Sunday, May 27, 2018

Coffee With Friends

Yesterday I continued with my The Portland House: A '70s Memoir promotion. This time it was at Mama D's, an intimate local coffee shop in Wales, Wisconsin. Mama D's reached out after a friend tipped them off that I had a new book out and that I was also poet laureate for the Village.

It was a warm day and by the time I started to read, the place was pretty much full. I was so happy with the turnout. One never knows how many people will take the time to drive there, especially on this - a holiday weekend.

There were several friend groups there. Some of my poet colleagues came and brought friends, some folks from my church, Collective MKE, and even a couple of brand new friends who have been itching to get my books.

While I usually get pretty nervous at these things, I had a sense of calm and confidence about this reading. I don't know if it was because it was largely friends there or whether I'm just getting better at this. (Or maybe my writers little helper pill is to credit. LOL)

I read three stories and the crowd seemed engaged and attentive. It was a little tricky with customers entering and the blender whirring up coffee drinks from time to time. But for the most part it was uninterrupted and fun. People laughed when I hoped they would. No one fell asleep.

But the best part was afterward. One woman asked if my book was available on audio book. I told her it wasn't, that it can be cost prohibitive. I think she enjoyed the reading so much, she wanted to hear me tell the whole story, and she isn't the first person to ask the question. I would love to have my books on audio book someday, but I get the ROI thinking too.

In any case I was flattered to know that despite my pre-reading worry about how I would come across was all for naught. People have said again and again that they enjoy my readings.

Another case was a friend who posted that she'd never been to a reading before mine and now she planned to make it to more of them by different authors. Again, a compliment I hadn't expected and one to build my confidence on even more.

So someday I might not dread these things like I sometimes do. As I mentioned to some friends afterward, there are times I even get a bit of a charge out of talking in front of groups. It's totally not who I am, but once I'm up there it's sometimes hard to shut myself up. (Not to mention it takes me 3 days to recover from the buildup and presenting.)

And, finally, I hate to gush, but every time I do an event with any of my books I realize how privileged I am to be able to talk to people who actually buy them. There are a ton of other forms of entertainment that people can spend their dollars on, and I'm lucky to be a small part of any of it. Besides, people say such nice things and all of it bolsters my self confidence and reminds me that while writing is an isolating practice, the rewards are great.

So now, to find another venue to do it all again.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Spectrum Of Adventure

A friend of mine is hiking the Pacific Coast Trail for the next few months. Yes, his plan is to hike the WHOLE thing, all 2600 miles of it. He is doing it to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Research. He's calling it the Hike for a Cure and he has a Go Fund Me page if you're interested in donating.

But that's not the reason I'm writing. It is to say how much I admire him for following his heart. He essentially put his life on standby to do something he'd have regrets about later in life if he didn't follow through.

And it is pure, 100% adventure.

I am sort of living vicariously through his Video Log (vlog) and his periodic Facebook posts. I've even kicked around the idea of flying out and hiking a section with him for support.

As I've mentioned before, I am working my way through Paddle For A Purpose, a book by Barb Geiger, an author friend of mine. She and her husband committed to paddling the length of the Mississippi River. THAT, my friends, is adventure. A commitment to excitement, danger, risk and a healthy dose of outdoors.

I like to think of myself as adventurous. After all, I've been to the BWCA a dozen times or so, I've fished and camped a fair amount, and even hiked a small peak in the Adirondack Mountains a few years back.

The problem is, on the spectrum, I would fall into the weekend warrior category of adventurers. Adventure has levels of magnitude. Mine have been pretty safe and True adventurists put themselves out there for extended periods, or in extreme conditions. (Think polar explorers, Appalachian Trail hikers, etc.) Most of my adventures pale in comparison.

Oh, there was that time we took a fly in fishing trip. While they were loading the gear, they also loaded on two or three 55 gallon drums of diesel for the generators. If we would have crashed, we would have burned...real good.

So that was sort of adventurous. Being in such a remote location made it feel different too, although we were only one radio call and otter flight away from a hospital, so it was still on the edge of weekend warrior.

I've gone down some rapids in whitewater a few times as well. Once on the wild Menomonee River before I was married, and twice since on much milder trips with our kids. Those trips down the rapids felt as much like adventure as I guess I can ask for.

Anyhow, suddenly I'm aware that my days of adventure have an end date to them. If I'm going to jump out of a plane, hike the Camino, or summit a 13,000 foot peak in Colorado, I'd better get going because I'm not getting any younger.

I'll expect your full support and encouragement as I quit my job and pursue these adventures.

Uh, yeah, just kidding.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Writers Talking Writing

Yesterday I spent my afternoon as part of a panel of authors for an AllWriters symposium on how to get published. The panel was comprised of a dozen or so authors, all of whom had been published with traditional small presses. Many of them had multiple books and a few even had multiple books in multiple genres.

The group fielded questions the audience had written and submitted prior to the panel. I was flattered to be a part of it but it also felt a little surreal to me. I still consider myself new to the whole writing thing and like most writers suffer from the self-doubt/self-loathing bug, so facing the music that I might be able to help others still seems like a stretch.

But me and the rest of the panelists did alright. Some of the questions were pointed to specific people based on what they'd published and others were just opened up to the whole panel.

During the question and answer period I found it interesting that my inner extrovert comes out of his shell when I start talking about writing. It is one of my bigger passions right now - even though I'm still new at it, still faking it till I make it - so when I get going, it's hard to stop. Part of it too is that I really want to help people. Like any endeavor, brewing beer, fishing or setting up a GIS system, I love sharing what worked and what didn't. There's nothing to be gained by keeping your success secrets to yourself.

So aside from the fun of networking with other writers - something I can't get enough of - there were pieces of advice.

  • There is no proper discipline for writing. Just doing it is discipline.
  • Don't let the story you think your writing get in the way of the one that is supposed to be written.
  • Don't worry about your audience or yourself. Focus instead on writing a good story.
  • At some point students may outgrow the need for a peer review/critique group. Everyone is different. Do what works for you.
  • Outlines are not essential. Writing the story is. Then, organize it. 
  • Most writers would rather die than present their book in front of a group. (Truth)
  • When writing a trilogy, don't try and sell it as a trilogy. Sell the book you've written and mention that it is part of a trilogy.
It was a great afternoon and fun to see some old friends. I've found that there's always something to be gained by hanging around with peers. 

And this was a good bunch of them.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chapters In A Book Called Life

Last weekend was a whirlwind. As I mentioned in my last post, my daughter graduated from the University of Minnesota on Sunday. It was a highly emotional day for me, having been a student at the U back in the days before the internet and cell phones. While the past memories and present moments of great, enormous pride swirled around my head throughout the ceremony, it was what happened afterward that was the weirdest thing.

We went out to an early dinner at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis. It was a nice wind-down from the chaos and running of the previous two days. From there we dropped Sarah off at her apartment. It was unlike any goodbye I've ever said to a child of mine.

You see, her plan is to stay up in the Twin Cities. Her boyfriend is moving out there from California and they plan to make a life together in Minnesota. This meant I didn't need to move her home. But it also meant, she was changing my life as a parent forever. She would no longer be living in my house for anything more than a "visit."

