An up-close and personal chronology of the author . . . . .
My writing career began with a book that took me twenty years to complete. I started researching and rough drafting the story in late 1982. For months I soaked up all of the early Iron Range history that I could and crafted people and scenes to fit the early 1900’s. I had an easy access to the Research Center at the Ironworld Discovery Center, the Hibbing library, and the Hibbing Historical Society. Originally, the story was going to be titled The Giant’s Ridge but that changed after about my fifth rewrite of the manuscript. Despite my best efforts, my writing was convoluted and/or too tightly scripted. Several rejection letters later I put the project to rest: An ambition that wasn’t to be fulfilled. Maybe, just maybe, there would be another time and another story, but a year of my life had been devoted to an effort that didn’t end happily.
After a lengthy dormancy (the manuscript was stored a in a box in my basement for 17 years) I reread my story and picked up the plot threads. Time and place were perfectly orchestrated—the problem was in my characterizations. But, the challenge would be–how to give life and breath to my creations? I found a credible ‘voice’ in a titan of early Hibbing journalism: Through the eyes and words of Claude Atkinson, my people became the dynamic of the story. Earlier, everyone was doing what I thought they should be doing. That was why the story really didn’t have an essence. Once headstrong Peter and likableTony and the lovely Mary Belani were allowed do their own thing, they did . . . and what they did was far more interesting than anything I might have imagined. The revitalization began in mid-2000, after my retirement from ISD #701- the Hibbing public schools.
More often than not these ‘liberated’ characters amazed, enlightened, and inspired me. Allowing them to tell their own story (not mine) brought a new life to this literary endeavor. At times I agonized over the dilemmas they put themselves in, at other times I laughed out loud at their cleverness and guile . . . somehow they managed just fine without any manipulation on my part. Finally, I published To Bless or To Blame in 2002. At the time I did not know that this would be the beginning of what would ultimately evolve into an elaborate series of novels.
To Bless or To Blame was a successful debut novel and won acclaim as a finalist in the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards. The first thousand copies sold out and a second (eventually a third) printing were necessary. Before establishing any credible marketing strategies, I was absorbed in writing a sequel. A Blessing or a Curse was published in 2003. Both books were published through Stanton Press of St. Paul, Minnesota. Without catching my breath, the third novel was under way as I continued my disciplined pattern of early morning writing, smoking, and draining pots of coffee: Usually four to five hours a day and usually seven days a week. Writing the first draft always went rather quickly, rewrites were tedious. Through the first three novels, my friend Ed Beckers, was my primary story critic and editor. Kathy Serrano, Nancy Erickson, Norma Grant, and Dan Bergan assisted in editing my early books. In 2004, Bless Those Who Sorrow was published. These three novels were intricately and generationally connected while each retained a necessary separate identity.
What has come to be known as the ‘Mesabi Trilogy’ portarys a prominent Hibbing family through three generations and the first half of the twentieth century. Each story combines drama, intrigue, and romance with colorful characters both fictitious and real. With lives intricately entwined, the men and women of the incomparably rich ethnic and historical Mesaba Iron Range of northern Minnesota live the days and years of their lives. The stories, however, have a much wider sweep—just as the red hematite iron ore was made into steel and was spread around the globe, so also did the people of my stories.
There was little pause in my storytelling. An avid reader of mystery and crime novels, I felt challenged to venture into that genre while retaining the essence of the earlier stories. Pack Moran was a Hibbing cop faced with resolving the suspicious disappearance of his best friend—a black man who lived in a community smitten with an undercurrent of racism. The year was 1956. The Hibbing Hurt, my fourth novel, was a strong seller from the start. Within six months a second printing was necessary. Somehow, I found more ‘gut stuff’ in telling this story and it felt good. As with each book, strong characters (male and female) create the story for me by doing what they need to do to cope with the issues they encounter. It’s the unique and surreal familiarity with people’s anbitions, motivations, and inspirations that an author experiences as he writes.
Following The Hibbing Hurt, I struggled with the next story. After graduating from Hibbing High School, young and frustrated Amos Moran does a disappearing act. What was supposed to be a teenager’s rebellion/, runaway story, just wasn’t working. I think I trashed about five different beginnings—one of which was seventy pages! Frustrated, I took a break from the elusive project and visited a friend in Flagstaff, Arizona. I found Flag to be a most intriguing city, a college town with a wonderful dynamic. Wandering around town, talking with locals, hanging out on the NAU campus, my intangible story found some roots. Back home in Hibbing, a book I titled FLAG, came together in about six weeks. This was a fun story to tell, a murder story with a strong youthful and romantic elements. Confused Amos and winsome Sadie were products of the seventies. As with my earlier books, Ed Beckers was a primary story critic but others pitched in as well: Gail Nevalainen, Faith Marston, Richard Dinter and June Hendrickson. Shawn Nevalainen formated the stories.
Along my literary path I have diversified my offerings. I wanted to do a favorite childhood story for each of my kids. Shannon, my oldest, was the dedicatee of MAZRAL and DERISSA: an Easter Story (published in 2003). My tale of a spiritual experience involving a blind mouse and an obese dove, offered a unique perspective on the passion story: An untold miracle that happened on Calvary. Another children’s book; a Christmas story titled SANTA THE KING, came out in 2004 and was dedicated to my youngest daughter, Erin. The beautiful hardcover book was produced through Bang Printing in Brainerd (MN) and I’ve published with them ever since. The kids books were illustrated by my gifted and artistic neighbor, Dave Wirkula. Dave also designed the cover art for all of my books and I am deeply indebted to him for his help.
