Author Liza Wiemer made dreams come true when she and a group of students walked the path of her characters from Hello?
Have you ever dreamed of walking in the footsteps of characters from a favorite novel? Drink coffee in their coffee shop, explore the same nature trails, see where a first kiss took place, throw rocks into a lake from their favorite beach? In 2012, while writing the first draft of her debut YA novel Hello?, (Spencer Hill) author Liza Wiemer imagined having students do just that.
Jerod Santek shares his account of walking with Liza in her characters’ footsteps with a group of students from all over Wisconsin.
On Sunday, May 15, 2016 that dream became real. Write On Door County, a non-profit organization founded in 2014 with a mission to inspire people to write and share their stories, not only helped coordinate the event, but sponsored it for forty teens and ten chaperones, who came from all over Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula as well as representatives from Milwaukee County Nicolet High School’s sophomore class, who read Hello? as part of their English curriculum.
The novel follows the lives of five high school students: Tricia and Brian who live on the island, and Angie, Brenda, and Emerson, who live in Sturgeon Bay, the gateway to the peninsula. All participants had not only read the novel, but had fallen in love with it. As one boy from Sister Bay confessed on the bus ride to the ferry, “I read it four times, it was that good!”
The first of several surprises occurred on the mainland. “When our bus arrived at Northport Pier,” Wiemer said, “I expected most students to roam the beach. As I stood at the water’s edge, I glanced back and was amazed to see students throwing a Frisbee and football, reenacting what the mainland characters had done while they had waited for the ferry.”
The next surprise occurred as Washington Island came into view. Waiting on the dock, Island students and teachers held up signs, waved, and called out greetings. After everyone disembarked and Islanders joined the group on the bus, some teens immediately asked if we were going to the Red Cup, the location of several key scenes in the novel. Though it wasn’t a part of the schedule, the opportunity couldn’t be missed. The two baristas and the residents enjoying their coffee, watched as the group burst through the doors. Wiemer and the other chaperones explained to the curious customers why the students were so excited to see the coffee shop. One older woman remarked that she had never met an author before, let alone visited the setting of a novel. “Love that it’s here,” she said. “Readers are welcome to come see the Hello? sites any time.”
The Red Cup, the location of several important scenes in Hello?. Photo by Liza Wiemer
Guided by Washington Island teacher and naturalist Steve Waldron, Island teacher Marleen Johnson, and author Liza Wiemer, as well as other educators and board members of Write On, students saw the real settings of the novel: the nature trails and lakes Tricia and Brian spent their life hiking and kayaking; the cemetery adjacent to School House Beach, where Tricia grieved for her recently-deceased grandmother; the school Tricia and Brian attended; Boyer’s Bluff, Tricia’s family home, where students roasted hot dogs, made s’mores, and listened to local musician Chris Nelson play guitar, recreating a similar event to the climactic scene in the novel; Jackson Harbor, where Tricia and Brian had their first kiss; and Hotel Washington.
School House Beach, Washington Island, a local hangout mentioned in Hello?. Photo by Jaime Jorns
Most importantly, students made new friends and discovered new aspects of their own personalities. Alex Quigley of Southern Door High School said, “It was incredible to see a great book come to life. One of the hardest things for many people to do is walk up to someone they don’t know, introduce themselves, say hello, and start a conversation. But I saw a lot of people step out of their comfort zones and discover new things about themselves as much as they discovered things about others.” Nicolet High School students Azure Stacy and Amayah Taylor added, “One of our concerns about this experience was whether or not we’d ever find anything in common with the Door County students. They’re country and we’re city. Many of them like to go mudding and we like to go to the mall. It turned out that they were just as curious about us as we were of them. That curiosity sparked new friendships. It was really cool how we clicked.”
Hanging out on Boyer’s Bluff, musician Chris Nelson playing guitar. During the climactic scenes in Hello?, there was a party on Boyer’s Bluff for Door County students. Photo by Liza Wiemer
At the end, author Liza Wiemer reflected on the day. “To witness a group of diverse students from polar opposite backgrounds come together to not only walk in the footsteps of the Hello? characters, but most importantly to find common ground, find acceptance, and to form strong bonds and friendships was beyond anything we could ever have imagined. I’m profoundly grateful to the visionaries at Write On, Door County, the educators who chaperoned, and to the Washington Island School, their teachers, and the community for helping to bring this novel to life for the students.”
Nature walk on Washington Island. As mentioned in Hello?, characters Tricia and Brian spent a lot of time exploring the woods. Photo by Jaime Jorns
Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows on Boyer’s Bluff, as mentioned in the climactic scenes of Hello?. Photo by Jaime Jorns
Hotel Washington. The last stop of the day, where students wrote their personal “Hello” stories, created a nature art project, and competed in trivia. (Full group not pictured.) Bottom, third from the left, author Liza Wiemer.