Which is not a feeling I like.

But the goodbye was weird for her too. She was not only saying goodbye (for a time) to her family, but she now no longer had school to worry about. As a super achiever, I am sure that felt weird for her. As we hugged goodbye, she said "You'll come and visit right?" We assured her we would, as most of my family is up there anyway.

So it was weird all the way around.

The night prior, I gave her the journal I talked about in my last post. She cried as she was opening it, saying "I know what this is." It was an emotional moment for all of us.

The last entry of the journal kind of summed up everything that went into it. I've transcribed it below:


In two days you'll begin a new chapter in your life. These chapters in this journal are all part of a beautiful, wonderful, joyful life you have given to Mom, Ben and myself and the rest of our family. Every time I think of you and Ben, I smile knowing the world has two loving souls who will do their part to make it a better place.

I've said it numerous times in this book - too many to count - but I'll say it again. I am so very proud of all you've become. You are beautiful, caring, thoughtful, funny, courageous and adventurous. Your strong will and independent spirit will carry you far in life. My prayers for you are happiness and contentment as you write the rest of your life story. Always remember that you're my sweetheart.

I love you forever,


So, it appears I've got a new life of my own now and I'm not sure how to deal with it. But somehow I'll manage and I'm sure she will too.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

It Takes A Village

This weekend we spent with family and friends celebrating our daughter's graduation from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.

As part of that celebration, yesterday we all gathered at a local microbrewery in Hudson, Wisconsin. We caravaned up to the cities with our good friends from Milwaukee who have been like an Uncle and Aunt to both of our kids. 

And I can't really put into words how nice it was to look around the crowded open space of Hop and Barrel last night and see everyone so happy. People were making the rounds, talking to different groups of cousins, aunts uncles and of course the grandmother, Nanny. The energy in the room was electric with love and no one really wanted it to end. 

Then, today we went to Mariucci Hockey Arena to watch Sarah walk the stage and enter a new chapter in her life. The keynote speakers, Senator Amy Klobuchar and David Gerbitz, one of the top executives at Pandora music streaming, gave exceptional speeches about the coming generation and the hope that they bring to the world. 

There were several moments during the speeches and ceremonies that I was on the verge of tears. Partly because I'm a sentimental sap, and partly because I want to believe that this generation is our hope. I know that my daughter and son have shown me that their world is vastly different than mine, and in entirely better ways. Diversity, acceptance, globalism, connectedness, and most of all, love.

The weekend was also spent in the company of my dear sister in-law and her two daughters. She lost her mother this past week and had to deal with the difficult combination of grieving and celebrating in the same weekend. A painful reminder that life isn't always great and wonderful.

I think these types of weekends are put into my life to remind me how lucky I am to have the family and support systems I have. Not only that, but how lucky I am to have been granted a chance at a college education and now am able to witness it for my own kids. As the keynote mentioned, we all know how brief life is, so we need to keep in mind what Mary Oliver mentions in her poem, The Summer Day, where she writes:

"Tell me what it is you plan to do
with your one wild, precious life?"

-Mary Oliver


Blogging off...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

An Only One Bestseller

When my daughter was born, I started a journal.* Knowing I loved to write, I was in charge of keeping track of life's little moments of her life that touched me. The journal starts literally within the week she was born. In the early years, my entries were frequent, sometimes many to a page. As she grew older they grew more lengthy and were usually a page in length.

It was my intent that when she turned 18 I would give her the book. Well, at that time, it just didn't feel right. So, I moved the date out to "when she graduates from college."

Well, that date comes this weekend.

The book is full of great moments including:

  • Her first week with us when she was fussing in her bassinet, which she hated.
  • A day out in the back yard when she 3 or 4 and was swinging on the swing, singing away - something she never did. But that day she did. It was magical.
  • The day I took her to Eble Park skating as a 5 year old and for some reason it touched me enough that I had to write about it.
  • The night after Ben was born, I wrote about how she shared her toys with him.
  • One entry was about how she wanted me to say "Mommie's prayer." I told her I didn't know it and could she say it. So she said, "Now I way me down to sweep..."  Slayed me!
  • I wrote about her catching her first musky up north and how proud it made me.

There are a ton of other entries in there. Part of the fun of getting it ready to give to her was looking back on some of these things that I don't even remember.

The whole thing made me realize again how quickly life passes. I am so glad I took the time to put down these fleeting thoughts. I only wish I'd done it more often - though the book is only about 10 pages from being filled.

I often tell people, it is one of the two most important books I'll ever write.

The other is to my son, Ben who I've done the same thing for.

I highly recommend this practice to all you young parents or grandparents out there!

Blogging off...

*The book itself was actually a gift to us from our friend, Jacqui White, when Sarah was born.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Write From The Start

It seems like my writing life is busier than ever lately. It is all good, but I thought I would run down what is going on in part to help those who want to know and in part to help me keep it straight. Ha!

  • The Portland House continues to get good reviews. I love talking to people about it as many of them can relate to the big family thing. It is up to 12 reviews on Amazon, but I am always looking for more, so if you liked it, please let the world know.
  • Work continues on the next book about my high school experience in an all-male, Catholic, military high school in the late '70s. Again, lots of funny stories some of which make me shudder as a parent, but hey, it was a long time ago.
  • Yesterday I sent a book to WCCO radio in Minneapolis in hopes of getting an interview or maybe a plug. A friend of my mom liked the book so much that she sent a text to John Hines one of the radio hosts telling him about it. Figuring that was my lead, I sent him an inquiry. He made no promises, but told me to send him a book. It would be some great exposure.
  • I am also working on a chapbook about my father's life and death. It will be a collection of 25  poems or so. It is a challenging one to put together, but is therapeutic in many ways. More on this as it develops.
  • I have a tentative date for a book signing/reading at Mama D's in Wales. May 26th I will be reading from The Portland House and signing copies afterward. Mama D's is a cool coffee shop in Wales.
  • I had the privilege of having one of my blurbs being on the back cover of Paddle For A Purpose, a paddling adventure memoir by local author, Barbara Geiger. Check it out here.
  • I was also asked by my writing instructor Kathie Giorgio to provide a blurb for the back of her forthcoming book, Today's Moment Of Happiness Despite The News; A Year Of Spontaneous Essays. These blurbs are such an honor to be a part of. Plugging for peers and mentors is a small way of giving back.
  • Not much to report on my forthcoming poetry collection, On A Road. We're in the lull time between acceptance and publication. Still, I am very excited to have it coming out this fall. 
  • I have several pieces out for publication consideration, many of which I feel have a strong chance for publishing. Time will tell.
  • Tomorrow I will do my second poetry reading as Poet Laureate in front of the Village of Wales Board. I have a couple of my favorite poems, one by me, one by Richard Brautigan. It will be great fun. 
  • I have been asked by a friend to discuss her ideas about writing a memoir. I am no expert, but am humbled to be asked. I love talking about my experience to anyone interested in getting into writing.
Photo Credit: Ellen Enriquez

  • Dirty Shirt is up to 42 reviews on Amazon. Thanks to all who left a review!
  • A nonfiction piece and interview of me were both recently posted in Portage Magazine. Check them out Here
  • I have ten more ideas for books and poetry collections, none of which I can take on at this time, but this is a great problem to have.

