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Hernando_Faces Like Devils_FNL
Matthew J. Hernando is Instructor of History and Government at Ozark Technical Community College, Hollister, Missouri. He has contributed articles and book reviews to such publications as the North Louisiana Historical Association Journal, the White River Valley Historical Quarterly, and the online journal Civil War Book Review.

Faces Like Devils: The Bald Knobber Vigilantes in the Ozarks was published in the spring of 2015 by University of Missouri Press.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, Matthew.

Q: You graduated from Louisiana State University, and you now work in the Ozarks. Were your people from the Ozarks?

A: Alas, no they weren’t. I am totally an adopted Ozarker. My family relocated to the area from New Jersey in 1990. I was ten years old at that time. So far as I know, no member of my family ever lived here before that point. My mother’s family is Scottish, and my father’s family is Russian, Polish, and Filipino.

Photograph by James D. Hernando

Photograph by James D. Hernando

In a weird way, however, I think that I might actually have a bit of an advantage not being a native Ozarker. A lot of things that a native of the region might take for granted—such as the continuous “insider” versus “outsider” dynamic that plays out time and again in our history—strike me as different and fascinating. Perhaps as a result of that I have always found the history of this area intriguing, which may explain why I chose this topic.

Q: The Bald Knobbers existed in three counties in the Missouri Ozarks—Taney, Christian, and Douglas. Briefly what were the Bald Knobbers and how many men were involved?

A: The Bald Knobbers were a vigilante organization that were founded in Taney County sometime in the winter of 1884 to 1885. Thereafter they spread north into the neighboring counties of Christian and Douglas. Contemporary accounts suggest that up to a thousand men may have belonged to the Bald Knobbers, although I have only been able to document the names of around 140 members in the three counties.

Q: Why would Ozarkers choose to improvise and circumvent existing, elected civil authority?

A: For the same reason that other nineteenth century Americans did so in other places: they became dissatisfied with the operation of the legitimate law enforcement mechanisms in their communities, either because they did not move fast enough or because they yielded results that many people found to be unjust or inequitable. If you look at nineteenth century America, particularly Post-Civil War, you have these sorts of organizations popping up everywhere. Right here in Missouri you have organizations like the Stone County Sons of Honor, the Marmiton League in Vernon County, the Anti-Horse Thief Association up in Clarke County, and of course the Klu Klux Klan, which was heavily active in Southeast Missouri. So what happened in Southwest Missouri in the 1880’s is hardly unique.

Q: You say significantly in the book and in your conclusion that some of the conflict was an extension of, or was perceived by participants as an extension of, the very bloody and often personal Civil War in the Ozarks. What had these men learned in the war?

A: Well, first and foremost they had learned that violence solves problems, and they had learned how to use violence to solve problems. They had also learned to view people from the “other side” of that conflict with suspicion and hostility. It’s no accident that, among the Bald Knobbers who were old enough to have served in the Civil War, union veterans predominated. Moreover, in Taney County – where the Bald Knobbers actually faced organized opposition – confederate veterans flocked to the Anti-Bald Knobber faction.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to conclude from this that Civil War loyalties were the sole factor in determining whether a person joined the Bald Knobbers, something that I don’t say in the book. Instead, I see civil war loyalties as one of several factors that could influence that decision, including economic or financial motives, a concern for law and order, a desire for probity in local government, and a person’s willingness to impose his own version of morality upon his neighbors.

Q: Other counties saw the rise of anti-horse thief leagues or law-and-order committees. Why did Taney County in particular see a vigilante group that became so large and dominant so fast?

A: By the mid-1880’s, conditions were ripe for vigilante justice to take hold in Taney County. First, you have the local political situation: the end of ex-confederate disfranchisement in 1872 led to local Democrats recapturing control of local government in Taney County, so for about a decade you have this clique of Democratic, mostly southern sympathizing, office-holders calling the shots in local politics. At the same time, you have substantial immigration from former Union states—including the North and the Mid-West—which brought in a lot of people who were ill-disposed to accept this state of affairs. The newcomers blamed Taney County’s problems on the Democratic “courthouse ring” or “old county ring” controlling local government. They particularly focused their ire on the county’s burgeoning local debt—which reached the once staggering total of $42,600 in 1883—even though as I point out in the book the county’s debt problem actually began before the Democrats took over.

The other issue the critics harped on was crime, particularly violent crime, which they said the local authorities had allowed to get out of control. There was a lot of talk about crime statistics leading up to the Bald Knobber episode. A commonly cited claim was that some thirty to forty murders had occurred in Taney County during the twenty years from the end of the war to the founding of the Bald Knobbers, although that claim has never been substantiated. As often happens, however, perception became more important than reality. The perception that Taney County had become this wild, lawless place was reinforced by a number of high profile violent crimes that did occur in Taney County in the early 1880’s, particularly the murders of Amos Ring and James Everett, and the attempted murders of John T. Dickenson and his wife by the brothers Frank and Tubal Taylor, whom the Bald Knobbers later lynched.

Underlying the complaints about crime and corruption, however, was a very real concern on the part of many of the vigilantes for the progress of their community. To them “progress” meant continued immigration to Taney County, as well as new investment, business development, and so on. Many of them had moved to the area expecting to participate in what they anticipated would be a bright and prosperous future, and they saw that future jeopardized by what they perceived as rampant crime and political corruption. Such a threat justified taking extreme steps to wage what the Bald Knobber chieftain Nat Kinney described in his typically overheated rhetoric as a “war between civilization and barbarism” in which all the county’s “best men”—lawyers, doctors, businessmen, taxpayers, etc.—sided with him, while presumably the county’s “worst” element sided with his opponents.

Q: The Christian and Douglas County Bald Knobbers were very different organizations than what started in Taney County. How so?

A: That’s a great question because it gets to the heart of the distinction I try to draw in the book: I view the two groups of Bald Knobbers as being very different organizations. They differed first in terms of composition: they attracted different sorts of people into their ranks. The Taney County group consisted mainly of middle and upper class men who tended to be older (about forty years old on average), and came from diverse occupational and geographical backgrounds. About half of them practiced something other than agriculture as their primary form of employment, and several were successful lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and politicians. Only about three in ten claimed Missouri as their birth place. By contrast, the Bald Knobbers in Christian and Douglas counties tended to be younger (averaging age of about thirty), and came from poorer, less socially-prominent backgrounds. A majority of them claimed Missouri as their birthplace, while about nine in ten practiced agriculture as their primary livelihood. Needless to say, fewer of them ever became lawyers, businessmen, or politicians.

