Author Appearance this Weekend

The “Going Coastal” anthology sporting its snazzy Northeastern MN Book Awards seal.

Hi – this Saturday (10/16) I’ll be selling books at the Twin Cities Book Festival from noon-2 p.m. Look for me at the Metropolitan Library Service Agency table. I’ll have copies of “Going Coastal” (a Lake Superior short story anthology written by Lake Superior locals, including me) and “Plover Landing,” my eco-mytic-romance novel.

Free Halloween Story!

My creepy short story, “A Night in the Tower-Soudan Mine,” was published on the Twin Ports Terror website. You can access it for free by clicking on the linked text above. Eventually, it will be published in their printed book, which is distributed for free around the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior.

The storyline was inspired by several trips I’ve taken into the mine, a half-mile underground on Minnesota’s Iron Range, since I was a youngster. My latest trip was just a few weeks ago, taken to refresh my memory. The sections about the mine tour are factual (other than the character getting knocked out thing), but the latter parts about the safety tunnel are figments of my imagination, informed by research.

Iron ore, which is used to make steel.

I began writing the story as part of a fiction workshop by the indomitable and inspirational Felicia Schneiderhan, where she challenged us to write two short stories that follow the same “rules” and feature the same random object in them.  If you read the story, I’d be interested in hearing what you think is the random object.

The second story I wrote for the workshop is part of a collection for which I’m currently trying to find an agent. So far, I’m striking out, but I just received some good tips, so we’ll see if they are helpful.

Enjoy and Happy Early Halloween!

Marie in the mine.

Canoeing “Old Blue” Down the Whiteface River

A story that began as a post on this very blog was recently published by “Northern Wilds” magazine. It details an adventure Russ and I had canoeing down the Whiteface River in northern Minnesota. As I began writing it, I quickly realized its magazine potential. So, I didn’t post it here.

The good news is, you can read it for free, just as if it were a blog post: https://northernwilds.com/canoeing-old-blue-down-the-whiteface-river/

Excerpt:

…I marveled that a trip that takes about five minutes by car could take three hours by canoe. But in a car, we would not have had the wonder of the white birds, a mermaid, and a lightning-blasted pine. Now, we have a mental map of the liquid emerald that flows beyond the screen of trees bordering the road.

Free Poetry Book!

I’ve posted several times about the “River of Poems” project on my blog. I’d like to let you know we (as in Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Lake Superior Reserve) finally got around to publishing this book of river poems from poets around the world.

To refresh your memory, in 2020, we sent out a call for river poems for The River Talks speaker series we hold with the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. Poets were offered the opportunity to read their poems via Zoom during one of the River Talk monthly presentations.

Poets from across the world responded. With help from a judging committee, we narrowed the pool to a dozen poets, who read their works in March 2021 in conjunction with the St. Louis River Summit. The event was so moving, and the poems so well received, we created a publication to showcase them. “A River of Poems,” is now available as a free download.

In “I Held Us on for 36 Hours After the Levee Broke to Hell,” Heather Dobbins tells the story of a family who spends the night atop a phone pole to escape a raging river.

In “Catching Your Drift,” Lorraine Lamey highlights the subtle humor in natural resource regulations for a river in Montana.

Poet Ron Riekki shares how water can be an antidote for PTSD from war in “It Took a Long Time to Discover.”

A river in Detroit burns in Derold Sligh’s “Rouge River” poem, heralding a cry for environmental and social justice.

Download the book here.

An Evening with Author Thomas Peacock

Thomas Peacock on the shore of Lake Superior.

Background

I’ve been a member of an all-women book group for many years. This past fall, we read “The Wolf’s Trail: An Ojibwe Story, Told by Wolves” by Native American author, Thomas D. Peacock. Like my novel, “Eye of the Wolf,” Peacock’s story is told from the viewpoint of wolves. Set in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, it details the long parallel relationship between wolves and the Ojibwe people.

Peacock is a retired associate professor of education who taught and served as an administrator at the University of Minnesota Duluth for thirteen years. Several of his books are Minnesota Book Award winners. He’s well-respected in academic and literary circles, plus, he’s a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

We enjoyed “The Wolf’s Trail” so much, we invited Tom to speak to our group. Despite the pandemic, he and his wife Betsy came out from their home in Duluth on a cold wintry evening and met with us outside around a backyard fire.

I wish I had taken notes about our discussion then, but I was too busy tending the fire. Lucky for me (and you), after our meeting, Tom and Betsy invited us to their other home in Red Cliff, Wisconsin, in the spring for a potluck dinner and discussion of another book of his, “Beginnings: The Homeward Journey of Donovan Manypenny.” Tom offered to show us some of the locations where the novel is set on the Ojibwe reservation there. We readily agreed to this generous offer.

