A Visit to Mill City

>>>Last day to enter to win The Widow’s Suitor by Rose Ross Zediker<<<

Yes, I live in Minnesota, the very state that’s home to Walnut Grove, the setting for the Little House show. And, no, I’ve never been to Walnut Grove, home to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, and annual Wilder Pageant. It’s on my bucket list! And this summer, July 25 – 27, Walnut Grove is even hosting a Little House Cast Reunion.

So, since I haven’t been to Walnut Grove–yet–I thought I’d talk about my favorite historical landmark in the Twin Cities: the Mill Ruins Park area. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, it’s an area that transports the visitor back in time to the late 1800’s when flour milling was a huge industry. It’s the birth place of a few companies you might be familiar with: General Mills and Pillsbury.

Mill City MuseumCentral to the area is the Mill City Museum. The Washburn A. Mill was built back in 1874 and, at that time, was  the largest flour mill in the world. But a mere four years later, an explosion racked the area, killing and injuring a number of people, and destroying five mills. The *new* Washburn A Mill opened in 1880 and was once again considered the largest in the world until Pillsbury built a mill across the river in 1981. The mills fell into disuse through the 1900’s then, in 1991, Washburn A. Mill was again victim to fire, leaving much of the building in ruins. Many of those ruins are still there today, existing as part of the Mill City Museum. And today the museum is a fun, educational staple of the area.

For me, the best place to view the museum is from the Stone Arch Bridge. This bridge, built of limestone and granite from the area, was completed in 1883 for James J. Hill’s Manitoba Railway. It links the east and west banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The bridge was converted in 1994 to a pedestrian and bike trail and gives a panoramic view of the Minneapolis area including St. Anthony Falls and downtown Minneapolis.

View of downtown Minneapolis from Stone Arch Bridge
Looking toward the west bank–view of downtown Minneapolis and the mill city ruins
Stone Arch Bridge
Looking toward the east bank

What makes this area even more fun is that it’s surrounded by restaurants and shopping and walking paths. It’s easy to wile away an entire day there, and of course, it makes a great backdrop for a novel setting.

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The Widow's SuitorTo be entered in a drawing for a copy of Rose’s The Widow’s Suitor, in the comments below let me know what your favorite historical site is in your area. Also, feel free to comment on all the posts from May 25, 2014 to now. The more often you comment, the more times your name will be entered into the drawing. Want to order Rose’s book today? Then click >here<.

Drawing is open to continental U.S. residents only and will be open until Friday, June 6, 2014 at midnight, central time zone.

The Fun and the Funny

Now I don’t profess to have any special wisdom when it comes to research, and any tips I may have had have already been discussed. What that means, then, is that I get to have a little fun today; rather, I get to tell you about the Fun and the Funny of research.

THE FUN

Perhaps the research I enjoy most is what I call “Being There.” While the internet, books, and television have opened the world to us, and have made it easy for us to “know” France even when we’ve never been there, I still prefer researching settings in person. I love a multi-sensory experience when I write and I’ve found the best way to achieve that is through being there.

SN850868And that research is made even more enjoyable when I have family with me. This past spring I needed to check out a few locations in Minneapolis for a couple different books. My wonderful husband Marvin took the day off to accompany me. It doesn’t get any more fun than that. So, today, for the “fun” part of my research, I’m inviting you to come along with Marvin and me as we explore Minneapolis.

SN850836First we checked out the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a place where imagination roams free. Even if you haven’t been to Minnesota, you’ve probably seen pictures of the Spoonbridge and Cherry. As you can tell by the picture to the right, Marvin and I had a little fun with that sculpture.

We roamed around a diversity of sculptures, through an arbor that summer covers with flowers, and past a conservatory that houses a giant glass fish.

SN850809Then we crossed the  Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, a bridge that spans the width of I-94 and connects the garden to downtown Minneapolis. The bridge itself is a work of art with its intersecting white and blue arches; an original poem by John Ashbery is inked across its beams. We could have spent all day in this garden, but further research called us.

I wanted to check out a townhome development a main character lived in, so we drove eastward where ornate townhomes front the Mississippi River. Although we’d driven past the homes many times, I’d never stopped to look around, to take in the sounds and scents from the water, to notice the rough texture of the home’s stucco and brick. I even took a picture of a park bench where one character proposes.

In one scene I have characters walking from the townhome to our major league baseball stadium, Target Field. I had mapped out the walk but maps couldn’t show the treasure we found. We walked through an old warehouse area that is being revitalized with an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants, and businesses, affirming that this was the ideal location for my character. It fit her personality perfectly.

