Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

To the Minnesota northwoods for a book release party September 20, 2017

 

 

TWO READINGS BEFORE MINE, Norma Thorstad Knapp stepped to the microphone to share “How Much She Had Lost.” As she read of her aging mother’s desire to waltz one more time, emotions rose. My throat constricted. Tears seeped from my eyes. Thinking of my 85-year-old mother, I wondered how I could possibly compose myself enough to read my short story.

 

I pose in front of Blueberry Pines Golf Club, setting for The Talking Stick book release party. Photo by Randy Helbling.

 

I signaled my husband for a tissue, then wiped my eyes. I sipped water through a straw. And I struggled to pull myself together before I stood behind the podium in this room full of writers and their supporters gathered at Blueberry Pines Golf Club between Menahga and Park Rapids for the release of Fine Lines, The Talking Stick, Volume 26.

 

 

Too soon, Sharon Harris, co-editor along with her niece, Tarah L. Wolff, introduced me and my story, “Art Obsession.”

 

Reading “Art Obsession.” Photo by Larry Risser Photography, Minneapolis.

 

I was on, reading the words that this year earned an honorable mention in fiction. Four other pieces, among the six I submitted, also published: “Grocery Shopping” (fiction); “A Lot of Prairie and a Little New York” and “The Weekly Phone Call” (both creative nonfiction); and “Not Quite Perfect Penmanship” (poetry).

 

 

 

 

It’s an honor to have my writing published in this outstanding collection of works by Minnesota writers or those with a strong connection to Minnesota. The 2017 anthology includes 152 pieces by 100 writers. I don’t envy the task of The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc editorial board in selecting stories and poems for publication from among 370 submissions by 159 writers. Noted writers LouAnn Shepard Muhm, Marge Barrett and Rochelle Hurt selected the first and second place winners from the board’s top picks.

As I listened to stories and poems for several hours with minimal comprehension of time, I delighted in the talent of these writers. Marlene Mattila Stoehr drew me in with her “Spurned Heirloom” poem that left me pondering whether my family treasures will some day, too, end up as thrift store cast-offs.

I laughed at Charles Johnson’s “Jimmy Gets an Earful” poem that sounded, oh, so Minnesotan to my ears.

 

The book cover photo was taken by Tarah L. Wolff.

 

A strong sense of place, of Minnesota, imprints upon the pages of The Talking Stick. I can relate to the settings, the experiences, the observations and more crafted into so many of the pieces in this exceptional anthology.

 

After the readings, some of us socialized. That’s Randy and me at the end of the table. I am seated next to Sharon Harris. Photo courtesy of Larry Risser Photography, Minneapolis.

 

This book is a labor of love for co-managing editor Sharon Harris. She holds a passion for writing and for this area of Minnesota. After the readings, a group of us gathered in the bar to celebrate and to talk. I’d never met Sharon, although we’ve corresponded and talked via phone many times through the years. Past commitments have kept me from attending previous The Talking Stick release parties. Sharon is as delightful in person as I anticipated. Her appreciation for the craft of writing is evident in her dedication to creating this anthology.

 

 

I felt an energetic vibe and sense of community among all of the writers. We share a love of writing. That passion flowed in words read to an appreciative audience gathered on a grey Saturday afternoon in a sprawling log cabin style building tucked among the jackpines of northern Minnesota.

Updated below at 4:30 p.m. September 20

FYI: I will be signing and selling (limited) copies of the anthology during a Local Authors Fair from 6 – 7 p.m. November 9 at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. Fine Lines, The Talking Stick Volume 26 is also available for purchase online. Check amazon.  Or order through The Talking Stick website by clicking here.

Photos by Larry Risser Photography are copyrighted and used with permission here.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stepping off a fictional cliff & landing on my feet May 8, 2013

TS 19 in which my poem, "Hit-and-Run," received honorable mention.

TS 19 in which my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” received honorable mention.

IMAGINE THE SWEET SURPRISE of learning you earned honorable mention in a writing competition.

That would be reality for me, dear readers.

I received a thick envelope from Sharon Harris of the Menahga-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc recently announcing that two of my entries, a poem titled “The Farmer’s Song” and a short story, “The Final Chapter,” were accepted for publication in The Talking Stick 22.

Getting my work accepted into this Minnesota anthology of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry is nothing new; this marks my fourth time in the annual book. I’ve previously had poetry and creative nonfiction published here.

Neither is the award of an honorable mention novel. In 2010 I received honorable mention for my “Hit-and-Run” poem based on the real-life experience of my son being struck by a hit-and-run driver at age 12.

But this year marks my first time submitting a short story. Decades have passed since I penned fiction. I can’t recall ever entering fiction in a contest. So when I submitted “The Final Chapter,” I did so with minimal, if any, confidence.

I labored over every word, every paragraph, of my short story before finally deciding if I didn’t submit, I would never know whether I’d written a piece worthy of publication. Sometimes you just have to step off the cliff.

I would have been content simply getting my story about an 80-year-old woman losing her grip on reality accepted. (Twenty-five pieces of fiction were selected for publication.) But then, to experience that additional affirmation of honorable mention…, well, my confidence level soared.

It gets even better, dear readers. After members of the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc read all of the submissions, they forwarded their top picks to published writers in each category. St. Paul author John Reimringer, who won the 2011 Minnesota Book Award in novel and short story for his book, Vestments, chose and critiqued the top three short stories, including mine.

Rare is the opportunity to receive such personal, professional feedback. Until you read “The Final Chapter,” you will not fully understand Reimringer’s comment. But, here’s what he wrote:

I like the economical, unsentimental sketch of Clara’s life, and the way she chose third person narrative in the last few paragraphs keeps us in Clara’s pov (point of view) even as it’s clear she’s losing her grasp on reality.

