MORRIS - The moment Linda Winter-Hodgson knew the story of her father's tragic first love would make a compelling story was when a neighbor, after hearing the bare bones of the story, told her it would make a great movie.
"I didn't know how to make a movie, so I decided to write a book," Winter-Hodgson said.
"Two Groves of Trees: A Story of Love and Second Chances" is Winter-Hodgson's third book and her first novel, although the tale is based on a true story and heavily informed by years of research.
Winter-Hodgson grew up on a farm just north of Wheaton, in a house surrounded by a grove of trees. Across from the farm was a second grove of trees that she never thought about as a child, but began to question as an adult.
"I didn't know why that grove of trees had been there and there was no house in it, and so that was always perplexing to me," said Winter-Hodgson.
When she asked her father, Lorence Winter, about the trees, he started to cry as he began to share the story - "I realized then there was significance to it."
Lorence planted the trees in the 1930s, to create a place where he would build a home for his fiance, Eileen Costello, a county schoolteacher in Traverse County in the 1930s. However, tragedy prevented Lorence and Eileen from ever marrying.
Lorence remained a bachelor for 18 years before meeting and marrying Winter-Hodgson's mother. In the process of researching the book, Winter-Hodgson and her sister stumbled across the honeymoon diary their mother kept, illuminating a time of hope for the new couple. Lorence built a second grove of trees for his new home, the home where Winter-Hodgson grew up.
Lorence passed away the year he told Winter-Hodgson the story of the grove of trees, so bringing the story of love and hope to life required years of research. Winter-Hodgson did a number of interviews with her family and people who knew Eileen - two former students and two former teachers in Wheaton.
"They were the most wonderful people to interview. Two of them took me on what I call the best field trips I've ever been on - they took me to the sites of numerous country schools," said Winter-Hodgson. "The book turned out to be about a lot of things that I hadn't known it would be about when I started the journey of it."
In addition to being a love story and a story about hope and finding second chances, "Two Groves of Trees" is also a story about the first settlers in Stevens County, life at the West Central School of Agriculture in the 1920s, rural schoolhouses in the 1930s and life in rural Minnesota.
Because Winter-Hodgson chose to self-publish the book, she worked with two of her regular "first readers" - her husband and her sister - before sending the manuscript to a professional editor in Chicago. In addition to helping craft the story and dialogue, the editor will help Winter-Hodgson format the book into an ebook to eventually sell online.
The watercolor cover was painted by Winter-Hodgson's best friend, Judy Roth, a Philadelphia-based watercolor artist and former resident of west central Minnesota. Roth painted the covers of Winter-Hodgson's first two books, "A Cup of Kindness" and "Words of Life."