So, life is good. I still feel like I'm living in a dream. I am incredibly fortunate to have this "second job" and am just happy to be able to share a little of myself with the world.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Artistic Moments

I've been thinking a lot about artistic expression lately. Not personally, although my writing is certainly an extension of my own expression, but more along the lines of seeing it in others and recognizing it for the beauty it is.

This past weekend for example I went to the Jazz Estate in Milwaukee to see a band named Devil Met Contention. They were preceded by a band named Pay the Devil. (I see a theme here.)

Both bands were really good. The folk band that played first took turns with solos from the mandolin to the guy playing the washboard to the guitarist. I love watching live music. But what occurred to me was how everyone in the audience was enjoying themselves in THAT moment. As anywhere a  few clueless folks were obsessed with their phone, but for the most part, people were giving their full attention to the music of the moment. That is what musical art is; notes played into space in this case only to fade out. Its a temporary state of joy.

The same goes for visual art. If you're at an art museum, you're taking in the creative beauty of someone you don't know and it somehow changes you. You walk to the next piece, and you are changed again - in small, maybe insignificant ways, but changed.

And it occurred to me how the appreciation of these arts is such a core human need or pursuit. It separates us from the animals, except those crazy painting elephants. We desire it. We need it. And yet it is always one of the first things cut out of a school budget, a family's expenses, or any other discretionary purchases.

Art gets no respect.

Then, on Monday I was in writing class and a woman who is 70+ years old read from her children's book she is writing. It is a story about a singing flea and it is nothing short of creative genius. And again I was amazed that there were so many other things this woman could be doing after 70, and here she is creating something beautiful, hopefully to one day be enjoyed by children.

It truly is art in another form, knowing no boundaries of age or gender. And the 10 of us crowded around the table were there to appreciate it of our own accord. Meanwhile it changed us in small ways - perhaps giving us ideas or simply a smile and an appreciation for the moment.

Tonight I will attend a play featuring my brother in-law as the lead. I am certain it will be yet another example of being there, in the moment, pummeling the right side of my brain.

Because art takes many forms, and I am of the age where all of it requires my recognition/appreciation.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Adventure With A Purpose

A couple nights ago I attended another book launch. I've been doing my share of this these past few years, as it seems many of my writing friends have reached the point of completion for their novels, memoirs and poetry books. I can confess that writing a good book takes years, especially if you're trying to hold down a full time job to boot. The whole "write a novel in a month" thing, well, it doesn't quite happen that way, I'm afraid.

Anyways, Friday night was the launch of an adventure memoir titled, Paddle For A Purpose, by Barbara Geiger.  It was an especially cool event for a number of reasons. When Dirty Shirt was released, I did a reading from it at a local event here called Friday Night Free For All. After my reading, Barb approached me and mentioned how she'd enjoyed the book, but also mentioned that she was working on her own outdoor paddling memoir. She went on to say it was about a trip down the Mississippi River with her husband in a homemade kayak she'd built.

I was instantly hooked on the story.

It turns out that she'd built the canoe with her dad and her son, making it an cross-generational project. Then, when it was done, her husband said, "So how about we take it down the Mississippi River?"

She laughed and said, "The whole river?"

Her husband said, "Yes!"

As you can imagine she was just a bit trepidatious.

I won't tell the whole story, but suffice it to say, it started with a frozen tent at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca State Park, then moves to flipping over in the rapids and gets more adventurous from there.

But there's more.

The trip was planned around doing service projects at stopping points all along the way. Barb and her husband are people of faith and they believe in giving of themselves, their time and their resources. They worked with Habitat for Humanity and several other agencies throughout the trip.

To me, this makes for a much better story than just your average kayak adventure. As she described during her book launch, they met a number of "River Angels" along the way. People they feel God put in their way to help them along. People who gave them a meal and a bed or simply a word or prayer of encouragement. Each of these became a character in the book - albeit unintentionally at times.

Another reason it was so cool was the fact that I got to see what was basically an "idea for a book" actually come to fruition. I talked to Barb many times along the way and was curious how it was coming along. When she mentioned she was in the final editing stage, I was elated for her.

Once it was finally done, she was looking for a publisher. I mentioned Electio Publishing, my publisher, who might be interested seeing as how they gave me a shot with all of my books. I mentioned they were a Christian-based house which would make for an even better fit than mine. Well, they ended up accepting her book and the rest is history. She even asked me for a blurb, which made it to the back cover of the book. It is always an honor to be asked!

More coolness in that she put together an interactive map plotting their route with photos and links. As a map guy, I can really relate to this. While I did a Story Map for The Portland House book, Barb did her own, based on Google Maps. It works great and you can check it out Here.

Perhaps the coolest part of the whole book is that she plans to donate ALL of the proceeds from her book sales to charity. It sort of brings the whole journey full circle - service, selflessness and giving all along the way.

So if you're looking for a good outdoor adventure memoir with a noble cause to it, I'd say give it a look. It's for a good cause!

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Support Call

So we had a bit of a techno-meltdown this past weekend. My wife's phone was acting strangely. One day it started rebooting at random moments. Then, it would go into a cycle of reboots that would sometimes number in the twenties before it could she could even get into it. When she finally was able to get into it, it would work fine for a number of hours before it would cycle with reboots again.

We couldn't figure out what was triggering it, but it seemed to be worse when it was trying to connect to a new wifi connection. But not always.

Being a tech-geek, I am all about the wipe and replace method. Once I got her go-ahead, I wiped it to factory condition using the settings. After setting up her multiple accounts, it worked for an hour before it rebooted on her. Then, the cycling began again.

Also being a cheapskate, I was determined to get it working again. Nothing a couple hundred google links couldn't fix, right?

One of the suggested fixes was to delete the cache partition at the operating system level. I was sure this would work.

No dice. Reboots again. I get the look from my wife.

After some more googling I decided to give it one more try. There is a restore at the operating system level that seemed to be worth a shot. For all I know it did the same restore that the app did, but it was much more primitive in how you went about it.

This will do it for sure.

Yeah right.

Well, after doing battle for a few days, I came to the end of my rope. My time is worth something too. So off we go to Best Buy on Saturday morning. Within an hour she had a brand new Samsung Galaxy S9. Ironically enough she was literally one month into the "no payment" zone. I swear they have timers on these things.

The whole ordeal reminded both of us how stupidly dependent we are on a working phone. Donna was most concerned about losing her calendar, which has all of her work appointments on it. Luckily the backups have gotten much better so nothing was lost. (That we've found yet, anyway...)

I really feel they do more harm socially than good. There is nothing more rude than having a good  conversation with someone and have them pull out their phone and start futzing. Some people are better than others with this, but some have a real problem.

When we were at a CollectiveMKE church event a couple nights ago, one of the icebreaker questions was, "Tell us about an invention that will save the world." A friend of mine said, "I think it would be really cool to have a phone that is hooked to a wall, with a cord, that you could never take out of the house."

