So this is what I do. Why am I suddenly doing it on Substack?
First and foremost, to expose my work to a wider spectrum of readers.
Secondly, to offer readers the opportunity to support my work with cash. You are not required to do this. You can read everything I post for free. But if you want to support and encourage my work, Substack offers a convenient way to do it.
Why do I mention this second point? The writing life is not remunerative. There are conferences to attend, websites to maintain, software to update, books to buy, manuscripts to print. Most book fairs and festivals charge a fee for a booth or table—a fee which may or may not be recouped by sales. My subscription to Publishers’ Marketplace, an essential tool for writers, costs $25 every month.
In the seven and a half years since becoming a full-time writer, I have spent $9,000 more on the project than I have earned in book sales and other income. I persist despite the dollar cost, because I have something to say, and I will not live forever.
For every James Patterson or Stephen King there are thousands of us who never receive enough for their writings to break even, let alone make money. Substack is offering a different paradigm, in which readers can support writers by paying them.
From my point of view, it’s worth a shot.
Whether you pay or not, I hope you’ll enjoy reading my posts. And if you do, tell others.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.—T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
What is it that drives me back upon the past, to consider what has gone before and view it in a new light? I feel the need more strongly with each passing year.
When we get old, we want to make young people understand.
The portents of the past, things our children and grandchildren do not know simply because they were not there. The world I grew up in was not only different, it was instructive.
My mind reels back to Streator, Illinois, population 17,500—the town where I lived between the ages of six and twelve. The years were 1951 to 1957. The rhythms and facts of life told us who we were and taught us how to be.
People needed things. But shopping malls, strip malls, and convenience stores on the edge of town—these had not yet been invented. So what were we to do? We went downtown, of course.
All the stores were on Main Street, or on half a dozen streets that intersected Main in what was called “the business district.” We had a big, solid bank; two department stores, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward; a couple of dime stores; dry goods stores, men’s and women’s clothing stores; a store that sold sheet music, band instruments, phonograph records and the machines to play them; two movie theaters, a few family-style restaurants, and several taverns.
Stores opened at nine a.m. and closed at five p.m., but on Saturday they stayed open till nine at night. People drove into town from outlying farms. They walked up and down the streets, shopping or window-shopping in the stores.
We town-dwellers did the same thing. Thus the streets were crowded every Saturday night. You were always bumping into people you had just seen at school or at work yesterday. Sometimes you encountered an old friend you hadn’t seen in nearly a week!
It taught us we were members of a community.
Sunday was a day of rest. Nothing was open on Sunday except the churches, a few gas stations, and the little mom-and-pop stores—one in each neighborhood—that sold newspapers, candy, bubble gum, cigarettes, and the occasional quart of milk or box of crackers.
For a few weeks in summer, muscular, leathery men in clean blue jeans, western shirts, and cowboy hats joined the promenade on the streets of town. They were Navajos and worked most of the year repairing track and roadbed for the Santa Fe railroad. They worked their way north, arriving in our area in early summer. They lived in dormitory railcars that were parked on a siding near the high school athletic field.
On Saturday nights, these Navajos got cleaned up and went downtown like everybody else, adding an exotic element to our community. When they were in our vicinity, they just came downtown on Saturday night, like everybody else. It was what you did.
Our parents taught us that people who are different from you are still people, and that people who do hard jobs are worthy of respect on that account alone.
Men went out to work in offices, shops, or factories, or on farms. Women worked at home doing housework, which was more demanding in those days. Clothing was washed in cylindrical tubs, then run between a pair of rollers on top of the tub to wring the water out. Then you hung the clothes on a cotton line in the backyard to dry.
When the sun had dried the clothes stiff, they were taken down, remoistened with water from a sprinkling bottle, and ironed. Irons were electric, but they were not yet steam irons. Therefore clothes had to be dampened before ironing so the wrinkles would come out. Wrinkled clothes were considered unsightly; permanent press fabrics did not exist. The woman of the household spent at least one full day each week, maybe two, on laundry and ironing.
Every spring Mom had a special job to do, part of spring cleaning. She had to clean soot off the walls. We burned soft coal for heat all through the winter. Tiny specks of soot wafted through heating ducts and clung to walls and other surfaces. Most of our walls were covered with wallpaper, which in those days was literally paper. You couldn’t get it wet.
