Friday, September 4, 2015

Ford County: John Grisham Knows How To Write Short Stories.... and to Read 'Em As Well

Just finished reading Ford County, a collection of seven short stories by John Grisham. I always worry when an author reads his own work for an audiobook, but in this case there's nothing to worry about. He's as skilled a reader as writer. And the stories themselves are true page-turners, even when delivered in an audio format without pages.

I believe the first Grisham book I reviewed here was Playing for Pizza, which I found incredibly fun and entertaining. When I pulled Ford County off the library's audiobook shelf I didn't notice at first that it was a collection of short stories. From the very first lines I was in, one good sentence after another. The cool thing was that you just didn't know where this first crazy story was going.

The second story, like the first, was an equally compelling read. And Grisham's manner of telling made it come alive.

Because the stories all take place in the vicinity of Memphis, I had to check Google to find exactly where these people lived. As it turns out, Ford County is a fictional location. There is neither a Ford County in Tennessee or Arkansas or Mississippi. The nearest Ford County is in Kansas.

With characters vividly drawn, the situations become borderline absurd at times, yet fully engaging, never crossing over into the territory of disbelief.

Here's an excerpt from a review on by Pat Conroy:

I have loved the Grisham books for the same reason that I love the works of John Irving, Richard Russo, or Anne Rivers Siddons: I get hooked by an early page, and pure habit forces me to read until I am issued my walking papers and can return to my normal life. These writers are all wish-bringers who cast spells with the bright enchantment of their stories, and the power of story has retained its glamour and necessity for me. I’ve always liked it when Grisham took a sabbatical from his impressive fiction to romp in the field of sports or non-fiction.

John surprised me by entering the ring of danger that the short story represents for all writers. In the world of writing, the poets come first as they finger the language like worry beads and wonder where their next meal is coming from. The art of the short story writer is one of economy, concision, and the genius of trying to craft a whole world inside a mason jar. The modern world punishes the short story writer with inattention. The literary reviews keep the short story alive and finger-popping in America today, while the New Yorker tries to strangle the form with its bare hands. But a great short story is a source of joy, and the reading of Chekhov, de Maupassant, Flannery O’Connor and others offer pleasures unmatched by any other form. Since I’m incapable of writing the short story form, I wanted to see how Grisham fared, knowing the critics would sharpen their swords against him no matter how accomplished his stories might be.

I, too, am a longtime fan of the short story format. When I finished these it made me want to lock myself in a room a write. I have some experiences in Puerto Rico that might be fun to stir into a yarn. And a year south o' the border made an impression on me as well. Only time will tell.

You can read some of the other reviews here. And maybe even find yourself a copy of the book sometime.

Meantime, enjoy the long weekend. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Local Art Scene: September Arts Events and Happenings in the Twin Ports

It's that time of year again. If you pay attention you'll see see the first sprinkles of yellow, orange and red on a handful of tree branches here and there. Although this past couple weeks of summer have been monumentally warm, those red maple leaves serve to remind us that summer will not last, and the transition is underway.

If my facts are straight, Duluth attracts more tourists than any region in Minnesota, and for good reason. It isn't just the great lake, but its proximity to so much more from hiking and biking trails to skiing and sailing. Duluth has wisely devoted several decades of investment in its Canal Park development and has made an effort to define itself as a "place."

In the midst of all this activity is a fermenting arts scene. Here's a short collection of events, receptions and places you can take in the visual arts in September.

Duluth Art Institute

Foremost on my list of recommended art openings is the DAI's September opening reception for two new exhibitions, Spirit (Karen Savage-Blue) and Life of Beauty (Karen Lynne Burmeister).
Reception: September 10, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Karen Savage-Blue will be giving an artist talk on September 17 at 5:30 p.m.
Loren Martell will give an artist talk on Karen Lynne Burmeister's show at 5:30 on September 29.

