Wednesday, May 27, 2009

hockey and intrigue in a small town

Bryan Gruley is my guest on Realgoodwords this week. He's the Chicago bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal and he's just published his first novel, "Starvation Lake - A Mystery".

Set in small town, lower upper peninsula Michigan, Gus Carpenter is the editor of the town's paper, and a former hockey player who grew up there. We all know the importance of hockey to our towns in Minnesota, and the great holiday of the state high school hockey tournaments.... it's the same for Starvation, Michigan. Gus in fact, has always been haunted by that final game, that he, as goalie, lost for his team. Or so everyone makes him believe.

"Starvation Lake" is a dark mystery. There's humor and friendship and family and hockey, but at the core, there's a sinister story here that keeps you turning pages. Critics have said,

"Smashing debut thriller … a story so gripping that you’ll probably devour it in one gulp—like the heavenly sounding egg pie served at Audrey’s Diner." Chicago Tribune

"Outstanding… a tale of violence and betrayal that will remind many of Dennis Lehane." Publisher's Weekly.

To get a sneak peek, check out Bryan's cool website for the book here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

MN author Nancy Crocker

I "met" Minnesota author Nancy Crocker through facebook. I know, I know, the dreaded facebook. What would Mark Bauerlein think? But here's the thing: facebook is not all quizzes to see which superhero you are or that girl you sat behind in Mrs. Kramer's 5th grade math class. It's a good way for authors to get their books out there...and for people like me to find them.

"Billie Standish Was Here" (a finalist for the 2007 MN Book Award) is classified as a young adult book. But that's hooey as far as I'm concerned. A good book is a good book, even if the main character is 11 years old.

Billie Standish is a girl living in rural Missouri who badly needs a friend. When most of her town evacuates when the river threatens to crest, Billie finds what she's been needing in Miss Lydia. So what if she's 70 years older? A friend is a friend. I won't give anything away here, but pretty early on Billie suffers through a shocking event. But this isn't an afterschool special that defines her by this event. Billie grows through this experience. Tune in for my conversation this week on Realgoodwords. Heard Wednesdays from 6-7pm and Sundays 9-10am.

From Booklist
Proving that the heavily mined "child and elderly neighbor change each other's lives" premise isn't completely dry, Crocker's sturdy debut explores the deep and subtle reaches of a friendship that blooms between 11-year-old Billie and her across-the-road neighbor Miss Lydia. Set in a small town several generations ago, this is anchored by three pivotal acts—one driven by hate, one by love, and one a complex combination of the two.The story covers five years of Billie's struggles to get out from under the thumb of her spiteful, abusive mother, and Lydia's efforts to erase the guilt of two terrible secrets as, with agonizing slowness, her aging body fails. Crocker skillfully lays out the heart-deep regard that develops between these two perceptive, spirited females (Lydia is occasionally given to hilariously salty language) as life throws them severe challenges that they weather with each other's help. In Billie, the author creates a narrator whose credible mix of naïveté, resilience, and uncertain but budding sense of self-respect that will speak to young readers. This easily transcends its familiar themes and locale

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is the digital age stupefying our kids?

That's what author Mark Bauerlein thinks. Did you know that the average teenager does 1742 text messages PER MONTH! Does this alarm you? Do you think it says something about the next generation? Mark Bauerlein is the author of "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future", he's one of my guests on this week's Realgoodwords. See what the New York Times had to say here.

Is this just the same old tirade of old people? Didn't they say the same thing about Elvis Presley? Or pong? Let us know what you think!

Watch the author talk about his book here. And tune in this week on Wednesday from 6-7pm and Sunday 9-10am. Or see the Realgoodwords archive later in the week....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Childhood and identity

This week on Realgoodwords are two new memoirs from women who are, to some extent, both writing about identity. Laura M. Flynn grew up in San Fransisco with a mentally ill mother. Her story shows not only the onset of schizophrenia and how it affects a family, but it shows the ordinary-ness of it; the good moments as well as the bad. Her father eventually divorced her mother, but left the three girls with their mother, because as she told me, "he didn't know that she wouldn't get better". Laura M. Flynn's "Swallow the Earth" was a finalist for a MN Book Award. The Washington Post wrote:

Despite all, Flynn's childhood contained love. Her salvation came through her father's protectiveness, her closeness with her sisters, and the imaginative world the three girls created together.

While Laura M. Flynn is examining her childhood to more fully understand who she is as an adult. In Mei-Ling Hopgood's "Lucky Girl" she, as an adult, comes to meet and understand the parents who gave her up for adoption in Taiwan. Kirkus Review's writes:

Hopgood writes with humor and grace about her efforts to understand how biology, chance, choice and love intersect to delineate a life. A wise, moving meditation on the meaning of family, identity and fate.

