Joy In Doing What We Love.

The backstory is something that all writers are warned about. It’s death to lead into a new story with a recap of the protagonist/antagonist history, physical description, and motivation. Well, tough cookies. Gotta do it this time.

Back in the 1990s I read a lot of “Techno-Thriller” books. I am a voracious reader (when I’m not writing) and back then I hadn’t even considered being an author. I’d make the pilgrimage to Barnes & Noble every week and look for new books from my favorite authors. One of those authors was Michael DiMercurio. I even forgave him for the cheesy back-cover photo of him standing next to a torpedo. Why? Because he got it. 

I’d spent three years riding submarines doing intelligence work, and his books all rang with authenticity. I had even been on the same submarine he was on, the U.S.S. Hammerhead. But I loved those books, and became a fan of the most dedicated sort. 

Fast forward a dozen years and Barnes and Noble had moved all the military techno-thriller works in among the general fiction. They made it hard to find my favorite authors – had to walk the aisles and hope I spotted them. I missed new works from Michael, and figured he had moved on.

Then, about six years ago I was in a Facebook group for submarine types. They’d allowed me in even though I had never qualified as a submariner. That didn’t last, and eventually I had to leave the group. But during that time I met Michael on-line and we became friends. He was gracious enough to read Assault on Saint Agnes and give me some very good guidance on my writing career. He was kind about it, funny as can be, and kind of a curmudgeon. And, as is often the case of veterans, the fact that we didn’t know each other personally didn’t diminish the bond of brotherhood. 

Once I was published, I started nagging him to put his books up on Kindle, as there was no doubt a market for them. He’d regained the rights as they’d fallen out of publication. He did just that, and with the good offices of Crossroad Press, he was back on the charts. 

I next nagged him to do audio books. He’s brilliant, and I sent him a document on what he needed to do to make it work. A couple of weeks later he said it was too much like work, and would I like to do the books?

That moment I knew things were good. Now, several books later, my monthly revenues from Audible pay for all of the kids I sponsor overseas. There is a tangible benefit for my work and it impacts the lives of many others.

This past weekend, Michael flew to Saint Paul to work on recording parts of the latest book, EMERGENCY DEEP. We finished up after a couple of marathon days, and adjourned to the dive bar mentioned in the previous blog. In the meantime, my wife had a chance to meet the guy who has kept me up late and gotten me up early to work on the recordings. Michael also stole Chewy’s heart, and now the dog is loyal to him as a result of all the cookies Michael fed him this weekend. It will take me another week to wean the dog from the diet of attention and biscuits he was showered with the past three days.

Fun. Just plain fun. We had some fans show up, talked about writing, conspiracy theories, the afterlife, faith, and good whiskey. 

Sunday, we qc’d some of the final recording files. Michael went back home and I’ve just got about 5 minutes of recording and 3 hours of editing left and we can ship it off to the publisher. I think it sounds great, and DiMercurio did an excellent job for a first-timer.

Thank you, Michael, for coming to town to do this. It’s not often that you get to meet a virtual friend, especially when it’s someone you greatly admire. 

I look forward to some new books, and one more audio book – at the moment – from his pen. 

So, set aside some money and I’ll let you know when EMERGENCY DEEP  is ready for purchase!

Meet The Authors In A Saint Paul Dive Bar Day Featuring Michael DiMercurio & Joseph Courtemanche.

You may have noticed all the audio books on the right hand side of the blog. You may also have noticed that most of them are by Best-Selling author Michael DiMercurio. This Saturday, the 12th of October, we’re celebrating the completion of recording “Emergency Deep” at the palatial recording studio at my home. 

Well, maybe not palatial, but Chewy lets me kick him out of the living room when the microphone is on.

Michael is coming to town to record parts of the book with me, and we decided to have some fun. Part of the fun will be a chance to sit with us in one of my favorite dive bars from 4-6 pm on Saturday. We will tell lies, talk about writing, and be obnoxious. It’s inevitable when a spook and a bubblehead get together like this, and it’s even worse when we’ve both deployed on the same submarine (at different times.) 

So, if you want to join us, and find out how the sweeping octopus of world communism was swept from the seas by The U.S.S. Hammerhead (and her intrepid crew) put a comment on the blog and I’ll invite you to the event. Now, if you really want to go, leave both your email and your phone number. I won’t publish it, but I will call you with the location. We’re trying to avoid a crushing crowd. And, also, there may be unhappy ex-wives and bill collectors out there, so we have to keep it quiet. I’m not saying any more than that.

Leave a comment and you’ll get an invite. The location is in Saint Paul, Minnesota. That’s all I’m saying for now. You might luck out and get a drink on the authors.

Either way, we’re going to be good and not embarrass Crossroad Press. They treat us too well. You should go and check out their authors and audio books.

See you Saturday at 4!

Basil Cafe: A Restaurant Review

The whole point of a restaurant review is to share the place with the reader. Basil Cafe is worth sharing. 

Located at 585 University Ave W., St. Paul, MN 55103 (near the intersection of Dale and University) it is a beautiful, contemporary restaurant with no pretensions. Fantastic food, friendly staff, and parking next to the building, it’s a gigantic success waiting to happen.

That’s some cold water.

You’re greeted immediately, and before you finish getting your chair adjusted there’s a tin-cup of ice water, with a refill bottle, on the table and ready for you to enjoy. That’s a big deal in an era when the staff at most places can’t seem to see you until you make a fuss. 

The drink range is all non-alcoholic, but unless you’re on a Lost Weekend bender, that shouldn’t be an issue. With a variety of canned soda (many from the region of the cuisine) and coffee/tea, you won’t go thirsty. I had a mango soda, and besides being beautiful, it was delicious. Amazingly delicious. Like, so good I wanted to bring the soda fountain home with me.

Made with syrup, it’s amazing

We went right to the appetizers, and got the egg rolls and the fried pork belly with garlic. The egg rolls were top shelf, and worthy of praise. But they paled in comparison to the pork belly. I’m a serious bacon/pork belly kind of guy, and I’ve only had it this good once before at a Cuban restaurant in Florida. Tender, juicy, flavorful with just a bit of heat, I’d order a larger plate of these and skip anything else for dinner. They are truly that good.

Happy Food!

Just as the appetizers were finishing, the main course arrived. We both got the Pad Ka Pao. My wife had the shrimp version mild, and I had the beef medium. Both were beautiful to see, and frankly I was a goner when the fried egg still had runny yoke inside. Perfectly prepared, the sauce was light, the beef tender, and the vegetables crisp. Not the sauce that comes in a giant drum, but the kind that tells you the chef cares about flavor. 

Pad Ka Pao

Desert was also a rave. My wife had the TRI-COLOUR (Tapioca pearls, jackfruit, toddy palm, grass jelly & basil seed with palm sugar & cream) and I had a Thai waffle with ice cream. I am a moron, so I don’t know if there is such a thing as a Thai waffle, but these were produced on a tiny little waffle iron, and had hints of coconut. The ice cream was smooth and just the right temp. Both winners.

Total bill out the door with tip was under $60. That is a top-shelf value for such a great meal.

We will go back in the future. Nice ambiance, great staff, excellent food. Five stars for sure.

 

Small shrine near the ceiling

That Was An Excellent Funeral.

If you are like me, you’ve been to too many funerals in your life. Sometimes it’s a relative I don’t know, probably never met, or knew just a little. But as the oldest son in the region, it falls to me to represent my family at these events, including the death of my father’s childhood friends and coworkers. Another flavor I hate going to are the funerals of coworkers and contemporaries. Too many.  Too many.

But sometimes a funeral is a great event. I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition, and funerals were very solemn. Very sad. And, as an asthmatic, they cap them off with incense. I never remember to bring my rescue inhaler (don’t need it but 6 times a year, and always after things have been headed downhill for a day or so) and when they fire up that beast I have learned to make a hasty retreat or suffer for about 3 days with horrible lung problems. 

