Author Interview with Michael Perry and Book Giveaway

It’s finally here!  The day has arrived!  Michael Perry is interviewing with me and I’m thrilled to introduce him to you guys!

Michael is a Wisconsin native, born and raised in the midwest.  If I could describe his writing style, it would combine side-stitching stories of humor in one paragraph with the most heartfelt tales of humans and their ability to love in the next.  His voice is unique and humble, descriptive and personable.  Can you tell I’m a huge fan?! 

Michael’s previous works are his memoirs Population: 485 – Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Truck:  A Love Story, and Coop: A Family, A Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg.  I was introduced to his writing through Population: 485 when my library did a memoir discussion series.  Population recounts Michael’s years as an EMT in his small town of New Auburn, WI going from accident scene to accident scene while sharing stories of the eccentrically warm individuals in his town.  Truck chronicles his days refurbishing his beloved vehicle and meeting the woman who would become his wife.  And then in Coop, Michael and his wife have taken over her family’s farm and are raising one daughter, with another on the way.

Visiting Tom

His newest release, Visiting Tom, came out August 21st and he is graciously giving away 3 Hardcover copies to 3 lucky commenters on this blog!  Thank you, Michael!

You can check out more about his books and his blog at his website SneezingCow.com!  Or find him on Twitter @SneezingCow.  Or Facebook.

Check out the book trailer for Visiting Tom to peak your interest!

Without further ado, please welcome Michael Perry!

Describe yourself in three words. 

Want more words.

What three words do you wish described you?

Consistently reverent husband.

 You’ve been a busy man.  You’ve completed nursing school, spent a few years as an EMT, started up a farm with your wife and 2 daughters, released two humor cd recordings, sing and play guitar in the band The Long Beds, and you’re a writer.  Did you always want to write, or was it something that found you along your journey?  Oh, and when do you sleep?

Apart from some Crayola-based short stories and the usual naive college-aged noodling driven by a quagmire of angst at least a quarter-inch deep, I didn’t set to writing with any purpose until I was out of college and working as a nurse. Even then I didn’t have any particular direction. I just wrote about my experiences as a cowboy and a hitchhiker and a farm kid. Then a local magazine showed interest in one of my essays. So then I went to the library and got a book about how to be a writer. Then the real work began. Years of writing everything and anything, from used car ads to pizza commercials and brochures for legal seminars. I slowly wangled my way into the magazine world with essays and nonfiction pieces. After a decade or so I had wedged my way into a few national titles. Then an agent in New York read something I had written and tracked me down in Chippewa County, Wisconsin. That eventually led to my first book deal. But even that took several years and many more false starts.

I am blessed with the ability to sleep pretty much anywhere and in any position, and I am also a big fan of the post-prandial nap. You have to get what my wife and I call “the dip”; a short nap where you just dip beneath consciousness and resurface refreshed. If you sleep so long your face gets mashed, then it’s not as helpful. Frankly, years of not getting enough sleep is catching up with me and I can’t recommend it although I don’t regret it.

You also host a program called Tent Show Radio which features live performances from Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua and is sponsored through Wisconsin Public Radio.  What’s that been like?  Who have your favorite guests been?

Most of all I love how the radio show introduces people to the tent itself. It’s a wonderful place to see a show, no matter the act. A blue tent on a green hill overlooking the Apostle Islands…the setting is unusual in the nicest way. And there’s something about gathering beneath the canvas that amplifies the shared experience between the audience members and the performers. I love to perform up there myself, and will be there September 8 with my band. (Editor’s note: Due to the show format and scheduling Mike’s portions are usually recorded during the editing process – meaning he’s not actually hanging out with Steve Earle).

You typically write memoirs.  From Population: 485 chronicling the colorful characters of your home in New Auburn, WI to Truck: A Love Story, which simultaneously shares its pages with the budding romance of your would-be wife.  And in Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting you recount your own childhood with how it compares to becoming a father yourself.  Do you think you’ll write children’s books now that your girls are getting of age?

