Hard work and determination have paid off for Lanesboro author and B&B co-owner Nancy Huisenga, who has recently received a $5,000 grant awarded by the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC). From the McKnight Established Artist Fund, it acknowledges her previous successful experience in publishing a children's picture book, "Does a Zebra Know It's Striped?," which was released in December of 2012. The award money is intended to be used toward the cost of the new book's publication.

The new book, "Behind the Door Marked Private: Confessions of a Small Town Bed and Breakfast Owner," is scheduled to be on the bookshelves in May, and the e-book version will follow.

With the acceptance of the grant money, Huisenga has also committed to fulfilling the requirements of the grant, including producing a capstone event for the public on Sept. 14 at the Lanesboro Arts Center. That reception, open to the public, will include a public reading and a sampling of food served at the Habberstad House.

In addition, part of her grant application was her vision, "that written art has a place in this town that prides itself on the breadth of art available to the public." It also included her mission, to assist in "forming a support group to encourage and guide local writers on how to take their ideas, their creative dreams, and bring their own written art forward."

Through the grant, she has made a public commitment to not only "produce a quality work" but also to work to fulfill that vision and mission; "I take the commitment...to fulfill the obligations of the grant very seriously," she said.

Long-term writing interest put on back burner

Both of her books represent Huisenga's long-term interest in creative writing. Over the years she has accumulated "files full of poetry, children's stories and other projects." Because of the necessary total immersion in the Habberstad House Bed and Breakfast when she and husband/co-owner Dave Huisenga both made giant career changes, those files were "tucked away."

But, as Huisenga said, "Finally, the time came," and the children's book moved into the "finished" pile. Then with a lot of encouragement from Dave, she pulled out the B&B book folder and got serious about it.

The first draft was completed more than seven years ago, and she had initially thought it would be a specialized recipe book. But, that not really being her style, she explained, "Next came the idea to write a self-help book for would-be B&B owners," complete with "advice and lists of pantry supplies," with the recipes added as an appendix. Over the ensuing years, that folder was also filled with real-life anecdotes that she captured on scraps of paper. Then she made the decision that this year, with the B&B closed for the winter, she would finish it, and she did.

The process is an evolving and learning experience

Huisenga had already learned about the process of publication: it is not easy. She spent the winter months writing, reading and re-writing for 14 to 16 hours per day until she had a finished product. It includes not only her "beloved recipes" but also "interesting anecdotes and reflections" about what Huisenga has experienced over the last decade. That includes both as co-owner of the B&B, but also initially being big-city strangers in a small town, and some of her own personal journey in adapting to this big change. She achieves that with "honesty, passion and humor," calling that her "personal legacy."

At first, she titled the book "Breakfast at the Habberstad House." But during all that writing and re-writing, the title evolved to its final version of "Behind the Door Marked Private: Confessions of a Small Town Bed and Breakfast Owner." The change was partially influenced by the questions "posed to us almost on a daily basis by curious guests." The book quotes the questions and then answers them - and more.

The century-plus-old Victorian house itself, and the history, care, and upkeep of such a structure, also prompts questions and anecdotes. That in turn has motivated the Huisengas to research the background of the house. That narrative is also woven into this book.

How she ended up in Lanesboro "after seeing Paree"

Huisenga has made big career changes before. She is a registered cardiology nurse, and had worked in the medical device industry for many years. There she traveled the U.S., Canada and Europe, doing research on new cardiovascular devices. Her primary interest in earlier years had been acting, but she put that on hold to raise a family. She did not return to the stage until moving to Lanesboro where she has been active in both the Lanesboro Community Theatre and the professional Commonweal Theater.

It was almost 13 years ago when she and husband Dave traveled to Lanesboro and stayed as guests at the Habberstad House Bed and Breakfast. It must have been serendipity that the B&B was for sale at the time, because the Huisengas were not necessarily looking yet to make such a big directional leap in both their personal and career lives.

But one thing led to another, and three months later, they became Lanesboro transplants and the owners of a huge old house that needed a new roof and a paint job. They had to learn quickly how to "make breakfast for a table full of hungry guests," and "how to find time for ourselves, while learning the ins and outs of living in a small town."

The book isn't an "and then they lived happily ever after" sort of tale. And that's the fun of reading it, and, according to Huisenga, also of writing it.