“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.


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.


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.

“Virgil Wander” Debuts in Duluth

Leif Enger

Duluth scored a literary coup yesterday when award-winning, multimillion-copy bestselling author Leif Enger launched his new book, “Virgil Wander,” here.

One of the reasons we were able to get him here versus, say, Minneapolis or New York or San Francisco, is because, as of seven weeks ago, Enger and his wife Robin live in Duluth. What a boon for our (relatively) remote city on the shores of Lake Superior!

Most news stories will say it took the Minnesota-born Enger, who is best known for his debut novel “Peace Like a River,” ten years to write his new novel. During questioning after his reading at Zenith Books, he said it actually only took him four years to write “Virgil” and that he spent the previous years writing 400 pages of something else that didn’t work out – it didn’t have the vital combination of character, setting, and story.

Enger said another thing that delayed his writing was a “dark patch” due to the failing health of his and his wife’s parents. Plus he contracted meningitis, which I suspect is is a good excuse to delay just about anything.

The novel’s setting is the mythical town of “Greenstone, Minnesota,” which he said is an amalgam of Silver Bay, Beaver Bay and Grand Marais – small towns along Lake Superior’s North Shore. It’s the story of Virgil Wander, a movie house owner who survives a plunge in his car into Lake Superior. He loses his memory and language, awakening to an unfamiliar world. He pieces his life back together with the help of “affable and curious locals.”

The promotional blurb about the book on Goodreads says, “With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a master storyteller.”

During his reading, Enger said the owner of an Art Deco movie house in Florida inspired the main character of Virgil. The passion of the owner to restore the theater stuck with Enger and emerged when he was fishing his subconscious for ideas for his new novel.

20181002_200515A hike on a hill above Beaver Bay with one of his sons inspired Enger to set the novel on the North Shore, and then the story came to him.

When a member of the audience commented about his use of humor in the book, Enger said he wanted to write something he would enjoy because he’d be “spending a long time with it.”

Before and after the reading, audience members feasted upon snickerdoodle cookies and brownies made by Robin. I even took a photo of them. Why? Must be because I am so affable! No, really, I thought that was cute, supportive, and very Minnesotan.

“Virgil Wander” is now in my pile of books on my bedside table. Can’t wait to read it!

Walt Whitman Lives!


Patrick Scully as Walt Whitman

A literary figure came to life in downtown Duluth a few days ago. Walt Whitman made an appearance at the Zeitgeist Teatro Zuccone on September 12 in the form of a one-man show by Patrick Scully.

Whitman, of course, is known for his poetic work, “Leaves of Grass” (1855). The book received praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau but was also controversial for its overt sexuality.

In Scully’s show, “Leaves of Grass – Illuminated,” Scully embodies Whitman in his “multitudes,” exploring his inclusiveness and embrace of all humankind – things everyone needs reminders of, especially now.

The show premiered in New York City and Minneapolis. If you missed it in Duluth, you’ll have a chance to see it at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis on July 12-14, 2019, shortly after the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth.

Scully performs a couple different versions of his show. The one we saw was the full-meal deal, featuring videos of male dancers dressed in appropriate period garb (and also lack thereof). The videos played behind Scully, who stood at a podium near the audience.

20180916_175923Whitman has been a long-time favorite of mine, ever since I read a first-edition version of “Leaves of Grass” (pictured, copyright 1959) that I think my parents gave me off their bookshelf. It kept me company during a summer on Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior. No libraries there! So I lugged a duffle bag full of books along with me when I worked as a waitress at the resort on the island during college.

Some of my favorite lines come from, “I Sing the Body Electric.” In looking through my old book, this one still strikes me:

I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful curious breathing laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them . . to touch any one . . . . to rest my arm ever so lightly around his or her neck for a moment . . . . what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight . . . . I swim in it as in a sea.

Like Whitman’s poetry, Scully’s show pleased my soul well.

Thanks go to Lake Superior Writers and the Minnesota State Arts Board for hosting and sponsoring the evening.

Of Lighthouses and Books


I found this gem of a book at Chequamegon Books in Washburn, Wisconsin. Would you read it? I especially like its promo blurb by USA Today: “A fascinating romp through the world of ‘stuffed’ animals.”

Somehow the phrase “fascinating romp” has never combined in my mind with the topic of taxidermy.

I did not buy the book. But I was impressed with the bookstore. The last time I visited years ago, the store looked like the kind of place where books go to die. It’s been spiffed up recently, with better lighting, ventilation, and a new back room that makes space for lots more books!

The topics are all well-organized and easy to find. It’s a book nerd’s dream. Stop in if you’re ever in Washburn.


The back room in Chequamegon Books in Ashland.

While I was in the area, I had the chance to visit Raspberry Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. My bookish theme continued when the lighthouse keeper on the island showed me the traveling bookcase that the lighthouse service used to provide to help entertain the keepers and their families.

And I really do mean that he only showed me the traveling bookcase. Of our group that visited the island, I was the only one who opted for the $5 lighthouse tour, so I got personal service!



Raspberry Island Lighthouse in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.


The view from the top of the Raspberry Island Lighthouse.

After the tour, I took a hike to an overlook along the coast of the island. On the way, I found this fine example of Canada yew.


Christmas colors in August! Canada Yew is an important shrub for wildlife. Not often found on the mainland because it gets eaten by deer, it sometimes thrives on islands like Raspberry Island, which have few, if any, deer.

Books and lighthouses: a good combination for an outing….

“Going Coastal” Wins Honors


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

An anthology of Lake Superior short stories that contains one of my tales was awarded an honorable mention in the fiction category of the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards competition. “Going Coastal” contains stories written by nine writers who live around the lake in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Here’s what the awards committee had to say about the book:

The stories in Going Coastal are all deeply personal, and reflect the lake as a source of beginnings and endings-a source of inspiration, loss, and renewal. The anthology contains a variety of very different stories, touching us in many ways, and connecting us to the power of Lake Superior.

The award was established to recognize books that substantially represent northeastern Minnesota in the areas of history, culture, heritage, or lifestyle. For a list of other winning books for 2018, check here.

To learn how this book project happened, read this previous blog post.