Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Population: 485 by Michael Perry

Last year I attended a writer's conference where Michael Perry was the keynote speaker. I found him to be funny, witty and a country hick. (I grew up in South Dakota, I'm allowed to point that particular finger.) I liked him well enough to buy his book Population: 485 and to visit his website Sneezing Cow. I finally read the book in December. After listening to Mike speak about his life in a small town and writing about it, I wanted to do the same and used NaNoWriMo to do that. But what I didn't want was Michael's influence on my own writing. Since November was over, I dug his book out of my stack of "To Be Read" books and settled in. As I read, I laughed. And cried. Some parts made me go, "Hey, I know that guy." Other parts made me wish that I was a little closer to my own hometown. Mike's voice changes depending on the content and points to his ability to adapt his voice to the subject matter at hand. I wished I was still teaching writing as I read his book. Trying to explain a concept as abstract as "voice" to 7th and 8th graders would have been much easier if I could have read passages of Mike's book, Population:485. When listening to him speak, I had to chuckle silently every time he mentioned the title, Population: 485. His skill at working his point back around to his work was wonderful to witness first hand. It inspired me to do the same when I publish my own novel. The book sells for less than $15 and is well worth the money. Being from a town even smaller than Mike's hometown led me to appreciate the sameness that connects all of us, whether you're from Wisconsin or South Dakota. He has another coming out in April, Off Main Street. I hope his book tour brings him close to Oshkosh. I'd like to see him again.

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