Fall Foliage in UP Michigan September 2023: Some Color

Fall Foliage in UP Michigan September 2023:
The trees are turning, but give it another two weeks

The primary fall foliage question about trees turning color in the UP of Michigan: Are the trees turning colors yet in the UP? 

The answer as of Sept. 3, 2023: Kind of, but I would not pack up the family and drive up here to see them, yet.

This is my first fall foliage report about trees turning color in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The trees are turning colors but the majority of them are still quite green. Red maples seem to be quite red, but sugar maples and oaks, most, like I said, are still green and will be for another week or two.

That said, if this is your first visit to my website, donaldjclaxton.com, let me, as The Timberlander, tell you why the UP of Michigan should be your top destination for fall foliage in September 2023.

Here’s a link to the national fall foliage map for 2023:

Upper Peninsula in Fall: A Must-Visit Destination

If you have never heard about the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, you’re missing out on one of the most beautiful and unique destinations in the United States. The Upper Peninsula, or “UP” as locals call it, is a narrow strip of land between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

It’s home to some of the most pristine wilderness areas, stunning waterfalls, and secluded beaches in the country. The UP is divided into two main regions – the Eastern UP and Western UP.

The Eastern UP is known for its rugged shoreline along Lake Superior, while the Western UP boasts vast forests and rolling hills. Both regions offer unparalleled beauty throughout the year, but fall is undoubtedly the best time to visit.

Why Fall is The Best Time to Visit

Fall in the Upper Peninsula is simply magical. As summer slowly fades away, nature puts on a spectacular show for visitors. The trees explode with vibrant colors of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns creating a breathtaking sight that will leave you speechless.

But it’s not just about fall foliage – there are plenty of other reasons why you should visit during this season.

For starters, fewer crowds mean more opportunities to enjoy quiet hikes and scenic drives without being interrupted by throngs of tourists.

Additionally, temperatures are cooler but still mild enough for outdoor activities such as hiking or camping without suffering from the scorching heat or pesky insects that populate this area during the summer months.

Perhaps most importantly, fall offers visitors an opportunity to experience local traditions such as apple-picking festivals or Oktoberfest celebrations with fewer lines or crowds than during peak seasons.

If you haven’t visited the Upper Peninsula during fall yet – what are you waiting for? With so much natural beauty around every corner, you’ll be glad you made the trip.

Fall foliage begins in the UP as temperatures begin to cool off.

Fall foliage begins in the UP as temperatures begin to cool off.

The Colors of Fall

The Changing Leaves and Vibrant Colors

There’s just something magical about the fall season. The crisp air, cozy sweaters, and warm drinks all contribute to the charm of autumn. But without a doubt, the most spectacular aspect of fall is the changing leaves.

This Labor Day Weekend, however, the weather has gone mad. It’s supposed to be 90° F on Monday!

The Upper Peninsula is blessed with an abundance of deciduous trees that put on a show-stopping display each year. From deep reds to bright yellows, the colors of fall are truly mesmerizing.

It’s as if nature is painting a masterpiece right before our eyes. Even if you’re not particularly outdoorsy, it’s worth taking a drive or stroll through one of the many parks or scenic routes in the area just to witness this natural wonder.

Fall foliage begins in the UP.

Fall foliage begins in the UP. As you can see, trees are turning colors, but not like they will be in two or three weeks. This Labor Day Weekend the temps are in the high 80s! But later in the week, they begin to drop once again….

Best Places to See Fall Foliage

Of course, some places are better than others when it comes to seeing fall foliage in all its glory. One such place is Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

Not only does this park offer stunning views of two waterfalls, but it’s also home to miles and miles of hiking trails that wind through forests bursting with autumn colors.

Another must-see location for fall foliage is Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

This park boasts more than 90 miles of hiking trails that showcase breathtaking views of Lake Superior and its surrounding forests during peak fall colors. For those who prefer a more leisurely experience, taking a drive along M-28 from Munising toward Marquette offers picturesque views at every turn.

Tips for Capturing the Perfect Photo

Whether you’re an amateur photographer or just want to snap some photos for your Instagram feed, there are some tips and tricks to help you capture the perfect shot during peak leaf-peeping season.

First, timing is key.

While it may be tempting to head out on an overcast day when the colors appear more saturated, the best time to shoot fall foliage is on a sunny day around mid-morning or mid-afternoon. This is when the sun’s rays will illuminate the leaves and bring out their true colors.

Second, using a polarizing filter can help reduce glare and boost color saturation, resulting in more vibrant photos.

Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with your subject. Use a macro lens or get as close as possible to capture all the intricate details of each individual leaf.

But be cautious, this advice does not apply to black bears, moose, wolves, or coyotes.

The Upper Peninsula in fall is truly a sight to behold. From the changing leaves and vibrant colors to the best places to see them and tips for capturing the perfect photo, this region is an autumnal paradise that shouldn’t be missed.

Outdoor Activities: Embrace the Beauty

When it comes to outdoor activities in the Upper Peninsula during fall, there is no shortage of options.

The cool, crisp air is perfect for hiking and taking in the breathtaking scenery of colorful leaves.

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a leisurely stroll, there are plenty of trails that will suit any level of expertise.

A visit to Tahquamenon Falls State Park gives you and your gang the chance to hike along the riverbank trail or venture out on a more challenging path through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

But hiking isn’t the only way to experience fall in the UP.

This time of year also marks hunting season, which draws hunters from all over to partake in this tradition.

There’s nothing quite like spending a day out in the woods with friends or family, waiting for that perfect shot to bag that big buck.

Bear Season also opens in mid-September.

If hunting isn’t your thing, fishing is another popular activity during fall in UP.

Cast your line into one of many lakes or rivers and try your luck at catching trout, walleye, salmon, or steelhead as they make their way upstream for spawning season.

Hiking Trails: Explore Every Corner

The Upper Peninsula’s scenic routes offer some of the most picturesque views in all of Michigan during the fall season.

With centuries-old trees lining almost every road, it’s no wonder why people come from all over just to take a drive through this area during autumn months.

But it’s not just about driving – there are plenty of hiking trails that allow you to explore every corner of this beautiful region.

One of the most popular hiking trails in the UP is The North County Trail, stretching 460 miles from Ohio to North Dakota. Hike along its length and experience a diverse range of landscapes from sand dunes to dense forests.

Another great hiking destination is the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park with its rugged terrain and awe-inspiring vistas.

Hike up to Summit Peak, which offers a panoramic view of Lake Superior and all its surrounding beauty.

Munising Falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore provides an easy hike with stunning views that showcase some of the most colorful fall foliage in Michigan. With trails that lead you through a forested landscape to waterfalls and streams, it’s a must-visit spot for any hiker.

Hunting & Fishing Opportunities: Take A Chance

One of the main draws for people visiting UP during the fall season is hunting or fishing on one of many lakes or rivers. From grouse hunting in national forests to walleye fishing in one of many creeks or rivers, there’s plenty for outdoors enthusiasts to enjoy.

