Friday, December 24, 2010

The Journal of The Mermaid Translation #2

In what could prove to be an action-packed

development The Mermaid Translation was

processed by the library today, to be shelved

in the current display area. A cataloger asked

me if it should be cataloged as poetry or fiction.

“It’s a novel,” I said. But is it? I guess.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if the

book makes any waves here. After all,

the library is featured in the book.

There’s even a Diane Headwaiter fanclub.



Compiled a list of 55 libraries that have my

other 4 published books in their collections

(California, Maryland, Indiana, Texas, Maine).

Will mail them flyers—the old fashioned way,

in an envelope with a stamp.


Sent the Herald news about the reading,

set for Friday, December 17th.


Email from publisher:

“We have an ad for T.M.T coming out in

January issue of American Poetry Review…

I’ve posted that it’s nominated for the

Pushcart Prize. Let the word spread…”


Looked for the book in the library catalog

and discovered its location is Government

Information, second floor...That can’t be

right…Looks like they might have made

a cataloging error after all.


Received a bag of cookies and lemon cupcakes

in trade for the new book. What a deal. Would

you like a book? That will be a bowl of soup

and a kiwi fruit.


Pushing the book cart, I stopped to talk with

Paul Piper. He told me about the new wondrous

& spiritually enlightened dental assistant

he has, with the calming touch of an angel.

(The complete opposite of my last dentist visit

when the assistant stabbed herself with my

Novocain needle. You can imagine the scene.)

Paul told his assistant that she inspired him

to write a story. Sure, I said, his character

would be so smitten with her that he would

do all the wrong things—chew metal,

whatever it took—to return to her dentist

chair. Paul said he would leave that version

of the story to me, then he suggested we do

simultaneous stories based on the same

event to see how they turn out.

Interesting idea.


Took our son to a birthday party today,

a block away from Voltage Books.

Staring at that bookstore felt strange

and I didn’t want to go in there, close as

we were. The party was in a big room above

the Teapot Café. Rustle was greeted by

the birthday girl. She’s 7. Her mother

introduced herself. I did likewise then

put an arm around my daughter’s shoulders

and said, “And this is my wife.” Rosa is 13.

The woman was truly shocked. You could

feel she believed it was true. I’ve been

noticing this trend lately, my humor has

been bombing pretty badly. Even though

I assured the birthday girl’s mother I was

joking, she practically pushed us out

the door.


Email from publisher:

“I had a review copy request from a guy

who does a national blog…also does listing

on Good Reads. I’m sending it out Monday.”


Put 12 envelopes in the mailbox for libraries

stretching from Arizona to Iowa. Pulled up

the rusted red flag. Watched out the window

as the white truck arrived and drove them



the rusted red flag


At 6 o’clock tonight the Herald called. The lady

on the phone was adding the date of the reading

to the paper’s event listings. But she needed to

know the title of the novel. I guess I forgot to

mention that part when I contacted them.

So much for mystery.



Note from Rob in Seattle:

He’s at work on his Frankenstein project

(as described in The Journal of T.M.T #1)

“worrying over a title for this thing. I kind

of want to call it ‘Penny Certain Recordings.’

Where did you come up with Penny Certain?

Not sure. Something that connotates

memory...remembering. I recorded a bunch

of passages from it today and some sound

effects and other is a lovely book!

Nice butler! And I love the homing pigeon



a lovely book


Today is son Rustle’s birthday. Made a big

paper 7 to hang from the ceiling and left

into the dark stormy morning. At work,

the water is out, a city water main was broken.

By 10 it’s been repaired and the sky is clear

too. Blue sky, clouds blown away.

I write a quick note to author Tom Robbins

inviting him to the reading.


Mailed 9 letters to libraries from Iowa to




Mailed 8 letters to libraries from

New Jersey to Texas.


Email from another Robert:

“I’ll be there! By the way did you know

that a circus elephant escaped captivity

back around 1910 and established a brief

residency in Whatcom Creek near the spot

where it crosses under Cornwall Ave?

A huge field where Bellingham High School

is now was the site of the circus every year.


a circus elephant


Submitted a short story ‘Aristotle’s First Car’

written quite a while ago, but still waiting to

be published. It’s part of a big short story

collection I’m hoping will be my next book.


