Tag Archives: Michael Perry

Writing Heroes: A Letter to Michael Perry

Once in a great while we’re given the chance to meet our heroes.  As a writer who keeps a gratitude journal, I know that everyday we get to meet heroes.  Our parents, our siblings, the woman who helps shuffle students safely across the crosswalk on their way to school, the gentleman who holds the door open for the mother pushing a stroller – these are all heroes we see everyday and most of us take them for granted.

But what about the ones that inspire us?  The ones that remind us of the things we dreamed about as kids!  Recently I attended a book reading and signing by Wisconsin author, Michael Perry.  Having interviewed Perry just a few weeks ago, I know he thinks that living as a writer is no big deal.  In his words, he told me:

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.

Little does he know, it’s his humble attitude that inspires me.  At the reading, he was very down to earth and welcoming – the traits his writing voice creates as well.  A woman sitting next to me asked, “Is he really as good and kind as his books make him seem?”  I answered, “I think so.”

Meeting Michael at the Visiting Tom book reading!

A Letter to Mr. Perry:

Dear Mr. Perry,

Thank you for taking a chance on a stranger who read your books, and for agreeing to be interviewed by her.

When I was growing up in a small Wisconsin town, I thought nothing interesting ever happened in Wisconsin and I couldn’t wait to travel elsewhere.  I burrowed away in my room with my mom’s old typewriter that the ‘n’ key didn’t work and wrote stories that were then acted out by puppets.  I built forts out of blankets and pretended I was an orphan, running the streets, stealing food to survive and living dangerously – but that’s probably because I watched Aladdin everyday for months. 

When I got to school and started writing, it was my teachers who acknowledged my skills and encouraged me to write more.  This lasted, I am grateful to say, through my college years.

But when classes were over and the “real world” hit, I stopped writing for awhile.  Years, even.  When I started blogging, a desperate attempt to write something, anything, it was one of the scariest things I ever did.  But, something wonderful happened.  I found a whole community of writers and readers and people who shared my dreams and were going after their own!  Over time, this little old blog became my place of respite.  And with some courage, I threw myself out there to various writers whose books I’ve enjoyed and asked to interview them.

Thank you for saying yes!  It is meaningful to me that you shared your story and your time with me.  Each and every writer (established and new) is an inspiration and a push to go after my own writing dream.  And, Mr. Perry, writer with a small ‘w,’ I intend to return the favor.  Meeting a gracious and giving person such as yourself, inspires me to do the same for others.  For now, I’m only able to offer that camaraderie that comes with plugging away at the writing process as any new writer knows is full of trial and error.  If and when I can accomplish publication, I fully intend to be that person that says “Yes” to new writers, thank you to those that come to see me, and chat with everyone that is willing to stand in line just for an autograph.

Thank you from the small town, Wisconsin girl who thought her mom’s old typewriter was the coolest thing ever.  It was a pleasure meeting you.

Best wishes,

Jess Witkins

*****

And just for fun:

It’s only one week away – the next edition of The Redhots!

Next friday, Marcia and I interviewing our first author for The Redhots!  His book has been getting lots of 5 star reviews!  Tune in on October 26th to see who it is!

Until then:  We’re kicking off Halloween with a fun photo contest!  You could be a winner of one of 6 prizes!

My “orange” inspired Halloween table! The napkins had a skeleton on them that said “I’m Starving!”

What you need to know to enter:

1. There are three categories you can enter one time each:

  • Costume – your best ever, be it scary, cute or funny
  • Outdoor decorations – your scariest or most creative
  • Party room decor – you can include your Halloween tablescape, your unique pumpkin carving, and your room decorations

2. Post your pictures, up to 3 only, at our Twitter hashtag: #TheRedHots between October 19th and October 30th. The winners will be announced on Halloween!

3. For extra chances to win, you can choose to do the following:

  • “Like” Marcia’s and my Facebook pages
  • Tweet about the contest three times between the 19th and the 30th linking to our posts
  • Subscribe to our blogs

The prizes:

  • Grand prize will be an autographed print book by our indie author plus a Halloween Goody Bag.
  • 5 bonus prizes of a Kindlegraphed ebook from the author

Excited?  Inspired?  Halloween plans?  Heroes that inspire you?  What’s on your mind?

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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.  

Mr. President, I’d like to lend you a book.

I love NPR.  Almost every program peaks my interest.  When I’m driving, listening in to Chapter-A-Day, or Dr. Zorba, or Here On Earth, or the late night radio show programs with old school sound effects (one of my faves!), I like to imagine what other people are doing while they’re listening in.  I would imagine in today’s day and age, most are driving just like me.  But then some might be making dinner, doing work outside, exercising at the gym, rocking a child to sleep.

Yesterday’s guest was author, Michael Perry.  If you’ve never read his work, you must!  If you’d like a recipe for country living, equal parts back woods advice and survival 101, you’ll find it in his work.  His background as a male nurse, EMT, and volunteer firefighter who grew up in a very small town in Wisconsin gives him an unreal edge to describing catastrophe and humor in the same scene.  One of his first works about his hometown is called Population: 485.  I read it this last fall.  Since that book, he has continued his story by writing about marriage and family life in Truck:  A Love Story and Coop:  A Family, A Farm, And the Pursuit of One Good Egg.

Throughout the conversation, Perry comes off as very likable, humble, and down to earth.  He jokes about speaking engagements, and he sincerely thanks his fans (the pockets of them that come forth, he says).  He really does a great job of promoting his work, without sounding like a PR agent.  He has a website and blog about his work, and he says yes (cause he needs the money) to as many speaking arrangements as he can.  But I loved his honesty and interest in what his readers, or in this case callers, had to say.  He appreciated their input.

One caller flattered him immensely by saying he was asked what book he would recommend if you were going to lend a book to President Obama, and he answered Truck:  A Love Story.  The caller’s reasons were that “Truck” depicts the everyday man of rural living and he would want the president to remember the mid/working class individuals who were just getting by and not be completely consumed by the political world.

I kind of trailed off from the rest of the program for a bit, cause I kept thinking “What an interesting question!”  What if you could give a book to the president?  What book would you choose and why?

I think that’s really hard to answer.  If I had to pick just one, and make it really good one, I’d say The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  If ever there was a book that followed the generations of a family who struggled, and dealt with politics of race, class, education, and health care, this book is truly moving.  I believe, and maybe I watched too many documentaries on Martin Luther King Day, but I really do believe that if we turn our eyes away from history, we are doomed to repeat ourselves.  I think this story is one everyone should know.

What book would you recommend?

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