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A writer creates an office under the reservoirs of the family’s water tower

By on November 7, 2021 0

SUPERIOR, Wisconsin – Carol Dunbar walked through the woods as fallen leaves creaked under her feet. Her property south of Superior includes the main residence, her husband’s studio and a water tower. Living off the grid, the structure is a necessity for the farm’s water pressure – and for Dunbar’s work.

“Me, entering this water tower was finding a space where I could close a door behind me to create,” she said. “I wouldn’t want any other type of office, but it certainly has its challenges. ”

Computers, manuscripts and books by the novelist and freelance ghostwriter all reside under what some might consider their own worst enemy: “There are literally two 250 gallon water tanks above my head right now” , she said.

Author Carol Dunbar looks out of one of the windows of her writing studio in her family’s water tower on their property deep in the woods south of Superior, Tuesday, October 26, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram


Yes, his office has been flooded several times.

“It’s like being in a room in the pouring rain. It’s awful, and I had to make my peace with it.

Seeing his work so vulnerable makes it all the more endearing. “I know there is a really interesting metaphor about art and risk,” she added.

There is no other space on their 80 acres that she can work the way she can here. After many floods and years of working from the living room, her husband redesigned the space and built the stairs for better access and heat circulation.


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Originally designed as a guest room, this is a 10 by 10 space on the second floor of the water tower. She calls it the cockpit.

There is a porch at the back and windows on all four sides, so “I feel like I’m writing in the treetops,” she said.

As she hears water flowing through the pipes around her, “The sight she gives me and the peace I have here in this small space, and it’s little… I don’t. would trade for nothing. “

Carol Dunbar works in the office of her writing studio in her family’s water tower in the woods south of Superior on Tuesday afternoon, October 26, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram


Light enters from all angles. Her seated and standing desks, compliments of her husband, rest in the center and in one corner, an old-looking podium contains one of her many dictionaries; she likes to compare definitions decades old to those today.

There are several aloe plants, drawings on the wall, and a storyboard with pinned photos of a sculpture and an Irish skyline – inspiration for future work, she said.

An assortment of candles, one of which she lights daily before starting. “It keeps me in mind that I’m trying to capture the best light, the best of human nature,” she said.

She keeps a collection of notebooks, coated with color for any novel she writes, in her office, in the car, by her bed, to help her document inspiration when it strikes. “I was very frustrated when I had a good idea or heard a piece of dialogue or finally knew how to describe snow that day, and I wrote it down and never found it”, a- she declared. .

It helped, but she still has bits of paper pinned to the pages of her notebook. “It’s like leaving love letters to each other,” she said, sorting through a stack.

She wrote her second novel by hand long on paper. It’s an accessible way to create away from a screen, she said.


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In the corner sits a red upholstered chair from an alley in Minneapolis. Around her desk, she recorded quotes and reminders. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to what we think we deserve,” one reads.
Also a piece of wood with words: “You just have to trust your own madness – Clive Barker.”

Dunbar cherishes an award for writing and work remains preserved on scraps of paper, mementos of an ancestor who emigrated from Italy. While Dunbar’s parent was not supported in her pursuit of writing, Dunbar believes her work today honors herself and her ancestor.

Her bookshelf contains works by Joyce Carol Oates, Jesmyn Ward, Barbara Kingsolver and a prized copy of “The Mystic in the Theater” by Eleonora Duse. Duse strived to eliminate the ego, Dunbar said. “Forget yourself, this is all about history. ”

These are tips that she takes to heart in her job.

Carol Dunbar examines short writings and other trinkets from her grandmothers which she keeps in her writing studio in her family’s water tower in the woods south of Superior on Tuesday afternoon, October 26, 2021 . Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram


Dunbar describes his ghost writing work as producing books but remaining invisible. “My name is not on the cover at all,” she said. “As for not getting credit, that’s what the money is for.”

This ego suppression serves her well and she has a talent and experience in adopting another’s voice.

Prior to focusing on writing, Dunbar was an actor in theater and commercials. She and her husband swapped the hustle and bustle of Minneapolis to live off the grid south of Superior 18 years ago. “We found this property and we went there,” she recalls.

Born in Guam, Dunbar graduated from high school on the East Coast. Daughter of a man in the Navy, she moved a lot. Living south of Superior is the first house she chose, a house where she stayed the longest, where she intends to stay.

Author Carol Dunbar talks about her struggles with the editing process for her next novel as she sits in her writing studio in the family water tower south of Superior on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram


Where she is in the water tower and the time of day can determine what she writes.

“Sitting down is usually the place where I lay the groundwork, new ground; and for me it’s editing, emails, more active work and interviews, ”she said.

And, she writes every day because it’s easier to keep her own stories alive if she touches them daily.

Dunbar wrote his novel “The Net Beneath Us” about 12 years of child rearing, several office debacles and more. He is inspired by his house, and more particularly by the skeleton of a second floor of their main residence.

She questioned why the previous owners hadn’t completed the project and came up with an answer that turned out to be more interesting than the truth, she said.

Working on this piece created a safe space for her to be vulnerable and to learn more about herself. After a family accident, Dunbar cut firewood for their house out of necessity. The first time she did it, she had a black eye – an experience she included in her job.

“I put everything in my novel. It was a really safe place to explore things emotionally, ”she said.

Carol Dunbar talks about her love of nature and the off-grid life on her family’s backwoods property south of Superior on Tuesday afternoon, October 26, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram


After 28 rejections, Dunbar landed a contract for two books and “The Net Beneath Us” is slated for release in the fall of 2022.

Writing a novel is an act of faith, she says.

You invest hours in something that you don’t know will be of value to someone else, but you persevere because it is of value to you. And, that must be a sacred thing, she said.

Sitting in his red chair, Dunbar spoke more about his craft, paraphrasing a quote from the poet William Stafford. “He believed writers don’t write because they have something to say.

“Writers write because they’ve discovered a process that, if they hadn’t followed it, they wouldn’t have found what they found. You would not have gotten to the essential things.

“The reason I haven’t given up on my novel is because it taught me what I think about this place. “My novel is fiction, but it tells a lot of emotional truths. “