Archive for the ‘WRITING’ Category

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!

Chloe Ellefson Mysteries Update

January 25, 2019

The 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, scheduled for release in September, 2019, will be the last one released by publisher Midnight Ink—which is shutting down.

The setting for book 10!

While that isn’t good news, since the announcement I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from wonderful Chloe and Roelke fans. Thank you!

I do want to continue the series. My upbeat and savvy literary agent has already sent a proposal to a press which has expressed interest. The publishing industry wheels can grind slowly, but—fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I’m focusing on finishing Chloe 10. The manuscript is due to my editor on March 1. My recent Chloe books have been about 95,000 words in length, and I’m at 85,000 words now. I’m getting there!

Mr. Ernst and I also want to do everything we can to demonstrate to potential publishers that the series is still going strong. Thanks to you, we had a very successful launch of the 9th Chloe mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, in October. Now we want to keep expanding the circle of Chloe Ellefson Mystery readers.

To that end, next week we’re going to hold, here and on my Facebook page, a special Giveaway for The Lacemaker’s Secret. We hope that loyal readers who have already read the book will encourage friends to enter.

Writing online reviews, and recommending the books to your local library, are also enormously helpful.

Over the past decade, Mr. Ernst and I have had an amazing time exploring historic places and meeting new reader-friends. We’re grateful! We’re optimistic that with your help, the adventures will continue.

Chapter A Day

August 4, 2017

I am delighted to report that the 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, A Memory of Muskets, was chosen to be shared on Wisconsin Public Radio’s beloved Chapter A Day program.

memory-of-muskets

Or as my husband put it, “Holy toboggans! Chloe’s latest adventure is on the radio!”

Jim Fleming, host of the popular program, has created a special abridged version of the book.

You can hear Jim’s half-hour readings on WPR’s IDEAS Network and streaming from https://www.wpr.org/programs/chapter-day weekdays at 12:30 PM (repeated at 11 PM) Monday, August 7th through Friday, September 1st. Each episode can also be heard on the Chapter A Day webpage for one week after its broadcast date.

JimFleming

Here’s what Jim had to say:

I fell for Kathleen’s book based on the setting and the characters. I had visited Old World Wisconsin years ago and was charmed by it, lured by the connection to Wisconsin’s past. Kathleen does a wonderful job of painting the cross between then and now. Throwing in a mystery and the inevitable conflicts which can threaten a compelling worksite just made it better.

What many people don’t know about Chapter A Day is that it presents abridgments of most books. I can only read 10-12 pages in half an hour, and it’s important that those 12 pages present a satisfying experience for the listener. MOM would have gone on for too many weeks if I had tried to read it all. I didn’t know what to do about it initially, but finally realized it would be possible to keep the language, the setting and the mystery if I simply removed the part of the story, or most of it, that takes place in the past. The modern story reveals enough about the past to be understood. I was sad not to be able to keep it all but am pleased with the result.

I admit, I would have loved to have the book read in its entirety. But I knew Jim would do a fantastic job with the project. He sent an audio clip from the first chapter and Mr. Ernst and I were hooked.

And the truth is, book “publishing” in the broadest sense is collaborative. Editors, to varying degrees, influence stories. Cover artists create their image of a main character or theme. Readers bring their own imagination and experiences to each book.

I was thrilled when Tantor Media produced audiobooks of the first three Chloe books, read by the talented Elise Arsenault. Elise brought her own interpretation to the mysteries.

Now we’ll hear Chloe and Roelke and friends come to life in a new way, as Jim reads his version.

Wisconsin Public Radio is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and CAD is its longest-running program! It’s been airing since 1931. I’m honored that A Memory of Muskets can be part of it.

My Residency with Write On, Door County

March 6, 2016

When I mentioned an upcoming residency on Facebook, several people asked, “What’s a writer’s residency?”

A residency involves collaboration between a writer and the community. Every experience is unique, but in this case I had the great good fortune to enjoy a residency with Write On, Door County.

