Author Appearance this Weekend

The “Going Coastal” anthology sporting its snazzy Northeastern MN Book Awards seal.

Hi – this Saturday (10/16) I’ll be selling books at the Twin Cities Book Festival from noon-2 p.m. Look for me at the Metropolitan Library Service Agency table. I’ll have copies of “Going Coastal” (a Lake Superior short story anthology written by Lake Superior locals, including me) and “Plover Landing,” my eco-mytic-romance novel.

Free Poetry Book!

I’ve posted several times about the “River of Poems” project on my blog. I’d like to let you know we (as in Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Lake Superior Reserve) finally got around to publishing this book of river poems from poets around the world.

To refresh your memory, in 2020, we sent out a call for river poems for The River Talks speaker series we hold with the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. Poets were offered the opportunity to read their poems via Zoom during one of the River Talk monthly presentations.

Poets from across the world responded. With help from a judging committee, we narrowed the pool to a dozen poets, who read their works in March 2021 in conjunction with the St. Louis River Summit. The event was so moving, and the poems so well received, we created a publication to showcase them. “A River of Poems,” is now available as a free download.

In “I Held Us on for 36 Hours After the Levee Broke to Hell,” Heather Dobbins tells the story of a family who spends the night atop a phone pole to escape a raging river.

In “Catching Your Drift,” Lorraine Lamey highlights the subtle humor in natural resource regulations for a river in Montana.

Poet Ron Riekki shares how water can be an antidote for PTSD from war in “It Took a Long Time to Discover.”

A river in Detroit burns in Derold Sligh’s “Rouge River” poem, heralding a cry for environmental and social justice.

Download the book here.

Turning a Magazine Story into a Poem

My poem, “Ojibwe Horses” was just published in “The Nemadji Review,” a literary magazine published by students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. If you’d like to read my poem, look for it on page 8 in the PDF found here. As far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that a horse is on the cover.

You may recall that I wrote a story about this rare breed of horses for “Lake Superior Magazine.” (Read about that process here.) It’s become one of my missions lately to increase public awareness about these lovely animals and their plight. To expand the reach of my magazine story, I decided to write a poem based on it. I had never done this before. Shrinking a 2,560-word story into a 290-word poem was not easy! But it was a fun exercise and it reminded me about the differences between poetry and prose. How could I distill the essence of my experience with the horses? How could I offer captivating images and feelings? What was most important to say?

Getting the poem to this point took several rewrites, one rejection, and more rewrites, but I think it works. I sent it to one of the Ojibwe horse owners who I interviewed for my story, and she loved it, which is the best compliment I could ever hope for.

This is the first time I’ve been published in “The Nemadji Review.” We had a virtual book launch reading for the journal recently. Seeing the young crew who worked on it made me feel like the love of literature is alive and well in the next generation. It will be exciting to follow the careers of these talented students.

Back in the early-1980s, I was part of a group of students at the University of Minnesota who started a literary magazine for undergraduates. To the best of my recollection, we named it “Undercurrents.” It was a small publication, 5 x 7 inches, with a blue cardstock cover and a stapled binding. It contained art, poetry, and stories.

I only worked on the first issue. I can’t remember if “Undercurrents” continued after that or not. I think I stopped participating because I wasn’t satisfied with the process we used to choose the journal content. The process probably wasn’t objective enough for me, or maybe poems I really liked didn’t make the cut, or maybe both! But that initial experience is probably what made me comfortable stepping up to coordinate literary contests later in life for the Lake Superior Writers group.

I just did a search, and the U of MN has a literary journal for undergraduates now, called “Tower.” I’m glad to see what we started has continued, even if it has a different name now.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the poem. And if you’re a writer, I would encourage you to connect with local community colleges and universities – many open submissions to their literary journals to community members, not only students. It’s a way to support learning by students and could lead to a nice publication credit on your literary resume.

The Path of Totality

Photo by Drew Rae on Pexels.com

Remember the 2017 eclipse? It was a big deal in the U.S. since it covered such a large swath of the land.  Here in Minnesota we were not in “the path of totality” — the area that would be totally darkened by the moon blocking the sun. But I was still hopeful we’d see something memorable.