Note from publisher:

Larry and Ann went to Oberlin “to see a

film in the Apollo, stopped by Mindfair…

and there it was…up on the wall in the

front window.” I can’t get my book into

the bookstores in my hometown, but

farover in Ohio, people walking on the

street can look in and see.


in the front window


With the help of a Sub Mariner comic,

collected 4 selections for audience

participation at reading on Friday night.

(Other 3 things are from Steinbeck’s

Sweet Thursday, a poem by Robert Sund,

and some Raymond Chandler from

The Big Sleep when Marlowe meets

the General in the greenhouse.)

Hopefully there will be at least four

people in audience and four who

will like to read.


the help of a sub mariner


Email from J. Genius:

“Wow. The title & the cover are a knockout.

I can’t wait to enjoy your new book!

The soul needs sustenance. If you’d like

to do some audience participation please

feel free to count me in. I am, after all,

3 parts ham.”



Sent off two poem submissions

‘Who Wouldn’t Want a Gorilla Mask?’

and ‘We Live Beneath.’


Found out there’s an appointment at the

office scheduled right after the reading.

Will have to keep it under 45 minutes.

I think I have it all put together,

I just need to time it.


Coming back from walking the dog

I checked the mailbox and lo and behold,

there’s a letter from Tom Robbins!

Lacking a vital Hollywood connection,

it looks like he won’t be making it to

the reading, but it was good to hear

from him.


there's a letter


Had the reading last night. We went to the

office a half hour early, I put a sign out on

Holly Street and we set up the rooms—an

urn of chai tea, cookies, the 5 books for sale,

also an extra box if hordes of people show up.

The kids were playing Harry Potter as usual

until Rustle needed my help finding the

bathroom. We walked down the hall,

the walls have never stopped smelling of

paint. The Clover is an old building,

a fantastic thing with 3 floors, creaky

tipped hallways that looks like a set

from Outer Limits, filled with odd

offices with paper nametags on the

doors: travel agencies, restaurant supply,

tax advice, or just a handwritten word.

When Rustle was 2 or 3 he loved

elevators—the Clover has a great one—

and once he slipped away down the hall

and got in the elevator. We caught up

with him on the next floor, his eyes

wide. So I was taking him towards

the Executive Suites sign when

J. Genius appeared. “Yes,” he observed,

“You look like a father taking his son

to the bathroom.” Afterwards we went

back to the office which had collected

a few more people. A woman was

apologizing before taking off her shoes,

“My sock has a hole in it.” “That’s

nothing…” I replied and held up my

left heel for inspection. The whole

back of my foot was exposed, the way

it usually is, the reason I get cold feet

walking to work in my sandals.

There used to be two little girls

from Vietnam who would wait with

their mother at the bus stop. They

noticed and would laugh at my feet.

I thought about turning that into a poem.

A few more people showed up and

found chairs. When it was 6:40 and

I guess around 12 people (the audience

was all people we knew, no sign of the

Herald readers, no cigar chewing kid

from Chapter 16) The Mermaid

Translation began.


the reading last night


The dog started barking this morning,

not unusual with her nose pressed to the

window pointed towards the street.

A yellow checkered taxi was parked at

the curb, a guy in a thick black coat was

getting out. He held a suitcase and he

had a cardboard poster tube tucked under

his arm. I’ve never seen him before.

I brought the dog into the kitchen,

she was still carrying on, but when

I got back to the window, the taxi was

pulling away, leaving fog and the visitor

was walking up the driveway. He got

past the sign on the gate ‘The World’s

Smartest Dog’ and then there was a knock on the door.


“Hi, my name’s Darp Thiggens,” it sounded

like he said. It was cold out there on our

doorstep, it seemed like it might even snow.

“I’m from Kazow Toys, they sent me here

to speak with you in person.”

“What about?”

“We’re interested in turning The

Mermaid Translation into a board game.

I’ve brought along some blueprints.”

