AAW bids farewell to Dorothy Austin

Dorothy Witte Austin, a longtime Milwaukee newspaper woman and member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, died Nov. 29, 2015, at age 97 in Portland, Tenn.

Dorothy AustinDorothy was born Aug. 22, 1918, in Necedah, Wis., daughter of Emil Alfred Witte and Marie (Wake) Witte. She earned a bachelor’s cum laude degree in journalism from Marquette University in 1940 and was a member of Theta Sigma Phi (later the Association of Women in Communications) and an honorary member of Gamma Pi Epsilon.

On Oct. 3, 1953, Dorothy married widower Harry Russell (Russ) Austin, who also worked at The Milwaukee Journal from 1944 to 1982, ending his career as reader-contact editor. He died March 3, 1994.

Dorothy is survived by three children, Steve Austin of Portland, Tenn.; Richard Kirk (Sage) Austin of Rio Frio, Texas; and Christopher Austin of Milwaukee, Wis., as well as grandson Matthew Russell Austin.

In her 33 years as a journalist, she worked at the Catholic Herald Citizen (1940-’43), The Milwaukee Journal (1950-’67) and The Milwaukee Sentinel (1970-’83). Dorothy’s career included Red Cross staff assistant in South Africa and Italy during World War II (1943-’45); advertising copy chief at Gimbels department store (1945-’50); and assistant and associate director of Milwaukee’s popular Summerfest music festival (1967-’69).

She was a member of the Unitarian Universalist church in Milwaukee, Washington (D.C.) Press Clubs, Wisconsin Press Women, Allied Authors of Wisconsin (AAW), and the Women’s Overseas Service League. She was inducted into the Milwaukee Press Club’s Media Hall of Fame in 1985, the club’s centennial year — eight years before her husband received the same honor.

“Dorothy was a pioneer for women in journalism. She tackled many obstacles and even won the right to return to work after having a child — probably the first woman in the history of The Milwaukee Journal to do so,” said retired journalist Paula Brookmire, who covered the feminist movement in the 1970s for The Milwaukee Journal when Dorothy was writing about the same for The Milwaukee Sentinel.

“Dorothy was one of the most interesting, hard-working, wonderful women I’ve ever met,” said Maureen Mertens, fellow AAW member and freelance reporter for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Dorothy got the job done. No excuses. No complaints.”

“She was a warm and loving person with a zest for life that remained until her last illness,” said friend Rose Daitsman, a retired chemical engineer and minority-student recruiter who taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The family is planning a memorial service in Milwaukee sometime later this year.


5 ways to support the writer in your life

Do you know someone who is committed to the craft of writing? Congratulations!

Maybe this writer is a relative, in which case you have destiny to thank. Or maybe you’ve befriended someone who has been bewitched by the notion that stacking words one atop another to build a story can be fun and profitable.

Either way, if you’ve spent any amount of time around a writer, you’ve probably already learned a few things about this admittedly strange species:

She might have told you how she came up with the idea for her story and why it’s awesome.

He probably dished on the details about his creative habits or writing schedule or preferred typeface.

Perhaps she shared her protagonist’s astrological sign.

(On second thought, maybe condolences are in order.)

Here’s the thing about writers. We spend a lot of time alone, populating a private world with imaginary friends—er, people—and thinking about topics reserved solely for storytellers and serial killers (e.g., how much midazolam would it take to knock out an average adult male?).

Eventually, we need to come up for air and share some of our “head happenings” with the wider world…or, at least, with our most-trusted loved ones. (That’s you.) And that means his success as a writer depends, at least in part, on you.

So whether they are still in the planning phase, frantically pounding out the first draft, or up to their elbows in edits, here are a handful of ways you can support any writers who cross your path:

1. Encourage them

In addition to a killer concept and mad composition skillz, thick skin, a strong spine, and enough patience to fill a Buddhist monastery, a writer needs encouragement to survive.

