Torrey House Press Welcomes Alisha Anderson

With fire in her eyes, Terry Tempest Williams enthusiastically took hold of Torrey House Press publisher and executive director Kirsten Allen’s arm. It was late November 2015 and Terry and Kirsten were at Back of Beyond Book’s silver anniversary party in Moab, Utah. “If you have any openings at Torrey House, I know the absolutely perfect candidate,” Terry told Kirsten.  Alisha Anderson had been Terry’s assistant while Alisha was getting a MS in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah and Terry could not stop singing her praises. Alisha had already shown up on Kirsten’s radar when Michael McLane, who oversees literary programming for Utah Humanities, recommended her to be on a panel about the Great Basin that Kirsten moderated for the Utah Humanities Book Festival the previous month in Salt Lake City. And Kirsten was already impressed.

In September of 2015, Torrey House Press converted to nonprofit status and now has a whole new challenge and opportunity of community building and fund raising to add to the already substantial demands of publishing.  We knew we needed help, but the budget was tight and did not have much, if any, room for salaries.  None-the-less, with Terry’s encouragement and our own sentiment that the experiment of promoting conservation through literature was worth it, Kirsten offered Alisha a job.

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Alisha getting the red rock vibe

Jobs at literary nonprofits require a big component of passion and willingness to do a lot for small compensation. So we were thrilled when Alisha said she would love to join us. We are lucky to have her. Alisha was born and raised in northern California. She later moved to Utah and received a BFA in Studio Arts from Brigham Young University. After graduating from BYU she worked for a short time in the software industry. While she was well paid and otherwise happy there she found her heart still sought something wildland, something wildlife and conservation, a love and attraction that had been nurtured by her amateur naturalist mother and grandfather back in California as she grew up. As a result, she sought out and recently graduated from the University of Utah with a MS in Environmental Humanities, which is where she worked for Terry as a student. At Torrey House she now has the title of Development and Community Relations Manager where we hope to put her arts and conservation knowledge to good use.

Joining Torrey House is a leap of faith and we commend Alisha for it. She has much to do. With our expanded mission enabled by being a nonprofit corporation she will be in charge of setting up conferences with an expanded community of conservation NGOs and writers, for grant writing and fund raising, and for the overall design look and feel at THP. Right out of the chute we already have four upcoming titles that celebrate and confirm our public lands national heritage, work that is critical but won’t happen without adequate funds to produce them.  Readers, writers and supporters can help welcome Alisha to Torrey House by making a donation. Be sure to say, “Welcome Alisha!”

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Why a robust response to Bundys at Malheur is important

Mark muses on principle, conservation, and the implied importance of literature.

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Filling a gap

Torrey House

Torrey House

We live in a gorgeous spot on a beautiful planet that teeters at a tipping point. Human-caused problems threaten land and sea environments everywhere. Problems like global warming, ocean acidification, and public lands mismanagement. Many of the problems persist because our culture is unaware or uninspired.  There is nothing like story to create awareness and understanding, empathy and passion.  And there is nothing like a book to tell a good story. Books are personal. Books are interactive. Books are demanding. And books are still important. We all can think of a book that left us transformed.  The land, the environment, and our culture need transformative books now more than ever.

Today, no other nonprofit literary press has a dedicated focus on conservation via both fiction and literary nonfiction.  It takes a village to do conservation and a nonprofit literary press like Torrey House Press can fill a gap in the literary ecosystem necessary to create, support, and sustain the village. Torrey House identifies exceptional writers and nurtures their work. We publish diverse voices with transformative stories that illuminate important facets of our ever-changing planet.  We engage collaboratively with conservation non-governmental organizations to identify current conservation issues, match authors to the issues, and create books that support their conservation cause. We work with the book trade, including libraries, bookstores, colleges, and state agencies to promote writers’ works. We sponsor writing workshops and author conferences to bring authors together with citizens, scientists, and activists in order to create and inspire new voices and new works. We employ interns to help develop the change makers of tomorrow. And we do this work with the input and support of a dynamic and diverse board of directors and advisers.

At Torrey House Press, we believe that culture is changed through conversation and that lively contemporary literature is the cutting edge of social change. We believe that by building and engaging community in the conversation of conservation, we make our contribution to, as Wallace Stegner hoped for, a “society to match the scenery” and a scenery that is here to stay.

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Conservation through conversation

The original impetus behind Torrey House Press was the idea that we could promote love of the land through literature. We jumped in with both feet, believing that by publishing great books, our start-up literary press would be self-supporting through book sales. As we realized how difficult it is to sell good or even excellent literary fiction and nonfiction, we fished around for topical titles that were commercial enough to provide adequate sales. Now, in our fifth year, we are finding ourselves in a no-man’s land where our books sales are not sufficient to be self-supporting, which means we are not necessarily achieving our goal of promoting love of the land. The status quo is not working and it is time to embark on a new adventure, a journey into nonprofit land.

Cosmos and wilderness

Cosmos and Wilderness

My son Nick earned a degree a few years ago in Environmental Studies at Prescott College. He now likes to say that I am following in his footsteps. Indeed, in the founding of Torrey House I have been hugely influenced by one of Nick’s college texts, Max Oelschlaeger’s The Idea of Wilderness. My copy’s binding is falling apart from overuse and in my numerous re-readings I have used five different colors of pens to highlight, underline and make notes on perhaps more text than I left alone. In the book’s last chapter, enticingly titled “Cosmos and Wilderness,” Oelschlaeger suggests that we  could be entering a a much needed postmodern wilderness cultural paradigm. He argues that culture is changed through conversation and that philosophy and literature are the cutting edge of conversation.  If we are going to have a new idea of wilderness then “nature’s experiment in humanity” will need some fresh literature. We think that our conversion to a nonprofit will allow us to provide such literature and, we hope, to amplify the conversation.

No matter how many times I encounter them, Oelschlaeger’s ideas in “Cosmos and Wilderness” always seem to slap me awake. He was among the first to suggest that the story of reality is an evolutionary drama, a journey of the entire universe from the Big Bang to the emergence of human self-aware consciousness such that we are now “nature watching nature.”  He submits we can create a new mythos that does not leave us stranded between beliefs and faith that are “divorced from facts” and a scientific materialism that is “value free.” Oelschlaeger contends that in order to ring true in a postmodern age, a new creation story “must have both scientific plausibility and religious distinctiveness.” To recover a sense of value we must see ourselves as natural, sensitive registers created through a process generated by the unfolding of time. We are the product of trillions of stars forming and dying and reforming, creating new elements, iteration by iteration. The reality is that we are created by wilderness and could not exist without it.  We are now in position to reawaken a primordial consciousness, an old one that is newly informed. Earth, our veritable source of life, can be seen as more than a resource to serve human purpose, more than an eco-machine, and more as a sacred process of which we are part and have the ability to stand aware, in awe and reverence. Ideas like these seem to us worthy of amplification.

By converting Torrey House Press to a nonprofit, we will engage new partners, which will allow us to expand our mission and publish books that more closely focus on conservation through the conversation of literature. Stay tuned to these blog pages and you can be a part of the new, exciting philosophy, strategy, and conversation story behind our nonprofit press adventure.

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Considering going nonprofit

Bryce Canyon N.P.

Bryce Canyon N.P., -Mark Bailey

Torrey House was founded on the principle that literature is a primary influence and creator of culture. When Wallace Stegner spoke of creating a society to match our scenery in the West he was talking about hope and that when we learn to focus on cooperation, not rugged individualism, we will be able to achieve our potential in full. Given that he was a literary man, he wielded a pen to urge our hope toward cooperation. At Torrey House we hope to carry on that tradition.  The scenery is worth it and we don’t see any other press not on the east coast focused on literature and the land.

The challenge is to sell enough books to make a difference. Selling books takes money. As we enter our fifth year we can see that book sales are only ever going to cover about half of our expenses.  Many if not all of our literary publisher competitors have found this to be true and raise the money necessary to keep going through outside, nonprofit contributions. I had hoped that we could find a niche that would be self supporting, but it doesn’t look like that find is imminent. Torrey House is a publisher with a twin mission. We want to support love of the land and we want to do it through good literature. It turns out that selling books is expensive–we were told that early on–and that we are going to need outside support to sustain our efforts.

