Deadline Met: Report on a Solitary Writing Retreat

writing-retreat-houseMystery writer M.K. Coker came to Windbreak House Retreats for a solitary retreat in October, finishing the next book in the terrific Dakota Mystery series in time for a November deadline. This report about the experience (printed with M.K.’s permission) ought to encourage every single writer: 1,000 words on the day of arrival!

Almost as soon as I arrived for my solitary retreat, I found the distractions of ordinary life– the insistent and unceasing demands of phones, Internet, and the never-ending to-do list– disappeared. I was able to write a thousand words on my novel that very afternoon before a scheduled get-together with Linda’s bookclub.

As it was the first time I’ve ever been on the hot seat as an author, I was a bit nervous but the informal potluck was just the right introduction to the bewildering world of fans. They asked probing questions, ones I hadn’t expected, such as whether I would go back and write the many books I had once started years ago and never finished (the answer: for the most part, no, I’d moved on). The only bad part of the evening was that I was so busy answering questions that I didn’t get to eat until it was all over! So I wasn’t able to thank them personally for the excellent repast.

The next several days, I was able to get down to work and pumped out about five thousand words on most days, with some thinking time when I hit snags. Daily walks from the retreat house to the highway kept my brain supplied with oxygen– and beauty.

barn-sunset-by-mk-coker-2016-10-14

Sunset — photo by M.K. Coker

A truly spectacular sunset over the Hills and a giant moon-set the morning that I left reminded me of what I often forget in town: Nature is the best inspiration. And a meeting with Linda to talk about the life of a writer was something I will always treasure, as I have no one in my life who truly understands that aspect of my life.

Without this retreat, I have no doubt that I would have missed my editing date. But I made it, by the skin of my teeth!

If you haven’t yet read a book by this author, you’re way behind. Get acquainted with Detective Marek Okerlund and Sheriff Karen Mehaffy and the fictional Eda County in southeastern South Dakota, that “bastion of corn, beans, wheat, bluffs, and rivers.” Every word, every scene, every community activity, rings absolutely true.

mk-coker-five-books

Start with the first in the series, and by the time you’ve read all those available now, the new one should be out. First is Dead White, followed by Dead Dreams, Dead Wrong, Dead Quiet, and Dead News.

mkcokerdeadhotAnd in March of 2017, look for number six: Dead Hot.

 

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

© 2016, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Read my “Book Remarks” blog about M.K. Coker’s Dakota Mystery series here:
https://windbreakhouse.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/dead-in-dakota-the-mysteries-of-mk-coker/

Find M.K.Coker’s website here:
http://www.mkcoker.com/

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Book Remarks: There Used To Be A Guy But He Died

WilkinsonGuyDiedThere Used To Be A Guy But He Died
Alan Wilkinson
Injury-Time Ltd., 2016

How could anyone resist a title like that? I couldn’t, and the title justifies itself in the first few pages of this saga of Alan Wilkinson’s 630-mile bicycle ride across Nebraska, from the lowest point to the highest in the state. The lone stranger rides into town as the wind blows tumbleweeds across the dusty street. Taciturn as any hired gun, and saddle-sore, he’s looking for— well, I won’t ruin the surprise.

Wilkinson is English, and has visited Nebraska many times since developing a fascination with the west as a child; he speaks regularly at gatherings to discuss the work of Mari Sandoz in Chadron. But despite my own heroine-worship of Sandoz, we’ve never met. Through his writing, however, I’ve come to enjoy his wry and muted sense of humor, and his deft way of picking holes in American conceit.

Why would anyone ride a bicycle across Nebraska? The author says he’d like to emulate the experience of the Oregon Trail as pioneers saw it, “pitting myself against the elements and attempting to compare the actual experience of crossing the Plains with the feelings I might have when it was over.”

He gets his wish; he’s blasted by heat, scoured by dust, and worn out by the sheer effort of propelling himself across the plains. Like those pioneers, he writes, “To be honest, I wanted to surrender. But there was nothing to surrender to; nowhere to go. . . . It was only by pressing on, that I was able to keep my spirits up.” If we Americans could talk to those among our ancestors who followed the Trail, surely they would say the same.

