Posted tagged ‘Northern Michigan University’

The Prologue to my new novel Spirit of the North: a paranormal romance

April 26, 2012

Here’s a sneak preview at the prologue to my new novel Spirit of the North: a paranormal romance. The book is now available on my website at: as well as in ebook format at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

How This Book Came to Be Written

             The other day, my granddaughter came over to help me pack and weed through a half century of accumulated items. I am moving now to Snowberry Heights, the senior citizen high rise in Marquette. I am looking forward to the move, the comradeship it will provide, and the freedom from the care of a house and all its possessions, yet it is hard for an old woman to leave her home; here I first came in 1941 as a young bride, here I raised my daughter, here I lived as a widow when my husband passed away, and then later, here I raised my granddaughter, Sybil, after her parents died in a car crash when she was a young child. Now she is in college, living in the dorms at Northern Michigan University, and I have no need for so much space as my house gives me. In my life, I have acquired so many items, both my own, as well as those I packed away after my husband, my parents, and grandparents died. Since I inherited my house from my grandmother, and raised my own daughter and granddaughter here, the house contains the collected possessions of five generations. I felt too overwhelmed to sort through and toss out everything on my own, so I asked Sybil to help me. I came to write this explanation as a result of what happened that day as we were cleaning and packing.

            Sybil was standing on a chair in front of the back bedroom closet. She was pulling down boxes from a high shelf while I sat on the bed, sorting through old wedding invitations and funeral cards for people half of whom I could no longer remember.

“Grandma, what’s this?” Sybil asked.

I looked up to see an old notebook in her hand; she had it open to a page filled with handwriting. I knew at once what it was, but to put off giving her an immediate answer, I said, “There should be another one just like it up there.”

She dug for a minute before she pulled another notebook out from under a box.

“What are they, Grandma? Did you write them?”

“I guess you could say that.” I didn’t know what else to say. I had never told anyone about those notebooks. I had always wanted to tell someone, but I had feared no one would understand, except maybe Sybil. Many times I had thought about explaining them to her, but I kept telling myself she was still too young. Finally, I had decided I would just leave them for her to find after I’m gone. I was not prepared to explain them to her that day, perhaps because she would think me crazy, but also because she was always such an odd girl—probably from living with an old lady all these years, and from the blow of her parents’ tragic deaths in that car crash—a crash she survived. I cannot imagine what affect that must have had on her. She’s always been a moody child, given to odd outbursts of enthusiasm followed by moments of severe melancholy. I’m afraid I was not the best companion for her to grow up with. I worry about what will become of her when I am gone—I hope I live to see her finish college, start a career, and find a husband. I hope college will allow her to find the friends she failed to find in high school because she was always so different from everyone, such a loner as her generation says. I’ve always felt for some unexplainable reason that it was important she learn what the notebooks contain, but I have just never been sure she was ready for that knowledge—maybe she is more mature than I believe, but the notebooks are strange, and I have not always been sure she would be emotionally stable enough to handle the information.

Yet the story is meant to be known by her—meant to be known by everyone who cares to hear it really. My own fears are what have kept it from the world, fears I have held onto since I wrote the notebooks back during the Second World War. My grandmother insisted the story be told, but I was always afraid to tell it, and somehow I’ve sensed it is Sybil who is to make the story known; I have just had to wait until the right time to make it known to her. I’m not really sure it was meant for me because while it is quite a curious tale, my life has been basically happy, and the knowledge of that story has made little difference to me. But I trust my grandmother, Barbara Traugott, knew better than me when she had me write it down. My role in the story is probably intended to be minimal, only to act as a link between generations to pass the tale from my grandmother to my granddaughter. Sybil will be the one to decide how and when to bring the tale before the world.

As Sybil held the notebooks in her hand that afternoon, she said, “Grandma, I didn’t know you were a writer.”

“I’m not,” I replied. “That’s about the only thing I ever wrote.”

“But it looks like a whole book,” she said, flipping through the pages of the first notebook.

“Yes, but it’s the only book I ever wrote,” I replied. “Let me have it.”

She was resistant to hand it to me.

“Didn’t you think it was any good?” she asked. “The few sentences I’ve read sounded interesting.”

“Don’t read any more of it, please. Bring it here.”

She looked disappointed, but she obeyed. I took the notebooks and set them behind me on the bed. She frowned.

“You can read them when I’m gone,” I told her. “In fact, I’ll make sure you get them, but not until then. Now, pull down that stack of records. There’s no sense in my keeping them. I haven’t had a record player for years.”

When she turned her back, I slid the notebooks under a box—to leave them visible might only entice her to further questions.

Later, after Sybil had gone home, I pulled out the notebooks and reread them. I had not thought about them for many years, and often when I did think about them, it was dismissively, as if they were the result of some delirious fantasy of my mind, but as I read them again that night, I was struck by just how remarkable they were, and how utterly impossible it seemed that, even at my most imaginative, I could have written them. They contained information about life in early Marquette: names of pioneer families—the Ridges, Whitmans, Hennings; families whom I had no knowledge of—and terms from the nineteenth century I had never heard. I know it would have been impossible for me to have written this book, even though it was in my own handwriting.

I’m probably confusing the reader now, the first of whom I imagine is Sybil. Be patient, dear, and you’ll understand it all shortly. The story of how those notebooks came to be written goes back to a day similar to the one when you found them. On that day, I had gone over to my grandmother’s house, the very same house I inherited and the one you grew up in.

I was a young woman then, and I had just finished my courses at the Northern State Teachers College and was still looking for a position. My grandmother knew I had little money, so she asked me to come over and help her clean in exchange for a few dollars.

My grandmother was an ornery old woman, but God rest her soul, she tried always to rise above her nature. She would go the extra mile for those she loved, but in return, she demanded strict obedience to whatever she asked. Even in her eighties, her eyesight remained impeccable enough to notice every speck I missed when I dusted her hutch cabinet.

On this particular day, I was cleaning in her bedroom. As I lifted the edge of her dresser scarf to dust beneath it, a young man in an old tintype photograph stared up at me. He was very handsome, and not more than eighteen, I would say. Although the picture was quite old, his face was still clear. He looked as if he would have been blond, and tall, and strong, what the young girls today would call “a hunk” I suppose. I had never seen a photograph of my grandfather, so I naturally assumed it was him, but when I looked at the back of the photograph, it was signed, “To Adele. Love, Ben.” And below that was written some sort of poem, although the paper had rubbed away in so many places that I could not fully make out the lines.

I knew Adele had been my grandmother’s sister—dead long before I was born. But I had no idea who Ben was—perhaps some secret lover—but certainly not Aunt Adele’s husband, for she had never married.

While I pondered the handsome man’s face, my grandmother came into the room. Despite her age, she could still manage to sneak up on people; she was not yet feeble enough to warn others of her approach by clumping down the hall with a cane.

“Haven’t you finished in here yet?” she snapped.

“I’m almost done,” I replied.

“What’s that you’ve got there?”

“I don’t know,” I lied. “It just fell out from under the dresser scarf when I was dusting.”

She came up to me and put out her hand. When I gave it to her, her face started to go pale. Lifting the edge of the dresser scarf, she stuffed the photograph back where I had found it.

“Well, come on. I’ve made us dinner.”

I followed her to the dining room where she had set sandwiches for us on the table. I waited until we were both seated, then boldly asked, “Grandma, who was in that photo? The back said it was to Aunt Adele from Ben, but Aunt Adele never—”

“Best to leave the past alone,” she said. “They’ve both been dead so long now it doesn’t matter.”

“Was Ben her boyfriend?”

“You are too nosey,” she replied. She took a sip of her coffee and then looked me straight in the eye. “You must get that nosiness from your father’s side of the family; you sure didn’t get it from mine. In my day, a person only had to be told once that something was none of her business.”

“But Grandma,” I said, “if they’re both dead, what would it hurt to tell me about them?” If there were nothing to tell, she would have said so, but her resistance to talk revealed that there had to be a story behind that picture, and my curiosity made me persistent.

“There really isn’t much to tell,” she grumbled. She sat down, then picked up her sandwich and inspected the meat in it. “I can’t believe I let that butcher sell me this ham. I don’t know how I’ll ever chew it. I could barely slice it. Seems as if there’s chopped up little bits of bone in it.”

“Grandma,” I scolded. “You’re changing the subject.”

“There isn’t much to tell,” she repeated. “He was just a boy my sister knew when we first moved here to Marquette—just a friend. We didn’t know him long. That wasn’t long before my sister went to—”

Before she finished the sentence, my mother knocked on the door and entered. My mother was always such a talker that others could scarcely get a word in. She and grandmother could gossip with the best of them, but if the conversation turned personal, Grandma would instantly clam up; she feared if people knew her business as she made a point of knowing theirs, she would never have any rest from others’ tongues. Apparently, the mysterious Ben was too personal for her to talk about because when I tried to mention the photograph to my mother, Grandma purposely changed the subject by asking me about my future plans now that I had finished my schooling. I forgot about the photograph for the time being.

That fall, I got my first teaching position in another town too far away for me to live in Marquette. While I was gone, Grandma passed away. That same week, a teaching position in Marquette opened for me. And although Grandma had three sons and a daughter (my mother) for her children and plenty of other grandchildren, she had left the house to me. As her only granddaughter, I had always suspected I was secretly her favorite. At that time, my fiancé, Earl, lived in Marquette, but we had put off getting married until we could afford it, and my living in another town had only complicated the situation. Now everything seemed to have come together for us. We married that summer and moved into grandmother’s house. Everything would have been perfect except that the United States had entered World War II, so Earl soon found himself enlisted. A month after he entered the service, I learned I was expecting a child.

