Here at Montana Women Writers, we love celebrating new books by old friends! This book is particularly special, as it explores an unusual historical event — a homestead farm in Oregon, settled by a woman in the 1860s and still run by a woman, the homesteader’s great-great-granddaughter and a dear friend of ours.
Montana seems to nurture writers, whether from the spectacular landscapes or the long winters or the ruggedness of nature that challenges people to go deep inside themselves, then reach out to each other, ready to help.
I understand the link Montanans feel for their beautiful homeland, from roots that may be long grown or just started. For several years I lived in Kalispell, Montana, and shared the wonder of Montana’s beauty and the friendliness of its people. But Oregon ultimately called me back. That’s my own place of roots, which gave me my first published book, A Place of Her Own: The Legacy of Oregon Pioneer Martha Poindexter Maupin. The book just came out (published by Globe Pequot Press/TwoDot imprint, and available now – links here).
When I moved to Kalispell in the late 1990s, I didn’t consider myself a novice as a writer. I had a master’s in journalism, had been writing novels for several years, and had honed the skills enough to attract a few agents. But no publishers.
Then I started attending meetings of the Authors of the Flathead. I had never met so many dedicated writers who were so willing to help other struggling authors. The group met every week, offering open mike several times a month (great experience for doing readings at later book signings). Before long, I got into two critique groups, which also met weekly.
I recall many an evening, three nights a week, driving through snowy streets to meetings. I lived and breathed writing there. My prose became tighter, smoother, crisper. I learned how to write a battle scene after the men in one group threw up their hands upon reading my first attempt. So many people helped me improve the work.
And when I finally a got a book published, I named names. I had to acknowledge those in my critique groups who had cheerfully offered both criticism and encouragement. That’s what I took away from Montana, and I will always have a warm spot for that beautiful place with all its beautiful people. Several kept helping, even after I left.
When I returned to the family farm in Oregon, I began thinking about the woman who came before me on that property. It turns out I had the winning combination for a publishable book in my own family. A Place of Her Own is the story of my great-great-grandmother Martha, who came west over the Oregon Trail in 1850, lost her husband, and had to care for their many children alone. She made a daring choice to set down roots in this wilderness and bought the piece of land I own and operate today—now one of the few Century Farms in Oregon named for a woman.
This photo shows me in one of my favorite spots on the farm, a patch of woods we call “the cathedral.” Some of you Montanans may remember the photographer, my son-in-law Robin Loznak, who used to be the photographer for the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell. He also lives on the farm now with my daughter Carisa and their son, Alex. The book contains several of his pictures taken on the property.
They’re why I made that move to Montana, in fact. My grandson, Alex, was very young when they lived in Kalispell, and I wanted to be close to him during his early years. I didn’t realize my time there would offer the added advantage of enriching my writing.
Thank you, Montana, for all you taught me.
Photos of Janet by Robin Loznak. Read more about Janet and follow her blog on her website.
Thank you, Janet, for all you taught us!
Leslie, for the MT WW crew