They also differed in terms of their motives. As we’ve seen, the Taney County group organized primarily in response to issues like crime and violence, and corruption in local government. By contrast, the Bald Knobbers in the two northern counties, particularly Christian county, displayed a much greater interest in what I call “moral regulation,” or the use of vigilante tactics to impose your own version of morality and proper behavior on your community. That’s why they engaged in such actions as busting up the “blind tigers” (i.e., saloons) in Chadwick, or whipping adulterers, sexual deviants, and people who abused or neglected their families.
They also attempted to advance the economic interests of their members, which was perhaps similar to the Taney County vigilantes, except that in Christian and Douglas counties the focus was different: they were primarily concerned with protecting the livelihoods of their members, rather than promoting the economic “progress” of their community, per se. For example, many of the Bald Knobbers in these counties—like a lot of people at that time—supplemented their income through “tie-hacking,” or cutting railroad ties for the old Frisco Railroad that ran through the area. As a result, they sometimes clashed with officials from local timber companies who in their view treated their members unfairly. On at least two occasions, they attempted to coerce company representatives from a Springfield-based timber company into giving them more favorable prices for their ties and not rejecting as many substandard ties.

The concern with timber also helps explain why so many of them became involved in homesteader intimidation cases. From 1887 through 1888 dozens of Bald Knobbers from Christian and Douglas counties stood trial in federal court for intimidating homesteaders and running them off their land. As I argue in the book, they did so because they felt homesteaders were crowding them off of land they had used for years, especially for timber-cutting (i.e., “tie-hacking”) purposes. This is something, by the way, that was entirely absent among the Taney County Bald Knobbers, none of whom were arrested for intimidating homesteaders.

Q: I was fascinated to learn that the Taney County Bald Knobbers wore no masks, but the Christian and Douglas County Bald Knobbers had the very distinctive horned sacks with red thread setting off the eyes. Why would one group operate unmasked and overtly and the other always in disguise?

A: You can pretty much boil the answer to that question down to one word: power. After about 1884, the old Democratic courthouse ring had been vanquished in Taney County, and the Bald Knobbers and their Republican allies clearly held control over the local government, as they would continue to do long after the organization itself had phased out of existence. For example, from 1886 to 1892 four known Bald Knobbers or former Bald Knobbers—James K. Polk McHaffie, Galba Branson, Reuben Isaacs, and John L. Cook—held the office of sheriff. Other Bald Knobbers would frequently hold such offices as county clerk, assessor, treasurer, and prosecutor well into the 1890’s. So if you’re in charge, why disguise your identity? You can count on your friends in local government to protect you.

By contrast, the Bald Knobbers in Christian and Douglas counties never had anywhere near that level of influence. They were poorer, less socially prominent, and few if any of them held political office. They needed to disguise their identities because they were more vulnerable to prosecution for their vigilante activities. Ironically enough, those fearsome Bald Knobber masks were a mark of that comparative vulnerability.

Q: A colleague of mine often trots out the phrase, “It’s all about money and power.” How would that apply to the Bald Knobbers?

A: Were the Bald Knobbers interested in money and power? Absolutely. But I think it would be a mistake to reduce it to that. I see the Bald Knobber episode as being primarily a struggle over the future. The men who joined the vigilantes had a particular vision of the future that they wanted to create for themselves and their communities, and they were willing to use force to make it a reality.

Q: What drove you to write this?

A: As a child growing up in the Ozarks, I could hardly have avoided some contact with the Bald Knobbers, or at least the Bald Knobber mythology presented in popular culture. I rode the “Fire in the Hole” ride at Silver Dollar City, and I read Shepherd of the Hills for the first time in middle school. But it wasn’t until I did a research paper on Christian County as part of a class I took at LSU that I first began to think about tackling this project seriously. A small section of that paper concerned the Bald Knobbers, and my professor made the comment that he would have liked to find out more about this group. I thought, “Well, so would I.”

Q: There is a LOT of sensational information and misinformation from newspapers and all the other books about the Bald Knobbers. How did you fend off the “story” to salvage the history?

A: First, I set out to dig as deeply as possible into the available primary sources: newspapers, numerous court records, contemporary accounts, census records, tax records, and so on. I also tried to ask questions a lot of questions that hadn’t really been tackled systematically before. For example, I wanted to know not just what the Bald Knobbers did—who they whipped, lynched, drove out, etc.—but who they were. What type of men joined this group? Where did they come from? What were their social and/or professional backgrounds? What was their family status? Had they been veterans? If so, which side did they fight for?

Lastly, I tried to let the sources guide my research by raising new questions that I hadn’t considered before. For example, one of the things I investigated a little more closely than previous writers is the lawsuit between Nat Kinney and the City of Springfield, which stemmed from an injury he sustained when he fell into a pot hole on a city street. I became fascinated by the fact that, in the midst of all these tumultuous events going on in Taney County, he was simultaneously involved in protracted litigation against a municipal government that actually lasted beyond his death. Without giving away too much of what is in the book, the way that case played out sheds some light on the Bald Knobber episode down in Taney County and the role that Nat Kinney played in it.

Q: Assuming that there is an Ozarks Literature and then there are trends within that Ozarks Literature, I see now a raft of novels that involve crime, lawlessness, murder: Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood, many of Daniel Woodrell’s novels. What in the narrative of the Bald Knobbers has contributed to the persistence of our rough justice narratives?

A: As I suspect you probably know, the Bald Knobbers owe much of their enduring notoriety to one man: the minister-turned-author Harold Bell Wright, whose wildly popular 1907 novel, Shepherd of the Hills, included a highly sensationalized depiction of the group as a gang of cut-throats and outlaws who defied the law and terrorized their neighbors. Since then, this distorted image of the Bald Knobbers has been linked to the Ozarks in the popular imagination, even as the actual history of the group has been largely forgotten. It is no surprise that when the Mabe family decided to open their hillbilly-themed music show in Branson in 1959, they chose the name “Baldknobbers” for their enterprise. It is also no surprise that much of the popular literature concerning the region should focus on themes like crime and violence, not only because that stuff sells books, but also because that is how the region has been portrayed for more than a century.

Q: Are there ways in which this vigilante instinct later contributed to the horrific years of racially motivated lynchings in Joplin, Pierce City, and Springfield? Why were Ozarkers seemingly hardwired to answer anything they feared with a rope?

