n 1980, a troubled young stranger arrives in Prairie Hill, a small Wisconsin city. Jimmy Lathrop would like nothing better than to go about his business washing dishes at the popular local eatery, the Pullet Surprize. A fresh start. No questions asked. Then he begins moonlighting as the feathered mascot of the local minor league baseball team and meets someone who will change his life.
Jenny Diggles bides her time serving the locals at the Pullet Surprize, struggling to come to terms with her lonely, eccentric mother, Lila. Should she chuck it all and marry Lance Kilgore, the ambitious general manager of the Cobb Kernels baseball team? Jenny’s passion for prairies and heirloom plants as well as her deepening friendship with Jimmy Lathrop lead to self-discovery.
With its atmospheric backdrop of threatened tall grass prairie and a soon to be abandoned historic baseball stadium and through its cast of colorful, quirky characters, Prairie Hill explores themes of redemption and love.
Targeted Age Group:
adult and young adult
How is Writing In Your Genre Different from Others?
Although Prairie Hill is realistic contemporary/literary fiction, using my imagination was just as important as if I wrote a Science Fiction or Fantasy novel. Prairie Hill is not strictly a romance novel but a romance is central to its story. It is not a sports novel, but features a vintage baseball stadium as part of its backdrop. It is not a mystery novel but there is a mystery connected to one of its protagonists. Contemporary/literary fiction may contain important elements of other more specific genres.
What Advice Would You Give Aspiring Writers?
Read for pleasure and read as a writer. I’ve learned so much from reading widely, discovering what I like, what I don’t like, figuring out what works, what doesn’t work. and why.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing in notebooks (and on the computer). I have a long-time diary/journal which serves many purposes, but especially as a way of learning how to write. The journal helps me capture the life around me, gives me the opportunity to think about and ponder people, play with dialogue, experiment with description, tell the story of a given day or event. I also have more topical notebooks – dreams, memories, and “people,” and I carry a pocket notebook wherever I go. That concentrated, but informal writing – not intended for publication – resembles sketches for a painter, practice for a musician, rehearsal for an actor. It all pays off by making you a much better writer. Each writer, though, must find his or her own path and best methods.
I was born into a family of readers and I gobbled up books from an early age. My father Basil Burwell loved wordplay and storytelling and published novels and poetry. I grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and remember trailing after my parents through the nooks and crannies of second hand bookstores and the crowded booths of flea markets in search of paper treasure. I became interested in writing when I was ten years old, started keeping a diary that I still write, and began creating my own tales. After college in Vermont and Wisconsin, I followed my interest in editing and served as Associate Editor and Editor-in-Chief of the Beloit Fiction Journal and as publisher and editor of Acorn Whistle magazine. I’ve published short fiction and non-fiction on a variety of topics, including baseball, rock ‘n’ roll and American history. I live with my wife and son in Beloit, Wisconsin. Prairie Hill is my first novel.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My novel, Prairie Hill, has its origins in a short story first published in Fan, a baseball literary magazine, in 1992. After publishing “Jimmy Lathrop,” I kept thinking about the central character and I began to take notes about his life, sketching out a character study, meeting his family members, exploring his world. A few years later I passed through a quiet, dusty small town in Wisconsin. Looking out the window, I spotted a forlorn-looking black and white Holstein cow, waving to passersby, inviting them to stop at a local inn for the “best burgers in town.” The image stayed with me and, in time, came together with the mysterious Jimmy Lathrop, only he wore a chicken costume instead…