Librarians Rock!

May 8th, 2016

Library Dragons

Librarians are the most wonderful, creative people.

Meredith Vaselaar, of the Adrian Branch Library in Adrian, Minnesota, has created a world of tiny books that her four Library Dragons help to highlight.  As you can see from the photo, the books behind the dragons are of normal size, which makes the dragons and the books they’re reading only about three inches tall!  Meredith began the Library Dragons in 2014 to help patrons through one of our notoriously long Minnesota winters.  Here, in her own words, is how it all began:

“During the first two wintery months of the year, I decided to have a Library Crime Spree.  It was supposed to last about six weeks.  Best laid plans.  The Crime Spree (which later revealed the Dragons as the culprits) lasted for months, culminating in identifying, capturing, and a court appearance (thanks to the willing participation of our county judge).  The whole project lasted almost a year.  I planned to retire the Library Dragons, but our patrons felt otherwise.  Now, the Library Dragons are a permanent fixture on our circulation desk, and continue to have adventures.  They have their own blog: adrianbranchlibrary.blogspot.com

Public libraries are among America’s greatest treasures.  Librarians are the jewels that help them sparkle.

Dragons reading

2015 Highlights

December 27th, 2015

Looking back on some favorite memories from 2015…

Kent Krueger in Door County
February: My wife snapped this photo while we were in Door County, Wisconsin. That’s frozen Lake Michigan in the background.

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March: I stopped for a couple of days in Oklahoma to visit family here. Here I am beneath a statue of Standing Bear, the great chief of the Ponca Nation, all of whom were exiled at bayonet point from Nebraska. When Standing Bear attempted to return to his home to bury his son, he was arrested and put on trial. In its favorable decision, the court declared that Standing Bear was, in fact, “a person” and had rights, the first legal acknowledgement of such. One small step for Standing Bear, one giant leap for all indigenous people.

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In Sedona, my favorite place outside Minnesota, for a little R&R. Love hiking among the red rocks here. And the sunsets, are they amazing! For those of you who know Sedona, this shot was taken on the trail to Chicken Point.

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April: I visited Ireland with my wife and sister. We’d been advised to enjoy the “bright spots” in the weather—good advice, as it turns out that conditions change about every ten minutes. The last time I was here was over forty years ago, on my honeymoon. Still a stunningly beautiful island. For those who are fans of the great John Ford—John Wayne—Maureen O’Hara 1951 film “The Quiet Man”, here I am in Conga, the village where the movie was filmed, giving the Duke a hand hoisting his co-star.

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May: Preparing to end (reluctantly) my time in Ireland. This photo was one of the last taken during our stay. My wife shot it on the shoreline of Cork Harbor, just outside Cobh, which was the last port of call for the ill-fated Titanic. She thought she was capturing only my image. Look closely and you can see that we weren’t alone.

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June: Here I am, deep in the Grand Canyon, rising at dawn, to raft the Colorado River. Nothing like the cold splash of whitewater rapids first thing in the morning to wake you completely to nature’s glory and your own human frailty.

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August: South Dakota is quickly becoming one of my favorite places. Here I am at the stunning Falls Park in Sioux Falls.

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September: My wife and me atop Pincushion Mountain above Grand Marais, MN.

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October: Here I am in Roswell, New Mexico, sight of the infamous UFO crash and coverup, with a couple of my new best friends.

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November: Caribou Lake, at the edge of the Boundary Waters, the very morning after the first snowfall of the year.  God, do I love this place.

The Bared Essentials

October 27th, 2015

WARNING: Anyone with a prudish bone in their body SHOULD NOT watch this video.

So, here’s the story. I’m in Carlsbad, New Mexico, for a cousin reunion and a bit of a vacation. This is an area of the country that has appealed to me forever, but I haven’t had the opportunity to explore it much. In the empty high desert of the Guadalupe Mountains, thirty miles west of Carlsbad, lies Sitting Bull Falls State Park. It came highly recommended by the locals. Several of my family headed out for a hike and a view of the falls. The day was overcast, cool (60º F), and the park was deserted. We hiked a long trail to a spot on Sitting Bull Spring just above the falls. What I discovered there were two stunningly beautiful pools of crystal clear water, an inviting oasis.

Confession: I can’t resist a swim in a gorgeous, natural setting. I’ve swum in countless rivers; the headwaters of the Mississippi, the Snake, the Columbia, the Colorado, the McKenzie, and the Deschutes, to name just a few. I’ve dipped my body in Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, cold mountain lakes in the Rockies and the Sierras and the Cascades, and, of course, an enormous number of the pristine lakes my beloved Minnesota is famous for. I simply have an affinity for water.