For hunters looking for an exciting challenge, UP has some excellent opportunities; black bear hunting season starts on September 10th and runs through October 26th. Whitetail deer season runs from Nov 15th – Nov 30th where hunters can take pride in bagging their own venison meat for winter meals.

Fishing enthusiasts won’t have any problems finding places full of fish like salmon or steelhead during their run upriver for spawning season late August till early October. Anglers can also cast lines into Lake Superior which offers some big catches such as lake trout or even cobia – not commonly found up north!

Kayaking & Canoeing: Calm & Exciting

If you’re looking for something more active than just sitting on a boat fishing, consider kayaking or canoeing down one of many rivers in the UP. While it may seem intimidating, it’s a great opportunity to experience the beauty of Michigan in a unique way during fall.

For something more exciting, try the Sturgeon River, which offers challenging rapids and scenic beauty. It’s not for everyone but those who crave excitement and adventure will find this waterway perfect for their needs.

Paddle down the Manistique River that weaves through dense forests and canyons with rapids providing excellent opportunities for kayaking.

Local Cuisine

Famous pasties (meat pies)

No trip to the Upper Peninsula is complete without trying one of their famous pasties, pronounced “pass-tees.” These savory meat pies are a staple in the region and can be found in almost every restaurant and bakery.

The best place I know to get these is at the Crossroads on Highway 553 between Marquette and the old KI Sawyer Air Force Base near Gwinn.

The traditional filling includes beef, potatoes, onions, and rutabaga, but you can also find variations with chicken or vegetables. They are the perfect comfort food for the chilly fall weather and will leave you feeling warm and satisfied.

Freshly caught fish from Lake Superior

The waters of Lake Superior are home to some of the freshest and most delicious fish you’ll ever taste. Trout, whitefish, and salmon are just a few of the species that can be caught in these pristine waters.

Many restaurants in the area serve these fresh catches, cooked to perfection with seasonings that perfectly complement their natural flavors. If you’re a seafood lover or just looking for something unique to try during your visit, be sure to indulge in some fresh fish from Lake Superior.

Craft beer breweries

Craft beer has exploded in popularity over the last few years, and the Upper Peninsula is no exception. There are several breweries throughout the region that offer unique brews that reflect both local tastes and traditions as well as international influences.

From dark stouts to hoppy IPAs, there’s something for every beer lover here. And what better way to enjoy a cold one than surrounded by nature’s autumn beauty?

Hidden Gems

Off-the-beaten-path attractions such as abandoned mines or ghost towns

The Upper Peninsula may not be as well-known as some other travel destinations, but it’s full of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Abandoned mines provide an eerie glimpse into Michigan’s mining history while ghost towns give visitors an opportunity to experience the past.

These off-the-beaten-path attractions are perfect for history buffs and adventurers alike.

Secret waterfalls or hidden beaches that are only accessible by hiking

For nature lovers, the Upper Peninsula is a dream come true. Hidden waterfalls and secluded beaches provide a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But be prepared to work for it!

These hidden gems are often only accessible by hiking through dense forests or along rocky trails.

But the effort is well worth it when you finally reach your destination and are rewarded with stunning scenery and complete solitude.

Quaint small towns with unique shops and restaurants

The small towns scattered throughout the Upper Peninsula offer visitors a glimpse into local life and culture. Each town has its own unique charm, with quaint shops, cozy cafes, and friendly locals eager to share their stories. Whether you’re looking for antiques, handmade crafts, or locally sourced food, you’re sure to find something to love in these hidden gems.

Fall Foliage Report Conclusion: Make a plan for another 2-3 weeks out

Fall in the Upper Peninsula is truly a magical experience that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. With its stunning fall foliage, outdoor activities galore, delicious local cuisine, and hidden gems waiting to be discovered around every corner — there’s something for everyone here!

So what are you waiting for? Plan your trip soon before it’s too late!

You won’t regret it — trust me on this one.

Off-Grid Living 2023: The Timberlander’s Super Cool Project List

Discover the building projects fueling my off-grid living 2023 adventures.

Last Wednesday, my Great Pyrenees, Maycee, and I arrived in the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Mihcigan to begin our off-grid living 2023 adventures. In that time, I have decided on the perfect spot for the 16-foot by 12-foot “shed” to build for immediate shelter and to get us out of our tents.

After a winter of planning and gathering vintage hand tools and a few power tools, too, it’s time to get to work.

This is meant to be a going off grid for beginners starter guide, if you will.

To keep things simple and efficient, I’ve had lumber for the flooring delivered. Sunday I started clearing a new work site.

I can’t stress how much I crave a familiar, safe, and secure environment for us this year. This is a journey of self-sufficiency and personal growth. But we’ve also encountered a new villain for our Season 2 storyline: a young black bear. One that made two visits in and around the site Tuesday.

So, let me share with you many of the projects I have on the list to complete. These include projects that require completion before I can do the bigger tasks. After completing these projects, I’l be able to experiment with alternative power solutions, rainwater capture, and waste management. But none of that happens if these things don’t get done in the right order and as soon as humanly possible.

No stress, right?!

By reading my posts, watching for updates on TikTok, and long-form videos on YouTube, you can be part of this adventure and help shape the direction and success. Let’s make this off-grid living dream a reality together. Let’s embark on this exciting journey into the world of off-grid living in 2023.

Upcoming off-grid living and timber framing projects

My adopted mantra is “simple life, simpler living.”

In order to achieve simpler living, I’m opting for a series of projects to help make the work ahead easier to accomplish.

Finishing site clearing and putting up the tents

I left the UP in October, 2022 unable to pack everything I wanted to take with me for the winter. Some things were left behind in a lean-to.

Heavy, wet snow fell in the Marquette area in May. This brought down a number of trees leading out to the land, but it also collapsed my little structure. No big surprise, but in itself, an experiment. Stronger beams with much greater diameters might have had a better chance.

I won’t make that mistake again.

The snow load for structures in the UP is 70 psf. Most places in America have a much lower load demand requirement.

Cleaning up the mess took a few days, but it’s cleared now.

Where I will set up both tents Wednesday, July 12, 2023.

Where I will set up both tents Wednesday, July 12, 2023.

We have a 10-person tent Maycee and I occupied last summer. I can’t find a level patch of ground to put it up. So I have stuff under a tarp outside and stuff in the car. I’m doing what I can to keep it organized, but not having things where they belong is driving me buggy.

In the meantime, we’re staying in a tee-pee tent.

The temporary off-grid living 2023 tee-pee made by Ozark Trail.

The temporary off-grid living 2023 tee-pee made by Ozark Trail.

Putting up the big tent and us moving in will be of great relief to me. But we’re a ways from that happening, even after another long day of work.

Monday evening brought torrential downpours, thunderstorms, and hail to Marquette.

Sleeping in the tee-pee that night was a little damp.

Did I mention the problem I’m having with a young black bear. 

Monday I decided to put the big tent in a particular spot. With that, I also made plans to move the tee-pee.

I had a good spot picked out Tuesday afternoon.