Second Friday Special Event:

Pierce & Piszczek Fine Pianos
Friday, September 11, 6-8:30 p.m. 405 E. Superior Street
A new exhibit AND a debut piano trio KOINONIA performing selections from their official debut at Weber Music Hall on Sunday, Sept. 13th at 3 p.m. Composers represented will be Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn played on piano, cello, and violin.

Other September Art Receptions and work in public spaces

Beaner's Central, Nate Lindstrom, photographer
Opening reception TONIGHT: 6–8 p.m.; 324 N. Central Avenue
Featuring music by James Moors, Moors and McCumber

Red Herring, Cameron Conlon, painter, BAI*DAI exhibit,
Friday, September 11, 6-9 p.m.; 208 E. 1st Street

Pizza Luce, Amber Darling, painter (no reception)
11 East Superior Street

Café: Group Exhibit - The Lake Superior Show - including printmaker Cecilia Lieder and multi-media artist Bridget Riversmith;
Atrium: Exhibit celebrating Duluth Superior PRIDE featuring landscape Photographer Amy Peterson

Red Mug
Micaella Penning, Laura Kirwin
If you were not there Tuesday the first you missed the opening reception, but it's a show that will be up for the duration of the month. Check it out.


Historic Duluth Armory Music Fest
Sunday, September 6, 3-9 p.m. Leif Erikson Park Free concert in the park to celebrate the Armory's 100th Anniversary!

Hermantown Harvest Fest
Saturday, September 12, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
5255 Maple Grove Road, Hermantown (Community Building)
$5 / family, $2 / adult, 5 yrs and under are free
Crafts, food, music!

Lake Superior Harvest Festival
Saturday, September 12, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Bayfront Festival Park - FREE entry and FREE PARKING all day!!
"One of the best and largest farmers’ markets in the region, along with live music, crafts, nonprofit showcase, educational exhibits, family activities and more!"

Chester Bowl Fall Fest
Saturday, September 19, 9:30-4:30 p.m.
Rain Date: Sunday, September 20
Chester Bowl, Duluth, $2 suggested donation; food, music, crafts

Lester River Rendezvous
Saturday, September 26, 10-5 p.m.
Lester Park, Lakeside: food, music, crafts ... a whole lot of family fun!

Studio 15, Pooch Fundraiser, Friday, September 4, 7 p.m.
15 3rd Avenue W.; music, silent auction of items from Duluth's "creative community"

Zentangle (R) and Wine, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 6-8:30 p.m.
Master Framing Gallery, 1431 London Road, $35 (flyer at right))

Zentangle (R) Pattern Drawing
Mondays, Sept. 21-Oct 19 (no class 10/12), 5:30-8:00 p.m. at Ordean East Middle School; Register the weekend of Sept 12/13 here!

The Duluth Art Institute has a whole batch of classes both for adults and for youth.

* * * *

An Invitation to Artists: Art on the Plaza

Yesterday I received an email notifying me of an Art & Artisan marketplace opening in Superior's Belknap Plaza. The group -- a project of Superior's Twin Ports Stage -- is currently seeking local and regional artists to be a part of this new arts venue.

Here's the information I received, in their own words:

* We're looking for an eclectic mix of art and artisan work in a wide variety of mediums. Why an eclectic mix, you may ask.... Because the marketplace will be set up more like an antique store than an art gallery. That's right. Mixy mix everywhere. Paintings living with textiles and furniture and sculpture and all manner of work placed together to create a compelling visual display. Leather and wax and metals (oh my!) will all be part of a very open relationship. Dance partners will change. It's downright progressive.

* Because we want to put together a great variety of work, and show it all to its very best advantage, we can only accommodate 15-20 artists. We know there's way more talent out there, but we've only got so many square feet, right? And because we'll be putting all the artistic pieces together, we will be curating artist submissions to some degree to make sure the work is a good fit for the space.

