On Writing

Primary Sources

This week Hilda and I will be part of a panel, Historical Literature: Wisconsin Authors Open Portals to the Past, at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention. We look forward to sharing the love of books, reading, research, and writing with others.

source photo

Use our new activity to explore primary sources with your students.

As part of our preparation for this event, we have a new resource to share with our readers and teachers. We had developed a primary source activity to use on school visits. It involves matching primary sources that shaped our writing with pages from Hattie’s War. We have just uploaded a PDF of the activity on our “Resources for Teachers” page. We hope that it can be a valuable tool for your classroom.

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Categories: Hattie's War, On Writing | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Mom–Our Number One Fan

Marge Demuth at Plank Road Summer celebration at St. John's Lutheran School in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Mom attends many of our book events–and she schedules them for us, too.

Long before Emily and I began working on the story first known as “Girls of the Plank Road,”  our mother, Marjorie Demuth, encouraged us to write.  Mostly we wrote accounts of county fair projects for our 4-H record books, but we also wrote essays and speeches for local contests by groups such as the American Legion.  Back then I did not always appreciate my mother’s prodding or her forthright criticism of my writing and public speaking skills.

Now that Mom is our financial manager and number one promoter–she sells more books than Emily and I do, and she even gives presentations, using those public speaking skills she worked so hard to teach us–I am grateful for her long years of effort on our behalf.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!  The Plank Road books wouldn’t be here without you.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, On Writing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Authors and Artists

Plank Road dolls needle-felted by fiber artist Kat Lutze

Plank Road dolls designed by Kat Lutze

Once a story has been read, the characters are no longer solely the author’s creations; they are continually reshaped by the minds of readers.

Recently my daughter Kat Lutze literally shaped the Plank Road Summer characters Katie McEachron and Florence Mather by needle-felting little dolls of wool roving, Katie with brown braids and a crimson dress, Florence with fair hair and a green dress.

When the dolls were posed with copies of our books for a craft fair in Union Grove, Wisconsin, I was reminded of another artist’s interpretation of the Plank Road characters. In 2009 Kathleen Spale sent several cover sketches to our editor Phil Martin of Crickhollow Books. As you can see here, one of those concepts looks startlingly like the photograph of those felted dolls.

An early cover concept sketch by artist Kathleen Spale

An early cover concept sketch by Kathleen Spale

Categories: On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Uncategorized, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Introducing Plank Road Winter

On Sunday, September 30, 1:00-4:00 pm, Emy and I look forward to welcoming the public along with old friends and neighbors at the Plank Road Winter launch party.  The celebration will be held at the 4-H Clover Center, 17640 Old Yorkville Road, a few miles north of Union Grove,Wisconsin.  This 1885 schoolhouse stands at the very heart of the original Yorkville settlement.

Set almost twenty years after the adventures of Katie and Florence, Plank Road Winter features thirteen-year-old Sophie Caswell, who longs to escape the dull farming community of Yorkville. Sophie’s plans are thwarted when the Chicago Fire leads to the arrival of twelve-year-old Hans Hoffman and his family at the nearby McEachron farm. While Sophie stubbornly pursues her dreams, Hans struggles to adapt to a world very different from his bustling Chicago neighborhood.

In the spirit of nineteenth-century community gatherings, the entertainment at the Plank Road Winter launch party will include traditional music provided by John and Susan Nicholson of the Milwaukee band  Frogwater and old-time dancing called by Patricia Lynch of the West Side Victorian Dancers.

We hope to see you there!

Categories: On Writing, Plank Road Winter, Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back to the Writing Life

Emily outside the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison

One of our favorite places to write is Madison, Wisconsin, and one of our favorite places in Madison is the Wisconsin Historical Society.  On our Plank Road trip back in the summer of 2000, Emily and I made fascinating discoveries in the Historical Society archives.

After showing proper identification, stowing our belongings in lockers, and putting on white gloves, we were allowed to touch the artifacts in the Society’s collection of historical images.  We were so delighted with our finds–a wagon on a plank road, a tollgate–that we probably annoyed other less excitable researchers in the room.

Reading Room of the Wisconsin Historical Society

Now that Plank Road Winter is in the hands of our trusty editor, Philip Martin of Crickhollow Books, Emily and I are back in Madison working on our new book.  This morning while I attended my class at UW Write-by-the-Lake, Emily spent hours at the Historical Society transcribing a Civil War soldier’s handwritten account.

Over lunch at the UW Union we discussed our respective mornings and plotted the next phase of our writing project. Then we spent a quiet hour together in the beautifully restored Reading Room of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Life is good.

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A Writers’ Retreat over Winter Break

After celebrating Christmas and the New Year with our families, Hilda and I snuck away for a much-needed writers’ retreat. We escaped to Wisconsin, where we holed up for two nights at the Lawson House Bed & Breakfast in Hales Corners.

Though we had already completed several drafts of “Plank Road Winter,” we worked through another rewrite, changing the point of view from first person to third person, shifting a main character in the book, and strengthening the sequel’s connections to “Plank Road Summer.”

The Lawson House could not have been a more perfect place to write. We learned that the house is located along what had once been the old Janesville Plank Road, which runs into Milwaukee. We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts and wonderful hospitality. The large front room with a fireplace and comfortable furniture allowed us to settle in for hours of reading our manuscript aloud, editing old chapters, drafting new ones, and laughing and crying together as sisters do.

