Robert’s Rules Featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Chapter A Day

Robert’s Rules is Book Three in J.F.Riordan’s North of the Tension Line Series, and is the recent winner of a Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher’s Book Awards. It is this month’s selection for Wisconsin Public Radio’s popular Chapter a Day program.

You can tune in to WPR every day to hear one of twenty episodes at 12:30 pm and 11:00 pm. It’s also available for download on their site. 

It is beautifully read by one of WPR’s regular readers, Jim Fleming. Check it out!

ABOUT THE SERIES:

Wisconsin author J.F. Riordan has been called “a latter-day Jane Austen”. Her mesmerizing literary fiction makes the Great Lakes region one of the characters in this continuing series. The North of the Tension Linebooks (North of the Tension Line; The Audacity of Goats; and Robert’s Rules) represent a sensibility that is distinctively Midwestern, even though the small town politics and gossip will be universally familiar. Riordan celebrates the well-lived life of the ordinary man and woman with meticulously drawn characters and intriguing plots that magnify the beauty and mystery lingering near the surface of everyday life. Book Four in the series, A Small Earnest Question, is due out in 2020

J.F. Riordan’s Mesmerizing ‘Robert’s Rules’

Told in a beautifully crafted literary style, Robert’s Rules is an engaging story filled with deep insights about people and their environment. In the process, Riordan reveals the eccentric and oftentimes unexpected realities behind the bucolic images of modern small-town life.”

The Shepherd Express

Letter from a Reader

Hello Ms. Riordan,
I just finished reading Robert’s Rules, and so have read all 4 of your books. I just wanted to thank you for your stories, and for conveying your love of Door County and the Island so beautifully! I live just south of the Wisconsin border, and have been traveling to Door County since I was expecting my oldest child. He’s now 34. Door County is my favorite place on Earth. When people ask me why I like it so much, I describe all my favorite places, but I can never really capture why it means so much to me.
But you did. In telling your stories, you capture the beauty and the simplicity of local life, and how that life is cherished by the people who call Door County home.
I hope to spend more and more time there, especially when I retire. I’ve passed on my love for the area to my sister, and now she and my brother-in-law just purchased land on the Island, with the hopes of building their little piece of heaven.
I have never written to an author before, but no other author has focused on a place that means so much to me, and managed to capture exactly how I feel about it.
Thank you for your writings! I’m looking forward to A Small Earnest Question!
With kindest regards,
Monika

The Island by Night

When I am on the Island, every night, before bed, the dogs and I go out for a long walk in the dark.

There is nowhere else on earth where I could walk alone, in the dark, in the woods, and feel so completely safe. It’s true I have my dogs with me, but they are even less worried than I, and frequently slip away into the trees to leave me to the sound of my own footsteps. On a cloudy night like this, it is so dark that only the melted dirt paths of this January thaw distinguish where to walk from the white snow everywhere.

Moses, who still carries the echoes of lupine ancestors in his soul, likes to disappear into the woods, projecting my course, to silently stalk me, later to charge out onto the path in front of me, in an unnerving fashion. It is a delightful game for him.  Auggie, his apprentice, has begun to follow him deep among the cedar trees.

Their stealth is remarkable, and their ability to judge the intersection of vectors is proof that dogs understand geometry. Each has a red light-up collar: Moses with a slow blink, and Auggie with a fast one, so when they walk with me I can tell who is who. But when they dissolve into the woods and turn dead-on, their collars are no longer visible, and I cannot hear the sound of their padded feet, their bodies long and low, in stalking mode, until they are immediately in front of me, delighted by their prowess and by my praise. Their happiness shifts them from predators to pets, but there is an inner reality that is vital to remember.

These night walks are essential to their well-being and to mine. For them, it is a chance to reassess the activities of the local wildlife. The fox has been out since we walked this afternoon, and the raccoon and deer and possum. The turkeys are roosting in a tree somewhere near, and the deer are no doubt nearby, waiting for the dogs to go in before they come to feed. Their game with me exhilarates the dogs and empowers them.

For me, it is an expansive moment of the soul. Alone, in the dark, but utterly unafraid, I walk along almost invisible paths, listening to the lake, to the occasional cries of owls or foxes, and I feel that I am in my life.

Nowhere else on earth.

