An Index to the Website
may be found by clicking here
Now on Facebook.
If you Like me on this Facebook page you'll get notifications of my newly-posted blogs as well as announcements about my books, writing retreats, and other events to do with Windbreak House.
No kitten videos, but I will post some writing-related jokes and grammar tips.
An Index of Blog Topics
may be found lower down in this left-hand column so, for example, you can search for all blogs with "Writing Suggestions."
A dated archive of blogs is also available below the index.
Click here to jump to the index
, or scroll down to see what you might find in this left-hand column.
It's Haying Time!
Want to know more about this critter?
See the Gallimaufry Page
for more photos and some odds and ends that don't fit anywhere else on this website.
Pumpkins for HAHA
Linda in the pumpkin patch.
The Diamond T, Jerry's 1947 truck, added some historical color.
The pumpkins were hauled to Hermosa for the fall fundraiser for HAHA and given in exchange for a free-will donation.
Loading up the pumpkins.
Hauling them away.
The HAHA fundraiser and pumpkin sale was on October 12th-- after the early-October blizzard that Linda wrote about in her blog for October 11th and in her Home Page Message on October 31st.
Within days of the blizzard the temperatures were back up to the usual mild fall weather we expect and the snows had melted except for the deepest drifts.
Read Linda's October 14 blog about the kids and the pumpkins.
See Linda's blog for October 11th.
Also see her Home Page Message
posted October 31st.
Linda bundled up inside the cold house when the power went out.
"A hardpacked snowball makes excellent ice for a gin and tonic."
One foot of snow . . .
piles into massive drifts in 75 mph wind gusts. Linda near the writing retreat house, October 2013.
These boots were made for walking . . .
Linda's snow boots: tall, warm, waterproof and flowery. What more could you want?
1922 -- 2013
Here are a couple of Jessie Sundstrom's history books about western South Dakota topics: Custer County History and Carl Sanson: Black Hills Rancher.
Read about Jessie's life in Linda's blog post for September 12.
Read about Linda's Birthday Month.
See her blogs posted on July 19, 2013 and on July 18, 2010. To find them, search for Birthday in the list of blog topics lower in this left-hand column.
Linda reads a birthday card.
Toby reluctantly helps with the celebration.
Linda dives into her birthday gifts.
More Stories and Essays by Linda
may be found on this website.
* Home Page Message archives
Many of these essays have writing advice. All have photos, some have recipes, a few have poems.
* Poetry Page essays
Read suggestions for writing and performing poetry and the stories behind some of Linda's poems.
* Critter Stories
Brief stories and photos of birds and wildlife seen on Linda's ranch may be found on this page.
* Gallimaufry Page
Stories and photos that don't fit anywhere else.
Linda on YouTube
Nancy Curtis, publisher and owner of High Plains Press, recorded a couple of videos of Linda reading her poetry and posted them on YouTube.
To see Linda read "Where the Stories Come From"
To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
Or go to www.YouTube.com
and search for Linda Hasselstrom.
You may also want to visit the High Plains Press facebook page
where you will find these two poetry videos and much more about the many great western books-- poetry and non-fiction-- published by High Plains Press.
# # #
click here to send an e-mail message to Linda.
If this link does not work-- some web-browsers are incompatible or perhaps your computer is blocking pop-ups-- copy and paste this email address into your email system:
or send Linda a letter:
Linda M. Hasselstrom
PO Box 169
Hermosa SD 57744
June 9, 2014
. . .
I just discovered a book that I highly recommend to folks like me who cringe at the language of politicians, daily newspapers, radio announcers and others.
Death Sentences: How Clichés, Weasel Words, and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language
by Don Watson. (Gotham Books: 2005.)
If I deface a war memorial or rampage through St. Paul’s with a sledgehammer I will be locked up as a criminal or lunatic. I can expect the same treatment if I release some noxious weed or insect into the natural environment. It is right that the culture and environment should be so respected. Yet every day our leaders vandalize the language, which is the foundation, the frame, and joinery of the culture, if not its greatest glory, and there is no penalty and no way to impose one. We can only be indignant. And we should resist.
Here’s another significant statement:
Wherever demagogues and bullies went, there also went obfuscation, pomposity, and doublespeak. . . . Civilized society depends on the exercise of common sense, which depends upon our saying what we mean clearly enough for everyone of reasonable intelligence to understand. The political point follows from the general one Ben Jonson made. ‘Language springs out of the most retired and inmost parts of us, and is the image of the parent of it, the mind. No glass renders a man’s form and likeness so true as his speech.’
