Category: children

Little Servants

Little Servants

Children at Work in the 20th Century


The little servants were everywhere . . . until 1938, when President Roosevelt’s Fair Labor Standards Act included some of their concerns, American children were subjected to all manner of exploitation, service and labor, unprotected by any national laws. It’s sometimes said that, had the Great Depression not made adults willing to work for a child’s wage, reform may not have happened even then. Before Roosevelt’s Act, a 1916 national child labor law went into effect to block interstate transport of goods if underage laborers were involved in production, but it was struck down in 1918. In 1924, Congress attempted to pass a constitutional amendment to protect children, but it was blocked and eventually dropped. Children were fair game in America in the early 1900s, both in their families and in society.


“Frequently beginning their working lives before their tenth birthday, children worked in hazardous jobs at mines, mills, factories, sweatshops, and on farms, with little or no wages. Labor laws did not exist, and the common perception of the ease with which children were manipulated made them targets for a variety of rights violations.”1

While laws protect most children today, their labor remains unregulated in American agriculture. The 1938 federal laws still allow children as young as 12 years old to work unlimited hours before and after school in the ag sector. As a result, as many as 500,000 children pick almost a quarter of America’s harvested food, and they’re sorely underpaid. Some may assume this is an immigration issue, or describes children who work on prosperous family farms, but most of these working children are American citizens who suffer from poverty so intense, they can’t afford to buy the food they harvest.2

My grandmother, Laura, was born in 1906, into a world where children were often seen by many as little servants, small adults expected to work to survive, often in fields or factories. Readers may have seen Laura’s handwriting and read her ledger notes in my first novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account. Before she was the young housewife recording how to make her own soap from lard and lye, she was the abandoned child left at a Lutheran orphanage in Fremont, Nebraska.

For some orphans in 1911, adoption offered a chance to be part of a family, but this didn’t happen for my grandmother. When she was five years old, she and her sister were placed with different families, and Laura’s didn’t choose to adopt her. They wanted a worker, so in the official census in 1920, she’s recorded as a “boarder” at that family’s address. In truth, she was a hard-worked child servant in a household that looked down on her, even as they provided the bare essentials. A typical Christmas gift was a few yards of cloth for that year’s dress. Her responsibilities included taking care of children not much younger than herself, and she was whipped for their misbehavior. There were no laws to protect children during her childhood, and no loving parents, in her case.

My grandmother’s story, like many stories of the little servants who worked in America, remains a mystery. We’ve never located either of her parents, and we don’t know why her father left her behind, promising to return, and yet, never did so. Family mysteries inspire stories, and my grandmother is the inspiration for Margaret Rose and the little servants, the unwanted children in my new novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, to be released this summer. My grandmother was quieter than Margaret, but surely had as much grit, to survive as she did.


I think readers will like Margaret Rose, who earns the nickname Magpie in the story. She’s smart and takes on all comers. Here’s a little of Maggie’s voice, as she considers the woman she works for, in Seven Kinds of Rain:

“In one carton of books up here, I found Fowles’ New Easy Latin Primer. It teaches a funny language nobody speaks, but it’s a mother to other languages. It has no letter W. Latin is confusing, so I asked my teacher about declensions. She said it’s not a usual question for an eight-year-old girl, but she explained well.

“Trying to forget about Florence, I sit on my mattress to look at the Latin book. My teacher says I’m lucky to have a special talent to remember everything I read and with Latin, I have my own secret language. Maybe for a diary, or if I have a friend someday, we can use it for secrets. To help me feel better, I also found some little swears nobody will understand, but nothing bad enough to send me to hell. Like puter anus, which means rotten old woman but sounds worse. And verres and clunis, hog and buttock.

“Remembering Florence’s red, crying face distracts me from the Latin on the pages. I’m sorry for her and want to forgive the whippings and missed school. The Latin swears help a little, like letting steam out of my hot kettle, but I can only say them in the closet or up here. It doesn’t help that Florence’s little pointy teeth and long nose remind me of a fox, vulpes. If she looked softer, more like a rabbit, lepus, I’d feel more like petting her, and less like trapping her and pelting her out.”