A: Well, once again, it is only fair to point out that a lot of nineteenth century Americans shared that same predisposition. Ozarkers were not unique in that respect. I would say that the Bald Knobbers, and their numerous late nineteenth century counterparts both in Missouri and the rest of the country, set a precedent that tended to normalize vigilante justice in the eyes of many Americans and Ozarkers. The rash of racially-motivated violence that struck the Ozarks around the turn of the century—which Kimberly Harper chronicles so well in White Man’s Heaven—naturally drew upon that precedent. As always, it becomes easier for people to contemplate doing something when it has been done before.

Q: Any word on when and if Faces Like Devils will appear in paperback?

A: Alas, no word on that yet. That decision will be made by the University of Missouri Press.

Q: Are you done with this subject? What will you work on for your second book?

A: I am done with it for now, except that I am often asked to give talks to various local groups about the Bald Knobbers, which I am usually very happy to do. Next month, for example, I am giving an address to the Vernon County Historical Society. As for my second project, I will be honest and say I have not got very far yet. I am exploring a couple of possible topics, but my teaching load keeps me rather busy during the Fall and Spring semesters.

Thanks again for taking the time to do this, Matthew. I hope you find the time and space to write about the Ozarks again, and soon!

Interviewer Steve Yates is the author of two novels set in the Ozarks, Morkan’s Quarry and The Teeth of the Souls. His collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, won the Juniper Prize and was published by University of Massachusetts Press. Sandy and Wayne: A Novella, chosen for Big Fiction’s Knickerbocker Prize by New York Times-bestselling author Lauren Groff, is forthcoming this February from Dock Street Press in Seattle.

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FictionCOLUMBIA, Missouri — July 18, 2015

2 – 4 p.m.

Research Center–Columbia

Join two authors with Missouri roots for readings from their latest projects, followed by a discussion on writing with topics ranging from choosing historical fiction to literary license and historical accuracy.

Steve Wiegenstein will read highlights from This Old World, which was recently announced as a finalist for the M. M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. Set in the utopian town of Daybreak, the novel depicts a troubled community deeply changed by the American Civil War. As the characters write the next chapter of their story, the men and women struggle with leadership, lust, and their own flawed humanity. Steve Yates also explores the aftermath of the Civil War in The Teeth of the Souls, which tells the double life and love story of Leighton Shea Morkan. Leighton’s affection for his childhood confidante and former slave, Judith, endures despite his marriage to another woman. A sequel to Morkan’s Quarry, the novel follows Springfield through a triple lynching on Easter 1906.

THERE IS MUCH ABOUT THE ABOVE that I still find hard to believe. Around our house in Flowood, Mississippi, it takes very little searching on any book shelf to find a read and marked, dog-eared copy of The Missouri Historical Review.

In graduate school at the University of Arkansas MFA program, I read the magazine as faithfully as any literary journal. And, when I became publicist at University of Arkansas Press and had the privilege to work on books by Milton Rafferty, James Keefe, and Lynn Morrow, I read The Missouri Historical Review even more eagerly.

Fellow writers in the MFA program found this habit odd. I’m sure almost as odd, off-putting, and disconcerting as some historians found it that the publicist working on their books was a fiction writer publishing pretty regularly in The Missouri Review, Ontario Review, and elsewhere.

Before a conference at Jerry’s Diner, formerly on the corner of Dixon Street and 71B, I spent a really extraordinary hour-and-a-half waiting on writer and fellow MFA candidate Jay Prefontaine for breakfast and a story session. I was to comment on one of his fictions in draft, and he would do the same, critiquing one of mine. I sat there with coffee and grapefruit and read The Missouri Historical Review and watched all the farmers and locals come and jaw and go.

Ozarkers! My people! It was wonderful, that much normalcy right there in Fayetteville. In the narrow bandwidth that was the MFA program, all was cartoon land. Priorities that existed nowhere else in the known universe were, in the program, outsized urgencies: “Today I must craft a sestina! The Chariton Review has rejected me yet again!” But here in Jerry’s, the Ozarks resumed like a calm back bay’s water spreading against a rollicking beach of irrepressible hedonism. A big, sunny spring morning outside boomed through the windows, so that the diner became a kind of corona of formica and vinyl, ball caps and bacon grease.

Jay Prefontaine with my wife Tammy Gebhart Yates.

Jay Prefontaine with my wife Tammy Gebhart Yates.

Finally Jay walks in, that tight, on the toes, poised walk he had. Dare you. Dare you. He had been a scholarship hockey player at Colby College, probably a devastating enforcer. And I had seen him, more than once, ruin someone else’s week with whipcord violence unleashed at a bar or restaurant when too much had been imbibed, and some poor Ozarker decided, drunkenly and quite mistakenly, that Jay would be an easy Yankee to take.

Jay pulls The Missouri Historical Review from my hands, reads the cover, flips it around, hands it back, sits down. “We’re really different, aren’t we, Stevie.”

“Yes,” I say. “You, for example, are ninety minutes late. Coffee?”

“Why read that?” he asks squinting at it again.

I think a minute. “Inspiration. There is a story waiting untold in every paragraph.”

Pause. Some squinting around at the calm glory that was Jerry’s. “We’re really different, Stevie.”

On July 18, I will be permitted the chance to walk through the doors where The Missouri Historical Review is edited and published, permitted to stand on my hind legs alongside a writer I tremendously admire—Tall Steve Wiegenstein—and then permitted to dare a crowd in Columbia, Missouri, to take my fiction, based on and inspired by history, seriously.

No one is more surprised than I am.

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March 25 posterFOR IMMEDIATE NEWS RELEASE
Contact: Missouri State University Office for Diversity and Inclusion
Email: DiversityandInclusion@MissouriState.edu
Telephone: 417-836-3736

A Springfield History of Race and Faith:
A Reading and Panel Discussion Featuring Novelist Steve Yates
With a Special Dance Performance by God’s Chosen Ministry (MSU’s Student Praise Ministry Group)
7:00-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 25
In the Historic Fox Theatre of The History Museum on the Square
157 Park Central Square, Springfield Mo.

Pre-Event Tours
5:00-6:00 Guided History Shuttle-Tour of Downtown Springfield by John Sellars
(limited seating, so come early): shuttle leaves from Carrington Circle Shuttle Stop at 5:00 p.m.
6:00-7:00 Tour by John Sellars of the History Museum Exhibition, “‘We’ve Always been Here’:
Stories of the African American Community in Greene County.”

