Joel Jurrens's Blog
January 17, 2017
I haven’t written a blog post lately because I’ve been busy growing a beard. My wife doesn’t understand how labor intensive growing a beard can be.
Often she’ll come home from work and say, “Did you finish the laundry I started?”
“Sorry,” I’ll say. “I was busy growing my beard and never had time to do it.”
“So you goofed off all day,” she’ll say giving me a dirty look.
That’s the way she is. If I’m not doing something for her, it doesn’t count as work. Personally, I’m not that narrow-minded. Often she’ll spend the day cooking, cleaning the house, mowing the yard, shoveling snow or trimming the bushes, and do I complain? Of course not. I realize she needs her fun time. Sure she could be doing more important things like oiling my fishing reels or sharpening my fillet knives, but I understand that she needs time to goof off. I have my fun times, too. But when I’m doing seriously important work such as watching football, taking a nap or growing a beard, she needs to understand that just because it’s not for her doesn’t mean she can denigrate it.
I think the problem is she doesn’t like me with a beard. Her friends don’t like me with a beard either, and her friends’ friends don’t like me with a beard. I’m sure there are people I don’t even know and have never seen me who don’t like me with a beard. It’s the strangest thing, because by all rationale the more of my face that is covered the better off I should be.
When I was six my friend Buzzy and I decided to grow beards, because we were going to be mountain men and mountain men don’t shave. I must have looked pretty good with it, because I didn’t shave for the next ten years and never heard a single negative comment.
When you’re six you don’t care what people think about you anyway, especially girls. Girls were just sissy guys who had to wear dresses to school and church even when the temperature outside was below zero. Occasionally I would find my eyes lingering on another first-grader, Mary Kurl, longer than they did on other people, stupid eyes—it was something I would have died before letting Buzzy know.
Mary was a little blue-eyed blonde who, even at six, had legs that wouldn’t quit. I’m serious. She was always running and skipping everywhere. Playing hopscotch and jumping rope. Sometimes I’d yell at her, “Hey Mary, sit down for a minute, will you? Give those legs a rest, already.” I think if Mary had asked me to shave my beard, I might have … but don’t tell Buzzy.
When I grew my beard before, I let it get a little long. This time I’m keeping it close-cut so I can look cool like Brett Favre and Matthew McConaughey. My mountain man is still there, but now he’s internal and wears a full beard while he gobbles down hardtack, jerky and pemmican. The good thing about having him internal is I don’t have to have a long beard that my wife hates, and I don’t have to gobble down hardtack, jerky and pemmican.
My new novel The Almond People will be out in a couple months. Those of you who read it, I would really appreciate a review. I can’t stress how important reviews are to authors. My last novel In The Lake had a few reviews and Amazon took them down for some reason. I’m not sure why. I think I had the beard at the time. So that may have had something to do with it.
Below are links to my books on Wings epress. Check out their site.
IN THE STICKS IN THE LAKE
December 4, 2016
MONKEY POOP COFFEE
My wife went to the doctor a few days ago and received some devastating news. She has to … GIVE UP COFFEE! She had some DNA tests done and they discovered her body can’t process caffeine. If she keeps drinking coffee, eventually her liver will start to shut down.
When we were first married, my wife didn’t drink coffee. She drank hot water with a slight brown tint as if a drop of actual coffee had accidentally fallen into it. Eventually my wife found out about flavored coffees and creamers. The flavored creamers mixed with what she had passing for coffee made chocolate milk. To get a coffee taste through the creamers and flavors, she had to drink stuff that actually classified as coffee.
So she decided to give up coffee. Now she drinks herbal tea which doesn’t have caffeine and tastes like one of the trees from The Wizard of Oz peed in her cup. Yum, yum. There is nothing better than that great taste of leaf and bark urine. Can seven million beavers be wrong? She could drink decaffeinated coffee, but what’s the point? Isn’t it sort of like a drug addict snorting baking soda because it looks like cocaine?
If it were me, I’m not sure I could survive. I would cry, curl into a fetal position, wet my pants and wait for the end. I like coffee, a lot of it and as strong as you can make it. Giving up coffee for me would be like Jack Benny’s older Robber Routine. Jack was known for being very cheap:
A robber pulls a gun on Jack in a dark alley.
Robber: Your money or your life.
After a few moments of silence.
Robber, angrily: Look Bud, I said your money or your life?
Jack, yelling: I’m thinking it over!
I’ve been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. When I was little my mother told me coffee would stunt my growth, but I still drank it. I remember going into the woods with friends back in South Dakota and making cowboy coffee in an old tin can over and open fire. We moved to Iowa when I was ten, so I was drinking coffee before I was ten. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why I keep getting invitations in the mail to join the Lollipop Guild.