Earl and I had no time to clean out Grandma’s belongings before we moved into the house, but now I decided to turn Grandma’s bedroom into the nursery. While cleaning her room, I again found the photograph of Ben. I don’t know why, other than that I fancied Ben’s looks, but I hung onto the picture, hiding it in my own dresser. I was even a little afraid Earl would find it when he returned. I admit I peeked at it fairly often. I knew there had to be something terribly romantic behind that picture—Ben looked like such a naturally heroic young man with that great blond curl waving over his forehead. No harm existed in looking at his handsome face; Grandma had told me Ben was dead anyway, and even if he were alive, he would have been about ninety by then, and I was a married woman. But I never did show the picture to my husband. I placed Earl’s picture on my dresser where I could see it each morning as I woke, but I confess I looked at Ben’s picture almost as much. Perhaps it was only a misdirected longing for my husband, but I started to feel a serious infatuation with Ben; I started imagining some remarkable stories about whom he had been and what his relationship may have been with Great-Aunt Adele. I convinced myself that she had been in love with him.

It is silly now, even embarrassing, to admit how infatuated I was with that photograph. I rather fancied Ben looked as if he wanted to talk to me, as if he were trapped in that flat black and white world and yearning to escape. He looked so alive, so vibrant, though seventy years had passed since the photo had been taken. It seemed a shame that a young man with all that energy should not be alive now. I bet he could have taken a dozen Japs with his bare hands. What an asset he would have been to the war effort. How did Aunt Adele ever let him slip through her fingers? Grandma had said Ben and Aunt Adele were just friends, but I found it difficult to believe any woman could settle for just being friends with such a good-looking man.

Sometimes I daydreamed so much about Ben that I felt guilty, and then I would try to make it up to Earl by writing him an extra sweet letter, and saying my rosary to pray for his safety. And now comes the hardest part to explain—far harder than to explain my infatuation with Ben.

I was sitting at the kitchen table one evening, trying to write to Earl, but I had nothing to say to him other than the usual about how much I missed him. When he had first gone away, I had written to him everyday, but after the first couple of months, it felt like a chore to write more than once or twice a week. I wished I’d had the baby before he had gone—then I could have written to him about its first tooth, its first word, its first attempt to walk. But until the baby was born, what was there to say? My life was dull compared to the dangers Earl was experiencing in the Pacific. All I could talk about were the school papers I had to grade, and how once or twice a week I went to my parents’ house for supper because my mother worried I was lonely. I was lonely, but I didn’t want to express that to Earl—he would only worry about me, and that might distract him from paying attention to whatever battle he was facing, and then he might not come home to me. And then I would wonder whether that was how Aunt Adele had felt—that Ben had not come home to her—I didn’t know what had happened to Ben, but he hadn’t married Aunt Adele; I was certain there had to be some great heartbreak there, yet I could not believe any man so outwardly attractive could be anything less than inherently good, so I remained curious why they had not married.

One evening, I decided to write to Earl before I made supper, but instead I found myself just sitting at the table, long after dark came, without turning on the light, letting my mind wander until I dozed off. I dreamt I was writing something, not a letter to Earl but some sort of beautiful story, even though in my sleepy state the words did not quite make sense. Finally, I woke to find myself sitting in the dark. When I turned on the light, I found I still had the pen in my hand. I had scribbled all over a sheet of paper, scribbled, not written any words. I crumpled up the sheet, threw it in the wastebasket, and then made myself supper. By the time I finished the dishes, I realized I did not feel well. Fearing that if I became sick, the baby would be in danger, I decided to go to bed early.

I was asleep by eight o’clock, and slept until after midnight; then I woke up sweating and lay awake in a miserable state for hours, too tired to get up, yet unable to fall back asleep until the early morning. Then I slept fitfully, dreams flitting through my head. I know I had many dreams that night, yet when I woke, the only one I remembered was of lying on my stomach, trying to write a story on my pillowcase with an imaginary pen.

I got up with the first glimmering of daybreak and made myself some tea since I doubted my stomach could take anything more substantial. I thought I should finish writing my letter to Earl before the mailman came—if I became more ill, I did not know when I would be able to write again. But I got no farther than, “Dear Earl” when I felt so tired and groggy that I thought I should go back to bed. My mother had feared that having Earl away during my pregnancy would be too much of a strain for me. I began to think she was right—I suddenly felt overwhelmed by my entire life—the responsibility of teaching so many students, being alone and pregnant, worrying about my husband overseas—it all seemed so unreal, so nonsensical, so absurd to believe it was my life.

I stared out the window until the sun rose—its rays breaking pink over the lightly snow-covered ground. The snow looked so smooth in the early morning light—smooth like Ben’s boyish cheeks. Earl, by comparison, had a very rough face, even after he shaved. I wondered what it would be like to touch a smooth face on a man. For a second, I sort of reached out my arm, as if Ben were before me so I could stroke his cheek.

A sudden jolt shot through my arm, from my shoulder to my wrist, and then my left hand began to tingle. My hand picked up the pen, gripping it tightly, and in a fury, it began to pour out words onto the blank paper. I was terrified—I had lost control of my arm, but I was too astonished to try stopping it. It felt numb, as if separated from my body, yet it was functioning perfectly. I stared as I scribbled words onto the paper. I felt as if I were leaning over someone else’s shoulder, watching her write. I wondered whether I was possessed by a demon; should I grab the phone? But who would I call? St. Luke’s Hospital? A priest to come do an exorcism? I could not move from the chair; my arm would not stop writing, and my body could not move without my arm.

Then I started to read the words my hand was writing. My fear turned to amazement and curiosity. I had no way of knowing what power or intelligence was forming the words, but I saw names on the paper, sentences written about people whose names I did not know except those of my grandmother and Great-Aunt Adele. Then after a few paragraphs, I recognized the tone as my grandmother’s voice. Curiosity overcame my fear as I read further. My grandmother’s spirit—I don’t know how else to describe it—was somehow flowing through me, forcing me to write for her a tale from her own life. And while my hand continued to jot down words, in my head, I heard my grandmother speaking. “Every morning before you go to school, you must wake up early to write until the story is finished.” I still could not believe this possession was my grandmother, but as the writing continued, I realized it could not be otherwise. Later, although I never told my mother about the experience, I asked her questions about my grandmother’s life; my mother confirmed knowing some of the people mentioned in this manuscript in her early childhood, and she confirmed those people’s positions in the community so that I cannot doubt my grandmother herself wrote this story through me, although I find it unexplainable. There is nothing in the writing that makes me believe I was possessed by an evil spirit, even if some of the story’s message does not perfectly coincide with the Church’s teachings. The way the sentences are turned, the words put together, all sound so much like my grandmother’s way of speaking that the only explanation is that her spirit was using me to perform some type of automatic writing, so she could tell me her story now because she had been afraid to speak it during her lifetime.

I don’t want to say much more. Every morning after that for several weeks, I woke up in time to spend a quiet hour or two allowing my grandmother to use me to perform her writing. I think it best I say no more about the manuscript’s contents but that I leave it to speak for itself. Perhaps because I am old now, people might dismiss this story as the ravings of a madwoman trying to put one over on the public. I do not know what people will say about it—that is why I have always been afraid to show it to anyone, so I leave it for Sybil to decide how to use it. I only know it was an experience I can never explain. I know, during those hours of writing, my arm moved at an alarming pace I never could have maintained by sheer human stamina. I don’t know what made me susceptible to the spirit world’s influence—although I have an idea it had something to do with my family background, and perhaps because I felt such an attachment to Ben’s photograph, an attachment that in itself felt almost otherworldly.

I verify that this story is written in my grandmother’s own words—she never spoke a word to me about anything it contains during her actual life. Neither did I change a word of it from how it was channeled through me. I don’t believe there is any way I could have known this information, or provided the historical details the work contains. Never could I have imagined with such clarity what my grandmother’s life would have been like when she first came to Upper Michigan, seventy years before I wrote this manuscript.

I leave it to the reader to decide what to believe of this strange story. Perhaps the people of the twenty-first century will be less skeptical than those of my own largely atheistic twentieth century.

Sarah Bramble Adams

Marquette, Michigan

August 27, 1997

John Lautner – Famous Architect, Marquette Native

September 11, 2011

In honor of Marquette native John Lautner’s one hundredth birthday in 2011, two Marquette museums – the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University and the Marquette Regional History Center, are both holding exhibits on Lautner’s life and work. For more information on both exhibits, you can visit, which has links to both museums and their exhibits.

Below is a short piece from my book My Marquette about the John Lautner home in Marquette:

1308 Presque Isle Ave ~ Lautner Home

John Lautner home Presque Isle Ave Marquette

John Lautner's boyhood home

This home was built by John Edward Lautner Sr. in 1912. He was a professor of modern languages at Northern Normal School and his wife was a budding artist. The house is a New England salt box style which looks like it belongs in Salem, Massachusetts. While an architect drew up the plans for the house, John Sr. and his son John Jr. built the house by hand. John Jr. would later become a famous architect himself who would study with Frank Lloyd Wright. John Lautner Jr. married Mary Roberts, the granddaughter of John and Mary Longyear. He would go on to design numerous buildings including the Googie Coffee Shop at the corner of Sunset Strip and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles, the Bob Hope home in Palm Springs, and the Chemosphere house, a raised octagonal home which looks like a flying saucer and was used in the film Body Double. Movie stars David and Courtney Cox Arquette today reside in one of his homes. Two books have been published about his work—John Lautner, Architect by Frank Escher and The Architecture of John Lautner by Alan Hess.

