The Great Kitchen Update

When we bought our house, it came well-equipped.  Two bathrooms, a refrigerator, central air, a garage…and a stove.  This one, in fact.

I have no idea how old that thing is.  It’s a Fridgidaire all-electric, 40 inches wide.  Side-by-side ovens, self-cleaning, for its day no doubt state-of-the-art.

And Donna couldn’t wait to get rid of it.  She wanted a gas range.  Well and good.  Of course, having just shelled out money to buy the house, we didn’t have a lot left over to start replacing appliances.  We did get a new refrigerator and over the years we’ve updated things as needed.  Both of us are too cheap, er, frugal to toss something like a stove out just because we don’t like it, so we decided to replace it when (a) we were really flush or (b) when it died.

Little by little it began to die.  The burners mainly.  Till a couple of years ago we were down to one full-functioning burner and a warming one.  Well, last month the whole thing went blewey.  Great, brilliant sparks shot out of the control panel, the circuit breaker flipped, it is dead, Jim.  Dead.

“Damn,” was followed immediately by eager grins.

We shopped for a new one.  This would be a standard size, 30 inch.  We decided that as long as the space was empty, let’s replace the floor.


Here you see the choices we came down to.  Naturally, we considered doing stone.  We love stone.  Stone is good.  Stone is also very expensive.  Besides, the only stone we found that we both loved was the single sample toward the left-hand corner.  That’s sandstone.  Terrible material for a kitchen, where liquids get spilled all the time.  Besides, we’d have to seal it every year and things like that we’re not so good about.

So we come to the two shades of tile.  Black marble and something called Eurogrlacier Ice.  We both liked both, Donna the marble, me the ice.  (Yes, I know that was ungrammatic, but “I the ice” just don’t sound right.)  We compromised and opted for a checkerboard.  This is not stone, this is just tile.  But we liked it.

But first we had to have a gas line run and the electricity changed from 220 to 110.


You can see here, also, just how yellowed the old floor had become over the years.  Definitely time for a new look.


So we hired a young man (actually our friend Jim’s son-in-law) to do the work.  Jeff is very fast and competent and we are pleased with his work.


Last Saturday, the new stove arrived.  Unintentionally, we ended up with another Fridgidaire.  This is all gas, with five burners.  This is just what we wanted.  Installed, there was but one more detail to take care of.  (Well, one for now.)


Note the gap between stove and counter and cabinet.  We talked about building a cart to slide into the space, or just getting a piece of countertop to bridge the gap.  In the end, we opted to move the entire cabinet.


Moving the cabinet also gave us full access to the drawer and the cabinet below, both of which had been partly blocked by the refrigerator (because we bought the biggest damn ice box we could that would fit that space at the time!) and also affords us a bit more usable counter space.

Now, of course this isn’t the whole project.  We still intended to paint the walls and ceiling and eventually get the cabinet doors refinished, but this alone has given us a strikingly new look.  At the moment, I don’t care.  All I care about right now is that I can now cook.  Really cook.

I just hope I haven’t forgotten how.

p.s.  I should point out that we intend eventually the replace the countertops as well, but given the cost we can make do till…later.  We’re thinking track lighting, too.  Again, later.

A Few More Memories

I thought I’d post a handful of photographs from Clarion ’88.  Just a few.  The temptation to try to do humorous captions is great, but I decided to simply be informative.  Enjoy.


The entrance to Owen Hall, the dorm building

Van Hoosen, where the workshops were conducted


Tim Powers, our first week writer-in-residence, in session


Pizza with Powers


Daryl Gregory, doing his Tim Powers “I Got No Story” Clarion Blues


Kelley Eskridge arrived already injured, with sprained ankle, but as optimistic as the rest of us


One of many outdoor meals held in the courtyard of Van Hoosen.  Lisa Goldstein, second week instructor, is in the midst of students here


One of the other eateries in East Lansing frequented by Clarionites


Chip Delany, third week instructor


Nicola Griffith


Andy Tisbert, Me (attempting inscrutability), and Kimberly Rufer-Bach during a workshop


Kate Wilhelm, Kim Stanley Robinson (fourth week instructor), and Damon Knight.  Kate and Damon were fifth and sixth week


We had our own t-shirts and sweat shirts made, with a logo for our year, and “reading matter” on the back.  This was the day they arrived


During the last week we wrote a “group story” which blatantly abused all the “rules” we’d learned.  This was it’s one and only performance.  Daryl Gregory, Brooks Caruthers, Me, Lou Grinzo, and Kelley Eskridge

The quality of the photos may not be the best, but these were done long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.  The memories cannot be contained in so few pictures, yet for those of us who were there, they may trigger the infinity of all that we shared.


Tomorrow, June 26th, is the 22nd anniversary of my arrival at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop, on the campus of Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.  The following piece was written for an anthology about Clarion several years ago, one which firstly did not take the essay and secondly seems not to have appeared at all.  Be that as it may, I’ve decided to post it here.  Enjoy.

And to all my fellow Clarionites, Happy Anniversary.

Baked Grass and Surgical Evisceration

The room could double for a steambath late into the night.  When we arrived—seventeen of us from Maine to California, plus one from England—the weather was the last thing on our minds.  Now, four weeks into it, ignoring the weather was a consuming pasttime.  East Lansing was a torpid landscape of browning grass, heat mirages, and wilting humans.  Earlier it had been 103; as the sun vanished it left behind an afterwash that, I swear, raised the heat index.

Owen Hall.  Seventh Floor.  So this is Clarion.