Along the way, though, Wilkinson accomplishes something I didn’t expect: he brought me to tears. He attends an event where more than a hundred “middle-aged Americans” join together in singing “Over There.” For the honorary Limey in the crowd, dressed in cowboy boots and denim jeans, the song is ironic: Sure, the Yanks are coming, “Chewing gum and silk stockings and chasing our women. Muscling in.” Hearing those voices, though, Wilkinson realized more fully the “heroic and self-sacrificing nature of the commitment.” Through his eyes, I could see those Great Plains farm boys, one of whom was an uncle I never knew, cheerfully putting on his uniform to fight for an ideal.

This book is subtle; no car-chases, lightning strikes or other drama. He even downplays a dog bite. If I hadn’t already been a fan, Wilkinson would have won me over when he said he’d been tempted to slip in some incidents from more dramatic trips, but he resisted. What the book does offer is an honest assessment of Western people. Wilkinson used to be a freight train guard, so he pays particular attention to trains, but he also provides a considerable amount of Nebraska history, and recommendations on the best books to read about the subject, all the while suffering from the heat and exposure.

When he finally jolts down gravel section line roads to arrive at Panorama Point, at 5, 424 feet the highest point in Nebraska, Wilkinson triumphs:

Here for the first time I could see what it must have been like to arrive in an ox-drawn wagon and at last, after all those hundreds of miles, start looking around for a place to settle. It would be a feeling of true freedom, simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. With no reference-point, no neighbor, in those days no crossroads, a pioneer would have a very real sense of what liberation meant: not just alone-ness, but total self-reliance. It’s this self-reliance that makes westerners such dyed-in-the-wool conservatives.

Many writers have written travel tales that, as the hackneyed phrase goes, “share with me,” a lot more than I want to know about the writer’s sexual preferences, fears, triumphs or problems. Wilkinson lets me far enough into his mind so I can appreciate his reason for riding, but he doesn’t drag me down into a personal abyss. He’s honest; getting this book ready for publication some years after the ride, he says he’s tried, “to stick to the way it felt then, rather than the way it looks now. Back to my journals and maps, and no fabricating.”

A conscientious reviewer always proves her perspicacity by mentioning something negative about the book, so here goes: I wanted a map. Sure, I have a perfectly good Atlas, but Rulo, Wilkinson’s starting point, isn’t on it, nor are some of the other towns he mentioned. Sure, I could find Red Cloud, Willa Cather’s home town, but my map doesn’t tell me exactly where Dix is.

WilkinsonRedHouseAs long as I’m here, I’d like to applaud Wilkinson’s The Red House on the Niobrara, the book in diary form he wrote while experiencing life in a hundred-year-old hunting lodge, also in Nebraska. He’d barely moved in when he was hit with a genuine April blizzard as only the Plains delivers them; then his road washed out. Wanting to live like a pioneer, he planted a garden. In true Plains style, hail destroyed his first effort and grasshoppers his second.

Still, like the real pioneers, he persevered, getting acquainted with the locals by helping them with their work and drinking in their bars. He probably made the neighbors nervous by camping out at the gravesite of Mari Sandoz, but he also wrote a fine book demonstrating his real relationship with the land and its people.

Find The Red House on the Niobrara on Kindle for $4.95, or paperback for $13.95.

There Used To Be A Guy But He Died is available on Kindle for $4.95 or paperback for $10.95; and if you want to read more of this deft writer’s work, look for Alan Wilkinson’s blog at http://walkinonnails.blogspot.com/

 

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

© 2016, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Promoting Your Writing

AlbertChinaSeriesOne of my heroines in the writing business is Susan Wittig Albert, who besides being the author of the popular China Bayles herbal mysteries and founder of Story Circle Network, a nonprofit organization for writing women, has written books for young adults, books for women on life-writing, and all kinds of work-for-hire books when she was learning her craft. Her Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place focuses on how she made the shift from University professor into a new marriage and writing career. Along the way she provides all kinds of writing advice.

“Marketing,” she says, “is a necessary fact of the writing life.” Many of the writers who question me don’t ask about writing details: they want to know how to market. Almost all of them say, as I do, that they understand the difficulties of writing, but they loathe marketing and don’t know how to do it. Susan Albert agrees.

“Jane Austen never went on a book tour, or put together a brochure advertising her work, or handed out bookmarks.” Modern writers must do these things, and because of the Internet, the emphasis on promotion has grown. Writers are encouraged by publishers to set up web sites, blog, and be on Facebook. She adds, “Writers also do bookstore signings, give library talks, go to conferences, and generally make an effort to flaunt themselves, sometimes with the financial backing of their publishing house, usually not.”