Oh sure, we might be able to sustain ourselves for stretches on ego alone, but eventually our confidence fizzles, and refueling is necessary. We need to be told that we aren’t wasting our time. These proverbial pats on the back can take the form of compliments. For instance, if an idea they share sounds cool, tell them. If nothing else, praise their dedication to what so often can feel like a hopeless pursuit.

Face-to-face chats are great, but don’t forget about Facebook and Twitter and wherever else in cyberspace your writer roams. Follow their author accounts. Like and share their posts. Comment on their blogs. If you engage them online, others might also!

(Yes, I actually wrote the word “cyberspace.” Apologies.)

2. Read their stories

Every writer needs readers. This is true even before a book or short story is published. Alpha readers, beta readers, pre-readers—whatever you want to call the role, you are a prime candidate for being the first eyes on a story.

You aren’t obligated to give a thorough appraisal of the piece, and no one should expect you to play the part of proofreader, but some feedback is appropriate. What did you like? What felt a bit off? Praise is always appreciated, and depending on your rapport, constructive criticism can be very helpful too—emphasis on “constructive.”

But never leave a writer hanging. You gotta give ’em something. And if you don’t make it to the end of the novel—or even the end of the first chapter—let the writer know. You can soften the blow by saying something like, “I don’t think I’m your target reader because this part didn’t work for me…”

3. Buy their books

Encouragement can come in a variety of forms, including financial support. In fact, one surefire way to show the writer in your life that you approve of their writing is by sponsoring them. Just ask my wife! (Insert rimshot here.)

Sure, there actually are donation/sponsorship websites like Patreon, but the most forthright way you can support your writer is by buying her book. Even if you still have an early draft on your e-reader from back when you served as a beta reader. And even if you don’t plan to read the thing cover to cover. Owning a copy of your writer’s book proves, definitively, that you give a damn.

It’s not just about the money, either (though that helps). The more sales a book receives on a site like Amazon.com, the better its ranking becomes; the higher the rank, the greater the visibility—and, therefore, the greater the opportunities for additional sales.

4. Review their books

5-starsHere’s where support starts to feel an awful lot like work: After you’ve read the book, write a review and post it on Amazon and as many other sites you can find that carry the book.

Actually, this isn’t as onerous as it sounds. No one expects you to write a college-essay style literary criticism piece that compares your writer’s story to Great Expectations. A few sentences will suffice, and if you have more to say, great! Be honest, but if there’s a lot you don’t like, maybe focus on the stuff that shined. Then copy and paste copiously around the web.

Why are book reviews important? People tend not to trust a book until it has 100 or so reviews. Sadly, it’s the quantity of book reviews—more so than the quality of what’s written in them—that prompts customers to put a book in their cart. Ten 5-star reviews just seem less trustworthy than dozens of reviews that average to 3.5 stars. Strange but true.

5. Spread the word

Whether self-published or traditionally published, any writer worth his carpal tunnel will spend time and money on promoting and marketing his book.

But a single writer can cover only so much ground. Even Jesus saw the value of sending His followers far and wide to share the Good News, thus increasing His geographical footprint. I’m not saying you have to quit your job and become a full-time missionary for your writer’s fiction, but if you come across folks who might like the novel, tell them about it.

Or, better yet, lend them a copy of the book.

Bottom line: Successful writers need readers, and as the friend or relative of a writer, you can make a significant impact on whether her attempt to “make it” as an author turns out to be a nightmare or a dream come true.

(Besides, haven’t you always wanted your name to appear on an acknowledgements page?)

David Michael Williams contributed this article (reprinted with permission from http://david-michael-williams.com).


Haefele will appear on Lovecraft panel at PulpFest

John D. Haefele, a longtime member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, will share his insights on the origins of the Cthulhu Mythos this month at PulpFest.

