Posted tagged ‘Lake Superior’

A Visit with Valley Cats Author Gretchen Preston

May 17, 2012

Today, I am pleased to interview my good friend Gretchen Preston, a fellow U.P. author, who has written the Valley Cats series.

Gretchen is a native of Portland, Oregon. She grew up in a two-parent family with three brothers and one sister. After graduating from the University of Oregon, she went on to graduate school at Arizona State University where she earned a Master’s in Social Work. She worked in Denver, Colorado as a medical social worker on an organ transplant team for many years. Gretchen met her husband Tim, a local Marquette businessman, in April of 2000, when he was visiting a mutual friend in Denver. They married in 2001 and Gretchen relocated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After retiring from social work, her goal was to become a published author.

Gretchen Preston, author of the Valley Cats series

Gretchen Preston, author of the Valley Cats series

Tyler: Welcome, Gretchen. Let’s get started by your telling us a little about the Valley Cats series, beginning with the two main characters. What can you tell us about Boonie and River?

Gretchen: Boonie and River are two housecat adventurers. The stories are set in our U.P. backyard. Boonie is the older and wiser cat. He is an experienced outdoorsman. After all, Boonie was named after the human, frontiersman, Daniel Boone. River is more timid. His over-protective mistress doesn’t allow him to wander. The cats meet at the Valley pet parade one summer afternoon. After joining forces, the new friends proclaim themselves the “Valley Cats.” The short stories wind their way through the U.P. seasons. The cat-pals go on many adventures including; taking a walk in the winter woods, exploring a shoreline cave and stowing away on a fishing boat. The stories are spun with humor and a gentle style making the text entertaining to kids of all ages. Boonie and River learn about friendship, experience the death of a friend, and trip over life’s hazards.

Currently, there are two completed books in the Valley Cat series. “Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River is 103 pages. It is the first book in the series. The sequel, “More Valley Cats: Fun, Games and New Friends” is 143 pages. The hardcover books have 14 fun-filled chapters. Each short story is accompanied by a Karin Neumann full color illustration. The books do not need to be read in order. The second book picks up where the first book left off. The characters and setting are re-introduced for new readers.

Tyler: Rather than writing a full-length book, you’ve written several stories in one volume. What is the benefit of that in your opinion?

Gretchen: Full-length books are intimidating to new readers. Short stories are more accessible. Chapter books are more reader-friendly. We all remember when we advanced from reading primers to chapter books. The chapters stand alone and do not need to be read in order. The colorful illustrations rouse interest in the accompanying story. Children can browse through the books and choose a story which attracts them. The Valley Cat books are written at a fifth grade reading level. Although, accomplished second graders are enjoying the books. Written and punctuated to be read aloud, my books are perfect for lap-time with your favorite child as well as bedtime reading.

Tyler: How is the second book More Valley Cats different from the first one?

More Valley Cats

More Valley Cats: Fun, Games and New Friends

Gretchen: “More Valley Cats: Fun, Games and New Friends” is forty pages longer. The inside cover is decorated with a map of the Valley enabling readers to follow along with the action. Like the first book, it has a glossary in the back pages making it easy for young readers to look up unfamiliar terms. New characters join the Valley Cat fun when Buddy Boy is adopted from the animal shelter by Big Tim to rid his boat shop of mice. River struggles with accepting a new cat-sister into his family. A batch of orphaned kittens is found in the woods when the Valley Cats are searching for a lost softball. The introduction of these new cat characters expands the Valley Cat antics. The older cats teach the kittens about life in the Valley, the kittens explore their world and relationships become more complex. The cats learn about jealousy, and how to share. Boonie, River and Buddy learn the consequences of knowingly breaking the rules when they venture into the forbidden boat shop. New settings are introduced when Boonie and River tag along on a hike over the ridge where they have never gone before. Little did they realize their adventure would take place in a leaky boat! New friends come to the Valley. Two new human characters are introduced. When a blind professor moves into the vacant house, Boonie learns about blindness. Danny the prankster comes to visit and the cats learn about jokes from the teenage boys.

Tyler: I’m a big fan especially of how you’ve introduced U.P. natural history, places, and culture into your children’s books. Will you give us some examples of what you consider educational moments in your books?

Gretchen: I purposely weave “learning moments” into the text. For example, in the story “Out All Night,” the cats stay out all night during the Perseid meteor showers. Readers learn about shooting stars, the constellations in the August U.P. night sky and how a firefly makes its light. Local plants, animals and the terrain are described in detail in every story. Native birds and their calls ring through the pages. The Valley Cats spend a lot of time observing their world. The cats mistakenly identify the sound of spring peepers for baby birds in trouble, in “Baby Bird Lullaby.” The history of pasties, a local delicacy, is described in “High Meadow Hike.”

Tyler: How did you first get started writing the Valley Cats series?

Gretchen: I made up the first few stories when my five year old friend asked me to tell her a story. Boonie is her cat and River is a neighbor’s cat. I just started spinning a tale about two cats who were adventurers. I used activities that my young friend and I had done when we played in our Valley through the passing seasons. These became the first Boonie and River adventures. I use my life in the Valley as storylines. My characters are my real neighbors and animal friends. The stories write themselves, through me.

Tyler: So the Valley is a real place? Where is it? And how do your neighbors and friends feel about being included in your books?

Gretchen: The Valley lies in the hills which rise gently above the south shore of Lake Superior. Valley Road is a half mile dirt road with only a few family homes. It empties into the deep woods where several of the Valley Cat adventures take place. The actual location is in Chocolay Township, but my setting can be anywhere in the Upper Midwest…wherever your imagination takes you!

Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River

Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River

The Valley Cat series chronicles our life as neighbors. The Valley children do not age as fast in my books as they have done in real life. The stories stop time in a sense. The children of the Valley will always be kids amongst the pages. They are all looking forward to reading “their stories” to their own children someday in the future. It chronicles their childhood, a hardbound diary of our time together. The Valley neighbors are very much a part of my story creation. When I get a storyline idea, I consult all of the human characters. I meet with them and we chat about my idea for the story of which they are a part. I always use real life storylines. I am really not that creative; I just live in a cartoon and write about it! I ask questions to fill in my story ideas. Then, get their verbal permission to create the story. I balance the stories between the characters in hopes that each real life character has his or her “Moment” to be a main character. Of course, for the minor children, I discuss it with both the child and the parents.

Before the books go to print, all the human characters are given a final draft of the story for approval, and have the opportunity to view the accompanying illustration in which they are characterized. After they have read and approved the story, I have them each sign a legal release form giving me permission to use their name and character likeness. I am totally respectful of my characters’ privacy. There are two characters who did not feel comfortable with me using their true-life likeness, so, Karin used another person’s image for that character’s illustration. In only one case a character did not feel comfortable with me using his/her real name. We compromised on using that person’s middle name for the character’s handle. My neighbors think that it is fun to be in the books. It gives them a sense of local stardom. My readership is always thrilled to meet the “real” characters and have their book signed by them. I have some really funny stories about my Valley Cat characters being recognized in public. Honestly, I have more problems of not adding new characters. Everyone wants to be in the books. I am leery to add too many new characters. I think too many characters gets confusing. It is my intent to concentrate on developing the existing characters and limit new ones.

Tyler: Tell us about the illustrations. How do you and illustrator Karin Neumann work together?

Gretchen: I send Karin my story rough drafts as I complete each story. We discuss what would be the most appropriate illustration for each short story. Sometimes we have to compromise to accommodate printing requirements. Each story has one full color illustration. Black and white illustrations are placed on pages to fill empty space. We design the horizon covers together. It takes good communication between author and illustrator to be successful. Illustrators cannot read the author’s mind, so I must be very clear when I am describing my vision for her drawings. Karin and I are partners. We have great respect for each other and have developed a warm working relationship.

Tyler: Gretchen, I know you are visually impaired. Will you tell us about your low vision and how it affects your writing process?

Gretchen: I have a juvenile onset form of macular degeneration. I had normal vision until the fifth grade. I still have some useable sight, but I do not see well enough to have a driver’s license, read street signs or access printed materials. I do my writing on my laptop computer which is equipped with a low vision software product called, “JAWS.” This stands for “job access with speech.” It talks to me while I type. With special keystroke commands I can read my documents by letter, word or line. I have found these features very helpful when pacing my story. It is easy for me to hear when a sentence needs to be edited. Hearing the words helps my flow and makes my stories easy to read aloud.

I had the opportunity recently to be interviewed for a podcast regarding my low vision and how it affects my world. For those who are interested, visit http://www.freedomscientific.com/FSCast/episodes/fscast065-april2012.asp. It is podcast #65, April 2012 with Jonathan Mosen.

Tyler: You often visit schools and give presentations to children. What do you find fulfilling about those events?

Gretchen: I have hosted Young Authors programs in Marquette County the last two years. I have been a presenter at school career days and was awarded a “Home Town Hero” award at one local school. The students are thrilled to meet a “real” writer. It’s really fun to hear their reviews of my work. They make me feel like a super star. The Valley Cats are developing a fan base. Kids are already clambering for the next book. I donate a fair amount of books to school and public libraries. It is not always about selling books. My books are timeless and my fan base is being refreshed on an ongoing basis. I want kids to identify with my characters and the situations they encounter. Some of my stories are just for fun and others have life lessons or educational components. Too much learning and not enough just plain fun will not keep a young reader’s attention. So, I mix it up! The most fulfilling part of writing children’s books is the feedback I get from the kids, their parents and teachers. I had a mom buy a book for her disabled son at a book signing. She told me that her son had checked the first Valley Cats book out of the public library three times and was always reluctant to return it. She grinned when she told me how thrilled her son would be finally to get his very own copy. It is these moments that make me forget the endless hours of editing, production headaches and my financial outlay.

Tyler: Do the children give you many ideas for your books?

Gretchen: I have a “child editor.” Each story is proofread in early rough draft form. I get feedback from a kid’s perspective. My child editor has given me great ideas and feedback. I always ask young readers what is their favorite story and why. I am pleased that so far, each story has its fans. This leads me to think that my stories have something for everyone to enjoy. People often tell me stories about their own cats. Occasionally they will ask me to write them a story about their pet. I have a collection of “Cat Tales” which will be published in the future. I get my ideas for the Valley Cats stories from actual events that have occurred in our Valley. I do stretch the truth a tad.

Tyler: Gretchen, I know you’re busy working on the third book in the series. Can you give us a little preview of what it will be about?

Gretchen: “Valley of the Cats: Earth, Wind and Sky” is filled with Earth science. Old friends return to the Valley and the whole gang goes boat camping on Grand Island. Chapter One is “Snowflakes in the Mirror.” It is a story about the concept of infinity. In another story, “Hippie Hollow” the cats happen upon a music festival in the woods. Illustrations include the Northern Lights, cumulous clouds and the Lake Superior shoreline.

Tyler: Gretchen, will you tell us about your website and where else we can find copies of the Valley Cats books?

Gretchen: My publishing company is Preston Hill Press. Books and illustration prints can be purchased directly from my website, www.prestonhillpress.com. Book sellers are listed on my “Where to Buy” page. I prefer to have my books placed at independent bookstores and gift shops. I have placed books for sale at places where kids frequent, The U.P. Children’s Museum, the Marquette Maritime Museum and ice cream stores. I have also placed my books at non-traditional book selling locations, including veterinarian offices and pet stores. I have books offered as “thank you gifts” for our local National Public Radio station fundraising events. Valley Cats books are available throughout the U.P. and northern Michigan.

Gretchen Preston speaking at the U.P. Publishers and Authors Association Conference April 2012

Gretchen Preston speaking at the U.P. Publishers and Authors Association Conference April 2012, and wearing her cat jacket.

Tyler: What if people want to meet you in person? Do you have any events you’ll be attending this summer or Christmas season?