Watch for more information about the world of Seven Kinds of Rain in upcoming posts, with Maggie and her friends, Jack and Kuruk. Then the book comes, in summer, 2016, for you to find yourself in the story.

Be sure to subscribe for updates, and follow K. Lyn Wurth on Facebook, to stay up-to-date. And thanks for reading. I appreciate every one of you!


  1. Child photo from Wikipedia, “Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt.” by Lewis Hine, 1912 – 1913. E. F. Brown – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-01830 This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID nclc.05282.

Consider a Holy Day

Consider a holy day,

the present full of grace,

born and broken for you.

Bear witness to

the flickering incarnation in a newborn squint and

the longing for resurrection

that huddles in the chair beside death’s mattress.


This is our day to love the forsaken earth,

not pretend to rise above it.

A day to smile at the sun and sleet that burn our eyes.

To numb our hands in glacier-fed rivers,

taste ocean salt, trudge deserts and mountains and

watch cloud-shadows race across the corn.

To bless this damaged place that holds us,

taking up our shovels and buckets of water,

replanting what green flourished

before we trampled here.


Our day to put down the flashing,

trilling toys of self-importance and

look into a child’s eyes until she shines and then

cuddle her while she

rhymes her way into being.


This is our day to accept the hard truth we can’t bear and then

dare to change our minds enough

to turn back

to refill the well we pumped dry.

To be content, unnoticed and unpraised.


This is my day to start the race I can’t win

and may not be strong enough to finish.

Then, falling short, to enfold myself with

all weary runners

in mercy’s blanket wool.


My day to offer the first hot serving and the last cookie.

To lose and applaud the winner until my hands sting

and her cheeks flush with joy.

As if I have all the time in the world,

to listen and sing someone else’s favorite song

in his hearing.


My day, set apart

to restore the window glass

or culture

or person I broke,

to learn to swing softly,

to trace and honor the curves next time.


A day for us to shatter the hinges, springs

and teeth on every trap,

to set the bones, staunch the blood and release.


This is our sacred opportunity

to soften our sharp,

hard-bordered countries into one sanctuary,

to fill the bowl, raise the rafters and

clasp the stranger.

To sanctify our here

and make eternal our today.


—  K. Lyn Wurth, December 16, 2015

Magpie and Ancestral Voices

Mr. Magpie photo by Keith Williams to be used on Seven Kinds of Rain book cover

In my upcoming novel, the title of which I will soon announce, Magpie and ancestral voices are inseparable. Magpie is a figure of myth and a real bird, but also the nickname for one of my central characters. In the story, Margaret Rose doesn’t choose that nickname for herself, but it is apt. She’s both dark and light, smart, vivacious and a bit of a thief. Like the bird, she’s smart, sensitive, loyal and eager to make use of what others leave behind.

I harbored some reservations about including magpies in my Nebraska stories. I wondered if they truly inhabited the Republican River valley, as I couldn’t remember seeing one when I was a child. I try to mind regional details, as well as historical ones, in my writing. As if to answer my concerns, when I drove along the Republican River last year for my research trip, a magpie flew low along the roadside where I traveled, showing me his white belly and glossy blue-black plumage. It seemed more than a random wildlife sighting, perhaps even a blessing on how I’m weaving the birds, the characters and the myths of Magpie into my novels.

Magpies, mystery, meaning and myths run through my writing, alongside what history would retell and science would prove. Margaret, my novel’s Magpie, loves both stories and science, as do her friends. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss about other folktales, rhymes and mythical threads I’m weaving into the early 1900s characters, along with scientific theories and historical events.

The epigraph I’ve chosen for the book is a verse from Psalm 78. I claim no Biblical authority with these words, nor do I announce any religious theme or agenda for my little book. Rather, the quote expresses my belief that we should hold on to all the stories we receive from ancestors, and bring them to light for generations.