So mom used a special wallpaper-cleaning compound. You rubbed a lump of it across the wall, picking up soot, then folded the soot inside and used a clean part of the lump on the next stroke; over and over again. When coal furnaces and old-fashioned wallpaper were things of the past, the wallpaper cleaning compound was re-merchandised as Play-Doh.
Not only laundry and housecleaning, but food preparation was more labor-intensive. Housewives took full advantage of canned foods and the new frozen foods—TV dinners—that became available, but most food was not prepackaged. It had to be cooked on a stove, electric or gas-fired. We didn’t have microwave ovens yet.
Women used lard a lot in cooking. Often the lard was actually bacon grease, drained from the skillet and saved in a tub in the refrigerator.
There was no “Take Your Children to Work Day.” Opportunities to shadow Dad at work were rare for most of us. But we got to see Mom hard at work on her many tasks every day. It gave us a respect for our mothers.
For all that, life was not just a daily grind. There was a fair amount of skylarking.
Gasoline was cheap, traffic was light, and America’s love affair with the private automobile was in full bloom. Often on weekends in the summer Dad loaded us into the car for a drive in the country. We just drove around, looking at farms and forests. We kids rolled the windows down and stuck our faces out into the slipstream like cocker spaniels. We seldom exceeded fifty miles per hour, which was about what the roads would allow. The Interstate system was just starting to be built; none of us had ever experienced driving on a superhighway.
On the way home we would stop at the root beer stand for—what else?—root beer. It was a delightful treat on a Friday or Saturday night. We learned that life had simple pleasures to offer, and they are good.
General Mills and the other cereal companies offered wonderful emoluments for children—secret decoder rings, a square inch of land in the Klondike gold fields, miniature atomic submarines that rose and sank in the bathtub when fueled with baking soda.
You had to send in one or two boxtops from the sponsor’s cereal brand, along with twenty-five cents “in coins or stamps,” to a postal box in Battle Creek, Michigan. It usually took two or three weeks for the small parcel with the prize to arrive in the mail. That taught us the principle of delayed gratification.
Far be it from me to suggest, Dear Reader, that our daily routines were a preconceived set of lesson plans to educate us in important life skills and attitudes. But that’s what they amounted to. That was the effect.
I lie awake nights wondering if my grandchildren will grow up easy marks for fast-talking salesmen because they were never wooed by the siren song of the Duncan Yo-yo representative in the vacant lot beside Marx’s store on a balmy afternoon in May.
No wonder I’m starting to look haggard. I guess we’ll just have to hope for the best.
Success in any endeavor is defined by the doing. The act of doing. The skill in doing. The manner of doing. The time and place of doing.
Most of all: the dedication and constancy with which the thing is done.
Seven years ago, I set out to become a serious writer.
I had retired once and then retired again. By January 2016, I was free to do what I had always wanted to do: Write.
Hardly knowing what I was about, I had set my course to become a Literary Lion.
(Gentle Reader, you may have heard me sing this song before, but it’s worth a reprise in a different key, if only to get newcomers up to speed.)
How to Build on Small Victories?
In 2016, Fetch! magazine published (and paid for) a whimsical essay I wrote about our old Siberian husky. In the same year, and again in 2017 and 2018, the Saturday Evening Post web-published three of my short stories about Izzy Mahler, a boy growing up in the 1950s. Light reading, yes—but chosen for publication over hundreds of competing submissions.
I began to think of a big historical novel based on my great-great-grandparents who emigrated from Norway in the 1850s. By early 2017 I was ready to start writing chapters.
It takes perseverance to write a novel. How could I sustain my purpose through this lonely quest?
Some writers may thrive as solitary artists, scratching out stories by midnight oil in a Gothic mansion, or under a gray mansard in some bohemian arrondissement of Paris. But I am not one of them. I can’t work in a vacuum. I need the stimulation of other minds and the encouragement of those farther along the path.
The University of Wisconsin Continuing Studies Writing Program, now defunct, was then in fullest flower. I attended its writers’ conferences in 2016, 2018, and 2019. At such events you can learn craft.
You learn about marketing. You befriend others who, whatever their topic or genre, share a great obsession with you. They are writers. You have found your tribe.
