Tag Archives: heroes

Writing Heroes: A Letter to Michael Perry

Once in a great while we’re given the chance to meet our heroes.  As a writer who keeps a gratitude journal, I know that everyday we get to meet heroes.  Our parents, our siblings, the woman who helps shuffle students safely across the crosswalk on their way to school, the gentleman who holds the door open for the mother pushing a stroller – these are all heroes we see everyday and most of us take them for granted.

But what about the ones that inspire us?  The ones that remind us of the things we dreamed about as kids!  Recently I attended a book reading and signing by Wisconsin author, Michael Perry.  Having interviewed Perry just a few weeks ago, I know he thinks that living as a writer is no big deal.  In his words, he told me:

I always say I’m a writer with a small “w”, and I figure most critics and people would agree. My family is just as interested in my writing as they are interested in my brother’s corn crop or my sister’s factory job and that’s how it oughta be. My daughters know their dad is self-employed and gone a lot, but they also know that truckers and soldiers are gone a lot more and under much tougher circumstances. I love what I do, I’m grateful to do what I do, and it may be a calling, but it’s not a HIGHER calling.

Little does he know, it’s his humble attitude that inspires me.  At the reading, he was very down to earth and welcoming – the traits his writing voice creates as well.  A woman sitting next to me asked, “Is he really as good and kind as his books make him seem?”  I answered, “I think so.”

Meeting Michael at the Visiting Tom book reading!

A Letter to Mr. Perry:

Dear Mr. Perry,

Thank you for taking a chance on a stranger who read your books, and for agreeing to be interviewed by her.

When I was growing up in a small Wisconsin town, I thought nothing interesting ever happened in Wisconsin and I couldn’t wait to travel elsewhere.  I burrowed away in my room with my mom’s old typewriter that the ‘n’ key didn’t work and wrote stories that were then acted out by puppets.  I built forts out of blankets and pretended I was an orphan, running the streets, stealing food to survive and living dangerously – but that’s probably because I watched Aladdin everyday for months. 

When I got to school and started writing, it was my teachers who acknowledged my skills and encouraged me to write more.  This lasted, I am grateful to say, through my college years.

But when classes were over and the “real world” hit, I stopped writing for awhile.  Years, even.  When I started blogging, a desperate attempt to write something, anything, it was one of the scariest things I ever did.  But, something wonderful happened.  I found a whole community of writers and readers and people who shared my dreams and were going after their own!  Over time, this little old blog became my place of respite.  And with some courage, I threw myself out there to various writers whose books I’ve enjoyed and asked to interview them.

Thank you for saying yes!  It is meaningful to me that you shared your story and your time with me.  Each and every writer (established and new) is an inspiration and a push to go after my own writing dream.  And, Mr. Perry, writer with a small ‘w,’ I intend to return the favor.  Meeting a gracious and giving person such as yourself, inspires me to do the same for others.  For now, I’m only able to offer that camaraderie that comes with plugging away at the writing process as any new writer knows is full of trial and error.  If and when I can accomplish publication, I fully intend to be that person that says “Yes” to new writers, thank you to those that come to see me, and chat with everyone that is willing to stand in line just for an autograph.

Thank you from the small town, Wisconsin girl who thought her mom’s old typewriter was the coolest thing ever.  It was a pleasure meeting you.

Best wishes,

Jess Witkins


And just for fun:

It’s only one week away – the next edition of The Redhots!

Next friday, Marcia and I interviewing our first author for The Redhots!  His book has been getting lots of 5 star reviews!  Tune in on October 26th to see who it is!

Until then:  We’re kicking off Halloween with a fun photo contest!  You could be a winner of one of 6 prizes!

My “orange” inspired Halloween table! The napkins had a skeleton on them that said “I’m Starving!”

What you need to know to enter:

1. There are three categories you can enter one time each:

  • Costume – your best ever, be it scary, cute or funny
  • Outdoor decorations – your scariest or most creative
  • Party room decor – you can include your Halloween tablescape, your unique pumpkin carving, and your room decorations

2. Post your pictures, up to 3 only, at our Twitter hashtag: #TheRedHots between October 19th and October 30th. The winners will be announced on Halloween!

3. For extra chances to win, you can choose to do the following:

  • “Like” Marcia’s and my Facebook pages
  • Tweet about the contest three times between the 19th and the 30th linking to our posts
  • Subscribe to our blogs

The prizes:

  • Grand prize will be an autographed print book by our indie author plus a Halloween Goody Bag.
  • 5 bonus prizes of a Kindlegraphed ebook from the author

Excited?  Inspired?  Halloween plans?  Heroes that inspire you?  What’s on your mind?

The Road Trip Chronicles: Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse

Hello Travelers!  Last week on The Road Trip Chronicles, I left you all in Wall, South Dakota.  I’m so sorry about that.  I’m here now to welcome you back in the car and take a trip to the Badlands with me!

Badlands National Park:

The Badlands lie between the White and Cheyenne Rivers in southwestern South Dakota.  Claimed to be one of the most breathtaking and architecturally surreal sites by geologists, and even Frank Lloyd Frank, the Badlands don’t disappoint.  The park consists of ravines, ridges, and cliffs in a variety of colors shown in the sedimentary stripes.