I will open my mouth in a parable, things we have known from of old, things our ancestors have told us.         Psalm 78

When we braid the old stories with our own, our lives become an extension of those who stood in this place before us. Even if the storytellers are not related to us by blood, their stories are one with this place, and their voices can deepen and amplify our own accounts.

No longer wandering alone in the midst of our facts, may we find ourselves illuminated by the multitude of ancestors, their presence, whimsy and wisdom. May our children and grandchildren, well-educated in science, consider also the light of history and myth.

(I’d like to give special thanks to Keith Williams, the photographer who captured this brilliant photo of Mr. Magpie, which I use as the featured image for this post. He kindly gave permission for me to use the image on the book cover of my upcoming novel…what a great guy, and an amazing photographer!)

Learning Happened Here

Nine years ago this winter, newlyweds Dave and I stood in the middle of a relative’s field and decided to build a sort of nest here, a home on some land outside of town. Farmers in this area generally alternate between soybean and corn crops, and 2005 was a corn year on this particular Wurth property, so we stood in the softening brown rows of recently-harvested stubble and imagined a home. I still have an ear of corn that the combine missed that season. It’s propped in a corner of a downstairs windowsill, to remind me of what was here before me.

We weren’t the first builders on this site. A local historian, also a Wurth relative, told us that in the early Twentieth Century,  a one-room country school stood on this very corner. Constructed on every southeast square-mile corner down this main road, Amherst Township country schools, like most, had to be accessible for walking children.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I’m thankful for many things. One of them is that education has always been one of the first priorities for settlers on the Great Plains and the West, a legacy of which I am a happy beneficiary. In most homesteading communities, once shelter was erected for people and animals and crops were planted, even far-flung neighbors gathered to discuss their children’s education. Even before it was compulsory, education was a dream American settlers claimed for their children.

So, learning happened here, long before we built our dreams. Down in this ground, there may be chips of slate, rusting nails or broken toys. Maybe crumbling bits of a schoolhouse foundation and broken glass. Around where I sit at my desk, children gathered when a school bell rang, for study and play, reciting lessons, expanding their thoughts and becoming citizens of the wider world. A coal stove belched smoke and glowed to keep out the winter chill. Chalk dust hovered in the air and a water bucket with a dipper probably stood in the corner.  Books fell on the floor. Inkwells spilled. Feet scraped on hardwood floors. I wonder where the outhouse stood? There’s a thought. No wonder this soil is so fertile, and my flowers so bright every summer!

Considering the old school that stood on these corner acres, I’m even more grateful to live in this place. Thank you, children, for being an invisible but real part of my history. Thank you, teachers, for all you gave. You still provide joy, as I remember.

For those of us who take comfortable, well-equipped schools, computers and information for granted in this digital age, let’s put our energies into teaching our children what’s most important. Let’s teach them to be grateful for the people who were first in their places, and the richness of history that surrounds them.

Let’s teach them how to think and how to learn, before they leave our nest.

That Girl Who Hated Me

Have you ever driven past a middle school and gotten a sinking feeling in your stomach, followed by a tingle of relief to be the age you are now? If you’re a woman, probably so. Surely I’m not the only one for whom adolescence among girls was like roller derby, with thrown elbows, whipping and goatherding, but no penalty box in sight.

I didn’t drive past a school today, but I felt the online equivalent, a jolt that set me sweating, then musing. As you probably realize, Facebook uses various algorithms, your personal info and vague forms of dark magic to conjure what products you might purchase, books you might read, celebrities you might adore or people from your past with whom you might wish to reconnect.

