My Apologies for Shooting a Blank Yesterday!

Dear Blog subscribers:

I apologize for the errant email that Mailchimp sent you yesterday. I’m having my website transferred to GoDaddy, and a new version of WordPress installed. According to my guy Cory, an old plug-in (don’t ask me–I don’t know a plug-in from a bathtub stopper) triggered Mailchimp to post the notice that the new WordPress sent–not just to me, but to all of you. Hello World indeed! Sorry!

Cory is Cory Laux at and he’s swell. If you need a website or help with WordPress, I recommend him. He knows a widget from a washer and communicates in English clearly.

2014-06-18 10.28.06I haven’t posted lately because I’ve been running around a lot. First there was Bemidji, where I gave a reading and workshop at the Literary Festival. I wanted to be photographed hugging the giant leg of Paul Bunyan, but I was embarrassed to ask a tourist to shoot me in such a compromising position. My workshop was entitled (by me) “From the Sublime to the Ridiculous: Everything I know about Creative Writing.” I told the participants that I had covered the ridiculous in the title, and that in a two hour workshop there wouldn’t be enough time to get to the sublime. Then I tried to tell them some of what I’ve learned the hard way about writing. Mainly that ultimately you have to teach yourself. In the process it helps to read a lot, not just as a consumer but as a writer. Hopefully you learn how to read your own stuff as a reader would read it, not just as the author. There’s a big difference.

The last two weekends we’ve been running up and down the road to Madeline Island, Wisconsin, to the house my mother-in-law rented. The first weekend was for her big 90th b-day celebration. Catered dinner for 30: fresh Lake Superior whitefish rollades with artichoke-chevre-lemon-parsley filling; warm potato salad; and there was supposed to be a green vegetable, beans or sugar snap peas, only the caterer forgot them. In case you’re wondering, a “rollade” is not something you take for indigestion; it’s a little pile of whitefish-artichoke-chevre-lemon-parsley stuffed in a puff-pastry pouch. Let’s just say that the food on the plates looked a little . . . white . . . and a bit spare. Jeff and I went out at 10:00 that night to try to find a hamburger, but Tom’s Burned Down Bar only served drinks, and the other two restaurants on the island had stopped serving food. Nonetheless, the birthday was a big success, and quite the occasion. Continue reading “My Apologies for Shooting a Blank Yesterday!”

Unplugged: A Writing Retreat at Clare’s Well

Clare's Well
Clare’s Well 

I just spent four nights at Clare’s Well, a Franciscan Sisters’ Spirituality Farm in Annandale, MN, about sixty miles from the Twin Cities. For the time I was there, I was unplugged, in more ways than one. There was no Internet in my “hermitage,” though there is in the main farmhouse, where the nuns who run the place live. I went to get away from email and Internet, from TV, newspapers, news, music, airplanes passing overhead, traffic, city life, cooking and cleaning, my husband and dog, and most of all my distracted, busy self. I went there to write.

The novel I’m writing is based on the 1947 lynching of a young black man, Willie Earle, in my hometown of Greenville, S.C., by a mob of white taxi cab drivers the night after he was arrested on suspicion of killing another driver. The murder and trial are brilliantly documented in piece by Rebecca West, called “Opera in Greenville,” which appeared in June 14, 1947 issue of The New Yorker.  I’m writing the stories of four fictional characters who were impacted spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically by the incident. I wanted to finish the section I was working on about Alma, a black maid in Greenville who, in my fictional world, had known Willie Earle when he was a child.

My hermitage: St. Francis house
My hermitage: St. Francis House 

Sitting on the floor on a prayer cushion in the “House of Francis,” my one-room cottage, I cried like a baby as I wrote the final pages of Alma’s story. I forgot even that I was writing, and only came to when I realized I was crying. The story unfolding quite apart from my conscious mind was so real and alive to me, and so sad.

I doubt I could have entered into the writing that deeply at home. It took the solitude and freedom from my regular life that Clare’s Well provided. What a gift!