OK, then, basically Reimringer likes my story, just as I enjoyed Vestments when I read, and then reviewed, his award-winning book several years ago for Minnesota Moments magazine. Little did I know then that I would connect with him several years later.

I was hopeful I could meet Reimringer at The Talking Stick book release party in late September. But that won’t happen. My eldest daughter is getting married the same weekend. And that wedding, dear readers, easily trumps honorable mention.

FYI: To learn more about The Talking Stick, which publishes for the 22nd time late this summer, click here. And click here to learn more about The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Northfield writer Scott Carpenter masters the craft of short stories in This Jealous Earth March 1, 2013

Intrigued by this cover image like me? Learn why  it was selected and placed upside down at the end of my review.

Intrigued by this cover image? Learn why it was selected and placed upside down at the end of my review.

I’VE STRUGGLED, since reading This Jealous Earth, to pinpoint a word which best describes my reaction to a collection of 16 short stories by Northfield (MN.) author Scott Dominic Carpenter. And that should be considered a compliment.

Carpenter’s stories about relationships and aging, choices and regrets, and more, hold an element of mystery, a deeper meaning which reveals itself as the plots progress, until the ending and the ah-ha moment evoked.

For example, in the first paragraphs of “The Tender Knife,” I expect a husband to kill his wife, not his koi. He didn’t, but he did. Now if that makes no sense, that is precisely my point. Carpenter possesses that unique ability to mess with your mind/throw you for a loop, cliché phrases that totally apply to a writing style that is anything but cliché.

He takes aspects of everyday life—vacations, marital and sibling discord, the death of a parent, aging, love, fear and more—and crafts stories to which his readers can relate. Aging Baby Boomers can surely empathize with Donna, married 30 years with three grown children and the main character in “Riddles.” She and her husband are on a long-awaited European vacation when she loses her way in an art museum. As she struggles to weave through a labyrinth of art she cannot understand, Donna understands she’s waited too long for this trip.

Carpenter writes, in Donna’s voice:

To think that she had begged for this trip! What in God’s name had she been thinking? What was the point? And what on earth were you to do after the scales have tipped in your life, after the children have gone, and all you have left to do is wait?

His stories mostly center on choices—to shoplift or not, to keep or to toss, to reconcile or give up, to attempt to save or to let go, to stand up for yourself or to submit, to simply accept or to challenge/change/question.

In “This Jealous Earth,” the story from which the book draws its title, a family awaits the rapture. But one, the non-believing son, Randy, will be left behind. Therein lies the conflict for his obedient younger sister, Cat. Will she choose faith or family? That dilemma, and the consequences, leave the reader hanging on every word until the clincher ending.

Likewise, in “The Visit,” the tension builds when a child goes missing on a rural acreage with a pond. I’m not going to reveal the ending, but I simply must share the final sentence of that story because it’s so powerful and perhaps so true of how we often choose to cover our fears with meaningless conversation:

And with lavish servings of words, always more words, they covered over the memory of the pond, black and still.

Carpenter chooses words with care. That is obvious, especially so in “The Spirit of the Dog” where even the name of the main character, Caleb, holds significance. Because I have a son named Caleb, I know the name means “dog” (although I chose my son’s name for the biblical Caleb and certainly not the canine reference). Read this story about miners, a dog that is killed, superstition and stolen possessions and you will understand the double-meaning in that name.

I couldn’t pen a fair review of This Jealous Earth without noting that I nearly stopped reading half way through the first story, “The Tender Knife.” I struggled with details in killing of the koi. Don’t allow that to distract if you are squeamish like me. The story is most definitely worth reading. Likewise, several stories include the f-word and sexual undertones that may offend. However, these are not used lightly, but as integral parts of shaping a character and/or developing the plot.

If Carpenter’s first book of fiction is any indication of what readers can expect from him, then I’m already a fan. His next book, Theory of Remainders, is due for release in May. Here’s the promo description: A suspenseful literary novel set in the lush backgrounds of Normandy, Theory of Remainders explores the secret ties between love, trauma, and language.

Carpenter has already proven to me that he can write, and with a strong voice definitively his.

Scott Dominic Carpenter

Scott Dominic Carpenter

FYI: To learn more about Carpenter and his writing, click here to reach his website.

His upcoming appearances include public readings at  6 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at Barnes & Noble, 14880, Apple Valley, and at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 8, at Monkey See, Monkey Read, 425 Division Street South in downtown Northfield. Besides writing, Carpenter teaches French literature and critical theory at Carleton, a liberal arts college in Northfield.

BECAUSE I WAS PARTICULARLY intrigued by the upside down placement of the field and sky image on the cover of This Jealous Earth, I posed these questions to publisher MG Press:

Could you explain the photo selection and why it was placed upside down on the cover? What message/feeling/whatever are you hoping to evoke in the reader?

Here’s the response from MG’s Robert James Russell:

The fact that the photo is upside down aligns with the themes of miscommunication and the confrontations of strangeness inherent in all of the stories in the collection. The land (or earth, as it were), gives us a sense that the disconnect and strangeness is dealing with familiar things (that is, it is not a paranormal strangeness, or anything truly otherworldly).

It’s meant to be disorienting, but not jarring, and demonstrate how a simple choice or change of perspective can completely alter how something is viewed. These types of choices are the ones the characters in This Jealous Earth face in all of the stories, ones that will permanently alter how they view their lives.

On a more aesthetic level, we chose this image specifically because, quite simply, it was gorgeous and we felt the contrasting tones would work well to achieve our goal.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Images courtesy of Scott Dominic Carpenter and MG Press
The book cover design is by Sarah E Melville, Sleeping Basilisk Graphic Design.
Author photo is by Paul Carpenter.