Gretchen: Both Karin Neumann and I will be at the Outback Festival in Marquette the last weekend in July. I am currently negotiating appearance dates in June at the Moosewood Nature Center on Presque Isle. There may be opportunities for UPPAA members to sell books in Michigamme at their summer farmer’s and artists markets. No dates for their markets have been announced, but I will let everyone know the upcoming dates and times. I will be in Curtis selling books with you, Tyler, at their Art Fair on September 1st. Karin and I both plan to be in attendance at the WLUC TV6 Holiday Crafts show the first weekend in December in the Superior Dome in Marquette. Consult our “Coming Events” page on the website where appearances are posted. The list is updated as appearances are confirmed. I am always willing to talk about or sell books. I donate to silent auctions and community fundraising events. I can be contacted via email at prestonhillpress@gmail.com or by telephone at 906.360.7608.

My summer goals include producing the Valley Cat series as a CD. It will be locally audio recorded. Additionally, the books will be produced in Braille for blind children. We are also discussing converting them into an e-book.

Tyler: Thank you, Gretchen, for the interview. It’s been a real pleasure. I’ll be looking forward to reading that third book.

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Valley Cats – a Great U.P. Children’s Book

May 15, 2012

I’ve asked U.P. children’s author Gretchen Preston to be a guest on my blog. An interview with her will be upcoming in the next few days. For those not familiar with Gretchen’s work, I have gotten permission from the Marquette Monthly to reprint the following book review I wrote that first appeared in its December 2010 issue:

Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River
by Gretchen Preston
Illustrated by Karin Neumann

Gretchen Preston’s Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River is the fun and adventurous story of two cats who first meet during a pet parade and quickly become best friends. Boonie is a bit more daring than River, who is not allowed to leave his yard, but soon Boonie convinces River he can get the trust of his mistress so they can have adventures together.
Those adventures happen in the Valley where Boonie and River live, as well as the surrounding areas of their Upper Michigan home. Preston based the story upon people and cats she knows, and the Valley is inspired by her Chocolay Township home in the woods just outside Marquette. Boonie and River are characters children will love—especially cat lovers. They are reminiscent of characters in earlier children’s books about friendship such as Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series although Valley Cats has more in-depth stories with full length chapters, each one telling the story of a Valley Cats adventure.

The adventures include exploring the outdoors during the winter, visiting a bear cave at Broken Indian Rock along Lake Superior, a rainy day picnic, playing “Rodeo Cats” which includes jumping on dogs who act like bucking broncos, stowing away on a fishing boat so they can pretend to be pirates, and playing in the bathroom sink on a snowy day. Although the Valley Cats occasionally get in trouble on their adventures, they also strengthen their friendship and make new friends with other animals and humans along the way.

The stories are visual, so while the reader can follow the action without any trouble, the gorgeous full-color illustrations by Karin Neumann provide an added dimension to the stories. These watercolor pencil drawings are brightly colored to attract children, but adults will be stunned by how perfectly Neumann captures not just the charm of the cats and the story, but the shadows of trees on the snow, the evening sunset and the humor and sadness—all the emotions and tone—of the story.

The book instantly lulls the reader into a special atmosphere with the opening paragraph: “Far away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there is a magical place. It lies in the foothills, which rise gently from the southern shore of Lake Superior. There, you will find a little valley where the woods are thick with pines and sugar maples. The lakes are filled with crystal-clear water, and the air is clean.”

Besides simply being a fun read, Valley Cats is an educational experience for children. One story encompasses the death of a family pet which may help children relate to and understand death. Other stories highlight the outdoors and read almost like educational field trips. Preston includes a glossary of terms at the book’s end for young readers as well as those less familiar with Upper Michigan culture. Words included in the glossary include “fire circle,” “Ojibwa” and “zucchini.” Children from third to fifth grade will most enjoy this book, but it also works well as a read-aloud book for younger children, and adult readers will appreciate the humor and the stories’ gentle tone.

Preston, a native of Portland, Oregon, fell in love with children’s stories while her parents read to her at bedtime. Although her career aspirations led her to obtaining a master of social work degree, she credits her writing prowess to learning to write in graduate school. Trained as a medical social worker, Preston frequently wrote newsletters, professional journals and composed educational handbooks. After retiring and moving to the Upper Peninsula, she had the opportunity to begin writing children’s books. Valley Cats is the first book in a series about Boonie and River that she has planned. Because the characters were largely inspired by her Valley neighbors, Preston dedicated this book to them.

Illustrator Karin Neumann was raised in Traverse City and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Northern Michigan University. While living in Marquette, Neumann met Preston and was commissioned to illustrate Valley Cats. Inspiration for each illustration came from the interaction of the characters of Boonie and River, as well as Neumann’s observation of her own cat and the barn cats she had growing up. She took photographs of the various locations in the book, from the woods to the Lake Superior shoreline. She then used the photographs as inspiration to draw the illustrations. Full-color prints of the illustrations are available for purchase at the book’s Web site.

Preston, who has fallen in love with her new Upper Michigan home, believes in supporting the local economy so she wanted the book produced within the state. Besides hiring a Michigan resident as her illustrator, she also has had the book printed in Michigan and has hired Michigan people to help promote it. She is proud to say that Valley Cats is a “Pure Michigan” product.

As an adult without children, I still found Valley Cats to be a true pleasure to read. It not only made me laugh and smile, but I marveled over the stunning illustrations, and many fond childhood memories came back to me of my own favorite illustrated children’s books such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and James Marshall’s George and Martha books—the books that first made me fall in love with reading. I have no doubt that Valley Cats will have a similar magical effect upon many children.

For more information about Preston, Neumann and Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River or to purchase a copy of the book, visit www.prestonhillpress.com

Marquette’s Maritime Museum and Lighthouse

July 27, 2011

Thank you to Marquette’s Maritime Museum, especially Director Carrie Fries, for the opportunity to be part of the Tall Ships event this past weekend. My fellow authors (Gretchen Preston, Milly Balzarini, and Donna Winters) and I enjoyed talking to all the tourists, natives, and our readers.