God had a sense of humor when he made me
God had a sense of humor when he made me 

The 40-acre retreat center is run by three Sisters who make such respite possible. People stay in one of three hermitages for spiritual retreats or simply to read, to pray, to renew, to be alone, and to enjoy the beauty of nature and the farm.  It is a beautiful place, so quiet, with only the sounds of nature, and the squawking of the silly Guinea hens, whose appearance reminds one that God has a sense of humor.

Every day, the nuns, Carol, Jan, and Paula, feed the retreatants lunch and dinner. Can you imagine? It’s like having three to five guests for two meals every single day—argggh.  But it was incredible to be fed without having to think up what to have, buy it, fix it, and clean it up.  All domestic responsibilities fell by the wayside for the five days I was there.  I was a bit in shock at all the time that opened up–time to be by myself, to think only of my novel or nothing at all, to wander around farm and fields, get a Trager massage Continue reading “Unplugged: A Writing Retreat at Clare’s Well”

My Key West

Key West Sunrise Photo by Marsh Muirhead
Key West Sunrise  Photo by Marsh Muirhead 


Well, I’m back in Minnesota after a two-plus month sojourn in Key West, and I’m not a bit happy about it. Right now, as I’m writing this, it’s minus one, “bitterly cold,” with an overnight low of minus seventeen and dangerous wind chills as low as minus thirty-five. But hey, let’s not talk about the weather! Let’s go (at least in our minds) to Key West! I want to take you there!

We’ll get up every morning around sunrise. It won’t be hard to wake up, because we’ll have been awake since about 4:30 a.m., when the roosters start crowing . . .

Walk with me through the Historic Bight marina, past Turtle Kralls, Schooner

KW Historic Bight
KW Historic Bight

Wharf, the Boat House, Alonzo’s (restaurants where we can get a mahi or grouper sandwich or pink Key West shrimp) over to the open blue water where deep sea fishing boats are just heading out. At Mallory Square we’ll lean on the wood rail of Sunset Pier and look out at private Sunset Key (where the rich have fancy places), and uninhabited Christmas Tree Key, where sailboats are anchored offshore.

We’ll walk through Truman Annex, with its the beautiful, stately white homes, and lush, tropical flora. I’ll show you a banana tree

Banana Blossom
Banana Blossom


with a bunch of hanging bananas and we’ll ooh and ahh at the incredible pinky-purple blossom–kinda sexy in a botanical way, don’t you think! Back up Duval Street we’ll go, where men with noise-blocking earmuffs are blowing the streets clean, and the street sweepers are busy sweeping up the previous night’s debris from all the folks who mill up and down the main drag. We can’t help laughing at some dirty T-shirt sayings in shop windows. Maybe someone will ride by on a bike with a parrot on his shoulder. We’ll come back on Fleming, stopping in at Faustos grocery store, where I’ll introduce you to my friend, Betina. She’s from Haiti, works two jobs to send money home, and is wonderful. You’ll like her too.

When we get back to the cottage, we’ll take Murphy for a walk around the block. We’ll pass by the homeless couple who camp under a big tree at the edge of a parking lot. They ride trike-bikes with all their stuff piled up, and where they spend the night, I don’t know. But they’re there under the tree every day, rain or shine, cold or hot, and they’re nice. Friendly and warm, and seemingly okay, smiling, jovial, especially her. I’ll introduce you, though I don’t know their names, and we’ll make a little small talk about where you’re from, the weather, Mr. Murf.

I’ll take you for a leisurely stroll through the streets of Old Town, where we’ll see many

Bougainvillea over our back porch light
Bougainvillea over our back porch light 



charming houses, such as the eyebrow houses particular to Key West. We’ll enjoy blooming bougainvillea and the gorgeous Starburst trees that are flowering right now. We’ll walk down to the Southern end of the island, and look across the water to see if we can see Cuba, ninety miles away. Let’s have lunch at Blue Heaven, where Hemingway boxed, and order Key Lime pie with sky-high meringue at a table on a dirt sand lot with chickens and chicks running around our feet.

