You Might be Drawn to my Book If: A Quiz



Would you enjoy “The Reluctant Archivist?” Take the quiz and find out!’      

1. Seeing the phrases “mental illness,” “politics,” and “mystery” together makes you feel:  a) nothing in particular  b) intrigued  c) somewhat repelled.

2.  You would rather read:   a) a book set in the here and now     b) a book set in medieval  times      c) a book set in the 1970’s

3.  To read a book to its end, you need:   a) over a dozen quirky characters   b) the possibility that the main characters find no meaning in their experience         c) a main character who realizes his purpose

4.  Your usual attitude toward the Midwestern U.S. is:    a)  it’s a down-to-earth place   b)  seems kinda boring to me        c) never been there and don’t care to go

5. You think the main character should usually:   a) show flaws but also great resilience    b) never waver and be strong as iron     c) have the most weaknesses and limitations  of any character

6.  Your ideal fiction book has:  a) steamy romance and innuendo       b) mystery elements and twists       c) new technological gadgets

Chose most of these? 


* 1970’s setting

* intrigued by mental illness, politics, and mystery

* main character who finds his purpose

* the Midwest is a down-to-earth place

* flawed but resilient main character

* twists and mystery

You’ll enjoy “The Reluctant Archivist.” 




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Hello, My Name is Ambivalent

Ambivalence in real life is a pain. 1747917718_7d941b5441_zBut my ambivalent book character, Mill, may pique your interest.  Just read the synopsis:

Ever since his participation in high school debate team, Milliard (“Mill”) Fairbairn has known he wanted to pursue a career in local politics. Becoming the mayor of Champaign IL has now become The Goal in his life.

As Mill’s coalition and campaign gathers steam, his older brother Gary, always less ambitious but equally intelligent, plunges into a traumatic future from which even his resourceful brother can’t extricate him.

Mill, ever-supportive, is relieved when Gary achieves some stability, but it is quickly threatened by Mill’s conniving political rivals, who will use any opening to discredit Mill. One night their efforts even threaten Gary’s life and home.5879429534_90b400b642_z

As Gary loses emotional ground, Mill’s own vulnerability to stress becomes more and more apparent. Not willing to entirely give up The Goal, Mill’s distraction and self-sabotage nevertheless nearly derails his plans forever. In the end, however, a change of direction provides the very information necessary to get back on track and achieve what Mill could never have accomplished at home in Champaign.

I’ve been preparing to publish my book, “The Reluctant Archivist” for several years now. I’ve revised the heck out of it. It needs to either be published, or perish.

Shall I send it out to fifty agents, hoping one will like my synopsis enough to consider promoting me to a publisher? Or do I pay a publisher to publish and help me promote my book?

Since you’re not my mother, my publishing angst probably won’t move you. But leave a comment if my synopsis does!

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Mill’s Campaign Canapes

In my upcoming book The Reluctant Archivist, Mill and John’s class presidential campaign rally at the University of Illinois showcases some foods that dominated the 70’s landscape in the Midwest. For example, Mill’s Campaign Canapes, composed of a tablespoon of deviled ham on rye with a gherkin to garnish, were and probably still are welcome finger foods for informal gatherings.

Do you remember the deviled ham in the white can with the red devil adorning it? If so, why share your 1970’s nostalgia and post a comment at

Quench your thirst for meaning–read. 14827095698_3f0083a596_z

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Novels for Foodies


13530614_fd1036c444_bThis week on the Hotline, Pili Gómez asked for recommendations fornovels with foodies as main characters, noting that she’s already a fan of the Comisario Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri and the Detective Carvalho books by Vazquez Montalban. As usual, you all came through with great suggestions—dozens of them:

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Writing Fiction for Foodies


I have a love-hate relationship with cooking. The responsibility of putting something not only edible but healthy on the table wars with my longing to put up my feet at day’s end. But the sense of accomplishment I savor when dishing up a casserole made from unprocessed ingredients seems rare and beautiful–an achievement only outshined by giving birth to my daughters. Perhaps these periodic Martha Stewart impulses stimulate the same endorphins as finishing a Jillian Anderson work-out. No doubt such research would be easier if I actually completed both tasks the same day. Someone should really write a grant for this.

