“Where The Popsicles Are” Now

A Progress Report and Some Obeservations.

“Where The Popsicles Are” first went on sale October 28, 2017, and for those of you who helped me realize the dream of telling Joanie’s story this is a progress report, and a look back at the process of trying to get the book noticed.

The book continues to pick up some sales, albeit a bit slower than the first few months, but that is to be expected. I am not surprised at all. I knew it would be a long road to gain traction for a book by a first-time, unknown author. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the term patience, something I’ve not always been.

There was a good review of the book in the Bismarck Tribune December 24, 2017, and I’m in the process of getting a web site set up to further promote the book, so we keep on trying to get some notice for Joanie’s story.

That’s the basic update, now for a couple of observations about this whole process.

In some ways writing the book, even as long as it took to get it done was the easy part. I knew from the start that finding one of the big publishing houses to even take a look at my manuscript was going to be impossible without an agent.

I also knew that finding an agent who could get my manuscript to one of the big houses was going to be next to impossible. Agents, you see, operate on commission, and most who have access to the big houses are reluctant to take on a first-time, unknown author who might not make them any money. So there was that.

My next step, as many of you know who helped me out, was to self-publish the book, even knowing that getting traction for a self-published book was going to be difficult.

So, knowing that I was swimming against the tide, I published “Where The Popsicles Are.” So far the tide is stronger than I thought it would be.

One of the avenues of gaining attention for your work is to send a copy of it to newspapers, newspapers that have a Sunday section in which they might feature reviews of books from time to time. I figured, at least the might read it, and even if they savaged it in a review, it would get some attention. Wrong.

What I found, was the third leg of the resistance to self-published books, and that is the editors of those sections of a paper in which a review might be printed.

So I sent a copy of the book out, and found that not only would they not read it, they would try and sell it, or give it away, but in no way was I going to get a review published in their paper.

Why?

It was self-published. Not that it wasn’t a good story, and not that there wasn’t a market for it, just that it was self-published. Self-publishing is negative term in some circles, and no self-respecting book critic, would be caught dead reviewing a book that didn’t come from a big house publisher or even from a smaller publishing house.

I was not totally surprised. In fact I kind of expected it. What disappointed me a little was not getting a fair appraisal of my work, even if it was negative.

So, there you have the triad, the big publishing houses, the literary agents, and then the critics who control what you see in the newspaper, all conspiring to make the job of an unknown first-time author as difficult as they can.

Well, those are my observations about this process, and as difficult as it is, I’m not sorry I did it, and I will continue to work on finding the audience for this story in spite of the roadblocks.

Again, for those of you who helped me bring this book out, I thank you again, and I will continue to find ways to spread the word.

By the way, the book is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

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Chet Huntley: A Remembrance

“Good night, Chet.”

Some of you may think that I’m slipping into my anecdotage, as I recall some moments in my life, brief as they may have been, that give me a reason to smile, and what follows is one of those moments.

The year of this moment was either 1972 or 1973. It’s really not important, what is important is the guy who was the center of that moment, Chet Huntley.

You have to be of a certain age, or generation to even recognize that name.

Huntley was one half of the duo that made up the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC News for 14 years beginning in 1956. Huntley was in New York, and David Brinkley was in Washington, D.C., and their show, which was competing against Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News, gave rise to the most iconic of newscast sign offs when Brinkley would say, “Good night Chet,” and Huntley would follow saying, “Good night David, and good night from NBC News.”

Huntley’s last newscast was Friday, July 31, 1970. He was going back to his native Montana to make his dream of a ski resort, called Big Sky, a reality.

I was working for KXJB-TV then, and we heard from the major fund-raising arm of Concordia College in Moorhead, their C-400 Club, that Huntley was going to be the keynote speaker at their annual event.