The Donovan Manypenny book is a poignant coming-home story. It’s about a boy who lived with his Ojibwe grandparents near Red Cliff until they died when he was ten. Shunted into the foster system, abused and rejected, Donovan is finally adopted by a loving white couple who ultimately moved to Boston, where he remained for forty-three years until the whispers of his beginnings lured him back home to the reservation. During his journey, Donovan followed the same historic westward migration trail that the Ojibwe travelled in their search for a new land “where food grows on the water.” (This refers to wild rice.)

Finding a date that worked for my book group members pushed our meeting until after the solstice. The weather was beautiful for a drive along the South Shore of Lake Superior to Red Cliff. Tom spent his summers with a great uncle and aunt in Red Cliff, and Betsy is a Red Cliff band member, so that’s what drew them to live there.

Here’s what happened.

Blueberry Road

Blueberry Road winds its gravelly way through the Red Cliff Reservation woods, dotted with FEMA trailer homes and other modest dwellings. After meeting at Tom’s home, we caravanned down the road, stopping at the trailhead for the new Frog Bay Tribal National Park after Blueberry Rd. veered and turned into Frog Bay Road.

Tom explained that his great uncle and aunt lived on Blueberry Road, which served as his inspiration for the setting of Donovan’s grandparents’ home. “My aunt and uncle seemed ancient to me, but I was only ten at the time. They didn’t have any running water, no electricity. They had an outhouse. Like many homes at that time, they had lilacs and weeping willows in the yard. That was the setting I thought of for my book,” he said.

The house where Donovan grew up on Blueberry Road isn’t actually on that road but is off busy Highway 13 a few miles away. Tom showed us that later during our tour.

An older couple who Tom met while he was teaching an Ojibwe language class in Bemidji years ago served as inspiration for Donovan’s grandparents. “They were just old-time native people who spoke the language and ended up teaching the language. The husband would drive the wife and then he’d sit with her in class. They always sat in the back.”

Tom said people who are familiar with the area often think he named Donovan Manypenny and his grandparents after the street in Bayfield called Manypenny Avenue. “But I didn’t,” he said. “There’s a lot of native people from the White Earth Reservation with that last name. I just liked it.”

While driving to our next stop, I had the luck (or was it planning?) to be in Tom’s car with a couple other book group ladies. We discussed different parts of the book that struck us. One I particularly liked was the conversation that Donovan’s grandparents have after they’re dead. The grandmother died first and after the grandfather dies, he apologizes to her for not being able to take care of Donovan anymore. But he’s so matter of fact about being dead – no wailing, no gnashing of teeth, just, “I’m dead, that’s all, I guess . . . maybe we’ll just have to help him from here.”

Tom said, “I wondered about putting that in there. But I wanted to write it, so I did. I took it out at one point, then I put it back in again. I worried that maybe people would think it was too weird.”

We told him we were glad he included it. Plus, it set up a pattern for other (living) characters to offer their viewpoints later in the story. That brought our conversation around to “Chapter 7, Ramona of the Wolf Clan.” This was another section Tom thought twice about including because Donovan, who is married by this time and is on his solitary westward migration, finds himself attracted to Ramona, gets drunk, and almost has an affair with her.

“Some people wonder why I put the Ramona chapter in there. It seems out of character for Donovan. I thought it was important that he be tempted, challenged, to show his humanity and that he isn’t a saint. And the chapter does explain, too, the difficult position that a lot of native women are put into.”

By this time, we reached our next stop.

St. Francis Catholic Church

The quaint red and white church in town was the inspiration for the church that Donovan and his grandparents attended, and the cemetery where Donovan’s relatives are buried. Tom said the church was familiar to him as a child. “I’ve gone to a million funerals in that church.”

Across the street sits a decrepit school building that he envisioned as Donovan’s school.

Standing in the church parking lot, we discussed Tom’s own westward migration, which he took thirty-five years ago when he finished college in Boston. (He graduated from Harvard with a master’s and doctorate in education.) At the time, he did not know he would write a book about his travels – he just needed to go home.

“After school, I had to pack up everything and leave. The route west just seemed like the logical thing to do. One of my brothers came out and helped me pack up. I had an old rez car and he works on cars, so he helped me fix it up enough that I’d make it home.”