Marquette Maritime Museum

Marquette Maritime Museum

As a thank you to the museum, and in honor of August as Maritime Month (can you believe August is only days away?), here is the section from My Marquette about the museum:

           The sudden lurch catapulted several passengers over the ship’s rail. Sophia, having momentarily released Gerald’s arm, found herself thrown overboard with several other ladies. Panic-stricken, she scrambled in the waves, fighting to keep her head above water while her skirts quickly soaked through, growing so heavy they threatened to pull her under. The lake was calm that evening, the waves nearly indistinguishable, yet Sophia was terrified. She had not swum in twenty years, and she sadly lacked for exercise. The sudden surprise and the biting cold water nearly sent her into shock. Gerald was almost as surprised as he stood clasping the rail and trying to spot his wife. After a few initial screams, the other women thrown overboard began to swim toward the ship. One man, Mr. Maynard, had also been pivoted overboard, and like Sophia, he struggled to stay afloat. Sophia’s terror increased when she saw Mr. Maynard’s head sink beneath the waves. She instantly feared he had drowned, and his failure to resurface made her splash and scream frantically until she began to swallow water. Hearing his wife’s screams, Gerald spotted her and dove to her rescue. — Iron Pioneers

The Marquette Maritime Museum was formed in 1980 and opened to the public in 1982. It is located in the old Marquette Waterworks building designed by D. Fred Charlton in 1890. In 1897, the Father Marquette statue was placed on the waterworks building’s property, although it was later moved to its present location. The construction of a new waterworks building resulted in the old one being converted into the Maritime Museum.

In 1999, when I first conceived the idea to write The Marquette Trilogy, I visited the Maritime Museum to see the exhibits as research for my books. During that visit, I learned about the sinking of the Jay Morse which I knew would make a great dramatic scene since most of Marquette’s wealthiest people were on the ship. The passage above resulted from my visit to the museum. Fittingly, my novels have since found a happy place in the Maritime Museum’s gift shop. The friendly employees have read them and frequently recommend them to their customers, something for which I am always grateful.

The museum includes numerous displays about the early schooners and ore boats on Lake Superior as well as dioramas, old rowboats, and a small theatre with ongoing films. In 2002, the museum also acquired the Marquette lighthouse as part of its property.

Marquette was built to be a port for shipping iron ore from the mines in nearby Negaunee and Ishpeming. Every harbor town requires a lighthouse, and Marquette constructed its lighthouse in 1853, just four years after the town’s founding. No building records exist for this first lighthouse, but it was reputedly thirty-four by twenty feet in size. The lantern room contained seven fourteen-inch Lewis lamps which were used until the introduction of the Fresnel lens in the later 1850s. Because the living quarters and tower were poorly constructed, they were replaced with the present lighthouse in 1866.

The 1866 lighthouse is today the oldest structure of any real historical significance in Marquette. The original structure was a one-and-a-half story brick building with an attached forty-foot square brick tower housing a fourth order Fresnel lens. An identical lens is on display today in the Marquette Maritime Museum. The original lens showed an arc of 180 degrees. In 1870, it was increased to 270 degrees.

The keeper and his family lived in the lighthouse. As long as the keeper’s job was only to maintain the light, a single man was able to do the work. However, when the light at the end of the breakwater was added and a two whistle signal system installed at the end of the point, the work was too much for one person so an assistant keeper was hired and a barn behind the lighthouse was converted into living space for him. In 1909, a second story was added instead for the assistant’s quarters. Additions were also made to the back of the lighthouse in the 1950s.

The Maritime Museum has available on CD the lightkeeper’s log books which reflect some of their interesting experiences. In 1859, Peter White complained about the lightkeeper because “He is a habitual drunkard, frequently thrashes his wife and throws her out of doors.” This lightkeeper also failed to light up until sometimes after midnight which caused great danger for ships.

Just west of the Marquette lighthouse, the U.S. Life-Saving Service established a station in 1891. Led by Captain Henry Cleary, the life-savers performed death-defying rescues on the lake. Their fame grew until they were invited in 1901 to escort President McKinley down the Niagara River during the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York (the following day the president would be assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, who for some time had worked in various lumber camps in Michigan, including in Seney. In 2009, Marquette author, John Smolens, published The Anarchist, a novel about the McKinley assassination). Eventually the U.S. Life-Saving Station was absorbed into the Coast Guard, and it became the building in operation for the longest time that was owned by the Coast Guard until 2009 when a new Coast Guard station was built directly on the south side of the Maritime Museum and in front of the Lower Harbor’s breakwater.

The Marquette lighthouse remains one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks for its bright red walls, and it is probably photographed more than any other place in Marquette. When I worked at Superior Spectrum, a former local telephone company in Marquette, the lighthouse was used in numerous marketing pieces, some of which I helped to design. Today, the lighthouse is open for tours operated by the Maritime Museum, and it is being refurbished to reflect the lighthouse keepers’ living quarters in the early twentieth century.

Be sure to check out my several other posts last August 2010 that celebrated Maritime Month. And of course, be sure to visit the Maritime Museum and the lighthouse this summer!

Early Upper Michigan Literature – a Brief and Incomplete History

July 18, 2011

The U.P. Author Book Tour is in its last week, but several events are still happening. You can find the list of the remaining events at: http://rariekki.webs.com/apps/blog/. The book tour has generated a lot of discussion about Michigan, and specifically Upper Michigan authors, both present and past, so I wanted to post a little about the legacy of Upper Michigan literature. I am sure there is much more than what I will post here so I invite others to let me know of any early U.P. literature I forget. Finally, thank you once again to Ron Riekki, author of U.P. for all his work organizing the biggest literary event in Upper Michigan history with more than 60 authors over the course of a month!

