Saturday, December 27, 2008

Closing Out the Year at Offutt

Since this is probably my final blog of 2008, I thought I might tell you more about selling at the Offutt BX (base exchange).

This was my first time in a pure retail environment on my own. Sure, I've done bookstores, but they've done networking, advertising, store signage and word of mouth to publicize my visits. But in the BX, I was truly on my own - I had to set up the table every morning and spend the day there, putting together an eye-catching display while also trying to make eye contact myself.

I don't come from a sales background, but I almost immediately began getting into the psychology and physics of sales. I was always sizing up shoppers as they came near my table, looking for likely history enthusiasts (generally seniors) or spouses of them (generally middle-aged wives). If they'd look with interest at my book poster, I'd have a look ready that said "Come on over - let's talk about it!" I'd get signage on my poster at eye level that I hoped would further interest them, such as "Featuring Fort Crook" (the original post at Offutt).

I also found myself getting more aggressive, not necessarily with the other temporary vendors since we didn't have similar products, but in fighting for my "turf." My original spot was right in the middle of the BX - people couldn't help but see me as they came in and sales were good. When I got moved to a less visible spot and saw an immediate reduction in sales, I fought with management to get moved back. I even took issue with an aggressive VFW recruiter who was stopping shoppers and blocking the view of my table!

After a few weeks of selling just the book (I was there off and on about 12 times from mid-November to Christmas Eve), I got frustrated and began looking for additional items to sell. My publisher balked at my selling other books in their catalog, so I came up with note cards featuring the forts and even developed my own poster for the forts of Nebraska. Both of them sold pretty well!

I loved talking with the customers. A number of them said the book was just what they were looking for, and others couldn't wait to present their loved ones and friends with the book. THAT was quite an unusual feeling on Christmas, knowing that people were getting my book under the tree!

I also enjoyed talking with the temporary vendors. I learned quite a bit about the profitability and the struggles of making a living that way, but also met some enjoyable people in the month and a half. I'll probably try this again, maybe for Father's Day in June.

Thanks to all for checking in. Hope you had a great Christmas and I wish all of you a very Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Call from "The Godfather"

I am really getting bad at keeping the blog up to date! I guess that could be translated at been busy, which I have been. Much of my time on the book has been in appearances, lately at the Offutt Air Force Base BX - quite a few military personnel, dependents and retirees have an interest in the old forts, so I've been enjoying selling in the new base exchange. NOT the hundreds which a colonel back in July told me I'd see, but enough to keep me coming back through Christmas.
What REALLY jogged me to write this morning was a call I received last night from "The Godfather." Herb Hart wrote THE books on the forts back in '60s and '70s when he was a major in the Marines. He retired as a colonel but is still active in the preservation and promotion of the forts, only just recently retiring as secretary of the Council on America's Military Past (CAMP) and editor of its newsletter at age 80.

But anyway, the unexpected call from my friend was to make sure that I had plans to attend the biennial history conference up at Fort Robinson in April, since he was to be the Guest of Honor this year! I had already planned to attend, but knowing that honor was awaiting Herb makes it even more special.

I need to give you some background before I tell you more about the call: The conference is a BIG deal among those with an interest in the Old West, attended by historians, writers, museum people, history nuts, etc. Only 185 can attend because of the limited space at the fort, and those spots go FAST. They have a theme for the conference whenever it's held and in 2009, the theme is "forts." Of course, the theme was selected a couple years ago, before I even knew about the conference schedule. To have the conference and my book coming around together is kind of a "perfect storm." I immediately called the conference organizer to see if I could present, even though the agenda was set up back in 2007; he did find a half-hour spot for me and I plan to do my Westerners presentation on the "Lost Forts of the Northern Plains."

The funny thing about the phone call from Herb is that although it was just a simple check to make sure I was going, it of course turned into an hour and a half of talking about forts (I know, what could we POSSIBLY say about forts for an hour and a half?) But in addition to making sure of my attendance, we ended up talking about CAMP and its newsletter, about the conference, about people, about our books, just everything we wanted to. He naturally wanted to know what forts I was calling the "lost" forts since he felt he documented about everything out there. I went down the list and he naturally had his stories to attach with each one, and great stories they were.

Anyway, it's going to be fun to see him again. Our only meeting was in Oct. 2005 (photo attached), again out at Fort Rob, where he was attending a cavalry conference - I figured if he came all the way from Virginia to Nebraska, I could at least drive a few hundred miles to meet him! But we've swapped countless emails and the occasional phone calls and I'm very proud to call him a friend. And I can't wait until April!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Council Bluffs Kind of Month

So much for my trying to keep it a weekly blog - hopefully the good news is that I've been keeping too busy to update!

It HAS been a busy past month with signings and presentations. In the past weeks I've had a signing at the Council Bluffs Barnes and Noble, done a number of signings at the Offutt AFB base exchange (and will continue to do so through the holidays), and gave presentations for a Lewis & Clark Foundation chapter in CB as well as a retirement center in CB.

I'm pretty sure I didn't plan for November to be "Council Bluffs Month," but that's how it's turned out, and actually it continues into December. I go back across the river on Saturday, Dec. 6, for my "Forts of Omaha and Council Bluffs" presentation at the Western Historic Trails Center and their holiday celebration weekend.

