Category Archives: Literature and the Environment

Review: All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found

All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found
All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found by Philip Connors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ALL THE WRONG PLACES is a hero’s journey and the story of the emergence of one of the best of the West’s new writers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Phil Connors at an Association for the Study of Literature and Environment writer’s conference where he was a speaker. Dave Foreman was there too and the three of us had lunch along with my wife and publisher at Torrey House Press, Kirsten Allen. Kirsten ended up sitting with three men who had lost their brothers by their brother’s own hand. It was a moving experience for me, one I still feel and am grateful for. Continue reading

Why a robust response to Bundys at Malheur is important

Equal justice under law


U.S. Supreme Court

The immense damage I see to public lands in southern Utah caused by private livestock grazing motivated me to start Torrey House Press. The public would not put up with current land management practices if they knew about them and I want to get the word out in literature.  The land practices are absurd, and I will get to that, but what concerns me even more about the Bundys taking siege to the public buildings at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is how it makes a mockery of the American principle of equal justice under law. Continue reading

Napa and Point Reyes

Kirsten and drove the A6 to Truckee and then on to Napa and Pt. Reyes leaving Saturday March 28 and back to Salt Lake the next Friday. Kirsten was meeting with our latest author, Sasha Paulsen for an editing session on Dancing on the Spider’s Web. Now back in SLC I notice that I did not take many photos and did not take any notes. Thinking about it I decided to combine this blog with my previous entries from THP Green Adventures and change the site title here to Notes and Shots. I will use it both as a travel and conservation journal in the  blog and a place to keep my best photos in the galleries.  That way I can feel more free to take notes and shots without thinking they need to be interesting and good enough for National Geographic.  Even though I will make the site available to the public I think of the audience as my kids, Kristen and Nick, my uncle, Ted Kehl, and maybe my grand-kids some day. Hi guys.

View from our room

View of tidal Napa River from our room

Truckee was conspicuous with the absence of snow. No shots, but resorts that look like they should be closed with mostly dirt showing still have skiers working their way down presumably man made snow ribbons.  California’s Gov. Brown ordered mandatory water use reductions for the first time in the state’s history while we were there. Residents are required to cut back, but big farms, which use 80% of the water, are only required to write reports — but that may be another blog.

In Napa we continued with my suggestion that Kirsten find us nice places to stay and not tell me what they cost. Works in the short run, time will tell about the finances. We had dinner that night with Sasha and her adult daughter Ariel at an equally elegant place nearby. The food in Marin county is nonstop amazing. I was thinking that I would throttle back while away from the fridge, but not-so-much.

On Monday we met up  in Petaluma with Lise Soloman, our Torrey House Consortium sales rep with Karel/Dutton Group, and drove up to Sebastopol to have lunch with Sheryl Cotleur, the adult book buyer for Copperfield’s Books. Both women are a forces in books sales. Lise is credited by author Paul Harding as the impetus behind his winning a Pulitzer for his debut novel Tinkers. Tinkers was published by a sister publisher at Consortium, Bellevue Literary Press.  Kirsten and I always say the best thing about publishing is the people and with women like these two out there we will keep saying it. At one point during lunch I told Sheryl about how our author Mary Sojourner feels no hope about the West and conservation. Mary gave that response when asked about Stegner’s phrase, “The geography of hope.” I told Sheryl how Mary thinks writing about nature and the West is dead and wondered if she agreed. Sheryl sat back and said she “100 percent” did not agree. She encouraged us to keep going and started telling us we needed to meet Steve Costa and Kate Levinson, owners of Pt. Reyes Books and asked if we had ever been there. In fact, that is where we were going next anyway.

Our B&B in Pt. Reyes

Our B&B in Pt. Reyes

Kirsten had already made another excellent arrangement at a B&B in the small town of Inverness in Pt. Reyes. We poked our heads in the bookstore but Steve and Kate were out. Fabulously, Sheryl and Lise had forewarned them we were heading their way. Kirsten left a card at the bookstore and Steve and Kate got back to her asking us to please come by. When we showed up the next day they interrupted some poor sales rep’s pitch to say hello, suggested that we should have dinner together, and even insisted that we should do so at their home and stay with them. There goes those great publishing people again. The Bailey in me was appalled at the imposition, but of course it all turned out great. I hope somehow we can return the favor with a stay in Torrey.

At dinner with Kate and Steve we asked them a lot of questions about their biannual conference. It seemed natural that Terry Tempest Williams had been involved in the area for some time including with the conference.  The most recent called The 2015 Geography of Hope Conference after Wallace Stegner’s phrase in his Wilderness Letter — major sections of which were read at Kirsten’s and my wedding.  Kate and Steve were our kind of nice, smart people but way, way ahead of us in the world of connections and conferences. Kate encouraged us to stay regional if we try a conference and perhaps to consider starting with just the LDS enviro authors we are interested in supporting.

K's smart phone shot of Shell Beach

K’s smart phone shot of Shell Beach

Point Reyes was astonishing. On the last morning, April 2, a day before my brother’s would be birthday, at sunrise on Shell Beach near Steven and Kate’s place I was overwhelmed by the beauty and the loss of Mike. Mike, the world is beautiful, it is worth protecting, and I wish you were here to help.

