Stories have been a constant thread weaving through the life of Park Falls area author Terri Kaiser.
An avid reader raised by a family of loggers and storytellers — a combination that frequently goes hand in hand — Kaiser spent hours as a child and teenager, thinking about stories she'd heard and imagining better endings.
Although she wrote a little in high school, the urge to write fiction didn’t really strike Kaiser until the ending of another author’s book left her highly unsatisfied. Driven to action, Kaiser wrote her own ending to the novel, and found herself intoxicatingly hooked on the process of fiction writing.
That fascination with people and their stories inspired two romantic fiction novels, published back in 2008 and 2012, and several drafted manuscripts.
Through all these years, however, there has been one story in particular that found its way into Kaiser's brain and refused to leave.
As a teenager, Kaiser first heard the local legend that the remains of a long-lost man were found in the heart of a hollow basswood tree turned coffin. The story is myth; the ill-advised practical joke of a Rusk County reporter that went viral back in 1926 and still lingers to this day.
That mental image, though — a man, forgotten, swallowed up by a silent tree — is one Kaiser found hard to dispel. As the years passed and the ideas in Kaiser's brain began transforming into words freckling paper, this image became the seed of a new story sprouting in her mind.
Several years later, that story began to take shape and after 12 years of writing and revision, has been independently published as a novel entitled 'The Witness Tree.'
Although the book begins with the discovery of a skeleton in a fallen tree, the novel bears little resemblance to the original tale Kaiser heard, rather weaving together the complicated story of a family riddled with secrets that are beginning to unravel.
The novel, which has taken so many years to reach its final state, has been through dozens of iterations over the years as Kaiser wrote in revision after revision, often in the predawn darkness of 5 a.m. before she had to leave for her day job.
“I was learning along the way, taking classes, reading books about writing, attending conferences,” she said. “This story wouldn’t leave me be until I told it the right way. It's been a learning experience in the way the other two books never were.”
For the better part of the past decade, Kaiser has been attempting to get the book published through a traditional publishing house, going through the laborious process of crafting cover letters and pitching the novel to agents that could get it into the hands of busy publishers.
The feedback Kaiser received during this time prompted dozens of rewrites, character revisions, a handful of new titles and sometimes complete overhauls of the novel.
While frustrating at times, the process is one Kaiser said she is grateful she went through since it forced her to finesse the craft of writing in a way that she had not before.
Yet, for all her early mornings and countless cover letters dispatched to agents in New York City or Chicago, the publishing industry is not an easy one to break into as a new author. Over the years, the industry has seen considerable change, and with it, Kaiser’s personal definition of success with the book has also changed.
“I found that while I love the writing process and want people to be able to read the book, I don’t want to be on the New York Times bestseller list or earn a lot of money,” she said. “I just wanted to put this story I’ve had in my head for so many years out into the world.
“I want to keep writing other books and I felt I couldn’t move on until I published this one.”
Kaiser recently went through the process of independently publishing the book through Amazon, where it can now be purchased online. It is also available in several local stores including Kayla’s Kitchen and Closet, Cindy’s Country Charm, Park Pharmacy, The 5 Senses, and Homespun Coffee & Crafts.
Once the imminent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic declines, Kaiser has plans to host book signing events and public readings.
In the meanwhile, Kaiser has already found herself returning to the keyboard, a new story taking the form of written word.