The Teeth of the Souls (Moon City Press 2015)

The Teeth of the Souls (Moon City Press 2015)

Following a 7:00 p.m. performance by the MSU student praise dance troupe, God’s Chosen Ministry, acclaimed novelist Steve Yates will read from his newly-published novel, The Teeth of the Souls (Springfield: Moon City, 2015). Yates’s novel tells of the growth of early Springfield from the aftermath of Civil War through the 1906 Easter lynchings on the town square. The narrative unfolds through the eyes of Leighton Morkan, an Irish Catholic quarryman, his German Lutheran wife, Patricia, and Leighton’s former slave (and lover), the African-American Judith.

A panel discussion (with audience Q&A) will follow. James Braun, a community advocate for social justice, will serve as moderator.

The panelists and their topics:

Bishop David Knox, Jr., Pastor of Deliverance Temple: “My Forty Years in Springfield Ministry: How Far Have We Come?”

Dr. Mara Cohen Ioannides, MSU Senior Instructor of English: “The Founding of Springfield’s First Jewish Congregation.”

Bailey C. Wiles, MSU Senior Religious Studies Major: “Encountering Faith Diversity: A Look at Local Buddhist Culture.”

John Sellars, Executive Director, The History Museum on the Square: “Understanding Springfield through Its History.”

After the Q&A, Steve Yates will autograph copies of his novel.

For shuttle service from campus: take the MSU shuttle “gold line” to the Park Central Office Building (south of the Fox Theatre).

“A Springfield History of Race and Faith” is co-sponsored by The Greater Springfield Race and Faith Collaborative, The Missouri State University Division of Diversity and Inclusion, The History Museum on the Square, Hillel of Southwest Missouri, God’s Chosen Ministry, Moon City Press, the MSU Department of English, and the Ozarks Chapter of the Missouri Center for the Book.

The evening’s events are being coordinated by Dr. Kenneth Coopwood, MSU Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Sabrina Brinson, MSU Diversity Fellow and Professor of Education, Dr. James S. Baumlin, Distinguished Professor of English, and John Sellars of The History Museum.

Admission for the evening is free and the event is open to the public.

For further information, email DiversityandInclusion@MissouriState.edu or telephone 417-836-3736.

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The conductor went back to his paperwork, and Artemus looked past him out the window where the woods, the moss, the houses—some of them on stilts now—passed in winter array, made soft and ephemeral in a light the color of old pearls.

Bahrposed06smc2That sublime passage is Howard Bahr from his extraordinarily beautiful novel, Pelican Road. And that’s one of many sentences that will stop you and leave you gasping in this novel of the old railroads of the south, specifically from Meridian, Mississippi, to New Orleans.

Howard and I have been serendipitously thrown together many times now, as if some higher power meant our association to be. Joe DeSalvo at Faulkner House Books was the first intercessor, putting Howard as emcee of a vibrant panel on civilians and the Civil War and putting me dazed in a mix of much more famous and deserving authors on that panel.

Occasionally I have been able to return something worthwhile to the friendship that started at that Faulkner Words & Music Conference in New Orleans. And this summer I was really itching to introduce Howard to a book, Curiosity’s Cats: Writers on Research, edited by another friend of mine, Bruce Joshua Miller. You can catch many of that book’s principals here on this vimeo at Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Cats2 (2)At Subtext, I had every writer present sign a copy of Curiosity’s Cats to give to Howard. Turns out, Howard, who teaches at Belhaven University in Jackson, was about to design a class in Research and Writing. See what I mean about higher powers? Very shortly Howard told me that not only did the book fit the class quite well, but also he would like me to come speak to the class, on November 3, why not?

As often happens, I learned a lot about what I have been doing and writing by talking with students who are trying the same. Howard’s students were from all over the country—Pennsylvania, San Antonio, Texas. Belhaven offers one of the few BFAs in Creative Writing, and its program is the only Christian college doing so. I’m tremendously grateful to have been afforded this time with the eight young writers gathered in that sunny loft at a huge conference table in Preston/Fitzhugh Halls.

Here’s what I learned about research and writing. In August of 2013, searching for what to write next and about to travel to Oregon for leave, I stumbled on the idea that one of Springfield, Missouri’s untold stories is that of The Albino Farm. I had already tried to tell something of Springfield’s Civil War in the novel Morkan’s Quarry. And I advanced my made-up Springfield to the 1906 Easter Lynching in a forthcoming sequel, The Teeth of the Souls, see 14-16.

Growing up, I was told The Albino Farm story on drunken escapades and nights of high school mischief. No one told a precise story; there was no “definitive” version. No one even told this preposterous, spooky lie well enough for there to be an intelligible beginning, middle, and end with a monster, a motive, and a moral. Yet this odd tale of albinos trapped and suffering or vindictively guarding a massive old farm on the northern border of Springfield abutting Greenlawn Cemetery persisted as local lore, however badly told and confusing. And worse the legend drew a destructive whirlwind of thrill seekers to the farm even after the twelve-room mansion was burned down by barbarians in 1980. In my rowdy days, there were defaced ruins out on the property, ruins of a silo and a substantial foundation to what must have been a great house. But the tale was always snipe hunt nonsense, or a whisper spoken to scare your girlfriend a little closer.

Very likely Helen Sheedy's Confirmation Day photo. The Sheedy's were members of Catholic Sacred Heart Parish.

Very likely Helen Sheedy’s Confirmation Day photo. The Sheedy’s were members of Catholic Sacred Heart Parish.

Noodling around on the internet revealed I was on the right track. Sarah Overstreet, a fine columnist and a solid journalist (we worked together at the Springfield News-Leader), had sought information on “The Albino Farm” in 2006. On that farm, there once lived in real life a very large Irish Catholic family, the Sheedy’s. Surprisingly, there were no direct male descendants bearing the name Sheedy after Mike Sheedy’s many sons lived, worked, and died, some on the farm. Those who inherited the estate were all descended of Kate Sheedy, one of Mike’s daughters, who married a sheet metal worker.

Not one of them, there were eight, would speak to Sarah Overstreet about “The Albino Farm.” This legend, generated from Springfield for untraceable reasons, based on absolutely nothing real, was so hurtful, so obscuring of what was an idyllic and truly remarkable farmstead and the family that owned and worked it, that even those descendants who did not carry the name Sheedy and had not been born on and had not lived on the farm refused to speak at all about it, even to a reporter with a long track record of responsible journalism.

Wow. There’s some story. There’s the chance to regain some dignity for a people obscured and wronged, intriguingly by a wild legend invented in my hometown. What a curse!

And so I began.

On the northern border of Springfield, Missouri, there once was a great house surrounded by emerald woods, lake, and meadow, a home place and farm that, to the lasting sorrow of its owners and heirs, acquired a nonsensical legend marring all memory of its glory days. The estate became known and is still known, if it is remembered at all, as The Albino Farm.”

In Oregon that August, I had the benefit of being around my two nieces, especially Lauren Grace. Lauren Grace doesn’t travel well on winding seaside roads in the mountains, but her mother, a former nurse who has inspired me before, thought Lauren Grace was old enough to tolerate the over-the-counter seasickness medication, meclizine, so Lauren Grace downed a tablet.

Ashley Lynn (at left) and Lauren Grace (in sunglasses; at right)

Ashley Lynn (at left) and Lauren Grace (in sunglasses; at right)

She and I rode in the front, and my wife, mother-in-law, and niece, Ashley Lynn, were in back as we toured from Pacific City to Netarts Bay. My mind was on all I had learned so far about the Sheedy’s and the farm and their pain, the crazy, cruel legend of the Albino Farm, a tale that mounded and grew like bindweed—hassling, obscuring, destroying. But I could not find an entry point, a point of view to carry the story, to transform it into fiction.

Lauren Grace and I had been chattering away about stories and Oregon. She is tall for her age, and is a child who will truly stop conversation in a room, she is that startlingly lovely, pale, long of limb, with blonde hair and blue eyes set just deeply enough to give around them a tenderness, a world-weariness, as if she already knows something of the future, which makes her an even more stunning child to behold.

Lauren Grace, probably reading

Lauren Grace, probably reading

Of a sudden she grew quiet, and I had long finished whatever I was blabbing about. The backseat was absorbed in its own topic. I glanced from the road, and was quite jolted. Lauren Grace, lovely child that she is, had lapsed into a slack-jawed, dead-faced stare deep into and right through me. And she retained that thousand mile stare eerily, frighteningly, piercingly for several curves and straightaways until I could bear it no more.

Sweetie, I whispered, are you all right?

It was Hettienne that the Sheehy’s worried most about. The young girl had been vigorous, giddy, with fine and flowing blonde hair and symmetrical if very long proportions and a penchant for any game that involved running and screaming. But in her thirteenth summer she suddenly exhibited episodes of catatonia, somnambulism, and jags of mystifying talk. Lost in these fits, Hettienne saw what was coming for the family—a chaos, a curse, the legend that would haunt her for the rest of her life.”

I had discovered my entry point to the story. To make fiction of the historical, I would give the Sheedy’s a new name, Sheehy, and give them an heir, The Last Sheehy, which is the working title of the novel now in its fourth draft of rewrites with an editor and publisher I much admire.

In December of 2013, Tammy and I spent a long visit with both our parents in Springfield, Missouri. This afforded me tons of time in the Springfield Greene County Library Center’s Local History and Genealogy Department. This lead me to the Greene County Archives over on Boonville Avenue, and there was the mother lode. On several snowy, cold days, with archivists Robert Neumann and Steve Haberman going to great lengths to help, I uncovered and copied a novel’s worth of documents about the Sheedy’s.

The Sheedy’s were a propertied, some would say privileged family. The progenitor, Mike Sheedy, bought Springlawn Park, a showcase of a farm, from Frank Headley, Jr. for $30,000 in 1923, according to the tax records, a whopping sum back then. And, fortunately for anyone who wished to find the real story of the Sheedy’s, Mike, his son Simon, and all Mike Sheedy’s issue were remarkably circumspect if not fastidious in the willing and devising of substantial properties in North Town Springfield and especially at Springlawn Park, which became known as the Old Sheedy Place, and later, to their sorrow, as The Albino Farm.

The Last Will and Testament of Simon Sheedy, Greene County Archives

The Last Will and Testament of Simon Sheedy, Greene County Archives

When the estate was finally unwinding, the descendants of Kate Sheedy, who inherited and quickly sold the farm, did something extraordinary. Kate and her descendants were estranged from the Sheedy family, evident in Mike’s Last Will and Testament in which she is significantly not devised a share but a mere sum of $200.00. The estrangement was observed still many decades later when Simon Sheedy dies and leaves Kate a sum of $4,000.00 rather than a share of the properties and holdings. No small sum $4,000 in 1958; that could have easily purchased a new Studebaker, maybe a Commander, back then. Tellingly that check, after many prodding inquiries from the family lawyer, was never cashed but finally returned to the attorney’s office “without comment.”

Helen Sheedy is shown above with all her family in a photograph probably taken at her confirmation day. This is a great photo to have in the Greene County Archives, really capturing the high-water mark of the Sheedy family. When Helen Sheedy died, there were no more issue with the name Sheedy, and so the estate went into probate, and those due to inherit the estate, all children of Kate, went to the extraordinary measure of hiring a firm to catalog every item in every room of the 12-room Sheedy Mansion.

from Appraisal of the Helen Sheedy Estate, 1 March 1979

from Appraisal of the Helen Sheedy Estate, 1 March 1979

Gold mine. When I discovered this, it was as good as video tape. I brought my copy of Helen’s will to Howard’s class, shared it around, along with pictures of the farm. Sometimes it takes only one item in an inventory, one comment to allow the writer entry into the real heart of the story. I reminded the class of Ernest Hemingway’s famous six word short story, though I paraphrase, “For sale, infant gown, never worn.”

There it is on the house inventory. “Six handmade quilts, never used.” If you have ever watched a relative hand stitch a quilt, you know the love and time such a work of home art represents. Then I read Howard’s class this from near the end of the novel. Hettienne Sheehy, inspired in large part by Lauren Grace, is the Last Sheehy. And in this scene she is with her husband, Wes Connelly, and two of her children. Aunt Helen Sheehy is dying, and the Connelly’s are taking a kind of final inventory.