When I had applied for the workshop it was an act of measured desperation.  I’ve always, in one way or another, wanted to be a writer, but not until 1981 or ’82 had I done anything about it.  Even then it was more a hobby than—well, than the passion it has become.  In the fall of ’87 I filled out the applications, placed my two stories with them into an envelope, and sent them on their way, like a bottle with a note for help cast out to sea.  I had every expectation that this, like most of what I had written in the previous five or six years, would be rejected.  I had solemnly told my companion-best friend-lover Donna that if Clarion did not want me I would give it up.  The writing.  Like a junky I was not at all certain that was possible.  But rejection after rejection adds up and the demand of the Gods Who Edit And Write The Checks seemed unachievable.  I had reached the end of my sanity.  I had no idea why I was unable to write salable work.  I had no idea what I was doing wrong.  I had no idea why my offerings came back unwanted.  If there was one thing I knew clearly about my expectations of Clarion it was that this question be answered.  What was I doing wrong?

Being accepted to Clarion was not quite as great a relief as a cancer patient being told he is in remision—but I think I have an inkling what that must feel like.

Now, the heat sapping what energy was left after workshopping and writing, my thoughts drifted toward doubts of a different, though kindred, sort.

What the hell am I doing here?

Long distance to Donna (glumly):  “I don’t know what I’m doing here.  There are some incredibly talented people here.  I feel like…I don’t know…I don’t measure up.”

Donna:  “Do you want to come home?”

Me:  “I don’t know.  Yeah, maybe.”

Donna:  “Okay.  Then walk.  And make sure you bring everything with you.”

I had brought a coffeebrewer, my own coffee, a MacIntosh computer, half a dozen reference books, a tape player and two dozen cassettes, vitamins, and clothes.  Oh, yes, a small portable fan, which in this heat had become a cooling fan for the computer, lest it seize up on me and mightily crimp my progress.

The white screen of the MacIntosh seemed as daunting as the proverbial blank sheet of paper so many writers have mentioned.  I was supposed to fill that screen.  Hm.

Clarion was a six week escape.  I had never had, and would probably not have for a long time afterward, so much time to simply write.  I wanted to take advantage of it.  I hyped myself into overdrive whenever the least thread of a story line presented itself to me.  Get it out, get it on the disks, don’t let it get away whatever you do!

Fourth week.  The story I had finally finished the previous night had come out easily enough, but then I printed it out.  I listened to the insect buzzing of the printer and with each pass of the ribbon felt worse.  Another piece of crap.  Another failed experiment.  It had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  So much for improving.

I stepped out into the hallway while it printed.  From around the corner at the far end—emerging from the “girl’s hall”, a result of MSU sexual prudery or something (which never made sense because there were regular MSU students of both sexes strewn up and down both corridors, which meant only the Clarion students were segregated…)—Daryl, Andy, and Brooks came advancing toward me, Andy aiming a video camera and Daryl reciting some narrative like a demented Inside Edition reporter.

Everyone ended up doing a spot for Daryl’s tape, a video documentary of bits of Clarion.  When the excitement had died down and the camera was gone, I went to bed.

Swelter, swelter.  Listen to heat melt the oxygen in the air.

In the morning I woke to the gurgling of my coffeemaker.  I looked over the story again, grimaced (there is a word, are we in the sf genre aware? that almost never appears in any other form of fiction, and I have heard solid arguments from english professors why sf will never be significant because we insist on using “grimace”), and stared out at the highrise shimmering across from our building.  It was already too damn hot.

I read the last story that had to be critiqued that day, made my notes, knocked back some more coffee, and dressed.  I left my cubicle and headed for the back stairs.

Behind Owen Hall a narrow river, the Red Cedar, runs through the campus.  A forest area sprawls against the river.  There are trails and it is preternaturally quiet and beautiful.  I had gotten into the habit of going this way to Van Hoosen every morning, camera in hand.

Van Hoosen is a conference hall connected to rows of fairly nice apartments surrounding a grassy courtyard.  The writers-in-residence live in one of these spacious apartments.  They are air conditioned.  We had commented to Al Drake and David Jones, our director and assistant director, that many of these other apartments seemed empty.  It would have been nice to have been allowed to occupy them rather than the monk’s holes on the seventh floor of Owen.

“Expensive,” David had said.

“They’re empty,” we replied.

Van Hoosen was air conditioned.  Mercifully.  I handed my manuscript to David for xeroxing and got another cup of coffee.

This was week four.  First we’d had Tim Powers; then Lisa Goldstein; Chip Delany; now we had Stan Robinson.  Stan brought with him memories of his Clarion experience, a quietly academic approach, a croquet set, and we were considering blaming him for the heat.

The workshop was conducted in the round.  Each of us took a turn, rotating clockwise, starting at the given week’s instructor’s left and coming full circle back to him.  After the writer, then Al Drake would add something.  Each of us did what we could to avoid being First.


It’s difficult to describe what goes on at such a workshop.  Stan had congratulated us for not indulging in shotgun/machinegun crits, as, he explained, had happened during his Clarion.  We spoke to the story in hand, examined it technically, almost clinically, and tried to keep our visceral reactions objectifiable.  Sometimes that wasn’t possible.  Sometimes a story was either too good or too bad to be objective about and sometimes that aspect had to be addressed.  But we tended to be—if this is applicable to students—professional about it.  From some of the stories I’ve heard some workshops had been bloodier than a Brian dePalma flick.

The workshop went until lunchtime.  Then we had time to write.  Or wander the campus.  Or go into town and blow it off.

