Tale of a one-room schoolhouse screams to be told

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. Even before I got my own computer, this boy with a love for country living was creating stories in some form or fashion. For the last eight years, writing books has consumed much of my world (along with one really wonderful play, which I’ll talk about at a later time).

However, I recently took on a new role—that of an editor. I’ve been an editor at several newspapers, looking over copy, cleaning it up, making sure it’s free of typos, but those are items that take a few minutes to look over. Editing and proofreading someone else’s novel takes considerably more time.

No, I haven’t switched day jobs—although I must say I wouldn’t be averse to proofreading and editing books as a job. However, when you see a story with real potential, it can be quite intoxicating, and you want to do whatever you can to make sure it’s available for everyone to see. I experience it all the time with my books, but this time it was with someone else’s vision.

I’ve been a member of the Shawano Area Writers for the last five years, serving as president since 2014. During that time, one of the highlights of our monthly meetings for more than two years were the tidbits shared by a retired schoolteacher. Barbara King—Barb to those of us in the group—would read an excerpt from her Tug Lake Tales, and she would have the dozen or so writers in attendance enraptured.

Barb King head shot
Barb King has come out with her first novel, Tug Lake Tales (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

Tug Lake Tales is set in a one-room schoolhouse in northern Wisconsin in the 1950s. Barb’s main character is a 6-year-old girl named Jean who is going to school for the first time. There was no such thing as kindergarten then, much less all-day kindergarten or 4-year-old kindergarten. Schools were closer to home, and instead of separate classrooms for separate grades, you had all the kids in one classroom.

Throughout Barb’s book, she addresses many of the same situations we see children dealing with today—falling behind in learning, participating in a spelling bee, dealing with bullies. However, there are also issues children dealt with back then that we don’t see today, like one student gets polio, and the school holds a duck and cover drill where students had to hide under their desks because of the fears generated during the Cold War of an attack by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

There are also a few things that happened then that would freak out our overly paranoid society. The new teacher puts up a wooden paddle etched with the words “BOARD OF EDUCATION,” signaling the difference between the age when teachers were allowed more discretion to do their jobs and the current attitude that teachers don’t know what they’re doing. There were also a number of incidents where students were injured, including one student breaking her arm after improperly operating a swing and a Christmas tree falling on another student, but whereas those incidents were seen as part of life 60 years ago, today they’d be the impetus for lawsuits.

It was fun to edit Tug Lake Tales, because although Barb had read snippets to the Shawano Area Writers, I wasn’t always able to keep track of how they all came together. Once I was able to read the whole story, I knew it was sad that the book had not been published ages ago. Then I remembered the fact that it wasn’t until 32 that I published my first book, and that it takes a lot of work and rewriting and agonizing before you get something into print—at least that’s the case if you’ve written something decent.

I was amazed by how involved I got with editing. I would sit down to start proofreading, thinking I’d get through two or three chapters at a time, but then I’d look up and see several hours had passed, and I was on chapter 12. It just goes to show that if the story is interesting enough, it will hold your attention and refuse to let go.

Tug Lake Tales front cover
Tug Lake Tales is set in a one-room schoolhouse in northern Wisconsin in the 1950s. (Cover by Lee Pulaski)

Besides helping to make sure the story was edited properly, I was also tasked with coming up with the cover for her book. I’ve come up with more than a dozen covers for my own books. Some were easy to develop, with the first design withstanding the test of time as I was writing the book. Others, I’ve struggled with, redesigning constantly and praying I could stumble across the golden design. With Barb’s cover, it was a piece of cake, and it was nice creating a visual symbol of someone else’s vision.

Tug Lake Tales is a unique story in this day and age, where suspense, violence and sex often drive our entertainment. With Tug Lake Tales, you get to see a fictionalized tale of a certain point in history, and it’s shown through the eyes of a child. It’s something that’s suitable for any age, and it’s something than even younger readers can get into. I haven’t been this excited about someone else’s book for a long time, so if you’re looking for a quiet escape, this book is definitely for you.

Tug Lake Tales is available in paperback on Amazon.

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