Give Thanks for This

turkeysBesides good health, good friends, and a marvelous turkey dinner, I could thank God on Thanksgiving for helping me keep up with my weekly deadlines for my book Colorful Characters of St. Louis. You’ll be thankful next fall when you read it. My cast of characters is expanding.

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Ray Hartmann

The latest folks I’m writing about include Ray Hartmann of Channel 9’s Donnybrook and St. Louis Magazine; and George Simon, who’s worked at fruit and vegetable stands at Soulard Market for nearly seventy years.

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Eddie Gaedel at bat

I’m also spending much of my time on local athletes, including two local baseball team owners known for their oddball ways. One was Chris Von der Ahe, known for his flamboyant management style at the St. Louis Browns in the last two decades of the Nineteenth Century. The team became the St. Louis Cardinals. The second colorful owner, Bill Veeck, owned the American League St. Louis Browns at the start of the 1950s. Among his stunts was bringing in a midget named Eddie Gaedel for one uprourious at-bat.

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Chris Von der Ahe

I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t. You’ll have to wait to read it.

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Have an ÜberCool Christmas

10One of the pieces I most enjoyed writing for the second edition of Beer, Brats, and Baseball: German-Americans in St. Louis concerned a most unusual St. Louis-based German band. ÜberCool plays German music, but not always what you’d expect to hear at an Oompah concert. It plays the pop music coming out of German car radios right now. You can Google its web site for a schedule or come out to two upcoming concerts they plan at the Second Annual Belleville Christkindmarkt at the Public Square in downtown Belleville.

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ÜberCool will perform from 7-9 p.m. Saturday, November 28 and Friday, December 11. I’ll be there to sell and sign the second edition of Beer, Brats, and Baseball and my other books. You also can buy some  ÜberCool t-shirts and other neat stuff. It’ll make some amazing Weihnachten gifts. One top of this,  you can take in Belleville’s amazing Christmas celebration of its German heritage.

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Schöne Ferien!

Writing’s just a part of it

sell1Once upon a time, a writer’s job was just about done when the letter came that said “We’ve accepted your manuscript.” Sure, she knew there would  be a few signings, interviews, and programs, but they didn’t amount to much.

It’s no longer true. Today publishers expect their writers to carry a heavy load of promotion. I knew that when I wrote my first book for Reedy Press back in 2010. When my books came out,  I gave speech after speech, did signing after  signing, and one interview after another. That’s continued up to today. Regular readers of this blog are aware of how frequently I go out to sell my books. It doesn’t really stop, really. This web site is part of the process of getting the word out.

I found on how big this expectation is today when I attended a class about marketing. The instructor, who is an agent, basically said a writer should expect to spend two hours on her internet “platform” (blog or web site) for every hour spent writing. Agents or editors don’t care about how good a writer might be if he doesn’t have that platform. I wondered how a platform-less Emily Dickinson might do in that environment.

sell2I wondered again when I saw a closed Facebook page set up by my publisher to help its writers promote their work. One author suggests developing a PowerPoint presentation and contact local libraries for permission to make talks with the presentations. I learned on the page that now is the time to contact libraries, historical societies, and civic organizations to line up spring dates for speeches.  In the page, we were told the author of 100 Things to Do in Seattle Before You Die had much success selling her books in bulk to hotel concierge services and real estate agents.

They’re all great ideas, and I’ll use them as much as I can. But they take time that I’d rather spend writing. Frankly, those who get into the business because  they like to write are in for  a disappointment. You spend more time than you’d like selling. That’s the way it is for writers in 2015. You write after you do everything else.

Another Week, Another Deadline Met

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Steve Mizerany

Another in the series, “So You Want to Write a Book”

Saturday morning, Lorraine was away at work, and I was in bed. I hated the thought of getting up. I felt like an elephant was on my chest. I was going to stay in bed until nighttime, and that was that. But then the cruel master called, the one who said I wouldn’t have my two profiles done for Sunday night’s weekly deadline for the book I’m a writin’, to be called Colorful Characters of St. Louis. If I kept doing that, how could it ever be ready for you next fall, dear reader? So I rose and went out to research and write.

That day, I found an abundance of material about Steve Mizerany, who hawked washers and dryers for his appliance store on TV from the fifties through the eighties. That augmented stuff I’d gathered for a portrait I did of him in my earlier book, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis’s South Side.

I found the material about Steve Mizerany after I interviewed former Saint Louis Zoo Director Charles Hoessle earlier in the week. He related some funny stories, including about the time he hid some rattle snakes under his bed without telling his wife. Ha ha. I hope you like it.

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Charles Hoessle

The good news is that I made my deadline. I e-mailed two more profiles to the publisher at 10 p.m. Sunday. But can I do it again next week? Stay tuned.

