"Every writer has advice for aspiring writers. Mine is predicated on formative years spent cleaning my father’s calf pens: Just keep shoveling until you’ve got a pile so big, someone has to notice. The fact that I cast my life’s work as slung manure simply proves that I recognize an apt metaphor when I accidentally stick it with a pitchfork. . . . Poetry was my first love, my gateway drug—still the poets are my favorites—but I quickly realized I lacked the chops or insights to survive on verse alone. But I wanted to write. Every day. And so I read everything I could about freelancing, and started shoveling."
The pieces gathered within this book draw on fifteen years of what Michael Perry calls "shovel time"—a writer going to work as the work is offered. The range of subjects is wide, from musky fishing, puking, and mountain-climbing Iraq War veterans to the frozen head of Ted Williams. Some assignments lead to self-examination of an alarming magnitude (as Perry notes, "It quickly becomes obvious that I am a self-absorbed hypochondriac forever resolving to do better nutritionally and fitness-wise but my follow-through is laughable.") But his favorites are those that allow him to turn the lens outward: "My greatest privilege," he says, "lies not in telling my own story; it lies in being trusted to tell the story of another."