Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sub-Atomic Micro Fame Revisited

A little less than a week ago The Portland House was released.

My second memoir and my fourth book.

If you'd have told me as little as eight years ago that I would be saying that I would have laughed my head off at you. Yeah, right. A writing fool. 

But here I am. And, whenever I get all puffy chested, I always bring myself back to earth by referring to my success as just a glimmer of "Sub-atomic micro fame."

No best sellers
No Pushcart Prizes
No early retirement
Not selling out Wembley
No national book tours
And certainly no movie rights

The only way to go is up from here. That's a good philosophy for all of life, not just writing.

At the same time, my writing journey has helped me in so many intangible ways.

  • It has given me a community of writer friends both locally and nationally. Friends that feel like family, these people encourage me, bolster my confidence when I'm doubting my work and cheering me when I hit a win. It is two way though, as I do the same for them and celebrate their victories as well.
  • My book, Dirty Shirt had quite a long road show that went with it. It usually meant a 45-50 minute presentation and reading in front of big and small groups. Initially the thought of doing this caused me great distress. As I started doing it more and more, I got better and better at it and have to admit, almost kind of enjoy it at times. Again, eight years ago, if you'd have told me I'd be getting up in front of people and not mind it, I'd still be laughing. 
  • My writing studio's director has helped me by recommending me for panel discussions and, more recently, an all-morning Meet the Author session at the local high school. There is also talk of getting some of our books into the County Jail for a book study among those inmates interested. These events have elevated my confidence and presentation savvy. These skills carry over then into my work environment as well. A win-win.
  • Overall well being and happiness. There are days where just knowing that I have two books out in the world makes life so much richer. Sure it's sub-atomic micro fame, but it makes a difference in my mental health and happiness. 
So, because I can never say thank you enough, I want to again thank everyone out there who has read my work, bought my books, supported the magazines I'm in, left a review, shouted me out on Facebook, sent an encouraging inbox, cheered me on, or believed in me when I myself did not. I've always been my own worst critic, and it helps having folks out there reminding me to shut that crap down. 

Thank you Donna, thank you AllWriters, thank you family, thank you friends, thank you Electio Publishing, and thank you Lord. 

This is about as cool as it gets right now and I didn't do it alone.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Next Chapter

If you follow this blog, you know that I don't write about work a lot. For the most part, I have chosen  to keep work separate from my writing pursuits. The events of the last week however call for a post dedicated to work for a bit, so please indulge me.

I work in a small division housed inside a large Parks and Land Use department. The Land Information Systems Division is four people in size. We are small but mighty mappers.

Well, last week, my boss and friend of 21 years retired. This guy hired me literally 6 months after he started at the County. He and I worked together - but separate - at SEWRPC before that and barely knew each other. Based on what he'd heard from others, when I applied at the County, it was my job to lose. I interviewed, he hired me and well, the rest is history.

There are too many funny stories to recount of our days together at the County. One of the more memorable ones though was when we were gathering a bunch of software together to send back to the vendor. We were essentially trading it in for an upgrade to the brand new product. For some reason, the vendor wanted the old stuff back.

So in the middle of inventorying the stack of boxes of old software I alluded to how absurd it was that we were sending outdated boxes of software back to Huntsville, AL. Don chided in that if I think that's absurd, think about the lackey on the receiving end who's going to have to put it back on the shelf!
ESRI GIS Award Presentation - 2004

For some reason the two of us cracked up laughing so hard we both had tears in our eyes. It was one of the funniest moments in those 21 years together.

Another funny story that Don loved to tell was about my first day on the job. He showed me my cubicle and my computer and phone. When I moved the mouse I saw that the screen had an error that read "Fatal Exception". When I said, "What's with this?"

Don said, "That right there would be your first job." Then he ambled away laughing his rolling laugh that was his trademark.

Turns out the machine booted up fine, but it was one of those "What have I gotten myself into?" moments for a second or two.

I guess it's become a little more rare to work with someone for 21 years, but I was privileged to work with Don. He had expectations for where he wanted the division to go, but he also let us prioritize what we thought we needed to work on from project to project. I always respected his ability to grant us autonomy. We're all adults here, no need to micro manage.