It's been good to highlight Council Bluffs as the city was the site of two forts (the Council Bluffs Blockhouse and Fort Croghan) that are featured in my book. These sites don't get a lot of attention in the history of the Plains Indian wars since they were small, short-lived, were built to separate warring tribes, and - frankly - because they were in Iowa. The "Hawkeye" forts generally aren't included in histories of the wars as they were built during a time when the U.S. government wasn't in an active war against the tribes - which is not to say they should be neglected or forgotten. I think they do help tell the story of the plains forts and am glad I expanded the book to cover them and I hope you can come to the Trails Center on Dec. 6 to hear about the ones in Council Bluffs.

In my other December appearances, I'll be at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island on Sunday, Dec. 14, to do a signing for their member holiday celebration, as well as about half a dozen more appearances at Offutt. Remember, you can always visit to find out where I'll be!

What else is in the works? It looks like I'll travel to Beatrice in April for a presentation at the Homestead National Monument and that same month for a presentation at a history conference at Fort Robinson. I'm also putting together a day-long bus tour for Metropolitan Community College in June that will cover the four fort sites of Omaha.

I'm looking at creating postcards and bookmarks with images of some of the forts for one thing. The photos from the book, which is printed in black and white, do look better in color and I think there might be a market for them. And I'll also be continuing my freelance writing - got to pay those bills!

Thanks for checking in. Hope you and yours have a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Guy Reaching His Dream & Where Rivers Collide

I had received an invitation at the Nebraska Book Festival from Nancy Gillis to come to the John G. Neihardt State Historical Site to hear world traveler Dean Jacobs. It was a gorgeous Sunday so Susan and I decided to make the drive up to Bancroft.

I'm glad we did - it was a fascinating presentation. Dean is a native Nebraskans who, after a few years in the corporate world, decided to quit his job, sell his house and travel the world. To maximize his travel, he knew that he'd have to live very cheaply - $10-15 a day. That meant that he'd be traveling among people who also lived, traveled, and ate simply. We heard some amazing stories and saw some fantastic photos for about two hours. The big message, though, was to follow your dream and don't let anyone get in the way of it.

That's something I've come to appreciate more and more in the past few weeks. I've always written for a living, but hoped someday to have written books, to do some freelance writing, and maybe even do some speaking. I'm doing that NOW and I'm not even quite sure how I got here! Well, I do know, but it still strikes me as strange that I am living my dream.

Anyway, I did thank Dean for the presentation and affirmation of following one's dream. Do take some time to visit his site at I've done what Dean has done, although certainly not on his scale. In 1980, I quit my radio announcer job in Lincoln, sold my possessions and went hitchhiking to Montana for one of the most enjoyable months of my life. I was living for probably $4-5 a day and one night even slept under an interstate bridge! THAT is living cheap, my friends.

I should add that Nancy (the executive director of the site) was a very gracious host and even gave me a little introduction for my presentation there next year. She also got some books for their book section.


Yesterday I decided to do some "cold calling" on the area museums before the rain started in for the week. I made stops at the Sarpy County Museum and Cass County Museums to let them know about the book as well as my availability as a speaker; the head person wasn't in in either case, but I left information and will follow up.

While in Plattsmouth, I saw a sign indicating the Missouri-Platte Confluence site. I've lived here all of my life and have a strong attachment to both rivers, but I'd never seen the confluence. I drove northeast of Plattsmouth for about three miles and arrived at a little pull-off area at the meeting point of the rivers. It really is an impressive sight - two great rivers, both with a staggering amount of history, at their meeting point. I didn't have the Nikon, but had my little Sony with me and snapped a few.

I finished the afternoon with a stop at the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs and got a date for my presentation and booksigning there - Saturday, Dec. 6, at 2 p.m. for the "Holidays on the Trail" event. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

It's a "Sopranos/Book Festival" Weekend!

I can't remember if I mentioned it, but a few weeks ago I did a phone interview with Joe Pantoliano aka "Joey Pants" for the World-Herald. If you think you don't know him, you're probably wrong - he was Guido the Killer Pimp in "Risky Business," Ralphie on "The Sopranos," he was in "The Matrix" and just a TON of other stuff.

Anyway, he comp'ed me tickets for the fundraiser he was to appear at on Thursday in Omaha at the Holland Performing Arts Center. He did a great talk for the Community Alliance organization in their work with mental illness, then did a signing afterwards. I had him autograph my article about him in the Herald, then asked him to indulge me by letting me take a photo of him with "Forts"! Yeah, pretty cheesy on my part, but hey! when else do you get a chance to do something like this? I sent a copy to Kyle, my editor, who wrote back "Wow! Ralphie!" (We REALLY went to this so my son Chris could meet him - he's a HUGE fan
and has quite a few of his movies on DVD).


So that was Thursday; Friday I had a table at my wife's office for a fundraiser for the Stephen's Center in town. Sold a few books then drove to Lincoln for the opening programs of the annual Nebraska Book Festival, including a reading by novelist Kent Haruf at the capital building, and a writers' reception hosted by the Nebraska Humanities Council. Got to catch up with some familiar faces (and one of them bought a book!)

I was back in Lincoln again today where I had a table for the Festival, and also did a short talk/reading with other Nebraska authors. I sold a few books, but the best part was in making contacts for upcoming talks and special events. It was a long day, but great fun, especially in finally meeting Nebraska author Paul Johnsgard who stopped by the table. I had to tell him that he may have been partially responsible for getting me canned at the Durham Western Heritage Museum! Let me explain:

When we had new murals installed at the museum for a new Lewis & Clark exhibit, my boss was angered to see a colorful bird called a Carolina parakeet in the mural. "There are no birds like THAT in Nebraska!" he said. Well, a couple of days later I found Johnsgard's book on the wildlife seen by L&C, one of which was the Carolina parakeet! (It's since gone extinct.) I brought that up at the next staff meeting, but the old man didn't like being told he was wrong. He also didn't like it when I told him that all of the buffalo in the museum's buffalo mural were male, including the one that was nursing a calf! Johnsgard enjoyed that story, too.

So, a great day in Lincoln and the weekend's not even over yet - I'm thinking I might be going to Bancroft tomorrow to hear a speaker I was tipped off about at the Festival.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Big Step Forward

Good news this week in that I've been accepted into the Nebraska Humanities Council's speakers bureau!

This is no easy feat, if I do say so myself. First off, they only add to the bureau every two or three years; I made my application right at the end of their review period (and probably should have been too late). The NHC is also very selective about who they add and the topics covered. But the NHC's Mary Yager was able to see my talk at Lee Bookseller's in Lincoln in September, make a positive review, and get me into the organization's next catalog. You can also find me on the NHC website.

There are a number of positive things about being with the NHC. It makes my program ("The Forts of Nebraska") available to non-profit groups around the state that wouldn't otherwise have funds to bring me to their community. It's an added way to get my name out there. And it's a bit of a plus to my resume when I offer to speak with other groups.

I'm really looking forward to it. I love Nebraska and its history, and the opportunity to travel around the state for it's promotion makes me a pretty lucky guy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fun Sunday at Fort Atkinson

Had a great Sunday at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park. I gave a half-hour presentation on "The Forts of Omaha and Council Bluffs" (which included Fort Atkinson), then about an hour of booksigning. John Slader, the park superintendent, invited me over for the end-of-the-year chili feed with the Friends group, who were performing their final living history event of the season.

I went home to change and got back just in time for the lowering of the flag and firing of the cannon (I actually captured the flame of the cannon in this pic!) The "captain" of the fort was retiring with this ceremony and gave his farewell address to the troops. I had brought copies of the book along and got a photo of him and some of the men with it.
And dinner was great! Turned out to be buffalo chili, which is always a treat; a fantastic potato casserole; brownies; cookies; freshly pressed apple cider - plus I got to meet more members of the Friends! My next visit to Fort Atkinson will be their Candlelight Tour on Nov. 1. Should be great.
This week: A presentation to the Mary Katharine Goddard Chapter of the DAR today and Friday night at the Borders at 72nd and Dodge. Hope to see many there!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

To the North, and to the Westerners

I mentioned last week that I was headed up to Minnesota. I joined my dad and brothers Alan and Rick up at the family cabin on Games Lake near New London; they were there for fishing while I was out casting for bites on the book.

I made a stop in Windom, Minn., at the Cottonwood County Museum. I left a copy of "Forts" for review in stocking at their gift shop, and a couple employees decided to go ahead and buy while I was there. I left information at the Jeffers Petroglyph site, too, since the supervisor was out - that's kind of what I had to deal with throughout the weekend as most sites were closed either for the week or for the year.

That "mixed bag" carried throughout but it turned out to be a pretty good weekend sales-wise, though; I ended up selling around 25 by just popping in and talking with people. Some sites weren't interested, some took information, some bought five, and one site (Kandiyohi County Historical Society) bought ten. I even got it into the store at the Charles A. Lindbergh House in Little Falls (left), and that has nothing to do with the forts or the Indian wars!
Thursday night was my presentation on the "Lost Forts of the Northern Plains" at my Westerners corral. This was one of the first talks I had set up earlier in the year, after Paul Hedren volunteered to put together the speakers for the year and knew I had a book on the way. I said "OK," even though I hadn't really done any public speaking at that point but figured I'd better get used to it.

Well, I've found out that I actually enjoy doing these talks! And Thursday was a fun one - I passed along info that my fellow Westerners hadn't heard about, and even got some laughs in places. Book sales were very good following the presentation, and I even picked up a speaking gig for November. Other members told me they were enjoying the book; one told me he was finished and looking forward to the next one (which I can hopefully get a good chunk of completed this winter).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Of Blogging, Speaking, Signing and Traveling

A number of great things from this week!

Wednesday I was the guest author on the Petticoats and Pistols blog, talking about forts and why some were still about and some were gone. P&P was founded by a group of women who write romance set in the Wild West and I got some GREAT questions from the group. It was a fun day answering them and getting more exposure for the book - Mary Connealy of P&P said they got around 2,300 hits for the day which is phenomenal!

I followed up with an email to Mary Yager from the Nebraska Humanities Council this week - I had been asking about getting added to the council's speakers list and she came to see me at Lee Booksellers in Lincoln last Sunday.

Well, she apparently liked the program - she said she'd be sending me a speaker's agreement in the mail soon! This is a BIG deal - the NHC is the source for speakers in Nebraska if you want to know its history and heritage, and to be asked to join them is GREAT for my budding career (and isn't it nice to be "budding" at 50?) I'm coming right at the tail end of their putting together the current list for the speakers bureau as well; they only do this every two to three years, and the "auditions" concluded earlier this summer. Mary made an exception in my case since the forts are so essential to the history of the state, so I am VERY appreciative.
Had a great signing at my brother Rodger's Borders store at 132nd and West Maple last night. They were already low in inventory before the signing, so I brought my own inventory to sell and ended up selling in the double digits. A couple friends stopped by - Lori Grinvalds from my hometown of Yutan and Tim Ryan from my wife's workplace. Business REALLY dropped off for the second half, though - must have been the debate keeping people home!
I'm off to Minnesota for the weekend - visiting the family cabin, but stopping to visit museums and historical organizations on the way up and back to "spread the gospel" of Forts! This week is also my presentation on the "Lost Forts of the Northern Plains" for my Westerners group to which I am REALLY looking forward - I expect I'll have some things they haven't seen or heard of before!