I was written out.  I felt dismal about my story.  I mentioned it to Kelley, but I couldn’t explain without telling her the story, and we had all gotten into the habit of not discussing the specifics of our stories before they were written.  I felt by and large out-of-place here.

I grabbed my cameras and walked down Bogue St. into town.

Bogue dead-ended at East Grand River Avenue, which borders the campus, separating it from East Lansing proper.  It’s a broad street with islands running down the center, and containing shops, restuarants, message boards with layers of posters and personal notes tacked to them.  One of these boards had caught fire recently; no one had cleaned off the charred remnants and now more messages were being tacked over the blackened tatters.

I hesitated before Curious Books.  This had become the bookstore of choice for us, not least because the owner, Ray Walsh, had arranged for each of our instructors to do a signing every Wednesday.  It was a wonderful bookstore, crammed with used and new, the air permeated with the heady odor of printed matter.  I’d already spent a small fortune here.  I walked by.


I went straight to the Olde World Soup Kitchen.  As far as I had been able to tell I was the only one who had discovered this place.  I adore a good bowl of chicken soup (they make excellent sandwiches, too) and I wasn’t unhappy about being alone.  I could sit and think.

Some of the things I thought about were facets of Clarion that nobody ever talks about—at least, they didn’t tell me.

One: you learn just how much you can accomplish on five hours or less a night sleep.

Two: there are worse things than not being able to write at all—being able only to write garbage.

Three: you discover just how much alcohol you can take in and still be coherent.  Sort of.

Four: the workshop structure of Clarion lends true insight in just what an editor must go through daily dealing with the slush pile.

I had my soup and a sandwich and I thought about these and other things.  No conclusions, just mental exercise.  At this point I wished I could have turned my brain off for awhile.  When I had no more excuses I stepped once again into the blastfurnace and made my roundabout way back to Owen Hall.  As I entered the lobby George was passing through.

“David’s looking for you,” he said.  “Something about missing a page of your story.”

“Shit.  Where is he?”

George had a number jotted down and I called on one of the lobby phones.  David explained that I was shy the last page of my story, could I get him another and run it over to him?

What else was I supposed to say?  No, David, let everyone read the damn thing and guess the ending.  I ran up the stairs—the elevators took too damn long—sprinted to my room and booted up the story.  I printed out the last page, closed everything down, and bolted for the stairs again.  The copy room for our use was two buildings away.  I ran.

When I entered the building I encountered a large group of Asian exchange students, all talking animatedly in their own tongue.  I strode through them, silent, out-of-breath, and sweating profusely, a lone sheet of paper in my hand, and somehow did not seem to attract their attention.

David was in the basement.  His eyes widened slightly when I entered the copy room.

“Here,” I said, handing over the page.

“Thanks.  I’m sorry about this.”

“No problem.  My fault.  But I don’t understand how one page could’ve gotten lost.”  I glanced at the pile of copies he’d been running.  We had a lot to read tonight.  At least I didn’t have to go through my own story again.

“Well, yours was the last one in the stack and I’d gotten all the rest copied, then I couldn’t find the last page.”  He scratched his head.  “I’m glad George found you.”

I opened the copier lid.  A sheet of paper lay there.  I picked it up.  We both stared at it.  My original last page.  David winced.


I didn’t mind too much.  This building had fully functional air conditioning.

When he finished, I walked with him back to Owen, talking about various things that didn’t require a lot of thought.  David slid the copied stories under the door of each room containing a Clarionite.  As I watched each copy of my effort disappear under each door I felt worse by degrees.

We parted at my room and I locked the door behind me.  The small, rather noisy refrigerator I’d gotten from management contained a couple of six-packs of wine coolers.  I stripped, showered, and sat staring out the window, downing one after another.  In the middle of the third one I started reading the small pile of stories.

I’m a slow reader.  I was worried about that when I came and found out what the schedule was.  I had to read all these tonight, critique them, and be ready to be constructive in the morning.  As long as the stories were short I had no trouble, but once in awhile someone—like Daryl—would dump a novelette or novella on us, hence a night that basically allowed me about three and a half hours’ sleep.  Tonight there were four stories, including mine.  Well, I didn’t have to read mine.  One of the others was about nine thousand words.  I read that first.

It was dark by the time I finished the other two.

I was on my fifth cooler.

Instead of trying to sleep in the sauna of my room, I decided to go down to Stan’s room to soak up some atmosphere—cooled atmosphere.

(I’m also not a party sort.  I tend to be horribly shy in groups larger than two, so I hadn’t attended very many late night bashes with instructors.  To be fair, there hadn’t been many till Stan’s week.)

When I arrived at his room, my head nicely encased in cotton from the coolers, things were quiet.  Stan was holding forth about his Clarion.  Andy was there.  Sharon and Glenda, too.  I had no idea what time it was.  I helped myself to a glass of white wine and sat and listened.

“—no, we weren’t even here,” he was saying.  “We over in ____ Hall.  The workshop room was in the same building.”

The air was nice.  I sort of nodded off.

“Wanna go for a walk?”

I looked up.  Andy was standing before me.  “Hmm?”

“We’re going for a walk with Stan,” he said.


“Over by his old hall.”

I glanced at my watch.  It was nearly midnight.  I was tempted to stay in the room and enjoy the air, but what the hell?  I had missed a lot of this sort of thing so far (I thought) so I shrugged and stood.

It had actually cooled down somewhat.  The night air was maybe ninety degrees?  The grass crackled sadly underfoot, like we were walking on small snack crackers.

The stars were brilliant, though.

