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Wednesday, June 6, 2007 11:10 pm

DIY local literature

Two self-published memoirs prove everybody has a story worth telling

Friends on the Farm By Ruth I. Ufkes, (Vantage, 2006, 40 pages, $18.95)
Untitled Document Here are two books by area authors: One describes growing up on a farm near Carthage, 1930-1950; the other is the memoirs of a World War II fighter pilot, compiled by his wife, who co-manages a business in Peoria. Both are published by Vantage, an established subsidy press. About such presses: Everyone has a story worth telling; many people have writings they wish to share. Yet to attempt publication by a commercial press is daunting — one sends out the work repeatedly, gathers rejections, and usually needs an agent. A reputable subsidy press, however, prints your book for a fee. It gives editorial help and choices of how to have your work presented, sends notices and review copies to recipients on a list you help compile, and handles marketing. It doesn’t demand that you be a polished author. The result is a book that should satisfy the author, a work to share with family, friends, and possibly a wider audience. It’s also easy and relatively inexpensive to self-publish, even one copy at a time. There is much information about this on the Internet. Marketing, and much else, though, is left to you. Ruth Ufkes’ book begins, “You don’t own a cat; the cat owns you.” There follows story after story, filled with animals and farm life. “Not all animals have names, just the smart and special ones. We had a black and white cow who was called Three, because she had only three working ‘milk faucets’ instead of the usual four. She was the first cow I ever milked. . . . We had a runt pig named Sniffles. . . . ” You’ll enjoy these low-key stories, getting to know the young Ruth and growing up with her, in a setting of family, friends, and pets. You’ll long to have experienced such a life yourself. Edwin Slagle, a World War II pilot and bomber, wrote things down. The prose falters some. The chronology is uneven. Certain stories are told several times, but each time there’s a new bit come at from a different angle. We are perplexed by a pilot named Adamson; are there two, one Slagle nearly died for and one not much of a friend? Despite the book’s faults, Slagle employs vivid detail; on every page there is something interesting, even startling. One gets a strong sense of what it was like to be in the Pacific, to be on Guam, to do a job not trained for, to take reckless chances, to lose one’s buddies, to pick the pockets of a dead Japanese man and stare at the photo of his wife and child. I recommend both books, not only because they’re basically worth reading but also because they are examples of what any of us can do, be we in war zones or on milking stools, behind desks or wiping runny noses. And we can produce these memories in a form to be shared. National Public Radio is collecting an archive of stories of ordinary people. We don’t need to wait for the StoryCorps microphone to come to town; we can do it ourselves — the sooner, the better. 

Jacqueline Jackson, books and poetry editor of Illinois Times, is a professor emerita of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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