She was always the shy, bookish girl; the one who refused to sing aloud in the school choir, who stayed up late reading beneath the nightlight. Throughout much of her 40-year career in high tech, developing some of the first websites in Minnesota, she often sat quietly in meetings, avoiding public speaking as much as possible. Oh, and she hates the winter. But this year’s Deep Valley Book Festival headliner, Cindy Wilson, is full of surprises.
Now, this tropic loving lady makes her living as a public speaker, has written her own award-winning book, and The Beautiful Snow explores one of the harshest winters on record.
Wilson’s work is all about nuance, contradiction, and curiosity.
The Beautiful Snow
Wilson’s book takes a historical look at the Ingalls family, the local railroads, and the hard winter of 1880-81 as found through the newspaper record. Like many Minnesotans, Wilson became familiar with the Laura Ingalls Wilder series at a young age.
“When you meet Wilder people, they typically [remember] the same thing: third grade. I don’t remember reading the Little House books, but I was in the school library and picked up On the Banks of Plum Creek because the cover appealed to me. Laura, barefoot, running on top of the dugout house. I put the book in my school desk and all afternoon I would lift my desk to look at the cover inside. I couldn’t wait to get home and read it.”
Throughout her youth and into adulthood, reading and writing was always a part of Wilson’s life.
You’ve got to love what you’re doing and be passionate. When you’re having fun, you could spend a week on one paragraph, still not like it, and still have the passion to keep working at it.Cindy Wilson
“It’s always been in the background,” said Wilson. “Throughout elementary school and high school, I had teachers encouraging me to pursue creative writing.”
Wilson moved from working in tech to 12 years working in communications for a large church in the metro. Over that time, she helped others with their books, proofreading and editing.
“I had a book club in Elysian,” said Wilson. “I assigned The Long Winter and we read it in October. I timed it so that we’d be starting to read as the book began. Months later in May I told the club, the trains are just now coming through!”
Initially she began her research to satisfy the curiosity of the book club, but it quickly grew into a much larger project. Wilson realized she was, at long last, writing her own book.
“I knew as part of being in the book club that people would be asking questions about how the winter really was, and that’s why I really started digging into archives. I would find hyperbole and nostalgia, but no real accounts.”
That’s when Wilson started digging into the newspaper archives.
“I could go into newspaper articles week by week and see how it really was before the nostalgia sets in and all the accounts turn into the walking-uphill-both-ways stories. I spent weeks harvesting about three thousand articles about the winter. It got to the point I had to narrow down topics. Diphtheria was a big topic, and I didn’t even touch on it, there was so much material.”
The Beautiful Snow covers regional history, railroad history, and the real history of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Wilson’s work started organically, not with a goal to write a best seller, but with the simple aim to satisfy her curiosity. This fueled her to spend grueling hours diving deep into research. She believes passion is the key to completing such a large undertaking.
“It’s critically important,” said Wilson. “You’ve got to love what you’re doing and be passionate. When you’re having fun, you could spend a week on one paragraph, still not like it, and still have the passion to keep working at it.”
At the same time, she stresses the importance of taking it all with a grain of salt and not allowing ego to get in the way of the work.
Your book is not you. Hold praise and criticism loosely. You have to love your work; it has to meet your own criteria. And when you work like that, the right people will find you.Cindy Wilson
“Your book is not you. Hold praise and criticism loosely. You have to love your work; it has to meet your own criteria. And when you work like that, the right people will find you.”
As the work progressed, Wilson began exploring publishing options.
“I happened to find a publisher who was very interested in the topic,” said Wilson, who’d attended a book festival and gone table to table until she met someone with whom she really clicked. Wilson says the relationship was vital to making the publishing process possible and enjoyable.
“She [Angela Wiechmann of A.M.W. Editing] and I just clicked, and she was an editor for this publishing company,” said Wilson. “She became my main editor and acted as a project manager. I had the privilege to work directly with her.”
Wilson stresses the importance of connection and collaboration when taking on such a large project.
“Your relationship with the people you’ll work with is critical. The group, we called ourselves, Team Snow, clicked so well. It made the process a joy!”
After getting her book published, Wilson tracked down one of her high school teachers to let her know her encouragement and nurturing had come to fruition. Now, as the headliner for the Deep Valley Book Festival, Wilson wants to encourage other readers and writers to use this as an opportunity to connect.
“These festivals are a great way to meet people,” said Wilson. “Go with where it feels good relationship wise, and it makes the process easy.”
The 2022 Deep Valley Book Festival Cabin Fever Edition will take place Saturday, March 5, from 9am to 5pm. This year’s festival is entirely virtual over Zoom and completely FREE to attend. The festival will include prize drawings, panels, speakers, and a final drawing for the DVBF Friendship Bag, filled with autographed books donated by Cabin Fever authors, and more!
“It’s my first exposure to the Book Festival. Julie [Schrader, DVBF founder and also a MankatoLIFE contributor] asked me if I’d be interested, and I said sure!” said Wilson. “This is the second time I’ve had a chance to speak more to the literary side than the history side, so I’m excited for that.”
To people who want to write, go for it. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first novel until her 60s. I’m in my 50s.Cindy Wilson
The Beautiful Snow is all about how Wilder transformed her harsh reality into an incredible narrative. While Wilson dispels some misinformation presented in the novel, she isn’t out to shatter anyone’s view of the iconic book. She balances the fine line between respecting the creative choices Wilder made while exploring the literal history of the time. Due to the creative nature, and the way creative writing and nostalgia can work, the sentiment does not always align with real events. Yet despite some leaps, Wilson still sees the sentimental absolute truths.
“It’s interesting to look at how Wilder took her memories and history and turned it into a story. How to take 6 months of cold and hunger and turn it into something people want to read. And it’s long, with a near perfect story arch. For many, including me, it’s the favorite book in the series, despite how bleak and terrible it can be.”
By exploring the convergence of history, fiction, and creativity, Wilson hopes to encourage fellow writers to get comfortable with the complicated and learn some craft along with way. Fans of the Wilder series, history, and those interested in learning more about the writing process should not miss this insightful speaker.
“To people who want to write, go for it. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first novel until her 60s. I’m in my 50s. You’re never too old, too young. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Just go for it.”