Alas, we did not. It was cloudy that day. The sky darkened enough during the eclipse so that the streetlights came on near my office, and that was it. After all the media hype, the event itself was disappointing.

However, I did take away something memorable, and that was the title for a new short story. I loved the ring of “The Path of Totality.” I even mentioned to my Facebook friends that it would make a great title for a story. It didn’t take me long to realize that I should be the one to write that story.

The idea coalesced during a workshop I took about a year later from William Kent Krueger, a New York Times bestselling author from Minnesota. Mr. Krueger is just a peach of a guy – very down-to-earth and willing to help other writers. The class had something to do with the differences between fictional narrative and plot. As part of it, he had us write opening lines for a story. I was thinking about the path of totality title when I wrote what eventually became:

The problem with Justin Kincaid’s eyes began on August 21, 2017. On a dusty hillside in Oregon, the curve of the moon’s shoulder nudged away pieces of the sun. The crowd of people hurried to don their cardboard eclipse glasses. But to Justin, the sun still shone as whole and bright as ever.

Intriguing, yes? Why can’t this man see this celestial event like everyone else? What in his life is blinding him to it?

The story is one of a series I am working on with the theme of deceiving appearances. I am happy to report I am almost done with the final story! Plus, my ‘Path of Totality’ story was chosen for publication in the “Thunderbird Review,” a literary journal published by the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

If you’d like to hear more of the story, please consider attending the virtual launch party for the journal. I will be reading an excerpt along with other writers in the journal. I’m sure they’ll also offer info about how to purchase a copy of the journal, too. The event is happening Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. Central Time via Zoom. Details are on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2965093270398597

“Plover Landing” Featured in Culture x Climate Exhibit

Getting my novel and an excerpt ready for the exhibit.

This week in downtown Duluth, an exhibit is being installed in the Zeitgeist Arts Café lobby windows. The effort is spearheaded by Tone Lanzillo and Phil Fitzpatrick to highlight how the creative arts can help people gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the various impacts that climate change has on our lives. It’s part of a global campaign, “Culture x Climate 2020” organized by the Climate Heritage Network in France.

Although my novel “Plover Landing” may look like it’s all about shorebird restoration, it’s about climate change in equal measure. Besides being cute as a button, the character of young Demitri has mysterious powers related to climate. Much of the story revolves around Demetri and his friends figuring out his role in the world.

When Phil approached me about submitting poems for the Culture x Climate project, I had to decline, saying I had none, but that I did have a whole novel about climate change. He encouraged me to submit an excerpt and to provide a copy of the book for the display.

Tone and Phil are putting the finishing touches on the exhibit today and it will be up all week, possibly longer. Other activities are happening, too. Zenith Bookstore and the Duluth Public Library will present books on climate change for adults and children on social media. KUMD Radio and PACT-TV will be interviewing artists and poets who are participating in this project. The Duluth/365 climate initiative, as well as other climate and environmental groups, will be posting information about various poets, artists, musicians and photographers on social media. There is a Facebook event and discussion about the creative arts community and climate change on Nov. 17. And there will be a new blog providing information on the creative arts and climate change.

As Tone said in his Duluth Reader article, “This project will hopefully illustrate how important the creative arts are to the quality of life in Duluth. And just as significantly, show how the creative arts can be used as a very valuable and meaningful tool to engage, educate and empower our citizens to address climate change.”

I am happy to be part of this. I hope you get the chance to check it out!

Book Review: Going Coastal

This review is not by me, but was written by a poet friend of mine, Jan Chronister. She reviewed “Going Coastal: An Anthology of Lake Superior Short Stories.” One of my short stories is in the book and I helped shepherd the project to life.

The “Going Coastal” anthology sporting its snazzy Northeastern MN Book Awards seal.

Full disclosure: we exchanged books for honest reviews. You can find my review of “Decenia,” Jan’s book of poetry, on Goodreads.