Poster for PulpFest 2015In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the birth of H.P. Lovecraft, PulpFest 2015 will present a variety of programming to honor one of the best known contributors to the weird tale genre. Haefele will appear on a panel titled “The Call of Cthulhu: The Development of Lovecraft’s Mythos” on Friday, Aug. 14. The program promises a lively discussion that explores the inspirations of the Cthulhu Mythos, the important contributions of Lovecraft’s contemporaries, as well as the various controversies and personalities surrounding the Cthulhu Mythos premise throughout the years.

Haefele will be joined by editor and scholar Don Herron; popular culture scholar Rick Lai; Professor Tom Krabacher of California State University, Sacramento; and Nathan Vernon Madison, an author and researcher for The Pulp Magazines Project.

Signed copies of Haefele’s Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos: A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos will be available at PulpFest. The book tackles numerous questions about the Lovecraft/Derleth controversy with fresh evidence and profound revelations. Unsigned copies can be purchased at Amazon.com.

PulpFest will be held Aug. 13 to 16 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio.


What to do when writing tips contradict

The only constant when it comes to writing advice is inconsistency.

There are times when I wish someone would come up with a template for writing a creative, impactful and commercially successful novel in “Just 10 Easy Steps!” While there are no shortage of textbooks and self-help guides for writers, I fear there’s no one surefire way to become the best writer you can be.

At the end of the day, fiction writing is more art than science.

Since no two minds work precisely the same way, no two writers are going to approach planning, plot structure, character development, research, writing, and editing exactly the same way. A method that works for one author might result in utter failure for another. A customized methodology, then, is key.

Who am I to question the wisdom of Stephen King? Just another writer trying to figure stuff out. | Photo credit: Shane Leonard

Who am I to question the wisdom of Stephen King? Just another writer trying to figure stuff out. | Photo credit: Shane Leonard

In the first post on my blog, “One Million Words,” I vowed to abstain from stating “absolute rules that govern writing as a craft or business.” Mostly, I didn’t want to come off as arrogant, but there’s a more pragmatic reason for my promise:

There aren’t any absolutes when it comes to writing.

That’s not to say there aren’t valuable tips to share. (I like to think that this blog contains a helpful nugget or two for people careening headlong down the same crazy path I’ve chosen.) And there are plenty of overarching platitudes that seem applicable to most people.

Yet I have to believe that despite how many successful writers have declared, “You must read voraciously in order to become a better writer,” there’s a genius out there somewhere who penned his or her masterpiece in a vacuum.

Anomalies aside, some so-called writing rules outright contradict others. Never was this more apparent to me than during early email correspondences with a new member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, who sought my perspective on several conflicting pieces of information—including the sage words of one Stephen King.

The article he referenced included excerpts from King’s memoir, On Writing, which I had read and enjoyed many years ago. In the article, King says writers should “write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open.” The article further paraphrases the point: “You should maintain total privacy between you and your work,” while composing the first draft.

This wasn’t the first time the aforementioned aspiring author had encountered advice dissuading him from sharing his partial manuscript with others. And while I can agree that there are some disadvantages to prematurely exposing one’s story to the critics, I believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

In “Why writers groups still matter,” I outlined how soliciting feedback from fellow writers can help an author and his or her book. Of course, one could wait until he or she is finished with the first draft before joining a writing workshop, sending it to beta readers, and so forth.

So why not acquiesce to King’s (and many others’) point of view? Here’s what I told my friend via email:

I don’t know if I’d say receiving critiques on your work prior to having finished a first draft is detrimental. I can see pros and cons.

Some pros include getting an early understanding about what the readers are latching onto. If their attention is focused on the right stuff, you know you’re on the right track. If they are getting distracted by minor details (or characters), that gives you some ideas not only for how to revise those first few chapters, but also how to treat such things moving forward.

I will say, however, that I think it’s a mistake to perpetually revise chapters. I’ve seen it happen time and time again where writers can’t get past the first handful of chapters because they’re constantly revising until it’s “perfect.” And getting feedback from alpha readers adds more feedback, so, yeah, there’s a higher chance that a writer will want to revise/redo/rewrite instead of move forward.