During breaks from our writing tasks, I leafed through various historical books scattered about the room. In one, I read about the Hales Corners Stock Fair that had taken place once a month from 1871-1958. This bit of local history actually wound up in our novel. We left the Lawson House inspired and refreshed with a manuscript ready for our editor to see.

Categories: History of Plank Roads, On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Another Summer

The lilacs in my yard, some of which have been brought to Illinois from the McEachron homestead, have bloomed and faded. The cold, wet spring has turned overnight into a blazing hot Memorial Day. Though I have another week of school, I am looking forward to summer days when I can dedicate more of my time to writing. (Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.) Another revision of Plank Road Winter is underway, and other stories linger in my mind, waiting to make their way onto a printed page.

I also have a quilt to make, though not as intricate as those in Plank Road Summer. I’ll be cutting up old t-shirts to make a quilt for my son to take to college. Pieces of his grade school, middle school, and high school years will travel with him on his new adventure.  A piece of my grade school days just came back to me. Mr. Schmidt, my first principal, just commented on our “About the Authors” page. Please click to the Comments on that page to find a brief memory of my early years at Yorkville School.

As another summer arrives, I hope you all find time to enjoy whatever changes the season brings to your life.

Categories: Childhood Memories, On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

“Plank Road Winter” finished during Blizzard 2011

What better way to finish writing Plank Road Winter, set in Chicago and Wisconsin in 1871-72, than by candlelight, with the power knocked out by the second largest blizzard in Chicago history? Though some people might have complained about the storm, for Hilda and me, it was a perfect gift.    In our own homes, we settled down to hot chocolate or coffee and, sheltered from the howling winds and blowing snow,  hammered out the last couple of chapter revisions.

Winter, with its shortened days and cold weather, can be a season of darkness and despair.  My few hours of candlelight, while the blizzard raged outside, were enough to make me thankful for central heating and electricity.  The next morning, when the sun was bright, I sent my teenagers out to shovel.  When a neighbor came by with a snowblower, I felt obliged to leave my manuscript and lend a hand.  Once outside, my children and I found that the snow that had cut us off from the wider world also reconnected us to the neighborhood, as we ventured through the drifts to see how others were faring.  We helped dig out an SUV that tried, unsuccessfully, to make it down an unplowed road.  We invited a neighbor boy to jump off our porch railing into the snow below.  There was time for simple pleasures we don’t make time for in the rush of our everyday lives.

Plank Road Winter captures despair and dark days, but the story also celebrates the neighborliness that gets us through our difficult times.  We look forward to sharing the story with our readers.  In the meantime, we hope that you have come through the Blizzard of 2011, and we would like to hear snow stories from your neighborhood.

Categories: On Writing, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Writing on the Wing

Two days ago Emily and I realized that Plank Road Winter, our revision in progress, needed an entirely new chapter. The next day I plotted scenes in my head while driving from Indiana to Wisconsin.

The following morning at the Milwaukee airport I filled twenty pages in the little spiral notebook I carry in my purse. Aboard a flight to Minneapolis, I typed those pages into my Netbook.

I spent the afternoon in the Augsburg College library alternately scribbling in the spiral and typing from the handwritten draft. Early in the evening I typed the final lines of Chapter 27, emailed the manuscript to my sister author, and headed off to see the campus show that was my purpose for the trip.

Ending a long session of writing fiction is like coming up from underground, blinking and a bit dazed by the strange world of colors and light. It’s nearly the same feeling as closing a book after a long stretch of reading. One emerges groggy and disoriented from traveling between worlds.

I write this post aboard a flight from Minneapolis to Milwaukee—though I have not yet arrived in Milwaukee, as the plane has been diverted to Madison, Wisconsin, because of snow. Does this mean I’ll have an opportunity to sit in an airport and edit a few more chapters of Plank Road Winter?

A writer can always make use of an unexpected gift of time.

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The Mother of All Book Clubs

Last Saturday evening Emy and I were guest authors at a meeting of a church book club in Racine, Wisconsin.  This congenial group meets once a month for a potluck supper and book discussion.  The ages of the members span a good five decades, and the pastor himself attends the meetings.

Not many authors travel to book events with their mothers, but ours serves as our financial manager and publicist.  And when Mom gets us a gig, she likes to attend the event.

Author Emily Demuth enjoying a meal inspired by Plank Road Summer.

Mom, Emy, and I were among the first to arrive at the parish house across the street from Pentecost Lutheran Church.  And then the club members began to arrive, each bearing a dish–and the dishes kept coming and coming and coming.   We learned that club member Kathy McGregor generally prepares fare from the book to be discussed that evening.

Plank Road Summer provided plenty of choices, for the book club supper included Cornish pasties, fried chicken, scones, strawberry preserves, cinnamon twists, and fresh-squeezed lemonade.  How the settlers of Yorkville would have enjoyed this meal–Emy and Mom and I certainly did.

The club members had plenty of questions for us, and their response to our book was gratifying indeed. Emy and I agreed afterward that we regretted only one thing about the entire evening: we wish we had talked less and listened more.

Many thanks to the Pentecost Lutheran Book Club for the  hospitality.  The food and fellowship were both outstanding.  Fueled by the prospect of another such gathering, Emy and I went straight home to work on our sequel.

Thanks also to Tim Hasko for inviting us and, of course, to Mom for being our number one fan.

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