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I’m a poet and rarely write poems longer than a page, so I find short stories intimidating. The stories in Going Coastal proved to me what I have been missing as a reader. Not only am I awed by the talent and craft it takes to create such prize-winning stories, but the time I invested in reading the anthology has rewarded me with new knowledge and insights.

Especially impressive are two young authors, Teresa Allison-Price and Maxwell Reagan, whose stories are their first published pieces. Without reading their bios, I would never have guessed this fact. After reading Johnna Suihkonen’s “What a Fire Weighs,” I will never look at an agate the same way again. Her metaphorical piece with its poetic feel reached out to me. Marie Zhuikov’s “Water Witch” kept me mesmerized with its well-paced narrative and intriguing subject matter. “The Urge for Going” should be required reading for anyone planning a trip up the North Shore. Following in the steps of Phil Fitzpatrick’s protagonist will deepen the experience and give every stop special meaning.

Two stories brought me to tears. I have always felt the natural world was where we should worship and Evan Sasman’s “The Painting” reinforced my belief. “Superior Mordant” by Judy Budreau pulled me in and had well-developed characters I could relate to.

Eric Chandler’s “The Heart Under the Lake” could only be written by someone who loves Lake Superior and the lands around it. It is a satisfying, well-crafted coming of age story that blends science with verbal artistry and maritime history. It was a delight to read.

I sensed autobiographical elements in many of these stories. That, admittedly, is one reason writers write. Another reason, perhaps not always acknowledged, is that they hope to enable readers to discover (or rediscover) thoughts and emotions that are often hidden under the cares of daily living. I’m glad I spent time with this collection that fosters self-reflection through superb short stories.

Author Reading: North Shore Readers and Writers Festival

NS Writers Fest logoI’m going to meander up the North Shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marias, Minnesota, this November. I’ve been asked to give a reading as part of a panel of local writers during a lunch session of the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival on November 9.

I’ll be reading an excerpt of my Lake Superior-inspired story from the “Going Coastal” anthology along with two of my favorite local writers: Felicia Schneiderhan (“Newlyweds Afloat”), and Eric Chandler (“Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War”).

Best of all, this is a free event! You can bring your own lunch and attend at no cost, but you do need to register through the festival website. There are also options to buy lunch.

The festival looks like an awesome way to meet published authors and learn from them. Check out the course schedule and see if anything strikes your fancy. All the classes are available ala carte, so that keeps costs down.

Book Review: How to Talk Minnesotan, Revised for the 21st Century

9780143122692_p0_v3_s550x406The first version of this book, published in 1987 and later made into a video, helped me understand my own culture. Before reading it, I never understood that the “long good-bye” was something unique to my state of Minnesota. (The long good-bye is where it takes at least three tries to leave a friend’s home before they will actually let you go.)

Also helpful was the “angle rule,” which describes how many Minnesotans talk to each other without actually looking at each other. Instead, they stand at 90-degree angles, looking off at some mysterious distant point while conversing. I had seen that many times and just thought that’s how everyone did it. I was not conscious that these were Minnesota “things.”

I watched the “How to Talk Minnesotan” video so many times, I had the lines memorized. So when I heard the book had been updated (in 2013), I put it on my list to read.

In reading the recent edition, it didn’t seem like a whole lot had changed. Although it now contains sections on Tweets, Facebook, and smart phones, the same lines from the video are there on the page.

However, in reading this new version, I realized something that nagged me with the first version, which is that this is not a book that encompasses the whole of my dear state. The traits described in it are more common in farm country. I’d say that’s about from Hinkley, Minnesota, and south. With token mentions of smelt and lutefisk, this book has a bit of relevance to northern Minnesota, BUT, there’s not one mention of a sauna etiquette, iron ore mining, Lake Superior, Ole and Lena jokes, or wilderness camping. It lacks northern nuances.

A more accurate title for this book would be “How to talk Mid- to Southern-Minnesotan.” If you live north of Hinkley, reading it will be helpful, but it won’t get you the whole way. If a third version is ever done, the author should come on up here and talk to us northerners for some new material, don’t cha know.