The Beginnings

the song of hiawatha

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Upper Michigan literature really begins with the Native Americans since they were here first. They practiced oral traditions and talked about their myths and the supernatural creatures and beautiful Great Lakes area. Much of this wonderful oral tradition has probably been lost, but some parts of it were preserved. As far as printed books go, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and his half-Ojibwa wife, Jane Schoolcraft, lived at the Sault and wrote down several Ojibwa legends that were collected into book form. Various versions of these works exist today. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used these stories to compose his famous The Song of Hiawatha in 1855. Longfellow never set foot in Upper Michigan, but we can claim him as one of our own for first making Upper Michigan significant in literature on a nationwide level. The poem remains well-known today and the U.P. continues to commemorate the Hiawatha legend in the Hiawatha National Forest that composes a large part of central Upper Michigan as well as the Hiawatha Music Festival held in Marquette every July (coming this weekend July 22-24–visit www.hiawathamusic.org). And any true Yooper knows Lake Superior’s true name is Gitchee Gumee, as Longfellow states:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

ojibwa narratives charles kawbawgam

Ojibwa Narratives

Once you read the poem, the rhythm never gets out of your head. An interesting sidenote is that Longfellow borrowed the meter for the poem from the famous Finnish epic, the Kalevala–a work also well-known in Upper Michigan because of the large number of Finnish immigrants who have come to this area, although a generation after Longfellow’s poem was written.

Another wonderful collection of Ojibwa narratives are those that Chief Charles Kawbawgam of Marquette and his brother-in-law Jacques LePique told to Homer Kidder in the 1890s (a depiction of this event is included in my novel Iron Pioneers). The manuscript was not published until 1994 by Wayne State University as Ojibwa Narratives, but it is another example of early Upper Michigan literature.

The First Novels

Snail-Shell Harbor Langille

Snail-Shell Harbor by J.H. Langille

I am uncertain what the first Upper Michigan novel was, but for now, my best guess is Snail-Shell Harbor (1870) by J.H. Langille. This novel is set in the bustling early village of Fayette, Michigan, once an iron-smelting town in the Garden Peninsula. Today it is a famous Michigan ghost-town. The novel describes the everyday life in the village of the ironworkers, fishing in the harbor, and the life and death struggles that those early pioneers faced. A reprint of the book is available at Great Lakes Romances. Fayette is today a historic park open to visitors. For more information, visit Historic Fayette State Park.

Anne by constance fenimore Woolson

Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

Another early novel is Constance Fenimore Woolson’s Anne (1882) set on Mackinac Island. Woolson was the great-niece of James Fenimore Cooper. she lived in Ohio but dearly loved to visit Mackinac Island. She was the aunt to Samuel and Henry Mather, owners of the Cleveland Mining Company. Henry Mather’s home still stands in Marquette, Michigan today, although no record exists that Woolson visited any of Upper Michigan other than Mackinac Island. When Woolson died, her nephew Samuel erected Anne’s Tablet on Mackinac Island in her memory. On the tablet is a passage from the novel. The novel itself has beautiful descriptions of Mackinac Island in winter, and frankly the Mackinac Island scenes are the most worth reading. It is a rather conventional romance novel of its time in that the heroine leaves the island and goes to the East Coast where she falls in love with a man in society but is ultimately jilted and returns home to Mackinac Island. It is not a great novel, but it is well worth reading for the descriptions of Mackinac Island alone.

Children’s Books

Much of Upper Michigan’s early nineteenth century literature is in the form of children’s books.

In 1904, Marquette author Carroll Watson Rankin published Dandelion Cottage, which is still considered a minor classic by many children’s literature enthusiasts. She reputedly wrote it because her daughter complained that she had read every book ever written for little girls. The story is about four little girls growing up in Lakeville in Upper Michigan who want a playhouse. The church allows them to use a small rental property it has in exchange for picking the dandelions off the lawn. The novel is based on a real house which still stands in Marquette today. See my previous post on Dandelion Cottage. Rankin went on to write several more books, including three sequels to Dandelion Cottage.

James Cloyd Bowman lived across the street from Rankin on Ridge Street in Marquette. He was the head of the English department at Northern State Teacher’s College (now NMU). He became famous for his children’s book story collections, especially Pecos Bill for which he won the Newberry Medal, but he also published a book about Upper Michigan’s own Paul Bunyan, and Tales from a Finnish Tupa (doubtless because of the Finnish population in the U.P.) and he wrote a little known novel Mystery Mountain, set in a fictional version of Marquette and featuring the Hotel Superior. I imagine he and Carroll Watson Rankin knew each other, living across the street from one another. If only their conversations had been recorded.

Two other children’s authors from Marquette were Dorothy Maywood Bird and Holly Wilson. Bird’s best known book, Granite Harbor (1944) is also set in a fictional Marquette and tells of a girl from Texas who comes to stay in Upper Michigan. Although resistant to her new home at first, she soon discovers how much fun a girl can have in the U.P., especially in winter with skiing and other activities. Bird wrote a couple of other novels as well.

Holly Wilson grew up in Marquette on Arch Street. She wrote several children’s books set in Upper Michigan, and others just set in the Great Lakes region. Among her best books are Clara the Unconquered, which depicts a fictionalized version of Marquette in its early years, Deborah Todd, the story of a girl’s antics based on Wilson’s childhood, and The Hundred Steps, about the hundred steps in Marquette that led from Ridge Street down to the harbor; Wilson uses the steps to depict the class divisions in the town.

U.P. Literature Becomes Famous

Anatomy of a murder by Robert TraverDr. James Cloyd Bowman taught creative writing at Northern, and one of his students was John Voelker, who would publish the bestselling Anatomy of a Murder (1956) under the pen name Robert Traver. Voelker used to bring his writing to where Bowman was residing and go over his stories with him. Wouldn’t we love to have those conversations recorded as well? Of all the novels to come out of Upper Michigan, Anatomy of a Murder remains the best known. It is based on a real murder that took place in Big Bay. Voelker was the defense attorney in the court case, and consequently, he was well-qualified to write a fictionalized version of it. In 1959, it was made into the film of the same name, starring Jimmy Stewart, Eve Arden, Lee Remick, George C. Scott, Ben Gazzara, and Arthur O’Connell.

