Win a free CD set of Mary Robinette Kowal's outstanding performance of A Wilder Rose, the true story behind the beloved stories of the Little House books. Go here to enter.
Passalong plant. Decades ago, Bill's friend Jimmy Craig rescued a spadeful of these early white iris from the Campus Guild on Whitis, in Austin, where Bill and Jimmy lived while they were undergrads. The iris made three moves with Jimmy, and two moves with us. They've survived the drought without extra water and with very little care, which makes them a winner in my book--that, and their pristine purity, the whitest of white irises.And the earliest. Their blooms are always a welcome promise of spring.
Garden report. This spring's garden is shaping up to be the best in a long while, largely the luck of the weather. The potatoes (Yukon Gold, Reddale) look lovely, the peas are up, the Kentucky Wonder beans are up and their trellis is waiting, and we're eating fresh spinach and kale. The tomatoes have come out from under the lights and will be going into the ground soon. I need to get the eggplants started, and it will soon be time to plant okra. Oh, and the sweet potato starts are flourishing on the kitchen window sill, for planting in mid-May. Busy season!
Book report. I'm just finishing the last chapter of Blood Orange, China's 2016 mystery. By the time I finish a book, I'm never sure whether I like it or not. The problem: the book is never quite as good (in my view) as the idea I had when I started it. Maybe that's just because I've spent three months on the project and am eager to get on to something else, a natural feeling of anticlimax. That feeling always fades, though, and by the time the copyedit arrives on my desk, I'm liking it again.
The "something else" I need to start work on is the copyedited text of The Darling Dahlias and the Eleven O'clock Lady. This will be my last Dahlias for a while--I'm taking a sabbatical from the series, to do some different kinds of writing. Stay tuned for more later on that.
Also: I'll be giving away copies of the audio edition of A Wilder Rose, starting next Monday. I'll post a link here to that. You might also want to follow my blog at Goodreads, where I'm posting some thoughts about reading and writing.
But most of all, right now, right here, I'm simply enjoying the renewal of another spring in the Texas Hill Country, and loving my place, my own home ground.
Reading Note, For each home ground we need new maps, living maps, stories and poems, photographs and paintings, essays and songs. We need to know where we are, so that we may dwell in our place with a full heart.--Scott Russell Sanders
Autographed copies of A Wilder Rose, the new Lake Union edition. Go to Goodreads to enter, but better do it now. This is a short giveaway, ends 3/26.
And watch this space: I'll be announcing a giveaway of the audiobook soon!
But the redbud isn't just pretty. Dried and powdered, the inner bark was an important medicine for native peoples. Indian healers used it to staunch bleeding, ease skin irritations and poison ivy rash, and treat sores and tumors. Bark tea was drunk to treat diarrhea and dysentery and used (like quinine) to reduce malarial fevers and ease joint and muscle pain and headaches. The flowers were also steeped as a tea and drunk to prevent scurvy, treat kidney and bladder infections, and ease urinary ailments. And just in case you're wondering--yes, those pretty blossoms are edible, in salads, teas, syrups. And the immature seed pods can be eaten like beans. All this, and pretty too!
Big thanks to all of you who have boosted A Wilder Rose to the top of the Kindle charts, and especially those who have added your reader reviews. It's been an exciting week around here. Can you just imagine Rose, shaking her head and rolling her eyes over all the fuss?
Reading Note, from Rose Wilder Lane, Diverging Roads:
“I’m sure of one thing,” she said earnestly. “It hurts to . . . to let go of anything beautiful. But something will come to take its place, something different, of course, but better. The future’s always better than we can possibly think it will be. We ought to live confidently. Because whatever’s ahead, it’s going to be better than we’ve had.”
Today is the launch day for the new edition of A Wilder Rose, now available in ebook, print, and (yes!) audiobook, too.
The story behind this book is a long one, and the road to its publication was rocky. It is the true story of Rose Wilder Lane and her work on her mother's Little House books, based on research that stretched out for over two decades. I loved the Little House books as a kid, and when I learned, back in the 1970s, that Laura had written another book, The First Four Years, I jumped into it joyfully. But I was confused, because the book was so badly written, and so unlike the other eight beautiful books, that I couldn't believe that "my" Laura had written it.
But as it turned out, "my" Laura actually did write that book. It was the other eight books in the series that she didn't write--at least, not by herself. Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane--journalist, best-selling author, intrepid world traveler, and professional ghostwriter--rewrote her mother's drafts, turning them into the polished, appealing books we know today. A Wilder Rose tells the story of Rose's desperate efforts to support her her elderly, ailing parents by revising her mother's pioneer stories and shepherding through the publication process--spending months on her mother's rewrites at the cost of doing her own work.
