Tag Archive: Garrison Keillor


Minnesota Stories

IMG_2706I’ve been revising my short story “The Satellite Dish,” which is a follow-up to “The Mailbox” and takes place  three years later, in 1984. Back in my college years while I was working toward my English degree with an emphasis on creative writing, I generally wrote nongenre fiction for my classes, what is sometimes called “literary fiction,” but that always sounds so pompous that I’m reluctant to use the label.

The first one was “Me and the Mean Kid,” which was about Nicky and the rocky start he had with Jimmy, a kid in his new Twin Cities neighborhood. After that came “The New Kid,” where the tables had turned; now Jimmy and Nick are best friends and a new kid moves into the house between them. Around the time I graduated I wrote “The Mailbox,” about Nick’s grandparents on his father’s side, who live outside the small fictional town of Lewis near the real cities of Cloquet and Carlton (my home town) south of Duluth. I still have the first typewritten draft of that, as the photo shows.

There were other stories and lots of notes about the intertwining characters. The setting of the earliest story I’ve written is 1944. A number of the stories take place in the eighties and nineties because that’s when I was writing them. I had grand plans for two short story collections and a novel; I even wrote the first chapter of the novel. Its present day is 1995, but the bulk of the story would be a flashback to 1965. Not all of these details were known in the stories’ first drafts, but have been fleshed out and added in over the years.

At some point I started calling them the Minnesota Stories, and I still have a fondness for them. The ones that focus on the extended family tend to be nice little stories. There’s a subset of the Minnesota Stories set in Duluth that are more tangential and edgier, however. Some are about Nick’s dad’s cousin, but the rest are about people who he knows or crosses paths with. Those stories and vignettes are more Raymond Carver inspired than Garrison Keillor inspired.

As my schedule permits, I’ll probably continue revisiting these pieces, revising them and putting them out as e-books. Realistically, I can now imagine someday having a modest collection of stories and a novella. If I ever get there I would probably look into a print version: I like to think that could be a solid regional seller. But that is still down a long, dusty country road . . .

[Okay, here’s the deal with the title of this post. I started blogging on Live Journal in April 2008. Over the last five and a half years I’ve picked up followers here and there, especially since March 2011 when I started posting my blog on Word Press, Tumblr, and Blog Spot in addition to ol’ Live Journal. So I’ve decided to occasionally repost updated versions of entries from those first three years for my new followers. For my LJ peeps still with me after five years, I hope you don’t mind the revised reruns.]

ImageThis year my daughter got to meet Garrison Keillor at the Minnesota State Fair. She’s been listening to him on A Prairie Home Companion as long as she can remember, so she was excited to spot him walking through the crowds. She followed him around until she got the courage to rush up and ask for a photo (snapped by a friend of hers). 

I’ve been listening to Garrison Keillor since about 1977. In 2003 I was one of only a few people who got a job interview with Keillor to join the show’s writing staff. The guy I’d been listening to since seventh grade said this to me in an email: “The sketch you wrote was funny and brisk and smart and all the things that we’re looking for (and not finding in ourselves).” 

That blew my mind. So did not getting the gig! But in honor of the tenth anniversary of my coolest and least successful job interview, here’s the sketch that allowed me to meet Garrison Keillor face-to-face, presented with all due bowing down to the cast it was written for, and in memory of Tom Keith (1946–2011). 

“Happiness Through Philosophy”

by Scott Pearson 

(GK: Garrison Keillor; SS: Sue Scott; TR: Tim Russell; Sound Effects: Tom Keith) 

(CLINKING OF SILVERWARE STOPS) 

SS: What’s the matter, dear? You’ve barely touched your tater tot bisque. 

GK: I don’t know. It’s just— 

SS: It’s the cumin, isn’t it? It’s too spicy. 

GK: No, no, the cumin’s fine. I’m just not that hungry. I’ve been depressed lately. The whole country has taken a wrong turn. I don’t know if anything will work out. It’s all out of my control. 

SS (AFTER A PAUSE): It’s the tater tots, isn’t it? It’s too crunchy for bisque. 

GK: No, no, the tater tots are fine. I just can’t enjoy your nouveau Minnesota cuisine when I have this miasma of melancholy, this— 

TR (FRENCH ACCENT THROUGHOUT): This malaise, this maladie, if you will? 

SS: Oh, look, dear, the late Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous French existentialist. Would you like some tater tot bisque, Monsieur Sartre? 

TR: No, thank you. 

SS: It’s the cumin, isn’t it? 

TR: No, I am certain the cumin is fine. 

GK: May we offer you some absinthe, Monsieur Sartre? 

TR: If you are having some, but do not get it just for me. 

GK: It’s no trouble, really, we already had some made. (SOFT POP OF BOTTLE BEING OPENED FOLLOWED BY GENTLE GURGLE OF POURING ABSINTHE) I hope instant is okay.

TR: This is fine, thank you. (SIPS LOUDLY) Hoy-oh! That puts the “sin” in absinthe, does it not? 

GK: (SIPPING) That’ll spin your beret, all right. 

SS: (SIPS) Trè oui. Tête de jambon et fromage, n’est-ce pas? (GURGLE OF ANOTHER ROUND BEING POURED, SOMEHOW SOUNDING SLOPPY, THEN MORE SIPPING) Shall we sing “La Marseillaise?” 