KW's Blue Heaven
KW’s Blue Heaven 


Mr. Chapman
Mr. Chapman 

I’ll take you a few steps down the street to introduce you to Mr. Chapman, and show you Buddy, his dirty white Chinese chicken, dirty from hanging out in Mr. Chapman’s dirt yard. Mr. Chapman is seventy-five. His family has lived in the same block on Petronia since 1870. His mother was fourteen and his father sixty when he was born. Mr. Chapman is an orator who speaks in rhymes and sayings which come fast and furious. He’ll walk with us down the street to show us his portrait painted on a mural on the side of a wall. There he is, Mr. Chapman, with his white handlebar mustache. At night he rides his trike-bike covered with flashing lights and a big sound box through the streets of Key West. They threw away the mold when they made Mr. Chapman. Continue reading “My Key West”

The Loooong and Not Very Winding Road from Minneapolis to Key West

That was a long trip!
That was a long trip!

I don’t know what Willie Nelson is talking about when he says he just can’t wait to get on the road again. If I never get on the road again, it will be too soon.  That’s what driving from Minneapolis to Key West, Florida, will do to you.  But I’m glad I did it.  I wanted to get the dawg and car down here for the next two plus months, and I wanted to see what it would be like to drive 1900 miles by myself.

What it is is looooong.  It’s five days and four nights long.  It’s a blurred mix of the tedious, enjoyable, exhausting, hair-raising, and constant attention to the road.  It’s knowing you need to go at least four hundred miles a day, setting the odometer at zero when you start out in the morning, and staring in disbelief when four hours later it’s only at 235 miles.  It’s a lot of longing for rest areas, bypassing the millions of fast food restaurants off the exits of our highways, eating a lot of granola bars and cheese and crackers instead of meals, opening the motel door at yet another Red Roof Inn where you want to fall on your knees at the sight of the bed, only you fall on the bed instead. It’s a blur of states, cities, scenery, weather and semi-trucks.  We are a trucking nation, my friends.  It’s thank God for cruise control, great music from Chris, a book on tape, NPR, and silence.

First night: Quincy, Illinois, which is confusingly almost Missouri, in that it’s right across the Mississippi River.  I wasn’t even aware that there were terrible tornadoes going though Illinois that day, though for the last hour I drove in pouring rain in the dark.  I couldn’t find my motel, Days Inn, because they had changed the name to Budget Hotel, without informing anybody. Quincy has a lot of one way streets, which I drove around and around on, looking for the non-existent Days Inn in the dark and rain.  But by 10:30 that night, when I took Murf out to the parking lot for a final pee, the storm had passed, the sky had cleared, and there it was: a big, beautiful, full moon.  It was still there in the blue sky over the Mississippi when I hit the road the next morning.

I think I saw the arch in St. Louis as I zoomed past. Big. It was south of there that I couldn’t find a rest area so I had to get off at one of those ubiquitous travelers’ oases consisting of every chain motel and restaurant known to man.  I pulled behind a Hampton Inn or some such so I could walk Murf.  When I took my eyes off him for five seconds, he did a shoulder dive into some gooey dog shit in the  grass. My friend Karen, who travels with her dog, had advised me before the trip to be sure to take Wet Wipes.  Wet Wipes and a roll of paper towels.  This is the best advice I have to offer if you plan to drive with your dog from Minneapolis to Key West: Wet Wipes and paper towels . . .

Continue reading “The Loooong and Not Very Winding Road from Minneapolis to Key West”

Road Trip: Minneapolis to Key West

KW cropped MurfI’m about to join the ranks of Lewis and Clark, Amelia Earhart and Edmund Hillary. I’m about to become the overland equivalent of Diana Nyad.

I’m about to drive from Minneapolis to Key West.  By myself.  It’s never been done before.  By me, that is.

Correction: I’m not driving by myself.  Murphy is going with me.  Though I don’t expect him to do much of the driving.

Murf!  Always up for a road trip.  As long as it’s only to the grocery store.

I hope he doesn’t whine the whole way.  Or maybe that’s me.

I hope he’ll get back in the car after the first day. Or maybe that’s me.