The Depression was simply awful, and Rose's and Laura's economic difficulties were compounded by illness and drought. Rose was tempted many times to give up: we can see that in the diaries and journals she kept over the years. But her parents desperately needed the money, and she stayed at her typewriter, working on her mother's books for months at a time. When the series was complete (in 1942, with the publication of These Happy Golden Years), she had helped to create something she could be proud of.
But because she wanted her mother to enjoy the legacy of the books--and because she knew that they would be more marketable under the name of the child heroine--she concealed her contributions. The two women developed an elaborate scheme to deceive their literary agent (George Bye), their editors, and their readers into the belief that Laura created the books all by herself, in pencil, on yellow school tablets. That story enhanced the popularity of the books, and even though the editors and publisher must have understood the truth, it was to their advantage (dollar-wise) to go along with the deception.
I wrote A Wilder Rose in 2011-2012. I expected to be able to interest a major house in its publication, but the Big Houses turned it down. To my surprise, even the smaller houses did, too. In fact, the book was rejected by over 35 publishers. The most-often cited editorial reason: "Laura's fans won't like the idea that their icon participated in a literary deception." (Well, yes, that's true--and the subject for another post.)
With all those rejections, I seriously considered putting the book in a bottom drawer and forgetting about it. But like Rose, I am stubborn, and I knew that the story, while it would be controversial, was needed to be told. So I got to work, published the book myself (in September 2013), and was delighted when it received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and 100s of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. It was selected as one of Kirkus' Indie Books of 2013, and is on the shelves of nearly a thousand libraries in the U.S. and elsewhere.
It did so well, in fact, that it was picked up by Lake Union Publishing and has now been reprinted in a new edition, in ebook, print, and audiobook, too. I'm sure there will be other milestones for this project, but this is a big one, and I'm delighted to be sharing it with you.
A Wilder Rose was a story that simply had to be told. Today, as I celebrate the launch of the new edition, I am very, very glad that Rose and I didn't give up.
The takeaway from this long, long adventure? If you have a story that has to be told, don't you give up, either.
Congratulations to the three Goodreads winners: Dorothy T, Harlingen TX; Megan G, Laurel MD; Tyler N, Winter Springs FL. Your books will go into the mail on Monday. Big thanks to everybody who entered--your entry in these giveaways is always a vote of confidence for the author, you know, and deeply appreciated. If you didn't win, stay tuned. I'll be announcing another giveaway in a week or two.
And before you click away, I want to brag about my new book trailer, celebrating the launch of the Lake Union edition of A WILDER ROSE. The trailer was created by my son, Michael Wittig, of Juneau AK. It tells the story of Rose Wilder Lane and her work as a book doctor and rewrite artist on the Little House books that she and her mother published under the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Rose was often reluctant and even resentful of the need to do her mother's work when she'd rather be doing her own. (Wouldn't you feel that way, especially if your mother openly resented the fact that she needed your help?) But their collaboration proved to be a lucrative cottage industry, providing a secure financial future for Rose's aging parents and eight wonderful books for generations of grateful readers.
Reading note. I want to finish work on my mother's juvenile (Farmer Boy manuscript) by the end of June. There's a curious half-angry reluctance in my writing for other people. I say to myself that whatever earnings there may be are all in the family. Also I seize upon this task as an excuse to postpone my own work. Rose Wilder Lane, Diary, May 29, 1933.
Only 3 more days on our Bittersweet giveaway, over at Goodreads. I'll be mailing three autographed ARCs (advance reading copies) of the upcoming China Bayles mystery, Bittersweet, to three lucky winners. You can't win unless you enter, and now is a really good time to do that, before you forget.
The butterflies and bees love the flowering trees as much as I do--and need them more. This skipper is feeding on the nectar of the Mexican plum that grows at the western edge of our woodlot and is blooming this week.
In the afternoon, in full sun, this tree is a hive of winged energy, every blossom cluster hosting an insect or two or three. The tree was so thick with buzzing insects that the blossoms seemed to be alive. Lovely sight, delightful sound. This tree (Prunus mexicanus) is native to the Hill Country, and one of the small trees designated NICE (Natives Instead of Common Exotics). We count ourselves lucky to have two. When the purple fruits are ripe, they're covered with a gray wild yeast that can be used to make sourdough, so I've read. I'd have to hurry to gather them, though: they're loved by raccoons, possums, and birds.
Garden report. We've had three stretches of two and three nights of hard freezes (unusual for late Feb/Mar). But our average last frost isn't until the end of the month, so anything can happen. I covered the potatoes & peas and uncovered again this morning: the potato tops look frosted, the peas, spinach, and kale are fine. It's warming up this weekend, so I'll put the cabbages (started under lights) in the ground today or tomorrow. Time to clean out the chicken coop and mix the manure with the compost for an energy boost for the late-spring plants.
