Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Crazy Schools

Tonight I'm talking with Cornelia Read, mystery author of "The Crazy School." Madeline Dare (also featured in Read's "A Field of Darkness") is working at a boarding school in the Berkshires for disturbed youth. The death of two students is labeled a double suicide but Madeline thinks there is more to it. It's a fascinating read by Read (I had to say it) - but even more fascinating is that The Crazy School is based on a real boarding school in the Berkshires of Massachusetts where a friend of mine, Leslie Rossman, attended school. Leslie told me, "The things I saw no one should see." I talk with Leslie at the end of the show.

Cornelia talked about what is was like for her as a teacher at DeSisto.

"Endless faculty meetings that would devolve into screaming group therapy sessions which was really terrifying - you never knew when the entire room was going to turn on you for some imagined or true character flaw - the exhaustion
of that just wore people down, broke them down and they started to go along with the system and it was really astonishing to see people who fought against it at the beginning just knuckle under and become convinced that in fact it was a positive experience."

I hope you get to listen to our conversation either tonight, on Sunday morning at 9am, or on KAXE's archives.

I had a really interesting conversation with Cornelia about writing. We talked about writing in terms of how the imagination works - how fascinating the creative process can be...

"When I was writing the first draft of "Field of Darkness" I was about halfway through with it and I was calling my main character, Madeline Dare, Caroline Dare - which is an anagram of my name. I suddenly thought THAT'S NOT HER NAME! Her friend was going to show up and I knew that she would call her Madwoman Dare and it was when the name changed that she really began to work as a character. Sometimes you'll have a character do something on the page that you absolutely didn't see coming and I remember the first time that happened to me: I called my sister and said, "Oh my god - I feel like I'm channeling someone - I just hope it's somebody with talent."

Monday, February 25, 2008


The Minnesota Crime Wave is coming! The Minnesota Crime Wave is coming!

Tonight is the last big event for The Big Read of Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon". All month long, along with discussing the book and watching movies we've been reading mysteries.

I've had the privilege to read MINNESOTA mysteries this months - thanks to the fine folks you see in costume here - Carl Brookins, Ellen Hart and William Kent Krueger.

Each writes mysteries set in Minnesota that are unique to the genre. Ellen's are more of the "cozy" type - involving amateur sleuth/restauranteur Jane Lawless. This doesn't mean they are timely or pertaining to current events. In her latest "The Mortal Groove" Jane's father Ray is running for Minnesota governor. What could be more timely than political races that dig into the private lives of candidates?

The author of over 20 novels, Ellen is a five-time winner of the Lambda award for Best Lesbian mystery, and twice winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Crime & Detective Fiction. She was made an official GLBT Literary Saint at the Saints & Sinners Literary convention in New Orleans in 2005, and she has been awarded the Alice B. Readers Appreciation Medal. She teaches mystery writing at the University of Minnesota and at the Loft Literary Center.

Carl Brookins latest "Bloody Halls" is set on a college campus right in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. Jack Marston is an administrator who has been asked to look into the murder of a student. Brookins writing is sharp, funny and compelling.

Carl has written crime fiction reviews for Mystery Scene Magazine, two Internet sites, Reviewing The Evidence and Books n' Bytes, and for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. An avid sailor, he is the author of a sailing mystery series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney, published by Top Publications. They are titled Inner Passages, A Superior Mystery, set in Wisconsin's Apostle Islands, and Old Silver, published in May, 2005. His first detective novel, featuring PI, Sean NMI Sean, was released in September 2005 in hardcover from Five Star Mysteries called The Case of the Greedy Lawyers.

William Kent Krueger is the award winning writer of the mysteries with Cork O'Connor at the center. The latest "Thunder Bay" sets Cork on the trail of his spiritual advisor/Mide's long lost son and long lost love. Krueger's work is set firmly in the wilds of Northern Minnesota and Canada, with setting almost important as character. In Thunder Bay he also writes a seering love story, a tale of a Native medicine man, and a contemporary family drama.

His first two books, Iron Lake and Boundary Waters, received a number of awards including the Anthony award for Best First Novel, the Minnesota Book Award and the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award. His third novel, Purgatory Ridge, won the Minnesota Book Award for 2001; his fourth, Blood Hollow, won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of 2004. One critic has dubbed him the Michael Connelly of the Midwest.