Boy, did they get it wrong today. One of the people they suggested for a sentimental reunion is a woman, long ago a girl, who truly, inexplicably hated me.

thorns by peter suneson

thorns by peter suneson

Now, I’m old enough to have been hated repeatedly and soundly, and sometimes deservedly so. You can’t achieve a semi-fulsome age without saying mean or careless things and alienating some very nice people, even relatives, along with other unmentionable types. I’d like to think I committed most of my hate-inducing offenses without malice aforethought, but I won’t kid myself or you. I’ve made enemies. We all have. And sometimes, no matter how profusely or sincerely we apologize, people decide we just aren’t worth the trouble of forgiving. That’s uncomfortable, even painful to live with, maybe on both sides. You learn to live with it, though, even when it’s sad. You figure out what went wrong and resolve not to let history repeat itself.

This wasn’t one of those figure-it-out-and-learn-from-it cases. Or, maybe it was…

question by rose ann

question by rose ann

This girl surely had a reason for hating me, but I never, over the course of six years, figured out what it was. At first, it stunned and puzzled me, that she’d mutter threats and insults at me in the hall as we passed, or ridicule me in front of others. No, I didn’t steal her boyfriend, spread a rumor or call her a name. I had an overly tender conscience, and every time we had an encounter, I did a dutiful self-examination to uncover my part in whatever it was had gone wrong. Repeatedly, I drew a blank.

I’m not insisting I was innocent, but I was profoundly confused. Gradually, I realized that girl who hated me enjoyed seeing shock on my face, or tears in my eyes. She carried an air that reeked of power. When, at about fifteen years old, I made the mistake of asking her why she disliked me, she only laughed.

dancing girls by cécile graat

dancing girls by cécile graat

Girls are complex creatures, prone to hugging one minute and unsheathing claws the next. This was different, not a flash of emotion but a steady burn. Back then, I didn’t know what to call it, and honestly, I still don’t.

Like most young girls, I believed that if I was nice to people, they wouldn’t mind me so much and would at least leave me alone, while some might even like me. She helped me surpass my naiveté, demonstrating that life is messier than that. So at one of our high school class reunions, when that same girl “cut” me in front of a table of my classmates, I was only mildly surprised. I was the one who laughed, that time. The awkward moment was just one more drumbeat in a long-established, crazy rhythm, driving a song only she could dance to.

static by jeff hire

static by jeff hire

So I’m older and wiser, but apparently, the mystery still carries a “zing.” Today, seeing that woman’s face on the computer monitor, with the traces of her girlish jawline and her younger eyes leaking through the colors of her Facebook photo, I shivered. My stomach tightened up, even as I told myself the past is decades behind me, and she’s probably matured into a perfectly nice woman. I lingered, wondering what her middle-age problems might be, and what she’s lost in the years since we were in school together. We girls have all lost so much. Children. Men. Marriages. Dreams. Illusions. And happily for some of us, even our grudges.

Yes, decades have passed, but the prickle of dread was like yesterday. It reminded me there’s a part of each of us that stays thirteen, fourteen, eighteen years old. Raw, afraid and vulnerable. Defensive and ready to hurt back, if someone draws blood. Ready to throw up a hand or a wall.

ice cream by diego baseggic

ice cream by diego baseggic

My point isn’t about trauma or being a victim, but about what it is to be human, to own visceral feelings, often too complex to understand, about others. We need to teach our little ones that civility and kindness are always the best strategy, even if they don’t seem to change anything. Tell them, too, that it’s okay to walk away from people who would do them no end of harm, instead of locking themselves into a fruitless pursuit of reconciliation. In a world where being “liked” has become an obsession, tell them it’s okay not to be everyone’s favorite flavor.

So what about this woman today? The once-a-girl who said and did things that made my palms sweat, thickening my microcosmic teenage atmosphere with dread? Well, I didn’t message her on Facebook, and I didn’t “Friend” her!

I did pause to hope that if I ever hurt her, that she’d by now let it go and stopped feeling the pain I, or someone else, had inflicted. The people who harm us may be in even worse pain than we are, and their behavior is often primarily about them, and very little about us. Yes, I worked myself around to a very grown-up response, after the “zing” passed through my gut and into the carpet like so much static electricity.

photo by nick benjaminsz

photo by nick benjaminsz

I still see that girl-woman’s face in my mind’s eye, and in this writing, I wish her well and banish the hurts that were between us. I have that power. We all do, if we learn and claim it.

But for my granddaughter, especially, who still has a young and tender heart and who will have her share of lessons with not-so-kind girls, I’ll finish here with lyrics from one of her favorite songs.


Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on!
The cold never bothered me anyway



Oh, and Facebook? Enough already with the algorithms! Honestly…

Worth the Wait

hungry dog waiting

hungry dog waiting

Gilda the WunderSchnauzer is sitting at my side as I type, not in adoration, but trembling with anticipation. In her mind, the clock holds no meaning and it’s always time for food in her dish. Her hunger makes it worth the wait. She’s vigilant, hoping I’ll look at her and say, “It’s time.” Time for another meal.

Wurth harvest 2013

Wurth harvest 2013

All summer, we in rural Iowa have been waiting for harvest. The soybeans and corn tell us what time it is, so to speak, as sprouts crack through brown soil, leaf, spread and canopy the ground. We watch breadth, height and fanning of leaves that wave like water under the summer winds, until the colors peak and begin to fade. The seeds drain the life from the stalks and leaves, while all ripen and dry. It’s both good and sad to see the colors change back to beiges and browns. When that last combine pulls out of the field, headed for the machine shed, it means another cycle is complete and it’s time for the earth, and farmers, to get a little rest. Just a little, here at one ending, and before another beginning.

waiting to touch you

waiting to touch you

Life keeps us waiting, longing, ever anticipating. Right now my daughter, along with our whole family, is growing impatient for the birth of her third child and even all these years later, I remember what that feels like, that sense of fullness, holding that squirming, beautiful life who’s just on the verge of visibility. Arms ache for what will fill them. Minds and bodies overflow with affection, aching to stroke little fingers and kiss a downy head, to breathe in those “new baby smells,” even the not-so-fresh ones!  To hear that voice for the first time. To memorize an eye color and a smile. It’s hard to wait for anything, but it may be hardest of all to wait for beginnings. A new season. A new child. A new chapter in a family’s novel of love.

So we write on, generations like pages turning, to fulfill and extend our story. This is how we are blessed, breath by breath, but we must be patient for what matters most. We must wait, sometimes painfully, to touch what we cherish and believe.


Imagining All Summer in a Day

rainy day by jenny rolo

rainy day by jenny rollo

‘Do the scientists really know? Will it happen today, will it?’
‘Look, look; see for yourself!’
The children pressed to each other like so many roses, so many weeds, intermixed, peering out for a look at the hidden sun.”

— Ray Bradbury, “All Summer in a Day”

After last year’s threatened drought, it’s rained heavily this spring, seemingly everywhere in the U.S. Thunderstorms, floods and tornadoes rattle, wash and shatter us with their scope and power. Weather changes can be dramatic and deadly. Sometimes they bring on physiological reactions to humidity, temperature atmospheric pressure changes. More rain? Drip. Ouch. Sigh. Bleh.

Seeing our potential ten-day forecast for another eight days of consecutive rain, I almost let my head thump down on my keyboard in despair. I caught myself in time, though. It sure would be nice to look forward to more than two days in a row with sunshine…I was going to whine and complain, when I remembered something better. Better than whining and complaining, you ask? Why, yes.

A story.

1975 ray bradbury photo by alan light

1975 ray bradbury photo by alan light

Decades ago, I first read Ray Bradbury’s short story, “All Summer in a Day.” What I could remember of it haunted me, so I reread it today, to find it even better than I’d remembered. Bradbury tells of a human-inhabited, colorless, perpetually stormy and jungle-like Venus, where sunlight breaks through to warm children’s skin for only two hours, every seven years…that is, if human frailty doesn’t corrupt even that irreplaceable pleasure. Can you imagine experiencing all summer in a day?

