Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Two-Fer

Hey! I'm using large and obnoxious text to let all my fans and devoted readers and people who happen to stumble onto my blog:

TODAY thru Friday you can order 2 of my most recent e-books
at Amazon for the sale price of 2 for $2.

Usually Affirmations is $3.99 and Freeze Frame is $2.99 but for 58 hours only you can get both for less than $2. If you use Facebook get the word out to your writing students and writing teachers. 

It's a back-to-school special! (Even if you're not taking classes--we all need affirmation and encouragement.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I'm a Podcast!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Liars' League NYC reading August 4th. I wasn't able to make it to hear my piece  Fungus Among Us being read by Heather Lee Rogers BUT--ta-da--it is now up live as a podcast. Go HERE to select my story and others read that evening.

Invisible: Williamsburg, Brooklyn 2015, by Jennifer Sears

Trace, by Aimee Mepham

In Character, by Cedrick Mendoza-Tolentino

Rendez-vous, by Gus Ginsburg

Past It All, by Wendy Russ 

Going, by Christopher Green

Gasoline, by Navid Saedi

Melon Mall, by Jeanette Topar

The End of Summer and Other Things, by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

The theme was short & sweet, meaning flash fiction, so none of the readings is much longer than 7 or 8 minutes.

Their next theme is Crimes & Misdemeanors and the deadline is August 31st. Why not submit!?

pic of Heather reading Fungus Among Us








Monday, August 24, 2015

He’s Going Out: Fred Burkhart

He’s Going Out

Fred Burkhart


It’s the end of summer, and we’re melancholy

at the turning of the calendar page. Change.

As if between the 31st and the 1st the world skips a beat.

August to September, a demarcation,

an imaginary line has been crossed.

There is no going back.


Fred Burkhart died August 30, 2014, nearly one year ago. And, nothing has been the same.

I met Fred toward the end of his life. So much so that I agreed to be his power of attorney so that his medical choices might be carried through to the end. I wanted to make sure he went “gentle into that good night.”* Dylan Thomas. Little did I understand the man’s fighting spirit. He claimed it was his micro biotic diet, grass juicing, acupuncture, purified water, grapefruit oil, etc but I think it was his iron will. He always followed his own vision.


Fred was what is called an underground photographer. Not celebrities—unless they were infamous—but the everyday, down-and-outer.


 He photographed the Klu Klux Klan in downstate Illinois and was an early documentarian of the Gay Pride Parade in Boys Town. His Burkhart Underground Studios was a refuge for many emerging artists. Fred and I were as different as night and day, and yet we had so much in common. I found a place in his world of misfits.

Bill Hillmann, author of the recently published novel "The Old Neighborhood" (Curbside Splendor) had this to day of Fred: “I found Burkhart when I was an incommunicable tuff and had no venue to express myself," he said earlier this year. "I found a kindred spirit in Burkhart and a venue for my writing. He influenced every single one of my creative endeavors. He showed me a way to live through your art and to make a life in it. I owe Fred a tremendous debt …. (He was) an unknown world-class photographer, a guru, an original and a living legend.”

I was called to the nursing home where he lived the last four and a half months. The nursing home was just down the street from me and I was up there about every other day—and if I wasn’t there someone else was. The staff never had a patient with so many visitors, it was a revolving door. Catherine called me: “He’s on his way out.”

Unfortunately, we had friends in town and had just ordered a pizza. I thought it was the pizzeria telling me the delivery guy was on his way. I replied: “Great!”

“No,” she said, “Mr. Fred. He’s passing.”

I hurried and got up there in probably 10 minutes. He was there, thin as can be, his hair wild and white his beard braided, his stark blue eyes open. But I sensed no one was there. He was still breathing. Catherine came in and said: “I thought we’d lost him.”

“Thank you for calling me,” I said. I felt like I was on the verge, emotionally and physically. I didn’t want to lose him, but knew his cancer would take him anyhow. I just couldn’t imagine a world without him.
I sat for almost an hour and then called Catherine in. “I don’t think he’s breathing,” I told her and she checked and then went to get another nurse. They both confirmed. His eyes were still open. Still blue.