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Busy Week of Signings and a Blogcast!

A busy week, with a few ups and downs and surprises AND a special blogcast this week!


Last Tuesday I had a speaking engagement with the Retired Omaha City Employees, a presentation my Aunt Shirley had helped set up... but then I had accidentally scheduled it for when she was in Florida!

I got there early to set up the Power Point and the room was already packed - I had heard they liked history, but enough to get there a half-hour early? Nope, they just like to get there early - the organizer told me that the restaurant had even asked that the retirees PLEASE hold off on their arrival so the staff could set up the room, but they still get there early to visit.

There was close to 70 people in the room! I had around 40 books with me and was somewhat worried that I could run out. Anyway, the presentation on "The Forts of Omaha and Council Bluffs" went well, I took a few questions and then set up to the side to sell and sign books. I only sold one book! A couple guys came over to talk history and I may have another speaking gig, but still disappointing for such a large group.


Much better on Saturday - Sue and I went down to Nebraska City for a signing at the Book Clinic, a bookstore in our former doctor's offices (Keitha Thomson - Dr. Thomson's wife - is one of the owners). After breakfast with our friends Scott and Joyce Harpster, we went to the store and were happy to find about a dozen books already waiting for signatures!

This was the Applejack weekend and traffic was pretty steady throughout the morning. I ended up seeing a lot of friends come in - Tom & Cathy Boeche, Mike Redelfs, Kent Schwartz, Linda Sedlacek, Brian Volkmer - and met a lot of new people. We ended up selling 35 copies, which is the best since the "coming out" party at the General Crook House. Fun time at the Book Clinic - hope to be back soon!

(Oh, and if you read the article in the Nebraska City News-Press, you can take it with a grain of salt - I'm saying it was "based on a true story," as the writer took a lot of liberties. Keitha was wondering why it didn't mention the signing, which was the reason I wanted the article in the first place!)


Sunday had us off to Lincoln for a presentation/reading/signing at Lee Booksellers, one of the state's best independent stores. Jim McKee was a great host and provided a fine introduction - I yodelled for about a half hour about the book and the history of the forts, read the chapter on Fort Sidney and told the story of U.S. Grant's visit to Fort Sanders. With the pre-sold books, I think we sold around 20 copies, a very respectable turnout!

I also made contact with a representative from the Nebraska Humanities Council whom I've been visiting with via email, and also with Lori McAlister from the Barneston Otoe-Missouria Reservation Heritage Project. I'm certain my family has some relation with the Barneses of Barneston - this might be a good way to find out by getting involved with the group.


On Wednesday I'm the guest blogger at, a web blog site for mostly female western romance writers. They saw the feature article about me in the Omaha World-Herald and asked if I'd be willing to sit in this Wednesday and talk about forts. Absolutely! Hope all of you tune in!

On Friday I'm at the Borders at 132nd & West Maple from 7 pm to 9. Hope to see you there as well!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Overseas Sales, Western Legend... and an Update!

I keep getting surprised to find readers in Europe! I sold a copy on eBay to someone in Spain, there's a review on Amazon to a guy in Ireland, and Stackpole told me they had an order for five copies from Italy! I've always known the Old West has fans in the Old Country, but it still amazes me to hear this stuff.

A big deal for me - and everyone else in the room - to have Jerome Greene speaking at the last meeting of the Omaha Corral of the Westerners last week. Jerry, retired historian with the National Park Service and the author and editor of NUMEROUS books on the Old West, was in town to present a capsule history of the Sioux Wars to our group. He was also kind enough last year to write one of the "jacket blurbs" for my book, giving it some immediate credibility! It was our first meeting outside of e-mail and a genuine honor to meet a contemporary western legend.


People ask me how the book is doing. Short answer: Great! In its first two and a half months, we've sold about half of the press run which is good for a book of regional history. When we get close the selling out the run, Stackpole will look at a second printing as well as whether they want to do my second book.

Second question I get: Am I gaining fame and fortune on it? Yes and no - yes in that I'm more famous among my family and friends than ever! No in that I've got a LONG way to go before I make money on it.

I once read that authors rarely make money on their book and that's true in this case. I get 75 cents for each copy that Stackpole sells and I don't see a royalty check until the advance that they gave me is paid back. Because Stackpole pays royalties only twice a year, I probably won't see a check until next June.

And that's why I'm trying to make as many appearances and get as much publicity as I can right now. The one way I CAN make money is by selling the book directly to individuals (I get a 50 percent discount from Stackpole) and occasionally finding speaking gigs that pay. This helps to recoup some of my gas money and research fees from the past few years AND the more books sold, the faster I can get the advance paid back and actually get some checks in from the publisher.
So if you know of a speaking opportunity, let me know!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back from the Dakotas

... and actually I've been back from the Dakotas for a few days now! Sorry for the delay in posting, but I had a number of projects waiting for me on the return.

My final scheduled stop in North Dakota was Medora, a gorgeous little town with a BIG tourism appeal. It's located at the south end of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the North Dakota Badlands. Medora has a number of other tourism attractions, including a nightly pageant presentation, a cowboy hall of fame and many, many gift stores.

My first appearance was the Western Edge, which I think has GOT to be one of the greatest bookstores of the west. Owned and operated by Doug and Mary Ellison (they're on the right - summer help Colin is on the left), it has just about every western title now in print. They were nice enough to host me for a book signing at the store and I think we did well, selling six or seven. The Ellisons also put me up at night in one of their rooms - the Western Edge is a former motel, but they found that selling books was an even better business. They keep rooms for friends passing through and how great is that?

I then traveled over to the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site for my presentation of the "Lost Forts of the Northern Plains." Site supervisor Dee Linn was my host there (she was also nice enough to treat me to a buffalo burger lunch at the Cowboy Cafe upon my arrival in town!) - I didn't quite pack the room, but it was good practice and I got some good questions.

Finished with my obligations for the day, I was able to hit the Custer Trail auto route south of town and made it to the Battle of the Badlands site, which was actually part of the Sully Campaign of 1864. I returned to Medora for a pizza before turning in for the night.

The next day had me striking out for South Dakota and the Black Hills. I made a long-planned for stop at the Fort Dilts battlesite (this was never a fort but a sod enclosure to hold off Indian attacks for about two weeks). I stopped in nearby Bowman, ND, to visit the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum to see if they had the book and, if not, maybe see if they were interested in carrying it. He bought seven! I decided to do this for the next couple days in between visiting battlesites and forts and ended up selling and signing 40 copies for six museums and attractions in the Black Hills. So please stop by the Tri-State Museum in Belle Fourche; the High Plains Western Heritage Center in Spearfish; the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City; the 1881 Courthouse Museum in Custer City; and Fort Hays south of Rapid City!

I also got in some sightseeing, driving through Custer State Park and its tunnels, spending time with the burros (photo), and viewing Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial from the road. The day finished out at Wall, where I signed the inventory of my book at the Wall Drug bookstore (they had ordered eight before I left home and had sold one since). It is really an impressive western bookstore. I made camp for the night at a campground in town.

The next morning - Wednesday, the final day of my trip - had me in Pierre for a signing at the Prairie Pages. Before the signing I stopped to see my new friend Ken Stewart at the state archives and made a visit to the South Dakota National Guard Museum, which I had always missed finding open in previous visits to Pierre.

The people at Prairie Pages were great! They had bought an add in the local paper and radio time before the signing, so we had a fairly decent turnout - nine sales all in all, plus owner Peggy bought some for inventory (that's her on the right, with Betty and Lula Mae who also work in the shop). After that, I made the long drive back home to Omaha.

BIG trip - just under 2,500 miles - but well, well worth it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hello from North Dakota!

Starting day 4 of my book tour in North Dakota, which in the past few days has included appearances at Fort Abercrombie in the east, the Bismarck Barnes & Noble in the center part of the state, and Fort Buford in the west.

Fort Abercrombie really went over the top, not only hosting me for two presentations, but putting on a reception, bringing a cake with a pic of the book on it, AND making two huge posters of the book cover for me to sign. Wow! Thanks to Jim Acker and the rest of the staff at the new visitor center at the site - GREAT PEOPLE!

Friday had stopping in Jamestown for an interview with Keith Norman from the Sun at Fort Seward. Keith is active in the promotion of the fort site AND owns the Great stories Book Shoppe in town (he bought three copies from me for the store to sustain until more came in). I was then off to Bismarck to see my good friend Chris Johnson, now the acting director of the museum at the state Heritage Center. I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum, including a visit to the gun vault - here I am holding an 1870 Springfield. Had a signing at the Barnes & Noble that evening, but it was pretty light in selling three books (I blame Michael Phelps).

Yesterday I was out to Fort Buford for their 26th annual encampment. I gave a presentation in the sun (no Power Point) on the "lost" forts of the northern plains - those that almost didn't make the book because I either didn't think there were any signs that they existed OR that I didn't even know they existed. A little challenging without the slides to back me up, but it went well and sold - three copies!

Hope I don't sell just three copies EVERY time I stop. Better luck today in Medora, where I'm at the Western Edge bookstore and the Chateau de Mores State Historical Site.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Book tour update, and a good signing!

I've let the blog go too long without some input!

Most of my activity in the past week or so has been in filling out dates for my first book tour to the Dakotas. The tour starts Thursday, Aug. 14, at Fort Abercrombie in Abercrombie, ND - the fort is the cover of the book and it sounds like I'll have a nice little welcome there. Jim Acker, the site superintendent for the fort, has me in presentations at 3 and 7 p.m. and in between, he said they're planning a reception! I am really looking forward to this - I can't wait to see the new visitor center, but also to meet old and new friends.

Following Ft. Aber, I'll have stops in Bismarck, Fort Buford, Chateau de Mores State Historic Site and Western Edge Bookstore in Medora, ND, Prairie Pages in Pierre, SD and maybe a couple other stops. I plan to file reports along the way, so keep checking in!

I had a signing today at the Confluence Bookstore in Bellevue, actually a "wine & sign" event with a number of authors and artists. We were each given the opportunity to speak about our books - which I did - and got several great questions. I ended up selling 11 books, which was pretty good for the number of emails I sent out! Susan and daughter Megan were there, as were my parents, my Aunt Shirley, and friend Paul Nyholm. A lot of history lovers were there, too - a fun day!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Barnes and Yutan, Then Barnes & Noble

I had two things going on today: a visit to my "second" hometown of Yutan, Neb., and a signing at Barnes & Noble at Oakview Mall.

The Yutan visit was supposed to be a photo op - I had donated a copy of the book to the public library there and the town newspaper (the Connection) wanted to get a photo. I got a surprise - instead of one or two people there, about a dozen people from Yutan were there including my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Stange, my long-time classmate Carole Anderson and many more from my childhood! I ended up selling all of the books I had in my car (5) and still need to deliver a couple more! It was a fun hour at the library - they pulled a couple yearbooks to show me my photo (so much for forgetting THOSE mug shots) and then we took the newspaper pic.

Then made it to B&N for the 1 p.m. signing. Marcia, Virginia and Bob were there to greet me and help out - great hosts! My son Chris and friend Matt were there early; Matt bought a book and we took a photo for posterity.

I was scheduled for two hours but ended up staying through 4 as friends continued to stop by and others with an interest in the Indian Wars wanted to visit - I sold 17 books which made me happy (more than 10 at a store like B&N is good).

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Couple of Media Opportunities

Yesterday I had phone interview with the Wahpeton Daily News of Wahpeton, ND, about "Forts" - they're very interested in the book since the cover features nearby Fort Abercrombie. I, of course, had great things to say about the fort and North Dakota! Fort Abercrombie, incidentally, was selected because of the blockhouse and stockade wall - with the flag in the background, it definitely looks like a fort! You don't need to be able to read to determine that's what the book is about. The wheat growing in the foreground obviously makes the statement this is on the plains as well. But it was a good interview with Erin Hevern and hope it brings more attention to the book.

I'm getting a photo taken tomorrow (Saturday) in Yutan for donating a copy of the book to the town library. Yutan is my hometown and the local newspaper wants a shot of my presenting the book. And then I'm off to my signing at the Oakview Barnes & Noble.

The previous posting talked about my numbers with Amazon - they actually got better! Amazon had the book ranked at #27,318 in sales and it was #3 in books about the Reconstruction (post-Civil War), #6 in books about the West, and #10 in books about tourist destinations and museums. It naturally changed the next hour, but I'm glad I got to see it!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A "Top Ten" in Amazon!

I checked Amazon this a.m. and got a couple of nice surprises!

First off, in overall Sales Rank, "Forts" was #53,804 in Books - that's a HUGE leap over a couple of days ago when it was 700,000 something (and it was 1.4 million a few weeks ago). So I guess that means I maybe sold five copies this week as opposed to just one! JUST KIDDING

The book is also ranked #10 in books on the Reconstruction, #25 in books on the old west, and #26 on books for tourist destinations and museums.

Coupled with Kyle telling me a couple days ago that we've already sold a thousand copies, and Fort Hartsuff letting me know they've already had to place a second order, it's been a great week!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Great news from Fort Hartsuff

Just heard from Mary Hughes out at Fort Hartsuff (near Burwell, NE) - she said the book has been selling well and she's placed her second order in less than a month! That is great news, especially from a great little fort site like Hartsuff.

Yesterday was my second signing, and first bookstore appearance, with my talk at the Bookworm in Omaha. That is a wonderful independent bookstore and was the first site I booked for appearances. The talk started with only a couple people (including my wife and one of my best friends) but the seats started to fill once I started talking and we had close to 15 when it ended. I sold books to about a third of them, which wasn't bad, but the best thing is that I got more practice time at speaking, which is always good.

Next week: Barnes & Noble

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Going great on Amazon!

I just looked at Amazon - it says "Only 1 left in stock--order soon (more on the way)." THAT is something that is good to see! Kyle says Amazon has been ordering regularly, as have Baker & Taylor and Ingram, the two big distributors.

And, this really made me happy: I sold a copy to someone in Spain! I've been listing the books on eBay (with a portion of the sales going to help the Council on America's Military Past) and this guy in Madrid bought one. He's interested in learning more about American forts, and when I wrote to him and asked how he'd like the book inscribed, he was shocked to find out he was talking with the author.

Saturday is my presentation at the Bookworm along with a signing. I'm really looking forward to it - the owners are very nice people and the patrons are very loyal. They've told me sales have been going well leading up to the signing. The Bookworm also carries Nebraska Life magazine, which I've done a couple articles for, including one on Fort Atkinson in the July/Aug issue. The Bookworm is a big fan of the magazine, another reason to love this store!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Presenting at the Crook House

A big day for the book yesterday: I had my very first public presentation! This was for the Douglas County Historical Society's "Second Sunday Talk" at the General Crook House at Fort Omaha - I got booked for the program only a couple weeks ago, but as I had already been working on a Power Point of "The Forts of Omaha and Council Bluffs," I jumped at the opportunity to give it a test drive.

The presentation was held in the parlor of the Crook House, which made it fairly intimate and personable in that it can't seat more than 50 people. About 15 minutes before the presentation was to start, there were only a couple of people in the house but it soon started to fill and by show time, we had a full parlor! I gave my dog-and-pony show, then my daughter Jesan sang "Shenandoah" (she's a mezzo soprano) to conclude the event.

We repeated it an hour later for family and friends and then held a "coming out" party for the book (In return for my giving the lecture for free, the historical society let me have the reception). I had my folks there, Sue and the kids, many relatives and many friends. We were honored to have Sen. Ben Nelson (the foreword author) stop by, make a few remarks and sign a few books; also there were friends Omaha city councilman Jim Suttle and western history author Paul Hedren.