“Alright,” I said. I let him in. I closed

the door, even though he had the air of a

salesman. They do try our house from

time to time, paying no attention to the

dog sign on the fence or the warning

‘Solicitors Butchered!’ posted on the


He set the suitcase down and tapped out

the blueprint scroll. So even though he

mentioned my book title, I was half

expecting him to try and sell me a

collapsible broom, or willow rotor.

But when he unrolled the paper and

held it up, I saw something else:

a map of a town beside the ocean,

a circus on the bay, a hill with a

mansion at the top, and mines

underneath everything. Looping

through it all was a path like the

yellow brick road. Leaning closer,

I could see the familiar characters

from the novel drawn as little

moveable game pieces.

“That’s the blueprint,” he said and

laid it on the chair. Then he unlatched

the suitcase. With a flourish he

presented it, “And this is the working


Mesmerized, I watched as the little

plastic figure of Sanford rode the

gondola string up the cardboard

slant of September Hill.

The Journal of The Mermaid Translation #2

written 11/30/10 -- 12/18/10

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mermaid Reading Dec.17th


Friday, December 3, 2010

The Journal of The Mermaid Translation

The Journal of The Mermaid Translation

I have a box of the new novel, The Mermaid Translation.

I wasn’t going to write about this, but now it seems I am.

I’m not sure if it’s a diary, in order to keep my own

astounded observations, or simply a look at what happens

when you write. Anyway, let’s just call it a journal. And

it’s a good place to start, with this cardboard box full of


this cardboard box


On Saturday, I put it off as long as possible, until finally,

after 3 o’clock I pushed myself into action, grabbed a book

from the box, the car keys and family and out the door

we went. It was raining, dark—dreary is the word—but I

had to hope the weather was not a reflection of deeper

meaning. First stop was the public library. I parked and

left with Rustle in the back dancing to Elvis Presley.

These things take enormous nerve. I’m not fond of

doing this at all, but onward I charged.

The librarian had just finished talking up the books

on the new-release shelf and she turned to me with

a smile. I asked her about using one of the rooms

for a reading. She showed me the rental fee. I guess

that was enough for me. Part of the fantasy I have is

that people (I mean libraries and bookstores) would be

excited about having a local author read in their place.

It just isn’t like that. Unless I was J.K Rowling Jr.

They want the money. I went in the rain back to the car.

And on to the next stop.

J.K Rowling Jr.

My favorite bookstore in town sits on a slope with old

trolley tracks and the rain running down. Years ago, they

used to be on the corner of Harris Avenue, we used to go

there all the time when our daughter was a baby. Their

new store is beautiful orange wood, looking out over the

bay. Just before I went inside though, I swore and slammed

the car door. I had a premonition. My wife didn’t believe

they wouldn’t accept copies of my book to sell. After the

library and in fact years of doing this sort of thing, I know

better. Still, I held to a golden thread of hope that this

wonderful dreamy bookstore would be different. But I

told her I knew what they were going to say. And she scolded,

“See, you’re just going to make that happen.” My rude reply

was, “XXXX!” and “Just watch what happens...” So I fumed

out of the car with the new book tucked beneath my

sweater. Through the rain and yellow light, I got to the

counter and explained that I was a writer living in this

town and this is my new book. I’m trying to get it

reviewed in the local papers, I was hoping I could

mention that copies were for sale here. (There would

be hordes of people arriving after the glowing reviews.)

She soured immediately, “I’m afraid we have too much

overstock, our inventory couldn’t handle another book.”

Okay, okay, I said. I honestly didn’t expect it and I’m sure

it sounded bad when I softly told her it was my favorite

bookstore. But it isn’t anymore.

Outside, the family was moving on, ahead of me,

following the sidewalk to where it fell apart and turned

into gravel and weeds. I caught up at a puddle and we

went to the big bookstore rising over the street.

Voltage Books is the place everyone goes, the place

everyone thinks of first. Unfortunately they’ve become

notoriously heavy-handed when dealing with

small press books. To sell books here, the author

needs to provide the copies, any sold are subject

to a 60/40 split. So actually I’m losing money trying

to sell my books. On top of that, they charge the

author a ten dollar fee to give a reading. So, with

the library letting me down, and my ex-favorite

bookstore failing me, my confidence was at lowtide

as we went in. Right away I noticed Robert at the

cash register. I let the string of customers wind past,

then I said hello. He’s always been a good egg. I handed

him the new book and muttered I’d like to do a reading.

