Local author pens first novel, 'Eleven Miles to Oshkosh'
Jim Guhl, a 30-year Hudson resident, will soon visit the River Falls Public Library to talk about his writing, particularly his newly-published novel: "Eleven Miles to Oshkosh."
"Eleven Miles to Oshkosh" is a coming of age book, telling the story of Del "Minnow" Finwick, a 15-year-old boy growing up in Neenah, Wisconsin in the 1970s.
"The vast majority of the book is set in the Fox Valley region," Guhl said.
Called "Minnow" because he's the smallest kid in his grade, Finwick is an easy target for bullies. Things get worse, Guhl said, when Finwick's father is murdered on Highway 41 by the Highway 41 killer.
Finwick works to solve the crime with the help of his grandfather and a ragtag group of friends and allies including a teacher and a new student.
Guhl said he set the story in Neenah because that is where he grew up.
He remembers what it was like to grow up in Neenah, and to attend the same high school his main character attends.
"I then didn't have to do much research, I relied heavily on my own experience and memories," Guhl said.
His memory may have provided the setting, but Guhl said, the plot of the story and the characters are fictional.
"Eleven Miles to Oshkosh" is the first novel Guhl has completed.
"I started and stopped four or five others, and learned a lot by failing on the first few attempts," he said. "I would say I learned that the voice of the narrator is critically important."
Guhl said he made an effort to provide an interesting 15-year-old voice for Finwick, who occasionally addresses the reader, inspired by Mark Twain's use of the same technique in "Huckleberry Finn."
Guhl said he also worked on keeping a good pace to the story. He said he was inspired by Ernest Hemingway to keep his book concise.
"Making sure I don't use three words where one word can do," he said.
"Eleven Miles to Oshkosh" was officially published on Oct. 2. Guhl said it took him three years to write and publish the book.
"It was a great feeling," Guhl said of getting to hold a printed copy of his book. "I received the first preliminary copy in August and I immediately read it again."
Guhl said it took him a year to complete the first draft, then another year working with members of a Hudson writers group to "scrub it clean" and polish up the draft.
Once he felt it was ready, Guhl began to look for publishers. His book was published by University of Wisconsin Press.
He said all the time and effort was "absolutely" worth it.
"It's been very fulfilling," he said.
Not only was the process fulfilling, but receiving feedback from readers has been fun.
Guhl said he feels two groups will be interested in his book: young readers not far from the protagonist's age, and people who grew up in the 60s and 70s, for whom the book might bring up memories.
Guhl worked in engineering. Ten years ago, when he was still working, he saw an ad in the Hudson Star-Observer for a writer's group. He joined, and started writing short stories; thus he improved his writing and his confidence, eventually winning two Jade Ring Short Story contest prizes.
Guhl said he would advise other aspiring writers to take as much time as they need.
"Do not rush to the finish line," Guhl said. "That means getting it edited, extensively, by critiquers."
Guhl will be speaking at the River Falls Public Library Thursday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m.