Shore of Lake Superior with view of Sand Island

Our next stop was at the end of a road near Tom and Betsy’s home. We gathered at a parking area near a small beach with a view of the nearby Apostle Islands. Near the end of the novel, Donovan, his wife, and daughter visit Lake Superior one morning to offer tobacco. They prayed and Donovan thanked the Creator for everything, “For our lives and all the blessings we have had. Just then when I prayed a slight breeze came up and caused ripples on the water. I know it was our Creator answering,” Donovan said.

Tom explained he was thinking of this beach during that scene. It’s also the same beach where he and Betsy married.

The Peacock’s Living Room

After our potluck dinner, we sat down for an extended conversation. Tom let us in on some other changes he made to the story before it was published and gave us insights into its main characters.

He explained that in his original version, Donovan discovered he had Stage Four pancreatic cancer, which is basically a death sentence. “So that’s why he made his journey home – to die. But my publisher, Jim Perlman, liked Donovan so much, he didn’t want him to die, so I had to rewrite it.” (Perlman is the publisher for Holy Cow! Press.)

When he reached Red Cliff, Donovan discovers he has a sister, Maggie. Tom said she is a character in a previous story he published, where he described her journey from the foster care system in Minneapolis to Red Cliff. I was glad he mentioned that because I noticed the lack of her backstory in the Donovan Manypenny book. I will have to find that story and read it!

The character of Uncle Eddie, who orients Donovan to Red Cliff and his past, has been featured in many of Tom’s short stories. He is also the main character in Tom’s next book, which is coming out soon from Dovetailed Press.

“Eddie is 86 years old and the story is written in first person like a memoir. Eddie’s been my favorite character. Donovan is also in the story, but more as a cameo,” Tom offered.

I’ll end this extended post (thanks for sticking with it!) with some Q & As from our living room conversation. The second question was especially enlightening, and Tom’s response seemed out of character for this soft-spoken, mild-mannered author:

Growing up, did you experience the same disconnect with your heritage that Donovan did?

“No. I grew up on the Fond du Lac Reservation and I’m very comfortable there. Even when I was out East, I hung out with native people. I think when you’re educated you can be comfortable in both worlds (the white world and native world). I feel safe on Fond du Lac. Those people who are shooting each other are all my relatives. But because I was blessed with an education – I feel comfortable in the academic world, too.”

So, you didn’t find education to be a barrier between you and your native heritage, similar to the main character in Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?”

“I think I was kind of an enigma because I liked to drink, fight, and raise hell. During prom, I was out stealing gas from all the cars and getting straight A’s at the same time. I could do that and get away with it. I didn’t feel stigmatized at all – because if they did, I’d beat the crap outta them!”

Do you think things really got better for the little boy that Donovan comforts on Manitoulin Island after they went to the police?

“No, I don’t think so. That’s a really common thing with a mom and her boyfriend – the kid kinda takes all the crap. I had to leave it at that. There are a lot of native kids who are of mixed race, black and native, and I wanted to have that in a character. It’s hard for them. They get picked on by everybody and they’re never accepted anywhere.”

What’s your writing process?

“When I’m writing, I’ll write a chapter a day. I’ll get up at five in the morning and write until seven or eight at night. Then I’ll ‘force’ Betsy to read it before we go to bed because I want someone to read it. (Laughs) And then I’ll work on it for about a week, editing.”

Do you know many people who have come back to the rez?

“In Fond du Lac, I had a nephew who showed up right around his eighteenth birthday from California. He just came and banged on the door one day. He was the spitting image of one of my brothers who passed away 20 years ago. He scared the crap out of all of us!

“One of our nieces showed up when she was eighteen, too. Then when they were sniffing around for someone to date, we had to set them down and tell them who they shouldn’t be hanging out with because, ‘That’s your first cousin.’ We had to do that with both of them.”

Why didn’t you describe Donovan’s physical characteristics much in your book?

“I couldn’t visualize what he looked like. That’s one thing I had to add in as an edit. Same thing with Maggie. I couldn’t visualize her. The characters often appear to me as voices rather than a physical presence.”

And so, sated on Betsy’s fry bread, filled with a new appreciation for Tom’s work and a deeper understanding of native issues, we said our goodbyes and each began our own journeys, homeward.

My book group with Tom in his living room. From left to right, me, Konnie, Sherry, Sharon, Tom, Judy and Diane.

Turning a Magazine Story into a Poem

My poem, “Ojibwe Horses” was just published in “The Nemadji Review,” a literary magazine published by students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. If you’d like to read my poem, look for it on page 8 in the PDF found here. As far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that a horse is on the cover.