I also joined two smaller groups, mutual critique groups. With regular meetings in a more intimate setting, members of such a group read and critique one another’s material. You learn how your work strikes readers. You learn what works and what doesn’t. And again, you form friendships.
To Blog or Not to Blog: That is the Question
In our critique sessions, we sometimes discussed marketing. Most writers love writing—or, at least, feel compelled to write. We tend to approach marketing, however, with loathing and trepidation.
Yet, marketing is unavoidable. You want people to read your work. That means it must find publication. And, once published, it must find its audience.
No fairy godmother—no genie with the gentle smile of Bennett Cerf plus angel wings and a magic wand—is going to swoop down, pluck your manuscript from obscurity, and add it to the Modern Library. You, the writer, having gone to the trouble of filling the pond with water, must also round up the horses, bring them to the pond’s margin, and cause them to drink.
We have little clue how to do this. But the notion that gnaws at our hearts is that social media equals marketing. To a geezer like me, that concept represented a dreadful imposition. Once I set foot on the slippery path of social media, how many hours of writing time would be devoured by constant, compulsive tweets, posts, and links?
Of all web-based avenues, blogging seemed the wisest, if only because it was a longer form. What could I say, worth saying, in 140 characters? Or even 280? It seemed I would need to invest a day or two each week to write a blog post that anybody would want to read.
But how would I come up with topics? And even if I found things to blog about, why do it at all? How would this help me sell my REAL writing—my great American novel?
In our Tuesdays With Story writing group, Jerry Peterson, a great mentor, said something I did not expect. “If you think you’d like to blog, you could give it a try,” he said. “And consider that blog posts are one part of your writing—not just a gimmick to sell your other writing.”
One thing it did immediately was to impose a clarity that had been lacking before.
My friend Dan Blank is an apostle of clarity. He uses a simple exercise with index cards, which he calls “Clarity Cards.” He urges creators to assess their goals and purposes at frequent intervals to gain clarity on their main channels of endeavor. It is, as billed, a clarifying thing to do.
Just to design the front end of a WordPress blog site, I needed to clarify my thoughts about what I am trying to do as a writer. I knew it was all tangled up with the past, since I always want to write historical fiction.
I had a sense that history is not just dead events, inexorably receding on the conveyor belt of time. History, though consigned to the past, also lives in the present. We live in the midst of history. We never get clear of our history.
T.S. Eliot wrote a brilliant definition of what I want to do:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. —from “Little Gidding”
I want to take readers into the past with me so that we may return having learned something that helps us be ourselves in the present.
So I came up with the title “Reflections” for my blog—because it’s a reflective endeavor—and the slug line “seeking fresh meanings in our common past.”
We all have individual histories, but there is also a collective past—a background we all own together. The more fully we know this, the more human we will be.
Dedication and Constancy
Since beginning this blog in 2019, I have published my debut historical novel, Price of Passage. Diane Donovan, senior reviewer for Midwest Book Review, called it “just the ticket for an absorbing tale of evolution and enlightenment.”
I have completed a middle grade historical novel, Izzy Strikes Gold!, and have begun querying agents on its behalf. When I read it aloud recently to the members of my grandson’s fifth-grade class, they were engaged and asked lots of questions.
I am now writing early chapters of a Word War II historical novel (for adults), as yet untitled, about two brothers with an intense rivalry. My writing coach, Christine DeSmet, Distinguished Faculty Associate, UW-Madison Continuing Studies, thinks my plot outline has enough substance to support a good book.
And oh, by the way, I have added 193 posts to the blog, for a total of about 200,000 words. You are reading post number 194. My fear of not having enough material proved groundless. It turns out the more you write, the more you can write.
Laurie Scheer, former director, UW-Madison Writers’ Institute 2010-2021 and co-founder, New Nature Writers, has called it “one of the best writer’s blogs on the planet.” And Christine DeSmet agrees, saying, “Sign up, people! It’s an amazing blog.”
So Jerry Peterson was right. This little endeavor, far from being a sales gimmick, has turned out to be a worthy endeavor of its own. For this reason I have begun to publicize Laurie’s and Christine’s kind comments about this blog. That publicity has gained the blog some readers.
But know, Kind Reader, that you are still among a select few. In a good week, my blog is read by a hundred readers, many of them repeat customers. EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE WORLD does not know what they’re missing.
