Gardening in the West: A Little Help from Jane Shellenberger

We recently spoke with Jane Shellenberger, publisher and editor of the regional gardening magazine Colorado Gardener (now in its 15th year) and recent author of Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West (Fulcrum, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-55591-725-8) about the challenges and triumphs of organic gardening. Jane is a lifelong eclectic gardener who first learned about plants from her botanist mother, and her new book guides both veteran and newbie gardeners through growing the best fruits and vegetables in the semi-arid, high-altitude West. The book is written in Jane’s accessible and humorous style, and also features vibrant color photos from her own gardens.
Fulcrum: How long have you been gardening organically and why should one follow such methods?
JS: I’ve always gardened without using poisons. It just seemed like common sense, especially when it comes to edibles. I don’t have a strong desire for controlled perfection. The ever-changing, transitory nature of gardening is what makes it interesting. I’d rather have a garden that attracts life any day than a sterile, insect-free plot. There are far more beneficial insects (and fungi and bacteria) than there are pests, and you usually can’t kill one without harming the other. Food that’s grown organically also tastes better, is more nutritious, and doesn’t pollute water or harm soil. In fact, building soil is one the satisfying pleasures of organic gardening. If gardeners step back and view their yards and gardens as part of a much larger whole, they’ll better understand the importance of gardening organically. The collective negative effect of each person using “just a little bit” of toxic pesticide can be huge, and likewise, an interconnected network of many individual organic yards and gardens can create a safe haven for many pollinators and other critters that once had a place to survive in the wild.
Fulcrum: What are some of the unique challenges of growing vegetables (or gardening in general) in the West?
JS: Most western native soils are lean; plus, we have many more sunny than rainy days, so supplemental, regular irrigation is a must. Drought recurs at regular intervals. Even when it does precipitate during the growing season, it often comes all at once or, even worse, as hail that violently pummels the garden. Then there’s our intense UV light at high altitude, coupled with drying western winds that suck all the moisture out of plants. Nights are often too cool for warm season vegetables like peppers, while summer days can be too hot for cool season broccoli and salad greens. Mountain conditions are even more extreme, with very short growing seasons. Some knowledge of which varieties can survive or thrive in the West will come in very handy. Did I mention deer?
Fulcrum: What vegetables are good “starter” veggies for those of us who have limited/no gardening experience?
JS: Cool season greens like arugula, chard, mustard greens, chives, and cilantro are great crops from seed for beginners. Garlic is super easy but best planted in the fall. As long as temperatures don’t get too hot, I find broccoli is always a winner — and delicious!  Plant it early (March or April) from seed or starts and keep it mulched. Broccoli likes our bright light and cool nights, and keeps on producing lots of side shoots after you harvest the main head. Zucchini is a relatively easy and very productive warm season vegetable. It needs warm soil to get going, so wait until temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees at night before planting.
Looseleaf “cut and come again” lettuces like mesclun mixes are simple to grow. They can be trimmed for eating and will continue to grow for months. Bronze Arrowhead and Deer Tongue are very slow to bolt in hot weather and don’t turn bitter like some varieties. There are many, many varieties to try. Seed catalogs and seed company websites can be a wealth of information, especially those located in the West. If you’ve prepared your beds with good soil, everything will be easier to grow.
Fulcrum: What should gardeners in the West be doing right now to prepare their gardens and planning for growing season?
JS: It’s been dry and windy in January, which isn’t atypical. That’s why I like to cover my vegetable beds through the winter with dried fall leaves and hay mulch to keep the soil from drying out and blowing away.
Now, while it’s still wintery, do some research on varieties by reading seed catalogs and talking to gardener friends. Decide what you’d like to grow and where, how you’re going to water, and what you plan to use for mulch. Sketch out a plan for your garden to help yourself get organized. Even if you don’t stick to it, you’ll learn something during the process. Buy some seeds.
If you haven’t already prepared your vegetable beds by adding chopped-up leaves, compost, and other organic materials, pick a warm day and start now so you’ll be ready to plant when the time comes. Water the beds afterward to help the soil microbes and earthworms start the breakdown process. If the process seems overwhelming, get some help. Gardening is more fun and more productive with a friend. If you prefer to work a community garden plot, call your municipality or organizations like Denver Urban Gardens and Pike’s Peak Urban Gardens to reserve one now.
Thanks, Jane! Happy gardening, everyone!