So, Catholic funerals are not fun. Nor are the funerals in most of the Protestant denominations that are a majority in Minnesota. No offense to those churches, but in large part they’re Catholics with German food and bad coffee. Say what you want about Catholic funeral lunches, but it’s a 50% chance that you’ll get lasagna. At a Lutheran funeral there will be no lasagna. At best, a hot tuna casserole. 

There is, however, a funeral service that will lift your soul, encourage you, and leave you smiling about the deceased’s life, and happy for their destination. Where? Get to a funeralizing at a Missionary Baptist Church, or a COGIC (Church Of God In Christ) congregation. Probably best if you knew the deceased, but you can roll in to most and get away with it as a coworker of the deceased. 

Why would I say that? Because both denominations are almost exclusively populated by Black people, and in the church the members are a family. They will know if you’re a regular or not, and not just based on the color of your skin. Not African American, but black. I say that as one who has been a member of both, and as a very white kind of guy, I listen for accents. A lot of immigrants from Africa, Haiti, etc., join these churches in Minnesota because they feel more comfortable there than the very white places. Count me in that group after 13 years of membership in predominantly black churches. I feel so at home with the worship style that I am a fish out of water at the ones I grew up in.

Now, what makes a funeral fun? For starters, everyone there knows that the person is going to Heaven. Mind you, sometimes that’s just a polite fiction, and we all know better deep down, but there’s a good chance we weren’t in on their relationship with God and they are sitting in front of Him teaching God how to play dominoes the way they did back home.  He is likely a very quick study.

Second, there is good music. Uplifting music. The kind of music you know you’ll hear when you die and go to check out Heaven yourself.

Third – testimonies! For those of you in more vanilla congregations, this is where the microphone is opened up and anyone who remembers the deceased and wants to talk has 1-5 minutes – or until someone grabs the microphone away and drags them out. Sometimes very eloquent, sometimes somber, but on occasion it’s like listening to vintage Mom’s Mabely routines. There is nothing better than an older church lady with the dirt on the deceased. I have rarely laughed as hard as the stories they tell. 

The sermon varies from pastor to pastor. If they really knew the deceased, it’s often moving, eloquent – and frequently just as funny as testimony. You see, we’re happy they shed this vale of tears and are up in Heaven getting our places ready for us. Not so many tears as smiles.

Last, but not least, the supper after the funeral. Let me just say that if you don’t like the food, there’s something wrong with you. From the sweet tea in the big cooler to the pound cake at the end, and all the mashed taters, gravy, chicken, and rolls in between, the Mission Ministry Ladies do an excellent job of honoring the family and feeding them.

So why this post today? On last Friday we (Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church) buried our sister Wendy Bell. Known as Mother Bell (an honorific in our church) she was one of the first people to greet me at Shiloh. Each week she made a point of seeking me out, giving me a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and inquiring as to my well being and that of my wife. She followed my Instagram pictures of Stormy and remarked on the latest one each Sunday. She was kind, loving, and a great wife to her husband Frank – who is also a great guy and a fellow veteran. 

Mother Wendy treated everyone this way. If you hadn’t been smooched on the cheek by Mother Wendy, you just hadn’t been at Shiloh for more than a week. Her death hit a lot of people hard.

Last week when Chewy came to live with us, I wondered what Wendy would think of him. I looked forward to her input. But she died before she could tell me. 

I imagine she’s up in Heaven watching after all the new arrivals in her crown of gold. Right next to her is “her little girl” Stormy. Stormy will never be alone as long as Wendy Bell is up there with her. 

Both of them are chuckling at us right now. Knowing we’ll be along shortly.

I look forward to that day – not to being “funeralized” but to catching up with this former fashion model, banker, and Mother of my church. 