I am currently working on a two-book Young Adult series. Or Middle Grade series. I’m not clear on the difference, it seems to be shifting some. It’s been a challenge. I love the storytelling aspect, but I am a respecter of genres, and I don’t assume that I can successfully jump from one to the other. Plus, mine have no talking unicorns. But I’m enjoying it. And the main protagonist is a girl roughly the same age as my oldest daughter, so yes, there is some “in-house” research happening.

Do you keep a journal?  And if not, is that why you include so many disclaimers about your memory in your books?  You’ve even made a blog category called Oops! that allows readers to send in any discrepancies they find.  Is your mother your biggest caller?  ;)

Nope. I write ever day, but I don’t journal. I think journaling is a terrific tool for many writers, but I’m just too scattered. I journal informally, constantly jotting down notes and observations and stuffing them in my literal and figurative pockets, but lack the discipline to journal on schedule. Also, I have maudlin tendencies, meaning the few times I have kept journals and gone back to read them I found myself incapacitated with ineffable longing for things irretrievably passed. This leads to pensive gazing, intellectual paralysis, and banal prose and I’ve already got more of that than I need.

The “Oops!” thing is just a straightforward attempt to maintain the trust of readers. Despite my memory disclaimers and my all-too-scattered nature, I go to great lengths to get the verifiable facts right in my nonfiction work. And yet, I make mistakes. And it seems the only thing to do in this day and age is get those mistakes right out there. To set the record straight. I just got two emails saying I made a factual error in “Visiting Tom,” and although I’m on tour right now, driving from town to town, I’m going to follow up on those as soon as I can and add them to the “Oops!” category.

Your new book Visiting Tom shares the intimate story, albeit an eccentric one, of your neighbor.  How did you first meet?

It had to do with the woman I was dating at the time. I’d been a bachelor for 39 years. Our first visit to see Tom changed that. The rest of the story is in the book. As you can see I am currently in promotional mode.

 What does Tom think about you writing his story?

I asked his permission first, and he gave me his approval contingent on my changing his name. I spent many hours with him and his family, fact-checking the book. During that time he said I got things right. But then he grins and says since I changed his name he’s telling everybody it’s fiction. Of course at this I nearly had a seizure in light of all the controversies in the genre. But he has this wicked grin when he says it, and that’s Tom in a nutshell. Bottom line? I was over to visit him again right before book tour, and we just sat and visited. I wasn’t a writer, he wasn’t a subject, we were just neighbors again. And that’s my favorite role. Being his neighbor.

When you write about the people in your life, you have a way of making them get off the page and walk down the sidewalk in front of the reader.  You really hone in on details about people.  When you meet someone for the first time, what are the stand out traits that interest you?

I don’t think there’s a standard answer to that one. I will say that when I’m profiling someone – whether for a magazine piece or a book – I prefer to spend a lot of time with them before asking them a single interview question, because when you ask questions first, two things happen: 1) you ask questions that can be better answered through observation and natural conversation, and 2) the subject tends (rightly or wrongly, and usually wrongly) to read some sort of direction into the questions and tries to give “right” answers.

Met any interesting literary figures on your travels?  Who’s been the most inspiring to you?

Because I live in rural Wisconsin I really don’t spend much time in literary circles. I have one editor I’ve worked with for ten years and we’ve only met in person once, for a short lunch. I’ve only ever met my book editor twice. Most of my writerly friendships have been developed through chance meetings at conferences and the like. For instance, I’ve become email/Twitter friends with Christopher Moore because we wound up huddling beneath the same potted plant at a high-tone event in L.A. We were both dressed poorly for the occasion and thus bonded forever. One thing I want to make clear, however: I am not poor-mouthing literary circles. I have had wonderful experiences at places like Bread Loaf, I have benefited immeasurably from writers far more academic and artistic than I who took the time to talk writing with me – either in person or via electrons. Anybody who is writing – whatever the genre, whatever the level – has much to teach me, and I welcome all shop talk.