After hours of clearing two prime sites, I then saw our little black bear friend no more than 40 yards away. I roared at him, trying to “be the bigger bear.” The ursid stopped and looked at me. I roared once more.

It blinked as if it were saying, “That’s all you’ve got?”

So I fired a shot over its head.

The first time, that got it to move. About 15 yards. Then it looked at me once again.

I roared once more.


The bear just sat there looking at me looking at it.

This time I called for Maycee as she did a great job of scaring off the bear(s) we encountered last year.

Calling Maycee made the bear take off; this time running 30-40 yards half-way up the ridge where I really want to put a “shed.”

I called Maycee once more.


The bear stood at the side of the steep incline for a few more seconds and I fired in its direction again.

This made it climb higher up the ridge. No simple feet, let me tell you.

Out of site, I set my focus on my Great Pyrenees. My champion defender.

About five minutes later I found that she’d taken off down the road toward the way out of the woods.

When she heard me honking the horn and starting up the car, she finally came back to me.

All this is necessary to tell because I’d decided to put the new 16′ x 12′ shed/cabin not far from where I saw the bear at first.

But I’d also been planning to put the two tents out there, too.

Getting our supplies inside the tents

Assuming Maycee and I do not get eaten by the bear(s), our supplies need to go into our two tents.

The many supplies that need to go into our tents.

The many supplies that need to go into our tents.

And then I can also empty the car of stuff I’m hauling around because I don’t have the current tent space.

Making other amenities–A beginners starter guide 2023

These are tools I need to build, will post to YouTube and TikTok as I go.

Saw horses

The first necessity before moving forward is saw horses. I need at least two and at this writing, I’m not sure if they’re going to be made from lumber or logs. Most likely, there will be sets from both forms of construction.

But I need them to make other projects and to work on logs for subsequent structures and projects on the land this summer.


My simple workbench developed by Rex Krueger, had to stay in Montgomery. There was not any more space in the car when we rolled north.

I need to build a couple of these. One for outside projects on the new quick and dirty site.

I’ll need another for woodworking I do for timber framing, making wooden custom crosses to sell, and a host of other reasons.

This likely is going to be another situation where I have one or two built with lumber and then others that are hand-hewn logs, etc. I am looking forward to using my left- and right-handed bearded hewing axes.

A roller board

To make this I will take a 4″ x 4″ x 2.5-foot beam and put a hole through it so I can attach wheels to opposite ends. From there, I’ll add a 2 x 6″ piece of wood to each side. When I need to move things like osb 4′ x 8′ flooring, I’ll plop them up on the gizmo, and off we’ll go.

This will alleviate the burden on my already bad back, while also ensuring the tongue and grove don’t get dragged through mud or dirt.

A compost toilet

Yeah, a crappy subject.

But try going potty outside with the mosquitoes, flies, and ticks.

I’ve got the toilet seat, buckets, bags, wood chips, and urine separator already. This project also includes plywood siding, more 4 x 4s, and hinges for the lid.

A full-sized bed

The other night at Walmart I bought a blow-up full-sized air mattress.

Last year I slept on the ground in my sleeping bag.

My back, this year, says, “No mas!”

So with some 2 x 4 x 6″s I will build the supports and use more 4 x 4s to make the four posts.

Add in some timber frame-like mortises and tenons and the bed will be as good or better than your favorite bedding place.

And I’ll be sleeping in the woods in it!

Picnic table and desk restoration

The next project is to make a picnic table out of 4″ x 6″ x 8′ boards for the top and seats. I’ll likely use 2 x 4s for the legs and braces.

My desktop made it through the winter under a tarp.

The legs, nailed underneath didn’t fare so well. So I’ll be using some 2 x 4s to shore those up and lock them in place, too, with some cross braces.

Other tools I need to make to do more projects.

For now, I’m just going to list the next “projects” in a list. I’m getting tired and the rain is subsiding for the meantime.

  • A 16-foot ladder
  • A pole for Peavy/Kant
  • Fencing
  • Raised beds
  • Compost bins
  • Flats to keep things off the ground in the stuff off the ground in the storage tent
  • Further clearing of the area

Off course, all these things also include the construction of the initial shed.

Here’s the best part, to me, at least.

I’m not going to be done with any of these things any time soon.

Well, I will be ticking them off the checklist to move on to the next project, but what I mean is that there’s a constant string of projects to keep my mind occupied and to provide video and tutorials about as I go forward.

In my post for Monday, I included information about how for now, I am posting as The Timberlander on TikTok.

I have a new mailing address:
Donald J. Claxton c/o The UPS Store
3224 US Highway 41 N
Box 208
Marquette, MI 49855
Now that you know even more about the projects to come, if you want to help support my efforts, I’m humbled.
Your generosity is so special. In fact, one reader sent $100 via Venmo Tuesday night, and for that, I’m sincerely grateful.
Small miracles of support like that encourage me and also help me keep going.
I graciously receive support via PayPal.me as DonaldJClaxton and Venmo using the same.
What gets lost in the journey to get off the grid is that doing so is not inexpensive.

Sponsor a project or contribute to the effort.

If I’m doing all of this off-grid establishment work, I want to share it with you. Sponsorships and contributions help make that easier to do.
If you have a product or project you want me to test that involves off-grid living and want to ship it or become a sponsor of the building video and posts, please use the address above.
You can also use social media to send DMs.
I really want to do some experiments with solar, wind, and hydropower this summer in the UP.
Not to mention rain-water harvesting, purification, and consumption.
Gardening, building a greenhouse, and so much more.
Here’s a link to the detailed account of my off-grid living efforts so far this summer.
Here’s the link to the story about us leaving for the UP.

Back to the UP for the Best in Off-Grid Living in 2023

We are late in heading back to the UP.

An update on the operations, developments, and plans for 2023.

A month longer than planned, Maycee and I long for the 2023 return to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

In 2023, we tent camped for 13 weeks and 4 days on my dad’s 40 acres of rural forest land near Marquette, the largest city in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Twenty-four thousand people live in Marquette.

Upon making our return, we will resume our off-grid living adventures. Our time there is anything but a typical Upper Peninsula Michigan vacation.

We don’t spend a great amount of time visiting Upper Peninsula attractions. Of course, other than the ones in the Marquette area.

No matter though. If you check out my YouTube channel you’ll see we have plenty of adventure on our own.

The longer we are away the higher the level of “overwhelm” I feel increases.

Many things delay the road trip to the UP at present.

These include:

  • Finishing the overhaul of donaldjclaxton.com
  • Editing several YouTube videos from last year’s video cache
  • Finishing repair or making of timber frame tools we’ll need when we get there. 
  • Developing some plans to use for timber frame projects to do this year. 
  • Figuring out better ways to supply power and water to our new site in the woods.
  • Getting packed and on the road.

Ugh! But what about more words on the page?! 

These activities also include generating a massive amount of content before we go to the UP.

I need four more iterations of myself to tie up presentations, tools, and more.

Let me rephrase that. I need four or five others who know much more than me, to work things into shape!

Donald J. Claxton emoji with me at one of my Macs, writing feverishly, and then someone calls....

