Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Common, sacred ground

Somehow, nearly 15 years have passed since September 11, that deadly terror attack that forever changed the United States of America. As that morning unfolded, you knew you’d never forget where you were or what you were doing when you heard the news a plane had struck the World Trade Center. And when it was clear that terrorists were to blame, and that they’d killed thousands of people, you knew the world would never be the same.

I think about that day a lot. I was in college, and recall watching a fighter jet race across the blue sky. Maybe it was in the air as a result of the attacks. Maybe not. But at the time I couldn’t help but wonder if jets and terrorism and the feeling of vulnerability were the new normal. For a lot of people around my age, it marked the first time we felt like the innocence was lost. They were dark days, for sure, but over days and weeks and months the dark cloud lightened and there was patriotism and American pride like I’d never seen to that point in my 22 years.

Maybe time has colored my memory. Perhaps the divisions that seem so sadly evident today were just as evident in the days following the attack. But I don’t think so. We were all just humans, living on common soil, aghast by what had taken place but inspired by so many stories of brave people who ran toward the tragedy, into hell on Earth, to help people they didn’t even know. Some of them made it back out. A lot of them didn’t, their life cut short by a sense of duty to help their fellow human.

The names of all the people who died during the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center are etched in bronze panels that that ring two massive reflection pools. These pools, each an acre in size, are within the footprints of where the Twin Towers stood, high and proud until that September day. I visited those pools last week and looked at the names inscribed in bronze. Sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. All of their pictures hung inside the museum. Faces to go with the names. Perhaps other people inside the museum with me knew some of those who died. Perhaps not. Either way, we all were bound by the tragedy of lives taken unfairly and before their time. Despite the pervasive sadness of that museum room, it was somehow reassuring to watch people from all walks of life react on a human level to pictures of those whose lives were lost.

In another part of the museum was a mangled fire truck. A plaque explained that all 11 firefighters who used the truck died that day. Most of them had just finished a long shift and were headed home when the first plane struck. They turned around, pulled on their boots and jackets, and ran into a building from which others were trying desperately to escape. We so often talk about the thousands of lives lost that day, an older gentleman standing near the fire truck was saying, but we rarely think about the fact that five times more people survived because firefighters and other rescue personnel cared more about their fellow man than themselves.

Emotions run deep in a place like this, yet in a world that seems so divided, it’s a stark and refreshing reminder that the things we have in common are far greater than the things that drive us apart.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

New look for Two Shots and The River

There’s an old saying about not judging a book by its cover. And while I tend to agree, there’s no denying that, for better or worse, the cover is a vital aspect of any book.

The covers of Two Shots and The River recently were redesigned, and I’m really excited about how they turned out. The cover theme will be the same in the forthcoming Tony Leach book, and I’ll share that as the book release draws closer. Thanks to Whitley Mike for the awesome covers.

As always, I appreciate everyone who has read my books and taken time to leave a review or share a note. As an author, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing from readers.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Running down five of my favorite authors

If you ever need a conversation starter, one of the best questions to ask is this: Who are some of your favorite authors? Though I’ve been an avid reader for a long time (which is one of the reasons I decided to start writing books of my own), it’s amazing how often someone has a suggestion for an author who’s unfamiliar to me.

When someone asks me what I’m reading, or for the names of some of my favorite authors, I typically tell them about these five authors and their books.
Photo credit: Amazon.com

I’ll start with Doiron because his new novel, Widowmaker, comes out tomorrow. It’s the latest in the Mike Bowditch series of novels. Bowditch is a game warden in Maine, and Doiron does a remarkable job of painting a picture of the landscape in which Bowditch works, and the people with whom he deals. There’s plenty of tension – and twists and turns – to keep your attention to the very end.

Thor’s latest novel, Foreign Agent, also is available tomorrow. Thor’s protagonist is a counterterrorism agent named Scot Harvath. These books, set in various parts of the world, are the definition of thriller. Thor may write fiction, but you really get the feeling when reading his books that you have an inside look at the war on terrorism.

Box is best known for his Joe Pickett series of novels, though he’s authored several others with different protagonists (which are just as good). Pickett is a game warden in Wyoming, and one of the strongest aspects of Box’s books is the vivid descriptions of the West. The books also tend to be woven around an environment or natural resources-related theme.   

Sandford’s books, in general, are based in Minnesota or just beyond. He’s written several series, but my favorites are those that feature Lucas Davenport or Virgil Flowers. Many of the Davenport books are set in Minneapolis, while the Flowers books are set in the southern part of Minnesota. Sandford is fantastic at bringing quirky characters to life. All of his books have been tremendously enjoyable.