Democracy depends upon plain language. It depends upon common understanding. We need to feel safe in the assumption that words mean what they are commonly understood to mean. Deliberate ambiguities, slides of meaning, and obscure, incomprehensible, or meaningless words poison the democratic process by leaving people less able to make informed or rational decisions. They erode trust.” (p. 120)
Don Watson, who is Australian, goes on:
That is why we should not vote for any politician who says, for instance, there are no quick fixes more than three times a year. Punish her for banality and the contempt for us that it implies.” (p. 137)
And he adds a glossary of words and phrases that should be banned from our language. The list includes (but is not limited to) the following:
Action/actioned/actioning, bottom line, closure, commit/committed/commitment, core, customer, deliver/deliverable, empower/empowered/empowerment, enhance (and all its forms), event, going forward, hopefully, impact, implement, input, in terms of, issue, outcome, point in time, prioritize, product, scenario, strategic in any form, and workshop.
Thank you, Don Watson.
# # #
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June 4, 2014
. . .
Twyla M. Hansen, Nebraska State Poet and co-author of our poetry book DIRT SONGS: A PLAINS DUET, warned me today that she was notified about an unauthorized downloadable PDF version of the book.
When Twyla contacted our publisher, The Backwaters Press, they checked into it and this is what they learned:
"I found many websites saying that www.download-genius.com is a scam. That is the website that it directs the person to 'download' the book. I read complaints from people saying they signed up, gave their credit card for a $3.99 trial run fee and then they never could download anything and they had to cancel their credit card because it was impossible to cancel the subscription. So NO ONE sign up please!"
They also turned up this site complaining about Download Genuis:
So, as the old saying goes, if it is too good to be true (Free Books!) you should be very cautious. And hey, the copyright holders of books, music, and videos deserve to be paid for their time, effort and (ahem) creative genius, don't they?
# # #
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May 2, 2014
Linda with Mari Sandoz sculpture, 2004
at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center, Chadron, Nebraska.
. . .
No doubt it was my father who introduced me to Mari Sandoz, maybe by handing me a copy of Old Jules
without realizing his resemblance to the title character. I clearly recall shivering because I recognized her home place; I knew the hills and plants and coyotes and buzzards and people who were the subjects of her fiction and nonfiction because they so closely resembled the inhabitants of the western Dakota prairie ranch where I lived. At five years old, I’d gotten a library pass and begun reading books, but that was my first realization that someone like her-- someone like me-- might write them.
Studying Western history and literature in college, I asked why her work wasn't included-- and only then realized that almost no women appeared as authorities in those studies. The writing lords of the same era were always men: A. B. Guthrie, Walter Van Tilburg Clark and Stanley Vestal. I found their views narrower than Mari’s, their writing competent but less stimulating.
Older, I learned to relish Sandoz's careful research and historical accuracy, even in her fiction. More important to me was her deeply personal knowledge of the grasslands, and her demonstration that in understanding a small community, one may learn and relate important universal truths. Likewise, she prepared me for being treated as a several minorities-- as a woman, a westerner, a grasslands resident, and a rancher-- by publishers.
When I began writing about my own life on the prairie, my father ferociously objected, and even quoted Old Jules
, insisting that writers and artists are the “maggots of society.” But Sandoz hadn't quit writing, so I didn't either.
Sandoz also fought for respect as an expert in information unknown to many editors, publishers, and readers. She was an authority on homesteading the Nebraska plains because she’d lived it. So I've had to defend my knowledge as a working rancher to editors who have never set foot on prairie grass, never met a cow, never hefted a firearm. In both cases, editors felt free to contradict knowledge we gained from direct and sometimes painful experience.
When I read Mari’s collected letters, I kept saying, “Yes!” in agreement with her answers to readers who disagreed with her, lectured her, and asked her for help. When my pile of mail threatens to bury me in a paper avalanche, I quote her: “I either answer letters or write books-- never both.” Yet Mari wrote hundreds of letters, offering friendship and encouragement to other writers, and perhaps gaining validation of her work, and relief from the solitude of writing. I've tried to emulate her generosity as well, helping other writers, especially those in the very minorities where Mari and I found our writing selves.
By the time I read Crazy Horse
, I’d had my own strange experiences while researching the strange man of the Oglalas; and at the Custer battle site, I’d argued with authorities who at that time refused to stock her book The Battle of the Little Bighorn
When Mari Sandoz died in 1966, I sat at a desk in a newspaper office and cried. I’d always fantasized that I might meet her, tell her directly that she was the only writer I’d found able to convey my feelings about the Great Plains and its people.
Still, though I never heard her voice, I have continued to learn from her, from her writing, her research, her letters, and most of all, her spirit.
# # #
This essay was originally published in the StoryCatcher
newsletter, May 2010.
For more information:
See the website for The Mari Sandoz Heritage Society at www.MariSandoz.org
The Mari Sandoz Heritage Society publishes the Story Catcher
newsletter four times per year-- they are archived on their website.
