Be Careful! Or you will end up in my novel

Throughout the decade I spent writing and rewriting Bear Woman Rising, I was always taken aback when people asked, “Am I in your novel?” I hated seeing their disappointment when I told them, “No.” On the other hand, most of my close friends posed the question differently. They would corner me, lower their voices, and ask, “I’m not in your novel, am I?” So when my brother, who knew me better than most, realized my story would appear in print one day, he gave me a t-shirt with the above inscription, Be Careful! Or you will end up in my novel.   
Given that cautionary inscription, readers do well to ask whether my characters were inspired by real people. I confess, the characters you will meet in Bear Woman Rising are not merely figments of my imagination. Most are inspired by people who not only crossed my path but left an indelible memory along the way. 

In 1967, after the birth of my second child, I visited Planned Parenthood to get affordable birth control pills. There I met a woman, so exhausted from bearing four children in quick succession, she had secured the hem on her skirt with safety pins. That image was so telling, I attribute “the glint of safety pins along her hemline,” to Sal, the desperate mother of four, who Jesse meets in Chapter 1 (Get your free download of Chapter 1 HERE. )

In the early 1970’s, while living in the Arctic, I met a young mother from California who seemed to embody a special lightness of being. Indeed, she transported the sunshine from her state all the way to Barrow to lighten our days. Peggy was a tall willowy blond, who managed to corral two rambunctious boys while never raising her voice. This gave all the mothers in camp pause to reflect on our own overly zealous corralling techniques. Whenever I picture Kara Bjornson in my mind or describe her on the page, Peggy springs to life. 

My favorite teacher at Ulysses S. Grant Elementary School was Mrs. Green. She wore her white hair in a single braid wound around her head like a crown and wrote on my third grade report card, “The students enjoy Dorothy’s original stories.” She may have foreseen my future writing career. So when I created Mrs. Hanson, Jesse’s neighbor in Wisconsin, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to model her after the unforgettable Mrs. Green.

One of the most flamboyant female workers I met during my 22-year government career was a secretary named Kathryn at the US Geological Survey office in Anchorage. She would answer the phone saying, “This is Kathryn” in a voice so imperious, callers may well have thought they’d just reached Buckingham Palace. When I needed a secretary for the Director at the Polar Research Institute, I created Alice in the image of Kathryn. Now every time Alice speaks, I hear Kathryn’s voice. 

The name Jesse was inspired by a cook who worked summers at Red Arrow Lodge, a resort in northern Wisconsin in the 1950’s. She used to spell my name in pancake batter and allowed me to sit in the huge kitchen and talk to her while she worked. Although I was only a kid, I can still recall the good smell of her kitchen. I just realized, when I created Ruth’s kitchen at Whitey’s roadhouse, it’s the one at Red Arrow Lodge I’m remembering.

I have met many more memorable people during my 79 years. If you think you recognize yourself among the characters in Bear Woman Rising, don’t be alarmed. Consider this, you are among the well-remembered.

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