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Bemidji Book Festival: Poet Schug credits teacher for influence; Solheim discusses her writing

Beth Solheim tells of the adventures of her heroine, Sadie Witt, the owner of Witt's End Resort in the woods of northern Minnesota at the Cabin Coffee House and Café to an appreciative audience. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

Teachers often say if they only influenced one child during their teaching career, they will have done their job.

Well, Sister Janet, what do you think about that third grader, Larry Schug, whom you told he wrote a good poem? Schug told the gathering at Brigid's Cross Irish Pub and Restaurant that he still sees Sister Janet around the campus at St. Ben's (College of St. Benedict) where he has worked for the past 31 years in the maintenance department. Schug now has the esteemed title of Recycling Coordinator where he rescues spiral notebooks thrown away by students at the end of the semester.

Schug looked around the full house at Brigid's and welcomed the husbands. "It's nice to see guys. I know your wives dragged you down here."

John Herath, who admitted that his wife brought him to the reading, said, "It's the amazing, the talent that's been brought in for this book festival."

Sandra, his wife, echoed his thoughts, "This is really a joy! I appreciate all the talented writers."

Schug has had a lot of experience at various jobs during the past years - grave digger, firefighter, dishwasher and a stint in the army, all of which bring depth to his poems. They are all personal but not necessarily autobiographical.

Schug pays homage to his father in many of the pieces, an alcoholic father who was a barber for most of his life. He went on the wagon and remained sober for the last 20 years or so of his life, but his youngest son also turned to alcohol. Schug's poem, "Barber and Son" tells the poignant tale of their relationship. Schug's brother retrieved the father's barber chair from the basement of the family home, and it now has a place of honor in the living room.

Schug answered a questioner who asked if he is a disciplined writer. "I am a very disciplined writer and write every day."

His job allows him to think about his writings so he is ready to start putting thoughts to paper with the generous contributions of students cleaning out their "stuff," which sometimes even includes eatable items. Schug even wrote a poem about the juicy apples he retrieved from a waste bin, how sweet the juice was as it trickled down his throat.

"Each of us must sing our own song while seeking harmony," Schug said. "There are a lot of ways to deal with your feelings and a lot of them are not very positive. Lucky me!"

Friday night crowd at the Cabin Coffee House and Café is not usually a crowd of book club enthusiasts, but yesterday was an exception. Local author, Beth Solheim, welcomed people from as far away as San Diego--Laurel a young lady who wishes to be a writer and the winner of the door prize, a free copy of "At Witt's End."

"At Witt's End" is the title of Solheim's first installment of what she hopes will be a series of light hearted stories--the Sadie Witt Mystery series set in the north woods of Minnesota. The title of the book is also the name of the resort Sadie and her twin sister, Jane run for the public and also for some "people" for whom Sadie is the conduit for their eventual release into the great beyond. For Sadie is a Death Coach, a burden given to her some 20 years before by whom we have yet to discover. Sadie is 64 years old, wears push-up bras, mini-skirts, spiked hair that gets colored each week at Big Leon's beauty shop, purple painted toe nails and is an unlikely candidate as a death coach. She helps those who have been unable to successfully pass over because of unresolved issues in their life time to realize their death potential.

Sounds sort of out there but Solheim admits that the shows "Ghost Whisperer" and "The Medium" along with her vivid imagination have helped to create her main character, Sadie. Sadie is loosely based upon a patient she worked with years ago named Tilly, who at 80 years liked to order undergarments from "Fredricks of Hollywood." Solheim also admits to like to read Janet Evanovich's novels which are set in Trenton, N.J. and also have an quirky senior, Grandma Maszer who loves to go to funerals.

The audience seemed glad to know that the next book in the series, "Outwitted" is due out in January as is Solheim who is well on her way to being Bemidji's own Agatha Christie. When asked about how she gathers her material, Solheim said she keeps lots of notes and details on real incidents in her life. She gave as an example, the conversation she had with a curious 5 year old at a funeral recently. The child asked who was in the box and will she start to stink before the party would be over?

Another person from San Diego, Sandy, said she came to the reading with her friends. "She (Solheim) is a good story teller and she brings it to life--especially Sadie's spunk."

Sadie's spunk is also well liked down at the Fertile Turtle where she attends weekly dances with the senior citizens--you go girl!