While I’m prone to rhapsodizing about food, I haven’t yet decided whether I am a “foodie.” No doubt a Buzzfeed quiz would be happy to impose their assessment on me, but I prefer self-evaluation. I finally settled on these standards of measure:

1) Preoccupation with exotic ingredients (saffron-infused oil? organic double matcha?) only available at a store at least thirty minutes from one’s home. Extra points if the store doesn’t sell Spam or cigarettes.

2) Possession of a sufficiently large cookbook collection to qualify one for a TV spot on “Hoarders” or similar. (and an equally colossal array of online recipes)

3) A marked preference for novels in which the main character’s favorite recipes are featured. Extra credit if recipes are listed at the back of the book. (or if the main character is a caterer)

4) Willingness and/or compulsion to make homemade (and probably organic) versions of common kitchen staples, such as ketchup or peanut butter.

And finally:

5) Frequent snapping of food selfies while fantasizing about becoming a restaurant critic. (being paid to eat–Lord have mercy!)

A score of two indicates developing foodie tendencies. Three or more positive responses correlate strongly with foodie-ness. Implications of scores of four and five should be obvious. My score fluctuates between two and a half and four, depending the amount of time until Christmas is due to arrive. No, I can’t explain the two and a half.

As I sat polishing my book The Reluctant Archivist, I noticed foodie-ness creeping in. Interesting food sightings pepper the narrative, which I’m now confident will enhance the plot. In fact, I think it’s time to embrace the food plot device–maybe even feature a recipe or two. Even if Mill Fairbairn, main character and earnest politician, is far from a chef.

Do you read about food? What does it mean to you?

Quench your thirst for meaning–read.


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Today I Met A Time-Traveller

This past week I promised to endure a technology time-out, and failed on an epic scale. We had decided it was time to give my daughter my old phone, so I got a smartphone last week. Not the best conditions under which to begin! Not only did my technology “fast” rule out email, instant messaging, and live streaming video, but even the most basic CD player had to be avoided.

Which made me wonder–what would happen if Mill, my book character from circa 1975, arrived on the scene smack-dab in 2015 and requested my help? Here’s my take on Mill’s first visit to the 21st century:

The man approached me where I stood consulting my phone in front of a suburban Old Navy store, his walk betraying his inner-CEO in operating mode.

“Excuse me, I can’t seem to find a pay phone anywhere,” he said, smile valiantly trying to put me at ease.

I slipped my phone into my purse and made eye contact, my words emerging in fits and starts. “Uh…they all got ripped out years ago. Do you want to use my phone?” I reached inside my capacious bag to help.

He stopped me, his hand glancing my forearm. “Oh no, I couldn’t ask you to interrupt your day,” he said, as if apologizing for a major inconvenience. He offered a smooth hand to shake.

“I’m Mill Fairbairn. And you are?”

“Good to meet you, Mill. I’m Julie Hadler.” I wasn’t sure why, but I felt I’d just met an elderly man, though Mill clearly carried less years than I.

“I’ve been out canvassing–have a flyer. I’m a candidate in the mayoral election and I really need to contact my campaign manager.” He handed me a white piece of paper on which light purple words marched across the page in pica font.

“I’ll be getting something better than mimeographs soon, this is all I could afford right now.”

Mimeographs? I read the crowded page, confusion setting in.

“So, Julie, maybe you could help me another way–would you happen to have a map on you, or be able to give me directions? I need to get downtown, and I’m hopelessly lost.”

Mill pulled out a little notebook and pen while I dug out my phone and touched Google Maps.

“Oh, we misunderstood each other. I don’t need a calculator. I’m fine there. I just need directions to…” He consulted his notebook. “3345 N. Clark.”

Hoping to streamline the strange encounter, I typed furiously. “Um, sir,” I turned around my phone and held it up about six inches from his nose. “It’s all good, I already got the address on Google Maps.”  Poor soul must be from a third world country. Funny, he didn’t have an accent.

Mill’s neck arced back, Dracula recoiling from a crucifix. “What’s that? It looks like a tiny robot-computer-thing.” He wheeled around and scanned other passersby. “Am I on that Candid Camera show?”

I couldn’t stifle a snort. “You mean, a hidden camera show? No, it’s just my app.”

