Category Archives: Blog

See you in the Big Apple!


Next week, I head to New York City on a book tour. The schedule still isn’t completely nailed down—why have a final schedule a week before the trip?—but I’d love to have you join me at one of these public events that we do have finalized. All of the events are completely free and no reservations are required. I’ll be signing books at all of them.

Central Park signing banner-Book Culture

Monkey Cup banner-Twitter

Central Park signing banner-Bank Street

When being an author is fun


Lots of people want to have written; they don’t want to write. In other words, they want to see their name on the front cover of a book and their grinning picture on the back. But this is what comes at the end of a job, not at the beginning.
—Elizabeth George

I’m one of those authors that enjoys the writing and that euphoric moment when you pull the author copy out of the package and hold the fruits of your labors in your hands. I don’t agree with the last part of Elizabeth George’s quote, though. For most writers, that isn’t the end of the job. There is still a great deal of work to be done promoting your book. It is, however, the transition from a solitary work shared only with your editor (when said editor can take a few minutes away from laughing maniacally and sharpening red pencils with a switchblade*) to something your cadres of adoring fans can enjoy.

Some of the real fun of being an author happens during the writing. That moment when you sit back and realize you’ve crafted the perfect sentence. When you figure out how to resolve that nagging inconsistency in the backstory. When you catch your botched pluperfect before the aforementioned editor sees it.

For us extroverts, though, most of the fun happens after the book hits the streets. We love standing in front a roomful of people to read our work, sitting at a book signing table with a line of fans in front of us, seeing our tweets shared far and wide.

Yesterday, I got to experience a joyful moment in the gloaming, that brief period between the arrival of the first books and the start of the hectic marketing campaign.

Dominique Woman PowerAlmost a year ago, while working on Who Pooped in Central Park, I realized that I needed the kids to encounter a bird expert in the park. I toyed with different ideas for the character until I was struck with an epiphany: I know the perfect person!

Dominique Paulus is an artist who paints, among other things, birds. We have one of her original paintings hanging on our living room wall (“Woman Power,” seen at right). She’s been my friend for years, and we’ve chatted quite a bit about birds when she’s in my bookstore shopping for bird books.

So I wrote Dominique into the book and had her spend several pages telling the children about the birds in Central Park. I sent my illustrator (the incomparable Robert Rath) a photo of Dominique and she became a part of the plot. I couldn’t resist hinting to her that I had a surprise coming, but I did somehow restrain myself and not tell her what I’d done. Yesterday, on the official release date of the book, I gave her a copy of the book and showed her the pages that featured her.

Dominique excerpt

Things that may seem minor to us, like a dedication or acknowledgement in the front of a book, mean a lot to people. Watching Dominique’s face when she saw herself in this book was a wonderful thing. As writers, we have many ways to change people’s lives. It’s up to us how we use them.


* To Will Harmon, my editor at Farcountry Press: I’m sure you don’t actually sharpen your red pencils with a switchblade. I’m guessing you use an axe.

This House of Books: By and for readers and writers


Rollout of new name

As I discussed in my last post, there’s a new bookstore coming to Billings, and I will be at the helm. The store now has a name: This House of Books, an homage to Ivan Doig’s masterpiece This House of Sky. There’s a lot to be excited about, but there’s one thing in particular that makes this store new and different: it’s a cooperative.

A cooperative is an organization that is owned and democratically controlled by the people who use its products, supplies or services.
Montana Cooperative Development Center

There are farm co-ops, food co-ops, and insurance co-ops, but book co-ops are not so common. A few of them thrive around the country, like People’s Books Cooperative in Milwaukee and Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca. They are, as the MCDC quote above says, owned by their community. That’s what we are doing with This House of Books, but we’re taking it a step farther: we’re not just working within our physical community (Billings, Montana), but reaching out into our virtual community, the people who write the books we love to read.

Two-thirds of our board of directors are published authors, including Carrie La Seur, who is shown helping me to announce the store’s name in the picture above. Over a dozen have invested, and more have made their commitment to be member/owners. The outpouring of support from the community has been amazing. One of our novel (pun intended) fundraisers is an anthology that we hope to release this August. All of the authors have agreed to donate their royalties back to the co-op, and my publishing company (Proseyr Publishing) is doing the same with a portion of the profits.