Interview with Corinne Platt, author of “Voices of the American West”

This week, we caught up with Corinne Platt, coauthor of Voices of the American West with Meredith Ogilby. This documentary-style collection of photographs and narratives profiles a wide range of prominent figures of the West as they engage in candid discussions about the region and its identity. A diverse group of visionary men and women, they may differ in politics but remain united in their belief that the West requires inspired action if it is going to endure challenges posed by political, cultural, and environmental pressures. Allowing those on each side of the issues to speak freely, this important work tackles such topics as education, recreation, immigration, ranching, alternative energy, wildlife habitat protection, oil and gas extraction, urban development, and water conservation. Exemplifying photography and journalism at its best, Voices of the American West provides a panoramic view of today’s evolving West. The collection features Terry Tempest Williams, Stewart Udall, Katie Lee, Dave Foreman, and many others.

Please talk a little bit about your decision (and possibly indecision!) to begin this journey  and create Voices of the American West.

Meredith began the project as a way to profile and photograph some of Colorado’s original “mountain men/visionaries.” When she asked me to come aboard, we decided that we wanted to look at the major issues of the West through the eyes of people on the ground working to make change and create solutions. The original pioneers were our inspiration to seek out people unafraid of challenge and willing to take risks to make positive change.

What was the most challenging part of creating this book? Favorite part? Any humorous incidents?

We spent a lot of time driving around the West. Traveling to the more-out-of-the-way places—like El Capitan, New Mexico, where Sid Goodloe lives and ranches. On the way to Sid’s we got two flat tires. We’d usually find someplace to take a walk or a hike, and one day outside of Helena, Montana, we hiked to the top of a small mountain where an Anatolian shepherd dog chased us back. During our retreat to the car, a herd of cows charged and cornered us into a little corral. We laughed our heads off, but it was a bit dicey.

Deciding who to include in the book was constant work and research. Tracking people down who we wanted was sometimes challenging, but always so rewarding. We fell in love with most of the people we interviewed and gained great empathy for their work.

What kind of personal feedback have you received about the book since its publication, in September 2009?

“I am totally fascinated by this book and the people in it. It is local and yet so global. The stories are so inspiring. I never would have imagined [it] would be so hard to put down.” —Rita Shenkel, Colorado native

“ [Voices of the American West] is an easy and enjoyable way of getting a comprehensive history of the West. It’s a beautiful and inviting book. You see it, and you want to read it.”  —Joan May, San Miguel County Commissioner

“Reading this book has inspired me to pursue an avenue for MY voice in the challenges facing the West.” —Aspiring writer from Redstone, Colorado

What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

The stories in the book are inspiring and hopeful. Readers will come away knowing that there are people in the West working hard for the better of us all, pursuing personal visions—be it land restoration, cultural preservation, or alternative energy—and that any individual can work to make a difference.

Fulcrum Catches Up with Richard Hetzler

Richard Hetzler, executive chef of the Mitsitam Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and author of The Mitsitam Café Cookbook (ISBN: 978-1-55591-7470, $22.95), has had quite the year. Since The Mitsitam Café Cookbook (which took Richard 3 years to complete) came out in the Fall of 2010, the cookbook has received great exposure, including winning the Gourmand “Best in the World” Cookbook Award for Best Local Cuisine. Along with interviews and book signings, Richard traveled to Paris in March for the prestigious Paris Cook Fair, where he performed a cooking demonstration. Richard even had a stint on the Food Network late last year when he participated in the show “Chefs vs. City.” The Mitsitam Café and the NMAI were featured on the episode, which took place in Washington, DC.

And this week, Richard traveled to New York to attend in his first ever Book Expo America, North America’s largest publishing event. Richard participated in a couple of book signings and giveaways, and rumor has it he was even going to bring some delicious goodies with him to New York. I haven’t heard the scoop yet from our marketing team (who is still living it up in New York), but I was able to catch up with Richard a few weeks ago to discuss the excitement of the past year and his expectations for his first BEA experience.

Fulcrum: What was your experience like in Paris for the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and the Paris Cookbook Fair?
Hetzler: Wonderful. To see something on that scale that was dedicated to food and wine was a great sight to see.

Fulcrum: How has life changed since The Mitsitam Café Cookbook won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award and how has the perception of The Mitsitam Café Changed?
Hetzler: Life has not changed too much yet—I would say it really has not set in yet. I’ve met so many great people that had authored books and didn’t receive recognition for them, and I had the opportunity to do this one book and won such a prestigious award.

Fulcrum: You are attending BEA in New York this year with Fulcrum. What are you looking forward to about visiting New York and being at BEA for the first time?
Hetzler: I will be attending BEA and this is my first convention of this type. I cannot wait. I am honored to attend and see what the show has to offer.