At Allied Authors meetings, I take notes on the critiques for every chapter I read. But I never work on those chapters immediately after a meeting. In fact, I don’t review them until I’m ready for Draft 2. (Though I will keep comments in mind in case they are relevant for upcoming/unwritten chapters.) I’m a firm believer that it’s better to get a complete draft done before trying to improve on anything. It’s probably because I’ve seen too many people frustrate themselves by trying to make Chapter 1 flawless before moving on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that work.

Is a completely MS review preferred? Absolutely. …it’s difficult to critique portions of a novel (due to a lack of context, etc.), but imperfect though they may be, I continue to find value in chapter-by-chapter reviews.

So who is right—Stephen King or I?

Or both?

In actuality, I’m not disagreeing with King on a philosophical level, but the devil is in the details. And even if King and I likely agree that rewriting Chapter 1 ad nauseam is a mistake, there are probably those out there who make it work. Probably, there are folks who never get a second opinion on their manuscript before sending it off to an editor or self-publish it and let the public decide whether it’s worth purchasing.

Writing is a complex activity. What’s ideal for one person might not be remotely achievable by another. (Sorry, Mr. King, but as much as I’d love to knock out a first draft of a novel in three months, real life tends to get in the way.)

Every writer must determine his or her own path from conception to composition. There’s a heck of a lot of alphabet between Point A and Point Z. I suppose the only thing that matters is making it to “The End” without getting lost among all of the warnings along the way.

David Michael Williams contributed this article (reprinted with permission from http://david-michael-williams.com/2014/07/22/what-to-do-when-writing-tips-contradict/).


H. P. Lovecraft’s letters to Robert Bloch: End of era begins another

In the history of fantasy writing and publishing, Milwaukee was for a brief time the “center of the craft,” but by then the end was already in sight.

Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was an American writer of fantasy, horror, and crime — the famous author of Psycho — who began his career in Wisconsin. As a teenager, he absorbed the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), the author of supernatural horror and weird tales (perhaps the most significant of all time), affectionately referred to as HPL.

HPL: Portrait by Lucius B. Truesdell

HPL: Portrait by Lucius B. Truesdell

Bloch turned 16 years old on April 5, 1933. He decided to write a letter to Lovecraft in care of the pulp magazine Weird Tales, where most of Lovecraft’s work was appearing. Probably the magazine’s editor, Farnsworth Wright, forwarded his message to Lovecraft, who was then living in Providence, Rhode Island.

On April 22, HPL wrote back to Bloch, “Your very flattering note has just been forwarded to me by Weird Tales…,inaugurating an especially interesting, albeit brief, correspondence between the two. HPL generously answered Bloch’s frequent letters with lengthy missives of his own, in which he mentored the budding author and apprised him of literary news.

Lovecraft’s side of this cycle was published in 1993 by Necronomicon Press as H. P. Lovecraft Letters to Robert Bloch, edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. Bloch’s side of this exchange probably no longer exists.

Excerpts from these Lovecraft letters will interest members of Allied Authors of Wisconsin because they shed light on the group’s earliest incarnation as the Milwaukee Fictioneers and should interest the fans of fantasy at large because they also reveal the sad dovetailing of events which brought to a close possibly the greatest era in the history of American fantastic writing.

Due in part to Lovecraft’s tutelage and encouragement, Bloch’s skills developed quickly, and he experienced early success selling short stories, including several published by Weird Tales. In 1935, now 18 years old, Bloch was subject of a feature article in Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal, in the nationally famous Green Sheet section. HPL wrote Bloch, “Let me congratulate you all over again on the vivid writeup…! It certainly presents you very strikingly & interestingly, & I don’t wonder at the messages & invitations it has brought you.”

One of these invitations is of especial interest because a week after appearing in the Green Sheet, Bloch was invited to join the Milwaukee Fictioneers.

