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A Great Wisconsin Novel

  This book has had such great rewards that it’s paid for itself many times over. Of course, this is coming from a Wisconsonite, who will soon be driving, like one of the rotating first-person POVs, through the Dells, north through the pinelands towards Eau Claire, to pick up my son at UW-Eau Claire. But even if the physical terrain is unfamiliar, the psychic landscape of these 30-something characters will hit home, resoundingly. Is every voice of the rotating narratives convincing rather than uniformly literary? No, but cut Nickolas some slack. He tells the story with such warmth and heart that quibbles are soon forgotten. This is a book which beckons you back to it like a warm fireplace on a Wisconsin winter night. Cozy up and enjoy.

P.S. Went to hear Nickolas read here in Madison on May 6 at the new public library to a group of about 60 people. He did a nice job, reading for about a half hour (the wedding scene, if you’re curious) before answering questions, mostly about the intersection of his life and his fiction. He had glowing things to say about his two-year stint in Iowa City at the Writers Workshop and was very down-to-earth — just a grown-up small-town boy.

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Our Little Library

This was really my wife Diane’s baby, but I take some pride of ownership for my contributions to the construction — crude carpenter work on the pole and support, cementing the post, bolting the whole thing together. She was inspired by a similarly decorated little library outside of Avid Books, the terrific indie bookstore in Athens, Georgia. We spent some time in Athens last December, trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to find some better weather. But it wasn’t a trip without some inspiration.

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Remembering Iowa

Just a reminder of all those great readings in Iowa City that were part of the writing scene — wish I had grabbed more of these handprinted bills (after the readings, of course).

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Debunking the Self-Help Gurus

When I decided to fact check a commonly cited study used by self-help gurus (I’d heard Zig Zigler shout it, from his knees, Tony Robbins citing it with that intense look of certainty, even my old friend Barbara Braunstein from her podium) I ran into a little problem. Here’s the story of my search which was published in Fast Company Magazine:

http://www.fastcompany.com/27953/if-your-goal-success-dont-consult-these-gurus

 

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My Life as a YA Author: Starting Over

It began with a single, exclusive submission to a top agent on May 1 and a request for a full within 12 hours. Five months, two manuscripts and two revisions later, my dreams of a wonderful client/agent relationship ended on October 15 with this email:

“sorry but this story is still not working: it meanders and the plot loses tension..i am afraid it is time to bow out.”

WIth that I resubbed my revised, possibly meadering, MG back to a small publisher where it had been read in its original and been returned with an offer for a second look. And began looking for a home for my contemporary YA book and newest project, a contemporary MG adventure story.

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It’s All About the Words

What I’ve written, what I’m writing, the tribulations of getting published.

First Blood

I called William Cotter Murray, my University of Iowa writing professor, late on a Friday night with the letter in hand. The course I was taking from him was called New Journalism.

While still in high school in Dubuque, Iowa, I had discovered a cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on Moo U, Iowa State University. Something about that story captured me and I read it numerous times and hung onto that issue for years. One day Murray mentioned it in class, and only then did I realize I had found that story’s author.

My main project in the course was a profile of the University’s iconic retired tennis coach, Don Klotz. The embossed letterhead in my hand read World Tennis Magazine, and the letter was an offer of the princely sum of $250.00 for my profile. It was my first sale. (Just to keep this in context, this was close to two months rent — magazine rates have not kept up with inflation.) Murray, a two-time published novelist, seemed excited as well, if somewhat inebriated, and suggested I consider a fifth of Irish whiskey an appropiate token of thanks for all his help on the story. I had never purchased a fifth of whiskey (and it remains my sole such purchase to this day), but the drinking age was still nineteen back then and I had no problem procurring the liquor. When I brought it to his office on Monday he blanched and took a moment to recall the occasion. Then he seemed sheepish and mumbled that he should have never made such a request. Still, he took the bottle.

Getting paid for words. It was a heady experience. Of course, getting published would be even a greater thrill. Each month I eagerly awaited my copy of World Tennis, and each  month I was disappointed. After about six months my eagerness dwindled. They never got around to my story. Years later I sent it to a tennis trade magazine and got to finally see it in print, but it wasn’t quite the same.

Such was my introduction to the business of writing. At low moments I’ve been know to describe writing for publication as “deferred disappointment.” But the lows are often countered by highs. I once wrote a feature story on zookeepers, with mini-profiles of an ape keeper at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, a rhinocerous man at the Bronx Zoo and an elephant specialist at the Philadelphia Zoo. I got to feed carrots to chimps (after my TB test came back negative) and as I walked among the elephants in Philadelphia asked the keeper what would happen if I attempted to do so without his company. “Oh, they’d kill you,” he replied, casually.

I thought it was a good story and it was all laid out for print, laden with my own photos, when the magazine folded. On the up side, I immediately sent it back out again and it was picked up by the America Airlines in-flight, where it would reach 1,000 times the audience. So there’s one with a happy ending.

Now that I’ve devoted the past five or six years to writing fiction aimed at younger readers, I’ve know the excitement of signing with an agent (twice), and the delicious anticipation as a manuscript circulates among publishers. Also the slow pain of one “not for us” after another, and to cap it all, the heart-rending letter in which my trusted partner in composition, the agent who fell in love with my book, cancels our contract to invest her time in authors whose books pay the rent. The whole cycle measured not in weeks, as it had in the magazine world, but in years. Hence deferred disappointment.

I launched this site as a place where I could share these kinds of war stories and perhaps hear back from other writers who must experience similar ups and downs. Writing can be a lonely business. Perhaps these posts will make it less so.