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Five reasons Wisconsin is great for writers

Wisconsin is good for more than just beer and brats! Here are five reasons our state is great for writers, courtesy of bestselling novelist and Wisconsin native Jess Riley.

1. Long, brutal winters.

Even if you own a set of cross-country skis, a snowmobile, snowshoes and an ice shanty, you can only engage in such outdoor winter pursuits for so long. After a few hours, ice crystals are forming on your nose and your joints have seized up so badly you could chug tart cherry juice and still wake up shaped like Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick the next morning. What you need at that point more than fish oil, a heating pad or a miracle is a cozy chair beside a fireplace in a tavern. Or just a tavern, really. Bring your laptop, especially if it’s a bar at a supper club in a small town, because again – you will make new friends and learn the most entertaining, interesting things. Order a Tom & Jerry, or after you’ve warmed up a bit, a whiskey old fashioned sweet. If you need a snack, order the deep fried cheese curds or a pickled egg. After four hours at Pinky’s 919 Club, the next novel practically writes itself, if Sweepstakes Steve has anything to say about it.

2. Festivals.

Regardless of where you live in Wisconsin (even if you live in a place where most of your neighbors say "irregardless"), there is a festival. Beginning with the Wisconsin Book Festival, of course. The Fox Cities Book Festival in my neck of the woods. Pulaski Polka Days. The World’s Largest Brat Fest. Fighting Bob Fest. Larry Fest. The Musky Jamboree. The Wisconsin Gourd Festival. Milwaukee, you are luckiest of all, because you are Festival City! Irish Fest, German Fest, Festa Italiana, Polish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, African World Festival, Lebowski Fest and the granddaddy of them all, Summerfest. Why are festivals great for writers? People watching, of course! And some of the best conversations you’ll ever overhear standing in line for a bathroom that’s just run out of paper.

3. Gorgeous…

JJ Cale died on July 26, 2013.
JJ Cale died on July 26, 2013. (Photo: Jane Richey)

JJ Cale was super blue

Taste is a straightjacket and JJ Cale never wore it. Despite his lack of volume and bombast, he was as dangerous as any killer quietly sneaking in your window at night. It's the quiet ones you have to look out for. And now he's gone, leaving a field of Americanna-bes who will never come close to creating the effortlessly winning groove that this authentic southerner had.

Among artists who make a strong first impression, like The Band, Elvis Costello and Otis Redding, to name a few, JJ Cale did not announce his arrival so much as insinuate it. A little older than his radio contemporaries when he had his first hit, he had the luxury of growing up in private. None of those foolish growing pains for him. You sensed he knew who he was and what he wanted to do.

"Crazy Mama" was his first hit, and this whispering blue seemed to quiet the cantankerous atmosphere of the time. You had to lean in to get it and when you did, as Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and many others who borrowed heavily did, it was religious. His vibe has been stolen almost as much as Bob Marley's, though his cult remains much more modest.

Cale was an Oakie – Tulsa, to be specific – and since I've had the pleasure of knowing others from that town, it makes perfect sense. While I'm pretty sure he was a rare bird even in that laid back town, I'm just as sure there must be something in the water there. Ask Leon Russell.

Without a little sickness, nothing gets written, and there was something behind that cool demeanor that hinted at a broken heart or two. Like all good blues men, he used alchemy to transform mere poison pen letters into acts of humorous defiance and celebration. Then there was "Tahiti."

That song, which could be mistaken for album filler, features the lyric "Let's go to Tahiti." That's it. That's the whole song. I can't explain to you how this is important, funny and cool. You have to put it on, groove to it. He has other titles, aside from the hits by Skynyrd and Clapton, that make m…

Tea Krulos joins PIM to see if there's anything that goes bump in the night at the Riverside.
Tea Krulos joins PIM to see if there's anything that goes bump in the night at the Riverside.
The view from the projection booth at the Riverside.
The view from the projection booth at the Riverside.

Milwaukee Ghost Stories: The spirits at Riverside Theater

"Hello, my name is Noah. These are all my friends," Noah Leigh declares, his voice echoing in the empty concert hall. "We are not here to hurt you or to try to make you leave, we’re just trying to communicate with you. So if there is anyone that would like to communicate with us, would you please come forward and tell us your name?"

Dead silence.

I am sitting in row S, seat 1 inside the Riverside Theater. It is pitch black and I sit silently in the dark listening to three members of the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee (or PIM) at work.

"Did you used to work here?" Noah asks.


Noah founded PIM in 2007 with the goal of starting a team that would take a skeptical and scientific approach to their investigations. They look not just for phantoms, but more earthly explanations. His team currently has about nine members. Joining him for this Riverside investigation are team members Jann Goldberg and Michael Graeve (more commonly known as "Gravy.")

I sit here with them (and possibly ghosts) in the dark because I’m working on my second book, which will document various people around the country who search for the unknown. PIM was just the type of group I was looking to join up with locally. They are a prime example of a ghost hunting team— professional, organized, experienced and active. They conduct investigations frequently, searching for ghosts at the Brumder Mansion, the former Pabst brewery and a wide range of private residences, haunted farm houses and creepy abandoned buildings. They have traveled around the state and taken road trips to haunted landmarks like the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

I wanted to find out all about PIM and the art of ghost hunting. Will I have a ghost encounter? Sitting in the dark theater, I feel cold air on my back, but that's just a draft in the old building, right? Or is there something in here?

This night, PIM has returned to investigate the Riverside’s ghost stories, and there are …

Erin Heatherton has some fun in the sun ... or at least under the lighting rigs.
Erin Heatherton has some fun in the sun ... or at least under the lighting rigs.

Angels walk among us: An interview with Erin Heatherton

As Victoria’s Secret continues to celebrate its Swim 2013 collection, the Angels have hit the road with a tour to three different U.S. cities chosen by their fans in the first ever "U.S. of Angels Summer Swim Tour." Along with Seattle and Orlando, Milwaukee rallied up the most tweets and votes to win an Angel visit.

So what Angel descends from the heavens to grace Mayfair Mall with a visit? None other than the beautiful, approachable and funny Erin Heatherton.

Originally from Skokie, Ill., Heatherton has come a long way from her Midwestern roots. The freckle-faced 24-year-old blonde bombshell has traveled the world and reached the stars in a short amount of time. Nevertheless, on Thursday, July 18, the supermodel takes time out from the usual (turning heads and watching camera flashes pop and fade) to visit Mayfair Mall to interact with fans, present the hottest styles from the Victoria’s Secret swim collection and even pose for photos with fans.

As most press days go, a slew of photographers and reporters swarm the leggy blonde before a single fan gains access. Lighting rigs block shoppers as the clicks continue to pop. And after each reporter asks a barrage of mundane questions about beauty tips, favorite spots in the world to shoot and celebrity situations (Heatherton is in Adam Sandler’s new movie, "Grown Ups 2"), she welcomes a break to answer some more upbeat and fun questions. If you weren’t modeling, what would you be doing?

Erin Heatherton: If I wasn’t modeling I would be in medical school. I wanted to be a veterinarian. I wasn’t exactly sure so I was scouting and looked into the School of Marine Biology at the University of Miami. My brother just graduated pre-med from NYU and he is going to medical school, so I get to live that out through him. But I like sciences and did sciences fairs and stuff like that and that would make me happy, I guess, but then modeling happened.

OMC: Speaking of modeling, …