Book report. It's also time to stop foolin' around and get serious about finishing Blood Orange (China #24, April 2016). I know who did it, how, and why, but China doesn't know that yet. She has 10,000 words in which to find out. The deadline is the end of the month. I think I'll make it.
Bittersweet will be out next month. If you haven't entered the Goodreads giveaway (3 autographed ARCs), please do. Publishers Weekly included the book in its top mystery picks for spring 2015, it's a featured alternate in the Mystery Guild, and Booklist gave it a starred review: "Albert pulls in disturbing and timely topics—drones and deer breeding—for an engrossing and twisted tale." Be prepared for something different.
Books I'm reading. I've found a new author--new to me, maybe an old friend for you. Her name is Jane Smiley, and I'm currently reading A Thousand Acres. Next on my list is the first book in her trilogy, Some Luck. I admire her skill in characterization and the depth of her knowledge of farm country and farm people. Surprising, for a city girl. I'm also waiting for the release, next week, of Dead Wake, by Erik Larson, one of my all-time favorite authors and the very best storyteller I know.
But mostly, I'm waiting for spring. Bet you are, too.
Reading note: In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.--Margaret Atwood
We're having a giveaway this week, over at Goodreads. I'll be mailing three autographed ARCs (advance reading copies) of the upcoming China Bayles mystery, Bittersweet, to three lucky winners. You can't win unless you enter, and now is a really good time to do that, before you forget.
Garden/weather report. Gosh, what a winter. It was so unseasonably warm through January that I put the potatoes (Yukon Gold, Reddale) out early and planted spinach, kale, and a couple of rows of peas. The veggies are up now and looking pretty, but late February has brought us stretches of freezing weather, so I've had to cover almost everything. The spinach is hardy, though, and we've been enjoying salad and spinach chips. The cabbage plants I started under the grow lights are ready to go into the garden as soon as we get a decent stretch of weather, and a tray of tomato seeds has taken the place of the cabbage under the lights, on a heat mat.
There are signs of spring all around. The daffodils are blooming in a wide swath of white and gold and sunshine yellow along the edge of the woods and in the garden border. The Mexican plum is in bloom (despite the ice and sleet!) beside the creek. In the woods, I can hear the lovely song of the redwing blackbirds, and the shrill piping of the tufted titmouse. So I know that spring is on the way.
Book report. Lots of book stuff going on. Bittersweet got a starred review from Booklist and strong reviews from Kirkus and PW. If you're a Mystery Guild member, watch for it as a featured alternate in your March catalog.
The Lake Union reprint edition of A Wilder Rose comes out this month, along with the Brilliance production of the audio book, read by Mary Robinette Kowal. Hick and Eleanor is out for editorial review; I'll have more information about that in a few weeks. My current work-in-progress, Blood Orange (China's 24th mystery) will be finished by the end of the month.
Story Circle. Many of you know that I'm the founder of the Story Circle Network, a nonprofit organization of women writers. One of my favorite activities in that organization is the Sarton Literary Award. We've just announced the winner and finalists in the 2014 competition and have opened the 2015 competition. This year, we're expanding the program to women's fiction (contemporary and historical) as well. For details, go here. I'm honored to be asked to serve as president of Story Circle in 2016-2017, for the 20th anniversary of this important organization.
Looking at the weather map, I can see that it's not spring for many of you. But it will be, before long. And always in the spring, there are new ideas, new thoughts, and new hopes and dreams. Just hold onto that while you wait for the snow to melt.
Reading note. Spring is the time of plans and projects.--Leo Tolstoy
The daffodils are blooming along the edge of the woods, the redbuds are plumping up, and the salvia is budding. But it's always the agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) that anounces "It's spring!" here at Meadow Knoll. Other names for this drought-resistant Texas native: Texas holly, wild currant, chaparral berry, and palo amarillo. Agarita is from the Spanish for agrio, sour.This pretty shrub, a holly look-alike, is our earliest bloomer, producing nectar for the native bees and promising a good crop of small red berries for the birds and raccoons. For us, too, if I have time to pick the berries and make jelly. The best way to gather them: spread an old sheet on the ground and whack the plant until it begins to drop its berries. Apologize, and whack again. For medicinal uses (there are many for this useful herbal shrub) check out this post on Foraging Texas.
Book report. I'm sorry to have been absent from the blog (big thanks to those of you who wrote to ask if I'm okay!), but the writing schedule has been heavy. I'm currently at work on Blood Orange, #24 in the China Bayles series, planning to finish by the end of March. Bittersweet (China's #23 mystery) will be out in early April. I'll be at the Austin Wild Flower Center on April 11, at the annual Herb Day celebration in Houston (South Texas Unit of the Herb Society of America) on April 25, and at Murder By the Book on April 25. Details to come.
