It’s All About Meeeeeee


The Marie behind Marie’s Meanderings. Photo by John Steffl.

Arts and culture blogger, Ed Newman, interviewed me recently about writing as a follow up to a panel I was on. Click here to read “Author Marie Zhuikov Talks About Her Life as a Writer.”

We are lucky to have Ed promoting the arts in our community!



Writing for Money (Yes, it is possible!)


I took part in a public panel recently at the Duluth Public Library. The topic was “Writing for Money,” and the panel featured three other local writers besides myself. It was sponsored by Lake Superior Writers, and facilitated by Felicia Schneiderhan, noted writer in her own right.

The audience was comprised of mostly writers who work for “free” and writers who currently receive pay. A few writer-wanna-bes were sprinkled throughout. I suspect everyone walked away with some new ideas to pursue — including me, who has been in this business for way too long.

Local blogger, Ed Newman, wrote this post about the panel in his blog, Ennyman’s Territory. Newman, a former PR man for Amsoil (a synthetic motor oil company), is also an artist, writer and culture buff who gets around to all the local arts events and shares his insights.

Hosting free panels like this are a valuable public service. This is the second of three planned by Lake Superior Writers. The next will focus on arts grant writing.


Author Reading on Wisconsin Public Radio


Writers from Duluth who participated in the “Writers Read” contest reading included (left to right) Lucie Amundsen, Maddie Cohen, Avesa Rockwell, Molly Hoeg, Felicia Schneiderhan, myself and Carol Dunbar. Missing is Liz Minette.

I was one of 19 writers from Duluth and northern Wisconsin who were chosen to read for a contest organized by Northland College around the theme of “gut instinct.” (For details on the contest, please see my previous post.)

My reading of the nonfiction story, “Book Signings can be Hazardous to Your Health,” aired today on Wisconsin Public Radio. You can find the link to the program here. My story starts at the 4:10-minute mark. Apparently, I am such a potty mouth that they had to bleep out one of my words. 🙂


Congratulations, You’ve Been Spied Upon

Russian hacking statsThe recent indictment of Russians who were part of the notorious Russian internet “troll farm” that interfered with the U.S. elections hit close to home for me. I have suspicions that my little ol’ author web site (and perhaps this blog, which is featured on my site) may have been an information source for them. Then again, maybe not. But here’s what I know:

I opened my author website to the world in March 2014. The world paid it no attention, but just having it up felt good at the time.

About a year later my site, which only got a couple of views per day, started receiving hundreds of views. By summer 2015, it was receiving over 400 views per day. Who were these people? Google Analytics tells me they were mostly from Russia, but the majority could not be tracked to a specific country because they didn’t have a language set on their computer.

Hmmm. Mysterious. I thought at first that maybe it was Russian schoolchildren who had to do an assignment on a famous Russian general who has a last name similar to mine (General Zhukov). Maybe they found my site by accident while they were looking for information about him.

My other thought was that maybe someone posted my web address in an online forum or a Russian dating site without my permission, and that’s what drew people. Nobody asked me for a date, though. (Darn it!)

My site grew so popular, and I was so concerned that I called my website hosting company and asked them to check if anything strange was going on. Nope. Everything was okay, they assured me.

I even checked all the links on my site to ensure they weren’t going somewhere unintended. Every link went were it was supposed to go.

And it’s not like my books were hugely popular, so it didn’t seem like the viewers were people hungry for eco-mystic-romance. (Darn!)

I started to breathe easier in the fall of 2016, when the traffic on my site dwindled to more reasonable levels – only 10 or 15 views per day.

Imagine that, I was relieved when fewer people visited my website!

Then came the suspicions and the news of the Russian hackers interfering with the U.S. election. When the indictments were handed down last week, I decided to do some research of my own to see if there were any correlations between the traffic on my web site and Trump’s candidacy and election. What I found disturbed me, and I will post the metrics here, so you can make up your own mind.

As you can see from the data graph, the surge in traffic to my website began around March 2015, just a few months before Trump announced his candidacy. Could the Russians have been doing research in support of Trump’s run for office? The number of hits to my site peak on June 16, 2015, which is the same day that Trump announced his candidacy. Then there’s an abrupt decline until a week or so later.

When I told one friend about this pattern, they suggested that maybe the Russians thought that I’m an opinion leader and they were checking my site (and blog) to gather information on American opinions to better craft their disinformation campaigns and political messages. Hmmm, could be?

Visits to my site jumped up and down, but stayed higher than normal until Trump was elected. Then they dropped off to the measly numbers – only a couple of views per day, which it is still experiencing today. Hardly any of those viewers are Russian. The majority are American. And all those mysterious viewers from an unknown country are gone.

As another part of my research, I looked at a timeline of 2016 presidential campaign hacking fast facts. It begins in September of 2015, when the FBI contacts the Democratic National Committee to warn them about their computers being compromised by Russian hackers. One would expect that the hackers did their work earlier than September, which coincides with the rise in views to my web site.