Donald J. Claxton emoji with me at one of my Macs, overhauling donaldjclaxton.com and creating feverishly; until there’s a distraction! Then the offender gets a special look as I continue to prepare for a return trip to the UP.

Overhauling donaldjclaxton.com by using Divi and WordPress tools.

I’ve been working on overhauling donaldjclaxton.com for months.

Months, I tell you! 

My family and friends as me what I’m doing today: the answer is always the same of late.

I’m working on the website. 

Learning new ways to use the Divi Builder.

In the last month and a half, I’ve learned that many things I was attempting to do with the site were wasting my time.

Many aspects of the Divi Theme Builder, made by Elegant Themes, improved over the last year.

Many of them while Maycee and I were out in the woods. (Disclosure: This link to Elegant Themes website is an affiliate link. If you buy Divi, I may receive compensation from the company at no expense to you.)

This, while the ironic point is, has not been, “easy.”

As with off-grid life, completing one thing requires finishing 20 or 30 more before the intended task.

YouTubers who focus on Divi.

But I have learned much from each of the following YouTubers. Thank you to all, you’ve been so very helpful.

Particularly Mak, and Natalia.

Each YouTube channel will help you get your head around advancements to the Divi Builder.

Speaking of YouTube…

Here’s how to watch last year’s videos from the UP.

Last summer brought an increase in subscribers to my YouTube Channel @DonaldjClaxton.

While overwintering in the South, I thought there’d be much more time to get to the catalog of raw clips needing editing and posting.

Unfortunately, between learning all I can about as much as I could, I’ve not gotten to them yet! But they’re coming.

This summer, I’ll also be adding drone footage from above the trees. (Get an FCC Remote Pilot License aka Part 107 Certificate, and practice flying the thing!)

Timber frame vintage hand tools repair, sharpening, and making

Before going to the woods for the first time in years last summer, I spent an insane number of hours watching Canadian YouTuber Shawn James on his personal channel and on “My Self-Reliance.”

This also included binge-watching Trustin Timber and his Canadian modular log cabin build.

Building a Cabin From Our Own Trees // Spring 2023

To his credit, I’ve emailed Trustin twice and he’s responded in about five minutes each time. I appreciate him making himself available like this. I really, really do.

My 2023 timber frame plans

Over the last six months, viewership of other channels has taught me so much about building timber frame shelters and small projects.

This also has led to finding vintage hand tools via eBay and at any flea market I pass.

I’ve saved tons on buying from these sources.

Tons, I tell ya!

Mr. Chickadee, the best YouTube to watch to learn about timber framing.

Hands down, the best, rugged force in building timber frame anything(s), is Mr. Chickadee. He is an ex-US Marine who moved from California with his wife to a small farm in Kentucky.

This ex-Marine has read every how-to book there must be on the art and skill of timber framing.

Sure, there are commercial enterprises out there offering incredible services, but just as Shawn James and Trustin Timber et al. are you there specializing in building log cabins, Mr. Chickadee rules the roost as far as I’m concerned. Millions of others seem to agree, too.

Mr. Chickadee includes techniques he’s learned and studied by the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans.

Know how to do a “kerf to the pith” to keep timbers from cracking or checking as the green wood dries out?

He is the only one I’ve found in hours and hours of searching who even knows, and teaches, how to construct one, and he doesn’t even include it on his own channel!

This is not an exaggeration. And it’s the solution to a lot of problems.

What is a kerf to the pith?

Mr. Chickadee claims it is a practice from Southwest Asia. One that’s quite old.

You may not also know that there are structures in Japan, China, and Korea that have stood the test of time.

Estimates say they are 1,300 years old and likely will survive at least another 800 years.

In a nutshell, a “kerf to the pith” is a 3/4’s-inch cut in the southern face of a timber beam or post, that creates a channel for moisture to escape and not cause structural integrity or cosmetic appearances of the wood.

On a tour of the property he teaches on, Mr. Chickadee points this out, almost as an “Oh, by the way.”

But this is a BIG deal for anyone whose cut wet timber and tried to do something with it.

In fact, many local ordinances across the United States prohibit the use of wood that has a large moisture content.


Because as wet wood, aka, greenwood, ages, the fibers shrink and also may twist.

This cut to the pith of the wood provides a place for the sap and water in a timber post or beam to evaporate out of the wood near the same rate as the wood on the outside.

A kerf to the pitch reduces the chance of cracks and checking happening in large timber posts and beams.

My vintage hand tools collection.

I’ve tapped into a gold mine of treasures in regard to collecting, restoring, and using vintage hand tools.

This includes:

  • Chisels
  • Hatchets
  • Peavey or Kant head–just need to cut a piece of oak when I get to the UP and fashion it to fit
  • Planes
  • Saws

All of them are well over 60 years old and in all probability, closing in or exceeding 100 years.

You see, in the woods, there aren’t all that many trees one can plug into and receive power from. And, to boot, as far off the beaten path our camp sits, there are no power lines either.

So in large part, what I use out there is hand tools. And we all know today’s made-in-China tools aren’t built to last 10 minutes.

Steel and iron may be a lot heavier, but the tools I have weathered time well.

Creating plans for the planned projects for this year.

The summer of 2022 in the UP became a lesson and reminder of what I didn’t know about what I didn’t know.

Maybe you have discovered times in your life when you’ve faced this, too.

We drove into the woods last summer with limited tools and resources. We made good and survived for 13 weeks and four days.

In 2023, I expect to find write the next chapters of  “More About What You Don’t Know About What You Don’t Know.”

2023 Plans 

Last year I found the top of a steep grade where it’d be nice to camp and enjoy the summers.

My plans this year include doing more to establish this site.

These include:

  • Sheds that measure 12′ x 16′ because they do not require permits to add out there in the woods.
  • An outdoor kitchen
  • A shower house
  • Rainwater capture system
  • Expanded solar and electric capabilities
  • Some semblance of a garden
  • Perimeter fencing to keep Maycee in and bears, deer, rodents, and uninvited humans out.

We did without these things last year.

As John Lennon once sang as a member of The Beatles, “Not a second time….”

What to do about off-grid power, water, and waste management.

As I mentioned above, the elephant in the woods comes in the shape of these three elements.

UP power sources in the woods.

Last year we began with absolutely no solar last year.


By the end of the summer, we were using a 300 Watt power portable inverter. This absolutely saved the day.

But I’ve been using the Renogy power needs calculator and come to realize that to do most of what I “need” out in the wood puts me somewhere at 5000 Watt-hours per day.

In essence, that means having a bank of some 50 solar panels to even get close!

That’s not about to happen either. 

This means complementing the power load with additional sources–wind, hydro, and thermal.

Going in this direction also gets tricky because these other sources generate electricity differently from solar.

What I’m saying is you don’t walk out into the woods, plop down a wind turbine, dangle a few wires from a pole, and connect them to the same box that’s feeding a 300 Watt inverter.

So, I’m completing my plans for how to make this work.

Water sources in the woods of the UP

Water is one of the four basic needs of human and dog life.

