A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Fifteen years ago I moved from the country to Saint Paul, Minnesota. Once there, I found I had trouble writing. I felt an awareness of the city, an awareness of life outside my door. While I wrote several books in Saint Paul, I never felt connected to the stories in the way I’d felt connected when living in the country.
I began looking for a workspace outside the metro area. Maybe just a small cabin within driving distance of town. An online search of cabin property in Wisconsin turned up a prairie-style church for sale. I contacted the listing agent and scheduled cabin showings, mentioning offhand that the church looked interesting. Not wanting to waste the agent’s time, I initially declined his invitation to take me inside the ancient structure. But I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of living in a converted space, and once I stepped inside the church I no longer cared to see any of the cabins. I’d found what I was looking for. The church was the most wonderful writing space that could ever exist. The high ceilings open up my mind, and the serenity allows total immersion into my projects. Tall, arched windows, three on each side, let in light from the north and south, and a climb up two narrow ladders to the bell tower affords a spectacular view of Wisconsin farmland, lakes, streams, and rolling hills.
The history of the building fascinated me as much as the space itself. The church, built well over a century ago by a man named John Perley, had once perched on the edge of a town in northwestern Wisconsin that burned down in the late 1800s.
Online searches revealed more about the man behind the town and church. He was described as “large-hearted and kind.” Perley gave generously to hospitals, often anonymously, and he helped educate several young men. Of him it was said, “No man in the great Northwest more deserved success and none has left a more honorable record.”
Mr. Perley also cultivated the lilacs that still bloom madly at the front door of the church. In the backyard is an aging apple tree of unknown variety, likely planted by John Perley.
While the generous Mr. Perley was successful in many ways, his personal life was challenged by the delicate health of his beloved wife and son. At one point Mr. Perley took the two to California in hopes of improving their health. Unfortunately, it was not to be. “To them was born one son, John Edwards, and when he died the light of life and joy went out for his parents.” Mr. Perley passed away in Wisconsin in 1903, his body taken to California for burial at the side of his son.
There’s an old English proverb that says, “He who plants a tree loves others besides himself.” I believe that about Mr. Perley. His life and the lasting evidence of his horticultural work—those beautiful lilacs and the apple tree—connect me to the past, and have given me a respect for a man I never knew.
Writing is a solitary profession. Some people feel the need to write in public spaces, but I need solitude to find the center, to find the heart and soul of a story. Give me the peace and serenity of a Wisconsin prairie church, and the sweet scent of Perley lilacs just outside my door.
Anne Frasier is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Body Reader, published by Thomas & Mercer (June 2016). Her award-winning books span the genres of suspense, mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, paranormal, and memoir. She won a RITA for romantic suspense, and the Daphne du Maurier Award for paranormal romance. Her thrillers have hit the USA Today list and have been featured in Mystery Guild, Literary Guild, and Book of the Month Club. Her memoir, The Orchard, was an O, The Oprah Magazine Fall Pick; a One Book, One Community read; a B+ review in Entertainment Weekly; and a Librarians’ Best Books of 2011. She divides her time between the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and her writing studio in rural Wisconsin.
The Body Reader by Anne Frasier: Thomas&Mercer, ISBN 1503935205