Robert flipped through it, “Oh, you should…” he said,

“You have to do a reading.” He called someone on the

intercom but she wasn’t around, so he wrote down

a couple of contact names. One of them I already wrote

to last week. I thanked him, I had become so flustered

I told him the book was for him. I even signed it.

At this point I didn’t know what I was doing anymore.

He seemed pleased with it though. As I left, he told

the woman next to him, “This is the third book of

poetry someone’s given me this week.” Yeah, I believe it.

We’re just throwing it to the wind.


Yesterday I mailed a copy of the book to another Robert.

My friend Rob is a musician who lives in Seattle.

He wants to record people reading it then drone the

results at an art gallery. It sounds fun. This weekend

we might try to meet at a studio. In the meantime,

a good review of sorts—my 5 year old niece in Ohio

got a hold of a copy of the book. Maya refuses to part

with it. When she isn’t carrying it with her, she keeps it

in a wooden box like a holy relic. Her mother had to

wait until Maya was asleep to slip it from her hands so

she could read it.

a good review


Naturally I wish this book could be such a sensation to

more people. I still wish I could make a living from writing.

Does it just take time? Think of those wandering poets of

China and Japan who wrote on cliffs and leaves and bark

hundreds of years ago. Now they’re translated, carried in

pockets, on subways and satellites. Today I’m going to

mail a book to my friend Michael. He would understand

what I’m talking about too. For years he’s run his own

small press. Many moons ago we worked together in a

warehouse, that’s where I got to know him. That’s when

he showed me a book that changed my life, a small novel

that was designed like a Big Little Book, with text on

one side and a drawing on the other. I carried that book

and read it everywhere until it was done and I returned it

to Michael. It immediately affected the magazine I

self-published (Pie in the Sky) and I kept it in the back of

my mind until I wrote The Heaven Antenna in Ohio

in 1998. In fact, the original book (which was later

published as The Ohio Trio) was handwritten with text

and drawings in honor of that book Michael showed me.

However, in the years that poured past, I had forgotten

the title of that magical book. I guess I figured it was a

one-of-a-kind underground flower. But I recently

contacted Michael again—he’s living on an island near

Oregon now. He reminded me: The Great Canadian

Sonnet, by David McFadden. So I gladly sent Michael

my new book—if it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know

how my writing would look.

The Great Canadian Sonnet
from The Heaven Antenna
from The Heaven Antenna
from The Heaven Antenna


Note from publisher:

“I think we agreed at $100 for all the set up and 20 copies.

Okay, could use it in the account right now, riding low.”

the set up


Just emailed two local newspapers, The Bellingham Herald

(which of course features in the book) and Cascadia Weekly,

asking if I could send them copies of the book to review.


The Herald responds:

“We don’t do book reviews, but we do publish

author events and occasionally interview an author

in conjunction with an event (usually at Voltage Books).

When you have a reading, let me know, and maybe

bring by a copy of your book for consideration.


No response from Cascadia Weekly.


This morning Paul Piper leaned out his window into

the rain to yell at me, “Hey Allen Frost, you’re famous!

I just ordered your book from Amazon!”


Every day do something to keep it in motion. Today

I printed out a 6 page list of all the libraries that own

copies of the other 4 books I have published. Next will

need to find the time to go over them, get addresses

and send them flyers for the new book.


Sent two emails. One to Rebecca, telling her I have a

book for her. One day she came up out of the blue and

told me she had my first book. She had been to my

reading at Voltage Books so many years ago when it

came out. A few weeks ago, she traded me a bag full of

homemade cookies for Bowl of Water, my second

book. Also, sent an email to Vowels bookstore in

Portland, Oregon, hoping to set up a reading there.

That would be wonderful—a chance to go back to

the city where I landed in 1995, barely on my feet,

worked as a dishwasher, met wife, a city of

memories and poems.


Trip to Seattle didn’t quite work out the way I hoped.