What does it mean to be a member/owner of This House of Books? We’ve prepared some fact sheets that explain everything in detail (download the PDFs here), but this is it in a nutshell:

  • If you buy a $100 voting share, you may participate in all open meetings, help to select the board of directors, and vote on changes to the bylaws.
  • If you buy any number of $500 preferred shares, you become eligible to receive dividends if the store is profitable.
  • All member/owners, regardless of the number or type of shares, are eligible to receive patronage refunds if there are more profits after dividends are paid.
  • We are offering additional benefits spelled out on the investor page of the store website, which include store discounts, early registration for classes and tea tastings, access to advance copies of books, VIP events, and more.

Let me be clear about something: we’re not just building a store here. We’re building a cultural hub in downtown Billings. We’re working with the public library, Montana State University, Rocky Mountain College, Writer’s Voice, Montana/Wyoming authors, and other literary groups. We’re building a place for book clubs and writers’ groups to meet, a place for authors to give talks and sign books, a place for poets to read their work, a place for creative people to share their art, a place for the community to gather to play games or listen to music.

The bookstore co-op has come this far thanks to endless hours of volunteer work by the board and the early advisors (including owners of three other Montana bookstores). Bringing it the rest of the way and getting the doors open depends on the community buy in, and I mean that literally. Close to a hundred people have put their money where their mouths are, pledging over $35,000 in total, but this doesn’t put us anywhere near the $250,000 it will take to open the store. It doesn’t matter whether you buy a single $100 voting share or a big stack of $500 preferred shares—every single share sold moves This House of Books closer to reality.

The end of an era … and start of a new one


End of an era header

The bookstore Kathy and I purchased in 2001 is closing. For the first time in thirty years, the town of Red Lodge will be without a bookstore. I feel sad and guilty about it, but I also feel giddy and excited about what’s coming. If ever there was a personification of “mixed emotions,” it’s me. Right now.

A group about an hour away in Billings is building something really cool: a co-op bookstore. Individuals can buy a voting share for just $100 (Contact me! We’ll get you in on this!) and dividend shares for $500 apiece. Several of the founding members—and a lot of the people getting involved now—are published authors. This will be a store entirely owned and operated by book lovers, and they’ve hired me to be the General Manager and pull all of the pieces together! They’ve also purchased all of the assets of Red Lodge Books & Tea, which brings me back to the lead story here (I’ll write more about the co-op in many, many upcoming posts).

When we bought our store from my friend Randy Tracy, it was a small store smack in the middle of downtown Red Lodge, Montana, right across the street from the iconic Red Lodge Café. It was called the Broadway Bookstore, although I changed the name when I discovered that (a) Broadway Books is trademarked by Random House, and (b) there was an “adult” bookstore called Broadway Books & Videos just an hour away.

When I took over the store, it was mostly used books, and the new books were predominantly local history and guidebooks. Over the next few years, we shifted the focus to be more about new books, finally eliminating the used books entirely when the library a few blocks away started doing monthly used book sales (it’s hard to compete with 25 cent books). We tried many experiments, some of which succeeded wildly (like our tea bar), and some of which flopped horribly (like greeting cards). Luckily, we’ll be keeping all of the really good stuff in the move to Billings.

The store has been a family affair. I’ve been there full-time and Kathy’s been there part-time for as long as we’ve owned it. Both of our kids have worked at the store (one is still there, as the Tea Bar Manager). When we were publishing the Red Lodge Local Rag, the office was in the back of the bookstore. When the Local Rag book came out last winter, it launched at the bookstore. Our grandson is as comfortable in the store as he is at our house.

Perhaps the greatest thing about the fifteen years we’ve spent running Red Lodge Books & Tea is the people we’ve gotten to meet. The book trade is simply filled with great people, and most of them are eager to share what they know. I’ve learned from other bookstores in Montana, like Chapter One, Fact & Fiction, Country Bookshelf, Montana Book & Toy Company, Thomas Books, Vargo’s Books & Jazz, and Barjon’s Books. I’ve met bookstore owners and booksellers at book conferences all over the West, and they’ve been helpful and friendly.

And then there are the authors.

We’ve had self-published local authors and New York Times bestselling authors, locals and authors from thousands of miles away. We’ve had events where nobody showed up, events so big we had to move them to the library, and events even bigger than that which we had to hold at the Elks. We’ve had events with police protection, parties with free beer & wine, cookbook signings with free food, and midnight Harry Potter parties with lines out the door and down the sidewalk. You want to know where I got a lot of the material for my new book about book signings? Right here!