A couple of weeks ago, my former Russian language professor gave a talk about how Russians think. After his talk, I decided to bounce this info off of him because I knew he used to work for the CIA. After I described the pattern of visits to my website, his verdict was, “Congratulations, you’ve been spied upon.”

I’m not sure what to do with this information. I guess for now, I’ll just feel really creeped out.

If I disappear suddenly, you’ll know the Russians did it.

Echoes of the Past: A Sneak Peek Into the Hotel Chequamegon


The Hotel Chequamegon

I had the opportunity recently to stay at the Hotel Chequamegon (Cheh-wa-meh-gone) in the northern Wisconsin town of Ashland. I’d driven by the hotel many times on Highway 2, and always thought it looked like an interesting place to stay. I was happy to have this chance.

From the outside, the building and its white mansion-like expanse is reminiscent of the grand hotels of the past. In fact, it’s patterned after the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron. Inside, it has a whiff of the fictional Overlook Hotel from “The Shining,” but without the requisite creepiness.

DSC04553Although it looks like it’s been on the site forever, the hotel is young. It opened in 1986 only about a half-block away from the original hotel. According to a helpful historical fact sheet provided to me by the desk clerk, the original hotel was built in 1877 by the Wisconsin Central Railroad when Ashland was a transportation hub for lumbering, quarrying, and mining.


This chair in the hotel parlor is from a castle in France, 1880-1890.

The original hotel met its demise by fire on New Year’s Day in 1958. To build the current hotel, wood salvaged from the nearby ore docks was used. Although many of the Victorian antiques look like they came from the original hotel, those were burned, except for the lobby clock, which sits in the Ashland Museum. Apparently it was a “thing” in the past to save lobby clocks from burning hotels. The antiques were either donated or gathered from far-flung places with the help of eBay.

My quiet room had tall ceilings and a view through equally tall windows, which looked out on the Lake Superior bay that gives the hotel its name. The word “Chequamegon” is an Ojibwa term that means “spit of land.” There used to be a narrow spit visible from the hotel, but it was eroded by wave action in the 1800s.

DSC04551The basement level is home to Molly Cooper’s Bar and Grill. It was closed in the morning when I was snooping around, but looked like it would be a fun place to eat, with views of the lake.

Although there are rumors the hotel is haunted, I had no notable experiences in my first-floor room, other than a bathroom door that closed unexpectedly. Alas, the floor was just crooked. No spooks.






A mural in “downtown” Ashland that honors the lighthousekeeping history of the area.

A Winery Tour in . . . Wisconsin?

Wollersheim Winery 023Wisconsin is known best for its beer and cheese. The state offers wineries, too, and I took a tour of the most productive facility this past week. Wollersheim Winery sits on the banks of the Wisconsin River in Prairie du Sac, just north of Madison, Wis.

The winery first came to my attention a handful of years ago when I attended a retirement party. At the bar, I decided to be adventurous and try a white wine I had never heard of before, a Prairie Fumé. When the fruity, citrusy wine hit my tongue, the heavens opened wide and I heard angels sing.

I knew I had found a new favorite. I asked the bartender who made the wine, and she told me about Wollersheim Winery. I made a mental note to visit it someday.

A Fumé wine is a close relative of a Sauvignon Blanc. They’re basically the same thing, both made with the same type of grapes and semi-dry, just with different names for marketing purposes. (For the curious, see the story here.) But to me, a Fumé is a bit mellower and melon-y.

Apparently, my taste buds have a lot of company because the Prairie Fumé is Wollersheim’s most popular wine and one of the most popular in the state.

Wollersheim Winery 018The land the winery sits on has grown grapes on and off since the 1840s, whenever the weather has allowed. The vines on the property now were planted in 1972 when the Wollersheims bought it.

Wollersheim Winery 020I found the winery easily and parked in the lot below. The winery’s website says it takes 10 minutes to walk the path from the lot to the winery (which is uphill, BTW), but I estimate it would only take any relatively able-bodied person a couple of minutes. However, I suppose if you stop to read the historical sign along the way that would add more time.

I entered the winery, and to my delight, discovered I was the only one signed up for a tour. My private session commenced with a video that described the history of the winery. Then the tour guide took me to a window overlooking the huge wine vats, where we spoke more and had plenty of time for questions and discussion.

I watched another short video that featured Phililppe Coquard, a Frenchman who married into the Wollersheim Family and now co-owns the business. I had the fleeting thought that it would be fun to meet him while I was here, similar to the chance encounter my friend and I had with the master distiller of Glendronach scotch when we took a distillery tour in Scotland. Although I thought I glimpsed Philippe in the distance during my time on the grounds, I did not get to meet him.

Wollersheim Winery 036I learned that the Prairie Fumé is made from grapes not grown on the property. The grapes come from the Finger Lakes region of New York and are trucked in juice form to the winery, where Philippe works his magic on them.