I started drinking strong coffee when I was a teenager. I could feel the effects of the overload of caffeine. It is a stimulant like cocaine and methamphetamine after all. My heart would pound. My mind would race, and I couldn’t sit still. I was filled with an energy I had to release. I’d do stupid things. I remember racing down gravel roads, sliding around ninety degree corners at high speeds, spraying gravel and coming dangerously close to losing control and going down into a ditch and flipping over. I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself, and I’m sure I would have if I’d had a car.
The body develops a tolerance for caffeine just like any other drug, and I’m the hardcore junkie who needs a fix just to bring me to normal. I don’t feel its effects anymore. I fall asleep minutes after a lay down in bed, and sometimes before I make it there. My resting pulse rate is in the low fifties. They say too much caffeine causes headaches, stomach irritability and makes you jittery. That’s how I feel when I don’t get coffee. It can also cause incontinence, stomach ulcers and diarrhea. Which isn’t a problem for me, although I would like to catch the guy who keeps pooping in my shorts. There is some research that suggests coffee may also be hard on the gallbladder. I had mine removed a few years ago, and maybe drinking all the coffee I do had something to do with that. I’ve seen pictures of gallbladders. They are transparent little bags filled with a green goop. Who wants something like that in their body anyway? I think the coffee did me a favor.
There have been numerous research studies done on coffee, and the results very widely. Some say it has great benefits: prevents Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and certain cancers. So depending who you talk to, coffee is either a miracle that will save world, or the devil incarnate that will end humanity as we know it … Kind of reminds you of the recent presidential race, doesn’t it?
Wings epress, that has published two of my books and will publish The Almond People in the spring, has done a great job of updating their business and website. They are running a holiday promotion for a free book through Smashwords. It lasts through December. Click on the banner below and check it out.
November 16, 2016
The nurse led me into the examining room, took my blood pressure and stood to leave.
“The doctor will be in to see you in a little bit,” she said and left, closing the door behind her.
A little bit is a relative term. To a mountain a little bit can be a century To an adult Mayfly that only lives five minutes, it can be seconds. The doctor’s little bit was closer to the mountain’s than the Mayfly’s. I was just getting ready to text my wife and tell her I might be late for Thanksgiving dinner—it was early October—when the doctor walked into the room.
“I hope I’m not bothering you?” he asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm as he glared at my phone.
“Not at all,” I said. “I was just checking the obituaries to make sure you hadn’t died.”
(Okay, a quick note: NEVER be a smart aleck to someone who is about to do a prostrate exam on you. I know it sounds like whining for me to say he was overly aggressive just for spite, but I swear that two days later I pooped out his wristwatch.)
“I got some good news,” the doctor said as he washed his hands and arms up to his shoulders with soap, water, steel wool, bleach and some glowing green cream that gave off a radioactive hum. “Your prostate feels perfectly normal.”
“That’s great,” I said. “I have a bit of a sore throat. How did my tonsils feel?”
(Okay, another note: NEVER EVER be a smart aleck with a guy who is going to have his hands down by your genitals doing a hernia exam. “Turn your head and cough,” becomes “Turn your head and scream.”)
When I had my clothes back on, if not my dignity, the doctor sat me down for his consultation.
“You’re actually in pretty good shape for a man in his nineties,” he said.
I laughed. “I’m nowhere close to that age, Doc.”
He looked at my file again. “As I was saying, you’re in really bad shape for a man your age.”
“So what do I do?
“Make sure your life insurance and my bill is paid,” he said. “You might consider a prepaid funeral contract if you can get a short term plan that you can pay off quickly.”
“No, I mean something to improve my health.”
He started to laugh but cut it short. “Oh, you’re serious,” he said. “I like optimism, but you have to be able to distinguish reality from fantasy.”
“Come on Doc, there has to be something I can do?”
“Well for starters, I usually recommend my patients get a minimum of one hour of exercise a day,” he said.
“Not a problem,” I said. “You’ve got what? Maybe a couple hundred patients? Divide an hour by two hundred, and that’s what …? Maybe eighteen seconds a piece. Count me in.”
“I mean an hour for each patient.”
I looked at him for a moment shocked, then I laughed. “Ha. Ha. Good one, Doc. You almost had me there.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “You should have one hour of vigorous exercise that gets your heart rate up and the blood pumping.”
“I’m sweating and you got my heart racing pretty good right now just talking about exercise,” I said. “Is there anything else?”
“You need to change your diet.”
“In what way?”
“No more alcohol, tobacco, salt, caffeine, carbohydrates, fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sugars or free radicals.”
“Can I have the radicals if I pay for them?”
“Not even then.”
“How am I supposed to know what’s what? I’m not a trained dietician.”
“Well,” the doctor said. “You can buy books and charts that list all foods and what they have in them. Before you eat something, you can look it up to see if you can have it. Or you can follow one simple rule.”
“If it tastes good, don’t eat it.”
“So I can just eat kale, spinach and celery?”
“Go light on the celery.”
“And if I follow all this stuff I’ll live a long healthy life?”
The doctor shrugged. “It’ll add maybe six months to your lifespan.”
“Then why would I possibly do it?”
“Because with that bland and boring of a diet, it will feel like you’ve lived forever. In fact, at times you’ll wish you were dead.”
“Kind of like it was when I was sitting here waiting for you?”
The doctor snapped on rubber gloves and took a syringe with a needle the size of a railroad spike out of a drawer. “I think we need to draw a sample of your spinal fluid.”
(Okay, a quick note: NEVER …
Four months to go to the release of The Almond People.
November 3, 2016
My grandpa was a barber. He wasn’t a hairdresser or hairstylist. He was a barber. If you had called him a cosmetologist, he would have decked you, because he was a good Baptist and wouldn’t have anyone thinking he belonged to some cult.
Grandpa’s barbershop was a Floyd the Barber place like on The Andy Griffith Show. It was filled with men smoking cigarettes and White Owl cigars with plastic tips. A blue cloud always hung in the shop, and someone could get a nicotine addiction just by sitting in the shop too long. My grandpa didn’t smoke, other than second-hand, but I once saw him strike a stick match across the seat of his pants to light a cigar for someone. To a young boy it was like something you’d see in the circus, fire erupting just by rubbing your butt. I was fascinated. It was eclipsed a moment later by the sight of my grandfather scooting his rear across the floor trying to put out his burning britches.
Every couple months or so, my mother would send me down to the barbershop to get my hair cut. There was a big wood table in the corner piled high with magazines and comic books that would be worth about seven gazillion dollars if they were around today. I’d read them until it was my turn for a haircut. Grandpa would put the Baby Board on the barber chair and pat it a couple times.
“Your turn,” he’d say.
I hated the Baby Board. It was a thick, demeaning slab of padded wood Grandpa would put across the arms of the barber chair so I’d be raised up, and he wouldn’t have to bend in two to cut my hair. Every time I sat on the Baby Board a red spotlight of shame would light the chair and dancing clowns would come out of the back room pointing at me chanting “He’s a baby. He’s a baby. He’s a baby,” while a loudspeaker outside on the street would scream to the world, “WE HAVE A LITTLE BABY GETTING HIS HAIR CUT INSIDE. I HOPE HE DOESN’T POOPY HIS PANTS.” Then it would laugh manically (Of course I’m exaggerating for effect. The spotlight was just a plain white one.)
The Baby Board was so humiliating that when my son was old enough for his first haircut, I hauled him the two hundred miles back to South Dakota so he could sit on the same Baby Board and feel as degraded as I did when I was young. Because, by golly, that’s one of the jobs of a father. The picture of the occasion is above this post. Four generations, my grandfather, my father, my son and I all gathered around the barber’s chair with my son sitting on the Baby Board. I’ve looked at the picture numerous times and my wife is the only one who is happy. She took the picture and is not even in it. That Baby Board just sucks the joy out of everyone.
As much as I hated the Baby Board, I loved the stories. The shop was filled with old men. The youngest who had to be about one hundred twenty-three years-old … or fifty, because when you’re little there isn’t a significant difference. They would tell stories, one after the other, about when they were in the army or fantastic fishing tales of paddlefish that wouldn’t fit into a sixteen foot boat and catfish the size of cows. They spun yarns of being stalked by bears and anecdotes of women and wives that made the fish stories sound plausible. Some of the stories the men told were funny, (the ones about the women) some were unbelievable, (the ones about the women) and some were downright wet-my-pants scary (again, the ones about the women.) Occasionally, they would tell a story about when they were young and on a date with a girl. Just as the story got to the part where I thought I might glean some useful information, Grandpa would loudly clear his throat and nod down at me in the chair.
“Little pitchers have big ears,” he’d say.
The old men would get red-faced and a deep silence would cover the room like when a teacher catches little boys playing Betcha-won’t-do-this in the bathroom. After a while they’d start talking about the weather or some other innocuous subject that didn’t interest me.
(At five feet four inches tall, Lee Viau and Dennis Gearin are the smallest players ever to pitch in Major League Baseball. I’ve seen photographs of each of them, and their ear size seems perfectly proportional to the size of their heads, so I’m still not sure what Grandpa was talking about.)