Bloch may already have had other literary affiliations. HPL lauded the benefits of joining such groups, so his comments dated tentatively December 22, 1934 may not apply specifically to the Fictioneers, though they are revealing, nevertheless:

Your Tuesday evening discussion group sounds admirably interesting & stimulating. In a way — except for the nearly uniform ages, & the possibly greater systemization of topics — it reminds me of my old gang … We used to meet around at the different members’ houses & argue about everything under the sun… And did we have some swell intellectual free-for-alls on various aesthetic & philosophical subjects? I’ll tell the cockeyed world!

But there’s no question about reference in the following aside, written early in June of 1935:

The Fictioneers must be a highly interesting group — & the Farley meeting seems to have formed a decidedly red letter occasion. I would have enjoyed the caricature of Satrap Pharnabazus — though I will admit that the latter isn’t as consistently fatuous & conventional in his editorial policy as most of the stuffed shirts at the helms of the various pulp rags. The guest of honour, with his wide experience in adventurous quarters, was doubtless a particular hit with those who follow the ‘action’ ideal.

“Satrap Pharnabazus” (perhaps loosely based on the historical Pharnabazus, a Persian governor or “satrap” of Phrygia circa 413 B.C.) is the humorous appellation HPL used when referring to Farnsworth Wright, whose editing principles he usually deplored.

“Farley” refers to Fictioneer Roger Sherman Hoar, the mathematician, inventor, and state senator, who also authored “The Radio Man” series under the pseudonym Ralph Milne Farley.

The next mention of Fictioneers in a Lovecraft letter written to Bloch occurs circa July 1935:

Glad the Fictioneers continue on their triumphant course — the recent rural meeting must have been a festive event indeed! I’m greatly interested to hear of your meeting with Stanley G. Weinbaum, whose interplanetary tales were first pointed out to me this year. He is probably the only one of the pulp other-planeteers to escape the worst clichés of his province … Congratulations on your collaborative victory with him in the horseshoe tournament — over such learned & capable opponents!

Of course, the members of Allied Authors today recall Weinbaum as another of the predominately science fiction-oriented, early member of Fictioneers.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long after this letter that the first ominous hints of bad things happening turned up, gleaned from the line or two in which HPL acknowledged Bloch’s club activities. On September 19 of that same year, he wrote:

Sorry to hear that Weinbaum has been under the weather, & hope he may soon be fully on his feet again. Pleased to know that he likes some of my stuff.

And then on December 28:

I was surely sorry to learn of Weinbaum’s death — only a few brief months after I was first introduced to his refreshingly original work. I had become an especial fan of his … & now there will be no more stories of ‘Tweel’ & kindred marvels! … The fatal illness seems to have been very unusual, since cancer is certainly rare at thirty-three.

Tweel is the unforgettable alien creature from the classic “A Martian Odyssey” and “Valley of Dreams.”

But it is HPL’s observation about cancer that is particularly foreboding, for it is possible that he was himself, intermittingly and unknowingly, experiencing the earliest effects of his own cancer.

Weinbaum’s death was mourned by the SF community, and the Fictioneers quickly laid plans to honor him. On March 14, 1936, HPL wrote:

Hope the Weinbaum memorial volume will be a success — & that it will contain a good amount of his best work. I shall get a copy … it is surely a manifold pity that he couldn’t have lived longer.”

Unfortunately, the SF community would suffer another significant loss. In June, HPL wrote:

Since I began this bulletin I’ve had the most depressing & staggering message — a postcard with the report that good old Two-Gun has committed suicide! I seems incredible — I had a long normal letter from him dated May 13. He was worried about his mother’s health, but otherwise seemed quite all right. If the news is indeed true, it forms weird fiction’s worst blow since the passing of Whitehead in 1932.

And, sadly, it was true.

“Two-Gun” was Lovecraft’s appellation for Robert E. Howard, who was only 30 years old when he died but already hugely popular and influential as the author we regard today as the originator of the “sword and sorcery” subgenre of fantasy. Lovecraft and Howard’s six years of correspondence, published in 2009, fills 900 closely typed pages in two huge volumes.