My First Book of Pig People

20190429_121407I was rummaging through old files the other day and found the first book I ever wrote: “The First Book of Pig People.” As the name suggests, it led to sequels: “The Adventures of Janet and Harry,” “The Adventures of Sally and Fred,” and “Jace.”

I wrote and fully illustrated the books one summer when I was age eight or ten, which was in the early 1970s — as you can see from the platform shoes and clothing styles in the cover photo. I worked on them with my girlfriend Karen, who wrote her own books. We’d bring our stories to each other’s houses and sit at the kitchen table, scribbling away with our pencils. I also remember writing while lying in the grass in Karen’s back yard.

As you can see from the cover photo, the characters are human with pig noses. Why the mix of human and pig? Perhaps it had something to do with my connection to animals. It might also do with a poster one of my brothers had up in his room. As I can recall, it featured a humanoid pig creature littering, and it contained an anti-littering slogan. But, as with most story ideas, who really knows what strange subconscious depths it came from?

Upon finding these early efforts again, I was impressed that I knew I would have sequels from the beginning. Not bad planning for a youngster.

The main characters in the series are two women and four men, because each woman ended up having two boyfriends, mainly due to the lameness of their initial boyfriends. Four pets were also involved: a parrot, a cat, a dog, and a walrus-bird hybrid I dubbed a “walbirus.” With that particular pet, I decided to combine two of the most improbable animals I could. The walbirus also sports a pig nose, it has the head of a walrus, a small walrus body, and wings. Yes, it can fly! Like the humans, the pets also sport pig noses, and the spots on the dog’s coat each contain two piggy nostril markings within them.

The pets drive the story. A cat tells his man (Karl) to let him outside. While on his walk, the cat meets a dog. The cat invites the dog to his house to meet Karl.

Of course, the pets can talk. Hmm, what other stories have animals that talk? Oh, there was that novel I wrote when I grew up called “Eye of the Wolf,” which features talking wolves. Seems to be a common theme here.

The dog then invites the cat and Karl over to his house. The dog’s human is a woman (Janet), and at the sight of her, Karl “knew they were going to be good friends.” Romance blossoms, thanks to their pets.

Later, the cat and dog go on a walk and meet a parrot who lives in their neighborhood. At first, the cat wants to eat the parrot, but the parrot talks him out of it, because he’s “too young to die.” In the way of stories written by children, that makes immediate sense to the cat, who befriends him instead.

The trio travel to the dog’s house to introduce the parrot to Janet. Karl is also at the dog’s house. When the parrot tells them who his master is (her name is Sally) and Karl (stupidly) tells them that Sally is his new girlfriend, Janet kicks him out.

Intrigue, romance, jealousy, talking animals . . . what a great combination for a story! I won’t bore you with the rest of the intricate details, but in the end, the women have a brawl over the men and each woman ends up married. Karl walks around for most of the story with a pillow strapped to his behind from all the kicking-out by angry women. It’s so bad, he hires a bodyguard to protect him.

When the bodyguard asks Karl why he needs his help, Karl says, “I have two girlfriends. They found out that I found out that they found out I was in love with both of them. So they fight me. And I’m too young to die.” The bodyguard (Jace) agrees and everything is all right. Jace eventually gets his own story at the end of the series. (The walbirus is Jace’s pet.)

Hmmm, Karl was the name of the bad guy who gets into a fight in “Eye of the Wolf,” too. I honestly did not make that connection until just now. I wonder what I have against men with that name?

The spelling in the stories is creative, “introduchen,” “charicktures,” for characters, “dubble” for double, and “nabors” for neighbors.

In the sequels, the pets, while still integral to the plot, take more of a back seat. As in the first book, most of the sequels end with marriages. Gee, my novel “Plover Landing,” ends with a marriage. Hmm, I detect another commonality. I’m sure other similarities exist as well. If I were a major literary figure instead of just a world famous blogger (ahem), a psychologist delving into my genius would have a field day with these early stories.