Over the years we suffered through the death of his mother and father as well as my brother and stepfather. We saw our kids through grade school, high school and college, and accomplished so much for the advancement of the County's Land Information System. Twenty one years breeds a lot of shared stories. He was a good leader and a good friend.

So, this past Monday, when he didn't walk into the office, it was a little weird. We've all agreed that we will make our own way and continue in the legacy of excellence he left us, but it's still going to take a while before it feels normal again.

I wish him well in his retirement. With 21 years at the county and 17 at SEWRPC, he has certainly earned it. I only hope I can exit with the same level of dignity and sense of accomplishment that he has.

Happy retirement, Don!

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Portland Perimeter

The big day is almost here. The Portland House comes out and will be available via eLectio Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble Online this Tuesday, 1/23.

As part of the lead in to the release, I have been showcasing a few of the characters in the book. Today rather than focusing on one specific character, I'd like to focus on the neighborhood as a whole. We had such a great neighborhood back then, and I think the days of sending kids out the door to "come home when the streetlights come on" are gone forever, and that's too bad.
A big pile of neighborhood

Of course, what makes a neighborhood are the people. I can still go down our block from end to end and name almost every family that lived on our block. Fifteen years in a place will do that for you. A few of the memorable ones that may or may not be mentioned in the book include:

  • My friend Michael from across the street. We grew up together through our high school and college years. He was a gifted athlete and guitarist. I found out a few years ago that he was a session player with both Prince and Morris Day, Robert Palmer and a handful of other famous musicians. None of that mattered to me or him at the time we were growing up though. We were just buddies who liked hanging out and kicking the soccer ball around. 
  • My sister was girlfriends with Judy Molitor, Paul Molitor's sister. They lived a block away and while we all knew Paul was a good ball player, no one ever knew he would be a Hall of Famer. Growing up a block away from him is just one of those seven-levels-from-Kevin-Bacon factoids, I guess. 
  • My buddy from high school lived a few blocks away on Summit Avenue, a street lined with large houses and a number of mansions. His father was a successful attorney, so the fact that they lived on the "rich street" made sense. I felt like an "insider" hanging around Pete in his family's mansion. It was a few steps above our humble house and just being there made me feel richer. It's funny because years later when I was dating a woman, her brother brother referred to our house on Portland as "a mansion," compared to their own. Housing is all a matter of perspective it seems.
  • Another family across the street had five kids and three of them ended up as good friends to three of us. Their parents had a "no friends in the house" policy, so it was a shock when after Christmas one year I was allowed to go down their basement and play a bit of electric football with my friend Pat for a bit. On another occasion, when his parents were "gone" he showed me his Quadraphonic stereo. He cranked it up and before long his mother surprisingly showed up at the bedroom door and put a quick end to the unannounced tour. 
  • A block away lived a huge family of 8 or so kids who all had first names starting with M. There was one in every one of my sister and brothers' grades, so we kind of grew up together. You just don't see a ton of huge families living in such close proximity to each other. It was a unique time. What is sort of cool is that we are still Facebook friends with a few of them. 
So there are more specifics about these friends and more in the book, but you'll just have to read it. It is my hope that it will take you back to a simpler time of families building neighborhoods and neighborhoods building a city.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Making Of A Trailer

Writing a book is a whole lot of work. It takes hundreds of hours of writing followed by more hundreds of hours revising. Then, on the chance that you get published, it's a whole lot more work of promotion, platform building, selling, etc.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love every step and every stage of it. I am blessed to be where I am - no doubt about that.

But at the same time, one of the funnest parts of the publishing/promotion process, for me at least, is putting together a book trailer. For this book, two of the guys, Nick and Bill, who helped with the last trailer, agreed to get the band back together and do another. They are good friends who make the process a lot of fun.

It started with Nick putting together a skeleton music track. As you'll hear in the video, it's dramatically different than the one for Dirty Shirt. We were shooting for a 70's vibe to match the book, and I think the electric organ does that well - a sort of Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog sort of sound.

A week ago today, the three of us convened for the voiceover recording. Nick has a studio and lots of sound gadgetry to make a professional level recording. It was clear from the start that I was just there to coach and encourage, while the two guys worked through the script.