“Usually not.” That’s an important omission. Even writers fortunate enough to publish with big companies often get no promotion budget these days; they are expected to do all this time-consuming self-promotion without pay. And all these activities take time away from the writing that got them published in the first place.

SocialMediaLogosI approach self-promotion with the same attitude I have toward drinking alcohol: moderation. Neither drinking nor self-promotion is really necessary to preserve your life and sanity. Both can provide feelings of euphoria. Over-indulgence in either leads to headaches, and makes you wonder just what you said that left you with a feeling of loathing.

My method is to try to make self-promotion enjoyable but I do have a particular advantage. I couldn’t promote as well as I do without the thoughtful help of an assistant who maintains my website, Facebook page and WordPress blog. She also edits my writing, and decides what gets posted where and when. Because she has alerted me to the way these social media work, I sometimes get ideas that help with the promotion, but mostly I am able to do what I believe I do best. I write.

If you are a writer who needs to promote, look for someone to help. This might be a friend, employee or both (if you’re as lucky as I am), whose skills make promotion enjoyable and understandable. Perhaps you can barter with this person: your skills for his or hers. But don’t be chintzy; remember that unless someone is reading what you are writing, you can’t pay for the electricity to run your computer, so be prepared to understand what promotion is worth to you and compensate accordingly.

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

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For more information:

These two entertaining blogs found at www.whimseydark.com/blog/ address the difference between pushing yourself on readers and pulling them into your writing.  The reader comments below each blog also have some good ideas.
Please Shut Up: Why Self-Promotion As an Author Doesn’t Work
Wait, Keep Talking: Author Self-Promotion That Actually Works

Website for Susan Wittig Albert:
http://www.susanalbert.com/

Website for Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles mysteries:
http://www.abouthyme.com/
There are many more titles than the 12 shown at the beginning of this blog, and I own every one of them.

Website for Story Circle Network:
http://www.storycircle.org/
I am a member of this organization and am featured in the Professional Directory here:
Story Circle Network Professional Directory

© 2016, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Book Remarks: Cook to Change the World

PollanCookedDuo

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
Michael Pollan, Penguin Group, 2013. 480 pages

As the title suggests, Michael Pollan has written something more than a cookbook. He notes that cooks are really alchemists, working with the primal elements of fire and water, earth and air. How many of us, he asks, still work with those fundamentals of the material world. Cooking, anthropologists tell us, was a defining human activity, maybe THE single activity that defines us as human. So for us to hand over that power to hawkers of additive-laden fast food is even more dangerous than you may think.

Cooking, says Pollan, gave us not just better food but different bodies. When we ate raw food, we had little brains and big bellies, and spent hours every day just chewing and digesting whatever food we captured. We hunted food alone and ate it alone. Perhaps today, as we grab food from gas stations and eat in our cars rushing to and from work, we are in danger of becoming solitary again.

Cooking made us social; we began to eat together, to share food, to sit around the fire becoming human. Cooking, says Pollan, “implicates us in a whole web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, with the soil, with farmers, with the microbes both inside and outside our bodies, and, of course, with the people our cooking nourishes and delights.”

We live in an age where we’re told to specialize. One restaurant guide, reports Pollan, even suggests that people should stay an extra hour in the office doing what they do well, and let bargain restaurants do what they do best—feed the workers. This is the classic argument for division of labor, which has blessed our civilization as it has changed it. While Pollan admits that this view of progress is what allows him to make a living writing while others “grow my food, sew my clothes, and supply the energy that lights and heats my house,” he insists that such specialization also “breeds helplessness, dependence, and ignorance, and eventually, it undermines any sense of responsibility.”

Maybe this explains what seems to be happening to our culture!

Specialization, says Pollan, obscures the lines of connection, so we don’t understand our responsibilities. We no longer understand the consequences of our actions. “Specialization makes it easy to forget about the filth of the coal-fired power plant that is lighting this pristine computer screen, or the back-breaking labor it took to pick the strawberries for my cereal. . . . neatly hides our implication in all that is done on our behalf by unknown other specialists half a world away.”

Is this why some of us don’t understand that in order to keep the air breathable, the water pure enough to drink and enough food on the table, we need to decide our priorities?

