Michael Perry discusses becoming a writer, his approach as an author, and his latest book ‘The Jesus Cow’
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Michael Perry is a New York Times best-selling author and a humorist whose recent novel “The Jesus Cow” was released in May and is his first foray into adult fiction writing. Perry was born and raised in Wisconsin and now resides in New Auburn, where he still farms on occasion and is a first responder for the volunteer fire department in addition to his work as a writer and radio host.
“The Jesus Cow” is set in rural Wisconsin and centers on the life of Harley Jackson, a lonely bachelor who maintains a small farming operation and is also a member of the local volunteer fire department. One day Jackson is met with quite the surprise as one of his cows gives birth to a calf whose spots on one side of its body unmistakably resemble Jesus Christ. Jackson tries keeping his “Jesus cow” a secret, but before long the word is out and the world descends on his farm to get a glimpse of the animal.
Perry will be at the Marshfield Public Library on Saturday, June 20, at 2 p.m., and he encourages all to attend whether they are wearing “barn boots or a black beret” and described his book tour stops as essentially stand-up comedy routines.
Perry said he has had a lifelong love of books and reading but that he did not think about writing as a profession until after college. He earned his degree in nursing and worked as a nurse prior to deciding to write full-time.
“I was out of college before it even occurred to me that a guy might be a writer,” Perry said. “Here and there I had little experiences — once in seventh grade and once in a creative writing class in college — where I was exposed to the idea of writing whatever I wanted, and both times I was surprised at how much I enjoyed that.”
A friend of Perry’s wrote an article and sold it to a magazine, which sparked the idea for Perry that he might be able to write for a living.
“I remember having this realization that, ‘Oh, well, if you write something well enough, someone will buy it from you,’ and so I literally went to the library and got a book on how to be a writer,” Perry said.
For Perry there is a natural tension between what he does as a professional writer and his basic nature.
“It is odd for me because I’m pretty much a reclusive Scandinavian, stoic. ‘I don’t want to talk about my feelings, and you can’t make me,’ is what I always say. However, I very accidentally wound up making a living in a way that you do end up putting things on the page that you would never talk about in conversation,” Perry said.
He joked that the main character in “The Jesus Cow,” Harley Jackson, is based to some extent on personal experience.
“I have two brothers and between us, before any of us got married, we had I think it was 114 years of accumulated bachelorhood. So of course when I’m going to write about a bachelor in a small Wisconsin town, I do draw on some first-hand experience,” Perry said.
One of the most prominent themes of “The Jesus Cow” is the tension between longing for simpler times of the past and the seeming complexity and pace of today’s world. Perry said that coming from and living in rural Wisconsin helped him capture that idea, where the dichotomy between past and present is at times so obvious.
“Yesterday I’m on our farm and I drive to town, and I’m out in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by cornfields, and I got run off to the shoulder by some guy checking his text messages,” Perry said.
He added that while in “The Jesus Cow” he hits on themes like the search for faith, human loneliness, and the divide between the past and present, he mostly set out to write a story that would entertain people.
“I wanted above all to just write a book I hoped folks would find humorous and entertaining, and no one assigned me the task of doing anything grander than that,” he said.
Perry has composed works in multiple genres but said that in writing about people and life, his work comes to down to a single word, “navigation.”
“The one word that I always come back to, whether it’s how you deal with your past, whether it’s your faith, we’re all just trying to navigate. We’re just trying navigate the changes, navigate time, and navigate belief and how do you get through this life, and that’s just navigation,” he said.
To read more about Michael Perry, visit his website, sneezingcow.com. His book is available for purchase from that site as well as major book retailers.