I can still smell his Tiger Balm. I see him everywhere, in the pictures that surround me in the Jesus People dining room, the walls that he decorated like some midnight elf. Slipping down when he couldn’t sleep and leaving Styrofoam boards filled with prints, portraits of residents taken, not taken, no, never taken, but given as he always claimed. It was he who gave so much.
We’re grateful Fred. Thank you for your life. So glad we had a chance to share it.
pic by Alana Hall, whom he also mentored, one of the endless people he helped

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
By Paula McLain

Are you a fan of A Moveable Feast? Paris? The Lost Generation? Do you love that Hemingway style of short declarative sentences that tell it exactly as it is? The one true thing?

But not so much of Hemingway, the man?

Then The Paris Wife, might be right up your alley.

I have gone through several life changes and Hemingway has been right there. A needling voice, as if he’s ready to box me, take me down to the tavern and drink me under the table, challenge me to a shark hunt. I’m energetic, but not even I can keep up with a man who blew through mentors, wives, and friends with a psychotic intensity. As a teenager I liked his Nick Adams stories, and at university I read “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and was overwhelmed by the story’s simplicity—and how it captured loneliness in sparse language. But I also read for class his big-game hunting The Snows of Kilimanjaro and I didn’t like how women were portrayed. I began to see him as a macho man writer, the kind of guys who hung out at the bars uptown and catcalled women walking down the street. No thank you, Mr. Hemingway.

Then I discovered A Moveable Feast and I decided to cut Ernest some slack. It is a book about writing, trying to write, trying to write one true thing. A sentence I could be proud of. And the pain, that comes with this trying. The relationships we make and break because of our choices. I loved the descriptions of Paris in springtime, with hunger in his belly, walking through the gardens to Gertrude Stein’s apartment and visiting the cafes to find a corner where he could write, out of the way.

I recently read an article that some coffee shops are asking patrons who use the place as their office to move on after a few hours. Well, it makes sense, business-wise. But consider if the Closerie des Lilas had done that 95 years ago. No one would visit the place today; it would simply be a footnote in one man’s literary career. Now it’s famous because of its connection to Ernest Hemingway and others from The Lost Generation. Famous Cafés that Spawned Literary Greats,

 The Paris Wife is also about memory and how Hemingway shaped his fiction from autobiography. That’s where he got his material. From his war experience, from his friends that he and Hadley met at the cafes, from their travels abroad. I don’t think there is a single Hemingway novel that wasn’t mined from real-life. And, of course, who is Nick Adams, but EH.

Hemingway also wrote short sketches or “miniatures”—what today would be called flash. In Our Time is a great collection of Hemingway’s earlier stories with flashes worked in between. He was ahead of his time.

The Paris Wife might not leave you a fan of the man, but no one can ever diminish the shadow his literary efforts cast. Curiously—I’m now really interested in Pauline. I mean look at this picture—

 is she a caricature of a husband stealer? No, she looks mousy and wallflowerish. I’m now looking forward to The Key West Wife. There’s a story there also.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Let the Great World Spin

Great World Spin
By Colum McCann

Read this book on a device on my bike trip from Minneapolis to Chicago. It is a book that travels back and forth through time and place as if straddling a tightrope.

A tightrope is one of the main focal points of the book—a story that spans the World Trade Towers and a dozen lives in between.

It begins and ends in Ireland, but the majority of action takes place in Brooklyn. Prostitutes waiting for customers under a highway overpass and the kind-hearted priest who doesn’t exactly save them, far from it, but offers them a place where they can pee, clean up, if even momentarily before going back out to hustle.

It seems like such a mundane thing, hardly a luxury or hand up/out. A service so small and yet human.

“The simple things come back to us. They rest for a moment by our ribcages then suddenly reach in and twist our hearts a notch backwards.”

McCann through a series of sketches, some spanning 50 or more pages, connects disparate characters that seemingly have no connection to one another. Like the people we pass on the streets every day. Yet certain moments stand out and draw us together. The author draws upon these moments and memories to carve out a story that twists in our ribcages.

“We seldom know what we’re hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is certain: we hear it as we’ll never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only its memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant.”

It is these moments that we can render into flash. Go back, go back, go back to the thought before the thought, to the instinct before the action. The feeling. How it felt. Write about that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer Is Half Over

The fact that summer is half over
is ruining my summer.
The mere thought sends a wave of autumnal
heaviness over me,
a blanket of wet leaves and
leaden skies, a premonition
of snow. The waves at the beach
thicken and slow into slurry ice.
The fireflies twinkling will
grow fainter and fainter until
they go south with the birds.

