Book Remarks: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days — A conversation about writing and living on the land

The work of belonging to a place is never finished. There will always be more to know than any mind or lifetime can hold. But that is no argument against learning all one can.

—- Scott Russell Sanders, quoted in Susan Wittig Albert’s An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

 

Wittig Albert Extraordinary YearI have– finally!– read Susan Wittig Albert’s An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days, published in 2010.

Because Albert is one of my favorite writers of mysteries (China Bayles) and other intriguing books, I’m chagrined not to have discovered this one until I found it online in 2014.

On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t read it when I bought it, or I might not have published my own most recent book, Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal.

I began reading Albert’s book June 6 of this year. I stopped almost at once because my own book was already in production; I knew I’d be receiving page proofs soon. I could tell that Susan Albert’s journal and mine would have enough in common as to make me afraid I might unconsciously adopt—steal—some of her ideas as I proofread my own work. When I had earlier asked Susan to write a back-cover comment for my book, I had no idea that its structure, a year’s diary, paralleled that of her book.

sagging fences untidy woods

Susan’s own words in her diary are always enlightening. “But there’s a blessing in inhabiting a place for a long time,” she writes, adding that her years as part of a tenant farming family in eastern Illinois “fed my life for country, for the everyday world of overworked fields and sagging fences, untidy woods, winter pastures. Nothing special, nothing extraordinary, not even (to most people, anyway) very beautiful. . . . Unkempt fields, tangled woods: my history. Home.”

This, to me, is the strongest statement of her book and of my own: that for most of us, wherever we are is home if we accept it as such, and consent to understand and enhance our relationship to the place.

No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it.

—- Wendell Berry, quoted in An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

Writing of her relationship to home, Albert provides a reading list for the responsible writer. Each person in the United States, she learns, is responsible for around 21 tons of CO2 emissions per year, according to the United Nations Human Development Reports.

Global warming is one of those things, not like an earthquake where there’s a big bang and you say, “oh my God, this has hit us.” It creeps up on you. Half a degree temperature difference from one year to the next, a little bit of rise of the ocean, a little bit of melting of the glaciers, and then all of a sudden it is too late to do something about it.

—- Arnold Schwarzenegger, quoted in An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

Shocked, she assesses the usage attributable to herself and her husband. They drive fuel-efficient vehicles fewer miles annually than most families, and wouldn’t consider replacing then until they’ve gone 200,000 miles. “We repair, repurpose, reuse, recycle,” take short showers, use compact fluorescents, noting that if everyone replaced just three regular lightbulbs, we could keep a trillion pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

We’re all connected and nobody is in charge.

—- Thomas Friedman, quoted in An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

 

Wittig Albert Extrordinary Year page

Besides her own observations, Susan Albert has generously added to the outer third of each page quotations from other writers that address her theme of ordinary days. Thus not only does she provide the reader with a broad spectrum of observations, she brings attention to writers the reader may have missed. Some of the writers and comments were ones that appear in my own quotations files, but in my highlighting, underlining and copying, I added at least a dozen titles of books to my “must read” list.

A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.

—- Jerry Seinfeld, quoted in An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

Moreover, throughout the book, Albert weaves her own and others’ advice about writing, both directly and by inference. As she is writing this diary, uncertain whether or not it will become a book, she is proofreading another of her books I have not yet read, Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. Her discipline and ability to focus provides a strong lesson for any aspiring writer, or, indeed, any writer who considers herself a professional with nothing more to learn about the craft.

Reading this book, slowly, with my highlighter close by and my journal handy for writing my own reactions, I felt as if I were engaging in a long and glorious conversation with the writer as we nestled in comfortable chairs in front of a glowing fireplace.  I was delighted but not surprised to realize that many of the writers I admire have come to the same conclusions as we reach similar ages.

It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home. Otherwise, who will be there to chart the changes? Who will be able to tell us if the long-billed curlews have returned to the grassy vales of Promontory, Utah? Who will be there to utter the cry of loss when the salmon of the McKenzie River in Oregon are nowhere to be seen?

—- Terry Tempest Williams, quoted in An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

If I am not here, on this small western grasslands ranch, who will know that I have not seen a long-billed curlew since the neighboring subdivisions started erecting so-called “security lights” that blare into the darkness and make it difficult to see the stars?

There is strength, freedom, sustainability, and pride in being a practiced dweller in your own surroundings, knowing what you know.