We have come to see that with a little more money we could sell more books. With a little more money we could expand our love of the land mission to include more effort on college level environmental humanities programs. With a little more money we could work on expanding what Kirsten calls the almost nonexistent “literary ecosystem” of the Intermountain West.  With a little more money we could add more writer workshops where we might expose writers to the citizen science programs promoted by many of the conservation NGOs like that of  Wild Utah Project and Grand Canyon Trust.  In fact, with a little money and cooperation we could become the de-facto publishing partner to any number of conservation NGOs. We might be able to partner in the direction of adding films to compliment our books. And we would be able, with support and cooperation, to push all of our titles harder and get more copies into readers’ hands where these works can make a difference.

We have more homework to do  to convert Torrey House Press to nonprofit status and it will take a bit of time. If you have sent us a submission to consider you might have to grant us a little more patience than usual before we get back to you. Know that we are working on creating a platform where we can get more great work into a geography of hope fueled by love, passion, understanding and literature to match.

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NGO’s, authors, booksellers, and why we publish

In which Mark and Kirsten wander the Colorado Plateau and love booksellers, conservationists, and all things Torrey House Press.

Torrey House Press

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the “lake?”

Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to Durango this week to see Scott Graham’s book launch of Mountain Rampage at Maria’s Bookshop.  We hoped to catch up with Scott and his wife Sue, see Peter and Andrea the owners of Maria’s, visit some of our conservation NGO friends of which there are an abundance in Durango, and see some of the sweetest stretches of the Colorado Plateau that lay along the un-paralleled route from Torrey to Durango via Hite. We did all that and found new inspiration along the way.

Precious, gorgeous, fragile, contested land and the people who love it. This thinly populated landscape attracts and distills out controversy and passion. As Scott Graham said at breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.), people live in Durango because they love the land around it. Jobs are harder to come by and pay less than elsewhere…

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NGO’s, authors, booksellers, and why we publish

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the “lake?”

Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to Durango this week to see Scott Graham’s book launch of Mountain Rampage at Maria’s Bookshop.  We hoped to catch up with Scott and his wife Sue, see Peter and Andrea the owners of Maria’s, visit some of our conservation NGO friends of which there are an abundance in Durango, and see some of the sweetest stretches of the Colorado Plateau that lay along the un-paralleled route from Torrey to Durango via Hite. We did all that and found new inspiration along the way.

Precious, gorgeous, fragile, contested land and the people who love it. This thinly populated landscape attracts and distills out controversy and passion. As Scott Graham said at breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.), people live in Durango because they love the land around it. Jobs are harder to come by and pay less than elsewhere but the land more than makes up for it in lifestyle and soul.  We met Scott and fellow author Chuck Greaves (at Carver Brewing Co.) for dinner the first night before Scott’s reading at Maria’s. Chuck is a guy from New England who practiced law in Los Angeles for 25 some odd years. But he has a homing beacon for the Four Corners area and has been a long time landowner first a second home retreat in the Disappointment Valley area and now permanently in southwest Colorado. Chuck told us an amazing personal tale of finding two human skulls on Cedar Mesa, probably those of local sheepherders, and of the man who murdered them. The murders happened at the same time Everett Reuss disappeared and in a place where there is ample evidence that Reuss visited. I could have listened all night. In fact, Chuck won the grand-prize Storyteller Award and Best Historical Novel in the South West Writers International Writing Contest writing as C. Joseph Greaves for his title Hard Twisted about some of the same.  I am eager to read the now signed copy we picked up at Maria’s.

Just like they did for Canyon SacrificeScott and the folks at Maria’s filled the store with fans again for the launch of our most recent title, Mountain Rampage.  Scott is a gracious, generous man and the town loves him. It doesn’t hurt that his mystery series is a killer read–pun intended.  As Scott read I was leaning against one of those very cool library ladders and looking up and around the store. Hanging from the walls and ceiling are vintage canoes, snowshoes, skis and soon a vintage Sears Roebuck Cruiser bike that Peter Schertz recently scored. Kirsten and I were in this store five years ago right before we started Torrey House and declared we would publish books that belong on such shelves. Now we are gratified to see dozens of our titles there. A big thank you to Maria’s for the support and embrace of Scott and our titles.

At breakfast the next day (at Carver Brewing Co.) with Scott and his wife Sue, Rose Chilcoat of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio, the husband and wife team that owns Maria’s, we learned that Andrea is taking a sabbatical starting in about a week and backpacking 400 miles on the Colorado Trail which winds through the peaks from Durango to Denver. She told Kirsten that no, she is not taking any books and in fact as a true getaway her slogan is “no words.” Have a truly great trip Andrea.

Rose recently stayed with us in Salt Lake while attending the federal trial of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman. Lyman was accused of conspiring to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles, and operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles. The Commissioner was found guilty on both counts, the conspiring and the doing, a verdict that brought a sigh of relief to those of us who watched outlaw cowboy Cliven Bundy running around free while conservationist Tim DeChristopher spent two years in federal prison. Rose was involved early in protecting the ancient archaeological sites in Recapture Canyon via her work for The Broads and was gratified to see the wheels of justice turn in a way that actually brought justice. Rose, thanks for your work and thanks to you and Mark for your gracious hospitality while we were in Durango.

Our second night in Durango we joined Tim Peterson and his wife Anna for dinner (at Carver Brewing Co.). Tim is the Utah Wildlands Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust  and brought us up to speed on the progress of Greater Canyonlands and Cedar Mesa toward better federal protection. It sounds like Rob Bishop has bungled his public lands initiative allowing the Utah county commissioners too much leeway to ask outrageous demands or to simply not care and drop out. It always looked like the backwards fear of President Obama creating a Greater Canyonlands was the bargaining chip and motivator for the rural commissioners to come to the bargaining table. Now it appears the momentum might be shifting toward creating a National Conservation Area or National Monument if necessary called the Bears Ears Cultural Landscape on the Cedar Mesa. There is a growing coalition of support for the idea including unprecedented Tribal support and cooperation of 24 Native American Tribes and Pueblos. The Tribal support is amazing news and is easy to imagine will have tremendous national appeal and political support.  Tim has been working diligently and sincerely on the Bishop proposal but it looks like the Republicans sitting across from him are anything but honest and sincere. The Utah Senate recently declared that “the highest and best use” of the Cedar Mesa area is grazing and energy/mineral development. Caveman mentality. Keep fighting the good fight Tim, big monolithic obstacles do fall and in the end progress sweeps the political cavemen aside.

Before we left town on Thursday morning we had breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.) with Dan Olsen, the Executive Director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a local and effective conservation membership. The Alliance had co-sponsored the reading at Maria’s with us and we were eager to meet Dan and hear what he was thinking about and working on. Dan is another one of these folks who moved to Durango because they wanted to live there and then found a way to put his talents to work to make a living while doing good for the world.  His forte by experience and education is about making organizational and social change happen. Dan says that while he is not confrontational by nature he knows that sometimes to make change happen for the good and to protect the environment the outcome cannot always be win-win. Sometimes the big extractors have to be forced to stop or to pay for the damage and pollution they cause. He frequently writes columns for The Durango Herald including a recent one titled “Change requires becoming unreasonable.”  I really like this guy and we will be keeping an eye on him.

Finally, on the way back to Torrey we sat down for coffee and ice cream with Kathryn (Kat) Wilder in Dolores (and not at Carver Brewing Co.). Kat and her friend TJ Holmes both graciously traveled to Scott’s reading and both are passionate activists for the wild Mustang herds in the area. TJ is a wonderful wildlife photographer and blogs almost daily about the Mustangs. Wild horses are an issue that Torrey House is very interested in and it was great to get a little education from someone with her boots on the ground.  We look forward to more of such spirited conversations soon with Kat.

We drove home the rest of the way to Torrey wowed, tired and inspired. This delicate, exquisite landscape is ours to revere or ours to wreck. Right now with Republicans on the rampage public lands are again under assault. The land is being managed by the people the land needs protection from and is in grave danger of being sold to the highest bidder. Maybe we can do something via the power of pen and story to help protect what we have while we still have it.

And for those of you not counting that was four times at Carver Brewing Co. in two days. Just the way I like it. Kirsten, you can lower that eyebrow now.

-Mark Bailey, May 22, 2015, Durango.

Posted in Conservation, Environment, Independent Bookstores, Literature and the Environment, Public land management | 4 Comments

Pill in the hamburger

See what I mean by pill? ( photo credit maurieandeve.com)

See what I mean by pill? ( photo credit maurieandeve.com)

Last October, while Kirsten and I were on the road peddling our Torrey House wares, we were walking down the streets of Taos, straight into the setting sun, looking for a place to have dinner. A stranger was walking toward us, backlit by the sun, and starting to wave us down. Oh brother, I thought, here comes something awkward. To the complete contrary, it was our friend and the son of my previous business partner, Soren Jespersen. Soren was out doing his work for The Wilderness Society and it was not the first time we had crossed paths with him while out in the West. He works hard too.