Write On Door County

The organization’s mission is to facilitate and promote writing in Door County by nurturing the work of writers, supporting readers and audiences, and developing opportunities that encourage broad participation. In two short years Write On has accomplished great things, with more projects underway.

My visit began with a week of solitude to write in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin.

Write On Door County

A warm welcome.

I arrived with a looming deadline for my current American Girl project, so I spent the first several days pounding the keyboard. With no distractions, I got it done in good time.

Write On Door County

This was my writing nook. I loved my writing nook.

Then I switched gears to begin serious work on the 8th Chloe Ellefson mystery.  

Version 2

photo 1

Write On includes almost 40 serene acres. When I needed thinking time, I wandered the property.

Write On Door County

Write On Door County

Gorgeous hoarfrost.

Write On has plans to create a center where writers will be nourished, readers encouraged, and the stories of our land shared for generations to come. The design is awesome—for example, instead of demolishing this old farmhouse, the silhouette will be preserved. (Hard to describe, but the plans are impressive.)

Write On Door County

My visit happened to coincide with a special program held in honor of UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day , February 21. (The date corresponds to the day in 1952 when university students in present-day Bangladesh were killed while demonstrating for recognition of Bengali as one of two national languages of East Pakistan.)

Write On sponsored a poetry reading at the Miller Art Museum in Sturgeon Bay.

Jerod Santek, Write On's Executive Director, explains the background of this important event.

Jerod Santek, Write On’s Executive Director, explains the background of this important event.

Local residents read poetry in Polish, German, Spanish, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Hungarian, Romanian, and Walloon. Listening to languages I do not speak let me hear their cadence and rhythm. The program was lovely and thought-provoking.

The following weekend I was involved in a program with the Peninsula Music Festival‘s FebFest. Almost a year ago organizers invited me to participate in a concert of Nordic music, inspired by the Scandinavian themes in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries—especially The Light Keeper’s Legacy.

Four musicians performed pieces by Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish composers.

Peninsula Music Festival Photo

(Peninsula Music Festival photo.)

I read excerpts from the Chloe novels that emphasized the power of place, and closed with a poem.

Peninsula Music Festival Photo

(Peninsula Music Festival photo.)

We talked about artists of all kinds who were inspired by their landscape.  We talked about the elements music and writing share.  It was a special afternoon.

Write On Door County

Judith Jackson, Karen Nelson, Lori Meyer, Janet Sutter, and me.

On my final day I taught a workshop called Writing Your Family Stories, Your Way. It was a diverse group, united in a wish to capture family history. I hope everyone left inspired to keep writing.

Write On Door County

I certainly did! I’m grateful to Write On, Door County for this opportunity.

***

Write On, Door County offers many special programs.  Not local?  Combine a vacation to Door County with a writing workshop.  Check the Programs page for more details.

Why A Settler’s Year?

July 5, 2015

As the launch date for  A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through The Seasons approaches, I’ve been thinking about the journey I’ve taken with this book.  Why did I spend two years living with this project, and why was I confident that readers would care?

A Settler's Year

My interest in the topic goes back to 1981, when I first toured the fledgling historic site called Old World Wisconsin.

Schottler Farm, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

The Schottler Farm was raw in 1981—no gardens, no fences, no summer kitchen.

I was so captivated by the stories, the setting, and the museum’s mission that the following spring I packed up, moved to Wisconsin, and went to work as an interpreter in the museum’s German area.

KE-BraidOWW400w-enhanced - Version 2

That’s me in the Schottler doorway, 1982.

After two years on-site I moved behind the scenes, and was hired as curator of interpretation and collections. For the next decade I worked closely with Marty Perkins. You can read more about Marty here.

Kathleen Ernst & Marty Perkins

On one of my visits after I’d left the site, Marty told me he’d been working with a photographer named Loyd Heath, and showed me some of Loyd’s incredible photographs. “You’d love Loyd,” Marty told me. “He’s a great guy.”