You may recall that I wrote a story about this rare breed of horses for “Lake Superior Magazine.” (Read about that process here.) It’s become one of my missions lately to increase public awareness about these lovely animals and their plight. To expand the reach of my magazine story, I decided to write a poem based on it. I had never done this before. Shrinking a 2,560-word story into a 290-word poem was not easy! But it was a fun exercise and it reminded me about the differences between poetry and prose. How could I distill the essence of my experience with the horses? How could I offer captivating images and feelings? What was most important to say?

Getting the poem to this point took several rewrites, one rejection, and more rewrites, but I think it works. I sent it to one of the Ojibwe horse owners who I interviewed for my story, and she loved it, which is the best compliment I could ever hope for.

This is the first time I’ve been published in “The Nemadji Review.” We had a virtual book launch reading for the journal recently. Seeing the young crew who worked on it made me feel like the love of literature is alive and well in the next generation. It will be exciting to follow the careers of these talented students.

Back in the early-1980s, I was part of a group of students at the University of Minnesota who started a literary magazine for undergraduates. To the best of my recollection, we named it “Undercurrents.” It was a small publication, 5 x 7 inches, with a blue cardstock cover and a stapled binding. It contained art, poetry, and stories.

I only worked on the first issue. I can’t remember if “Undercurrents” continued after that or not. I think I stopped participating because I wasn’t satisfied with the process we used to choose the journal content. The process probably wasn’t objective enough for me, or maybe poems I really liked didn’t make the cut, or maybe both! But that initial experience is probably what made me comfortable stepping up to coordinate literary contests later in life for the Lake Superior Writers group.

I just did a search, and the U of MN has a literary journal for undergraduates now, called “Tower.” I’m glad to see what we started has continued, even if it has a different name now.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the poem. And if you’re a writer, I would encourage you to connect with local community colleges and universities – many open submissions to their literary journals to community members, not only students. It’s a way to support learning by students and could lead to a nice publication credit on your literary resume.

The Path of Totality

Photo by Drew Rae on Pexels.com

Remember the 2017 eclipse? It was a big deal in the U.S. since it covered such a large swath of the land.  Here in Minnesota we were not in “the path of totality” — the area that would be totally darkened by the moon blocking the sun. But I was still hopeful we’d see something memorable.

Alas, we did not. It was cloudy that day. The sky darkened enough during the eclipse so that the streetlights came on near my office, and that was it. After all the media hype, the event itself was disappointing.

However, I did take away something memorable, and that was the title for a new short story. I loved the ring of “The Path of Totality.” I even mentioned to my Facebook friends that it would make a great title for a story. It didn’t take me long to realize that I should be the one to write that story.

The idea coalesced during a workshop I took about a year later from William Kent Krueger, a New York Times bestselling author from Minnesota. Mr. Krueger is just a peach of a guy – very down-to-earth and willing to help other writers. The class had something to do with the differences between fictional narrative and plot. As part of it, he had us write opening lines for a story. I was thinking about the path of totality title when I wrote what eventually became:

The problem with Justin Kincaid’s eyes began on August 21, 2017. On a dusty hillside in Oregon, the curve of the moon’s shoulder nudged away pieces of the sun. The crowd of people hurried to don their cardboard eclipse glasses. But to Justin, the sun still shone as whole and bright as ever.

Intriguing, yes? Why can’t this man see this celestial event like everyone else? What in his life is blinding him to it?

The story is one of a series I am working on with the theme of deceiving appearances. I am happy to report I am almost done with the final story! Plus, my ‘Path of Totality’ story was chosen for publication in the “Thunderbird Review,” a literary journal published by the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

If you’d like to hear more of the story, please consider attending the virtual launch party for the journal. I will be reading an excerpt along with other writers in the journal. I’m sure they’ll also offer info about how to purchase a copy of the journal, too. The event is happening Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. Central Time via Zoom. Details are on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2965093270398597

A “River of Poems” spans the world

We expected only a few local poets would be interested. We thought they’d offer poems about the St. Louis River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.

That was our mindset when the River Talk planning team at my workplace first developed the theme for the public poetry reading to be held in conjunction with the St. Louis River Summit as an evening program in March 2021. We were mistaken, but in the best possible way.

In reality, our call for river poems through the literary submission management platform Submittable garnered interest from 76 poets from across the U.S. and around the world. They submitted 148 poems for consideration.

“As it turns out, a lot of people like to write about rivers. That’s because they are really important in our communities and in our lives,” said Deanna Erickson, director of the National Lake Superior Estuarine Research Reserve, which co-sponsors the River Talk series with Wisconsin Sea Grant.

An overlook above the St. Louis River in Duluth, Minn.

We quickly realized we were going to need more judges. In the end, we gathered six who represented a good cross-section of the audience we expected to attend the summit.