Rereading “All Summer in a Day” made me think about childhood and weather, how rare and lovely and terrible they can be, sometimes all in one classroom or one moment. I’ve written and read many short stories since I first read this one. Few have made such an impression or felt so pure, complete, balanced and starkly perfect in their storytelling. I aspire to write this well.

venus in transit, june 5, 2012, nasa photo

venus in transit, june 5, 2012 by nasa

From Ray Bradbury’s online biography, here’s what he had to say on his 80th birthday: “The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me.” Something tells me this is a man who found heat and light, words and meaning in almost any sort of weather.

On June 5, 2012, just a little over a year ago, Ray Bradbury died during the Transit of Venus. During that event, from our limited, but well-lit vantage point in space, cold Venus appears to cross the flaring, disc-like surface of our sun. Nice ending, sir, to a well-told life. Thanks, too, for the story. I’ll ponder it and it will warm me during the next several hours, days, or years, of rain.

The Six Train to Wisconsin, by Kourtney Heintz: a novel interview

SixTraintoWisconsin1600The Six Train to Wisconsin is the best novel I’ve read this year. Here’s a glimpse of the book’s cover copy, to prepare for our interview and discussion of Kourtney Heintz’s first novel.

swirls 1andhalf inch

Sometimes saving the person you love can cost you everything.

There is one person that ties Oliver Richter to this world: his wife Kai. For Kai, Oliver is the keeper of her secrets.

When her telepathy spirals out of control and inundates her mind with the thoughts and emotions of everyone within a half-mile radius, the life they built together in Manhattan is threatened.

To save her, Oliver brings her to the hometown he abandoned—Butternut, Wisconsin—where the secrets of his past remain buried. But the past has a way of refusing to stay dead. Can Kai save Oliver before his secrets claim their future?

An emotionally powerful debut, The Six Train to Wisconsin pushes the bounds of love as it explores devotion, forgiveness and acceptance.

swirls 1andhalf inch

IMG_0891Now, on to our interview. Novelist Kourtney Heintz has become, during the last year, a great blogging friend. I depend on her writing insights and enjoy her lovingly documented, hilarious relationship with her Grandma H. Kourtney’s down-to-earth, persistent pursuit of excellence in life and writing has buoyed me more times than I can count. I’m a more determined, flexible and insightful writer because of her encouragement.

And the girl can write…

Today, I’m pleased to host a discussion of her first, indie-published novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin. From page one of this story, I felt the beyond-caffeinated jolt of fresh, honest storytelling and a depth of human insight that makes this one of the great, suspenseful love stories I’ve ever read. Kourtney, welcome!

Kelly, thank you so much for inviting me here today! You’ve been such a tremendous supporter of my book. Thank you!

1.  It’s been a pleasure, Kourtney. I was wondering, what part of the story, a moment or phrase, holds the deepest meaning for you?

The entire book is so meaningful to me. It’s hard to pick just one part or line. These lines are the first that come to mind:  “But hope is a tricky thing. Too much and you don’t see the catastrophe coming. Too little and you surrender to the inevitability.”

They really resonated with so many aspects of my own life from past loves to spine injuries to job layoffs.

Death Valley, CA: Dante’s View: The wedding

2.  I love that line, too, among many others, even underlining it in my copy of the book! How or where did you first envision Kai and Oliver, the loving and conflicted couple at the heart of the story?

I was actually cleaning my bathroom and trying to come up with a concept for a short story. I find I do my best creative thinking when I’m doing chores. I need something to occupy my bored mind.

I didn’t actually have names for them until months later. That’s part of the reason why I don’t refer to either character by name in the first 19 chapters. I wanted them to be defined by their relationship with each other, first and foremost.

The same opening scene graces the original short story and the recently published novel. I always felt the story started in that moment where Oliver is being awakened by Kai’s emotional turmoil.

3.  In another interview, you expressed the idea that love is a journey, and never just a destination, for your characters. Would you build on that?

I grew up reading romance novels. I really enjoyed them, but they left me frustrated because they always ended as soon as the couple got together. I think that’s the easy part–finding someone. But staying together, growing together, and navigating the world together–that’s the truly epic journey.