He seemed to be sorting through mental files. He lowered his head near my phone and face and whispered. “This isn’t a film shoot, is it? I’ll pay you to edit this out. I mean, I kinda sounded like an extra on a Doctor Who episode for a minute.”

My confusion mounted as I backed up a few paces, considering if, rather than an immigrant, the man was AWOL from his inpatient detox program. “Listen, I’m not the film editor, but maybe  you’d feel better after you eat something.” I rummaged round until I found the protein bar in my purse. I offered it to him.

“Oh, thanks, but I try to stay away from candy bars.”

“It’s just a protein bar, are you diabetic?”

Mill seemed puzzled and gestured his intent to change topics. “I know, maybe grabbing a cab would be the easiest way–I think I saw a couple earlier. Thanks anyway, it was nice to meet you, Julie.”

I shrugged as he strode to the curb and looked down the block. In less than a minute, he successfully waved one down and stepped in. The weather was hot, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw the cab’s windows begin to lower. What I did not expect was the thunderous yell that reached me even as the cab rolled away.

“Aaaaah! Did you see that? The windows…they just went down…all by themselves!”


Items referenced here and unavailable in 1970’s (which I did not avoid using this past week): cell phones, high-speed photocopiers, cell phone apps, protein bars (unless you were a hard-core body builder) and remote-controlled car windows.



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Which of the Two Are You?

There are two types of people in this world: those who feel compelled to label others, and those who don’t. 

That said, if you had no choice but to travel in time to the future or to the past, which would you choose? I would explore the past. In a way I’ve already had little choice, having a historian father whose greatest joy was to spend vacations at presidential museums and other historic sites. Because of his mini-lectures I impressed docents and dates alike with my grasp of life in past eras.

Granted, living in an era without texting or elliptical machines could be a hardship, but more subtle advantages would abound. Imagine what you could learn about your own resilience and creativity when you fell in love with a confederate soldier who could not accept, nor even comprehend, your ambition to be a contestant on “Ninja Warrior.”

Historical fiction could, in fact, be defined as time travel sans Wayback machine or  TARDIS. I gravitate toward the genre because I prefer tBack_to_the_Future_The_Ride_at_Universal_Studios_Japan_2o focus less on the physics and mechanics of trip than the conundrums my character will have to resolve in his time and place.

My current book-in-progress, The Reluctant Archivist, takes place primarily in the 1970’s–the age in which I grew up filing mental images of life at school, home, and our small town. My access to these facts far exceeds anything I learned in physics class.

My main character, Mill Fairbairn, grows to adulthood in the mid- 70’s and pursues his political ambition unaided by the Internet or Starbucks coffee. Because I want my readers to imagesenter his world and find it fascinating, I  take up this challenge: for one week I will avoid using any technology, eating any food, or doing any activity not available to Mill in the 1970’s.* And I will definitely fall short. You will hear about my lapses and mistakes, the book will improve, and you reap those rewards.

*to avoid losing my part-time job, I will use my computer and cell phone for work-related tasks only. Paying bills is not an optional activity.


Filed under character sketch, politics, time travel

Story Based on My Book Character


Mill gazed at the four-foot-high columns of paper, looming like steles in an Assyrian temple. They shouldn’t be anywhere in there. But he’d looked everywhere else: under his desk and atop it, in one of the two file cabinets anyway. The other file cabinet squatted on the other side of the desk, mocking his frustration.

His Crusaders meeting was this evening, and he needed to be ready. His Crusaders wouldn’t last very long without it.  Sure, they’d feign their usual commitment to the cause, but their work ethic would drop off substantially. And he really couldn’t blame them. Good thing they’d started meeting at the campaign headquarters–he’d be mortified if anyone saw this chaos on entering his front room. He blew out a shallow breath and ran his fingers through his hair, a color often termed “oak” in the furniture biz. His eyes alit on a newspaper article about Illinois’s Governor, and within seconds he had abandoned his search to read about  lukewarm gubernatorial support for Community-Integrated Living homes, or CILAs. But how much of that rhetoric could he file under “truth?” If he only maintained files on Truth he’d have no problem finding what he sought today.

Decisions made at today’s meeting wielded great importance for the next–and last–month of his mayoral campaign. Results of polls and community canvassing guided Melissa in the next promotional strategy. But if he couldn’t provide the expected resources would they continue to assemble round, leaning toward his every word, loyal as golden retrievers? His accelerated heartbeat voted no.