* We're going to staff the gallery so you don't have to. That's right. 30 hours a week we'll be toiling away, enlightening visitors about the glory of your work and your unique vision. Of course, you'll have to provide us with this information so we can learn it and become one with it. It's the least you can do.

* We like to have parties and events, so we'll be doing that, too.... in a really cool space, surrounded by all the amazing work that you've created. We'll showcase our artists and other local businesses, and selected artists can just talk to us if you've got ideas about this. It's helpful to buy us drinks while we're talking, but that's just a suggestion. It's not required. We're perfectly capable of having real meetings.

* Artists pay a straight monthly space rental fee, and all that jazz is outlined below. But we actually did the math on this scenario and after the headache passed, we knew it was a great deal for artists, which is the idea that inspired the whole shebang.

There's more, but you can get that information in greater detail by contacting of the Art on the Plaza Gals directly: Victoria Main, Lori Kempton, Kathryn Senn, Nancy Senn. If you don't know who they are, try Facebook, and if that fails contact me directly. I'll put you in touch.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Take some of it home with you.

Special thanks to Esther Piszczek for helping assemble this information.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Will Driving Be Illegal Some Day?

Here's the opening paragraph of an article on TechCrunch that caught my eye this past month:

Driving a car will be illegal by 2030. Our economy will be severely impacted as millions of truck drivers, cabbies and delivery people are put out of work. In this era of endless innovation, man’s century-long relationship with the automobile is about to be permanently disrupted.

Author Jay Samit pulls no punches with this one. It opens with a short declarative sentence. This will happen, and it will happen much sooner than you think. Samit then affirms a few of the consequences of this advance, including the end of our trucking industry as we know it.

The notion is so immense I have had a hard time knowing how to put my mind around it. We're talking fifteen years. And I just don't see it.

Here are a few problems that I see. First, these new vehicles will have to cost a lot of money. The haves may have them but there are a lot of cars owned by the have nots who have made do with their limited resources by sheer ingenuity. In fifteen years will they no longer be permitted to drive their beaters? I do not see how that could happen.

Will these cars be propelled by bullet-proof technology? I mean, when you need tech support who do you call? Will they answer the phone or will you have to wait "for the next available technician"?

Will these vehicles all be run by means of the cloud? Is it a satellite system like my internet here in our rural home? It won't be by cable, that's for sure/ So what happens when a satellite goes down? Our internet was down for three days in a row last month when our provider's satellite went kaput.

Jay Samit talks about how many Chinese and Indians were killed in traffic accidents last year. He's obviously concerned about all the world's billions and the dangers of driving, but if poor people in this country are prevented from owning cars because of the price tags, imagine the poor in Third World nations?  And how many of those deaths in China and India are due to more laxity regarding driver training? Do other countries have a driver training requirement before getting a license? I know that in Mexico they did not when we lived there half a lifetime ago.

The author notes that cars driving themselves never drive drunk or distracted or while overtired.

In the United States, one out of four accidents is caused by texting and driving (which is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk). The more technology we put in human hands, the worse our driving habits become. And unlike robots, humans need rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 69 percent of adult drivers report driving while drowsy at least once a month.

This and other arguments seem to push the idea forward some, but I'm curious about the legal matter of who is responsible when your car hits a pedestrian when the brakes go out on a Duluth hillside? Is the car's owner going to be liable or will the automakers be on trial? To say this is never going to happen seems pretty far fetched.

I'm curious how one will hail a cab in this brave new world. "Taxi! Taxi!" Will the car see me waving my arm? Hear me shouting on a busy New York street?

The argument for going this route seems to be for the purpose of safety. But isn't it all a matter of trade-offs? All life has risks. Maybe one day it will be illegal to get out of bed in the morning. I mean, what if you trip and fall and hit your head?