GK: No, please, I need to talk with Monsieur Sartre about something. 

SS: It’s the tater tots, isn’t it? 

GK AND TR: It’s not the tater tots. 

GK: Monsieur Sartre, you must be here to help me. How can I stop worrying about everything? I want to be happy, but it seems there’s so little I can do to change the world for the better. 

TR: Descartes said, “Conquer yourself rather than the world.” Very existential. If any solutions to your problems can be achieved by your actions, that is your responsibility. But if they are outside your influence, then forget about them. There is no outside force that can bend them to your will. 

GK: You’re right. Why do I take the weight of the world on my back when it’s out of my hands? It’s so simple. I feel so much better, so carefree! Merci beaucoup, Monsieur! Honey, pass the bisque! 

(MUSIC FOR “LA MARSEILLAISE” SWELLS, THEN FAST FADE UNDER….) 

TR: Once again, happiness is achieved…through philosophy. 

GK: A Public Service Announcement brought to you by the Philosophy Advisory Board. “Philosophy—just think about it.”

[Original version posted May 7, 2008]

There’s been a lot of media coverage of Garrison Keillor’s comments on retirement this week, so it seemed like a good time to share my Keillor story. I started listening to him in seventh grade or so. That was back when he still did a morning show during the week in addition to the Saturday broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion. I would set my alarm earlier so I’d get to listen to more of the morning show before going to school, and I rarely missed a Saturday broadcast. I was a big fan of his radio shows and his books.

Flash forward to July 2003. I responded to an ad in the paper for a comedy writer job for Minnesota Public Radio. I sent in some writing samples. The response made clear what the ad did not: this wasn’t just any comedy writer position, this was a staff writing job for Prairie Home Companion. Holy crap. I’d been listening to the show for well over twenty years. Next I was asked to write a fake commercial spot for the show. I could use one of their faux sponsors or one of my own. I created my own: the Philosophy Advisory Board. I’ve previously posted the script, so you can read Happiness Through Philosophy over on my Live Journal archives. A few days after I sent in the script, I got an email from Garrison Keillor.

Did I mention holy crap? Keillor said my sketch “was funny and brisk and smart and all the things we’re looking for.” Wow. I felt like I had this job in the bag, my ship had come in, I was being called up to the show. We arranged for an interview. The day came and I was pretty freaking nervous. I went to the studio and Keillor wasn’t there. There’d been a mix-up with his schedule and he thought I wouldn’t be there for another hour. The extra time waiting actually helped me calm down because the receptionist chatted with me the whole time. Finally the man himself came in, apologized for being late, and led me deeper into the offices. We stopped in a break room to get a drink. He offered coffee or water, I asked for water. He went into the fridge to grab a bottle and couldn’t find one. He leaned further in. It seemed like the entire upper half of his body disappeared inside the appliance, and he’s a tall guy. I’m watching him root around in there, thinking, “Garrison Keillor is getting me a bottle of water.” I felt like giggling. He finally gave up and asked if tap water was all right, so I got a mug of water, he got some coffee, and we went into his office. As you can see in this more recent photo, his office is a bit cluttered. We sat down and I went to put my mug down . . . and there was no open surface. I ended up using the mug to push aside some books just enough to make a space on the corner of his desk. 

I had brought in my first published short story, “The Mailbox,” which had appeared in Minnesota Monthly, the Minnesota Public Radio magazine. I handed over the magazine and he immediately opened it and started reading the story. He flipped through the pages, stopping here and there to read. After awhile he looked up and said that it reminded him a bit of Raymond Carver, and asked if that’s what I’d been going for. In my head I was saying, “Actually, I felt like I was being more like you when I wrote it,” but thought that might be a bit too much, true though it was. Instead I went with the equally truthful, “I had been reading a lot of Carver around that time, now that you mention it.” We talked a bit about Carver’s story collection Cathedral.

At this point the interview was going famously. I made him laugh a few times, he’d compared me to Carver . . . what could go wrong? I’ll tell you. In reality, I was a deer and the headlights were coming up fast. I was in the room with a guy I’d been a fan of for over half my life. And at the heart of it we were still a couple of shy Midwestern boys. Somewhere around the fifteen minute mark, something went south. Not sure what. But it got quiet. He wasn’t asking much. I was too freaked out to try to re-energize the situation. What I really needed was some good old Powdermilk Biscuits, which give shy people the power to get up and do what needs to be done, but I didn’t have them. I sat there thinking, “This has run off the rails, what can I do?” 

There was nothing I was able to do, and the interview wandered along for a while longer, we talked about various openings on the staff, and then he walked me out, telling me to send in some ideas for the website and he’d get back to me. But deep down I knew he was just being polite. I’d missed my ship. It was an enormous blow, and particularly galling given I’d nailed that script. I couldn’t listen to the show for about two years after that. But a few months later I got a job as a copyeditor for MBI, which, with some promotions and buyouts, is still the place I work. I frequently listen to the show on Saturdays, and my daughter Ella is a huge fan, and thinks it wild that I interviewed with the guy on the radio and sat in his office with him. I better get working on some new scripts. If he’s retiring, he might be looking to hire some writers . . . and this time I won’t freeze!

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Crossposted from my head to various places on the electronic worldwide entanglement machine.