St. Peter Reads and Michael Perry

I suppose it’s bad marketing strategy to plug someone else at an event in which you’re a presence, but here goes:

Author Michael Perry is the keynote at St. Peter Reads this Saturday (May 16 in St. Peter, Minn.), and you shouldn’t miss him. He’s as funny in person and he is on paper. Check out his web site here. After he speaks, there’s a brunch in which authors circulate among the tables. I’m among that group of authors.

(For more information and tickets for St. Peter Reads, go here.)

The others include:

Rachael Hanel. Full disclosure: She’s been a friend for more than 20 years. I also happen to adore her writing. Her memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, will knock your socks off. Her web site is here. She’s been critiquing my writing in one way or another since the mid-1990s when we worked together at the Free Press in Mankato. As a copyeditor, she once spared me the embarrassment of misspelling my own name.

Allen Eskens. I didn’t know Allen when I lived in Mankato. He’s an attorney there. I met him at a Twin Cities book conference and fell in love with his debut mystery novel The Life We Bury. Check him out here.

Geoff Herbach. Geoff was a new professor when I started (but never finished – sigh) the MFA program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He’s a YA rock star and an incredibly nice guy. Learn more about him here.

Other authors include Jan Holte, Roger McKnight, Charles Quimby, Dale Redlin, James Rogers, Curt Stolee, Sarah Stonich, and Laurie Wetzel.

Maybe we’ll see you there!

The book club

My neighborhood has its own Facebook group, which is super handy when you’re looking for a sitter or recommendations for a plumber. Recently someone posted this question: Who’s up for a neighborhood book club?

Me me me! I gave it a big neighborly thumbs up.

Then came the next question: What would you like to read?

Here’s my novelist anxiety: internal pressure to suggest Very Important Books. Faust. Anna Karenina. Wuthering Heights. You are what you eat, and you are what you read. Will eyebrows raise if I admit I’d rather read The Girl on the Train?

And then there’s the book club itself. What if I miss allegories or metaphors? I surely can’t say something like, “I liked that chapter because it was good.” After two glasses of wine, anything goes. It’s possible I might use the word “goodly.” Who knows?

Honestly, most of my neighbors probably don’t even know I write books. There’s no sign in the yard. I haven’t handed out Graham Cracker Plot bookmarks. I’m not that neighbor who hangs out in my yard, chatting with the dog-walkers. I like my air-con.

So, the book club. I’ll just try to enjoy it.

By the way, here’s my wish list of summer reads (adult-style). Notice I’m putting it here, on my blog, and not on the book club page. Baby steps.

The Girl on the Train
Orphan Train

The Goldfinch
We Were Liars

The most recent The Best American Nonrequired Reading

Here and there


Two appearances I want to tell you about:

I’m going to be at the Spring Valley Library Book Club on May 2. We’re reading The Graham Cracker Plot. If you want to participate, contact the Spring Valley (Wisconsin) library at 715-778-4590.

I’m part of the Author Brunch at the annual St. Peter Reads event in St. Peter, Minn. There will be a group of about a dozen authors circulating among the brunch tables, including Rachael Hanel, Allen Eskens, Geoff Herbach, Jan Holte, Roger McKnight, Charlie Quimby, Dale Redlin, Jim Rogers, Curt Stolee, Sarah Stonich, and Laurie Wetzel. The event features author Michael Perry, who’s one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read. St. Peter Reads is Saturday, May 16. Learn more at the event’s Facebook page.

Happy read and happy spring!

An Open Letter to Stampy

Meet Stampy.

Dear Stampy (aka Stampylongnose aka Stampycat),

First, let me congratulate you on your success as a Minecraft YouTube star. I suspect you’re among the first YouTubers who managed to build a following of millions by simply recording yourself playing Minecraft.

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, I demand the return of my daughter.

I know you’ve arrived at our house when I hear your high-pitched British accent announcing yourself. Hellooo. This is Stampy and welcome to another video of Stampy’s lovely world!

An Internet search tells me you’re making a full-time living as a top-ten YouTube Star. Now that you’ve passed Katy Perry and Justin Bieber in YouTube popularity, you’ve been able to move out of your family’s basement and build a Minecraft Commentary Empire. Good for you.