Remembering T.A. Alley – NMU’s English Department

August 23, 2011

Eighteen years ago today–August 23, 1993–I attended Teaching Assistant orientation at NMU and was hired to teach freshman composition in the English department while I worked on my Master’s Degree. So I thought it appropriate to post my memories of those years (1993-1995) at NMU from My Marquette:

The English Department
Below the library in the academic mall were the offices for many of the professors, including most of the English Department until early 1995 when the department moved to Gries Hall. In 1993, as I completed my bachelor’s degree in English, I did not know what to do. My plan had been to write novels while earning my bachelor’s degree and end up published and famous by the time I graduated so I could begin my career as an author. While I did write and send my manuscripts out for publication, I was not successful finding a publisher. During these years, I completed writing the first draft of The Only Thing That Lasts which I had begun in high school as well as the original version of Narrow Lives and another long-winded novel that remains in a drawer.

Upon graduation, and still not a famous author, I decided I would get a Master’s Degree, and when I learned that being a teaching assistant paid $4,500, I was thrilled since I had spent most of my undergraduate years working at McDonalds and NMU’s Writing Center for minimum wage which over a year had averaged about the same as the teaching assistant wage. And better yet, the teaching assistants got a gigantic raise that semester, so I felt quite prosperous making $6,000 a year and living at home while I earned a Master’s Degree. After a few weeks of teaching, I found I liked it and decided I would get a Ph.D. and become an English professor—again, until I became a famous author.

As a teaching assistant, I was given my own little office down a hallway off the academic mall along with about a dozen other new teaching assistants (T.A.’s) who were working on their M.A. degrees. We dubbed our new office space T.A. Alley and set about becoming great friends. Some of my best and longest friendships began during those two years.

I have nothing but good things to say about the education I received at Northern Michigan University, and especially in the English Department. And beyond the stellar professors I had, what I most appreciated and failed to find later at other universities was a real camaraderie among the students and professors. I’ve been in other English departments where you walk down the hall and all the doors are closed, but at Northern, the professors’ doors were always open. Most of them spent several hours a day in their offices and were always available to their students. Professors and students passed each other in the halls, we all knew each other, and we always talked to one another. Even if I did not have a class with a professor, I never felt I couldn’t talk to him or her. While I was just a graduate student, nevertheless, I felt accepted as part of the department and encouraged in my teaching and academic goals. I saw none of the snobbery or competitiveness among graduate students or professors I unfortunately witnessed elsewhere in academia. I don’t think I could have had a more fulfilling start to my career than being part of that supportive, learning environment, and while I have long since left academia, those years remain frequent and pleasant memories.

I did not party a lot in college. Yes, I did occasionally hang out at the Shamrock with my friends, and we had parties at friends’ apartments, and the camaraderie added a great deal to the general happiness of those years, but part of what made me so happy was the learning environment. My classes at Northern fulfilled my intellectual needs without making me feel stressed about competing with others. Sitting in Dr. Maureen Andrews’ Survey of British Literature class, where I was first introduced to the poetry of William Wordsworth, was like having rockets go off in my brain. Dr. Peter Goodrich was the insightful director for my master’s thesis King Arthur’s Children in Fiction and Tradition. I enjoyed working under Dr. Mark Smith at the Writing Center and also being a teaching assistant under Dr. Bill Knox. Although I eventually left teaching in an official way, today as an author and editor, I continue to teach people as well as entertain them, and I feel highly fulfilled as a result; without the education I received at NMU along with a little creative entrepreneurship, I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business Superior Book Promotions (, writing, editing, reviewing books, and basically, doing what I most love to do.

TA. Alley

Photos from my TA years, including the Alexander Family, Becky Shusta and Stephanie Hill at Presque Isle; Jill Nelson, Larry Alexander, and Chris Rencontre in TA Alley; Tyler, Larry, and Jill on graduation day April 29, 1995; Max Alexander

Many of my college friends remain my friends today—Stephanie, Becky, Tom, Chris, Paul, Dana, Greg, Jill, and Larry. Hopefully I have not forgotten any. Larry Alexander ended up sharing an office with me when the English Department moved to Gries Hall. In those days, he and his wife, Ann, had a newborn son, Max, whom Larry would bring to school with him. I ended up volunteering to babysit Max while Larry went to teach his class. The paternal instinct unexpectedly blossomed in me at that time. I changed many diapers, but it was all worth it whenever Max fell asleep with his head propped on my shoulder. Time goes by too fast—Max is sixteen today—but time’s passing shows that friendships last a long time. And little did I know then that someday Larry would design my websites as well as the layout for this book.

I cannot discuss every professor and student I knew at Northern, nor all my friends I had in college. I hope it is sufficient to say that whether I was teaching a class, hanging out in T.A. Alley, having lunch at Bookbinders, attending a play at Forest Roberts Theatre, sitting in a class at Jamrich Hall, studying in the library, or walking across campus, I was happy at NMU, and everyone I knew there contributed to that beneficial experience for me. It’s been said before a million times, but for me, the college years truly were the best years of my life.

