Sunday, August 31, 2008


Let's give three huzzahs for my friend Kaylene Johnson for the astonishing success of her recent book about Sarah Palin. Kaylene was in the first class of Spalding University's MFA in Writing Program, and I was one of five faculty members that first semester. We all stayed in the now defunct Super Eight Motel in downtown Louisville, between a halfway house for recovering heroin addicts and the inner city supermarket, which we haunted to appeased our sweet tooths. Half the time there was no hot water in our rooms, and the continental breakfast consisted of Lucky Charms in a Styrofoam bowl. But it was just a short walk to campus, and we didn't know enough to complain.

I live in Vermont and had packed best I could manage for what I suspected was a stay in a sophisticated city, suede shoes, a little blazer, some pashmina scarves. Kaylene came straight from Alaska with a couple pairs of jeans, some tees, and a floppy but comfy flannel shirt. I imagine she brought carry-on for the nine-day residency, and I found her refreshingly beautiful. And real.

In the evenings, after lectures and readings, several of us gathered in Luke Wallin's room and listened to Luke play guitar and sing. He didn't know many pop tunes, but, being a sheep who had wandered from the Mississipi Baptist flock, had a good repertoire of hymns, and when he played them, we sang along. It was October 2001, just after 9-11, and we bonded, sipping Kentucky bourbon and expressing our good fortune to be safe and among friends. I knew then from hearing Kaylene read on open mike nights that she had something. There was drive, of course, but there was also talent with heart behind it. You'll not find a false word in her stories. At this writing, the Palin book is #17 on Amazon's bestseller list, and I hear the memoir Kaylene worked on while she was at Spalding has been accepted for publication. She deserves it. You won't find a false word in her articles. And you won't find a nicer person. Check out her site:

Photo Opp

I've been working hard to promote the new book, WHILE IN DARKNESS THERE IS LIGHT, which deals with Howard Dean's brother Charlie, killed in Laos in 1974. I figured Howard was in Vermont recovering from the convention over the long weekend and on Saturday morning emailed him to see if I could meet him in town for a photo, which I might use to generate some attention from glossies. He said sure, meet him at the nearby park at 10 a.m.

Saturday night H and I had friends over and stayed up late, and Sunday morning I got a cuppa coffee, crawled back into bed with the remote, and got engrossed in the 1967 movie, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, with a very young Robert Redford and Jane Fonda when she was cute and before she became completely obnoxious. I was entertained by the dialogue and the scene changes and, since I teach creative writing with some really fine playwrites, thought how the movie must have made a great stageplay.

At 9:30, when the credits rolled and my coffee cup was empty, I got up and strolled to the loft to check my email. There was a message from Howard saying to meet him at his house at 10 a.m. I was still in my sleep shirt, hair askew, teeth unbrushed, not a whiff of makeup, and it's a 45 minute drive to town. I dashed an email saying I'd be 15 minutes late, did what little I could in sixty seconds or so, grabbed my keys and flipped myself out the door. Then I realized I didn't have the camera. Where was it? Yelled for H, who directed me to the table next to his chair, snatched the camera, sped out the door again.

I used to jog past Howard's place when he was governor, so no problems finding it. It's the house in the nicely groomed middle-class neighborhood near the lake (you can't see the lake from his house) and the bashed up yellow mailbox. I pulled up under the basketball net and went into the garage, where there are no cars but stuff piled around the walls. The door to the family room was ajar, and I yelled "Hello?" Howard came out wearing a polo shirt and running pants, torn sneakers splattered with paint, one with a brown lace and one with an orange lace, his reading glasses hung over the front opening of the shirt.

He saw I was alone and said, "Who's going to take the picture?" "I thought someone from your family would be here," I said. It was Sunday, and his doctor wife was working. This is a family who takes their professions seriously. I said I'd seen a neighbor gardening down the road and maybe we could recruit her.

So we hoofed down the street, both of us looking pretty groggy, I have to say. Howard walked with a little limp, which I mentioned, and which he brushed off. "It's nothing," he said. I suspected it was something, but he didn't want to talk about it so I didn't press.

The neighbor introduced herself as Sue. She was a middle-aged woman in a sort of baseball hat, thin and healthy looking, whose husband runs an international school in Ethiopia, and they were about to head out for four months to live in Addis Ababa, the spelling of which I may have butchered. She fiddled with H's camera and managed to take a couple shots of Howard and me standing in the middle of the middle-class street, after which she gave us a tour of her yard, which was much spiffier than Howard's. It was evident that she'd invested much more time and effort in hers than he had in his. But he's got far less time and far more important matters to tend to. And I doubt he hosts many dinner parties or has many magazines knocking his door for photo opps. So I forgive him his lack of botanical aesthetic.

Anyway, we stood with neighbor Sue and chatted about the best material for driveways and drainage ditch depths and ice buildup in the gutters in winter and the quality of public schools in the area, and then Howard and I made our way back to his driveway and my car. The evidence is posted here. I wish I'd had time to do my hair. And maybe give myself a facial. And ironed my shirt. And lost five pounds. But, hey, it's the truth.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Release ~ Trailer

The new book WHILE IN DARKNESS THERE IS LIGHT: IDEALISM AND TRAGEDY ON AN AUSTRALIAN COMMUNE is now available. Check out the trailer for a preview:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cadence of Hooves

A shiny new anthology just released by Yarroway Mountain Press has one of my poems, "Welcome Dance," about a field of horses frolicking in winter up the street from my house in Lincoln. The anthology, Cadence Of Hooves: A Celebration of Horses, contains poems by Jane Hirshfield, Alberto Rios, Ilya Kaminski, Molly Peacock, and Maxine Kumin, to name a few. New poets mingle with the highly esteemed. Get your copy of this weighty tome before they sell out at the press's website: