentially advantageous distribution network.

Lulu has a direct connection with Shopify. You put your book up on Shopify, an app sends the purchase to Lulu, the order is fulfilled, no muss no fuss on your part. The problem is the quality of their product. He gives Lulu a big thumbs-down.

KDP: “The print cost for a full-colour book is unreasonably high for the low quality. But you have the discoverability of your book on Amazon.”

Blurb: “The image quality was passable given the subject matter of our book (technical how-to), but to a critical eye, the images looked like they’d been printed on an inkjet printer.”

Book Baby: “The profit margin of their service is practically nothing, once they — and the retailers they list books with — have deducted their charges.”

Lulu: “Looking into Lulu was a waste of time and money.” The Shopify link is all they have going for them.

IngramSpark: Quality pretty OK in a small order. (He finally took to ordering 22-44 books at a time.) In larger orders, many of the books were damaged in various ways. Strange, eh?

Couldwell writes:

The damaged books were reprinted. Unfortunately, the replacement books were still not perfect. I counted that:

  • Only 8% of the order was perfect.
  • A further 8% was similar to the first batch (i.e. had the same faults).
  • A staggering 19% was damaged!
  • The remaining 65% was close to (but not) perfect.


I don’t know what I’ll do. This is a lot to think about. Several of these services would (most likely) be fine for straight text. Me with my illustration, maybe not. At the moment I am mighty discouraged.

I will continue to create Maisie’s costumes, but avoid doing any more layouts. I may have to reduce my page size (Ingram’s max size is 8.5 x 11″). With a small reduction, tighter cropping, and a reconfiguration of elements, I can handle that.

OK, I see an article that seems to say I can POD-publish through my choice of printer, order copies to sell on my own site or at fairs, and still get my book into IngramSpark’s distribution network. If I do that, I don’t believe I can put my book on Amazon. This article explains – they are competitors in terms of distribution. I’m a bit fuzzy about this. I’ll give it a closer read.

Well, I got that wrong. It’s the Amazon Expanded Distribution you can’t employ if you use IngramSpark and their distribution network.

Here’s another piece that recommends Ingram. This guy says: like it or not, bookstores see the Amazon/Kindle name listed as the publisher and automatically consider it an inferior, amateur effort, without checking it out.


My final thoughts (after another several hours of reading and asking questions):

It costs nothing to publish on Kindle Direct. IngramSpark charges you every step of the way. For Kindle all I have to do is buy an ISBN. I can get ten for $295. I’m prepared not to like the result from KDP. If I do, that’s a win. But I’m prepared to use them as a proof copy. They offer the tallest page size that I’ve found, 11.69 inches.

The pages I’ve set up fit them almost perfectly when reduced to 91%. And so I will continue with my layouts at the size they are now. I have the type set, I have only to create and place art, which I can further reduce and plunk into an 8.5×11 template for IngramSpark if I decide to give them a try. I read that my preferred size, 9×12, is a standard size for children’s books. But I can’t find a publisher (who handles distribution) who offers that option.

I am worn out. I’ll return to my illustration: in Secret of the Siren Sands, Maisie plays the straitlaced Egyptologist Francilla Fortesque, and the wanton ancient Egyptian Princess A’iesha. Francilla, in her no-nonsense shirtwaist and sensible shoes, I load her down with cameras and satchels, that’s what’s neat about her. A’iesha, I’ve gunked her up good, stealing from Garbo, Pola Negri, any twenties-era vamp I could lay my hands on. Since all those photos were black and white, I’ll have to build my outfit from fifties-and-on images. But I’ve got my conception, my mock-up, and it’s super fun. When I get that new page done (I’ve added two pages) I jump to page 32. Everything in-between is complete.

I’ll leave you with Maisie dancing with Josephine Baker in Paris. In London she’ll be meeting the Prince of Wales! The kiddo from the cornfields of Kansas is flying high.


A New Year, A Clean Sweep, All That.

It’s a new year. I’m in a mood to organize my life. I’m cleaning the kitchen as I rarely do. A few poor spiders have had an unpleasant time of it today. They’ve wobbled off in a panic. They can return to a clean home when they’re ready.