I think he's onto something.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Year

Today is Earth Day, but you know what?

Every day is Earth Day.

I try and live my life like I actually believe that. As an avid outdoorsman, I feel connected to the earth most when I am in a natural setting. To me, there is nothing more rewarding than taking a hike, a paddle or a bike ride on my favorite path, lake or trail. When I am out in it I hate coming across other peoples' trash. I don't know how people can litter and live with themselves. I think a lot of it is in how we were raised, but that's just a guess.

One of our mantras when we're canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is "Leave no Trace." We frequently brought out not only our own trash, but a bag full of other peoples' trash as well. In my mind, to litter such a sacred place as the BWCA is even more unforgivable than littering an urban area.

As humans we need to realize that we're renters here and we need to stop acting like we own the planet. It deserves our respect. It is our gift to our grandchildren.

One of the stupid little things I do every day when I'm walking the dog is try and pick up at least one piece of trash (as well as my dog's droppings). As dumb as it may seem, I figure, if I did nothing else for the earth that day, I did that. Now, I also walk or bike to work most every day - in part for fitness, but also because it's dumb to drive 1.65 miles when you can walk. I'm certain people think I'm a lunatic, but it keeps me in shape and is less wear and tear on the car - not to mention the planet.

Anyone who thinks that they can't make a difference or that their choice not to recycle that one water bottle that one time, well, multiply that times 6 billion. That equals a large floating island of garbage in the ocean. Bottled water is evil anyway, but that's a different story.

Today I went out and picked up trash and recyclables at a local park. I'm sure people thought I was the homeless guy picking aluminum for bringing to the redemption center, but frankly I don't care. It is my way of feeling better about the role I play in God's creation. If that's what it takes to feel good, well, I'll keep on doing it. (FYI, Unlike years past, the trash was really hard to come by this year, which gives me great hope.)

So, as always, the subject of Earth Day has made me all preachy again. I can't help it. I am an ecology nut, and not even as nutty as some people I know. I just think it's important that we realize our impact and try and minimize our footprint.

I'd encourage you to do your part, however small. Because again, multiply small time 6 billion and it becomes much greater.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Swedish Resilience

Well, my mom turned 85 a couple of days ago, and while I will probably get in trouble for stating her actual age, I wanted to mention it because I am blessed to still have her around. A lot of my friends have lost their moms/dads these past few years and I can't imagine how tough it must be. I am also lucky to still have both my in-law parents around. Heck, these days I'm grateful to have anyone older than me around. Life is weird that way.

And while my Mom is an octogenarian, she is still more active than a lot of people much younger than her. She works a part time job, she's part of a book club and a card group, exercises when she feels she needs to lose weight and drives her car. She's smart though and knows her limits. She doesn't like to drive at night, will turn down social events if there's too much walking, and she has learned to say no to anything she's not up for. I think those are rights you get once you hit 80.

Mom continues to cheer the whole family on. Us kids are all in our fifties and sixties, but she still congratulates us, encourages us and gives us advice when we seek it. For example, she keeps asking me how many reviews I have on The Portland House. She tells people they should be leaving reviews and then tells them to buy the paperback because I get a better cut than I do from a Kindle book.

She is 85 and acting as my agent, here.

But, as a parent, I realize that's what you do. You don't ever really stop being a parent and caring about your kid. You cheer them on regardless of how old they are. You say, "Hey, that's my kid up there!" It comes with the territory.

I dedicated my book, The Portland House to my mom because, although she came and went in the book, she was the real hero of the story - of our/my life story. She bucked up when things got tough, then tougher, and she pulled us all through. She could have checked out, or given up. But her pride and resilience and faith pulled her through, with all of us in tow.

She wasn't perfect, but no one is. (Last time I checked, I have a few parenting issues of my own.) We do the best we can though, and she did pretty well given all the adversity and sadness she had to deal with in her younger days.

One last story.

At my St. Paul book signing at SubText books, Mom made it a point to introduce herself to virtually everyone in the place. She is genuinely interested in my friends and readers and how they know me. She then thanked them for coming. It comes back to the pride thing, trying to push me to the top of the book charts. Ha!

So, that is why I appreciate the ability to call my mom and find out what's new in her life. She's been there for all of us through it all.

And we're lucky to have her. Happy 85th Mom!

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Artists In Bloom

It was an art-filled weekend around my community these past few days, and that's always a good thing.

I took Friday off to stay home and write, something I need to do once every couple of months just to maintain my sanity. I hang out at the library and a coffee shop and check out of reality and into my Work In Progress (WIP). It was a productive day and it brought me back down after a high energy week at work.

Then, that evening, I was part of the AllWriters Friday Night Free For All event at Cafe De Arts Roastery in Waukesha. This is a quarterly event sponsored by AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop. The event features 5 readers from inside and outside the studio to read from their WIP or, in some cases from a recent publication or book.

This one had a new twist to it in that it brought in a musician/songwriter named Carter Hunnicut. Carter's mother was a writer and was a mentor to Kathie Giorgio (AllWriters' director) when she was young.

Carter did a great job of explaining the songwriting process and his love for the craft. He's part of a couple of bands and his music is available Here. He and his band, Exposed 4 Heads perform 80's music satire. 

The music was a great addition to the many talented writers who read during the evening, including Kathie Giorgio, Kathrine Yets, Kerry Crowley and myself. There is something so cool about spoken word events. It is live art, performance art in every sense of the word.

If you know me, you know I look back with great fondness to the beat generation for their contributions to poetry and art. But there is also part of me that realizes we cannot go back to those days and that events and communities like this ARE the beats of today. This is our moment to be heard and touch people.

I had a couple of people come up and tell me how my reading had spoken to them. That right there is the reason I do it and enjoy it so much. This is the closest we can get to a beat moment for me. It was a great night.

Then, yesterday, I went to Art In Bloom at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Donna had an extra ticket and asked if I would go with her. She explained to me what it was and while I didn't fully understand what it was, I am so glad I went.

My Personal Choice.
Basically they had area florists and floral artists put together flower and plant arrangements for 46 different works of art at the museum. A sort of ekphrastic art. The arrangements are intended to evoke the essence of the painting they are built around. It was so incredible to see the work these floral artists put into these displays. The works were judged, and as the public, we got to vote on our own favorites. I chose The Wood Gatherer by Le Pere Jacques, a stunning display of flower and wood and beauty.

The rest of them were amazing as well. I have the utmost respect for people with this artistic eye. I have none of it. (Words are my gig.) It reminds me of the immensity of the human brain for creativity and beauty.

Donna and I wandered around and marvelled at some of the other fantastic pieces of art in the museum and even talked of getting a season pass. I really enjoy all art museums and would probably go more if we had a pass.

So, if you get a chance, I would encourage you to support the local arts. Be it spoken word, a musical production, theater, art or some combination of all of these.

It not only supports the local artists, but it will warm your soul. Something we could all use during this unusual spring weather.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Last Saturday night I attended Rob Bell's "Holy Shift" presentation at Turner Hall in downtown Milwaukee. I'd never been to Turner Hall, a magnificent structure currently decked out in twenty first century-haunted house/money pit decor. Bell was accompanied by Peter Rollins another contemporary and perhaps equally controversial spiritual author/scholar.