When I finished my Master’s Degree, I moved to Kalamazoo where for five years I worked on my Ph.D. at Western Michigan University. While I found a couple of good friends there and I appreciate the excellent education I received, the atmosphere was not as friendly as what it was at NMU. Partly I’m sure the experience was different because doctoral students have more stress than undergraduate and M.A. students, partly because I didn’t know anyone in Kalamazoo when I moved there, and partly I felt displaced from my native environment, but I think the truth is ultimately that Northern Michigan University, like all the U.P., is a superior place.

Award-Winning Authors Galore on U.P. Book Tour

July 4, 2011

Did you know that Escanaba native Tom Bissell had a Guggenheim fellowship? You’ll be able to catch the author of Chasing the Sea at Negaunee’s Vista Theater on July 14th, and at the Escanaba Public Library on July 16th.

Chasing the Sea Tom Bissell

Chasing the Sea by Tom Bissell

Tom Bissell is just one of more than 60 authors participating in the UP Book Tour which continues through July 23rd and includes more than 20 UP locations and 50 events.

Many of the tours’ participants are UP-based authors like Gretchen Preston, author of Valley Cats, Jerry Harju, well-known humor author, poet Marty Achatz, author of The Mysteries of the Rosary, and Beverly Matherne NMU professor and winner of numerous awards for her poetry that she produces in English and French, including most recently a book about the childhood of the French founder of Detroit, titled Lamothe-Cadillac. I know all of these authors well and have followed their work in some cases for nearly twenty years. I highly recommend each of their books.

Lamothe-Cadillac Beverly Matherne

LaMothe-Cadillac by Beverly Matherne

Many other authors on the tour may be new names to UP residents. One of NMU’s newest professors, Matthew Gavin Frank, who just moved to Marquette, is ready to meet lovers of poetry, food, and travel books. The author of Barolo, about Frank’s time spent working in the Italian wine country, will be part of an author panel at Peter White Public Library on July 13th. Joining Matthew will be Darrin Doyle, author of The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo. Darrin and I both lived in Kalamazoo and attended Western Michigan University at the same time, so I can’t wait to talk to him about his depiction of Kalamazoo in his writing. Another of my former colleagues from Western Michigan University, Jonathan Johnson, is a well-known poet and the author of Hannah of the Mountains, as well as the son of Ron Johnson, an NMU creative writing professor.

The Girl who ate kalamazoo darrin doyle

The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo by Darrin Doyle

And the tour also offers plenty of variety. Some authors write about the U.P., some about Michigan, some live in Michigan, others are former Yoopers who have returned for the tour. Adam Schuitema’s Freshwater Boys is set around Lake Michigan and was a Michigan Notable Book. Lauri Anderson and Jane Piirto are influenced by their Finnish heritage in their writings, and Saleem Peeradima is a native of India.

U.P. Ron Riekki

U.P. by Ron Riekki

Freshwater Boys

Freshwater Boys by Adam Schuitema

The U.P. Book Tour has been organized by Ron Riekki, author of U.P., a book currently in the works to be turned into a film. Riekki has brought together all these authors and seeks to bring them to places not normally on book tours, including places like Palmer and Gwinn in the U.P. His passion for U.P. literature has been apparent in the many interviews he has done, including on Public TV 13’s Media Meet and in Marquette’s Mining Journal. Riekki and all the authors, bookstores, and libraries participating on the tour hope that people will come out to support Michigan and U.P. literature and authors. Who says the only places worth reading about are New York, L.A., or London? We know that Michigan is a wonderful place to live, a place rich in history and storytelling, so it’s time to celebrate it.

For a full schedule of the UP Book Tour and author bios, visit Ron Riekki’s website at

Barolo Matthew Gavin Frank

Barolo by Matthew Gavin Frank

And if I may slightly alter the state motto, “If you seek a great award-winning author, look around you.”

Valley Cats Gretchen Preston

Valley Cats by Gretchen Preston

the Mysteries of the Rosary Martin Achatz

The Mysteries of the Rosary by Marty Achatz

Appreciating My French Canadian Ancestors

February 17, 2011

I recently visited the exhibit about Canadians in the Upper Peninsula at the Beaumier Heritage Center in the Cohodas Building at Northern Michigan University. It’s well worth a visit to come to a better understanding of our Canadian neighbors, and it is clear many of us have roots in Canada, either reaching far back, or just an ancestor who travelled through Canada before coming to Europe. I have numerous ancestors on both sides of my family who came through Canada, including Irish, Scottish, Swiss, and French Canadian ancestors, and even some who were from New England, moved to Nova Scotia, then later came to Michigan.

