Category Archives: Lost on the Prairie

My Book Has A Cover

My novel Lost on the Prairie has a cover.

It was created by a talented graphic designer named Jacqui Thomas who has worked for my publisher Heritage House since 2006. I had a delightful chat over the phone with Jacqui yesterday to find out how she developed the idea for the cover. She said she had started out by reading my book and then doing a number of sketches. The final cover is based on one of the first sketches she did.

Jacqui decided to include the grain and grain elevator since they are recognizable prairie symbols. Many scenes in the novel take place on trains so she chose to feature a train track running prominently through the center of the cover.

She wanted Peter, the main character, to appear small since he will have felt very small when he was alone and lost on the vast prairie.

Jacqui gave the cover a wood-cut sort of feel as a way to allude to the fact that the story takes place over a hundred years ago. Jacqui played around with different color palettes for the cover, but she and the other members of the production team at Heritage House felt the green hues conveyed just the right mood and tone for the book. When choosing the font Jacqui said she was looking for something with a human element to it, as well as a slightly modern feel, to appeal to the target audience.

Jacqui told me the storyline of Lost on the Prairie pulled her right in and she really enjoyed reading the book so that made her task of designing the cover easier. She thinks the novel will appeal to kids because it is not only an adventure story but also a survival story and explores a very real fear that many children have of getting lost. I was thrilled when she said she plans to buy copies for several young people she knows.

I thanked Jacqui for designing such a beautiful cover for my book. She was so glad I liked it. Some authors can be quite critical of the covers a book designer creates. Jacqui understands that an author’s precious manuscript is almost like a child to them and they aren’t always open to the vision others might have for representing their book. Jacqui’s work can be challenging when the author and the publisher don’t agree on what the cover should look like. Happily, that was not the case with my cover.

I asked Jacqui to point out some other books on the Heritage House website whose covers she had designed and there were quite a few. Two I found particularly clever and engaging were her covers for a book about the history of the Canadian Pacific Railroad by David Laurence Jones called Railway Nation and another for a humorous Survival Guide to British Columbia written by Ian Ferguson. I’ve provided links so you check out both of those creative covers.

After we had chatted about book covers I asked Jacqui to tell me a little bit about herself.

Jacqui has a degree in sociology and initially had careers in the hotel industry and as a support worker for people with special needs. At age thirty she decided to pursue what she loved most and pivoted to a career in the arts as a graphic designer.

Jacqui Thomas who designed the cover of my book with her dog named after famous Mexican artist Frieda Kahlo.

Jacqui lives in Vancouver and a year and a half ago started a sketch club. She and her artistic friends go to different places in Vancouver and sketch the cityscape. During the pandemic, they have been sharing their work with one another via a private blog. Jacqui also paints watercolors.

Jacqui has a husband, a teenage son and a dog named Frieda Kahlo. Frieda is a rescue dog from the streets of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.  Jacqui is also a cyclist. She told me that sometimes when she is stuck and can’t think of an idea for a design assignment she goes for a long bike ride and that provides her with the creative energy she needs for artistic inspiration.

I also found out that tea is her beverage of choice because she was enjoying a cup during our conversation. I asked her so many questions I was worried her tea would get cold while she was answering them.

Jacqui told me she will also be doing the layout and design work for my book.

How lucky I am to have Jacqui as part of the Heritage House team that is working behind the scenes to bring my novel Lost on the Prairie to bookshelves everywhere this coming spring.

Other posts…………..

A Elevator Pitch For My Novel

Mark Twain is a Character in My Novel

Food in Lost on the Prairie


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A Meal From My Book

A couple of years ago for our annual Christmas party, the members of my writers’ group decided we should all bring something to contribute to our potluck that was related to a book or story we had written. I used a passage from my novel Lost on the Prairie which is coming out in spring with Heritage House publishers to inspire my food contribution.

I chose a scene from early on in the book where my hero Peter is leaving on a long train trip from Kansas to Saskatchewan. He is riding in a train car with the family horses. As his parents say good-bye to him at the train station, his Mom gives him some food she has prepared.