I discovered that doing a vocal recording using a script is pretty close to trying to record a song. There are nuances and inflections that I wanted to impose on the transcription of the text to make it interesting and dramatic. I am not sure, but would guess that it took close to 30 takes to get the whole script sounding how we wanted it. It's funny how many different ways you can inflect and or, in some cases, murder a word. At times this led to giggling and the resulting outtake. But these guys are patient and professional, like none other. So we pushed on.

So the whole evening was just cool watching all the talent in the room work together. I hate my voice, so that is why I asked Bill to fill in again. He has a radio voice that I do not. And I can't say enough about Nick and his multitude of acoustic and technical talents. When I thanked Bill for a fun night, we both agreed that we are not the strength of the group.

Like Bill said, "You have to be sure to stay friends with Nick forever if you want to keep doing these." Well, it's my goal not to piss him off anytime soon. Book number 3 is in the works.

I hope you enjoy the trailer. It sure was fun putting it together!

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Map For The Story

It has been a great weekend of old friends, writing friends, and work friends. One event after another for the past four days. And that Viking game. Whoa. It's all good and I'm not even totally drained yet, so I'm not sure what's up with that.

But I wanted to post anyway with something I think is about the coolest thing going. I put together something called a Story Map. It is a geeky GIS thing, but I am so happy with the way it's turned out.

What it does is combines my writing with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and puts both into a fun little application called a Story Map. It is essentially that - a map with a story to it. Or, in this case, a story with a map to it. I plan to put it on my website and, more importantly, enter it into a contest at the statewide GIS conference coming up in a couple of months.

Note: I built this with a free ESRI account totally on my own personal time. These things can be made for parks and any other number of things at work, but I thought it would be cool to do it for something personal.

It is my hope that it builds some interest for the book (as well as maybe an award at the conference, but I digress) but more importantly, it gives readers some context for the story of The Portland House. I have a friend who did a similar thing using Google Maps for her book Paddle for a Purpose. It is very cool too!

So, here is the link. Please take a look and let me know what you think either via Facebook, Blog comments or in person.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Our Minnesota Twins

In continuing my character peeks for The Portland House: a 70's memoir, which releases on 1/23/18, I would like to introduce a couple of my step siblings that make an appearance in the book. Their appearance is brief, but as stepsisters, they were a fun part of my life growing up.

My mom (Mary Lou) dated Jack for nearly 10 years before they married in 1979. Jack had 8 kids by his first marriage, ironically enough to another Mary (Ann) who also lived, ironically enough, on Portland Avenue. So we were corporately, over a dozen strong as a step-family on Portland.
Theresa (front) Maggie (in grey.)

His youngest girls were identical twins named, Maggie and Theresa. And I mean identical. They were more often referred to as "Hey, Twinnie" by their blood family because they were that hard to tell apart.

These two were the ones that came to most of the joint family events Jack and Mom arranged, like trips to the beach, the cabin, and a few camping trips. They were both very athletic, cute and wicked funny. I'm probably tipping my hand, but there were more than a couple of undisclosed step sibling crushes in our family between the fourteen of us. One even resulted in a marriage. (Pat and Kevin).

The twins were a couple of years younger than me, their older sister Maureen was my age. All three of them went to Derham Hall, the all-girls Catholic high school across the field from Cretin, where I attended. They both worked for Northwest Airlines for a significant time.

Anyways, I'd fallen out of touch with them for the most part until about 5 years ago. Facebook put Maggie and I back into contact, especially with regards to my book, Dirty Shirt. She was nice enough to take it overseas and publicize it along the way. She took pictures of herself with the book in front of several famous landmarks. It was her Flat Stanley of sorts.
Maggie (red rugby), Theresa (yellow rugby)

The two of us will periodically spar back and forth on Messenger and keep pledging to get together, but for one reason or another, we can't seem to coordinate it. We will someday, I'm sure. Until then, she keeps me appraised of how the rest of the family is doing.

So, if you want to know how her Portland House cameo happens, well, you'll just have to get the book.

It's Available January 23rd, 2018 on:

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Black Hole Years

In continuing to give a quick expose' on some of the characters in The Portland House: a 70's memoir, today I will talk about a character who plays a much bigger role in the book, namely my mom.

Obviously, Mom is a central character in the book , after all she is the one who got us to the house and the one running it. But that doesn't mean she is always present in every story. Many of the stories involve interactions with siblings that ultimately ended up at mom.
Mom turns 40. April, '73.

