Strange but True: Tales from Authors with Patricia Ricketts

Strange but True: Tales from Authors . . . Here's where we'll learn the weirdest or possibly the most ambitious thing authors have done or learned for their writing. As an author I know that we often come across incredibly odd facts in our research, and sometimes, we endeavor to learn things firsthand, so we can describe it better in our stories. Has an author gained a new skill, traveled somewhere dangerous/exotic, tried a crazy sport? Inquiring minds want to know. 

Today I am pleased to welcome the wonderfully talented Patricia Ricketts with her own strange but true author story . . .

Finding Mishigami - By Patricia Ricketts

Swimming in Lake Michigan’s chilly waters has thrilled me ever since I was a little girl growing up in Evanston, Illinois. Immersing myself inside its grand expanse would couple me with our cosmos, connecting me to its four elements—water, earth, fire, and air—as a new coming denizen of this water-cradled, soil-nourished, sun-warmed, oxygen-enriched planet. And I fell in love. Which continues to this day. I go to its shores collecting beach glass, walking my steps, and swimming my wild-water laps.

I suppose it’s because of this great love that I created Mishigami—the Ojibwe name for ‘Great Water’—and made this Great Lake one of three narrators in my novel, Speed of Dark. I already knew much about it: its rising and falling water levels, its unexpected and treacherous riptides, its freshwater resource for millions of plants, animals and humans, its recreational and meditative benefits, but also, unfortunately, its many ecological abuses perpetrated by the unintentional consequence of modern progress. However, in creating Mishigami as a character in  my book, I wanted realism to shake hands with magical realism. So I began to research. First came geographical research, which drove my husband Peter and me for many miles along its shores.

Traveling to all four of its border states over a three-year period, we hiked up Indiana’s steep dunes, studied Illinois State Park’s tallgrass prairie Juniper bushes, even tasting its berries [which are used in making gin], sat on  Door County’s Niagara escarpment and looked out over its Green Bay, watched a Ludington, Michigan ferry depart from its dock as it shrank into a red sunset. We swam in its waters and drank in the glory of its ever-changing moods from either side of its grand body.

But I also began to do virtual research, which exposed much of Mishigami’s information. In its present form, it is only 14,000 years old, shaped by the freezing and thawing of glaciers through various ice ages. At its widest, it is 118 miles across and measures 307 miles from top to bottom. It carves out more than 1,600 miles of sometimes bland, sometimes breathtaking, shoreline. It is 925 feet deep at its deepest but averages 279 feet deep. I found out that Lake Michigan is the most dangerous of the five Great Lakes, accounting for 70% of the tragic incidents that occur in these bodies of water. I also discovered that the Great Lakes account for 20% of the planet’s fresh water. Twenty percent!

Precious and grand.

And, yes, large enough to hold secrets concerning people, vehicles and animals from recent and distant pasts. So, I continued my research. When archeologists were looking for shipwrecks, they found them; however, deep in the lake’s waters, they also discovered a large rock with ancient carvings of a mastodon—an extinct animal that used to roam its shores over ten thousand years ago. They also found a collection of boulders, arranged in a Stonehenge-like manner, suggesting that people here were something akin to the Druids of ancient England. However, not all secrets can be uncovered. Or found. For inside the lake—somewhere—lies the fuselage of a downed DC-4, Northwest Orient’s flight #2501, and all of its passengers, which occurred in 1950. Still not found.

Now I was hooked, besides being in love.

I discovered information about the infamous USS Eastland disaster in 1915, which would claim the lives of 844 people, 22 whole families among the dead, which occurred on the Chicago River near where it empties into Lake Michigan. The cause of this unnecessary tragedy of the Eastland was blamed on its top-heavy design and a newly-added lifeboats—required as a result of the sinking of the Titanic just three years earlier.

So, my Mishigami, my ‘Great Water,’ speaks. Outraged at times. Explosive in moments. And amorous. Yes, amorous.  I’ll get to that in a bit. While he is erudite, he is rich in ancient wisdom and speaks a little French gleaned from the trappers and traders who traversed his waters four hundred years ago. But, yes, he is in love with Mary Em Phillips, the second of three narrators in my novel, Speed of Dark, who has her own past to redeem. He calls her his ‘Nibiinabe’ which is the Ojibwe name for ‘Spirit of the Water.’ Because, you see, he hopes she will become his champion who saves him from twentieth-century developers and water treatment plant owners who are harming his life-sustaining purity.

It's been a wonderful journey, this trek into websites and beaches.

Knowing so much more about Lake Michigan—my Mishigami—has endeared it to me. As I swim in its waters, walk by its side or meditate from its beaches, I hold within me information of its birth, its secrets, its early inhabitants, its many precious uses and, perhaps best, its beautiful crystal islands as the sun sparkles on its waves.

Yes, certainly, a ‘Great Water.’

About Patricia

A former AP English and Composition teacher, Trisha has been writing essays, short stories, poems, and novels for most of her life. Beyond the written word, she has had a lifelong love of music, the visual arts, and healthy arguing garnered from my extroverted family of origin and hopes these loves will continue on in her three children and seven grands.

After receiving a scholarship from the University of Edinburgh in Creative Writing in 2010 at the end of her teaching career, her passion for writing escalated. Since then, she's had short stories published in New Directions, The Slate, Meta, Realize and The Blue Hour magazines. She placed third in prestigious Pulse magazine’s literary contest in Door County, WI. Her novel, The Speed of Dark, was published in 2022 (see more below.) She's currently working on The First of June, due out in 2025.

On her website HERE, you can see her collaboration with her husband Peter Hurley, artist, photojournalist and muralist, where she combines visual arts and the written word. You can also follow her writing adventures on Facebook. 

About The Speed of Dark

Mary Em Phillips has decided to end it all after losing her beloved Mamie, who raised her; her husband, Jack, who has left her for another woman; and her only son, Petey, who has died as a result of a freak bacterial infection. But when Mosely Albright, a black man from Chicago’s South Side, comes to her back door one morning only needing a drink of water and directions back to the train, her plans are derailed . . . much to the chagrin of Mishigami (Lake Michigan’s Ojibwe name), who has been trying to lure Mary Em into his icy depths in the hopes that she will save him.

This story of friendship, survival, connection and the unquestioning power of nature is told through these three voices. Speed of Dark affirms a love of humanity that transcends all else.


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