Upper Michigan Literature Today

Novels set in the Upper Peninsula remained relatively few throughout the rest of the twentieth century, but in the last decade the number has grown tremendously as more and more locals come to appreciate how special Upper Michigan is as well as changes in the publishing industry allow people to self-publish their books.

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton

Well-known authors like Jim Harrison have depicted Upper Michigan in books like Returning to Earth. Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat series (The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare etc.) are set in a fictionalized U.P. town. Mystery novelist Steve Hamilton has set several books in the U.P. including Misery Bay . (You can catch Steve Hamilton as part of the U.P. Author Book Tour. He makes his last appearance on Beaver Island on Thursday afternoon, July 21st at the museum).  These authors have all achieved nationwide attention.

The list of UP authors today is far too numerous to list them all. I encourage anyone interested in who is writing about the U.P. today to visit the UP Publishers and Authors Association for a list of all the member authors’ books. Another, far from complete list of U.P. authors can be found at my website www.MarquetteFiction.com.

I began writing novels set in Upper Michigan back in 1987, although I did not publish any until 2006. I felt strongly that Upper Michigan is full of stories, wonderful characters, dramatic episodes, significant history, and beautiful settings. The perfect place to write about. At the beginning of my first published novel Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy, Book One, I inserted the following quote from Ralph Williams’ biography of Marquette pioneer Peter White. I think those words, more than a century old, remain true today about why Upper Michigan literature is and will continue to be significant:

Iron Pioneers The marquette trilogy book one tyler r. tichelaar

Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy, Book One

“The beginnings, therefore, of this great iron industry are historically important and are of interest to every citizen in the United States, for there is not a man or woman today living who has not been, directly or indirectly, benefited by the great mineral wealth of the Lake Superior country and the labor of winning it and working it into the arts . . . . Has it not the elements in it out of which to weave the fabric of the great American novel so long expected and so long delayed? For the story is distinctly American. Indeed there is nothing more distinctly American.”

—Ralph Williams, The Honorable Peter White: A Biographical Sketch of the Lake Superior Iron Country (1905)

Middle Island Point – One of Marquette’s Best Kept Secrets

June 15, 2011
Indian Head Rock

Indian Head Rock at Middle Island Point

I recently had the good fortune and privilege of getting to visit Middle Island Point, a visit arranged by a friend and with one of the Point’s longtime residents as our tour guide. Because Middle Island Point is private property, you can only access it by invitation and so I will respect the privacy of the residents and not display pictures of their cottages and homes, but the scenery at Middle Island Point is breathtaking enough in itself.

I had long heard of Middle Island Point but never visited it, and when I mentioned it to others, I was surprised that many people didn’t even know where it is. It is actually only a couple of miles from Marquette with access along the Big Bay Road. We have all seen it. When you are at Presque Isle Park and look across the bay from Sunset Point, you are looking straight at it. It is called Middle Island Point because a point of the mainland juts out right across from Middle Island (the Middle Island between Presque Isle and Partridge Island).

Several books have been written about Middle Island Point, including A History of Middle Island Point(1963) by Robert J. Pearce. The book has an odd cover without any words on it and only an aerial view of the point. Inside it is the history of much of Middle Island Point, including lists of every cottage there.

Middle Island Point by Robert Pearce

Aerial View of Middle Island Point - the cover of Pearce's book

The point itself is quite a rocky precipice jutting into the lake with fairly high cliffs in various places while other parts of the shore are close to the lake. The winter storms can be quite fierce as the waves dash against the rocks, but the geological beauty of the landscape is rivaled by few other parts of the Marquette area’s Lake Superior shoreline.

As for its history, Middle Island Point began as a sort of camping getaway for Marquette residents, and its former inhabitants read like a “Who’s Who” of Marquette history. The first cabin was built about 1890 by Mrs. Alice Adams, a milliner in the Harlow Block of Marquette. By the early 1900s, the Point would be filled with cottages on its rocky hill and on the beachside property as well.

Among the locally famous residents who had cottages on Middle Island Point are:

View of Partridge Island from Middle Island Point

The Harlow Clark family. They are descendants of Amos and Olive Harlow, Marquette’s founding family. Mr. Harlow Clark, their grandson, reputedly would walk from the streetcar at Presque Isle to Middle Island Point.

Forest and Esther Roberts – The Forest Roberts theater was named for Forest, head of NMU’s theatre department, and they were long time owners of a cottage at the point which remains in the family today.

Dorothy Bird – Dorothy Maywood Bird, local author of Granite Harbor and a couple of other books had a cottage along the beach at Middle Island Point.

James Cloyd Bowman – the winner of the Newberry Medal for his book Pecos Bill, Bowman was head of NMU’s English Department and had a cottage called Skytop at Middle Island Point. In Ruth Alden Clark Lill’s book Twenties That Didn’t Roar, she recalls being at the cabin when a fire broke out on Middle Island Point. Fortunately, none of the cottages burnt.

John Lautner Jr. – the famous architect was a boy who helped to build his family cottage Midgaard here. Lautner would go on to study under Frank Lloyd Wright and build homes for such notables as Bob Hope (watch for the special exhibit on Lautner coming soon to NMU and the Marquette Regional History Center).

Middle Island Point

Landscape of Middle Island Point with Bridge

Famous visitors to the Point include Cole Porter who reputedly had help from a party of guests at the Point in writing the lyrics for one of his songs.

The rugged landscape is quite a challenge for the residents, who often have to climb up one or two hills on winding paths from one cabin to another in roundabout ways to get to their own cabins. Cars cannot access the steep hills so groceries, furniture, and anything else needed must be carried up by hand, and often through steps that have been carved by hand into the rocks as well as over wooden bridges.

I could go on and on about the history of Middle Island Point, but I hope I’ve whetted your interest enough to explore it further. Pearce’s book is out of print but copies are available at Peter White Public Library.

Tyler Tichelaar at Middle Island Point

Tyler on one of many winding hillside paths at Middle Island Point.