We talked Soren into giving up his solitude for the evening and joining us for dinner. In catching him up with Torrey House I mentioned, as an example of something we would like to publish, Kevin Fedarko’s The Emerald Mile (at Indiebound here). The subtitle of the book is “The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.”  Not only was this a story about the fastest ride in the highest water but it was about one done in a wooden dory similar to the boats John Wesley Powell used when he was the first to run the river through the canyon in the summer of 1869. It is an enticing promise of adventure and Fedarko delivers the goods. But in the meanwhile, you learn the natural history of the river, the hard fought battles to keep from damming the Grand Canyon, and the realization too late by David Brower of the Sierra Club and others of what was going to be drowned and lost under water in Glen Canyon. Today, you realize, the Colorado River does not even make it to the sea and the now arid delta at the Sea of Cortez.

“Right,” Soren said, “I get it. It is the pill in the hamburger.” Not being a dog guy it took me a second, but yes, it is the pill in the hamburger. The question is how to get folks to become aware enough of our precious natural lands that they are willing to do something, at least vote accordingly, about protecting what we have left. Let’s give them a fat hamburger and sneak in a pill.

At Torrey House we try to do that with all of our titles. Some quick examples are the Nevada pipeline water wars that serve as a back drop in Jana Richman’s The Ordinary Truth, about how the fragile Mojave Desert and the sacred lands of the Chemehuevi Indians are ironically threatened by big corporate wind farms in Mary Sojourner’s 29, and the struggle between ranching and the New West in Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road.

We are constantly on the lookout for good ideas with a story and that support Love of the Land.  Let us know what yours are.

Mark

Posted in Book Review, Conservation, Environment, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Public land management, THP Blog, topical nonfiction, West | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Bad Romance?

THP is leaning toward creating some works on wild horses. Here Kirsten takes a first look.

Committed to the Quest

Cliven Bundy rides his horse waving the American flag. He’s a Fox News hero who refused to pay fees and fines for illegally grazing his cows on federal lands for 20 years and then participated in an armed standoff with law enforcement, a frightening and fraught encounter for which he’s never been charged.  He’s a cowboy hero, an icon of the rugged individualist, a living piece of the American Dream. Though he fell off his pedestal by blathering racism in the media’s glare, he still commands a lot of sympathy either consciously with right-wing rurals or, worse, unconsciously in the minds of everybody who wants to be, or at least preserve, the American cowboy.

And who doesn’t love the dashing vision of a cowboy, tall in the saddle on his handsome horse, splashes through a sunlit stream as he herds those little dogies along? Methinks, perhaps, the 80 percent of…

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Truth and false balance

THP editor Kirsten Johanna Allen and author Susan Imhoff Bird

THP editor Kirsten Johanna Allen and author Susan Imhoff Bird in Yellowstone.

Kirsten and I started Torrey House Press in 2010 as we started to gain appreciation and concern for a lack of public awareness of public land management and environmental issues, particularly here on all our public land in the West.  We saw first hand how many of the land management agencies who are entrusted with the care of our western public lands are “captured” by the special interests they are supposed to regulate and end up serving only these interest’s needs at the expense of the rest of us. We realized that as long as there was general public apathy about any given issue there would never be the political will to improve things and without political will land managers were free to bend and break rules. In the West, such rule breaking remains the norm.  We believe that the power of pen and story might shed needed light on such practices and help develop a land ethic that results in more grass on the mountains and water in the streams.

One of those mismanaged issues are wolves. This month’s issue of Outside Magazine has a piece on wolves in the West by Elliott Woods titled Wolflandia that puts the power of pen to work, but with a slant that illustrates what I mean by false balance. It is all too common for the press to present opposing viewpoints as if they are equally valid. When it comes to climate change, for instance, the BBC finally grew fed up with the practice. Because 95 to 97 percent of climate scientists agree that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are causing the planet to warm it doesn’t make sense to give equal time to the tiny minority of scientists, if that is what they are, who deny it.  To actually balance the truth, the BBC is now taking an approach that severely limits the amount of air time climate deniers are given. Nice, go BBC. And while Elliott Woods does a good job of printing the facts about the wolf issue, the amount a ink he gave to wolf opponents, and his final sentences, present an unfortunate false balance.

I am going to try and get in touch with Woods and ask him if the balance is something he did as an effort at appearing fair minded or if it just made for an effective way to snag readers. Or maybe it is political pressure, of which there is plenty, for him or the magazine editors to worry about.  Woods points out that the National Agricultural Statistics Survey blames wolves for only 0.2 percent of annual cattle losses and, a statistic that IS meaningful Elliott, only 4 percent of that total are confirmed. The number of ranchers who graze on public lands is minuscule, and yet their cows are on nearly all of our lands.  The number of us who love these public lands for the beauty and want them protected is immense. On one side of the teeter-totter is a million pounds of wolf love, on the other side an ounce of hamburger.  There is no balance when it comes to the public environmental welfare on this one. Why make it look as if there is?

So it is a shame that ranchers and outfitters got so much space about their perceived woes with wolves, woes that Woods points out are not supported by the facts but woes he give plenty of air time to none-the-less. And what is particularly sad, grievous really, is Woods ending quote that even though Native Americans and bison (he called them buffalo), were virtually wiped out by us, “there is no going back.” Holy smokes! Of course we CAN make reparations and of course we should. Let’s get on it.

It is a good case for the mission of Torrey House Press. We will keep publishing high quality work that promotes “Love of the Land.”  In fact, regarding the wolf issue, we are very enthused to have an upcoming title with author Susan Imhoff Bird called, Howl: of Woman and Wolf.

Posted in Howl, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Public land management, Publishing, susan imhoff bird, West, Wolves | 6 Comments

Today’s Transcendentalists

The Story of My Heart cover revHave you ever been overcome by a sense of awe and wonder? Perhaps outside watching the sun set over a roiling ocean or watching the Milky Way spin overhead on a moonless night? Perhaps you had a sense that you were small yet connected, insignificant and humble yet in touch with something much bigger than yourself, something huge. It is a transcendent feeling, one that Brooke Williams and Terry Tempest Williams are intimately familiar with, and one they recognized right away when they picked up an antique copy of THE STORY OF MY HEART by nineteenth century naturalist and mystic, Richard Jefferies. There, in a charming New England independent bookstore, kindred spirits connected over the generations.

At Torrey House Press we think the nineteenth century transcendentalists including Richard Jefferies, and today Brooke and Terry, are on to something. It is a big something that is at the cutting edge of realizing meaning and significance. In THE STORY OF MY HEART, Richard Jefferies speaks of the soul being “the mind of my mind.” Jefferies was tuned into the fast-breaking science of his day. He knew about atomic spectral analysis which was discovered very near the time he wrote THE STORY OF MY HEART. He knew about Darwin’s ideas of evolution (and did not accept them). But whenever Jefferies spent time in natural environments he was thrilled and overwhelmed by the experience of being connected to something greater than religion, or science, or anything that common comprehension allowed. Jefferies had what religious scholar Marcus Borg would call a “thin rind.” He was more sensitive and more aware than most. Like the great mystics before him, Jefferies was easily connected to something real and big out there and it nearly drove him nuts trying to express what he found and experienced.

Today in science, the source and reason for human consciousness remains a mystery. To a pure and reasoned scientist, our sense of self and awareness and free will is necessarily but an elegant illusion, an epiphenomenon that springs from the electro-chemical mechanics in our brains. To most scientists that is, perhaps not to all. The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics invokes consciousness as the source of a probability wave collapse that brings into existence a material particle where before there was only probability. It is an interpretation that has withstood the rigorous inquiries of science for nearly one hundred years. And it is at the quantum uncertainty level that there comes the possibility of choice, the possible source of the free will and sense of self that we all have. Adventurous thinkers today are considering the brain as a quantum amplifier that can convert the realm of the quantum into that of the material world. There is a notion that a universal consciousness is required to make this new hypothesis work. In that hypothesis, it works out that the material world springs from consciousness, not the other way around. Following this line of logic, there are legitimate questions of whether consciousness might be an element of the universe, just like space and time. And since we humans are creatures that evolved in the wild, it is back home in the wild that we can be most connected to this universal element, and it is through us that the universe becomes aware and continues to evolve.