Mom worked full time during our years on Portland Avenue and as a result, she had to rule remotely. Sometimes this was done over the phone, She says she used to hate it when my sister Jane and my brother Rob would call her from separate extensions in the middle of a fight they were having. To add to this scenario, Rob was hearing impaired so had trouble hearing mom's responses on the phone. She shouted, "You two figure it out and I will deal with you when I get home!"

To which Rob replied, "Huh?"

At which point, Mom would repeat the threat again in a slightly louder register. All of this done within earshot of the clerical staff she was in charge of.

I can only imagine her rage.

When I was trying to decide on a title for this book, my wife recommended, "Black hole years." This may sound like an odd title, but it refers to what Mom used to say when we told her a story that she had no recollection of.

"That must have happened during the black hole years," she'd say.

I imagine that having six kids would require a certain amount of memory loss or blackouts. Memory suppression may be the secret behind her making it to the age of eighty four.

None of this is to say that Mom wasn't there for any of us. She was. I remember once she brought home a new desk for my room. I forget whether it was given to her or was one of those unpainted things that was cheaply made, but mom was determined it would work. Anyhow, as I was working on it it seemed rickety and had a few popped nails. I complained to her that it was falling apart and that I wasn't happy with it. As an ungrateful kid, I wanted a new one.

The next thing I knew she was holding nails in her lips and was pounding away, fixing the desk. When she was done, the thing was rock solid, as good as new. And she said to me, "I bet you didn't know your mom was a carpenter, too."

Indeed, I did not.

But that is my mom's role in the book in a nutshell. She was keeper of the piece, writer of the checks, and maker of the pork chops. She taught us that family came first, that we could be whatever we wanted if we put our minds to it, and that a house is made into a home by the love therein.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Other Portland House

Yesterday marked three weeks until the release of The Portland House: a 70's memoir. On January 23rd, it becomes available on the eLectio Publishing website as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble online and iTunes. As a prelude, over the next few blog posts, I'd like to introduce you to a few random characters in the book. Some will be more significant characters than others, but all played a part in my childhood, whatever their role.

Today I'd like to introduce my grade school friend Pat S. I have three friends named Pat in the book as well as my sister Pat, so I try and use last names in the book to keep them straight.

Pat (Red), Me (Yellow)
This Pat was one of my better friends through the grade school and middle school years. He lived almost exactly one block away, on the 1200 block of Portland.

As I allude to in the book, I met him more out of a sense of curiosity than anything. He had a crew cut haircut, and would occasionally stop his bike across the street from our house and stare. Because his haircut and menacing stare unnerved us as new kids in the neighborhood, I think it was my brother Rob who called him "Flathead."

It's funny how kids think.

Anyway, it turns out he went to my school and over time we met and got to be pretty good friends. I wasn't one much for going over to friends' houses and such, but at school at least, we pretty good friends.

I think it was seventh grade or so when Pat's father died suddenly and unexpectedly. As one would expect, Pat was pretty devastated. At the same time, because of my own situation, we suddenly held a bond that we hadn't planned on. We were both fatherless. It is nothing to aspire building a friendship around, but there were some times he confided in me and, well, I did and said what I could, I guess. I had been without a dad for so long, in some ways, I could hardly relate with the emotional shock he was feeling. But, I was there inasmuch as I could be.

Pat and I were also on the eighth grade football team together. We were both second stringers and both had the same style of cleats purchased at Montgomery Wards. Don't know why I remember a detail like that. He was as tough as nails on the team and played all-out every down. It's how he rolled in sports and in life.

Somewhere along the way in grade school, Pat picked up the nickname, Scummy. Some guys just have all the luck with nicknames, I guess. It kind of stuck and became him and his persona.

I lost touch with Pat after we both went to different high schools. I did hear that he worked a lot as a sort of roadie/sound/light guy for a few Twin Cities bands over the years which I always thought was kind of a cool gig. But, for the most part we lost touch until a few years ago when we reconnected on Facebook. It is refreshing how the social media world can connect two people who had lost touch for nearly forty years.

Anyways, he mentioned he'd read Dirty Shirt and became a fan, which was great news.

Little did he know he'd be a character in The Portland House.

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