As I grew older, I began to have nagging suspicions that old men lie … especially about women. Now that I’m an official member of the Old Men’s Club, I can tell you with absolute certainty, OLD MEN LIE! (But not about women. All that stuff was absolutely true.)
In my novel The Almond People that is due out this spring, there is a barbershop that is based on my grandfather’s in South Dakota in the 1960s. In certain parts there are a bunch of old men arguing politics and telling stories, some about women.
October 30, 2016
It’s almost the end of October and the yearly heat dance has started. It began when my wife asked me to change the furnace filter.
“Did you want me to start the furnace?” I asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.
“That’s up to you,” she said, and the dance began.
When we were first married, my wife and I worked in crappy low-paying jobs. We didn’t have much money. A luxury was anything not absolutely essential to maintain life. Dinner and a movie was picking up cheap hot dogs and going back to our small rented house to watch a snowy movie on a black and white TV—if the stratosphere gods and electronic gods smiled on us at the same time and allowed not only a signal to come through, but the TV to work at the same time. Heat was not something we splurged on until we risked getting frostbite sitting in our living room. At the time I worked twelve hours a day sometimes seven days a week, so I only had twelve hours that I didn’t spend at work, and eight hours of those were spent in bed sleeping. We were young so there was a lot of snuggling. I’m sure my wife thought she was fortunate to marry a man who liked to cuddle when I was just trying to keep from freezing to death.
Finally my wife and I got better jobs and bought our first home. It was a huge one hundred year-old Victorian monster. We were young and the stupidity of youth possessed us with this maniacal dream of fixing it up and selling it for a huge profit. When you’re young with the enthusiasm of Richard Simmons and the brains of broccoli, you figure you can save money by doing the work yourself. You never figure in the cost of hiring professionals to fix the mistakes you made when you were saving money by doing the work yourself. By the way the professionals begin by ripping out everything you did and starting over, so it actually costs more than if you had just hired them to begin with.
The house didn’t have insulation in the walls and a converted coal-burning furnace in the basement burned more gas and produced more carbon emissions than a rich environmentalist’s private jet. (When our oldest daughter was in high school, she had a part-time job on the weekends. She had to be at work by six in the morning. After she had taken her shower, she would crank the thermostat up to seven hundred degrees and sit on a furnace register with a blanket draped over her like a homeless person sitting on a subway grate covered with a piece of plastic. The scream of the dial on the gas meter spinning would jar me out of a sound sleep.) Right after we bought the house came the energy crisis, and gas prices went through the roof, so we didn’t turn on the furnace until we absolutely had to so we wouldn’t have to take out a second mortgage to pay the bill, because the only thing going up faster than gas prices were interest rates.
We’re passed that now. We have a smaller, well-insulated house with a high-efficiency furnace that doesn’t pour its deadly carbon monoxide fumes out a chimney on top of the house, but rather out a sidewall of the basement where it can be better breathed in by dogs, cats, birds and the occasional neighbor kid passing by, because darn it, we are an environmentally friendly family!
We’re not Bill Gates rich, but we can certainly afford to pay the gas bill. Yet every fall we do the dance. Who will be the first to break down and turn on the furnace?
It’s certainly not because we’re cheap, just look at my wife’s overflowing I-have-nothing-to wear closet or my rod rack in the garage filled with fishing rods and reels, some that I haven’t used in years. My grandparents and to a lesser extent my parents went through the Great Depression. I know every politician now declares every downturn in the economy as, “The worst since the Great Depression.” But in the thirties it was bad, mainly because there were few of the safety nets we have today. Poor people today have cell phones, cars and TVs. Back then many people didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. And even when government finally stepped in and helped, there was a stigma to taking assistance that doesn’t exist today. My parents and grandparents didn’t throw anything away, especially food. They learned to repurpose leftovers or just hang onto them until they became green and moldy in the refrigerator, and then they used them to make penicillin.
Sometimes tough times can have an impact on you that lasts forever. I remember dreading the gas bill showing up, because maybe we didn’t have the money to pay for it, or maybe we’d have to give up something else to get the money to pay for it. So every fall we do the dance as a ritual tribute to the tough times our marriage started in. Eventually one of us will break down and turn the furnace on, usually when the other one is out of the house. We won’t say anything about it, and the dance is over for that year. Until next summer when the air conditioner dance begins.
We finished the editing for The Almond People, my next novel due out after the first of the year. The logline is: The people of a 1965 Iowa town must decide how much they are willing to do for a miracle.
I’ll keep you posted as the release date gets closer.