 

 

 

The Slog Toward Publication

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Dick Gregory

If everything works out, next fall you’ll be able to put down your $19.95 (plus tax) for my latest book,  Colorful Characters of St. Louis. In it, you’ll read about all kinds of interesting folks, including a champion dog and chicken thief who did his work around 1900 and a guy who’s obsessed with rescuing dogs. Dozens and dozens will be in the cast of characters, which should make for easy and fun reading for you.

The count of days without a murder at Daniel "Boone" Fuller's vigil.
The count of days without a murder at Daniel “Boone” Fuller’s vigil.

But it will be anything but easy for me. For me, or for every author, there’s an endless slog toward the deadline. To keep up, I e-mail two profiles to my editor every Sunday night. That ensures I don’t fall behind. But it’s hard.  I had to hustle to get out a piece last week on the African American comedian-activist Dick Gregory and Daniel “Boone” Fuller. Fuller  this summer led a vigil to stop the homicides in St. Louis. I didn’t think I’d do it, but I e-mailed in the profiles at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night.  This morning I started again. I’ll keep you informed on how I’m doing.

God Did That, and I’m Glad He Did

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“I don’t believe in God,”  I told my mother.

“You don’t believe in God?” she said. “Look at the stars. Look at the birds. Look at the trees. Do you think that just happened?”

“Aw, mom,” I said.

But when I thought about what she said, I agreed. It’s too complicated, especially now, when we’re learning so much about the universe.  Again and again in the first chapter of Genesis we hear how God commanded and it was so. The heavens, the earth, light, darkness, seas, land, plants, animals, and, finally, human beings came about with a word.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” said the first verses of the Book of John.

It’s not necessary to believe in a specific kind of creation to believe that God created everything. He had it within Himself to make everything in seven literal days and make it look like 13.82 billion years. But would He?  What do we mean by a day? We don’t need to know specifics, only that God did it.  That’s enough for me.

With Help From a Friend, Veronica Goes Home to Jesus

Matthew-25-40-webThe above words of Jesus, spoken soon before his crucifixion, aren’t easy to heed. They mean getting away from people we’d prefer to befriend and spending time with those who may not have much going for them. Happily, my wife Lorraine listened to those words and did the right thing for six years for somebody who was pretty much alone in this world. Veronica’s husband and son had long since died, and her surviving relatives lived 50 miles away, making it  hard to stop by for a visit. There was almost no one around she could call a friend.

Back in 2009, Lorraine started serving Veronica as a home health client. After about six months, she had to go into the hospital and then the nursing home.

It would have been easy to forget somebody like Veronica. But Lorraine didn’t. She started visiting her regularly in the nursing home. Too regularly, if you asked this husband, who often had to wait for his supper because Lorraine was with Veronica. Sometimes Lorraine read her the Bible, sometimes she brought her that St. Louis delicacy called a Steak ‘n Shake steakburger meal. Over the years, Lorraine bought a lot of small items for Veronica using her nursing home account. From time to time, she took off from work to assist so the van driver could bring her to the hair dresser. Sometimes Lorraine spoke up for Veronica’s needs to the nursing home management. All of these little things, done by a friend, made Veronica’s life more livable. She still had a hard time adjusting to nursing home life, but Lorraine made it possible.

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Not long ago, Veronica told Lorraine she was the best friend she’d ever had. And it was clear Veronica was listening to what Lorraine was reading to her from the Bible. No, Veronica didn’t become Miss Nice. But it was clear Veronica had changed.

A few days back, it became obvious that Veronica was dying. Lorraine stayed by her side as the pain filled her body, bringing her requests to the staff. Sometimes, Lorraine read her scripture. Once she gave her a milkshake to ease the pain. “I can’t stand this,”  Veronica said. Lorraine told Veronica she loved her and Jesus loved her. Veronica told Lorraine she loved her. On Sunday night, Lorraine held Veronica’s hand until she fell asleep.

Early the next evening, on November 2, 2015, we got a call from the nursing home. Veronica had died an hour earlier. She was at rest. Her pain was over. Jesus was wiping away every tear Veronica ever had, because my wife looked past what someone had on the outside and saw what Jesus saw.

Jesus promised he’d welcome us into glory if we ministered to the least of his brothers and sisters. Lorraine listened to that call, when she became the best friend Veronica ever had. But how many Veronicas are out there who don’t have a Lorraine to ease their burdens?

I’m bragging about Lorraine because she’s my wife. But all of us can do what she did just by looking around. How many of us encounter people, neighbors, coworkers, in need, the ones Jesus called “the least of us?” How many want to walk by because they aren’t like us, because they’re of a different race or a different political party or attended the wrong high school? Maybe it’s time to look past our differences and grab the opportunity. There are people out there that only we can help. Do we want to encounter Jesus? Let’s befriend the “least among us” and do what we can to make their lives more livable. How can we refuse this call?

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