Stan spoke in semi-reverent tones about water fights, group readings, the horrible cafeteria food, tristes, trials, and travesties.  I thought, my what a placcid, boring group we are compared to his.  (Later I asked Damon about that and he opined that the 88 Clarion class was an older median age than the others, older enough that we didn’t—well, behave younger.)

We arrived at a gothic manse of a building that hulked in the night like a troll’s mound.

“This is it,” Stan announced and bounded up the front steps.  He grabbed hold of the door handle and pulled.  The doors rattled.  “It’s locked…”  He tried the other doors.  “What time is it?”

“Twelve ten,” I said.  I stood next to Andy, hands in my pockets like a tourist, watching Stan go from door to door, peer through his framed hands into the dimly-lit interior, grow visibly disappointed.

“I guess they lock up at midnight,” he said.  “Well, my room was over here.”  He crossed the law (crackle, crackle, crackle) to a row of windows that looked into the basement.  He started searching.  “Damn.  They aren’t dorm rooms anymore.  They look like store rooms.”

I walked up beside him and looked in.  Boxes, old desks, unmarked rolls of something (maybe maps) filled the rooms.  Stan went to the next, then the next.

“I don’t remember which it is,” he said.

“Let’s try the back door,” Sharon suggested.

I nodded and followed Glenda and her to the rear parking lot.  The doors were all locked.  Stan and Andy came around then, Stan talking once more about his days at Clarion.  I told him none of the doors were open and he gave the building a sort of wistful look.

“Oh, hell,” I said, pulling my pocket knife out, “there’s always a way in.”

Stan looked at the knife.  “What are you going to do?”

I shrugged.  “Find a way in.  What are they going to do, arrest us?”

Stan frowned.  “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Andy was grinning.

“For nostalgia’s sake?” I suggested.

Stan shook his head.  “No.  Let’s get back.  It’s not important.”

I raised my eyebrows, trying to look very Spockian, then shrugged and closed the knife.

We wandered back to Van Hoosen.  Daryl was walking his computer down from Owen.

“What are you doing?” Andy asked.

Daryl gave us a frantic look.  “I can’t take it anymore!  I’m melting!  I can’t think!  I won’t stand for it, I tell you, I just won’t!”  Then he grinned.  “I’m setting up in Van Hoosen.”

I faded away from them then and wandered back up to my monk’s hole.  The coolers, the wine, the walk—hell, I passed out.

In the morning I woke up and sat on the edge of my bed staring at the coffeemaker that I had forgotten to set.  No coffee.  Shit.

I splashed water on my face, then made coffee.

A note had been slid under my door in the night.  Sleepily, I scooped it up and returned to the edge of the bed.  The coffeemaker gurgled energetically.  After a couple of minutes I turned on the stereo behind me.  Genesis came out.

I opened the note.

“Mark:  just wanted you to know, loved this story.  Your writing gets clearer and clearer.  Keep up the good work.  Kelley.  Ditto, Mark.  Nicola.  Me, too.  Glenda.  Chin up. Peg.”

I sat there with a goofy grin—I could feel it, I know when I have a goofy grin—staring at that note.  In one note I went from maudlin to mushy.

Later, in the workshop, they eviscerated that story.  Of course.  Being a friend means being honest.

That was the other thing nobody told me about Clarion.


New Fantasy Thugs, Clarion class of 1988:  l to r (roughly)  Lou Grinzo, Jay Brazier, Daryl Gregory, Kimberly Rufer-Bach,Kelly McClymer, Mark Tiedemann, Peg Kerr Ihinger, Brookes Caruthers, Sharon Wahl, Nicola Griffith, Kelley Eskridge, George Rufener, Glenda Loeffler, Sue Ellen Sloca, Mark Kehl, Andy Tisbert


Given the subject of the last post, I feel this is appropriate.  Add a little light to the dark.

Tomorrow—June 23—is the 15th anniversary of the closing of Shaw Camera Shop.  I was there on the last day (and at least one day afterward) and saw it shut down.

I grew up there.

As I’ve noted, I became interested in photography when I was fifteen.  Dad gave me his vintage Canon rangefinder, bought me a small lab—Acura enlarger, a few trays, tongs, mixing bottles, a plastic film developing tank, a safelight—and I was off.  Interestingly, I now recall, we bought all the darkroom stuff at, of all places, Famous-Barr.  They had a complete photographic department then.

Soon after I began making my first messes, photographically-speaking, we started hanging out at Shaw Camera.  It was close and had more goodies than the other close one, Jefferson Camera.  Besides which, we almost immediately took a liking to Gene and Earline.

Physically, it filled the ground floor of a large two-story building near the intersection of Shaw and Vandeventer.  The corner building contained a liquor store—Bus Stop Liquors.  Catecorner across Vandeventer was Irv’s Good Food, which was immortalized in Glenn Savan’s novel, White Palace.  It was the classic greasy spoon diner.  The cook was an ageless fellow right out of a Woody Guthrie world named Earnie.  On the other two corners were gas stations, one of which closed down (the one directly across the street from the Shop) before I started working there.

It was also right up the street from Missouri Botanical Gardens, which became a major customer.

The neighborhood was old and, as they say, “in transition”, so for years it was a mix of urban yuppie and down-and-out Section 8.  Highway 44 was visible from the front window.

The store part was bright—a long counter that turned in an L about midway in, with glass cabinets behind a central rack on which were photofinishing order envelopes, the phone, various catalogues, right next to a counter containing the bins for finished work and the cash register.  The back half contained two rows of shelf space on which one found supplies of all sorts.  When I first walked in there, it was a cornucopia of cool stuff.  If you wanted to start up in photography—the whole thing, shooting and printing—Shaw was the place to go.