There are folks who have called Rob Bell some hateful things. His books have been pulled from conservative church bookstores. He was run out of his home church for some of his progressive ideas.

I've read his book, Love Wins and while I'm not crazy about his writing style, I loved his message; a message of Love first, judgement maybe never. Furthermore, listening to his podcasts drove me a little crazy too. Something about his speech pattern. So, needless to say I had low expectations. I went in with a bit of a cynical attitude.

Well, he came out and smashed any doubts I had about his style and message. He told engaging stories for an hour and a half without looking at a single note. His message was about the concept of holiness in the world both its bad manifestations (holier than thou) and its good, everyday manifestations.

The message resonated with me for a number of reasons. As I have mentioned many times, watching my brother get sick and pass away changed my perspective on EVERYTHING. It also increased my sense of clarity about what is important and a recognition of things that are "holy" in life.

These includes moments of conversation with a friend or loved one, natural settings that cause a sense of awe, and even a rock concert or author reading. All of these things can be holy events if you have a sense of connection with the rest of the world and its people around you.

It was the best, most timely message I've had the privilege of being part of in quite some time. Time after time he had me nodding in agreement.

He even brought to light the role our suffering in our anxiety and struggles in life, a theme I can definitely relate to at this point in my life. Lots going on in my life right now. But for a moment at least, Rob Bell helped me understand that it is part of our holy journey. It may not seem like it, but I think what he was saying was that when it passes, we are forever changed and perhaps brought to a better understanding of why it happened, or what role it played.

But for me it was his story telling about moments of holiness that made me say "Yes! I've had that experience." Time after time he had me nodding in agreement.

These events seem random and unscripted at times and maybe the difference is some people recognize them easier than others. Maybe it depends where you are on your journey to an awareness of God. Maybe it's just a case of being awakened by a tragic event. Or maybe its just an appreciation for all of life. I don't know.

But I know I needed the good reminding I got by Bell on Saturday night.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Water Woes

As any homeowner knows, things never fail one at a time. They cascade like all tragedies, usually in threes. Each failure of course is slightly more expensive than the previous. I am convinced there is no home appliance repair that costs less than $200, with most being much more.

We experienced the start of the great cascade about a month ago. I was sitting in the living room and kept hearing like a high pitched moaning noise coming from the basement. When I went down there I followed the noise until I pinpointed it to the water softener. The box on top of it which controls the on/off cycling was howling like a ghost.

So I did what any homeowner would do. I unplugged it hoping it would reset and repair itself.

No dice.
It's the doohickey valve. That's the problem.

I tried Plan B. Hit it.


The unit is 20+ years old and is simply worn out. I know that. I also know that it is likely a $1000.00 outlay.  The significantly cheaper, short term fix is to unplug the howling unit. So I did.

There. Fixed.

Three days later I heard a knocking coming from the basement. I went down again and discovered it was coming from the water heater. When we first moved into this house we heard the same sound, an indication that there is sediment buildup in the water heater.

Now I know that it is likely just coincidence, but what are the chances that just the action of turning the water softener off three days prior would trigger sediment knocking? Nothing works that fast. It is just the dreaded cascade effect.

Well, I figured there is a known fix for the sediment issue, so I YouTube'd it. The video I found stepped me through draining our aging tank. I brought in the hose from the garage, turned the water heater to Pilot and hooked up the hose. Of course when I went to turn off the cold water intake valve, it was corroded open, requiring a Vice Grips to crank it open.

Because nothing is easy with an old house.

I opened up the drain and let the heater drain. I put the end of the hose over a piece of screening by the floor drain because I wanted to see what kind of sediment drained out. Of course, there was no visible evidence of sediment showing up in the screen.

Well, this is odd.

When I looked at the drain outlet on the water heater, it sits about 2" above the bottom of the thing. So, in essence, you would have to have 2+ inches of sediment to get it to start draining out.
"Hey, lets put the bottom drain
not on the bottom."

What genius designed that drainage system?

In any case, I let the entire heater drain out just in case. Then I put the hose back in the garage.

And as I write this blog, the heater is knockin' away.

On to Plan C.

Turn up the music!

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 5, 2018

It Takes A Village

On Monday I was instituted as poet laureate* for the Village of Wales. It marked the last day of Paula Anderson's tenure after a year and nine months.

I showed up at the Village hall and awaited my turn on the agenda. I came after a couple of zoning changes and new business approvals. Being in government, it was a process I was quite familiar with as part of the Parks and Land Use staff at the county.

Before I was brought before the board for approval, they recognized Paula with an appreciative word and after her outgoing poem, they presented her with a cake. The cake was frosted with the words to one of her short poems. Paula was a publisher of a small poetry journal and was one of my first acceptances as someone new to the craft. I always hold folks like that near to my heart. Her and Sarah Sadie, another poet and ex-laureate for the City of Madison, are two of those people.

I was introduced next and invited to speak. I felt extremely welcome and warmed up to the board right away. They seemed to like my work and even laughed at a few of my jokes about my writing and my journey afterward.

And so my tenure is one year and it involves reading at the monthly board meeting as well as some outreach activities. I've plans to do a couple of things including trying to gather signed poetry books for donation to the local high school library. Additionally I plan to help organize the poetry open mic's at Mama D's in Wales once a month.

So, while it is all part of my sub-atomic-micro-fame, it is still a lot of fun. Beats working, anyways.

More on it as it progresses.

Blogging off...

*For those who don't know a poet laureate is charged with increasing awareness and appreciation for poetry.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Shrink Wrapped

It is Easter weekend and we are blessed to have both of our kids home for the weekend. My daughter came down from Minnesota on Thursday because she was done with classes and "needed to get away." Ben was down in Florida until Friday when he was dropped off in Waukesha as his roommates continued on to Madison.

And we have been fortunate to be together as a family for much of the weekend. We had dinner together then watched Pirates of the Caribbean on Friday night - an unexpected surprise having them opt for a night home with family instead of local friends. Then, they got up on Saturday morning to go to coffee with us as an extension of Donna and my Saturday routine. 

Today they will attend church with us and then we will have an early Easter dinner with my brother in-law and his partner. 

The weekend reminds me that these moments are to be treasured. We are all healthy, happy and glad to be with one another. When we gather around a table there is intelligent discussion, gentle teasing and laughter. We talk about our crazy dog and our stupid cat who has taken to watching us as we eat dinner. We discuss the kids' school classes, their friend groups and all the adult responsibilities that they are navigating during their collegiate experience.

They hug us unprovoked at times in part for us, but I think they need it as much as we do.

When we met with old friends to watch the Loyola/Michigan game they interacted with adults in ways that made me proud to call myself their parents. I love being around them and laughing about our lives, both past and present. 

So, I've become a sentimental sap of sorts. But I miss my kids. They are an extension of both of us and I love watching them experience the beauty and nuttiness of day to day life. If I could take this weekend and shrink wrap it to preserve it forever, I would. 

But for now, I'll have to simply savor it and count my blessings.

Happy Easter.

Christ is Risen!