I’ve become friends with a lot of those authors, and I sincerely hope that they’ll come up and do events at the new Billings store when we open it late this summer or early this fall.

The toughest part of this whole deal is my feelings that I’m abandoning Red Lodge. For almost fifteen years, Kathy & I have been active parts of the community. Between us, we’ve served on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Merchants Association, Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, Red Lodge Festival of Nations, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Red Lodge Proud & Beautiful, and Beartooth Elks Lodge. We’ve worked on City committees, the Red Lodge Branding Initiative, and the Christmas Stroll. We’ve sponsored events all over town, and I’ve emceed events all over town. But most of all, we’ve given Red Lodge a place to buy books, hang out with other book lovers, meet authors, and have a great cup of tea. I’m going to miss that.

Kathy’s staying active in many of those downtown groups, but for the next year while I’m getting that co-op up and running in Billings, I won’t be able to. I’m not moving, but I’m not quite staying here, either.

Closing Red Lodge Books & Tea is, indeed, the end of an era. It’s been a good era. And I think the new era is going to be a good one, too. We’ll never be able to fill the gap that Susan Thomas left behind when she retired and closed up Thomas Books, but we’ll do our best to build a thriving bookstore and literary hub right in the middle of downtown Billings. It’s a big challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.

You might be a redneck court reporter


This article started out as something I posted on the CompuServe Court Reporters Forum (CRForum) a couple of decades ago, and was turned into an article for MS-Strokes (The magazine of the Mississippi Court Reporters Association) in 1997. Later, portions of this article also appeared in the Journal of Court Reporting. I came across the article while going through some old archives, and thought my friends in the legal and court reporting business might appreciate it.

The inspiration for this article, of course, came from Jeff Foxworthy. As a side note, at least eight of these came from real life — I’ll let you figure out which eight!


You might be a redneck court reporter…

…if you’ve ever missed the verdict because you were mooning the defendant.

…if you use the pencil holders on your steno machine for cigarettes.

…if you have to move at least three cats to get to your CAT.

…if you wear your fishing vest on depositions because the pockets hold four steno pads.

…if you use cinder blocks instead of a tripod.

…if you’ve ever bet your judge you could drink a six-pack and still report that FedEx guy.

…if you have six steno machines, and only one works.

…if you have “y’all” in your dictionary.

…if your living room bookshelves are boards stacked on boxes of last year’s steno notes.

…if you have a spittoon on the side of your steno machine.

…if your bailiff introduces the judge by saying, “Y’all git up, Bubba’s coming.”

…if your steno machine has ever spent the winter on your front lawn.

…if you’ve pre-scripted the jury charge, and you call it up by writing “yadda yadda yadda.”

…if you bought text enlarging software so you could edit with a hangover.

…if you painted your steno machine black with flames coming off the keyboard.

…if you have a brief for “(witness nodding and belching)”.

…if you have a bass lure on your paper tray.

…if your front porch is held up by a hi-boy tripod.

…if you had your wedding reported so you’d have the vows in writing.

…if you’ve ever taken your notebook computer to a service technician to get the cigarette ashes out of the keyboard.

…if the attorney called for a sidebar, and you said, “Good idea, Judge! I’ll have a mint julep.”

…if there are at least three pieces of duct tape on your tripod.

…if you found underwear in your steno case, and you don’t know whose it is.

…if you’ve ever spilled a beer in your CAT system.

…if you’ve ever wrapped a fish in steno paper.

…if you’ve modified your steno case to hold the machine, tripod, three steno pads, and a six-pack.

…if you have a tripod rack in the back of your pickup truck.

…if you’ve decided to get into captioning so you can work in your underwear without the judge getting all upset.

…if you’ve ever had to call a scopist because you were too drunk to edit a daily.

…if you’re related to the judge, both attorneys, and the defendant, and don’t see anything wrong with that.

…if you check your purse on a date and find two kinds of steno machine oil, but no lipstick.

…if you watch Deliverance, and find yourself thinking, “How would you SPELL that?”

…if you’ve ever had a depo interrupted by a husband saying, “I did NOT sleep with your cousin Sally. She’s my SISTER, for chrissake!”

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