Along the right-hand wall, midway, you came to an alcove.  A door within opened to another large space which housed their collection of cameras and other assorted collectible equipment.  (The collection was world class and included an all-mahogany 8 X 10 view camera from the 1880s.  It drew the attention of serious collectors, including once Martin Barre of the band Jethro Tull, who wanted to buy it outright.  Earl wouldn’t come down enough for him, though.)  This room had three corked walls.  One was taken up with a white background against which Gene shot passport pictures.  The other two were used to hang pictures.   Customers could display their work.

Proceeding down the center aisle, back in the main shop, you reached a wide access that could be barred by a heavy accordion steel gate.  They’d been robbed once.  Bad enough that the thieves stole camera from the shop, they had gone back into the lab and opened every single box of paper, exposing it all, putting the shop in serious trouble.  The cameras were insured, the material wasn’t.  The small area immediately through this access contained the lunch counter and the copy stand.  To the right were two doors—one to the bathroom, the next to the office.

To the left was another wide access, which led to the lab space.

The building had once been a bakery, so this entire back area was done in polished white brick.  (A great uncle of mine had actually worked in the bakery, in the 20s.)  A separate room had been built square in the center of this huge space, and inside that room was the darkroom.  Three enlargers, standing alongside tray set-ups.  Everything was done by hand.  No automated printing machines at all.

At one time this section had been leased out to a film sound-striping operation, wherein the sound recording part of movie film was added to raw film.  This was a separate business from Shaw.  Part of the chemistry these folks used was carbon tetrachloride.  They spilled some one day—a whole bottle.  They took their time cleaning it up and the fumes drifted into where Earl was working.  At that time she wore contact lenses.  The carbon tet vapors his the lenses and shattered them.  Earl had no corneas after that and when we knew he she wore very thick glasses through which her eyes looked truly weird.  That she could see at all was amazing, that she could see as well as she could defied reason.  The film-striping company was asked to leave after that.

Just for reference, here is an old photograph from a newspaper article about the shop and Earline, from 1964.


This was before I knew her and before the accident.

I went to work for them in 1972 as part of the first Distributive Education program at my school.  Actually, it was before that, in the summer.  I’d hoped to keep the job all that year.  But I was a terrible employee.  At 17, I simply didn’t know what I was supposed to do.  Not the lack of training, that was a given.  But the idea of holding a job, of being a self-starter, of being responsible—I didn’t get it.  So they fired me.  I deserved it.

I had three more jobs between then and when they rehired me in January of 1976.  By then I’d figured out how to be an employee and Earl took a second chance on me.  Apparently it paid off, because I worked there until June of 1995.

Most of our work at the time was custom.  Fine prints for particular people.  We did only black & white.  Color work we jobbed out and we had a couple of labs for that, most of which are gone now.  For the amateur photofinishing there was Rainbo Color.  Custom transparencies, Master Slide.  They later added custom prints as well.  Eventually, there was a lab that did cibachrome prints, Novacolor.  And, of course, there was the Great Yellow Father—Kodak.  But we did the black & white.

A couple years after I went back to work for them, we got into the yearbook business.  For a few years we were printing all the work for the three largest yearbook photographers in St. Louis—Vincent Price, Hal Wagner, Lyle Ramsey (I think, memory may be playing tricks with me)—and had to add new equipment and hire new people.  Earl was still lab manager, but more and more the daily management was left to me, while Gene handled all the retail.

As I mentioned before, they adopted me.  When they realized how serious I was becoming about writing, Earline gave me an IBM Selectric for a Christmas present.  (Later she gave us our first computer, a first-generation MacIntosh, which proved…inconvenient.)  Annual bonuses were normal.  Trips to the country regular.

We laughed all day in that place, even though we worked our butts off.

When I started seeing Donna and introduced her to them, they took to her immediately and folded her into the family.  Donna used to ride the bus to and from her job and she got out early enough to come by the shop.  She would come back at the point in the day when all the prints had to be dried.  This was in the days, still, of what we used to call “real paper’—fiber-based, not resin-coated—and we used an enormous drum dryer.  You’d lay a row of prints on the apron as it moved toward the polished ferrotyping drum, against which they would be squeegied.  The drum, which was a good four feet in diameter, turned slowy and by the time they came round they would be dry and fall off into a tray.  Donna would just come on into the back and start drying prints.

I think back to that time now and find a thick chord of nostalgia.  Good times.

I worked there through an expansion that saw us making quite a bit of money.  We started doing the b&w for several camera stores through Rainbo Color Lab.  For a time I think we printed every black and white image sold in St. Louis.  The roll-call of the stores is telling about how much has changed.  Jefferson Camera, O.J.’s, Clayton Camera, Kreumenacher’s, Vazi’s, St. Louis Photo, Dicor, The Shutter Bug, Sappington Camera, Creve Coeur Camera, Schiller’s…

Of the bunch, I think Clayton Camera still exists and Creve Coeur and Schiller’s, all very much changed.

Earline had had her first bout with cancer in the mid-Sixties—uterine.  When I went to work for them the second time, shortly thereafter, it came back as breast cancer.  She fought that off.  But then it came back again as a weird manifestation of lung cancer and that was when she began to lose.  It metastisized and when it reached the brain she died.  I occasionally still have dreams about her.

She’d started as a street photographer at 14.  She was self-educated.  When I went to work there in 1976, she was learning Russian.  Just for the hell of it.