Fulcrum: What is in store for The Mitsitam Café this spring and summer? Any new dishes that you are excited about?
Hetzler: We change the menu seasonally so I am not sure yet, but I can assure whatever we put on the menu will be delicious.

Fulcrum: Do you have a favorite recipe from The Mitsitam Café Cookbook?
Hetzler: My favorite recipes are the moles (see Fulcrum’s recent blog post on making the Chicken Mole Verde Tacos from Richard’s book). They seem very complex, but truly are very simple and have so much flavor. They give you wonderful talking points when entertaining friends and family, i.e. you can discuss how chocolate is used in savory cooking and how it adds a wonderful complexity to the dish.

Now is the time to see Alaska. And bears. And moose.

This month, Fulcrum releases the fourth edition of the best-selling The World-Famous Alaska Highway: A Guide to the Alcan & Other Wilderness Roads of the North (ISBN-13: 978-155591-749-4, $22.95) by Tricia Brown, giving readers detailed info on the Alaska Highway—or Alcan, as it is more commonly known. For nearly seventy years, this roadway has enchanted motorists with its breathtaking mountain vistas, winding past  sparkling streams and lakes through Canada and the Canadian Rockies and into Alaska, the Last Frontier. Did I mention the wildlife?

Go to Alaska. If you have ever had the smallest of inklings to see this stunning place, trust me, you should. I went one summer during high school, when I visited a quirky aunt and uncle living in Valdez, because my parents had it in their heads that this city kid needed to have a “wilderness experience.” Okay, most of what I remember borders on traumatic: they were renovating their double-wide trailer and we had to shower outside in our birthday suits via garden hose (which my parents had failed to mention to me). But, if that’s not a wilderness experience, I don’t know what is.

Trauma aside, I have amazing memories of an unbelievable place that is almost untouched by man…the crisp, clean air, endless hours of daylight (we usually had dinner around 11 pm), the northern lights, and the wildlife strolling about as if they owned the place. For someone who had only ever seen BIG animals in the zoo, to see a moose standing next to our car is an experience I will never forget.

We recently caught up with author Tricia Brown to discuss the latest edition of her book and why she thinks Alaska is such a great travel destination.

Please tell us a little about how your passion for Alaska was sparked.

My extended family began trickling up to Alaska in the early 1970s, and their glowing letters and phone calls convinced us to finally make the move in 1978. The gigantic fish! The midnight sun! A wolf spotted right there on the edge of town! My salesman dad tended toward hyperbole, so I wasn’t sure—really—what we’d encounter on the 4,000-mile drive and in Alaska itself. But it truly was surreal. It was like moving to another planet, where the sun didn’t set and kids went to bed, and people mowed their lawns at 10:30 pm. And the mosquitoes were true to legend. Plus, coming from the cornfields of the Midwest, the rugged surroundings were exotically beautiful, and the mingling of Native and non-Native cultures fascinated me.

What was the most challenging part of updating the book the third time? Favorite part?

It’s a logistical challenge to plan for a drive-up, fly-back trip, especially if you rent an RV, as I do. So I begin by renting a car in Portland for the one-way drive to Everett, Washington, the nearest Cruise America rental site, then load everything from the rental car into the motor home before returning it. The whole time I’m packing, I have to think about flying it all back, so I really get lean on what to bring along.

An unpleasant highlight of this year’s trip was when I suffered a gallbladder attack while camping in a remote site in northern British Columbia. At that particular spot, we were camped outside of cell phone service, but within range of a wireless network. With more facts from medical sites, and knowing the mileage from the last town to the next town, we were able to decide to see it through until morning, when the pain had subsided and we could press onward to Whitehorse. I made sure this edition has solid information about what to do in case of a medical emergency! (And I said buh-bye to the gallbladder two weeks after we got home.)

What recommendations/tips do you have for first time travelers on the Alcan or even to Alaska or Canada?

I always encourage people to pace themselves, to slow down and enjoy Canada as much as they will Alaska. Everybody’s in a hurry to get to their destination, but Canada’s west is so great, it shouldn’t be rushed through, especially for those who appreciate natural history and human history. You can fly right by a bear feeding at the forest’s edge or miss a sign that describes the hazards of road building. There are incredible museums, great restaurants, rodeos, water parks, and the like. Have some fun.