On our way to the stadium we stopped at a quaint bar/restaurant, Bar 508, that had recently opened in a century old building, and I realized we had just stepped into the beginning setting for another book. Hardwood floors and high tables and chairs crowded the narrow main floor that had a bar spanning the length of the room. A place brimming with character. Then we walked down a flight of stairs into a wide open dance floor area. I know I’ll be going back later when I begin that story.

Our research for the day ended at the brand new stadium that had not yet seen a baseball game. As avid baseball fans, we were thrilled to see the building up close and touch its limestone exterior.

It was truly a fun day of learning and discovery. Research doesn’t get better than that.

AND THE FUNNY

On a completely different note, I thought you’d enjoy this example of research gone awry.

A few years back, in the book I was working on, the female protagonist was pregnant. I needed to follow her pregnancy from day one so I decided to print out a pregnancy calendar. The problem was, all the calendars I found on the internet required me to join their site first. So, I began the process of signing up. Naturally, the first thing you need to tell them is your name.

Uh, no way was I going to put my real name. My youngest was a preteen at the time and I had no intention of letting people think I was pregnant again, even strangers, so I put in my character’s name, Sheila Peterson. Then I filled out the rest of the form with her information, but my address. Problem solved. I was able to print off the perfect calendar to track Sheila’s pregnancy.

But it wasn’t long before mail started arriving for Sheila Peterson. Formula. Diapers. Coupons. Insurance solicitations. The very thing I wanted to avoid now poured like an avalanche into our mailbox and kept coming for over two years. Well, at least it didn’t have my name.

What about you? What type of research do you enjoy? Has your research ever led to any embarrassing moments? I’d love to know.

From the Front Seat of a Roller Coaster

I love roller coasters.

Ones quick as cheetahs and tall as Minneapolis’ sky scrapers. I love coasters with hairpin turns and rolling corkscrews. Ones that fling you upside down and plunge you through shadowy tunnels.

Can you think of anything more suited to an aspiring writer?

My roller coaster ride as a writer began simply enough.

ANDERSON, BRENDA_20I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota—the best possible place to grow a family—as the third of seven children. I was raised to appreciate the physical work of tossing bales and chasing cows, and then relax in hushed moments under skies lit with dancing northern lights.

My daughter says I was spoiled. Perhaps I was. We had a sledding hill, all to ourselves, right across the county road. We had a private skating rink—a pond surrounded by rolling fields of corn, wheat, and hay. Hay lofts were fertile ground for imagination. We built hay forts, swung like Tarzan from one pile of hay to another. We even pretended we were rock stars, singing and dancing among the bales to Grease.

Amidst all that, I always wanted to write. Whether working, walking with my German shepherd, or biking over sloping hills, stories continuously meandered through my head. Some even stayed.

But, I always knew, writing would never pay the bills. I believed writing was only a dream, and I needed to live in reality.

So, I enrolled in college and eventually received my degree in Literature/Communications. I found a job, married a beautiful man (we recently celebrated our 22nd Anniversary), had three children (who’ve since blossomed into teenagers) and accepted the full-time job of mothering. A position with no salary, but plenty of hugs and “I love you” benefits.

Then the children all went to school. I had a choice: get a job at the new bookstore in town, and actually get paid for working with books … or listen to that unending voice in my head telling me to record this story that lived in my thoughts.

I listened.

Four months later I had fulfilled a dream by completing a novel. Right then, I could have jumped off the writing roller coaster, and I would have been happy.

But, again, God had other ideas. He nudged me to attend conferences, read writing books, and join groups. I edited, revised, and within two years, completed two additional manuscripts.

At conferences, agents/editors/published authors consistently tell me I write well. Some say my stories won’t sell, while others say “someone will birth this story.” (Actual quote) I’ve been told my characters are too messed up, that they all need counseling, they should never get together, and that I should rewrite my story and take out all the problems. (ouch) The next person says, I will be published someday.  Help!

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably ridden this same coaster.

S4010049 - CopyThe neat thing about roller coasters is that, though they never travel a straight path, they do eventually arrive at the station. It may not seem like you’ll reach your destination when you’re plunging down into a lightless tunnel of rejection and hurtful criticism, but if you’re on the track God chose for you, I guarantee you’ll climb out of that hole. The ride always leads back to the light, and that’s exactly where I’m heading.

As I said, I love roller coasters, and I choose not to get off this roller coaster of writing.

Since I’m staying on, I may as well take the front seat.