Mama hands me an old sugar sack that smells of spicy pickles, smoked sausage, buttered bread and her dried cinnamon apples. Then she hugs me and her arms squish the air out of my lungs clear to my ribs. Two hot tears slip across her cheeks and slide down my neck.  I can tell Mama wants to say something. She gnaws her lips and opens them so wide I can see all of her teeth right to the back of her mouth, but only short gasps come up from her throat. Papa shakes my hand strong and steady and then he puts his arm around Mama’s shoulders and leads her away.

My contribution to the potluck- bread, sausage, pickles and dried apples. I had printed up the section from my novel it refers to and propped it up behind my four items.

I prepared the four items in Peter’s lunch and brought them to our party. In the teachers guide for my novel I might suggest bringing some of these foods into the classroom for a tasting party after finishing the first chapter of Lost on the Prairie.

Other recent posts about Lost on the Prairie

Hugo Bartel’s Puzzles

Mark Twain is a Character in My Novel

Thanks Aunt Alma

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Book Jam

I am going to be part of a Manitoba Book Jam tonight. Hosted by Anita Daher the Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada the event highlights our province’s authors. Tonight the Manitoba Book Jam features members of my writers’ group and we will each be promoting one of our books. I am going to be talking about my novel Lost on the Prairie which comes out in the spring of 2021 with Heritage House.

Each author appearing tonight will have five minutes to introduce one of their books and do a reading from it. It was hard to choose which scene from my book to read but I think I’ve finally settled on one. The theme of the evening is kindness so we will focus on the way that theme plays out in our novels and picture books. Special music guest violinist Alan Palmer will provide some beautiful half time music during the book jam.

The show will be available on Zoom. You can find a link to register for the Zoom session here. McNally Robinson Booksellers has donated a gift certificate and there will be a draw for a winner from all the Zoom registrants. The book jam will also be live-streamed on Facebook.

This is the first of what I hope will many public events to promote my book. It’s exciting.

To see other posts about my novel click on the link below………

Lost on the Prairie

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Hugo Bartel’s Puzzles

In my novel Lost on the Praire which is coming out in the spring of 2021 my main character Peter, is riding in a boxcar with his family’s two horses on their immigration journey to Canada.  To pass the time he plays with a puzzle made by his Grandpa Hugo.  It is a puzzle made from nails and he is trying to untangle it.  Later the problem-solving skills he practices while doing the puzzle will come in handy when Peter needs to figure out how to open a locked door. 

Hugo Bartel – photo from the Mennonite Heritage Archives

I got the ideas for Peter’s grandfather’s name and having Peter play with a nail puzzle from the visits I made to the home of Hugo Bartel when I was a child.  Hugo designed and fashioned all kinds of interesting puzzles and let us play with them.  Hugo, a widower, lived with his daughter Mildred Schroeder, her husband Dave and their children. Mildred was my Mom’s best friend and so we made frequent visits to their house in Winnipeg.

Hugo Bartel in his bookbinding shop- photo from the Mennonite Heritage Archives

Hugo was a bookbinder by trade and had a workshop on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University where he repaired old books.

Hugo Bartel – photo courtesy of Dorothy Sugimoto

In this photo, he poses with a hundred-year-old Bible that he repaired.  Besides restoring books, Hugo had lots of hobbies and creating wire and nail puzzles was just one of them. He also made puzzles out of wood.

Some of the wire puzzles Hugo Bartel made- photo courtesy of his granddaughter Dorothy Sugimoto

I did a little research and the kind of nail and wire puzzles Hugo made are called disentanglement puzzles because you have to disentangle them or take them apart. They originally have roots in Asia and Europe but came to Canada when people immigrated here and were also known as patience puzzles.  

In my novel, Grandpa Hugo slips a puzzle into his grandson Peter’s pocket when they are saying good-bye.  Grandpa Hugo will remain in Newton Kansas while his grandson Peter and his family immigrate to Drake, Saskatchewan.

 Nail and wire puzzles remain popular today and you can buy entire sets of them.  

I am going to start writing the teacher’s guide for my novel after Christmas and will suggest that teachers have their students try to make or solving nail puzzles like the one Peter has in the novel.  