For those who want to see bears, especially, I recommend traveling in late May. Sure, it’s chillier and the leaves haven’t fully opened in the Far North, but this is the time when black and brown bears are coming out of hibernation and feeding on the new spring grasses along the edge of the woods. One year, we counted nearly three dozen blackies. (An obvious tip: stay in the car for your photos and don’t take risks around wildlife.)

What kind of personal feedback have you received about the book in previous editions? What do you hope readers will notice/learn/love about this latest edition?

I want to make the trip easier and more fun. I want to be a trusted voice offering insights and insider tips to my friends. This edition is loaded with photos and details on where to go and what to see, lists of hotels, restaurants, and campgrounds to aid in planning, and essential information on miles between cities. It’s planning made easy.

Are You Ready to Ramble?

The days are getting longer, temperatures are warming, and I even spotted some little green buds on the trees in my yard this past weekend. To some of you, this means one thing—summer road trip season is nearly upon us! Many Americans venture out on the roads each summer by piling the family into the minivan or wagon à la Clark Griswold and exploring our nation’s treasures, from beaches and forests to national monuments and national parks. There’s a whole world out there and plenty to see, but sometimes it can be difficult to pick your route and narrow down the sites to visit. And sometimes you are looking for a different kind of road trip…

Eric Peterson and his Ramble books, including Ramble: A Field Guide to the U.S.A .(978-1-933108-08-8), Ramble Colorado (978-1-933108-19-3), Ramble Texas (978-1-933108-28-5), and Ramble California (978-1-933108-20-9), could be just the resources to turn to as you start planning your next offbeat rolling adventure. In these “wanderer’s guides to the offbeat, overlooked, and outrageous,” Peterson leads readers to the wild and wacky road stops, restaurants, motels, and cafés that one might miss using a standard travel book. Peterson, a Denver-based seasoned and highly entertaining travel writer, captures the must-sees across the US and shares quirky tales that will make you feel different when you take trips in the future. Fulcrum recently caught up with Eric, and he shared memories of his first road trip, his process for writing the Ramble series books, and advice for newbie road-trippers.

You say that you’ve been traveling since you were first born—what is your first or most humorous road trip memory from childhood?


Eric: My family took a lot of Chevy Chase–style cross-country vacations when I was a kid. The first road trip memory I have is a grappling with Paul Bunyan’s boots a toddler in Bemidji, Minnesota. I came up to his big toe. My most humorous road trip memory involved an April Fool’s Day joke: my sister Arin roused me from bed in New York City by announcing the presence of a frog in the shower. I was about eight at the time, and nothing got me going quite like a frog.

How did the idea come about for the Ramble series?


Eric: I was working for a mass-market guidebook, inspecting hotels and motels in the Pacific Northwest, when it struck me that I never stayed at the places I inspected, but of course I was attracted to the nearest roadside oddities that weren’t covered in that particular guidebook. The lack of a point of view in some travel books also struck me as backward, because traveling is such a personal—and definitively human—experience. So I cobbled together a concept of a first-person guidebook focused on the bizarre and unusual. That was about a decade before Ramble: A Field Guide to the U.S.A. was published.

What kind of research did you have to do for the books, and how did you happen to find all these wacky places across the US?


Eric: I always start out with as many library books on the state in question as I can carry home, a state map, and a bunch of little circular stickers so I can mark places I want to check out. Next comes thousands and thousands of miles of driving, biking, walking, and stumbling to all manner of offbeat attractions. But the best research always happens unexpectedly on the road, when I accidentally discover something I had no idea even existed.

What is the most outrageous place you have rambled to?


Eric: That’s a tough one. Places that come to mind include (but are not limited to) the top of High Dune in the Great Sand Dunes (Colorado), the bottom of Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley (California), a barstool at the Meet Rack (Tucson, Arizona), and Gibsonton, Florida, long a winter haven for sideshow performers and carnies. The whole town is just a little off.

As someone who has road-tripped and traveled professionally for many years, what advice do you have for families or individuals looking to embark on their first road trip?


Eric: Exit the interstate and explore the back roads. Park the car and lace up your boots. And take your time getting home.

Do you have a dream state or geographic area that you’d like to write about for a next book in the Ramble series?

Eric: I’d love to cover New York, then maybe Minnesota and Tennessee. Or Europe. Europe would be a lot of fun.

Renee Wilkinson: Blogger, Fire Escape Gardener, and Raiser of Bantam Chickens


It takes quite a bit to pull me off my high horse after I have done something “homemakery,” as I call it (i.e., cooking food from actual ingredients, instead of putting a TV dinner into the microwave). For instance, I baked an apple pie a few weeks ago to impress someone special, and when I pulled it out of the oven and it wasn’t burnt to a crisp nor did it taste like dog food, I wanted to immediately change my name to Martha Stewart.