It was a great day - "General Crook" was there in uniform to welcome guests, I saw friends and relatives I hadn't seen for years, and it was the best day of sales yet for "Forts"!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Movin' On Up!

I occasionally check the Amazon rankings to see how the book is doing. I don't know how many copies have actually been sold, but I can see where it ranks in relation to other books. Yesterday was a good day - For the first time (as far as I know), "Forts" was ranked in the top ten of new titles from Stackpole Books!

I'm very happy about this. Stackpole released 72 new titles for the fall season, most of which cover their stock in trade. They have the very popular "Stackpole Military History Series" which covers World War II in depth and has almost two dozen new books in that, plus a good number of new books on fly fishing, crafts and mid-Atlantic tourism (Stackpole is in Pennsylvania). "Forts" isn't a featured new title on their home page and as the Midwest population is quite a bit lower than the mid-Atlantic, I can't complain!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fourth of July weekend - It's ups and downs (so far)

The Fourth was great! My interview on KFAB's "Good Morning Show" with Roger Olson and Scott Vourhees came off well (i.e., no crash and burn). Roger opened with how we got our "Blind Roger" and "Blind Jeff" tags from regular host Gary Sadlemeyer. We talked about visiting the forts that are close to home, especially Fort Atkinson, and Roger talked about my article in Nebraska Life on the fort. Scott needed some clarification on Fort Omaha, so I talked about its role in the Plains Indian Wars, then we talked about the living history demonstrations at Forts Atkinson, Kearny and Hartsuff. Ended up with some plugs for the Bookworm and my website, as well as Amazon sales. Fun time! Greg Wagner from Nebraska Game and Parks was on next - we talked for quite a bit in the hallway and I gave him a copy for reference (and for possible future sales at their visitor center). And, when I got home, there was a online sale waiting for me from a listener in Plattsmouth!

Went down to the Ralston parade later to meet with Sen. Ben Nelson, ex-boss and foreword writer. He signed a few copies for my mom to use for fundraisers and expressed his hope to make it for the July 13 event at Fort Omaha. Hope so, but he's a busy guy!

Great time with the Barnes clan out at the family farm with brother Rick manning the grill. Mom continues to be my best personal sales rep as she passed along the names of other neighbors needing copies - I also donated one to the hometown (Yutan) library.

Today I was doing some photography for Nebraska Life magazine down at Indian Cave State Park, about an hour and a half from home. I got some great shots, including a "fire halo" from one of the blackpowder reenactor's pistols which I've NEVER been able to get before. Nice day - until I attempted to download the memory card and a glitch wiped out EVERYTHING on it! I felt sick (and still do). Can't bill for photos that don't exist, but still want them. I almost wished I was still shooting in film!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

On the Road... in Colorado

This post is coming from a little campground in Manitou Springs, Colorado! While Sue is doing a breast cancer walk from Keystone to Breckenridge, I'm scouring the fort sites on the front range for "Forts of the Southern Plains" - GREAT road trip with the exception of the speeding ticket I picked up in Evansville (nice little speed trap they have there).

For this trip, I've visited Forts Sedgwick, Morgan, Collins, Vasquez, Lupton, Weld and Logan. Most of these only have markers, but I was very excited to see that a local non-profit is rebuilding Fort Lupton! It should be complete by the time this book comes out and it will be a beautiful little adobe post, kind of a scaled-down Bent's Old Fort.

Something I've learned on this trip, and am kicking myself and hard: If you have a book to sell, BRING THE BOOK. I brought ONE copy just to show potential sources what the end result was going to look like, and all of the people I told about it wanted to buy one! I probably could have sold at least 15 copies.

It never occurred to me that people who work at forts are interested in other forts - just because I didn't mention Colorado forts in the book doesn't mean that people in Colorado aren't intereted. In fact, a number of places with sales outlets plan to stock the book on their shelves. Sweet!

I saw that while I was out that James Acker, the new site supervisor at Fort Abercrombie, sent me an email regarding their sales (Fort Aber is one the cover). He said four copies were sold as soon as the box was opened!

I think I've hit all of the forts I'm going to in Colorado now, so all that's left is my mega trip to Texas and three forts in New Mexico. When THAT all happens, I know not. Would be great if gas prices dropped back to FNP levels!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Heard from My Experts

Two men whom I'd asked to write jacket blurbs for my book yesterday sent me their comments on the finished product - and I'm happy to say they liked what they saw!

Robert Utley wrote "It is handsome in appearance and splendid in content. Congratulations on a notable work. I hope it does well."

And Herb Hart said "Congratulations on the book! It ruined my plans last night as I stayed awake most of the night reading it."

THAT is high praise! I wonder if there are any book awards for "Plan Ruiner of the Year"?

What I found out about Amazon...

... is that their prices fluctuate throughout the day! I thought it was interesting that my book's price had three different ones last week in its first week of release, but then I logged in this morning and found it was back at the pre-release price. HMMMmmmmm....

I googled why this was and found out Amazon does something akin to "reverse haggling." Different people see different prices even if they look at the same time. Though the prices overall fluctuate randomly, Amazon uses cookies to ensure that for the individual shopper, the price stays stable at the first price they saw for each item. They randomly vary prices, to find what is the highest price customers are prepared to pay before sales fall enough to cut into the extra income from that higher price. In other words, they are dynamically altering prices to maximise income, rather than sales.

