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Nevis author's first novel filled with 'real local flavor'

"Canoes in Winter" is Guelker's first novel. The sequel, "Let Go, Let River," will be published in November.1 / 2
Originally from Anoka County, Bob Guelker moved to the area in 1995 and settled on the Crow Wing River in 1997. He's had a lifelong interest in writing. He remembers writing a short story at the age of 7, entitled "Harry Scare Bear." 2 / 2

Northern Minnesota's rivers, lakes and forests beckoned Bob Guelker.

He found "the quiet, friendly little burg of Nevis" and made it his home in 1997.

"There's no better place on earth to live. And write," he says.

Guelker, 67, has just published his first novel, "Canoes in Winter." A book release party is slated for Sunday, Sept. 4 at Nevis' Iron Horse Bar & Grill, where he once bartendered.

Guelker's adult, contemporary literary novel is set in his beloved outdoors, where he canoes, forays for mushrooms and harvests wild grapes for homemade wine.

"I created a mythological town near Smoky Hills Forest called Stone Creek," Guelker explained. "It's based on the Crow Wing River, where I live, but I call it Fox River in the book."

Readers will recognize the scenery—from Detroit Lakes to Park Rapids to Walker.

"Descriptions in the book are verbatim from experience," Guelker said. "So much of this book is about people and experiences that I've witnessed, but I take it to another level."

"Canoes in Winter" is a fictional love story. The main character, Sam Ryan, has PTSD resulting from traumatic childhood experiences. Sally Hunter, another protagonist, refuses to leave her husband, even though she and Sam are falling in love.

The novel deals with "hard issues, like infidelity," Guelker said, delving into each character's past and exploring "what makes people tick."

The idea for "Canoes in Winter" emerged a decade ago. Guelker wrote three-quarters of the book within a two-year span, in his spare time, but didn't resume writing again until last year.

He completed "serious rewrites," then spent several months researching the world of self-publishing.

"It's a jungle out there," Guelker said. "Anybody thinking about self-publishing must do your research and find someone who truly connects with you."

For instance, one large self-publishing company wanted Guelker's characters to speak the King's English instead of Minnesotan slang. Guelker rejected that company and selected Julie Anne Eason, an independent book producer and publicist in Maine.

He hired Julia Tatnall-Willson as his editor. She's a freelance copy editor and proofreader.

The original novel was "one, big, bloated whale" at 155,000 words, Guelker said. Several book producers told him it was the equivalent of "War and Peace."

Guelker agreed to separate the story into two books. With the help of Tatnall-Willson, Guelker trimmed "Canoes in Winter" from 80,000 words down to 68,000.

Its sequel, "Let Go, Let the River," will be published Nov. 1.

Cover art for both novels was painted by Amelia Woltjer, a 1997 Nevis graduate and trained graphic artist.

As for the title, "I do canoe in winter as Sam does in the book," he said, "those rare stretches where the temperatures rise and the ice melts in the dead of winter."

Guelker plans to consign "Canoes in Winter" to bookstores and gift shops in the region. It will also be available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and as an eBook.

"Honest to God, there's so much buzz and interest I'll be busy selling and signing like crazy," Guelker said of the book release party, where many of his friends and family will gather to support the fledgling author.

He most recently retired as editor and production manager of the Northwoods Press. He was a school bus driver for the Nevis School District for about six years.

"My path through life has been akin to floating down a winding river—around every bend there's a new view, an unknown place to explore and people I've never met," Guelker writes in his blog (

"My goal is to write about authentic people. I want readers to feel this could've happened or might," he said.