We don’t kill spiders in this house. My husband is very pro-spider. They kill other bugs, other good things. Can’t think of what they are right now, but I’ve had that drummed into my head.

I’ll cleaning up my desktop, trying to weed out duplicate files and move my many projects to two 64-GB sticks that will hold all or most of my data. I have all but the latest Maisie stuff saved on eight or nine lesser-capacity thumb drives, but I want my files ganged, easier to locate.

I’ve having problems moving them. I keep getting an error message: Error 10006. The transfer stops dead in its tracks. I don’t know what 10006 is. I’ve googled it and I still don’t understand. But I find that if I do a few files at a time, I mostly manage.

My major time periods that I write about are the late sixteenth century and nineteen-twenties/thirties Broadway and Hollywood. I have gobs of files dealing with both eras. I’m forever grabbing interesting bits of information. Only yesterday I found this:

“When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony.” – William Powell on working with Myrna Loy.

Isn’t that marvelous? Maisie works with William Powell on several films. They had a special relationship (according to her). I can see Powell saying that about my mouse, who adored him, by the way.

In terms of research, sometimes I have a specific goal in mind. Other times I just grab, sure I’ll find a use for it sooner or later. I have a file on the history of shoulder pads. I’d like to get at it. I added it into something else and failed to resave and rename it.

Wallace Beery, I have a file on him. He and Maisie were also good friends. Beery was Gloria Swanson’s first husband. How did that ugly mug win goddess Swanson? She was just starting out. He was already a huge star. Swanson may have seen it as a smart career move, who knows?

The problem with gathering new information is that I have ‘Maisie in Hollywood’ built as a 48-page book. I have art laid in, and areas set aside for art-to-come. The type is tightly structured with wrap-arounds and section breaks at strategic spots. I’d like to add recently discovered material, but I don’t dare. To mess with it may be big trouble.

I can’t see reducing the art. I have a lot of type and I want to break it up with a major image on every double-page spread. I am trying to trick the reader into thinking there isn’t so terribly much text. I don’t know if I can slip that by, so I want to make it as much fun to look at as I can. The story is my usual arch nonsense, not remotely for children, although it’s about a mouse, her tale told in prose . . . and in paper dolls.

I’m down at the moment. Not because of the above, because of a bad back and bad knees. And there’s the political climate, and the Covid. But mostly because of the back and knees. I’m over the hill, I’m afraid. I used to look forward to a new gardening season. Now I dread it. In the garden last summer is how I hurt my back.

Who’s optimistic for the new year? Tell me about it.


I am creating a print edition of Maisie.

I am restoring paper dolls to where they started, a product to be cut out and played with. Paper dolls these days are produced (mainly) for a community of adult collectors. The pricey vintage items, if you can afford them, are certainly not to be cut into. Collectors of newer material, taking their cue from that, leave the items intact. ‘Uncut’ is the gold standard for paper playthings.

I had a small collection of — uncut!— rarities, lovingly assembled over a good many years. I sold it forty years ago, when my life fell apart and I needed money. That heartbreak, that’s when I decided, OK, I’ll create my own paper dolls. That’s how this mania of mine started.

Maisie will be an illustrated book of either thirty-two or forty pages. I want images on every page to break up the type. No outfit can be on the backside of another. This is a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece has to fit perfectly.

The pages are oversized, 8.5 x 13 inches high. I have a book of posters from Dover Publications that size. I have no idea how much it will cost to print. When I get half of it built, I’m going to investigate. So far, I have through page eleven laid out in Photoshop as rough pages, to judge how many inches the type is going to require, and to size the art accordingly.

The image above could be the cover art, but I already have a cover I like a lot. For the time being, I’m calling this my Title Page.

I finally feel I’ve got command of a style. It only took me forty years! Lack of a comfortable style is what made me quit an illustration major and go to costume design in art school at Syracuse University.

I never thought my drawing style was a suitable illustration style. I admire the art in ‘Faeries’ by Brian Froud and Alan Lee, but that look is not what I saw for my own work.

