Archive for October, 2015

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  • October 17th, 2015

The Elephant is out!


I apologize for having been absent from the blog for so long, but my pancreas has been a bad boy, and pancreatitis is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (well, excepting Rush Limbaugh, Mitch McConnell, and the Republican presidential clown contenders). But I’m healing and will be back in the fray before long. Enough about me– the big news is publication of my newest book The Exploding Elephant.

The war was, as they say, “raging” in the Pacific. The war in Europe was about over with the ragtag Germans still trying to kill anything that moved. Burl Ives sang “The Ballad of Roger Young,” and Elton Britt sang “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” about a crippled boy wishing to go and get shot to help the war effort. This was the Bluegill Bar of my kidhood. My Uncle Hud manned the bar dispensing beer, booze, and bullshit in equal amounts. He and another uncle, his brother Bud, owned the Bluegill.

Today they’re gone as are most of the loved ones from Birchwood, Wisconsin, but the Bluegill remains, upgraded and modern. But, I’ve tried to capture the spirit of the Bluegill Bar and Birchwood in three books. The fictional town is Birch Lake, but any old fart like me will recognize it as Birchwood.

The latest of the trio of books is The Exploding Elephant following Billy Barnstorm and the first of them, Grandma and the Buck Deer.

A boy named Bobby is the central character of all three books. He’s adolescent in Grandma, loses his innocence in Billy, and is about to graduate high school in Elephant. Mostly they’re humor, but, like real life, stories can get complicated and murky.

To give you a taste of the Elephant, here are a few pages from one of the chapters.

Mulligan picked out a River Runt, bristling with treble hooks, and a new steel leader. He tied the leader on and snapped the Runt to it. Meanwhile, Al drifted with the current which would take him around the end of Murphy’s Island and toward the lee shore where, perhaps Mulligan could cast into weedy shallows without hooking himself, Al or a passing airplane. The antique Johnson outboard coughed, sputtered and died. Wavelets slapped against the boat. As Al bent over his tubercular old outboard, Mulligan resumed slopping awkward casts toward the island.
“Holy Jesus!” Mulligan shouted. “I got one!” Al looked up from the defunct outboard and with the prescience born of a lifetime of fishing knew instantly that Mulligan had hooked his scarfaced fish. He instantly fumbled for his filet knife. If he couldn’t cut the line somehow, he was halfway prepared to use the knife on Mulligan. The idea that this obnoxious outlander could steal his trophy was unimaginable. But there would be no surreptitious cutting of the line this time—Mulligan did the unthinkable.
As the huge fish made a dive to go under the boat, Mulligan countered with a mighty heave that brought the fish out of the water like a Polaris missile…and into the boat, filled with pike rage. The fish landed in Mulligan’s lap and thrashed demonically, teeth and treble hooks flashing. Mulligan howled and fell over backward into his open tacklebox. Al watched horrified as his client screamed in pain, a 35-pound northern clubbing his vital parts in front and a confusion of sharp hooks assaulting his backside. “Get him off me!” Mulligan shrieked. Al had subdued many an active northern, but not one this big and not one this active. He wanted no part of it.
Mulligan managed to push the fish into the bow of the boat long enough to squirm around and reach in the tacklebox. Al noticed that Mulligan’s butt bristled with lures, all with one or more hooks imbedded in his ample flesh. Moaning in pain, Mulligan pulled a .45 caliber pistol from the tackle box and before Al could shout a warning, emptied the gun into the pike…and the Bitch, which began spouting water from a half-dozen holes in its bottom.

If you want to read more adventures, you’ll have to buy the book.

Well, Bobby is headed to college and a different life. Maybe that’s the end of the Birch Lake saga. We move on. But Birch Lake will always be there with the occasional trophy pike sculling in the weed beds around Snake or Penny Islands. The football team will get better and the old timers will talk about that disastrous first season over Bruenig’s Lager at the Bluegill. Burl Ives will be replaced on the jukebox by (God forbid!) Garth Brooks, a sign of the decline of civilization.

If you want to visit Birch Lake, you can do so by visiting the three books, available at Or you can order from amazon or Barnes & Noble, but I make more if you order directly from me, and Amazon doesn’t need more money.

So enjoy your visit to Birch Lake, and if you get even a fraction of the the pleasure I’ve had in creating this little north woods town, I’ll be happy for you.

The Leopold shack

Joel Vance reading “A Sand County Almanac” at the Leopold shack

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