The Badlands are also home to a wide population of bison, coyotes, bighorn sheep, deer, fox, eagles, pronghorns, and prairie dogs.

To be honest, I’m not sure what this animal’s name is.  We found a herd of them trekking down the cliff.  It might be the bighorn sheep, more likely just a mountain goat.  Here’s one up close.

Here’s one I talked off the ledge…literally!

And yes, of course we have cows in Wisconsin, but this one just begged me to take his photo!

These critters were EVERYWHERE!

Our first bison sighting!!!

I promise we get a lot closer in Yellowstone, but this was a big deal at the time!

A Swift Fox – Isn’t he cute?

More shots of the beautiful Badlands!

Next stop:  Keystone, South Dakota – Mount Rushmore

Keystone was established as a mining town, known for the Holy Terror Gold Mine, discovered in 1894.  Lovely name don’t you think?  The discoverer/owner of the mine, William Franklin named it such for his wife.  I just love romance stories!  Still, the mine brought in $70,000 worth of gold per week, so not such a bad present after all!

It wasn’t until the early 1930’s that Gutzon Borglum started working on the models that would become the four presidential faces that now look down over the Black Hills.

Fun Fact:  Did you know that in the original sculpture model, Jefferson’s head was to the left of Washington’s?

True.  There are several theories about the change in arrangement of the presidential faces including that Hugo Villa, an assistant sculptor blew away too much rock around Jefferson, thereby requiring the men to start over – a setback that cost them roughly $10,000.  Or perhaps the granite they were working on had too many fissures in that section.  Some speculate Borglum overheard a woman complain that “Mr. Borglum would never carve two men snuggled up to each other like that,” causing him to blast the mountain out of political correctness.  But more likely, Borglum didn’t like the design and adapted his creation.  

-Trivia information from Mt. Rushmore and Keystone by Tom Domek and Robert E. Hayes

I wonder what it’d be like to have my face on a mountain…

If you check out Mount Rushmore on vacation, I highly recommend checking out the Visitor’s Center/Museum.  Great photograph collection and info on the construction of the monument and the crew that helped to build it.  It was both daring and dangerous for the miners that helped Borglum construct his vision.  One of my favorite sections of the museum included old interviews with some of the crew years after the opening of the monument.  One miner talked about climbing up the face, literally, of the mountain and having to lean back and straighten your legs to walk up while others at the top helped hoist you with a rope around the waist.  Instinct would have you lean forward, for fear of heights, that would cause you to slip.  He said many fellows were dragged by the rope, scraping their very noses against the mountain!

Crazy Horse Memorial:

The Crazy Horse Memorial was one of my favorite things this day.  The story behind its creation is a deeply moving one full of dedication and hard work.

It was a Polish immigrant raised by foster care named Korczak Ziolkowski who met with the Lakota Sioux Chief Standing Bear in 1948.  Korczak was a self taught sculptor, and after winning a contest at a fair, was contacted by Chief Standing Bear to construct the memorial that would tell everyone, “We have heroes too.”

Korczak was in his 30’s when he began the memorial, and he worked on it until his death.  His body is buried at the foot of the mountain, and it is his wife and children who continue to progress on the mountain’s transformation.

To give you an idea of its size, all four of the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore could fit within the head of Crazy Horse!  In the 40’s when Korczak started the blasting, there was a 90+ step staircase he would trek up and down each day.  Occasionally, the generator he used to power his tools would wind down as he climbed halfway up the steps with 50+ pounds of tools on his back and in his arms.  One day, Korczak recalls, he had to climb up and down those stairs nine times to continue his work!

This is what the memorial will look like when it’s finished.  You’ll have to forgive the awkward photo, normally this is pulled out on the deck of the museum and shops, but it had poured rain right before we got there and they had it covered under this awning.

You can see there is MUCH work left to do.  The foundation actually measures the work in decades and tons of rock removed.  The newest improvements included blasting out the hole beneath his arm and much of the rock in front where the horse’s head will be.

The project is a slow moving one requiring great skill, and safety, with the dynamite blasts.  And it will take longer still because Korczak, and now his family, refuse financial assistance from the government.  The memorial is entirely funded by public donations.  Korczak was a true believer in the American Dream, a place where anyone can start a project, work hard, and accomplish something truly great.  The family now abides by this dream.

I love the story behind this mountain.  A story of grandeur all around.  Crazy Horse was a nobel warrior who fought for his people during some of the most difficult times in American Indian history.  His memorial now points to the land “where his people lie.”  The Black Hills.  His likeness is not actually known, and Korczak created it with the help of Chief Standing Bear and other tribesmen who knew him.

Thanks for sharing in my travels and mini history lesson!  Have any of you visited these places?  What did you think?  What did you love about the stories behind their creation?  Or if you haven’t been to see them, which one do you want to see first?

Still more to come!  Stay tuned for tales from Deadwood, South Dakota, the old time – and possibly present day – haunts of Wild West characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane!

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