LoydHeathAtOWW

Loyd in action.

The last time I saw Marty, he told me about a book proposal he was developing for the Wisconsin Historical Society Press about pioneer life in Wisconsin, featuring Loyd’s photographs. Marty was happy to be working on a topic so near to his heart, and delighted that the book would bring Loyd’s work to a bigger audience.

Marty died suddenly two weeks later.

Some months after that, my friend Kathy Borkowski, publisher at the WHSP, asked me if I’d like to pick up the project. “I couldn’t possibly,” I said. “Just think about it,” she said. We went through that routine several times over the next month or so.

Finally I sat down with Kathy and Kate, the senior editor. “I can’t write the book Marty would have written,” I said. “Nobody can do that.” They said they understood. I talked with Marty’s wife about it. She said she and the kids understood, too.

One of the many articles Marty wrote for the Old World Wisconsin Foundation's newsletter.

One of the many articles Marty wrote for the Old World Wisconsin Foundation’s newsletter. (April-May, 2006 issue)

Finally I realized how much I did want to pick up the project. It was something I could do in honor of my former friend and colleague.

Marty Perkins 2012

Marty doing what he loved: giving a tour at Old World Wisconsin.

In addition, there are few topics I feel as passionate about as the lives of early immigrants. I’ve spent the last three decades thinking about them, interpreting them, writing about them, creating museum events and television programs and poems and books about them. The immigrant experience is, at its essence, about people searching for a new home, in a new place. That journey has meaning for almost all of us—whether in our own lives, or in our ancestors’ lives.

LC - [Four immigrants and their belongings, on a dock, looking out over the water; view from behind] Created / Published c1912 Oct. 30.

Immigrants, c. 1912.  (Library of Congress)

And as frosting on the cake, I was delighted with the opportunity to work on such a visual book. Loyd takes gorgeous photographs, and the WHSP produces gorgeous books.

WHSP catalog

I’ll always wish I could have read the book that Marty would have written, but I’m enormously grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved. Reading the immigrants’ accounts, and pairing their stories with Loyd’s photographs, was a healing, rewarding, and often moving experience.

I hope that you, too, are moved as you experience A Settler’s Year:  Pioneer Life Through The Seasons.

It’s Up To You!

August 21, 2014

I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. When I was nine or ten, I decided that if reading books was so much fun, writing my own stories would be even better. In a few months my 30th title will be published!

Reading

That’s me, lost in a book.

People often ask if my editors at American Girl tell me what to write. No, they don’t. Although I work with a great team of people who help make each book the best it can be, I make up my own stories. I decide what my characters should do.

Peg Ross, my editor, spends a lot of time combing through my manuscripts to make sure the stories are clear.  We've worked on 15 books together!

Here’s Peg Ross, my editor, making notes on one of my manuscripts.

Until now, that is. Catch The Wind:  My Journey With Caroline offers many opportunities for you to decide what the characters should do!

Catch The Wind

Imagine yourself transported back to Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812. Would you want to leave at once, or would you stay a while? If you saw an enemy ship, would you give chase or go for help? If your best friend was going on a raid, would you tag along or decide it was too dangerous?

In Catch The Wind, you get to decide all of those things—and make lots more choices too. When you finish the book, you might even want to go back and see what happens if you make different choices.

Catch The Wind was the first Choose Your Own Adventure story I’ve ever written. I drew diagrams to help keep everything straight.

Catch The Wind diagram

Here’s one of my early diagrams. The numbers refer to different scenes.

Catch The Wind Outline

Here’s part of the graphic organizer my editor made to help us make sure the story flowed properly.

I loved having the opportunity to explore lots of plot ideas and possibilities. I was able to include some situations I didn’t have room to include in the original Caroline stories.

So settle down with the book, and settle in for an adventure that has lots of twists and turns. It’s all up to you!