If you’re not already feeling it, very shortly we’ll all be experiencing the effects of the winter of our discontent. This year, more than ever, we all need a little extra something to distract our worried minds and pull us through. And there’s no time like the present to pick up a good book. Northern Wisconsin is home to countless talented authors, so many, in fact, that it was difficult to whittle this list down to just a few. It would appear that “up north” is a great place to be an author. Apologies to anyone I’ve missed. Research was done mostly through local bookstores and libraries, with an attempt to highlight those with recent works. This VERY abbreviated list has something for everyone. So, if you’re still contemplating a place to spend that stimulus check, consider visiting your local bookstore, and exploring and supporting the work of these talented, ambitious, and inspiring local writers. Feel free to add any authors I’ve missed in the comments.
1. B.J. Hollars
English professor by day, author by night, Eau Claire native B.J. Hollars is an award-winning writer whose collection of non-fiction takes us all over the United States. His most recent book, “Midwestern Strange: Hunting Monsters, Martians and the Weird in Flyover Country,” inspires the curious traveler in all of us. Hollars’ other works include “The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders”; “From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human”; a collection of essays called “This Is Only A Test”; “Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America”; “Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa“; “Dispatches from the Drownings“; and “Sightings.” This year Hollars plans to publish “Go West Young Man: A Father and Son Rediscover America on the Oregon Trail”.
2. Katherine Schneider, PhD
Another Eau Claire resident, Katherine Schneider, Ph.D. is a retired clinical psychologist, who, by nature of her blindness and lived experience, has attracted nationwide attention and compiled some of our area’s most inspirational words. Her latest book is called “Hope of the Crow: Tales of Occupying Aging.“ Schneider is also the author of a children’s book called “Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold,” as well as two memoirs, “To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities,” and “Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life.”
3. Kevin McMullin
When it comes to obstacles, local storyteller and musician, Kevin McMullin, has been dealing with a few. The fiddling founder of the once regionally known traveling folk troupe “Duck For the Oyster” has spent the past six years battling demons of health, hearing loss, grief, and purpose from his rural home near Sarona. He reflects on this and other challenges in a way that’s not only hysterically comical, but poetically sobering, humbling and inspiring all at once. I’ve known Kevin for many years, and spent a lot of time talking to him about this particular journey. Though his challenges have been serious, he’s chronicled the experience in a self-deprecating way that’s classically Kevin in his book “Into the Black Sea: Stories of Darkness and Light.” I watched Kevin perform a stage version of this piece when he first debuted it at The Sawmill in Seeley a few years back, and I smiled from ear to ear when I was given an autographed copy of the book this Christmas. It’s that great. If you’re dealing with any kind of “stuff,” this is the book for you. I’d also recommend checking out Kevin’s upcoming live performances (virtual) on his website.
4. Michael Perry
No self-respecting list of northern Wisconsin authors would be complete without mention of Michael Perry. In his website bio, Mike refers to himself as “an accidental New York Times bestselling author, humorist, and playwright from New Auburn, Wisconsin.” But he’s anything but accidental. Much of his work reflects on life up in these parts, which could be any rural town in America. And in that, Perry instantly connects with his audience. Perry’s bestselling memoirs include “Population: 485” (subsequently adapted for the stage), “Truck: A Love Story“; “Coop”; “Visiting Tom”; and “Montaigne in Barn Boots.” Among his other dozen titles are The Scavengers (for young readers), his novel The Jesus Cow, and his two most recent books, Million Billion and “Peaceful Persistence.” He hosts the nationally-syndicated “Tent Show Radio,” performs widely as a humorist (his live humor albums include “Never Stand Behind A Sneezing Cow” and “The Clodhopper Monologues”), tours with his band The Long Beds, and lives online at http://www.sneezingcow.com. Perry is essential northern Wisconsin reading.