New York, NY: Times Square:
The City

4.  Which character from the novel remains most vividly in your mind even now, after publication? What does he or she still have to say to you?

Kai. Because she still has so much she needs to digest. The revelations from the end of the book are still reverberating through her. And she’s stuck in that perpetual moment until I begin writing it down and allowing her to move forward.

5.  From your research and life experience with human personality, do you think there might be a correlation between extraordinary sensitivity and challenges in maintaining intimate relationships? Whom do you believe usually plays the primary role in helping or hindering gifted individuals to form lasting bonds, in childhood or adulthood?

The relationships we form with family and friends at a young age forever impact our ability to form future bonds. These people are the building blocks for all future interactions.

Highly sensitive people feel things more acutely. I think that’s why it takes longer for them to rebound from hurt and betrayal. They are the most capable of forming deep bonds, but the most injured by them. So as they gain experience, they grow more cautious because they know how deeply they can be hurt.

There has to be a correlation between extraordinary sensitivity and early betrayals/positive relationships impacting relationship development later in life.

6.  Memory plays a key role in the love and conflict that form Kai and Oliver’s relationship. Are there any cherished memories of your own that transposed into their story?

I definitely mined a lot of my life for theirs. Things filtered through into the fiction in very distorted ways. For example, I did get lost looking for Peterskirche, and I did call it Peter’s Kirch (Peter’s Cherry). But I didn’t kiss anyone there nor did I think about getting married there.

Ever since I first visited Death Valley way back in 2003, my dream wedding was to get married at Dante’s View. I gave that to my characters because it felt perfect for who they are.

Deer Haven Lodge, Butternut, WI: Kai’s Oasis

7.  Did you experience any “happy accidents” or unanticipated discoveries that enriched your storytelling? (People, places or events?)

When I first set the story in Butternut, I knew I had to go out there to gain a feel for the place. I met the most lovely people there and had such wonderful experiences. I fed the deer at Deer Haven Lodge. I hiked beside Copper Falls. I explored Turtle Flambeau Flowage. These were places that felt so important to the setting that I incorporated them into my manuscript. They were not originally there. So being in Butternut, definitely shaped my story world.

Thanks, Kourtney! Readers, you’ll find The Six Train to Wisconsin a fascinating  book you won’t want to put down. Kai and Oliver will remain in your heart and mind, as well, long after you’ve finished reading!

swirls 1andhalf inch

 The Six Train to Wisconsin paperback is available from:


Barnes and Noble

The Six Train to Wisconsin ebook is available from:


Barnes and Noble




swirls 1andhalf inch

About Kourtney

Kourtney Heintz writes emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For her characters, love is a journey, never a destination.

She resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide.

Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, was a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist.




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Fraidy Holes, Tornadoes and Other Heroic Traditions

August 2009

our storm, 2009

This is prime season for thunderstorms and tornadoes, for most of the central and southern, and parts of the eastern, United States. We go through it every spring. It’s unnerving to see nature unleashed, bearing down on fragile humans and our spindly architecture, whether it happens states away or just down the road. We usually take precautions, noting weather alerts and securing some form of what people used to (and some, at least in Oklahoma, still do) call, the “fraidy hole.” This YouTube video of Hosty Duo performing “Fraidy Hole” says it all, as the vintage video clips illustrate a timeless cautionary tale.

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It’s a fitting song for a stormy subject, with an appropriately dark edge that defies levity while defying danger. Yesterday, on Sunday, May 19, at least twenty six tornadoes moved in a sort of herd across the central plains states. As I understand it, at least two people died during those extreme events and many more families lost every physical object they owned. Today, on May 20, as I write, I learn that one of the worst tornadoes in American history may have just hit Moore, Oklahoma. I can’t imagine the shock and devastation the storm survivors feel. After two days like these, for too many people the dangers of weather are real, and the losses, palpable.

