Connecting Through Writing

I once planted poems throughout my town (Duluth, MN) when I contributed to a Local Free Poetry project. Our poet laureate at the time scattered hard copies of poems by local poets in area businesses. I submitted four poems. One of them was entitled, “Perfunctory Kisses.” The short (8-line) poem detailed how I dislike kisses that don’t mean anything. I might want to publish it somewhere in the future, so I won’t share the whole thing here, but just let me say that the first line is: Perfunctory kisses suck.

I know, not exactly subtle, but I like my poetry to be accessible. 😊

Last summer, I received an email through my author website from a woman who lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She said my poem captivated her when she found it. She used it as a reading at her recent wedding – her groom read it to her before they exchanged vows.

“Your short poem offered a sharp and punchy contrast to some of the more traditional readings of the ceremony,” she said. “We heard gasps of delight as the first line was read aloud. Let’s say, it was well received, as we knew it would be.” She ended with, “Thanks for your contribution to making our ceremony unique and memorable.”

Receiving her note made my day, my year! I’m tickled and honored that my poem landed on fertile ground and was used in such a personal way.

After my book launch this winter for “Meander North,” I heard from our friend, Sailor Dave, who connected with one of the stories I read about bunnies. Unlike with my poem, you can read this one because the book is made up from posts from this blog. (Seeing Rabbits) It explores the thought that rabbits might be guardians of our sleep.

Dave lives in a tiny house at a local marina. He said, “I wanted to tell you that I had a “pandemic bunny” living under my house last winter, too. When listening to Marie read the story, I was anticipating a dark turn, with Russ finding a great “New York Times” rabbit stew recipe that he was dying to try. Of course, it took a more spiritual turn and I found myself wondering if my rabbit would return. I did leave veggies out now and then. And there were baby bunnies in the spring. After our last snow, I spotted fresh bunny tracks around the house. My guardian bunny has returned! Probably under the house right now, waiting for me to go to sleep.”

Then there was a note I received through my website right after Christmas. A reader from Marshall, Minnesota, thanked me for writing my first novel, “Eye of the Wolf,” which deals with the wolves on Isle Royale National Park. He said it was, “An enjoyable foray into their lives and possibilities.”

Since my novel is rather old now (12 years), I asked him where he found it and he said it was in the library there. I let him know that there’s a sequel (“Plover Landing”), which he also ended up reading, and appreciated. I planted those copies in the town when I participated in a local arts board event years ago. So nice to learn they also found fertile ground!

I love these connections and I love it when readers take the time to send me their comments.

Russ and I were just listening to the latest episode of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” show. Author George Saunders (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) was on it. During his interview he offered this thought on how to define a literary work: “Anything that connects people in a way that’s deeper than the usual way – habitual way we connect. That can be seen as literature.”

I’d also posit that literature connects through space and time. The good books will resonate into the future and across geography. I’m not really saying that my writing is great literature, but I’m always trying and am heartened by these little successes.

“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!

Writing at Dream Speed

The Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards ceremony was held a few days ago in Duluth. I attended in because my novel, Plover Landing, was nominated in the fiction category, and because it’s fun to hob nob with other writers. Although any hope of an award was futile (sniff, small sob), the event always has inspiring speakers (see last year’s blog story), and poet Barton Sutter provides entertaining emceeing.Layout 1

This year’s speaker was Duluth Poet Laureate Jim Johnson, who offered a tongue-in-cheek look at the writing process. Regarding the importance of writing rituals: “The muse can only find you at the same place and same time every day. The first step in writing is to be there . . . . While you are waiting for the muse to appear, you might as well write.”

Is the writing process about hard work or inspiration? “Yes,” is Johnson’s answer. “You can’t write if your ritual doesn’t work right. Don’t skip over the details!” Then he went into a long explanation of the importance of exact paper and pen placement on the desk, having all your pencils sharpened, your computer programs updated, etc.

Is all this preparation and procrastination worth it? “Trust me,” Johnson said. “Something will happen. When it does, it’s magical. The words will come out at dream speed . . . . This is its own reward. Writing isn’t about money, awards, or publication. Sometimes we’re rewarded, sometimes not. The odds are not good.”


The crowd gathers for the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards presentation.

Basically, he was saying that writers need to trust in whatever process they’ve developed, and that the key is to persevere despite rejections from publishers or awards judges. There’s nothing better than when the words seem to come of their own accord and you get into that “flow.”

Keep flowing, my friends. Keep writing at dream speed.

Author Reading from “Plover Landing”

Layout 1A community radio station, KUMD, featured my most recent novel on their “Women’s Words” show last weekend. My novel is called “Plover Landing” and it’s an eco-mystic romance set in Duluth, Minn., that highlights the plight of an endangered shorebird, the piping plover.

You can listen to the six-something minute show here. My novel is available for sale in the usual places (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.) or you can contact me through my website to receive an autographed copy. My online store isn’t working at the moment, but if you send me a message from my site, we can work something out!

The Book Signing and the Viola Player

This weekend I had my first book-signing events in the metropolises of Minneapolis and Maple Grove, Minn. One was a reading at a small indie bookstore; the other was a signing event with a bunch of other authors at a big box chain bookstore.

Moon Palace Books in south Minneapolis.

Moon Palace Books in south Minneapolis.

I did the indie bookstore reading first, at Moon Palace Books in south Minneapolis. The audience was intimate and mostly genetically related to myself. (Grin.) But it was fun and I sold a few books. The owner was wonderful and, with thirty bookcases that were only two years old, the place smelled good — like freshly cut lumber.

