BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times March 21-27, 2007
by Philip K. Jason
After Marian Hersrud had attended a couple of short story workshops given by Hollis Alpert at The Phil some years ago, Alpert prompted her to get to work on a novel. Marian didn’t have a clue about where to begin, but before long she realized that her experiences in Sturgis, South Dakota, the home of an enormous motorcycle rally, would provide her with plenty of local color and plenty of intriguing characters. Her first effort, Sweet Thunder, came out in 2002. Last year, she published Spirits and Black Leather, a sequel to the earlier work, prompted by her own curiosity and by the urging of her readers who wanted to find out more about those quirky characters’ lives.
Marian grew up in Minneapolis, attended Carleton College, and graduated from the University of Minnesota, where she concentrated in English, French, and History. She and her husband were married during World War II, after which they moved to Morry’s tiny home town of Lemmon, South Dakota. Here, Marian raised four children and began her involvement in local and state activities, which included serving on the State Board of Regents and helping to develop and four-year medical school at the University of South Dakota.
When she and her husband moved to Sturgis in 1977, Marian was at first dismayed by the noise and dirt and inconvenience of the motorcycle rally. She did not feel any particular closeness to motorcycle culture. But over time, she became fascinated by it and got to know those who were part of it – a colorful assortment of characters who came from every walk of life and every part of the country. She also experienced the town’s tension between the upheaval of playing host to a major sporting event and the economic benefits that the event brought to the community. Disruption and profit seemed to go hand in hand. And both have grown as the rally swells a very small town to half a million people for the week-long annual event that combines about twelve different competitions.
Marian and her husband have had connections to Naples for about twenty-five years, first as visitors, then as short-term renters, and more recently as homeowners and half-year residents. Soon, they intend to make Naples their year-round home.
After Marian took Hollis Alpert’s advice and started her novel, it took about four years for her to write it and bring it into print through AuthorHouse. Finding it impossible to persuade an agent, and therefore a trade publisher, to take on Sweet Thunder (the fictional name for Sturgis in her first book), she decided to self-publish through the print-on-demand route. This choice made it difficult for her to place her book in bookstores (because print on demand books cannot usually be returned to the publisher), but such obstacles have not blocked Marian from building her readership. She has recognized and accepted the fact that her fictional enterprise fits into a niche market, and she has found ways to reach that market – including signing events at campgrounds and Harley-Davidson outlets. I imagine that the book is available at almost every store in Sturgis!
In both books, the perspective is that of television newspersons covering the event. To get it right, Marian had to seek advice from broadcast professionals. She also had to know about everything from American Indian lore to motorsports clothing to Sturgis area street cleaning and traffic control problems. So, for Marian, research is a necessary preliminary to imaginative writing.
Networking is also important to Marian. She has benefited from being part of the Southwest Florida chapter of the Romance Writers of America and also the International Women’s Writing Guild. She thrives on learning from others and on the mutual support found in a dynamic community of writers.
Spirits and Black Leather was an easier project for several reasons. Because Sweet Thunder began as a collaboration that didn’t work out, that stumbling block was avoided on the sequel. Also, Marian now knew her characters so well that they virtually told her what they were going to say and do. This time out, Marian dealt directly with a printer, Pine Hill Press of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and is very pleased with the resulting product.
Marian’s next two projects are a cookbook and a novel about a Miami crime reporter who moves to Maine. Meet Marian Hersrud and other local writers on April 12 from 6:30 to 8:30pm when they will be signing books at the Coconut Point Barnes & Noble in Estero. Meanwhile, catch up with her at marianmathewshersrud.com.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at email@example.com.