Published By the Times Plain Dealer September 21, 2001
Cresco used as a backdrop for prize-winning story
Daughter of former area resident wins second place in 24 hour short story contest
Ken Becker/ News Editor for the Times Plain Dealer
It isn’t unusual for me to receive phone calls or e-mails from other news editors, photographers, or writers. Most of the time, they are looking for someone to fill a position on their staff and they are either checking on references or to see if I can help them out.
Several weeks ago, such an e-mail crossed my desk. What made this one stand out was that Cresco was featured in a winning short story the woman had written.
Knowing there had to be more to the story, I called her. . .5456e Lisa Loucks-Christenson of Rochester. During our conversation, I told her that if she were to return to Cresco, I’d spring for coffee.
Normally when I issue an invitation for coffee, it is either forgotten, or it is followed up in a month or two. Lisa was different.
“How does next Thursday sound?” she asked. “We’ll come down for lunch.”
So, a couple of Thursdays ago, I joined Lisa and her husband and their two-year-old daughter for lunch. After the pleasant hour or so of conversation, she commented on how her grandparents told her about going to the Cresco Theatre for a movie when they were young marrieds. Naturally, I offered to take them on a tour.
They were impressed.
During the couple of hours we were together, Lisa repeated several times how much she enjoys Cresco. “It is so pretty...it is so clean. . . it is so interesting. . . it is so . . .” she would say.
It is because of the appearance that she made Cresco the backdrop of a short story she wrote. In addition to being a professional photographer, she likes to write short stories.
If she feels the story is good enough, she will submit it to Writer’s Weekly for possible selection.
One of the features of Writer’s Weekly is to run a 24-hour contest several times a year. They state a topic and the writer had to incorporate that topic into the submitted story. Oh, yes. The writer had but 24 hours to submit the entry with a 1,000 word limit for judging.
Lisa’s story was selected second best in the summer’s 24 hour short story contest. In addition to the $150 cash prize, she received a freelance income kit which includes a one year subscription to the Write Markets Report; How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks; How to Publish a Profitable E-mag; and How to be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book, database of 6000+ newspapers, and database of 100+ syndicates.
According to Lisa, the contest attracted more than 300 entrants worldwide. “With a subscriber base of over 56, 000 people, Cresco, Iowa, will gain lots of exposure,” she said.
Lisa’s mother and grandparents are from the greater Howard County area, primarily Lime Springs and Elma. “My relatives are the Bartels and the Loucks families,“ said Lisa. “They lived in the county until the early 60s,” she added.
Lisa’s plans for the future are to take the winning short story and expand it. How much it will be expanded, she doesn’t yet know. I’ll just see how it flows," she said. “But I’m going to keep Cresco in the story.”
The topic of the contest was as follows: She walked quickly through the dark streets of downtown and noticed that the only lights illuminating the entire block were from the old barber shop, which had been vacant for years. Even the barber shop pole was slowly spinning in the dark. When she got to the window and looked inside, she was shocked to see a myriad of couples. . . waltzing.
Following is Lisa’s short story:
At seventy-seven, Cora Stephans, a model maker, was nearing completion of her grand masterpiece. The City of Cresco, Iowa, commissioned her to create a mechanical townscape based on her life study of the area. During her studies, more than one man studied her, too. In fact, if you asked Cora what made those old men blush, she’d confess: Beauty is only skin deep, but mine’s still a dollar short of pin money. Whatever that meant.
She ignored the leers of the widowers and bypassed the steady gaze from men who never did settle down and marry. Cora avoided divorced men because they couldn’t forget their old baggage. After losing Jonathon, her only love, she ignored her yearnings and immersed herself in her artwork.
The townscape of Cresco took years to create, and each character was hand designed. From handmade curtains to special flooring, everything within the walls of Cora’s townscapes contained the stories, the hopes, and the dreams of real people.
Who could resist the country store? When you opened the door, a hound lifted its head from its paws, and howled. Every store was animated with characters, props, and lights or fans that turned on and off. The player piano played a tune and the mechanical bartender poured a mug of beer. Cora struggled, to try to figure out how to keep the beer mugs frosted.
She credited her mechanical skills to her father. Everyone respected Harlan. He was witty and gifted and could make anything tick and come alive. Cora believed if he were alive before Johnathon died, he would have found a way to save him, too. Cora tapped into her father’s gift and expanded upon it.
Her flamboyant mother had a different effect on Cora, who hated her perfume, fancy dresses, and flashy hats. Her mother wouldn’t rest until she knew Cora could be depended upon to wear proper attire for every occasion.
Now, Cora combed through the piles of her childhood memories, gathering her mother’s comments and attitude, and used this imagery to dress her characters’ personalities.
Johnathon and Cora had finished celebrating their engagement with his family. Eighteen, and in love, they hardly noticed the only lights illuminating the entire block were from his family’s old barber shop. He lived in the quarters behind the barber shop, and Cora lived above the cafe across the street. He walked her home, kissed her goodnight, and they parted. However, at dawn they were together again, wrapped in each other’s arms, sharing one barber chair and one sunrise.