5. Janet Kay
Get lost in a novel by northwest Wisconsin author, Janet Kay. Kay writes from her rural home in Wascott, and considers herself an author with a focus on life, love and new horizons. Kay is the author of the inspirational fiction “Waters of The Dancing Sky,” and its long-awaited sequel, “Rainy Lake Rendezvous.” New York Times Bestselling Author, William Kent Krueger says of the series, “Janet Kay offers readers a rich tapestry of intrigue, of history, of Ojibwe lore and culture, and even of ghosts, set against the stunning backdrop of the border country between Minnesota and Canada.” Other works you might investigate include the paranormal historical romance “AMELIA 1868” and “The Sisters,” an inspirational novel combining history and fantasy.
6. Jenny Knipfer
Historical-fiction author Jenny Knipfer describes “Ruby Moon,” the first novel in her award-winning four-part “By the Light of the Moon” series, as a “tale of guilt, greed, and redemption on the shores of Lake Superior.” But this former librarian and floral designer turned author has her own story to tell. “In the past few years, writing has helped me to live with the challenging disease of multiple sclerosis,” she says. Her writing aims to “inspire, encourage and enjoy.” Her series is available for purchase on Amazon. And stay tuned! It looks like Knipfer is also working on another soon-to-be-released series for 2021.
7. Nickolas Butler
Perhaps you’re looking for a novel with broader appeal. Nickolas Butler of Fall Creek has a few best-selling and acclaimed novels under his belt, the most recognizable probably being “Shotgun Lovesongs” (2014), a story about four boyhood friends who return home to their small Wisconsin town in middle age. The internationally acclaimed story has been translated into ten languages and has even been acquired for film development. Pick this one up before you’re the last one on the planet to do so. And if you’re hungry for more, Butler has also authored two more novels, “The Hearts of Men” (2017), and “Little Faith” (2019), along with a collection of short stories called “Beneath the Bonfire.”
8. James Brakken
Bayfield area educator and conservationist, James Brakken was just a boy growing up near Cable when he first heard tales of Chief Namakagon. In 2014, he authored “The Secret Life of Chief Namakagon.” Brakken is like that guy everybody knows, maybe from the local watering hole or tavern, with lots of knowledge and countless stories to tell. Other Brakken books, which he says are written for adults but are suitable for those 12 and up, include, “Thornapple Girl: One Family Against the Lumber Trust“; “Alison Ray Olson: The complete story behind the Chequamegon Forest Manhunt”; “Forty-Five Fairly True Tales from the Old Corner Bar“; and a collection of short stories and poems called “Dark: A Campfire Companion,” among many more. Brakken’s works are a local treasure, earning him statewide recognition for his work to protect and preserve the lakes and streams of Northwest Wisconsin through his writing, teaching and leadership.
9. David Tindell
You might recognize the name Dave Tindell from his time on the airwaves of WJMC in Rice Lake. Tindell still lives locally, but has returned to his writing roots. He’s published five action-packed historical military thrillers since 2013. “The Heights of Valor,” released in 2019, is set locally and follows a young man who dreams of following in the heroic footsteps of his ancestors. Tindell fans can also dig into his thrilling White Vixen series, which follows a female special agent in “The White Vixen” and “The Red Wolf,” or his Quest series with “Quest for Honor” and “Quest for Vengeance,” set in modern day southern Wisconsin.
10. Victoria Houston
Award-winning author, Victoria Houston, is a Rhinelander native with a fascinating story and extensive writing career dating back to the 1980s. Her work took her away from Wisconsin for a time, when she authored several family-focused non-fiction works such as the national bestseller, “LOVING A YOUNGER MAN: How Women Are Finding and Enjoying a Better Relationship” (Contemporary Books (1987); Pocket Books (1988); and “MAKING IT WORK: Finding the Time and Energy For Your Career, Marriage, Children and Self” (Contemporary Books, 1990). After returning to Rhinelander in 1996, Houston began compiling works in The Loon Lake Mystery Series, which she describes as “Murder, She Wrote meets Fargo in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.” Dead Big Dawg was released in 2019, and is the 19th book in this series—which is plenty of reading to explore for any mystery lover.