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Guns And Rose'

A couple of nights ago I was part of a reoccurring event called Jesus and Wine. It is a monthly event at the Spring City Wine House in downtown Waukesha. It is the sister event to Jesus and Beer that is held at Bernie's Taproom in Waukesha on the second Tuesday of every month.

Both of these events are intended to open up the dialog to people who are curious about the life of Jesus. I say it in such a broad context because it is attended by everyone from the dechurched, to active church attenders, to people who question God's purpose in their life and our world, to those how have been wounded by the church or other Christians. It is all of these types of people and everything in between.

It has been termed Pub Theology and is a form of that. There is a part of me that likes it just because it is held in such a non-traditional place. Oh, and I like beer, too. The thought is that we are all adults and capable of having a social drink or two while discussing heady topics with people that are asking the same questions. It is church for grown ups.

On Tuesday night the subject was violence in the country and the world. A question sheet is handed out with ten or so talking points. The questions ranged from  asking if God supports war to whether Jesus was a pacifist.

Before the discussion begins each session, the ground rules are laid out. People are asked to be civil, to listen first then react with courtesy. It is the pursuit of dialog not conversion or convincing. We are asked to respect the opinion of others in the hopes that we can carry that respect out into the world when we are done.

We wasted no time jumping into the whole gun argument. And the crowd covered the spectrum from people who had no guns to those that had multiple. The argument was largely that the perception was that guns helped people manage their fear. It is not my place to question whether or not that is a good way to handle their fears, but it was kind of interesting to know.

The NRA got dragged into the conversation and drew some interesting discussion. So did the second amendment. People talked about concealed carry, gun permits and mental health. They talked about how ugly those same topics get on Social Media. Part of the beauty of the Jesus and Wine events is that people are face-to-face instead of some faceless cyber person. The respect factor - seeing someone as a human being just like themselves - takes precedence over a nameless Facebook flaming/trolling.

Being a closet extrovert, I really enjoy going to these events. They make me think and help me to see the perspectives of others - sometimes radically different perspectives at that. I like it because it brings contemporary subjects up in light of our walk as followers of Jesus. I also like it because it is casual and respectful and challenging.

Next month we will be discussing sexuality, so that should be fun. ;-)

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Coffee And A Dragon

This afternoon I had coffee with a Vietnam Veteran. Bob Goswitz served a year overseas in the 196th infantry division in 1971. I consider it an honor to sit with someone of my generation who served in a war that marked my first exposure to military conflict. I was only 10 years old when he served, but I remember watching the news at night and seeing snippets of guys in combat. People have said that the Vietnam War was the first war that kind of came into peoples' living rooms. Well, Bob lived it and was fortunate to be among those who made it back home.

I have an elevated respect for the men and women who served that war. It was a war that should have never happened, certainly not to the level it went. The soldier who returned were never treated as the heroes they were, a travesty in my opinion. It was a contentious time in our country with civil and racial unrest at levels never seen before and the debate about the war was a large part of it.

Anyway, Bob has written a book titled The Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune, due to be released July 21st, 2018. The book is fictional but is based on his experience as a soldier during that time. During our talk he mentioned that originally he was pitching the book as a memoir. Then, his agent asked him what made his memoir unique from the hundreds of other Vietnam memoirs. This caught him off-guard and he began to rethink the framework for his book.

To make his book more unique and appealing, he researched Vietnamese folklore and mythology and found that much of it is based on dragons. He worked a dragon into the story and added a degree of magical-realism to the book. I will be reading an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of the book to try and give him a review, and I can't wait to dig into it.

He was looking to pick my brain a little on the intricacies of book promotion and I was happy to help. I still say I'm making it up as I go, but have a few years experience so am glad to mentor where I can.

Bob taught special education for thirty-plus years after his duty and has been retired for 11 years. He mentioned how good it was to be able to talk to another guy about writing and publishing. There seems to be a 4:1 ratio of women to men in our writing circles, so to come across someone about your age and fairly new to the writing craft is sort of refreshing.

I look at these meetings - cool people whom I admire and appreciate - as one of the intangibles of the writing life. Bob came to one of my Dirty Shirt reading/signings and has been a fan ever since. Without my books there would be no friendship.

And because of my books, my readers and my writing network, life is that much richer.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Rundown

Some random thoughts from my stream of consciousness.

  • My son is a freshman at UW Madison and he and a friend have a radio show from 12:00 to 1:00 PM on Thursdays on WSUM. They do a good job bantering back and forth. My wife and I both listen to it in part because it helps us feel like he's in our living room again. The show is centered around recent news events and then they slide into taking questions from listeners. It is fun to hear their thoughts and ideas and he says it is a nice diversion from the stress of classes. Here's the Link.
  • I was talking to a friend tonight who is a roofer. I've always admired guys who do that kind of work because it's such a hard job. He says he has that "falling off the roof" dream every so often. I just thought that was kind of interesting. (Coming from a guy who is terrified of heights.) 
  • In the past week two friends have told me they lost co-workers to death and that they were "around their age." This is just a little too close to home for me. We need to cherish every day. Each one's a gift.
  • My 12 year old Cairn Terrier is becoming a nightmare to walk. He used to be spry and chipper as we walked, now he just wants to smell everything and linger. I end up dragging him around the block in twice the time it used to take. I guess that's what getting old does to a dog. It's a (literal) drag.
  • My computer has been locking up lately, so I flashed the BIOS. This is techno-speak for basically giving it brain surgery. The best news is, the patient booted up after all was done and things seem to be working again. 
  • The Portland House is up to it's 9th review on Amazon. All of them are good too! 
  • I feel like I'm on a bit of a treadmill with a sadist at the controls right now. It's all good, but I need a vacation methinks.
  • Some nights are frozen pizza nights. Tonight is one of those nights. 
Blogging off...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Showing Off The (Portland) House

As part of my book promotion, I run a giveaway contest that encourages people to send me photos of themselves with my book, The Portland House. I had a lot of fun with the same contest for Dirty Shirt, so thought I would do it again with this book. The prize for a couple of randomly drawn winners is a signed copy of the book.

Social media has made people much more willing to share photos of themselves, so doing it with the prospect of maybe winning something garnered some creative photos.

A House on the Beach
Quite possibly the most creative one was by Jody Morris, who owns a goat farm in Upstate New York. She showed that goats are more intelligent than we give credit for. Here's one of her goat pictures.

Then, there were a fair number of people posting pictures from warm places. Florida, California and Mexico were a few of the favorites. As hard as it was to know that they were somewhere I wanted to be, it was still great to see that they were reading my book on a beach somewhere.

Pets were a new twist to the giveaway too. There were a couple of cat pictures, one even shown reading the chapter on Pets. LOL. 
And not to be outdone, my friend Philip had a picture of the book with his dog looking on, waiting to hear what happened to my dear dog, Lance. 

There were some funny ones too. People just joking around or letting their kids pretend to read the book. One person even mentioned trying to get a picture of the book with an Alpaca. Still waiting on that photo. 

There were a host of other great ones too. Ones taken from planes, with food or just around the house. All were entered into the drawing that took place yesterday. Turns out the winners were my friend Pat Spahn, a character in the book, and my cousin, Mary Jensen. 