So, Jay Sarif says by 2030 it may be illegal to drive. But he says more... that it will not only be illegal, but should be illegal. What do you think?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Invitation to Next Sunday's Free Concert in Leif Erikson Park to Restore the Armory

Concert Sponsors
Here's more information on next weekend's free concert in Leif Erikson Park. We are officially less that one week away from showtime and everything's in order for the show. The event will feature music by Courtney Yasmineh Band, Lonnie Knight & Friends, The Boomchucks, Sarah Burton, Gene LaFond and Amy Grillo, and Rich Mattson and Germaine Gemberling in one of Duluth's many beautiful settings.

The event organizer is the Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC) with it's chief aims being to raise awareness for the 100th Anniversary Celebration that will take place later this fall, and to share their vision for the Armory's restoration. The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I have to insert here that it made some of us ill to see the heart-breaking accident that took place this weekend at the Sacred Heart Music Center. Sacred Heart has been a wonderful host for several of the concerts and events the AAMC has created on behalf of the Armory restoration.

Here's an outline of featured artists that are lined up to perform next Sunday. There will also be food trucks, beer trucks and sunshine. (The latter is not guaranteed, but they are working on it.) There will be an abundance of smiling, foot tapping and probably some dancing.

Duluth Armory Music Fest
3:00 p.m. – 3:40 p.m. Boomchucks  
3:50 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Gene LaFond & Amy Grillo 
4:40 p.m. – 5:20 p.m. Rich Mattson & Germaine Gemberling 
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Sarah Burton  
6:40 p.m. - 7:40 p.m. Lonnie & Friends 
7:50 p.m. – 9:20 p.m. Courtney Yasmineh Band  

Kevin Odegard presents latest Armory banner.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Be a part of it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Wedding Belles: How To Get A Wife The Old Fashioned Way

Today's a very special day for us... our daughter is getting married.  While sifting through a folder titled "Idea Starters" I came across this list of Biblical ways to get a wife. Note: These are shared here to serve as examples of why historical stories in the sacred texts should not be taken as laws to obeyed.

Ten Ways To Obtain A Wife*

1. Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. She's yours. ~ Deuteronomy 21:11-13

2. Find a prostitute and marry her. ~ Hosea 1:1-3

3. Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal. ~ Ruth 4:5-10

4. Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife. ~ Judges 21:19-25

5. Cut off 200 foreskins off your father-in-law's enemies and get his daughter for a wife. ~ I Samuel 18:27

6. Become emperor of a huge nation and hold a beauty contest. ~ Esther 2:3-4

7. When you see someone you like, go tell your parents, "I have seen a woman. Get her for me." If your parents question your decision, repeat, "Get her for me. She's the one for me." ~ Judges 14:1-3 (Sounds like a bit of dialogue from Terminator.)

8. Wait for your brother to die. Take his widow. ~ Ruth

9. Get involved with someone else's wife. Kill her husband. ~ II Samuel 11

10. A wife? Who needs a wife? ~ I Corinthians 7:32-35

* * * *

Well, we're beginning to get excited about this special day where two people in love make a commitment to share life's journey together.

*Discliamer: When I Googled this list, I discovered many of these listed in someone else's blog. Their blog post was 2012, my file was created in 2008, leading me to surmise that our lists were purloined from still someone else's labors. Thank you to whoever did the original compilation. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

All the Old Cliches Are True

"It seems to me that when a writer at last finds an outlet for his work -- has a channel into which he can pour himself -- it matters very little, from that time on, what he is going through, whether he is happy or sad, healthy or ill. Rather, he lives for his work, for others, to be poured out, to fulfill his reason for being." Journal Note, June 24, 1993

These words were penned the year I had my first book assignment and was simultaneously doing a screenplay called The Extras, while working full time. The two projects tested my time management skills to the limit, but the experience proved highly rewarding on several levels.

I would venture to say that most of us live at a lower level of accomplishment than we are capable of. Set high goals, and then take action. All the old cliches are true. Rome was not built in a day; the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The cumulative efforts of small daily achievements can really add up. When you look back, it may even one day astound you.