Stories about people's connections to Mari Sandoz are a regular feature.
Also see the website www.SandozCenter.com
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February 5, 2014
A male Theridion pierre spider found on the Fort Pierre National Grassland. The tiny spider was discovered by L. Brian Patrick, an arachnologist from Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, SD. [photo courtesy L. Brian Patrick]
. . .
Recently I read that an arachnologist from one of South Dakota’s small universities, Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, discovered a new species of spider on the Fort Pierre National Grassland. Named for the grassland, the Theridion pierre
spider is one of more than 500 species confirmed and announced in a six-month span.
Experts believe only 10 percent of spider species, and in fact all animals on earth, have been documented by humans so far, says the discoverer, Brian Patrick. He thinks he may identify as many as five new species from the spiders he has already trapped in the area.
Patrick has also found spiders in his traps whose find in South Dakota is the farthest west, east or north they've ever been documented. That's because few scientists are working on the sparsely-populated northern Great Plains, says Patrick, who is probably the only arachnologist working in the state. "It's not very sexy to work in South Dakota," he said. Big grants are usually given to study new species in places such as the rain forests of Borneo.
"I'm poor; I have to work in my backyard. Turns out my backyard is pretty fertile," he said. He added that "another common misconception about the prairie is that it's a two-dimensional environment, unlike rivers or forests where completely different creatures can live at different depths and heights." The researcher said in talking with colleagues, he's learned that, "I always have more diversity in my grasslands than they do in their forests."
I'm so delighted to see this story for several reasons. First, the local newspaper gave it prominent placement; I can't help think the management is reminding readers that they should not be so hasty to encourage "developments" that include mining and paving the prairie. Second, this is more confirmation for the fact that we haven't begun to discover what rich knowledge the prairie might still conceal.
# # #
For more information:
See the article in the Rapid City Journal
See the article in the Capital Journal
, Pierre SD.
See the article in the Sioux City Journal
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January 7, 2014
Janet Lembke's "Soup's On!"
Published 2001 by The Lyon's Press.
When my Christmas card came back the other day, I feared the worst and found it was true: My friend Janet Lembke, the author of 20 books, a friend and chicken enthusiast, died in September. She was working on her memoir, "I Married An Arsonist"-- I was really looking forward to reading that.
Among her many books, I particularly enjoyed Because the Cat Purrs: How We Relate to Other Species and Why it Matters; Touching Earth: Reflections on the Restorative Power of Gardening
; and The Quality of Life: Living Well, Dying Well
I contributed a recipe to her collection Soup’s On: Sixty Hearty Soups You Can Stand Your Spoon In
. This was one of those publishing stories: the book was published, and then because someone at the publishing house saw a competing book by a better-known author, the ENTIRE PRINTING was shredded. Janet later was able to get the book republished-- but I have one of the few copies of the original printing that she was able to get before it was destroyed. Lesson 9,999,999 in the strange world of publishing.
Besides the luscious soups, the book contains my favorite cheese bread recipe-- much better than Red Lobster’s.
2/3 Cup water
½ Cup butter, cut into pieces (not bad with Smart Balance)
2/3 Cup flour
¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs
½ Cup Swiss cheese, shredded (I use cheddar)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bring the water and butter to a rolling boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and immediately add flour and salt. Beat with a wooden spoon until blended. Return to the heat and beat vigorously until the dough balls up and leaves the sides of the pan, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the batter is glossy. Blend in the cheese thoroughly.
Dampen a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet with cold water. Drop dough in large dollops onto the pan to form a ring, with the sides of the dollops touching.
Bake for 30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and loosen immediately from the pan with a spatula. The cheese bread will stick a little.
Serves 6. Or maybe only two if you can’t stop yourself.
Janet said she got this recipe from her daughter Elizabeth.
* * *
Here is my recipe used in Janet Lembke's book:
Jerry and Linda’s Lucky 13-Bean Soup Mix
My partner, Jerry Ellerman, and I developed this recipe some years ago as a Christmas gift. For each recipient, we packaged all the beans and spices in a single quart jar, and tied a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce in the bow.
Black-eyed peas, green and yellow split peas, lentils, pearl barley, bulgur, and the following beans: black, anasazi, baby lima, red, navy, pinto, and garbanzo.
1 bay leaf
1 chopped onion (or 1 Tblsp onion flakes)
1-2 garlic cloves (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp savory
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp dry basil
peel from 1/2 lemon, or 1/8 tsp lemon peel
To Make the Soup
Use any combination of beans available. Dump beans into colander and wash. Cover with water and soak overnight. (Or see Options, below)
Pour one glass of your favorite wine or beer. Sip slowly as you follow these instructions.