The hallways even upstairs were designed for the wider dresses and bustles of long ago and now felt like rooms unto themselves. When she was a child here Hettienne had not even conceived of the huge rectangles as hallways, but saw the whole house as a honeycomb of adjoined rooms. Hettienne knelt now on a spent, rose-colored rug and examined a green vinyl-covered hamper, modern, clean. Who bought this and why? A platform rocker with a slipcover, an electric fan. Sleepless, alone, one of the aunts may well have used the hallway like a room. Even a sewing machine waited there in the corner with a piano stool before it. So this hallway had become a workroom. With all the doors and windows open, fall air lifted the rafters, and the ancient house crackled, like the bones of an elderly horse arising. Orange and brown and yellow from oak and hickory and sassafras blazed upon the ceiling of Helen’s bedroom, and Hettienne thought of her poor aunt, comatose. Margaret, Agnes, Simon, Mary, Old Michael Sheehy, all had died here in the home. And sleepless as a child, she had overheard in the dark of the night aunts and uncles whisper the prayer to one another for the Happy Death, meaning not in hospital. Now poor Helen was dying just that way. And the Connelly’s were wearing themselves out tidying the vast old house, and visiting the hospital in the afternoons and evenings.

“A trunk with a lock, but wait, it slipped open to her surprise, a lock that no one fastened. With the lid fully raised came the slight whiff of moth balls long ago evaporated, then warm but dry leather, brass, and cedar. James Sheehy was burned on a fragrant cedar block nailed inside the lid; he made this trunk then. Inside—she spread her long fingers upon them—quilts. Stacked, handmade quilts, folded perfectly with sheets of crepe inserted between each one. Carpenter’s Star, Summer Cascade Chevron, Amethyst Labyrinth, Indian Hatchet, Dawn’s Light in emerald and gold, Star-Crossed Nine. So long ago, Agnes had taught her the names of patterns, and on many sodden summer days Hettienne had helped Margaret and Agnes piece quilts, like maps of galaxies the two women hatched in their minds. These, untouched. Months, years of lonely labor, of loving plans gone to naught. Such love, and yet no children called for that warming comfort. Nine of them, never before used. One for each young cousin. One Sheehy, eight Ormond’s.”

I hope Howard’s students enjoyed seeing Curiosity’s Cats and archival research put to practice. If you write, I hope you’ll head to an archive soon. Indeed our job as fiction writers is to make it up. But in the truth of stuff, there is so much inspiration.

Legend of the Albino Farm

forthcoming April 2017, Unbridled Books

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Cats2 (2)I would love to quote feline jazz philosopher/poet Thomas O’Malley here, but I know how jealously his parent company guards his lyrics and wisdom, even though I doubt that alley cat was much of a company man at heart.

At a sales reps’ meeting in New York City, the last of the December meetings I believe, I concluded the presentation of University Press of Mississippi’s list and was gathering up my gear. Bruce Joshua Miller, UPM’s Midwest sales representative, lingered at the conference table, and began talking buoyantly about a book he was going to edit for Minnesota Historical Society Press. “It’s about research and writing and maybe the value of non-digital research, interviews, archives, libraries. I have a lot of discretion.”

Right after I make an hour-long presentation, I am not always at my best. Dizzy, spent, dry of mouth, sopping at the brow… I hope my reaction was kind and congratulatory, but… I may well have said, “Who’s gonna wanna read that?”

Whatever I said, Bruce pressed on (he’s really great at that). For this book he was planning, he wanted me to write an essay about the research it to took to create Morkan’s Quarry: A Novel.

Here’s the thing about Bruce. Everybody who cares about literature in Missouri, about books in Missouri, about Missouri’s story and who tells it, owes Bruce whatever he asks. In an unforgettable fight, he and author Ned Stuckey-French saved University of Missouri Press from being shuttered. You can trace much of what they did at the Save the University of Missouri Press Facebook page. If Bruce asks, I answer.

Subtext3And I’m really glad I did. Below are two videos/vimeos from likely the largest gathering there ever will be of the contributors to the resultant book that Bruce edited, Curiosity’s Cats: Writers on Research. These were filmed from a stationary KODAK touchcam at St. Paul’s SubText Book Shop, which filled with sixty-plus people, a larger crowd than I have seen at many a book signing. Bruce was exactly right: people need a book that affirms the magic of research beyond The Google. Below are two videos shot by my wife, Tamara Gebhart Yates, who traveled the many miles to St. Paul with me.

The first video is of the five contributors reading three-minute excerpts from their essays.

The second is the lively question and answer that followed.

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Cats2 (2)

Curiosity’s Cats: Writers on Research

Edited by Bruce Joshua Miller

 

“Each morning I would strike out for this temple of learning in the crisp autumn air . . . with a sense of purpose and the conviction that this was where I belonged.”—Marilyn Stasio from Your Research—or Your Life

            Inspired partly by Richard Altick’s The Scholar Adventurers, the fourteen writers in Curiosity’s Cats offer powerful arguments for the value of hands-on research, be it chasing documents, cracking mysteries, interviewing long-lost subjects, or visiting exotic and not-so-exotic locales.

Available from Minnesota Historical Society Press and better bookstores in April 2014

 

Contents

 

Introduction

            Bruce Joshua Miller

 

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Stay Here as Long as You Like

            Ali Selim

 

Ali Selim is a writer and director of television commercials, documentaries, music videos, and the Independent Spirit Award–winning film Sweet Land, named one of the Ten Best Films of 2006 by over a dozen critics. Recently, he has directed episodic television for HBO and CBS. A native Minnesotan, he now resides in Los Angeles and no longer shovels snow.

 

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To Understand You Must Break In

            Steve Yates

 

Steve Yates is the author of Morkan’s Quarry (Moon City Press, 2010). The Missouri Review has thrice featured excerpts from that novel and its sequel, The Teeth of the Souls, forthcoming in 2015 from Moon City Press. Pieces of both novels have also appeared in Ontario Review, South Carolina Review, Kansas Quarterly/Arkansas Review, and Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies. Yates is the winner of the 2012 Juniper Prize in Fiction, and the University of Massachusetts Press published his collection Some Kinds of Love: Stories in 2013. Richard Russo and the editors of Best American Short Stories distinguished one of his pieces among the Notable Stories of 2009. Yates is assistant director/marketing director at University Press of Mississippi and lives in Flowood with his wife, Tammy.

 

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Dating Albert Einstein

            Alberto A. Martínez

 

Alberto A. Martínez is the author of four books, including Science Secrets: The Truth about Darwin’s Finches, Einstein’s Wife, and Other Myths (2011). He was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He earned his PhD in history of physics at the University of Minnesota while he lived in Dinkytown and worked at Vescio’s Italian restaurant. He now teaches history of science at the University of Texas at Austin. Although he is often sidetracked by interesting things, he prefers to work on important things. He also prefers cats over dogs, because dogs stare and drool. His favorite dogs are pretzel dogs.