“The Big Problem,” Pollan continues,” is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us. . . . and the rest of them made by others in the name of our needs and desires.”

A lot of people talk about “changing the world,” and anyone planning to do that has to work hard in the public eye, but Pollan suggests such work is no longer sufficient. “We’ll have to change the way we live, too,” and that means that what we choose to do with our kitchens, gardens, houses and cars will “matter to the fate of the world in a way they never have before.”

In a world where so few of us really have to cook, then, to choose to do so “is to lodge a protest against specialization. . . . Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives,” he asserts. “To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption.”

Yes, Pollan provides recipes—but only four or five in the whole 480 pages of the book because he wants us to understand what’s truly behind each of these eating experiences. I was especially intrigued by the chapter on bread-baking, since, as he notes, baking bread is merely “an ingenious technology for improving the flavor, digestibility, and nutritional value of grass.” Grasses occupy two-thirds of the planet’s landmass and are particularly efficient at collecting solar energy. Before we learned to eat grass, we began eating the ruminants that ate it and sometimes the predators that ate them, consuming our grass second- or third-hand—a wasteful way to use energy.

Cows have four stomachs so they can process all parts of the grass into sustenance. Our single stomach isn’t nearly as efficient, so we needed to figure out a way to use the grass seed more directly. Baking bread enabled us to eat lower on the food chain, and was a lot less work than chasing an antelope and beating it to death with a club.

The book is huge, of course, but full of fascinating information, a blend of history and personal narrative, though occasionally he drops into journalistic reporting. This is not a book to be read quickly, though depending on your interests, you may skim a bit. Still, take time to think about his comments; this is definitely one of the two or three best books I read in 2015. Every day since reading it, I’ve been delighted to trot into the kitchen and fight corporate takeover by cooking something wonderful. I recommend you do the same.

 

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

© 2016, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Dead in Dakota: The Mysteries of MK Coker

I read myself to sleep every night. Ideally, my bedtime reading is a mystery that lifts my mind away from the subjects of my own writing and eases me into rest.

For some reason I no longer remember, because I am not trying to break any speed records, I write down the title of each book I read, many of them mysteries. My records show, for example, that I read 367 books in 2011.

Classics like the Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers, Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series, and whodunits by John Creasey, Elizabeth Lemarchand, Margery Allingham, Gwendoline Butler, Georgette Heyer, and Michael Innes have helped me to rest for years. The Brother Cadfael series written by Ellis Peters (Elizabeth Pargeter) have made me laugh and taught me about history on the Welsh border between 1135 and 1145. The names flow past: Ngaio Marsh. Arthur W. Upfield. Reginald Hill (Dalziel and Pascoe.) Martha Grimes (Richard Jury). Jonathan Gash (Lovejoy, a British antiques dealer with flexible morals). In 2012, I read 345 books, but only 344 in 2013.

Among more modern writers I like both Laurie King’s Mary Russell and her Kate Martinelli series. Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher allows me to picture myself driving her Hispano Suiza at unwise speeds through the curves of the Black Hills, and the Corinna Chapman books, centering on a bread baking heroine of real human proportions, always makes me hungry. Sharyn McCrumb’s Elizabeth MacPherson series are hard to find, as are her unusual novels set in the Appalachian South, but I persist. I only buy books I’ve read and enjoyed once and am sure I will re-read, so I just bought all of Jane Langton’s Homer Kelly series. I own most of both Ann Perry’s William Monk and her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books are on one shelf and Louise Penny’s Three Pines books will soon occupy another. Elly Griffiths has given me an acquaintance with Ruth Galloway, a slightly overweight archaeologist, whose humanity keeps me coming back. The historical density of the sixteenth century settings of Cora Harrison’s series featuring a female judge in Ireland keeps me turning pages, though their weight and detail may be why I read only 260 books in 2014.

If you recognize any of those names, you know I read writers who love language, and who use scholarship and humor at least as much as criminal activity to entertain their readers. While plot and characters are important, eloquence can keep me reading even if I lose track of the action. Conversely, spelling and grammatical errors cause me to startle the dogs by hurling the book across the room. (To my friends at various libraries: if the book belongs to a library, I write a sticky note pointing out the error, tuck it in the book and place the book gently on the floor.)

When the discards that I own pile up in the corner of my bedroom, I toss them down the stairs into the box that I’ll take to the secondhand bookstore to trade in on better books.

