Archive for the ‘WRITING’ Category

Creating Compelling Fiction

February 7, 2022

Have you ever wanted to write fiction? I’d love to share with you some tips and insights about the genre that has brought me so much happiness.

This virtual, two-part workshop will take place on February 23 & March 2, 7 – 8:30 PM (CST).

Sessions will include discussion and brief writing activities. Topics will include specific strategies for:

  • creating intriguing, complex characters
  • crafting a plot that keeps tension rising
  • instilling a sense of place, and using it to propel the story

Winter is the perfect time to sink into a creative project. Whether a beginner or a more experienced writer, I hope you’ll gift yourself the chance to grow!

For more information, and to register, click HERE.

Something For Everyone

February 1, 2022

I’ve scheduled some fun events for the coming weeks, including writing workshops (both live and virtual) and free virtual programs. I also have an important update on the Chloe Ellefson-themed trip to Norway.

To see all the news, follow this link to my newsletter. I hope to see you soon!

Writer-In-Residence, Week 4

November 5, 2021

My final week at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park was bittersweet. I was excited by how much I accomplished, but sad to see the experience come to an end.

The urge to dig deeper into my research while I had the chance conflicted with an equal urge to start capturing ideas on paper. The latter won.

Writing spot view from the window of the 1824 building where I stayed.

On most days during October I spent some time working in a public spot. I enjoyed answering questions and chatting about the Artist-In-Residence program with visitors.

Enjoying the autumn sunshine on the former Storer College campus, a lesser-known part of the park.

My dwindling days also compelled me to revisit favorite spots.

Harper Cemetery.

One of the best things about spending a month in Harpers Ferry was the opportunity to see the park in different moods.

I’m grateful to the park staff and volunteers who so generously shared their knowledge and skills.

Ranger Creighton doing what he does so well.

Integrating a writer/volunteer into the National Park Service system for a month is no small task. Ranger Samantha, Volunteer Coordinator, ensured that I was warmly welcomed, and that all needs were met.

Best volunteer coordinator imaginable!

I’m especially grateful to these two wonderful women. Cathy Baldeau (left) is the Executive Director of the Harpers Ferry Park Association, a position formerly held by Debbie Piscitelli (right). These dynamos made my visit possible.

I went to Harpers Ferry to research lesser-known stories and teach writing workshops. My residency was also about encouraging visitors to consider that wandering such special places can be inspirational as well as informative.

I was certainly inspired anew!

Writer-In-Residence, Week 2

October 19, 2021

My time at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is flying by, and I’m enjoying every minute.

My second week here focused primarily on research. The park library is in a great old brick building near the confluence.

Although I have identified a specific era and themes to explore, I’m also leaving lots of room for discovery. I’m grateful to curator Mike Hoskings for helping me access materials.

(Am I the only person who wanders about libraries idly scanning the shelves? I think not.)

Some park collections are only available on microfilm. The old reader is noisy and creaky but gets the job done.

Among other things, I’ve been scanning old newspapers. They provide a helpful snapshot of everything from local gossip…

to public announcements…

to advertisements. Tiny details are very helpful for creating a sense of place and period in stories.

As always, the process of exploring new story topics and events is sometimes meandering. If a historical event intrigues me, I think about how it might work in a novel.

Early on, I got excited about two past events that overlapped. They would mesh perfectly in a novel. I was excited.

A few days later, while digging deeper, I discovered that the two events didn’t overlap quite as neatly as sources had initially suggested. Back to the drawing board.

One wonderful thing about being right here is the ability to balance my research hours. When my eyes get too squinty, I go out to a peaceful spot to spend more quality time with my project journal.

What will the next week bring? I’ll report back!

Virtual Historical Fiction Workshop

October 4, 2021

I am happily settled in as Writer In Residence at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park!

Although I won’t be doing any in-person events during my four-week stay, I am providing an online workshop: Writing Into The Past: Crafting Historical Fiction on Wednesday, October 20 or 27, 2021, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m Eastern Time Zone.

Storytelling is one of the most rewarding ways to explore history. Workshop participants will begin creating (or further develop) a piece of historical fiction set in Harpers Ferry or another location of choice.  They will engage in a variety of short, guided writing activities to explore the genre’s unique rewards and challenges regarding setting, character development, and plot. Students will also consider a variety of approaches for conducting research and finding inspiration. Both beginning and more experienced writers are welcome!