Bad for me.

My daughter used to disappear into her playroom with her dollhouse, Barbies, and American Girl Dolls. On summer days, she’d go to the park. Her electronic time consisted of binge-watching “Good Luck Charlie.”

Now she’s a Stampy addict who sneaks the iPad into the bathroom and props it next to the tub for her bath. I can hear the splashing and your comments about “googlies,” which I suspect have nothing to do with Google.

For Mother’s Day, she went to a pottery studio and made me a mug. A Stampy mug. She has a Stampy shirt, which she bought with her own money. She quizzes me endlessly on Stampy trivia. She regularly submits entries to your contests, including writing and recording her vision for a Stampy theme song.

I’ve always understood and respected her call for “one more minute.” We all need a minute to pause a video and collect ourselves before heading out the door. But when she’s watching your video, she doesn’t mean one or five more minutes. She means forty.

All this has led to limits I never thought I’d need to impose on my kid, who’s biggest rule violation has been reading past bedtime.

You’re no longer allowed in our house during sick days because she was developing too many mysterious ailments. You can’t visit during dinner. You can’t show up for viola practice–she thought she could watch your videos while squeaking through “Mary had a Little Lamb.” You can’t hang out with her for hours during the weekend. You see, the only voice she should hear more often than mine is her teacher’s.

I’m supposed to be happy that you’re family friendly and that Mindcraft is creative and, wow, you’re not associated with games that involve shooting prostitutes from a racecar. You respect your young audience. Thanks for that.

Still, you’ve overstayed your welcome. You know what they say about visitors? Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

No offense, Stampy, but you reek.

Most sincerely,

Shelley Tougas

All I Want for Christmas is on this List

When I thought about writing a post of cool gifts for writers, I figured the list would be short: journals, cool pens and books about writing (Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, of course). Then I started looking around and found online treasure. No offense, Anne, but Santa’s got options.

Among them:

1.  Think of this light-up pen as a gift for your significant other since it’ll stop you from turning on the bedside lamp to record nighttime ideas.

2. Some hygiene fun because, yes, some writers shower every single day.

3. Old meets new: the tablet-typewriter. Practical? No. But it’s so cool.

4. Nobody steals from a vampire purse.

6. If this doesn’t inspire productivity, you can beat yourself over the head with it.

7. Scent of a (writing) woman.

8. The writer’s tissue box cozy.

9. Words don’t do this justice.

10. Duh:

What are little boys (books) made of?

I had an interesting discussion with some writer friends about kids and books and gender. People in the book world will tell you girls typically read books for/about girls in addition to books for/about boys. Our sons, however, will only read books aimed at boys. They simply won’t pick books with female protagonists and even avoid books by female authors. That’s why the Harry Potter series wasn’t written by Joanne Rowling.

My friends and I wondered if we’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy — we being parents. Are boys truly wired to avoid “girl” books? Or do parents subconsciously plant those wires?

I think it works like this: Parents assume their little toddler sons will most enjoy Bob the Builder and books about cars and space. That’s what they buy and read. Why bother with The Paper Bag Princess or Shelia Rae, The Brave? Or, as they get older, stories about Junie B. Jones, Ramona Quimby, Laura Ingalls or the Gaither sisters?

After all, we know girls typically read books for/about girls in addition to books for/about boys. Our sons, however, will only read books aimed at boys.

I specifically read The Paper Bag Princess to my daughter so she’d fall in love with a story about a girl saving a prince. I wanted her to wonder why Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty sat around singing about princes rescuing them from dire circumstances.

I don’t have a son. It’s unfair to suggest I would’ve bought all the “right” books. Maybe my bookshelf would be filled with books about cars and sharks and characters named Billy and Tom and Charlie.

There’s a clear expectation that girls will consistently engage in the experience of boys via books, television and movies. Frankly, they can’t participate in our male-dominated culture if they don’t.

On the surface it sounds like I’m talking about girl power, but it’s actually boys who are shortchanged. They’re missing the stories and perspective of a big part of our world – half, to be exact.

Consider this food for thought as we head into Thanksgiving and, perhaps, a conversation that may change the way you shop for the boys in your life this Christmas.