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.


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…

View original post 499 more words

Posted in Conservation, Environmental, Grazing, Kirsten, Public land management, topical nonfiction, wild horses | Leave a comment

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