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).