October 17, 2016
I’ve always had an inner mountain man. I’m one of those guys who feels he was born a hundred years too late. Deep inside me is a grizzled old man yearning to live off the land and fight Indians—although nowadays my inner mountain man would call them indigenous peoples to be politically correct before he shot them. He’s a tough old guy with long gray hair and a full beard who never bathes, which is probably why my inner mountain man lives a solitary existence. The character Gramps in my novel Graves of His Personal Liking was the incarnation of my inner mountain man.
My mountain man taught me a lot when I was younger. I remember once walking across a shallow ice-covered slough in waders. The ice was just thick enough to hold my weight for about five seconds, then I would break through and plunge waist-deep into the water. Ice water would splash on my shoulders and face as I sank to my knees in the soft mud at the bottom. I would struggle to get my feet free, claw at the ice to get a hold and climb back up on the ice, only to break through a few steps farther on—this wasn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds. Once when I broke through, a jagged piece of ice split the crotch of my waders flooding them with ice water. The sissy city guy in me said to work my way the ten yards to shore, take off the waders and walk around the slough to my truck. My mountain man, on the other hand, said it was a mile around the slough to the truck, but only a couple hundred yards across the ice. So taking his advice, I continued to break ice to the truck. By the time I got there, I couldn’t feel anything below my waist. I was shaking, and I was afraid certain body parts had frozen solid and snapped off. It was an hour later before feeling returned to my lower extremities, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
My mountain man taught me a lot that day. I learned he was tough as a badger, determined as a beaver and had the brains of beef jerky. But I knew I could accomplish anything with that stout old buzzard inside me. Something has gone horribly wrong. My mountain man has become wimpified. It became glaringly apparent the other day. We were planning our yearly trip to fish for salmon. My wife told me which motel we would be staying in, and I went on-line to see if they had cable TV with a channel that I could watch a football game I wanted to see. TV? Football? My mountain man doesn’t care about either of those when he’s salmon fishing.
When I first went salmon fishing with my friend Franny, we slept out in a tent without even an air mattress to keep us off the ground. It rained most of the trip and a leak in the tent resulted in a small trickle of water running through the tent. By the end of the trip, it had grown into something maps started marking as a bona fide river. It didn’t bother my mountain man. He considered it a close fresh water source and a sanitary system that washed the dirt, debris and occasionally Franny, out of the tent. If my bedroll got wet it wasn’t a problem. I dried it out or just slept in it. My mountain man had shivered before, and he considered it a built-in alarm clock: if you don’t sleep, you don’t oversleep.
We fished constantly on that trip, from first light until way after dark. We fished out on the piers standing in the cold, wind and rain, because my mountain man laughed at adversity, and because it was warmer and drier standing out there than it was in our tent. When we ate, it was something we had hunted down ourselves, a salmon, a hunk of bear meat or a Big Mac. There was no time for sightseeing or side trips. Nothing existed for my mountain man but the lake to fish in and the tent to not sleep in. I didn’t shave or shower. It was the life my mountain man was born to lead, and he reveled in the hardship.
Now we stay in a motel with a warm, dry bed. The only time water will run is when the toilet is flushed. I’ll shower and shave daily.
My wife came up to me yesterday and said, “Since the fish bite best in the morning and evening, we could use the rest of the day to see some places I found on-line, especially some cute little shops and boutiques.”
I expected my mountain man to rise up and say in his booming voice, “WE ARE GOING FISHING, WOMAN. NOT ON SOME LA-DE-DA SHOPPING TRIP!”
Instead, a meek little voice came out of me that said, “Okay,” and the next thing I know I’m looking up the channels the motel gets so I can watch a football game. What happened to my mountain man? He gave in and agreed to go shopping while on a fishing trip. When I was young my mountain man didn’t know the meaning of the word capitulate. In fact, there were a lot of words he didn’t know the meaning of, because as I said before, he’s as dumb as a turnip. But he was tough, and sometimes tough is enough.
Maybe when I get out there and I’m actually fishing, my mountain man will come back, and we won’t do any of that girlie shopping that doesn’t belong on a fishing trip. If it happens I’ll do a post with pictures. I better check if the motel has free WiFi.
BOOKS BY JOEL JURRENS
THE ALMOND PEOPLE DUE OUT 2017
October 13, 2016
I still remember the old Timex watch commercials. They would drop a watch into the ocean where it would be eaten by a fish which would be eaten by a bigger fish which would be eaten by an even bigger fish. The next thing you know, John Cameron Swayze would open a can of tuna, and inside would be the watch. “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” John would say holding it up and smiling as the second hand went around the face. (Maybe that’s not exactly how it went. It was a long time ago, and I’m getting old. The point was, it was one tough little watch.) That was over fifty years ago. Where did that technology go? The cell phone I have now has the water resistance of tissue paper. If I have it in my pants’ pocket, I’m afraid to flush the toilet because it might ruin it.
