Former mayor finds her crossword calling
Of all the endeavors Mary Kinnunen has undertaken in her life, she never imagined she would add “cruciverbalist” to her resume. But her sense of fun and love of writing has lead this vivacious author on a new adventure, promoting her new book, Peninsula Crosswords. “Cruciverbalism is the art of creating crosswords,” she said. “It was a lot more work than I thought but it also was a lot of fun.”
It’s evident that laughter and an amusing outlook on life are a big part of Mary’s personality. Growing up in the UP had a lot to do with that. “You tell people you are a ‘yooper’ and immediately they smile,” she said with a laugh. “It’s just part of being from that part of the country.”
Mary was raised on a farm in Marquette, a part of Michigan with a strong Finnish heritage. In fact, Mary’s parents both emigrated from that land, bringing with them a stalwart work ethic and love for this rugged country. Skiing, fishing, shooting and learning to “light the sauna fire” were all a part of Mary’s childhood. Her father, Reino, had a hand in that. ‘I really loved growing up in Marquette,” she said. “It’s really a unique part of the country.”
After graduating high school Mary attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor graduating with a degree in political science. Her goal was to become a lawyer but the pull of the written word put her on another path. Shortly after graduating from the university, she decided to start a monthly magazine which would feature edgy and lively stories about her beloved hometown. Marquette Monthly was born.
Mary found this endeavor a welcome challenge. Not only did she do a lot of the writing for the magazine, she also sold ads for it and contracted a line-up of talented freelancers, graphic artists and photographers that remain close friends to this day. In fact, their talents are featured in Peninsula Crosswords, including the cartoon cover of two deer in a tree working crosswords while a nonchalant and clueless hunter walks beneath them. This comical depiction was done by Brad Veley whose cartoons of UP humor continue to grace Marquette Monthly, along with Mari Fleet, who designed the cover and worked at the magazine as a graphic artist while Mary was publisher. Her mother Sylvia, also contributed to the magazine. “My mom had a PhD. and was a reading specialist,” said Mary. “She offered to create crossword puzzles for Marquette Monthly. I thought that was a good idea because I’ve always loved working crossword puzzles myself and figured other people would enjoy that too.”
Many times Mary would observe her mother creating these puzzles. “I guess I really learned from her how to construct crosswords,” she said. “It was her influence that eventually lead me to publish a book themed on the UP featuring crosswords.”
Mary was publisher and editor of Marquette Monthly from 1987 to 1992, and then sold the publication when she and her husband, Jeff, decided to head off on another adventure in China for a year. The couple eventually made their way to Wisconsin when Jeff got a teaching position at Nicolet College where he remains today.
Mary continued her writing, publishing a book of poetry entitled Red, White and a Paler Shade of Blue. In addition to her husband and her mother, Mary’s daughter, Eleanor, and step-daughter, Megan, have both been inspirations throughout Mary’s writing career. They also encouraged her when she decided to run for office. She won the election and served as Rhinelander’s mayor for a stint a little over a decade ago.
And then a couple of years ago, Mary decided to try her hand at creating a crossword puzzle. The process was intriguing and inspired her to construct an entire series of puzzles themed on living in the UP and the yooper way of life.
Each puzzle has a distinct theme, many with a comical twist. Tourists, Eureka!, Leaf Peeper Paradise, Family Farm, Scenic Drives and Eino and Toivo in Snowstorms are just of few of the titles of the 50 puzzles featured in the book. The puzzles range from easy to difficult and the answers are included in the back of the book.
Mary spent many hours creating these brainteasers. Never formerly trained in the art of cruciverbalism, her techniques are simple but effective. She starts the process with a piece of graph paper. “Then you decide on a theme for the puzzle and make a list of five or six words that are related to this theme,” she said. “I call these the ‘bones’ of the puzzle. Once you have these you start working in other words and once I have those determined I start creating the clues to the words.”
It took most of last winter for Mary to complete the puzzles for her book. Her friend and fellow crossword puzzle worker Linda Murto, looked over Mary’s handiwork, lending helpful tweaks and suggestions, and then it was off to the publisher.
Once the finish book was in hand, Mary put her publishing acumen to work . She drafted a press release and sent it out to every book store in the UP. “Here’s a hint to everyone who self publishes a book,” she said. “You have to really promote it yourself. You have to get out there and show it to people.”
While the press release resulted in a couple of book store owners requesting copies to feature in their stores, Mary realized that wasn’t enough. A road trip was in order. So last summer she and Jeff, along with their sheltie Keksi, packed up the trunk of their vehicle with copies of Peninsula Crosswords, and headed into the wilds of the UP. Their goal was to make the book available in every county. The week-long trip resulted in an adventure all its own, and more importantly, a big jump in the number of books that would become available in the UP. “Every place we stopped we sold books,” said Mary. “Once bookstore owners and shop owners had a copy in their hands, they wanted to sell it in their store.”
The little family made stops in big cities and small, traveling the routes Mary had known as a child. Escanaba, Copper Harbor, Iron River and Chassel were all part of the adventure. The couple had so much fun they even created a website featuring their adventure. Once again Mary’s sense of humor comes to the forefront on this promotional tour and that’s evident on the website. She took pictures of her hand holding a copy of the book in front of such landmarks as the beautiful Seney stretch highway; the snow gauge in Keweenaw; a sign declaring “Patsy Power” and in front of the Menominee Lighthouse.
To date Mary has sold more than 1,000 copies of Peninsula Crosswords, a goal she is proud of completing. So, is another edition of crossword puzzles in the works for this industrious and fun-loving author? “Well maybe in the future, but right now I’m working on a novel and another book of poetry,” she said. “But I sure have had fun with this book. And for me that’s what writing is all about.”
Editor’s note: Peninsula Crosswords is also available at Book World in Rhinelander. To learn more about Mary’s adventure with her book, or to order copies, visit her website at penin sulaxwords.com.
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