No recording done, but did get to hear Rob’s ideas for

his show—the Mermaid book would be heard as a

murmuring, coming from filing cabinets in a dark

room lit only by little bedside lamps. I like it.

Rob's ideas


Sunday, went to see the exhibition at the Seattle Center.

The lamposts wearing colorful banners leading to the

doors, a big line of people buying tickets, some fans

lucky enough to rent hand-held recorders narrated by

the author. Waiting to go in, waiting to see the original

props, accessories and wardrobes from the book.

“Marvel at all the handcrafted detail you will see

surrounding you,” promised the barker. Buzzing

in the line with adults, teens and children, finally

going in through the doors, shutting us inside a

black room with blue rippling wave lights projected

on the ceiling. A mermaid in a tank of water

announces, “Welcome everyone toThe Mermaid

Translation Exhibition!” After a burbling fanfare,

the curtains on the right of us parted to reveal a

green and blue light shining through a round

portholed door. All on its own, the door opened

wide into a gasping sight of a beautiful summer

meadow. “It’s Sanford’s yard!” someone yelped

and we all stepped in. Yes, behind the ropes

of our path was Sanford’s bathysphere.

Wildflowers cushioned it, you could almost

reach out and touch it. A huge model of an

elephant looms out, a red balloon sits in the

air and you can faintly hear the piano playing.

There’s the periwinkle shell of the mermaid’s

café, follow the crowd inside. All the cups hooked,

a stove with pots of tea and coffee in a copper urn,

the rippling moat the mermaid pushes through,

the wooden tables and chairs, the lighthouse pearl

turning, the jukebox with the record ‘How To Speak

Dolphin’ nested on it. Look over there! It’s the actual

tiger suit worn by Jenny! And standing next to it,

the elegant tuxedo and top hat ensemble of the

magician. Suddenly, on guide wires overhead, a

flock of yellow canaries flickers by. In a glass case

are Mr. Merrimac’s prop books, along with worn

telephone books and the torn-out page listing

Penny Certain Recordings. “Emily Dickinson’s

bread!” A phone booth, a dunking booth, the

Saturn Circus sign, with two skeletons guarding

the gate. The mood is calmer in the set of the

poet’s shack. The floorboards creak. Look out

the window, across the cattails and birdsongs,

see the sun reddening, going down.

The autoharp, candles and soup cooking in

a pot. On the wall of the hall leading to the next

exhibit are movie posters faded and colorful.

‘Octopus Attack’ and publicity stills and tattered

circus handbills. Walk through a shining gondola

car, in one door, out the other, into Mr. Dash’s

observatory. Standing amid tropical plants are

the clothes worn by the book’s characters.

People laugh and point at Denton Pine’s worn

tweed suit, posed as if on the run from the librarian.

Sanford’s little clothes hold a lantern in each hand.

Out from there, we follow a rocky mining tunnel

that drops us right into the gift shop.


Email from Vowels bookstore:

They forwarded my request for a reading on to

“our marketing team.”


2 emails from the publisher:

“I’m nominating The Mermaid Translation for a

Pushcart Prize. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone

win, but it’s great to be nominated.”


“I opened my email to find each of the

warehouses ordering The Mermaid Translation.

This is good. Some are ordering 6, some 2. About

20 in all. Whoopee! They had asked me for a ‘forecast’

list of publicity for the book, and I told them of ads to

come out and readings planned or in the works.

It works.”


Response from Voltage Books:

They have a new consignment agreement since the

last time I read there. It now costs $25 (up from $10)

because “consignment is very time-consuming to

manage.” Also, they want me to provide 5 copies of

the book. The only bright note: they referred to the

book as ‘Mermaid in Translation’ which is kind of


Response from Vowels bookstore:

“Thank you for your email. I appreciate your

willingness to present your new novel at one of

our stores, but I unfortunately don’t think we

would see the size audience or sales to support

an event and must decline.”


I realized something about The Mermaid

Translation. Not only is it a sort of cartoon,

like a Saturday morning one with an undersea

hero, it’s also like a dream the way it seems

so serious when you’re in it. Then, when you

awaken, even as it’s fading, you wonder what

was all the running and worry and story for?

November 15—November 24, 2010

part 1

drawings: allen frost