Brooke and TerryIt well could be that Jefferies was better than most at linking in with universal consciousness. His tool was to get outside and pay attention. With his resulting experience he rejected the idea that he was a simple creation of ancient religious myths or that he was just an elegant machine of science. Brooke and I have discussed how these notions exist somewhere between the disciplines of science and philosophy. Thus it takes free and bold thinkers like Brooke and Terry, smart and objective but not confined to a narrow academic silo, to engage with their own life experiences and more deeply explore this source of meaning, of significance. In that sense they are the new Transcendentalists. Working with them on this adventure of thought has been an honor and privilege for us at Torrey House. A truly transcendent experience.

Posted in Book Review, Conservation, Environment, Independent Bookstores, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing, Transformative Power of Natural Places | 1 Comment

Green Shorts, Charles Manson, and Literature and Conservation in the West

This piece originally appeared in The Wildlife News.

Charles Manson Cover rgbTen years ago I read Michael Chrichton’s novel State of Fear. While far from his best work, it was his usual roller coaster of a techno-thriller. And, rather strangely, it was blatantly Ayn Rand-like in its political speeches that attempted to convince the reader that the government and the environmental movement conspired to keep you in a state of fear in order that you could be controlled. His was one of the first loud voices of the climate change deniers to use pseudo-science claims, his propelled by compelling, cliff hanging scenes. I thought, well hell, two can play that game. In 2010 I started Torrey House Press (THP) along with Kirsten Allen to promote love of the land through literature and the power of the pen.

The stories we tell convey the values we hold. Literature matters because it is a vehicle for sharing our values and shaping our culture. As America’s nineteenth-century cities grew more industrial, writers, artists, and musicians looked west for inspiration, and in the process changed American identity by incorporating the heroes and hardships of mountain men, miners, and pioneers. The West was the last frontier, the last place settled by Europeans—and for good reason. With annual precipitation sometimes a quarter of that typically received east of the Mississippi River and strewn with unnavigable rivers and canyons, the West didn’t offer much promise of successful settlement. The literature shaped by the West shows an evolution of identity and values. Mark Twain explored the ruggedness of the Western landscape and the people who settled and developed it despite its crushing difficulties. John Muir suggested that the wild places being conquered held other benefits, some more spiritual than material. Edward Abbey went further, arguing not only that wild places are a spiritual resource but also that our land management practices are destroying them.

Today, writers such as Timothy Egan, Erica Olsen, Brooke and Terry Tempest Williams, and Stephen Trimble contemplate both the desolation of destruction and the still point of hope that can lead us to new ways of living with the land. In Utah, for instance, there are concrete examples of conservation created by literature. Much of the popularity and protection of Arches National Park and other Utah red rock wonders are the result of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. A couple of years ago Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge manager Bob Barrett told Kirsten and me that he thought the refuge owed its very existence to Terry Tempest Williams’ beautiful memoir, Refuge.

Indeed, living with the land is the crux of our culture here in the West. And celebrating our place-based culture adds richness to our lives. To further the tradition, Torrey House Press is launching an e-book only series called Torrey House Press Green Shorts, and Wildlife News’ own Ralph Maughan is our first author contributor. For Green Shorts material, THP is reaching out to conservation activists, scholars, and managers, folks like wildlife and range biologists who have stories to tell and experiences that are worth reading about.  These are often unsung heroes out working on the front lines of conservation who have a passion for what they do. Ralph is a perfect example.

Ralph Maughan chose to live in the Intermountain West because of the beauty of the surrounding natural landscape. But in the fall of 1979, millions of some of the most beautiful acres in the world were under eminent threat of uncontrolled logging, mining, road building, and development. The political heat surrounding the issue prompted then-Senator Frank Church to wear a bullet proof vest to public hearings. Hearings where loggers compared conservationists to Charles Manson. Ralph wrote us an entertaining and enlightening story of the creation of the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness Area. Titled Charles Manson was an Environmentalist, Ralph’s piece can be found at your favorite e-book retailer for $1.99.

Twenty-five percent of the proceeds will go to Western Watersheds Project, a conservation organization whose board of directors includes Ralph Maughan. Buy a copy, be entertained, learn something useful, and in so doing, make a worthy contribution.

-Mark Bailey and Kirsten Allen are Co-Publishers at Torrey House Press.

Posted in Book Review, Conservation, Environment, Kirsten, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Public land management, West, Western Lit | Leave a comment

Welcome Again Unsolicited Manuscripts

With the success of three of our recent titles that came to us as unsolicited manuscripts, we have decided we had better open our doors again and encourage more.

In late April of 2013 Anne Holman of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake read Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road in what we call “pre-galley galley” form.  She liked it so much she and store owner Betsy Burton helped run it up the flag pole with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and get it on  the ABA’s “Indies Introduce” list. Later, after THP’s Kirsten Allen went to New York with Charlie for Book Expo America, the title was also added to the ABA’s prestigious “Indie Next” list. Monument Road came to us unsolicited and without an agent and is our best seller to date.

Almost 18 months ago, Scott Graham wrote us a textbook-classic cover letter for his submission of Canyon Sacrifice. I read his delightful manuscript but I wasn’t planning on Torrey House doing commercial fiction like Scott’s mystery.  Scott followed up with a phone call that he was coming to Salt Lake from Durango to ski along with Andrea Avantaggio from Maria’s Bookshop in Durango and did we want to sit down for a coffee. Later, while Andrea was snowed in at Winter Institute in Kansas City, she called me to say she loved the manuscript and could easily sell it. In May this year, Andrea held the launch of Canyon Sacrifice at Maria’s and thinks they may have sold more copies that lovely night (Kirsten and I attended) than they had for any other launch.  The title has already gone to a second printing and Kirsten and Scott are working on his next project, Mountain Rampage, due out in June 2015. Scott came to us unsolicited and without an agent.

A few months before we received Scott Graham’s submission we received a quiet, understated, but powerful cover letter and manuscript from Braden Hepner out of Rexburg, Idaho. I sat down with his novel and read it straight through. The writing moved me to the point I was bugged about it and I declined the submission. But the characters and scenery stayed with me and I had to go back and read the manuscript again. No wonder the words wouldn’t let me go. The manuscript was just flat good. We called Braden back and went up to Rexburg to see him and his family and sign him up. Later, with a lot of shoe leather on our publicist Anne Terashima’s and Kirsten’s part, cowboy boot leather in Kirsten’s case, working up and down the streets of New York and Chicago, we got the trade press to take a look. And they loved it. Two starred reviews are out for Pale Harvest, one from Publishers Weekly and one from Kirkus Reviews.  Braden is a find. He came to us unrepresented and unsolicited.

We have a philosophy of putting the wood behind the arrow where things are working. Charlie, Scott and Braden are delightful authors and their titles are assets to our growing list. If you think you have something as good as their work, send it on in.  -Mark Bailey

 

Posted in Anne, Independent Bookstores, Kirsten, Nature Writing, Submissions, THP Blog | 3 Comments

Two Good Men

Abbott and Rushforth Read at The King's English

Abbott and Rushforth read at The King’s English

Two men stand silhouetted against an  sublime sunset, scholars perhaps, contemplating their place in the cosmos.  Such is the cover image,suggested by author Scott Abbott, by 19th -century German Romantic landscape painter, Caspar David Friedrich.  Friedrich’s paintings characteristically set a human presence in perspective in expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that, according to the art historian Christopher John Murray, directs “the viewer’s gaze towards their metaphysical dimension.” A smart, appropriate and elegant cover for a smart and elegant book .  And then, of course, a mountain bike ran over it. (see it here)

The best thing about publishing has been the people we meet.  Scott Abbott and Sam Rushforth are smart, passionate, highly educated men.  Not to mention strong enough to conquer mountain bike trails that put younger men to shame.  Last night they opened Wild Rides and Wildflowers at the incomparable The King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake to a standing room only crowd.  Before the reading we grabbed dinner next door to the store with Scott and Sam and the women they dedicated the book to, Lyn and Nancy.  Sam and Nancy have just retired from Utah Valley University while Scott and Lyn continue their stint there a while longer.  Dinner conversation ranged from publishing to how death and dying is taught and covered in the humanities.  You should have been there.

Next door, as Scott and Sam elegantly took us through the book, alternately making us laugh and cry, I was hit by one of those moments of clarity where I was glad to be a publisher and proud that we had a part in making this work see the light of day.  These men are full of heart and love.  The proof is in their lives.  No fewer than three of their sons came up to Kirsten afterwords thanking her for publishing their dad’s work.  I think she was feeling pretty happy too.