The judging was “blind,” which means the poets’ names were not associated with their poems. After two rounds, the judges narrowed the number of poems down to a dozen, with a few for backup in case any of the chosen poets could not be reached.

Although communication was sometimes a challenge, all 12 poets were enthusiastic about participating in the reading. They represented a wide diversity of ages and ethnicities.

The River Talk was a couple of weeks ago, but the warm fuzzy feelings it engendered remain with me. I could use many adjectives to describe it: powerful, beautiful, stark, raw, funny — but it’s really best if you listen to the poems and feel all the feels for yourselves. The reading drew 85 Zoomers, a record attendance.

The Lake Superior Reserve, our partner in the talks, recorded the reading and it’s available on their YouTube channel. Here’s a list of the poets (in the order they read) and the names of their poems:

Tyler Dettloff (Michigan) “My Stars”
Heather Dobbins (Arkansas) “I Held us on for 36 Hours after the Levee Broke to hell”
Ben Green (New Mexico) “Immersion: A Prayer of Intent”
Lorraine Lamey (Michigan) “Catching Your Drift”
Joan Macintosh (Newfoundland) “The Current Feels”
Kate Meyer-Currey (England) “Timberscombe”
Rebecca Nelson (California) “Of the St. Louis River”
Stephanie Niu (New York) “To the Beaver’s Eyes”
Diana Randolph (Wisconsin) “Knowing the Way”
Ron Riekki (Florida) “It Took a Long Time to Discover”
Derold Sligh (South Korea) “Rouge River”
Lucy Tyrrell (Wisconsin) “Talking Water”

Ironically, the one poem specifically about the St. Louis River was written by someone who had never visited it. Rebecca Nelson said her poem, “Of the St. Louis River” was inspired by the spiritual experiences she’s had while watching water. She grew up in the Midwest and said she wrote the poem thinking of the rivers she knew from childhood. “I would love to visit sometime after the pandemic!” Nelson said.

Barb Huberty, St. Louis River Area of Concern coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, offered this comment in the Zoom chat, “I never knew that poetry could unite people across the globe.”

Sharon Moen, Eat Wisconsin Fish outreach specialist for Wisconsin Sea Grant, offered, “Thank you to all the poets and organizers! I am inspired by the depth of your thoughts and stories.”

Remaining River Talks will be held on April 14 and May 12. For more information, visit the River Talks page: go.wisc.edu/4uz720.

The Horses Nobody Knows

If you didn’t get a chance to see my article in “Lake Superior Magazine” about the rare and endangered Ojibwe Horses, the same story has been reprinted in a different magazine: “Equine Monthly.” Click here to read it online.

An Ojibwe Horse, also known as a Lac LaCoix Pony. These horses are well-adapted to life in the northern wilderness.

If you’d like to hear the story behind my story, read my blog post here. These animals are so special. I felt privileged to be introduced to them.

A River of Poems

This Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central, I’m co-hosting a Zoom event that will showcase a dozen poets from around the world and across the country reading their powerful, evocative and beautiful poems about rivers. The March 3, 2021 reading is an evening program of the annual St. Louis River Summit, which brings together hundreds of people who work on and care about the St. Louis River in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s also part of our monthly River Talk programs, which are free and public-friendly. Details are below. Come experience different perspectives on our waterways!

Here is the Zoom link:
https://uwmadison.zoom.us/j/93264788373?pwd=amRqSWgvT1ZxNW03WFBnU2ZYclZUQT09
Meeting ID: 932 6478 8373
Passcode: 776905

The selected poets are:

Tyler Dettloff (Michigan) “My Stars”
Heather Dobbins (Arkansas) “I Held us on for 36 Hours after the Levee Broke to Hell”
Ben Green (New Mexico) “Immersion: A Prayer of Intent”
Lorraine Lamey (Michigan) “Catching Your Drift”
Joan Macintosh (Newfoundland) “The Current Feels”
Kate Meyer-Currey (England) “Timberscombe”
Rebecca Nelson (California) “Of the St. Louis River”
Stephanie Niu (New York) “To the Beaver’s Eyes”
Diana Randolph (Wisconsin) “Knowing the Way”
Ron Riekki (Florida) “It Took a Long Time to Discover”
Derold Sligh (South Korea) “Rouge River”
Lucy Tyrrell (Wisconsin) “Talking Water”

The reading will last an hour and will include time for comments and questions. The talk will be recorded and posted afterward on the Reserve’s Facebook page and YouTube. A summary will also be posted on Wisconsin Sea Grant’s blog.

River Talks are sponsored by The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Wisconsin Sea Grant Program.