The Publishing (ad)Venture

WTorrey House Press Websitee started Torrey House Press in 2010 with the tag line “Love of the Land” and with an objective to promote more grass on the mountains and water in the streams in the West and to do so via literature. We set out to get on the front lines of the very idea of literature and the environment. We are a publisher with a cause, to conserve the fragile environment for its own sake and upon which we depend.

Successful conservation is a challenge.  Compared to the 1960’s and 70’s there is less public interest in conservation. Driven primarily by the intense lobbying of the energy industry, it has now become a belligerent Republican policy plank to do whatever possible to undermine the environment and, sadly, this month the Republican’s overran the U.S. Senate.  What was already difficult, protecting the environment, has become more so. Energy industry money has succeeded in making conservation equate to being anti-people. Quite strange.

Like conservation, successful publishing is a challenge. Like conservation, the obstacles to success are mounting. Amazon’s growing monopsony means an ever larger slice of the revenue pie goes to them. And although Amazon makes millions of titles available, they are best at herding readers to the best sellers so that more than ever winner takes all. The growing internet produces infinite reading for free. Since the iPhone came out during the Great Recession readers are ever less available to something as demanding as a book. Smart phones and apps like FaceBook help readers find out what each other are reading which also amplifies the effect of winner takes all. People want to do what other people are doing and it is possible today to know where the buzz is in an instant. And with digital technology there is an ever increasing number of new titles per year, millions if self-published titles are included in the count, making any new title amount to a snowflake in a blizzard.

Four years in at Torrey House Press we have yet to figure out how to make our publishing venture sustainable and viable. We have learned more about the financial mechanics of publishing and what it will take to become profitable enough to continue. We see, for instance, that producing titles that sell less than 5,000 copies will never get us there. Our average copies sold per title is well less than that. We are considering our options. Help from conservation organizations might make sense. Going nonprofit might be necessary. Adding more nonfiction titles that address a specific market might help. Attracting mid-list authors with a substantial following helps. We are going to poke around at exploring all of these options and try to hold our eyes and minds open to other solutions at the same time.

A regular (ad)venture.

Sky Islands and Writers

Kirsten at Ramsey CanyonKirsten soared in the stiff breeze on a floating sky island, 1500 feet above the surrounding mile high mesquite desert, smiling as always.  We had been invited to run some publisher workshops for the Cochise College Creative Writing Celebration the last weekend in March.  Finished with our duties, we said good-bye to some great new friends and went out exploring the local environs.  Cochise County sits on the Mexican border of Arizona in the southeast corner of the state.  It is a thriving county of about 100,000 folks, all of them obviously happy to be there.  The terrain from Phoenix and Tuscon has climbed back up to around 5,000 feet, is about 20 degrees cooler on average, and is dotted with these sky islands above the mesquite flats.  It had been a little hard to believe, but we had been promised running surface water, migrating humming birds, forests of pine, fir, sycamore and locust trees at the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve.

We were met at the visitor center by uber-friendly Debbie Arbenz who, without drawing a breath, welcomed us and talked us into a discount from the already low entrance fee.  We did promise to re-up our membership with TNC, I think.  The visitor center is a gift and book shop, well stocked save any titles, yet, from Torrey House Press.  The preserve was as promised and more.  By the time we hiked to the overlook that Kirsten is pictured in here, she was wishing that maybe she had worn her hiking boots instead of her Chacos, but she only says so if you ask.   We saw humming birds, running water, riparian areas, birds of prey soaring the surrounding cliffs, numerous deer and a restoration pond trying to save the endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs.

I may be a bit of a curmudgeon, some say, but I was  surprised by Cochise County and the college there.  Our hosts, including our own Jay Treiber, author of soon to be released Spirit Walk,  were generous and universally effusive about their home.  Spirit Walk is beautifully set and portrayed in Cochise County and northern Mexico and I was eager to see this landscape for myself.  I see why everyone loves it.  The desert is always beautiful and enticing and dangerous and menacing.  To see a black jaguar in such a place would be life amplifying.  It was for Jay’s characters, some of whom even put their guns down after sighting such a creature.  The allure and danger of the place is captured too in Erec Toro’s Zero to the BoneErec was one of the conference presenters and tells in this memoir of how his life was permanently altered after being struck and massively poisoned by a rattle snake.  I had a chance to chat with Erec just long enough to know he gets the wild thing, as in it is the preservation of the world.  As Erec says, he got a taste of wild snake when it got a taste of him.   Erec and I are going to have to talk some more.

While talking about the amazing people we met I must mention Cecelia “Ceci” Lewis.  Ceci is an instructor at the college’s English department.  She is a year older than me, Latino, and always gorgeously attired in southwest clothing and turquoise.   We had a chance to talk to Ceci about modern life and I mentioned how the white, male, Utah Taliban-Republican politicos are spending millions of dollars to “take the state back.”  Ceci’s immediate response was, “From?”  For the first time I heard the phrase, “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.”  We spoke a bit about her experience and her family.  As she pronounced her siblings’ names it struck both Kirsten and me that she was singing.  I remain smitten and charmed.

A final hello to Beth Colburn Oroxco and her pal and fellow author  and presenter, Ann Wertz Galvin.  Check out Ann’s latest novel and her upcoming one, A Dog Year.  Beth, fabulous conference, hope to see you soon, and write on.  You all looked great in the land of the sky islands.