The demise of Shaw Camera Shop still causes a touch of bitterness.  It didn’t have to happen.  I’d offered a number of ways to change with the times, most of which, for reasons I won’t detail here but which were profoundly short-sighted and stupid, were ignored by the new owners.  Little by little, customers went away and we didn’t replace them.  Eventually, it just couldn’t be sustained.

Today if you go by there you’ll find it’s home to a lawn ornament/antique shop called Gringo Jones.  They’ve gutted the insides, but, as I finally worked up the nerve to go through there last year, you can still see where everything was, a kind of archaeological trace.  The liquor store is gone, too, but that had closed down while we were still open and was taken over by a botanical shop called The Bug Store, which is still there.

Irv’s Diner is long gone and where one of the gas stations was is now the forecourt of a research center owned by the Garden.  Where the other gas station had been is a parking lot, also owned by the Garden.  It’s a thriving neighborhood now.

Like many good things, I didn’t realize how much I liked working there until long after I didn’t anymore.  I haven’t even touched on the wide range of characters we had for customers, a catalogue of unique people I doubtless mine in my writing.  Many if not most brought smiles when they came in.

Occasionally, up on The Hill, St. Louis’s designated Italian neighborhood, you can still walk into a restaurant or a store and see a print we did hanging on the wall. One irony was that after two years of trying to break into publishing novels (and failing) I had to go back to a dayjob.  I got one very quickly, at Advance Photographic, which was less than half a mile up Vandeventer from where Shaw had been.  To my surprise and amusement, about half their black & white customers were my old customers.  So for a brief time there was a bit of continuity.

But that’s gone, too, now.  All that remain are a lot of photographs, memories…and a very substantial piece of who I am.


This is not the way I wanted this to be done.

I’ve talked here before about my years at a place called Shaw Camera Shop—4468 Shaw Ave, in St. Louis, Missouri.  I worked there for 20 years.  I did black & white processing, printing, waited counter, swept up, stocked shelves, eventually hired (and fired) people and ran the lab, finally, toward the end, ran practically all of it because the then owner more or less walked away from it and let it die.  I ended my tenure there with mixed feelings.

But the first 11 years were the years in which I grew up.

The two people who owned it then and ran it were straight out of a Dickens novel in many ways.  Open-hearted, fun-loving, generous to a fault.  They tended to adopt people and I was one of the ones who got swept in.

We found Shaw Camera back when I was 15 and had discovered photography.  They were the supply house, the advisers, the place to go to hang out and imbibe the visual air.

Gene and Earline Knackstedt were a second set of parents to me.  I loved them both dearly.  Earline trained me to be a printer.  She was good, she was so good, at what she did.  What was amazing about her was the boundless energy she possessed, in spite of the fact that she had been fighting cancer in one form or another since the Sixties.  While working for them, she had a reoccurrence—three of them—and finally, in 1985, died.

Gene and Earline were, if nothing else, best friends as well as husband and wife.  Quite unconsciously, I took them as the model for my own relationship.  Donna and I are best friends.  That has seen us through a lot of troubled times.  The same for Gene and Earl (as everyone called her).

Gene took care of the retail end for the most part.  He was one of those ideal shopkeepers—amiable, wide range of knowledge, good story-teller, the kind of man everyone seems to like.  Neat, meticulous, in many ways still a kid.  He learned to fly while I worked for them.  He loved it.

Both of them loved.  Everything.  Good food, travel, good books—but mainly they loved their friends and made them all feel as welcome as possible.  They had a house far from St. Louis in a lakeside development with a lot of open, undeveloped land around.  I often spent weekends down there.  Earl and I would go for long hikes, me lugging 20 or 30 pounds of cameras along.  Gene came down Saturday afternoons after closing up the shop.

When Earl passed away, Gene sold the shop.  He wanted me to buy it.  That was hard.  I’d decided by then that I really wanted to be a writer and I knew that if I took on the shop that would be all but impossible.  Running a business is a hundred-hour-a-week proposition, and I knew that.  I’d watched, I’d learned.  So to his disappointment (I’m sure) I said no.  I didn’t want Gene to do that, but I understood.  Too many ghosts in those rooms.  Earl was gone, the memories would be sandpaper and razor blades.

So he did sell it.  And he sold it to someone who didn’t seem to understand what it took. In any event, Shaw Camera stumbled on for another 9 years before finally succumbing to the loss of its resident spirits—Gene and Earl.

Gene retired to his place in the country.  Donna and I still went down occasionally, but it was clear that things weren’t quite the same anymore.  And I got more deeply involved in my own dream, which took far more time than I’d ever imagined.  But I kept in touch as best I could.  For a time, Gene served as a deputy sheriff.  He practically ran the local airport.

And then I lost track completely.  When my first novel, Mirage, came out I sent him a copy and got back and enthusiastic post card.  I called.  Something wasn’t right, he didn’t speak well.  It turned out that he’d suffered his own bout of cancer—they had taken out a part of his tongue and jaw.  During the operation, he’d had a stroke on the table.

We visited.  His companion absented herself during our stay.  We knew her so this kind of surprised us, but it became apparent that, on her part, we weren’t welcome.  We spent a last weekend with Gene, who was still sharp, though impaired, and we talked a great deal about the past and what had been and what might have been.  We “took care of business”, as it were.

I thought we see him again.  But that was 2000 and the next years were hard and difficult and disappointing and.  Still, I thought we’d see him again.  I meant to call, to write.  Admittedly, we were both put off by the attitude of his companion, who took very good care of him, and were reluctant to add any discomfort.  Still, I’d intended…

I suppose what hurts is no one ever told us.  I had to dig it up on the web.  Gene evidently passed away a few years ago, at 76.  There had been no memorial service for Earline, per her request, and Gene felt pretty much the same, so that doesn’t surprise me, but no one, among all our mutual acquaintances, let us know.  I’m not sure what to make of that.