About the “Reflections” Blog
If you’re new to this blog, you may wish to sample a few previous posts. You can navigate there using the “Search . . .” box at upper right, or via the ARCHIVES, organized by month, farther down the right-hand menu.
Today, as a public service (Ta-DA!), we begin a series of articles meant to help You, The Aspiring Author, conquer the himalayas of literary greatness.
We propose that you achieve this impressive goal in SIX SIMPLE STEPS.
“Simple” is not the same as “easy.” The six things you must do to pluck fame and fortune from the slushpile of rejected hopes are as simple as any six steps can be.
If they were easy, everybody would be Stephen King.
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” / Let us go and make our visit.
(Literary Allusion Alert: File under “T.S. Eliot.”)
Step One: Skip Straight to “Literary Lion”
Cut the line.
Do not wait for greatness to be thrust upon you. Thrust it upon yourself.
Since becoming a literary lion is your goal, go ahead and be one. Believe me, if you can’t do this one simple thing, you’re not going to find the other five steps any easier.
(Caveat: What We Are Not Saying. We are not saying “Fake it till you make it.” You can’t fake literary accomplishment. You have to get it the old-fashioned way, like the guy in that old commercial says. You have to earn it.)
If you haven’t begun to do so yet, then begin now.
You must do all kinds of inherently literary things. Such as, for example, “Write.” But that’s Step Two.
Meanwhile, there are a lot of other literary things you must do in addition to writing.
When you do them, as you must, you will be living the literary life—like it or not.
Are you prepared for this?
You must read. We don’t mean just “read.” Everybody reads for fun, don’t they?
(No, not actually. Lots of people never read anything more interesting than a cloned Facebook meme. But if you’re still with us, then you are probably one of those who do read, at least for fun.)
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we don’t mean just “read”—we mean READ.
Read everything you can that’s a classic of your genre. And for balance, read things that are poorly-executed examples of your genre. Read things outside your genre entirely.
Read books and articles on the art and craft of writing. Read pieces about the business of writing, and how to sell your work.
Read books, stories, articles, and blog posts by friends (more on this in “Step 3: Get Feedback” and “Step 4: Associate”). Read your own work, with a view to improving it. Read miscellaneous books that come to your attention, just because somebody said they were good.
Read good literature. It may help you figure out how to write good literature.
“I was seventy years old before I got serious about writing. I thought I was quite a reader, but since becoming a literary lion, I’ve averaged fifty to seventy-five books a year—not to mention stories, articles, and poems.”
When you read this much, two things will happen: (1) Your library card will get threadbare from use. (2) Partly-finished, recently finished, and not-yet-started books will occupy every horizontal surface in your vicinity. Welcome to literary lionhood.
(Lionhood is the state of being a lion—a literary one, in our case. Lionization—Haha!—maybe in the Afterlife.)
You must gather your tools about you. There are certain things you will need. Some of them cost money, and you must be prepared to invest in them.
You need a good, standard dictionary such as Webster’s New World College Dictionary or even the Oxford English Dictionary if you can afford it. Either hardcopy or electronic version will cost money. (The many freebie dictionaries found online are about worth what you pay for them.)
You will need the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s the starting point on important matters of style for nearly all publishers. But you also need a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, which in some particulars contradicts the Chicago manual; it’s still worth owning for its brief but powerful advice on how to write the English language. And you will want at least a couple of writers’ magazines; we recommend The Writer and Writer’s Digest for starters.
In order to get your work widely read, you will need to sell it. Therefore you will want some useful compendia of marketing information, such as Writer’s Market or Writer’s Handbook; Jeff Herman’s Guide To Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents; and a $25 monthly subscription to the enormously useful PublishersMarketplace website.
Basic tools of craft are needed just for getting your words down on paper (or its electronic equivalent). Some particular brand of laptop computer, let’s say; or a ruled notebook and pens or pencils of a certain kind; or an antique Underwood typewriter; or goose quills. Every writer has his or her own preferred substrate. But whatever it is, you need to have it, so you can, you know, write (see “Step Two: Write”).
We seriously recommend a good computer and a copy of Microsoft Word. If you originate your manuscripts in any other medium or format, you will still need to copy it over to a computer file before a publisher can use it to bring you lots of fame and fortune. But suit yourself.