—- Gary Snyder, quoted in An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

Get this book and read it; you can purchase the hardback book from the publisher, University of Texas Press, or find used copies online.

Gathering from the Grassland outsideOh yes, and get my book too, and enjoy the conversation. And don’t be surprised if you keep right on buying more books whose authors could join all of us in this vital discussion about the future of our world.

Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, is available in both paper and hardback– and though the book has only been out since September, used copies are available.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Those Thanksgiving Pie-Makers

A poem of thanksgiving, gratitude, and remembrance.

by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Linda pumpkin head

Those Thanksgiving Pie-Makers

All over America today, women search
for their grandmother’s pumpkin pie recipe.
Some rush to the store for condensed milk,
or whipping cream. Or stir up powdered milk
if they are poor, or on a diet,
or live too far from town.

In a Wisconsin farm house a red-haired woman
measures salt in a dented spoon.
In California, a thin girl stirs and puffs a cigarette,
puffs and stirs. In Wyoming,
I dust clove powder over my grandmother’s
green glass bowl and reach for the nutmeg grater.
In New Mexico, a brown-eyed woman
sprinkles cayenne. In Iowa, a man beats eggs,
recalling for his children how their mother looked.

Grandma always left me to measure
dry ingredients while she walked down
to her hen house. She came back holding four
warm brown eggs in her open hands
just as I licked brown sugar off my lips,
thinking she wouldn’t notice.

So today, twenty-five years after she died,
I lap brown sugar from a spoon just
so I’ll remember how she grinned at me.
While I stir, my oven beeps. Hers
was fired with wood she chopped. To test
the heat, she’d dip her fingers
in the water bucket she’d pumped full
that morning, flick spattering drops, and nod.

All over America, families are studying
gratitude. Some women slip
a pie into the oven, and hide
the cardboard box in the garbage.
Others light pumpkin-scented candles,
thankful anyway– though my grandmother
might not think they have good reason.

I crimp the rim of each pie crust
with three fingers, just the way
she taught me; make a salad
while the fragrance surges out
the open kitchen window. Next door,
perhaps the drug dealers open their eyes,
inhale, and almost remember.

Grandmother, may this pumpkin perfume
rise up to whatever heaven you inhabit,
sanctifying all my love and memories.
Listen: countless voices chant together
an infinity of thankful hymns.

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© 2006, Linda M. Hasselstrom

— First published for Empty Bowls 2006, United Church of Christ, Brookings, S.D.

Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, with Twyla M. Hansen
published 2011, The Backwaters Press, Omaha, NE
50 poems by each author; find this poem on pages 98-99

This poem is copyrighted. Do not reprint without permission from the author.

Dirt Songs with autumn leaves

Gathering “Gathering from the Grassland”

gathering-stacks-to-sign-2017.jpg

Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, is my most recent prose book. With publisher Nancy Curtis of High Plains Press in Glendo, WY, I’ve been working on it for several years.

In order for me to get copies of the book as soon as it was printed, we agreed to meet in Lusk, Wyoming, between our two ranches. We’d have lunch at The Pizza Place, and catch up on our personal and professional news. She’d hand over my author copies– 5 clothbound and 5 paperbound– and we’d discuss how we will each encourage sales of the book in the coming months. Many publishers, large and small, don’t do much promotion. High Plains Press supports its authors in dozens of ways, including buying lunch in Lusk– the New York City of our neighborhood.

LMH car detail 2017So “One Misty, Moisty Morning,” as Schooner Fare puts it, I loaded a handful of CDs, jugs of water, a rain coat and coffee. With Bob Seger, I declared at the top of my lungs that I was headed for “Katmandu;” If there’s a good song about driving to Lusk, I haven’t found it, but I won’t be surprised if this post generates suggestions.

When Jerry and I lived in Wyoming, I drove five and one-half hours from my ranch to Cheyenne regularly, but since we moved to my ranch home, my trips have been rare.  So I was delighted to hum a “Prairie Lullaby” (Stephanie Davis) as I headed “Beyond the Horizon” (Bob Dylan.) Since I’ve made this drive hundreds, if not thousands, of times, I knew I’d see familiar scenes, but would also surely see the unusual.  And the Wyoming breezes– “Four Strong Winds” from all four directions– would keep me alert.

