These past few weeks I’ve been busy speaking about Breath of Wilderness, Sig and my passions, which has given me the opportunity to make connections with diverse Minnesotans from all corners of the state. On May 9, I spoke at an event at Augsburg College “Am I Measuring Up? Our Stories Rewrite the Rules.” I am still in awe of the powerful, interesting and passionate women I met that day. We had much in common, yet came from different backgrounds, countries, and ages. The other speakers — Kari Logan (performer), Becky Shaheen (singer, songwriter), and Tara Sweeney (artist, writer) — inspired and entertained with their compelling stories. Wow. I felt honored to talk about my writing and how it is my passion but also a platform for my passions. And, I love sharing Sig’s story with others.
The next week I spoke at Senior Fellowship at Como Park Lutheran in St. Paul. My presentation included Sig’s work in saving wild places and the process of writing the book. Everyone was so kind, welcoming and curious.
Last week I attended the North East Minnesota Book Awards (NEMBA) at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Breath of Wilderness was nominated in the Children’s Literature category. Before and after the ceremony, they held a book fair. I was assigned to share a table with Nikki Rajala, who with her mother Agnes Rajala, wrote Waters Like the Sky, a book about the Voyageurs. Nikki and I connected instantly and later we learned that we were both Augsburg College grads. Small world. Nikki’s book had been nominated in the fiction category. At the event, I reconnected with someone I’d taken a writing class with, a former favorite family babysitter, and one of the first editors of my book. And, of course, we came home with some new books to read.
Grateful is the word I seem to use most often these days to describe how I feel. These opportunities are no different. Who knew that writing this book would allow me to connect, grow and learn in ways I never fathomed?
Woo Hoo! Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson has been accepted for the 27th Annual Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards (NEMBA), presented by the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Kathryn A. Martin Library, Friends of the Duluth Public Library in collaboration with Lake Superior Writers in the Children’s Lit category.
These awards recognize books that substantially represent northeastern Minnesota in history, culture, heritage or lifestyle.
The NEMBA ceremony will be Thursday, May 21 at 6:30 pm with a book fair from 5-6:30 and later from 8-9:00 pm.
Recently, an article in St. Paul’s Pioneer Press recommended Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson as an outdoors book worth a look. Dave Orrick writes that Breath is “a welcome addition to the bookshelves of those inspired by Olson.” Read the article here: http://www.twincities.com/outdoors/ci_27297297/outdoors-books-worth-look
I received much advice and support from fellow writers throughout the process of writing, editing, and promoting Breath of Wilderness that when someone asks for my advice or support I feel it’s the least I can do. I also feel a calling to share Sig’s message with whoever I can.
This fall Melanie Lang, a 9th grader at Willow River Public School in Willow River, Minnesota, wrote a letter asking if I’d ever consider visiting her school to speak about writing. She told me that she loves writing and has already written five books, but that she’s thrown them away, because “they weren’t any good.” She also said that she loves to write because she has lots of stories to tell. Truth be told, I had no idea where Willow River even is so I looked it up and found that it’s a long hike from northwestern Minnesota. Yet, I hoped to find a way to visit. I contacted Melanie’s teacher and eventually we set up a time to speak to the 9th grade Careers class.
When I arrived at Melanie’s school, I learned that she had ordered my book, but hadn’t received it yet. How had she heard of me, I wondered. Goodreads, she told me. Huh.This surprised me. I occasionally check out Goodreads for book suggestions, but I had no expectation that it could lead someone to find me or Breath of Wilderness. I spoke to the class about the writing process and my book, specifically, and answered many questions. Melanie and I talked afterwards and I encouraged her to keep writing and reading.
Later that afternoon, I met Grace Wenck. Grace is 11 and attends Bailey Elementary in Woodbury, Minnesota. I know Grace’s dad and he’d asked if I would sit down with Grace and talk about writing. Grace also wants to be a writer. She’s a voracious reader of mostly fiction, but some non-fiction if it’s written well, she disclosed. Grace told me that she has many ideas and starts lots of stories, but doesn’t usually finish them. Grace had prepared a list of questions for me and took notes as I answered. I was impressed with Grace’s enthusiasm and thoroughness and enjoyed hanging out with her.