An Evening with Alexander McCall Smith

I had the pleasure of introducing Alexander McCall Smith on Thursday night at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee. He was here to promote  his new book, The House of Unexpected Sisters. You can buy it here.

It can always be a bit dicey meeting someone you admire, because you’re never sure whether he will live up to your expectations. In this case, however, the author was exactly as his books reveal him to be: erudite, kind, funny, and charming. I hung back at the end of the signing in order to present him with one of my books (a presumption I had to work myself up to) and was able to observe his patience and warmth with every single one of the three hundred-some people who waited in line for his autograph.

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 7.12.54 AMIt is difficult–if not impossible–to say anything original about a man so well-known, and, indeed, a Commander of the British Empire, but my attempt follows:

We live in troubled times. Although in the West we have lives of comfort and ease beyond the dreams of any other era of humanity, we wake, I believe, most days, with the sense that something has gone deeply wrong.

And then we realize that our Iphones are safe in the next room.

Modern life, in its material richness, is often plagued by anxiety. And when we have read the dire stories in the news, witnessed the crudeness and vulgarity of mainstream culture, and exhausted our capacity for cruelty and vituperation on Twitter, our minds and souls are in desperate need of an escape. If we have any sense at all, we turn to books as our refuge.

Alexander McCall Smith is the master of escapist literature. I use that term with deep admiration. It requires firm principles, deep courage, and a steadfast heart to look around and find joy and things to laugh about. Perhaps it also requires a bit of desperation.

His books, however charming, express both a deeply held moral philosophy and biting social satire. And whether it’s Isabel Dalhousie in her beautiful house in Edinburgh, Mma Ramatswe in Botswana, or seven year old Bertie reluctantly practicing yoga at 44 Scotland Street, his protagonists have a firm determination to do what’s right: to be honest, to express and appreciate beauty, to find meaning, and most particularly, to be kind.

The humor can be subtle or riotous, but the beauty, and warmth, and rich value of everyday people living everyday lives of meaning and virtue is at the core of every book. And today—indeed, in any era—that is a powerful and important thing.

Escapist literature is a banner of hope in a dark world. And, as Mma Ramotswe says: “… it is possible to change the world, if one is determined enough, and if one sees with sufficient clarity just what has to be changed.”

Our guest, tonight, is an extraordinarily prolific novelist and story writer, over the course of many years. He is the author of multiple series—including my favorite, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, which features the hapless Herr Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Iglefeld—and along with this new addition to his Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, and to the 44 Scotland Street Series, has another new children’s book about to be published in Britain. He is the recipient of many honors, and a Commander of the British Empire.

The truth is, he needs no introduction to any of you, but I really wanted to meet him.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Alexander McCall Smith.

 

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

Well, it’s happened. Book Three, Robert’s Rules (Beaufort Books, Spring 2018), is finished, and off to the publisher. I say that in passive voice, as if it miraculously wrote itself. Not so. Over the course of the past year, and most particularly of the past six months, I have neglected friends, family, and dogs, and reduced my life to work, writing, and basic human survival. A trail of entropy lies behind me.

IMG_5146So, you ask: Now what will you do? Revel in the freedom? Drink champagne, or possibly bourbon? Walk the dogs? Go to Disney World?

Well, some of the above, except for the Disney part. But mostly more mundane things like do laundry, overthrow the reigning chaos in my office, and remind my family and friends that I still love them (the dogs, being dogs, still knew that). For both my dear readers, I will also go back to writing my blog.

On the other hand, I have, unintentionally, but apparently irresistibly (again that misleading sense of the passive), begun work on Book Four, A Small Earnest Question.

Life has its cycles.

 

Another Sign of Spring

For some reason, my husband decided yesterday to take Moses to the barber shop with him.

Don’t ask.

Perhaps one factor may have been that the night before Moses had had a rather thorough bath, complete with shampoo and conditioner, as opposed to the daily rinse in the dog shower he usually gets to clean his feet. He smells good now, and he’s all soft and shiny, and this seemed like an opportunity to give him a good brushing. Thought for the day: Never brush a wet dog. Especially not in the house. No, not even if it’s really cold and miserable outside.