CDs in car 2017We’ve had some frequent, though small, rains around home, so our hills are fairly green for this late in the season, though not nearly as vivid as those “Green Rolling Hills” Emmylou Harris was singing about. “Under a Rolling Sky,” (Michael Martin Murphey) the sun blazed red, stained by the smoke of fires in Montana and other areas west of us. Thick gray smoke muffled the outlines of the Black Hills and cast a nasty yellow tinge over the grass. I hummed with the “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (Bob Dylan) clouds as I turned west on SD 18, and zipped past Hot Springs. I soared up to Coffee Flats while Janis Joplin crooned about “Summertime.”

And there I got a surprise: two bicyclists! Each wore a helmet, and a skintight outfit striped in bright colors; their panniers bulged. Heads down, oblivious to the “Thunder on the Mountain,” (Dylan) they were headed west.

Just how much did they know about the arid country ahead of them? From Edgemont, it’s almost sixty miles to Newcastle, and almost seventy to Lusk, WY. There are no towns or settlements along the route, and most of the ranch houses are a considerable distance from the highway. At Mule Creek Junction, 21 miles west of Edgemont, a rest area offers water and “rest,” but little else.

Wyoming Highway near Lusk stock footage

As I accelerated past them– not in the “Mercedes Benz” Janis was warbling about– I tried to visualize what the bicyclists might be seeing. That “Peaceful Country” (Murphey) looks spectacular from that high plateau: down toward the tree-lined Cheyenne River and Beaver Creek drainages. Silver-blue sage sweeps up the hills, and many of the gullies are jagged and deep. With their heads down, would the riders see anything but their feet and the pavement?

When I drove this route nine years ago, I often thought of Murphey’s “Hardscrabble Creek” as my eyes followed ranch roads winding from the highway into the distance beyond the sagebrush. Often a beat-up car or pickup was parked beside the gate. I knew if I got into that vehicle, I’d find the keys under the floor mat or behind the visor, where ranchers always leave them. The transportation wasn’t abandoned, but meant the family had a child of school age who drove to the highway to be picked up by the school bus headed for Newcastle or Lusk. Is the ranching population aging? I saw few vehicles beside the ranch roads on this trip.

LMH autographs GATHERING 2017In Lusk, I parked on the wide street in front of The Pizza Place, and chose a booth that allowed me to see the front door while I wrote in my journal. When Nancy arrived, we enjoyed our visit and our pizza, noticing as the place filled with folks headed to a local funeral, or just having lunch in their work day. Then we explained to one of the waitresses that we’d like to keep using the booth awhile to sign books. “No problem,” she said, and we started lugging boxes of books in from the car. Once in a while after that, a waitress would peek around the corner, but they left us alone for more than an hour as I signed books, and smiled when we refilled our water and tea glasses.

After I’d signed books Nancy will have on hand for customers who ask, we transferred the boxes of books I’d bought at my author discount to my car, so I could head home and begin selling them. One of the most pleasant features of Lusk is those wide streets: two women with boxes of books could move safely from one car to the one behind it without being run over by a semi-load of hay.

Periwinkle Patent Leather Clogs“I love your purple Crocs!” I said to Nancy. “I had to give mine up for tougher shoes.”

“Everyone says that,” she said firmly, “but I am not wearing Crocs. I am wearing Periwinkle Patent Leather clogs.” Publishers have to be precise.

Independent authors and publishers need to “Try Just a Little Bit Harder,” and I promised to do so as I sang along with Joplin’s throaty vocals, accelerating out of town.

Rumblestrips stock footageWyoming highway officials, among whom Jerry used to be numbered, know the hazards of this two-lane highway that winds through the sagebrush. They’ve thoughtfully placed rumble strips—corrugated asphalt that make a terrible racket when your tires hit it–on both edges of the highway, AND in the middle. The purpose is to wake up dozing drivers, or perhaps alert those who are texting.

I noticed them first when they were applied to Highway 79 that goes past my house. Before sunrise, when I’m still trying to sleep, a truck hitting the rumble strips sounds like a helicopter landing on my bed.

Rumble strips and cattle or sheep that climb through fences to graze the right-of-way aren’t all that keeps a person alert on this highway. I heard a Whoosh! as another “Greenie”—Wyoming slang for speeding Colorado cars with green license plates–raced past in a no-passing zone.