Apparently, my plot ideas haven’t changed much from the beginning. But I hope my spelling has at least improved.

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Jace’s wedding at the end of the series.

Psycho Dads: A Comparative Book Review of “My Absolute Darling” and “The Marsh King’s Daughter”

Warner bros the shining

One of the scariest psycho dads of all time: Jack from “The Shining.” My post is not about him, but it is about psycho dads. Image by Warner Bros.

Fathers. They can have a profound impact on their daughters’ lives. Unfortunately, the two daughters in these books hit the jackpot when it comes to living in a family headed by psycho dads. Both books make for compelling, disturbing reads.

I read them back-to-back by happenstance. I was lured into “My Absolute Darling” by an intriguing and glowing New York Times book review. Alas, judging from all the complaints on Goodreads, I wasn’t the only one misled by the review, which glosses over the nasty bits about incest and the fact that THE DOG DIES in it. (I hate books where the dog dies, especially when scavengers pull its intestines out of its anus afterward.)

Instead, the review focused on positive comments by other writers, including Stephen King, and the author Gabriel Tallent’s background (this is his first novel).

The unfortunate daughter in “Absolute” is Turtle, a young teen living in the woods of northern California with her dad. Her mother died when she was young, leaving her at the mercy of her father who has an inordinate fondness for guns, and a paranoia about societal collapse. Turtle eats raw eggs for breakfast and wears combat boots to school. Her only friends are her grandfather, who lives in a trailer home next door, and a teacher who sees the signs of abuse and tries to help.

Later, Turtle befriends Jacob and Brett, two boys near her age who are lost in the woods. These well-read surfer dudes provide a foil for Turtle’s dark story, and are the catalyst for her father’s abuse to escalate.

The story of Turtle’s escape from her father is often profane, violent, heartbreaking, frustrating, stark and sometimes funny. On Goodreads, I rated the book 3/5 stars, mainly because some of the violence felt unnecessarily exploitive.

I read “The Marsh King’s Daughter” at the recommendation of my book group and because it’s set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – not far from my stomping grounds. The unfortunate daughter in this story is Helena. Her father kidnapped her mother when she was young and brought her into a remote marsh in the wilds of the U.P. Born in the marsh, Helena grows up in blissful ignorance of her true situation because her family is so isolated from the outside world.

Like Turtle, Helena is at home in the woods. Her father has taught her well how to survive and track animals. These descriptions are especially vivid and believable, as are the scenes of Helena’s eventual escape from the marsh.

The abuse in “Marsh King” is tamer than that in “Absolute.” Another thing that puts readers at more of a distance is that the story is told in retrospective. Helena is grown and out of the marsh, with a family of her own when she begins relating the tale. Even when the action is in the present, Helena is prone to bouts of rumination and repetition that slow down the action. There was so much of this in the climax scene where she has a death match with her father that I could hardly tell it was taking place in the present. But the story hooked me enough that I kept reading.

Another scene that stuck in my reader’s craw, however, was the one where Helena’s father tries to drown her mother in punishment for what he thinks is an escape attempt. Helena’s mother is canoeing alone across a lake (to search for strawberries on the other side) – something she is apparently forbidden to do. The father comes home and asks Helena where her mother is. Helena points to her mother who is out in the canoe. Somehow (I don’t recall exactly and no longer have the book to refer to), the father reaches the mother in the canoe and manhandles her out of it. To punish her, he almost drowns her. But does he do it in the lake where there’s plenty of available water? No. He drags her up to the porch, gets a bucket full of water and does it there. That just seems inefficient and weird to me, even for a psycho dad.

I gave “Marsh King” a higher rating on Goodreads (4/5 stars) than “Absolute” because the violence seemed less exploitive. I would have given it an even higher rating but for the rumination/repetition issues and the near-drowning scene.

Neither book dwells on how the fathers became psycho. They just deal with how the fathers’ actions impact their families.

In both books [spoiler alert!] the daughters triumph over their fathers both physically and emotionally. So if you want to read a book about “girl power” these are for you.