Maybe I’ll come at this from another angle. About 6-8 years after I started typing with intent, I read my first book by Jim Harrison, and it changed my writing life. I owe him so much. On book tour one year I had the chance to meet him for ten minutes in the back room of a bookstore. I thought it over and passed, leaving him a note instead. I realized that it was his work that changed my life, and in ten minutes on the fly I would likely just mumble things I’d spend the next three days wishing I’d said better, and also, having been on book tour myself I knew he’d probably prefer ten quiet minutes. I don’t know if it was the right decision or not, but I think so.

Do you have any superstitions or habits when you sit down to write?

Nope. As a freelancer I am driven by deadlines and house payments, so I write whether I’m in a Super 8 or sitting in my favorite coffee shop or the room over my garage. But the good news is, I get up every day as hungry to write as I was 20 years ago. And because I never saw this coming, the main thing I feel when I sit down to type is gratitude.

That said, a cup of fresh-ground snobby coffee doesn’t hurt…

What’s your opinion on the changing face of publication?  Are you a fan of e-books and blogs?  Tweets, Likes, and Pins?

I don’t think it’s a matter of being a fan, it’s a matter of navigating reality. I owe my existence to independent bookstores and hand selling, and I still try to focus my tours and my thanks and my sales accordingly. But I also know I have to keep the boat afloat wherever the river flows. The tricky part is balancing all the bloggy/tweety/likey stuff (which is an invaluable way of keeping in touch with and thanking readers) with the writing that is at the center of it all. I don’t always get it right.

What’s your favorite book of all time?

I don’t like to narrow things down that way. I’m omnivorous. In “Coop”, however, I do talk about how “All Quiet On The Western Front” changed my worldview in third grade and why I’ve re-read it so many times.

What’s your favorite thing about Wisconsin?

Again, I just don’t care for the favorite thing. Not being cranky, it’s just that today it might be deep-fried cheese curds, tomorrow it might be a black-and-white cow in a green field beside a red barn, and then Friday night it might be the cotton-candy scent of burnt racing fuel at the dirt track races.

Best place to go in our state?

Home.

What do your daughters think of what you do?  What family member is your biggest fan?

I come from a blue-collar family. Farmers, loggers, nurses, truckers. I reject the idea that being a writer is any more special than any of those things. I always say I’m a writer with a small “w”, and I figure most critics and people would agree. My family is just as interested in my writing as they are interested in my brother’s corn crop or my sister’s factory job and that’s how it oughta be. My daughters know their dad is self-employed and gone a lot, but they also know that truckers and soldiers are gone a lot more and under much tougher circumstances. I love what I do, I’m grateful to do what I do, and it may be a calling, but it’s not a HIGHER calling.

Growing up you were raised with a number of foster kids in the house; some were legally adopted by your parents.  Coop shares a lot of that story, but for readers here, what impact do you think it had on how you parent now?

Well, it makes me feel a little bit guilty, because I simply haven’t demonstrated the ability to take in children the same way my folks have (and still do). That said, I think the greatest impact is that my children have come to understand that health and a happy home are the greatest gifts and never to be taken for granted. Also, because my Mom and Dad still care for some profoundly challenged children, my daughters are growing up with a sense of compassion and are not fearful of children who are “different.”

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve been given?

Not a “best” but to synthesize all the good advice I’ve been given, I’d say it comes down to “Stand firm, take the long view, and prepare to pray no matter the state of your faith.”

Best advice about relationships?

Best? Dunno best. But try this: Look in the mirror regularly and see if you can maintain eye contact. Not as easy as it sounds, and reminds you what the other person is dealing with.

LOL.  Ok, best writing advice?

OK. Finally I can give you an absolute “BEST”!

Do exactly what Neil Gaiman says you should do: Read. Write. Everything else is just circling the rug.

*****

Michael, thank you so much for being on The Happiness Project!  It was a pleasure having you, and sharing a favorite local author of mine with my readers!  I gotta give Wisconsin cheers when I can!