Now that I have established the seriousness of my interest in mysteries, here’s the punchline: I’ll never sell my copies of the South Dakota mysteries by MK Coker.

MKCokerBookGroup

SPOILER ALERT — though the comments below do not reveal any critical information about whodunnit, they do mention a few plot and character developments in each book that may spoil your speculations about the future. Proceed at your own risk.


 

In Dead White, the first in the series, we met Detective Marek Okerlund as he drove through a Dakota blizzard with his pickup door open far enough so he could see the interstate’s center line. I’ve driven in storms like that, so I was hooked by the accuracy of the description. By page two, the reader has been ushered into the town of Reunion and the presence of Sheriff Karen Mehaffey, whose experience as a police dispatcher has spurred her to hire Okerlund, a more qualified detective. Already the reader is wrapped in the storm and the intertwined relationships typical of a small Dakota town like that where the author grew up. I live in the western half of the state, but I went to school in the part where these books are set, so I was ready to pounce on any wrong note, in spite of the fact that the book was autographed to me by the author.

By page 3, as the blizzard howls, the story had captured me as completely as the dying man who had been chained to the barbed-wire fence. Hired by Sheriff Karen because he has the experience she lacks, Detective Marek Okerlund had arrived with a silent daughter and a shadowy past. As Coker began to populate the mystery with a cast of characters that are varied but believable, I found myself slowing my reading, both to keep the players straight and savor the writing. As is clearly indicated by the number of books I read each year, I can finish some light mysteries in an evening. The Dakota books take longer, but they are worth it.

In each book, several small stories play out against the broader backdrop of the mystery, but all fit into a portrait of a small town woven together with generations of interaction, with loves, hates, disagreements and blood. Still, the writing is tight and always pointed toward the outcome, even while the story appears to ramble all over the landscape. Everyone in town fulfills several roles; the town drunk may also be the town comedian or a news reporter; the minister may coach the basketball team. I know Coker was not on the playground where I learned how to make my place in the rural heartland after moving there from a city—but the writing touches on my memories because the author knows what went on there.

Dead Dreams, the second book in the series, brings a failed actor back to his home farm just in time for the murder of his mother, who has been declining mentally and is surrounded by city sharks who hope to use her land for the disposal of hazardous waste. Coker was able to draw on actual events in the state’s history to lend credibility to the story; South Dakota officials have fallen for the lure of “money and jobs” in several instances, to the detriment of our citizens.

Similarly, every plot is linked to authentic problems that confront Dakotans and other citizens of the plains. These difficulties sometimes center on situations typical of the region and connected to its latitude, like a blizzard or a flood. At the same time, each book features a problem that is associated with a broader view. In each case, the author has researched actual events and skillfully woven them into the story, while creating a foundation of typical Dakota behavior.

Dry Dakota humor is an integral part of the writing in these books and I find it impossible to describe out of context. Dakotans, and some others, will chuckle as they recognize landmarks in local culture. The one finger wave in Dakota is not the same as the one finger wave in some other areas of the country, for example.

Coker interweaves characters and social commentary in a dense forest of writing, but always keeps the underbrush clear so the reader can follow the path of the plot. Each book leads us deeper into the thicket of relationships that typify every small community; everyone is related to everyone, or has a history with everyone else. Except for the Bosnians in the basement. In each book, the author leaves just enough questions to lead us cheerfully onward to the next.

Dead Wrong opens with a dead man who was headed the wrong way at the exit ramp for Reunion, South Dakota, but his death may be accident, suicide or homicide. Complications include a new female pastor who is a widow, an illegal immigrant or two, and someone who pulls the plug on the Sheriff’s husband, who has been in a coma for years. Naturally, the Sheriff falls under suspicion, which complicates her murder investigation, as do the meth addicts. Coker’s plot is enlivened by two women basketball stars known as the Twin Towers. She slips in a good word for grass-fed beef and a dig at a former governor of South Dakota who blew through a stop sign and killed a motorcyclist.