Marquette Hotels: The Clifton House and the Hotel Marquette

January 26, 2011

Last week when I had the pleasure of visiting the residents of Brookridge Heights to talk about My Marquette, we spent a lot of time reminscing about old Marquette hotels, some I knew very little about. Marquette has had numerous old hotels from the Brunswick to the European and the Janzen. Two well-known hotels that I featured in my novels were the Clifton and the Hotel Marquette. Here is the section from My Marquette about them. Photos of the hotels, including the fire one experienced, can be found in My Marquette.

            Unlike most of Upper Michigan’s clannish Finnish immigrants, Aino realized that to get ahead in this foreign land, she must assimilate into American culture. She thought working in one of Marquette’s finest hotels was a fine start compared to the jobs in the mining towns of Ishpeming and Negaunee; Marquette seemed practically a cosmopolitan city compared to the nearby little mining towns, and the Clifton Hotel was frequently visited by shipping and railroad magnates. — The Queen City

            In The Queen City, Aino Nordmaki’s employment at the Clifton Hotel results in her meeting her future husband, Karl Bergmann. Aino enters his room to clean it, not realizing he is still in it—they are immediately smitten with each other, and although she knows she should not court one of the hotel’s guests, she gives in when he asks her to supper:

Finally, he found Aino Nordmaki in a stairwell and asked her to have supper with him. She tried to explain she could not be involved with the hotel’s male clients. He persisted when her eyes betrayed her pleasure at being asked. He took her to the Hotel Marquette—known for its splendid cuisine—where no one from the Clifton would see them. Aino had never eaten in a restaurant before—she had certainly never dined alone with a man. That he was a giant of a man made her feel both nervous and safe, as if even losing her position at the hotel could not happen if he were with her. They did not talk much; neither knew what to say, but in the end, she thanked him for the meal.

            The Mesnard House was built in 1883 and renamed the Hotel Marquette in 1891. It had one hundred rooms and was renowned for its fine dining. But like so many other downtown buildings, it would be destroyed by fire in 1930.

            The Clifton Hotel would be even more ill-fated. The original hotel was first named the Clifton Hostelry, then Cole’s Lake View Hotel, then Cozzen’s Hotel, and finally the Clifton House. It stood four stories high on the corner of Washington and Front Streets, and its top floor and an observation tower provided an excellent view of Lake Superior. A barbershop, billiard parlor, and parlors for entertainment were among its many amenities. A Christmas Day fire in 1886 would destroy it.

            The Volks, owners of the Clifton, decided to rebuild a block farther up the hill on the corners of Front and Bluff Streets. This second Clifton Hotel would be where Karl and Aino met; they would walk from there down a block to the corner of Washington and Front Streets to the Hotel Marquette for dinner. Meanwhile, Amos Harlow purchased the property where the old Clifton Hotel had stood and built the Harlow Block building in 1887, constructed by Marquette architect Hampson Gregory. It remains home to numerous downtown businesses and offices today.

            The second Clifton Hotel would ultimately meet the fate of its predecessor. In October 1965, fire again broke out as the result of an electric problem. Despite efforts to put it out, the fire quickly spread through the building. The hotel was never rebuilt. By that time, the US 41 bypass had been built to detour traffic from passing through downtown Marquette. Hotels were being replaced by motels springing up along US 41 as the city grew westward. Today, only the Landmark Inn survives of Marquette’s downtown hotels.

Marquette’s First Christmas

December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas to Everyone!

Today’s blog is a passage from my novel Iron Pioneers about Marquette’s first Christmas in 1849. That December, the expected supply ship had not survived and the settlers to the new village that was still called by its original name, Worcester, feared they would starve to death. The group of German immigrants decided they would walk to Milwaukee so the remaining settlers would have enough provisions to make it through the winter. At this point in the novel, Molly, an Irish woman, and Fritz Bergmann, her German husband, are among those immigrants who have begun the trek to Milwaukee when this scene begins:

Iron Pioneers - Marquette's First Christmas and more history in fiction

            The German immigrants left the next morning, taking the Indian trail east then south on their three hundred mile trek to Milwaukee. By the second day, Molly’s legs ached from walking through heavy snow, and sleeping in the cold night air. Still, she did her best not to complain, knowing everyone suffered from the same difficulties; nor did she want to worry about Fritz worrying about her; she already had enough to worry about with his poor health. She loved Fritz dearly, perhaps all the more because he had been so sick; he was all she had in the world now. She would not go back to Boston, though her parents and brother were there–she had come here for a better life than she had known in Boston or in Ireland, yet it did not seem to matter where she went, she always ended up poor and desperate. Before coming here, she had asked everyone she met what they knew of Upper Michigan. She had heard tales of harsh winters, a climate like a tundra, a land of glaciers, an impenetrable wilderness, completely uninhabitable. But she had also heard the land was rich with iron and copper and that the plentiful forests could be logged to make a thousand men rich. Perhaps here, she had thought, she could escape the constant fear of hunger and want she had known since her childhood during the great potato famine, and she could overcome the prejudice she had known against the Irish in Boston.

            In Europe, both she and Fritz had been told any dream could come true in America, but after Boston and now Worcester, Molly was beginning to lose faith in this new world. Each dream she had tried to follow only seemed to lead her down a worse path, until now she was trudging through three hundred miles of snow; her heart became as bitter as the cold winds biting her cheeks. She felt guilty for lying to Clara; she knew they would never return to the settlement, and she was sorry to lose the only female friend she had found since her arrival in America. But it could not be helped. Fritz could never make this trip back, if he even made it to Milwaukee; and what would they do when they reached Milwaukee, except starve in its streets? She would not go to his cousin again for charity–the cousin had made it clear they were not wanted. Fritz would probably die before he got there, and then she would be alone. She tried not to think what would become of her then.