I had watched Huntley and Brinkley for most of the years they were on the air, with the exception of the three years I was in the Army and for the most part out of the country, but I wanted to know a bit more about this star of the news business. I went to the library, and found any articles I could about him and then found a bookstore with a paperback copy of his book, “The Generous Years: Remembrances of a Frontier Boyhood.”

Back then, we often relied on news conferences with a featured individual rather than attending the event itself. Often, when I was really interested in the subject, I would try to get a brief interview rather then relying on film from the news conference that everyone else had. With Huntley I got that interview, and I took my copy of his book along.

Not unlike today, with the media under attack by an administration, it was much the same during some of the years of the Nixon administration. Their attack dog was Vice-President, Spiro Agnew who was highly critical of the “elite” media and liberals of the east coast (that sounds familiar) and some of his rhetoric was histrionic to say the least, e.g., “…nattering nabobs of negativism..,” ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history,” “an effete corps of impudent snobs,” and “pusillanimous pussyfooters pontificating pious piffle,” were among some of his more memorable lines.

After the news conference broke up, we found a place to set up, and after I introduced myself we sat down for brief conversation. I asked him about the attacks by the Nixon administration, especially Agnew’s attacks, and he dismissed them as I expected he would.

We got around to his political philosophy, and the only thing he would say was that he found himself somewhat conservative on fiscal matters, but liberal on social matters. As he had said in the past, he told me he did his best to see that his own positions did not affect his delivery or news coverage. In my research I could find no evidence to the contrary.

There had been a recent poll about that time, that showed that for about 50 percent of the American public, television news was their primary source of information about events going on in the world. I asked him what he thought about that, being one of the stars of the national news business. He said that the results of the poll were “disappointing.” He went on to say that for people to rely on a half-hour TV newscast, which wasn’t even a full 30 minutes long as their main source was troubling. He told me there were so many newspapers, news magazines, special interest publications and other news outlets the people could use to augment the information they receive on a nightly newscast.

I asked him about Big Sky, and he said it was a project he was proud of, and was looking forward to it opening, as a destination resort for his home state. He said it was a concept he’d been working on since 1968.

I showed him the copy of his book that I had brought along with me, and as we talked he took it from me and I could see he wrote something on the inside cover. I took it back, not looking at it until after the interview was over and he thanked me and left. He was an easy interview, comfortable to talk to, and had a quick wit about him.

Huntley’s dream became a reality, when in December of 1973 the lifts were opened, but sadly, just a few days before the grand opening ceremonies in March of 1974 he died of cancer. He was 62.

After we had packed up our gear from the interview, I took out his book and opened it to the first page, and saw what he had written while we were talking. It read: “From one effete snob to another, Chet Huntley.”

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Tom Sand and the Olympic Rings

The Importance of Friends.

The day after Joanie died in April, 2008, I got this email from a long time friend living in St. Paul. I wrote abut this in 2014 after watching the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics and I was reminded of it again tonight while watching the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

The email came from Lee Egerstrom, a long time writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He is referring in the body of his text to Tom Sand, one of my closest friends. At the time of Joanie’s final weeks, Tom was also facing a difficult health battle himself, and I wasn’t able to keep him updated on Joanie’s situation.

I had known Tom since 1970 and first met him when I was a reporter in Fargo, and he was handling press for Bob Bergland who was running for Congress from the 7th district of Minnesota against Republican Odin Langen. Bergland won, and Tom went to Washington with Bob, where he would stay, and would go with Bergland when he was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by Jimmy Carter.

While Tom was in Washington, I first met Lee, and later after the election of 1980 when Reagan won, Tom came back to Minnesota, and Lee, who was working for Knight-Ridder ended up at the Pioneer Press, we saw a lot of each other over the years. Suffice it to say, we were good friends, and Joanie and I had stayed with Tom on many occasions over the years, whether we crashed in his small apartment on Wabasha in downtown St. Paul, or at his third floor apartment on St. Peter north of the Capitol building in St. Paul.