I’d say I’ve been hooked on Flynn since reading the first paragraph of his first book. (Flynn passed away in 2013 at the age of 47; Kyle Mills has continued writing the Mitch Rapp series.) The main character in this series is Mitch Rapp, who’s a counterterrorism operative with the CIA. The books are an awesome blend of politics and the fight against terrorism. There are few books I reread, but I’ve read all of Flynn’s more than once.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The anti-muskie agenda goes deeper than muskies

Note: The following appeared first on my blog over at Outdoor News. It's an important issue that I'll continue to highlight.

When Minnesota lawmakers failed to pass a Game and Fish Bill before the close of this year’s legislative session, the plans of anti-muskie Minnesotans and their political pawns were temporarily derailed.

Muskies have become a convenient tool for those folks who don't want 'outsiders' on 'their' lakes.
 Some in the Senate wanted a four-year moratorium on muskie stocking. Some House members wanted to preclude the DNR from stocking any of the six lakes it had identified as possibilities for this year. The fact that efforts to pass a Game and Fish Bill continued even as a drama Shakespeare couldn’t have dreamed up unfolded in the session’s final minutes tells you all you need to know.

Some people hate muskies. But that hatred alone didn’t make muskies the centerpiece of what pretty much was a failed session when it comes to fish and wildlife. No, muskies were simply a useful tool for what amounts to an anti-public-waters agenda. That such interests nearly won the day – and, no doubt, will be back next year – is scary indeed.

Muskies are the alpha predator wherever they live, and that mystique is among the reasons people fish for them. But science tells us they don’t run roughshod over the bodies of water in which they live, decimating sunfish and walleye populations. But if you allow your imagination to go to fairytale land, perhaps you can see muskies attacking swimmers or killing walleyes just for the hell of it.

It’s not the truth, but something about muskies makes you stop and think: What if? Individual lakeshore owners and some lakeshore associations in Minnesota have preyed upon people’s imaginations in a cynical attempt to keep muskies out of “their” lakes. After all, it wouldn’t work too well to just come out and say what they’re thinking – “If you don’t own property on ‘our’ lake, you’re really not welcome” – would it? That’s not a Minnesota value. It’s so much easier to keep pushing the same tired and wholly unproven refrain about how muskies lay waste to anything in their paths.

It’s sad, but probably not surprising, how easy it’s been for the anti-public-waters folks to find lawmakers who are all too willing to help advance their wholly un-Minnesotan agenda.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Will audit lead to Minnesota deer-management changes?

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
There are about a half-million deer hunters in Minnesota. When it comes to a specific user groups for which the state Department of Natural Resources manages, the only one I can think of that’s bigger – in the fish and wildlife realm, anyway – is fishermen.

And for the past few years, deer hunters as a whole haven’t been an especially happy group. The harvest has been way down – the past two years, it’s been as low as it was following extraordinarily harsh winters in the mid- to late 1990s – and many hunters are complaining about seeing a lack of deer from their stands.

Now, we’ve had a couple of severe winters in the recent past, and that no doubt has put the hurt on deer. But hunters also are concerned that the DNR has lowered deer numbers to what they have as unacceptable levels.

I don’t think there’s a single reason for the current situation in which we find ourselves. In all likelihood, deer numbers through the 2000s were reduced too far in some areas, and ill-timed severe winters exacerbated the problem, or at least put the lid on herd-growth potential at an inopportune time.

All of this is a long way of illustrating the importance of next Thursday, May 26. That’s when the Minnesota Legislative Auditor will release a report on Minnesota’s deer-management program. The audit has been under way since the middle of last year, and some of the folks who pushed for it were irritated about the timing of the release. Typically, these audits are released during the legislative session, so lawmakers can digest them and potentially act on them. This year’s session ends May 23.

Here’s what the audit will cover:

• How much does the DNR spend on deer population management? How are these activities funded?
• How does the DNR estimate and monitor Minnesota’s deer population? How do these methods compare with recommended practices?
• How does the DNR establish the state’s deer population goals and hunting permit strategies? To what extent do the DNR’s deer population goals reflect various stakeholders’ interests?

I haven’t seen the audit and have no idea what the auditors found. My guess is that there will be some suggestions for improvement that the DNR can do on its own. Perhaps others will need legislative involvement in 2017.

At the end of the day, I’m hopeful the report will be something of a starting point whereby the DNR and deer stakeholders can move forward toward common goals. It does nobody any good for a user group as large as deer hunters to be distrustful – rightly or wrongly – of DNR deer managers.

These audits have the potential to be catalysts for positive change. One of the last big ones having to do with the DNR concerned a conservation officer conference. The audit found that state money had been spent improperly on the conference. The fallout from the audit led to the retirement of Mike Hamm, then head of the DNR’s Enforcement Division. Since that audit in 2008, the agency’s Enforcement Division has been stabilized and become, in my mind, absolutely top-notch.