So many little details in my novel relate back to memories I have from childhood and Hugo Bartel’s puzzles are one of those memories. 

A big thank you to my honorary aunt Mildred Schroeder who provided me with information about her Dad’s puzzle making and to her daughter Dorothy who sent photos of her grandfather and the puzzles he made.  

Other posts………

Auntie Millie

Thanks, Great Aunt Alma

My Novel’s Elevator Pitch


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Mark Twain is a Character In My Novel

“Have you met Mark Twain?” a student asked when I showed a high school English class of mine the photo below.  No doubt meeting the great author in person would have been an interesting experience but this photo was taken in Hannibal Missouri more than a hundred years after Mark Twain died in 1910. Although I didn’t meet Mark Twain in person the main character in my upcoming novel Lost on the Prairie does. 

The man I’m posing with is actor Richard Garey. I attended his one-man show about Mark Twain. Standing on a stage crammed with Twain memorabilia, Richard did a lively and educational re-creation of one of Mark Twain’s lectures. Mark Twain travelled across the United States entertaining crowds of people in the late 1800s.  

In my novel Lost on the Prairie, coming out this spring, my hero Peter meets Mark Twain in an elevator in a hotel in Minneapolis. It is 1907 just three years before the writer’s death. Of course, I have no idea if Mark Twain was in Minneapolis that year. He certainly wasn’t there on an official visit to promote his books, because those visits are all a matter of public record.

The West Hotel in Minneapolis in 1896. Mark Twain stayed here on his visits to Minneapolis.

But he had been in Minneapolis quite a few times and had always stayed at the West Hotel which is where he meets my book’s hero Peter. So it was possible for me to imagine that he may have made a personal trip to Minneapolis in 1907.

When I attended the Mark Twain drama performance in Hannibal I learned lots of interesting things about the author. He was born and died in years when Halley’s Comet passed by the earth. Due to his wife Olivia’s influence, he became a slavery abolitionist. Twain was a pipe smoker and loved cats. He was a poor financier and lost a great deal of money investing in various inventions. I knew Mark Twain was a pseudonym for Samuel Clemens but I found out Twain used another pseudonym as well Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. 

Mark Twain -Photo by A.F. Bradley from Wikipedia

For the purposes of my novel, I needed to learn about Mark Twain’s family life and it was very tragic. In 1907 when my novel takes place he was struggling with the deaths and illnesses of his wife and three daughters and was dealing with it by drinking too much.

Meeting Mark Twain causes my novel’s character Peter to reflect on how life circumstances can change a person. Peter thinks about how his experience of being lost on the prairie has changed him.

Other posts………

A Novel for Peter

Enola Holmes

James Bond is From Winnipeg


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Riding the Roller Coaster

This train station in Omaha was built in 1870.

My novel Lost on the Prairie begins with the main character Peter setting out from Newton Kansas on an immigration journey to Canada. He is travelling by train and the first stop the train makes is in Omaha Nebraska. Peter and his two brothers decide to visit the Krug Amusement Park in Omaha while they wait for the train to continue its journey north.

The Krug Amusement Park was operated by Krug Brewing in Omaha. The company was founded by a German immigrant Fred Krug in 1893. It was a large modern brewery that employed around 500 people. 

The beer pavilion at the Krug Amusement Park in the early 1900s

  In 1902 the Krug family decided to sponsor an amusement park.

The Krug Amusement Park in the early 1900s

In my story, Peter visits the park in 1907 and rides the roller coaster there.   The roller coaster at the Krug Amusement Park called The Big Dipper wasn’t really built till 1917 so I took a little historical licence having Peter ride it in 1907.  

The Krug Amusement Park had a hot air balloon

I know from historical documents about the park that it had a Tunnel of Love, a hot air balloon ride and that dancers performed in the park’s special dance pavilion.  In my novel, Peter sees all those things on his visit to the Krug Amusement Park as well.  

Peter shares his seat on the roller coaster in Omaha with a girl named Annie. And although they only spend a short time together it is certainly memorable.   I won’t tell you why!  I have to leave some things for you to find out when you read my book. 