I’m going to spend a couple of months in Key West, at the little cottage (430 square feet) we bought back in 2002.  I’m hoping to do some writing (or maybe just lie by the pool) before Jeff comes down for Christmas.  In January I’ll attend the Key West Literary Seminar called “The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller,” which is bringing in some famous writers, most of whom I haven’t read. Then I’ll teach a workshop called “Writers’ Boost: Taking Your Writing to the Next Level,”  which I’m busily preparing for now.

I love the idea of a road trip–lighting out for parts unknown, nothing to do but drive, listen to books on tape, and music.  I bought CDs of Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch, and Scott Turow’s Identical.

And a certain wonderful, music buff friend–you know who you are!–gave me the enormous gift of 5,000 songs (actually over 5,000–no shitzu!).  Andy at the Verizon store showed me how to put them in a cloud or somewhere so now I can access them on my smart phone. I bought a nifty little strawberry Jam Plus speaker about the size of a jar of jam, so I can listen to the songs in the car.  I put them on shuffle, and up comes Mozart’s Concerto No 2 in D Major, followed by Frank Zappa singing “Dirty Love,” followed by Bettye LaVette bellowing “Joy,” then Beirut’s “Postcards from Italy,” and on and on. . .  It is so great, so great! I asked my friend for a road song to add to this post, and he came back with Jeff Beck–Freeway Jam.  The dude knows music!

Of course the downside of this road trip is that at times I’m also going to get very tired, have a sore back and numb butt, feel delirious, overwhelmed, and anxious.  I pray I won’t lock the keys in the car, as I’ve been known to do.  I’ll stay in cheap, pet friendly motels and I’m worried about what I’ll eat.  I’ll miss Jeff and home, and wonder at times what the heck I was thinking.

But I know what I have in mind: Streaming down through Iowa, Kentucky, (is Kentucky below Iowa? Wait a minute!  Help!  I’m already lost and I haven’t even begun . . .).  Where was I?  Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and finally Florida.  I’ll be going from cold to warm, watching the land change over the course of 1900 miles, experiencing whatever weather comes my way.

I’ll travel all the way down to the tip of the world, Key West.  What a moment that will be when I finally pull into Margaret Street at the end of  Route 1, open the gate to the compound, go down the walkway, and turn the key in the front door of the little cottage that I love.300

I’ll hang with the likes of Jimmy Buffett, rather than Garrison Keillor.









Anticipation of this road trip has brought back memories of other road trips. Continue reading “Road Trip: Minneapolis to Key West”

A Vacation, a Reading, a Giveaway, a Finalist, a T-Shirt, a New Book . . .

Hi, everybody,

Outer Banks: I could walk for miles and miles
Outer Banks: I could walk for miles and miles

I’ve been running around on the East coast the last couple of weeks, visiting the Atlantic south and north.  First was the Outer Banks, which I’d always wanted to visit, and loved, and then on to Maine, for Miles and Alan’s wonderful wedding in Belfast, and then to two islands, Isle au Haut and Vinalhaven, to visit friends.  Lots of lobster; in fact, I’m lobstered out for a while.  This trip required four layovers in the Newark airport–oof-da.  It was good to get home, although the house was hot, with both the furnace and the AC on at the same time, and no hot water. Remind me not to have “young people” dawg sit the next time we’re away.  Though both the mutt and the gardens are fine, and that’s what counts.  I’m happy to be back in my own bed, with a touch of fall in the air here in Minnesota. I’m looking forward to seeing a full harvest moon over Lake Harriet this Thursday.

This post is just a conglomoration of stuff!

First, if you live in the Twin Cities, I’m giving a reading at the Edina Library on Sept. 23, at 7:00, as part of the Edina Reads series.  I’m looking forward to it, but afraid no one will come.  If you came to my publication reading at Subtext, you’re off the hook.  If not, I expect to see you there . . . (said Teacher sternly). Please pass the word to anyone you can buttonhole who has nothing better to do on Monday night.

There is still time to sign up for a FREE paperback of The Answer to Your Question on Goodreads--until Sept. 30th. I’m giving ten of them away.  The last time I did a Goodreads giveaway, out of the 480 or so people across the country who signed up, one of the ten winners was a woman in my yoga class!  If it was rigged, it wasn’t by me.  But it does mean that you, too, could win.