Michael Perry is a humorist and author of the bestselling memoirs Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Truck: A Love Story and Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting, as well as the essay collection Off Main Street.Perry has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Backpacker, Orion and Salon.com, and is a contributing editor to Men’s Health. He has performed and produced two live audience humor recordings (I Got It From the Cows and Never Stand Behind a Sneezing Cow) and he performs regularly with his band the Long Beds.  Perry lives in rural Wisconsin, where he remains active with the local volunteer rescue service. He can be found online at www.sneezingcow.com.

Raised on a small dairy farm, Perry equates his writing career to cleaning calf pens – just keep shoveling, and eventually you’ve got a pile so big, someone will notice. Perry further prepared for the writing life by reading every Louis L’Amour cowboy book he could get his hands on – most of them twice. He then worked for five summers on a real ranch in Wyoming, a career cut short by his fear of horses and an incident in which he almost avoided a charging bull. Based on a series of informal conversations held around the ol’ branding fire, Perry still holds the record for being the only cowboy in all of Wyoming who was simultaneously attending nursing school, from which he graduated in 1987 after giving the commencement address in a hairdo combining mousse spikes on top, a mullet in back, and a moustache up front – otherwise known as the bad hair trifecta. Recently Perry has begun to lose his hair, and although his current classification varies depending on the lighting, he is definitely Bald Man Walking.

Perry has run a forklift, operated a backhoe, driven truck, worked as a proofreader and physical therapy aide and has distinguished himself as a licensed cycle rider by careening into a concrete bridge completely unassisted. He has worked for a surgeon, answered a suicide hotline, picked rock in the rain with an alcoholic transvestite, was a country music roadie in Switzerland , and once worked as a roller-skating Snoopy. He can run a pitchfork, milk a cow in the dark, and say “I don’t understand” in French, Greek and Norwegian. He has never been bucked off a horse, and contends that falling off doesn’t count. He is utterly unable to polka.

Don’t forget to leave a comment and enter for a chance to win a Hardcover copy of Visiting Tom!  Comments must be in by Saturday, September 29th, midnight.  

53 responses

  1. “Want more words.” Love that. Great interview–thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Coleen! Hope you add Michael’s work to your To Be Read Shelf!

  2. Fantastic interview! He had me at “Want more words,” and I was with him all the way to “Read, write – everything else is circling the rug.” I think Michael just might be my new crush. ;-)

    1. LOL. Wonderful! He’s a great guy, even though I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him yet (though I plan to attend his book reading in town Oct. 10th -yay!), I’ve listened to his radio program and radio interviews, and he’s such a humble guy. I really admire his outlook on the world and appreciate his voice.

  3. Hi Jess! Great interview! As I indicated to you at our last book club discussion, I have read a few of his books and loved them! I became interested in his work after reading a short ‘blurb’ about him somewhere wherein I learned he was both a nurse as well as a ‘cowboy’. As you can imagine, those two facts rang with me so I started reading! I loved his books, and I really enjoyed his responses to your questions. I love his philosophies! “Want more words” – how great it that? , his parenting philosopy and particularly “keep shoveling and pretty soon you’ll have a pile so big someone will notice”!! I think it would be GREAT for our club to read his latest book and maybe he could come facilitate a discussion at the local independent book store up here in Cable (Redbery’s) … great review!

    1. Oooh I like where this is going! Can he handle our book club? LOL

      Hopefully Nan is doing her research. I sent her links to check out all his works and pick the one that sounded the best to her. I like this one for its political aspect, could be a great book club book!

  4. Wonderful interview Jess! What a humble man and writer. I’m impressed with his family and his interests in others. Thanks for introducing us to Michael Perry! :)

    1. Agreed! I really like Michael’s voice and support of others. I think that’s why I latch on to him. He’s the kind of voice/writer out there that you WANT to hang around with. He makes you laugh, and he makes you think.

      Hope you pick up one of his books (or win one) and enjoy his writing!

  5. Hello Jess and Michael,

    What a wonderful interview. I finally have a succinct description of the difference between, blogging, writing, liking, twipping, pinting, faceplanting and plurking. For that alone, Michael deserves some kind of prize. Of course, I could be terribly shameless and direct him to my blog that is NOT Homeless blah blah, but no.

