Outside of the great bookstores in my beloved Minnesota, there’s only one store at which I’ve signed for every single novel I’ve written—the Mystery Book Store in Omaha. Owner Kate Birkel began the store in 1995, and now, after more than twenty years, Kate is preparing to close her doors. Urban renewal is the culprit and who can fight city hall?
Kate and I go way back. The first signing I did as a published author was at Kate’s store. We were both new enough to the business that neither of us had any idea where an author was supposed to put the inscription and signature. So from her shelf Kate pulled a signed edition of a novel by Miriam Grace Monfredo and opened it up. Ah, the title page, of course!
Like many a bookseller, Kate has survived by the skin of her teeth. But she’s had a loyal clientele, folks who’ve attended all the signings, including mine, so that I’ve come to know them pretty well.
Kate’s planning on closing the store this fall, on September 30. I’m not letting her go quietly into retirement. I had already set up a signing at the Mystery Book Store for my next novel, Manitou Canyon, on September 17, the store’s last official author event. I’ve decided to use the occasion to throw Kate a “Goodbye and Thank You” celebration.
Consider this an invitation to attend. If you’re an alumnus of Mayhem in the Midlands, the wonderful Omaha mystery conference (now defunct) where Kate sold books, a long-time customer, a friend of independent bookstores, or just someone looking for a good time, I’d love to see you there, to help celebrate the spirit of independent booksellers everywhere, and of Kate Birkel in particular.
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.
Looking back on some favorite memories from 2015…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.