Henry S. Whitehead was a fellow writer and another personal friend of Lovecraft, who had also passed away unexpectedly, shortly after he turned 50 years old.

The letters between HPL and Bloch continued, but the Fictioneers were mentioned only one more time, when on October 15, 1936, Lovecraft wrote perceptively:

Glad to hear of your recent sessions with fellow-writers. Milwaukee seems to be evolving into quite a centre of the craft. I’ve heard of Gallun — & believe I read something of his once which was rather good.

Ray Gallun, yet another Wisconsin author of SF, was an honored guest at one or more of the meetings held by the Fictioneers.

During these final exchanges, HPL mentions the only book of his own that would be published in his lifetime; it would feature a single, hitherto unpublished and somewhat lengthy “short story.” The Shadow Over Innsmouth, error-ridden and cheaply made, was a disappointment. And, even though 400 copies of the page-sheets were printed, the publisher could only afford binding 200, which he finally did sometime late in 1936. The rest were lost or destroyed.

HPL’s final letter to Bloch has been tentatively dated to January 25, 1937. Lovecraft died of cancer, only 47 years old, in March 1937.

Fifty-six years later, in his autobiography, Bloch wrote, “There were no words to adequately express my grief then and there are none now.”

Dawn of Flame

Ironically, the Weinbaum memorial volume Dawn of Flame, a collection of his best work, had also just been published. It would share a fate similar to the Lovecraft book. Jack Chalker and Mark Owings, the authors of The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History, attest “500 copies printed but only 250 were ever bound and the balance of the sheets were lost.”

Chalker adds this anecdote: “August Derleth recalled that he received his copy of this book and The Shadow Over Innsmouth within thirty days of each other, and they were still on his desk when, a few months later, word came of Lovecraft’s death.”

Derleth was another Wisconsin writer who corresponded with HPL and Bloch. Perhaps inspired by Milwaukee Fictioneers’ Dawn of Flame, he also published a “collected best” memorial volume in 1939 — arguably the most famous fantasy collection ever! — under the Arkham House imprint.

The OutsiderIt was The Outsider and Others, by H. P. Lovecraft.

Nor would it be long before Arkham published Bloch’s first collection of supernatural stories, 1945’s The Opener of the Way.

A new era was beginning.

Science fiction would emerge a full-fledged literary genre in the coming decades, with myriad subgenres of its own, supported by socially active fans. Not to be outdone in the annals, fantasy would benefit immensely (albeit after a slow start), following publication of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or There and Back Again, in September of 1937.

Despite writing full-time himself, Derleth’s decision to continue Arkham House publishing created the world’s most important specialty publisher of fantasy right here in Wisconsin, a template dozens of others would follow. And the Milwaukee Fictioneers-Allied Authors of Wisconsin would continue its SF bent, not only with Bloch, but with Ray Palmer, Fredric Brown and Art Tofte. Today’s active roster represents a majority of SF and fantasy writers.

Perhaps another new era is beginning…

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© John D. Haefele. All rights reserved.

 


First edition of AAW member’s litcrit book already a rarity

If you want the hardcover copy of John D. Haefele’s book about Wisconsin’s legendary author August Derleth, it’ll cost you.

“Collectors who didn’t get in fast may simply have to get in large,” cautions literary critic Don Herron, who examined the book’s Amazon.com ranking — as well as the going price for the first edition — on his popular blog, Up and Down These Mean Streets.

Derleth Mythos by John D. HaefeleOne copy of the book was listed at well over $1,000…

(Hopefully Herron’s warning does not apply to friends of Allied Authors of Wisconsin, who learned about Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos back in August of 2012.)

While the quality of Haefele’s work is certainly first-rate, the higher-than-expected prices are apparently due to a pricing algorithm used by a network that connects sellers of out-of-print books (such as AbeBooks) to industry giant Amazon, which automatically kicks in to maximize asking prices based on diminishing availability.

Amazon lists both new and used books for sale, so the real fun began when the combined total of Derleth Mythos available dropped below ten copies.

As available copies became fewer, the asking-prices for those still remaining continued to double — like the stock market’s buying frenzy and pricing feedback loop — until the last copy either was sold or pulled from the listings, all within a few days. Presumably, sellers outside the network then made changes to the pricing manually, and copies from sites such as eBay.com disappeared too.

Probably the extreme prices that popped up at the end did not represent the actual worth of the hard-to-find book. But since most of these books have either been traded or are archived in collections, a first-edition Derleth Mythos is undoubtedly worth more now than anyone paid for it new.

And the price is likely to climb further. Since the aforementioned frenzy, only one single copy has turned up for sale online, listed at nearly $700.

Fortunately, plenty of copies of the more affordable and improved second-edition of the book are available, issued by LMG Press, a newcomer that bears watching.


AAW’s Dorothy Tofte made many ripples

Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Dorothy doesn’t need me to tell them how kind and gentle and generous and compassionate she was.

She also made ripples.

As people, we all change the world around us, at least a little.

We create ripples.

Dorothy Tofte

Dorothy Tofte

Some of us are Earth-shakers, and our ripples spread out and around and through history. And those ripples may be good or ill.

Most of us create more modest ripples. We have an impact on family and perhaps a few friends, possibly a co-worker or even a stranger now and then. Please understand, these modest, everyday, just-plain-folk ripples are an integral part of the societal oceans we inhabit, and without them we’re just isolated islands or bits of aimless driftwood. They’re essential, but modest.

And then…

…then there are a special few. Those whose ripples appear quiet and unassuming. They may come from people pleasant enough, kind even, but we may believe those ripples are certain to be short-lived and absolutely will not travel far.

Don’t be fooled. When created by those special few, those deceptively quiet ripples can go on and on and on.

I first met Dorothy in 1981 or ’82 when I was asked to take over an adult writing class she attended semester after semester. We hit it off—of course, she hit it off with everyone!—and she eventually invited me to be her guest at a writers group (ripples).

This wonderful group (two groups, in fact: Allied Authors and Fictioneers) included literary agent Larry Sternig as well as a host of other local literary luminaries. Larry offered to represent my fiction and garnered me my first appearance in a hard cover book (ripples). A few years later, health issues prompted him to offer me a partnership in the agency (ripples), and I took over the agency when Larry passed away in 1999 (ripples).

As an agent, I have had the pleasure of “starting” the publishing careers of nearly a dozen brand-new writers, and while they may have found an agent elsewhere and that agent may have sold their initial books and those sales may have been to the same publishers and may have entertained the same readers, Dorothy played a very real part in launching those writers’ careers (ripples).

Years ago, I invited a lifelong friend to join the Allied Authors of Wisconsin (the two groups had merged into one), and he has become a pivotal member. (Needless to say, he and Dorothy hit it off too).  He took upon himself the task of chronicling the group’s history, members past and present, publishing accomplishments and the group’s place in Wisconsin’s rich literary legacy.

He recently collected and collated the papers and history of Wisconsin’s renowned children’s book writer, Betty Ren Wright, and presented it to the state historical society, and he is doing similar work for other writers. If Dorothy had not invited me, I could not have invited him, and this treasury of information may well have been lost.

Ripples…

I have absolutely no doubt that Dorothy’s life above and beyond the narrow confines of my contact with her created other ripples. Ripples in the lives of her fellow nurses and healthcare professionals. Ripples in her patients’ lives, the lives of staff and her fellow residents at the Congregational Home, and doubtless uncounted ripples in the lives of complete strangers…anyone seeing her kind, always-smiling face could not help but smile in return and have a better day for it.

We are all the richer for having known her.

Dorothy Tofte passed away Nov. 19, 2014. Read the obituary here.

Jack Byrne contributed this article. 


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