The launch of "Garrison Keillor and Friends"

A new adventure begins

So here’s the story. For one whole year, March to March, I’ve sat in this apartment with my wife who is reading the paper off her cellphone and reading e-books from the library on her Kindle, and gradually it dawns on me that this is the future of publishing and if I want my wife and other smart people to read my work, online is the way to go. I’m 78. I had a long lovely magical career, doing a two-hour live radio variety show every Saturday night made up of the sort of stuff I loved as a kid sitting in front of a big Zenith radio — music, comedy, commercials for coffee and biscuits and the Fearmonger’s Shop, cowboys and a private eye, news from a small town, more music — how many people get to make a career out of their own childhood? It went on for forty years and ended when I was a month shy of 75.

I don’t need another career, but once a writer, always a writer, and I’ve been busy during the pandemic. I wrote a novel and a memoir and then another novel and now I’m working on two more. When you lead a monastic life to avoid viral infection, there is plenty of available time.

I’ve already published twenty-seven books the old way, deforesting large tracts of northern Wisconsin, and it’s exciting to think of going digital. If a New York editor accepted my new novel, One Last Time Back Home, or the two in progress, Frankie & Johnny At The Insurrection or Shakespeare’s Mom, they wouldn’t come out until 2023 at the earliest. This is painful to an old man. I want to connect with readers Now. With digital publishing, I could have a bookin your hands on Tuesday. My weekly column already comes out that way: I write it on Saturday, you can read it on Wednesday.

Besides, New York editors are Wellesley and Barnard graduates in their mid-twenties and they’re not interested in a small town in the Midwest where people say, “Okay then. You bet” and “Bye now.” And the only reason to publish hardcover is to win awards and I’d rather have readers.

So that’s my news. I’m opening a “Garrison Keillor and Friends” account on Substack and you’re invited to sign up for free to receive regular emails that include my weekly columns and frequent notes and letters, a trove of original limericks, most of them pure as drifted snow, and various revised Lake Wobegon monologues and some videos of me performing when I was young and good-looking, and, if you choose, you can venture beyond the paywall to obtain One Last Time Back Home about millennial entrepreneurs invading Lake Wobegon and getting rich by manufacturing artisanal firewood and organic sun-dried manure and a dance video that teaches math called “Let’s All Go Rithm” and Dorothy at the Chatterbox offers a gluten-free menu. Or Shakespeare’s Mom in which she tells him, “Enough with the love sonnets. If they’re really love sonnets, why don’t I have grandchildren? Put away the How do I love you? Let me count the ways and finish Hamlet, sweetheart. It’d be a tragedy if you didn’t finish it. You’re stuck on Act 2 because you like him and you don’t want him to die, but he has to, darling. His dad was killed by the guy who marries his mom and then his girlfriend goes nuts and drowns herself? What is he going to do? Find a therapist? Of course he dies. He gets in a fight with the girlfriend’s brother, he gets stabbed, he makes a speech, he dies. People’ll love it.”

Shakespeare says, “I was sort of thinking of writing a comedy.” She says, “Will, I love you but you’re not that funny. Trust me, I’m your mother. Finish Hamlet. To write or not to write: that is the question. And the answer is, Yes. Hamlet is what people’ll be reading in school centuries from now.”

I emailed Jenny a couple pages of Shakespeare’s Mom and it was lovely listening to her laugh. She has a very musical laugh and it wasn’t polite laughter, it was wholehearted. After twenty-five years, a spouse can tell.

There’s more: a podcast, interviews with favorite poets, a Q&A where readers can joust with the author, and a section I’m looking forward to — Memoir Amendments in which the memoirist comes clean — and The Writer’s Almanac may wind up here, and that’s my big news. Spare the forests, employ the ones and zeros, instant publishing delivered to your reader, phone, or laptop. It makes me happy just thinking about it.