Join us tonight for the free event at Itasca Community College. It's at 7pm at Davies Hall!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Iron Range Read

The Iron Range is reading Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" in conjunction with the exhibit at Ironworld in Chisholm Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina. It's a collection of 290 images dating from the early 1950s through 1975 that documents the days and months before the conflict began through the fall of Saigon. This exhibit continues through April 20th.
Book discussion of "The Things They Carried" will be:
Monday February 25th:
Bovey Public Library 6-7pm
Hibbing Public Library 7-8pm

Tuesday February 26th:
Chisholm Public Library 2-3pm
Thursday February 28th
Hibbing Public Library 10:30am

Other events at Ironworld in Chisholm in conjunction are:
February 24, 2-4 p.m.Visit with the Vets ClinicRepresentatives from the local veterans Affairs clinic will be available to talk with visitors about services available at the clinic, the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder and how community members can aid in the healing process for Vietnam veterans and others returning from combat situations.

March 1 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Memoir Writing Workshop($25 class fee; limit of 10 participants)In this introductory workshop, participants will read various short memoirs related to war and then begin to write their own recollections' whether from the battle field or the home front'through a series of different writing exercises.

March 2, 2:00 p.m. Film: Regret to Inform. This documentary by photographer Barbara Sonneborn was prompted by the death of her husband in Vietnam. It focuses on the losses and agonies endured by women on both sides of America's military campaign in Southeast Asia.
March 6, 13, 20, 7:00 Film: American Photography: A Century of ImagesThis three part series traces the profound effect photographs have had on American life in how it both documented change and created it. The Developing Image, 1900-1934; The Photographic Age, 1935-1959; and Photography Transformed, 1960-1999.

March 27-30The Wall That HealsVisit with the Vets Clinic (March 27th 6 to 8; March 29th 3 to 5)

April 3, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Memoir Writing Workshop

April 5, 2:00 p.m. Lecture Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War by Lee Andresen. History and Political Science instructor at Lake Superior College, Lee Andresen began using music to bring history alive for the students in his class 'Vietnam, America's Longest War.' This work evolved into the book Battle Notes. Book signing to follow presentation.

April 19, 11:00 a.m. Film: Vietnam Requiem. Vietnam Requiem is a startling documentary revelation of how the Vietnam War haunts its veterans, their families and friends, and the conscience of the nation 2:00 Panel Discussion The Legacy of the Vietnam WarHear from a Vietnam veteran, college instructor, a nurse practitioner from the VA Clinic and others about the lasting results of the Vietnam War in our communities.

April 20,1:00 and 3:00 Film Vietnam Requiem(Encore Presentations)2:00 to 4:00 Visit with the Vets Clinic

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Minnesota Mysteries continue with William Kent Krueger

I talked with MN Mystery writer William Kent Krueger today - you can hear it Wednesday night from 6-7 and Sunday morning from 9-10. OR, you can come hear Kent speak as part of the MN Crime Wave happening in Grand Rapids on Monday evening at 7pm at ICC's Davies Theater.

Kent's mysteries take place in fictional Aurora, Minnesota - a landscape that he says "cried out to him". Kent went on to say:

"A fiction writer looks for conflict. Conflict drives great stories.
Aurora has conflict in the land, conflict in the weather and conflict within
the community. Stories rise not just out of the landscape but out of the
incredible melting pot up north."

As a wannabe-writer myself, it is always interesting to hear of the rituals that writers have. If you look at Kent's website you'll see he has a habit of writing early in the morning at a coffeeshop. For most of his career he did that at booth #4 at the St. Clair Broiler in St. Paul. I asked why he writes in a public place, he said:

"Ernest Hemingway had always been one of my favorite authors and what I
knew about Hemingway was that he loved nothing better than to rise at first
light and spend a couple of hours writing. He thought it was the most
creative time of the day - so I thought, well, whatever's good enough for
Hemingway....I was living a block from the St. Clair Broiler, a classic
coffeeshop in St. Paul - and they opened the doors at 6am. So I would get
up at 5:30, get myself ready for when they opened at 6 and write for about 1
hour and 15 minutes until the bus came to take me to work. "

"I tried to write at home but I couldn't do it for this reason: when
I'm at home what happens around my house demands my attention. At a
restaurant it all becomes white noise and I think myself really deeply down into
the imagining of whatever I need to work on at the moment. I think
we all have rituals - those elements of magic that help us accomplish this
incredible process that I think none of us understand."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

what are KAXE listeners reading?

The Star Tribune publishes a weekly list of bestsellers from selected bookstores in the Twin Cities. There is only one that I've read, which got me to thinking, what about a "what's hot with KAXE readers" kind of list? That's what I'd REALLY be interested in!

Help me compile this list and post what you are reading!!