Here is the section from My Marquette about my father’s side of the family, which includes my French Canadian ancestry and how that influenced the creation of some characters in The Marquette Trilogy:

The Bertrand and Tichelaar Family Branches

            One other family is mentioned in Iron Pioneers, the French-Canadian Varin family. The influence of French-Canadians in Upper Michigan could not be overlooked, and while my father’s family is not from Marquette, they are French-Canadian long-term residents of Upper Michigan. In Iron Pioneers, the first fictional character to appear is Pierre Varin, a voyageur traveling with Father Marquette. He is later the ancestor of Jean Varin, husband of Suzanne Varin, who comes to Marquette in the 1850s.

My paternal grandmother was Harriet Bertrand, and her French-Canadian ancestors had been in Montreal since the 1600s and in Menominee, Michigan since the 1880s. In fact, the name Varin is among my ancestral surnames, but a few generations earlier than my grandmother. While my mother’s family has the long history with Marquette, my father’s family has a far longer history in the Great Lakes region. My most notable paternal ancestor was the famous explorer and Governor of the Wisconsin Territories, Nicolas Perrot. Consequently, I created an early voyageur character in Pierre Varin, and then reintroduced the Varin family to Marquette. I chose to have Jean Varin die in the Civil War so Suzanne could marry Lucius Brookfield, as my ancestor Basil Bishop had remarried a younger woman after his wife’s death, although Basil’s second wife was in her early sixties at the time, not a young twenty-something. Suzanne’s family moves away from Marquette to Wisconsin, but over time her descendants move back to Michigan, and one descendant, Marie Varin, marries a Dutch immigrant named Vandelaare. My Grandpa Tichelaar was a Dutch immigrant, and so consequently, I connected a fictional version of my father’s family into The Marquette Trilogy when Tom Vandelaare, son of Marie Varin and her Dutch husband, marries Ellen Whitman, daughter of Henry and Beth Whitman.


Needless to say, French Canadians had a huge influence on the building of America. Nicholas Perrot, my most noteworthy French Canadian ancestor had countless descendants, and if you are one of his relatives, you may be interested in the society for his descendants:

French Canadians descendants have spread across the world. Another fascinating example is my ancestor Jean Guyon (1592-1663), one of the first settlers in Quebec. Not only is Jean Guyon my ancestor, but he is also the ancestor to Hilary Clinton, Alanis Morrisette, Celine Dion, Angelina Jolie, and Camilla Parker-Bowles the Duchess of Cornwall. Here is one story about their relationships:

Our Canadian neighbors have given us much to be grateful for in the building of the United States. In future posts, I’ll mention some of my other Canadian roots.

Marquette’s Historic Peter White Public Library

November 29, 2010

Peter White Public Library - A National Treasure

On November 15th, Peter White Public Library announced what everyone in Marquette and the surrounding townships already knew – the library is the jewel in the Queen City’s crown – and as good or better than any library in the United States. The library was picked out of 123,000 libraries in the country as one of only five to receive the National Medal for Library and Media Services. You can read more about this wonderful honor that has made all very proud at the library’s website

Following is the section from My Marquette about the history of the Peter White Public Library. Additional historic photographs of the library are included in the print version of the book:

            Helen and I started up the library’s high front steps.

            “Isn’t it beautiful?” asked Helen, stopping after a couple seconds to admire the building. “It looks just like a Greek Temple.”

            “Yeah,” I said, “or a Southern plantation house made of stone.”

            “We have bigger libraries than this downstate,” said Helen, “but I haven’t seen one so graceful.”

— The Only Thing That Lasts


Although the current impressive and beloved library building was built in 1903 and opened its doors the following year, Marquette’s first library began not long after the town’s founding.

In Iron Pioneers, several of the female characters early on form the Ladies’ Literary Society, an early book club as well as a sign of social distinction in some of its members’ eyes. Although this group was fictional, reading clubs, especially among women, were common in the nineteenth century, and such groups often were the proponents of building libraries. Marquette did have a literary society as early as 1856, and a lending library existed soon after on Baraga Avenue. This lending library was destroyed by the 1868 fire. In the 1870s the library, which belonged to the Marquette school system, was downtown in the Coles Block. At the time, Peter White also had his own personal library collection that he loaned out, so when he built the new First National Bank on Front and Spring Streets, he allowed the library to relocate there in 1878 and merge its collection with his own. Later, in need of more space, the library moved to a room in the City Hall. By 1891, the library’s collection had grown to the point of needing a new home, which it found on the Thurber Block, where Book World is currently located. Because Peter White donated this building, the library was named in his honor.

This new building was also soon found to be too small. Peter White then tried to convince Andrew Carnegie to fund a new library in Marquette—Carnegie would do so for nearby Ishpeming—but Carnegie replied that Marquette was Peter White’s city, so Peter White once again took up the challenge to play benefactor to Marquette and fundraising efforts began. John M. Longyear donated the land for the new building and Peter White and Samuel Kaufman donated most of the money.