may 20 radar image

may 20 radar image

In the midst of yesterday’s storms, we clicked onto The Weather Channel and stayed, riveted by the live, aerial coverage of tornadoes tearing through Oklahoma. The collision of natural forces was magnificent and terrifying. It doesn’t matter that I’m not acquainted with the people of Oklahoma City or Carney or Shawnee. I saw their familiar buildings blown to pieces, to swirl up and around dark, multiplying funnels like trailing ribbon and bits of cardboard, as mine would. I saw flashes of what appeared to be power lines or propane tanks exploding, followed by lights in windows, extinguished. It was eerie, gazing down on all of it. It should have made me feel safe, from an elevated distance. It didn’t.

dark but peaceful skies

dark but peaceful skies, today

Of course, we’ve all seen video of similar events and their aftermath on weather station programs, news channels and stormchaser documentaries. As an informed, viewing public, we can tune in worldwide, to view, from a safe distance, the international disaster of the day. We may even become desensitized to much of what we see and tweet. Processing the magnitude of other peoples’ losses with a little emotional distance–this helps to keep us sane. Ignoring it can evacuate our essential empathy.

On the next, more immediate degree of experience, many of us have been sufferers or survivors of thunderstorms, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis or earthquakes. Others have found themselves devastated by human-on-human violence. The pain isn’t borrowed, but so near we can’t shed it. Our losses indelibly mark us. They also provide the essential storytelling material for our personal, family and community myths, the stories of how we surely have fallen, lost and suffered, yet somehow survived as the heroes of our own odysseys. At the core of the stories, we learn that to be human is not only to be scattered, to live on the edge of disaster. It is also to gather and to prevail. These are lessons we teach to our children.

fast in my wagon

fast in my wagon   photo by megan johnson

Our children need these lessons. Fragile as we are, from birth we generally display an almost hilarious level of bravado. We can only learn from experience that we’re breakable, as we are born with few self-protective instincts. Often we’re impulsive or careless. Sometimes our illusions of control get us in trouble. Imagining ourselves invulnerable, we may stand outdoors too long, to record that wall cloud. Curiosity and adrenaline can urge us too near the edge of some other cracking, rumbling, rushing or flaming precipice.

Despite being fragile, fallible creatures, many of us don’t embrace our apparent role as victims of the world’s destructive energies. Professional researchers, meteorologists and seismologists, amateur scientists and hobbyists gather data that may not prevent disasters, but may inform us early. If common sense prevails and time permits, that data may give us time enough to flee destruction’s path. Information and technology allow us to encourage people we haven’t met, by telephoning, posting, tweeting and traveling around the world, before and after terrible things happen. The heroic work of rescue, recovery and cleanup usually begins in a moving, but profoundly matter-of-fact way, a testimony to our resilience and faith in one another. Maybe we’re not as fragile as we appear.

stormchasers cover

jenna blum’s The Stormchasers

This reminds me of an engaging novel, The Stormchasers, by Jenna Blum. Jenna uses the backdrop of stormchasing to explore the troubled relationship between estranged twins, a brother and sister. They, like all of us, look for meaning in the storms that tear us apart and for family myths, the image of ominous weather fits well. Not only do severe storms devastate families, but family members  generate emotional storms that devastate the others. Yet, even after structures and hearts appear blown and leveled beyond repair, bonds of family and community re-form, strengthen and multiply. It’s true in this novel, just as it began in these current disaster areas, moments after the storms did their worst. People are talking, hugging, stretching tarps and picking through debris. They are devoted, holding together and proving their strength.

Even as I write this, I turn to The Weather Channel to find that even more severe  tornadoes, at least one an EF4, are barreling through Oklahoma, flattening homes, farms, schools and public buildings. Best wishes to and heartfelt prayers for all people (and other creatures) there, for survival. For them and for all who have suffered and will suffer severe storms…may you always find fair warning, hope, open arms and not last or least of all, a fraidy hole.

Beyond these things, there are no more fitting words.


*Find more information on Jenna Blum’s novel, The Stormchasers, here.