By Myrtle Brooks
1. What message are you hoping people will receive when they read your book?
I sought to make this a book readers can identify with at least in part or in parts. This is the fictional historical autobiography of a journalist from childhood to old age, filled with joys, triumphs, utter tragedy and failures, with an ever-present backdrop of the Vietnam War, its casualties and its aftermath. Other current events are threaded throughout the main story.
It is the story of many families: one, the saga of a family of black cowboy-pioneers who traveled cross-country to settle in Grand Teton before it became a national park. There are mountaineers, scientists and settlers in Jackson, Wyoming. There are the Shoshone and Arapaho nations, driven by force into the Wind River reservation, who are there to this day. All these intersect with the journalist, his wife and family.
Throughout the centuries, the same vision recurs: a mother grizzly bear with her three cubs, who appears in Teton and imparts wisdom and empathy; herself creating many more stories. Each time she does, her presence enriches the lives of those she visits: whose journals, diaries and letters are preserved in the attic of a deceased family member of the black cowboys, among the Shoshone and among the Arapaho.
Each vision is a message, as is the path of the journalist, Bill Larkin’s, life; and each growth the characters experience a life lesson.
2. Why did you write this book?
I had written my first novel, The Geyser Girl of Yellowstone Park, also published by Black Rose Writing. As a reward, my family and I packed up our 1999, road-worthy Dodge Caravan, and we traveled from Brooklyn to spend two nights in Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful Inn and two more nights in Grand Teton’s Colter Bay cabins. Teton is south of Yellowstone; a small stretch of road connects the two parks.
Years ago, when I was 15, I went on a camping trip cross-country with two counselors- husband and wife-and enough teenage kids to fill two Volkswagen buses. I remembered Teton as having been an exquisite place, spending the night outside the tent in a sleeping bag, and not much more.
When I returned 43 years later, it was as I described at the end of Chapter 8:
A little ways along the main road after the Teton entrance, I pulled the bus over to the curb, opened the door and emerged to look around me. The passenger’s side door opened soon after, followed by the rear doors, and the family gathered around me. I embraced them all.
“What is it, Daddy?” Anna was first to enquire of me.
“Did you see the bear?” Susanna tugged at my sleeve.
I shook my head slowly. “It’s… that I feel I’ve been here my whole life. As though it’s a place I’ve known for all time.”
“Is it because it’s scenic?” Jesse sought me eagerly.
“It’s because… I’ve returned home.”
New York City will always be my first home. But there is room in our hearts for second ones. And when I returned home to Brooklyn, I remembered that warm, welcoming embrace and exclaimed: “Just like a big, old mother bear.” Followed by “…That’s it!”
The photos throughout the book and on the book cover are mine from yet another visit.
It took nine years to write and edit this labor of love.
In 2015, I returned to spend the night at Colter Bay on a book signing tour for Geyser Girl in the Greater Yellowstone region. Imagine business-commuting through Yellowstone and Teton to bookstores in Jackson, the library in Cody, Wyoming, and Bozeman and Gardiner, Montana! A win-win working vacation.
Pushing 63, I found myself wondering how much longer I had on this earth and worrying more than I had in my younger years. And as I spent time among the Teton mountains, lakes and meadows, thinking on this, I got the overwhelming sense of nature’s upward continuation towards life. God’s animals and trees and flowers don’t think on death. They don’t ask how long. They grow, they produce, they serve as our exemplary teachers.
This, I have sought to reflect in Stories of the Mother Bear:
February 15, 1918
Today, my beloved was buried in the Sacramento City Cemetery, having selflessly given his life for his country. It was only the summer past when he enlisted in the U.S. Army, leaving behind the vineyard in my keeping and that of his older brother, James, from San Francisco.
Suddenly, I realize how impregnated the acres of vines and the hewn stone structure housing the winery are with his memory. Torn within beyond all thought, I long to flee from this place and run home to Jackson. But, how can I leave what is so much my own as well, and the more ingrained in our children; which now has become the estate of my beloved?
Ellery and Derrick come to me seeking answers of which I possess but little knowledge. I tell them the world is fraught with violence and inhumanity of man against man. They tell me they learned of such things in history class, but that never once could they have imagined their own father being taken from us in that way.
I know this:
That when my children ask me how we will go on without him, I will take them by the hand and lead them out upon the land. I will show them how, amid the oak tree beyond our property, once luxuriant, now felled by lightning’s cruel blow, the larkspur insist on blooming perennially at the base of its massive trunk. And beside it, the birch and the sycamore neither cease from stretching their branches towards heaven, nor forbear to hug the earth with their roots and take their meat and drink in its season.
I will tell them to live and bear the fruits of goodness and kindness; that their lives be enriched, and they, in turn, enrich the lives of others.
By this is all manner of evil brought to nothing.
3. What has been the hardest part of the publishing process?
Marketing is undoubtedly the hardest. Editing is all part of the love of it: to me, anyway. But there is much competition out there, and an author must do his/her best to draw attention to his/her work. You must believe in yourself at all times, even when you feel at your worst, and without a doubt believe in your work as reader-worthy.
4. What has been the biggest (pleasant) surprise in your publishing journey?
Two equal things:
The Mom and Pop bookstores are sheer joy when you do a book signing. They are sweet, hospitable, advertise your coming and will sometimes set a vase of flowers on your table for you to take home. And, too, I had a wonderful CRM in Barnes & Noble, Bronx, now closed (tears), and a terrific manager, both of whom were people of vision who appreciated and welcomed local authors.
When a critical, impartial reviewer raves over your book and wants to read the next one.
5. Would you write a sequel to your book? Why or why not?
No. I incorporated enough family sagas into this one already. The prime legacies are defined, both spiritual and material, their inheritors, and the whys and wherefores. I would like for the readers to continue the journey themselves.
6. What author or book has influenced your writing?
Undoubtedly, The Bible, to which I’m devoted as a believer. And, too, I feel that every well-written book I have ever read from childhood on has leaned itself to my inspiration: good literature never vacates the heart and mind.
7. You are stranded on an island with only 3 books. What are their titles? The Bible, a complete set of Shakespeare’s works, and the old Montgomery Ward’s Atlas a good friend left me as a legacy. (Ummm... hopefully the island is on one of those maps. LOL)
8. What is your philosophy about rejection? I cannot afford to allow rejection to define the path of my life. To stop living my life, to stop writing, to stop doing what I love would be an empty, meaningless existence. I can, however, afford to use rejection to become a stronger, more committed, self-disciplined individual. For the record, though, I have received very kind letters from agents in my lifetime praising my writing capabilities, but stating my work “did not fit.” It served to give me hope; hey, at least they liked it.
9. Do you have a day job? What is it?
I am a retired clerk with the United States Postal Service and still an active member and on the Board of Trustees of my labor union. I also enjoy spending my time reaching out to others with encouragement and help whenever I can.
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