So when I spotted these pools, I had to experience them. But I didn’t bring a suit. No problem. I shed my clothes and did what comes naturally. And, oh, was it glorious! Bracing, revitalizing, infinitely satisfying. Another fine memory to keep me warm in my dotage.

In much of my writing, I’ve bared my soul. I figured maybe it was time to bare a little more of me.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to the event’s volunteer videographer, my cousin Paul Krueger.

Failure: The Upside

August 17th, 2015

So let’s talk failure.

10644336_898546006831368_1216796061849542633_oHere’s a photo I posted to both my website blog and my Facebook page last December. I’d just finished the first draft of the novel I’d planned to be the follow-up to Ordinary Grace. It had taken me nearly two years to complete that draft. I thought it wasn’t bad, but I knew it needed work. It had been an ambitious undertaking, dealing with a number of themes that were important to me. They were a rowdy bunch of elements, but I really believed I could corral them.

I labored over the revisions from December until June, three additional drafts, each containing significant changes. Finally my agent and I talked on the phone, and she suggested we meet in Chicago to discuss further revisions. Two days before we met, I sent her an email indicating that rather than discuss ways in which I might continue to revise the manuscript, I wanted instead to talk about how to ensure that it did not get published at all.

I think of myself as an artist. With every composition, I try to challenge myself to do something different from what I’ve done before. I work different themes, different structures, different approaches to language and point of view and even purpose. When you walk close to the edge, and I try to, the risk is that you might fall. Well, folks, I fell. But the real question is, did I fail?

I found it interesting that the moment I decided to pull this project from publication, I felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders. That weight was simply the burden of a lot of expectations. Mine, my agent’s, my publisher’s, my readers’. Admitting to myself that the writing I was about to offer would fall far short of all our expectations was surprisingly liberating. There was nothing I had to protect. And the most amazing understanding in all this for me was the realization that although I’d failed to produce the manuscript I’d hoped for, I was not a failure. I remained simply a pilgrim on this journey that offers many unexpected twists.

I tell my writing students that they shouldn’t be afraid of failure. Or more accurately, I encourage them not let failure, when it comes (and it most certainly will), throw them. They’ll probably learn more from their failure than they ever will from their success.

So I continue this journey. But I’ll tell you something. Before I abandoned the ill-conceived manuscript, I had a vision of another story, one that promised to satisfy me on every level, one that might help me create the novel that was always meant to follow Ordinary Grace. Failure can be like a cleansing rain, emptying the sky of clouds, so that you can see again the horizon. What I see there now excites me no end. And I can’t wait to get started.

Why Libraries?

July 19th, 2015

Tomorrow, I’ll drive almost three hundred miles to present a program at a library in Ponca, Nebraska, a town with a population of less than a thousand people. At a recent signing, a guy who’d seen the event calendar on my website asked me, as if I was crazy, “Why would a New York Times bestselling author bother to go to a small burg like that?” The line of people waiting to have books signed was long, so I gave him a quick, rather flip answer: “Because they asked me.”

Ponca Library

Really, it’s a question that deserves a more considered response.

These days I do about a hundred book events every year. A very large percentage take place in small libraries in rural communities. Towns with names like Vinton, Black River Falls, Spirit Lake, Eagle Butte, Hallock. Places most of you have never heard of and most generally with populations less than five thousand. Places that take me several hours to reach, often by backroads. Although I have a pretty good following and reputation, it’s not uncommon to discover that some of the folks who are there have never heard of me before. They come because having a real live author at their library is an event as rare as a two-headed calf.

So why spend all this time and energy, which might be channeled instead into writing more books, visiting places that are barely even dots on a map? Part of it is, in fact, the flip answer I gave the guy in the signing line: I do it because I’m invited, and I have a difficult time saying no. Part of it is that I usually ask for an honorarium. It’s a pretty modest amount, all things considered, and I donate every cent of it to the Native community in Minnesota. Part of it is that I can never resist an opportunity to talk about myself. But at heart, the reason is that I believe there’s no better mechanism for ensuring a free and democratic society than our public libraries.

Libraries are nothing less than the archives of our culture. These are the places that house the books that guide us to an understanding of who we were and where we came from, help us make sense of who we are now, and maybe point the way to who we might become. When our libraries and librarians are gone, with them goes everything we are as a people.

Free and open access to knowledge is an essential right in a democracy. Keeping our libraries alive and vital is as important to our freedom as anything spelled out in our Constitution.

So I drive thousands of miles every year and hope that in this way, maybe I’m helping the health of libraries, maybe giving back a little of what, over my lifetime, they’ve given me. But I confess, that another reason I go is that an event at a rural library is often accompanied by a potluck supper. And who can resist a good Midwest potluck?