Here's the Star Tribune's list for 2/16/08:

1. Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson. ($22, Graywolf).
A Norwegian man's self-imposed exile is disrupted by a neighbor.
2. The Appeal, by John Grisham ($26.95, Doubleday). A jury returns a verdict against a chemical company.
3. Duma Key, by Stephen King ($28, Scribner). A man recovers from an accident in which he loses an arm.
4. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks ($25.95, Viking). A rare-book expert is offered the job of a lifetime.
5. 7th Heaven, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. ($27.99, Little, Brown and Co.). A fire in a wealthy community leaves a couple dead and detective Lindsay Boxer searching for clues.

1. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan ($21.95, Penguin). How to eat for good health.
2. The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne (Beyond Words, $23.95). The law of attraction is the key to getting what you want.
3. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois ($27.95, Harper). A guide on preparing fresh breads.
4. Fair Game, by Valerie Plame Wilson ($26, Simon & Schuster).
A memoir by the former CIA operative.
5. The Dog Says How, by Kevin Kling ($22.95, Borealis). A collection of autobiographical stories.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Memoir v. Autobiography

I didn't read the controversial "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey but I do remember the hubub of it - Oprah's calling his bluff on her talk show and all.... In some ways the controversy called into question what exactly a memoir is....

Memoir is different than an autobiography certainly, but how? I've read that it has to do with time. In an autobiography, a writer is expected to stick to a strict chronology of life events. In a memoir, time is more fluid. And that, my friends, is exactly why I like memoirs over autobiographies. Life exactly as it happens, isn't always that interesting. The truly good storytellers are the ones who know what to leave out.

I mentioned reading Felicia Sullivan's new memoir "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here" on my previous post; today I got the chance to talk with her about it. Felicia moves in and out of different periods of her life - as a child taking care of a drug addicted mother; and as an adult addicted to drugs herself. The effect is chaotic, and it gave me a sense of how she has puzzled together her life.

Felicia and I had the chance to talk off-air a little bit, and I asked her about the radio show I saw that she had done - interviewing authors. That got us talking about how dicey author interviews can be - how someone who you've been waiting and waiting to talk with about the book that you really enjoyed - the book that moved you - and the conversation just falls flat. And then there's the times that I'm less excited to talk with an author - the book was fine but didn't knock me over - and the conversation turned out to be great.

It's not their fault. Being a writer doesn't naturally make you a good conversationalist or a good marketer of your own work. Same holds true for people on the radio; I'm not so good at talking to a crowd of people in person - even though I do that on the radio pretty frequently.
I would think that it would be even tougher to talk openly if you were like Felicia, and had written about a rough childhood and had bared your soul. But Felicia was great in our interview - forthcoming - talking about cocaine addiction and secrets and lies and all the things that came her way as a child. And she does a pretty amazing thing in "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here" too; she has a sense of humor about it. And she doesn't ask the reader for pity. What a surprise in a memoir!

Keep your eyes open for Felicia Sullivan - I think she'll be writing and surprising us for years to come. And tune in next Wednesday, February 20th on KAXE's Realgoodwords at 6pm, CST for our conversation.

Check out an example of her writing on Huffington Post.
Do you read memoirs? Have any to recommend?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What I'm reading - upcoming interviews

I just finished reading "Seeing Me Naked" by Liza Palmer - I got a review copy of this and was excited to read it, because it looked a little "lighter" and I'd like to stop having nightmares from all the mysteries I've been reading in the last few months. Well, I was right - kind of - it took my mind off of mysteries but I couldn't go to sleep until I finished it.

There's a few things that appeal to me about it: the main character is a pastry chef (which is the next career I'd like to tackle) , the Food Channel is involved, it involves the literary world and the characters make some profound changes. Here's a little synopsis:

Elisabeth is the daughter of a living literary legend - and has grown up in a wealthy and genteel old money world. She's bucked the family though, and studied and worked furiously at being a french pastry chef. Brother Rascal is fast usurping his father's writing career and Elisabeth is beginning to wake up and see her life for what it is: baking, farmer's markets and an occassional visit from her equally dysfuntional childhood love. She begins to see isolation is not all it's cracked up to be and plugs her nose and jumps into the deep end. Publisher's Weekly wrote:

"If it sounds chick litty, it is, but consider it haute chick lit; Palmer's prose is sharp, her characters are solid and her narrative is laced with moments of graceful sentiment. "
I'm also reading Felicia Sullivan's "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here - Scenes from a Life". It's scenes from her life - and it too is affecting my sleep, like reviewer Dani Shapiro wrote "Read this book at your own peril. It will keep you awake at night and haunt your dreams."

