As residents of the state of Wisconsin ourselves, our screening team could not help but chuckle at the way you portray the novelty of many of our state’s small towns. When did you realize that Wisconsin had this feature, and what inspired you to write about it?
“When I was twenty years old, I had a summer job with the Corps of Engineers. I was one of ten engineering students assigned to update the inventory of fallout shelters in rural Wisconsin and Illinois. Our team evaluated every commercial building in Sauk, Richland, Iowa, Lafayette and Henry counties. That’s when I first noticed the signs proclaiming each small town’s claim to fame. They prompted some interesting conversations with locals and I discovered a raft of communities with a sense of humor and civic pride in equal measure.
I penned the first draft of One Man’s Horseshit in a travel writing class a couple of years ago. I have a lot of passion for my Midwestern roots. Okay, passion and Midwestern might not belong in the same sentence. But I’m very fond of the region, so it seemed like natural subject matter.”
Your story notes that you were in Wisconsin for family reasons, but what made you decide to take a tour of Wisconsin’s towns and see each of their strange claims to fame?
“When my husband and I travel to family events, we always schedule time to do some sightseeing on our own. We gravitate towards off-the-beaten path experiences and quirky festivals. And we love to fish, so fishing-related sights and events are of particular interest.”
Nonfiction personal essays are gaining in popularity. Writers are subjected to a lot of judgment. What are some tools you use when handling rejection or criticism?
“I maintain a space in our hall closet where I can curl up and sob. Just kidding. There’s no space to spare in our hall closet. Or in any of our closets.
Most of the criticism I’ve received so far has been in workshops. I’ve learned to filter it based on what I know about the reader. And I try to focus on positive feedback. I didn’t get a lot of that when I first presented One Man’s Horseshit to my classmates. But one reader loved it. She used to live in Minnesota. It gave me a sense that there might be an audience for this essay.
At this point, I’m more concerned with my cousins’ reactions to this piece. I might be banned from future reunions.”
Renee S. Jolivette is a retired engineer with a Fiction Writing Certificate from the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Raised in Arizona, she has deep Midwestern roots and once held a summer job in Wisconsin working with the US Army Corps of Engineers on a Cold War project while living in makeshift housing in Baraboo, Darlington and Dodgeville. She currently resides in rural Northern California with her husband (pseudonym “Scott”) and their dog Bug. Her work has appeared in The Union, Current and Bronco Driver Magazine.