Now then, during the course of Tom’s illness, which was very serious, Lee had a distribution list and would send us all emails on Tom’s progress or situation as it was warranted.

The email he sent out on April 10th, the day after Joanie died, talks about “…the importance of friends…”

“Dear friends, I didn’t go visit Tom today. I chose not because I knew some of you were planning on visits, and because I have information that I’m not ready to share with Tom at this point. It would have been difficult to be looking at Tom and withholding information from him.

“Here’s the background. Those of you who have been on the distribution list for several weeks may remember that at one point I commented it is a challenge to turn on my computer. So many of you have problems in addition to Tom’s health. I’ve respected confidences and marveled at how people with very personal problems can still open their hearts and minds each day to Tom and the large circle of friends that know each other in part because of Tom.

“A message came in today that I’ve been fearing, and expecting. Joanie Wigen, a wonderful woman and wife of a good friend of Tom’s and myself, had died in Bismarck after 12 years of battling cancer. She worked for the current governor of North Dakota until her health forced her to quit on Feb. 29, and previously she had worked as a key aide to former Gov. Ed Schafer, the new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Where Tom and I know her is through her home life; she was the wife of Bob Kallberg, a long time North Dakota journalist and former press secretary to Gov. Al Olson, who is also on Tom’s distribution list.

“I’ve sent my dear friend Bob my condolences, and hope to be able to get with him soon in the near future. This loss makes me pause, and I want to reflect a bit on the importance of friends, of which Joanie had many.

“Tom used to explain a theory that the concentric rings of the Olympic logo are as descriptive of life as they are an acknowledgement of the continents and its people on Earth. If you are fortunate enough to walk around those rings, he has said, you will have met everyone worth knowing within your lifetime. Tom, Joanie and Bob are among those precious people who have taken a walkabout around those concentric circles.

“Most of you who know Tom, but not all of his friends, know that Tom can say a lot of sarcastic and humorous things about politics. Scratch away the nonsense, however, and Tom has his own ways of evaluating people and making friends. Integrity, caring hearts, love for life and all peoples, are high on that list; partisan politics is pretty irrelevant. That’s why about half the people on Tom’s distribution list are bona fide Republicans, such as Gov. Olson and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate, Gary Frink. You can include Bob and Joanie from Bismarck in the ranks.

“These links of friendship are not easy to explain to people who haven’t been in politics, or like Bob and myself, been journalists standing on the sidelines, scratching dumbly and impersonating Forest Gump while policy makers or events change the world right before our eyes. If you’ve had such enlightening experiences, you understand why Tom and Bob would become such good friends, and why Bob would meet and love Joanie. They enrich all our lives as we journey around the concentric circles.”

Sadly, our friend Tom unexpectedly died early last year(2013) of complications from an infection, and I still miss being able to stop and see him at his “Bookhouse” where he retired to live in his parent’s home in Wendell, MN just south of Fergus Falls. The house was an original Sears Roebuck home. The Bookhouse he built to hold his considerable library collection, and serve as a meeting place for his esoteric prayer meetings or seminars on some arcane observance.

Open to people of all political stripes along with locals from Wendell, his ‘meetings’ were a mere pretext for getting together for drinks, food, stimulating conversation, and taking a “walkabout around those concentric circles.”

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Reagan and the Summer of 1975

It was one of those days, as a reporter covering politics and government that I will long remember. Not because there was any news of note being made, but because of where I was and who I was with.

This week, I believe it was Tuesday, I came across an item that mentioned it was the birthday of Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States. He was born February 6, 1911.

That notice took me back to a day in 1975 when I had the opportunity to interview, then former California governor, Ronald Reagan all to myself, and I jumped at the chance.

At the time, I was a stringer for United Press International (UPI), who had no office in North Dakota at the time, I was publishing an ill-fated monthly newsletter devoted to ND government and politics, and writing about ND government for several weekly newspapers.