Another thing I learned is that the term “reserve” on a wine label means the wine is grown from the oldest vines in the vineyard.

After the tour came the tasting. I sampled a flight of whites since I have a problem with reds. I asked to try varieties I hadn’t already experienced, so that left out the Prairie Fumé and the River Gold White, which is also quite good.

I sampled their White Port, Dry Riesling, White Riesling, and Eagle White. Notable about the Eagle White is that it is grown on the property, and that part of the sales go toward habitat protection for bald eagles that frequent the area.

Of these, my favorites were the White Riesling and the Eagle White, so I bought a few bottles to bring home. Although I’ve found a source for Prairie Fumé in my area (President Bar and Liquor in Superior), I bought a bottle just because, despite exposure to these new wines, it’s still my fave.

Wollersheim Winery 030

The historic wine storage cave.

Before returning to my car, I meandered around the property. There’s an old cave dug into the hillside where wine used to be stored, which the current owners have preserved and filled with historical placards and implements. I also took a peek into the wine bar on the second floor of the main building, which used to be a ballroom back in the day.

There’s also a distillery on the property, and I made a note to visit that next time I’m in the area.

Wollersheim Winery 017Alas, it was time for me to continue onto my ultimate destination, which was Madison. I was expecting to eat dinner alone there, but things worked out so that a friend from high school was able to meet me. Plus, it was her birthday, so I brought along the bottle of Prairie Fumé for her.

We met at Lombardino’s, an Italian restaurant that’s one of my favorites. As I waited for my friend and for seating, I noticed someone who looked suspiciously like Phililppe Coquard at a table near the back. As fate would have it, the host seated me and my bottle of Wollersheim wine right next to the Philippe look-alike.

While I waited for my friend, I snuck some glances and determined that fate was smiling upon me this day. It was indeed Philippe and part of his family dining at the table next to mine. What are the chances of that?! (I guess I could figure it out if I knew how many restaurants are in Madison and what the population is, multiplied by how many days are in a year.) But I guess it’s a one-hundred-percent chance when you’re following your bliss . . . .

Anyway, I knew I HAD to take advantage of this opportunity. So I mustered my introverted courage and stepped over to their table. They were gracious at my interruption. I let them know I had just visited their winery and then I gushed about how much I love their wine. Philippe mentioned he is giving a presentation at a Minneapolis wine convention soon.

It was all good, and I was so tickled and amazed by meeting them. Soon my friend arrived, and I pointed out who our dining neighbors were. She can vouch that this really did happen!

I look forward to visiting the Wollersheim Distillery in the future, but after this experience, my expectations are probably entirely too high for a fateful experience afterward.

Wollersheim Winery 024

How my Blog Helped me Win a Writing Contest

Gut Instict

Northland College in northern Wisconsin holds an annual writing contest organized around a specific theme. Chosen writers have the opportunity to read their poems, essays or short stories in front of an audience. Plus, for the past couple of years, the readings are broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio.

The theme last year for the Writer’s Read Contest was “The Dark Side.” I wasn’t going to enter because I didn’t feel like I had anything that fit the theme.

That is my strategy – I rarely write anything new for contests. I like to choose from pieces I’ve already written. I guess I’m lazy that way, or efficient. Take your pick!

A nice thing about this contest is that, unlike most writing competitions, they will accept stories that have been previously published. So you can recycle works that have appeared elsewhere or won other contests.

However, a friend encouraged me last year to “add my voice into the mix,” so I entered a couple of stories even though I didn’t think they fit the theme. My stories were not chosen.

This year, after learning that the theme was “Gut Instinct,” I performed a mental inventory of all my short stories, poems, and blog entries to see if I had anything that fit. I have learned from conducting writing contests myself that the nonfiction essay category usually has the fewest entries, so I decided to concentrate on my blog posts to increase my chances of being chosen to read.

A couple of postings came to mind, but one I wrote in 2013 was especially dramatic. It was called “Are Book Signings Worth Risking Your Personal Safety?” It detailed two run-ins I had with a robber when I was in college, and it also dealt with writing, so I hoped it would be appealing to the judges and to the listening audience. How did it fit the theme? My gut told me to run the robber over. My brain told me otherwise. Which one did I listen to?

However, I needed to make the story even more dramatic, so I rewrote the blog post. I also had a writer friend (the same one who encouraged me to enter last year) look at the story and offer comments before I submitted it. She had some good ideas for rearranging the middle and for adding more details, which I heeded. In return, I offered comments on the fiction story she planned to enter.

Lo and behold, both of us were chosen to read! The event is happening later this week and our stories will be broadcast at a later date. (I will be sure to post a link here when that happens.) (Here’s the link! My story starts at the 4:10 minute mark.)

I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my blog for money. But the whole reason I started it was to write for fun, and to try and make sense out of my life — and perhaps share some wisdom. So I have refrained from blog-writing-for-profit. However, now I have discovered that blog writing can also help a person win a writing contest! How cool is that?