KBR-Contest-Finalist (1)Speaking of winning,  Answer is one of five finalists in the “suspense/horror” category for The Kindle Book Review’s 2013 Best Indie Book Awards.  I have no idea what it means, and I realize it’s not the National Book Awards, but I still want to win.  I happy to win anything.  Wish me luck!

I’m now selling Answer T-shirts on my website.  No one wants to buy one, I’m sure, but I’m stuck with about twenty-five of the things.

You'd look GREAT in this T-shirt . . .
You’d look GREAT in this T-shirt . . .

Are you really SURE you don’t want one?  You can be a walking ad for Answer.  You’d look really good in one.  I’ll sell it to you cheap if you mention you heard it here . . .

I now have 163 reviews on Amazon. I’m amazed and grateful to those who liked the novel and wrote in to say so.  I also have a couple of snarky ones, par for the course, and this jewel: “I know some people are not offended by using the F word, but many of us are and it just ruins the story for me. Why use it? I can not recommend this book to any of my friends because of it, or the author, for that matter. Just a shame.”  Wow, there is so little of the F word in Answer! I can’t help it: That’s just the way some characters (and writers) talk.

But the latest one is this: “I was totally involved with this book from beginning to end. Can’t wait to read another book by P. Alden.”

Unforgettable--coming this fall
Unforgettable–coming this fall


Well, she’s about to get her chance this fall, because Radiator Press (“It’s not cool, it’s hot!”) is bringing out another book by P. Alden, this one a collection of (old) short stories, called Unforgettable.  I’ll be telling you more about it (you betcha) this fall.  I’m aiming for a November pub date.  I had the manuscript copy edited while I was on vacation, and now I’m doing what Oscar Wilde described as a day of hard literary work: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.”

In the meantime, 163 reviews on Amazon doesn’t mean that’s enuff! It’s never enuff, apparently. My goal is 205 reviews.  It’s good to have a goal.  Not 204, which is not quite enough, but 205.  I’m reaching but not overreaching.  So keep those reviews rolling in . . . Thanks, y’all.

The TODAY Show starts a Book Club and I miss Oprah!

samantha shannon
Samantha Shannon

I don’t know about you, but I was initially mildly interested that the Today Show is instigating a monthly book club.  I remember the good ol’ days of Oprah’s book club.  Month by month it was exciting to see which book she’d choose next.  Almost invariably, they were worthy candidates: classics like Light in August or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; challenging books like The Road or Night, well-known books like Love in the Time of Cholera, books by popular authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Anita Shreve, Alice Hoffman, Toni Morrison, and sometimes even first novels by wonderful unknown writers, such as The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton or The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.  And who can forget The Corrections and Freedom!  Oprah was enthusiastically creating a reading community for literary works, respecting her audience’s intelligence.  From what I understand, she was personally engaged in choosing the books. I was sorry when her book club came to an end.  Her book list from those years is an impressive compendium of mostly fine books.

I turn the Today show on some mornings to see what it’s “doing” (the weather) in New York, plus it gives me a little thrill to see the crowd at Rockefeller Plaza. Having been a tourist in NYC myself (though not one who screams at Al Roker), and hoping to be one again, I get a hit from the street scenes provided by the Today show.  A week or two ago they even had Jimmy Buffett doing a concert out on the plaza. Since I’m a Margaritaville fan, that was a two-fer: Key West and New York City.

Speaking of NYC, did you hear about the accident a day or two ago where a cab jumped a curb near Rockefeller Plaza and hit a woman, severing her leg below her knee!  Right there at 49th Street and Avenue of the Americas!  The accident victim, twenty-three, a British tourist, was sitting on a plaza planter eating a hot dog with a friend.  A plumber who was walking by whipped off his belt to make a tourniquet, probably saving her life. A woman offered her dog’s leash as another tourniquet. A food vendor put her severed leg on ice to try to save it. Ooooooh. People are amazing. To top it all off, Dr. Oz came racing over from his TV studio nearby to offer aid when he heard the sirens.  It’s not worth losing your leg over . . .but still . . . Dr. Oz!