Drain water and discard. Cover with 2 quarts water and simmer slowly until tender.
Add spices provided, and choose from the optional stuff listed below. The bay leaf will keep the beans free from crawlies for at least a year. Toss it in the pot too. But don't eat it. Bay is good luck as seasoning, very bad luck if eaten.
Simmer another 20-45 minutes. Serve with french bread, crackers, and a green salad. Sprinkle with Tabasco sauce to taste. Or shred cheese on top.
To skip soaking the beans overnight, simmer them slowly for two hours. Or, if it's too late, put beans in a large casserole with 3 cups cold water. Cover with lid or vented plastic wrap. Microwave on High 10 min., or until boiling. Stir. Microwave on high another two minutes, covered. Let stand covered for an hour.
Add red peppers, salt and pepper to taste, along with tabasco sauce.
For a thicker soup, mash or puree some of the beans and return to soup.
Add almost any meat, including sausage, hot dogs (bleah!), leftover meats, bacon, or ham. Add ham bones, or, to avoid having to remove them later, boil ham bones and scraps and add the water (stock) to beans as part of the 2 quarts, above.
Add a can of tomatoes, tomato paste or sauce, or leftover vegetables.
Add 1-2 Tablespoons of chili powder, cumin, oregano, or other spice.
Add a handful or two of pasta 10 minutes before serving. Dump in some of whatever you're drinking, unless it's milk.
# # #
For more information:
Janet Lembke's official website
Janet Lembke's GoodReads author book list
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December 19, 2013
Tom Laughlin in his "Billy Jack" attire.
The photo is from the internet; I don't believe I have any photos of him in my personal collections.
. . .
I note with sorrow the death of Tom Laughlin, the star and producer of the "Billy Jack" movies.
While Laughlin was a student at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion (where I also attended college) he met his wife Delores Taylor. He said he wrote the original screenplay for the first "Billy Jack" film after visiting her hometown of Winner, South Dakota, and observing the prejudice against Native Americans there.
Laughlin wasn't only an actor and activist; with his wife he founded what became the largest Montessori school in the U.S., in Santa Monica, California. He left acting to devote all his attention to the school, which went bankrupt in 1965.
In another lifetime, one of my many past lives, Tom Laughlin read some of my writing, and invited me to meet with him and with his wife Delores Taylor in Minneapolis. There he hired me to write the screenplay for a movie he wanted to do about Crazy Horse, the charismatic Lakota leader who also caught the imagination of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.
I don't recall the exact dates and don't care to delve into my journals for the details, but I do recall that I was working on the screenplay during the Rapid City flood of 1972. After proofreading the first published issue of my arts magazine Sunday Clothes
, I had left Rapid City early that afternoon in my VW van. Because the storm was so severe, I pulled over not far outside town and sat on the floor in the back of the van while the storm winds made it rock and roll, recalling that Crazy Horse, who was born along Rapid Creek, had once predicted a devastating flood there.
The next morning, I heard about the Rapid City flood, which killed hundreds-- and incidentally washed away the company that had printed the first issue of my magazine.
The Crazy Horse movie was never made, of course. And despite all the research I did on Crazy Horse, including some that I believe has not yet been duplicated, I have never turned the screenplay into a book.
But I appreciated the dreamer, Tom Laughlin, who had the thought, and the strength of his opinions and his devotion to them.
# # #
For more information:
See my website's page about Sunday Clothes Magazine
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December 3, 2013
Linda serving at the HAHA Winter Carnival in 2012.
There is some debate over whether she is a "kitchen witch" or a "dessert elf."
. . .
In one of my many former lives, I lived and worked in Columbia, Missouri, where I was a graduate instructor in English and a grader for an English professor at the University of Missouri from 1969-1971, while working on my MA degree in English there.
I recall clearly my first sight of the woman who became my friend Kathy. Sometime during those years, I had probably trotted past the quadrangle full of war protesters on my way to the next class on my teaching schedule, freshman composition. I may have been wearing my favorite leather miniskirt, which I wish I’d kept just so I could be shocked today at what I once wore out in public.
As I took roll, I became aware that the class was almost entirely young men, their fresh and pimply faces upturned with various teenage looks of disdain or eagerness. But in the corner of the back row as far as possible from all of them sat a young woman with long black hair and an expression of loathing-- whether for the boys, for me, or for the class, I wasn't sure.
I don’t recall the details of the class that day, but as the others filed out, I asked her to stay and tell me who she was and what she was doing in my class. As I’d guessed, she was a senior, an art major who had left the dreaded freshman comp class until her last semester, hoping she could wiggle out of it. But the University had decreed she had to take it.
I couldn't absolve her. I asked her what she was reading.