Then along came Renee Wilkinson, creator of the popular site and our newest Fulcrum author, and knocked me right off that horse. Not only does Renee cook, bake, garden, and can, she also raises bantam chickens (named Pearl, Maude, and Florence) and bees (I don’t believe she names the bees, though). This woman is amazing and so is her book, Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create (April 2011, 978-1-55591-748-7), and not just because she is so resourceful and innovative, but because she provides simple, practical advice—even for people like me, with little time, space, or know-how. (What cool tips do you have to make your urban space into a sustainable home? See GIVEAWAY details below…)

I recently caught up with Renee to discuss her inspiration for Modern Homestead and the process of writing her first book. I think she’ll quickly become your idol too. Plus, isn’t she cute?

Please talk a little bit about your decision to begin this journey and write Modern Homestead. How different is the process from writing and maintaining
Renee: I remember beginning my early gardening adventures and feeling really uncertain about whether I was doing it all “right.” The books I found at the time didn’t seem approachable for a beginner, so I fell back on my parents and grandparents for gardening advice. A few gardens down the road, I started to make the transition from urban gardener to urban homesteader—keeping backyard livestock, canning the harvest, and getting involved in the local food system. Around that time I started as a way to reach more people who were interested in urban homesteading, but, like me, couldn’t find a lot of practical information online or in books.

The blog turned into a responsibility after a few years. I felt, and still do, like I owe my readers frequent posts. There are still lots of people out there looking for help, or at least looking for community. It’s nice to know we’re not alone on this adventure. When Fulcrum approached me about writing a book, I felt like this was my chance to reach even more people. This was the book I wish I had those first few years.

The process was really serious for me. I was balancing my first year of graduate school with living long distance from my partner. Researching and writing the book was my escape from all that. It was a chance to draw stories about keeping goats out of my grandparents. I got to read all kinds of books to really flesh out my knowledge on the more obscure topics. It was a pleasure to write—to just swim around in that lifestyle I love—but it was also stressful. Looking back, I’m really not sure how I balanced it all!

What was the most challenging part of creating this book? Do you have any advice to share for hopeful first-time authors?

Renee: An author friend of mine, Laura Irwin, gave me this advice before I committed to the project: “Don’t write a book unless you really, really want to write a book.” At the time it seemed silly. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to write a book? But a few months in I knew what she meant. It’s a huge project once you get a month or two in. My buddies would go out for beers and I would need to say, “No, I’ve got writing to do.” I was like a broken record for months.

Creating a production schedule was immensely helpful. It’s a massive project and you have to split it up into bite-sized pieces. It feels good to cross things off that list, knowing you are still moving forward despite the months of work ahead. I broke it down by chapter, then by section, gave myself timelines and stuck to them. I also front loaded my schedule, to leave a little wiggle room toward the end just in case I needed it. And of course I needed it.

Where do you get your energy to do all this modern homesteading? I am very impressed.

Renee: You could certainly make the argument that I am hyperproductive.  I guess I grew up in a household that valued that. We had chores, my dad was always needing our help in the garden, my mom always had a long do-to list that she needed help with…

Despite being so productive, I balance it with serious downtime and try to take really good care of myself. I can spend hours working outside, which is really meditative for me and keeps me pretty centered. I get a lot of sleep and eat pretty healthily, which keeps me fit and energetic. Life is short, sometimes too short, and I just want to get every drop I can from mine.

What is the most valuable project featured in the book that a newbie to gardening or canning or raising livestock can learn?

Renee: Boy, that’s a tough one…I’ve found that the fear of doing something “wrong” often paralyzes people into doing nothing instead. So although it’s not really a project, I think the most valuable thing a newbie can learn from the book is that we all have to start somewhere. The book is full of good projects to start this adventure.

Perhaps one of my favorite projects is the bantam chicken coop. It’s so small and easy to move, and chickens are such cute little creatures. I wish I could go back in time to some of the small rentals I lived in and build this coop. I always thought I needed to wait until I had a huge house that I owned, but this is a project great for small spaces and rentals.

For folks interested in canning, reading about how important it is to can with friends will be a huge help. Friends, finger foods, and good music will make it such a fun experience. I’ve done it without these things and the time just seems to drag on and on.

And for those getting their hands dirty for the first time, the soil information is super important. You have to know how to cultivate good soil if you want a good garden. Period.