Felicia's memoir is about her growing up in 1980's Brooklyn. From a young age, Felicia was a caretaker to her drug addicted mother. When she graduated from college, her mother disappeared. Instead of looking for her or mourning her loss, Felicia decided that her mother was now dead to her - and she would rebuild her life and become who she always wanted to be. What happens is eerily similar to her mother's lifestyle.

Lucky for us, Felicia is now clean, sober and busting with literary talent - writing honestly of finally finding who she really is.

Also in the hopper: award winning Minnesota mystery writer William Kent Krueger's new Cork O'Connor mystery set in Aurora, Minnesota "Thunder Bay" (nominated for this year's MN Book Award). I haven't gotten too far into it yet - Cork is trying to find the long lost son of his Ojibwe spiritual advisor, Henry Meloux. William Kent Krueger will be in Grand Rapids as part of the MN Crime Wave on Monday February 25th with Ellen Hart and Carl Brookins.
I've got a mysterious weekend ahead of me!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

some notes on tonight's Realgoodwords

Tonight is a fun show; you'll hear my conversations with Jon Scieszka and Carl Brookins. If you missed it, check out the archive. Jon Scieszka (which is as hard to spell as it is to pronounce "cheska") made me laugh a lot....he's a funny guy who thinks kids are the funniest things ever. You see that in his writing with a very distinct sense of humor. He's the new ambassador of young people's literature for the Library of Congress and is serious about getting kids to read. They couldn't have picked a better guy for the post in my opinion.

You've got to check out his website; it's hilarious!

He's got a special website for parents and kids for the Trucktown series too, along with a blog.

Jon mentioned some of his favorite children's books authors - including Adam Rex, Mo Willems and Brian Selznick.

We also talk about how to get kids reading, and how to get boys reading especially. We talked about Minnesota author Will Weaver's latest endeavor - a series of novels for middle-high school age boys about the life of a stock car racer called "Saturday Night Dirt". Will's got lots of information on his website and a blog on writing as well.

My other conversation on Realgoodwords is with Minnesota mystery author Carl Brookins, as part of The Big Read of Dashiell Hammet's "The Maltese Falcon". Carl's latest, the first in a series, is called "Bloody Halls". Carl and I talked alot about the process of writing...

"My detective in "The Case of The Greedy Lawyers", Sean Sean, just showed up in my office one day with a stack of files and said to tme that he had these stories he thought he wanted me to tell. One of the things that happens to people when they get what's called writer's block - I don't think it really is writer's block - it's when the characters refuse to do something that the writer is trying to get him to do that is out of character."

"I hear these voices and when the characters come to me sometimes I don't know where they are going. I sometimes say that I write these stories to find out what's going to happen just like the readers do...The reader and the writer have a contract -
you bring certain expectations to the book - I as the writer bring certain expectations. It's not a question of who wins - it's a question of whether I'm successful in writing the kind of a book that
will get A reaction from you - it may not be the reaction that I necessarily want, but some kind of reaction . To be ignored is the worst thing."
Carl also mentioned his favorite, first mystery as a kid, Freddy the Pig.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

KAXE's Next Bookclub meeting - Local Food

It's going to be on Tuesday March 11th at 4pm at the 91.7fm KAXE studios. We're located on the Mississippi River, next to the Grand Rapids Library at 260 NE 2nd Street.

I'm really excited about our next bookclub choice because

a) Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors
b) food is involved

We're reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver, along with her husband Steven Hopp and daughter Camille Kingsolver. It's their story of a move from Tucson, Arizona to rural Appalachia. They are not just moving; they are rehauling their life and changing where they get their food from.

"This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air."

Not only are we reading this book (or listening to it as I am), our very own Maggie Montgomery will join us for her perspective on what it is like to eat locally in Northern Minnesota. And, we'll gather together, 'round the KAXE fireplace with local food to share.

Join us on Tuesday March 11th at 4pm at KAXE!

Have you already read this book? What do you think?

Mysteries, shmysteries!

It is Big Read time 'round these parts and so far, everything's swimming along fine. Our choice this year is Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon". There are a ton of events to be apart of - book discussions - author talks - movies - to join in on. Coming up next:

I will be co-leading a discussion at the Grand Rapids Area Library at 10:30 on Wednesday morning, February 13th to discuss "The Maltese Falcon".
What did you think of it? What did you think of the Flitcraft parable? Have you seen the movie?

After seeing the movie again after many years, I forgot how much dialogue was in it! It certainly paved the way for other film noirs, but I don't think I'd say it was the best by any means. Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre are great in it - and it's worth a watch just to see Peter Lorre's tiny little gun and his crybaby antics.