B&W Typewriter


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Thanks much, and I promise not to bombard you with crap!

2014 Author Tour - Overview

My daughter Paige and I went on our self-proclaimed author tour for about ten days at the end of June. I paid for it all with money earned from writing, and also made money along the way in book sales and (very modest) speaking fees. We had a lot of fun and best of all met a lot of great people, saw a lot of interesting places, and most importantly, had some good father/daughter bonding time.

I gave a couple author talks, did a couple book signings, and stopped at a lot of museums along the way to see if they wanted to stock Ox Cart Angel, due to its historical significance to the regions of the Dakotas and Minnesota. I was surprised at the response! I left a trail of OCA books throughout North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Here's a list of some of the new places that now carry it due to our recent wanderings:

Grand River Museum, Lemmon, SD

Range Riders Museum, Miles City, MT

Elk River Books, Livingston, MT

The Book Peddler, West Yellowstone, MT

Readers' Den bookstore, Mitchell, SD

It was a fun journey, but it's good to finally be back home. If you'd like to read about our trip, I posted it on my blogger account, and you can head over there if you'd like. So here's part 1, and you can go on from there! I'll tell you about the places we stopped at, people we met, and other fun things we encountered along the way.

flying oliver

The Vanishing Art of Browsing

In talking to my mom – a retired elementary school librarian – recently, she mentioned a friend of hers – a non-retired school librarian – who was upset that the school she works for is planning to shrink the library by getting rid of the majority of print books and focusing mainly on digital.

This is heartbreaking. It’s not just that I’m older and not willing to acknowledge the ebook revolution – in fact, I make a nice chunk of change from ebook sales. The reason I think this is a terrible idea is that it takes away a very fundamental way for us to discover new things. It greatly limits our ability to browse.

Browsing is one of the best ways to discover new things; new authors, new subjects, new artists, new musicians. In the last decade or so, targeted marketing has been on the march to replace browsing. Targeted marketing is the opposite of browsing. Targeted marketing says, ‘Oh, so you like horror. Well here are some horror novels similar to the ones you already read, so you’ll probably like these, too.’ Old-fashioned browsing says, ‘Hey there – here’s the horror section, but when you’re done looking here, keep sauntering through the aisles and you might find something you didn’t know about, and who knows? You just might find another passion or three.’ Browsing in real, physical space gives you a 360-degree view of what else is out there, while cyber-browsing gives you tunnel vision.

Our computers, smart phones, tablets, can track our internet traffic and use that to determine our interests. That’s all fine and good and makes a lot of sense from a commercial point of view. I’ve got nothing against it...as long as there is still a way for us to discover things we didn’t know we’d like. Sure, you can discover things on the internet. You can spend time going down the Wiki-hole, where one search leads to another search, leads to another search, leads to another until the next thing you know there’s a crust of drool on your chin and your kids are nourishing themselves by chewing on the leather of your boots. But still...

Real browsing involves all of your senses. It’s active. It’s tactile.

Internet browsing is mostly passive. You move your fingers a little, and stuff appears in the narrow field of vision that is your screen.

Libraries – real libraries – need to be filled with real books. They need to be there in the stacks so that we can walk slowly through the aisles, running our fingers along the spines, gazing at the possibilities, all the endless possibilities of adventure, love, intrigue, laughter... Sometimes our bodies, our souls, yearn to be surrounded by books, yearn to breathe in the knowledge, the wisdom oozing from the between shelf upon shelf of colorful, enticing covers. We need a place where everywhere we turn there are books, books, books!

There can never be an app for that.

So please libraries...yes, add digital, but don’t use it to replace the physical. Because if someday all the power shuts down and the last bit of juice is drained from the last Nook and Kindle, there will still be the fortresses of libraries to protect us from ignorance and boredom.
Janesville Doll

Upcoming Thing-a-ma-bobs

I'll be at the MinnSpec booth (as well as wandering a bit) at the Bloomington Book Festival tomorrow, March 23rd (Saturday) from 9:30 to 5. Stop by and say hello!

On April 6th, I'll be at the St. Peter Book Festival, which is at the St. Peter Community Center (connected to the public library). I'll be involved in the morning with their 'Movable Feast' in which authors go from table to table of brunch attendees and talk about our writing. Sort of like speed dating, I guess. (This is already sold out, apparently.) Then from 1-5, the book fest is open to the general public, and I'll be at a table, along with many other authors, signing books. So again, if you're in the area, stop by and say hi!
Janesville Doll

Contemplating Ghosts

I had the seeds of a ghost story germinating in my head, and so I started thinking about what makes a ghost a ghost – or more simply – Just what is a ghost, anyway? For the purposes of this entry, you can substitute ghosts with spirits, if you’d like.

Personally, I’ve never seen or experienced a ghost (that I’m aware of). I’m a skeptic, and many of the things that people think are evidence of ghosts don’t pass the smell test for me. Photographs of ‘orbs’? C’mon – we all know those are just exploding fairies.

But having said that, I’m open to the possibility that they exist. I’d like them to exist. It’s nice to think that after we die, we may have some purpose left to fulfill. Or at least we get to wander around spying on naked people. I know some folks who are adamant that they have experienced ghosts, and I seen no reason that they’d just make that stuff up.

As a horror writer, ghosts are certainly a fun thing to write about. So here are some questions I asked myself concerning ghosts:

What do ghosts do when there is no one around to experience them? For example, if a ghost is haunting a location, are they conscious of it? Do they think? Do they tell themselves, “Well, here comes some folks to haunt the shit out of.” Or are they just the psychic residue of past (or even present) lives?

Do ghosts have a mission, or are they like a record skipping under a broken needle?

Can ghosts hear? See? Experience any sensations, even though they don’t have actual sense organs?