I slammed on the brakes to let the idiot pull in front of me seconds before he would have been obliterated by an oncoming truck. I was angry, but I put on my “Secret Smile,” (Murphey) satisfied with being a life-saver. In the past, I may have exceeded speed limits occasionally, but no longer. I’d rather “Give A Little Bit Back” (Davis), relax, enjoy the scenery, and arrive safe and alive at home.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Gathering Windbreak JournalMy first published book, in 1987, was a diary of a year on my plains ranch. Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains was published by a small publisher, Barn Owl Books, and featured my observations of the work and life I was leading then. Over the years hundreds of readers wrote to me with thanks for letting them see ranch life.

Now, thirty years later I’ve published another book in journal form: Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal (High Plains Press, September 2017). Much has changed in the intervening decades, especially because I am no longer involved in the daily chores of raising cattle. A central part of this journal is my research into the diaries and records left by my ancestors on this ranch on the plains. ​I learned things about my relatives, their history, and this land that I never knew.

I’m more convinced than ever that it’s essential for us to tell our stories, not only for our blood descendants, but for those who will come after us in this world. Write for your children and grandchildren so they will know how you survived this life, and write for yourself.

++–++–++–++

High Plains Press is offering a special limited-time discount for early orders. If you order directly from High Plains Press by September 20th, you’ll get a $5 discount on the limited edition hardcover.

trade paper — $19.95 plus $4 shipping
limited edition hardcover — $29.95 — Your price = $24.95 plus $4 shipping

Go to the High Plains Press webpage for my book Gathering from the Grassland

Special Offer Gathering from the GrasslandClick on the “order now” button for the limited edition hardcover.

Select how many copies you want. (Volume discount on shipping.)

Be sure to use the comment box if you would like a personalized inscription beyond my signature (for instance, “Happy Thanksgiving, Aunt Nellie”) in any of the copies you purchase.

Enter the voucher/coupon code LINDA.

Click on the “recalculate” button to update the amount due, then proceed with your payment.

(Sorry, there is no discount on the paperback edition at this time.)

Thank you and enjoy the read!

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Flesh-eating Bacteria and Snortable Chocolate: Summer Reflections

Hay bales 2017

I step outside the basement door into 97 degrees, but the evening is cooling down though it’s nearly two hours until sunset. Carefully, I climb into my canvas “sky chair,” hung from the deck by a single rope. I’m sweltering but invigorated after a hot bath infused with peppermint oil, eucalyptus, wintergreen, juniper, palm and clove oils.

In one hand I hold a gin and tonic, moisture beaded on the sides of the glass. The other hand clutches a pen and the slightly damp yellow pad covered with the ideas I scrawled while marinating in hot water and herbal oils. Not long ago, we bought an antique claw foot bathtub nearly as long as I am. Jerry installed it in a beautifully paneled alcove, which I curtained and furnished with a table for bath oils, wash cloths, and writing materials.

Linda testing the new clawfoot tub 2017This is my idea of pure bliss: to work hard all day, slip into a bath and have a writing idea that compels me to write while I soak. A good day’s work and hot bath would have been enough to make the day excellent. The writing is an unexpected dividend, the fruit of the day’s quiet reflection.

Jerry spent his day mowing the yard and tilling the garden; he leans back in a padded chair beside mine. Bubbles rise from his beer. The two Westies, Cosmo and Toby, lie panting on a rug beside my feet. I dampen them with a handful or two of water from their bowl and they relax, eyes closed. We tell ourselves we feel a breeze.

Summer. In years past, I would have been driving haying equipment, piling up the hay crop for winter cattle feed. After I sold my cattle, the man who rented the land took over responsibility for the harvest. He’s hired a neighbor’s swather, which rumbled around the field, cutting hay and sweeping it into lines that followed the field’s contours, then lumbered away. Dozens of round bales shining with green plastic wrap are lined up in even rows all over the field. The sinking sun makes some part of the baler twinkle.

Robin baby says Feed Me 2017A robin rushes past carrying something wiggly in its beak, then perches on the fence, looking around. We’ve watched the nest under the deck as three blue eggs hatched into the three chicks that cheep for supper. Sitting under the deck, we make the robin nervous, but it darts to the nest and then away.

 

In the deep grass of the field south of the house, meadowlarks are whistling. Red-winged blackbirds trill from the cattails along the pond. Tree swallows tweet as they zip past. The robin lands in the grass, leaps ahead to snatch up an insect, then looks toward the nest. Everything in our sight is preparing for winter. Two of the biggest stories on the Internet today were about flesh-eating bacteria and the new practice of snorting chocolate powder to get a thrill. The nature I’m watching is too busy to notice what humans fear or how they entertain themselves.

