South Shore author has a story for you — actually, 35
For her first assignment with the Bayfield County Journal, Hope McLeod was embedded with the smelters smelting along Lake Superior's south shore. The temps were low that week; there was occasional snowfall.
"Bibbed, polar-fleeced and slickered," she describes herself in a brief introduction to "Smelt on the run," the first story in a newly published collection of some of her favorite feature stories written during a brief, albeit intense, career in newspapers.
Her book "Have I Got a Story For You," self-published in late 2018, contains 35 portraits of sustainable farming, UFO chasing, artist-making and adventuring. The pieces previously ran in the Bayfield County Journal or the Ashland Daily Press, though in some cases they have been edited to include new information about the subject.
Smelting wasn't McLeod's scene, but she credits the week she spent reporting with "opening a whole world of wonder at what other people do with their time," she said in a phone interview. "That's what my whole career was."
The route to journalist
McLeod grew up in Washington, Conn., which she describes as similar in size and scale to Washburn, where she has lived for nearly 30 years. Her mother was an arts columnist for the local newspaper, the New Milford Times.
"There was a giant enclave of creatives in this area," McLeod said. "I went out with her in my preteen years and I would overhear her interviews and meet these great artists. I never took (journalism) seriously, but it penetrated my writing brain."
McLeod, a classically-trained vocalist, instead wrote songs and poetry. She was living in California when she met T. Bruce Bowers in the recording studio. He spent summers as part of Big Top Chautauqua's house band, and it took McLeod one look at Lake Superior to agree to move to Wisconsin.
Her music career ended with health problems that limited the use of her voice. First it was her vocal cords, now it's her lungs.
She shifted to freelance writing and poetry, then was hired as a reporter.
"It was kind of fortuitous," she said. "I was ready to dedicate myself because I was a newbie. I would do crazy things — like cover 30 communities all over Bayfield County."
'Have I got a Story ...'
McLeod left the newspaper biz in 2017 in part because she wasn't making enough money, she said, and one of her post-journalism plans was to collect her work into a book. She had written 749 stories in her career and consulted with friends at Apostle Islands Booksellers — which already carried her poetry — to find out what readers want.
"People want to know about people," McLeod said. "They want to know, yes, about this place, but also about how they respond to this place."
So she cut out all of her event coverage featuring visiting artists.
Then she looked for stories that had amazed or surprised her.
She collected a variety of people and professions and topics: solar energy, artists, Lake Superior, animal-life.
McLeod said she arranged the stories like she would a novel's story arc, opening with setting, building toward conflict, then closing with a resolution.
McLeod's features show a curiosity about people and places that hasn't been dulled by familiarity. The stories are colorful and voice-y, with an occasional enviable pop-up phrase. In a story about rental cottage owners closing up shop, she writes that they are throwing "in the hospitality towel." In another about a couple that lives in an "eagle's nest of a house" overlooking Lake Superior and their successes with alternative energy sources. "They have a lot to shout about from their mountaintop," McLeod wrote.
Next up: Introducing the stories to people outside of her neighborhood.
"I'm proud of my community," she said. "I think (the people) are pretty special and exemplary."
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Title: "Have I Got a Story for You"
Author: Hope McLeod
Where to find it: Apostle Islands Booksellers (Bayfield), Chequamegon Book & Coffee Company (Washburn), Redbery Books (Cable, Wis.), Salmagundi Fair Trade Gifts (Ashland), The Art Dock (Duluth), at hopemcleod.com or by email: email@example.com