Minnesota speak in the 21st century
When he wrote his first book, Howard Mohr of Cottonwood tried to make sure he wasn’t going to get run out of town.
More than a quarter of a century later, he’s still in the same place, but some parts of Mohr’s best seller have changed.
A new version of Mohr’s classic 1987 book “How To Talk Minnesotan” will be released May 28 by Penguin Books.
How the book came about started back in 1985. Mohr had been writing fake commercials and other comedy bits for Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
It was around that time that Mohr, his wife, Jody, and their daughter were setting off to visit friends in Germany. They were studying phrases in the language and were practicing a few while driving into town for groceries. When they got to a certain one, they kept repeating it and started laughing. In the introduction to the new version, Mohr wrote that “Jody’s foot got a little heavy for the patrolman who stopped them. She got a warning for 10 miles per hour over, and I got some material from it: Hey! Why not write a visitor’s guide for Minnesota?”
So Mohr wrote Minnesota Language Systems ads for “A Prairie Home Companion” one at a time, with 26 in total.
“After three weeks of study, you think you lived in Minnesota, so would your mom,” Mohr said.
Mohr got a call from Ellen Levine, Keillor’s agent, who had gotten a call from a publisher wanting Keillor to write a book on the “Minnesota Language Systems.” Keillor had said that he hadn’t written them, Howard did.
So from 1985 to 1987, Mohr wrote the first version.
“I used the original scripts to write the book,” Mohr said. “I always liked the fake commercials. A lot of them were in the book.”
From there, Mohr was sent on a book tour all over the country. He remembered such stops as one for public radio in Houston, Texas, and another venue in Dallas that he recalled distinctly.
“I shared a cab with five ladies; they were there for a Mary Kay conference,” he said.
The book was also made into a musical by Troupe America back in 1997 and had a five-year run at the Plymouth Playhouse. It was open again in January 2010 for a run through October of that year.
In early 2012, Mohr said his original editor from Viking/Penguin called him out of the blue and said that it’s been 25 years and thought he might write an update to “How To Talk Minnesotan.”
“Apparently they had sold 445,000 books,” Mohr said. “So I said I would do it.”
Mohr said it took him about three months to get started.
“I didn’t want to mess up the old book,” he said.
He said he was able to convince his editors to take out some of the old stuff, items he thought were too long or didn’t care for anymore, and put in the revised parts.
“What I had said is I had not entered the 21st century myself, tell me what should I do?” Mohr said with a laugh.
He’s not very kind to Facebook in the new version, Mohr said. He did update a few things, and the hot dish recipe is still being used.
One of the items he changed from the first book, Mohr said, is the percentage of hugs Minnesota men gave their wives without being asked.
“I imagine that has improved over the last 25 years,” he said.
Once the book got the way he wanted it, Mohr said writing it became more pleasurable to him. He’s particularly glad to get a piece he wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in the book on gambling in the schools. Mohr admits that he writes pretty heavy satire, but the book is mostly light-hearted.