Which reminds me that I am continually seeking pictures of people reading the book in obscure places. My step-sister is an airline attendant and will likely post pictures in a foreign country before too long, so watch Facebook for those, as I post them.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed a photo, a review or just those who have purchased the book or offered an encouraging word.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stepping Off The Board

This past Friday marked the end of my two year term on the Wisconsin Land Information Association's board of directors. WLIA is a statewide organization that works to advance Land Records modernization and distribution. Basically it's about 850 geospatial and GIS geeks.

The association organizes three gatherings a year, one annual conference and two regional meetings. In past years I always attended the annual conference but rarely made the regionals. I was a member of WLIA for 20 years before I finally ran for a position the board. It always seemed like a daunting commitment and one that I was hesitant to take on.

Now, having served on it for two years, I can only say it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I wish I had gotten involved earlier. Oh sure, I did some peripheral things, sitting on a committee here and there, but it was only when I got on the board that I was able to meet some peers that I would maybe have never gotten to know. I'm not one to go outside my circles to meet people, but when you are put in a position where you have to work alongside them, it changes everything.

And while Robert's Rules and long, drawn out board meetings are great, (sarcasm) I've discovered getting to know my peers was the best part of serving on the board. The people I met including:

  • Jim. The running joke during our tenure together was a play on our name because we were both named Jim and both our last names started with L. Tall Jim, and slightly less tall Jim, Jim v. 1.0 and Jim v. 2.0, Gopher Jim and Badger Jim and so on. Turns out Jim is building his own kayak from wood, a skill I admire from afar. A technically talented guy who pours more sweat and time into WLIA than most anyone I know.
  • Emily. A long time peer of mine that works in Milwaukee. She was brave enough to run for WLIA President, again something I admire from afar. And she killed it. She ran meetings tightly and organized a phenomenal conference. She is always smiling - even when things are going badly - a sign of someone who has the confidence in what they are doing.
  • Peter. Another guy who likes kayaks. Just for kicks Peter went to Greenland last summer for a kayak trip and in part to say he visited one of the least populated continents in the world. He has some amazing stories from his time there, both in and out of his kayak.
  • Ann. She is the Executive Services Manager for the association and I wouldn't be too far out of line to say she is the engine behind the whole organization. Without her we would not be where we are today. She is irreplaceable and now a good friend.
  • Martin. He was president my first year on the board and was a taskmaster. He wasn't afraid to speak his mind when he needed action taken by one or more of us. I remember at the board retreat I was sitting on the couch and he sat uncomfortably close to me, just because he knew it bothered me. (I told him as much and he stayed right there, which cracked me up.) It was the start of an ongoing back and forth between he and I over the past two years, and now we are good friends. Again, I may have never gotten to know him had we not served together.
  • Christine. She and I were sort of kindred spirits. We are both quiet introverts, but not afraid to speak our minds when the time is appropriate. We even had a back and forth over our last month on the board, but both of us respects the other enough to talk through our differences. 
  • Eric. A long time friend and confidant that also took the leap into running for President. I knew Eric well going into my term, but now feel like we've been through something together, which makes our friendship a little better. 
  • Tammy. We talked for a long time about concerts and music venues. She is a music nut like me, a quality I wouldn't have known had I not been on the board.
  • Mitch, Tony, and a host of other cool people on the board that I am not afraid to say hi to or email or call if I need advice.  
Because things were changing so dramatically at work, I couldn't commit to another 2 years on the board, so I stepped down after one term. I may run again someday.

I guess my point is that my regret with getting involved with WLIA is much like my delay in getting my writing career going. I wish I'd done both sooner. 

If you're on the bubble for something you don't feel comfortable I would urge you to:

Not wait for "someday." 

Take the leap now. 

You won't regret it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Another One In The Books

Last night was my Saint Paul bookstore debut at Subtext Books in downtown. I have been trying to get a St. Paul reading/signing gig for quite some time and was finally able to get into Subtext. The city of Saint Paul is the setting for the book, so it was a sort of homecoming for both of us.

When I arrived, I thought I had everything under control, but as the place slowly filled up, my nerves ratcheted up a bit. As much as I do this whole public appearance gig, I still get jittery from time to time and this was no different. I thought I'd be better in the company of family and friends, but it may have made it even a little more nerve wracking.

I started with an introduction which fed right into the readings. I typically do three readings per appearance. The three stories give the readers a feel for the book. In this case, I did two humorous stories and one more serious heartfelt one. The first was a little rough, but I managed to power through it and the other two and came away feeling pretty good.

Overall, the audience seemed genuinely engaged and laughter was sprinkled throughout.

But the best part of the evening was seeing so many family and friends show their support. The place was packed! There was standing room only at the back and I would guess there were 40-50 people in attendance. The crowd managed to buy ALL the books that the bookseller had purchased ahead of time, so I sent my wife and sister in law to the car (thank you both!) to get more from my own personal stash. They sold an additional 11 of those. It was a lifesaver. There's nothing worse than going to a book signing and not getting a book, right? They did an amazing job at the whole event and I am eternally grateful to Sarah Cassavant and Sue Zumberge of Subtext for hosting me. We need to support these small businesses!

Among the guests were two guys I went to grade school with that I had not seen since. I have been Facebook friends with them for some time, but when I saw them, I had to hug them. When people go out of their way to show their support for you, you reciprocate. It was positively humbling for me.

Then, a group of five women that I used to hang around with in college surprised me by showing up. Again, I hadn't seen any of them since my wedding, and it was SO GOOD to see them. We didn't get much time to catch up with each other, but they all looked fantastic and despite the passing of nearly 28 years since we saw one another, it was like picking up where we left off. I thoroughly believe that good friends are a gift from God and I was so glad to see them all again.

Jen, the sister of my good friend Pete from high school and college, also showed up with her husband, which was sweet.

Add to this my entire family, a cousin, and a friend and his whole family from my time at Montgomery Wards, and it was just overwhelming.

As I said at the reading, I was listening to REM on my iPod on the way up to St. Paul from Milwaukee. For some reason, REM always makes me reflect and I was thinking "It's good to be going home." Then it occurred to me that in two days I would be thinking the same thing heading back to Waukesha. "It's good to be going home."

But what it boils down to is my network of family and friends in both places makes them equally home. And when I mentioned that I'd like to have coffee with each person in the audience and talk about their life, I was serious. My writing has opened my eyes to the fact that everyone has a story. The fact that they can sometimes relate to MY stories only makes me want to hear theirs.

The evening ended with a social event at the Spot Bar a mile away from the reading. Again, quality time laughing and telling stories with family and friends.

The entire night filled my heart to full. I am surrounded by beauty and love and support and am immensely privileged to be able to do something I love and share it with others. It feeds me and is the impetus for doing more and more of it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Spring Jog

My alter-ego writer/author/poet life is busier than usual lately. Couple this with a day job that has taken on a new urgency since my boss retired, and well let's just say that life has gone from a casual winter stroll to a healthy spring jog. I barely have time to change shoes here, but I'll try and run down a little of what's going on from a writer/author of sub-atomic micro fame.