Well, whatever it takes to sell books, I'm all for it!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The First Week

All is going well with the book! I got copies out to everyone who had pre-ordered and am getting back positive comments (by the way, if you DO read the book and enjoy it, PLEASE post your review at the Amazon page! At least give me five stars if you can!)

Speaking of Amazon, the book was actually sold out for the first couple days so BIG thanks to everyone who had pre-ordered and got the deep discounted price. I noticed that Amazon raised their price after the book came out (naturally) but was surprised they raised it once again when the book was back in stock. I'll take that to mean it's somewhat in demand!

I've been busy promoting the book where I can and succeeded in getting booked as a guest for KFAB's "Good Morning Show" for Friday, July 4, at 8:30 a.m. I might miss some people leaving town for the weekend, but KFAB listeners are an intelligent group and just the people I'm looking for.

I've got a couple other appearance opportunities that might happen IF I can make it work out with my freelancing, but not sure yet. That includes the earlier-mentioned signings at Offutt which may have to wait until later this fall.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


My book is here! Three years and two weeks after I started it, "Forts of the Northern Plains" is now in my hands in its finished form. Pretty cool!

I've been looking for the UPS truck since last Friday and bugging Kyle about it. He finally checked on the tracking number and emailed back that it was to be at my place today. It got to be after 6:30 p.m. and Sue and I finally decided to go to dinner. We left the neighborhood, taking a route we rarely take, and saw the UPS truck turning up a street! I circled around and asked if he had a delivery for my address - not one, but two boxes.

It looks good. I'm a pretty happy guy right now. And my Celtics just won the NBA Championship!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Not-So-Bad Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th was pretty good to me this year!

The day started out with a UPS shipment from Stackpole Books - not the first copies of "Forts of the Northern Plains" I was hoping for but about 50 copies of the cover! I wanted one to frame, but not quite sure what I'll do with the rest.

I may also have found the location for the "family & friends" kick-off event for the book, which is also a speaking engagement for the general public. I spoke with Betty Davis, executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society, and am signed up to present at their "Second Sunday Talk" on Sunday, July 13, at the General Crook House at Fort Omaha and can follow up the talk with the kick-off event.

The "Second Sunday Talk," coincidentally, will help the society celebrate the 140th anniversary of Fort Omaha, now the home of Metropolitan Community College and one of the most beautiful of the Northern Plains forts. I grew up just blocks from the fort as well, so this visit is much appreciated.

Finally, I spoke with the manager of the base exchange for Offutt AFB in Bellevue (the site of Fort Crook) about a signing there. I was told before speaking to her to ask for the first Saturday after the retirees get their checks, but the manager wants me there for THREE days of that week, or even the full week if I want! They're pretty excited about the book for the history-loving members of the base - I am, too.

I'm visiting both forts on Monday to work out the details. Hopefully, I'll have the first copies of the book in hand to take along.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Learning Google 101

I was emailing with Kyle, my editor at Stackpole, about the website. At one point he asked why my name and book wasn't showing up in his web search.

That was a good question - I was so excited to see both showing up in searches for other sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble that I never stopped to wonder why wasn't showing up.

So a good portion of my day today was spent learning about "meta tags" and "keywords" and how to add them to my site so that it WILL show up in searches and I'll get more hits. Go Daddy's marketing talked me into adding something called "Traffic Blazer" to boost it even more, so I should know by this evening if it's all working.

I also added a "security certificate" to the site so people can order with confidence. So please order with confidence! ;-)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Two New Appearances

I'm happy to report two new appearances are booked for September!

The first - on Saturday, Sept. 20 - is for The Book Clinic in Nebraska City. This is a pretty special place for myself and my wife Susan; while I was a reporter at the Nebraska City News-Press, this building was the location of the pediatrician for our four kids - in fact, I heard my son Chris's first heartbeat here!

Our doctor's wife, Keitha Thomson, opened the store in 1999 and it is a really neat little bookseller. I'm very happy to be at the store during the annual Apple Jack Festival, an event I covered many years as a News-Press reporter and participated in as a Nebraska City Jaycee. Susan and I have many friends in the town and hope to see many there that day.

The second - on the following day, Sunday, Sept. 21 - is for Lee Booksellers at 56th and Highway 2 in Lincoln. I'll confess that I haven't been to the store (yet!) but understand that husband and wife Jim McKee and Linda Hillegass have built a very successful, 28-year-old business. They are big on local interest titles, so I hope "Forts of the Northern Plains" does well for them!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Welcome to my 'Forts' blog!

Welcome to my weblog for "Forts of the Northern Plains," my guide to 50 military forts built during the Plains Indian Wars. The book (published by Stackpole Books later this month) is a travel guide/reference book to the forts, some of which are state/federal parks, some of which are used in some other capacity and many of which are gone and remembered only by an historical marker. I thought I'd start the blog to keep interested readers up to date on what's happening with the book and my efforts to promote it.

I sent postcards out a few weeks ago to friends, my contacts at the forts, and bookstores in the region. Friday I sent out links to my new website at to make it easier to share information and hopefully spur some online sales. So far, I've sold three books! But it'll increase once the book is out.

I've received e-mails from a couple of the forts asking about making appearances at their locations. I'd like to do it, so right now I'm working at filing in points before, between and after and do an official book tour - wish me luck.

I'm, of course, also working on getting book signings lined up locally. I've got three set so far (two in Omaha, one in Nebraska City) and have a speaking engagement, but let me know if you have any suggestions.

Thanks for reading - I'll add more as the news happens!