In 1904, the new library was officially dedicated and opened on the same day as the new courthouse. The impressive limestone structure, with its large pillars and situated on top of Front Street’s hill, resembled a Greek Temple of Knowledge. Complete with a downstairs smoking room for men, the new library had three floors and seemed plenty spacious for the book collection.

But within fifty years, the collection again outgrew its space. Increased use by patrons and 70,000 volumes led to building an annex on the back of the library in 1957, which included the Children’s Room and storage for most of the adult fiction and the phonograph record collection as well as a large downstairs room for films, puppet shows, and book sales. This version of the library is the one I would know throughout my childhood.

But the people of Marquette soon wanted still more from the library. Far beyond just being a place to check out books, Peter White Public Library was becoming the cultural center of Marquette and a new library was needed to reflect this change. Residents’ affection for the original building was too great to destroy it, so instead, in the late 1990s, the annex was removed and a new addition created which would gracefully blend in with the architecture of the original building. The remodeling would result in the library building being closed for two years and its collection being housed in dormitories at Northern Michigan University where patrons could still access it.

Then in 2001, the new library was opened. The public could not have been happier. The original building was completely retained, and it includes two large reading rooms upstairs, two more reading rooms downstairs, and an art gallery. The new addition, besides containing a collection well surpassing 100,000 volumes, also houses an enormous children’s room, a café, a community room, a gift shop, and the Marquette Arts and Culture Center’s exhibits and space for its art and other cultural classes. In addition, the library’s film and music collection had ample room, and the Rachel Spear bell collection was given prominent display.

The Peter White Public Library is hands down my favorite place in Marquette. I began visiting it first with my preschool class—we would go on “field trips” there just across the street from the First Presbyterian Church to see movies and puppet shows.

After preschool, my library visits were rare because until about 1980, the library’s bookmobile would bring books to the outlying townships. The bookmobile arrived in my neighborhood of Stonegate at the Crossroads about 3:30pm every other week just as the school bus brought us home. We would quickly leave the bus and rush to the bookmobile where Ruth Lee, the driver-librarian, would patiently let us kids dig through the books while she chatted with our parents. I brought home many, many books from the bookmobile including Where the Wild Things Are and numerous of the Bible story rhyming Arch books. But my absolute favorite, which I checked out countless times, was George and Martha, about two hippopotamuses whose friendship usually results in Martha teaching George a lesson, such as just to tell her he doesn’t like split pea soup rather than hiding it in his loafers, or not to be a Peeping Tom by whacking him over the head with the bathtub. As an adult, I still find George and Martha hilarious as well as a wonderful way to teach children basic manners.

About the time I was in fourth grade, funding for the bookmobile was cut so my mom started taking my brother and me to the library. We were only allowed in the children’s room where we would get to visit with our cousin, Merrie Johnson, who worked there. Always a favorite with the kids, Merrie retired in 2005 after more than thirty years at the library; a huge retirement party was held for her in the community room.

As a child, my favorite books to check out included Andrew Lang’s colored fairy tale books and copies of the Wizard of Oz series. As I got older, I discovered the Rainbow Classics, published mostly in the 1940s and edited by May Lamberton Becker—I think I loved them mainly because they were old and they had wonderful colored illustrations, but they also infused a love of literature in me as I graduated from Andersen’s Fairy Tales to Little Men to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. After reading one Rainbow Classic, I would scan the list on its back cover to pick out another until I had read them all, and then I sought out more classics. By the time I was fourteen and allowed into the library’s adult section, I was ready to gobble up Agatha Christie mysteries, and more classics—Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Mark Twain, and Jane Austen.

Of course, it would have been impossible not to mention the library in my novels. In Iron Pioneers, Edna Whitman is an early librarian and mourns the library’s loss in the 1868 fire. In The Only Thing That Lasts, Robert O’Neill is enthusiastic about his first visit to the library and impressed by its classic architecture. In The Queen City, Kathy McCarey is at the library when she hears Peter White has died.

As for me, today at least once a week I can be found at the library, checking out a book, CD, or video, attending a film—the annual Bollywood film night is a highlight of the winter season—or just admiring the latest art exhibit. As an author, I’m pleased that my books are in the library’s collection, and I’ve gotten to know many of the librarians over the years as I’ve participated in different library events and helped to plan the Upper Peninsula Publisher and Authors Association’s conferences that have been held there. The library staff is wonderful, enthusiastic, and ever ready to support the arts and the community.

The building and people have made Peter White Public Library the true cultural center of Marquette. Every library patron knows how lucky Marquette is to have such a wonderful library that far outshines those in most metropolitan communities, and visitors to our city never cease to rave about it.

A large bust of Peter White sits across from the circulation desk. At Christmas, he dons a festive holiday hat or Santa’s cap. Knowing Peter White’s sense of humor, I’m sure he enjoys all the festivities and the people who pass him each day. His generosity in funding the library has truly been the gift that keeps on giving to the community.

– from My Marquette, available at