It’s getting closer and closer
with every distant clap
of thunder and every
clear, white sky day,
with every Mexican popsicle and
thrashing game of beach volleyball.
I need to wring the last drop of warm sunshine,
wade out to the second sandbar,
dazzle into the lacy surf,
taste the ripe berries, and
let them burn on my tongue.

On the Beach, 1929, Chicago. Gregory Orloff, Art Institute of Chicago

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Minneapolis to Chicago, Day 7

Day 7
Milwaukee to Chicago via Oak Leaf, WE Energies, MRK, and Robert McCroy, North Shore Channel paths
87 miles
It was all downhill from here. Mostly. I was riding toward home. After 10 hours of riding I pulled in out back to park my bike in the basement.

It was a hard trip on the days it was hard and a great ride on the days where I could be on bike trails and not ride into the wind. Doesn’t this about sum up any trip?
good bye Milwaukee

Monday, August 10, 2015

Minneapolis to Chicago, Day 6

Day 6
Poutine! In Milwaukee
Lake Mills to Milwaukee
61 miles
The rain started at 4 a.m. and went until 7. The road was a bit slurry as the cinders congealed into a stew to slow me down. Again I had low energy and had to ride 17 miles until I made it to a Mobil where I bought an apple fritter and a Gatorade.

After powering up the miles just flew. In Douseman there is trailside a HUGE and expert bike shop. I know, I wasn’t expecting that either. A bar, yeah, even the smallest 1 corner place had a bar, but something as hip as a bike shop—I knew I was getting close to civilization. The bike doctors gave me a plug for my bar ends that fell out the very first day—probably when I threw the bike down in absolute exhaustion. The guys checked my brakes, said they were okay and printed off a map to help me connect to the New Berlin trail once in Waukesha. THANKS so much guys.

Now I was on asphalt and the miles ticked off quickly.

In Waukesha I got on the Internet for like the first time in so many days and ate at a little bistro/café off of Sunset before continuing on city streets to the New Berlin Trail. The wind was blowing west to east and sailed me right into Milwaukee to my friend’s house where I was to spend the night. Whew! A shower! And then out for fancy hotdogs and a roasted wild duck poutine over fries and fried cheese curds. Yes, nothing like erasing 5 days of rising with a bunch of dense calories.

Rock River

Friday, August 7, 2015

Minneapolis to Chicago, Day 5

Day 5
Devil’s Lake to Lake Mills, self-register DNR campground
71 miles
Once again the hills out in the a.m. were not as formidable as the hot afternoon before. I got to the Merrimac Ferry and was across “Lake Wisconsin” in 5 minutes. There was no big ascending hill up to Lodi where I finally came across a franchise. I had a flatbread pizza at Subway and that substained me all the way into Madison, where I arrived around 12 noon and ate once again at Subway, saving the second half of my foot long for later that night.

farmland outside of Madison

Lake Mendota

I accessed the Glacial Drumlin trail in Cottage Grove by a combo of city streets and some paths getting out of Madison, not a problem. The GD is 52 miles straight across to Waukesha outside of Milwaukee. This trail can also get a bit monotonous—but it was flat and shady—what I needed that afternoon.

In Lake Mills there is about a mile off the trail a DNR, Self-Register bike campground, Sandhill Station. They had pit toilets, drinking water etc and the nastiest mosquitoes ever. A shower is provided for riders right next to the trail, so make up your mind if you want to shower and then ride down to camp or set up camp and come back to shower. It is about an 8 min. ride. There is a $4 user fee for the 4 trails I listed earlier and for the GD, altogether for me $16. A year pass is $20.

The sunset that night was a vibrant orange, rose-red, fading to lavender and purple. What does this portend?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Minneapolis to Chicago, Day 4

Day 4
Elroy – Devil’s Lake
44 miles
Oh boy! Was this a hard day—I encountered the Baraboo Hills.

First I had breakfast at the Bender Family Restaurant in downtown Elroy. Two eggs and tst came to $239—a GREAT value! I finished off the series of trails, the 400 (22 miles) and left Reedsburg around noon to start self-navigation road cycling. I was not ready for the intense sun, heat, humidity, and hills after the bike paths.

I got a Gatorade and egg rolls at Kwik Trip in Reedbsburg but had physically and emotionally blown through them by the time I got to Baraboo. I arrived at the Circus Museum around 2 p.m. There was a gardner outfront who asked about my trip. He really seemed like he knew what he was talking about. There would be hills he said. If I could get to Rt DL I would have worked through them, but he really recommended me staying at Devil’s Lake. I hardly listened to him as I wanted to go well beyond Devil’s Lake and knew I had plenty of time to get to Lodi or outside of Madison.