Gene was one of my best friends.  He taught me a lot.  He was something.  I shot this at one of the last visits we made before he’d become ill.



My dad.  I have a lot of mixed feelings about him, as every child does even if they don’t admit it.  Most of mine are positive.

To be clear, he is still alive.  He’ll be 80 next month.

In his own way, he encouraged me in just about everything I ever did.  The problem usually was that I didn’t appreciate his encouragement.  Partly this stemmed from a profound misunderstanding between us of the reason for his encouragement—or perhaps I should say the purpose behind it.  See, Dad was a Depression Baby.  Even in today’s economically stressed climate, most people born during or after World War II really don’t grasp all that meant.  For one thing it didn’t mean the same thing for everyone.  But for everyone of that generation, it meant something that drove them to make sure their children and grandchildren never had to live through such a time, or such conditions.

The irony of this—which I think was largely successful—is that the children of these people can’t grok the essential nature of their fears.  Oh, you can think your way to it—after decades of wrestling with some of this I believe I can describe it and write about—but at the time of life when they are trying their damnedest to both impart their values and protect loved ones from the severities of the Depression, there is a profound mismatch of perception and apprehension.  My parents both wanted me to be safe from what they went through—but they also wanted me to share the value they placed on money and caution and common sense and success.  To succeed in one meant the failure in the other.  I did not for years understand why my dad got so angry with me over how I went about choosing what to do with my time.

For what we had, my parents lavished me with largesse.  I took an interest in art, materials appeared.  I took an interest in music, a 1964 Thomas organ arrived in the house, state of the art with a Leslie speaker built in.  I took an interest in photography, a lab arrived, then cameras, then more cameras, then supplies.

And there was Dad, peering over my shoulder, encouraging and sometimes driving me to master these things.  It often led to horrible days of screaming and crying and nastiness.  He could not tolerate mediocre work or ambivalence or sloppiness or…

Or the fickle attention span of a child.

What I did not understand until about a decade ago was this: all these things showed up, underwritten, sponsored, encouraged because he was trying to make sure I had a skill by which to earn my way in life.  Whatever I wanted to do, he wanted me to do it at a level where I could make money at it.  All of it was aimed at a career.

I was a kid.  I wanted to play.  We ended up dealing with each other at crossed purposes.

Had I known this then, I suspect I would have kept my interests to myself.  I did finally do exactly that when I took up writing.  That was the one thing I did not share with Dad.

But all the haranguing and yelling and insistence on quality that had preceded it ended up going into the work on the page.

I can say now that all he did I know he did out of love.  He was trying in the best way he knew how to protect me.  To make sure I’d be all right.  He just neglected to tell me that’s what he was trying to do.  I accepted all the things he and my mother provided as any child might, as expressions of indulgence.  As toys.  And I played.

Unfortunately, none of what he tried to help me do came to fruition in the manner he expected.  He might have been happier had I become a studio musician, but learning to play in the traditional manner (lessons, constant practice of boring music, etc) left me cold and frustrated.  I didn’t really start playing well until I got involved in a rock’n’roll band and of course that was music he couldn’t stand.  (Even so, when he realized what was going on, he and mom actually went looking at portable keyboards and started learning what I would need if it turned into something.  I nipped that in the bud by being secretive about it.  No way did I want another two or three thousand dollar millstone around my neck.  But they would have done it.)

The photography turned out to be different.  He pretty much left me alone to pursue it the way I wanted to.  And in my usual approach, I jumped head first into the most difficult parts, ignoring the tedious basics.  Sure I wasted a lot of film, a lot of paper and chemistry, but in two and half years I was doing fairly high-quality work.

As an example, here’s a portrait I did of Dad that actually got some outside attention while I was still in high school.


This piece actually got entered into a state art contest.  It made it all the way up to second place at that level and one result was to change the mind of the head of the art department about the value of photography.

At the time this image was made, Dad posed for a lot of pictures.  He was still working as a machinist.  Hard, intense labor at the time.  These were the days before numerical control machines.  He had to do the calculations by hand, load the steel stock by hand, operate the machines by hand.  He was immensely strong at the time.  He’d come home covered in sweat and grime, shower, sit, eat dinner.  And then ask what I’d been up to and did I need help with anything.

He has always been there ready to help.  So what if he got the method wrong?  It wasn’t all wrong and the results were nothing to complain about (at least, I hope not).

After getting out of the shop—because he was the only one to volunteer to take the training when the company he worked for bought their first numerical control lathe—he worked just as hard to ascend a management ladder and ended up head of an engineering department with nearly a hundred engineers under him.  He built an entire factory from the ground up for a single project and came in under budget and ahead of schedule.  He taught himself four computer languages and learned the complex ins-and-outs of procurement for an international corporation.

He was retired—asked to do so, offered a big bribe to leave—because, despite all this, he only had a high school diploma.

As I said, he’ll be 80 soon.  Physically, he’s much diminished.  But the mind is still as sharp as ever and he still challenges me.  And once the stories and novels started appearing, he was not at all shy about bragging on my behalf.  (“I don’t know much about this literary stuff,” he told me once, “but your mother does and she’s says you’re a damn good writer.”  Which meant he thought so, too.)

I found this photograph recently, scanned it, cleaned it up a bit.  I thought I’d share a bit about my dad.  He was and is Something Else.  I love him.