    I just wanted to tell you Jess, that you are so talented and I love your blog. I also wanted to mention that I am from Michigan and listening to you two reminisce about Lake Superior does remind me of those old days in the upper peninsula with my father. Formidable place. Thanks to you both for a lovely post.

    1. Viola, thank you for such a lovely compliment! I am beaming!

      The midwest, the more I travel, the more I realize how beautiful it is. I LOVE traveling, I love checking out new places. But there’s nothing quite like a long drive on the highway over the green hills and farmland of Wisconsin. And Michigan has the best sunsets!

      Want to start a writers’ retreat on Lake Superior with me? Maybe Michael will teach a class or two: How to hypnotize a chicken and maybe one how to effectively plot when writing a memoir. He’s an expert at both! :D

  6. Great read. Perry is a Wisconsin treasure.

    1. I love having local authors to showcase! I hope you get to hear him speak at one of his readings in Madison! I think they’re before the La Crosse one, so you’ll have to tell me about it if you go!

  7. I want more words, too! And the new book!

    1. I think Michael has just been dubbed the unofficial mascot of #wordcount on twitter! :)

  8. Just need to comment and I have a chance to win Michaels book?!?! What a good deal. I’ve been a fan ever since I heard him on WPR talking about Truck. We were lucky enough to see him in Feb., it was a great show.

    Any interview with Michael Moore and Neil Gaiman mentioned is AOK in my book.

    1. Cool that you’ve heard him speak before. Did you go to a music performance or a book reading? I’m excited to hear him read next month.

  9. A terrific interview. I’m from Michael’s neck of the woods, so reading his books always takes me back home (and even makes me a little homesick).

    1. Yah, I think that’s a great way of describing his writing. He can make you homesick for something whether you’ve lived there or not I think. But growing up in Wisconsin, I can picture these places so clearly.

  10. A Michael Perry book takes several years to write and be published, but only a day or two for me to devour. So I find myself in a nearly continual state of anticipation for the next. I also love his live shows and book readings. He’s the real deal.

    1. He’s got a great speaking voice, doesn’t he? I once sat at my desk with my little sandisk in hand tuned to WPR just to finish listening to the interview!

  11. Great interview! And the napping tips were especially helpful. I wasn’t expecting that in a talk with an author. My pillow thanks you for it.

    1. LOL. I’m sure you and Tara could give us all a few tips too!

  12. Hi, Jess!

    I enjoyed your interview of Michael Perry. Like you, I first learned of his work through “Population 485…” and have kept up since.

    I saw Mr. Perry read in Grand Rapids (Michigan) earlier this month, and it was a real treat. My daughter and I chatted with him for a few minutes after he was done signing books. One simply won’t find a humbler or more gracious author/musician.

    If you haven’t heard his music, be sure to give his two albums a listen. He’s also got three (you shorted him one) CDs of the humorous nature: Never Stand Behind a Sneezing Cow…, I Got it from the Cows, and The Clodhopper Monologues.

    Take care,
    Dave

    1. Ooh, thanks for the catch! I appreciate it. Chalk that up to my own Oops! column.

      I have checked out his music and I like it a lot. Even convinced my dad to give it a listen and he liked it. (I’m not surprised he liked it, just surprised he figured out how to make the link work. Ha!)

  13. Jess,
    So glad that Michael had this link on his facebook page; consider me your newest fan!

    If only I could comment in words as eloquent as those on the pages of Michael’s books. His response to your question regarding ‘profiling’ his characters is so insightful. It reminds me of how Annie Liebovitz approaches her photography; capture the subject in his/her natural element and watch a bit of their soul emerge.

    Reading is my ‘guilty pleasure'; authors like Michael Perry help feed my addiction!

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Kathy!

      I think I’m in agreement. Michael’s writing is a guilty pleasure! Glad you found your way here! Rooting for you in the book giveaway!

  14. Michael’s writing is so beautifully descriptive. Reading each book is like savoring a great piece of chocolate. Really looking forward to reading the new one. Thanks for posting the great interview!