GIVEAWAY: We will award one of our readers a free copy of Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create for providing their most innovative homesteading tip (in writing or picture). Please send your tip via our Facebook page, or comment on our blog. Results will be posted and a winner will be awarded on Thursday, March 31. We can’t wait to see your ideas!

Designing Fulcrum’s Book Covers: An Inside Look at ‘Endangered’

For those of you who follow a certain award-winning NBC show on Thursday nights  (or, I guess, if you work in an office yourself), you know just how unique and hilarious office environments can be. At Fulcrum, we have our own zany set of editors, designers, marketers, and salespeople, and this is never more telling than during our twice-yearly book covers meetings. In graphic designer Jack Lenzo’s perfectly light-calibrated office (the lighting and paint were chosen to create a color neutral proofing environment. Pretty cool, huh?) we battle for the perfect cover for each and every one of our books. To those outside the book publishing industry, this design process may be shrouded in mystery, but I think it’s time to lift our metaphoric skirts, if you will.

No, this is not a transcript of one of our meetings (if those were shared, I’d have to kill you), but instead a peek inside the mind of Jack and our featured author, Mitch Tobin, author of Endangered: Biodiversity on the Brink. This is one of our most controversial covers. Read on to see why.

JACK LENZO: Before we get too far, let’s consider the value of a title. We started with the title Legislating Noah’s Ark. What does that evoke in your mind? Probably something very different than Endangered.

No one ever saw my first ideas, but it’s fun to reflect on what came to mind. Where on earth did I find this picture?

JACK LENZO: Obviously Endangered didn’t fit the imagery I had been collecting for the original title, so we turned to the author for a new perspective. He had a photographer friend. Nice!

The humpback chub plays a role in the book, and it just so happened that Mitch and his friend hiked to the floor of the Grand Canyon on a research mission and came home with this photo. Perfect.

But apparently not everyone empathizes with a fish. What!?!? This fish made me cry, at least on the inside. His eyes scream, “The cold water from the dam is killing me!”

No? You can’t hear it?

The Southwest doesn’t have polar bears stranded on melting ice or cute penguins with nowhere to go…

JACK LENZO: How about cats? Cats are cute. After looking up the list of endangered species in the Southwest, I found a picture of an ocelot. Think mini leopard. Everybody loved it. Yeah! We’re done.

We send it to Mitch to hear his enthusiasm. Mitch is a nice guy…and he seems to be holding something back. Well, ocelots are endangered, but climate change, oddly enough, is likely to increase their range and chance at survival. We picked the one animal that is an outlier to the narrative. Seriously?

MITCH TOBIN: One of the first covers that Jack produced showed a cat perched on a ledge. Aesthetically, I loved that cover, but there was a slight problem. The species depicted, an ocelot, is one that I only mention in passing. It’s true that ocelots are listed as endangered and they once occupied the American Southwest, where my book is set. But I chose instead to focus on another borderlands cat, the jaguar. I figured the ocelot would be mistaken for a jaguar (in parts of South America, ocelots are called jaguaretes), and because many people associate both cats with the tropics, I thought the cover would suggest the book was about endangered species in some exotic, far-flung jungle, not their own backyards.

I was still tempted to go with the ocelot cover because it was so beautiful, but what sealed it for me was the fact that no one had seen an ocelot in Arizona or New Mexico in recent memory. Sure enough, a few months after the cover was finalized, two ocelots turned up in southern Arizona—one dead and one filmed by a remote camera—marking the first time the species had been recorded in the state since 1964.

JACK LENZO: Well then, what would be more relevant? I know what you’re thinking. He should have read the book. That’s why covers often make no connection to the story. I hate designers!

Keep in mind that the cat was a knee-jerk reaction to the lack of love for my fish. I still love that fish. I read the manuscript, thank you very much, and the section on condors was pretty darn compelling.

But if you don’t feel anything for a fish, what are the chances that a condor tugs at your heartstrings. Talk about fugly…

JACK LENZO: What to do, what to do? I went through the images I had been collecting along the way. I’m not sure the average person is ever going to think a condor is cute, but they are intriguing.

This shot of a condor with his head down turned out to be just what we needed. It’s unexpected, colorful, visually interesting…and it doesn’t hurt that the expression is kind of a downer in that projecting-human-emotions kind of way. Book it!

MITCH TOBIN: People often question me about the cover for Endangered. “What is that thing?” they ask. “And why is it upside down?”