I digress.  Where was I?

Oh.  I heard on the Today show that they were going to start a book club. So I was curious to see what the first book would be.  I stood there in the kitchen breathlessly awaiting the announcement (as breathless as one can be doing breakfast dishes).  Maybe it would be TransAtlantic!  Margaret Atwood has a new novel coming out . . .wouldn’t that be cool.

They did pick a just released book, The Bone Season.  I watched the interview of the young (as in twenty-one years old) author, Samantha Shannon–British, excited, poised, and sophisticated beyond her years. She’s been writing since she was THIRTEEN!  Wow. Ms. Shannon looked bright, flushed, and a little uncomfortable, especially when one of those Today hosts with lots of teeth and a tight dress “sprang” the news on her that her book had been chosen for this honor, the Today show’s debut book club book.  Samantha seemed appropriately thrilled and gracious; she appeared prepared for her success, though, which includes a big movie deal and book rights in twenty-one countries. Maybe this is the kind of success she’s dreamed of (since she was thirteen).  But turning back to the dishes, I had some mixed feelings about the whole thing that I’m still trying to sort out.

Here’s the book description from Amazon:

“A TODAY BOOK CLUB PICK! It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney [age19] works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing . . .”

What the heck is a “voyant”? Continue reading “The TODAY Show starts a Book Club and I miss Oprah!”

Bob Dylan on a Summer Night in St. Paul

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, 1963 March on Washington, USIA (NARA) public domain from the National Archives
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, 1963 March on Washington, USIA (NARA) public domain from the National Archives

My friend Miles emailed to ask how the Bob Dylan Concert was.

“Croak, croak, croak,” I responded.  “You couldn’t tell one song from another.  No one even recognized “Tangled Up in Blue.”  He was about the size of a peanut from where we sat.  And it was a GREAT NIGHT!  Just the whole damn thing. Open air (small) stadium, beautiful summer night, mellow crowd of about 14,000.  Two really GREAT warm-up bands — My Morning Jacket and Wilco  — couldn’t have enjoyed it more!”

We left the house at 3:00 p.m. to drive to the St. Paul fairgrounds, where we parked for free, and got shuttled in an old yellow school bus to the St. Paul Saints stadium.  We stood in a long line waiting for the gates to open at 4:30, which they did promptly, and got good seats in the bleachers, a long way from the stage, which was in the outfield.  We opted for seats with backs, rather than standing or sitting on the grass nearer the musicians.  Richard Thompson’s band started playing at 5:30.

It was Minnesota and it wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t snowing, and the sun was shining, thankfully behind us.  The people-watching was superb–not that anyone was particularly interesting looking, or rather, everyone was, mostly mainstream graying baby boomer Minnesotans, milling around in shorts and tee shirts.  My mind was pleasantly blank, my eyes doing all the work.  Not to mention the excitement of concession stand food, nor how much better a brat tastes after one has stood in another long line to get it.

I sat next to a man about my age who was there with a friend he’d known since the ‘70s.  I enjoyed the predictable “courtship” as we first were super polite but reserved, then over the course of several hours moved from impersonal conversation to getting to know about one another to becoming new best friends.  He lived about ten blocks from us near Lake Harriet, his wife had been principal of the school across the street from our house, we knew where his neighborhood law office was, more and more connections and coincidences.  It was just a matter of time, I figured, before we’d discover we were cousins.

He told me the story of how his older brother was in a Jewish fraternity, the Sammys, at the University of Minnesota along with Dylan, and how when the frat brothers went to hear Dylan play, they walked out!  Didn’t know what to make of him.  Now they have to live with THAT for the rest of their lives!

All of us in that big, good-natured crowd shared something in common: Dylan.  Many of us had probably heard that his voice was shot, but who cared.  It was still Dylan, the same Dylan who had accompanied us through our lives.