-Mark Bailey

Posted in Book Review, Environmental, Independent Bookstores, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing, West, Western Lit | Leave a comment

Lessons of Another Season

Most of the work is done for our Fall/Winter 2013 book season.  We are just back from four trade shows.  Kirsten and I were hosted by our fabulous reps Howard Karel and Lise Solomon at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association show in South San Francisco, Anne by the gracious Bob Harrison at the Pacific Northwest Independent Booksellers Association show in Portland and all three of us by our fairy godmother, Dory Dutton, at the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association show in Denver.  And author Charlie Quimby was hosted by John Mesjak at the Heartland Fall Forum in Chicago.  Thanks to all.

We enjoyed the energy, generosity and enthusiasm for books of all the terrific folks we meet in this biz.  And we learned a lot.  We learned, for instance, that the shows aren’t as much about selling books as they are about building relationships.  I admit, I was a bit naive about this fact.  Charlie’s title, Monument Road, is getting extra attention and will even be on the ABA’s IndieNext list in November after a starred review this month by Booklist.  All that is an accomplishment that Charlie and THP can be proud of.  But it isn’t moving the sales needle much.  We are still optimistic that this title will sell itself as it gets out there next month, but again, I’m surprised we weren’t able to create some orders now.

In order to do justice to great novels by new authors like Charlie, THP is going to have to build our brand a bit more.  It means we will have to be more selective for awhile about the track record of the authors we hire.  The trade respects, like nothing else, the author’s previous track record.  If there isn’t one, and it isn’t recent, the trade is dubious and reluctant.  I spent this morning on the dreary job of submission rejections.  There was some good stuff in there from lively, attractive authors, but we just don’t feel we could do the titles justice.  We are going to increase our focus on relationships with agents for the coming year and see where it leads.  Onward, at any rate.  -Mark Bailey

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Why Culture Matters

The day I realized I am a Westerner, I was in New York City. I was visiting family in my hometown and bent down to talk to my three-year-old in what felt like a miniature grocery store aisle. Crouching among tiny, packed shelves and tiny, packed shopping carts, I understood: I am at home in wide open space. I am a Westerner. In the midst of what is arguably the cultural capital of the country, I understood that my identification with the West is shaped not only by its landscapes, but by its culture. The stories of Stegner and Abbey, the art of Remington and Moran help explain me to myself. Of course, culture matters more than just as a reflection of identity.  It also conveys values, questions norms, and celebrates life.

Though the West is more urbanized than most of the country, with more of each states’ population living in cities than not, many of us in the West are here because of its big open skies, majestic mountains, cold running streams, sublime and spectacular deserts. From the words of Ivan Doig and Terry Tempest Williams to the transcendent light-play of Douglas Snow and Bonnie Posselli and the soaring dynamics of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir our literature, art, and music illustrate these landscape qualities and express their value. If you live in the West, chances are that you feel connected to the land in some way, that you identify with a relationship to it whether as a steward who tames it to use its raw materials, a steward who strives to conserve its most natural state, a recreation enthusiast reveling in wild places, a pilgrim seeking solace and spirit—or a combination of the above. The identity you take reflects how you value the landscape, and the stories you tell, read, and share about it convey the values you hold. Culture matters because it is the vehicle for sharing our values and shaping our identity.

In addition to conveying values, culture illustrates and even questions norms. As America’s nineteenth century cities grew more industrial, writers, artists, and musicians looked west for inspiration, and in the process changed American identity by incorporating the heroes and hardships of the American West. It was the last frontier, the last place settled by Europeans—and for good reason. With annual precipitation sometimes a quarter of that typically received east of the Mississippi River and strewn with unnavigable rivers and canyons, the West didn’t offer much promise of successful settlement. The literature shaped by the West shows an evolution of identity and values. Mark Twain explored the ruggedness of the Western landscape and the people who settled and developed it despite its crushing difficulties. John Muir suggested that the wild places being conquered held other benefits, some more spiritual than material. Edward Abbey went further, arguing not only that wild places are a spiritual resource but also that our land management practices are destroying them. Today, writers such as Timothy Egan and Erica Olsen contemplate both the desolation of destruction and the still point of hope that can lead us to new ways of living with the land.

Indeed, living with the land is the crux of our culture here in the West. And celebrating our place-based culture adds richness to our lives. Beginning September 28 and 29, the Utah Humanities Council brings the Utah Humanities Book Festival to the Salt Lake City Library and venues across the state throughout October, giving every Utahn the opportunity to participate in the creation of our culture.

-Kirsten Johanna Allen

Posted in Kirsten, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing, West, Western Lit | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Let Them Paddle, by Alan S. Kesselheim – Review

Let Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the WaterLet Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the Water by Alan S. Kesselheim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In middle age the notion of doing what you love and then figuring out how to make a living at it gets ever more attractive. I cringe at the notion of my old business buddies calling and asking how my new publishing biz is going. They listen politely and if feeling dismissive say it sounds more like an expensive hobby and if expansive that it must be a labor of love. It is about the land for me, and I do love it. And I do intend to make it into a business.

Al Kesselheim is making a living as an avid outdoorsman, as in look it up in the dictionary and it says “see Kesselheim.” He met and fell in love with his wife in the backcountry of southern Utah. She may be even more intense about living in natural places than he is. They were into big expeditions, including two year long canoe trips in Canada. They bought a Pakboat canoe, folded it up, packed their gear, hired a float plane, and in they went. Along the way, after numerous heartbreaking failed pregnancies, all three of their children ended up on their first canoe trips, in the womb. His wife, Marypat Zitzer, knows that it is not good science to speculate, but the fact that she was out in her beloved wilds when she first was able to take a pregnancy to term she thought was not a coincidence.

As a writer, Kesselheim makes hay out of his experiences in this memoir. I hope he is still able to make a living this way. As a close observer, as good writers are, he more deeply enjoyed the growth of his kids than many of us might do. The backbone of the book is three river trips with his young adult kids on the rivers they first ran in Mom. The places and people are observed, the wildness indulged, and the kids grow up natural citizens of their environment. It was a chuckle how often the Kesselheims enjoyed being in outback nature au naturale.

Kesselheim is a naturalist who knows his flora and fauna. It is part of the pleasure of going along for the ride. As a guy who enjoys looking up at night, I do have to point out that a sliver of moon seen in the evening is setting, not rising, and that a bright star in the morning is Venus. There.

And nice paperback treatment by Fulcrum Publishing. I like the French fold cover leafs. Very classy. But enough with the deckle edges! -Mark Bailey

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Posted in Book Review, Environment, Nature Writing, Suggested Reading, West, Western Lit | Leave a comment

Prisoner of Zion, by Scott Carrier – Review

Prisoner of Zion: Muslims, Mormons and Other MisadventuresPrisoner of Zion: Muslims, Mormons and Other Misadventures by Scott Carrier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As we hone our strategy and niche at Torrey House Press (THP), I am thinking a lot about the West, and the land, and what it means to live in such a beautiful, crazy place. Wallace Stegner spoke of the “geography of hope” and of a culture to match the scenery. Sometime I think, given the predominate culture in Utah, that THP should move to some place like Berkeley where there may be more than one progressive thinker to buy our books. Utah is amongst the reddest of states politically and as such anti-environmentalism is a required political plank for the rank and file here. My heck, as we say, we earmark $300,000 of taxpayer treasure to anti-wolf lobbyists every year even though there is not one known wolf in the entire state. What we really worry about, according to those lobbyists, is MEXICAN wolves. But we are dead last in the nation for per capita education funding. We are anti-immigration, anti-environment, anti-womens’ health, pro gun and pro war. The word Taliban often comes to mind.

So it is with a hoot of delight and recognition that I read Scott Carrier say, “It doesn’t bother me that Mormons believe God grew up as a human being on a planet circling a sun called Kolob. I’m not upset when they tell me He came to Earth in a physical body and had sex with the Virgin Mary. These beliefs, as Jefferson said, can neither pick my pocket nor break my bones.” Carrier says he does have a problem with one belief, ” . . . that Mormons are God’s chosen people and He gave this land to them. This is Zionism, and I’m against it, wherever it occurs, because it is nothing but a lie used to justify taking land and liberty from other people.” He adds that he respects the thinking of his liberal, open minded Mormon friends, as do I, and of which there are plenty, and that they are slow to judge others. Who is this guy? I’m only on page 8 and he’s got me.