The murder that launches the fourth mystery, Dead Quiet, is announced via horse and buggy, and occurs in the peaceful German Anabaptist community near Reunion. This mystery is so full of tricky situations it opens with a family tree revealing that Sheriff Mehaffey is related to members of the secretive sect; the author admits on her website that she needs a family tree to keep the relationships straight for herself. As always, the plot is decorated with references as varied as Shakespeare and song lyrics; in an earlier book, for example, the Sheriff drives her Chevy to the levee but the levee is dry. The characters are so comfortable with themselves and each other in this book that I found myself having conversations with them when I put the book down to fix lunch.

Here’s the required disclaimer: I first met MK Coker when she came to Windbreak House Retreat with the dream of writing and publishing mysteries. We had a wonderful time analyzing, discussing, dissecting, and comparing our tastes in mysteries. She returned in 2010, and then, after her four long years of hard work and disappointments in the world of publishing, the first book in this series, Dead White, appeared in my mailbox. For more information about her work, look at www.mkcoker.com.

I’m sure it’s an unwritten rule that reviewers must always say something negative about the book; I seldom see a review without a smug adverse remark or two. So, to prove that working with MK has not tainted my reviewer’s detachment, here are my negative remarks.

The paperback books measure 9” by 6” and are 1” thick, so they are heavy, requiring that I hold one in both hands while reading. This means I must be very careful when I can’t put one down even though I’m taking a bath.

But here’s a positive note, which also proves that MK is a dedicated reader of mysteries: the books are numbered on the spine so you can read them in their proper order!

And there’s another solution to that weight problem: the books are available as ebooks on Amazon USA (and worldwide sites), AppleBarnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. The trade paperback is available at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and independent bookstore Powell’s. It can also be ordered from your local bookstore.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

(c) Linda M. Hasselstrom, 2015

A Kind and Pleasant Award

Liebster-Award-Discover-New-BlogsThanks to Abbie Johnson Taylor (https://abbiescorner.wordpress.com/) for nominating me for the Liebster Award.

I’d never heard of it, so I investigated (for example http://wordingwell.com/the-liebster-award-the-official-rules-my-first-blog-award-and-a-few-personal-secrets-revealed/).

I found this award to be an excellent example of writers helping other writers instead of behaving as though we are in competition with one another. We’re not, you know. No matter how well or ill I write, being unfriendly to other writers won’t improve my work.

This award, according to my research, exists only on the internet, and is given to bloggers by other bloggers. The title has German origins; “liebster” may mean dearest, sweetest, kindest, nicest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, or welcome and more. The award was created to recognize or discover new bloggers, welcome them to the blogosphere and increase their readership. It’s transmitted like a chain letter— but don’t let that put you off! In the digital and sometimes competitive and harsh world of the internet, the Liebster creates a haven of welcome and support for writers.

Here’s how you do it: Each of you who receives this message has been nominated by the award by me. I am asking you all to answer up to ten questions (you need not answer them all) and nominate bloggers you know to receive the award and answer the questions you pose.

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Here are the ten questions Abbie Johnson Taylor posed to me:

1. If you were to win a million dollars, what would you do?
First, invest it wisely. Buy my assistant a new (at least to her) car of her choice. Establish a scholarship for the study of the ecosystem of the arid grasslands where I live with the aim of promoting its protection. Establish scholarships to the University of South Dakota and the State University of South Dakota to be awarded to students who want to write about ranching. Rent a very nice recreational vehicle and take a vacation with my partner and dogs to places I’ve always wanted to see in this country while considering what else I might do with so much money.

2. If you could be any animal, what would it be?
A horse. I still miss my horses and the sensation of flying over the prairie on the back of one, which seems so much faster than a car.

3. What is your favorite food?
Beef, grilled, fried, sautéed— any way but raw.

4. What kind of music do you like?
Bluegrass, with a lot of fiddle and banjo, and rock and roll of the cheerfully raucous Bruce Springsteen variety.

5. What do you like to blog about most?
What I observe on this prairie around me, and what I read in books.

6. What is your greatest ambition in life?
I’ve achieved it. I’ve written a few books I still like; I live on a ranch where I’m helping care for the land. I have some good friends and loved ones and a couple of cheerful dogs. I am still able to write and enjoy writing and teaching. I’d like to be a kinder and more generous person.

7. What is your favorite pastime?
Writing. Or reading. Or doing both at the time I choose on a rainy day while cooking and eating good food.

8. Have you ever wanted to fly like a bird?
Nope. Flying like a horse is close enough for me. I don’t even like airplanes.