  •  I will be in my hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota this coming Saturday for a reading/signing for The Portland House. The event will be held at Subtext Books in downtown. I am told that my event is competing with Lucky Palooza, so if you come, the best parking option is the parking ramp across the street (Lawson Ramp) or try and find metered parking. I am hoping turnout is door-busting, mostly because I want this place to remember me for future events. So, please come, bring a friend and buy a book. Note: Following the event there will be a social gathering at The Spot Bar a ten minute drive away. Please join us for that as well!

  • I have tentatively scheduled a signing with the Clement Manor Center for Enrichment in the fall. This is a continuing education program for seniors and was one of my better signing events for Dirty Shirt. When I contacted the director, she said that she had been checking my site to see when The Portland House was coming out because people were asking about getting me back. That is what an author lives to hear.
  • The Portland House received its fifth review on Amazon this week! It retains a 5 star rating. And I can't say enough how much it means to me when people take time to write a review of one of my books. If you haven't done so, please do. Amazon takes note after a certain number are credited to a book. I could use your help.
  • I begin my stay as Poet Laureate for the Village of Wales in April. I am looking forward to all the outreach and education that that position entails. 
  • There should be a review of The Portland House in the Pioneer Press (or at least online) this week. Mary Ann Grossmann was kind enough to read and review it for me.
  • I received an Author Packet from Unsolicited Press, publisher of my forthcoming chapbook, On A Road. (For those who don't know, a chapbook is a collection of up to 25-30 poems.) This is basically a packet containing all of my details regarding the publishing. They are requiring me to round up 25 beta readers, so don't be surprised if you get an email from me asking you to read a portion and say a few words about it. It is due out on 10/21.
  • I got a random email from a reader this week that said her husband read The Portland House and kept commenting how I was a good writer. You know, that made a really crappy long day into one of the better ones in a while. 
  • I continue to forge ahead with my WIP (Work in Progress) about my high school days. In addition, I am working on pieces for two different poetry themes, one on Love and one on the whole gun mess.  
  • I am serving on a panel for a Path to Publication workshop through AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop in May. AllWriters' has helped close to 100 authors get published, which is sort of amazing if you think about it. And I love talking about my publication experience, so am looking forward to this panel! Details are here
Whew. So that is a rundown of all things written. It is all good and keeps me from running the streets at night. Because we all know that's the kind of thug I would be if it wasn't for writing. Ha!

And, as always, I have to thank all of you for your continued support and words. I seriously want to have coffee with each of you at some point. (That's definitely my closet extrovert talkin' there.)

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Shape Shifting A Book

An interview with Carrie Newberry
author of Pick Your Teeth With My Bones

As most of you know, I am part of a writing community at AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop. This has brought me exposure to a number of gifted writers, poets and authors. Carrie Newberry is one of the authors I met at a writing retreat. She has written a book titled Pick Your Teeth With My Bones, which might have one of the coolest covers I've seen in a while. I interviewed her to help you get a feel for what writers think and feel during the writing process.

Tell me a little about how you got into writing. Was it a lifelong love or more recent?  

Lifelong, definitely. When I was a kid, I loved to play pretend, to tell myself stories and pretend I was a character in those stories. Writing lets me play pretend as an adult.

Do you write longhand or computer? Why?  

Computer.  I do most of my writing on weekends in marathon sessions.  If I wrote longhand, my hand would give out long before my imagination did.

Where did you get the inspiration for your book Pick Your Teeth With My Bones?
It started when I went to see the Fellowship of the Ring, the first Lord of the Rings movie. The character of Strider really captured my imagination, so I started a story about a ranger who turned into Kellan, the main character of my book. I set the book in Madison, because I love the idea of this other supernatural world being right under our noses. But really, the heart of the story was born when my younger sister died. I think the currents of family, immortality and loss really all stem from that, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. It was the story I needed to write to help myself heal.

Where was your first piece of writing published? 

That’s easy. This is actually the first piece of writing I’ve ever had published. I got very lucky with my publisher.

If you could have dinner with one author, past or present, who would it be? 

Authors are like movie stars to me, so that’s a tough question. If I had to choose, I guess I’d go with Charles de Lint. He’s a master of urban fantasy, fantasy that’s set in the real world. His writing blows my mind, and I’d love to bask in his presence for a few hours.

Describe your experience working with your book publisher.  

It’s been completely surreal. The people at EDGE are amazing. They’re so patient with me. The editing process was so hard – Pick Your Teeth With My Bones was about 20,000 words longer than they wanted it to be. Cutting chunks of the book was like cutting chunks out of my flesh. Each one had to be debated, weighed, mourned. But my editor, Heather, was wonderful.  The woman who does marketing for EDGE, Janice, is a beautiful person. She’s the one I go to when I need a confidence boost. I still don’t really believe that this is happening. I’m so happy.

In one word, describe your experience as a student in AllWriters Workplace and Workshop?  

Humbling. In a good way. And empowering. Did you say just one word? You can see how my manuscript got to be so long.

I know you are also on staff at AllWriters. What would be your advice to anyone considering an online class as opposed to onsite?  

Well, the online classes are great because you can take them in your pajamas with your dogs lying on your lap. No, seriously, the onsite classes are wonderful. There’s nothing like sitting in a room full of writers. The energy follows you home. But that’s not an option for a lot of students, people who live too far away or who work too early in the morning to travel to Waukesha for an evening each week. So the online classes allow students in other states and even other countries to take AllWriters workshops. Plus, if you go with the online course, you can work with me.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what?  

Rock music. Pick Your Teeth With My Bones was written to disc one of Metallica’s S&M album. A lot of writers don’t like to write to music with lyrics, but I love it. The beat, the bass line, and the fact that if I get stuck, I can sing along for a while.

In your opinion, what is the hardest part/process of writing? 

Going all the way into an emotion. I find myself skimming the top of emotions sometimes, not wanting to dig all the way in and feel it completely. But that’s what you have to do if you want to put it on paper and make it real – you have to feel it. No turning away, no turning back.

Coffee or Tea?

Coffee, hands down.

What writing project(s) are you working on at the moment?  

I’m editing the sequel to Pick Your Teeth With My Bones, and I just started a new book. The main character is a retired hitman. He’s a lot of fun. I have no idea where it’s going, but I find myself excited to get back to it.

Ever get writers block? If so, how do you get past it? 

Yes, when I start worrying about the big picture, I get blocked.  The best way for me to get past it is to sit down and start writing.  Even if it’s just to describe what I’m feeling in that moment, or to vent my frustration with my favorite swear words – get something on the page, and keep going.  Even if it’s “blah, blah, blah-de-blah.”

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring writers, what would it be? 

Trust your writing. So often we get caught up in wondering what this piece is, where is it going, how will I get there, will it be worth anything to anyone? That’s a great way to drive yourself crazy. You have a drive to write what you’re writing. Trust that. Let go and enjoy the ride.

How can people get your book?

Get it here!

How can people contact you or follow your work?

Twitter: Carrie Newberry (@shifter979)

Thank you Carrie and continued success in your writing pursuits!

Thank you, Jim!!!

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