by Dennis Dalman
It was a long time coming, but finally Milissa Nelson of Sartell opened a big cardboard box and there they were — fresh-off-the-press copies of her very first novel she’d been working on for almost 25 years.
Nelson’s book, “Seasons of Raina,” is a story of a bullied girl who endures so many life changes before adjusting, sometimes with joy, sometimes with pain, to a new sense of herself and her own possibilities.
Raina, a ninth-grader in Denver, Colo., is an only child who is withdrawn, timid and listless. She has been bullied in school to the point where she cannot function anymore. Her parents arrange for her to try a new living arrangement and encourage her to move to relatives in Minnesota where she might get a new lease on life. She agrees, and she moves to Barrett, Minn, to live with her aunt and eight cousins. The geographical and cultural shock takes Raina for a loop, but gradually, in rural Minnesota, she discovers athletic and other talents she had no idea she possessed. She becomes adept at athletics and especially music and begins to find her way out of terrifying anxiety.
Nelson moved with her family to Barrett when she was 2. Barrett is a rural community in west central Minnesota, about 25 miles west of Alexandria. Both of her parents were teachers. Her father, a music teacher, greatly influenced her, and she went on to earn a music-education degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Eventually, she worked as a road representative for Schmitt Music of St. Cloud and taught music lessons there. She was adept in playing and teaching trumpet, saxophone and flute.
Nelson grew up with eight siblings. At about the time she graduated from college, she began writing down happy memories of her brothers and sisters. Little by little, she morphed some of those memories into written fictional stories of actual people. Eventually, Nelson decided the storytelling would be much more effective if she just “made up” new, imaginary characters. That is when Raina came to be.
Since 1991, Nelson wrote here, there and everywhere. She wrote with pens, pencils and plain-old tablets while visiting her old hobby farm in Barrett; she wrote in Colorado; she wrote in Sartell where she had moved after marrying her husband, Chris Stark, in 2002.
She finished the manuscript in 2008 but didn’t know what to do with it. After lots of research into the world of publishing, she learned about a class called “Publish U” in a community-education program. Then she learned about North Star Press in St. Cloud and one of its writers’ groups, which she joined. She and other writers would meet to discuss and criticize one anothers’ works.
Finally, she realized she should publish her book, through North Star Press.
“It was fun to write,” Nelson said. “I would usually write in the evenings, after I had completed my daily teaching plans. That’s when I was teaching music.”
Nelson has two daughters – Megan, 9; and Cora, 7.
When she was in the process of writing her book, she loved to read it aloud to her daughters, and they loved to hear it. But, as Nelson soon realized, her daughters were astute critics.
“THAT doesn’t make sense,” one or the other daughter would tell their mother, and – sure enough – Nelson would realize she hadn’t given enough background in the book to make something make sense.
At one point, Nelson’s main character, Raina, is eating tomatoes. When she read that passage to her daughters, one of them blurted out with:
“Mom, you said earlier that Raina was ALLERGIC to tomatoes so why would she be eating them?”
Nelson is now working on a sequel to her book.
“Seasons of Raina” can be purchased via amazon.com.
It can also be obtained on firstname.lastname@example.org or via www.northstarpress.com
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.