Greetings from the edges of the Chequamegon National Forest! It was such a genuine pleasure to read your story. Your book resonates with the ambience of the area at the time of your tale. It is a beautifully lyrical and well-crafted story. I loved it. Your descriptions ring so true I found myself looking for the places of Edgar Sawtelle...even though I know he is a fictional character.
I live in rural Bayfield County mere miles from the Chequamegon National Forest and have a humble cabin just north of Glidden. Ahhh, yes! The Mellen town hall does have a cupola! I couldn't shake thinking about Popcorn Corners, so I Googled it a month after I finished the book. Whoa! Google locates it 1/2 mile from my cabin. So, my question is—Chequamegon National Forest is large and a fair distance from Pewaukee, so what areas were your inspiration and in what context did you experience the area? You captured the spirit so beautifully.
Hi, Sandra, it’s good to hear from someone from “up Nort,” as we used to say back home. As you noted, I was born in the suburbs of Milwaukee, but I was barely a toddler when my parents bought a small dairy farm and moved us. So home, for me, is a small farm outside Pittsville, Wisconsin, population 600 or so when I was growing up. That’s smack in the center of the state, and about 100 miles from you. If I got the sense of the land right in Edgar’s story, it is mainly due to a childhood tramping around in the woods of central Wisconsin, augmented by plenty of excursions to Mellen and environs.
Popcorn Corners made it into Edgar’s story because the name appears in tiny print on my USGS map of the area, a map that has hung on my wall throughout the writing of the book. Early on, during one of my camping trips to explore the Chequamegon, I made a special outing to visit Popcorn Corners. To my astonishment, all I found was an empty intersection. There was nothing there, and no sign anything ever had been there.
Well, what could be more fun for a writer? We spend our time inventing all sorts of things out of thin air, but rarely does the world hand us freebie: a town that exists only on a map, a name without a place. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I thought back on all the trips we’d taken to the local grocery when I was a kid (this, in a little crossroads town that really does exist), and I thought about how vaguely menacing the place seemed, being poorly lit, with squeaking floorboards and a butcher shop in back. Pretty soon Popcorn Corners had an even more run-down grocery and a tavern and some wild chickens in the culverts.
I honestly don’t remember if Ida came before the grocery story, or whether the store made it possible for Ida to exist. I suspect it was the latter. I tend to believe that a place creates its people, and not the reverse.