We were just wrapping up when the Viola Player arrived. Or rather, she swooped in. Judy with the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra (DSSO), is not the type to enter any other way. I experienced her vivaciousness first-hand when I had lunch with her as research for my novel “Plover Landing.” A viola player figures prominently in the story, but I needed to learn more about the life of this type of musician. I brought my plight to the DSSO and they hooked me up with Judy.

I chose the instrument because it’s the one I would have wanted to play if I hadn’t already been a French horn player in the high school band. I just love how it sounds, and the introvert in me loves how it’s a background instrument. From Judy, I learned about the underdog, scrappy culture of violists.

Judy, the vivacious violist.

Judy, the vivacious violist.

I didn’t know she was planning on attending my reading, so her swooping entrance was a surprise. A nice one, however! She even had her viola strapped to her back, and with little coaxing, treated us to several tunes. That’s one reading I won’t soon forget, and I’m sure the bookstore owners will remember it, too.

The big box chain bookstore event was a bust. Hardly anyone attended. If it had been my only event, I would have driven home in the dark of night feeling like the five-hour round trip was not worth it. I learned two lessons from this experience that I would like to share, especially with new authors who are responsible for their own marketing:

  1. If you’re traveling more than an hour or two from home, try to have more than one signing event scheduled to hedge your bets on feeling successful. In other words: Don’t put your book signing eggs all in one basket.
  2. The book signing ain’t over until the viola lady plays!

A Cross Between Christmas and Childbirth

Plover Landing Novels
My books are here! My books are here! It’s so fun to open those boxes and see what’s inside – kind of like a cross between Christmas and childbirth. I don’t think they’ve been distributed to Amazon or Barnes and Noble, etc., yet. So if you can’t wait and you’d like an autographed copy, by all means, feel free to order one from me!

I have copies of both “Plover Landing” and “Eye of the Wolf” available. You can find out more and order them here. I ship them via media mail, which is fairly cheap. Slow, but cheap.

So I’m gearing up for my book launch party tomorrow night and a reading at a local bookstore this weekend. I can’t wait to see everybody and introduce them to “Plover Landing” and the characters within.

Received some great press in a local paper . They called it a “breezy beach read.” Start your summer right and pick one up!

Making Piping Plovers Sexy

My second novel is coming out later this month. I’m happy to unveil the cover for you:

Layout 1

Plover Landing is an ecological-mystical-romance that I wrote for college-age readers and older. What’s an ecological-mystical-romance, you ask? It’s a genre I’d like to think that I created, which deals with endangered species, Native American mythology, and human-human, human-animal romance and connections.

Plover Landing is set in my hometown of Duluth, Minn., in 1995, and it’s a sequel to Eye of the Wolf. Novelists who haven’t been published yet might hate me for what I’m about to admit, but when my publisher suggested a sequel, I wasn’t that enthused. That’s because, between life’s distractions, the first novel took me seventeen years to write, then another couple years to publish.

The thought of doing that all over again was exhausting, although at least I wouldn’t have to spend time looking for a publisher. I was also exhausted from seventeen years of thinking about wolves, which are the animals I focus on in Eye of the Wolf. If I was going to survive a sequel, I needed to focus on a different endangered animal and environmental topic.

It just so happens I was working on a project to restore habitat along the shores of Lake Superior in hopes of encouraging an endangered shorebird to nest. Through that process, I had already learned a lot about piping plovers, so that became the focus of my sequel. Granted, plovers are not as sexy as wolves and they don’t have a handy supernatural being associated with them (like the wolves have werewolves), so I had to ponder how to work the mysticism into it. (But never fear, wolf aficionados, the wolves come into the story at the end.)

My writer’s group joked that I should write about plover zombies, but I did not take them up on that idea. (Smirk) Instead, I researched myths about plovers. While I couldn’t find any local myths, I did find an interesting and sexy Hawaiian myth about plovers, and I discovered a way to use it as the foundation of the story.

Even so, that wasn’t quite supernatural enough, so in addition to the heroine and hero from Eye of the Wolf (Melora St. James and Drew Tamsen), I introduced a new character, a boy named Demetri, who both helps the plovers and focuses readers’ attention on the issue of climate change. I feel strongly that the more integrated that issue is into mainstream media, especially through the use of storytelling, the more people will come to accept it as real.

Because I’d learned ways to encourage myself to write with my first novel, even though I had just as many distractions, Plover Landing only took two-and-a-half years to write. My publisher thinks it’s an even better story than the first and has hinted about the desire for another in the series. I created the ending of Plover Landing with openings for another story or so that it works as a finale. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about that one.

In any case, let the marketing begin! Speaking of which, if any of you are active on Goodreads, I have a giveaway for Plover Landing that’s active until July 15.

I’m Somebody Now!

Web ImageI just finished creating my author web site. I’m so excited – I feel like Steve Martin’s character Navin in the movie “The Jerk,” when he finds his name in the phone book for the first time:

Navin R. Johnson: The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!

Harry Hartounian: Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.

Navin R. Johnson: Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 – Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity – your name in print – that makes people. I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.

I have my own web site! I’m somebody! Whether or not things start happening because of it depends, I guess, on my efforts to make it visible (hence this blog posting, heh heh).

I’ve been my own Realtor, divorce lawyer, tax preparer, and now web designer. Of these, I am most proud of the web designer title. Creating the site was my New Year’s resolution, and it took this long for me to decide what to say and to work through all the technical difficulties associated with it.

But it’s up, it’s out in the world, even better than the phone book! If you’d like to know more about me and my writing, please take a look at You can even pre-order my new eco-mystic romance novel, “Plover Landing,” due out this summer.