Tomatoes ripening 2017The tomato plants push against the wire of their cages. Compelled to grow, they divide and branch as they reach for water and sunshine. Every inch of branch that extends from the main stem makes nutrients travel farther before reaching a flower that will become a fruit. Green tomatoes the size of a hen’s egg are nearly hidden by leaves, and yellow blossoms reach for the sun.

I want tomatoes, not branches, so my thumb and nail are stained green from pruning secondary stems. Rabbits have been eating the bean and pepper leaves, so I’ve slipped a horizontal slice of a soft drink bottle over each plant to protect the stem and lower leaves until the plant is strong enough to resist the depredation. On a metal table Jerry made, too high for the rabbits to reach, herbs thrive in pots. Calendula blooms are vivid yellow-orange beside feathery parsley and the pale purple blooms of lavender. Inside, in our homemade dryer, parsley, basil and chives are withering, getting ready for me to store them in labeled jars for winter stews. I’ll stitch little bags of lavender to slip inside my pillows for easing into sleep.

Herbs in pots 2017Leaves shiver in a breeze as the black storm that rumbled past us heading east swings around to the south. White clouds boil over the ridge, shading to gray and black underneath. The storm may come back. We planted our little garden in raised beds and pots just south of the house and deck for maximum protection, but if this storm carries hail, it could devastate our plants. I’ve moved several potted tomatoes on rolling platforms under the deck, but even that might not save them.

Red Maltese Cross on blue sky 2017The limber stems of flax bend and wave, turning blue flowers back and forth like the faces of a crowd. Regal Maltese cross plants sway gently, blossoms startling red against the clouds. A pair of jets roar overhead, charging out of the clouds, aimed toward the nearby Air Force base after maneuvers that may have taken them anywhere in the world. Their business is being prepared to protect all of us below their roaring progress.

Nighthawks fly, their narrow wings slicing the sky, calling peent with long pauses between as the birds wheel and dart after insects, an aerial ballet both beautiful and deadly. Down by the water, the killdeer, likewise hunting, rise up from the marsh plants, calling killdee, killdee! I hear a flutter overhead, and a twig falls: the robin has darted to its nest again. A tree swallow zings west to east, then loops and loops and loops as another pirouettes beside it. Every living creature I can see is busy eating and harvesting, growing and thriving, too busy to snort chocolate or anything else for entertainment.

I sat down here to write, but now, with Jerry, I’m watching what there is to see, sweating gently and enjoying a light breeze.

The clouds behind the ridge have blackened, so the grass glows vividly green and gold in the sunset. We look for antelope on the skyline; they’ve been missing from our neighborhood for weeks. On our hillside, the grass crunches when I walk. Our fire danger is high in this year of drought, but relatives who visit from northern South Dakota say our landscape is greener than theirs.

Robin feeds baby 2017As the breeze rises, a tree swallow hangs almost stationary against it, flapping vigorously toward the bird house, but getting no nearer. The robin sits on the post with a worm in its mouth, turning its head to watch us, then leaps into the air and lands on the nest overhead. “Cluck.” The cheeping overhead pauses. In the distance a long-billed curlew wolf-whistles. We haven’t seen any of the big birds for months, but it’s good to know they are still living in the tall grass of our pastures. They don’t thrive in agricultural areas, so rangeland that is not overgrazed is perfect habitat for them.

We observed Litha, the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year, more than a month ago. On that day the earth was balanced between light and dark, between summer and winter. Every day since has been a little shorter and brought us a little closer to winter.

Traditionally, this is the time of the first harvest, forecasting the business of late summer days as the pace of gathering increases. Everything we see is preparing, in its own way, for the days to come. The animals are better at this preparation than the humans; while we fret over national and international affairs, they quietly pursue their own business. They have endured countless generations of human agitation, yet they survive.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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The Importance of the Pause

My wise retreat writer has headed home in her shiny red car. She has one more retreat promise to fulfill. During 14 hours’ driving time, she’ll analyze her usual schedule, and set a time to write every single day. She’ll do it, too, though she has a full-time job, a mother to care for, a husband and sundry other responsibilities that have a way of eating time. But she is determined to finish her writing project, and I have no doubt that I will at some point receive an autographed copy of her book.