The hills were horrible. When I got to DL I turned to go to Devil’s Lake. Problem was there were 2 – 3 STEEP uphills to get to the state park. There was no staying on the bike. I had to get off and push up. I felt like such a wimp.

Devil’s Lake is a great place to relax. Half of Wisconsin seemed to be there on what turned out to be the hottest week so far this year. The ranger checking me in assured me that after this it’d all be downhill—tomorrow I guess. I eased into the lake and felt all my riding woos and cares melt away.

That night I was hungry looking around at all the families grilling.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Minneapolis to Chicago, Day 3

Day 3
Perrot State Park to Elroy via several bike trails/paths
74 miles
Each morning I’m packing up wet from the intense dew.

After a Kwik Trip stop for egg rolls I finished the GRT (18 more miles) and picked up the LaCrosse River Trail (22 miles). I really had low energy and had to power through. I thought if the Elroy-Sparta is as boring as this it will be a long day. Got to Sparta and ate a picnic lunch at the depot.

The Elroy-Sparta is 32 miles and the earliest rail-to-trail conversion having been built in 1967. Since I was a teenager I’ve dreamed of rising the Elroy-Sparta. After leaving Elroy I noticed a slight uphill. It was interesting terrain, a slow, steady climb. I was getting excited. At the top I saw a sign for ice cream. A guy was selling ice cream sandwiches out of his locker freezer. We sat and chatted and he said he’d always lived next to the tunnel. ?? He said the tunnel was nearly a mile long. I was sooo excited. 

Tunnel #1 was dark with the sound of waterfalls cascading off the rock ceiling. An old steam locomotive barreled through a series of 3 tunnels starting in the late 1800s. Emerging from the tunnel there was an equally fabulous downhill. I did 4 miles in like 15 minutes. The trail was altogether shady, hard compressed dirt—a dream after the first 2 days of rising in heat. I wound my way up hill through karst topography and primordial forests.

That night stayed in self-register DNR campground right off the trail in Elroy

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Minneapolis to Chicago, Day 2

Day 2
Hagar City to Perrot State Park
76 miles
I was up and packed early. I ate only crackers before leaving, but made sure I had 2 water bottles handy. I wanted to attack the impending hill early before the heat got too bad. I probably started ascending around 7 a.m. and it WAS NOT as bad as what I encountered the day before. So rest, hydration, and beating the heat were key to the rest of the trip.

There were wayside rests and historical markers. And, most importantly, the hills disappeared. Most of the smallish towns are about 7 miles apart. Even though there are bakeries in Maiden Rock and Stockholm, I was too early. I was able to find breakfast in Pepin at the Homemade Restaurant. Because my stomach was still not up to much I order 2 eggs and tst. The bill came to $5.89. I know eggs are getting pricey but I didn’t think it should be so much. A few days later I ordered the exact same breakfast and it came to $2.39.

In both Maiden Rock and Stockholm there appeared to be riverside camping, possibly free. When I passed (early) there were fishermen already drunk and boisterous. So not sure how quiet or safe these sites are. Also in outside of Alma there is Reick Lake Park were there is camping available.

The sky was again flawless and the temps were rising. Humidity was also an issue. I pulled off in Alma for a Gatorade. When ringing me up the woman mentioned that egg rolls were on special for $1. I shook my head no. I never eat gas station food. But then I thought, I need calories and grease. It was the kind of thing counter-intuitive for a healthy person to do; but desperate times call for desperate measures. Kwik Trip became my go-to stop after this.

I ended up buying a second Gatorade down the road in Fountain City before turning inland to look for access to the Great River Trail.

Great River Trail from the Marshland Access point: don’t do it. Set up for mountain bikes rather than cyclo-tourist. Also trails were unmarked and confusing. I reached a parking lot and still not sure turned left and then managed to hook up with the ACTUAL GRT trail which took me into Perrot State Park.

Where is camping, where do you register? Coming in from this side you need to ride 1.5 miles to the EAST ENTRANCE to register—mostly all uphill. I had to get off and push the bike up. Very mentally defeating after what seemed like a good day. The good news is that they will never turn away a cyclist. You don’t have to pay a vehicle fee and it was only $14.