Space is limited, and pre-registration is required. These workshops are hosted by the Harpers Ferry Park Association, a fabulous organization that has supported this special place for 50 years!

Second Writing Class Offered!

January 30, 2021

My first Writing Your Family Stories class filled, so I’m offering a second session. We’ll meet virtually from 6:00 – 7:30 PM on February 17 and 24.

Family stories are precious. This winter is the perfect time to capture some of them on paper! These two sessions will provide the motivation to get started, and strategies to help you enjoy the writing process. 

During this workshop you will:

  • Consider different approaches to writing family stories
  • Enjoy a variety of short writing activities designed to help capture memories or explore what interests you most about your unique heritage
  • Experiment with techniques to make your writing vivid and compelling
  • Learn specific strategies for managing your own goals and expectations
  • Have fun in a relaxed and nurturing environment

For more information, visit my online registration site.

All are welcome! Whether you’re just getting started or have a project underway, this class is for you.

New Online Writing Workshop!

January 4, 2021

I hope you and yours enjoyed a peaceful and safe new year. I also hope the new year brings brighter days for everyone.

One of the things I missed last year was the opportunity to teach writing workshops. So, I’m taking them online.

My first offering is “Writing Your Family Stories,” a two-part class this January 19th and 26th. Everyone has stories to tell! Whether starting from scratch or returning to a project, all are welcome to participate. Let’s gather virtually and take a break from the outside world.

For more details, or to sign up, visit my new event registration page. Space is limited to ensure a good experience for participants.

Memories matter! I’d love to see you in class.

What’s Next For Chloe Ellefson

February 6, 2020

Launching the 10th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Fiddling With Fate, was a whirlwind of fun last fall! It was a joy to meet and hear from so many readers. One question came up frequently.

What’s next for Chloe and Roelke?

Over a year ago I learned that my publisher, Midnight Ink, was shutting down. Fiddling With Fate would be the last Chloe book that they printed. The news was a shock.

Still, the announcement did give me a chance, after ten very busy years, to take a deep breath, and take stock. There were two basic questions to answer.

Did I want to keep writing the Chloe series?

For me, the choice was simple. I am not ready to say good-bye to Chloe and Roelke. There are lots more stories, historic places, and ethnic traditions to explore.

And thankfully, as many of you know, I have an amazingly supportive spouse. Mr. Ernst’s take was this:

So what if you don’t have a contract yet for Chloe 11? You didn’t have one when you wrote the first book in the series. If you want to write another Chloe mystery, you should definitely write one.

The second question was equally important.

Did readers want the series to continue, especially after the momentous development in Fiddling?

I can’t speak for all readers, of course. But as I considered options, notes like this one from Sharon B. warmed my heart.

I am currently deep into my third reading of Fiddling With Fate. Though not Norwegian, I feel a kinship to Chloe and miss her company when her stories finish. Please keep her world alive for all of us.

Right now, the only thing I can announce with certainty is that I am working on the 11th book in the series.

My ritual when starting a new book is to select a journal that feels appropriate for the project. This seemed right for Chloe 11.

It’s way too early to share many details, but Chloe 11 does involve a new historic site and ethnic group.

I’ve spent time exploring archival collections, squinting at old photos, driving back roads searching for immigrant barns, and learning about new folk arts and ethnic foodways from local experts.

I’m happy, focused on the work, and gratefully leaving the business end of things to my savvy literary agent.

So while I don’t have specific publication information to share, there will be an 11th Chloe Ellefson mystery. Thank you for your encouragement, and for hanging in there as I find my way through this transition period.

In the meantime…I want to set up another special tour at one of the settings featured in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries. If you’d be interested in such a tour, which historic site or museum would be your top choice?

If you need to refresh your memory, click HERE to reach the series page on my website.

Happy reading!

Exploring Your Heritage: A Writing Sampler

December 10, 2019

I’m delighted to announce that I will be teaching a writing workshop at Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa, on April 24-26, 2020.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Cherished family stories can be preserved in many ways. This workshop will introduce you to several types of writing, including poetry, memoir, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

You will enjoy a variety of short writing activities designed to help capture memories or explore what interests you most about your unique family, ethnic group, or community heritage.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Inspired by Vesterheim’s rich collections and your own personal memories or heirlooms, you will leave with drafts of several poems, character sketches, essays, and short stories.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Both beginning writers and those with some experience are welcome. Returning students will find some familiar activities, some new, and a chance to continue your work.