I had no knowledge of Goethe, but we worked out a plan whereby she would write a comprehensive paper on Goethe's writings, presenting it to me several weeks before the class was scheduled to be finished. I didn't want her to neglect the paper in the rush to graduate, but I also was protecting myself; if she failed to deliver, I'd have time to devise an alternate plan.
The next morning I rode my bicycle to work as usual, locking the frame to one of the racks outside the English building and hauling the front tire up the steps with me. I threaded my way among the glass-walled cubicles of my fellow slaves-- I mean graduate instructors-- and thumped my books down on my desk. As I tucked the tire behind my desk, I realized there was a shiny package on my chair: a loaf of bread wrapped in tin foil.
On the outside of the package was a note from Kathy, explaining that she had been in St. Louis recently, and been handed a recipe for Pumpkin Bread by a hippie who told her that receiving the recipe required her to give it away-- with love-- to anyone who asked.
The bread was delicious.
I learned that Kathy lived only a few blocks from me and we became close friends for the rest of the time I lived in Missouri. She graduated in fine style and eventually moved to Montana; we remain friends.
So now I've been baking the pumpkin bread and giving it away for at least 43 years, always with the recipe and the reminder to give it away-- with love.
This week I baked loaves of the bread to donate to the Hermosa Arts and History Association’s fundraising Winter Carnival on December 8. Inside each one, I tucked the recipe, with love.
Besides my pumpkin bread, I’m taking pumpkin cake and rhubarb dreams for dessert, and a roaster full of posole. I’m told that other volunteers will bring soups including cheese, beef barley, potato knefla, chicken noodle, cheese tomato, and gluten free chicken and rice.
You're invited to the second annual Winter Carnival, which is being held to raise funds to continue with our project to turn our building, erected in 1896, into a community gathering spot and museum. As usual, we will be serving soup and desserts created by HAHA members, and offering a huge assortment of tasty things baked by volunteers, as well as providing games and entertainment for children and photographs with Santa Claus.
# # #
Pumpkin Bread Recipe
1 and 3/4 Cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon each:
1 teaspoon each:
1 and 1/2 Cups brown sugar
1/2 Cup oil
1/3 Cup water (but see below)
1 small can, or one Cup pumpkin
3 and 1/2 Cup flour
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon each:
2 teaspoon each:
3 Cups brown sugar
1 Cup oil
2/3 Cup water (but see below)
2 cans, or 2 Cups pumpkin
Mix dry ingredients; mix liquids in separate, huge bowl. Add dry ingredients a little at a time to liquids, mixing well each time.
Grease pan(s) well. Bake 350 degrees F. for 1 hour and 15 minutes or so, until top springs back when you poke it lightly with one finger. Cool before removing from pan.
Doubled, this makes 2 large loaves and 1 small one or 4 9x3; grease well.
Substitute for brown sugar: 3 Tablespoons molasses added to 1 Cup white sugar
Can use whole wheat flour, but half white and half whole wheat works best.
WATER: If you use canned pumpkin, or frozen yellow squash you won't need the water, and no one will know it's not pumpkin. I've also used dried pumpkin and dried winter squash for this; just soak it in milk or water overnight in the refrigerator, and add the milk with the pumpkin or squash.
# # #
For more information:
See the HAHA website at www.HermosaHistory.org
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November 26, 2013
See my review of this book below.
. . .
Recently I reviewed the book A Wilder Rose
by Susan Wittig Albert. Though I did not receive any compensation beyond a free copy of the book, I do have a passing relationship with the author.
I first heard of Susan Wittig Albert when I read a mystery or two in her China Bayles herbal series, books so good I sometimes reread them. Each mystery has a signature herb connected to a major theme. They are good mysteries with settings that draw the reader into the countryside, written with considerable humor and filled with intriguing, unusual characters. Each one is packed with fascinating information about growing and using herbs-- even though the author is careful to say that a reader should not rely solely on the books for herbal information.
I have just discovered that the books' website --www.abouthyme.com
-- provides tons more information on teas, on ways to celebrate with teas and herbs, including recipes-- a wealth of material.
Later I discovered the Robin Paige Victorian/Edwardian mysteries Susan co-wrote with her husband Bill Albert, and devoured every one. They are filled with information about the era, but they don't overwhelm the reader with historical details to the detriment of the mystery. Sadly for readers, the books took so much research that the co-writers suspended the series. Still, the books already written form a mother lode of good reading; www.mysterypartners.com
I particularly enjoyed her memoir about marriage and place, Together, Alone
; she has also edited several collections of writing.
At some point, I wrote Susan a fan letter about her mysteries; she responded with the news that she had read and found inspiration in my books.
