Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Author talk draws attention to history


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Ironwood - The Ironwood Carnegie Library, through the Library of Michigan, hosted author John Smolens for an "evening with author" on Tuesday evening. The event, held at Contrast Coffee in downtown Ironwood, brought out a crowd of avid book-readers and aspiring writers to hear him speak and ask questions about his writing process.

Smolens' novel, "Day of Days," was selected by the Library of Michigan as one of its "notable books" for 2017, and library director Lynne Wiercinski explained that she was extremely pleased that he was the one selected to come to Ironwood to speak.

"We don't get to choose which author comes to town," said Wiercinski after the event. She explained that libraries are able to request that an author come and speak, selecting several they are interested in, and that the program has final say in who comes.

"Day of Days" follows two fictional characters, Beatrice Turcott and Jed Browne, living through events in and around the real 1927 Bath, Michigan, schoolhouse bombing of May 18, a day before graduation. The story is told through the memories of narrator, Bea, who is laying in her death bed, reflecting on what had occurred, her life before the incident and the effect that it had on those around her.

The bombing was caused by Andrew Kehoe, a local farmer with a knowledge of electrical engineering, who over the course of the school's construction, placed packs of explosives used for clearing land for farms within the walls. The detonation killed 44 people, 38 of which were children.

According to Smolens, in researching the history of Bath, he read accounts of the events through news reports, diaries and journals, with some quotes from his novel being pulled from real accounts.

He said he had the honor of touring the new school in Bath, located approximately 200 yards from where the old one stood. He said that where many schools would have a trophy case, the new schoolhouse has a small museum dedicated to it's history.

The author read passages from the novel, and followed it with a Q&A session, where audience members were given further insight about his writing process.

"This is the mystery of writing fiction. The thing that attracts me to it, the beauty of it. You are asking me really 'Where do these characters come from?' Many of the scenes in this book come directly from something I have read." said Smolens. "There are some scenes, some lines of dialogue, that are from the public record."

"You have to learn to trust the characters," he said. He explained that when he first started writing, he was told that "tuning into" the character is like listening to a radio. "You hope that it stays clear, and comes in. ... The older that I have gotten, the more experienced I have become as a writer, I think I have learned to trust the characters to speak freely."

It was not lost on Smolens and those in attendance that his talk about a deadly school explosion from 1927 was happening just hours after a school shooting in Texas that took the lives of 19 students on Tuesday. He began his presentation acknowledging the school shooting.

"Because of the nature of today's events, I wasn't sure how many people would come. I think this turn-out was really quite impressive," Smolens told the Daily Globe afterwards.

In total, Smolens is doing six of these author talks, with Ironwood being the fifth stop.