For more information, and to register, click HERE.

I hope you will consider gifting yourself a weekend of creativity and reflection. If you have any questions, let me know. I look forward to seeing you!

Giving Thanks For Volunteers

November 28, 2019

When I give programs about the Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series, I often mention overarching goals I developed long ago for the series: celebrating real historic places, highlighting folk arts, using artifacts from museum collections to help tell stories, and honoring our ancestors.

Ten books in, I need to add one more goal. I hope that each Chloe book can honor the volunteers who do so much to make sure local history, family stories, or cultural heritage isn’t lost.

Barb Chisolm telling the story of the Great Fire as seen through her own ancestor’s eyes.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit many local historical societies in Wisconsin and neighboring states—sometimes to do research, sometimes because I’m invited to make a presentation about the Chloe mysteries or my nonfiction book, A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons. I usually leave feeling awed that a small group of people is making such a big difference in their community.

Three generations of milling technology, from ancient stone grinding to the modern roller mill to modern electricity, are preserved in The Messer/Mayer Mill, owned by the Richfield County Historical Society, WI. (RCHS Photo)

Some groups focus on ethnic heritage, preserving important traditions brought to the Upper Midwest by their own parents and grandparents.

Volunteers often perpetuate food traditions—often giving their time to support bake sales that fund educational programs and other projects.

Vicky, Joyce, and Carol taught me how to make Kransekake, a traditional Norwegian almond cake made of stacked rings that I mentioned in Fiddling With Fate. These ladies and many other bakers at the Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge in Stoughton bake lots of goodies to raise money for important programs.

Some share music…

Alphorn players at Swiss Volksfest, New Glarus, WI.
Hardanger fiddle players, members of Fykerud’n Spelemannslag, performing at Syttende Mai, Stoughton, WI.

…and some dance.

The Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt dancers are organized into three age groups. I love seeing the young ones involved! The group is located in Western Ozaukee County, WI, site of the oldest German settlement in the state.
Stoughton High School Norwegian Dancers have been delighting crowds since the 1950s.

Some individuals focus on folk arts, honing their own understanding of techniques and, often, sharing it with others by teaching or giving presentations.

Kasia Drake-Hames (in tan sweater) teaching a workshop in Polish paper cutting, wycinanki. I featured this folk art in Tradition of Deceit.
Susan Slinde sharing some history about Hardanger embroidery, illustrated by one of her own gorgeous pieces.
Rebecca Hanna teaching carving to young people through the Whittling Klubb for Kids at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. (Photo http://www.thegazette.com)

Many artifacts are saved by the volunteers who preserve them at local historical societies.

This sampler is on display at the William H. Upham House, owned by the North Wood County Historical Society, Marshfield, WI. It was just what I needed when looking for a sampler to reflect a character in A Memory of Muskets.

Volunteers preserve buildings…

Reedsburg Area Pioneer Log Village, WI. I’m looking forward to visiting!
No only did descendants of early Belgian settlers save this historic church, they turned it into a gathering place with museum exhibits and cultural programs, preserving immigrant stories, the Walloon language, and local history. I visited to do research, but decided I had to include it in The Lacemaker’s Secret.
The Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island State Park, WI, was in sad shape before volunteers organized to preserve and restore the building. Mr. Ernst and I was privileged to serve as docents there for eight years, sharing the stories of lighthouse families who once lived and worked there. Part of The Lightkeeper’s Legacy was written in the lighthouse.

…and sometimes volunteers even recreate buildings, because they understand that place is important.

The Little House Wayside Cabin allows fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods to walk the ground where the Ingalls family once walked, and imagine. I enjoyed visiting while writing Death on the Prairie.

Family volunteers—those who collect and stories about their ancestors–make a difference too, in ways larger than they might imagine. Many of my books include details inspired by a reminiscence or family history I discovered.

The list could go on, but suffice it to say that I’m enormously grateful to everyone who helps preserve, protect, perpetuate, and share.

Many of the dedicated and generous people I’ve met on the road merge and blend into characters in the Chloe books. Chloe, and I, couldn’t do our work without you. We’re grateful!