    1. I’m actually eating chocolate now while I respond to comments! ;)

      I loved Population 485, and I’m really enjoying Coop right now. Can’t wait to read his next one!

  15. Fabulous interview and the bio is THE most hilarious I have ever read. “bad hair trifecta”? BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Thanks, Jess!

    1. See???!!! And that’s just his bio! Imagine how awesome his books are!

  16. [...] by entering my book giveaway of Michael Perry’s newest release, Visiting Tom, by commenting here!  Comments must be in by end of day Saturday!  Good [...]

  17. Great interview! I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Michael speak on several occasions and can’t wait to read his most recent book!

    1. Everyone who has shared that they’ve heard Michael speak has raved! I’m really looking forward to his coming to my town!

  18. “Everything else is circling the rug…” So true! I do a lot of circling.

    1. Hmm, I’ve had weeks like that. Hang in there Lois!

  19. Thanks for the great interview! I’m hoping to show it to my brother, who is a big Chris Moore fan, and encourage him to read titles by my most recent favorite writer. Coop is terrific; often my husband is asking me what’s so funny as I try to stifle a giggle while reading! Perry is coming to give a presentation in my town on October 13. I can’t wait!

    1. Woohoo, Wisconsinites! I’m enjoying Coop right now. But I remember reading Population 485 and giggling while my boyfriend was trying to sleep next to me. Gotta love books that make you laugh out loud!

  20. Just finished Visiting Tom and it was great! I met Mike at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville when Population 485 first came out and have been a fan since. “Roughneck grace” not only describes Tom, but I think it’s also a wonderful description of Mike’s writing style. Looking forward to the next book!

    1. Great phrasing. I really like that, “roughneck grace.” How fitting.

  21. I recently discovered his work and, as a displaced Yooper, am all-too-familiar with the world he writes about. Beautiful, eloquent, and hilariously riotous at the same time.

    1. I’m glad you found his books! What did you read first?

  22. I wish Michael Perry would come to Portland, Oregon to speak about his book. I’ve read Coop, am currently reading Truck and have Visiting Tom checked out from the library ready for me to read. My boyfriend is going thru his books too, Bill says Truck sounds ” just like me ” and he loved reading it. Thanks Micheal for the laughs and insights. May you keep writing all your long life so we can keep enjoying more and more books written by you. Thank you Jess for the great interview and stories about Michael ! I hope I win a copy of Visiting Tom, that would be terrific.

    1. Ok, first, I LOVE Portland, OR! Please take a trip to Powell’s for me and enjoy a maple bacon bar from Voodoo Donut! Yum!

      And yah, Michael’s a great writer that crosses genders. My library recommends his books to a lot of male readers to get started reading again.

  23. am half way thru Visiting Tom. Love it!!!!!

    1. You’re fast! I haven’t started the new one yet, I’m finishing Coop. But I love that book trailer. You can help Nan pick which book of Michael’s she wants to host for book club!

  24. I love the book. I personally know Tom and Arlene, Michael’s description of how Tom walks is so exact, I could picture Tom walking as I read it. Aslo because of this book it made me realize how much I need to make the effort to go and see them while I still can. I would love the hardcover book as I bought the Kindle version. Thanks for the interview.

    1. Oh very cool! I’m so thrilled you stopped over to visit. Please tell Tom and Arlene what celebrities they are now! I look forward to getting to know them as I read the book. Wishing them the best!

    2. For the record, Michael is fully prepared to autograph your Kindle! Mine is signed… :-)

  25. I’m currently reading Coop and am delighted to hear Mike has a new book out. Will have to put it on my to read list.

    1. As was I! Great looking new read!

  26. I met Michael when he gave an author’s talk in our town a few years ago. Neat guy!

    1. Really humble! Great guy. So nice and a great voice for reading his work to an audience.

  27. […] at a book reading last year, and I interviewed him on my blog as well. You can check that out here if you like. He is a delight to hear speak and a very humble man. […]

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