You must make your presence known. This falls, really, into “Step 6: Platform.” But the problem is, you can’t wait till the end of the process to build your platform. You’ve got to start now.
A writer’s “platform” is simply the sum total of credible ways by which that writer makes his or her work known to the world. If you’re a major motion picture star, all you have to do is write a book and let the publicist mention it to the world. You have millions of adoring fans already; some of them will buy your book.
For those of us who are not celebrities, it’s harder. You have to acquire fans one at a time and keep them interested in you and your writing until you can publish a book and press it into their hot little hands. It takes time for an unknown author to build a following of people who can be relied on to buy a book. Start now.
You make your presence known by authoring a blog; by frequenting one or more social media engines such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.; by showing up at writerly events in your vicinity, such as book signings and readings, literary chats, etc.; or by attending writers’ courses and conferences.
As you do these things, more and more people will begin to recognize you as a fixture of that part of the world they think of as “literary.” That’s good. That’s what you want.
You must write. This is self-evident, but we include it here because it is an essential part of becoming a literary lion. “Essential” in this case means, “You cannot omit it.”
But never fear. The writing part is so important we devote an entire step to it. In fact, the very next one in this series, “Step Two: Write.”
So here and now it suffices to say that writing is the quintessential literary activity. The more time you spend writing, the more time you spend in the world of the literary lion.
THEREFORE, Dear Reader: When you faithfully practice these key disciplines of literary lionhood—reading, gaining possession and use of essential literary tools, making your presence known in literary venues, and actually spending regular amounts of time writing your work—you will not have to pinch yourself, or poke yourself in the eye (which we would not recommend in any case) to know that you are living the literary life.
You will have stepped into the Twilight Zone which is the literary world, on your way to the base camp for scaling the literary himalayas.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: “Step Two: Write”
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Author
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
Does a writer spring full-bodied from the brow of Zeus, like Athena? Or does a writer rise from the sawdust of the arena floor, like Eric Hoffer? Are writers born, or made?
All I know is, writers write. Perhaps you are one of us. We who cannot not write.
Some of our tribe, like the fictional Jo March of Little Women and John-Boy of The Waltons, scribble in notebooks from childhood on and sell their first work as teenagers. Others may hold their fire like dormant volcanoes, then erupt in middle age. My friend Greg Renz waited till retirement to novelize the stories he had been processing over 28 years as a Milwaukee firefighter.
I’d be willing to bet that more than once during those 28 years, Greg told some of his stories to someone, informally. I doubt anybody suddenly becomes a writer without some kind of prelude. What warming-up exercises did Homer go through before composing 27,000 lines of dactyllic hexameter known as the Iliad and the Odyssey?
Dear Reader, I was an old man when I set out to burst upon the literary scene. I wanted to share my dearest concerns with others.
I did not know how to do it but was called to try. Impressions, thoughts, and feelings that had been marinating in cobwebbed bottles on the dusty shelves of my soul began to ooze forth as written words that the world might see.
Like Greg, Jo, John-Boy, and Homer, I did not come to this calling completely cold.
I wrote a detective story when I was eight. Around that time, I also drew a few comic strips starring myself and a fantasy sidekick as cowboys, fighting bad guys. In junior high I got a $25 savings bond for writing an essay about traffic safety. I wrote for the high school paper. I was a radio guy in college. After a series of abortive career launches in young manhood, I at last burrowed safely into the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs, the agency that oversees the National Guard and Emergency Management. My role there included both writing and photographic skills. After 23 years with the agency, I retired. Immediately I was called to edit a well-regarded and historic religious quarterly, The Congregationalist—a part-time job I did for six and a half years.
I had done no “creative” writing since grade school. But I had the itch to “be a writer.” Having reached the age of 70, I knew that if I wanted to be a writer, I’d better get started.
For by that time I was feeling definitely Homeric. Odyssean, in fact. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in his poem “Ulysses,” has his old Ulysses (Odysseus) say—
How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use! As tho’ to breathe were life! . . . . . . but every hour is saved From that eternal silence, something more, A bringer of new things . . . .
New things. Yes. I was ready for new things. So in 2016, I quit the best job I ever had and declared myself a writer. Not in some doomed quest for fame, fortune, or any other phantasm. But merely to share myself with you and others in a new way. Have you ever had that kind of an urge?