Last summer, I made a habit of buying more water each time we ventured into Marquette, Michigan, a fair drive from our remote location.

On average, I kept a minimum of 10 gallons on hand at all times. 

That worked for me and Maycee, but this also created limitations.

A couple of times I was able to “shower” by standing out in the rain and giving myself a wash.

Rainwater, even in the summer in the UP, doesn’t get all that hot.

2023 hydration and irrigation plans

Thanks to Katie and Greg from This Off-Grid Life on YouTube, I learned this winter about “ram pumps.”

Katie mentioned that they had seen a video from a family in Panama using one. This led to watching multiple videos of The Nomadic Movement.

How ram pumps work. 

It’s a matter of physics, but basically, hydraulic pressure, free from the need for electricity, pushes captured running water high up a hill and over crazy terrain.

You can watch the video below for more. They’re not expensive to build, PVC pipe and hoses are probably the greatest costs.

Our MIND BLOWING Off-Grid Water System / diy ram pump install

Aside from the shameless sexual exploitation of this married mom’s nipples, (yesterday morning was a thumbnail of her in purple leggings that featured every nanometer of the place God split her), their ram pump worked and delivers water uphill. If Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma lived in their house in Panama, (not Florida) this would give new meaning to the phrase, “Over the river and through the woods….”

That was a cool video, where do I buy a ram pump and how much are they?

The DIY ram pump in The Nomadic Movement‘s video costs somewhere around $130 US to build. (Seriously, y’all down in Panama, I’m sickened by the regular vulgar exploitation of your wife, Kaylee. Stop it.)

eBay has various-priced ram pumps for sale, pre-made.

This would be a plug-and-play deal, with a little bit of work.

A couple of springs on the land in the Upper Peninsula would lend to this project. 

How close they are to the hill remains to be seen. At one point, I calculated that it was 1,400 feet from one spring I located last year.

I need to find springs closer to the hill if I go in this direction.

The 2023 waste management plan

This goes beyond packing one’s trash.

Yes, I packed our trash and hauled it out.

But aside from walking around with a little trowel all the time for other wastes, well, one of the first things to do upon arrival is to construct a compost toilet.

There are still a few issues to resolve, but for the urine converter, I’ve found a couple of alternatives that will work, for free.

Getting packed and on the road.

Like most living off the grid, I’m loading as much as possible into tubs and wooden crates.

This will make them easier, and more difficult, to all load into my Chevy Traverse.

What won’t cram into one of the containers will stay rolled up or folded and then crammed into gaps.

The critical part is leaving and having enough room in the back for Her Majesty, Maycee Grace.

Maycee is on the large side of most Great Pyrenees. So she takes up about 8 cubic feet, at the least, in the back. If only I could strap her onto the car’s top!

We’ll get things loaded, but it’s going to take some tier-building and effort.

To Conclude

I look forward to leaving the hot and muggy South behind and our return trip to the UP.

My “To Do” list shortens, and then just as many, and more items, appear.

The other day I told Maycee I’m going to reach a point real soon when I rip the scab off, and northward we will be on the way to the UP.

My chores will get done; Not in my time, but in God’s.

Here I witness to you. Since my back injury in May 2016, God has taught me much about patience.

That things happen in his time, not mine.

Many of us seem to find learning to “let go, and let God,” difficult.

A blurred line often exists between “reasonable” and “going too far” with the concept.

Google Bard v. Open.ai’s ChatGPT Advice.

Last Thursday I gave my list of to-dos to the task managers available in Google’s Bard and ChatGPT.

Rest assured, this article was not written by generative artificial intelligence. No, not one word.

I’ve experimented with these products a great deal in 2023. More to follow about this, too.

My point is, however, I’m working my lists in the order of importance suggested by each large language model.

Thanks for reading. Please join my email list, you’ll see a signup form in the footer below.

I look forward to getting to the UP and getting busy.


Woodcarving Safety–Dealing with gloves and first-aid

Woodcarving safety means always wearing a woodcarving glove and not carving when you’re tired

From a lack of woodcarving safety, last night, one cut too many before going to bed, fatigue, a dulled blade, and no safety glove led to two bad cuts on my fingers. My disregard for several important woodcarving safety rules should have led me to a local ER. But some important first-aid techniques have so far kept me from getting stitches.

This post is meant to serve as a helpful reminder to help you avoid similar mistakes.

When it comes to woodcarving, safety is key; but let’s be real, newer carvers like myself often disregard a good glove and suffer those little slips that make our hearts skip a beat!

Whether you are just starting out in the world of whittling or a seasoned pro at creating delightful wooden pieces – there are essential safety measures to follow. As Gene Messer oft says, “In other words,” you should keep these safety measures at your fingertips if you want to keep your fingertips.

Safety First – Always wear protective gloves and safety goggles before you start carving

Last night, YouTube carvers were on the TV while I did my evening recliner carving spree. I’m working on a modified Harley Refsal carrot to sell as place makers for Easter dinner table settings.

Almost three hours in, I’d carved almost a dozen carrots and switched to work a little on a 2″ x 2″ x 6″ basswood Easter Bunny I’ve been working on in my “spare time.”

After hundreds of cuts, one slip while trying to cut out bunny ears, I ended up with a gnarly cut on two left-hand fingers.

Literally, a bloody mess. 

Is there a moral to this woeful story? Something I can point to? (Pun intended.)

You bet your life there is. 

Always wear a protective glove while carving basswood

You may think, “Heck, woodcarving gloved are for newbies. Doug Linker and Gene Messer don’t wear gloves when they carve for YouTube, so why should I?”

One, you’re not either one of them, and there are dozens of videos where they have on gloves. Maybe they don’t wear them so much for making videos, but like most carvers, they have aversions to cutting their fingers. You should, too.

Second, there are okay gloved and then there is kevlar.

A particular point to make regardless is that safety gloves are meant for stopping accidental swipe cuts. But point a 1-3/4s razor-sharp tip of a knife into almost anything and the tool is going to make a hole.

Now I don’t own a kevlar glove, yet. But I’m ordering one today. Kevlar is the stuff the Secret Service uses to stop bullets. But is it worth trying to see if a bullet-proof substance will stop a knife blade?

I’m not in any rush to try and find out. 

What to look for when selecting a carving glove

When it comes to carving, a good carving glove can mean the difference between success and a trip to the emergency room.

So, what should you be looking for when selecting a carving glove? First and foremost, make sure it’s made from durable materials that can withstand the rigors of cutting through a hard piece of basswood.

Second, ensure that it fits snugly on your hand to prevent any slippage. Often my index and middle lefthand fingers are also wrapped in carving gauze tape for extra protection.

Last night my hands were exposed; no glove, no tape.

This inexpensive glove I bought last fall is not safe enough for me. As you can see, I’ve cut several holes in it since October. 

My woodcarving safety glove is already full of holes.

I bought this woodcarving safety glove last fall. Already, it’s gotten cut up. It’s time to upgrade to one made of Kevlar.

Take a Break – Don’t attempt to carve for long periods of time

The importance of taking a break cannot be overstated.