Since then we've exchanged comments every now and again; she's reviewed my books and books I've edited on the wonderful Story Circle Network website she founded (www.storycircle.org
). She is a prolific and excellent writer, generous with other writers. We've had brief conversations via email about writing which demonstrate to me that we share many opinions about the jobs we have created for ourselves.
I'm looking forward to meeting her at last when I am a speaker at the annual Story Circle Network conference in Austin, TX, next April.
# # #
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November 25, 2013
. . .
If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books about her pioneer childhood, you should read A Wilder Rose
by Susan Wittig Albert.
If you are reluctant to believe that Laura’s daughter Rose may have written the books, you must read this novel.
When I was rescued from my existence as the daughter of a divorcee because my mother had married a rancher in western South Dakota, Laura Ingalls Wilder became my guide, my sister and my best friend. I was nine years old when we moved to the ranch and I entered the small-town grade school, a society of rural kids who had known each other since birth and didn't care for "city kids." My happiest moments began when the teacher who wrangled five grades in the "lower room" read to us from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her "Little House on the Prairie."
Suddenly I could imagine myself living happily ever after among the neighborhood ranching and farming families. My parents made my childhood as educational as possible by buying a cow for me to milk and filling the chicken house with egg-laying hens. At home as at school, we spoke of Laura's family as if they were neighbors, as indeed they had been on the Dakota prairie a couple of hundred miles east of our home.
With my degree in American Literature, I was teaching and writing professionally before I met scholars of prairie literature who raised doubts that Laura had written her books alone. Some said that Laura's daughter Rose, a best-selling author in the 1920s and 30s, was deeply involved with creation of the books. Various scholars examined the abundant evidence-- Laura's other writings, Rose's writings, their letters to each other-- and concluded that Rose had edited Laura's work extensively, had rewritten it, or perhaps had written it in the first place.
These opinions met considerable resistance. Neither editors nor readers wanted to believe anything that alters our nostalgic image of the housewife seated at her well-scrubbed kitchen table writing masterpieces with pencil in a yellow tablet after gathering eggs and before starting supper on the wood stove.
A Wilder Rose
features Rose Wilder Lane telling her story to a writer friend, Norma Lee Browning, allowing Rose to speak for herself. Rose's words are drawn directly from her letters and diaries. Each element of the novel is founded upon the historical record, including the writings of Laura, Rose, and various writers and editors who shared their lives.
Rose was a successful journalist, magazine writer and world traveler, author of Henry Ford's Own Story
(1917), Diverging Roads
(1919), The Making of Herbert Hoover
(1920), and The Peaks of Shala
(1923) among other books. In 1928, at her mother's request, she moved from Albania to her parents' Missouri farm to help the aging couple. She built them a new home and turned the old farm house into a writers' retreat, often filled with friends from all over the world. Rose's magazine writing paid the bills for both households-- until the stock market crash of 1929. Suddenly writers could hardly find sales in the formerly lucrative magazine market and both Rose and her parents were nearly destitute.
Then Laura wrote an autobiography she called "Pioneer Girl," more than 300 tablet pages she intended as a book for adult readers. Naturally, she brought the manuscript to her daughter, assuming Rose's professional connections would ease publication.
Rose was an experienced and well-paid ghost-writer for, among others, Lowell Thomas, a world traveler and broadcaster. Had she known she was going to ghost-write eight novels for her mother, she might have created her usual contract to do so.
Instead, she spent several months creating a coherent story from her mother's manuscript. Editing and revising, she drew more memories from her mother, but Albert indicates that, so far as is shown by the available documents, Laura never saw the first five chapters of the book. When the editor asked for 25,000 additional words, Rose rewrote the entire book, drawing on Laura's written vignettes to create additional scenes. Little House in the Big Woods
was published in 1932, bearing the name of Laura as author. Meanwhile, Rose wrote Let the Hurricane Roar
, a novel also based on her family history, published in 1933. She continued to write and publish her own work throughout the time she worked with her mother's writing. From Laura's initial outpouring came the material from which Rose produced subsequent books.
The character Rose, speaking to her friend Norma, considers how this deception evolved. "Would I have felt differently if I had known that this book was only the first of an eight-book series? Would I have asked for recognition and a share of the royalties if I had known that each book would take two or three months away from my writing projects and sap whatever meager store of energy I might have for my own work? Perhaps."
Because the author draws on Rose's own words throughout the novel, the conclusion is inescapable.
Susan Wittig Albert's introductory note to A Wilder Rose
clarifies her position on the writing relationship between Laura and Rose:
"I have treated the real people as fictional characters and the real events as fictional events. I have chosen some storylines to expand and dramatize and omitted others. I have put words into people's mouths and listened in on their internal dialogue. I have invented incidents and imagined settings. In all this, I am exactly as true to the real events, settings, and people of A Wilder Rose as Rose and Laura were to the real events, settings, and people of the Ingalls family's pioneer wanderings across the American plains. The books they wrote are fictional representations of Laura's life as a child growing into young womanhood."