My whole love life beginning in the sixties felt like it had been one continuous Bob Dylan song.  “I want you, I want you, I want you so bad!” followed predictably by “She takes just like a woman, yes she does, and she makes love just like a woman, yes she does, and she aches just like a woman, yeah but she breaks just like a little girl.”  Over and over again.

Is there any lover who has not found a perfect expression of tender desire and longing in “Lay, Lady, Lay” (even if it is grammatically incorrect): Continue reading “Bob Dylan on a Summer Night in St. Paul”

Paulette (Tries to) Thin Out Her Books: Part I

IMG_1580I now have behind me the arduous task of self-publishing and promoting my novel The Answer to Your Question, and I finished teaching my on-line course on June 14th.  I set myself the deadline of July 1 to start working on my Willie Earle novel again.  I’ve signed up for Freedom, the software that blocks you from the Internet for whatever period you choose, and I’m going to try to work every morning for a few hours, without fail.  I know how important that is, and how hard it can be to do.

But in the two-week break before I settled down for the long haul of the new novel, I wanted to clean my study.  It made me feel crazy; I couldn’t find anything in all the papers and mess that had accumulated on every surface over the past four months.   I had a dream:  I’d start writing again in a clean, organized office.  And at the top of the list of things to do to achieve this goal was to organize my library, getting rid of books I’d never read again, actually clearing some open space on my crammed shelves and hopefully in my crammed mind in the process.

Only God knew when I had last cleaned my bookshelves.  Over the years, I’d accumulated so many books that I could no longer arrange them vertically, but was stacking them horizontally helter-skelter on the shelves.  They were in no order, so that whenever I needed to find a book, I had to look through them all.  Not to mention the dust!  I needed to take out every book, decide whether to keep it or not, wipe the shelves with Fantastic, and group the books so that I could actually find what I was looking for.  It seemed a daunting task, and indeed it was:  not only the physical labor of it, but what turned out to be a rather intense trip through the past. Cleaning my bookshelves involved an unexpected review of my life, at least my reading and writing life, which to a large extent has been my life.

I decided to start easy.  I have three wall shelves on the right side of my study, which hold my books onIMG_1578 (2) writing and publishing.   I started with the top shelf.  Piece o’cake!  I dropped Jeff Herman’s 2006 Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents and The 2007 Guide to Literary Agents into one of the several liquor store boxes I had for the rejects.  But next I was confronted with three ancient tomes from my graduate school days in the Stanford Writing program, in the early 70s, proving, I suppose, what an ancient tome I am myself: Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction; Bernard DeVoto’s The World of Fiction; and Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction.  These three volumes, yellowed with age, had the unpleasant, nose-itching odor of dead books; I knew I’d never look at them again.  Did anyone even read them anymore?

I opened The World of Fiction at random: Continue reading “Paulette (Tries to) Thin Out Her Books: Part I”

The Reluctant Self-Publisher Reluctant No More

Reluctant No More
Reluctant No More

Last Wednesday night at Subtext Bookstore in St. Paul, on a cold winter night (13 degrees), I had the publication reading for THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION, the novel I recently published.  I had done a series of blog posts called “The Reluctant Self-Publisher,” noting my reservations about self-publishing.  But now I’m reluctant no more. I’m so glad the novel is published, even if I had to do it myself.  I’m even happy about that.  The reading confirmed for me that it was the right thing to do.

I was so pleased with the venue.  SubText is in Garrison Keillor’s former bookstore space in the historic Blair Arcade.  It’s now owned by Sue Zumberge, who managed Keillor’s Common Good Books in that spot, and Marcus Mayer, a children’s/young adult librarian who chooses books for young readers for the store.  Upstairs is Nina’s Coffee Café, and upstairs coffee drinkers run downstairs to buy books, and downstairs book buyers run upstairs for coffee and treats.  It’s a pleasure to browse through a real bookstore specializing in real books:  poetry, biography, literary fiction and books for young readers.  SubText has a comfy, booky feel.  When David Unowsky, the events manager, mentioned in his introduction that SubText was an independent bookstore, the audience applauded.  I think it made people happy to be among all those books.  I couldn’t have had a better place to give a publication reading.