9. If you could meet a character from a novel or television show, who would that be?
This week, it would be Mara, the Brehon of the Burren, because I am reading Cora Harrington’s wonderful mystery series about the west of Ireland. Last week it would have been Mary Russell, from Laurie King’s terrific series about the wife of Sherlock Holmes. The week before that, it might have been Inspector Gamache in the village of Three Pines in Louise Penny’s mysteries.

10. What kinds of books do you like to read?
Mysteries, generally of the cozy variety— not too much mayhem.

I often find questions intrusive, but I enjoyed the thinking those questions required. And thanks to Abbie Johnson Taylor’s generous gesture, I now have read some of her blog and learned more about this courageous woman.

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Passing It On

I’m delighted to call attention to several bloggers of my acquaintance by presenting them with the Liebster award. I encourage each of you to read each others’ blogs, and to pass on this award by nominating and asking questions (the number is up to you) of other bloggers. Oh– and answer my questions.

Ruby R. Wilson
https://rubyrwilson.wordpress.com/ Ruby has worked at Windbreak House Retreats on several occasions, and I am always warmed by her blog, even when she’s not writing about soup or gardening.

Andrea Jones
http://betweenurbanandwild.com/ Andrea, too, has worked at Windbreak House, and her book, Between Urban and Wild, is only her first.

Darcy Lipp Acord
http://the-back-forty.blogspot.com/ Darcy has published the excellent memoir Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey.

Mary Jo Doig
https://maryjod.wordpress.com/  I’ve met and corresponded with Mary Jo and always enjoy her thoughtful blog, “Musings from a Patchwork Quilt Life.”

Jane Wolfe
http://prairiespirits.blogspot.com/ Jane blogs about knitting and quilting, as well as her historical research and writing interests. I especially enjoyed her recent blog about the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie.

Lisa Sharp
http://lisagsharp.com/  I worked with Lisa Sharp on her memoir both online and at Windbreak House Retreats and admire the story she has told, and the new stories she is telling online.

Deb Carpenter-Nolting and Lyn Messersmith
https://cottonwoodcollective.wordpress.com/  This is new to me: a collective blog by and about women writers from the west, the plains and the prairies, discovered because it featured Deb Nolting, a teacher (just retired!) and writer I admire, and Lyn Messersmith, another of my Windbreak House writers.

Here are my questions:

1. What event made you start writing?
2. What do you enjoy reading?
3. What do you read for inspiration or encouragement?
4. Why do you write?
5. How much time do you spend writing each day?
6. How might you realistically rearrange your schedule to have more writing time?
7. What do you do for relaxation and enjoyment?
8. What incident have you never written about?
9. What is the best thing you have written and why?
10. What question do you wish I had asked?

Happy writing, happy reading, and happy blogging.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2015, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Book Remarks: Suggestions by Wendell Berry

The 3/20/15 issue of The Week features a book list chosen by Wendell Berry, who is one of the nation’s strongest advocates for wise land use to save our lives, as well as being a poet. If you love the earth and haven’t read Wendell Berry, start today!

Berry recommends six books that inspired his thinking, including an account published in 1911 of the organic farming practices in China, Korea and Japan, Farmers of Forty Centuries, F. H. King. How did the people keep their land productive for 4,000 years? Not with pesticides and herbicides, but by returning all “wastes” to the soil, leaving the fertility cycle intact.

Of the books Berry cites, I can recommend the following:

AgBook GroupAn Agricultural Testament, Sir Albert Howard. Published in 1943. Howard argues that farming can last only if it obeys the laws of nature. “Mother Earth never attempts to farm without livestock,” he wrote. “There is no waste; the process of growth and the processes of decay balance one another.”

Home Place: Essays on Ecology, Stan Rowe, insists upon the importance of the ecosphere (not just the biosphere) as context of our lives. Rowe writes that we should “live on the annual interest and leave the land’s capital alone.”

Nature as Measure: The Selected Essays of Wes Jackson. Berry says this 2011 book addresses “The problem of agriculture” and the prospects for practical solutions.

A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold. This, of course, is one of the bibles of wise stewardship. Leopold’s ethic is simple and clear: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

On a large scale, the problem of how we treat our land is complex, because companies who “use” the land in some way want to make a profit. But at the very least, we who occupy a small portion of the earth can do a great deal toward improving the world by following Leopold’s ethic in our lives as much as possible.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2015, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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