Therefore, the novel's central question becomes: how will each reader react to realizing that our concept of Laura writing her novels alone is impossible? How will readers who have loved Laura's stories accept that these two admirable women told lies of commission as well as omission? What justification might exist for the fiction they maintained all their lives?
Albert's novel is so moving and so convincing in part because her development of the characters of Laura and Rose echoes details true to the character of the prairie people where I grew up and where I live today.
Our relationships with our parents are complex and convoluted. Rose was burdened because, she wrote, she had burned the house down. Her story was that while her mother was ill after the birth and death of Rose’s baby brother, Rose stuffed too much hay into the wood stove and caused a destructive fire. If the story was true, Rose, little more than a baby herself, was already doing the hard work necessary for a prairie life. She knew that actions have consequences and we have to live with them.
I can identify with Rose's guilt. Growing up on the prairie with parents much like hers, I learned the same lessons early. Even accidents have repercussions and a responsible person acknowledges them and accepts blame if necessary. Guilt is a burden that moves many of us in many directions today, and Rose thrived on it through much of her life. Could she have assumed responsibility for that fire to avert blame from her mother? We will probably never know, but the idea is not impossible.
Rose wonders if her mother thought "that affection somehow 'spoiled' a child. That life was real, life was earnest, and too much coddling insulated us from that essential truth, which would shortly be visited upon us by cruel experience." Similarly, my father often quoted the "life is real" saying while my mother frequently assured me that it was her job to make sure I was not spoiled so I’d be ready for the horrors of real life.
Laura deplored fiction, including the best-selling novels her daughter wrote, but she insisted that her own writing was the truth. Even though I have always written nonfiction, my mother, until she died at 92, never stopped urging me to "get a real job."
As Rose ponders her mother's disregard for the life of a professional writer, she wonders, "Do any of us ever outgrow those old childhood hurts, or do they grow and fester in our spirits the whole length of our lives?"
The question might apply to any of us; as Albert has remarked, "the family censor sits on our shoulders, editing our pasts." I could believe that Rose was so anxious to create a better relationship with her mother that the deception became immaterial. When I found myself publishing a book that contained truths I knew my mother could not accept, I presented her with her own special manuscript copy-- from which I had removed anything that would disturb her rosy view of our lives. She loved showing her personal copy to nursing home visitors. "My daughter wrote this," she would say.
Perhaps as Rose took the written drafts and rewrote them, her mother became immersed in planning the next book. When Rose brought or sent Laura the finished drafts, she might simply have mailed them. Perhaps she convinced herself that the published version was what she had written. Even when my co-editors and I heavily edited manuscripts for our three anthologies of autobiographical writing by Western women (Leaning into the Wind, Woven on the Wind
and Crazy Woman Creek
), novice writers often told us how pleased they were that we had not changed their words!
And what about some of the editors who had seen Laura's writing before Rose worked it over? Did they suspect the truth? Perhaps they ignored their suspicious, afraid to lose such popular books.
Still, the Rose of the novel believes that her mother is deeply uneasy. "That was her mother’s way; the more troubled she was about something, the less likely she was to say anything about it to anyone." Precisely so do the people in my Dakota neighborhood behave today: the more unpleasant the topic, the less likely they are to talk about it. Rose and Laura never discussed their collaboration in public. Likely they never discussed it in private.
I've met many writers like Laura, people who enjoy writing as a pastime but cannot take it seriously as a profession. Laura says to her daughter in A Wilder Rose
"The more I see of the hours you have to put in, the better satisfied I am to raise chickens. . . . I could never let myself be driven the way you are, Rose." Albert says the statement is almost a direct quote from a letter Laura wrote to her husband Almanzo from San Francisco in 1915, when she was visiting Rose.
Casual writers are not driven, but real writers must write and they may not be patient with anyone less serious about writing. Wanting to help her mother make an income as Almanzo aged and the farm income dwindled, Rose could have done the familiar work of editing and rewriting as a labor of love or duty without considering the job any different than dozens of others. However, in working for her mother, she didn't get the payment she so desperately needed.
What would you have done? Or perhaps more directly-- since I am a writer whose mother wrote journals and poetry when she was young-- what would I have done if my mother had brought me a manuscript to edit for publication?
I would have been flattered; I'd have worked hard to make it publishable. And because she was my mother, I would never have asked credit or payment, assuming that she would treat me fairly.