Temptation often leads carvers to dive headfirst into a carving project, staying up all night until it’s complete.

This is a recipe for disaster.

You don’t want to end up with a half-finished carving that looks like it was attacked by a toddler with a butter knife.

So, take a breather! If you’re wearing your Apple Watch, heed the hourly notifications to stand up for at least three minutes each hour.

Do some stretches. Make a cup of tea or coffee. I turn to YouTube on my Apple TV and binge-watch Linker, Messer, et al. woodcarving episodes. The night before last it was a channel of The Beatles.

Take a break and your carving skills will thank you for it.

Plus, what creative doesn’t love a good excuse to procrastinate?

Use Sharp Tools – Dull tools take longer to use, and are more dangerous than sharp ones

Here’s some sound advice: never use dull tools!

Not only do they make the task at hand a total drag, but they also become quite dangerous.

Try slicing through a tough steak with a butter knife – it’s a recipe for accidental self-harm.

The same goes for woodcarving knives, gouges, V-tools, and other sharp objects.

You might think you’re saving money by avoiding sharpening your tools.

However, there is no substitute for a well-stropped tool.

The last thing you want is to end up with a gnarly cut because you got lazy and failed to keep your tools sharp.

Keep It Simple – Stick to basic shapes and avoid intricate designs until you have more experience with woodcarving

Woodcarving can be a delightful hobby, filled with the satisfaction of creating something beautiful from a piece of raw wood.

While you’re still a beginner, however, stick to simple and small projects. These help you hone your cuts. Ones where you’re not carving at an angle while roughing out a nose. Where you need to cut in straight and deep.

The intricate designs may look appealing, but attempting a complicated shape before you are ready can lead to a pile of sawdust, frustration, and cuts in your hand, not the basswood.

Think of this like playing the piano. You start out with scales and teach your hands to do differing patterns while doing scales.

You don’t start out with Bach’s fugues, Beethoven’s sonatas, or 64th-notes by Liszt.

Woodcarving is an experience that relaxes the soul. Often, the simplest designs have the most beauty. As you progress, increase your level of difficulty.

This is when you work into Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

Liszt? Find a piano channel on SiriusXM or iTunes and listen; unless you’re the Eddie Van Halen of the piano…. 

My plan of action for dangerous cuts

Having a plan of action for dangerous cuts is as important as picking out a good knife to purchase.

Common sense, basic first-aid, and a few key products are critical to keep on hand while carving.

First off, always remember that fingers are not meant to be used as cutting boards.

Second, invest in quality tools and keep them sharp; good tools really are not that expensive and you only need a few to get started.

Dull blades are the most dangerous part of woodcarving. They make for sloppy cuts and increase the chances of slips and injuries.

Never underestimate the importance of protective gear. Gloves may not look sexy, but they’ll keep your hands safer in case of accidents.

Keep a first-aid kit at the ready. What should you have in one at the bare minimum?

Donald J. Claxton’s first-aid kit

My first-aid kit includes Bleed Stop. I also keep Neosporin, New Skin, band-aids, gauze, and tape handy, too.

When I suffer a cut, the first thing I do is keep calm and grab the place I’ve cut with my other hand and apply direct pressure. Once I can grab a paper towel or clean wash rag, I cover the wound, reapply direct pressure, and then lift my hand above my head to slow the blood flow.

As soon as I can pour cool water into the cut to flush it out, I do. Most often, maintaining direct pressure on the wound while it’s under the water is necessary, too.

When blood is no longer flowing like rapids, I apply Neosporin and get it into the cut to kill any bacteria and hopefully avoid an infection.

If it is still bleeding like it was, I’ve reached a fork in the road. Fix it at home or go to the ER.

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to not require a ride to an urgent care facility or ER. But if you need to go to one, don’t hesitate.

My cuts, thankfully, have not gone too deep into the skin. Yes, they’ve been bloody as hell, but I’ve gotten the blood to stop gushing using the methods above.

But for a cut that’s a little deeper, but not quite deep enough for an emergency run, I wash the cut further, getting the Neosporin washed out, and then I’ve used “New Skin,” a product that stings going on, but helps begin making synthetic skin in order to seal a cut.

Last night I debated using the ultimate over-the-counter product, Bleed Stop, but the New Skin did the job.

Bleed Stop

My friend Joel Porter, a former Scoutmaster, told me when I cut my hand in Upper Michigan last summer about Bleed Stop.

Four packages come in a box. I keep one in my briefcase bag, one in the drawer beside where I sit and carve in the recliner, one in the console of the car, and the fourth in a mini-first-aid kit that’s next to my carving desk.   

The box says Bleed Stop is used in operating rooms to stop wounds that won’t stop bleeding. You tear open the packet and then dump it onto your wound. This is supposed to make your blood coagulate and stop the bleeding. Thankfully, I’ve not ever needed to take this step, but I keep the product close at all times.

Did I mention I’m also on blood thinners? Yes, so this stuff is extra important.

Donald J. Claxton’s woodcarving safety tips….

Woodcarving safety can mean the difference between a truly rewarding experience and cutting your fingers to pieces. Here are five woodcarving safety measures to keep in mind:

  1. Woodcarving safety must include always putting your safety first. Start with the right gloves and sharp, well-stropped tools.
  2. Don’t skip the fundamentals.
  3. Always use sharpened tools — dull ones can be more dangerous to your wood carving and yourself.
  4. And remember, have a plan for an accident—they will happen—and keep the first-aid kit close by when you carve.
  5. Having a plan for dangerous wounds will provide an important advantage for your safety.

In other words, save your own version of the Statue of David for Week 2 or 3. Maybe even year 5 or 6. Maybe.

What other safety measures do you practice while carving basswood?

Share them in the comments section below.

Be safe and happy carving!

Donald J.

Marquette Michigan DQ on US 41 Worst Place for Creatives

If you’re a blogger traveling, avoid the Marquette Michigan DQ.

They made me leave because I’d been inside uploading a 54-minute video on building a stand for my solar panel to charge my devices, and I’d not ordered my food “fast enough” for the on-duty manager.

Having stopped or “perched” as I often tell my BFF Julie from California, at dozens and dozens of establishments around the United States, this is the first place ever to ask me to leave.


Free WiFi but don’t come in and use it.

The summary message here is simple: If you’re a blogger or YouTuber on the road in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, don’t bother stopping at the DQ. Even though they have the PWD for their WiFi posted in the dining room. (It’s BLIZZARD) Do not waste your time here because they don’t want you in their “restaurant.”

Something GM Kaitlin Monday made a sound as if she regarded their establishment as The Palm in New York City, or a Ruth’s Chris, or Bazaar in Beverley Hills.

Places where I would not think to take in my computer bag, with my power strip, multiple plugs for iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, power brick, or my pain stimulator sub-dermal battery.

Saturday Night: A Blizzard of Kindness

Saturday night I went to DQ and had a pleasant experience. The store in question is located on Highway 41 in Marquette, Michigan. I uploaded two videos. I arrived a little after 7 p.m. and bought more food than I should have eaten. In total, I spent more than $25 at the Marquette DQ. When my video still had not completed loading at 9 p.m., closing time, the manager was kind enough to approach me and ask if I minded if they ran the vacuums and stuff to close the store.