Despite the occasional confusion, I’m a big fan of the cover depicting the California condor. Endangered begins and ends with the story of one such bird, condor 134, and the species has become emblematic of our attempts to protect biodiversity through the Endangered Species Act. When you see a condor in person, one of the most striking things about its appearance (aside from its nearly ten-foot wingspan) is the rainbow-colored gooseflesh that covers its neck and head. That featherless head isn’t exactly pretty, but neither is the story of our endangered species. I especially like that the photo is a close-up and the bird’s eye is so prominent on the page. As I write in Endangered, “When I could see the birds, bats, fish, and frogs eye to eye, I felt farthest from the tired talking points I was transcribing on deadline and closest to the truth.”


Since 1973, the Endangered Species Act has served as our nation’s legislative ark for imperiled wildlife. But our toughest and most controversial environmental law has failed to recover all but a handful of the 1,300 species under its protection. In Endangered: Biodiversity on the Brink, award-winning journalist Mitch Tobin uses firsthand accounts to show why so many species are at risk of extinction. For nearly seven years, Tobin reported from the front lines of Endangered Species Act battles. He crisscrossed the Southwest in search of wildlife driven to the brink of extinction and solutions to the crisis. Tobin discovered that this region, with its urban sprawl, wasteful water use, and vulnerability to climate change provides a snapshot of the issues facing species throughout the world. Tobin also found compelling examples of collaboration. Mitch Tobin’s year-long series on Arizona’s endangered species was a finalist for the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism. Today, Tobin serves as a consultant to leading conservation groups and foundations.

Jerry Apps on the Boundary Waters, bears, and his latest book


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.

About Jerry
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,, and his blog,

Fashionably Warm in Buffalo with Laura Pedersen

Since much of the country seems to be covered under several feet of snow or is at least experiencing those midwinter blues and chills, we thought we’d turn to Fulcrum funny woman Laura Pedersen for a laugh. As the author of Buffalo Unbound: A Celebration (October 2010, 9781555917357) and Buffalo Gal: A Memoir (October 2008, 9781555916923), Pedersen always has some entertaining anecdotes to share about growing up in the frozen tundra that is Buffalo, New York, in the winter. Read on to experience Pedersen’s memories, in an essay she humorously titled “Little House in Lake Erie.” For more information on Laura Pedersen and her books, please visit

And don’t forget to send us your answers to our Mostly True Facts on Buffalo, New York, blog. The contest ends January 27, and one lucky contestant will be picked at random to win a free copy of Buffalo Unbound!

Living in Buffalo, NY, that blizzard-prone polestar of the Rust Belt, during the stagflation 1970s made for some decorating choices that you don’t read about in glossy magazines or see featured on the HGTV network. Fabric “snakes”—bean-filled socks that block drafts from coming underneath doors—were popular handicraft projects right up there alongside rag rugs, tea cozies, and mittens with strings. Form didn’t follow function so much as warm.

We sported the layered look long before it became a fashion statement. This was two decades before lightweight fleece, and so we rumbled around looking like Michelin Men, carting twice our body weight in wet wool. If you fell backward into a mound of snow, you’d be marooned like a turtle on its back. However, no one ever asked, “Is it cold enough for you?” This was considered to be just plain stupid, like saying “Eh?” to Canadians.

Most front halls were a colossal jumble of leaky galoshes, purple and green snorkel jackets with neon orange linings, Buffalo Bills sweatshirts, home-knitted scarves from all the aunts and grandmas in Sisters Hospital with broken hips, and those black Piglet caps with earflaps that would guarantee a citation for vagrancy in almost any other city. A few woolen dickies lay about in case you weren’t getting beat up enough on the school bus. The weak tea sister to the wedgie was to have it yanked over your head and tossed atop the rows of lockers, a veritable dickie graveyard. Nothing sent people into therapy twenty years later so much as being awakened in the night by those long ago demented shouts of “Give me back my dickie!”

Still, we made the most of winter by participating in sports, joking about the inconveniences, and pulling together during a blizzard. Just when you’d about given up on the four seasons, patches of grass became visible and suddenly it was good-bye shoveling and hello baseball, biking, sailing, soccer, parades, and fireworks. The best-kept secret about Buffalo, aside from its delicious sponge candy, is that we have the most beautiful summers in the world, with Lake Erie acting as an enormous complimentary air conditioner.

Buffalo has been voted The City of Good Neighbors, where locals are ready to welcome you to the party or just lend a helping hand. The winters aren’t what they used to be and the old Rust Belt will soon be the new Riviera. So buy now while you can still get in on the ground floor, right above the permafrost.