            They seemed to be walking forever. They had to travel east until they reached some place called Au Train, and then they would turn south. They had walked all of yesterday, and now today, and yet they were still following along the shore of Lake Superior. A piercing wind blew off the lake, while beneath her clothes, Molly sweated from the strenuous walking. Then the sweat froze until she had ice against her skin. If she were alone, she wondered whether she would have had the courage to walk into the lake and be done with it all. That sudden cold shock of an ending would be better than this prolonged bitter cold. Such an act would be a sin, but could even God blame her when she was so terribly cold? Still, she kept putting one foot before the other, while watching that her husband did not collapse in front of her from exhaustion.

            Then she realized her companions had halted. She looked around to see a man running and hollering behind them; the wind howled so loud she could not understand what he shouted until he was only a few feet away.

            “Stop! Stop!”

            Molly had been near the front of the party, and by the time she and Fritz turned around and returned to where half the group had stopped, everyone was shaking hands, clasping each other around the shoulders and shouting for joy.

            “What is it? What is it?” she asked, stunned by the transformation in her formerly morose companions.

            “The supply ship is in L’Anse!” a man shouted. He had run on snowshoes from Worcester, and though he had to keep pausing to catch his breath, he quickly told the news. “An Indian came to tell us, and now a couple men have left to snowshoe back to L’Anse. The ship was forced to take shelter there, and it’s locked in by some snow and ice, but the men are determined to bring the ship back with them. There’ll be enough supplies for the entire winter, so you can all return.”

            Molly could scarcely believe it. Everyone started to talk at once.

            “Praise the Lord!”

            “But it’s eighty miles from L’Anse to Worcester.”

            “Even if they get the ship into the lake, it will never be able to sail in the winter storms.”

            “Why don’t they haul the supplies overland by sled?”

            “No, that would take days.”

            Molly doubted the news was hope enough to cling to, was reason enough to walk back to Worcester, but they were only a tenth of the way to Milwaukee. If they went back, they would have lost three or four days, but what did it matter when they had no food for their journey anyway? When her companions turned back toward Worcester, she and Fritz did the same; they could not go on to Milwaukee alone.

            As the group walked, everyone spoke excitedly in mixed German and English while clapping the messenger on the back. Fritz smiled and linked his arm in Molly’s. She saw how exhausted he looked despite his smile. For the moment, he felt invigorated, but she knew he never would have made it to Milwaukee. Better they return to starve in Worcester–at least there he could die in bed. She reconciled herself to whatever fate was before them.

*

            Molly soon learned she had no reason to dread for the immediate future. The good news was true; it seemed like a Christmas miracle to the settlement. The Swallow and its precious cargo had been prevented by a storm from reaching shelter in Worcester’s Iron Bay, so the crew had sought shelter in the L’Anse harbor. An Indian had then been sent from L’Anse to Worcester with word of the schooner’s whereabouts. When the news was heard, Captain Moody and his sailor companion, Mr. Broadbent, snowshoed their way to L’Anse, following an Indian trail along Lake Superior. After three days of long hiking over soft and consequently difficult snow, they arrived to find the Swallow trapped in the harbor’s ice. They also found another schooner, the Siscowit, the same size as the Swallow and able to sail. With determination, Captain Moody took charge, had all the Swallow’s supplies transferred to the other vessel, and pointed a shotgun on the Siscowit’s owner when he objected to the proceedings. Captain Moody, knowing the supplies meant life or death to the settlers of Worcester, refused to back down, until finally, its owner begrudgingly agreed to let the Siscowit sail to Iron Bay.

            And if any doubt remained of their friendliness, the Chippewa now received the praise of the white folks, for they took their axes and went out on the frozen lake, chopping the dangerously thin ice for three miles out on L’Anse Bay so the Siscowit could move into Lake Superior’s open water. Then, fully supplied and with her sails lifted, the Siscowit was dragged by the Chippewa out into the lake until it broke free of the ice and reached rolling waves. Yet all this human effort was no match for winter’s fury; soon after leaving L’Anse, the Siscowit sailed into a snow squall and lost sight of the shore.

            In Worcester, the people waited, praying the ship would arrive, unaware of how the snow squall had effected the schooner’s journey. Winter on Lake Superior is always dangerous, and with ice floating on the lake, the danger of crashing into invisible ice floes was as serious as a heavy wind that could toss over a ship. The sailors aboard the Siscowit knew they might capsize, but they were determined the settlers of Worcester would not starve that winter. Through that snowstorm they sailed, the entire eighty miles, despite cold and ice, fierce winds and threatening waters. The lake’s mist froze on the sails, and the deck became a skating rink of inch thick ice. The hulls and masts were so encased with ice it was feared they would crack and break. The sailors did not know whether they were even following the south shore of Lake Superior or whether they were heading straight across the lake to Canada, but they sailed on nevertheless. Sometimes the frozen ice caused the ship to tilt sideways, nearly overturning. At any moment of the journey, all could turn futile, the brave sailors and the desperately needed supplies being claimed by Lake Superior’s frigid depths.

            Then on Christmas Day, on the distant horizon, a sail was spotted by a Worcester man. A holler went up. People gathered to look. Cheers rang out. Every man, woman and child in the village rushed to the shore, the ship clearly in view. In came the Siscowit, in it came to Iron Bay! Safe again were the courageous mariners; saved was the settlement of Worcester! The schooner docked at Ripley’s Rock, its brave men, their bodies frozen, forgot the cold as they were warmly hailed as heroes. The village burst with good will as each person helped to unload the supplies and praise the men who had saved them all. This Christmas was the finest any of them had ever known. This Christmas was the one they would remember when all others were forgotten. This moment had been the most vital in the village’s history. Not a single heart failed to give thanks that day. Worcester would survive through this winter, to face many more winters to come.

            Clara felt how splendid it all was. What an adventure it had been! And the ship arriving on Christmas day, like something straight out of a fairy tale. That night, she and Gerald invited Molly and Fritz for supper; Fritz, despite the long walk, looked like a new man, and Molly told herself he would get well now, and Clara could already imagine herself being a mother by this time next year. They all thanked God for the good fortune that had come to them, and they imagined only future happiness and prosperity in this dangerous but exciting land they now called home.