Other posts about Lost on the Prairie 


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Thanks Great Aunt Alma

Alma Schmidt Neufeld

I never met my great aunt Alma Schmidt Neufeld. She was my grandfather’s youngest sister and by the time I was born, she had moved to British Columbia. Before she passed away in 1997 Alma dictated an account of her life to her granddaughter Wendy.  I found a copy of her memoir while helping one of my aunt’s move into a personal care home. 

Alma Schmidt Neufeld was my grandfather’s younger sister

The first paragraph of Great Aunt Alma’s story talks about her family’s immigration journey from Newton, Kansas to Humboldt Saskatchewan.

Alma as a child

Aunt Alma was only six years old at the time. She said that three of her brothers Will, Ed and Peter had travelled by train with the family livestock but…….. “When Will and Ed got to Humboldt Peter wasn’t with them. Mother and Dad were sure worried.  Peter’s car had been left behind somewhere.”

It was those words of Great Aunt Alma that gave me the idea for my novel.  I would create a story about what had happened to my grandfather Peter when his train car got left behind somewhere. 

I thought it would be great to have a photo of Great Aunt Alma perhaps to include in the afterword of my book, but no one in my extended family seemed to have one.  I was able to find Aunt Alma on the Grandma Online Mennonite Geneology Site. There I learned who her granddaughters and great-grandchildren were.  I looked them up on Facebook and through a great-granddaughter found Aunt Alma’s granddaughter Wendy.  She graciously sent me these wonderful photos of Alma.  

Aunt Alma with her family’s car

My book ends when Peter is reunited with his family but Aunt Alma has lots of marvellous details in her memoir about how her family built a sod hut upon their arrival in Saskatchewan and lived in it for five years before they could afford to build a house. She writes about the danger of prairie fires and the horrible mosquitoes. She recounts the time that lightning struck their homestead and the Sunday morning they took their horses to church not realizing it was 70 below zero. ( I looked this up and in February of 1907 during Alma’s family’s first winter in Saskatchewan there actually is a -70 temperature on record in Saskatchewan.)

Aunt Alma with a class of her students

Aunt Alma taught for quite a number of years and loved her job.  She married in 1932 and had to move often because it was difficult for her husband to find work. Alma did not have an easy life. Her husband left her and her two children in 1943 to join the airforce and after World War II, they divorced.  Alma’s daughter Vivianne predeceased her.

Alma in 1982

 Alma was declared legally blind in 1956.  Despite this, Alma continued working at various restaurant jobs and eventually for the CNIB. The tone of her biography is quite upbeat and positive.  In a copy I have of the eulogy given at her funeral, her granddaughters recall happy times with her. 

Alma in 1988

I am so grateful to Aunt Alma for telling her story and giving me the idea for a story of my own.  

Other posts about my novel…………..

Lost on the Prairie



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My Author Photo

One of the first things the marketing team for my publishing house asked me to do was submit a professional photo that could be used on the cover of my book Lost on the Prairie when it comes out in spring.  My photo would also be featured on my author page on the publishing house website.

I was talking about the request I’d received for a professional photo with some folks I volunteer with at a local thrift shop. Heather Lewis the shop’s assistant manager said she had just opened a photo studio near my home and would be happy to take my photos. Heather had operated a photo studio in Toronto and was looking for new clients in Winnipeg. 

So on a bright sunny day, we met at her studio.  We took different sets of photos. One was more serious and dressy, and the other more colourful and casual. One set was in the studio and the other was in a nearby park. 

I did a bit of reading about author photos and learned that they can be a factor in whether someone decides to read or buy your book. A few tips I found were……..

a) You should look happy in your photo but not hysterically so

b) It should be a headshot or show only your upper torso

c) Your face should be more important than the background

d) The shot should be in colour

e) You shouldn’t be holding your book in the photo

f) You should consider the target audience for your book

It was hard to choose which of the photos Heather took would be best to use so I sent some different ones to my publisher and will let them select what they think is best. 

I am hoping people will buy my book because they are drawn to the story and its possibilities and not because they like my photo but I do want to work hard to build a relationship with my readers and if having my photo on the book cover will help with that then I’m happy to provide one. 

Other posts ………..