 

We miss you, Mother Wendy. But we’ll be there soon. In the meantime, we’re keeping an eye on Frank for you – he’s doing okay for a guy who lost a gem like you. 

Woof. I Say Again: Woof. Over.

A few weeks ago, we scattered the final bit of ashes that used to be Stormy. My wife and I, as well as my mother and our friend Carol, had picked out her favorite spots. Some where she loved to roll around, others the “Man, have I got to go” spots she always ran toward when the door opened. We invited mom and Carol because they’d been Stormy’s dog-sitters over the years, and had taken great care of her.

Stormy

It wasn’t easy. And for several weeks while we waited for some construction next door to finish up, all we had for a dog was the knowledge that Stormy would be at her “forever home” until someone dug up the lot and built a new home – long after we are all gone. 

This past Saturday our new friend arrived: Chewy.

Chewy

He’s a pure-bred Courtemanche. Probably Australian Shepherd and something else. But we didn’t care. We’d worked with the excellent people of Aussie Rescue of Minnesota on finding a dog when the Minnesota Sheltie Rescue people were blissfully without any rescue dogs.  Stormy was a rescue from them, and the glut of Shelties from puppy mills has finally dried up. 

Chewy was the second dog we met. The first one was a cute puppy, but puppies are for people with children, and she found a home right away as we suspected she would. That was good, because we met Chewy the next day and fell for him. He was super timid, and leery. When you weigh 50 pounds and some guy 6 times your size shows up, it’s a bit strange. But he got less timid as an hour went by, and was so gentle and eager that he left a big mark on us.

Now we had to wait for the fence to be built again. After a few weeks, we asked to meet Chewy again. We spent almost 2 hours with him at his most recent foster home. Took him for a walk, and talked to Barb and Jim, his fosters. At the end of the visit, he came over without any encouragement and asked to be petted. His timidity had obviously been greatly helped by the lavishing of affection from the fosters. They really helped him adjust. When we left, we told them we wanted Chewy.

Time dragged by, and we feared he would have to find a home if we couldn’t get the builder to do the fencing soon. Last week it finally went up. Kip and I reinforced the perimeter again with rock, and were ready. 

Saturday Chewy came to his forever home. The day was one of easing into relationships, and we spent a lot of it outside where he felt comfortable. God blessed us with good weather for the day.

He slept in my room that night – he was out like a light. The guy was exhausted from all the stress and excitement. 

Sunday we left him confined when we went to church. He escaped, and much to our glee, destroyed nothing over $1.00 in value. He pulled some yarn out of a bag and was very upset when we got home. He knew he had broken rules, but he couldn’t possibly know what they were yet. No problem.

As the day went by, he grew more comfortable. In and out without bribes, and we even got him into his indoor kennel with only a little bribery and a gentle push. An hour later, when we sprung him, he checked out the house again, and within 15 minutes he went into the kennel and flopped down. He liked it in there. When bedtime came, he chose the kennel over my room. I guess my snoring is an issue… 

Monday morning you would have thought he’d lived with us for years. It went swimmingly, and when I put him in his kennel, he did something that Stormy had never done in her time with us: he licked my face. 

Now, I’m not faulting Stormy. Poor kid had a very rough 8 years before she met us, and was never one who played with toys or snuggled. She loved us, and was fun to have as a friend, but she was always reserved. I can’t blame her: the human race had not earned her trust.

Chewy is his own story. And that face lick tells me an enormous amount about the joy he will bring to our lives. I was very excited about going home after work on Monday and seeing him, sitting with him on the back steps, and starting a new love affair with a dog. I am so happy that tears are not out of the question.  And he rewarded me with quality time on the back steps – the place where I’ve always spent the best hours with all of the dogs in my life. I think that’s an East Side of Saint Paul thing – why sit on the fancy porch if you have steps.

Here’s the boy yesterday morning – he dozed off and wanted to make sure he knew where I was. I will always try to be right where you need me, Chewy. In your heart. You sure are stealing mine.