No Winhawks were harmed in the making of this novel. 

Or Ramblers, for that matter.

If you're reading Merit Badges as a part of Winona Reads, welcome—and thank you.

Minnisapa is not Winona, but I hope you will see my love of Winona reflected in every page.

My friend Dan O'Shea paid me a tremendous compliment: he said that I did for Winona what Faulkner did for Mississippi—only after reading Merit Badges you might want to visit Winona.

My love of Winona is reflected in the streets named after my friends Bill Schuth, Pat Marcotte, Jim Bunke, and Dan Munson. (WSHS classes of '77, '77, '78, and '79, respectively.)* It's reflected in the schools named after 70s-era WSHS teachers. It's reflected in the fictional characters named after real Winona streets. It's reflected in a dozen details about the public life of Winona—its places, its media, its beauty. Some of the fun of reading the book wlll be identifying those details**.   

Winona native Indira Icon paid me another high compliment. She said she started reading Merit Badges for the local details but kept reading it for the stories and characters. I was overjoyed to hear that readers from places as different as Wyoming and New Jersey saw their lives in Merit Badges. Fiction is rooted in place but, if it's any good, it transcends it. 

If I did this right, you'll see that Winona—repurposed as Minnisapa—is a character. There is something distinctive about Winona that I hope inflects the stories of Quint, Slow, Chimes, and Barb: the way Winona grownups made their children feel prosperous, even when they weren't; the sense of humor I saw in both my friends and, later, my co-workers at the C and R unit of Winona Community Memorial; the sense of safety and possibility and ethical common sense that the town gave me; the sense of being big enough to have eccentrics and small enough to notice them; the way our plucky hippie community softened the rest of the culture.

My Winona is not the only Winona. Everyone has their own—some more idyllic, some more oppressive. Merit Badges grew out of my Winona. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to talking with you on May 3rd.    

 *For extra credit: Kootch's records is named after Daryl "Kootch" Lanz. 

**One warning: it's natural to try to locate any possible real life antecedents to the characters. It will also be a complete waste of time. The characters are distilled from the broad impulses floating in the air at the time—impulses toward heroic rebellion or what I've elsewhere called heroic-clean cutness, toward preserving the friendships we loved or lashing out at those who didn't accept us. Incidents are invented; the characters are then subjected to the indignities of nearly two decades of revision by me in the service of theme and story. By the time their stories got between hard covers, they had been so streamlined and composited and accessorized and tweaked that they don't even resemble the fictional characters in the early drafts.    

Culmination event:  Thursday May 3rd at the Winona History Center (Wanek Room).  6:30pm 

For more information on this and other events, click here.   

To ongoing (but not overwhelming) news about my writing, click here.