James: Hi Valerie. Welcome to Word Addicts! We’ve already put you to work planning, organizing and launching the Word Addicts Facebook Group. We’re so glad to have you. Tell our readers a little about yourself.
Valerie: I am happy to be a part of Word Addicts. I just retired from teaching 36 years as an elementary school teacher. I am a proud grandmother and live with two spoiled cats named Weasel and Chub. I have always written short stories and poems but never really shared them with many people. Now that I have the time to devote to this, I find it answers a need in me to write and weave stories. I grew up north of here on a cattle ranch in Bear Lake County, Idaho. My family has lived on the Idaho, Wyoming border since the 1860s. I still have cousins who own a ranch on the Wyoming side. I love to create things with my hands, baking, sewing, embroidery. I am a typical granny for this area, and I am good with that.
James: You very recently retired from teaching. I follow a lot of teachers on social media and it seems that teachers nationwide are extremely stressed out right now. This isn’t a new thing, but it seems to have gotten worse recently. What do you think we can do to improve the lives of teachers and help them provide the best education to our kids?
Valerie: There is too much being asked of our teachers and educators right now. They are overworked and stressed by the demands being made on them. Asking teachers to keep doing more without any support of extra people is causing the most stress. It isn’t unusual for teachers to spend 60 to 80 hours a week doing all that is expected of them. With the extra societal pressures of School Shootings, Covid, standardized testing, committees to run the schools, dealing with parents who are cruel in words and actions, it isn't hard to see why over 50% of teachers leave the field in the first five years. If you want to help teachers, you need to get involved and find out what is happening in your schools, your districts, and the state. Even if you do not have children in your home, these children belong to you. If you are part of a community and benefit from that community, you have children as a part of it. How the teachers are treated directly affects those children.
James: You grew up in rural Idaho. It seems similar to rural Utah where I live, except that Idaho seems a little more, shall I say, eccentric(?). Do you agree? And in what ways do you think rural Idaho is unique, at least in terms of culture?
Valerie: That is a good question that I have wondered about myself. Every place likes to think they are unique but there are some common parts to all small places all over the world. As for Idaho, it is one of the places where the Wild West never died. Idaho is mainly wilderness full of wild animals, and towns are very distant from each other. This wilderness is connected to the national parks, and some of the highest mountains in the lower 48 states are in the Sawtooth Mountain Range.
The Salmon River is called The River of No Return. Many people went to Idaho to find gold, silver, and gems. These people stayed and had children but progress passed many of these places by. I can’t speak for all of rural Utah where you live but I believe most of the rural land is connected by highways and freeways to bigger places. Railroads came in and helped. When you have isolated pockets of people living in wilderness so vast, it allows people to create their own way of living. This isolation breeds people who feel cut off from the rest of the country and feel they do not have to do what others are doing. They don’t usually feel a part of the country as a whole.
James: Your novel is deeply autobiographical, and in fact is really a memoir, except that most characters have been combined and modified and names changed, etc…This reminds me of the early 20th Century novel A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, which is very similar in form—intimately autobiographical, yet still officially a work of fiction. How do you believe this format helps tell your story?
Valerie: I decided to tell my story this way for several reasons. First because no one's life runs like a novel. There are interesting parts and boring sections. It helped to fictionalize places and characters to move the story along. Second, my story was emotionally hard to tell. It helped me feel a little more removed from some of the trauma in my life so I could tell it more objectively. Third, not everyone wants to be mentioned in your book and this way I could respect their privacy by making up a character to play that part of the story.