Jerry Apps on the Boundary Waters, bears, and his latest book
February 10, 2011 Leave a comment
If you’re anything like me, you spend most of the winter daydreaming about how you’ll spend your spring and summer. This winter the Boundary Waters region keeps coming to mind, perhaps because I just read Jerry Apps’s beautiful reflections on this special place and his years of camping, canoeing, and connecting with nature.
I recently caught up with Jerry, Fulcrum’s author of Campfires and Loon Calls: Travels in the Boundary Waters (February 2011, 978-1-936218-07-3). Apps discussed his inspiration for Campfires and Loon Calls and revealed some very helpful hints for aspiring writers and made me think that I need to make my Boundary Waters winter daydreams a reality come spring.
Why did you write Campfires and Loon Calls?
My son Steve and I, and occasionally other family members and friends, have canoed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for more than 25 years. I thought it would be fun to go back to my journals, which I have kept on every trip, and share some of our stories and adventures. I have written other books about nature and the environment, but writing this book was an opportunity to write about a true wilderness area. I felt others might enjoy reading about our treks into the wild, how we, as rank amateurs, managed to not only survive quite handily but how we came to enjoy the experience as very special and an essential yearly event.
What was most challenging in writing this book? Favorite Part? Humorous incidents?
Deciding what to include and what to leave out proved to be the greatest challenge in writing the book. Also, I wanted to write the book as a story rather than as a guidebook or a how-to book. There are elements of both of these in the book, but I wanted the book to be more, or perhaps better said, different. Several good guidebooks for the BWCAW are readily available, as well as many good how-to books on canoe camping. I wanted to write a more personal book, relaying my own story with the hope that readers might find it interesting, and, dare I say, helpful if they should wish to visit the area.
My favorite parts of the writing were the challenge to create on the printed page not only the details of an event, such as a wicked thunderstorm, but to honestly share the feelings associated with the experience. This was especially fun when crafting the scene for two of my favorite humorous experiences in the book, one involving a police officer friend of Steve’s who was deathly afraid of bears and what happened when a big one lumbered into our camp one evening, and the other a time when we were hopelessly lost and came upon a group of young women sunbathing in the nude.
What is your writing process like?
For the past 16 years, I’ve worked full-time as a writer, with a schedule quite different than when I worked at it part-time while working my day job. Today, I try to be at my desk every morning by eight, with coffee at the ready. I drink lots of coffee. I check the overnight emails, but answer only the most pressing. The rest of the emails I deal with in the afternoon. I write until noon, attempting to complete 1,000 words a day. For most of my books, I can complete a first draft in two or three months. I write until I complete a project, not stopping along the way to edit. I set the rough draft aside for a month or so to “ferment” and switch to another project. I am usually working on at least two books at the same time, something I’ve done for many years.
After a month or so, I return to the draft manuscript and usually spend six or more months, revising and rewriting. Of course before doing much writing on a book project, no matter if fiction or nonfiction, I spend up to three years researching the project, which usually includes interviewing people, doing lots of digging on the Web, visiting libraries—that sort of thing. I work hard to meet my deadlines, and I can proudly say that in more than 40 years of writing, and with more than 35 books published, I’ve not missed a deadline.
What are you working on for your next book?
I’ve about completed the first draft of a book tentatively titled Limping Through Life. The book, a memoir, describes when I had polio as a 12-year old and had a paralyzed leg for much of a year. It has taken me many years to confront the effects of that dreadful disease, and to come to grips with how it shaped who I am and what I have done so far in my life. Clearly, as I look back, polio is largely responsible for me becoming a writer. When I was in high school, I couldn’t participate in any sports, so I read, wrote (I was assistant and then editor of my high school newspaper), and studied. I also was active in public speaking competitions. These experiences have served me well as a writer.
Jerry Apps is professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the author of more than 25 books, many of them on rural history and country life. Jerry received the 2008 First Place Nature Writing Award from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association and the 2007 Major Achievement Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. Please visit his website, www.jerryapps.com, and his blog, http://jerryapps.blogspot.com.