Yesterday, searching for a particular image for the Denishawn Dancers, my Maisie-as-Bumblebee art popped up in the finds. (She had danced for Denishawn at the start of her career, I put it in the tags.)

I have many historical figures in my story, and I’ve put many a name into my tags. I have Hedda Hopper, Thelma Furness, The Prince of Wales, Josephine Baker, W.C Fields, Fanny Brice, Louise Brooks, many, many more.

It could be that my art is all over the internet. This is exciting!

Actually, the catalogues I get from the garden centers are similar to what I want. My book would be two inches taller, four to eight pages fewer, slightly heavier paper, and a heavy-stock cover, pages stapled together.

A garden catalogue can’t cost an arm and a leg to print. Maybe I can afford to do it.

This is something that I would put on Amazon, but also sell at art fairs once (sigh) the Covid has passed. I’ll continue building the print file, but I’ll sit on it until it’s safe to do.


I Just Struck Comedy Gold.

With the advent of the internet, the world of collectibles has been turned on its head. Vintage movie magazines I paid fifty dollars for forty years ago are on Ebay, listed at twenty-thirty bucks. But I don’t have to spend a cent. I can access on-line archives of vintage material, for free. Incredible!


Above: Elda Furry. Tell me she doesn’t look like a mouse. Below: One of my stabs at creating Marcelline Mulot. I see a definite resemblance. Do you?


I’ve started another Animals-in-Pants thing, this project featuring a silent-screen-star mouse.

Well, I’ve not started it, exactly. I’m going to recreate it. I wrote the novella forty years ago. I considered it done. My life got crazy. I set it aside. I went through ups and downs. I started Sly. I started Celestine.

My celebrity bio intimidated me. It needed to be illustrated, heavily illustrated. I did not consider my sketching to be an illustration style. That was the reason I quit an illustration major in art school and went with costume design.

Twenty years later I looked for my manuscript and did not find it (but for a cover blurb which I have expanded into an introduction). All right, I had my hands full with Sly, it wasn’t the end of the world.

I’ve developed a style in Photoshop I am comfortable with. Recently I thought–I’ve got an intro, I’ll add to it, make a fun paper doll book out of it. My original story was a straight-forward bio. What do I do with Mulot 2.0?

My premise: Marcelline Mulot is a long-forgotten silent-film star. As a film student, I had met and befriended the Garbo-like recluse. I want to remind the world of an important figure in the history of cinema.

I wondered if Hedda Hopper were active in the industry at a useful time. I conjectured that she wrote extensively about Mulot, tracking her rise and fall, penning articles such as: ‘An Open Letter to My Dear Friend Marcelline Mulot.’ (Such theatrical scolding was not uncommon.)

I looked up Hedda Hopper. Her real name was Elda Furry! She escaped small town life in Pennsylvania, was a chorus girl on Broadway in second-rate shows. (Ziegfeld called her ‘a clumsy cow.’) She joined a theater company run by DeWolf Hopper, a matinee idol of the stage, and toured with it, in the chorus.

In 1913, she became his fifth wife. His previous wives were named Ella, Ida, Edna and Nella. The similarity in names caused upsets. He sometimes called Elda by the name of one of his former wives. Consequently, Elda Hopper paid a numerologist to tell her what name she should use. Her answer was “Hedda”. Thus did Elda Furry become Hedda Hopper.

She longed to be an actress. She landed small roles in various productions. Acting credentials under her belt, she made her way to Hollywood and was cast in silents, establishing a pattern of playing beautifully-dressed society women. In one picture, rejecting her studio-provided gowns, Hopper upstaged the film’s headline starlet by spending all of her $5,000 salary on a wardrobe from the top-tier boutique Lucile.

Her movie career waned in the mid-1930s. She looked for other sources of income. In 1935, she signed to write a weekly gossip column for The Washington Herald. After a dispute over a pay cut, she moved to the Los Angeles Times. The rest is Hollywood history. Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood ran in the Los Angeles Times until her death in 1966.

She’d been no stand-out as a chorus girl and she was no stand-out as an actress, but she could write. She used the extensive contacts she’d forged during her acting days to gather material for her column.

