What do you write about and why?
I write lots of books about Upper Michigan, mostly Marquette, lots of historical fiction, and some non-fiction books. My most recent was a biography of Chief Kawbawgam.
As for why, I think because the advice given writers is to write what you know, and I knew the UP. There weren’t a lot of novels for adults about the UP, and I thought the UP deserved to have its own literature, especially its own fiction. I also write historical fantasy about King Arthur, and literary criticism.
How did you get into writing?
I was always a lover of books. When I was in about third grade, I had a friend who told me her aunt was an author who had written a few mystery novels and that put the idea into my head that “Hey that’s a job, and that’s the job I want!” Ever since then, I’ve written.
When I was in eighth grade, I took a creative writing class at NMU for middle school students in which I wrote a story called “The Ghost of Stonegate Woods,” named for where I grew up in the neighborhood Stonegate Heights near the Crossroads. That story had a mystery about a ghost, and some UP history. It was chosen out of the others in the class to be made into a video on the Upper Michigan Today Show. That was probably my first real story that brought in an interest in the UP and UP history. Of course I had the history all wrong. But the fact that my story was chosen was a big boost to my ego and made me feel like I could become an author.
How many books have you published now?
Twenty-one, and there are more in the works, including a couple of historical novels set in the UP.
What keeps you inspired to write?
I think my desire to share knowledge and also to make sense of out things. I also think in many ways writing is therapy for authors. In some way, it’s my way to make sense of the world, and control the world a little bit, especially when writing fiction. As for non-fiction, it’s more an interest in making sure history is preserved, or certain ideas are preserved.
I had an English professor in college who said that English professors are the keepers of the culture, and I think writers are also keepers of the culture, at least writers of history.
What do you hope to convey to others through your books?
It varies from book to book. Sometimes, with fiction especially, you want to give people a sense of hope, of purpose, to be able to go on in difficult times. With history, it’s more wanting people to draw strength from the past, and understand the past, and not necessarily have romanticized ideas about the past.
What is your writing process like?
I typically write every day for an hour in the evening. On the weekend, it may be two or three hours in the afternoon. The process varies from book to book.
With non-fiction, I do a lot of research and outlines, and try to figure out how the parts of the book will go together. If it’s a novel, the process is a lot less structured. I usually try to write chronologically, but sometimes I’ll have an idea for the middle or the end, and I’ll write that. Then it becomes a matter of just sewing together the different chapters and scenes until you have a whole. And I do many, many revisions. Most of my books go through about a dozen drafts before I finally publish them.
How has your family influenced your writing?
My interest in UP history largely came from my grandpa who was always telling me stories about when he was a kid in the UP, and I had his brothers and sisters, eight great-aunts and uncles, who were always telling me stories about their past and stories about their parents and grandparents, so I became interested in genealogy. So my Marquette Trilogy, the first series of books I published, was largely inspired by my family history. One branch of my family came here in 1849, so I’m a seventh-generation Marquette resident. I had all of those stories to draw upon so a lot of the characters in my books in some ways resemble some of my ancestors. None are intended to be exact portraits but there are elements of them that are very similar to my ancestors.
What kind of feedback have you received about your books?
Initially, I was very surprised at the feedback from my early historical novels. People told me how much they learned from them. I just kind of assumed, growing up here, that everyone else here knew what I knew and that I was just creating fictionalized versions of it, but I apparently taught people a lot of local history through my novels. And I also wanted to entertain people, so I chose to write novels rather than history books in the beginning.
People have told me as they walk or drive around Marquette, they look at the city in a different way now because they know the history of the different buildings and the stories of what happened here based on my books, so I really have helped people understand history better that way. And the same is true with the non-fiction books.
I’ve also received several awards–my book on Chief Kawbawgam was named a UP Notable Book last year, my novel Narrow Lives was named Best Historical Fiction in the 2009 Reader Views Literary Awards. I also received the Barb H. Kelly Award for Historical Preservation in the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Awards, and was named Outstanding Author in the Marquette County Arts in 2011. Twice I’ve also had a short story nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
What was the process of becoming a professional writer like for you?
It’s very difficult to survive on being an author alone. Very few people can do that. Consequently, I got a PhD thinking I’d be an English professor and write on the side. There were hardly any teaching jobs available, so I was not an English professor for long. I came back to the UP and found a day job and wrote in the evenings.
Eventually, once I published my books they sold well, but not enough to live on, so I got involved with the UP Publishers & Authors Association and started connecting with other authors who needed help, and I ended up becoming an editor and founding Superior Book Productions. So the bulk of my income actually comes from editing.books, not writing books. But, of course, writing books is my passion. Being a writer has made me a better editor and being an editor has made me a better author.
How can someone purchase your books?
Locally they’re available in various stores, including Snowbound Books, the Marquette Regional History Center, the Marquette Maritime Museum, Michigan Fair, and Touch of Finland. They’re also available to order from my website, marquettefiction.com. All of them are also available as e-books at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I would encourage readers to read local books, learn the history of the area and support local authors. Most authors these days are not traditionally published. They’re not New York Times bestsellers. They’re people in your own backyard who have a story to tell and they are independently publishing their books. Just like we support independent films and independent bookstores, we should also support independent authors.
Excerpted from the Summer 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.