The summer of 1975, Reagan was touring the country helping raise money for Republicans, and then I got the word that he would appear for a noon fund-raiser in Grand Forks, and later that night he would be speaking at another fund-raiser in Minot.

It was widely accepted that Reagan wanted to run for President, but he was spending all of this time running around the country helping Republicans raise money for the 1976 campaign, and if he made some friends in the process well, that was okay too.

Dave Soma was executive director of the state Republican party, and he was telling me about Reagan’s upcoming visit, and how Reagan was going to get here. He told me that a private twin-engine plane was going to fly to Bozeman, Montana where Reagan was giving a speech the night before his North Dakota appearances.

I asked him about the chances of me getting to ride along to pick Reagan up, keeping in mind it was a small plane, and I didn’t know who was traveling with Reagan. Dave did some checking, and called me back to tell me I could make the trip. He said that the only people on the plane were to be a pilot and co-pilot, one of the owners of the plane and Republican National Committeeman for ND, Dr. Ben Clayburgh. All I had to do was to be at the Grand Forks airport early afternoon of the day of the flight to Bozeman. I was to learn later that a UPI reporter from Sacramento had been traveling with Reagan, and so I ended up bumping him of the small plane we were traveling in, and he had to find his own way to Minot. I did see him in Minot the next evening, and apologized for bumping him off the flight.

We flew to Bozeman, and that night went to Montana State University where Reagan was speaking, and the next morning I got to the airport at the appointed time and before long Reagan arrived, by himself, carrying his own bag, and after introductions and handshakes all around, we got on the plane and headed for Grand Forks.

We had been in the air for about an hour or so when he turned his attention to me. We rearranged the seating so he was sitting directly across from me with this very small table between us. By now, he was comfortable, and so was I.

The interview turned out to be more of a conversation. I did get my questions about his years as governor, his welfare reform moves, his general philosophy about government into the conversation, but there was little news involved. I did ask him if he was running for President, and he artfully dodged that one as he also did to the question about Ford’s pardon of Nixon.

It was obvious to me that I was going to have to work really hard to get anything newsworthy to file with UPI when I got to Grand Forks. After all Reagan was hardly going to give this no-name reporter from North Dakota anything that was going to be front page news, and I knew that.

My notes from that day are long gone, but I do remember I did get a story filed.

What I do remember well was my impression of Reagan from that day, and that was that he was a guy who was given to smile easily. He was easy to talk to, and when he talked to me, he looked at me, not out the plane window, or down at the floor, or over my shoulder but right at me. He was, it seemed to me, pretty much the same guy I had seen on TV.

When we arrived in Grand Forks, we got off the plane, I thanked him for his time, and he shook my hand and thanked me as well. We all went our separate ways and headed for the Westward Ho where the fund-raiser was being held and I quickly found a pay phone and filed my story with UPI, which contained little of any news value, but enough to get a few graphs for them to work with. I went to listen to his speech at the luncheon, but it was devoid of anything worth more than a few lines to file.

I did go to Minot for the next fund-raiser, only this time by car. The function there was much the same as the one in Grand Forks, and I only filed a brief item out of that event. The next morning I caught a plane from Minot to Grand Forks, got in my car, drove home to Fargo, and wondered if it had been worth the time. In retrospect, I guess it was.

Little did I know that day in 1975 that six years later on a brisk, sunlit, January day, I would be standing on the Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C. watching him take the oath of office as President of the United States.

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The Last Day of the Old Year

New Year’s Eve, 2017

New Year’s Eve,
Champagne, hats, horns and music.
A bittersweet moment in time.

At once, a look back on what was, triumphs and disappointments.
And then a look to what might be, hopes and dreams.
All in a few frantic hours on this last night of the old year.

The ones who have it best are not looking back, or looking ahead.
On this night, there is only the moment,
A moment when nothing matters but what is,

They grab another glass of bubbly,
Head for turn around the dance floor,
And think, “My god, what a great party this is!”

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