Where a Writer Goes

Some compare a writer’s life to a monk’s: starved, withdrawn from the speaking/smiling world and — like author Annie Dillard — incarcerated in a closet-like room decorated only with a picture she drew of a cow pasture.

I’ve experienced hermit weeks, although starvation doesn’t enter into the equation. Because I can’t draw cows or anything else, I allow myself a window.

I’ve also holed up in libraries, more exciting than most imagine. Take the Notre Dame library, where I did research for a biography of St. Augustine. Entering the skyscraper bearing its gigantic “Christ the Teacher” mural (known to football fans as “Touchdown Jesus”), I dared not speak to anyone, as even janitors appeared to be Fulbright Scholars.

I fought with a computer catalogue, then hunted for an elevator, which I finally rode to the philosophy and religion department on the 14th floor. Encountering a locked door, I rapped on it.


I banged until my fists hurt.

Ditto. I’d spent forty-five minutes for nothing?

A brave aide on the elevator ride down asked if he could help.

“The philosophy and religion department is locked,” I griped.

“Which floor?”


“The philosophy and religion department is on the 13th floor. Father Hesburgh lives on the 14th.”

Taking a break from libraries, I traveled to story settings. Non-writers assume a publisher arranges free, first-class flights to exotic spots with four-star hotels. Instead, halfway to Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, I stayed at my daughter’s. Having been hugged, mugged and slimed by three sweet grandkids, a dog and a cat, I slept on a sofa. Eat your heart out, Karen Kingsbury.

Afterward, I drove to the enormous cave on the Ohio River where, during the early 1800s, enterprising pirates ran a tavern. They lured flatboat pioneers with “Last chance for a hot meal and mug o’ grog before the Mississip, matey!”

“Guests,” however, ended up at the bottom of the Ohio.

Climbing alone around the cave’s mottled walls, I listened to dead voices while the I-don’t-know-nothin’ river flowed past.

Maybe the Notre Dame library wasn’t scary, after all.

Rachael Phillips, Eileen Key, Cynthia Ruchti, and Becky Melby sampled the popular Door County sundaes.

Many of my stories, though, take place in pleasant places:

  • I’ve watched children in Peru, Indiana, defy gravity, homework and other laws of the universe by participating in their annual Youth Circus.
  • I’ve visited all 31 covered bridges in Parke County, Indiana.
  • I’ve ridden in an Amish buggy whose GPS consisted of the horse’s memory.
  • I’ve traveled through Door County, Wisconsin, researching that Martha’s-Vineyard-of-the-Midwest setting, including exactly how many yummy cherries are used in their famous Door County sundaes.

Currently, I’m staying close to home. But not for long, because we writers are a brave, daring breed.

Maybe I should set my next story in Hawaii.


Your Extraordinary Ordinary: If you were (are) a writer, where would you place your story?

6 thoughts on “Where a Writer Goes

    1. rachael

      Hahaha, Angie, I’ll soon have to do extensive research on that subject! Though I haven’t forgotten about Hawaii 🙂

      Writing’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

      Thanks for your comment, and have a blessed day!

  1. Doris Kelly

    Seems like only go to Mackinac for my stories, but have gone farther north to a monastery with a golden dome on Lake Superior, a huge rock shop full of precious minerals, and on a bouncing boat of debatable ‘fun’ to visit a garden of eroded pictured rocks and ended up stuffing my mouth with antacids to keep from barfing all over my husband. And yes, it was my idea to go there and I was so glad we hadn’t had any supper before going on the boat. AND on the Father Hesburgh theme, I too had to visit the ND library for research back in 68. After the trek across the parking lot in 20 below wind chill factor winds I hit the elevator with frozen over glasses and tears dripping down my face. The men waiting at the elevator held the door for me to get in and just before I got off at the elevator at floor 13 my glasses thawed out enough for me to I realize that the guy in the giant red parka next to me was Father Hesburgh. Great memory of a nice man.

    1. rachael

      You certainly get an A in adventure! I’m not good on waves, either. I would rather do rivers, though the ferry ride I took at twilight on the Ohio–near the pirate cave–spooked me almost as much as the cave itself. That free ferry has run for 200 years, but its owner, during my novella’s era, often cooperated with river pirates to target wealthier passengers. Writers are crazy people, you know?

      Wow, you got to see Father Hesburgh up close and personal. Haha, I’m glad I didn’t!

      Thanks for your comment, and happy writing!

    1. rachael

      It was such a fun trip, wasn’t it! Perhaps when we all retire (haha) or write a sequel, we can go back and party–er, work!

      Miss you and would love to see you, whether in Door County or anywhere else. Going to ACFW?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *