On the heels of my trip to Portland, I left Washington on Tuesday, October 11 for a trip to the Midwest. The trip is scheduled to take a total of nineteen days, with the first part devoted to research on my new project, and the latter intended for readings (in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Oxford, Ohio) to promote Hustle.

For the research portion – after driving through Iowa City to see my friend Deborah Kennedy, currently in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop – I spent several days in Hawarden, Iowa.








Hawarden is a small “ag” town, deep in the ocean of corn and soybean fields along the southern edge of the state. My father spent his early life here, first in a smaller town called Newcastle, Nebraska with his mother, and then – after moving to Florida to be with his father – in Hawarden, where his mother and stepfather had moved, and where he was married here for a while. I stayed at the Hawarden Harvest Inn – owned and operated by my Uncle Bill and Aunt Jennifer – talking to people during the day and writing at night.

Over the week, I mainly got a feel for the topography and spent time interviewing people who knew my father: his brother (Bill), his first son (Michael), the sisters of his first wife (Kathy and Pat), his cousin (Georjean), his uncle (Toke), and my aunt (Jennifer) who knew many stories about my father, told by people she knew.

Bill and Jennifer









I drove around and took pictures and walked the leaf-covered streets in the small suburb,  and up the three-block main street.

I also visited Newcastle – just south of Hawarden, where my paternal grandmother grew up, where her father was a farmer and a whiskey-still operator, and where my father lived with his twin and older sister for nine years.

Mainly I gathered stories. Watched the way the sun set on the fields. Felt the weather turn as fall set in, while the temperatures dropped into the thirties, the leaves changed further, and the cold set in on my knuckles.

Also, I rode a combine through a cornfield with a guy named Davey. I got to see how a gravel pit is operated. I learned how power lines – which my father worked on – are constructed. I learned about the Soo Motel, that my grandparents operated.








I was a sad to pull my rental car away from the Harvest Inn on Wednesday afternoon. I feel grateful to all of the people who spent time talking to me and showing me around. But I have a feeling, as this story further unfolds, that I will soon return.