‘My Own Iowa’ by Heather Gudenkauf!
by Heather Gudenkauf
This is a guest blog by Heather Gudenkauf, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE.
A quaint college town surrounded by craggy bluffs and thick woods and the desperate search for two missing children; a renovated bookstore settled near the banks of the rushing, winding Druid River and the mystery surrounding the birth of one little boy; a close-knit farming community and a small, rural school breached by an intruder with a gun and unknown motives. All settings for my first three novels. Fictional accounts? Absolutely! Fictional locations? Not quite.
I’ve lived in Iowa most of my life and in the years that I have been a student and a teacher, school has been canceled for snow, ice, wind-chill, and floods. I know that an impenetrable dense fog that can close highways and schools in the morning can be swept away in just a few short hours by a warm, soft breeze. One year, on the first day of school, high winds ripped the roof off of the section where my third grade classroom was located sending it crashing through the ceiling of another portion of the school where children sat moments earlier.
That’s Iowa for you. And in each of my novels I have woven meaningful real-life locations into my fictional settings. In The Weight of Silence the Willow Creek Woods was fashioned from Swiss Valley Nature Preserve, a beautiful forested area with the twisty Catfish Creek snaking through it, where I have spent countless hours hiking and where the seeds for my first novel sprouted.
Also plucked from my own life and dropped into my second novel These Things Hidden is River Lights, 2nd Edition, my favorite independent bookstore that is the model for Bookends where much of the novel takes place. River Lights is nestledin a gorgeous 1870s building, the former Pusateri’s Grocery, with its original wooden floors and tin ceilings, located in the heart of downtown Dubuque, Iowa, the perfect home to match the shop’s warmth and charm. Visitors are invited to bring their dogs into the store and will be welcomed with an organic doggie treat upon arrival. But of course the best part of the bookstore is the staff. They are always there to ask about my family and are always ready with a book recommendation. I am never disappointed with what they suggest. While the bookstore in These Things Hidden is the scene of a very dramatic (even traumatic) event within the novel, whenever I enter the bricks-and-mortar storefront it feels like coming home.
In my newest novel, One Breath Away, the setting of the book, the small farming community of Broken Branch, Iowa, was inspired by the anything-but-broken real-life town of Wellman, Iowa. Wellman is a community of about 1,500 with a prominent Amish population and, along with my hometown of Dubuque, epitomizes what is common to so many Iowa communities: a wonderful sense of family and generosity to those in need. Like the fictional townspeople in One Breath Away, the inhabitants of Wellman come through for their friends and neighbors. Even strangers. For example, when the parents of four Wellman children were killed in a terrible car accident, everyone — from the kindergarten class at the elementary school to the Rosary Society at one of the local churches — in the community united. When a young local boy was seriously injured in an ATV accident, again they came together. And when a virtual stranger’s son was diagnosed with bone cancer the community took the family in as their own – saying prayers, sending notes of encouragement, raising money. Wellman is also where this city girl learned about cattle farming and the difference between heifer and a cow – and there is a difference!
The best thing about all of this is that that’s just Iowa for you. You could close your eyes and stick a pin in a map of Iowa and the inhabitants of any city, town, or burg would react in the exact same ways. A farmer you’ve never met will stop to help you when you are hopelessly lost on a barren county road (true story) and a group of twelve year old boys would shave their heads in allegiance with a classmate going through chemotherapy (another true story). These along with so many other reasons are why I continue to write about my home state of Iowa.
Buy her latest book “One Breath Away” now available at Kmart Stores!