The project launched when Jim read a reprint of a 1930’s article from a western Wisconsin newspaper of a group of loggers who found a petrified body, presumably of a French explorer, entombed inside a huge basswood tree they’d just cut down. Jim was intrigued by this story and began researching logging camp letters, memoirs, articles, and records at the University of Wisconsin where the body was purportedly sent. Who was this man in the tree? What events led him there? Who found him and when? All attempts at finding the answers to these questions met with dead ends. The research into early 20th Century logging however, produced a wealth of colorful figures, stories and events &ellips;which later became the foundation for his book.
With the advent of the internet, Jim was able to resume researching the story more thoroughly and expediently. He quickly found that the account was fabricated by an editor needing another 200 words to fill a newspaper page. However, the time invested seeking evidence of the fictional man in the tree report proved fruitful nonetheless. The old newspaper articles, logging company records, loggers’ memoirs, letters and the transcripts of their interviews were rich in history, exploits and colorful anecdotes. Jim found the information to be interesting and entertaining and thought others might as well. While this book is historical fiction, many of the character names and places within the story were taken directly from the historical documents, and the contemporary global/political events and timelines depicted in the book are historically accurate.
In one of the letters reviewed during the preliminary research, Jim encountered an anecdotal reference to a ‘chickadee’ working in a logging camp, with a brief description of the job. The notion of a boy working in such a dangerous industry, living in primitive conditions among a diverse array of men, in remote areas largely void of law and order, was intriguing.
Jim was unable to find credible first-hand descriptions or autobiographical accounts by former chickadees. This impaired writing a history, and led to the transition of the work becoming a historical novel. The story takes place primarily in the Northwoods of Wisconsin during 1920 and 1921. The narrative entwines the fictional story of an eight year old boy, within that period’s rich historic context. The story meticulously incorporates the history of logging in Wisconsin, as well as the flu pandemic, prohibition, World War I, and post-war American culture, specific to that time and place. The story adheres to the era’s colorful language, rich history, characters and wild-west atmosphere.