I particularly enjoyed her retreat because she worked hard: reading the handouts I gave her and revising her writing. She’d place each day’s work on a flash drive which I would take to my own computer, and read while writing comments in the text before returning it to her for more work. Yet each day she made time for at least one walk, and she took photographs.

Tea at the Writing Retreat 2017--8-2

And twice she invited me for tea. Each day she served a delicious Grapefruit Rosemary Spritzer, as well as piping hot tea served from a lovely teapot in delicate china cups she had brought with her. In addition, she’d baked sweet bread or scones, presented with lemon curd and strawberry jam, clotted cream and butter. We spent an hour sipping and eating luxuriously, discussing her work in a relaxed manner.

I’m sure that she went back to work that late afternoon as refreshed as I did. She’d taken time, and made me take time, from our busybusybusybusy efforts at writing to simply enjoy the flavors of the food, the ritual of tea-making, the pleasure of talking with a like-minded soul.

She reminded me of the importance of the pause, the time that is not spent planning, accomplishing, doing, rushing, but simply in enjoying.

I may not have tea every day, and rarely will I have it with such delicious accompaniments, but I will remember how refreshing it is to pause every day to appreciate the luxury of pausing.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Go to www.windbreakhouse.com and click on writing retreats to find the list of available dates and everything else you need to know about scheduling a writing retreat this year.

 

The Authors Guild: Helping Writers Make a Living.

BookSpinesLong

“Why Is It So Goddamned Hard to Make a Living as a Writer Today?” asks Douglas Preston in the summer issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin. Preston is a journalist and author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction.

Every writer and aspiring writer ought to read his answer, given as a talk to the New Mexico Writers Dinner in Santa Fe on March 2, 2017.

As a nation, Preston says, we think we’re alert to censorship, but we’re missing some important points. A prevailing view is that information should be free. Hence, Google copied four million books without getting permission from the copyright owners.

Composers and musicians make money from the use of their works through their professional organizations, ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), which collect royalties on the work.

But Authors Guild, which represents many of the nation’s writers, spent ten years and a million hard-earned writers’ dollars suing Google and lost. Even though Google is making a profit by robbing authors, the judge ruled against writers.

And then there’s Amazon, which was launched as a bookseller not to sell books, but to acquire large numbers of customers to whom it can sell other stuff. In order to do that, Amazon sells books at a loss. Brick and mortar bookstores can’t compete, “because none of them could afford to sell books at a loss forever,” says Preston, so almost half the independent bookstores in the nation went out of business. And that was before Amazon launched the e-book, which devastated the hardcover market.

As a result, even the best publishers are trying to stay solvent by cutting authors’ income:

  • cutting advances
  • focusing on bestsellers and celebrities while dropping lesser-known writers
  • spending less on promotion unless it’s a “sure-fire bestseller”
  • publishing fewer risky books, i.e., those with minority voices, controversy, or that are argumentative
  • ending publication of first novels
  • dropping authors whose first books don’t sell

If information is free, says Preston, “and authors can’t make a living writing books, they’ll make a living doing something else. This is the censorship of the marketplace in a nutshell.”

Authors-guild-logoBut as Preston notes, writers are terrible at organizing. Our work depends on being alone. So we need to join the nine thousand other writers in the Authors Guild, the oldest writing association in the nation, which has been working for writers for more than a hundred years.

From the Guild website, www.AuthorsGuild.org:

Regular Membership: Traditionally published authors with at least 1 published book; self-published authors who have made at least $5,000 in the past 18 months from their writing; and freelance writers who have published 3+ pieces or made $5,000 in the past 18 months.

Associate Membership: Writers who have received a contract offer from a traditional publisher or an offer of representation from a literary agent; self-published authors or freelance writers who have made at least $500 in the past 18 months from their writing.

The Guild also offers three additional levels of membership:

Emerging Writer: Dedicated writers who are actively seeking to publish their work, but have not yet published a book and do not meet the income thresholds for professional membership.

Student: College and graduate students interested in pursuing writing professionally in the future.

Member-at-Large: Established literary agents and editors; heirs, executors or trustees of the estates of deceased authors; or attorneys and accountants representing authors; or publicists or other publishing professionals.

You may join online, or get a membership application from the website and mail it with the required dues. Learn about the many member benefits.