I don’t like technology to begin with, and they keep selling us wimpy, defective equipment. My wife has one of the new Samsung Notebook 7s with the self-destruct app where it occasionally catches fire and blows up—personally I would have went with Candy Crush, but that’s just me. I have to admit a phone that explodes has some advantages over one that doesn’t.
My wife: Could you call my phone? I forgot where I left it.
An explosion comes from the other room followed by a huge hole bursting through the wall with debris, smoke and flames.
My wife: Never mind. I found it.
The sad part is, that is not the worst app she has on her phone. My wife has an app where she can talk into her phone, and it will convert her voice into written words so she can send it as a text. It sounds like a good idea except the phone is made in South Korea and something gets lost in the translation. I will get a text which clearly says: DO WE HAVE ANY CAT SHOES? Since we don’t have a cat, I’m am fairly confident without having to look that we don’t have any shoes for one. So I text back: NO. An hour later she comes in from shopping and starts putting things away. A little bit later she comes stomping into the room, and I know I’m in trouble, but I don’t know why.
My wife angrily: You didn’t even bother to look when I asked you, did you?
Me: What are you talking about?
My wife: We already have two full ones in the pantry, and because of you, I went and bought two more cans of cashews.
I have a smart phone, but I use it mainly as a simple phone. Maybe I’ll check emails if I’m expecting something from a publisher or to see if people commented about my blog. I put an app on it once, but I don’t remember what it was or where it is. Maybe if you don’t use them for so long they get mad and leave? I’m mixed about cell phones. There are times when I’d like to turn it off or leave it at home. But what if some emergency comes up, such as something happens to one of the family, or there really is a Nigerian Lottery, and I just won ten million dollars?
Occasionally I go walleye fishing in waders. I take my phone along, but I keep it in my pants’ pocket buried underneath my chest-high waders, because I’m afraid if I put it in my shirt pocket, it will see the lake water and stop working. I’ll clearly tell my wife before I go not to call me unless it is a dire emergency… or the Nigerian Lottery calls.
A half hour after I get to the lake, I’m standing up to my rippling stomach muscles in the water—hey, this is my story. I’ll tell it any way I want—the ding that signals an incoming text goes off on my phone. Since I clearly told my wife not to call me unless it was a dire emergency, I figure something must have happened. I waddle to shore with visions of car accidents, house fires and Lamborghinis purchased with lottery winnings running through my head. I struggle the waders down to where I can reach the phone, pull it out of the pocket and drop it down one leg of the waders. Now I have to take them all the way off, because the phone saw the lake and now it’s cowering down in the toe of the boot. I dig it out, and I see the text is from my wife. I open it in panic, and it says: ON YOUR WAY HOME, PICK UP CAT SHOES.
Later, when I get home with the cat shoes, she will tell me I said not to call, and she didn’t. She texted.
BOOKS BY JOEL JURRENS
THE ALMOND PEOPLE DUE OUT EARLY 2017
October 9, 2016
Sometimes people ask me what is the best part about being a writer. Usually I tell them it’s the creativity, but actually it’s not having to wear a suit or a uniform when I write. I spent twenty-six years having to put on a uniform every time I went to work. Writers can wear anything they want. Dickens dressed in an aardvark costume when he wrote A Tale of Two Cities, and JD Salinger wrote in purple tights and a pink tutu—rumor is he sent them to the cleaners and they lost them. That’s why he never wrote another novel. When I write I don’t have to wear formal attire. I’m not going to tell you that I’m sitting here writing this in my underwear, because I’m not. But I was a few minutes ago until I took them off.
When I speak to groups, I often compare writing novels to songwriting. The late Glenn Frey, who co-wrote most of the rock band The Eagles hits, once said he learned to write songs by living in an apartment above Jackson Browne. Jackson Browne was already an established songwriter. Every morning Browne would get up and make coffee then sit at the piano—probably in his underwear—and start playing the song he was working on. Then he’d go back to the beginning and play it again, changing a note or two. Then he’d play it again, maybe adding some words. Then he’d play it again changing the words or adding a bridge and so on and so on … Glenn said he learned that writing songs wasn’t some magical power. It was repetition, going over the song again and again and changing things until you get it the way you want it. I tell my groups that it’s the same way with writing novels. It’s repetition, changing the words and story until you get it right … but I’m lying. Writing really is a magical power, or actually magical elves as in the Brothers Grimm fairytale The Elves and the Shoemaker. Every night I throw some words down on the word processor, and the next morning the story is finished because of the elves.
I’m kidding of course. Writing is hard work that requires deep concentration, blocking out everything around you until you’re in a trance-like state where you are in the story. Stephen King described it as going through a hole in the paper to be part of the story. Sometimes I sit in front of the computer concentrating so hard that my wife thinks I’m dead and is making plans how to spend the life insurance money, until I start snoring.