A Tender Photo?

My Dad’s Graduation Photo

The Pandemic Story Behind a 105 Year Old Photo

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A Novel For Peter

When I was writing my novel Lost on the Prairie I wanted my main character Peter to be inspired by a literary hero. Peter who has been separated on his immigration journey from his parents needs a great deal of courage and determination as he tries to reunite with his family.  I thought it would be great if he had a character in a book to look up to as a role model.

Captains Courageous was published in 1897. This is how the first edition looked. 

My story takes place in 1907 so I needed to choose a book that had been written before that date and I wanted one where the main character was on a journey of some sort.  After checking out several possibilities I settled on Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling and in my novel I had Peter’s older brother Herman read the book aloud to him and his younger brother Alvin. 

In 1937 Captains Courageous was made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas and a very young Mickey Rooney

The hero of Captains Courageous is a young boy named Harvey.  He is from a very wealthy family and when he falls overboard on an ocean voyage some Portuguese fishermen rescue him. He must serve as a crewman on the fishing boat as it plies the Grand Banks of Newfoundland filling its hold with cod.  Harvey makes friends with the ship captain’s son Dan and has all kinds of adventures at sea before he is reunited with his parents. 

In my book, Peter refers back to incidents from the novel Captains Courageous many times.  Like Harvey Peter almost drowns and is rescued by a man named Arden Little Thunder.  Like Harvey, Peter makes good friends with Arden’s son Joe and has all kinds of adventures on the prairie just as Harvey did at sea.  Like Harvey, Peter is separated from his parents and must draw on strengths he never knew he had to survive and return to his family. 

I hope after finishing my book readers will be inspired to read Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous if they haven’t already done so.  

Of course, I have no idea if my grandfather Peter Schmidt who was the inspiration for the main character in my novel ever read Captains Courageous.  My mother did tell me however that Grandpa loved to read and he subscribed to quite a number of newspapers and magazines which he read devotedly.  I love this photo I have from my aunt that shows my grandfather reading in his home. 

Other blog posts about my novel……..

My Novel’s Elevator Pitch

What an Inspiration

Thank You Mystery Editor

A Published Novel. Can You Believe It? 


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My Novel’s Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a thirty-second description that tries to hook someone’s interest. It provides a quick overview of a product, event, or person. An author uses an elevator pitch to interest editors and publishers in their book. The term ‘elevator pitch’  gets its name from the fact that a good pitch shouldn’t last longer than an elevator ride.  

As many of you know I have signed a contract to have my novel Lost on the Prairie published in the spring of 2021. Many people have asked me what my novel is about. Here are a couple of the elevator pitches I’ve used to try to sell my book to editors.

Hopefully, these elevator pitches will give you a pretty good idea of what my novel is about and will get you interested in reading it.

Pitch #1

Twelve-year-old Peter is immigrating to Saskatchewan from Kansas in 1907. He is travelling in a boxcar with his family’s horses. Peter’s car becomes uncoupled from the rest of the train on the Lake Traverse First Nation in South Dakota, leaving Peter lost and alone on the prairie. His quest to reunite with his family is filled with excitement and danger. In Lost on the Prairie Peter grows ever more resourceful, courageous, and self-reliant. His action-packed coming of age story gives a personal face to the wave of young immigrants who came seeking homes in western Canada at the turn of the century. Pitch #2

It is 1907 and twelve- year old Peter is on the adventure of a lifetime.  He will tangle with a copperhead snake, survive a Ferris wheel accident, almost drown, escape quicksand in a haunted forest, rescue livestock from a barn fire, meet the famous author Mark Twain and get trapped in Winnipeg’s Immigration Hall. Peter experiences all these things after the boxcar he is riding in uncouples from the rest of the train leaving him alone on the prairie. Will Peter ever be able to rejoin his brothers and his parents?  Lost on the Prairie is a fast-paced historical novel for middle graders, but it also tells a contemporary and timely story about an immigrant child suddenly separated from his family. 

Hope that twigs your interest and whets your appetite for my book. 

Other posts about my novel……….

Thank You Mystery Editor

A Published Novel. Can You Believe It?  

She’s Inspirational


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