Give yourself a gift; join us in protecting the work we do.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Book Remarks: Wilderness Fever

Wilderness Fever: A Family’s Adventures Homesteading in Early Jackson Hole, 1914-1924.
Linda Preston McKinstry with Harold Cole McKinstry
Foreword by Sherry L. Smith, Ph.D.
(Glendo, WY: High Plains Press, 2016)

WildernessFeverMcKinstryMost Americans think of homesteading as having occurred in the 1800s. We can all picture the wholesome farm families sitting on the seats of wagons pulled by oxen, the billowing white canvas covering all their possessions. Possibly a milk cow is tied to the back of the load beside a crate full of chickens. On the horizon— is that cowboys, or possibly Indians?

Some parts of the West, especially including western Wyoming, stayed wild longer than, for example, the Dakotas. And for Linda Preston McKinstry and her husband Harold Cole McKinstry, homesteading began in 1915 when they left bureaucratic jobs in Washington, D.C. and took advantage of the government’s offer of “free” land.

McKinstry, called “Mac” of course, grew up in North Dakota and had studied agriculture and Linda was a home economics teacher when they settled in Jackson Hole. In several ways, they were not typical homesteaders. For one thing, they were thirty years late for the peak of homesteading. Both were well-educated, and most importantly, they had money. If homesteading hadn’t worked out, they could have gone elsewhere and done something else. Having a ready supply of cash also allowed them to have luxuries such as Valentine’s Day cards and gifts for each other on special occasions.

Still, their lives were hard and demanding. This book is composed of letters they wrote to Linda’s mother, which retain the freshness of experiences just lived, and from memoirs they wrote years later. Besides the dangers of their chosen lifestyle, with no doctor, no telephone, and only rare mail service, they had to become adept at planning ahead. Once winter dumped several feet of snow on their remote home, they knew they wouldn’t be able to leave for months. They ordered groceries to be shipped to the nearest settlement, Victor, Idaho.

Think about this list: 500 pounds of white flour, 100 pounds of cornmeal, and 75 pounds of whole wheat flour. There’s your bread and pancakes for the season. Several hundred pounds of potatoes. 25 pounds of navy beans, 10 pounds of macaroni, and 25 pounds each of prunes, dried pears, figs, and dried apples. One 24-can case of tomatoes. 12 cans each of corn, string beans and salmon. 10 pounds each of lima, red kidney and chili beans. 14 pounds of noodles. Add in 50 pounds of brown sugar, 300 pounds of white sugar, 10 pounds of coffee and a little tea, and you’ve got your menu for the winter.

On this diet, the McKinstrys cut ice, skied and snowshoed, and drove starving horses through drifts twice as high as the horses. In November one year, they ordered 500 pounds of potatoes. Two ranchers drove to Victor to collect a supply of potatoes for themselves and neighbors. Because of the extreme cold, the potatoes had to be unloaded and kept close to a fire each night to keep them from freezing.

They supplemented their diet with elk shot near their home. In order to eat meat in the summer, Susan had to can it, which required packing it into quart jars that had to be kept covered with boiling water on the wood-fueled stove for several hours.

Because few fences existed in the country where they lived, Mac was constantly searching for their strayed horses and cattle, sometimes in extremely cold weather conditions. Travel required hardships and risks most of us can’t even imagine today. This meant that when anyone was traveling through the neighborhood, they’d stop for a visit— and every visitor had to be fed, and sometimes bedded down in the tiny, poorly-insulated log cabins that served as their homes. Linda writes often of expecting only Mac for lunch only to have as many as 10 people show up expecting to be fed.

Yet their youngest daughter reported that the couple loved the lifestyle, and only left it when they had three children who needed schooling. In addition, they believed it was likely that Yellowstone National Park would absorb their ranch, making it impractical to continue improving it.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is the comparison and contrast between Linda’s and Mac’s accounts of the same events, allowing us to see how the life affected both of them. The book designer helped the readability immensely by reserving the outer third of each page for the notes that might have been turned into annoying footnotes, providing additional information on the text, as well as information describing the photographs in the book.

For me, the hardest part of the reading was that the authors wrote often in passive voice— but that was the style of the times, and probably also because they were writing about their past, looking back at their adventures. “Thanksgiving Day was spent at the ranch,” they write, rather than “We spent Thanksgiving Day at the ranch.” But these are small matters.

Read this book for a clearer understanding of homesteading, and to enjoy the astonishing steadfastness and adaptability of these two heroic explorers. Their adventure was reality for most of our pioneering western ancestors.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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