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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