Why would ghosts have clothes on? Are they the clothes they died in? The clothes they were buried in? Can they change clothing? Or would they be naked? Does a ghost represent the person they once were at their peak? Or, again, do they represent the person closer to the time of death?

What if ghosts inhabit your brain – not actually seen, but hallucinated? What if they’re actually some sort of virus?

Do sound waves, light waves, cell phone signals, wireless signals, etc, have any effect on ghosts? What if all these different human-made/used frequencies are killing ghosts off? Or hurting them? Trapping them?

Why do ghost hunters always hunt in the dark? Do ghosts disappear during the day? I personally think those ghost hunter shows are a bunch of crap, and they do their shows in the dark since that’s when your imagination can best fill in the blanks. But again, that doesn’t mean I’m not open to the possibility of ghosts.

Are ghosts doomed to repeat the same thing over and over? Is it a form of torture? A form of hell? Or do they get to wander the earth, watching over loved ones, still experiencing life, though unable to actively participate in it?

Has anyone ever caught a ghost taking a crap or jerking off? Now that would be something to see one of those ‘ghost hunters’ react to. When they listen to their hissing tape recordings, instead of “Get out” they hear, “Don’t you know how to fucking knock?”

So anyhoo. Or should I say, anyhooooooooooooooooo.....


flying oliver

What’s Happening!!

– or –

The Day I Lost My Innocence and Realized We’re All Just Shills for the Man...

I had to check out IMDB to find the date, and according to it, the day I lost my innocence and realized we’re all just shills for the man was February 4th, 1978. It was the day that the popular television show What’s Happening!! aired the episode “Doobie or Not Doobie, Part 2”. I was nine years old at the time. It was one of my favorite sitcoms in which “A trio of black youths learn about life, love, friendship, credit cards, gambling, and a variety of other things while growing up in an inner city.” I was a white kid growing up in mid-America suburbia, but didn’t really see much difference between me and them, other than that they lived in apartments and had a different skin color. And that Rerun, despite his obesity, could really dance. I didn’t get out much.

So this particular episode was the second of a two story arc in which the stars of the show, Roger, Dwayne, and Rerun, really, really, really want to go see the Doobie Brothers in concert at their school. But it’s sold out. But luckily they’re approached by a seedy character who will give them free tickets if they just sneak a tape recorder into the show. At the time, I didn’t know a lot about the Doobie Brothers, other than that they were one of those bands that appealed to the peace and love and long hair and everyone getting along crowd, which was fine with me. I liked – still like – a lot of those bands. Anyway, where was I?

I don’t remember a whole lot of the details. Rerun knows that what he’s doing is wrong, but the bad guy and his henchman threaten him with implied violence. Again, it’s kind of hazy. So they’re in the front row at a Doobie Brother’s concert and Rerun is getting into the music and starts dancing, and then oh-oh! The tape recorder falls out of his trench coat. And apparently the band sees this and all stop playing at the same time. And everyone gasps.

Then we cut to the Doobie Brothers themselves interrogating Rerun and his friends about the incident after the concert. First of all, the Doobie Brothers can’t act their way out of a paper bag. Second, even as a very naive 9-year old, I thought what the fuck, man? Hey, Doobie Brothers, are you trying to tell me that you multi-millionaires faux-hippies are so strapped for cash that you actually give a rat’s ass about poor Rerun, Roger and Dwayne ripping you off? Fuck you!

Okay, maybe those weren’t my exact nine-year old thoughts, but you get the gist.

It would have been understandable if the band’s management went after the kids for bootlegging, but the actual band? No! They’re supposed to be all about peace, love, understanding, and marijuana euphemisms.

My innocence was irretrievably lost. At least until the next time it was irretrievably lost. Happened to me a lot.


Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein Double Feature

Last night I attended a double feature of Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein on the big screen. It was a special one day only event put on by Turner Classic Movies. Very cool. I’d seen both movies before, but never one right after the other, and I hadn’t realized how very different they are from each other. Yes, you have Boris Karloff as the monster in both, Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein in both. Both were directed by James Whale. Both were from Universal Pictures. And in my opinion, both are great works of art. However, the first movie plays as a tragedy; very atmospheric and moody, and the monster is not really a monster at all. He’s misunderstood and trying to figure out this world he’s been brought to life in. It’s most of the rest of the characters in the movie that are the real monsters.

Were the original audiences of Frankenstein actually terrified of the “monster?” Or were they terrified of the way the monster was treated because he was so different?

To go a little off-topic – one thing that got to me was that as the parent of a son with autism, I couldn’t help but see autistic characteristics shared by the monster – his trouble with communication, his way of perceiving the world, his “differentness.” Were people with autism treated in a similar way back then? I shudder to think of it. Anyway...

In contrast, The Bride of Frankenstein is played much more as comedy. Many supporting characters are cartoonish and played for laughs. Karloff’s monster in this one is also more thuggish, especially in the second half of the movie. His monsterish qualities are emphasized. The character Dr. Pretorius is such a cartoonish villain, and the experiments in the jars that he shows to Dr. Frankenstein – just plain silly. That being said, it’s also a great movie. There are so many classic/iconic scenes in this one. There’s the beautiful sequence where the monster comes to the house of a blind man and befriends him (wonderfully parodied in Young Frankenstein) and Elsa Lanchester’s Bride is great, too, although the bride is only in the last handful of minutes of the movie. Having watched Metropolis not too long ago, you can certainly see that movie’s influence on her character.

Fun fact – Elsa Lanchester also played ‘Katie Nanna’ many years later in Mary Poppins.

I wished that there were more people in the theater. It was about a third full, which isn’t bad for a Wednesday night, but since this was only showing this one day in selected theaters around the country, you’d think more people would want to experience these classics on the big screen. Ah well...