 

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Research Can Be Murder

            Katherine Hall Page

 

Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-one adult mysteries in the Faith Fairchild series and five for younger readers. She received the Agatha for Best First (The Body in the Belfry), Best Novel (The Body in the Snowdrift), and Best Short Story (The Would-Be Widower). She has been nominated for the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the Macavity, and the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She has also published a series cookbook, Have Faith in Your Kitchen, and Small Plates, a collection of short mystery fiction. A native of New Jersey, she lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband.

 

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He Liked Custard

            Margot Livesey

 

Margot Livesey grew up in Scotland and has taught at several American colleges and universities, including the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the Warren Wilson MFA program, Brandeis University, and Bowdoin College. She is the author of a collection of stories and seven novels, including Eva Moves the Furniture and, most recently, The Flight of Gemma Hardy. She now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and teaches at Emerson College.

 

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Prospecting the Past

            Theodore Kornweibel, Jr.

 

Theodore Kornweibel’s latest book is Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey, which won the Hilton Prize for best railroad book published in 2011. After earning undergraduate and master’s degrees in history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Kornweibel earned his PhD in American studies at Yale. He is retired from a thirty-six-year career teaching African American history, the last twenty-nine at San Diego State University.

 

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A Good Turn Every Day: A Boy in Duluth in 1926

            Bruce White

 

Bruce White is a historian and anthropologist who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of two award-winning books, We Are at Home: Pictures of the Ojibwe People and Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota (with Gwen Westerman). He has researched and written widely in the field of the Native and early European history of the Great Lakes region, subjects on which he works as a consultant for Native communities and government agencies through his firm, Turnstone Historical Research.

 

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Curious Encounters in My Search for Vinland

            Annette Kolodny

 

Annette Kolodny completed her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1969 and has since become an internationally award-winning scholar in American literary and cultural studies. She is currently professor emerita at the University of Arizona, where she previously served as dean of the College of Humanities. Among her most important books are The Lay of the Land (1975), The Land Before Her (1984), and Failing the Future: A Dean Looks at Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century (1998). Her most recent work concentrates on Native American literatures and early transnational contacts with the Americas.

 

 

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Comanches, Cowboys, and a Political Rock Star

            Jan Reid

 

Jan Reid won the Texas Institute of Letters’ lifetime achievement award in 2014. Let the People In was honored as the book of the year in 2012 by the Texas State Historical Association, and the Houston Chronicle rated it one of the ten best nonfiction books published in the United States that year. His novel Comanche Sundown won the Texas Institute of Letters’ 2011 award for best fiction, an honor whose previous winners include Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, and Katherine Anne Porter. Reid is nearing completion of his thirteenth book and third novel, Sins of the Younger Sons. He lives in Austin with his wife, Dorothy Browne, and their collie, Gus.

 

The Mad Bomber Guy

            Bruce Joshua Miller

 

Bruce Joshua Miller has edited two books and written for public radio, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications. He has worked in the book industry for thirty-five years.

 

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Pilgrim Voices: Puritans, Immigrants, and Historical Research

            Philip J. Anderson

 

Philip J. Anderson is professor emeritus of church history at North Park University in Chicago, where he has taught since 1979. Since 1989 he has served as president of the Swedish-American Historical Society, also chairing its publications committee. His published writings have included studies in British, American, and Swedish American religious history and culture. He lives with his wife, Karna, in Hovland and Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota.

 

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An Essayist’s Guide to Research and Family Life

            Ned Stuckey-French

 

Ned Stuckey-French teaches at Florida State University and is the author of The American Essay in the American Century, coeditor of Essayists on the Essay: Montaigne to Our Time, coauthor of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, and book review editor of Fourth Genre. His essays have appeared in magazines such as In These TimesThe Normal School, Tri-Quarterly, culturefrontGuernica, and middlebrow and have been listed five times among the notable essays of the year in Best American Essays.

 

Your Research—or Your Life!

            Marilyn Stasio

 

Marilyn Stasio is the Broadway theater critic for Variety, a columnist with the New York Times Book Review, and the author of several books. 

 

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housenewYOUR NO ONE IS MY EVERYONE

Thoughts on the scale of regional publishing and the sage advice of businessmen
Originally published on University Press of Mississippi’s blog as part of University Press Week 2013

The first time I fully realized the value of what I do for a living, I was stricken with the stomach flu. Illness is the one excuse to stop when you work at marketing anything. At that time I marketed books for the University of Arkansas Press in Fayetteville in my native territory, the Ozarks.

This was 1997, three years after I had completed an MFA in creative writing at UA Fayetteville. While working in publishing was never boring and far less hazardous than anything I had tried before, the value of university press publishing had not yet registered. Much of it seemed a struggle. In my worst hours, I found myself disheartened, reminded of the thankless chore of teaching grammar and sentence structure and eventually short stories and poems to classrooms filled with flinty-eyed, grim undergraduates, my fellow Ozarkers. Selling what no one seems to want—teaching Chekhov to ruffians from Roaring River and cheerleaders from Chadwick—seemed a lot like publicizing poetry and literary criticism to the rushing masses at Book Expo America. Even if you were peddling excellent paperback reprints of President Jimmy Carter’s nonfiction (and we were at Arkansas), at BEA your reward was a glassy-eyed glance at best. Almost at all times you could count on the cold shoulder, the customer’s hurried determination to be elsewhere. No one seemed interested at Chicago’s McCormick Place or New York City’s Javits Center, or at the Los Angeles Staples Expo Center. No one.

Your no one is my everyone. I’ve been longing for the chance to use that phrase on the smug businessmen who will sometimes cast an eye to what we do at university presses and then declare, “No one knows what you do. No one knows who you are. No one knows about that book.” Even for books that we have sold 15,000 copies of in three years, I have heard the cry, “No one knows about this book!”

One of the extraordinary impositions of American commerce is a zany, optimistic arrogance and an unstoppable willingness to share it. Because I have run a business, I can tell any other professional how to run any other enterprise under the sun. Hmm. I have earned a wage as a law office gofer, a sportswriter, a construction inspector and surveyor, a teacher of grumpy Ozarkers, and a publisher. And I have yet to identify that profession to which the American businessman will defer and not offer his certain opinion of how you ought to run your operation. Sometimes it’s well-meaning, unmotivated, clear-eyed observation, freely shared, and then the feedback is well worth the listen. But sometimes it’s the kind of wisdom that gets grocery executives hired for top dollar to run your giant bookstore chain… into the ground.