Laura Pedersen Discusses Writing, Weather, and Her Next Book

In honor of the chilly weather and some rather close calls on the ice-covered highway this morning, we caught up with Laura Pedersen, Fulcrum’s hilarious expert on all things winter and best-selling author of Buffalo Unbound: A Celebration (October 2010, 9781555917357) and Buffalo Gal: A Memoir (9781555916923). Pedersen discussed with us her inspiration and writing process for Buffalo Unbound and offered some great advice for aspiring authors.

Pedersen is a former New York Times columnist and the author of ten books, including the award-winning humorous memoir Buffalo Gal. Buffalo Unbound: A Celebration follows Pedersen back to the streets of her beloved hometown, Buffalo, New York. In a series of sparkling essays, Pedersen reveals why this adaptable and loveable city is one of the best places in America to live. Please visit her website,

Please talk a little bit about your decision to begin this journey and write Buffalo Unbound.

Buffalo Unbound was an unusual book for me in that it was inspired by seeing my hometown on Forbes magazine’s list of most miserable cities in which to live two years running. As a populace we certainly don’t feel miserable—cold medicine isn’t selling at a higher rate than usual, and local festivals are getting record turnouts. When I took a closer look at the criteria being used to measure our “misery,” I realized that the judges weren’t taking into account art, architecture, cuisine, theater, dance, or culture in general. It so happens that in these areas the city and surrounding towns excel, and thus it wasn’t hard to compile a series of humorous essays outlining all that’s offered. Additionally, it’s a big sports city, there’s a phenomenal local music scene, and Buffalo has a national reputation as being The City of Good Neighbors, which one may think is hard to quantify, but a Buffalonian will truly lend you his last pair of long johns.

What was the most challenging part of creating the book? Favorite part? Any humorous incidents along the way?

It’s hard to be a food critic as a teetotaling vegetarian. But I grew up on regional favorites such as beef on weck sandwiches, chicken wings, charbroiled hotdogs and Bocce pizza, so I could cover that from memory. With so many Irish friends it was also possible to weigh in on the local breweries. Of course I still eat sponge candy and drink loganberry and use Weber’s mustard. Western New York is chockablock with interesting sports history, record-breaking teams, talented tailgaters and dedicated fans, and I wanted to give them their due. This was the biggest challenge since I haven’t spent much time in the bleachers. I called a high school classmate who is now a sports columnist for The Buffalo News to explain “wide right,” “in the crease,” and “bowling ball shots” (yes, they involve a real bowling ball, but you can wear your own shoes). The best part was digging through some interesting history about the War of 1812, famous storms, and local eccentrics with an international following, such as Roycroft movement founder Elbert Hubbard. (Roycrofters were artisans who had a strong influence on early twentieth-century architecture and design.)

Please tell us about your writing process and where you find inspiration. Do you, as a seasoned author, have any advice for hopeful authors?

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’m probably the only person to be suspended from high school for writing attendance notes in the form of comic sonnets. I enjoy humor and so I seek out subjects that can be portrayed in a humorous light. Leo Tolstoy said, “The aim of the artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to make people love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.” Okay, this is coming from the Russian realist who wrote Anna Karenina, which ends with the main character hurling herself under a train, but I’m a believer in affirmation. The newspaper headlines are too depressing, and so many people are battling illness. I like to try and create something that will give people a laugh or make them feel happy. When it rains in Buffalo, the locals like to say, “Well, it could be snow.” And when it starts to snow we say, “Well, it could be a blizzard.” And when it’s a blizzard we hunker down and get out the board games and have a rollicking good time.

My own affirmations are here. Most people don’t know that I’m an ordained minister and give a few sermons around the country every year, sort of a wandering UU (Unitarian Universalist).

I’m often asked about writing and publishing and my thoughts can be found here: Bottom line, if you write one page a day (with time off for 4th of July fireworks, turkey, trick-or-treating, and Black Friday shopping) you’ll have a book at the end of a year.

What do you think the subject will be for your next book?

I’m working on a collection of humorous travel essays about India aimed at being a national (actually international) version of Buffalo Unbound, with dashes of history, commentary, and current events. India’s economy has been growing at a staggering 9 percent and the subcontinent is expected to become the fastest growing large country over the next twenty-five years, even beating out China. Progress is creating opportunities for women and children, while putting an end to practices such as underage marriage and women being unable to inherit from the estates of their parents. Meantime, an increased standard of living has made the subcontinent a much more palpable tourist destination. Likewise, the book Eat, Pray, Love popularized “finding yourself through travel” and India has always been a fantastic place for that.