May is National Mental Health Awareness month and the Grand Rapids chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is bringing Laura Flynn to Grand Rapids to speak - she'll be at the MacRostie Art Center Tuesday May 19th at 6:30pm. She'll be in Brainerd the next day, signing her book at BookWorld. And in June she's part of the Brainerd Public Library's Brown Bag lunch series.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

who inspired Bob Dylan?

Last fall at KAXE we had the great great fortune to host the StoryCorps project in Grand Rapids. We not only got the chance to meet different people in our community, see the effects of listening to loved ones and watch the StoryCorps crew in action, but we also got the chance to show them what Northern Minnesota is all about. Sometimes it takes showing people where you live to really get how unique it is. I'm grateful to StoryCorps for their visit that reminded me why I live here.

Alex Kelly, one of the StoryCorps faciliatators and I went to Hibbing one day. We saw the Greyhound bus museum, the Hull-Rust mine pit and we did a "Dylan" tour.

Luckily, I have my connections (thank you Aaron Brown) and he was able to spice up our Dylan tour. We journeyed to the home of B.J. Rolfzen, Bob Zimmerman's high school English teacher. Over the years many historians, documentarians and fans have contacted Mr. Rolfzen because Dylan has cited him as a great influence on his writing. On Realgoodwords you can overhear our conversation with B.J. here.

For the past five years Hibbing has held "Dylan Days" as a celebration of the influence of the Iron Range on Bob Dylan's career. Held around his birthday, every year there's the hopes that Bob Dylan may actually show up to some of the events. This year is a high school reunion that may attract him. Who knows? Stranger things have happened, like Doug MacRostie getting ahold of Dylan's cell phone number and leaving him messages.

Sometimes I wonder why towns celebrate their giant balls of twine or their local legends - either people who left town at a young age or never really want to admit where they came from. But lately I get it. It's how we show our pride and it's an excuse to get together and build community. It's not necessarily about Judy Garland or Bob Dylan. It's about celebrating this place where we live...

From the Dylan Days website:
The following excerpt from the May edition of Rolling Stone's Douglas Brinkley interview with Dylan explains why we organize Dylan Days:

“I ask Dylan if he minds people visiting Hibbing or Duluth or Minneapolis searching for the root of his talent. ‘Not at all,’ he surprisingly says. ‘That town where I grew up hasn’t really changed that much, so whatever was in the air before is probably still there. I go through once in a while coming down from Canada. I’ll stop there and wander around.’"

Dylan Days is May 21st - 24th check here for the complete schedule.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Interviews and reading for the week ahead

I'm reading Michael Perry's latest book "Coop - A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting". What is it with chickens? Seems like everybody's doing it! Michael Perry gives readers his very real, back to the basics, life in rural Wisconsin. Read his description of his concern over his father's new "lifestyle".
My father recently joined the community choir. Sounds innocuous enough - sweet, even - but my immediate reaction was to phone my brother John and ask if he thought Dad might be smoking reefer. Four decades I've known my father, and he has led an avowedly quiet life. He works hard, he works quiet, he works above all to avoid any public act more conspicuous than renewing his driver's license. And now suddenly he's out there on tour (Chetek...Bloomer...Sand Creek... it's all a crazy blur), ascending the risers to raise his voice in public.

Tune in this week for my conversation with Michael Perry.

Also on the docket, for a different reason, is the vampire tween novel "Betrayed: House of Night Book Two". My thirteen year old friend Erika (maybe you've heard her excellent cohosting on the Friday morning show with us?) asked me to be her reading partner for a class project. Little did I know I'd be entering the odd world of teenage vampires. Except for the bloodsucking, the all night school sleep during the day thing and markings, these kids have the same issues facing any others. Issues of acceptance, trust, romance, independence, responsibility and friendship. Did I mention bloodsucking? Yup, bloodsucking! This is our final week of the project.

Another interview coming up this week is with Erik Reece. Erik's new book is called "An American Gospel - On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God".
Reece describes how he found a Christianity he could embrace in Jefferson's famous Jefferson Bible, which stripped out all references to the miracles and divinity of Jesus, emphasizing instead his teachings about how we should behave towards one another in the here and now.
I also watched a very literary movie last week, while I was off on my writing retreat. I'd seen the movie before, but I watched the commentary with Helen Hunt. The movie is called "Then She Found Me" and it stars Helen and is also written and directed by her. I found Helen's comments a fascinating look at an artist. You can see the trailer here: