Category Archives: Media Coverage

An earnest conversation

Another Hemingway mug for another Hemingway post.

Another Hemingway mug for another Hemingway post.

My friend Mary read my recent Hemingway post and insisted suggested I pick a different bio to read. She said, everyone knows Hemingway’s an asshole! Then she said something about his undue influence. (That’s why I’m not using her last name. I’m afraid the literati might throw books at her.)

Before our conversation, I’d been reading about Hemingway’s lost manuscripts and was feeling kind of sorry for the guy. (If you don’t know the legend, Hemingway’s wife took his early manuscripts – the only copies – with her on a train. She was meeting him somewhere in Europe, and by the time the train arrived, her bags, and his work, had been stolen.)

I don’t think this story would have moved Mary.

We ordered dinner, and then Mary rattled off a quick list of great memoirs. Patti Smith. Neil Young. Bob Dylan. Hillary Clinton.

I wondered what was most important for me as a writer. Studying how an acclaimed writer evolved during his life? Learning how a woman crashed through the glass ceiling in politics? Analyzing how artists moved our culture with their music, lyrics, politics, and challenges to the status quo?

If I could only read one of those books, it would be Patti Smith, and not just because she once worked at a bookstore. She was a game-changer. I’d argue Hemingway was a game-changer, too, but eventually somebody would have popularized simple language/sentences. Right?

You could write books about Patti’s influence (and people have).  I don’t mean to minimize her career, but I do have a novel to finish. So here’s my bottom line: Patti Smith had genuine defiance. She defied record companies, politicians, censors, and more. But for me, her most significant defiance was the way she extended her middle finger at music industry execs, who continue to support the standard that “rocker chicks” should be babes. The “babes” can become icons, but the path to icon status surely involves long curly tresses, red lipstick, and plunging necklines ready to rip and expose surgically enhanced double Ds.

For most performers, defiance is simply part of the marketing plan. I don’t think Patti ever had a marketing plan, and if a PR company wrote one for her, she probably ripped it up and extended her middle finger.

Here’s something Patti Smith told New York Magazine:

When I started performing a lot with Lenny Kaye and Richard Sohl, we had goals: to infuse new life into performing poetry—merging poetry with electric guitar, three chords—and to reembrace rock and roll. It drew us together and kept us informed, whether through Bob Dylan or Neil Young or the Who. In the early seventies, rock and roll was monopolized by record companies, marketing strategies, stadium rock. Tom Verlaine and Television were for me the most inspiring: They were not glamorous, they were human.

I don’t think it’s possible to be the “Patti Smith of kid-lit.” But I wouldn’t mind a little more Patti in my DNA.

So there you have it, Mary. More Patti, less Ernest.


Read our very short book rev—

A feature in the Ladies Home Journal: “Fifteen Second Book Reviews.” (Hey, I was at the doctor’s office. It was LHJ or Fishing Weekly.)

Fifteen-second book reviews. Is that all a book is worth? Fifteen seconds? Why include book reviews at all? Why not just say, we think you’re too dumb to read.

I know the deal. Today’s popular magazines have one or two long stories, a bunch of quirky short copy, and lots of tidbits. The trendy design involves pages broken into blocks of color, and editors need copy to fill those boxes. Like makeup tips. Kim Kardashian never leaves the house without Cover Girl Lash-Building Mascara! Because we’re supposed to believe Kim spends $2.99 on drugstore make up. Or diet tips. Madonna kicks those chocolate cravings with kale!

But books in 15 seconds … That’s not enough time to tie your shoes, to blow your nose, to find the expiration date on yogurt.

Fifteen seconds. The amazing essayist Diana Joseph has a book title that can’t be read in 15 seconds: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog. Buy it anyway. It’s hilarious and poignant.

Fifteen seconds.

Luckily, my middle-grade novel, The Graham Cracker Plot, can be described in 15 seconds: Daisy and her sometimes friend Graham plot to break her father out of prison. But can it be reviewed with any insight in 15 seconds?

What about dense, classic literature? What about complex modern novels? What about challenging nonfiction?

The LHJ version:

East of Eden by John Steinbeck, a dead guy. Kinda long but pretty darn good.

The Corrections by the guy who dissed Oprah. Also long but pretty darn good.

The Graham Cracker Plot by someone new. Kinda short. Might be for kids. But pretty darn —

Damn. They ran out of seconds.

International “fame” goes down in flames

I was feeling a bit cocky. Maybe more than a bit.