New Look

Not for the blog.  For the house.  Today we are having painting done in the bedroom and the downstairs bathroom (gosh, that makes the house sound huge, doesn’t it?)  We’d intended to do the painting some time ago, after we bought our new bed.  But just as we were lining all that up, our stove blew up.  (Not massively—it’s an electric stove, so the blow-up was a very large white spark and then complete inertness for the mass of metal).  Well, a new stove was on the menu for a long time.  The one that died was here when we bought the house.  Never really liked it.  Now we can get what we want.

Well, within reason.  We will be going from a 40-inch wide monster to a normal-sized 30-inch.  Which will entail moving a set of cabinets to fill in the resultant gap.

But meanwhile!  Meanwhile, as long as we’re moving all this stuff around, might as well put a new floor down.

We found the most amazing sandstone, with a kind of rainbow whorl pattern.  But for a kitchen?  Sandstone?  Erm.  So yesterday we traipsed around, looking at flooring.  We both like stone, will settle for porcelain or ceramic…

We’re doing tile.  No way we can afford exactly what we want now.  But it will be cool.  I’ll post before and after photos here once we start moving and shaking.

But the house is, once more, a wreck.  Emptying one room and make such a mess of the entire rest of the house, it’s numbing.

But we’re getting a new look.  Again.  We do this periodically.  One’s landscape perhaps ought not stay the same for too long, lest all the other attributes of stagnation work their ways in.  And we all know what “being stuck” can do to you.  Not pretty.

So stay tuned.  There will be pictures.

Resume du jour

It’s June.  A smidgen over a year ago (May 29th, 2009) Advance Photographics closed its doors and I have been unemployed since.

In that time I have written half of the sequel to my alternate history novel, Orleans, and a complete new novel, a murder mystery called  The Drowned Doll.  I’ve written blog posts for both here and Dangerous Intersection and occasionally for my MySpace page (which is getting more and more neglected in favor of Facebook, through which I can stream this blog).  I wrote book reviews for a good chunk of 2009 until two of my review outlets basically dried up and went away.

I’m also now, as I’ve mentioned before, beginning to learn Photoshop in a meaningful way and toying with entering the vast realm of full digital photography.

Along with that I have continued to serve on the board of the Missouri Center for the Book and have become its president again as of this past March.  My life is nothing if not bubbling with activity.  None of which, however, is paying me a damn thing.

We bought a new bed.  After nearly 30 years with a waterbed, age and comfort demand something else, so we replaced the king size freeflow with a high end Serta (queen  size) and have thereby also gained much floor space in the bedroom, something we’ve been chafing over the lack of for some time.

Our stove finally died.  With a great brilliant spark, the control panel for the ancient monstrosity announced forced retirement, so we must now buy a new stove.  This is a mixed thing, both an occasion for celebration and a pain in the butt for the untimely expense.  We’re also getting some painting done.

I had to repair the ceiling in my office.

I am attempting to write a new short story.  I may have mentioned that some time in the last decade, since devoting myself almost entirely to novels, I’ve misplaced my ability to do them and now I wish to hunt that ability down and capture it again.  I have a deadline, which helps somewhat.

Like so many today, my job prospects are dim.  What I spent 35 years doing is an obsolete skill (traditional, wet process photofinishing).  My admittedly impressive publishing oeuvre does not seem to impress people looking for editors or technical writers.  My academic credentials, being nonexistent, limit me in terms of getting interviews.  I am in a position wherein I must make my writing work.  I must.  I want to, there’s no question there, but with four completed novels currently unsold (due to factors of which I have no concept) and no ready ideas on how to move any of this forward, I’m in an awkward position.  As each of the novels currently in circulation are attached to series, all of them will entail sequels when they sell.  It would seem unwise for me to write yet another novel at this point.

So.  I’m open to suggestions.  Right now I’m going to go to the gym.  Before I go, though, I thought I’d go ahead an post my resume.  Just in case anyone may read this who may be interested.

Have a nice day.


Mark W. Tiedemann
P.O. Box 160160 St. Louis, MO 63116

Strategic Planning                    Communications
Organizational Development                Press Relations
Public Affairs & Presentation                Public Speaking
Staff Recruitment                    Workshop Management


Participated in the determination of organizational policies regarding issues of program requirements and benefits, as well as longterm goals.

Organized public events, including speaker liaison, facilities, and scheduling.

Established relationships with other agenices and organizations to facilitate common goals.

Directed activities of professional and technical staff and volunteers.

Spoken to community groups to explain organizational goals, policies, and programs.

Recruited, interviewed, and hired or signed up volunteers and staff.

Represented organizations in relations with governmental and media institutions.

Prepared written presentations, including newsletter material, in support of organizational goals.

Oversaw board meetings, setting agenda, and directing input from members to facilitate optimum productivity, and establishing policies consistent with the achievement of organizational goals.


Published author since 1990.  Ten novels, fifty-five short stories in various national publications, book reviews, occasional articles.  Bibliography available on request.

Missouri Center for the Book ( .  Elected president in 2005, I have worked to revitalize the organization and have successfully increased its board membership, public visibility, and overseen the establishment of the new Poet Laureate position for the state of Missouri.  Prior to becoming president, I developed and produced a variety of public programs for the organization.

Advance Photographics: 1997 to the present.  Duties include all aspects of traditional photofinishing, with an emphasis on b & w processing, color printing, and copy work.

Self employed freelance writer: August 1995 to July 1997

Shaw Camera Shop: December 1975 to July 1995.  Custom b & w photofinishing, all aspects, including lab manager from 1982 onward.