Carrier goes on to examine why he loves living in Utah anyway. As do I. The next chapter starts with him examining the reason he wants to go to Afghanistan right after 9-11. “I don’t believe the news. The news is selling war and we’re buying it. We’re the richest nation on the planet and Afghanistan is the poorest nation on the planet. It’s not war, it’s a business, a trap, and we are walking right into it.” This guy is good, I think. He’s off to Afghanistan where he sees Taliban for himself. He ends up bringing a young man back as a student to Utah County. In the end, lives are changed. Mine was, just sitting in my armchair reading this book.  -Mark Bailey

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Four Girls, Two Canoes: A Trip Down Labyrinth Canyon

My experiences with water have not been unusual. I wash dishes. I water the tomato plants on my balcony, when I remember. I enjoy lounging by implausibly blue swimming pools while reading, slathered in SPF 50. Sometimes I even take baths. So when I found myself floating down the Green River in a yellow canoe, jumping out to swim, watching herons, silver fish, and a beaver, I was in over my head—in the best possible way.

 Three friends and I were three and a half days on the river, figuring out how to paddle (if a canoe paddle had settings, like a radio dial or a toaster, they would include: Meditative (Right, Left), Leisurely (Right, Left), Slight Corrective (Right, Left), and Pensive (Right, Left). For a while, ours were frequently Frantic, Over-the-Top, Frenzied, or Sporadic—eventually we learned to tune in correctly).

 Red cliffs, blue sky, white clouds; richer and more complex than the jumbo boxes of Crayolas I relished as a child. None of us brought cameras, but I recall moments as snapshots infused with warm breeze and cool currents, bird calls and moonlight, rivulets of sandy sweat, sharp stings of bug bites. The first night, we set up tents and collapsed inside, before dinner and bed. On our last night, we stretched out on a beach and looked at the stars. Dark shapes appeared around us on the mudpacked sand: frogs, illuminated by our headlamps, delicate-looking and spotted.

 That night, as we drifted off to sleep, Kira sat up suddenly in the tent pitched next to mine. “I forgot my keys in Anne’s car.” This announcement, met with stunned silence, meant that when we reached Mineral Bottom, her Jeep would be waiting for us—but we’d have no way to drive it back  to Green River State Park. What could we do but keep on paddling? Hope that someone would take mercy on us and give us a ride. Hope that someone would be there at all.

 In the morning, a half-delighted shriek: Lauren had found a frog in our cutlery.

 A half-hour after we arrived at the deserted Mineral Bottom, minutes after I’d waded back into the river figuring I might as well go for a dip—who knows how long we’d be waiting?—a rickety shuttle pulled up, depositing a bachelor party onto the shore. I’m sure we gave them a promising start to their pre-wedding venture: four girls in various states of undress and distress running toward them, visibly excited and relieved.

 We hitched a ride with the shuttle’s driver, Doug, a large, ruddy-skinned man who listens to Vivaldi every morning (“Gets my thoughts in line,”) and longs for the good ol’ days (“Used to be I wouldn’t hafta call the shuttle company and charge you—we could stop by Ray’s and shoot some pool and I’d buy you a beer. Now there’s all them regulations.”)

 Several hours later than planned, we were back in Salt Lake City—unscathed, except for slight sunburns. Hearing about our trip, you might call it a disaster; after all, we’d spent much more time and money than intended. But I’d rather turn my dial to Meditative and picture cliffs and sky.

—Anne

Posted in Anne, Environment, Nature Writing, THP Blog, West | 3 Comments

House of Western Lit and Literature and the Environment

Kirsten and Mark TwainThe news that J.K. Rowling’s latest fiction title had sold only 500 copies in the months it was out before the word leaked that she was the author using a pseudonym left us feeling a strange mix of hope and despair. By way of contrast, her previous work of adult fiction under her own name sold 1.3 million copies.  We felt hope because, hey, little Torrey House Press was doing as well or better promoting unknown authors as a Big Six (now Big Five) imprint.  We felt despair because the market is impossibly fickle and it is truly very tough to sell books.

We decided to go with hope.  It may not be intuitive or rational but we are doing an internal reorganization and instead of retreating, are increasing our focus on high quality literature.  Recently we had been discussing switching our fiction/nonfiction mix to 75% nonfiction or more and cutting our fiction title acquisitions down to as few as one a year in an effort to increase sales.  We have noted that other successful, independent, environmental publishing firms do not do any fiction.  The reason is becoming obvious.  Yet we found that we were simply unhappy with the idea of little or no fiction and, as we thought about it, felt our mission would suffer without it.   Until now, I have been in charge of acquisitions while Kirsten and Anne have done the editing and publicity work.   With the reorganization, Kirsten will be doing the acquisitions and editing of all things literary and I will be focusing on nonfiction including environmental issues and topical, environmental nonfiction, topics such as our 2015 title with author Dave DeWitt on micro farming.   Our aim is for a roughly 50/50 split of fiction and nonfiction.

Kirsten has a background in Western Lit and in Literature and the Environment.  Torrey House Press likes to think of itself as a publisher with a cause.  We feel that literature has the key role in defining our perception of the natural world and our place in it.  Kirsten sees philosophy and literature as a conversation and she wants to be an active and significant part of it.  I see her, in a favorite Western term, as a pioneer, a pioneer with an idea that Western Lit and Environmental Lit are the cutting edge by which, as Max Oelschlaeger says in The Idea of Wilderness, “. . . nature’s experiment in humanity is transforming itself.”   “Where is the literature,” Thoreau asked, “which gives expression to Nature?”  Kirsten wants to answer Henry and to build our brand as the publisher he would use and that would do him proud.

We know that sometimes we will come out with titles that we will find difficult to sell 500 copies.  We are proud of what we are producing but the market is tough.  While 500 copies isn’t enough to cover expenses, it isn’t nothing.  It could be enough to make a difference and move the conversation forward.  Probably after I am dead, I remind Kirsten.  But she is more optimistic than that and will be looking for ways to find new authors, meet the existing and established writers in the field, and publish some new, smart, high quality, literary work.   A growing, high quality catalog is bound to lead somewhere interesting.  Furthering the conversation will be fun. Starting this month Kirsten will be reviewing the fiction and literary nonfiction submissions I have put on the short list and I will be setting out in further search of topical, environmental nonfiction ideas.  Anne, of course, will be busy helping us keep it all together and make it work.

Send us luck.  Buy a book.    –Mark Bailey

Posted in Environmental, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing, Western Lit | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Green Shorts

green shortsAmazon has their Kindle Singles, Torrey House is launching our own Green Shorts series.  We are calling for submissions of environmentally oriented fiction and narrative nonfiction that is longer than a typical blog and shorter than a book, say 10,000 to 30,000 words.  We would initially publish these as e-book only, price them around $2.00 to $6.00, and sell them everywhere e-books are sold.

I will be reaching out to select folks at a number of environmental agencies, folks like wildlife and range biologists who have stories to tell and experiences that are worth reading about.  These are often unsung heroes out working on the front lines of conservation who have a passion for what they do.  For these guys it is personal and they have good tales.  The issues might be wolf re-introduction, wildlife management, public land management, river and water protection, wilderness area protection, dam removal, beaver and watershed restoration or subjects like fire and wildfire ecology.   The intrinsic value of wilderness and wildness  is another favorite subject of mine that needs attention and idea development now more than ever.

If you have such an essay consider contacting me via our submission manager with your piece or with a query about your proposal.  Take a look at blog entry Environmental, Topical Nonfiction Can Make a Difference for other subject ideas.   I’d like to see some longish short stories/novellas as well that have a strong environmental theme.

Please pass the word.  In the meanwhile, send in your green shorts hiking photos and we will look for a good theme shot to use for the series.   mail@torreyhouse.com

Write on.

-Mark Bailey

Posted in Conservation, Ecology and Economy, Environment, Excellent Essays, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing | 4 Comments

New York Sales Conference

Kirsten and I are just back from our distributor’s — Consortium Book Sales and Distribution (CBSD) — semi-annual sales conference in New York.  About 100 folks in all show up including staff from CBSD, our sister publishers, and the sales reps.  The main focus is on the publishers presenting their upcoming season’s front list to the sales reps, in this case for Fall/Winter 2013-2014.  In addition to to highlighting the 4 titles in our Fall/Winter 2014 season we used our allotted 8 minutes (not kidding) to establish that Torrey House has dropped our regional focus, is a now a national environmental publisher, and that we will be flipping our ratio of fiction to nonfiction from about 5:1 to the other way around in the coming years.

celebrate with indies_20The main buzz around Torrey House was that Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road had just been selected as one of 12 titles in the American Booksellers Association’s Celebrate Debut Authors with Indies promotion.  The ABA’s BookExpo America (BEA) conference is at the end of this month and they would like Charlie to be there and CBSD urges one of us from THP to go.  So the rush is on and Kirsten is headed back to New York to tout our wares at BEA.  More on this after the ABA announcement coming up in a few days.