It was absolutely heart-warming to see friends, family members, former students, clients, and folks I haven’t laid eyes on for years who came to the reading!   And what a wonderful surprise to see two out-of towners from my Madeline Island writing workshop last summer: one drove down from Duluth and one up from Northfield.   Thank you each and every one for coming.  Please know it meant so much to have you there!

I was also very conscious of three people who weren’t there.  As one of the old ballads puts it, they’ve crossed over to the far shore.  Dale Davis, my high school English teacher who was my dear friend and a fervent supporter of my writing for forty-seven years, died in 2012.  She came to Minneapolis from NYC for my first two publication readings.  I know she would have wanted to be here for this one; my cousin, David Bates (1946–2011), retired to the mountains of western North Carolina that I described in ANSWER; we shared a love of those mountains and he kept me in touch with them.  Emily Meier died of breast cancer this January. Emily, a remarkable writer who self published six of her own books, was my writing pal for over twenty years. She gave me an invaluable, in-depth critique of ANSWER early on.  Emails flew back and forth between us about writing, our manuscripts, the search for agents and publishers, and more recently, self-publishing (she was my great guide, having gone before).  I miss them all, and the love and support they gave me.

As people gathered for the reading, I intended to play old timey mountain music from my iPod, but I lost my mind and forgot all about it.  But after the reading we did have mountain music, the keening kind where everyone sounds off-key.  In the novel Ganny, Jean’s mountain grandmother, sings an old timey song that begins “Who’s that knocking on my door, have I heard that knock before . . .”  I wanted to find that song to download to my iPod to play at the reading.  Monroe Crossing, a bluegrass group, had recorded it, but their album with it wasn’t available on iTunes.  I emailed the group to ask if they knew of any other recording of it.  Art wrote back that he had learned the song from a group called – get this – “The Dreadful Snakes.”  It’s on their album “Lively Snakes” and I was able to download it.  Something snaky was going on . .










Several snakes did put in an appearance at the reading.  There was an actual, real, rattler (taxidermied) that my brother-and-sister-in-law, Charlie and Ginger, sent over from Wausau for the occasion.

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One no-count snake had never even seen pimento cheese sandwiches on cheap white bread. PauletteReading 076









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A winner!

There was a door prize drawing for two ANSWER T-shirts and two paperback copies of the book.  Boy, was that exciting!




One of the nicest parts of this whole deal has been how supportive my family has been. Jeff, always, but my in-laws have all been so nice about the book, especially my mother-in-law Meredith.  She’s read the book twice, becoming an ANSWER expert.  She really gets it. She called yesterday to tell me about a quote at the end of a long review of two “ripped-from-the-headlines”  plays in the NYT that I would have missed.  The last paragraph quotes Susan Klebold on her son, Dylan, one of the Columbine killers: “I think I believed that if I loved someone as deeply as I loved him, I would know if he were in trouble.  My maternal instincts would keep him safe.  But I didn’t know, and my instincts weren’t enough.”  So poignant, and so Inga, the mother in my novel.

I think guests enjoyed the Southern refreshments,

Guest enjoying a sausage ball
Guest enjoying a sausage ball

though it might as well have been a Baptist meeting, for all the drinking that went on. We carted home tons of wine.

I wrote a novel that I believed would have some value for readers, not that it’s any War and Peace. But I’ve been determined to get it out there and help it find readers.  The publication reading was such a culmination for me, both of writing ANSWER and publishing it.  And the responses so far from those who have read it have been so gratifying and such a boost.  I just feel very fortunate to have friends, writers, readers and even strangers who have been wonderful to me about this book.  Thank you.

Now, on to the next phase: marketing.  Aggggh.

This weekend, Feb. 23 and 24, I’m giving away free eBooks of ANSWER as part of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program.  I hope to get as many downloads as I can, so pass the word. And I’m giving away ten paperbacks on  You can enter for the drawing up until March 5.

Thanks to good neighbor and friend Jim Joyce for the publication reading photographs.

Registration for my online Stanford course on A Great Start on Writing the Book-length Memoir opens this Monday, Feb. 25, if you know anyone who is interested.