I was astounded!

She was actually asking me if I’d be inconvenienced by them doing their work so they could get on the way home sooner. From my college days as a morning crew leader at Wendy’s, I know how much the night crew wants to get out of the store as fast as humanly possible.

I apologized to the manager for not being gone by 9 p.m. and the dear woman said, “Not to worry. I’m going to lock the one door but you can go out the patio door when you’re finished.”

And so they cleaned up and I left after closing, my meal finished, and videos uploaded. All was cool.

The Sunday Big Freeze

I arrived earlier Sunday evening, around 6 p.m., because I had a 54-minute video to upload. This is the longest yet on my rapidly-growing YouTube channel.

When I arrived, I wanted the same table as Saturday night, but an elderly man was sitting between it and the next one, so I went to the table with a plug toward the back of the store by the restrooms.

I noticed that Kiara, who had been my order taker Saturday, and who had kindly answered other questions that night, had just gone on break and I was trying to cut a portion off the front of my video. So I got up and walked over to her table and asked her for help, which she gave me. I thanked her for her time and returned to the table I did not want to be at.

A few minutes later, the Sunday night manager, Mindy, entered the wing of seats and in a condescending tone, asked Kiara if it was time to return from her break. Kiara’d not been on a long one, to begin with.

So, Kiara said she still had a few minutes. (My previous fast food managers would not have asked such a question. They had the time I’d started a break on a clipboard, like all the others on the shift, to ensure each took a break and got their 15-30 minutes.) But not Mindy. She had a ‘tude. As we’d say in the South, a “rude tude.”

Mindy also approached a female employee who was on break when I walked in and told her to return to work.

Then she approached me.

“I was just making sure we had not overlooked you,” she said after asking if I’d ordered yet.

I said not yet but I was about to. And indeed, fully intended to buy dinner. Just not $25 worth like Saturday night.

Manager Mindy returned to the front line of the store.

Around 7 p.m. Mindy Says “You’ll have to leave.”

So the goodwill from Saturday night ended when the same condescending attitude returned to my table as Mindy. I’d moved from my previous table. I’d not ordered food yet. And so she said, “Sir, I’m going to ask you to leave.”

Befuddled, I asked her why?

Now asking why, when I was not doing anything but my work, was about to place an order–in three visits I’d spent an average of $11.92 per visit–and Mindy didn’t care. I’d not spent any money on her shift and she decided that I needed to go.

“You’ve moved tables and you’ve been here a while and have not ordered anything. So I’m asking you to leave.”

I really was about to order food.

That didn’t matter.

Mindy said she’d called her boss and asked how long she should let me stay.

But instead of extending courtesy to a customer, Mindy went full-mall security guard on me.

“You’ll have to leave.”

I inquired as to why. Having been to dozens of restaurants across the country, I’d never been told to leave an establishment before, and I, surprised and appalled, wanted to know why.

The arrogant GM and the confused franchise owner. 

On Monday, GM Kaitlin, and Franchise owner Steve, said that had argued with her.

And indeed I had. What she was doing was outrageous.

Owner Steve told me, “It’s hard enough to run a business post-covid without you making a mountain over a molehill.”

Were it so hard running a business post-covid, and I’m sure it is, (running a restaurant is never easy peasy), wouldn’t it have made more sense for manager Mindy to have approached me and said this:

“Sir, you’ve been here a while, and we are thrilled you’ve chosen our store tonight. But if you would kindly order some food, I will not need to ask you to leave.” 

There would not now be a post calling them out. There would not now be keyword-loaded post on the internet that says, “If you’re a blogger or YouTuber, do not stop at the Dairy Queen/DQ at 3260 US Highway 41 W in Marquette Michigan.”

Marquette, Michigan’s DQ Managers/Owner, and DQ Corporate

At 8 p.m. I was down the road at the Big Boy restaurant, one we never ate at the four times we lived in Marquette, and I finished my dinner and writing an earlier draft of this post. I also enjoyed strawberry pie for dessert, too. I spent another $25 on dinner Sunday tonight. Money that would have gone to the coffers of DQ in Marquette, Michigan had I not been kicked out by manager Mindy.

Bloggers and YouTubers not welcome at Marquette Michigan DQ on US Highway 41 North.

Bloggers and YouTubers not welcome at Marquette Michigan DQ on US Highway 41 North.

My video on YouTube.

I have now also posted video to this effect on YouTube. “Bloggers and YouTubers, do not stop at the DQ in Marquette, Michigan. We are not welcomed at their 4-star restaurant.”

Four-point-one stars per the DQ official site and the reviews posted there. Pull the listing up and read some of the reviews. I told owner Steve Monday afternoon when he called angry about my post and for contacting corporate after a condescending, arrogant phone call from Kaitlin. She was so not willing to listen to me, I hung up. There was no point wasting any time with her junior-level arrogant attitude.

Though I’d given my contact information to the DQ fan line, they’d not sent the information to Steve. So he said I was being “sneaky” for not having given corporate more information.

So when we hung up, rather, when Steve hung up on me, I called the woman answering the phone for complaints and told her I still wanted to speak to someone at corporate about the crap attitude that I’d experienced from three managers/owner at the Marquette DQ. And I also told the woman she damned well better share the information with Steve.

Conclusions and Second Thoughts about Marquette, Michigan’s DQ

I’ve already mentioned the management of the DQ in Marquette, Michigan could have avoided this whole matter, plus the negative blog post and video mentions had manager Mindy simply approached me Sunday night and said, “Please order some food or I’m going to ask you to leave.

Had anything as nutty ever happened to me before, I also could have introduced myself to Mindy when I walked in and said I’m going to be here a spell, but I’m also going to purchase food to make it a fair trade. But I didn’t do that because this has never happened to me before, and likely won’t ever again.

I’d have popped right up and placed an order, probably one averaging something close to my $11.92. But instead, because they went DefCon 1 with me, I, who was not doing anything wrong, returned fire.

You can go most anywhere else in Marquette if you’re a blogger but not the DQ.

Steve sounded astonished that Big Boy and other restaurants across the nation have let me use a smidge of their electricity while patronizing their business.

After having worked for Dole for President, the campaigns of Reagan, Bush, Bush, and RINOs McCain and Romney, and supported President Trump, and been assistant press secretary, and press secretary for the first two Republican governors in Alabama since Reconstruction, and served as the communications director for the 51-person Communications Services division for Dallas Schools–recruited by former Gov. G. Bush’s Education Commissioner Mike Moses–Steve had the nerve to ask if I was a Biden supporter.

No, Steve, I guarantee I’m not in any way a Biden/Harris supporter.

I am a 56-y-o disabled man who is doing a social experiment having sold everything I own and returned to stay as long as I can on family land here in the Upper Peninsula. A place I lived three times while growing up and have wanted to return to since 1978.

I have moved 37 times in 56 years and I have worked for governors, school districts, a presidential campaign, and one of three PR companies ExxonMobil uses to promote math and science programs for at-risk youth across the United States.

No other establishment in the US has treated me as poorly as the Marquette Michigan DQ.

In all of those years as a writer, blogger, and now YouTuber, not once, until Sunday evening, has any manager ever asked me to leave because I did not order food in time to meet expectations.

Or, as Steve noted before he hung up, that I’d violated his store’s policies. When I asked exactly what his policies are, he hung up the phone.

So quite simply, I will repeat here, if you’re a blogger or YouTuber and needed WiFi and/or AC power to recharge your devices, go somewhere else than the DQ in Marquette, Michigan.

You’ll violate their policies which at best are a little slushy.

New York Pitch Conference–Fall 2019: An Excellent Option

New York Pitch Conference–Fall 2019

This pitch conference in New York puts you in touch with experts in the field of novel writing and prepares you for agent representation with book publishers. 

From Sept 19-22, last Thursday to Sunday now, I took part in the New York Pitch Conference, the creation of mastermind Michael Neff. As luck would have it, too, I found myself in Group B, with many fellow writers–most of them focusing on sci-fi and fantasy–and all of us under the tutorship of the sometimes critical, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes hysterical, but always knowledgable, caring, and in particular, focused on what is going to sell in the publishing industry and what will not.

The New York Pitch Conference is an excellent program for budding authors seeking to finish their manuscripts and begin search for an agent.

The New York Pitch Conference is an excellent opportunity for budding authors seeking to finish their manuscripts and begin the search for an agent.

The conference itself was well organized, with three groups separated into three rooms. One group was led by Paula Munier and focused on writing mysteries. Susan Breen led Group A and focused on memoirs and women’s fiction.

We only gathered together once to hear a presentation from the funny and strategic thinker, Amy Collins. She presented a plan, Becoming a Successful Author, that is eye-opening about the demands on every author in this modern market of publishing. And we were thinking getting an agent was difficult.

Acquisition editors from some of the major publishing houses were brought in at the beginning of the 20th after Michael Neff guided each of us in sharpening our pitches on the 19th. The sharpening continued after each pitch based on the feedback received from each editor.

By the time we were pitching on Sunday, our pitches were well-honed. Based on the interests of the editors, some received requests for more, others did not. We all returned home with the need to do more revising.

(That is nothing to be upset about. Revising is about 99 percent of writing a book. It is not at all like they portray in the movies where one sits down at a typewriter or computer and you see them starting and then finishing and it’s ready for publication.)

The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club Pitch

“Kirk Egerton is resentful when he sneaks from his house in the middle of an Upper Michigan blizzard because five of his friends are missing. They all live on an air force base where bombers are armed with nuclear weapons and sit on alert ready for the call to attack the Soviet Union in December 1977, whether it is snowing or not.

“But while Kirk knows the others should be at the tree house they built during the summer months that year, no one knows a Russian spy has captured the five when they found his hut while trying to get home in the storm.”

The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club Pitch Improvements

We made some important decisions about my present project. It’s something of a square peg. The industry prefers round holes. But at the suggestion of Brendan Deneen, we are now using the comp of the movie The Goonies to pitch my book.

But that’s not all.

I’m now saying the book is “a mixture of the movie The Goonies and a modern-day Tom Sawyer living in an atmosphere of the 1970s.”

At Brendan’s suggestion and with the reinforcement of the responses that followed from others, I’m now also including some of the “cool stuff” that happens in the meat of the book.

“To build the fort one of the guys overcame what he thought was the threat of killer bees. Another swears he sees Bigfoot when he steps away from their camp the first night they spend the night out in the woods. As four trained Scouts, they fail to notice until it’s too late that they’ve sat down in poison ivy. Rather than risking treatment at the base hospital, one of them persuades the rest that using skunk oil will relieve the itch. This leads to them building a trap and….

“For initiation one walks alone at night through a cemetery, which is a former Indian burial ground. Another climbs the base water tower at 10 p.m. and plays Reveille after Taps. For the final initiation, they all climb into a cave behind the tall rock face in the Little Laughing White Fish Falls lagoon and the entry collapses.”

The Closing Questions

“In the end, Kirk must rescue the others from the top of the rock face, known as the Devil’s Ledge, by climbing the face of the rock. The spy intends to force the five off the top and let them plunge to their deaths. Kirk engages the spy with a combat knife when the Russian has a pistol. Is he able to rescue the others and keep them from getting killed? How have the events of the year affected Kirk and shaped him for this one moment that will matter for the rest of his life?

I ask some good closing questions. They are designed to get an agent to ask for more, not to give away the whole story.

What I Learned at the New York Pitch Conference

I’ve been to a number of writing conferences and spent three years in the Southern Methodist University Writer’s Path Program.

There is some variance in how to do a few things, but the rules for how to pitch, what New York editors and agents are looking for, and those things are pretty much set in stone.

Some fluctuation exists, but not much. New York writing agents receive hundreds, if not thousands, of queries each week. Their screeners and the agents themselves are looking for the “slightest anything” they can use to reject and pass on representing your book.

Neff said he’s even seen screeners even highlighting lines of queries in email boxes and randomly highlighting them and then hitting delete just so they could get to a manageable number of queries to read in a week. Not fair, no, but there is nothing that can be done about it, and one will never know if that brought a pass or if they read your pitch and did not like it.

The proverbial “they” say there is a difference between a writer who got published and one who did not. The one who got published ignored the umpteen rejections and kept querying.

One of my mentors once told me that until I got into the 130-rejections range I really had not tried to query anyway. I’m almost halfway there and I have to tell you, my pitch has changed considerably, my book has been revised about five times since then, and the writing is much stronger.

My Recommendation: Attend the New York Pitch Conference when you’re ready

I recommend this conference to well-seasoned writers who have a book that’s in its fourth or fifth draft. If you take a first draft or second draft to pitch, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. While your idea may be exciting to the editors and coaches you’ll work with, your book will not be ready for the scrutiny that will follow and in a couple of years, their passions will likely have moved on to something else.

Writing a book takes time. A novel does. (Update: Forget what those using ChatGPT might tell you!)

Remember the Ernest Hemingway quote, “The first draft of anything is shit.

I shared my first draft of Voodoo Hill with my family and a few friends. I’m embarrassed now that I did. I wish I could sneak into their homes and get them all back and burn them, but most likely they’ve all thrown them out already anyhow. That is what should have happened to that copy. The next year when I made a 10-CD audio recording of the next draft, ugh, I shudder to think about it.

This latest draft I feel is pretty sound, but I felt the same way about the others and I know they weren’t ready for human consumption either.

Go slow. Be deliberate. Let your words simmer. Finish a revision and then put the book away and forget about it for a month or two. Maybe even six months. Then come back to it. The words will still be there. So will the publishing industry. And the trends will change. Maybe square holes will be the thing soon. I sure as hell hope so….

But the New York Pitch Conference is a wise investment along the path to getting your book published. Without any reservations, I recommend it whole heartedly.

Check out my post a week after here: NY Pitch Conference.