We learned a few more tidbits in the breakout sessions.  I was wondering if we have any ability to change e-book prices once the print book price is set and the answer is yes, we do.  We will experiment at some point a bit with that.  We were also wondering if independent booksellers could see our titles on Above the Treeline’s popular interactive publisher catalog Edelweiss, and the answer again is as of just recently, yes they can.  In the session on e-books I was heartened to hear that Amazon’s rapacious growth in market share is plateauing as well as the that of e-books in general.  A big question I would like to blog about later is if Wall Street will ever require Amazon to be profitable.  I think it will and when that happens the stock price will plunge and the playing field will be leveled a bit.  But it hasn’t happened yet.  There was also a  session about getting publicity but maybe not enough about effective publicity.

I admit I’d rather go camping, or just about anything for that matter, than go to New York.  It is a personal failing.  But the weather was gorgeous and I got to hang with my favorite editor, meet some other publishers, get an industry update, and tout our wares.   The first day while Kirsten was meeting with Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, I walked from our hotel on 34th to the conference at The Poet’s House down by the new World Trade Center building, about 3 miles.  Part of my walk was on the new High Line walkway, a converted elevated train track with lots of trees and native flora.  The thing was jammed with people, many with cameras, seemingly overwhelmed by all the green growing things.  See?  Even in the big city, folks are aching for a little more natural landscape in their lives. Love of the land. -Mark Bailey

Posted in Independent Bookstores, Publishing | 2 Comments

Leaning In to Nonfiction

There’s nothing like fiction, but it is hard to sell.  They told us it would be but we had to see for ourselves.

David KranesOur title, The Legend’s Daughter, by David Kranes is out.  Kranes’ stories are so good  he was recently asked for permission to publish his short story “Theresa” in an anthology of contemporary literature selected and translated by Haruki Murakami. Some of the other authors to be included in the anthology are Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, Alice Munro, Maile Maloy, Peter Stamm, Lauren Groff, and Jim Shepard.  That is impressive company.  But not impressive enough to move the sales needle.

Jana Richman’s The Ordinary Truth, a story about water and the West, recently was well reviewed by Michael Englehard in High Country News, a magazine “for people who love the West.”  We were delighted — thank you HCN! — yet again the sales needle did not move.

You get the picture.  We are going to continue to publish excellent literary fiction because it is what we love.  But we plan to cut it back to one book in eight instead of the other way around.  Our goal as an environmental publisher is to add to the cultural conversation in such a way that more water is left in the streams and more wildflowers on the mountains.  Because topical nonfiction can better reach an audience, we are going to lean in that direction.

Environmentalism tends to be a progressive cause.  It is an oddity in our western culture that conservatives are not into conservation.  Extraction, consumption and anti-environmentalism is essentially a political platform for the right.  Environmentalism, on the other hand, quickly leads to the progressive notions of social justice, ecological economics, sustainable living methods, feminism, green and natural community building, conscientious commerce, renewable energy, healthy food production, and the happy, compatible lifestyles that go with it.   To manage on the planet with 7 billion souls and growing we need ideas and we will be looking for the people with them.  We want to do our part to get these progressive ideas into the conversation by publishing books about them.  Our nonfiction titles coming up are a start in that direction and we want to do more.

We are also expanding into two new genres, mystery and young adult.  We are delighted to have a contract with Scott Graham of Durango, CO to launch a The National Park Mystery Series and with Melanie Bishop of Carmel, CA and Prescott, AZ on the young adult Tate McCoy Series.  Both will have background environmental themes and will tell stories that are attractive to a broader audience than literary fiction might be.

Sounds like fun to me.  -Mark Bailey, Co-Publisher

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The Typographer

anne-tWe have been indoctrinating Torrey House associate editor and publicist Anne Terashima with the joys of copy editing and into Hell’s inner circles of book design with InDesign. She likes it so much she wrote a poem.

The Typographer

The typographer pores over serifs, contemplates apertures big and small, sheds tears of joy and frustration over lachrymal terminals, the unpredictability of pixels (which he’d rather not deal with at all—the days of ink and page drawing to a close). Diagrams sheet the walls, chart the axis of the stroke through the ages. No windows, only a large, blank swatch of parchment, thick and bone-hued, on which he occasionally rests his eyes. A thankless occupation, typography—and a tricky one. Readers must be drawn to the type and unaware of it. A page about bicycles, for instance, must seem to zip along, swift, cyclical—no spokes clouding the insides of Os, no pedals dragging the ends of Ps, no padded seats atop Ts. He dreams in sans serif: lightly, pleasantly. His nightmares are scrawled. He attends to kerning as if it were an Irish jig—with dignity, punctuated by appropriate amounts of glee as he adjusts the slight space between letters. Homeward-bound, he savors a sweet breeze across his face. His thoughts italicize.

We love our Anne.

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Environmental, Topical Nonfiction Can Make a Difference

Politicians are often behind, out of step with, and going in a different direction from the people they represent.  In Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest, Hawken suggests there is a global movement afoot fostering environmental health and social justice that is little known politically but powerful all the same.  Around the planet, “people are working on the most salient issues of our day:  climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights.”  One way to see the size of the movement, he suggests, is to look at the number of nonprofit organizations and institutions involved in the issues.  Over 100 pages of the book is an appendix categorizing the number of institutions by topic.  I grabbed a top handful that are topics Torrey House Press would be delighted to publish something about.  I list them in order of the astonishing number of organizations already involved in promoting their respective issues:

Topic # of Org’s
Environmental Education 11,789
Natural Resource Conservation 11,393
Community Participation 10,053
Sustainable Communities 8,999
Community Resources 7,804
Wildlife Habitat Conservation 6,149
Sustainable Living 5,627
Natural Heritage Conservation 5,164
Cultural Diversity 4,531
Recycle and Reuse 4,246
Rural Development 3,842
Natural Resource Education 3,457
Industrial Ecology 3,381
Sustainable Agriculture 3,349
Biodiversity Conservation 3,048
Conservation Area Protection 2,931
Sustainable Livelihoods 2,754
Watershed Management 2,638
Conservation and Recreation 2,632
Cultural Heritage Conservation 2,427
Environmental Law and Policy 2,394
Practical Conservation 2,221
Environmental Monitoring 2,159
Community Enterprise 2,127
Environmental Health 2,123
Environmental Justice 2,064
Land Stewardship 2,062
Sustainable Education 2,045
Riparian Ecology and Conservation 1,741
Sustainable Forestry 1,411
Ecotourism 1,239
Land Trusts and Land Conservation 1,194
Sustainable Urban and Regional Planning 1,110
Conservation Easements 902

Rachel Carson is often credited with waking up the environmental movement in the 1970’s with her book Silent Spring.  The  Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge manager Bob Barrett credits Terry Tempest William’s book Refuge with making the place what it is today.  President Clinton, saying “this little book made a difference,” held Testimony in his hands on the rim of the Grand Canyon as he declared the Escalante Staircase National Monument into being, a book created by Williams and Stephen Trimble.  Arches and Canyonlands National Parks owe a lot to Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.  Thoreau inspired Muir and Leopold, who wrote books many of us love, which in turn spurred the foundations of the The Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.  There are many such examples.  Books make a difference and there is much work for change that remains to be done.

A book of Paul Hawken’s I have also long enjoyed is his Growing a Business.  In it Hawken says that, “The purpose of business . . . is not to take risks but rather to get something done.”  It’s why we created Torrey House Press.  -Mark Bailey

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Call for Environmental Nonfiction

At Torrey House we are wrapping up our first publication season with national distribution to the book trade and we continue to learn.  We have seven titles out and three ready for the upcoming spring/summer season.  Two of the forthcoming titles are nonfiction and the rest are novels or short stories.  We are finding that while we continue to have a big affinity toward literary fiction in our niche, we will want to get more topical nonfiction out in order to stay afloat.  Literary fiction is a giant genre in which it is difficult to stand out, to put it mildly.  Topical, environmental nonfiction has a smaller, more focused market in which it is easier to identify and reach interested readers.

Take, for example, the title The Straw Bale House, published by our admired competitor, Chelsea Green Publishing Company.  As Chelsea Green points out, if you search online for “straw bale house,” their book is going to show up prominently.  It is hard to do the same for a title in fiction.  Unless you know the author or the title or both, you will be long in the search before one of our fiction titles show up.  Chelsea Green has sold a lot of copies of their title, a quantity at this point that THP can only dream about.

