Wild About The Wilder Life

Hello everyone!

Wilder Life cover

This post is BOTH a book recommendation AND a glimpse behind the scenes of [two of] my books!  I know, we are all about wish fulfillment here.  🙂

I must say, I never expected to be as obsessively over-informed about Little House as I currently am.  The truth is (SCANDALOUS ADMISSION), I never read the books as a kid.  I kept picking up Little House in the Big Woods (because One Must Start a Series At the Beginning!) and running into descriptions of how to smoke meat (literally, that’s in the first chapter) or churn butter (second chapter), which would inevitably send me scampering back to the dragons of Voyage of the Dawn Treader or the titian-tressed detective escapades of Nancy Drew. 

I spent most of my childhood in Paraguay, which was quite enough pioneer life for me (ginormous cockroaches aren’t so far off from leeches and grasshoppers, right?).  American history always seemed kind of boring and full of chores.  (Unlike British history, which had beheading! and Shakespeare! and crown jewels! and princes dying mysteriously in towers!  how could covered wagons or George Washington’s wooden teeth compete with that?)

So I didn’t read the whole series until I was out of college, which is when I discovered that the later books have a whole lot more crisis and tension and mean girls and even BOYS (yes, I’m one of those readers who prefers the later books—give me spelling bees and courting and grasshopper plagues and Insane Deadly Never-Ending Blizzards over meat-smoking any day).  And also that the whole series is altogether fabulous and far more exciting than you’d guess from their titles.  (Me, I’d have called it These Happy Golden Years EXCEPT FOR THE TORNADOES AND THE CRAZY WOMAN WITH A KNIFE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, maybe.  Or On the Banks of Plum Creek WHERE THE LEECHES AND GRASSHOPPERS WILL DESTROY YOU.  Wouldn’t you read those books?)

This all means I don’t have the childhood nostalgia for the books which Wendy McClure describes in her wonderful, wonderful memoir The Wilder Life, but I have learned a whole heck of a lot about the history behind the series and Laura herself, thanks to my experiences writing Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls and Farmer Boy Goes West (coming soon!).

Nellie Oleson cover

So when I heard about this book The Wilder Life, wherein Wendy travels to all the Little House sites, buys her own butter churn, and delves into the fascinating history of “Laura World”, I knew I had to read it.  What I didn’t know is that I would LOVE IT SO VERY MUCH.

First of all, it’s hilarious, and secondly, it’s fascinating.  I already knew a lot of this information (we’ve read many of the same books, which makes sense!), but she retells it brilliantly, and she uncovered a few things I didn’t know, such as the fact that Laura’s original manuscript had pioneer SERIAL KILLERS in it!  WHAT!

See, Laura first wrote a manuscript called Pioneer Girl which was more of a memoir of her whole life.  It was suggested that she turn it into a series of children’s books instead, so she changed several things and left out a few of the…less child-appropriate stories, let’s say.  Such as this one, in which Laura watches Pa saddle up to ride out with a posse to get some old-fashioned prairie justice on a family of mass-murdering innkeepers in the next county over.  YES.  And they were REAL!  The “Bloody Benders” would regularly murder wealthy travelers who stayed at their inn, and according to Laura’s version of the story, Pa NEARLY STAYED THERE several times on his trips, but couldn’t afford it.  (YEEP!)  So he rides off into the night, and when he comes back he doesn’t say exactly what happened, but hints that Justice Was Served.  Prairie style!

CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?  Well, you shouldn’t, because apparently either Laura or Pa totally made it up; they were back in Wisconsin when the Bender murders were discovered, and nobody knows for sure what happened to the serial killers after they fled the scene of the crime.

But isn’t that fascinating anyway?  First of all, that those people existed (serial killers! on the prairie! as if people didn’t have enough problems with the grasshoppers and blizzards, my goodness!), and then that Laura would cheerfully co-opt their story to jazz up her book.  Too funny!  You’ll learn a lot about the difference between the real history and her books throughout The Wilder Life, but I don’t think it’ll make anyone love the Little House books any less. 

And even though Wendy describes a little disappointment at some of the sites she visited, she does such a great job of evoking the places and the energy of the people who love them that it actually makes me want to haul myself out to South Dakota too, just to see these pageants and sleep in a covered wagon in a hailstorm like she did.  I’ve been to Malone, of course, while researching Almanzo, but the other Little House sites are RATHER far.  So that should tell you something about how inspiring Wendy’s book is!

And did I mention that it’s funny?  Plus Wendy and her fiance Chris come across as the most likable, charming, down to earth, perfect-for-each-other couple ever; I so want to hang out with her and trade Little House stories, although I think perhaps we both know all of them already at this point.

Anyway, if you’re a Little House fan you should absolutely read this book, and if you’re not, you should read the Little House books AND this book (or just this book, which I think is terrific on its own, although of course it’s hard to tell from inside the Little House prism where I live).  ;-) 

I’ll talk more about Farmer Boy Goes West once there’s a cover and pub date (hopefully soon!).  Also, Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls is currently out of print, but on its Amazon page there’s a button you can click which says: “Tell the Publisher!  I’d like to read this book on Kindle!”  Ooooo!  Everyone run over and click on that button!  I have no idea if the Publisher actually gets those messages, but it can’t hurt, right?  And wouldn’t it be lovely if you could read the book somehow?  And wouldn’t I love you forever if you clicked that button for me? 

I would keep going back and clicking it myself, but I’m afraid the message to the Publisher will be all specific, like “Tui Sutherland wants to read this book on Kindle!  Tui Sutherland wants to read this book on Kindle!”   Aaaaaand it might be a bit embarrassing if they get two hundred of those, since they know perfectly well that I wrote it, even though I ingeniously used the pseudonym “Heather Williams”.  Hmmm. 

Much better to get two hundred of those messages from two hundred different people, oooo?  :-)  And then maybe one day it’ll be available to everyone again, which would be splendiferous, because I loved writing it and would love for people to be able to read it.  🙂

In other wildly important news, So You Think You Can Dance is back tomorrow night!  I AM SO EXCITED IT IS SERIOUSLY A BIT INSANE.  If the toddler is not asleep by 8pm he’ll just have to watch it with me.  AND THERE WILL BE MUCH CAVORTING!

More soon . . .

Quote of the Day: 
“I don’t get why you don’t like Farmer Boy,” he said on the phone.  “This book rules.  This kid has the best life ever.  There’s a doughnut jar in the kitchen.”
“The doughnut jar really is cool,” I admitted.
“‘In his right hand he held a doughnut, and in his left hand two cookies,’” Chris said.  I knew he was reading from the book.  “‘He took a bite of doughnut AND THEN a bite of cookie.’”  He was quoting the birthday scene, where Almanzo gets to stay home from school and go sledding and wander through the kitchen double-fisting baked goods.  “That is some bad-ass action right there.”
— from The Wilder Life, by Wendy McClure