Anyway, it’s getting late and I’m tired. I think I’ll run up to bed and finish this blog post in the morning.
Okay the moron’s gone. I can hear him upstairs snoring like a hippopotamus with sleep apnea. I’m Fladir his writing elf. Yeah, we do exist. I come from a long line of writing elves. My great uncle Otis worked with Tolstoy, and I have a cousin helping Joyce Carol Oates. I got into this profession hoping I’d be working with the next Faulkner or Hemmingway, but instead I get hooked up with this Bozo who wouldn’t know a predicate from pemmican. (I should have went to culinary school like my mother wanted me to and baked cookies in hollow trees.) The guy’s a pig. He wasn’t lying about how he dresses when he writes. Believe me, I put a towel down before I ever sit on this chair. I never know what’s been dragged across the seat.
You’ve heard of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? There are days when I would kill to at least have a sow’s ear to work with. This guy gives me nothing. His new novel The Almond People started out as a story about alien creatures made of almonds that send out mystical chinchillas to pee magic urine on people and turn them into giant toad stools—It was the most ridiculous story I’d ever read in my whole life, and I turned 203 last July. I threw most of it out, changed things around and got rid of the chinchillas and the almonds. It’s a good story now, not that he’ll ever know. He’s too lazy to even read the stuff when I’m done with it. Now The Almond People is about regular people and how big of a price they are willing to pay for a true miracle. I guess there’s even a moral: Evil needs man to succeed. But just read the book and enjoy the story. I wouldn’t want anyone to think this joker has the brains to even know what a moral is.
Anyway, I have to go and look at the help wanted ads. I hear Patterson’s elf is thinking about retiring; it’d be a good fit for me, or maybe I’ll go back to school, get my engineering degree and design toys for Santa. (By the way, if you read The Almond People and run into this jerk, tell him you thought the Death Farts were a nice touch. He’ll know what you’re talking about even if you don’t.)
September 25, 2016
My novel The Almond People will be out in early 2017. It’s my fifth novel, and my first horror novel. When my first novel was published, people would sometimes call me a writer, and I’d always say, “Pounding one nail doesn’t make you a carpenter.” Now after five novels, I’m at the point where I sometimes think I could call myself a writer. But I learn something knew from every book I write. I’ll finish a book and think, I finally know what I’m doing, then I’ll finish my next book and think, Boy was I stupid when I wrote that last book. It’s like Bud Grant, the long ago coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He never allowed side line heaters for his team, even playing in Minneapolis in an outside stadium in the winter. Once after they’d made the playoffs, he told the team if they won the Super Bowl he would buy sideline heaters, and if they won it again the following year, he’d turn them on. So maybe after the next book I’ll call myself a writer … or maybe the one after that.
Occasionally different groups will ask me to give a talk about writing. (I call them talks because lectures or even presentations would infer I’m a writer, and I know what I’m talking about.) The most common question I get from these groups is: “How much money do you make?” My answer is always the same: “For me writing isn’t about the money”—which is what people who write say when they’re not making a butt-load of money. I like to compare writing to acting. For every Tom Cruise who makes seventeen gazillion dollars per movie, there are a thousand actors playing waiters in movies who have to work as real waiters to make ends meet while they wait for the break that will put them into the Tom Cruise category. That’s me: the guy waiting for the Tom Cruise break—or in my case the James Patterson or Stephen King break. (By the way, people have said I look like Tom Cruise, just a lot older, lighter-colored hair, much bigger nose and not nearly as good-looking, but I’m four inches taller. Eat your heart out Tommie Boy!) Will The Almond People be my Tom Cruise break where I get to fly jets with Goose and yell at Jack Nicholson? ( “I want the truth!!”) I hope so.
The second most common question I get from the groups is: “Where do you get your ideas?” That one is easy. The ideas are all around if you look between the cushions. It comes down to simply asking what if. For instance, I live in northwest Iowa, and I would guess most people living here don’t know the area is … possessed by an evil, supernatural force! I can see you doubt me. So here we go with the proof and links to prove I’m not just making stuff up:
1. There is a lake twenty miles from where I am sitting right now that the Native Americans would not take fish from or put a canoe in because they believed it was … haunted by an evil spirit! (link)
2. In 1857 a band of Santee Sioux attacked settlers’ cabins in this area killing many men and women. A young girl, Abbie Gardner, was taken captive along with three other women. Abbie said the leader of the band was so cruel and evil it was as if he was … possessed by the Devil himself! (link)
3. In the town where I live, there is a cemetery where you can put your car in neutral and a supernatural force … pushes the car uphill! (link)
4. A few miles north of here, just across the border in Minnesota, there is a cemetery where it is said three witches are buried, and the cemetery is … cursed and haunted by the ghosts of the witches! (link)
What if all these things are connected? What if there is an otherworldly reason for them? The reason is the premise for The Almond People. It is set in 1965—quite frankly, because many of the characters are high school students, and I don’t have a clue how high school students think in today’s world. (What is the deal with hair the color of blue raspberry Kool-Aid? I’m not saying it’s wrong, I just don’t understand the thinking enough to write from inside a head covered with Smurf hair.) As with most of my books, The Almond People is set in fictional Cossack County, Iowa where I am the supreme ruler and things exist at my whim and my subjects do whatever I command. I like this book. I liked writing it. I liked weaving in local lore, and I liked the characters. There’s some humor, some mystery, some scary parts, and my wife said one part brought her to tears. What more could you want from someone who might be a writer after another book or two?
Wings epress is publishing the book. They did my first book and the sequel. At that time they were a fledgling company, and I was a fledgling guy who had written a book. Most of what they published back then was chick-lit. I remember the cover artist was excited because he was finally going to get to do the cover for a murder/mystery. Wings has evolved mightily since those early years. They have updated. They do more marketing, and if you look at their recent releases, they do much more than just chick-lit. (link) They’ve always done a magnificent job of editing. They’re easy to work with and the cover work is outstanding. I’m very much looking forward to working with them again.
I’ll update you more on The Almond People as the release date gets closer.
September 12, 2016
After careful consideration, weighing the scientific facts and doing the mathematical calculations, I have come to the logical conclusion that my wife is … A SORCERESS!!
I know what you’re going to say. “There are no such things as sorceresses. They are just scary myths like werewolves, vampires and Anthony Weiner.”
But spooky things have been happening with my wife that give me goosebumps. Take the other day. My wife was away from home and lost her car keys. This isn’t the spooky part. She loses her car keys at least once a week and her cellphone three or four times a day (I have her in my speed dial as Honey-could-you-call-my-phone-so–I-can-find-it-please?) She’s even lost our landline phone a couple times, and it’s screwed to the wall. But when she found her car keys, they were twenty miles away from where she’d lost them at a place she’d never been, and that is still not the spooky part. The spooky part is—cue the scary music—she knew exactly where the keys were. SORCERESS!!
Since then I have noticed other things I’d overlooked before. Dogs can sense magical powers, and our dog is attuned to my wife’s power. She is very big—the dog not my wife. She is by far the largest Airedale we’ve ever had. The scale groans near triple digits when I lug her onto it, and I groan just as much as the scale, because let’s face it, a hundred pounds weighs a lot more than it did when I was younger. (I have a strong suspicion my wife had something to do with that, too.) She is also the most timid dog we’ve ever had. When my wife takes the dog and me for a walk, little Munchkin dogs the size of barking rats will come screaming from a house with the intention of tearing our dog a new one. When they’re ten feet away, the little canine rodents will hit the brakes and come to a screeching halt leaving skid marks.
“Holy crap! That thing’s a lot bigger than it looked from up there on the porch.”
They’ll streak back to the safety of their house yapping all the way.
What they don’t know is if they continued toward our dog, she would let them chew her leg off and apologize for not bringing salt and pepper to make it tastier.
Our dog has a deep bark. It sounds as if it’s coming from something with three heads that’s guarding the gates of Hell. But if burglars ever broke into our house, the dog would show them where the money is—if we actually had money—as long as they promised not to hurt her.
So this meek dog will be sleeping on the floor of our bedroom when my wife walks in and startles it. The dog wakes up growling and snarling as if it’s going to rip someone a new one, then it suddenly quiets down with embarrassment and slinks off into the basement with its tail between its legs. My wife says the dog was just dreaming it was a tough Rottweiler and woke up before it realized it was a wimpy weeny, marshmallow, but I think my wife possessed it for those few seconds.
Okay, I see you don’t believe me because you have that skeptical look on your face that brings out your crow’s feet and makes you look ten years older, so stop it. I have irrefutable proof.
The other night I’m watching TV and my wife comes in carrying a plate.
“Here,” she said, handing me the plate.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“This is a piece of the fresh peach pie I just made,” she said. “I knew you’d want a piece.”
She was right. I did want a piece, but how did she know? She’d read my mind! SORCERESS!
So I ate the piece of pie so she wouldn’t know I was onto her, then I ate another piece just to be sure she wouldn’t know. But I don’t think it worked. Last night I was taking a shower and I discovered a wart I never had before. She’s turning me into a toad! SORCERESS!