Albert presents another justification for Rose's work with her mother's memories, one I find particularly attractive. Rose's childhood was lonely and poverty-stricken. Writing her mother’s pioneer childhood as beautiful, abundant and generous might have been a way for Rose to do several things at once. Perhaps she wanted to imagine her parents' lives as more satisfying; perhaps she wanted to erase her mother's hardships by writing stories that made it brighter. The novels invent for Rose a mother who loved her as well as provided generously for her well-being. Did she create a happier childhood for herself, as well as for her mother? Did she enjoy creating a marriage partnership unlike her unsatisfactory union?
Every writing is a new challenge, one of the factors that keeps us working at the profession. Rose thinks that "from the day she’d begun professional writing-- almost thirty years now-- she had always felt that way. Whatever else she was writing-- it just wasn't good enough. It didn't meet her expectations of what it should have, could have been." Moreover, she felt each piece of writing completed was her last, that she’d never be able to find another worthy idea. I know no serious writer, including me, who hasn't wondered the same.
Moreover, many successful writers have had a fallback profession like teaching or selling insurance. Rose was writing furiously in the deepest darkness of the Depression of the 1930s, trying to survive on almost nothing while she helped her aging parents make enough money to live on. She had no insurance against failure, no spouse to support her. So she wrote constantly for money-- magazine articles, novels, nonfiction works-- anything to create an income.
Albert's scholarship has convinced me; the novel's structure allows the reader to understand and empathize with the way Rose was drawn into a collaboration that became a deception. Despite Rose's fame, she never received credit or financial benefit for the books. Laura got the pride of authorship; Laura got the royalties.
More importantly, Rose convinced me.
I don't care who wrote the books. Laura's voice, as Rose interpreted or created it, is still that of my guide and friend. Perhaps Laura's daughter made the storyteller a better person, helping her say what she could not express herself.
I was also delighted to learn what a very good writer Rose Wilder Lane was; she has much to say to our current political situation. Since her own writings were so much different than those of her mother, she proved her writing skill by creating the voice of the kindly storyteller for her mother's stories. Few writers are so skilled. Her benevolence created books loved by millions.
Interviewer Lynn Goodwin asked Susan Wittig Albert what advice Rose and Laura might give to aspiring writers. The differences, as Albert sees them, are intriguing.
Rose, says Albert, might say "“Write, write write . . . . And be sure to keep a day-to-day diary of your various writing projects . . . to satisfy the curiosity of the researchers who may come along and want to know what you were doing on a particular day." Such a diary became part of the background for this book.
And Laura? She'd say, "Tell the story you have to tell, as well as you can tell it. . . . And . . . it’s very good to have a daughter who is a professional writer."
* * *
Susan Wittig Albert is the national bestselling author of 50 adult novels and works of nonfiction, as well as more than 60 novels for young adults. She says, "I have a deep admiration for women writers who keep on keeping on through hail and high water. . . . Rose was one of those women."
She calls this work a labor of love, but notes that when she originally proposed it as narrative nonfiction, editors were enthusiastic about the writing, but worried that Laura's fans would not be pleased. So Albert chose to take a more direct route, self-publishing through her own Persevero Press
. As major publishing houses have consolidated and narrowed their focus, this option becomes more and more attractive to authors, even well-known writers with proven records of saleable writing. And this, too, should encourage writers, particularly women, and particularly we who write about sometimes unpopular topics.
# # #
I was given a free copy of this book to read and review, but no other compensation.
For more information:
See an interview with Susan Wittig Albert and additional information about women writers, at Story Circle Network (www.StoryCircle.org
And for details about the lives of Rose and Laura, including photographs of the homes where they lived while writing, as featured in the novel, see AWilderRoseTheNovel.com
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October 14, 2013
Trying to lift the pumpkins.
See more photos in the left-hand column.
. . .
We have the pumpkins in the back of the Diamond T and a big sign that says:
FREE WILL DONATION. PROCEEDS GO TO HAHA.
Along come 3 little redheaded boys.
"Do you want a pumpkin?" says Linda. "For Halloween?"
"We don’t do Halloween," says one.
"Do you do pumpkin pie?"
"Well then, you’d better buy a pumpkin."
"What does free will donation mean?"
"It means you pay whatever you want to."
"Really??? Like maybe a penny?"
"Yep, a penny would do."
They each hand me a penny and walk up and try to lift a couple of big ones. Too heavy. So they run off and come back with a hand truck, load up 3 of the biggest, and the last we see of them, they are wobbling down the street trying to hold all the pumpkins on.
A neighbor says the family has 10 kids. Hope mom is happy to see those pumpkins!
* * *
HAHA made $91.03 on the pumpkins.
# # #
For more information:
Read about Linda’s membership in HAHA on this website: Linda's Memberships, Awards and Honors
Read more about the Hermosa Arts and History Association at their website: www.HermosaHistory.org
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