I loved meeting these girls. I love their drive, their creativity, their dedication, their desire to learn more about writing, their wit and sense of humor and their smarts. I’m tempted to say what I love most about writing the book has been the connections I’ve made with kids. But, that isn’t exactly true. There are many amazing and fulfilling aspects of writing the book and it’s hard to rank them, but this is definitely in the top five.
The best of luck to Grace and Melanie. I know they will do well. I, for one, am anxiously waiting to read their future masterpieces.
I’ve been busy promoting Breath of Wilderness. The Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids held a signing right before Thanksgiving. If you haven’t shopped there, I recommend it. It’s a gem of an independent bookstore and the owner and staff are knowledgable and very kind.
This week my local library hosted two events — an open house and book signing at the library with me and Jeanne Cooney, the author of two mysteries set in northwestern Minnesota, and a program at Far North Spirits celebrating the end of prohibition. When we decided to hold the second event, I wondered how I could tie a children’s book about a nature loving writer and wilderness advocate to food-focused mysteries and the end of prohibition. Yet, I had the best time trying to do just that. I found out that in 1933 Sigurd testified for the first time at a public hearing (regarding the Little Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act for state lands). Sig had much to say at that hearing and the audience responded warmly. He began to realize that he could share his enthusiasm and strong emotions for the outdoors with others and convince them to feel as he did. The day that prohibition was repealed (Dec 5, 1933) — 81 years ago today, Aldo Leopold offered Sig a job conducting surveys in marshes. Sig thought long and hard about that job. Leopold was his hero and the job would allow him to work outdoors, something he’d always wanted. Yet, he realized that it would not provide him the opportunity to connect with others, influencing them and creating fellow wilderness advocates. Thus, he turned down the job. It was a painful decision, but a smart move on his part. While I knew all along that Sigurd’s work had nothing to do with the end of prohibition, I learned that at the same time in history he was realizing his strengths and passions that would later change the world.
Last week I spoke at Augsburg College about Breath of Wilderness. While Augsburg is my alma mater, much has changed since I graduated. My presentation was held at the Lindell Library, which didn’t exist during my days as a student. What a great space for a book reading. I was also impressed with the helpful staff and students and overall professional assistance in organizing the event. Book events require time, effort and create a certain level of stress, but are well worth it. I love the opportunity to share Sig’s story with others. I’ve learned that every event is different even when I make the same presentation. The audience asks all kinds of questions, focusing on Sig’s professional impact, his personal struggles, the writing process and even my philosophy. I never know what to expect, which, surprisingly, I enjoy. The crowd can vary tremendously and is usually made up of strangers who have an interest in the outdoors or in Sigurd Olson, friends of friends, friends who I may not have seen for a long time or family. At Augsburg, in addition to the above, there were deans, professors and other alumni who I hadn’t met. And, there were professors from my undergrad years who played a key role in my career decisions. Though I never expected it, each of these events allows me to re-connect with friends, family and others who have influenced my life — and for this, I am deeply grateful.
Today I visited the 5th and 6th grade class in Lancaster, Minnesota. It was my first school visit to talk about Breath of Wilderness. The teacher asked me last spring if I would be willing to come speak to the class. She read the book over the summer and then read it aloud to the students once school started this fall. Lancaster is a 15 minute drive from my house and on the way I spotted five (!) bald eagles, which I accepted as a good omen. These kids were an attentive group, anxious to ask lots of questions and to learn more about Sig, the wilderness and the writing process. Afterwards, we took a photo and then they swarmed around me with requests for my autograph. We said our good-byes and as I left the room, I overheard a girl comment, “well, she seemed nice.”
I found out recently that Breath of Wilderness was reviewed by The Midwest Book Review and featured in their August 2014 issue of “Library Bookwatch.”
“Enhanced with the inclusion of a US Conservation Time Line; Places to Visit; Take It Outside; To Learn More; Major Sources; and an Index, “Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson” is specifically written for a young readership ages 9 to 12 and highly recommended for school and community library collections.”
I know stealing is wrong and should not be encouraged, yet I couldn’t help smiling when my book disappeared off the shelves at my local library. Disappeared, as in stolen, and not by being checked out. Apparently, someone wanted Breath of Wilderness enough to swipe it. This shouldn’t be the way to sell books, but hey just this once I won’t complain.