A New Chapter
There were things to get off my chest; this I knew. I just didn’t know exactly what they were. That was what Mr. Donald Rumsfeld would call “a known unknown”: I knew that I did not know it. But faith told me that if I only started to write it down, it would come out through my fingers and splat itself upon the virtual page of my laptop screen. It would become visible, and then I could fix it up.
The real itch inside me, the thing I wanted to share with the world, was precisely what T.S. Eliot mentioned in his poem, “Little Gidding”:
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
Yes, I thought, that’s really what I’m all about. I want to unearth the long-ago and show it in new writing, so that I, and my readers, can see that past with new eyes.
I wrote short stories about life in the 1950s, starring a little boy named Izzy Mahler, based on my own small-town boyhood. Three of them—“Nickle and Dime,” “The Liberation of Irma Ruger,” and “The Lion’s Den”—achieved online publication, with minor paychecks, by The Saturday Evening Post. Yes, Virginia, there still is a Saturday Evening Post.
“Those Old Siberian Blues,” a whimsical essay about our then 12-year-old Siberian husky, Montana, was published in Fetch!, “Wisconsin’s #1 Free Dog Publication,” in December 2016.
But soon, bigger game was afoot: A sweeping historical novel, an immigrant saga.
A Novel Obsession
My wife, Joelle, had researched and archived our family’s roots, both on her side and on mine. She did such sound research that she won an award.
Since I was now a self-admitted full-time writer, she badgered me to write a brief prose essay on one of my ancestors. This was necessary to claim a cultural skills badge in genealogy from the Sons of Norway. Both of us have Norwegian lines, but I was the “official” member of the organization. Besides, she said, “You are the writer, I’m just the researcher. Write something about one of your ancestors.”
So I looked into the research that she had painstakingly compiled and learned that my great-great-grandfather, Anders Gunstensen, came from Norway in 1853 and settled in Menard County, Illinois.
Gentle Reader, please take note of this: I knew nothing about Anders Gunstensen. We had no diaries, letters, artifacts, heirlooms, or even word-of-mouth stories about Anders, his wife Johanne-Marie Nybro, or Norway. None of this had come down through my family.
I am thus a Norwegian without any discernible Norwegiosity. I snakker ikke norsk (speak no Norwegian); Grandma didn’t bake fattigmands bakkelser (“Poor man’s cookies”) at Christmas; I don’t even own a Norwegian sweater. Uff-da!
We had only dry statistics: Anders’ dates of birth, emigration, marriage, and death; names of his parents and more remote progenitors; what ship he traveled on; the woman he married; the places where he lived; the children he fathered; and the simple fact that he wore Union blue as a soldier in the Civil War.
To make even a brief article from these bare bones took some interpretation—dare I say, interpolation—from hard facts to reasonable inferences.
Anders embarked for America February 8, 1853, the very day after his passport was issued. Hmm. Seems he was in a big hurry to get out of Norway.
He sailed from Arendal, Norway, to New Orleans, Louisiana. Not New York, not Quebec. New Orleans. Picture a 23-year-old farm boy leaving Norway in early February and arriving in New Orleans eight weeks later. The heat alone must have prostrated him—not to mention the spectacle: Hordes of people, all races, all colors, all modes of dress, all speaking a polyglot of American, European, and African tongues. And some of them buying and selling others in open-air slave markets.
What a novel this would make.
The trickle of Norwegian immigrants in the 1830s and ’40s had become a stream by the 1850s. That stream flowed from New York or Quebec to Northern Illinois, then to Wisconsin, then to Minnesota and on west. Anders traveled north from New Orleans, undoubtedly by steamboat, and stopped when he got to Central, not Northern, Illinois—in a place with only a handful of other Norwegians. He had to learn English and local customs fast.
Then, two years after settling in this non-Scandinavian part of North America, he married a Norwegian girl, Johanne-Marie Elisabeth Nybro, who had come to Menard County from guess where? Oiestad, Anders’ own home village. Is that a spooky coincidence? How did that happen?
Can you see, Fair Reader, how a person might start to become a novelist? If you were in my place, wanting answers to questions that had no answers, you might do the same thing I did: Make the answers up!