Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Mike, in my book, you're a giant."

In my day job, I'm a Realtor. This summer I sold two buildings on my courthouse square for a brilliant man named Mike Kraft. I wanted to say something about Mike in my blog, and finally decided to simply post the letter I wrote to him after we closed the sale.

The Wild Building: 20 N. 9th St. in 
Noblesville, Indiana, one of Mike's restorations.

I want to thank you for allowing me to take you through the process of handing your Noblesville properties to a new owner. The trust you and Betsy put in me was humbling and inspiring. Far too often I work with people for whom the homes and historic buildings are simply houses and structures.  You and I both know your buildings, and what you did with them have meant much more to Noblesville.

I admire you more than I can say. You were a pioneer on the courthouse square in Noblesville with those two buildings at the very time I was struggling to do the same thing in the surrounding residential neighborhoods, in my own meager way.

In the 1980s most of the locals had given up on the courthouse square. When some business leaders were urging the county commissioners to tear down the courthouse to make way for more parking and move county offices to the highway, you bought and restored those two buildings and nurtured first class tenants. You inspired others. The money and effort you expended gave others permission – made them feel it was reasonable to do the same with their buildings. You inspired a mayor – Mary Sue Rowland, to promote downtown and gave her a solid example to point to as a model for downtown’s future. And when her Main Street downtown redevelopment program looked for it’s first office, you gave them one for $1 a month.

The home of Alexander's Ice Cream, Mike's other
stunning project at 876 Logan St., Noblesville IN.
You showed vision when it was lacking. From your office in Washington, DC you respected your hometown history when many of the folks here had forgotten or given up on it. When you bought those buildings twenty five years ago our square as a dingy, sad place. Back then I walked my children in strollers down its cracked and broken sidewalks and imagined it alive and vibrant again. Today we have one of the most dynamic courthouse squares in the Midwest. The seeds you planted 25+ years ago are a big reason why. Families walking their kids in strollers through downtown today have the luxury of taking it for granted. I’m so happy they can.

A few days ago my wife and I walked downtown and ate at Matteo’s, another tenant you nurtured in another building you once owned, and on Friday night we walked downtown with her 10 year old son to one of the buildings I just helped you sell, Alexanders, got ice cream and sat out on a bench. On both of those nights we looked out on the courthouse square – nearly every parking space taken, people on the sidewalks window shopping, the restaurant full, music spilled out of the sports bar down the street, trees growing up around the restored courthouse. Those nights I thought of you and the seeds you planted.

When I had my first weekly newspaper column in the 1990s, you sought me out on your trips to Noblesville, just to sit and chat. Do you remember that? I know you sought me out because I was a lonely voice of opposition in a town that didn’t care much for opposing views. Your encouragement meant the world to me and gave me reason to keep writing, erasing some of the doubts that preyed on me, countering the nasty letters to the editor in response to my columns. When I was the first Main Street president, fighting to get the rest of the courthouse square moving in the direction of your example, while I was being ignored or rebuffed by building and business owners as a starry-eyed meddler, your notes of support kept me going.

Do you recall 10 years ago you visited town while I was salvaging architectural detail from a house on 10th Street the city was planning to tear down? It was a house I rented when I first moved to Noblesville. You told me you had taken piano lessons there as a child and asked me to find you a memento. In the attic, I found the original ornate screen door that was once on the front door of the house. There was an old brass bell still hanging from a wire at the top of the door, a bell that would have rung when you as a young boy came through the door for your lessons. Made me happy to hand that tarnished old thing over to you.
Mike Kraft, on his recent 80th birthday.

Your sentimental love for this town blows me away. 

The years have taken their toll. I know your feet, your hands, and your mind are all moving more slowly now. As we worked to sell these properties it broke my heart a little when I sensed over the phone and through the emails that you were feeling powerless and of little use to the world around you. But you have moved mountains in the town where you grew up, the same place where I’ve made my life and where my own kids grew up, on the same streets you ran and loved as a child.

In my book, you are a giant.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I Don't Write Science Fiction! (not that there's anything wrong with that)

The Hoosier Contrarian has been on summer vacation. I've gotten married, helped plan my oldest son's wedding, finished editing my 2nd book and prepared to move my new wife and her three kids into my home and my 2nd novel is about to be released. It's good to be back.

My first novel has a time travel element. I did that only because it got my character where I wanted him to go, and then I quit talking about time travel. Yet the first publisher classified my novel of romantic historic fiction as “science fiction.”

At my very first book club talk there was a guy at the end of the table in the Greenfield library looking very much like the middle-aged comic book dude from The Simpsons – receding hairline, but long and back pulled into a pony tail, pasty white complexion and a little plump, high-top Chuck Taylors and a They Might Be Giants t-shirt. He couldn’t wait to raise his hand.

“I have to say, you got the time travel science totally wrong.”

“Oh good,” I’m thinking, “he wants to talk about the least important thing in the book?”

“You see, the magic beam your protagonist stuck his arm through to reach into 1893 . . . that would have sheered his arm right off and sent it across the universe because the earth is millions and millions of miles away from where it was in 1893.”

Are you f@#king kidding me!?! The first book talk for my first novel and this is my first question? KILL ME NOW!”

I took a deep breath. Thank God I’d been a high school teacher, used to presiding over hostile audiences. “Did you like the Terminator movies?” I asked.

“They’re passable,” the comic book nerd shrugged, “the second movie being the best.”

“I agree. So when the liquid metal robot who’s morphed himself into a policeman drives a motorcycle out a 3rd story window, jumps off, grabs onto a hovering helicopter, smashes the windshield, morphs back into liquid metal and oozes through the broken glass to take over the helicopter . . . so, at that moment, were you thinking, ‘that’s so fake?’ or did you suspend reality and just enjoy the movie?”

The comic book nerd shrugged sharply and crossed his arms, suddenly indifferent, “Sure, whatever.”

The discussion turned to the meaning of the book and the changes that have come to small town life over 120 years. Future book talks were far more welcoming.

My very first online review appeared on the Barnes & Noble website, starting with, “I don’t normally like science fiction, but . . .” I was so apoplectic I almost didn’t read the positive words that followed.


Within six months of publication, my publisher filed for bankruptcy and all the books immediately became my property. One day while I was doing yard work, a box truck appeared in the driveway with several thousand books. We unloaded them into my garage.

Being an author sounds way more glamorous than it really is.

With no publisher, I was left to promote and sell the books myself. I arranged book talks in big towns with big libraries and had few people show up. I did talks in small towns with no library to standing-room-only crowds. I’d show up at one book store event and be treated like a celebrity, and show up at another to find the manager on duty didn’t even know I was going to be there.

Such is a writer's life when you're a bottom-feeder.

That first novel was re-edited and re-published last year under the new title, Noblesville and in little over a week from now, my 2nd novel, The Salvage Man will be published. After parenting, writing is the hardest I’ve ever worked without meaningful pay.

Last Friday I got a call from a framing shop that had a print of mine ready for pick up. At the cash register a woman looked at my bank card and then up at me in reverence, “Are you Kurt Meyer, the author of Noblesville?”

I smiled, “Yes, I am.”

“I must to tell you how much I love that book. I just finished it and was overwhelmed. How wonderful to be touched so deeply by a story.”

This is where I get uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as I was with the comic book nerd, but still uncomfortable. It is a notable Hoosier quality to want recognition, but then not know entirely what to do with it once it arrives. Indiana is the land of corn, race cars, and self-deprecation.

I responded in a way that would make my mother proud, “Thank you so much. That’s very kind of you. I’m so glad you liked it.”

But I was especially relieved she didn’t call it her favorite science fiction novel.

Buy Kurt's novel: Noblesville