We are enthusiastic about balancing out our mix of fiction and nonfiction.  The environmental movement can use all the boost it can get.  When my son started in the Environmental Studies program at Prescott College in 2006, I thought he was going to catch a big green wave in his career.  Climate change and environmental concerns were frequently on the cover of national and international magazines.  Republicans and Democrats alike voiced frequent concern for protection of the planet.  But by the elections of 2012, global warming and man-made climate change were never even mentioned in the presidential debates.  With the coming of the Great Recession and an active anti-science PR campaign by Big Oil and its lackeys, environmentalism has become a political nonstarter and in the economy of today my son is having a hard time finding a job in his field.  Meanwhile we have record heat waves, record Arctic polar cap ice melts, mega storms like Sandy and epic droughts in the West.  With 7 billion souls now on the planet and growing, humans are the major natural force of change on the planet.  Given our ability to exercise reason, Torrey House thinks we humans ought to put it to greater use regarding our impact on the environment.

Therefore we are calling for lively, controversial, leading edge manuscripts on topics like water catchment, public land use, environmental health, environmental economics, sustainable living, renewable energy, land use policy, the importance of wilderness, the trans-formative power of natural places, environmental building and landscape design, about how small is beautiful, the local food and business movement and other ideas of enlightened, sustainable living.  If you think you have something along these lines, check out our submissions guidelines and show us what you have.  And, please, tell a friend.

Posted in Conservation, Ecology and Economy, Environment, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

You Okay with Nature Writing?

DH Lawrence, Nature Writer?

In 1999, at a gathering organized by The Orion Society, Barry Lopez read a poem by D.H. Lawrence.  After the reading Lopez paused for effect and then stated, “D.H. Lawrence, nature writer.”  Laughter ensued.  This episode is mentioned in an essay in the Winter 2012 edition of the journal, ISLE,  where author Bill Sherwonit wonders if he might be “The Last Nature Writer.”  Sherwonit mentions the reading as the first he heard of the dissatisfaction some writers and critics have with being labeled a “nature writer.” I’m not sure Sherwonit specifically wrote his essay for ISLE, but he cites their existence as part of the evidence that the niche, or genre, or whatever it is, is not so dead.  ISLE says about itself:

The existence of ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment reflects the rapid growth of ecological literary criticism and environmental scholarship in related disciplines in the United States and around the world in recent years, which in turn reflects the steady increase in the production of environmental literature over the past several decades and the increased visibility of such writing in college classrooms.

ISLE is available by subscription only so I can’t point you directly to the essay, but I enjoyed the irony of having this new, splendid journal of literary nature writing in my hands while I read of its demise.  I related with what Sherwonit described as his journey of discovering a writing style he loved and wanted to be a part of, in his case as a writer, in my case as a publisher.  Like Sherwonit I have been smitten by the likes of writers such as Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, David James Duncan, Terry Tempest Williams, Gretel Ehrlich, Edward Hoagland,  Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, John McPhee, Gary Snyder, and E.O Wilson and now deceased writers like Ed Abbey and Wallace Stegnar.  One of my favorites, Stephen Trimble was among the first to put together a nature writing anthology called Words from the Land: Encounters with Natural History Writing, back in 1989.  An original, dog eared copy sits on my bookshelf next to me now.

Lopez was saying that he wanted to be considered a great literary artist like Lawrence, not a mere nature writer.  Critics, like those from Orion Magazine, agree that being pigeon holed as nature writing diminishes the writing and the writer.  Well, sure, labels always do that and we all recoil at being described as something which over simplifies us.  I notice, for instance, that I call what we are trying to publish at Torrey House as part of a “niche” and avoid the word “genre.”  Genre is for romance and mysteries, I think to myself, not the literary stuff we want put out there.  Surely nature writing has more heft and might and staying power.  We will see.

Posted in Environment, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing | 1 Comment

Consonance

Spring Valley, Nevada

This fall we will publish Jana Richman’s next novel, The Ordinary Truth.  The backdrop theme of the novel is based on the real life tension between the urban and rural West as the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the water agency for Las Vegas, Henderson, and N. Las Vegas seeks to pump up to 200,000 acre-feet annually from eastern Nevada and western Utah and send it through 300 miles of pipeline to support the area’s rapid growth.  A cover article in Salt Lake’s City Weekly on the controversy caught Barbara Richardson’s attention.   Barb is another Torrey House author whose historical novel, Tributary, we will be publishing this coming September.  Barb, a committed environmentalist, had no idea the pipeline was the theme of Jana’s novel, but she was so alarmed about the water grab and particularly about the potential harm it will cause to the Goshute Tribe, she wrote a blog piece of her own about it.  You can take a look at Barb’s elegant, photo-rich blog entry here.

We always hope our authors will support each other and are even more delighted when it happens all by itself.  Thanks for all you do, guys.

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Love Letters

Kirsten and I spent the weekend in New York City to attend our distributor’s (Consortium) fall season sales conference.  New York has always worn a little rough on me and this trip was the usual.  Friday evening we were working our way over to St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery on 10th Street and 2nd Avenue to see my daughter, Kristen, play the lead in Sophie Gets the Horns.  It was serendipity that Kristen was in New York from Philadelphia at the same time we needed to be in town and it made our jaunt that night a little easier on the nerves.  As we walked we noticed a crowd of folks, many with cameras, on what turned out to be the new High Line walkway, all peering down the street to the east and I wondered out loud what everybody was looking at.  We grabbed a cab, turned east, and there plunk dead center of the wide street, hanging between the canyon wall of buildings, the perigee moon, the largest in 20 years, was rising.  I felt rooted again, back on the planet earth I know, happy and comfortable for the first time since showing up in town.  And Kristen was fabulous, of course.

I’ll talk more about the sales conference in my next post.  It was a success for us as we continue to learn the trade.  The business end of publishing has been much on my mind so as an aside when we returned to Salt Lake I sat down with a little book that had just arrived in the office, Testimony, compiled by Stephen Trimble and Terry Tempest Williams.  I wanted to touch base a little with the reason we are doing this publishing thing and read some of these essays.  I had heard that President Clinton held up a copy of Testimony as he stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon dedicating the new Grand Staircase -Escalante National Monument and said, “This little book made a difference.”  Published in 1996 it is a set of love stories about the land for Congress to read and consider as they pondered adding more Utah land to the National Wilderness Preservation System.  No new wilderness was created, but the Monument was.  Literature in action.

This morning one of my email alerts was titled “Torrey House Press.  Are you listening?” I clicked on the link and found a blog post by writer Libbie Hawker telling us:

I am officially courting you.  Yes, you, Torrey House Press.  I have a crush on you.  I want to go steady with you.  I want to writer-marry you.  You’re my publishing soul-mate.  You with your mandate to protect the West, my place, my home.  You with your mission to make people love the land I came from as much as I love it.

How very creative, Libbie.  You got my attention.  Libbie went on to say that Torrey House is “placed and poised to make Western regional literature A Thing, in the sense that Southern lit is A Thing, respected, revered, sought after.”  I like that, of course, a lot.  It is a nice aspiration to try to build A Thing and help create a love and appreciation for the land.  You can see Libbie’s post here.  Thanks for the writerly love letter, Libbie.

 

Posted in Conservation, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing | 3 Comments

Preparing for our fall publishing season with new distributor

In March Kirsten and I flew out to Minneapolis to meet with our new distributor, Consortium Book Sales and Distribution.  We landed smack into the country’s crazy spring weather.  The lake behind our friends’ home there was covered in ice on Saturday when we arrived.  By Sunday the 80 degree wind had cleared the ice and my host and I took an inaugural swim.

Still feeling invigorated, we met with the Consortium folks all day the following Tuesday to meet the staff and get oriented.  We came back to Utah with thick binders of information and feeling the need to put more energy into marketing and publicity.  We turned hopefully to our intern, Anne Terashima, with whom we have been very impressed, to see if she wanted to join us as an employee when she graduates from Westminster College this May.  Anne cheerfully agreed and we look forward to getting started with Anne in just a few weeks.

Next we are off to New York for Consortium’s sales conference there to give a brief pitch to the sales reps about our upcoming four titles for the fall season and acquaint them with our existing catalog.  Serendipitously, I will be able to catch my daughter, Kristen Bailey, acting in her company’s play there, Sophie’s Horns.

In the meanwhile we are pleased to learn that The Scholar of Moab has won The Association of Mormon Letters 2011 Novel of the Year award.  Last year’s winner was Brady Udall for novel The Lonely Polygamist.  Congratulations to author Steven L. Peck.  In addition, Renee Thompson’s The Plume Hunter won the Eric Hoffer da Vinci Eye award for superior cover art. Congratulations to Jeffrey Fuller, our book designer and Greg Downing, photographer.

 

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