Getting to Know Lake Geneva

DSC03349 (640x480)As many of you know, production on the Mailboat suspense series was delayed because it turned into a series instead of a stand-alone. On the one hand, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to release a book in 2015. But on the bright side, stretching out the production process meant I had the chance to squeeze in a second research trip to the story’s real-life setting, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Am I ever glad I did!

I had two goals for my 2015 trip. One was to photograph and/or video as many settings as possible – sometimes in step-by-step detail, as my characters walked through a scene. But perhaps even more importantly, I needed to map out something far less tangible. I needed to get to know the personality of Lake Geneva.

The photography was pretty straight-forward: Find locations and bring a camera. But getting intimate with the character of the community meant becoming more than just a tourist. I needed to get to know the people who lived there.

DSC02264 (480x640)I met Walter during my first research trip while standing in front of his house with a camera, waiting for the Mailboat to come by. We struck up a conversation, and a year later, he and his wife Margaret invited me into their charming getaway. They drew from generations of lake life to flesh out the history of Lake Geneva for me, beyond what I could pick up in texts on the subject. They also showed me how incredibly laid-back life here is … even if you do own a golf cart to get from your house to your pier.

Linda, who had contacted me by email to say how much she was looking forward to the release of the series, met me for coffee in Fontana. We toured the town and saw how much more peaceful and rural it was on the west end of the lake. And she really touched me when she gave me a coffee mug and a book to remember our visit. Coincidentally, it was the same book as the first one I’d ever checked out of a library for research on Lake Geneva. I was thrilled to have a copy for keeps!

Jamie the librarian patiently applied her years of knowledge of the town and surrounding areas to help me find actual locations that resembled settings I needed for the books. She later followed up with me at my blog and went so far as to send me a Thanksgiving card. Awww!

DSC03360 (640x480)I’ve easily spent the majority of my time in the area hanging around the employees of the Lake Geneva Cruise Line, which owns and operates the real-life Mailboat. I’ve never met a more steady-going, even-keeled group of people. Even the teenage summer employees are laid-back – all of which fits hand-in-glove with the strong German heritage of that part of Wisconsin. (Germans: nice, quiet, hard-working, never get excited about anything.)

I follow a number of Facebook pages that have their origin in Lake Geneva (At the Lake Magazine and Reel Life TV are favorites), and I’m frequently reminded by their posts of the strong sense of community there. Yes, the place gets overrun by tourists every weekend. That somehow hasn’t squashed the small-town, help-your-neighbor feel of the place. And from the number of “God bless you’s” I’ve received – without even sneezing – I’d guess most “Geneva-ites” have a strong faith tradition.

I also wanted to find out whether the people from the Geneva area had any speech mannerisms. Yes, they do. Despite the protests of several of my Wisconsin-born friends, there is, in fact, a Wis-caahn-sin ay-ccent. In that part of the state, at least. After just a few days at the lake, I began thinking all my thoughts in Wisconsinish – which I’ll admit drove me crazy.

Despite that, I’m so glad I had the chance to make two separate trips to Lake Geneva before releasing the first book in the series. The lake and the communities around it have captured my heart, and one of my chief hopes is to do the setting justice.

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The Great Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakelands Tour

Hey, guys! Molly the Adventure Dog again. Guess what? My girl finally got her photos organized from her 2015 trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin! You know what that means: Photo journal time!

She had two missions: To attend a writer’s conference in Appleton, Wisconsin, and to sneak in some more location research in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the setting of her upcoming suspense series!

Squeeze in a little visiting with relatives at their lake cabins while she was at it, and she basically ended up lake hopping all the way there and back. In fact, she spent time at four different lakes! (And a pond!)

You may notice sumthin’ funny about these photos: I’M NOT IN THEM!!! Can you believe, she left me home??? She had some lame excuse about not being able to sneak me into the writer’s conference, blah, blah, blah. On the bright side, I got to stay a whole two weeks at Camp Daddy (her daddy, my grandpa), where I demolished every rawhide in sight.