My life has unfolded in many interesting ways. I’ve fallen into and out of love several times—probably a few more, but yet unwritten; books could visit there. Or, maybe each of them can be found in my fiction? I’ve had more than my share of successes and tasted failure more often than I want to admit. At times I’ve been courageous and at others a coward. I been on mountaintops, and walked in the valleys of life. I guess in these and a thousand other ways, I’m just like you and the people in my stories. I’ve played competitive sports and remain a huge fan: Twins, Gophers, Bluejackets. I am an avid reader and enjoy a variety of genres. For more than thirty years I’ve belonged to a literary group know as the Mesaba Mens Book Club. We’ve discussed more than 300 books over the years and shared countless bonding experiences. Great men, all!
In college and grad school I favored political science and sociology electives. Through books and studies and teachers and friends and marvelous parents, I’ve been shaped. I find myself in the people I write about—and, I can see you as well. Any writer must, first and foremost, be a vigilant student of human behavior and the social milieu in which it occurs. For many years I was a classroom teacher, and a coach, and advisor to several senior classes at my beloved HHS. I can honestly say that I loved every day in the classroom. In addition, I’ve dabbled in real estate, been involved in state politics, and been a public servant. I’ve also learned many lessons in life while a laborer in the taconite mines.
My Masters degree from the University of Minnesota was in public administration. In 1978, I was appointed Commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) by Governor Al Quie. One of many interesting and challenging aspects of this position was the highly political realm within which I had to function. The Board consisted of legislators who were strident Democrats—as was the Iron Range at large—while my boss, Al Quie was a Republican. My four years of service were combative, at times, but very satisfying for the most part. Al Quie was one of the most remarkable men I have ever known and a strong influence on my Christianity. There had to be a story combining this unique political experience with my earlier (1972) campaign for the Minnesota Senate. Oh, I lost to a fellow named Perpich. Saint Alban’s Day was published in 2007. For much of this story I borrowed from my IRRRB experience while making a futile attempt at disguising the agency under a fictitious name—Range Development Authority. Of course, some real-life characters had to be used to embellish this contentious and spiritually inspirtational story. It was my intention to conclude my six-novel series with this story. How ironic would it be if the last male character in these six generations of the Moran family were a Roman Catholic priest? How perfect would that be! Now, nearly four years afterwards, I’m getting a familiar tug inside. What will the Reverend Father Michael Moran accomplish in his ministry? Several twists and turns have been swimming around in my mind. In all honesty, I’ve made several abbreviated attempts at the next story but nothing has ‘taken off’. I was beginning to think that ‘writer’s block’ is a real thing.
However, the past few years have not been a writer’s desert. The dry spell was ended with a story that has rested in the bowels of my computer for more than a few years. This November (2011) I published my third children’s book. THE MIDNIGHT HOUR is another Christmas story. This book is marvelously illustrated by a Grand Rapids artist named Rhonda Roskos. I think that we have collaborated on a masterpiece. We will let you be the judge of that.
As you might imagine, a writer is an unconscionable thief in every regard. He steals from everybody he knows . . . if one were to study my characters over six novels they would find the idiosyncrasies of my close friends and my children all: Shannon is my oldest, Chris ‘Tiffer’ my middle son, and Erin the caboose ten years later. My loving parents were role models for the many lovable parents in my stories. So be careful when you meet me, or any other author, we’re always looking for something unique and/or story-worthy.
October 1, 2012
I must add a post script. After five years of the dreaded ‘writer’s block’, I finally awakened a barrage of creative ideas in early December of 2011. In January I found my stride. If you have been keeping up with my novels you will remember that the last Moran male was Mickey . . . and Mickey became a Catholic priest. My drought had much to do with my new protagonist. In my imagination I met a likable guy named Brian Slade. Brian was a ‘doppelganger’–a German paranormal psych concept that refers to a double of another person (a ghost walker). So, with my priest Mickey in Duluth and down-and-out Brian in St. Paul, I had both characters and settings. From there came the magic of creativity. What started to be a doppleganger story soon became much more. I’ve titled the new novel A Passage of Redemption.
Since January I’ve accomplished at least five rewrites and had several friends read the manuscript and input their comments and insights. I’m grateful to Jim Otterbeck, Rich Dinter, Jim Huber, Andy Miller, and Norma and Charlie Grant. I really like this story! At the end of September, A Passage of Redemption was sent to Bang Publishing along with a really striking cover design created by Renee Anderson at Express Print in Hibbing.
Finally, now that you have discovered this website, I am hopeful that you will share it with others who enjoy reading—especially fiction. I’ve asked my friend and the site designer, Jeremy Hendrickson, to include a blog page. It will be my intention to share whatever writing I’m doing (or contemplating, or procrastinating about) with whatever following I develop. I am also hopeful that that you, and everyone you know, will patronize my little PJM publishing house by purchasing a book or two or . . . There is no gift quite as timeless as a good book. Peace and God’s blessings.