11. Thomas Peacock
Dr. Thomas Peacock is a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Anishinaabe Ojibwe with a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Harvard. He has authored or co-authored many books, some award winning, including: “The Forever Story”; “Collected Wisdom”; “Ojibwe We Look in All Directions”; “The Good Path”; “The Seventh Generation”; “The Four Hills of Life”; “To Be Free”; “Tao of Nookomis”; “Beginnings: The Homeward Journey of Donovan Manypenny”; “The Forever Sky”; and “The Dancers.” His latest book, “The Wolf’s Trail: An Ojibwe Story Told by Wolves” is receiving high praise and flying off the shelves of local bookstores. In a recent review published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, critic Pamela Miller says, “There is such strong wisdom in this novel. We who are not Ojibwe learn so much about our Native brothers and sisters. As has been said too much of late, yet meant not enough, we are all in this together. Is there any better measure of a work of art than that it links us? By that gauge, “The Wolf’s Trail” is a small, quiet masterpiece.”
12. John E. Kinville
John E. Kinville is a local historian who teaches American Government at Chippewa Falls Senior High School. Earlier this year, Kinville published his first book called “The Grey Eagles of Chippewa Falls: A Hidden History of a Women’s Ku Klux Klan in Wisconsin,” one I’m adding to my personal short list. Early praise for the book is outstanding, including comments like, “This could be the most insightful book (into the Klan) that has come out in quite some time,” and “Finding out there was a women’s KKK was very surprising. This book was a great read on so many levels.” Kinville has released the book in hardcover, paperback, and an e-edition all available through Amazon. You can also purchase autographed copies through his website. I’m really looking forward to picking this one up, and seeing more from Kinville in the future.
13. Jane Glenz
Jane Glenz’s new book, “The Cave Lady,” highlights the true story of the January 1918 insanity trial of Maud Phillips, also known as Violet Leigh. Phillips was a poet who lived with her family in a cave on the south bank of the Eau Claire River for six months in 1917. Eau Claire authorities sought to have Phillips committed following rumors of habitual truancy, child neglect, and extramarital affairs. Glenz’s meticulous research helps uncover the truth behind a story that has been a part of local lore for over a century. If you enjoy history books, you might also enjoy another book by Jane Glenz called “The Moore Farm Secret,” a historically true story about a man who relocated from Texas to rural Dunn County at the onset of the Civil War, bringing several slaves with him.
14. Jim Finucan
Jim Finucan of Merrill has authored a few books for the business world, but I’m going to focus on the memoir he released in 2019 called “Wild Counselor: 1977–The Summer of the Hunt,” because it’s an important topic with local relevance. The book is a touching memoir about a period of Finucan’s youth when his father ended up homeless on the streets of Merrill, Wisconsin, a time he recalls as especially difficult for his family. The book reflects on life in the 1970s, and because it takes place locally, it hits home in a way many other stories can’t. Finucan says he wrote the book to open the door of understanding to people who might be dealing with homelessness, and to help people understand that much of it is due to mental illness. Finucan is donating a portion of the proceeds from the book to the Merrill Community Homeless Center (MAC Home).
15. John Bates
John Bates is a naturalist and author from Mercer who is a regular guest on Wisconsin Public Radio, and has a long-standing biweekly column, “A Northwoods Almanac,” which he writes for the Lakeland Times in Minocqua. Bates has authored nine books, most recently “Our Living Ancestors: The History and Ecology of Old-growth Forests in Wisconsin (And Where to Find Them).” For the nature lover, Bates collection is worth a look, with titles like “Graced by the Seasons: Fall and Winter in the Northwoods”; “A Northwoods Companion: Spring and Summer”; “A Northwoods Companion: Fall and Winter”; “River Life; The Natural and Cultural History of a Northern River”; and“Trailside Botany: 101 Favorite Trees, Shrubs & Wildflowers of the Upper Midwest.”