She was a power to reckon with. Bob Hope said: “Their columns (Louella Parsons was her equally powerful rival) were the first thing we looked at every morning to see what was going on.”

I figure she was a friend of Mulot. I figure she wrote articles under a pseudonym before she launched her on-the-record journalism career, penning many a piece on her close friend, testing the waters.

Forty years ago, I had a small collection of movie magazines from that era, from which I extracted quotes and commentary on film colony doings to enrich my subsequently misplaced bio. I sold that cache in the late eighties, sure I would never pick up with my mouse again.

Today I searched for similar sources. The movie-mag jargon had a flavor to it. I want to mimic the gushing style perfectly. I thought I had a monumental task ahead of me. I thought I’d find a handful of items, eventually. Well, I’ve unearthed a massive trove of online archives, magazines scanned page by page, cover to cover, for anyone to access.

In the course of an hour, I gathered thirty-three pages of links to zany reportage in Photoplay, Modern Screen, Motion Picture, Classic, and Picture Play, and to serious pieces on the infant industry and twenties culture in mainstream newspapers and magazines. (For instance: Ode to Feminine Knees, Flapper Magazine, 1922)

I have a decision to make. Hopper was a small woman, dainty. Her face, to me, is mouse-like. (The actress ZaSu Pitts compared her to a ferret.) Do I leave her human, or do I turn her into a rodent?

Elda Furry, c’mon. The name begs to be awarded to a mouse. But there are also reasons to keep her as she was: a small, chic woman whose signature look was enormous, flamboyant hats.

Hopper was a staunch supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist. I’ve written Mulot to be a free-thinker. This divergence will be the end of their long friendship.

My other problem: is this sweet fantasy, or am I a disappointed film student (the movies being so hard to break into) having a mental breakdown? Is Mulot my imaginary friend?

Read my introduction at https://medium.com/the-haven/maisie-in-hollywood-fb46edded5b9 to see what I’ve done with the story so far. It could go either way, easily.



Discovery: Our Holy Grail

wears-chalice grail

Writing a good story, getting it as close to perfection as you can and sending it out into the world is the least of it. Promotion is the biggest challenge we face.

My advice: Be Everywhere.

This bit of advice is still theoretical. I have no results to cite. It’s only this past week that I’ve started to seriously push my books, crafting brief but information-filled headlines and key words and placing mentions on a wider variety of sites. So far I’ve kept to here and Facebook and my own personal (little visited) publications on Medium.

A fun image and a cute blurb do for Pinterest, but you don’t have the space for an article. You must provide a link to another locale. I am not eager to create another website, with a new look tailored to a new project. My solution for the time being is to link to the full piece on medium.com.

I just posted there in an established publication, having been advised that a known quantity improves discovery. I was accepted as a contributor to ‘Creative Café’ a year ago but never posted because I didn’t want to hand over anything that is part of a series. Friday night I looked for a way to submit to an editor for approval but found no gatekeeper, as is the routine with other Medium publications. So I hit ‘Publish’. I’m waiting to see I’m thrown out on my ear.

A drawback: Medium’s format gives you the choice of a square or a landscape image as the introduction to an article. I’ll have to think about how best to present a figure to avoid the opening peek being of the midriff region.

As far as Pinterest goes, to be exposed in the feed, I’m told you must post new content several times a week, and you’ll wait a month or more to see results. But each listing has the ‘You may also like’ section below, and I am pleased that when I open my ‘Maisie in Hollywood’ pin the below images are heavy with mice and rats, a high percentage of them in skirts and pants. So when people open a pin of Napoleon Bonaparte Rat, they may see my silent screen legend Marcelline Mulot. That’s encouraging.

I just sent what may be the second tweet I ever tweeted on Twitter. (I seem to have sent one to Dire Straits the year they were tapped for the R&R Hall of Fame.) Anybody on Twitter? What do you do with it? (In terms of promotion.)

My strategy (as always): Anything Goes.