Anyway, enjoy the Great Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakelands Tour!


Stump Lake, Minnesota

Okay, we cheated. These photos from her aunt and uncle’s place on Stump Lake are from last year. This year, it was all rainy and whatnot, so my girl didn’t get any photos.

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Lake Superior, Minnesota and Wisconsin

We’re guessing this may have been the biggest lake she encountered on her trip. … Okay, yeah, it was definitely the biggest.

It was on the way, and my girl had always wanted to see it. She said she was just gonna stop for a few minutes, maybe an hour. Yep. She ended up exploring all over the place for the rest of the afternoon! She loved the maritime feel of the town of Superior, Wisconsin. She might have even started developing a new story …

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The S.S. Meteor – the last of a class of ships known as the Whaleback. It was launched in 1896, and now is a museum in Superior, Wisconsin.

Wanting to get as close to the big, huge lake as possible, my girl discovered this road on a peninsula called Wisconsin Point. Together with Minnesota Point on the north side, they form the great harbor at Duluth, Minnesota. The narrow channel between them is called the Superior Entry.

At last, my girl got to the end of the Point, to the Superior Entry … and THIS was what she saw!

There was all kinds of busted up logs on the shore – and even parts from old, wooden ships! Least ways, that’s what it looked like. (More story ideas!)

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Seagulls on the huge pier forming the Superior Entry

Turtle Pond, Wisconsin

Okay, it’s not a lake. But it’s close. And it had turtles! This pond was in the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton, Wisconsin – the town where my girl’s writers conference was held. See? Even when she’s going to fancy conferences, she winds up in the middle of nowhere!

Turtle Pond, Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve

Turtle of Turtle Pond
Turtle of Turtle Pond

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Finally, Lake Geneva! My girl spent a WHOLE WEEK here, conducting research for her series about the Lake Geneva Mailboat.

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She sure kicked off her week in style! It was the Venetian Festival, complete with lighted boat parade and fireworks!

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The fireboat

My girl couldn’t get over the sound of the fireworks booming over the lake. Hear that rumbling echo? Whoa.

The next morning, my girl was back on the Mailboat! Yaaaaay!

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And why is it called the Mailboat? Well …

Yep. That’s how they deliver the mail! (My girl’s writing a whole series of novels about it!)

And boy, it was really windy that day! (Okay, no where near North Dakota windy – but windy enough to make mail delivery a bit of a challenge!)

Besides the Mailboat, my girl had all kinds of other fun, too – like making a trip to the country club in a late 19th century wooden speed boat! (Thanks for all the fun, Mr. and Mrs. Goes!)

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And walking the Lake Shore Path …

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And exploring the lake …

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With a new friend (hi, Lynda!) …

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And kayaking!

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And least you think it was all fun and games, my girl also has several hundred boring-as-all-get-out reference photos and videos of stuff like … where the bathrooms are in relation to the ice cream shop, and the price of coffee at the Mobil gas station.  She swears she never wants to take another reference photo again. (Though the one of the list of emergency procedures on the Mailboat is pretty cool.)

Finally, it was good-bye to Lake Geneva and on to the last leg of her trip.

Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Her last stop on the Great Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakelands Tour was to see her cousins in Detroit Lakes. Guess what she was doing again!

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They paddled (and jet skied) to a cute, tropical-themed restaurant called The Bridge (it was next to a bridge), and you’ll never guess what they found there. A steel drums band! In Minnesota! (My girl loves steel drums!)

After all that excitement … it sure was nice to see the sun setting over our home state of North Dakota again – even though she didn’t bump into a single lake again. Just endless waves of wind-blown grass.

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Okay, that’s it. We have nothing left to share – for now! Cuz you KNOW we’re gonna keep adventuring. And next time, I INSIST my girl bring me with!