March will be exciting, too, with the launch of the Lake Union edition of A Wilder Rose on March 17, in ebook, print, and audio formats. After dozens of rejections, I published the book myself and am delighted to tell you that it sold over 20,000 copies in its first year. It's an even better book now, after a heavy rewrite, and moves into its second incarnation with a beautiful new cover.
This story is so dear to my heart because Rose was such a brave, energetic, and dedicated writer--and a good daughter, too, devoting years of her life to transforming her mother's work into the Little House books we love and her mother into a literary icon. Amazing story.
There's more going on right now, with Hick and Eleanor out for editorial review and consideration. That's always a nail-biting time--more about that later, when I have some definite news to share.
Garden report. Yes, yes, it's finally garden time here in the Hill Country. We've been eating fresh spinach for a couple of weeks. (Try spinach chips--they're great!) The kale and chard are up, and the first planting of Yukon Gold potatoes. The first planting of peas (Sugar Ann) went in last week, and I'll do another today. We're expecting a freeze mid-week, so everything will need to be covered. Under the lights: cabbage (for March transplant) and tomatoes (late April). I always feel a new energy when it's garden time--don't you?
Drought update. I know that many of you are facing massive snows and flooding rains, but in our little piece of the planet, it looks like we'll continue to be challenged by drought. We've had enough minor rainfall, frequently enough, to boost the spring pasture grasses. But the trees continue to be stressed, the Highland Lakes are at an historic low and the expected El Nino fizzled. And to raise the stakes, the natural drought cycle is being intensified by human-caused climate change. I'm sorry if this sounds bleak, but we need to understand where we are and how our lives--and our children's lives--will be affected. It's not a pretty picture.
But the agarita is a pretty picture, isn't it? A drought-resistant shrub, it will go on blooming and feeding its neighbors even when less adaptive plants fail. A lesson for all of us, I think.
Reading Note: 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. Where we live and who we live there with [and how we live, I would add] define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity.—Wendell Berry
At last! The "raw" story of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, as she wrote it on those famous yellow tablets, and gave to her daughter, Rose Lane, to edit and type. If you've been following my work on A Wilder Rose, you'll know that Pioneer Girl was one of the sources for the Little House books, on which Laura and Rose collaborated. After long years (Laura wrote her manuscript in the early 1930s), it has finally been published. Readers and scholars alike will be delighted to have it. Kudos to the South Dakota State Historical Society for bringing us this book.
The story takes us deep into the real life of a pioneer family that barely clung to a hard-luck existence on the margins of nineteenth-century American settlement. It also reveals a great deal about Wilder’s ambitions and competence as a writer, and the great distance a story can travel between real life and fiction.
But however glad we are to finally have easy access to Wilder’s autobiography, Pamela Hill’s editorial work (which makes up at least half the book) raises some significant questions. Central to these is what scholars call “editorial intrusion.”
To put it plainly, an editor of an important literary document (and Wilder’s manuscript is certainly important) has a very special obligation, beyond his or her first duty to represent the text exactly as the author produced it. In notes and textual annotations, the editor must be impartial on controversial issues and present the text fully and neutrally, so that scholars and general readers can read without distraction or undue editorial influence.
All editors will agree that neutrality is a difficult thing and that they spend a great deal of time examining their work to be sure that their opinions and interpretations (especially regarding controversial issues) don’t distract from the reading or lead the reader to particular conclusions. In other words, an editor should never get in the reader’s way.
The text of Laura's writing is carefully and accurately presented, but it is heavily laced with Hill’s editorial intrusions. Some are seemingly factual but are inaccurate and the sources are undocumented. Others are opinions presented as fact. Many are designed to buttress the editor’s long-standing contention that Wilder is the primary author of the Little House books and to brush aside suggestions that her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was anything more than an “editor” of the books and “literary agent” for the series. All are presented in the margins of the pages, rather than as appendices in the back, where they would at least have been less obtrusive. The editor is not only getting in the reader's way, she is telling the reader how to read the text.
But you don't have to let her do that. I suggest that you read and enjoy Pioneer Girl for what it is: a valuable presentation of Wilder’s unpublished autobiographical manuscript, the source from which she and her daughter later drew the Little House books. Use the historical notes (most are quite helpful) to further your own understanding and research. Weigh each editorial comment thoughtfully. Be aware that these reflect the editor’s opinions and don’t always tell the full story behind this important manuscript and the ways in which it was subsequently developed.
That said, I loved Laura’s tale, with all its artlessly gritty details, just for itself, and I can see why Rose found it so engaging that she spent months attempting to interest editors in her edited versions. I will be reading and rereading it for a long time to come.