No one knows about this book. You would think niche and scale would make all kinds of immediate sense to the business mind. But despite some flickers of refined reasoning from Seth Godin and Chris Anderson and David Meerman Scott, American business advice on the whole remains fixated on mass success, worldwide, blockbuster sensation. Everything regional publishing is not. When we hear feedback, it’s as if scale was taught and forgot at business school, like scansion at the English department!

9781118027929 cover.inddFor the restaurateur who puts a new item on the menu that turns only one thousand plates in a year there will surely be some urgent considerations. Some menu mix analyses set the bar for “workhorses” and “stars” of profitability at around 47 plates sold each night, depending on food costs. Just a glance at Running a Restaurant for Dummies, 2d Edition (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2011) yields several power-point-ready questions: How much does the dish cost? How does the menu describe the dish? How adventurous is the dish? “Is the item intimidating to your diners?” is the exact and metaphorically amusing Dummies phrase. How well does your staff know the dish?

A restaurant attempting to launch a new menu might budget only eight percent of forecasted annual net sales on all of marketing (and I mean everything from defining a target audience to public relations to mailing a coupon or flyer or running banner adverts on websites or boosting a Facebook post). The Small Business Administration advises companies with under five million in sales (and that’s a lot of us university presses) to spend five percent of annual net sales to maintain awareness and ten percent to grow the business. So really in raw dollars of marketing spend, we may not be so different from the restaurateur, who insists no one knows about us. No one knows about a book.

It is in that magic of defining a target audience that things get very different. The local restaurateur relies on a market (“butts in chairs,” say the Dummies) attracted from an audience frequently within defined metropolitan borders. Sometimes a regional book can astound by its performance and service to a market in just one metro area. See any number of books from The History Press, Arcadia Publishing, and even such books by University Press of Mississippi as The French Quarter of New Orleans, or The Garden District of New Orleans.

9781604731248But most often the regional book serves a market from a broad swath of audience territory that a restaurant cannot (dare I advise should not?) dream to target effectively. Our book Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of the Delta Blues has served its market in three editions, with over 15,000 shipped in twelve years. And while a restaurant in Helena or Clarksdale might market itself to the blues travelers once a year, I have trouble believing it will survive on one weekend’s take per annum. Something is different here.

Now I would never dream of taking Blues Traveling and targeting an audience of all the wage-earning lunchtime diners in a metro area. Food is a very different and more reliable consumer need than say content describing some aspect of the history of blues music in Jackson, Mississippi and elsewhere in the state. And while the best restaurants do market some signature dishes as a strategy, they largely market a whole menu and a dining experience, which is atmosphere and service. At UPM, we market every dish, signature or not, in a mostly singular fashion. And while I appreciate the utility and safety of our fifth floor in a ten-floor state office building, atmosphere is not UPM’s most appealing selling point. We do have fine customer service to our direct customers and vendors, but we don’t have full control of what the business types call the whole value chain. Our books reach consumers more often via someone else’s hands on shelves, in displays, in cardboard boxes with smirking smiley faces, all way beyond our control.

Despite these departures from standard business practices, UPM has in every year but one (during the recent recession) met or exceeded its budgeted sales goals. We set record sales in 2008 of $2.3 million, and have maintained $2.1 million in sales per year every year since 2009. Surely someone must know about us? Surely someone knows about our books?

When the advice begins with, “No one knows about you. No one knows about that book,” I think we have unfortunately arrived at a point when perspective on scale and niche is just too disparate to communicate kind, critical advice, freely given. Or, heaven forefend, we’re being prepped for say a little marketing of consultancy or food services. As Running a Restaurant for Dummies sagely submits, “Sometimes, the feedback represents a preference and doesn’t shine a light on an actual problem.”

faubusNo one knows about your book. On the couch, reeling with the flu, I was stopped long enough to read a whole book at one sitting, one that University of Arkansas Press was just about to publish. Nothing like the misery and isolation of the flu to set the advices of restaurateurs and indifference at Book Expo America and all that far aside. It is so rare for me to read a whole 408-page book in one spell; yet it is such a holistic and wondrous cognitive experience. The book was Roy Reed’s Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal. I knew who Faubus was—a monster to my father, who graduated from a small high school in the Missouri Ozarks the very year that Governor Orval Faubus shut down Little Rock Central High School rather than seeing it integrated. Faubus was one of the rare governors from the Ozarks elected to the highest executive office in either Missouri or Arkansas. And he had unleashed the very worst.

Reed took the whole life of the man to task in the biography. From his masterful political acumen, to his sappy prose poetry about hills and trees in our Ozarks, to his one sadness—the death of a pet dog in Faubus’s dotage—nothing was spared. And then came the conundrum in a final chapter exemplary of the biographer’s art. “The one big thing that Faubus got wrong was colossally, biblically wrong. But it was not simple,” writes Reed. And then at the close, the paragraph so electric I held the book trembling like a sparking wire: “He won four more elections because of the momentum that gave him.” And, “Even George Wallace finally apologized for the harm he had caused. Faubus never admitted that he had caused any.”

In that moment I recognized we, a team of but a dozen publishing professionals on a hill in McIlroy House had joined with an author to give the Ozarks, the whole state of Arkansas, even some of the nation an ineffable, unflinching expression of complexity and human frailty exposed in the hunger, the raw greed for power. No publisher in New York City would have entertained its production. The numbers were not there. The scale was different. But now I could return home to my father with this wonder of a book and say, Father, this is my work, and it answers your questions. Maybe dismiss it to fever and dehydration, but truthfully I saw for the first time in my working life the whole arc of value in what I was now doing. That I can sell you this, and it could be an answer.

The book succeeded, beyond any book in the five years I was at Arkansas, succeeded beyond what many regional books will. But by no means was it a worldwide, blockbuster sensation. Even in metro Little Rock, it was certainly not in a majority of households. And yet it is still read, sold, taught, and talked about. It still cautions. It still changes if not transforms minds. I’m sure some colder heart than mine (which was changed forever by that day’s read) would look over the sales reports and say, No one knows about this book. No one knows who you are. No one knows what you do.

Sure. Sure.

Your no one is my everyone.

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