EC native’s novel inspired by orphaned ancestor’s life
About a year and a half ago, Eau Claire native turned Floridian Steve Turk released a gripping historical thriller, Solomon’s Executioner, with great success. This past October, he released a new novel with a different, uplifting tone entitled Harvest of Stone – the title being an ode to the stones that litter the fallow field metaphorically connecting to the guilt and anger weighing down a particular character.
The story focuses on Gunnar Nilsson, the son of Swedish immigrants. In Turk’s words, the novel traces Gunnar’s “odyssey from a hardscrabble life in Chicago’s notorious Swede Town slum to one of near isolation on a rundown farm in the bucolic hills of Black Earth, Wisconsin, where he is indentured to a reclusive, emotionally scarred, civil war veteran, Tobias Wren, and his nearly blind wife, Emily.” Gunnar’s journey goes on to involve emotional confrontation, family relationships, and a tumultuous love story. The tone of this novel is noticeably different from that of Solomon’s Executioner, and Turk shares that he didn’t want to write the same novel twice. Even though the new book is also based on real characters and events, it isn’t a dark thriller. “Maybe Harvest of Stone was in some part a way of redeeming myself by showing I could write an uplifting novel with literary appeal,” Turk says.
The idea for Harvest of Stone first began in 1988 when Turk and his son, Nathan, began a project to find their family roots and opened up his grandfather’s hundred-year-old orphanage records from the Chicago Home for the Friendless. They discovered two intriguing letters: a legal document from 1889 surrendering the boy to the Chicago Home for the Friendless and another giving him to a family in Black Earth to work on their farm until he was 16. Turk remembers when he and Nathan traveled to Chicago on a quest to explore their genealogy and a sweet, elderly woman handed them his grandfather’s orphanage records in a tiny old office with squeaky wooden floors. “I will never forget the look on his face when we opened the file to find a handful of letters and documents that hadn’t see the light of day in a hundred years,” Turk recalls. “He was hooked on history right then and there.”
When Nathan passed away, Turk shelved the genealogy research for several years until his daughter Sarah found interest in it once again. The research was, according to Steve, one of the best aspects of writing Harvest of Stone. “I now have a library of reference materials covering the history of orphanages, saloons, cholera, Swedish immigration, early farming practices, boxing, even hymns from the day,” he says. “I’m a goldmine of worthless information.”
“The deeper I dug into my family genealogy, the more I decided that I had the makings of a pretty good yarn based on my grandfather’s early years growing up in a Chicago slum, being abandoned, orphaned, and finally indentured to a farm family,” – Steve Turk, on the real-life inspiration for his novel Harvest of Stone
The novel is more or less based on actual events from that family research, but at a point is a fictional account of a young man coming of age in rural Wisconsin during the post-Civil War Victorian Era. “The deeper I dug into my family genealogy, the more I decided that I had the makings of a pretty good yarn based on my grandfather’s early years growing up in a Chicago slum, being abandoned, orphaned, and finally indentured to a farm family,” he says. “From that point on the book is fiction.”
Turk hopes readers will be transported to another time and place; meet complex, interesting characters; and learn to put down the unnecessary baggage, insisting that they’ll “walk taller and see farther” if they do.
Harvest of Stone is available at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., or via