I have my website (MyGuySly.com) with a few teaser chapters and art, including my paper dolls. I intend to have them printed, and to sell them on Etsy and Ebay. There is a sizable community of paper doll collectors (forty years ago, I was part of it). I may make a bit of money, and it is another way to introduce my books to an audience.

Common knowledge is that a series is useful in building a following. If someone reads one book and likes it, he may look for more of the same. Curtis has this covered. Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey got to where they are by this same route.

My methods (exploiting my visuals) may not help most of you. My main point is: keep at it. Try this, try that. Jim Webster posts short pieces on Facebook with art that he hustles off the web. His often centuries-old images pair with his text in marvelous ways. They seem to have been created for the story. I’m sure it takes considerable time to hunt the things down, but this is something any of us could do.

The big thing is to project a personality, otherwise known as a brand. My brand is Wise-Ass-Animals-in-Pants. What’s yours?

You’ll find my intro to a zany biography of the delightful Marcelline Mulot at: https://medium.com/@mimispeike/maisie-in-hollywood-64f0924b46f3

This week I approached a publisher in Maine that specializes in paper dolls. There seems to be only two such these days. Forty years ago there were several. Dover is the biggie, the one that publishes the celebrated (in paper doll circles) Tom Tierney. Their specialty is celebrity dolls and dolls depicting fashion through the ages. Not my kind of through-the-ages, no animals. Mae West, Greta Garbo, etc.

I got a graceful brush-off. Paper Studios Press is, like Dover, fixated on celebrity dolls. (Their publications are included in the Turner Classic Movies online store.)

Marcelline Mulot is the celebrity paper doll I can get into. Those folks in Maine have their niche. I have mine. I’ll keep chugging along my own track, under my own steam. Like I’ve always done.


Above is a quick mock-up of the front and back cover for a paper doll book that will double as a tabloid-size poster. The figures will be rodents. The poster in the upper left corner will read: Rudolph Rodentino / Marcelline Mulot in Secret of the Siren Sands.

My BFA in Costume Design wasn’t a total waste of time after all. I’m going to have fun with this.



The Corona Diaries


– by Mimi Speike

Yeah, we’ve stocked up, but we’re running through our carton fast. Next time my husband ventures forth, he’d better buy two cartons. Or three.

I’ve been home here, working on my story and my art since November 1, when I was laid off. Now I have a new daunting project.

Someone on medium.com showed me how to display my site as it will sort out on a phone, and, damn! It’s a real mess. What a jumble! Things I need displayed are absent. Things I could do without show up. I have to totally rethink it, create a second mobile-friendly site. I guess it had better be my entry point, from which to direct eyes to the full site that I really don’t want to redesign. I am told that sixty to seventy percent of web traffic takes place on a phone-device.

I have created a story-telling site. I have intro material, and seven chapters of Sly, and it’s set up rather like an illustrated book, with art-heavy sidebars (on the background, an additional challenge for a mobile-device), and miscellaneous pull-quote-style comments. I love the way it looks, but it won’t do for a phone. (In my ignorance, I thought the background art would drop away for the phone-display. I was very wrong. I have no smart phone, and I never got around to finding someone who does.

I just created a new phone-dedicated site, and it looks like I have no choice but to use the new edit-tool, that I have avoided on my original site. I have found it super-annoying, but that may be because I haven’t learned how to use it.

The choices I see for building your presentation on the new site–they don’t give you the option of reverting to the old method–will probably better service a mobile site. Who knows about this? Who has a site tailored to phone-display?

I sit here morning to night pounding away at one of my projects. I’ve started four new illustrations. I’m going to give my Robin-Hood-Sly paper doll a Maid-Marian-Sha-Sha, and I have collected material for a Pirate-Sly and his Port-o-Call dock-side wench. Most of the stuff is 72 dpi, pulled off Pinterest, and will need a lot of fixing-up.

I have no problem keeping to home. I haven’t left the house more than three times since November. My husband does the food shopping and I’m happy to let him do it. My company did me a favor laying me off. I got my money out of the 401K only weeks before the dive in the market. My husband is – cautiously – looking for buying opportunities, but it sits in cash at present.

Talk to me! What is everyone else up to? How are you holding up?