German Shepherds are a breed that have a spring molt, which is referred to as “blowing their coats”. An odd expression, I thought, in my innocence. But that was before. Now that he is four, and officially fully mature, Moses is having his first real blowing-of-the-coat, and I have come to think that whoever coined the phrase had a gift for understatement. Moses’s long black hair with its creamy roots is coming out in massive tufts which do, indeed, blow. Everywhere.  Piling up in insane quantities in the corner behind the kitchen door.  Stuck to the stamp on the Easter card I sent to my aunt.  Appearing, unexpectedly—and disturbingly— in my coffee cup at work.  But this was nothing compared to the wet dog hair that he and I, together, artfully distributed about the mud room, on the white kitchen cabinets, and on my person. There is no broom, no vacuum, no lint roller sufficient to the task. It’s like glue, and your only hope is to wait for it to dry and then wipe it off with a dry rag.

NASA ought to look into potential applications.

In any case, and for whatever reason, Moses had a trip to the barber shop. He was permitted to wander around and sniff at things, he obligingly lay on his back to have his tummy rubbed by several admirers, and when asked, he lay quietly on the floor nearby while my husband had his hair cut, all amidst the chaos of dryers, and razors,  and customers coming and going. He was, in short, a very good dog.

It would have been nice if a trip to the barber shop had resulted in a bit less dog hair, but I suppose I should just be grateful that he was shedding somewhere else for a while.

 

IMG_4810

 

Dog Joy

Whenever I can, I like to take our dogs for a walk in a particular woods. We have to drive there, and the dogs know the place by sight. They also know the difference between when we are actually going there, and when we are only driving past. Even if I haven’t said anything, when the turn signal goes on at a particular intersection, they know we are going to the woods. But usually, just to give them the pleasure of anticipation, I say to them: “Do you want to go to the woods?” and they immediately begin to sing with joy.

Moses, who until recently had been the least vocal of the two, is the most expressive where the woods are concerned. It’s his favorite place. He starts with warbles in a rich baritone, but as we get closer he switches to yipes in an increasingly higher tessitura, until he reaches soprano range, in keeping with his rising excitement. Pete joins in with his characteristic alto.  By the time I can get around to open the door, they are tumbling over one another to get out and run, barking as if they were on the hunt. Sometimes there are deer, or squirrels, and the dogs tear after them, disappearing into the hills out of sight. If I am patient–meaning: not too cold–I let them come back when they want to. But if I whistle they always come. I can hear them coming usually before I see them, and they arrive at my feet bustling with joy and pride.

Their happiness delights me, and is often the best part of the day.

IMG_6841

Hard Choices

My gift to my husband this year was a series of tickets to plays. Our first was this past Saturday, the Milwaukee Rep’s Of Mice and Men. Since this was my husband’s gift, the choice was made to please him, because this is most definitively not my kind of story.

So, embarrassing fact: I was an English major, and I read a lot, as you might imagine (And I should also point out that I am of an age in which English majors actually read literature. No, seriously. It was something that was required.), but somehow, I had managed my whole life never to read Of Mice and Men. I suppose we all have gaps in our educations, but this was an intentional one. I knew instinctively that I would feel bad reading this book, and I hate feeling bad. In fact, I spend a great deal of effort and energy working on feeling good. I knew vaguely that Lennie was mentally challenged, but I was content to leave my information level there.

So (spoiler alert, for those of you whose education gaps are similar) when they shot the dog in the first act, I had a pretty clear idea of where we were headed. Recognizing foreshadowing is an English major thing. My husband, who watched me uneasily out of the corner of his eye pretty much during the entire play, said later that he was fully prepared for me to break out in noisy sobs when they killed the dog. He was holding his breath about what might happen at the end. To me, I mean, not to the characters. He, literate, cultured, and urbane creature that he is, had actually read the book.

Curiously, I was utterly dry-eyed throughout the entire play. This is not typical of me, since, as my family never lets me forget,  I cried at the end of the sailboat race in Stuart Little. But I have been thinking about the story for three days now.

I have been wondering about George; wondering about the choice he made. Could he come to terms later with the relief he must have felt? Could he forgive himself for what he did, even though he did it to spare his friend pain and terror? Did he go on to fulfill the dream he had carried so long in his wanderings? If so, was he able to find joy in it? Or was it poison-filled?

And isn’t living with your choices–without regret–a difficult thing? Or is regret the right thing? Do our souls require it?

If you live nearby and have not seen the Milwaukee Rep’s performance, you should go. The actor who plays Lennie, Scott Greer, is exceptional.