CILA article devoured, Mill considered discarding the newspaper. It had already resided, rent-free on his desk, for three weeks. Again he hesitated, reluctant to part with a story nestled so close to his brother’s needs. He would clip the article and trash the newspaper later. With an Incredible Hulk-like spurt of vigor he pawed through the remaining newspapers and magazines on his desk, then turned to the box atop the file cabinet. He upended it, then slowed and pieced through each piece of paper, breathing through his diaphragm as if readying for a television conference. Nothing.

Mill tried to talk to himself nicely. They won’t abandon you because of something like this. How long have you lead them through the wilderness, without even a figurative staff of supernatural power to succor them? Perhaps he could substitute another item for the usual offering. Yes, that could work. He’d call–who? His mind sorted through recommendations Rich had mentioned only last week. The crew had been somewhat enthusiastic at the time. Well, not un-enthusiastic, anyway. He had put his phone book–where? He gazed across the room at the coffee table, weighed down like Atlas carrying the world. Was that a crack in the table’s glass top? Maybe he should move some of the boxes of stuff to his bedroom. Set them on the floor next to his college campaign memorabilia. He didn’t want to damage the coffee table.

As he picked up the first box, he nearly dropped it in surprise. The Yellow Pages sat underneath, reliable in its vocation of adding height to short things– children unable to see over the tops of dining tables, for example. He leaned sideways, shifting the box’s weight to one arm as he grasped the phone book at its spine with the other hand. The box clunked on the floor next to the table. Straightening up again, Mill noted a small rectangle of paper losing its place inside the phone book’s cover and drifting toward the floor. He didn’t retrieve it immediately–his fingers busy doing the walking through the book.  When he’d found a few options, he headed for his kitchen phone. But when his foot skidded on the scrap, he bent and scooped it up.

Fortunately Mill’s neighbors couldn’t see him raise his arms in jubilant salute–a candidate about to give his victory speech. He was lost himself in a jig of joy.  Of course he’d stuck it in the Yellow Pages. He’d done it deliberately, intending to note the organization’s number on the scrap and take with him to the meeting. Whew! He would languish no more on the shore of broken dreams. Thanks to this buy-one-get-one coupon, Mill could order extra. And the Crusaders would munch their pizza as they gave reports, brainstormed photo opportunities, and made him mayor.

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Writing As Advocacy


Mill Fairbairn is a mental health advocate, lesser known but no less determined than U.S.  Rep. Tim Murphy. (sponsor of HR 3717, “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis”)  He’s also a book character. Like many advocates, a crisis struck close to home and propelled Mill into the fray.  Rep. Murphy introduced HR 3717 in 2013, and unfortunately, it’s “still just a bill.”

Will my letter to my congressman make a difference? I want to be more like these two gentlemen, so I’m going to do something I don’t often do. I am going to presume the answer is yes.  I am going to set my butt down and write a letter supporting HR 3717.  Not just clicking to sign a letter and speed it on its way, but composing each word.  A letter from Julie–author, social worker, and parent. What a concept.



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What Would Jane Addams or (insert your hero here) Do?



It’s not that difficult to be an advocate. Even something as basic as pointing out your child’s strengths to their teacher is advocacy.  We all serve as advocates,  motivated by concern for our loved ones. The challenge lies in identifying the compelling issue(s) which will drive us beyond the needs of our families to those who have nothing to give us.  We can then make time to reflect on where to cultivate our patch of passion in the garden of justice. We can. Being intentionally goal-oriented and focused on a particular organization can be helpful in moving out of our private space and into the complex world of injustice and problems awaiting solutions.

For me, the challenge of more thoughtfully and consistently listening to local and national news was my starting point.  This week a variety of stories on National Public Radio captured my imagination: the U.S.-Iranian nuclear program talks, the mental health system that may have failed the Germanwings pilot. I’ll continue, in the next few months, to comment on my progress in becoming more aware of political issues. The goal is personal for me: to become a better writer and Christian citizen.

I admire my book character Mill for his natural bent toward political advocacy. He seems intuitively to know what issues should take priority and how to persuade others of their importance. Another gifted advocate you’ll want to know.

Quench Your Thirst for Meaning–Read.



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