The Capstone publicist – a sharp and wonderful person – had a favor for me. Would I be willing to do a live interview about Little Rock Girl? A radio station in Ireland wanted to interview me for a 15-minute segment. Ireland? I asked. She told me she’d checked it out; it was a legit news station, like Ireland’s public radio or WCCO.

I’d been interviewed many times in my PR job, but this was about my book and my writing career! I was working as a phlebotomist – more on that later – and not feeling very writerly. Just bloody. Before work, my almost-husband was sending me off  with a kiss and have a great bio-hazard-free day! Don’t get stuck with a needle! Don’t spray yourself with plasma!

My answer to the publicist was an immediate yes.

I did all the things I’d coached people to do. I wrote talking points. I anticipated questions and practiced answering them out load. I thought about the absolute worst questions they could ask and prepared for those as well.

Then I turned, as my daughter would say, a bit bragity brag. Me! My book! Live segment! Ireland News Radio! International!

The morning of the interview, my manager covered for me on the plasma floor. I sat in her office, wearing blue scrubs, and called the number they’d provided. Radio stations have guests call in early. The producer talks to you for a minute and makes sure you’re not a crazy person. Then you go on hold and listen to the segment before yours.

And that’s what brought me back to Earth. There was an expert on the show, and people were calling in to share their stories about … Cockroaches! I would be

Cockroaches: so disgusting I couldn't use a real photo.

Cockroaches: so disgusting I couldn’t use a real photo.

following a 20-minute segment on cockroaches. Cockroaches! Disgusting bugs that can’t be killed unless sprayed by Napalm. Then me. Not me, then cockroaches. Nope. Cockroaches, then me.

The interviewer said, after our conversation about cockroaches, we’ll visit with Shelley Marie Tougas, author of Little Rock Girl. And the listeners were probably thinking I was a writerly writer. Sitting next to a fireplace in my wool sweater, ready to hurry back to my desk to finish a chapter before having dinner and drinks with my editor. Not exactly. I was getting ready to dress in protective gear so I could stick 17-gauge needles into the arms of plasma donors.

The interview went well. I was prepared for all the questions. My only struggle: this tendency I have to pick up other people’s language quirks and accents. If the interview had been any longer, I might have said something like, top of the mornin’ to ya!

Blimey! What a lesson!  I can let my head float into the clouds as long as I keep my feet on the ground.

Have a great weekend. And top of the mornin’ to ya all!

Dead coyotes, gun control and, yes, books


Rep. Tony Cornish ditches the NRA shirt for his lawmaker wardrobe.

I don’t claim to be an expert on guns. And this blog is about books and writing, not politics. Still, I have a tiny bit of credibility because I wrote three books about weapons for kids. See? It relates to the blog!

Last week, a state representative in Minnesota government wanted to make a point about the gun-control debate. Rep. Tony Cornish posted on Facebook a photo of himself, wearing an NRA shirt and holding an AR-15. Behind him is a coyote hanging from a tree. He shot the coyote from 225 yards.

“So gun control advocates,” Cornish said. “Explain to me how you don’t think the AR-15 is hunting rifle.”

From Wikipedia: The AR-15 is a lightweight, 5.56 mm, magazine-fed, semi-automatic rifle, with a rotating-lock bolt, actuated by direct impingement gas operation or long/short stroke piston operation.

Gun control advocates say the AR-15 isn’t for hunting. For the record, I’m not a hunter, but I support them. Hunting is part of our culture in the Midwest, and I’d rather see deer, for example, killed and used for food than starving in the winter because of overpopulation.

Back to the photo. The Mankato Free Press printed the photo with a story on gun control. Cornish thinks killing an animal with an AR-15 proves his point: The AR-15 should be considered is a hunting tool, not just a gun for shooting rampages in schools and movie theaters. Therefore, the government should not restrict this weapon or others like it.

Hmm. I could kill a coyote with a nuclear bomb. But that doesn’t mean I should.

Back to the book blog. To see my kids books about weapons and war, look under the “My Books” tab.

Mankato Free Press features Little Rock Girl

My first newspaper interview about Little Rock Girl. Tomorrow, I’ll blog about my first radio interview.

Here’s the story:

Local author, publisher win accolades for portrayal of Little Rock Nine

MANKATO — Powerful visuals and descriptions form a look into the historic events of the Little Rock Nine in the Capstone Press book “Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration.”

North Mankato author Shelley Tougas put words to the pictures that opened the eyes of the world to the struggle of integration in schools across America. And literacy organizations around the country have taken notice.

Continued here.